HC Deb 06 July 1943 vol 390 cc1965-2009

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding —400,000, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the. 31St day of March, 1944, for a grant in aid of the Forestry Fund.— [Note: £I50,000 has been voted on account.]

Colonel Sir George Courthope (Forestry Commissioner)

Twenty-five years ago a Report was presented to this House dealing with, and lamenting, the great dependence of this country upon imported supplies of timber and recommending the appointment of an ad hoc forest authority to carry out a planting programme over a long period of time. The Chairman of that Committee was the late Sir Francis Acland, whom we all remember, and I shall refer to that Committee, as everyone else does, as the Acland Committee. The secretary was the present Sir Roy Robinson, who is Chairman of the Forestry Commission which was set up as the result of the recommendations of that Committee. That Report was drawn during and on the experience of the Great War. To-day we have before us another Report, based on experience of another great war and presented by a Commission which was appointed as a result of the first Report of 25 years ago. The Report we have before us to-day brings the picture up to date; it deals with the doings of the Forestry Commission and the progress of afforestation in Great Britain during The inter-war period and also with the experience which we have in the present war, and it makes a number of recommendations which I shall mention later.

Until 1919 this country had no forest authority, no forestry policy and no forest service, in spite of the fact that a number of important bodies had sat to consider the position of forestry in this country and had made various recommendations for dealing with it. A Select Committee was set up by this House as far back as 1885. The Board of Agriculture, as it was then, had the authority to deal with forestry and in I902 appointed a Departmental Committee, which made various recommendations which were not carried out. A Royal Commission in 1909 took so serious a view of the position that they advocated the planting of 9,000,000 acres in 60 years—a programme compared with which the recommendations of the present Commission are almost trifling. The Development Commission had authority to deal with planting, and an expenditure of money was authorised for the purpose. By the middle of 1916 the total amount which had been spent in all these years as a result of all these recommendations by the State on planting was £6,754—surely a case of parturient montes—but the actual output or offspring was so small that it can hardly claim the title of ridiculus mus.

If we look at what happened in this country at that time, at the outbreak of the last war, you will find that the Ordnance Survey showed approximately 3,000,000 acres as woodlands, of which 97 per cent. were in private hands, leaving the Crown with the balance of 3 per cent., including the New Forest and the Forest of Dean and other areas which were afterwards handed over to the Forestry Commission. In 1913 tile commercial consumption of timber in this country was approximately 12,500,000 tons, of which 11,500,000 tons were imported from abroad and less than 1,000,000 tons were produced at home, that is, 7 per cent. of the total. I want hon. Members to bear that figure in mind, because I shall have to refer to it again later, and it is of some importance in dealing with the recommendations of the present Forestry Commission. It must not be assumed that 7 per cent. of the commercial requirements represented the whole of the yield of the 3,000,000 acres of woodlands because on a great many properties timber was cut from the owners' woods for estate purposes. On many estates it was the only use to which it was put, and on many others, although a certain contribution was made to the commercial requirements of the country, still more timber was used for the, maintenance of estate buildings, fences, gates and parks.

In regard to the 97 per cent. of those woods which were owned by private people, it must not be assumed that all were badly managed. On a great many estates forestry management was quite admirable, but, of course, each owner managed as he liked; there was no uniformity. There was good management in many, but, on the other hand, in others there was none at all. The well-managed estates were able to make a most notable contribution to the war effort in the last war. During the war very large quantities of timber were felled in this country, and the home supply, which had been less than 1,000,000 tons in 1913, rose to 4,250,000 tons in the last year of the war, 1918, while imports fell from 11,500,000 tons to 2,500,000 tons, so that one sees that a great deal of the burden of maintaining the requirements of timber fell on the privately-owned woodlands of the country. It is estimated that about 450,000 acres of woodlands were clear felled, while considerable cutting took place in other woodlands.

Then the Acland Committee was set up, and it recommended that a forest authority should be appointed with power and instructions to add 1,777,000 acres to the woodlands of the country in 80 years. The Report was adopted by the Government, and the Forestry Act, 1919, was passed. The Commission which is making the present Report was set up with authority to spend £3,500,000 on planting in the first decade after the war. They got busy at once. Their work was interrupted on two occasions by the Geddes Report and the May Committee, which caused a good deal of dislocation of effort, but, on the whole, in spite of that, the planting has gone on very well. I will mention the figures of its achievements. These figures of acquisition and planting have been achieved without any use, or even threat, of the compulsory powers which the Forestry Commission was given in the Act of 1919. In the first 20 years, up to the outbreak of this war, we had purchased plantable acres to the tune of 438,000 odd.

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

Seven hundred thousand purchased, 400,000 planted.

Sir G. Courthope

No, I think I am accurate—purchased 438,000, leased 216,000, total acquisition, 654,000 acres. The figures of acquisition to which the hon. and learned Member refers include leasing and feuing as well as purchase. I separate them for this reason. I want to explain how cheaply and how well the Commission has done its job. All that great area has been purchased at an average net cost of £2 7s. 7d. an acre, and the leasing and feuing at an average rental of is. per acre per annum—a very cheap business indeed. In addition to these areas the old Crown forests were taken over amounting to 120,000 acres, half of which were woodland, and the total acquisitions, both purchase and lease, also include approximately 370,000 acres of mountain tops and so on, or agricultural land which is too good to plant and which consequently we do not call plantable. Every single proposal for acquiring land is submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture in England and the Board of Agriculture in Scotland. We do not acquire any land without the approval of those Departments because we are so anxious—indeed the obligation to take care is put upon us—to avoid the planting of land which would be of value for food production. During the 20 years covered by this Report we have actually planted 360,000 acres of soft wood and between 25,000 and 30,000 acres of hard woods and we have assisted by grants the planting of 126,000 acres by private estates. So much for our own work.

On the other hand, our hopes that the privately-owned woodlands which were so heavily felled in the last war would be all replanted have not been fulfilled. In many cases estates were broken up and passed into other hands and a good deal of the 450,000 acres which were felled in the last war has not been replanted since. On the other hand felling has continued. The facts that estates were broken up and a good many people were in financial trouble led to the offer of a great, deal of standing timber which would have been very much better left alone. The result is that at the outbreak of this war there certainly was not more mature timber in the country than there was at the end of the last war. There has been no increase in the amount of mature timber in the country. Fellings have equalled if not exceeded the quantity which has reached maturity. On the other hand there was a large area of young plantations growing up, though of these only the first few years of planting had reached even pit-prop size at the time of the outbreak of this war. The consumption of timber has been fully maintained in spite of the large use of steel and concrete. There was no drop in the requirement of timber, and in the last five years before the present war, the trade returns showed that we imported an average of £63,000,000 worth a year of timber from abroad, of which about 94 per cent. was soft wood and 6 per cent, hard wood.

Before I go on to say a few words on what is happening in the present war, I should like to complete my survey of what the Forestry Commission have done in the 20 years between the wars. We have gained a great deal of information by survey. We started this war with a much more intimate knowledge of what timber we had in the country than was the case at the beginning of the last war, when very little was known. We have established a first-rate staff. Everyone who has seen their work recognises that a forestry staff has been built up which is quite first-rate. Their technical qualifications are very high. A good deal is done in the way of education. There are two woodmen's schools, and there have been a lot of courses as well, and the education, as far as we have been able to give it, has been good. There has been an immense improvement in forestry technique. We have learnt, by trial and error perhaps, or by application in practice of science, to plant a great deal of land which 20 years ago was considerable unplantable. It is being planted now and shows every indication of carrying most useful timber. Our work in that direction has been watched with the greatest care and has been imitated by forest services all over the world. We have also been paying a good deal of attention to another side of our duties as a Forestry Commission—the questions of amenity and recreation. At first, rather naturally I think, we were anxious to put the whole of our knowledge into producing the maximum number of trees, and we did not perhaps pay enough attention to what they were going to look like and a good many people were rather horrified by hard rectangular blocks of little regimented trees on hillsides. But we are changing all that. We have learnt a great deal more than we knew at first about how to make forestry please as well as pay. In order to help us in that purpose, we have established a most cordial and useful relationship with the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. and similar councils in Scotland and Wales, and we get very good advice from them, and they are helping us to give pleasure to the public eye.

On the recreational side of our work our principal task has been the setting-up of national forest parks. We have set up three. When the war came we had plans for others, which I hope will before long materialise. The first of the three is in Argyllshire, where 54,000 acres are enclosed in a national forest park. The success has been most pronounced, and many thousands of people have spent happy week-ends in camping grounds and hostels, enjoying the advantages which we have been able to give close to great industrial centres. There is no doubt that that part of our business has been well done. Then we have organised and carried out four Empire forestry conferences. When I say "we" perhaps I should say our Chairman, Sir Roy Robinson, has organised these conferences which have been of great value throughout the Dominions as well as helping this country.

Here I want to interpose a sentence or two which is not in the Report expressing my own views based on long experience, which I believe are shared by everyone who has had similar experience. The work that we have done—the improvement of technique, the building-up of a fine staff, the creation of these forestry conferences, and so on—has been almost entirely due to the skill and energy of our Chairman, Sir Roy Robinson. In the process he has built up a world-wide reputation as a sylviculturist, and some years before the war his advice was sought by leading foresters all the world over. Only last Friday the British Ecological Society was meeting to consider the records of his experience, and the theories which he has propounded, which appear to me likely to revolutionise forestry practice not only in this country but in all other countries. I felt that I could not leave the subject of our 20 years' work without paying this brief tribute to the man mainly responsible for any success that we have achieved.

