§ 4.15 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
I beg to move,That this House approves the policy of His Majesty's Government for Forestry as announced by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries on 30th November, 1945.The House having travelled from the subject of the Army to that of bananas and nuts, it seems to me not out of place that I should now follow with a statement on the question of trees. On 30th November last year, I made a statement in this House on Government forest policy. After careful and detailed study, the Government were impressed with the necessity, as a safety measure, apart from all other considerations, to rebuild our reserves of standing timber as quickly as possible. The Government were also impressed with the possibilities that systematic forestry and afforestation held out for the better utilisation of large areas of poor land, and increased employment in healthy rural surroundings for quite a considerable body of people. We proposed, therefore, at that time to ask the Forestry Commission to prepare for what we regarded as large scale action My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer readily agreed to replenish the Forestry Fund by some £20 million during the five years 1946–50. The first instalment of that figure appears in the Estimates for the current financial year. This sum of –20 million is expected to provide for the afforestation and replanting of something like 365,000 acres by State action and by assistance to owners of private woodlands, for the acquisition of land, for increased facilities for education, training and research into all branches of forestry, for up-to-date houses for forestry workers, and for national forest parks; and in addition, of course, the maintenance and development of the large areas of young plantations already established by the Forestry Commission.
It may be asked why all this is necessary, but I think by this time every hon. Member must be acutely conscious of the difficulty of providing all the timber we require for houses and other reconstruction schemes. Indeed, I think it is fair to say that it took the war of 1914–18 and the more recent war to make us all appreciate the very high place that timber occupies among the raw materials of industry. Throughout our industrial 52 development the nation has consumed more and more timber; for instance, five times as much during the 10 years 1903–12 as during the years 1843–52. So that before the war of 1914–18 our annual import of timber alone was something like 10 million tons to 12 million tons. Those supplies clearly were obtained easily and cheaply from the vast coniferous forests in the Northern Hemisphere, but as a nation, unfortunately, we made little or no provision either to safeguard our needs in emergency or to provide for some proportion of the timber required for industrial development. We left that part of the business entirely to the initiative of private owners. Therefore, when the emergency arose in 1914 and more recently those cheap, easily obtained supplies were very quickly cut off, and during the first world war I think it is not an exaggeration to state that we felled our woodlands to a very serious extent in this country. Luckily the then Government saw the red light, and after the first great war they established a Forestry Commission, for they began to realise at long last the importance of home grown timber. But once again, very quickly they forgot the importance of timber when the financial stress came round about 1921, and so forestry gave way to Geddes, and the same sort of Geddes philosophy obtained in 1931.
I believe it is true to say that throughout the peace the Forestry Commission were never given a real opportunity to establish forests on the right scale in this country. In any case, whatever the various Governments may have done or thought about afforestation in this country, certainly the 20 years between the two wars were totally insufficient to make up for the fellings during the 1914–18 war. Therefore, when fellings commenced again in 1939, not only for mature timber and timber of middle age but for immature timber, which, unfortunately, continues at this moment—and here may I say that practically the whole of the hard woods required for our housing schemes, and 50 per cent. of mining timber, is still being drawn from our very severely denuded forests in this country—it simply meant reducing our homegrown supplies to what I should term a very dangerously low level. We are hopeful, of course, that we are in for a very long era of peace. However, I would like to ask hon. Members to contemplate for 53 a moment any possibility of a further outbreak of hostilities while our timber resources are so low as they are at this moment. I think it is fair to the land owners of 50, 60 and 70 years ago to pay them the compliment that it was due to their initiative and foresight that we have been able to tide over this immediate crisis. Ninety per cent. of the timber now drawn from home-grown sources is being drawn from private woodlands.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
In view of the most important statement the Minister has just made, would he disagree with the statement made by his colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, during the Recess, that it was the fault of private owners that there was not sufficient timber in this country?
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. and gallant Gentleman would not expect me to follow every statement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Not having followed those statements, I prefer not to comment upon them. What I do know is, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a great forest enthusiast, or he would not have so readily placed at our disposal some £20 million for the next five years. This clear felling which has gone on for over seven years can mean only one thing, namely, that large areas of this country, useful practically only for timber, are in urgent need of regeneration. In the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) I can only regard this as a very melancholy sort of picture to draw, especially when we remember, first, that timber is likely to remain an essential raw material for industry for a very long time, and secondly, that in those great forests whence we drew most of our soft wood supplies growth is not keeping pace with depletion. These facts seem to me to fully justify speedy and large scale planting operations in this country. Moreover, I think it once more requires full cooperation between the State and private owners in a continuous effort, if we are to restore some element of safety in this country.
We all recognise, of course, the immediate difficulties, but abnormal fellings in this country ought to cease at the earliest possible moment, and clear felled areas should be replanted as quickly as is humanly possible. Here the State must also play its part in extending its own 54 forest area. I think we must do more. From this moment, henceforth at all events we ought to ensure that the best possible use is made of existing plantations, and to see that all timber, drawn either from private or from State forests, is properly utilised. The dedication scheme, to which I shall refer later, was designed to help private owners and to help the State. I hope that scheme will ultimately be a success. Assuming we decide to act wisely, what results may we expect in terms of timber production in this country? Some hon. Members may question the wisdom of a large-scale forest policy. Whether looked at from the point of view of national safety or as an economic proposition, I think the expectations and hopes are very good in Great Britain. With our warm, humid climate the rate of growth, of coniferous timber in particular, is much more rapid than in any country in the northern latitudes whence we drew most of our soft woods. I am informed by the Chairman of the Forest Commission that 50 years' growth of Scots pine in this country produces an average yield per acre of some 2,750 cubic feet as against 1,950 cubic feet in either Prussia or Sweden, or 900 cubic feet in Southern Finland; whereas, Norway spruce produces 5,000 cubic feet per acre as compared with 2,250 in Prussia, or 950 in Finland. Sitka spruce and Douglas fir, which some people like and some do not, but which is rarely used abroad, produces not less than 7,650 and 6,800 cubic feet respectively per annum per acre.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
Although yields in these islands may be very large, I think the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken in the figure. Surely these yields are for 50 years and not for one year.
§ Mr. Williams
What is the difference in an odd 49 years anyhow? The relative quantities are strictly correct. As a matter of fact, I did say 50 years.
§ Mr. Williams
I said 50 years' growth per acre. I hope I have made it quite clear. The point is, I do not think we need be in doubt on the point of either quantity or quality when expending money on State afforestation. The Forestry Commission have had a great deal of experience during the past 26 years. They 55 have made many improvements in planting and management, and I am sure that the objective at which we are aiming can be achieved without loss to the State. The Forestry Commission recommended, I think in 1943, that we ought to aim at five million acres of effectively managed forest in 50 years, and an area capable of producing one-third of our current consumption, enabling us at all events to withstand any national emergency. I believe the Forestry Commission were right. Some farmers here and there have expressed apprehension and misgiving that perhaps too much agricultural land may be taken over for afforestation. I can assure them that every area to be purchased for afforestation will be very carefully examined before any final decision is taken. Should there be any disagreement between the Forestry Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture, or the Forestry Commission in Scotland and the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, the Secretary of State for Scotland, or myself for England and Wales, will take the final decision. I can assure farmers in all parts of the country that careful consideration will be given to each case where land is to be acquired for afforestation. Having said that, I ought also to say this. Apart altogether from potential agricultural land, there are scores of thousands of acres of land in this country simply crying aloud for afforestation at once, where nothing but trees could be produced in those areas.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. Hudson), with the former Secretary of State for Scotland, was responsible for the Forestry Act, 1945. Quite naturally the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport will be particularly anxious to know what is happening to his legislative child. Here, I think I ought to say that, while the former Secretary of State for Scotland has apparently departed from the political arena, he has not lost interest in afforestation. He has become a Forestry Commissioner, and he is helping to administer his own Act, which is almost unique. He is helping to administer his own Act as chairman of the Scottish National Committee, which I think is a fine display of the public spirit which has always characterised the former Secretary of State for Scotland. That Act places responsibility for afforestation upon the 56 Secretary of State for Scotland and myself. I can say at once that the relationship between the Forestry Commission and the new Minister of Agriculture is extremely friendly, and that in all the various problems which have arisen between afforestation and agriculture so far there has been no serious difficulty; and I do not anticipate any in the future.
The Act also provides for the closest scrutiny by the agricultural departments of land to be acquired, and for the management by them of areas to remain under cultivation, either for the period of time before planting can take place in those areas, or indefinitely for parts of any block purchased for afforestation which will remain for agriculture for all time. Here, again, I can say that the arrangements that have been made between the Forestry Commission and the agricultural departments are running very smoothly indeed, and thousands of acres of agricultural land, hitherto under the control of the Forestry Commission, are being transferred to the agricultural departments. Secondly, I can say that a pilot survey is presently taking place in Wales to indicate which areas of land are more suited to afforestation and which ought to be left for agriculture, and I hope that that pilot survey may be followed in various parts of England and Scotland in the months that lie ahead.
The Commission have appointed national committees for England, Scotland, and Wales—three separate committees, which meet monthly. They have set up regional advisory committees corresponding to the II forestry conservancies, but unfortunately, in common with almost every other Government Department, they are encountering very great difficulty with staffing, both with senior forest officers and with employees in lower categories. The chairman combines the chairmanship with the post of director-general. A deputy director-general has been appointed, as well as directors for each country. But the Commission are greatly impeded in setting up what I can call a complete executive organisation, largely due to the absence of their prewar officers, who are either working for the Timber Supply Control in this country, or have been sent to Germany to try to extract as much timber out of Germany as is possible. It is very useful from the point of view of importing German timber, but it is very em- 57 barrassing to the Forestry Commission, who have had to loan their officers for such a long period of time.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport will remember it was intended and hoped that education would not be lost sight of. Education schemes for forest officers and foresters, and training schemes for men returning from the Forces, are already in operation, and 810 are at present in training. There is, unfortunately, a considerable waiting list merely for want of accommodation, and we need all the assistance we can obtain from the Ministry of Works and Buildings to enable us to train the right number to carry on this large scale undertaking. With regard to other forms of education we have running two schools of training for foresters, and we expect to open three more shortly. These schools provide a two-year course for 240 persons, with an outflow of something like 120 trained officers each year.
Research has not been forgotten. The Alice Holt Lodge has been set aside exclusively for research. A chief research officer has been appointed, and he will have under him, I hope, a silviculturist, ecologist, an entomologist, a pathologist, a mensuration officer, and a census officer, with the necessary assistants and staff; and that, I hope, will, in course of time, not only help us with forestry operations, but will help us to keep in touch with Empire and world science, so far as forestry is concerned.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
I did not quite catch the beginning of that paragraph. Have they set up a forestry research station?
§ Mr. Williams
I said that Alice Holt Lodge had been set apart as a research station. It is a very suitable building, requiring the absolute minimum of conversion, and is just the most suitable place that could be made available to us; and since the Forestry Commission already own the building everything seems to be convenient for the use of this building.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)
Would the Minister make it clear whether, in speaking of training and research, he has been dealing with the United Kingdom, or with England and Wales only?
§ Mr. Williams
With the United Kingdom. But I can assure the hon. Member that whatever we are allowed to do for England and Wales, Scotland will insist on something better, if possible.
The planting programme has been speeded up so far as we can anticipate labour requirements and other problems we have to overcome. The target, therefore, for State planting for the season 1946–7 is something over 30,000 acres, compared with 8,500 acres for 1945–6. To achieve this target, however, we must have a greatly increased labour force. That, in turn, obviously involves a large number of new houses—something approaching 1,200 a year for quite a few years. By arrangement with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works and Buildings, his Department will undertake on a repayment basis the construction of all the cottages required by the Forestry Commission in England and Wales, while the Scottish Housing Association will perform a like service in Scotland. As with agriculture so with afforestation; no homes, no men; no men, no trees; no trees, no safety for this country. The Government recently approved a scheme for road development in the State forests.
§ Mr. Williams
Twelve hundred houses a year, I hope, for quite a few years, if we are to carry out this task.
§ Mr. Williams
Oh, yes, a few have been begun. I could not say how many. They are not very large. But all the preliminary work has been undertaken, and it is only because we have found it extremely difficult to get tenders from private builders that we have had to resort to the Ministry of Works and Buildings to do the job for us in the end, and I am hopeful that they will do the job for us in a very effective way.
The Government recently approved a scheme for road development, first to provide work in some cases in development areas for those who are unemployed and for members of the Polish resettlement corps; and, secondly, to facilitate the extraction of thinnings from plantations, thereby providing timber for coal 59 mining in this country. As regards private afforestation, the Government recognise the importance of replanting and developing privately owned woodlands, and for this purpose have accepted the dedication scheme which was proposed by the Forestry Commission back in 1943. The essence of this scheme is to secure continuity of good management, and the owner, for this purpose, will enter into a covenant which will bind not only himself but also his successor. In other words, it is our intention that dedication shall run with the land as distinct from the individual.
Two alternative methods for assisting dedicated woodlands have been provided. In the first, a grant of 25 per cent. for the ascertained net loss until the woods become self supporting will be paid; secondly, grants for the planting and maintenance of productive woodlands were fixed in 1945–46 at £7 los. per acre, plus 2s. 6d. an acre for 15 years for maintenance. In view of the rising costs of wages and so on, the Government have seen fit to recognise that fact, and they, therefore, intend to fix the grants for the 1946–47 planting year and the four succeeding seasons at £10 per acre for planting and 3s. 4d. per acre for maintenance. In the case of woods not suitable for the dedication scheme, those smaller areas, these grants will be the same as for dedication, except that there will be no maintenance grant at all.
The various forestry bodies have accepted these figures, and I do not think there will be any disagreement about them. In view, however, of the delay in getting the dedication scheme well under way, we are considering at the moment a system of advances in anticipation of that scheme. On this point I should also like to announce that loans for forestry purposes will be made available by the Commissioners in proper cases. The loans will be on a long-term basis of up to 50 years, and repayment of capital and interest will be in equal instalments annually, the rate of interest being three per cent.
§ Mr. Williams
I cannot carry it beyond the fact that it will be in equal annual payments over whatever period the loan happens to be for. For instance, a 60 30-year loan would perhaps differ from a 50-year loan in its annual repayments. The only thing is that the instalments must be equal, and the rate of interest remain at three per cent.
§ Mr. Hudson
At first sight it sounds less favourable, and I would like to know whether it is more or less.
§ Mr. Williams
It is not only not less favourable, it is more favourable at the moment. The problem of keeping private woodlands under good management has proved extremely difficult in every country where efforts have been made. I can only trust that this House will feel that this is an honest, generous British attempt, and I hope it will succeed. Pending legislation, the Commissioners are not able to complete the covenants on dedication, but woodland owners have been made fully aware since February of the proposals, and owners of 42I properties involving 244,000 acres have already signified their desire to dedicate. This is merely a beginning, and I hope that the 244,000 acres will prove to be merely a start and will eventually be multiplied many times over.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport when introducing the Act of 1945 said that it was purely a machinery measure. He did, therefore, more or less imply that some other legislation would be necessary to carry through the constructive policy. While the Secretary of State and I, under the Forestry Acts of 1919 to 1945, have apparently ample powers to do almost everything we desire to do, it is clear that for an owner to bind his successors legislation will be necessary. There are also one or two other quite different cases, of, say, tenants for life or trustees who themselves may wish to dedicate. This will involve legislation, but I hope and believe that a very small non-controversial Bill will put that right, and dedication can then start almost immediately.
§ Mr. Alpass
I would like to get this clear. Would not any covenants that are entered into by a landlord bind his successors, as is ordinarily the case? Is there a special exception with regard to forestry?
§ Mr. Williams
It is quite clear from the legal advice tendered that, unless legislation is passed, the owner cannot bind his successor, and as landowners have already accepted that interpretation they are quite willing that the Bill should go through as a non-controversial Measure.
I was about to say that I have already indicated that the balance between forestry and agriculture will be held, I believe, quite fairly by the Secretary of State and myself. There is perhaps one other question I ought to refer to before I sit down, namely the question of recreational facilities for the general public. I refer naturally to national forest parks. On this matter we are of course in close contact with the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. Our object in establishing national forest parks is to attempt to reconcile the proper use of land with recreation, and I believe that a useful start has been made. There are five such parks, in Argyll, Glen Trool, Hardknott, Snowdonia and the Forest of Dean, covering some 200,000 acres, already established. There has been some criticism here and there, perhaps, because of the absence of hard wood. It has also been suggested that these large unending conifer blocks are just one mass of monotony. It has also been suggested that the right kind of rest room is not available here and there, but my information is that, at least in the Forest of Dean, almost every suitable arrangement has been made for the convenience of those who find contentment in that national forest park. In the other four parks, based upon experience already gained, the Forestry Commission are taking all the necessary steps to respond to what appear to be the national wishes. For my part, I should hate to spoil what is, after all, a national playground for the sake of £50 or £60, and I am quite sure that I voice the feelings of the Forestry Commission when I say that they will not spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar. Where a national forest park is established they will provide such amenities as seem to be necessary for the people.
In this connection it may not be out of place if I mention that the British Commonwealth Conference on Forestry will be held in this country next year, and delegates from all parts of the Dominions and Colonies have already been invited to it. The fact that they will be here 62 indicates at all events that they will want to see what we have to show, and the better display we can give them either in our general forestry campaign or in our national forest parks the better they will be pleased. Clearly it is our duty to see that there is something useful to show them.
