HC Deb 15 February 1945 vol 408 cc403-6
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Anderson)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and by leave of the House I should like to make a short statement on forestry.

It will be necessary for the country to adopt after the war a larger and more comprehensive forestry policy. The Government have, therefore, reviewed the present machinery, with a view to securing more complete and more direct Ministerial and Parliamentary control, the better co-ordination of the development of agriculture and forestry, and the most efficient use of the woodlands which survive the war and of further land available for afforestation. They have come to the conclusion, after prolonged consideration of various possible alternatives, that these objects can best be secured by enlarging the sphere of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Secretary of State for Scotland, so that these Ministers may become jointly responsible for forestry policy and for supervising the measures for its execution. Under such an arrangement the Forestry Commission will be retained as a single continuing expert body, responsible directly to Ministers for advice on forestry policy and for carrying out operations, including training, research and forest holding. The Commission will, as at present, be appointed by the Crown.

Legislation will be necessary, and a Bill now in draft will be brought before this House as soon as time permits. In the changed circumstances it will, as I think the House will agree, be no longer appropriate that Members of this House shall be members of the Forestry Commission. This will, I am sorry to say, necessarily mean the end of an arrangement to which the House and the country had become accustomed and around which a pleasant tradition had been built up. Questions on forestry will, of course, in the future, when the new arrangements have come into operation, have to be answered in the usual way from the Front Bench.

Sir George Courthope

May I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, and for the kind words he has used about my colleagues and myself? May I ask him whether he will be able shortly to give us the measure of the expansion which will be authorised so that the essential preparation may be made for that expansion, such as the recruitment and training of officers who will be necessary for dealing, not only with the State forests, but even more so, with the privately owned woodlands?

Sir J. Anderson

Yes, Sir. I hope it will be possible to make such a statement in the very near future. It has really been waiting until this question of machinery was settled.

Mr. J. J. Lawson

Can the Chancellor tell us when the House will have an opportunity of hearing what this statement he has made to-day really means, as many of us have been very suspicious about the general attitude of the Government towards afforestation in this country?

Sir J. Anderson

I think a very convenient opportunity will arise on the Second Reading of the Bill, which, as I have said, will be introduced at an early date.

Earl Winterton

Will this Bill merely transfer these functions to the Ministry of Agriculture, or will it include the expansion of powers which many of us of all parties have urged, so that the Ministry should have the same power of control, through the Commission, over the way in which private woodlands are managed, as the county war agricultural committees have over agricultural land?

Sir J. Anderson

I am in a little difficulty on that point, though I appreciate its importance. The Bill will be concerned primarily with machinery. Whether it will be found Convenient to include in the Bill certain further provisions for the development of forestry policy in general and in particular, in relation to the control of private woodlands, has not yet been finally determined. In any case it will have to be dealt with by the House at a very early date.

Mr. Tinker

Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer aware that the public are much disturbed by trees being cut down on forest land and left lying there? Could not we first of all try to clear up those sites?

Sir J. Anderson

I think a question like that had better be put on the Paper.

Mr. De Chair

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his answer will give general satisfaction in the country, although the House naturally respects the services which have been given by the Forestry Commission?

Mr. Buchanan

We learn from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland will answer questions. In view of these new arrangements, could I ask him to impress upon the Ministers the need for answering questions so that we can follow them?