I now come to the Report. Instead of having 80 years to carry out the active programme, we have had 20, and although we have a very good staff and information, we have not got the timber. A great deal of the Forestry Commission's staff was transferred at the beginning of the war, together with all the information we had, to the Timber Production Branch of the Ministry of Supply. They have been acquiring and felling very large quantities of timber. The Forestry Commissioners themselves have contributed a great deal. There has been very heavy cutting of the limited amount of mature timber which the Forestry Commission holds for the Crown in the old forests, and there has been heavy sacrifice of the young plantations which have reached pit-prop size. In spite of all we could do, the great bulk of the burden has for the second time in a generation fallen on the privately-owned woodlands. It is too soon to give accurate figures of their achievement, and I doubt whether it would be wise, but there is no doubt whatever that a very large proportion, certainly not less than 70 per cent., and some people say as high as 80 per cent., of the timber which is being used in this country to-day is being provided by the woodlands of this country.

That leads us to consider what there will be left. Naturally, we can make no possible estimation except of the young plantations which year by year are reaching pit-prop age. We know that the Forestry Commission started the war with nearly 400,000 of such plantations and that we had helped private owners to plant another 126,000. Apart from that, we cannot say in the least what timber there will be left in this country, except of course that we can count on shelter belts and a certain amount of amenity timber and so on which is not likely to be cut or would be of no commercial utility if it was cut. We are face to face with this very difficult situation. We shall have very little mature timber ourselves, and there will be an enormous demand for it when the huge building and reconstruction programmes are carried out in the years immediately after the war. Where are we to look for the timber? We cannot tell what will be available in Europe. For instance, one hears alarming reports about the treatment of the forests in the occupied countries by the Germans. We know that although there are big resources of timber in Russia, they are becoming year by year less and less accessible. The bulk of them are in Siberia, where the only means of transport are the rivers which run Northwards into the Arctic seas. We also know that Russia will have probably an even bigger programme of rebuilding and reconstruction than we have ourselves. I do not know, and I should hesitate to hazard a guess, whether Russia will be able to send us much timber. Sweden we know to be exporting up to the full of her normal fellings, and if she is true to her tradition, she will never allow her fellings and exports to exceed what we foresters call her annual increment. So we are not likely to get greatly increased supplies from Sweden.

We may, I think, be very hard put to it for timber for a good many years after the war. At all events, we have an irresistible case for saying that we must not run the risk of this happening again. We must provide, and provide as quickly as possible, for at least a substantial part of our own requirements for timber. The experience of the last 20 years suggests that the use of other materials like concrete will not in the long run reduce the requirements of wood. Probably the same thing could be said of plastics. At all events, that is a speculation which it would waste the time of the Committee to go into now. All we are certain of is that large volumes of timber will be wanted both for peaceful commercial purposes and for war, if war comes again. Therefore, we are confident that we are right in recommending that there should be provision as rapidly as possible for the future. Having regard to the small quantity or relatively small quantity of mature timber or timber coming into maturity in this country, we suggest that in the interests of the country the system of felling licences which prevails now in war-time should be continued, so that the forest authority should keep some control of the use of timber and prevent the premature use of such small supplies as the country possesses. The Commission was not unanimous on that point, one of our members rejecting the proposal. The Commission think that that is desirable not only in the national interest but in the interest of the timber trade. Nothing could be worse for the trade than in their efforts to maintain an economic existence after the war—they have been very busy during the war—there should be a cutthroat competition for the small and dwindling supplies of timber. It would be better in their interests as well as the country's that that should be controlled.

The main question is that of replanting the land which has been felled over and the additional planting of other areas. We calculate that if we planted up a total of 5,000,000 acres, it would, when it reached maturity, yield about one-third of the current requirements of timber of the country. That is as near an estimate as we can give, and we recommend to the Government and the Committee that we should adopt a programme of that figure and that we should start as rapidly and on as large a scale as is possible. We think that the largest scale on which sound practical planting could take place would be to cover 1,100,000 acres in the first 10 years after the war. That is what we recommend. We think that of the 3,000,000 acres on the maps, some of which have already passed into the Forestry Commission's hands, we ought not to count on more than 2,000,000 acres as being available for commercial purposes. There is a great deal of shelter-belt timber, and there are a great many little woods in which there are few trees, with which little can be done. There are large areas of the country where the woodlands have been broken up by the building of houses. For instance, in Surrey and parts of Hampshire there are thousands of small houses standing in an acre or half-an-acre of woodland. We cannot count on these for much commercial contribution to the needs of the country.

Therefore, as a rough estimate—and I do not think we are far wrong—we think we can get 2,000,000 acres from the privately-owned woodlands. How are we to obtain it? The bodies principally concerned, the Royal English and the Royal Scottish Forestry Societies and the Central Landowners' Association, speaking for their members, all recognise that the future ownership of woodlands should carry with it the responsibility for maintaining a reasonably high standard of production. The country will not tolerate, nor will it be asked to tolerate, complete neglect of the woodlands any more than it would of agricultural land. Various suggestions have been made for carrying that out, but the Forestry Commission, in attempting to meet the point, have suggested what we call a dedication under which we should give the owners of woodlands the opportunity and encouragement to dedicate their woods primarily to the production of timber and they should undertake certain obligations to submit plans, to obtain approval for their planting plans, to obtain and maintain skilled supervision, and to keep simple and adequate accounts. If they do that and are willing to have their woodlands under this dedication scheme, we suggest that every possible encouragement and help should be given not only by advice, but, we hope, by relief of some of the tax burdens upon woods, and also by a subsidy of a proportion of their net cost in establishing woodlands, which, after all, are being established as an insurance for the State.

It is a novel scheme, and there has naturally been some doubt as to how it should be applied. It will be found in the Report that there will be consultations with the bodies principally concerned on the details. Invitations have already been sent and acceptances received from the Landowners' Association, both the Forestry Societies, the landholders organisation in Scotland and the Land Union for an initial conference, which is to be followed by the setting-up of committees and frequent meetings and discussions on details so as to ensure as far as possible that the work we do is not hurtful to the interests concerned. Another doubt has been expressed about the small woodlands. We say in our Report that we cannot undertake to bring very small woodlands under the dedication scheme, where they are isolated, but where the owner has been willing to bring his woodlands under a dedication scheme, it will include small and large alike. Where an arrangement is made that woods should not be dedicated but should be taken over either on leasehold arrangements or by compulsory purchase by the State and managed by the State, and it is possible to tack on small woodlands and manage them from a large established centre, they will not be ruled out. One would hope that in the long run all the woodlands of the country, except shelter belts, amenity woods and so on, will be properly managed either by the State or by the owners under this dedication scheme.

We already have adequate powers to make such contracts with owners as are necessary, and, in the case of failure to make reasonable arrangements for cultivation, to acquire land compulsorily. We have not done it so far, and we hope we may not have to do so. Perhaps I should also say that we are recommending that special officers should be appointed to deal with the privately-owned woodlands, so that there should be no con- fusion between the privately-owned side and the State side, and that owners should not feel that their interests are being put on one side in favour of the State. There will be a separate staff and separate committees of the Commission to deal with the privately-owned woodlands.

Let me turn for a moment to the afforestation of new lands by the State. We say there should be 3,000,000 acres. This is a very small area compared with the 9,000,000 acres recommended by the Royal Commission on Coast Erosion and Afforestation, but we do not think it would be possible to obtain and plant up more than 500,000 acres in the first postwar decade. The agricultural statistics of 1938 show that there are just over 16,000,000 acres of rough grazings in Great Britain—5,500,000 in England and Wales and 10,500,000 in Scotland. The Scottish figures, as do also the Welsh, include mountain tops and deer forests. Our technical officers, who have examined a good deal of land, estimate that just over 4,200,000 acres are suitable for planting; they will carry trees but would hardly carry any sheep. There will be a very small dislocation of the sheep stock. Of that land rather over 2,000,000 acres is in England and Wales and rather over 2,000,000 in Scotland.

Everyone who has been following this question knows that a good deal of fear has been expressed that we may interfere unduly with sheep. I do not think one need be afraid of that. The process will be very gradual. Up to the present, although we have acquired and planted hundreds of thousands of acres of this rough hill grazing, the displacement of sheep has been only 1.3 per acre. It is a very small thing. As to the fears of agriculturists, a good deal of prominence has been given to two cases in which, it is said, the Forestry. Commission have planted land which was needed for food production. There is a biggish case in the Eastern counties. If this land had not been planted with trees when war broke out it would have been put under food production. It was under food production in the last war, but afterwards it went out of cultivation and became completely derelict.

Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)

It went to rabbits.