I hope at least that I have said enough to convince the House that to practise forestry in this country on a much larger scale than hitherto will be a sound paying proposition in more senses than one. It is first of all essential for national safety, it will provide an increased proportion of this industrial raw material, and we shall be making the best use of poor land in all parts of the country. It must also provide more healthy employment in rural surroundings, and cannot fail to add to the amenities of the countryside. So long as we act vigorously I hope that we shall secure willing agreement in the House that the forestry policy of the present Government is a policy which ought to be pursued, and which we will pursue if we have the confidence of this House.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question about grants. In another place it was stated that they would be retrospective, but not for how long they would be retrospective. Would planting done last season, 1945–46, count for grant?
§ Mr. Williams
Whatever scheme was entered into in 1945–46 will receive the grant made available for that particular planting year. It has been varied for the year 1946–47.
§ 4.49 P.m.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
This Motion today provides the opportunity for what I hope will prove to be a long series of Debates in this House on forestry, and will give successive Ministers of Agriculture an opportunity of giving an account of their stewardship. One of the main reasons, perhaps not the main reason, which actuated the late Secretary of State for Scotland and myself, and our colleagues in the Coalition Government, to bring in the Bill, in 1945, was the feeling that under the previous set-up the opportunities afforded for this House to discuss forestry were, having regard to its importance and increasing importance in the future, wholly inadequate. Hon. Members will probably know that the arrangement was that it fell to certain Members 63 of the House—members of the Forestry Commission—on very rare occasions to answer for what the Forestry Commission had done, or even more important, what the Forestry Commission had not done. We felt that this was an unsound state of affairs, and that it was very desirable to inaugurate a system which would allow an individual Minister—in this case the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries for England and Wales, and the Secretary of State for Scotland—to be directly responsible to this House for what was done.
We are grateful, therefore, to the right hon. Gentleman for taking this opportunity, in this first Session of Parliament, to have a discussion on this subject. I realise that he did not want to weary the House unduly, but on the other hand, having regard to the importance of the occasion and the vast field to be discussed, I think that we might have had a rather longer speech from him. I hope, as I am sure he and every lover of forestry hopes, that this subject will be one of those on which there is no party conflict. The importance of forestry and timber to the security and future of this country, not only to our security as a nation in times of war, but to our prosperity industrially as a nation in times of peace, transcends all Party considerations. I think that we shall therefore have to request another day at a comparatively early date in the new Session. I should have liked—I do not want to criticise the right hon. Gentleman—a great deal more detailed information about many of the points upon which he has touched. I have no doubt that when the Secretary of State for Scotland comes to reply he will be in a position to give rather more information, and will be able to answer, in particular, the many points raised by Scottish Members.
The whole essence, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will remember, of our idea was that instead of, as had been the practice up till now, the Forestry Commission coming along and saying, "Here is an estate which we should like to buy," and then proceeding to dump timber there more or less without regard to the agricultural possibilities or the desires of the farmers, any future necessary extensions of forests should be based upon the principle that every piece of land ought to be devoted to the best purposes for which it was adapted. We 64 certainly anticipated that the first step would be the most detailed survey, and I was sorry to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that it was merely a pilot survey in a county of Wales which was being made. I should like to know what is happening to that survey, because there is much more than one county concerned. We should like to know what plans the Forestry Commission have in mind for surveying, not merely one county in Wales, but the North of England, Northumberland and Cumberland, parts of the Midlands and other counties where there are undoubtedly great possibilities—East Anglia, for example. I hope we shall have an assurance that until surveys are made, the Forestry Commission will not proceed with the acquisition of land.
The right hon. Gentleman also stated that a certain number of acres had been transferred from the management of the Forestry Commission to the Agricultural Department. We should be very interested to know what is the form of organisation which is being set up in his Department to manage this land, and to carry on the cultivation of land in the ownership of the Forestry Commission which will not be required for planting for another 20 or 40 years. Perhaps he might consider issuing a White Paper on this point. I think that the House is entitled to get detailed information. The right hon. Gentleman dealt with the question of training and education, and rightly said that one of the difficulties in getting to work as quickly as he and all all of us hoped was the question of staff. He said that 840 people were under training, and that every year a certain number of graduates were coming out of the schools. He referred to the further difficulty which had arisen, owing to the fact that many members of the Forestry Commission staff were no longer at the disposal of the Forestry Commission, but were engaged either on the Timber Control or in Germany.
So far as the Timber Control is concerned, it is clear, having regard to the unfortunate necessity that we are continuing to fell on a considerable scale, that responsible members of the Forestry Commission should be giving their technical assistance to the Timber Control to try to reduce the long-term damage which inevitably follows from felling semi-mature timber, or even immature timber. On the question of staff in Germany, I 65 should like the right hon. Gentleman to look personally into this matter. I doubt, from what I and hon. Members on this side hear, whether such a large staff is really essential in Germany today. After all, the Germans are, and have been for generations past, some of the best foresters in the world, and it really is not necessary for large numbers of our technical people to be engaged on supervising German forestry. All we should be required to do is to tell the Germans what we require in the way of timber—so many standards—and tell them that they have to produce it.
§ Mr. Hudson
It ought to be. It ought not to be necessary to have 400 people in the British zone alone. My information from people who come back from the zone is that the staffing is already excessive. It is much more important to get our forestry going and our woods replanted. Do not forget that every year which passes after a wood has been clear-felled makes it more difficult to replant, and certainly more expensive, whether it is private woodland or State woodland. From a national point of view, there is a great advantage in getting felled areas planted as soon as we can.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to appreciate that unless we had sent technicians to Germany no start would have been made in extracting timber from German forests. Our technicians were the basis of the activities that were going on, and it is some consolation to me to know that we are getting more and more out of German forests and that we shall, I hope, get less out of British forests because our technicians are in Germany.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am not saying that in the early months after the defeat of Germany that was not necessary, but I am suggesting that the time has now come to look into this matter. Everybody who has any knowledge of human nature knows very well that if people have a show running abroad, and being built up, they can always provide magnificent statistical reasons to prove that their show is absolutely necessary and that, far from being reduced, ought to be still further increased. It is the job of the Minister, who is responsible to this 66 House for getting forestry in this country going again, to say, "No, you will be allowed x people, and you will have to make arrangements to see that the job is done." The right hon. Gentleman knows that civil servants do what they are told, and that it is merely a question of setting a target. I think it would be well worth while if the right hon. Gentleman went out to Germany himself, and looked into the matter personally.
§ Mr. Hudson
I did not suggest that. The Minister told us about the dedication scheme and I am most grateful to him, as, I am sure, private owners will be, for the information. Whether or not 3s. 4d. is the right figure for maintenance I do not know, as I have not sufficient technical knowledge, but it seems a little on the low side, having regard to the total costs involved. It is about one and a half hour's work for one man on one day in the year, per acre.
§ Mr. Hudson
It does not seem that one will get very far when one looks at the matter in that way. I think the Forestry Commission's cost is more than l0s. an acre per annum.
§ Mr. Hudson
I do not think that is quite correct. The 2s. 6d. was fixed in 1943, when the Forestry Commission were dependent neither on the Minister nor myself. Anyhow in those days it was always said that if you wanted to sup with the Forestry Commission you had to take a very long spoon. I do not think that private owners necessarily thought in those days that they were getting a very square deal from the Forestry Commission. The right hon. Gentleman must not use that as a precedent.
§ Mr. Hudson
The hon. Gentleman may say that it is an agreed figure, but it is not the sort of figure that he and I would like to accept, and I think it will have to be justified. 67 The Minister went on to talk about education, but I am sorry to say that he said nothing about the universities. Are they to play any part in education and, if so, could we know which universities they are? I presume that Oxford is one. Could we know which universities are engaged, and the extent to which they are increasing their facilities? We all know the difficulties facing universities, but I think that we ought to be given the figures so that we can form a judgment as to whether the increase in facilities is adequate or not. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to research and said that the research body at Alice Holt Lodge were to have a physicist, a biologist, and a mycologist. I am sorry to hear it. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that when we were together at the Ministry one of our main jobs was to try and put agricultural research on a par with the status of research in medicine and industry. There are three great establishments for research—the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research for industry, the Medical Research Council for medicine, and the Agricultural Research Council for agriculture. One of the difficulties, in the past, was that the Agricultural Research Council's status was not regarded as being on a par with the other two. They had trouble in attracting the necessary staff, and in persuading men going through the universities that if they went into agricultural research they would have just as good a job as if they went into medical research. One of the things which the right hon. Gentleman and I did was to place those three research bodies on a par.
From the point of view of research it would have been much better—and when I was Minister I hoped that this would be the result—to have got the Agricultural Research Council, with all their status and great command of resources, to have taken forestry research under their wing, as a separate branch if you like It should have been put under one great body. I knew there would be considerable objection on the part of the Forestry Commission, I knew they wanted to continue their own research, but when you have one small body of research, concentrated at Alice Holt Lodge, you cannot possible attract such good men as you would do if you made it part of a great body, such 68 as the Agricultural Research Council. I hope the Minister will be able to overcome the objections on the part of sundry individuals inside the Forestry Commission because I am sure that he will never get research carried on as it ought to be if it is left in these separate compartments.
To turn from the sublime to the ridiculous, the right hon. Gentleman said nothing about rabbits—
§ Mr. Hudson
The Forestry Commission said that rabbits were the chief enemy of forests, that they prevented the cheap planting and proper growth of forests, and expressed grave apprehension lest there should be a let-up in the campaign against rabbits. We should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman intends to do.
Now I come to housing, about which I was interested to hear what the right hon. Gentleman had to say. He will remember that the Forestry Commission said that there was a shortage of 2,000 cottages, and estimated that large numbers would be required every year. The right hon. Gentleman put the figure at 1,200 and said that that number would be built by the Ministry of Works. When he made his announcement on 30th November last, he seemed to indicate that local authorities might be willing to meet the Forestry Commission's reasonable requirements. He said:Failing that, I must make it quite clear that the Forestry Commission cannot carry on its work without houses"—this is very important—in the right spot to enable them to prevent fire and the depredations by jay walkers here and there."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th Nov. 1945; Vol. 416, c. 1782.]We may take it that that still represents the policy of the Government and, the local authorities not having come up to scratch, the right hon. Gentleman will, therefore, have to build the houses himself. I take it that that is true.
We should, therefore, like to know what the cost of the houses will be. We should like to know whether they are to be merely isolated cottages or whether they will be forest holdings. We are entitled to know. Will they be forest holdings like those which were being built and set up by the Forestry Commission before the war? We would also like to 69 know where they are to be. Are they to be, as was advocated by some hon. Members during a Debate the other day, in villages, or are they to be in isolated areas near the isolated forests? If they are to be in villages, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us how he reconciles that position with having the houses, as he told us, in "the right spot," to prevent fire in those isolated plantations. I see that the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) is interested.
§ Mr. Hudson
Are the houses to be let upon an ordinary tenancy, subject to the Rent Restrictions Acts? If so, what rent will be charged for them? We should like to know. In their Report which was written during the war the Forestry Commission pointed out that the average cost of forest holdings was, I think, £494, and that by the time repairs had been taken into account, the net return to the State or to the Forestry Commission was 0.4 per cent. on the money. Is the right hon. Gentleman going to continue building these cottages, bringing in a return of 0.4 per cent. to the Treasury or to the Forestry Commission, or what rent is he going to charge? Perhaps when the Secretary of State for Scotland comes to reply he might give us an indication of the answer. I am glad to hear that special arrangements will be made for loans by the Forestry Commission to private landowners in connection with the dedication scheme. I do not know exactly about the rate of interest. We shall have to look into that matter, to see whether the rate of interest is a fair one. I am very glad to hear that the principle has been adopted
We should like answers to all those individual questions, and I am sorry that I have delayed the House for so long. Subject to those points, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon having made a start, at all events, with this new scheme. I am glad to hear that his relations with the Forestry Commissioners continue to be friendly. I suppose one has to boast nowadays about one's relations with one's own civil servants being friendly. I used to think that civil servants were supposed to carry out the orders of their Ministers.
§ Mr. Hudson
They have to carry out the Minister's directions. That is laid down in the Act. There may be some slight obscurity. I am glad, at any rate, to hear that the right hon. Gentleman's relations with them continue to be friendly. I hope they will always continue to be friendly. I hope also that the right hon. Gentleman will stir them up to enable him to give us a more comprehensive report next time upon the detailed activities not only of his Department, but of his Executive.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Webb (Bradford, Central)
It is some time since I was able to address this House, and I do so now in rather unusual circumstances. Therefore, I would like to ask hon. Members to accord me the indulgence which this House so often extends. I am very glad to have caught your eye, Sir, in this Debate because, for some time now, I have had an interest in the study of forestry. I regard it rather as a relaxation from the study of politicians and, I am bound to say, a more rewarding study. I am sorry that I cannot follow in the line of argument used by the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), for the simple reason that I heard very little of what he said. The whole of his speech seemed to be a personal chat between himself and the Minister. I just do not know what went on, so I must proceed on my own lines.
In this matter of forestry, Britain has a lot of ground to make up. Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and France are well ahead of us in this respect, and particularly in regard to forestry research. Switzerland has a remarkable record in research. Forestry has been systematically carried on in Switzerland for at least 500 years, and actually at this time research is going on there into the third generation of hardwood trees grown from specified and known parentage. It is all observed and recorded in a manner which is far beyond anything which we have reached in this country. But Government policy on the whole now seems capable of carrying us forward and remedying the gross neglect of our woodlands for so many years.
We have a rather patchwork history in this matter. Originally, we were a forest nation. The Romans said that a British town was nothing but a sort of clearing 71 in a forest, fortified with dykes and ramparts. Centuries ago, Royal forests were carefully preserved and did produce really magnificent timber right up to the reign of Henry II, when the country was mantled very completely in forests. It used to be stated that if a squirrel wanted to emulate Dick Turpin and go from London to York—I do not know why it should want to do so—it could go there without ever touching the ground.
After that, deforestation started, and gross neglect began. Nothing was done in this country almost until 1919, when the Forestry Commission was set up. I have studied its work very closely, both in the academic sense and on the spot by inspecting its plantations. Despite many handicaps and difficulties, the Commission has done a really remarkable job. I would pay tribute to the staff of the Commission and I would like that staff to hear it stated in this House that their keen enthusiasm and highly skilled work have been noted and appreciated. I have seen, and have been most struck with, the almost passionate interest that the staff show in many aspects of their work. I should like these devoted public servants, working, as many of them do, in very obscure parts of the country, to know that their work is noted, approved and appreciated by this House. They might have done even better but for the senseless economy drive which took place in 1931. In spite of all, they have done very excellent work.
Nevertheless, Britain has not yet touched more than the fringe of this problem. Not only our definite economic interests, but strategic prudence also, require that we should have a vast extension of systematic, planned tree cultivation, not just cultivation indiscriminately left to Nature or the whim or caprice of any private selfish interest. Will the Government's programme have this result? On the whole, it is a sound programme, and I think it will do it. Some object that we are going to lose far too much agricultural land. We must remember that trees, after all, are just another crop—but an essential crop; a slow growing crop, not so immediately important as the crops which we harvest each year, but, still, a crop, and we must relate that particular necessity to our other necessities, and not stand in the way 72 of the use of any land that may be necessary for this purpose. The real point, as the Minister pointed out, is that there are vast areas in this country, highly suitable for growing trees of all kinds, which are now grossly neglected, and which ought to be developed and used. We hope that the Commission will get to work on that.
I am particularly concerned about research, and I was disappointed about the manner in which the Minister approached it. I think that he used the words, "It has not been forgotten." That is not quite good enough. I think that we ought to have a more positive approach to the question of research. I understand that expenditure on research is said to be unlimited. That is a rather vague position, because "unlimited" in the eyes of the Treasury often means "unspecified." I would rather our expenditure on research for afforestation was specified, so that we knew exactly where we were.
I would like to plead for much more attention to the growth of hard woods in this country. In my discussions with people engaged on this business of forestry, I detected a note of defeatism about hard woods. There is a preoccupation with conifer which rather frightens me. I hope that the Minister will be able to pursuade the Commission to pay more attention to hard woods. There should be more mixed plantations, and we should pay greater regard to the more careful siting of our plantations, and more attention to the amenity side, which is just as important as the economic side of this problem. It is not true that all trees are beautiful in all circumstances, any more than it is true that all women are beautiful in all circumstances. It depends where they are, where they are put, and on the type of woman or tree. In my experience of the part of the country which I know and love very well—the North of England—it seems to me that these counties have lost a great deal of their natural characteristics by indiscriminate, imprudent and improper planting of the wrong type of tree.
There is much more that I should like to say, but I do not wish to exceed the time which I have set myself. I am greatly concerned about the important question of fire prevention in our forests, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will refer to it when he winds up the Debate. My observation of fire 73 preventing measures in plantations is that they are very limited, very inadequate and hardly likely to cope with any serious fire that may break out at some future date. There is a great opportunity, at this moment, when there is a good deal of surplus fire equipment in this country left over from the war. I hope that the Commission will get hold of some of it, and that much more elaborate arrangements will be made for fire prevention. I hope that the Minister will press forward vigorously and boldly with this programme which he has put before the House, and which, I am sure, will add to the amenities and security of these islands.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members in the House would like to join with me in expressing our congratulations to and sympathy with the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Webb) on the very interesting and reasoned speech which he has made, as he said, under considerable physical difficulties. But for a sense of embarrassment, I should have asked you, Mr. Speaker, whether it would not have been possible for the hon. Member to be allowed to make his speech seated, but I realised that it would have been perhaps too great a precedent if anything were done about it.
