HC Deb 27 May 1946 vol 423 cc805-7
18. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the President of the Board of Trade why instructions have been issued by the Timber Controller requesting timber merchants to report privately to him the existence of parcels of standing timber which the estate owner is unwilling to sell; and whether it is by his authority that timber merchants have been encouraged to make private reports with a view to pressure being put by the controller upon the estate owners.

21 Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) what arrangements are in force between the Federated Home Timber Association and his Department for the reporting of parcels of timber which are considered suitable for felling;

(2) whether it is with the approval of his Department that an undertaking has been given to the Federated Home Timber Association that, where an individual has reported a parcel of timber considered suitable for felling, his area officer shall visit the owner and quote two or three buyers, so as to prevent the owner knowing who has given information to the Timber Control;

(3) how many cases have been reported to Mr. Beavon Clayton of the Timber Control by area officers of timber considered suitable for felling on information supplied by private individuals; and what action has been taken on such reports.

Mr. Belcher

Timber merchants are finding difficulty in a number of instances in obtaining standing timber, and, in view of the great importance of maintaining output, it has been arranged that area officers, when informed by merchants of possible sources of supply, will, in suitable cases, approach the landowners and endeavour of arrange for the timber to be placed on the market. The names of two or three buyers are mentioned, and an undertaking has been given to the Federated Home Timber Association that the name of the informant will not be divulged, nor is there any question of insisting that any sale must be made to him. In several instances, the area officer's approach has already led to the landowner consenting to sell, and in other instances negotiation is proceeding. Area officers have so far reported to the Timber Control three instances in which agreement has not been reached locally. In one of these it is considered that, in view of the quantity the owner has already contributed, it would not be reasonable to press him further. The other instances are under consideration.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does that answer mean that the hon. Gentleman's Department is encouraging secret reports by private citizens upon other private citizens?

Mr. Belcher

Put in that way it sounds very alarming. All it amounts to is that somebody sees a stock of standing timber and suggests to my Department that we approach the owner of the timber with a view to him selling. No pressure is brought to bear upon the owner of the timber, and I really cannot see anything dreadful about it.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Why has the Minister taken precautions to ensure that the landlord never discovers who has laid this information?

Mr. R. S. Hudson

Has the hon. Gentleman seen the letter which has been sent out? I think that if he will get a copy of it he will find that it does not altogether tally with the information which he has just given. According to the letter, a copy of which I have seen, these men are being deliberately encouraged to spy and report things, and are promised a considerable reward if they do.

Mr. Belcher

I will accept the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion with alacrity. I will have a look at the letter and compare it with the answer which I have given this afternoon.

Sir Waldron Smithers