Sir G. Courthope

Carried nothing but rabbits. The owners of it, having made fruitless attempts to find tenants, at last offered it, in its derelict condition, to the Forestry Commission, and we acquired it with the full approval of the Ministry of Agriculture and planted it up. It is too late to say that that ought to have been producing foodstuffs now. The other case is one with which I was intimately concerned myself. It was land on the South Downs forming the catchment area of the Eastbourne Water Company. It had been cleared of all livestock under an order of the Local Government Board owing to an outbreak of some disease which was attributed, rightly or wrongly, to contamination by livestock. A big area was cleared of stock, and it was offered to us. We have had it eight or 10 years. We were rather pressed to take it over and plant it, because the Eastbourne people rightly thought they would get a better and better regulated supply of water if the land carried trees than if it were left bare. A good deal was planted with a view to establishing beech woods.

Beech starts very slowly, and I had the task, in conjunction with Lord de la Warr, two or three years ago, of deciding how much of our young plantations, might be handed back to agrictlIture for the production of corn. I knew perfectly well that it was good corn land, that it would carry two to three crops, but that it could not be cultivated permanently without livestock or organic manures, which were barred by the health authorities. There were 600 acres altogether, of which over 300 were actually planted. I decided that all the plantations which were small enough to be ploughed up without involving the process of grubbing should be handed over, to be handed back to us after the war for replanting. It gave a considerable quantity of additional corn land, and would not delay for more than a few years, if at all, the final production of timber, which in any case would take a century to produce. Now the agricultural people are saying that this land is growing such beautiful corn that we ought never to have had it. I thought I was at liberty to take up the time of the Committee for a few minutes in order to tell them the facts. We are only too anxious to secure that where there is any conflict between the interests of sheep and the interests of trees there should be opportuni- ties for full consultation and agreement. We are willing, if a suitable body can be decided upon, that where there is a dispute it should be decided for us independently.

So far as I know, no decision has yet been taken by the Government as to the scale upon which we shall be allowed to start. We should like to start on what I will call our desirable programme of the whole 5,000,000 acres in 50 years with 1,100,000 acres in the first decade. The total cost of that would be just over £41,000,000, and that includes the cost of maintaining our existing plantations, our research departments, our education facilities and all the other things upon which we are spending money to-day. We also submit a smaller scheme but I should very much hope that a study of the situation will lead the Government and Parliament to decide that we must carry out our planting programme on the largest possible scale and as quickly as possible. We have clone a great deal by way of preparation. We have increased our nursery area from 1,000 acres to 1,500, and at the moment we have in those nurseries 230,000,000 seedlings and 76,000,000 transplants. We have collected and purchased all the seed we can of all the suitable varieties in the world. Some of the sources from which we used to get our seed are no longer available, but we have done pretty well as regards making provision for the future. But that is not all the preparation required. If there is to be a big programme, we shall want many roads and bridges too, and we shall have to do engineering work, or there will be delay. We also want to examine and acquire a considerable deal more land. It is no use thinking you can buy the land one day and plant it the next. For all these reasons and many others, it is very necessary that authority to make a start on some scale—and I hope a big scale—should be given without delay.

A number of suggestions have been made that there should be some change in the method of administration. We do not see any reason to change the method of administration. We are convinced by our experience and by what has happened in other countries that there are five essentials for success. The first is that the Government of the day should realise how serious and important is the question. The second is that there should be continuity of policy, including finance. The third, that there should be an ad hoc authority. We should not go back to the days before 1919 when the duties of planting were tacked on to the Board of Agriculture or the Development Commission who, in a couple of generations, spent £6,7oo. Fourth, we should have a unified forest service and suitable provision for research, education and information, and that we have at present. We are firmly convinced that there must be a single authority, and to my pleasure and rather to my surprise, the Royal Scottish Forestry Society advocate a single authority, provided that there is, as there is to-day and will continue to be, more devolution of executive and administrative powers. I had another note on something I wanted to say, but I have lost it. In conclusion, I would like to commend to the Committee the recommendations which the Forestry Commission have made. I should also like to thank the Committee for the patience with which they have listened to my rather rambling remarks, and I would urge upon the Government, and particularly upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, how important it is that even if they cannot give a decision as to the exact scope of our future work, we should be authorised to start on a substantial scale at once.

Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)

I should like first of all to congratulate my right hon. and gallant Friend and former colleague on the very excellent way in which he has made clear the intentions of those who framed this Report. I welcome the Report as a bold and promising statement which has regard to the realities of the situation and which, I believe, will find favour with the overwhelming majority of the people of this country. I would recommend the Committee and all who may read this Debate to read the Report itself. It is an outstanding document. It is instructive and informative to all who are interested in the right use of our land, and it puts the problem of afforestation, agriculture and rural reconstruction in its right setting. This is a small country but a wonderfully rich country. While we would like to be doing everything, yet on a site so small we must have regard to the differences of soil conditions, elevation and climatic conditions. We must cut our coat according to our cloth in these matters, in this country. This Report shows that very much and very close attention has been paid to this problem.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that some years ago, I think it was in 1909, the Liberal Party set up a Commission which gave a very optimistic Report on these matters. I remember that I was taken up with the idea in those days that we ought to be able to grow a larger part of the timber in this country that we required. We proposed to set aside in the Report to which I have referred 9,000,000 acres; but those who know the subject best would agree that a programme on that scale would tend to encroach upon the food-growing possibilities of our country. The claims of food production and of timber production have to be considered in relation with each other, and we have to remember the rapid extension and wider range of our residential areas for amenity and health reasons. We have to study how best to use the 60,000,000 acres or so which we possess within these shores.

I welcome the Report and support it entirely. We should confine our effective forest areas to 5,000,000 acres. We are a long way from 5,000,000 acres to-day, despite the progress which has been so well described by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. We have far to go. We have been working now for 20 years. I was privileged to serve on the Forestry Commission for 13 years and to enjoy the companionship, advice and instruction of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and of the Chairman of the Commission and other colleagues with whom I spent a very happy and, I believe, a very fruitful time. I saw timber growing is not a matter simply of setting aside or acquiring land in large areas and of planting trees without due regard to selection and to the right kind of planting methods, of research and of intense scientific study. I had not paid any attention to the words "excology" and "mycology" before I went to the Forestry Commission, but there I found a world unknown to me, in connection with the growing of timber. The scientist has a very large part to play in it, and experience needs to be gathered. One of the things already done during the last 20 years has been the collection of experience. Never before in this country have we had the volume of experience that we possess to-day, and never has that experience been brought together so advantageously. We have not only a Commission of informed persons but a very fine staff, and I would like to add my tribute to those which have been paid to the excellent staff. The staff is first-class. That is not too generous a terms to use in connection with the people who have been employed by the Commission. They have been finding out things and sometimes working empirically, on the basis of their own experience. We have grown timber, good timber and a large yield.

Perhaps the most important fact of all is that this country now knows that it can grow a bigger timber crop per acre than can any country in Europe. That is a great achievement. We have always under-estimated the capacity of our soil and have said "You cannot grow more food in this country." That was urged even by people who lived in the countryside. Even the agricultural people said that there was a limit to what we could grow, but we have gone far beyond those limits in the last three or four years. In regard to forestry, we have established the fact that we can grow a wide range of soft woods and an equally wide range of hard woods if we have the finance and the organisation. If we could justify setting aside our most suitable land for the purpose, we could grow a wider range of timber than any country in Europe. There are the soil, the organisation and now the experience. It now rests with the people and the Government of this country to give us an effective send-off in regard to the policy and the programme outlined in the Report.

I would like the Committee and the country to believe and to be optimistic that we can do all that is contained in the Report. It is a desirable and an attainable programme, which meets the situation. Whittling down at this stage, however, might encourage whittling down in other directions, and I hope that we shall not again have the experience that the Forestry Commission had earlier. The Commission has acquired a forest area of well over 1,000,000 acres and has planted roughly some 400,000 acres. It has gathered together a fine staff. In this land now there are no fewer than 243 forest units. I know some of the main projects the Commission have in view. They propose having some very large forests. Some of them must be the most economical forests we have in this country, particularly in the North, on the Scottish Border of Northumberland and Cumberland, in Roxburghshire and, I believe, Dumfriesshire. In those four counties there is a project by which we shall have a forest of no less than 100 square miles. It is a most inspiring programme.

There should be large forests, where the land is suitable and available, but we should not confine our operations to large forests. There are many pockets of suitable and plantable land which can be acquired at a reasonable price and which are of very good quality. They would be far more beneficial to the immediate localities than the acquisition of tens of thousands of acres which might interfere with other methods of cultivation, and with agriculture. I would like to see some limit of size and number mentioned in the Commission's Report. I believe the present limit is about 240 units, but I should like to see the figure something like 2,000 units. There ought to be some tentative figure in the mind of the Commission, including large units as well as small ones, especially in the neighbourhood of industrial areas, where there should be small forests of 200 or 300 acres in size. That would be well worth while from the amenity aspect. There are many such places which can produce timber just as good as in the larger areas. Such a programme could be fulfilled without cutting down by one pound the quantity of food produced in this country. I would like to see a plan for rural development and reconstruction consisting partly of forestry operation, partly of the cultivation of smallholdings, and partly of rural industry. By that kind of combination, in the building up of a rural revival and bringing back men, women and children into the countryside communities, employing them largely on this basic matter of afforestation, I believe we could get all the timber we require.