I agree with the hon. Member in a great deal of what he has said about the work of the Forestry Commission. I represent a constituency where, I think, the Forestry Commission began its work—in any case where it has had its largest operations—Argyllshire. I have been one of the Forestry Commission's most outspoken critics in regard to many of the operations which they have carried out. Many hon. Members in the last Parliament will remember that in the Debates on forestry, we raised the question of agricultural land being planted out by the Forestry Commission indiscriminately. I was taken to task on several occasions and told that this was not so, and that I was not quite on the right lines. I was very pleased to learn that our representations—my own and those of other hon. Members—have borne fruit. I was recently at St. Andrew's House, Edinburgh, discussing this question of forestry and agricultural land, and I learned then, what the right hon. Gentleman told us today, that a new dispensation had come 74 about in the allocation, or rather the care, of land taken over by the Forestry Commission. I am very glad to know, and most of my constituents if not all, are very glad to know, that in the case of such lands in Scotland as are acquired now or in the future by the Forestry Commission, which contain good arable ground, and which they are not ready to plant out with trees for some years to come, the maintenance, care and farming development of that arable land will be in the hands of the Department of Agriculture and not in the hands of the Forestry Commission. That I think is a very great step forward, and one for which we have been pleading for years passed.
As there are many hon. Members who wish to speak in this Debate I intend to be as brief as possible. There are two points only which I want to raise with the Secretary of State for Scotland. I think that, on the whole, they appertain to the United Kingdom, but especially to Scotland. The first is: Can he, as the directing head of the Forestry Commission's operations for Scotland, direct them to make arrangements for better cooperation between their own State forests and private woodland owners, because in Scotland, in particular, the majority of the plantations exist on the land of small landowners? In these days of the scarcity of labour, and of the high cost of materials, it is not possible for every small owner of plantations or woodlands to be able to do what he ought to do for their proper maintenance. I refer to such things as the hire of tractors, mechanical transport, the marketing of the thinnings of plantations, and so on. The individual private owners, particularly the small ones, would not find it possible to make such financial outlays, and the woodlands would deteriorate. The woodlands of which I am speaking are, for the most part, of the size which it is proposed should come under the dedication scheme. If the owners do not make use of that scheme, the alternative afforded in the Explanatory Memorandum is for the woodlands to be acquired by the Forestry Commission. I cannot conceive that any Chancellor of the Exchequer, however extravagant he might be, would sanction these small woodlands, which are distributed all over the country, being taken over by the State, and developed and maintained by it. It would be economically impossible to do so. 75 I ask the Secretary of State to bear in mind that a great deal could be done by co-operation with the Forestry Commission. In the Highlands of Scotland, round the various lochs, there are estates which could be grouped together and could be put under the supervision of a forester from the Forestry Commission, who would be available to give forestry advice. I was told that before the war the Forestry Commission were prepared to undertake, on repayment, the maintenance, clearing and/or thinning of privately-owned woodlands. I am told that is not now the case, and that even if it was the case before the war, it would be impossible now, as the Forestry Commission are so short of labour that they can hardly look after their own plantations, and certainly could not provide labour for other estates. However, I hope it will not be long before labour is available, and then I suggest that there might be mobile squads under forestry officers. The private owners do not ask for charity, but in the way I have suggested, on repayment, the private owners could get together and develop the woodlands for the good of the country.
On the question of the shortage of labour, I have recently encountered two very outstanding examples of a lack of understanding in the matter of forestry education. Not long ago two young men returned from the Forces who had been employed in forestry before entering the Forces. One had served six years, and the other seven years, in the Forces, and although they had not got their final university degree, they had already attained certain qualifications. We know the difficulties of the universities today, but I feel that these two men, after their service in forestry before the war, might have been given a chance to continue their forestry studies at a university. One has there an instance of two almost efficient forestry officers who have been thrown out of the industry simply because of the lack of a little bit of understanding. It is essential that the question of the education of the senior staff should be very seriously looked into, since the shortage in the technical ranks is even greater than the shortage of actual labour.
A further point that I want to mention is the present prices for standing timber, particularly woodland thinnings of, as regards the Highlands, mostly coniferous 76 plantations. The controlled prices are very little more, in the case of thinnings, than they were in 1939, and yet we are paying as much as 200 per cent. more for foreign timber imported into this country for pit-wood. It is admitted that we do not want to do any more felling than is absolutely necessary at the present time, but when it comes to thinnings, it is, after all, a question of the maintenance of the plantations. I believe that the vast majority of owners would far rather have guaranteed prices for their timber products than the planting and maintenance grants. If we could have in the forestry industry a similar arrangement for adequate guaranteed prices to that in agriculture. I am certain a great many of the difficulties would be removed. Would it not be possible for the Forestry Commission to organise a marketing scheme for these thinnings? I conclude by emphasising to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the importance of there being cooperation between the Forestry Commission and the private owners, which I believe is a most important thing for the future wellbeing of forestry.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Richards (Wrexham)
We have had an opportunity of hearing from the Minister exactly what is involved in the plan which was announced very briefly in November last, and I am sure we are all glad to feel that the Government are at last undertaking the development of forestry on something like an adequate scale. We know the tragic history of forestry in the years before the first world war, when there were numerous reports by successive committees and commissions, all of them advocating the setting up of some forestry authority and the planting of millions of acres with trees. All that was done during those years was that a few thousand pounds were spent each year in dealing with this very formidable problem. We owe the rise of the Forestry Commission to the Report of the Acland Committee, and if I understand the position rightly, the Ministry and the Government are still working on that basis. The Acland Committee recommended that, if we were to be tolerably secure in this country in the matter of the provision of timber, we would have to plant something like 4,750,000 acres with trees. I believe they extended the figure in some of their later researches, and pointed out that the demand for timber was growing at such 77 a rate that we could not be safe with less than 5 million acres. I presume that is the figure up to which the Government intend to work in the next few years.
That is a very formidable programme. As the Minister pointed out, it will involve considerable expenditure on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I notice that in the 20 years between the setting up of the Forestry Commission, in 1919, and 1939, a sum of approximately £12 million was spent. The return from forestry for that period was only a little over £2 million. Of course, we cannot expect ready returns in the case of forestry, but I believe that those are the figures given. It has been pointed out that our dependence upon foreign timber has been very considerable indeed. Before 1914, no less than 96 per cent. of all the timber which was used in this country was imported from abroad, and only 4 per cent. represented native growing. On an average the annual bill was something like £60 million. Merely from the point of view of cost to the Exchequer, it is a very considerable problem with which we are dealing.
Another interesting feature is that the great majority of the timber imported—I believe 94 per cent.—is what we call softwood, and only 6 per cent. consists of hardwood. The question is whether, through the Acland Committee and subsequent reports like that published by the Forestry Commission in 1943, adequate provision can be provided in this country for making it independent as far as the production of timber is concerned. I think that if we manage during the next 50 years to grow 5,000,000 acres with trees we shall have done something, but I wish us not to exaggerate the extent to which, even then, we shall be meeting our requirements. It has been calculated that if the 5,000,000 acres were sown with timber we should still be producing only about a third of our requirements; the other two-thirds would continue to be imported.
I agree with the case which the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) was making for private woodland. A very striking fact is that before 1914 we had about 3,000,000 acres of woodlands in this country, 97 per cent. of them in private ownership, and it was these private woodland schemes—since we had no national scheme of forestry—that carried us through the first war or, at any rate, made a very consider- 78 able contribution in that direction. It was these woodlands, naturally, that we felled, and it is estimated that no less than 450,000 acres were felled in the course of the first war. I presume that the story will be repeated if we make a survey again this time, and that we shall find that probably something like a million acres of woodlands have been destroyed.
A tragic feature of the years between the wars is that those woodlands were replanted only to a very limited extent. Roughly 126,000 acres only out of the 450,000 destroyed were replanted, and the question that we must ask, in view of the experience of the two wars when we relied so extensively on private woodlands, is How is it that the Forestry Commissioners failed to induce these private owners to replant their land? It may be that the rate of grant was inadequate, but I am very glad to see that a suggestion is now made that one of two things will have to be done. Either these woodlands will have to be taken over by the Forestry Commissioners and replanted by them—which I think would probably be in keeping with the views of the present Government—or else, as we have said, they will have to be dedicated to forestry—that is to say, they will have to be replanted, presumably under the direction of the Forestry Commissioners who will see that the work is done properly, and the private owner will be reimbursed to the extent of 25 per cent. of what he spends. We shall have to wait and see, as an eminent politician once said; it is too early yet to decide whether that scheme will work, but on the whole I think it would probably be better for the Forestry Commission to have control of all the forests in this country.
The next question with which I should like to deal is that of securing the 5,000,000 acres which we require. I have said that there were 3,000,000 acres of woodlands in the country before the war of 1914–18, but it is estimated that about 1,000,000 acres have been so completely devastated that it is rather hopeless to think of reafforesting them. We are left, then, with only 2,000,000 acres of the 3,000,000 we had in 1914, and that means that we shall have to find another 3,000,000 acres somewhere else. We naturally turn our attention at once to what is described as rough pasturage or waste land, of which we have, I believe, 79 about 16 million acres in this country, although not all of it is capable of afforestation. Some of it is at too great an altitude and, as we know, there is a good deal of hill land in various parts of this country that is too peaty for trees to grow on. It is rather tragic, if we look at some of the plantations which the Forestry Commissioners, with all their expert knowledge, have tried to plant, to find that there are whole areas in which hardly a tree is growing. As I have said, that is because the land is too peaty or the altitude too great.
Although we speak of 16,000,000 rough acres in this country, only about 4,500,000 or even less are capable of being afforested. That gives us a good margin. Out of the 4,500,000 we could take the 3,000,000 we require in order to make up our complement of 5,000,000, but I should like to make another point in this connection. It is perfectly true that the Forestry Commission has been placed under the authority of the Department of Agriculture and, as my right hon. Friend said, the last word must lie with the Ministry of Agriculture. That is a considerable advance, because I am convinced, after the experience of the recent war in certain parts of the country, that we can really no longer speak of any part of our country of moderate altitude as being waste land. I have seen some admirable work done by the war agricultural committees which have converted what we call waste land into first class agricultural pasture. Since we are only at the beginning of these discoveries it is too early yet to classify this land as waste. I have seen cattle and sheep turned off waste land after recultivating and reseeding which were among the best I had ever seen in my life. If it can be done in certain parts of the country at altitudes of 800 to 1,000 feet, I do not see why it cannot be done pretty well all over the country. So we have to revise our estimates of the area of waste land which we think will only grow trees, and get science going to see if we cannot convert it into sound agricultural land.
Another point to which I should like to refer, covers the case of the small farmer whose land is going to be afforested. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) will be brought up against this difficult question very shortly. He represents a com- 80 munity in one part of a county of small farmers. The estate on which they were settled has recently come into the market and a great deal of it has been bought by the Forestry Commission. The Forestry Commission say that they want just the central part of th holding, the medium height. They say that they do not want either the higher altitudes or the lowlands. I would point out to the Minister that this will break up the economic unity of the farm, which will be no use at all without this central portion. The Ministry of Agriculture ought to take great care before they oust a whole community of People in order to secure this medium belt, because we cannot grow trees on the very tops, and the lowlands are not much use for that purpose. The livelihood of a whole community is being destroyed by tackling the problem in that way. I am hopeful however, as a result of what the Minister said just now. He said he will not allow any of this kind of land to be taken without the most careful survey on the part of the Ministry of Agriculture, and if he adopts a modern scientific method, I think we should maintain many of these small holdings, because they would give a better return to the community than any scheme of afforestation that could be devised.
§ 5.53 P.m.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
I welcome the chance of speaking in this Debate because I am one of those—few in this country, I think—who have always been interested in forestry. I regret very much that we are few in numbers and that others, such as the National Farmers Union, the teaching profession, local authorities, are on the whole very indifferent to the problems of forestry. I hope that from now onwards we may have a broadening of the interest in, and also of the knowledge and experience of all problems that come with, the growing of trees. I welcome the spirit in which the Minister introduced his policy and the sense of proportion between the interests of private forestry and the Forestry Commission which he underlined. He gave due credit to the fact that before the war practically all the productive woods of this country—woods which had a crop ripe for felling—were in private ownership, and that private owners had done their duty towards providing what was necessary during the war years. He made no attempt, as is sometimes done from the 81 other side of the House, to over-estimate the part the Forestry Commission have played in comparison with that of private owners. He spoke, too, of the partnership there must be between these two interests. The scope of the Forestry Commissioners work is bound to increase as the years go by and at the end of the scheme which we are discussing the Forestry Commission may have 6o per cent. of the nation's forest land while private owners will have 40 per cent. There is every reason why we should try and work together in a cordial partnership and avoid some of the frictions and difficulties which have occurred in the past, resulting from the shortcomings of both sides.
I welcome, too, the dedication scheme, and now declare my interest, that I have made my small contribution towards the 250,000 acres which have been mentioned. I am glad that the Minister did not claim the principle as any new principle. It was born abroad in countries where forestry plays a bigger part than it does here, and was pressed forward in this country by the two voluntary societies, the Royal English Forestry Society and the Royal Scottish Forestry Society, and was more or less set out in the White Paper of the Coalition days. I hope very much that the scheme will have all the success it deserves. I do not see why it should not have the success it deserves if it is approached intelligently and sympathetically from both sides. I regret, however, that we have been given so few details since the warning order was put out by the Minister about a year ago. That delay is one of the factors, possibly, which have caused some owners to hold back from signing even the preliminary piece of paper which they are being asked to sign. It is a little regrettable that the final draft of the deed of covenant which owners are being asked to sign has not yet been published, though we were told a year ago something could be expected. Such worries affect the smaller owners in particular. The larger owners are not worried to the same degree; but in order to keep their enthusiasm warm, we should be told far more about the details and have this particular paper in our hands as soon as possible.
If this scheme is to work well it is necessary we should have the right personnel. It has already been mentioned that the Forestry Commission are short 82 of skilled trained forest officers and it has been said that too large a proportion of their strength is away in Germany. At the same time one cannot help noticing in camps in this country large numbers of highly trained German forest officers doing nothing. It is wrong that they should stay in this country wandering about the moors or behind barbed wire while our Forestry Commission's skilled men are away in Germany doing work that these prisoners should be doing under our orders. I hope we shall be able to improve on that situation at an early date.
At the same time, it is worth noticing that the technical assistance private owners can hope to get in pushing forward the scheme of dedication is very limited. This country is divided into conservancies, each of nine or ten counties, and in each one there is one forestry officer alone charged with the duties of liaison with the private owners and providing help for them. It is obvious that one poor man cannot hope to compete with all the problems in nine or ten counties. He might cover the ground for two counties, but there is no chance of his covering the ground properly if he is given an area beyond human capacity to cope with. That is another reason why we should try to bring the Forestry Commission's trained staff up to strength as soon as possible.
I should like to say a brief word about the N.C.O.s of the profession, that is to say, the training of the foresters which the Minister has mentioned. He said that something like 800 men were now undergoing training, some on private estates and some on Forestry Commission estates. He will agree that the Forestry Commission prefer, if possible, that the men should go to an estate where there is a variety of work, and that, in the majority of cases, means private estates. If he has not had a full response, I hope the Minister will again repeat the request that those properties which are in a position to offer these men training will go out of their way, if need be, to do so, because it is important that we should give them the best opportunity of learning their job as quickly as possible.
I do not know whether he can confirm or deny an unfortunate story I was told yesterday about the training hostel in the Thetford area where something like 50 trainees were collected early this year and where, for various reasons, approxi- 83 mately half of them have thrown in their hands. If it is true, it is very disappointing, because I believe the type of men which came forward to join in this scheme were amongst the very best. I am told these "groused" because they were given too monotonous manual work instead of the variety of jobs which one would think they would be given if the training was really sympathetic. In addition, the grouse was about the conditions there. I hope that that story can be denied, and that we may also be told that nothing similar has happened elsewhere. It would be a serious thing for the industry if a scheme like this broke down in its infancy.
Again, I hope something can be said about the examinations which these men are asked to undertake. A few weeks ago they were collected in various parts of England. Some were given adequate warning of what they were expected to do, some had to take the examination at short notice. I do not know whether it is really necessary for public money to be spent in making men who are working in the Midlands travel, for instance, to Carlisle to take an examination, the purpose of which they were not clear about. However, that did happen and the most astonishing paper was sent to me by the Forestry Commission yesterday. I hold in my hand this examination paper which these men were expected to answer. They were given only two hours, and both sides of this sheet are covered with closely written questions on arithmetic, English, general knowledge and a final intelligence test. It is a curious hotch-potch of general knowledge and forestry questions. For instance, they refer to Florence Nightingale and Rupert Brooke, also to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). The last question is one I think the House really should hear. It is called an intelligence test and starts:If you toss up a penny, it is just as likely to fall heads as tails—at least we can only suppose this is the case. Thus, the odds are one in two that the coin will fall heads. Based on that, suppose three pennies are tossed up, what are the odds that the result will be two heads and one tail?Then it goes through the same performance with four pennies, and finally five pennies are tossed up, and the question is asked:What are the odds that two heads and three tails will result?84 I think it would be difficult for the Minister to give us a snap answer to that question but we might ask him with the assistance of the Secretary of State to try to give us the answer at the end of this Debate. Seriously, I consider that an examination of this kind really serves very little useful purpose. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Something a little more practical and sympathetic ought to be designed for these tests.
With regard to the economic aspect of the industry, I welcome the increased grants, but I have always been an opponent of the forestry grants except for meeting a temporary situation. Such a temporary situation is, for instance, where, at the end of the war years, because a man has been compelled to realise a large part of standing timber, his whole forestry plan has been disrupted and he has very little to put on to the market in the near future. In such cases, particularly where the smaller man is the owner, the grants are of great value, but in the case of the larger owners of estates, where there is still timber coming forward on to the market, the grants really do not play a very big part. The whole basis of success for this industry—and without some modest profitability we cannot hope that the work will be done—is that fair prices should be accorded to timber growers. At the present moment there appears to be a rather absurd situation, where the Minister of Agriculture is responsible for the growing of the crops, and the President of the Board of Trade is responsible for fixing the prices. It would be considered foolish, I am sure, if the Minister of Food were to settle all the prices of the crops which farmers grow, but that is parallel to the situation which rules in forestry today. Similarly, whereas we hear from the Minister of Agriculture that the reserve of timber is too low and that we should do all we can to build it up, at the same time, the issuing of felling licences, except in certain cases, is in the hands of the Board of Trade, and since that Department is very largely staffed by men who previously had connections with the timber trade, it is hardly likely that the two will fit very smoothly together. We are really facing a situation where one Government Department is trying to build up something while the Department next door is trying to pull it down. I hope, there- 85 fore, that we shall be able to improve on that organisation.
I think it is worth mentioning that application for review of the 1939 prices, which still run today, was put into the Board of Trade approximately six months ago.
I am told seven. Whether it is six or seven, I submit that it is a poor reflection on the competence of that Department that they cannot make up their minds one way or the other. I hope that the Minister will do all he can to see that the Board of Trade reaches a fair and a speedy settlement of this issue, because if timber prices are to be treated in this curious way, I do not think he can expect people to come forward and plant with the enthusiasm for which we all hope.
As for this question of grants, I have made a rapid calculation about the value of the increases, and although I do not wish to appear in the least ungrateful, at the same time, this addition is worth something like one-third of a penny per cubic foot of the estimated annual yield from a normal forest. I do not wish to be technical, but that is about its value, so, if spread over the product one would expect from a normal forest, it does not amount to very much. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will not think that because he has made increased grants which are important to certain people, he has provided a fair economic basis for the industry, because we are still very far from that.
One small point on firewood before leaving the economic aspect. Firewood is one of the few products in our woods at the moment which is of interest to almost every family in the land. I remember being told during the last Election campaign by a quarryman that the then ruling prices for firewood put it right out of reach of the working class family. Questions have been asked from this side of the House about what I consider the scandalous ramp in firewood, but the only thing that has happened is that the Ministry of Fuel and Power has controlled the price which the grower may receive. So far, so good, but if control is needed and is justified, surely, we should have it the whole way through? I am sure hon. Members can bear me out that at present firewood is being sold in the towns of this country at £7, £8, £10 and £12 per ton. The margin 86 is all going into some middleman's pocket who is quick to profit from this situation. As often as not, firewood is not even sold by weight, but in a little bag, and I am told that in the towns of Scotland it is being sold by the piece. Here again, I hope the Minister may be able to use his influence to see that this firewood trade does not continue in this fashion.
On the silvicultural side; up to date we have never given national regeneration sufficient weight—that is the regeneration of our felled areas from the seed which falls from the neighbouring trees. If we can do that—and it is the proper way to regenerate our woodlands—we must cope with the rabbit menace. A year ago I asked the Minister whether he would initiate some campaign for the country to try to reduce that pest, and I am sorry that he has not been able to tell us something about it today. It is beyond the powers of the ordinary owner to rid himself of rabbits because, even if he clears his own piece of ground, as likely as not he will be presented with a free breeding stock from his neighbour's land next year.
Lastly, with regard to the question of planting in industrial areas and on waste land. Admittedly it is the first duty of our Forestry Commission to build up our stock of softwood timber, and they have made a very good start there, but a national service, I submit, cannot pick and choose. I think the Forestry Commission must guard against becoming forestry snobs, taking no interest in small areas. There are all over the country in industrial areas and on the edges of some of the most drab villages—for example, South West Durham—areas of waste land which should be planted. Some experiments have been made, and I was very disappointed when I asked a Question not very long ago to learn that the Forestry Commission have washed their hands of this problem. It is quite beyond a local authority to undertake this work and I hope something can be done because, if we could get plantations, even if not first class ones, in these areas it would make a very great difference to the life there.
In conclusion, I would ask the Minister to take every advantage of the enthusiasm for forestry which now exists. I am not sure whether he knows that the Royal English Forestry Society has a record membership, and that its membership is increasing and that a refresher course was 87 held for landowners and agents last spring, and another is to be run next year and is already over-booked. I hope the Minister will do all he can to encourage the interest while it is so strong. If he ever has time, I hope he will think of a previous great servant of the State, John Evelyn, who, among his other duties, found time to write a very good book about forestry. Towards the end of the introduction, written when times were very much like today, when the country was trying to repair its damaged woods, he railed against the what he called "impolite waste." He then urged people to address themselvesto their better natured countrymen that such woods as do yet remain might be carefully preserved, and such as are destroyed sedulously repaired. It is what all persons who are owners of land may contribute to with infinite delight as well as profit who are touched with the laudable ambition of imitating their illustrious ancestors and of worthily serving this generation.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Alpass (Thornbury)
As a one-time member of the Forestry Commission, I am very pleased to have the opportunity of saying a few words on this very important question. I do not think that the work of the Forestry Commission is sufficiently known in the country, and for that reason it is most insufficiently appreciated. When I was a member of the Forestry Commission, we used to undertake periodical visits to various nurseries and plantations in order to watch the progress that was being made, and ourselves gain very valuable information. It was often an inspiring spectacle. I do not think that the importance of the work which was then being carried on, and which has been pursued since, I believe, with some amount of success, can be overestimated from the standpoint of national benefit. The planting of trees in this country, it is now generally recognised, is, from the national standpoint, one of the best investments that could be made. It results in the product of a material which is sorely needed, and adds considerably to our national wealth.
I take the opportunity of joining in the tribute which was paid by the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Webb) to the personnel of the Forestry Commission. They are most devoted servants. They are persons who have made a great study of this question, and perform their duties 88 with rare skill. If I may be allowed to single out one individual, I think the Forestry Commission, and this country, are particularly fortunate in their able chairman, a gentleman who is, beyond dispute, one of the greatest experts in forestry, not only in this country, but throughout the world. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards), one of the most damaging blows ever struck at this industry was the so called "Economy axe" which was applied to the operations of the Commission in 1931. It resulted in the partial suspension of the activities of the Commission, and in a tremendous loss of very valuable plants—I believe the figure was hundreds of thousands, and I have heard millions mentioned. I sincerely hope that that most erroneous and false idea of economy will never again be applied to this, or any other, operation carried on for the State.
One difficulty which was experienced when I was a member of the Commission and with which, I hope, the Commissioners do not now meet so often, was that of getting landowners to agree to allow land devoted to sport to be used for planting trees. I remember an instance when we were on a visit of inspection, and were taken round by the assistant commissioner. We were shown a very large area of land growing nothing but bracken. He told us that the Forestry Commission was confined to a certain position, and I asked "What about this contiguous land? It is exactly of a similar nature." He said "We should be delighted to acquire it, and plant it, but we find that the owner is obstinate, and to get it we would have to get compulsory powers. That would take time before the acquisition was complete." I hope, now that everyone is enthusiastic about this question, that when they find recalcitrant landowners—and there are some—the Forestry Commission will not hesitate to apply for compulsory powers and use them so that land which is producing nothing at all shall be used for planting timber, and thus add to the country's material wealth.
I would like the Commission to go into another matter a little more deeply. Some of the ugly slag heaps in this country, which are eyesores to everyone, might be planted with timber. I believe that has been done in some places with considerable success. I am not an expert, and 89 do not know how far it might be extended, but I think it is a question which might be considered. If successful, it would add to the beauty of our countryside. Hon. Members opposite will not be surprised to learn that I am not at all enamoured with the part of the Report dealing with the grant to private landowners. I do not see the necessity of giving public money to landowners to carry out what I conceive to be one of the essential duties of ownership of land. We have county agricultural committees which go to the farmer and say "We want you to cultivate your land in the best interests of the nation, and if you fail to do so, we shall deprive you of the occupation of the land." If it is right and fair for the State to say to a farmer that he must cultivate his land properly, and produce as much food as possible, what is wrong with going to the landowners and saying "You hold this land in trust. It is not capable of producing food, but it will grow timber, and we are asking you, in the nation's interests, to put it to that good use"? If they refuse, I think we might apply a part of he Labour Party's election programme, and, if they fail to carry out that duty, take over the land for the State to plant and cultivate timber. I know it may be urged—I think I have heard the Minister say it—that it does not pay private landowners to plant timber.
§ Mr. Alpass
I remember discussing the matter as to whether timber growing paid with one of the finest estate agents in the South of England. Some hon. Members will probably agree with his view when I tell them he was born and bred in Scotland. He told me that he planted a certain part of the estate, a boggy and wet part, with timber, and kept a careful account of the financial result. As a result he was able to prove, when the timber was felled, that that development was the best paying part of the whole estate. If it does not pay, owners have the opportunity, under the provisions of this Report, of borrowing the money, and I suggest that the terms which the Minister has announced are exceedingly favourable, so that there can be no excuse for dereliction of duty on the part of landlords. I, like most hon. Members of this House, in going about the country have witnessed rather sad scenes of desolation. I have seen large areas of 90 land denuded of timber, and no sign of any attempt whatever on the part of the landowners to replant. I suggest that that is a condition of things which we cannot, in the interests of the nation, allow to continue.
Naturally, we on this side of the House, and I hope in other places also, are concerned about the treatment of forest workers. We want to see that their conditions are made sufficiently attractive. I do not know what proof there is for the allegations that have been made, but we want to make it impossible for anyone to make any reflections on the conditions of these workers. I remember that when I was a member of the Commission, when the wages of agricultural workers were increased, we found no difficulty in bringing the standard of those workers up to the same level as those of agricultural workers. Not only do we want wages to be equal; we want good conditions. I think everyone will agree that we want to make it possible for the men and their families to enjoy the modern amenities of life.
The right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) referred to me in regard to this question of houses. We feel keenly about it. I suggest that we shall not get the men to live in houses which are isolated and far from any social life. The houses should be of a good standard and should be contiguous to other houses and not built in isolated, out of the way places. If we cannot get men to go to agricultural work in isolated spots—and it is becoming increasingly difficult—how are we to get men to undertake this perhaps not so attractive work of forestry under similar conditions? It might be possible to overcome some of the difficulties involved in firewatching and so forth. Someone has spoken about wanting men near the spot in order to guard the forests against fire. Methods of transport and rotas of duty could be arranged by which this duty could be undertaken without necessarily separating the men and their families from the rest of their companions, and depriving them of all social life.
I support the suggestions made about the importance of research, and also schemes of training. I do not think there will be any disagreement with my suggestion that the conditions of service in forestry should be made as attractive as the conditions of service in any other profession in the country. A great deal of study is required 91 in order to make people competent, and they should feel, when they start this career, that when they have passed the necessary examinations, there is open to them an honourable career comparable with that available in any other profession. I am certain that the Minister will not lose sight of the question of research. Research is extremely urgent and necessary. As several other speakers have said, we are now a long way behind some European countries in forestry. If more attention is paid to research we shall, perhaps, begin to make up some leeway. I am pleased to see the great interest which is being taken in this important national question of forestry. Now that the Forestry Commission feel that they have behind them not merely the Government of the day, but a united House of Commons, entrusting them to carry on this great and responsible work, I feel sure that they will do so with an added vigour and enthusiasm, to the benefit of the whole community.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
In the course of his interesting speech, the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) referred to this problem of prices and subsidies. In approaching this question of forestry today, in a welcome and admirable non-party spirit, I wonder whether we cannot agree, on all sides of the House, about some sort of principle in connection with prices and subsidies? I wonder whether the hon. Member would agree with this? I do not think that any landowner or farmer or anyone in the country particularly likes subsidies. I am a small owner-farmer myself, and I am now getting subsidies. I would infinitely prefer not to have the subsidies if I were assured of a fair and reasonable return for the produce I grow. We might all agree upon a statement of principle such as that forestry, like agriculture, must pay its way; that its legitimate costs should be met by adequate prices. Surely that is a fairly clear and simple principle. The State has accepted it in the case of agriculture, and is applying it every day in that industry. I suggest that the State must now, as an essential part of its new forestry policy, apply the same principle to the production of trees. I am sure that the hon. Member would agree with me that that would be a fair way of treating it.
92 The other question is, Are the prices now adequate? The hon. Member gave us a case where good profits were made from trees. I suppose it would be one of some years ago. I could give him a case, even now, where it pays—cricket bat willows offer a good return. But that is not true of all kinds of timber. Does not the hon. Member agree that at the present time the prices which, after all, were fixed in 1938 or 1939, are really not adequate? Does the hon. Member not agree that the price of imported timber is now about 100 per cent. above what it was before the war, whereas the price of home grown timber is only about 25 per cent. above prewar? On all sides I think there would be agreement that there is something wrong about that situation.
It would, I think, be the common view of all parties that the Minister, in his reply, should confirm the principle I have offered to the House, namely, that forestry must pay its way, that legitimate costs should be met by reasonable prices, and that the State should lay that down as a principle which will operate in respect of both State and private ownership of woodlands. It will have to apply to private owners, even if the hon. Member does not like it very much, for this reason: As the right hon. Gentleman told us, 90 per cent. of the wood-supplying forests today are in the hands of private owners. With the best Socialist will in the world, it would be impossible for the State or the Forestry Commission to take over that 90 per cent. within any period that any of us here can imagine. It is physically impossible to socialise the forests of this land, because there is no staff to carry that out. Therefore, whether or not one is a Socialist, the fact remains that the forests cannot be socialised except by a very slow process. Whether we like it or not, we are left with an enormous area which is owned and forested, and will be for many years to come, by private owners. That is an additional reason for treating this matter in a sensible non-party way.
§ Mr. Alpass
I take it the hon. Member does not suggest that the whole of our forests need treatment and that they are neglected?
§ Mr. Stewart
Oh, no. I do not say that. I now pass to another matter. I notice that each speaker has been offering 93 his credentials for speaking today. I have no technical credentials. All I have, if I may so describe it, is a long association with my colleagues on the Liberal benches in the support of this great industry. I was fortunate in having been one of Mr. Lloyd George's "young men" after the last war. I grew up to share his enthusiasm for this matter. I was sent by him to Germany to report upon afforestation there in 1924, and I took some part in the preparation of a series of reports on this subject as regards both England and Scotland. I have inherited a warm interest in and enthusiasm for forestry and I am therefore very glad that I have had an opportunity to speak in this Debate. I recall that when we were drafting our Scottish recommendations in 1927, we had to consider the views of the experts. The right hon. Gentleman has told us today that there is to be a Commonwealth Conference—I think he said very soon.
§ Mr. Stewart
A similar Commonwealth Conference on forestry was held in 1926 and at that Conference the delegates took a very serious view of the prospects of timber supplies throughout the world. At that time Professor Fraser Story, of the Forestry Commission, submitted a paper, in the course of which he made this very upsetting declaration:A review of the forestry situation throughout the world"—this is in 1926—leads to the conclusion that available supplies of the principal timber of commerce are rapidly approaching exhaustion. There is every likelihood that in less than 30 years"—that is 10 years from today—a shortage of softwoods will be severely felt.One could quote a great deal more to the same effect by other experts. I am sorry there is no representative of the Scottish Office here, but I take it, that the Secretary of State for Scotland is to reply.
§ Mr. Stewart
When he replies, would he tell us whether that situation is any easier today? It was a very grave situation then. If I have any knowledge of the subject, I should say that as a result of yet another war the future is even more grave than it appeared 20 years ago. If 94 that be so, then almost no limit should be set to the extent of our new forestry operations. It would appear that, even though we have passed far from the time when the English oak was the basis of the British Navy, in these atomic days, timber is still necessary for national security.
Quite apart from that tremendously important consideration, I am convinced that a development of forestry can bring an enormous benefit to the social life of our people. In Scotland which, of course, I know best, and especially in the Western parts where I have studied the matter, it is an essential part of the economy. Undoubtedly, there is lassitude and neglect up there. I would like the Secretary of State for Scotland to tell us what he is doing on the application of this great matter to the social life of the community. Has he a plan in his mind? There is the link between forestry and rural industries, housing, fishing and agriculture. It is all part of the general life of the people in the Western part of Scotland, and also in other parts. It is not a thing in isolation. I assume that the Government must have thought of the general application of the matter. We are entitled to have a clear idea of the plan they have in mind. I see the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) is present and I am sure he will agree with me that something of that kind ought to be declared today.