It was pointed out by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that it was the Commission's intention to be able to supply one-third of our current demand for as far ahead as they could see and to have it always available in our forests. There is another side to that matter, which represents the large insurance policy which accompanies that intention. If we have one-third of our current demand always available to be supplied from our own forests, we could, in an emergency, if we had to go to war again, meet the whole of the demand for the shorter period, say for four or five years consecutively. There is an insurance value in that provision. I would urge upon those who advocate afforestation and who believe in the possibility of this programme, that much has to be done to safeguard particularly the hillside sheep farmer, who is among the best type of our people. He lives a good, industrial, moral, decent, self-respecting, God-fearing life. I do not think we should, encroach upon the hillside sheep farmers. I am a believer in Professor Stapledon and in the possibilities of grass cultivation in those wild places. If we can grow trees, why can we not grow good grass? It is simply a matter of improving the quality of grass cultivation, and that would retain the sheep farmers where they are, because they would be able to feed more sheep. All those possibilities can easily be based upon this splendid Report.

I would now say a word about administration. I do not think there is anything wrong with the Forestry Commission. I am not on it now, but I stayed with it long enough the see that it works. It has done a marvellous job. If I may mention any shortcomings during the last 20 years, and they are not many, they are not attributable to the Forestry Commission but to this House, which has attached far more importance to spurious ideas of economy, such as the Geddes axe and such economy ideas, than it should have done. If it had not been for such economies, the Commission would have been able to achieve its full planting programme. I would say, by way of warning to this Committee, that we would by this time have had 100,000 more acres of pit wood if the Commission's programme had not been interfered with from time to time, and it would have been of inestimable advantage to this country. I remember that in 1931 we destroyed 50,000,000 seedlings which should have been put into the ground. There was no real economy in doing so, and I hope that that kind of thing will not be allowed to happen again. There is contact between the Commission and Parliament.

The Forestry Commission have answered Questions at the average rate of one per week in this House during the whole of their existence. There is no reason why those Questions should not be answered in greater number, if information were desired by hon. Members. The Forestry Commission do not work in the dark but in public and under direct supervision. I want to see the Commission sustained with the resources they require to do their great task. I belong to a small country, where we have more hilly ground even than in Scotland, in comparison with our size, and lots of our people live on small sheep holdings on the hillsides. These people have frequently expressed their fears and sometimes their grievances at the encroachment of the Forestry Commission. It is said that they have acquired land that would be more profitably employed for sheep farming. I do not want that to happen. I do not want the sheep population of this country to decline, and I do not believe it need decline if we have due regard and do the things which are suggested.

But there is a disadvantage which we suffer from as compared, say, with Scotland, and I envy Scotland—everybody does—but I do not complain of Scotland's care in looking after herself and her success in that matter. I do not know why there should not be a Regional Commissioner for Wales. There has been an Assistant Commissioner for Scotland, and I would like here to say a word in tribute to Sir John Sutherland in this Committee, a great man who has served the Commission well, who has lately retired, a very able man, a wise man, a good forester, who has the patience to watch little trees growing and does not take his axe too readily to cut them down, a man of whom Scotland should be proud. Sir John was Commissioner there. I do not see why we should not have a Commissioner's office in Wales, with a Commissioner in charge. It is true that Scotland and England have Assistant Commissioners. I do not know whether we should jib at the word. There is the chairman of the Commissioners, the general Commissioners, of whom there are eight or nine, some of them colleagues of ours. I think there are four Members of this House—[Interruption]—all Englishmen, on the Commission, and two Members of the House of Lords, one of them a Scot. There are eight or nine Commissioners, and there are two Assistant Commissioners, one for Eng land and Wales and one for Scotland. I would like to add a third and see a Welsh Commissioner.

I would like to make quite certain that the legitimate fears and apprehensions of farmers are met. After all, agriculture is the main industry, and when we have done all we propose to do in the matter of affortestation we shall only be dealing with less than 10 per cent. of the area of the country. There is the vast industry of agriculture which will have to be safeguarded. I think we can grow one-third of our timber requirements, I believe we can provide, for a short emergency of three or four years, all the timber which this nation requires. I believe we have the machinery to do it; all that is required is time. You cannot grow a tree in five years, but they do begin to play a useful part in the economy of this country from the age of 20 years onwards. Having cut down in the countryside so freely as we have done in this war to our advantage, I hope we shall not see vast tracts of unplanted land for years. I express my gratification at the presentation of this Report and express my keen regard for those who brought it forward and my desire that it shall be implemented with the uniform concurrence of Members of the Committee.

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

May I begin by also paying my tribute to the authors of this Report for its detailed information and for the very concise, readable way in which it has been put forward? In addition, may I also pay my tribute to the great work which has been done by its Chairman, Sir Roy Robinson, for 20 years, I think, now, and for the wonderful way in which he carried on in spite of the amazing difficulties which have been put in his way, especially on two occasions by this House and the Government of the day? It is rather extraordinary how we have neglected in the past our great national assets. A week or so ago we were discussing coal. What an amazing asset that has been. Nevertheless somehow or other we have neglected it in the past.

The most valuable asset that this country has had for centuries in addition to food was its timber. I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) referring to the fact that now it is recognised that this is the finest timber-growing country there is. A little knowledge of the past ought to have informed us about that. No wonder we used to sing about: Hearts of oak are our ships, Hearts of oak are our men. We relied so much through the past centuries on the excellence of our timber-growing capacity, but nothing was done until about 50 years ago, until the State began to make a few inquiries and at last acquired a few sparse hill tops, as the Report says, here and there, and began to consider what they might do, until the wonderful Report of 1909, to which practically no attention was paid. Nothing was done until the war of 1914–18. Suddenly the importance of timber in this country was realised, and that sub-committee was set up in 1916 to whose Report very rightly this Commission again calls attention, which was issued in 1919. May I also pay a further tribute to a late Member of this House, Sir Francis Dyke Acland? I doubt if the country recognises the deep debt it owes to that late Member, with regard to both agriculture and forestry. No wonder the Commission begins its Report by referring to that excellent Report of 1916–19.

Then what happens? The Forestry Act is passed. It is then argued that you have to have a national policy, that you have to have a long-term policy, that certain matters are only to be done by setting up a State authority, that that State authority must have power to acquire land and that money must be put at its disposal, linking all this up with a longterm policy. Then, of course, there should be no cutting down of the power and money given to it. Within three years down comes that instrument which we then knew by the name of the Geddes axe, and scarcely had the Commission started its work than the axe fell. What did that famous Committee presided over by one of the Geddes family suggest? What the Commons had decided in 1919, having just come through the great difficulties of the war—these difficulties had been forgotten by 1922 and the only thing that mattered was money, and, therefore, the Committee suggested, "Let us abolish this." Fortunately the Cabinet did not abolish the Commission, but they cut down its finances.

So we went on until 1931, when again another Committee, the May Committee, came forward, and again the Govern- ment of the day cut down the finances of the Forestry Commission. Agriculture and forestry have been the Cinderellas on the Government side under successive Governments through successive generations. What of this Committee? It is rather sparsely populated now. Only on two occasions have they seen fit to discuss the Estimates of the Commission, and that was over a decade ago, in 1927 and 1930. During the whole of that period about Sao Questions have been put to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, whom I most sincerely congratulate on his speech and on the way he has carried on that office throughout, an average, as the hon. Member for Gower said, of one a week, 40 a year. That is the interest we have taken in a matter which was of national importance. Is it to be wondered at that the first matter to which our attention is called in the Report is that 4 per cent. only of this national asset is produced in this country and that 96 per cent. of our wood has to be imported? Is it to be wondered, therefore, that all that the Commission acquired for planting was 714,000 acres of plantable land, and that all they planted was 434,000 acres?

Both the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and the hon. Member for Gower have emphasised the point that has been made in the Report that it has not been necessary to use any compulsory powers. I do not think that that is a tribute. It may be a tribute to landowners who are willing to part, but I am not sure it is a tribute to the energy of the Commission that they have never yet had occasion to use their compulsory powers. The history of the woodlands of this country, as is reported in the Acland Report, is one of neglect, remissness, prodigality and incapacity in looking after woodlands except in a few very well recognised cases, to which the highest tribute is paid. So what was said, again by the Acland Report, following immediately after the last war? Dependence on imported timber has proved a serious handicap in the conduct of the war. We woke up to that in the middle of this war: The United Kingdom cannot run the risk of future wars without safeguarding its supplies of timber as every other Power that counts has already done. That was the Report in 1918, and a Committee solemnly sits to consider only finance in 1921 and 1922, and says: "No, abolish the Commission and stop planting." How quickly we forget our lessons. The Acland Report says, at the end of the quotation given in the Commission's Report: The above proposals are framed in the interest of national safety, which requires that more timber should be grown in the British Isles. That was the recommendation, and all that we have been able to do is to plant some 400,000 acres and to enable owners, with Government assistance, to plant another 126,000 acres. That is all we were able to do between the two wars. Two things have called attention to the fact that this is a national matter. I was surprised when taking up this Report to find that what the Commission recommend in the first place is that we should continue a sort of mixture of State control and private ownership. What surprised me above everything is that that Report was signed by the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) and the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price).