Linked with that, is the rather difficult matter of the use of land for agriculture or forestry. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) raised the point. I understand that it applies in Wales now. It has always applied in the part of Scotland about which I pretend to know something. There has always been a conflict between the sheep interests and the forestry interests in the Highlands, and there always will be. That is why my friends and I, in 1927, came to the conclusion that the control of the use of land for forestry and farming should pass into the hands of the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am glad that nearly 20 years afterwards that step has now been taken. I think the Secretary of State for Scotland will have a very difficult time in regard to this matter, and I would like him to declare the principles upon which he intends to 95 work. He will meet conflict after conflict. The quarrel is not yet settled in the North or West. I do not know how it is to be settled, but some clear principle ought to be made public so that we all know the position.
Most hon. Members today have spoken of the necessity for soft woods. The report of the Forestry Commission, and the Minister in his statements of today and of November, stressed this. They speak of vast areas of conifers; soft woods—that is the demand, that is the urgency. There was scarcely a word about the other side of this great problem. The forests of the world are not there merely to serve the material needs of man. They have a biological value which is of even greater importance to mankind. Forests, rain, rivers, the use of the soil—all these things are of lasting importance in the cycle of life. I am satisfied that if we concentrate upon having nothing but softwoods, nothing but great monotonous areas of conifers throughout our countryside, then we are heading for a biological disaster. The greatest experts whom one can consult upon this matter are quite clear that we ought to have mixed forests. I think more notice should be taken of their opinion. I do not want to bore the House with a long quotation but I could quote from a great authority who points to the experience of Germany, France, and other countries where it has been proved by bitter experience that mono-culture is bad for the soil, for forestry, and bad for the nation. Those countries, as a result of that experience, have gone in for a much wider form of mixed culture. In addition, one could mention the grounds of beauty and aesthetic considerations. I beg the Secretary of State for Scotland to make is clear that he does not intend to encourage mono—culture only in the great enterprise to which we have set our hands tonight.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman another question. Again, one sees, running through the reports of the Forestry Commission and the Minister's statements today and earlier, a concentration upon great blocks of forest, and a lack of sufficient appreciation, I venture to think, of the importance of the small areas of forest. In America, they seem to understand this matter much better than we do. They go in there for what is called forest farming; that is to say, 96 for the cultivation of small copses of two, three, four or five acres in size. They regard them as of immense importance. Here, as the Minister said, at the end of two devastating wars, we are in an infinitely worse position than before, and it is a demoralising picture that confronts one in many felled areas. Every five-acre copse throughout the country is vital if we are to recover our proper place from the timber point of view. If not every other farm in the country, many thousands of farms now have their little acres of forest. There ought to be far greater attention paid to this matter and I ask the Secretary of State what is being done about it, because it has not been at all clear so far.
May I mention, in passing, in connection with this, that I am not myself satisfied that the timber trade, as such, is being taken into cooperation as much as it might be? Whether we like it or not, the fact remains that the whole of the timber grown and to be grown, or at any rate the great part of it, will have to be handled by present or future generations of the timber industry. The timber industry does not seem to be adequately represented in the councils of the Forestry Commission. Is there not here a case for reflection?
One last point. I wish the Secretary of State would tell us a good deal more about the staff side of this matter. If this great programme is to be completed, we clearly need more men. There are four universities supplying the skilled personnel, for the needs of the Forestry Commission, private owners, the Colonial Empire and the timber trade. The needs of the Colonial Empire, I gather, before the war, were somewhere between 12 and 19 first-class, trained university men per annum. As there is some leeway to be made up as the result of the war, their demands may be greater. My information is that the universities are simply unable to turn out the number of first-class men required. What is being done about it? Secondly, with regard to what I call the No. 2 men, the Minister has told us of new schools and of the long queue of men waiting to go in and for whom there are no places. Will these new schools be adequate, and when are they going to be provided? If they take as long to build as the houses, it will be a very long time before they begin to operate. This scheme 97 will collapse in the first five years unless we get the right trained staff. The Secretary of State must tell us what provision is being made; otherwise, lack of confidence will spread throughout the whole industry.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
I should like to say how much I agree with the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) in practically all he has said, but particularly in his view that the exploitation of our great natural resources in forest land has been a real social tragedy. It is not merely a question of the needs of industry and of building and of strategic requirements. There are other sides to this question of forestry, and some have been touched upon by the hon Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart). I want to take up a point which was made by the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Webb). I thought he said that a woman was not necessarily "a thing of beauty and a joy for ever." I am inclined to agree with him. I should not agree however that all trees are not beautiful. I think a tree is, in all circumstances, in all places and at all times of the year a thing of beauty. I do not pursue the utilitarian aspect of the problem, which has been dealt with by every speaker so far today, but to approach it on the amenity side, which I think is of great importance to the future of our country.
There are two points which I would like to make, and I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland will give us some information about them. The hon. Member for Westmorland said that this was a matter which should be of real importance to the teaching profession and local authorities, but he did not pursue that matter. I do not know what was in his mind, but what has been in my own mind for a long time, is that quite young children should be taught to appreciate trees. We find some local authorities interested in this matter, but not nearly enough, or as many as are to be found on the Continent. Some are studying the question of beautifying their main streets, and the approaches to their towns. I think this should be part of the Forestry Comission's work in advising local authorities. Children are often destructive, and one sees trees which were just beginning to become beautiful being stripped simply because children have not been taught 98 the great value of trees. It is a matter of early education, but it is also a matter of getting children to plant trees themselves. I should like to see introduced into this country a very interesting scheme, very common in America, under which children are given opportunities to plant trees for every celebration in connection with their school or their town. This teaches them the value of a tree; it teaches them that a tree takes a long time to grow, and that it is sheer vandalism to spoil a tree once it has begun to grow. This is a question for the teaching profession and the local authorities together, in trying to beautify our towns, and I am in absolute agreement with the hon. Member for Westmorland, if that is the suggestion to which he was referring.
Then, there is the whole question of the national forests which we are trying to develop, I want to stress what other hon. Members have said in another connection, and that is that we should make these forests really big forests and not concentrate on conifers. These are all very well for East Anglia. [Laughter.] What I really mean is that we can plant a completely utilitarian nursery in the soft ground of East Anglia when we want trees to grow up quickly. But, if we are growing national forests as an amenity, I think we must try to do something different from that. All those who have had experience of the dark Wagnerian gloom and melancholy of the forests of Germany, compared with the beauty and light, the play of sunlight and shadow, in our own beautiful forests, like Epping Forest and the New Forest, will admit that, if we are going to create great forests from an amenity point of view, we have to let the trees grow up themselves, so to speak, as they did in the old days. Thus we can create new forests for amenity purposes, in the same way as these great Royal forests which are one of the greatest heritages of our country were created in the past.
Although I know that my time is limited, I should like to raise two other small points. Although I do not wish to disagree too much with my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass), I do think that we must have a sense of perspective and balance in this matter. We want to build houses for our forest workers as near to villages as possible but it is necessary that they should be housed fairly 99 close to their work. After all, forests have to be isolated and, if a forester is to prevent fires from breaking out, he cannot live right away from his work in a village, from which he would have to cycle up to the forest if a fire occurred. If that happened, a tremendous amount of damage would be done, before he got there. Therefore, I beg my hon. Friend not to press that point too much.
§ Mr. Alpass
I am sure my hon. Friend would not suggest that the men must be on the spot day and night to see that fires do not break out.
§ Mrs. Manning
As I have said, I hope my hon. Friend will not press the point too much because this is a case in which, if a man desires to be a forester, he must be very interested in forests and trees. A good many of us would like to live in a forest, but I would ask the hon. Gentleman to see that, it houses for forest workers are built in forest cuttings, the people concerned will be given every kind of amenity that it is possible to give them. They may be a long way from the village and, at first, it may not be possible to bring electricity to them. But every possible amenity should be made available to them and arrangements should be made for getting the children to school without having to travel over wet, muddy land. The lack of such amenities will keep men away from this kind of work.
In referring to forestry workers, I have used the word "men," and every other hon. Member has used the word in connection with this matter. Are we to have no women for forestry work? During the war they did it, and liked it. They did exceptionally good work. When the right hon. Gentleman replies, I should like him to say whether there is any scheme for continuing to employ women workers in forestry, and whether we are going to give them not only secondary education for a secondary type of work, but encourage them to take higher education at the university with regard to forestry. I do not want to see women left out of this work. I think it important that they 100 should be included. I very much hope that our local authorities will be interested in this question. We are building a lot of new towns which will require shelter on some sides, and will need to be beautified by trees, and I hope that the Forestry Commission will work in the closest possible touch with our local authorities on the question of beautifying and refurbishing the old towns, and will keep an eye, not only on the utilitarian side of forestry. but also on its amenity value.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Lord William Scott (Roxburgh and Selkirk)
As a Scottish Member, I want to address myself to this particular subject from the Scottish point of view, although I am not altogether unfamiliar with the impoverishment of woodlands in England, especially in the Midlands. I think we are agreed that the object of this Debate is to discover whether the policy placed before us in 1943, and again last November, is one which is likely to secure the two main objects we have in view. The first is an efficient reafforestation in Britain and the second the fair treatment of those engaged in forestry, whether they are owners or employed in the forestry service. We can safely claim that Scotland has done very well by the State in the last six years. We know that, at the present moment, nearly every suitable and available wood in Scotland, whether mature or immature, has been cut, and we know that the State has done pretty well out of the bargain made in 1939 with private woodland owners. The price arranged at that period seemed to be a fair one from everybody's point of view, but we must agree that though it was a reasonable price in 1939, it appeared to be less reasonable after the years 1943, 1944 and 1945 when the pound had ceased to possess the value that it possessed in 1938 and 1939.
The owners of these woodlands, both the mature and the immature, parted with their assets at a very much lower price than they would have contemplated doing had it not been a direct order to them and had they not realised, at the same time, that in the period of emergency it was essential that the woods should be felled. They accepted the position and did their felling with good grace. I do not think that it is altogether wrong to draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that the prices given, even if they were fair in the early days of the war, involved a 101 very much bigger sacrifice on the part of those timber owners who for a considerable number of years had paid attention to their estates and had produced the highest quality timber. During the war the same prices were paid for mediocre timber as were paid for the highest class of timber. Therefore, those owners who, in the years long gone by, really took trouble with their woodlands, had no reward over and above that paid to the owners of relatively neglected estates.
We are here, as regards the private owner, to deal chiefly with the policy known as "dedication." I believe that that policy has received a welcome, not only from all sides of the House, but also from the woodland owners themselves. Once they know a little more about it, I have no doubt that, provided the terms are reasonable and that they can see some hope for the future, they will readily respond and come into the scheme. In Scotland, compared with England, we have a relatively large area of forest managed both by the Forestry Commission and by private ownership. We in Scotland have suffered not only from the difficulties which owners in England have experienced, but, in addition, we have had a number of our own difficulties. In Scotland our main difficulties have been the scarcity and the distance of markets for our timber, and the relatively high costs of transportation because of the greater distances. Those two items have created more difficulties for progressive timber growers in Scotland than anything else, with the exception of taxation. In addition to that, most of the old woodlands which existed in Scotland before the Forestry Commission was established were nearly always planted in areas which were unsuitable for agriculture, because the ground was too steep or too wet or because the woods were located up narrow glens and such like. That has meant that the cost not only of planting, but more particularly of clearing has been more excessive, and with the competition of seaborne foreign imported timber, particularly from the Baltic, large areas of good Scottish timber have, in the past, not been worth the cutting and marketing.
In common with the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) and others, I have a deep dislike of these direct State subsidies to private owners for growing timber. If we could devise some policy 102 by which they could get a reasonable return for their endeavours and for the money they have invested, so that we could do without these direct or indirect subsidies, in the shape of planting grants and maintenance grants, I am sure the majority of private woodland owners would much prefer it. For reasons which have already been stated, the majority of private woodland owners cannot expect to do any cutting for the next decade or so, but are landed with huge areas of ground on which the trees have been felled, and they have nothing but expenses and no assets coming in. As we are faced with that situation for many years to come, many of the owners will require fairly immediate assistance in view of the considerable expense of replanting. In an emergency period like the present, we would like the private woodland owners to secure a remunerative price at which they may sell their timber when mature and ready for cutting. There are some who hold the strongest objection to any form of State subsidy being paid from the national Exchequer to private owners. I suggest that there are reasons why a State subsidy is fully justified.
The first reason is that it is most unreasonable to expect any private citizen to undertake work and shoulder expenses which in the long run prove unprofitable not only to himself, but to his successors. If the work is undertaken by private ownership there should be a reasonable reward. In that connection, it is as well to remember that from the State's point of view it is far cheaper if these woodlands in private ownership are managed as they are at present, though possibly more efficiently, and remain in the hands of private owners. I would remind the House of the very great difference that exists between the ordinary woodlands in private ownership and the State forests which are slowly being built up by the Forestry Commission. The big areas which have been planted by the Forestry Commission are far more economical and easily managed than the many small areas of woodlands with which both Scotland and England are covered. Those areas which have been selected by the Forestry Commission are places where planting, growing, management and felling can be carried out in the most economical manner. There is no question that over a period of time, in view of the volume 103 of timber which eventually will be produced, these national forests are far better situated and are a more economical proposition than those of the private owner.
In most cases, the privately owned forests were not originally planted for economic reasons, but because of the unsuitability of the land for agriculture and, in some cases, for the purposes of amenities and shelter. That is one justification for a reasonable subsidy to be paid by the Exchequer, but, over and above that, we must bear in mind the very big fellings that have taken place during the comparatively short period of the last six or seven years. During that period the owners of timber have accepted a price which they consider to be very low and uneconomic, and even so, on what they have received they have had to pay a considerable amount of taxation. I would like to assure the Minister of the undoubted fact that over many years one of the most profitable investments that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has had in the country has been that of the woodland areas. For the last 100 years the timber of this country has paid a very much bigger proportion towards the Exchequer than any agricultural land. We can be reasonably sure that any money spent to assist the impoverished landowners once again to get their private woodlands into a decent state will bear very good fruit to the Exchequer at no distant date. There is one last and special reason which I think the Minister must bear in mind, namely, the extra expense being put on to the landowners, due to the fact that they have been quite unable, owing to the scarcity of labour, to do any replanting, or very little, in the last few years. There are large areas, which should have been replanted four or five years ago, now covered with such a mass of vegetation that it will cost very considerable sums before they can be put into a fit state for replanting.
There are one or two smaller items I would like to suggest to the Minister. Whereas I think we can claim that in Scotland we have taken very much greater care of our woodlands during the last 40 or 50 years, the fact remains that in Britain as a whole, and even in Scotland, we have lagged a very long way behind various European countries, such as France and Germany. There is no reason why we should not train a race 104 of forest workers and forest lovers, just as they have done during a very long period of years in both France and Germany. A matter which I regard with a certain amount of anxiety is the difficulty likely to arise in the not distant future because of competition between the Forestry Commission and private owners over the disposal of their thinnings and timber for pit props. At the present moment there is a very great demand, which cannot be met; but I do not think it will be many years before the supply may be greater than the demand. When that time comes the State-controlled mining industry may naturally turn to the State-controlled forestry for their pit props, and the private owners will find they have the greatest difficulty in getting any price for their thinnings, which would go quite a long way towards their cost of maintenance.
Mention has been made this evening by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westmorland of the question of rabbits and natural regeneration. I had wished to tell the Minister that if he cares to visit an area in Northamptonshire, in the Midlands of England, he will find an area under hard woods where the rabbit, once very plentiful, has now been completely exterminated, and where no planting is now necessary because all the new growth comes from natural regeneration. That has been brought about entirely by the extermination of the rabbit. The rabbit can be exterminated. It is just as well we should remember that this vast population of rabbits, which is the curse of the forest world of Britain at the present time, is of very recent growth. It is only in the last 100 years or so that it has assumed anything like the proportion as we know it today.
The last point I would like to add is a request, with many other hon. Members, that all that can be done shall be done to promote the growth of hard woods. We know, however, that as long as it is much easier to grow conifers, the Forestry Commission are far more likely to concentrate on conifers. Nobody gets any thanks for growing hard woods, except from the amenity point of view. Naturally, forests are not grown for amenity. A private owner has to be a very great optimist before he will be willing to plant oaks, which take a very long time to mature, under present political conditions.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Parker (Dagenham)
I would like to add my congratulations to the Minister on the statement he has made, and particularly to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for finding the money to carry out the programme. I wish to ask one or two questions about the financing of the scheme. As I understand it, the Chancellor is putting up £20 million over five years, which will go into the Forestry Fund. In 1943, when the Forestry Commissioners presented their report, they estimated that their scheme over the first 10 years would cost over £41 million. I assume about half of that will be spent in the first five years. Prices will have risen quite a bit since 1943, and I wondered whether sufficient would also be coming into the Forestry Fund from ordinary sales of timber left after this war period to find enough to enable the full programme of the Commission to be carried out in the first five years. Secondly, I would like to ask for a decision to be given by the Government as early as possible about the second five years. We have been told they have accepted the Commission's programme for the first five years. However, in the second part of the 10 years a great deal more is to be planted by the Commission in an expanding programme than in the first five years. If this second five years' programme is to be successfully carried through it is necessary that a very early decision should be given, otherwise we shall not be able to get the nurseries planted, the trees or the staff provided, or to buy the necessary land. Therefore, I ask the Government whether they can possibly give an early decision about the second part of the 10 years' programme. It is necessary that that should be given if the second five years' programme of planting is to be carried through successfully.