What is the position with regard to timber? We have seen from the Reports that it is necessary to spend a great deal of money in acquiring land for planting; it is necessary to spend a good deal of money in planning; it is necessary to spend a good deal in research; it is necessary to spend a good deal in continuous care. The Commission recognise, as I should have thought everybody would have recognised to-day, that the private owner can no longer afford it. Thanks to taxation, Death Duties and increased wages, the landlord is quite incapable of carrying out the improvements which are necessary in order to bring land back into proper cultivation. That is true of agriculture, of the buildings, of the drainage, of the new houses, and of all the amenities that are required. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned that attached to the forestry work there would be the need for making new roads, new bridges and a tremendous amount of drainage. The Commission recognise this and say, "What shall we do? We will make a grant of 25 per cent. to the private owner. Even that will not be enough, so we suggest that he should also be lent 75 per cent. of the money required at a low rate of interest to carry out work which we recognise is a national duty and should be carried out by the State." Having done this, they then say, "If there is any additional wealth as a result, it will belong to the private owner, and not to the State." They say, "We must help the private owner, guide him, spend money on him, and if these woodlands then became a national asset, they will all be the property of the private owner."

When are we going to face up to realities? This is a question of national safety. We were perilously near disaster in the last war. Thereupon a Commission was called for, and the Commission reported. The moment the danger is over we go back to the old chaotic methods. Now we have this war. We have heard a great deal about the output of coal. What is the position regarding pit props in this country at present? If we are in a safe position the thanks of the country are due to Sir Roy Robinson and the work he has done, and no thanks are due to the Geddes axe and the Royal Commissions and the Governments that supported them. Let us, for the sake of national safety, have a national and long-term policy. Very rightly, the Commission say that they visualise a policy of 50 years. Let us decide the amount of money available for carrying out that policy, and let it remain rigid, and not be subject to the fluctuations in financial policy of the parties sitting on that Bench. If the country wants a long-term policy with regard to agriculture, and with regard to forestry, it can have it only by nationalisation of the land. No private owner can afford to do what is necessary. Only yesterday I saw a letter in "The Times" from Lord Mildmay of Flete, putting up, of course, a plea for private ownership. He said that the only owners who could afford to do the necessary things to bring the land back into cultivation are those who draw their money from outside the rental resources of the land. Why should you have proper treatment from the land given only by those who have made their money in some form of industry outside, and who then come forward and erect new buildings, make drains and roads, and so on, which will be necessary for agriculture, and for housing?

The Commission at long last recommend that they should have Ministerial representation in this House. I have already paid my tribute to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for what he has done on their behalf, and for the way he has informed the House from time to time, but he has been quite incapable of guiding the policy of the Government. I wonder what the story might have been if there had been a Minister for Forestry in the Cabinet in 1922 and 1931. It is essential that there should be someone who will take upon himself the responsibility for a policy, and be answerable to the House from that Bench. Where I quarrel with the Commission is that they suggest that the Minister should be that maid-of-all-work, the Lord President of the Council. What is that going to lead to? My hon. Friend the Member for Gower has already referred to disputes arising in our country over the use of land when the Forestry Commission have taken up land which would otherwise be growing crops, or at any rate providing pasture for sheep. As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, there are lands which can be used for forestry which a few years ago were regarded as derelict. It is still more true of agricultural land. Thanks to the tremendous advances made under the guidance of Sir George Stapledon, and thanks also to the new machinery, which can tear up this land, and the new scientific methods used, land which we regarded as derelict is now capable of growing crops. [An HON. MEMBER: "And thanks to the Minister of Agriculture and the subsidies."] The hon. Member has called attention to the Minister of Agriculture. I quite agree with him. But the Commission emphasised that we are still awaiting a long-term policy in agriculture. I agree that that is probably not the fault of the Minister, but the fault of his colleagues.

I cannot see a long-term policy in agriculture or in forestry being settled until we have settled the question of the ownership of land. There are bound to be squabbles between agricultural men and forestry men over the question of whether the land is to be used for the growing of food, to be laid down for permanent pasture or for ley, or to be taken away from agriculture permanently and put under forestry. The right hon. and gallant Gentlemen has said that whenever they purchase land they consult the Ministry of Agriculture. Who is going to settle these disputes? The time has come when we should reorganise the Cabinet and the position of the Members. The Minister of Agriculture is not only also the President of the Board of Agriculture but is responsible for fishing as well. What on earth has deep-sea fishing to do with the productive capacity of the soil? Nothing whatever.

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)

And nothing whatever to do with this Debate.

Mr. Davies

I am obliged to you, Mr. Williams, for that suggestion. But what I want to see is anything affecting the total productive capacity of the land, anything to do with rural economy, corning under one Minister. I want to see that Minister responsible for agriculture, for forestry, for horticulture, and divorced from anything which is unconnected with land cultivation. That is why I said that fishing should be taken away from him. First, there would be the agricultural side and all the industries ancillary to that, and the amenities which would attract people back to the land. Then, the Minister would have, as another Department, horticulture, and, as yet another Department, forestry. He would have attached to that Department, and under his control, not merely the planting and research and acquisition of the land and the decision upon what land should be used for agriculture and what for forestry, but the responsibility for lands ancillary for smallholdings, cottages, and the attractions which are just as necessary for rural people as for people living in the industrial areas. But there ought to be attached also the ancillary matters which go with forestry; the sawmills, the pulping plants, and, of course, the technical colleges which will provide the new scientific men. That is the set-up we need at present, not this hotch-potch of putting forestry under the Lord President of the Council. That sort of thing only leads to further trouble. If we are going to have a new forestry policy, let us begin properly.

There will then be a central authority here in London. I agree with that. In all businesses you first concentrate your authority into one centre, and then you devolve that authority, and trust the men on the spot. There will be necessary, to assist the Minister, various advisory committees in different parts of the country. Scotland will certainly demand one, if not two. I should imagine that there are two different areas in Scotland—above the Grampians, and below the Grampians. We shall certainly need one in Wales. We have our own peculiar problems, which are too often neglected by the Government and by this House, with regard to not merely forestry, but everything else. Probably three or four local committees will be needed for England that is a matter for the English Members to suggest. I should prefer that these bodies should not be nominated, but should be elected by the local authorities, which are the best bodies to advise the Minister. If that is done I can look forward again to seeing my bare and barren hills, and, what is worse, those which are clothed to-day in bracken and bramble, becoming a fruitful land, either in crops or in permanent pasture or with trees, which will help to make this country safe in its hour of need.

Mr. Wedderburn (Renfrew, Western)

The Report of the Forestry Commissioners recommends that 4,650,000 acres should be planted in a period of 50 years, the greater part of it by the State but something like one-fifth by private owners, with the aid of public funds. One million, one hundred thousand acres are to be planted in the first decade, 1,500,000 in the second and 850,000, 700,000 and 500,000 in the third, fourth and fifth decades. The cost for the first decade is estimated at £47,000,000, and the cost of subsequent periods is not estimated. We should expect the returns in the first decade to be extremely small because they must principally be derived from the early thinnings of the 400,000 acres which have already been planned or acquired before the war. It is put in the Report at £5.8 millions. It is extremely difficult to estimate the returns which may be expected from State expenditure on afforestation because we cannot foresee what will be the world price of timber or what new values timber may have acquired in the next 50 or 100 years. The Select Committee on Estimates for 1929 and 1937, whose reports are both quoted in this Report, accept the calculation that on the existing basis of costs and prices the returns should be between three and three and-a-half per cent., but the Select Committee took the view that afforestation would probably prove to be more remunerative in future owing to the rapid depletion of the world's resources and the steadily growing demand for timber. In Northern Europe and North America forests are not being replaced, except in Scandinavia; the demand in industry for wood of all kinds is rapidly increasing and we must expect that newly industrialised countries such as China, who would have little or no timber of their own, will in the not very distant future, enter into competition for a diminishing supply.

It is suggested in paragraph 519 of this Report that that part of our current expenditure on forestry which could properly be regarded as capital expenditure ought to be financed out of borrowings. That is a good proposal. It is one which I ventured to make myself to the Government in 1933 and again in 1934. The Treasury have always preferred to finance expenditure on forestry out of current revenue but I think it would be more equitable and also more convenient that it should be financed by a public loan. The demands for expenditure after the war on the Armed Forces and on social services and on housing will be very great, and if we are to expend, as I hope we shall, a great sum of money on a national investment which will be of the highest value to our grandchildren, we ought to draw a proper distinction between our capital and our income.