I would like to know also whether the Government have really committed themselves to the 50 years' programme. It is not as necessary to give an actual decision on the number of acres that ought to be planted in 50 years as it is on the first 10 years. However, as I interpreted the statement of the Minister, the Government were generally accepting the idea, although I do not think his actual commitment went very far. I should have thought it was desirable that some kind of 106 commitment should be given by the Government about their general intentions as early as possible. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), in criticising the action of the Forestry Commission, made the rather surprising statement that he did not think they should go ahead with their programme until a complete survey had taken place of the land available for forestry. I agree it is desirable to carry out that survey as early as possible, and probably before a decision can be given about the 50 years' programme that survey should be completed. I should have thought that, as far as the immediate programme is concerned, and certainly for the first 10 years, there was plenty of derelict woodland on which we could go ahead straight away; also, if we have to take other land as well, there is land of a marginal character which is not likely to be of much use from an agricultural point of view. Therefore, we should be able to go well ahead for the first 10 years' programme without waiting for the survey to be completed. I do not quite understand the point made by the right hon. Gentleman.
I should like to ask further about the question of finance. Objections have been made in the House to one Parliament or one Government trying to agree a programme for a large number of years on the ground that other Parliaments and other Governments cannot be bound by that programme and may want to upset it. I agree that that is constitutionally the case, but I should have thought that we had now reached in this House and in the country a sufficient degree of agreement on the whole of this question of forestry, that the main parties in the country could have had an understanding on an agreed programme for a considerable number of years which a Government, of whatever complexion, would feel it was bound to honour. It we are to have a proper forestry programme in this country, not only for 10 but for 50 years, there must be some kind of programme of that nature, and I should have thought that it was necessary for the Government to have discussions with the Opposition with a view to reaching agreement on a long term programme of that kind. We do not want a recurrence of the May Committee and Geddes Committee axes which upset earlier forestry programmes and we can avoid that only 107 by having agreement, and I think negotiation ought to take place so we could have that kind of agreement, so that, even though there might be alterations in the programme, subsequent Parliaments and Governments would have a general understanding of and agreement on the programme. It is the only way by which proper planning can take place, and I should have thought that at this stage we could have reached such an agreement on forestry. I do not want to press the point now, but with regard to other national industries I should like to say that I hope that at a later stage we may manage to reach agreement also about development programmes in particular national industries, not only in forestry but in other industries.
With regard to the financing of the programme, there are some further points I should like to mention. I was very pleased that the last Government, when they brought in their Bill to put forestry under the supervision of the Minister of Agriculture and of the Secretary of State for Scotland, did recognise the fact that forestry must be kept on an island wide basis and not split up under different commissions for different parts of the island. I think it is very important that in economic questions we should regard the whole of this small island as one unit. It may be desirable for administrative or cultural reasons to divide the island up, but in the economic field it is absurd to try to have separate institutions for different parts of the country. Even so strong a Scottish Nationalist as the Secretary of State for Scotland in the last Government had to say, when supporting that Bill, that there were two very strong reasons for having an island wide Forestry Commission, and the reasons he gave, I think, were that it was advantageous from the point of view of promoting research and of creating a career for people wanting to go in for forestry.
But I have a further point which he did not mention, and that is, that if we are planning the expansion of the industry on a large scale in this very small island, we should treat the island as one unit. I would point out to my Scottish and Welsh friends that the most of the finance of this scheme comes from England, but a very large part of the 108 planting is to take place in Scotland and Wales.
§ Mr. Parker
Many people in future who earn their living in forestry will be pleased that planting took place there, and it is certainly a fact that if planting programmes for Scotland and Wales had to be financed out of separate Welsh or Scottish funds, very much smaller programmes would have been put in hand than are now being put in hand in both those countries. My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) seems to demur, but I would ask him just to go to Southern Ireland and see what a small programme they have been able to undertake there.
§ Mr. Parker
Certainly I am, and though Southern Ireland may be able to claim some advantages from the satisfaction of their national aspirations, there are not many in the economic field, particularly in the field of forestry. I hope we shall not have the argument put forward that Scotland and Wales should be treated as separate units economically. When we are trying to plan the development of this small island of ours I hope that that separatist nationalism will not be pressed too far. Certainly it would mean a much lower standard of life for the people of Wales and Scotland. The hon. Member for the other part of Fife—West Fife (Mr. Gallacher)—is a strong Scottish nationalist, and I would point out to him that in the Soviet Union they do treat the whole of that large country as one economic unit, however much they decentralise for political and cultural purposes.
With regard to the question of the survey, I do hope that it will be pressed ahead and completed as rapidly as possible, because unless we have got that survey completed we cannot really go ahead with the planning of the right use of land. I think that the controversy about the use of land as between sheep farming and forestry is a rather artificial one. I take the view that, with regard to the cultivation of the Highlands and the re-seeding of the Highlands, we ought 109 to be able to increase the area under cultivation without in any way decreasing the number of sheep we have in this country, and that when that survey has been completed we ought to be able to plan the use of land with that object in view. By better re-seeding much of the hill lands, we should aim at keeping the sheep population up, at the same time as we use more land for the forestry programme.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife that it would be difficult to nationalise forestry very quickly. It may be necessary to take over quite large units fairly quickly if we are to get them replanted quickly in this coming period. I think that the Government's programme put forward for accepting the dedication scheme and so on is on trial. We shall see in the first five years or so how far it progresses. If it does not, I think we shall see the larger forestry areas taken over very quickly by the Forestry Commission.
There are one or two smaller points. Will the dedication scheme apply to local authority land? A few years ago I visited the area round Lake Vyrnwy planted by Liverpool Corporation. It was a very fine Sight to see. Last year I visited it again, and practically all the timber had been cut down for war purposes. It is important, I should think, that all reservoir areas required for water supply or for hydro-electric purposes, whenever possible, should be planted with trees. It is advantageous for preserving reservoirs from being filled up with silt, and for controlling flow into the reservoirs. I should like to know whether public bodies of that kind will be able to dedicate their land in order to get grants for replanting. There were certain grants on a limited scale between the two wars, but I suggest grants should be given to them, and that the Forestry Commission should have powers to compel them, if they think it is necessary, to plant suitable land of that kind.
As to the shelter belts that have been cut down for wartime purposes that require to be replanted, whose job is it to see that they are replanted? Is the job of the county agricultural executive committees or of the Forestry Commission? I agree with the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) about the supply of forest homes. It is essential to have some of the houses for the workers in the forest, 110 but I would urge the desirability, whenever possible, of mixing up the forest workers with other workers so that they can have a social and community life. We were not told anything about the important question of forest holdings. What number of holdings is it intended to create in the first five or ten years, and are all forest workers to be provided with holdings if they want them? How shall we group the holdings and are there to be marketing arrangements for the products of the holdings? I think we ought to be told rather more about the whole question of holdings, and what amenities are to be provided for the workers. I do hope, however, that the whole House will approve this programme, and that the Government will follow it. I am quite certain that if they do they will find support in the country as well as in this House.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Hollis (Devizes)
I think the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) has trailed his coat a little. He appealed to us to have an agreed programme, and up to now I thought, as a matter of fact, that we had all been getting along swimmingly, and apart from a private fight between the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) and the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) there was little difference of opinion and not a word had come even from the Welsh and the Scotch. Then, they were suddenly warned that they were being brought into an English scheme and now the fat is in the fire, and they will never be got to agree at all. On a slightly more serious point, I really cannot quite follow the hon. Gentleman's argument about the survey. Early in his speech he took up my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) and disagreed with his objection to the plan being put into operation before the survey was completed. It did not seem to me, as the hon. Member made it, a very strong point, but I was very surprised to hear that he himself, later on in his speech, pleaded that the survey should be pushed forward as rapidly as possible because, according to him, one could not really go ahead with the planning of the right use of land until the survey was completed. I am in some confusion as to whether he was in favour of the survey or against it.
§ Mr. Parker
I was making a distinction between the short term of five or ten years 111 and the longer programme. I do think it is desirable to press ahead with the immediate programme, using derelict woodland and other land obviously suitable for forestry, but before committing ourselves to the full 50 years' programme, obviously we must have the survey.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
I must apologise for not hearing the first part of the hon. Gentleman's speech, but that is precisely the point I was making. The danger is that the Forestry Commission will continue the prewar practice of taking any estate that comes into the market, irrespective of whether it is good agricultural land or not. That is what I want to stop, and this Act is intended to stop it. I was sorry the survey had not been carried on faster with a view to guarding against that danger.
§ Mr. Hollis
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend, and I hope the hon. Member for Dagenham will agree with that, which seems to me to clear up the point.
I hope the Secretary of State for Scotland when he comes to reply will deal with the points raised by a number of hon. Members about small estates, and in particular, I hope he will deal with one point about dedication of small estates which is far from obvious to my mind. What is the position in view of the statement of the Minister of Agriculture about the application of the dedication scheme to small estates? I very well understand that it is not worth while applying the dedication scheme to estates so small and so uneconomic that they cannot make a sensible contribution, but the very terms of the right hon. Gentleman's statement on 30th November, which we are debating, show that there are certain small estates which do not come into that category. The right hon. Gentleman said:… woodlands which ought to be used in the national interest for timber production but are unsuitable for dedication."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1945; Vol. 416, c 1781.]I do not know if other hon. Members are clearer about it than I am, but I do not know why, if such estates are of value, they are unsuitable for dedication, and I should be most grateful if the Secretary of State for Scotland could clear up that point.
112 The greater number of hon. Members have properly approached this problem either from the point of view of the need for timber in case of war, or from that of the need for timber for immediate industrial purposes. Those are obviously two very proper approaches, but I should like to join with some hon. Members in looking at this problem from a more general standpoint. In all matters to do with land, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) showed by his quotation from Evelyn, the primary loyalty must be to the land and our duty is to hand over the land to our successors in as good a condition as we received it. There is, unfortunately, no dispute that, in the years between the wars and in the years before, that purpose was not fully carried out in the country—I will not now enter into the reasons. However, I would like to say a word which may seem paradoxical, or perverse, or even perhaps almost indecent to some people, a word in praise of the English weather. In these days of austerity it might be thought whatever else we are short of, at any rate we are not short of rain. But in point of fact there is no doubt that the English climate is by far the best in the world, and is the cause of most of the good things that we enjoy. Our prosperity, art and character we owe, I believe, to the English climate. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Welsh one?"] The Welsh is wetter. King Charles II, who said so many wise things, said that England was the only country in the world where a man can work out of doors 365 days in the year.
From the earliest times it has been recognised that there is a connection between trees and rain, but whether it be trees that cause rain or rain that causes trees is not quite certain. Odysseus when he came to the Isles of the Blest found that there were many trees there, and therefore there was much rain. There have been instances, such as in the Turkish Empire, in which the climate of a region has been changed for the worse by deforestation. There is not much danger of that here as an immediate problem, but there is the counter proposition that our rainfall, and the dampness of our air, do make this country exceptionally well suited for the growing of trees. The only conceivable excuse—I do not say justification—for the small 113 proportion of nearly four per cent. of home grown timber against 96 per cent. of imported timber would be that this country was climatically exceptionally unsuited for growing trees. As a matter of fact it is exceptionally well suited. I would refer hon. Members to the extremely interesting Appendix VI in "A Post-War Forest Policy" from which the Minister of Agriculture quoted in his opening speech. Figures given there show that the rate of production of timber is much higher in this country than it is in similar countries on the continent of Europe. It that is true of conifers, it is equally true of hard woods, as the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) and the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Webb) have said. Therefore, there is not only no reason why we should not grow trees in our own national interest, but if we approach it from the point of view of world interest, it is clearly to the interest of the world that trees should be grown on an ample scale in this country which is so exceptionally well suited for growing them.
If I may, I will say a few words on a point which has been so adequately discussed by hon. Members—the financial policy behind afforestation. The hon. Member for Dagenham raised various questions about finance, but surely all turns on the question, which has been raised by other hon. Members, about what is to be the price policy for timber. We cannot say what will be the cost, or what people will be able to afford, until that first basic point has been settled. Hon. Members have adequately shown, and I need not, therefore, go through the argument again, the reason why, in these particular circumstances, grants are necessary and we welcome them, but on the other hand, they have also adequately shown why a policy of grants as a general rule is not a satisfactory policy. The real answer is that a proper price should be paid for the article, and this applies to all articles. I do not think there can be any answer to the point made by the hon. Member for East Fife, and other hon. Members who have asked for a revision of present prices. I was very disappointed that the Minister said nothing about this important question of price, and I greatly hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will have something to tell us about it in his speech, and that he will be able to hold out some promise to us that the 114 whole price schedule will be revised in such a way as to make the forestry industry an economic industry. This is particularly important, because the finance of forestry has never been adequately considered in the past, as it was to such a large extent in the hands of people who were not primarily concerned about its finance. We have now passed on to a different era, where finance is important.
The reason why it is more important in forestry than in agriculture, important as it is in agriculture that the basis of the finance should be a proper price rather than subsidies, is that any industry is in an extremely dangerous and precarious condition if its prosperity is dependent upon payment of subsidies which are voted by an electorate not primarily concerned with the industry. The danger is that within a year or two some politician will take up the cry, breaking through that unity for which the hon. Member for Dagenham has pleaded, for removing the subsidy and thus ruining the industry. It is a great danger, as we all know, for agriculture to depend upon a subsidy, but it is a far greater danger to forestry; although the agriculturists may be a minority in the country, they are comparatively powerful and can make their voice heard, but the number of people who have a direct interest in afforestation is obviously extremely minute, and it will, therefore, be extremely difficult for them to put up a fight. The hon. Member for Thornbury spoke of landlords not interested in their forests. The proportion of landlords who are not interested in woodlands is obviously much smaller than the proportion of the electorate at large. One of the great difficulties we have to face, whatever pious tributes may be paid to private interests in forestry, is that we have an urban electorate of which all but a small proportion hardly know there is such a thing as an art of forestry, and think that trees are things that just grow, and that if you want some wood, you go and cut it down, and that is all there is to it. We have to face this fact. It will be an extremely precarious prosperity which is dependent upon subsidies voted by such an electorate, when no one can foresee the difficulties through the times ahead. I strongly appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland to give us an 115 assurance that the prosperity of this industry will be based upon a price policy, rather than upon a subsidy policy.
§ 7.45 P.m.
§ Mr. Kinley (Bootle)
So far, it has appeared to be almost overwhelmingly the case that the only trees in which the Forestry Commissioners are going to show any interest are those which are grown to be cut down and sold for use. One or two Members have hinted that there ought to be another aspect, and that the Forestry Commissioners might grow trees for the benefit of human beings who are able to enjoy them. That is one side of the possible activities of the Commissioners which has received no mention from the Minister, and I hope that when the reply is made to the Debate we may have some attention paid to that. My only other point—because most of the ground has already been covered—is to ask whether the Forestry Commissioners have not yet heard of fruit trees and nut trees. These trees have not been mentioned during the Debate, and I want to concentrate upon them.
I am not able to say whether it is feasible for the Forestry Commissioners with their existing machinery to undertake additional work and duties, but I suggest to the Minister that as every part of the country is covered by a local authority, and every local authority have their parks and open spaces, he might use them as agents under the Forestry Commissioners outside, or if it is not within their jurisdiction, to use the staff already in the employ of the local authority to cover the whole of their area with fruit trees and nut trees. They are already trying to grow sycamores by the thousands, horse chestnuts, elms, occasionally beeches, very frequently ash and frequently limes, but one looks in vain for either fruit or nut trees. I know that even the smallest tree in a green is an advantage, but I suggest, whatever blessing it is in the spring when it opens its leaves, and however bright the little green things are, and however cheering when the full leaf has opened out, had that been a fruit tree, then for several weeks there would have been a great deal more pleasure derived by the people of that area from its blossom. There is no more cheering sight in spring time than a cluster of fruit trees in blossom. We are told that the Japanese for generations 116 made long pilgrimages in the season of the cherry blossom.
There is no reason that I know of why we cannot fill our streets, parks and open spaces with fruit and nut trees instead of the ordinary trees now being used. I should like to see local authorities experimenting to see how many varieties they can make grow in their area. While it is true that in many parts of the country we should get no fruit from our fruit trees, we are getting no fruit now, so we should lose nothing. Moreover, we should have added to the quantity of food which is grown in the country. Small boys, at least, would get a little more to eat than they do now. In fact, it may have the effect of persuading them to protect the lamps which they now smash because, when autumn came along, they would need the lamps in order to be able to see the fruit. But, seriously, I suggest that the Minister should endeavour to persuade local authorities to make as much progress as they can by the substitution, for the trees which are being planted at present, of suitable fruit and nut trees. In the springtime, when such trees are in blossom, there are no trees to compare with them except, possibly, the horse chestnut.
§ 7.53 P.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
As the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) has said, the waters of controversy have been deeply stirred in this Debate by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). I have given the hon. Member due warning that I should make offensive remarks about his speech if I were fortunate enough to catch your eye, Sir. It was astounding to hear a Member of the Socialist Party decry the need for a planned survey, and say that trees should be planted here and there, choosing fields haphazardly as they become available and as estates come into the market; but it was positively sickening to hear an English Member tell Scottish and Welsh Members that our nations could not afford to plant a few thousand acres of trees. Of course we could, and make a good profit out of it as well.
It is absolutely unreal to suggest that there is no conflict between the claims of the Forestry Commission and the interests of hill farmers. This problem cannot be assessed at the Whitehall level. The conflict can only be grasped when you come to where people dwell. The report of the 117 Hill Sheep Farming Committee stressed that such a conflict was inevitable because both hill sheep farmers and the Forestry Commission want the same land. They want the lower fertile slopes, and it is the conflict over these that is going on in the absence of a planned survey. The forestry authorities, with their very large powers, are taking these slopes. Sheep can use grazings at any level, provided that they can be brought to the lower grazings for wintering and for lambing. But once you plant a belt of trees across those lower levels and split up the economic unity of the farm, you have made the livelihood of the farmer impossible. Last June I referred a case to the Minister where, out of 243 plantable acres of grazing land, the Forestry Commission proposed to acquire 200, thus making it necessary for the farmer to cut his herd of cows from about 40 to about eight, and his sheep from about 700 to 250. That is what will happen if the proposal goes through. I made further representations on 29th July, and I am still awaiting the considered reply of the Minister of Agriculture.
We are all agreed on the necessity for afforestation. There is an overwhelming argument for large scale planting, but I prefer not to base it on our strategic and supply needs in war. If that dretd possibility occurs we shall not need to worry very much about the wood coming from our forests. Let us put the case for the supply of timber rather on the necessities for the nation's building work. Proper afforestation can bring what the rural areas need—roads, transport, water supply, electric power and population. I believe that the pilot survey referred to by the Minister is in fact being made in my own county, Merionethshire, and I ask that its results be published as soon as possible, and that similar surveys be made elsewhere. But in these surveys, all the interests concerned should have a voice in their preparation, and I think that in that way we might resolve the present conflict. There are thousands of acres of cleared woodland—high grazing land and scrub oak which the plough has not turned over and which is not suitable for agriculture—which the Forestry Commission might take without harming the interests of the small farmers.
I would urge a more sympathetic view towards the small farmer. I ask that the Forestry Commission should not plant large areas, where foxes breed at such a 118 rate and in such large numbers that their extermination becomes a real problem for the farmer. It seems extraordinary that at this time the county war agricultural executive committees apparently have no voice in the selection of land for afforestation. I can produce a letter from the Minister in evidence of that. I cannot help thinking that that is fundamentally wrong. These committees are now being set up on a representative basis and their function is to ensure that the farmer produces the utmost for food and cattle. I feel that it would be much more satisfactory if the activities of the Forestry Commission were integrated with the work of these committees by having, for instance, forestry officers on the staffs of the committees. I believe that the control of the Minister of Agriculture over forestry is at the moment purely nominal, and that he speaks in this House with two voices—one on behalf of food production, and the other on behalf of the growing of trees. Both are tremendously important, but, surely, they can be correlated. The Hill Sheep Farming Committee did recommend one statutory body to administer all hill sheep land, and safeguard the interests of forestry and hill sheep farming. That recommendation has never been implemented.
I wish to associate myself with those who have deprecated the policy of subsidising private woodlands. If we are to have afforestation all over the country, let it be done by the State. It is a thoroughly evil practice that public money should be used to subsidise private growers.
I suggest that on these lines—responsibility of the State, integration of the work of the Forestry Commission with that of the county war agricultural committees, real control by the Minister and a widely based survey and democratically made—we may yet see the best interests of afforestation and of the production of food carried forward together successfully in this country.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
I did not think that I should have to follow another Welshman in a Debate upon forestry, but I am glad to do so because I well understand that Wales can play an important part in the forestry programme, partly because of the nature of our country and partly because South Wales coal pits depend a great deal upon the produc- 119 tion of timber. I would ask the Minister whether he has to any extent gone into this question, in its relationship to Wales.
In 1943–46, the total increased acreage acquired by the Forestry Commission was only about 3,138. I find that the total acreage of the planting programme was only 519 acres more since 1938. That was surely double what it was in 1943 More important still is the fact that we have only one more forest unit than we had in 1943. I join in the plea that has been made that results of the survey should be published as soon as possible. I also join in the plea made by the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) that, in regard to Wales, the survey should be published as soon as possible in the form of a White Paper. I should be glad to know from the Secretary of State for Scotland if that is to he done.
I am not going to introduce a Welsh atmosphere here this evening, but I suggest that in Wales forestry could be accelerated a great deal. The hill slopes at the present time are simply covered with overgrown bracken. Slag heaps ought to be attended to, as they are an eyesore in South Wales. The sand dunes ought to be planted with trees. Under the Hill Farming Bill which this House has already considered attention should be given to forestry belts in some of the hill farms. I would call the attention of the Minister to that report, which has been well accepted in Wales, of the Reconstruction Advisory Committee, in 1944. It contains a number of suggestions. It is rather surprising to look at that report in 1946 and see that it suggested an advisory service upon afforestation. If that was of consequence in connection with agriculture, surely it is of importance in connection with afforestation as well.
I want to compliment the Ministry upon the fact that they have decided, according to the Welsh White Paper, to remove the offices of the Forestry Commissioners from Bristol to Aberystwyth. I compliment the Minister also upon having a school in Wales for afforestation. It is of great importance, if he wants Welsh secondary school boys to take an interest in forestry. There ought to be facilities for them in their own country. Mention has been made about the conflict between sheep farming and afforestation. 120 I would remind the Minister again of the Welsh Advisory Committee's suggestion in 1944 that the Minister of Town and Country Planning should settle such disputes by taking an assessor from the sheep farming interests and another from the forestry interests, to adjudge those matters and make a final decision. There is nothing wrong in that suggestion, and I cannot see that the Minister would be placed in any difficult position.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I would point out to my hon. Friend that we already have large training schools in Wales.
§ Mr. Watkins
Perhaps I might offer some words of wisdom to my right hon. Friend, and first I will refer to the question of the insecurity of the tenants of the holdings. At the present time, there is a tenancy for only 364 days. That limitation ought to be abolished. If tenants are turned out they ought to have a right of appeal. If they have been good tenants, and the Forestry Commission do not like them, and if they have improved their holdings, they ought to have compensation for those improvements. The Minister spoke about the development of roads through the forests. Do not let him forget the roads near to the holdings of those people. I suggest that the location of holdings should be such that the workers can cultivate their own gardens. I have seen gardens in forest holdings which could not be cultivated at all.
When I look at the people who have to administer these forestry plantations, I think there ought not to be so much class distinction between the officers and the workmen. There is a great deal to be said for having less stress on discipline. Surely the workmen are educated enough. If we want them to have an interest in forestry there ought not to be such stress on discipline. I had occasion last summer to walk in a forest to admire it and listen to the birds singing. Suddenly there was a shrill blast on a whistle. It was a forestry officer telling the chaps that they had to stop working. That is too great a stress upon discipline. There ought to be a tendency for foresters to have greater practical knowledge and not so much reliance upon theory. At the present moment promotion goes far too much by knowledge of theory.
Workmen ought to be allowed to make helpful suggestions for carrying on this great work. Consideration ought also to 121 be given to some minor matters, which may not count a great deal in this House but matter a great deal to the workmen. I refer to such things as provision for wet time and for proper protective clothing. I have seen men working out in showers of rain. Instead of having a proper shelter they had only a tarpaulin to get under. They looked like people taking part in an obstacle race in local sports. Consideration ought to be given also to labour-saving devices. I have seen the workmen doing really hard tasks which could have been done by labour-saving machinery. Greater consideration should be given to the people who are doing the work. Meetings should be convened of foresters and divisional officers, so that there is a real understanding of what is in the interests of the country, in respect to forestry.
I have one last word to say about the interests of the community in forestry. Nothing has been said about the Minister of Agriculture collaborating with the Minister of Education with the object of interesting the schools of the country in afforestation. It would be good if visits were made by scholars to the nearest forest. In some cases I suggest that small areas might be specially prepared for educational visits, even to the extent of labelling the trees as I have seen done in Germany. Young people should be encouraged to go on trips to forests, so that they may realise the damage which can be done by throwing lighted cigarette ends and matches on the ground. If they do not know about the amenities of the forests there is little that can be done with regard to fire prevention.
Last summer, I raised in the House the question of the picking of wimberries. In Wales, people have to pay 6d. or more to go into the forests to pick wimberries. It does not help afforestation, if a penalty is put on people who go into the forests to admire them and to pick wimberries. I hope that the local authorities will also take an interest in this matter. I find that one of my own local authorities near Merthyr, asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning, only this week, for an Order specifying that "no person shall cut down or wilfully destroy any growing tree without consent." I am glad that the first local authority in South Wales to do that is in my own constituency, and I hope that that example will be followed 122 by all local authorities. I trust that, in the future, we shall have an afforestation programme which will be regarded with admiration, not because it is a Socialist programme, but because it is a programme which will lead to a really glorious Britain.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Spence (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Central)
May I be allowed to make a brief addition to the ground already covered in this Debate? In Scotland, we welcome, in broad outline, this Bill, which is so vital to our national economy. Scotland has provided over 5,700,000 tons of timber. Our woodlands are denuded and they have to be made good. If the provisions, which we are making today, work in a satisfactory way, we shall see a revival of forestry in Scotland.
I wish to address to the Secretary of State one or two opinions on the successful working of this plan. I think that he will agree that one of the most difficult problems which faces the Forestry Commission is that of manpower. That, in turn, brings in the absolute need that the scheme of dedication shall succeed fully. I represent a part of the world where there are many forests, large and small, which are privately owned. I have no interests in them myself, and I speak, therefore, entirely impartially. I know, however, that there exists today in the minds of many owners a doubt as to whether they would be wise to dedicate. There is a doubt as to what are to be the actual terms in the covenant of dedication, and there is a fear that by signing a deed of dedication they are signing away something which is very precious to them. I hope that the Secretary of State will give a reassurance to these people, and that he will see that an instruction is given to all officials in the Forestry Commission to develop good will and co-operation in every way between the Commission and these owners. There have been faults on both sides, but it is of paramount importance that this scheme should succeed, and it is of paramount importance to the scheme that the dedication policy should succeed. I hope the Secretary of State will give an assurance to all forest owners in regard to this matter.
I want now to refer to the grant. I was very glad to hear from the Minister of the increase in the planting grant to 123 £10 an acre, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind the costs of planting today. I find, according to expert advice, which I got recently, that to plant 100 acres of ground would cost £2,000, that is, roughly £20 an acre. The cost of the trees would be over £1,000. In this estimate I take as being planted a crop one-third of larch, one-third of two-year Scots pine, and one-third of sitka. To plant 100 acres would cost £1,025 for the trees alone. This grant of £10 an acre is certainly a very great help and will be much welcomed, but like other hon. Members, I feel that the eventual selling price of the timber ought to be raised to an economic level. The maintenance allowance of 3s. 4d. is equivalent to one and a half hours' supervision per acre per year. That is not very much. I agree that the first 15 years are the important period, but I feel it might be a wise policy on the part of the Government to increase the grant, to revise the price of timber, and do away with the maintenance allowance. I conclude by making a very earnest appeal to the Secretary of State to deal with the question of dedication, which is vital to the success of the scheme. I am sure that if the full facts are known, if the actual wording of the deed of dedication is known and is suitable for the purpose intended, we shall find that there will be 100 per cent. dedication on the part of the owners.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I think hon. Members ought to hear a word from Scotland from this side of the House on afforestation. It is disappointing that the House is so thinly attended when a subject of such importance is on the menu. If there were as many potential lumberjacks here tonight as there were potential Foreign Secretaries here last night, we should be well on the way to solving the labour problem in afforestation. I would like to join hon. Members who have spoken in commendation of the work of the Forestry Commission. We have a very high regard for their work and for their assiduity and conscientiousness in putting through their programme, and we look forward to a great future with them in a great undertaking.
124 I wonder whether even the potential Foreign Secretaries realised the connection there is between the discussion of foreign affairs last night and afforestation. It is indeed one of the most striking parts of the tragedy of the depletion of our forests that it was brought about mainly by two things, one of them bad husbandry, or bad management, of the woodlands, and the other a bad foreign policy resulting in war and the heavy depletion of our timber resources. We hope that foreign policy for the future will take care of that part of afforestation. We have heard a good deal about the tragic side of the depletion of our forests, but I think we ought to look also to the very hopeful future which we can see basing itself upon the new policy, the new attitude, the new national consciousness, in regard to afforestation. We look forward to the redevelopment, the expanding development, of our timber resources.
There are other values which we set upon afforestation from the points of view of shelter, natural beauty, and the prevention of erosion. It is as important to agriculture as to any of these other matters. The strategic importance has been brought out within a generation by two wars, and we have the warnings of other countries as well. We have the "Dust Bowl" of the New World, we have the drought-deserts of Australia, and we have the centuries-old warnings of China, Iraq, North Africa, and the Lebanon. All these warnings remained completely unheeded in this country for generations, indeed for centuries.
In Scotland the history of afforestation has been the same as elsewhere—a tale of short-sighted exploitation without replacement, and neglect of timber reserves. In fact I do not think that there are any records of a Scottish timber planting policy of any kind until about the 18th century. Trees were regarded as being a perfect nuisance, rather as the enemies of agriculture, sapping away nourishment from the soil, and, as such, to be demolished and got rid of as quickly as possible. I believe that even to this day some of the prejudices with regard to afforestation, especially in Scotland, come down to us from those times. It may be that they are also caused partly by a rather careless selection of the sites for afforestation for there has been a certain amount of encroachment upon land which 125 might conceivably, with a little trouble, have been made into good agricultural land. I think that there is also without doubt a certain quarrel in some places with the hill sheep farmer in Scotland, and I sympathise to a great extent with the sheep men, in spite of the great importance of afforestation in those areas.
The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) did me the honour of sitting down in front of me as I began to speak. I meant to mention that in his constituency, in 1695, we had the first sawmill in the country. A good deal has been said about the softwoods, and if I understood him aright the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) deplored the emphasis which had been placed upon them. That again goes back to the work of the pioneers in research into the importation of foreign plants and variegation of Scottish planting practice. They introduced American and Canadian conifers—cypresses, spruces, Oregon pine, silver firs, and so on. We have also this to be said for us in Scotland. We had a Scottish Arboricultural Society before England or Wales had any similar society. I think we have a right to be proud in Scotland of that pioneering work and of the fact that we were forestry conscious some time before the English became so. But we did not in Scotland, or in Britain for that matter, become conscious as a nation until the warnings of the two wars had brought us a jolt—first in 1914, which resulted in the Acland Committee being set up in 1917, leading in turn to the establishment of the Forestry Commission, and in the second war, when we were reduced to a realisation that we could supply only 4 per cent. of our wartime needs of timber from home production. The German blockades and sinkings showed us how utterly dependent we were on other lands for supplies of strategically essential timber.
I think that we then became nationally conscious of the need for a progressive and urgent national afforestation policy, and that now on all sides of the House and in all parts of the country—that is, all countries of the United Kingdom—there is an urgent realisation of the need for going ahead with these afforestation and reafforestation programmes. We look today to the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the Ministry of Agriculture, who has great powers in England and, so 126 far, in Wales, as a result of the extensions promised in the way of finance under the increased forestry fund, using those powers to the full. He has all the powers of direction of that kind. He has considerable powers under the 1945 Act.
I would like to have this checked. In 1945, on the Second Reading of the Forestry Bill, the late Minister of Agriculture, the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), when giving figures relating to the Forestry Commission's record from 1919 to 1939 said that they had acquired 1,300,000 acres, of which 800,000 were suitable for planting and of which 400,000 had been planted. He said that private planting amounted to another 160,000 acres. He also said that only 1 million acres of woodland remained. He put it this way:The result that we face today is that we are left with not more than about one million acres of woodland in the whole country, mostly either immature or second rate woods very thinly stocked."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May. 1945; Vol. 410, C. 1739.]I should like that figure checked because I have seen other figures mentioned, including one of around 3,300,000 acres.
Now I want to say one word about an area where, to adapt the saying, "we cannot see the woods because there are not any trees." I am referring to my own constituency. In taking over jointly last year, under the Department of Agriculture for Scotland and the Ministry of Agriculture in England, the responsibility for forestry, much of the argument for doing so was based on the assurance that it was better to have a Minister responsible for both matters, each of which was complementary to the other, than to have a Minister for Forestry to whom the buck could be passed for a lot of things. This would be better than to have forestry shoved aside while agriculture went on its more important way. When there was joint responsibility for afforestation as well as agriculture, equal attention would be given to afforestation.