Whoever may become responsible in future for the administration of forestry, whether it be an independent authority or some Minister of the Crown, ought to make plans a long way ahead. Before any decision on policy is taken and approved by Parliament, we ought to know how much money it is proposed to spend and how many acres it is proposed to plant over a very long period of time. Subsequent Parliaments, although they can never be bound by the acts of their predecessors, should bear in mind that there is nothing more damaging and wasteful to the public interest in such a lengthy operation as forestry as continual changes in policy and unexpected variations in the annual sums of money which are voted for this purpose. I have very little doubt that it is the fear of such changes and the knowledge of their detrimental results which have always impelled the Forestry Commissioners to be exceedingly cautious and, in my view, even timid in their estimates of what could be done. In 1929 Mr. J. H. Thomas, who was then appointed Minister of Employment in the new Government, went to the Forestry Commissioners and told them they could have as much money as they liked to spend on the largest programme they could conceive for the next 10 years. But the Forestry Commission were very prudent. They replied that they could not spend more than £1,000,000 a year or plant more than 40,000 acres a year; it would not be physically possible to do this efficiently without wasting public money. The ideas of the Commission seem now to have rather expanded since they now recommend the planting of 1,100,000 acres and the expenditure of £47,000,000 in the first decade. It is a good fault on the part of any official body that they should be cautious and conservative in their estimates, and that they should not raise extravagant hopes, but I must confess that I am not very well satisfied with that part of the Report headed "Area Statement" on pages 34 to 37. If the Committee will look at paragraph 150, on page 34, which has been alluded to by my right hon. and gallant Friend, they will see the following: The and in which we are interested for future timber supply are the woodlands and the rough grazings. There fellows a table showing the rough grazings in England and Wales and in Scotland—5.61 million acres for England and Wales and 10.46 million acres for Scotland. In the preceding paragraph (149) the Commission say that— The arable, permanent grass, rough grazings … include the main bulk of rural Britain but apparently not all, because the remainder amounting to 7.7 million acres, seems more than ample to account for land devoted to urban and other uses. The Commissioners must forgive me for saying that I think this rather a careless statement to be made by a public body presenting a Report to Parliament. This 7.7 million acres, by which the Commissioners seem to be slightly bewildered, includes the whole of the deer forests in Scotland. Some of the properties in the Highlands which the Commission have acquired and successfully planted have been deer forest and the nature of the land is similar to the other mountain and heath land in Scotland which is included in this figure of rough grazings. There are 2,500,000 acres of deer forest, and the correct figure which I have verified from our latest agricultural returns should be 13.1 million and not 10.46 million acres. I would ask the Committee to look at this in conjunction with paragraph 164, in page 37, where it is stated that after inquiry by the Commission's technical officers it is computed that the total afforest-able area is 4.2 million acres, of which one-half is in England and Wales and the other half in Scotland. That means about 2,000,000 acres in each. If you compare that with the table on page 34, the result you will get is that in England 2,000,000 acres is 37 per cent. of the total figure of 5.61, while in Scotland 2,000,000 acres is only 15 per cent. of a total figure of 13.1 million acres—r5 per cent. plantable, 85 per cent. unplantable. I am willing to believe that there may be a rather higher proportion of unplantable ground in Scotland but I would very much like to know on what basis this calculation was made and what terms of reference were given to the Commission's technical officers.

My right hon. and gallant Friend in his opening speech alluded to the Report of the Royal Commission of 1909, which is mentioned in paragraph 24 of the Report. As he said, this Royal Commission recommended that 9,000,000 acres should be planted in the United Kingdom. But it is not mentioned here that of these 9,000,000 acres no less than 6,000,000 acres were in Scotland. Of the total amount of 9,000,000 half a million were in Ireland, 2½ million in England and Wales and no less than 6,000,000 in Scotland, according to the recommendations of this Royal Commission 1909. It has now come down from the estimate of 6,000,000 in 1909 to 2,000,000 acres in the Report which we have now. I have read the Report of the Royal Commission of 1909 and I think that it rather over-estimated the amount of plantable land. I do not think they made sufficient allowance for land unplantable owing to unfavourable exposure, peat, bog and other causes. But when 1 am told that of the total amount in Scotland, 13.1 million acres, only 15 per cent. is plantable and 85 per cent. unplantable, that is not a figure that I am prepared to accept unless I can have a very much more detailed survey than we are given here. It would be no use for me to give an estimate because it would only be an individual guess of no practical value, but I would ask the Government, before they decide upon the distribution of forests in this country, to demand a very much more careful and detailed survey and statement of the plantable area than that contained in this Report.

In determining our policy there are a great many things—town and country planning, the development of transport, and other things which will have to be considered but which cannot be discussed in this Debate, but there is one subject upon which I would like to say a word or two because it is of particular concern to a great many of my hon. Friends who represent Highland constituencies. I mean the relationship between forestry and hill sheep. If all the land in Scotland were put to its best use, you would certainly not abolish the hill-sheep farming industry. There is a great deal of ground which can never be planted but which can be used for grazing, but you would very materially reduce the population of sheep, because it very often happens that the most suitable ground for planting coincides with the best hill grazing. I want to make my own view on this matter perfectly plain. I can well understand the desire of my hon. Friends, who have many hundreds of thousands of sheep in their constituencies, that there should not be a too abrupt and drastic disturbance of the settled agricultural habits of the people, but my view is that wherever land can be planted preference ought to be given to timber over sheep because timber is of higher value to the country by whatever standard you measure it. If you take the money value, the annual increment from timber is greater than the annual production of mutton and wool as a rule on any land the rent of which is assessed at 5s. an acre or less, which would include most of our rough grazing in Scotland. If you take weight and bulk, which is the most important thing of all when you are seeking to save shipping space in war-time, there is no comparison at all. The annual increment from timber on this class of land is something like one and a half tons per acre, whereas the annual production of mutton and wool is seldom more than 10 or 15 lbs. If you take employment, which is a very great concern to us in deciding on our Highland policy in Scotland, afforestation there will give direct employment, on the woods themselves and on forest industry, to more than ten times the number now employed in the hill sheep farming industry, even on the best lands.

As we know, Highland landlords 100 years ago, and continuously since, were execrated by a great number of people because they converted their estates into sheep farms, and until a lifetime ago sheep farming in the Highlands was regarded as a detestable novelty which depopulated the country. Now that it is proposed to introduce this new industry, which would very largely undo the work of the Highland clearances and would repopulate the Highlands, the Forestry Commission comes in for nearly as much abuse and execration as the Highland landlords did when they put their ground to sheep 100 years ago. Of course, we can well understand that public opinion is always conservative in these matters. People naturally do not like to see well-stocked and well-managed sheep farms denuded of their sheep and turned over to timber. As I have said, my view is that in every case where there is suitable land priority should be given to timber, because on every count it is of greater value to the nation both in time of peace and war and from the point of view of production of wealth, of security in war, and of the employment of our people in the Highlands.

There is one other aspect of this Report to which I would like to make a reference, namely, that part which deals with private woodlands. I do not take the same view as the Commission about small woods. In paragraphs 294–295, on page 53, they recommend that assistance should not be given to owners of small woodlands. It is perfectly true that sylviculture requires a good deal of knowledge and skill but the successful growing of woods does not need such a superlative degree of education that it cannot be quite well performed by people who are not specialists. I think that if a smallholder is willing to plant five or ten acres of ground on his holding with a guarantee that it will be properly managed, he is just as much entitled to the assistance of the State as the great landowner who employs 15 or 20 foresters. I think in the long run that it would save the State a lot of money if they encouraged small planting. It does not mean a lot of inspection, only an inspection once a year for the first two or three years to make sure that the owner has not allowed it to get over-run with rabbits and has replaced young trees which have died.

As to the method by which assistance should be given, I do not find myself in agreement with the Commission's recommendations on page 52, paragraphs 285–287. I think that the most useful and helpful kind of assistance would be the provision of loans at a low rate of interest, a suggestion which is turned down in paragraph 287. The current rate of interest at which it has been possible to raise money in the past for planting, from the Lands Improvement Company or the Agricultural Credit Society, has usually been about five per cent. or very little less. We have been told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he wants to continue our present policy of cheap money after the war, and if that is so it ought to be possible to issue loans for approved purposes of this kind at no more than 3 per cent.

Suppose you now spend £1,000 on the planting of a wood. How much will you owe at the end of that wood's lifetime in 65 to 7o years? I assume that the cost of maintaining the wood after planting will be offset by the proceeds of the thinnings. I am only calculating the initial cost now and the ultimate value in 70 years. If your £1,000 is borrowed at 3 per cent., then in 65 or 70years your debt at compound interest will amount to £8,000 which you will owe at the end of that time. If the money is borrowed at 4 per cent. the debt after 70 years will amount to about £16,000, and if at 5 per cent. it will amount to more than £30,000 so that the advantage in borrowing at 3 per cent. as against 5 per cent. is not an advantage in the ratio of five to three, but is an advantage in the ratio of four to one.

In my view a guaranteed loan at a low rate of interest would be the most useful and helpful method of giving assistance. One of the reasons why small owners are reluctant to plant is because of the taxation on woodlands. They have to get some current revenue to pay for the taxation. If the State desires an owner to plant, and if it is right in the public interest in order to conserve timber, to prohibit him from selling the wood at a time when he thinks he can get most out of it, I think there is then a good case for exempting dedicated woodlands from direct taxation. You are allowed to pay taxes under Schedule "D" instead of Schedule "B" when running woodlands on a commercial basis, which is possible for the bigger owner with several thousand acres but is not possible for the small owner with from five to 30 acres. I would be in favour of exempting woods altogether from direct taxation, both Income Tax and Death Duties. If it were thought politically or socially undesirable that they should be so exempt, I would still relieve them from Income Tax and Death Duties and substitute a timber duty, to be paid when the wood is cut, which should form some fixed proportion of the net proceeds.

I do not know what view the Government will take of this Report or what their decision about it will be. No doubt they are debating whether it is a good thing to have an independent authority or whether forestry should be placed under some Minister of the Crown, or whether there should be some compromise between the two. I know they are giving the matter great attention, and I hope that they will give as much attention to the question of how much planting should be done and how much money should be spent upon it. I do not want to have to decide who should manage forestry until I know what kind of programme the Government are proposing. I desire that it should be a large programme, and in Scotland I wish it to be larger than what is suggested here, because it seems to me that the balance between England and Scotland is not properly assessed in this Report. There ought to be a much larger proportion of planting in Scotland. But whatever is decided I hope the Government will give us a programme containing the quantity which ought to be planted and the amount of money which it is proposed to spend upon it, and that this programme will receive plenty of publicity so that this Parliament and succeeding Parliaments may then be invited to adhere to it with the least possible amount of deviation.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)

I would like to join in congratulating the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Rye (Sir G. Court-hope) and his colleagues in the production of a most interesting Report, which to myself and many of us has been quite an education in matters appertaining to forestry. I think the Report has established facts against which some of the Commission's own conclusions tend to run counter—for instance, on private forestry and private woodlands—and that there are other points of criticism which one might make; but in the main it is heartening to find that the Commission, which has been rather timid in the past, for very obvious reasons relating to the Treasury, is now thinking in bigger terms and is taking a longer view. It is absolutely necessary, if we are to attract the best people to the service of the industry itself, that we shall have a long-term policy guaranteeing them employment, which we have not had in the past. I hope very much that the Treasury will rise to the occasion as the Commission have done and will enable them to carry out their policy largely on the lines suggested in the terms of the Report which has been presented to the Committee.

I should like to make one or two criticisms at this point. I would not make them if they were avoidable, but I feel that I must. I cannot say what the English experience is, but I do not think local authorities in Scotland were sufficiently consulted before this Report was produced. I do not think that the farmers and others interested were consulted properly at all, even to the extent of ordinary courtesy on a matter which affects their livelihood so intimately. I am afraid that that criticism will come from different sides of the House and from Members with different views from my own. There is, perhaps, another criticism in the fact that the Report and the Debate itself have been rushed. I am not complaining for my own sake. I do not say that a few more days would have equipped me technically or otherwise to speak with authority or to give further information to the Committee which it has not got; but I feel that our local authorities in Scotland would like to have had more time to present their views, and I am sure that chambers of commerce and the farmers unions would have liked time to approach Members and put their views before the Government and Parliament. They have been deprived of that opportunity by the Debate coming on so quickly. It may have been unavoidable, but there it is.

Another point is that we have the Hill Sheep Committee sitting in Scotland, and this Report definitely overlaps the functions of that Committee and certainly anticipates its findings. I think there should have been some sort of consultation and perhaps a little adjustment of the timing of the Debate with the Report of the Hill Sheep Committee as well as consultation with farmers and local authorities. Beyond these criticisms which, possibly, can be met by various belated adjustments between the Commission and the Secretary of State in Scotland, and the Minister of Agriculture in England, most of us agree that the Report in the main is excellent and, if we can avoid these incursions and unfortunate overlapping and competition with agricultural development and stock breeding, I think it will go a long way towards giving us a first-class forestry policy. I do not think the public have been startled sufficiently in the past on this subject, and it is well to have brought forcibly before the public the fact that we are so dependent upon imports of timber which is so necessary in peace and war for our economic life. To realise that only 4 per cent. of our consumption in war-time and peace-time has been met by home-grown timber is certainly to bring home with something of a shock the need for a long term and also an immediate policy. In war-time one cannot overstress the serious position in which we have landed ourselves by neglecting to have a progressive forestry policy and a policy for the conservation of our existing woodlands.

The Report stresses that we only began to think scientifically about forestry during the last war and that we only made it a special job for a special body in 1919. Its findings emphasise that we have only begun to act, even to propose action, in a big way when the second world war is well towards its ending. In the unfortunate event, which we must foresee and plan for now, of this country having to contemplate being at war again, we shall be in a very difficult position unless we have an intermediate short-term policy as well as a long-term policy covering 50 to 80 years. I am not going to say that the existence of privately owned woodlands has not served the country well in wartime, but all the facts suggest that private forestry has been a failure, and I do not think many of my hon. Friends will agree that it is a sensible or a good thing that we should put a national policy of such urgency, whose recognition is so bluntly forced upon us by war, into the hands of private forestry owners and subsidise what has up to the present proved a wholly unsuccessful proposition. The Report says that little progress has been made in sylviculture and little expansion has been achieved except by State grant. I agree completely with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) that the question relates itself not only to the control but to the ownership of the land itself; and we must base a national forest policy upon the national ownership of the land instead of resorting to subsidising a system or lack of it in private hands which has proved wholly uneconomic and unenterprising and from the national and strategic point of view wholly unsatisfactory and precarious.

There are very heartening things in the Report on which we can afford to be optimistic. It states that our climate and conditions are highly suitable for both rapid-growing and long-term policy for hard and soft woods. They have now the experience of these 20 years or more; and the training and the results from research and all these things are to hand which were not to hand in 1919. So, it may be that, having come through, by happy chances and a good deal of additional hard work, the worst of the last war and this without being completely sunk on this question of the provision of timber, that, after all, this is the best time to set out with a long-term and large-scale forestry policy with all the equipment and all the resources and all the valuable results of that research and education behind us. Much more land is now under the Commissioners' powers than before, and the mood of the country is to allow the Commission to acquire a great deal of land which this House, for political and other reasons, might not have been so willing that they should have acquired 20 or, perhaps, even, 10 years ago. I do not think anyone will argue, against the background of the figures that the Report provides, the need for a large-scale policy; or, that, 5,000,000 acres is too big a claim. I do not think it is anything of the kind. That -claim is not extravagant and does not reflect anything more than the urgency and the importance of our economic and strategic requirements.

The proposals for internal marketing and transport developments are absolutely on the right lines and are completely necessary. A great deal of economy could be effected had we had proper access to forestry and woodlands instead of having to battle through in the chaotic and costly way we have been doing. The idea of forest holdings with good conditions for the holders justifies to some extent the acquisition of a small amount of arable land in connection with these forest holdings, and I would not quarrel with the Commissioners in their aim to provide a composite living for these men in the spare-time cultivation of arable land and fully paid employment in afforestation at the same time. I think it is necessary to provide such ancillary occupations. Then we all agree that the Commission has come to the right conclusion in proposing to continue the licensing system for the felling of privately-owned trees in the interests of the conservation of private woodlands. Again we have to take the conservation problem from the national point of view, especially in relation to war-time, and to regard the possibility of this question arising in relation to a future war.

With regard to the acquisition of land, we all recognise that it is necessary; and we would not limit it to any smaller area-than the Commissioners suggest themselves. In fact, I think there is even room for an expansion of their idea of the minimum area that should be acquired. With regard to the encouragement of private woodlands, I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery that you cannot afford simply to pamper advocates of private ownership. We must deal with the question as one of national urgency and national need and if the private forests have proved uneconomic, and strategically dangerous, in the past, that is not an argument for making a 25 per cent. grant based on public loans to try to make them pay their private way. I think, also, in order to get continuity of policy and a sound economic and scientific programme for a long term of years, it is necessary to have a planned programme under national control, with a Minister directly answerable to the House. The only way to attract the best men as forestry officers is to give them a guarantee of continuing employment under the conditions of State employment suggested by the Commission. I have no quarrel with them on that at all. They seem to have considered the conditions of the workers and forestry officers fully and fairly. The only way to get the best men is to guarantee continuity of employment with good conditions instead of throwing them on the mercy of private owners who may be bankrupt to-morrow and to whom a 25 per cent, subsidy might not be sufficient to keep them solvent and to keep the employees in their job. The fact that we have a gerat deal of private timber has saved our shipping to some extent; but had we had a more courageous State policy and programme on the part of the Commission itself during the past 20 years, had we even had a proper short-term policy based on the Acland Report we could have saved, not only many hundreds of thousands of tons of shipping but the lives of many gallant seamen as well.

The conflict between the agricultural and livestock claims and the claims of the Forestry Commission must be settled, and I will give one short quotation from Sir George Stapledon's book "Make Fruitful the Land": Our policy therefore should be one that aims, first and foremost, at maintaining the maximum possible acreage in the country always in a state of good heart. And, however much we must recognise and stress the importance of afforestation and sylviculture, we must always give a first priority to meeting the need for the maximum cultivation of our arable land and we must permit no encroachment whatever upon that priority and the second, and complementary, task of keeping all suitable land under livestock. It is better that we should have plentiful food in the country, even that we should have plenty of wood, and it is better to be forced in war-time to import wood than forced, by the encroachment of forestry upon agriculture, to import more food. For, even without timber and even in war, we can survive longer than we could if we had not a fair amount of self-sufficiency in the matter of home-grown produce.

On the point of administration and responsibility, I agree with the principle of retaining the Commission. But the Welsh have an excellent claim to their own Commissioner. I agree with that partly because I hope that Welshmen will agree that we have the same claim in Scotland. I am not arguing this on a purely nationalist basis alone; but I say that we do require it because decentralisation in administration and control and day-to-day action is necessary. At the same time, I say that centralisation. of responsibility with a Minister answerable directly to Parliament for the central Government is necessary and desira ble instead of having a Commissioner like the right hon. and gallant Member for Rye, for whom I have all respect, answering Questions in the House and holding responsibility for things upon which he is incapable of influencing the Government. I should not like to see, however, the powers of the Secretary of State for Scotland curtailed and centralised under a Minister who would have plenty of responsibility of his own to answer for and plenty of alleged shortcomings of his own to be criticised upon. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland would be pleased to be held jointly or directly responsible for Scotland provided he is given the power, authority and opportunity for carrying out the Scottish policy and programmes in their relation to the special questions of Scottish agriculture and all the other problems which are special to Scotland.

The importance of this Debate is enhanced, if anything, by the fact that it is only the third such Debate for many years. It is unfortunate that that should be the case; but it is perhaps a good thing that, even in the middle of a war and rather belatedly we should recognise in a larger and broader way the importance and scope of future forestry development and planning. I hope that every encouragement will be given by the Treasury, who alone can make the proposals in this Report possible and who alone can guarantee continuity in the work of the Commission and in the employment of staff and workers. I hope that every encouragement will be given by the Treasury and the Ministries concerned. The main reasons for the importance of this work are economic in peace time and both economic and strategical in wartime. It is important, also, in redressing to some extent the present unbalance of our urban and rural economy by giving direct employment in the countryside to large numbers under good conditions. Finally, we must have regard not only to the economic and the purely utilitarian side of forestry, but also to the side which affects an important aspect of country planning, that is, in beautifying the countryside and preserving of amenities. And we shall support the proposals of the Commission, for the creation of new national parks and adding attractions to those area which in future will depend more than ever on the tourist traffic; in covering up to some extent the scars which industry has left of what were once beautiful parts of the country; and in all those questions relating to enhancing the attraction of the landscape and the beauty of the face of the land.

I want to ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his friends in the Government, and especially my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, to have some regard for afforestation in the wider schemes, quite apart from its own intrinsic economic value as timber. I want them to have regard, in afforestation, and in relation to the planning of agriculture, to the protection of places like the Western Isles of Scotland (if I may put a claim forward on behalf of my own constituency). For, places like the Western Isles are almost completely with-out trees. There are a few trees only round churches, schools and manses. There are, of course, many other parts of the north country in the same condition. We must do a fairly large amount of uneconomic planting, in the sense that it will be of no value from the point of view of forestry, in order to break the wind and to protect to some extent the agricultural land from sand-blow and excessive water accumulation in these open and wind-swept places. Apart from these various criticisms and suggestions, balanced by a certain amount of praise, on the general Report, I think that we can with full confidence commend the Report's main proposals to the Government and to the favourable consideration of Parliament.

Mr. Palmer (Winchester)

I think it would be proper for me to start by mentioning that I approach this subject with a certain direct personal interest, in that I am a private woodland owner, but I am sure the Committee will recognise that my interest is wider than that one. It is not necessary at this stage of the Debate to go over the need for greatly increased afforestation in this country. The right lion. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) made what he called an irresistible case, and he made it in a way for which the Committee and the country can be grateful. Many speakers have expressed their gratification at this Report of the Forestry Commission, and I should like to add my tribute to Sir Roy Robinson and other people associated with him for having produced a very forceful, practical Report and, I will not say visionary, but a document with a great deal of vision in it. I would like to make one or two remarks about the first two essentials which are laid down in the Report, on page 87. Several Members have referred to the responsibility that must be taken either by a member of the Government or under the existing arrangements by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Rye or someone in that position.

I think that there is a strong case in favour of having a Minister responsible for forestry answerable to the House and sitting in the Cabinet. I am not sure whether if this big development takes place, as I hope it will, it will be fair either to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who represents the Forestry Commission in the House or to the House itself that the present arrangement should continue, but one thing I am sure about is that it is much better to have no Minister at all than to have two Ministers such as the Minister of Agriculture for this country and the Secretary of State for Scotland. I cannot conceive that forestry can be developed under two Ministers in this Island, which, after all, is not a big one, although North of the Tweed conditions are somewhat dissimilar from those South of the Tweed. To split up afforestation between two different Departments would be a foolish policy and not in the interests of the nation's forestry as a whole, I understand that one or two Members from North of the Tweed are anxious to run their own show, but before they urge this on the Government too strongly I hope that they will consider the national interest as a whole. We want a more or less independent forestry body responsible to the Minister but acting as a semi-autonomous body running a big executive job on its own. If the body and the finance which it is accorded are split up, I do not see how we can get a satisfactory result. We might even get a demand for a third body under the Secretary of. State for Wales. That would be a bad arrangement.

We want forestry to be under a Minister, and perhaps the best Minister would be someone in the position of the Lord President of the Council. We want a Minister who will not be too directly concerned with the day-to-day admin- istration of the body but who will be strong enough in the Cabinet to ensure continuity of policy by being able to go to the Treasury and carrying weight there. The question of continuity is largely a financial matter. My hon. Friend below me suggested that much of the forestry expenditure should be financed out of loan, and I would like to support that view. There are two real reasons why we should treat the matter like that. Forestry has not merely an invested value which we measure in cash returns, although we can measure it in that way, but it is also an insurance against circumstances similar to those of to-day rising again in a future emergency. There is a further reason why we should not keep forestry expenditure on a year-to-year basis. We cannot tell how much money we shall have to spend in a particular year because conditions of weather and climate, and so on, vary. It is important that the Commission should know how much they are expected to spend in to years and be able to expend from year to year in an elastic kind of way, so that if they have not spent the full amount in one year they can carry over the balance to another year without any interference from the Treasury or the House. The most practical method of financing forestry seems to be to do it for 10 years by loan.

As regards the forestry authority, I hope we shall continue the system whereby Members of all parties are represented on it. This should not be a political matter, and that seems to be the best way of ensuring continuity from year to year. As one of those who will probably be affected by the proposals for closer relations with private owners, I would like to say how much I, and I believe many private owners, will welcome closer relations with the forestry authority. We shall naturally be anxious, as everybody will be, that those relations shall be on the best possible footing. I believe that they may be mutually beneficial, not only to owners but also to the forestry authority itself. I am sure that I am not saying anything offensive to the Forestry Commission when I say that I do not think they would feel that it would be reasonable to assume that any single forestry body should have a monopoly of the best ideas and all the experience on this subject. On the contrary, a lot of useful ideas may come from private, owners and could be pooled through the medium of the Forestry Commission to the general national advantage. There is one thing I would stress. I hope that we shall not have an insufferable number of forms and returns to be filled up. A few hours of really good discussion on the spot in woodlands is worth many tons of paper returns.

As regards the State afforestation proposals, I would not criticise the figure of 5,000,000 acres in detail, as we have not the material to do so, but a very striking case has been made out—well, I do not want to venture too far, and I will say that the case about increasing afforestation at some expense to food production has certainly been proved. Great stress has also been laid upon education. This seems to be absolutely fundamental, because however much money we may vote here, however much we may plan, and however much we may alter the constitution of the authority itself, we shall not get enough good trees grown in this country unless there is a sufficient number of people who know how to grow them. We must encourage the forestry service, making it attractive and making promotion possible in order to get the best people. But not only is a forestry service needed. I hope that the plans suggested in the Report, or similar plans, for more facilities for training all kinds of people occupied with forestry will be developed; and I also hope the forestry authority will co-operate very closely with the Board of Education, not only in order to continue after the war the forestry camps, which are one of the best ways of introducing young people to the elements of forestry and interesting them in it, but also in order to develop, perhaps, area schools or colleges for young foresters so that by degrees we may build up in this country a race of forestry families—there is no healthier existence for children—just as we have people growing up as farmers, seafarers or miners. I should like to see a race of foresters recognised as a part of the national life, just as forestry has to become part of the national life like agriculture and seafaring.

I was glad to hear what my right hon. and gallant Friend had to say about amenities, about planting to please as well as to pay. We are glad to have the assurances he gave and we hope to see evidence of it everywhere. I am surprised that not much reference has been made to rabbits. Anybody who has had anything to do with woodlands has strong feelings about rabbits, and I do not see why the subject should not be taken as a matter of great seriousness in Parliament and the country. Only determination and organisation are needed in order to exterminate rabbits altogether throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain. The time has come for the Forestry Commission to enter into consultation with the Minister of Agriculture, the Secretary of State for Scotland and war agricultural executive committees to see whether it is not possible to organise a campaign not on a county basis but on a national basis. I do not see why we should not use, if not now, at any rate soon after the war, some form of organisation such as we have already in existence, but on a voluntary basis—like the Home Guard and Civil Defence. An organisation has grown up for various purposes during the war, and I do not see why we should not make use of something of the sort for this national purpose after the war.

As regards private woodlands, I agree that it is up to private owners to accept this scheme as being a proper conception in the national interest. If private owners cannot, with State assistance, put their woodlands into proper order, it would be proper for the State to take them over and run them, but I do not think we have yet reached that stage. I should not think it was in the national interest for the State to run all the woods in the country. Private owners can make a definite contribution to forestry, as they have done in the past. I think my right hon. and gallant Friend did mention that they were providing 80 per cent. of the pit props in use. I am afraid I am prejudiced in favour of private enterprise. It is inevitable that I should be.

Whereupon, THE GENTLEMAN USHER OF THE BLACK ROD being come with a Message, THE CHAIRMAN left the Chair.

Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.

Forward to