I would like the Minister to look into the very important aspect of uneconomic planting—the planting of shelter belts—from the point of view of erosion and the other values which such planting has for the development of agriculture in areas such as that which I represent. I raised this question on the White Paper discussions two years ago and shortly after that 127 in the general Debate in this House. I got no assurances. This is an extremely important subject in exposed spaces where agriculture would benefit from the planting of trees not for the sake of profit—uneconomic planting. The Minister has the powers. He is not going to be denied the finance. He has the large forestry fund. He knows its strategical urgency and its economic necessity, and thinks it is aesthetically desirable. There is every reason for vigorously expanding this policy, and he will have the whole country behind him. I should like to be quite sure that in considering the welfare of the whole country, attention will be given to the smaller places like my own constituency which has as yet received no attention from any Minister so far as forestry is concerned.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Major Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
It is quite clear from this Debate that interest in forestry is evenly distributed between England, Scotland and Wales. Maybe on a later occasion something will be said about afforestation in Northern Ireland. There will be a general welcome to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman by all those who are anxious about the future of our woodlands. It is unwise—certainly I do not propose to do so—to look a gift horse in the mouth; but although the increases in the maintenance and acreage grant are very welcome, no hon. Member on either side of the House can seriously suggest that they are over-generous. I have no doubt we ought to congratulate the Minister of Agriculture on having wrung even the sum of £20 million out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As the House will know, the cost of planting varies enormously according to the location and the circumstances. To clear, to replant, and subsequently to maintain felled areas is a much more expensive undertaking than planting heathland not covered by any plantation undergrowth at all. It is necessary in the summer, after planting, to clear always once, sometimes twice and even three times, the heavy undergrowth which establishes itself. This process of cleaning or clearing, whichever word one likes to use, must be repeated every year for four years until the young trees have their heads up. On my own not very large area of woodland I estimate that the cost is somewhere between £3 and £3 10s. an acre. Against that figure the 128 right hon. Gentleman's advance of 3s. 4d. is acceptable but certainly meagre.
The crux of the whole matter lies not in the grant for maintenance, but in the maximum controlled timber prices. I was rather surprised that the right hon. Gentleman made no reference in his speech to that factor. In agriculture the Government have recognised the principle that prices are to be related to cost of production, and I would have thought that exactly the same principle should be applied to afforestation where, like agriculture, labour is the largest single item of cost. Since 1939, although timber prices have not been reviewed, the actual increase in wages—allowing for shorter hours and increased holidays, which no one would deny to those who work on the land—is as much as 117 per cent., and there may still be, for all we know, a further rise in the minimum agricultural wage. Will the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, when he winds up the Debate, say something about the views of the Government as to whether or not the present timber prices are adequate? Does he propose to review those prices from time to time? If he does not do so, does he expect woodland owners under present timber prices to be attracted by the dedication scheme?
I was glad to hear the statement of the right hon. Gentleman about loan facilities. They are a very important factor for what I might call the marginal woodland owner. Also I would like to support what the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), in his very well informed and extremely eloquent speech, said about the deed of covenant. We have heard a great deal about the deed of covenant but no one, as far as I am aware, has yet seen it, and I think it is reasonable to suppose that before any woodland owner finally decides whether to dedicate or not, he should at least see under what precise terms he and the Government are undertaking mutual obligations.
The third question I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman—I hope he will forgive me if it is an unfair one—is a legal one, and I know he has none of his legal colleagues on the Front Bench with him. One, at least, has recently been endeavouring to persuade M. Molotov into a more reasonable frame of mind by entertaining him at the cocktail bar of the "Queen Elizabeth." Could he tell us 129 what is the legal position under the deed of covenant on any estate which is mortgaged? I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that in order to carry out proper afforestation we have to have foresters and foresters have to have houses in which to live, whether the woodlands belong to the Forestry Commission or to a private owner. I did not get all the asides which passed in a sort of "dumb crambo" language between the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) and the Minister of Agriculture. As I understood him, the Minister nodded his head when he was asked by the right hon. Member for Southport whether these houses to which the Minister of Agriculture referred, which are being built by the Ministry of Works for the Forestry Commission, would be let under an ordinary agreement and subject to Rent Restrictions Acts.
§ Major Mott-Radclyffe
I am glad to have the right. hon. Gentleman's confirmation. That being so, will he answer this further question? If they are going to be let under an ordinary agreement subject to the Rent Restrictions Acts, supposing an employee of the Forestry Commission in one of those houses being built by the Ministry of Works wishes to change his employment to go on to a farm, or into some other occupation, is he to be allowed to stay in the house which the Ministry of Works has built for the Forestry Commission?
§ Mr. T. Williams
I think the hon. and gallant Member wants an immediate reply, but he should wait until the case arises.
§ Major Mott-Radclyffe
If the man is not to be allowed to stay in the house built for the Commission for the purposes of afforestation, can we congratulate hon. Members on the other side upon having, at long last, come to the conclusion that for a specific purpose, a certain number of tied houses are essential?
I beg the right hon. Gentleman at least to persuade his colleague the Minister of Health to cease preventing the private woodland owners from building any houses they may wish to build for their employees in their own woodlands. All he is doing at present is to make it almost impossible for private woodland owners to carry out the obligations he has asked them to undertake under the dedication scheme.
§ 8.37 P.m.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-Western)
I am glad to have the opportunity of speaking in the Debate on this very important problem of forestry. It is important not only to the nation as a whole, but to those parts of the country which are being afforested and where since the last war there has been a great development of planting the importance is still greater. When the Minister announced the Government's forestry policy last November, I put one or two questions to him. One related to the danger of fire among forests in the Eastern counties, where the climate is dry, and where the trees are now growing to a height of 20 or more feet, and are therefore, becoming rather valuable. The Minister stated that the Forestry Commissioners had this matter in mind, but since then there has been a rather disastrous fire that went through two, if not three, miles of forests. On that occasion, it was found that the resources for combating fire in the forests were very inadequate. It has been noticeable that with rural district councils developing their water schemes for the neighbourhood there has been no contact and no cooperation with the Forestry Commission in endeavouring to supply water for the purpose of fire fighting in the immediate area. I also drew attention to the absence of hardwoods other than conifers in that neighbourhood. If the belts had been shortened, and perhaps if conifers had been planted at regular intervals, the burning of the conifers for such a long distance might have been prevented. I wish to ask the Minister again whether more serious attention has been given to the question of forest fires in the Eastern counties.
There is also another danger to which I wish to draw my right hon. Friend's attention. During the war a large part of the area North of Thetford was taken over as a battle training area, and it included part of the area which had been planted with trees by the Forestry Commission. A considerable degree of damage was done to the forest, not merely by the troops but because of neglect. Has that ceased? Another important matter in regard to this area is whether it is to continue to be used as a battle training school. If so, will it not limit the size of this particular forest? Hon. Members from the Benches opposite have spoken of planting trees in areas where nothing else can be done. Surely the matter has to be looked at from 131 an economic point of view of forestry. Where a large area is planted out it might be much more economic to extend that area, so that in the days when the trees are being felled, and use is being made of the wood, the forest can be worked over a much wider area. I ask the Minister seriously whether he has faced up to this question with the Secretary of State for War, and, if necessary, with the Minister of Town and Country Planning, whether this area is to be a forest area and whether a national park is included, or whether an attempt is to be made to divide it between forestry and battle training. If so, sooner or later the War Office will win, and down will go the trees, and there will have been a wastage of some millions of pounds.
Another important question which was mentioned by the Minister greatly surprised me. It was with regard to housing forest workers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) drew attention to the Minister's statement that he was proposing to build 1,200 houses per year for several years for forest workers. I am happy to see that the Forestry Commission is in negotiation with the producers of the Airey house for a supply of them under contract, and as has been stated today, the Ministry of Works are being asked to erect them. From information that has come from other sources, I gather that these cottages will cost about £1,400 each. If the Minister is to have 1,200 houses a year built they will cost £1,680,000, and in five years—he said for several years—the cost would be £8,400,000. The allocation from the Exchequer is £20 million for five years, so that considerably more than one-third may be spent on housing alone, whereas we are proceeding on the assumption that the £20 million is for afforestation.
I take the view that the houses should be provided by the local authority, so that they can deal with this matter, not as a forestry problem, but from the point of view of siting the houses and the mixing of them with other communities. We have our villages in the Eastern counties. It is true that in the past they have worn a decayed look because there has been poverty in the neighbourhood, because this area, which was previously given over in part to farming, provided a very meagre income for those engaged in it in the lean years. Now it has gone over to forestry, the trees have grown re- 132 markably well and there is a prospect of a future for that neighbourhood.
Would it not be wiser for the question of houses to be taken out of the hands of the forestry authorities and for them to be provided in the ordinary way through the local housing authority? I did my best as a Member of Parliament for the area, and also as a member of the rural district council, to bring the Forestry Commission and the district council together to get an agreement so that the local council could build houses for forestry workers under their housing programme. I thought I had the support of the Minister in this. We had one meeting with the local authority and the council agreed to build houses for forestry workers provided they could add to their programme to meet the needs of the forestry workers, in addition to those of the agricultural workers in other parts of the district. However, at the second meeting the representative of the Forestry Commission said that the condition on which the Forestry Commission would agree was that the local authority should build the houses and then let them on a 99-year lease to the Forestry Commission. They wanted to be in the position to put their own tenants in the houses and to put them out when they were no longer forestry workers.
That is the result of the meetings which took place. The outcome was that the local authority declined to build houses under those conditions. In a neighbouring parish where the local authority proposed to build four cottages, they had a similar request from the local landowner. Before they started to build he wrote:When these houses are completed, will you let them to me so that I can sublet them to tenants and put in who I want and turn them out when I don't want them?Again, the local authority declined. Knowing the people who live in these areas, I am certain that the policy which is being pursued by the Forestry Commission is wrong. The only way to rebuild rural England, whether on a basis of forestry or agriculture or a combination of both, is to have the villages so modelled, planned, connected with water supply, electricity, sewage, educational facilities, and social and recreational arrangements, and so on that there can be a social life. To put these cottages away in the forests would not solve the problem. In the neighbourhood about 133 which I am speaking, there are cottages which have stood empty for more than 12 months. People will not go to live in out of the way places. I know there is a need for a few houses tactically placed here and there for fire purposes; but that point has been exaggerated. The way to firewatch properly is not by scattering cottages throughout the forest area but by building beacons here and there with telephonic communication so that the danger spots can be watched. This is a most important matter.
We cannot go forward with this forestry policy without the labour. On every previous occasion when forestry matters have been debated in this House, they have been discussed in an atmosphere which has been influenced by the fact that there have been up to four million unemployed in the country. That is not the position today. We are talking about a vast expansion of forestry but we have no unemployed, we have not the workers available to do the work and we will not get them unless they can be attracted. We are not able to drive them there and we will be unable to hold them by means of a tenancy or a tied cottage. Many people have left forestry cottages and holdings in my district because they have been dissatisfied with the conditions of employment. We are not holding the workers we have at present. During the war there were special means of securing conscientious objectors, women, and soldiers, to do the work. We are now entering an era of freedom so far as labour is concerned. The workers have freedom to move and we are not able to compel them to work under conditions of which they disapprove.
We must create the conditions that will enable people to take an interest in their work and take a pride in it, take an interest and a pride in their homes and give them security in their homes, not only while they are at work but also in their old age. I should have thought that one of the important matters to which the Government would have given consideration was not only to provide these people with homes and decent wages but also to have a superannuation scheme. People would thus be encouraged to give their life's work in the forests. I ask the Minister to give this matter very careful consideration and not allow the whole scheme for our forests in Great Britain 134 to fail because the labour is not willingly coming forward, because it will not do so unless the conditions are such that people are easily attracted to them.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. York (Ripon)
I want to come straight back to the dedication scheme. The Minister says that he was fairly satisfied with the results at the moment. There are two main causes for the holdup in dedications; first, the settled estate problem—and I am glad to hear that it is non-controversial—and, second, the general uncertainty among private foresters today. This uncertainty is in the minds of most private foresters and of all those to whom I have spoken. There is uncertainty about the future and uncertainty about the risks involved in borrowing money. There is uncertainty about timber prices and about profitability. There is a large forest owner whom I know who has kept very careful accounts for a number of years, and his latest accounts show that he is actually suffering a loss on his annual forest accounts. There is uncertainty about felling orders, some of which in the past have been most arbitrary. There is uncertainty about all the shortages which exist today, many of which cannot be helped—trees, labour and so on. The job of the Government, if they want to see the dedication scheme a success, is to allay these uncertainties and make plain their intention to encourage private owners.
My second point refers to the finances of the scheme. I do not believe that the grants, either the planting grant or the maintenance grant, will have any appreciable effect on the amount of ground planted. They are not adequate and they bear litle relation to the actual cost. Indeed, like many of my hon. Friends, I am absolutely opposed to the principle of the subsidy. I want to see forestry, like agriculture, put upon an economic basis, and that can only be done by relating the costs of production to the price received for the product.
I will, therefore, come straight on to timber prices. We have heard from various hon. Members today of the rise in the cost of production. There may be an argument, advanced against increasing these prices, that the trees that are now being felled were planted when prices were very much lower, but that is not 135 only a ridiculous argument but it is both unbusinesslike and inefficient oil the part of any person, be he a private forester or a Government official, to advance that theory. The costs in a forestry account today are costs relating to present day prices, and the fellings—in other words, the revenue on a forest estate—have to pay today's wages and today's expenses. Therefore, there is little point in trying to relate past production costs to present day prices. I was not quite clear about what the Minister intends in relation to credits. I believe that there are sufficient credits in his scheme to meet all eventualities that the forest owner may require, but I would like the Secretary of State to be a little clearer and a little more detailed as to what these actual facilities are.
My next point refers to young trees. Forest owners who are trying to replant in this month and in the next two months, are held up because they cannot obtain supplies of young trees. One owner in Yorkshire has been told by his nurseryman that he can have only 25 per cent. of the young trees he requires. I understand that in their nurseries the Forestry Commission will have a surplus. In any case, as they themselves are short of labour, they can probably release rather more than they think their surplus is going to be. I would request the Government to ask the Forestry Commission to make up their minds today as to what their surplus is going to be so that they may get their young trees out of the nursery, or direct to the owners if that is possible, in order that the land may be planted before Christmas, because in the north of England we cannot plant at the end of December, January and February owing to the weather.
My two final points will be brief. I want the Minister who, I understand, belongs to what is called a "progressive party," to try to be progressive for once in regard to Forestry Commission finance. I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to a speech that I made on the Second Reading of the Forestry Act in which I put before him and my right hon. Friend a proper modern method of financing forest operations in which the capital and interest and the revenue expenditure of the Forestry Commission were sub-divided. As I cannot deploy the argument now, I would ask him to refer to that speech and to 136 consider whether he cannot introduce a really practical reform in the finances of the Forestry Commission. I welcome this Debate, and hope that the Forestry Commission will co-operate fully, both in labour and advice, with the private owners. It is only on the basis of cooperation that forestry will make headway. I believe it can; I only hope that it will be allowed to.
§ 8.59 P.m.
§ Mr. Perrins (Birmingham, Yardley)
Although this Debate has ranged far and wide, there are two aspects of the subject which have not been mentioned during the time that I have been sitting in the Chamber. I listened very carefully to the speech of my right hon. Friend because I wished to ascertain what was the policy with regard to disease in forests. I make special reference to this aspect because in my own county of Worcestershire, where I was born and still reside, we have a very strong incidence of disease in elm trees. The matter is of grave and serious concern to the war agricultual committee. It is not confined to a certain part of the county; it is widespread, and as the expert opinion is that this elm tree disease is contagious, it may sterilise every elm tree in the county for a long period. I would like to know what my right hon. Friend has to say about that. It must be equally important to protect the land that is under forest cultivation as the forests which already exist.
I have sensed in the course of the Debate that sooner or later there will be a conflict of interests between those who want land for agriculture and those who want it for afforestation. In my own native Black Country we have land which agriculturists will not tackle. To use a term which I think my hon. Friend who is to reply will understand, these areas consist very often of two, three or four acres of what are called "tocky banks." They consist of the spoil which is taken out of the earth where mining has been carried on. The people in the Black Country who live far from the green fields would welcome an acre or two planted with trees. The question of labour may arise, but as a town councillor for 18 years, I know that on these town councils in the Black Country are men who become fired with vision and imagination, and if those who are interested were 137 to follow the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) and contacted their town councillors, I am sure they would be provided with useful training. They could go to these areas, bring back soil and analyse it, and make useful suggestions. I think the town councillors will be able to provide the labour without drawing on the limited resources at the disposal of the Forestry Commission. There are other points which I wanted to develop, but as the hour is late I will not detain the House. I shall want to catch your eye on a future occasion, Mr. Speaker. I will conclude by expressing the hope that when he replies, the Minister will deal with the question of disease to which I have referred.
§ 9.3 P.m.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
In the short time at my disposal I wish, first of all, to add my welcome to the many which have been given to the Government's afforestation plans, and to say that, in my view, the fact that this is one of the most urgent and vital parts of our agricultural policy is very evident. Many of the fears which have been expressed as to the use of land will not arise because this is an integral part of our agricultural policy and will come under the direction of one Minister. I do not agree in the main with what some hon. Members here said about the dedication scheme, although I think the whole policy of afforestation should be approached in a spirit of dedication. No one should be under the impression that he can plant today and see any tangible results in his own lifetime—An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] It depends how old he is, and what he plants but, in the main, anybody who plants now with the hope of receiving early profits had better have nothing to do with afforestation.
There is one matter which I would like to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend, and that is the question of commercial willow planting. That is something which will achieve comparatively quick results, and something which is very badly needed indeed. Not very many years ago we had 9,000 acres under willows in this country. Today there are less than 2,000, and each year we have to import 3,000 tons of willows, mainly from the Argentine, at a present cost of something like £300,000 per annum. That is essentially a section of English 138 agriculture which has been lost, which has been devastated by the policy of the interwar years. It is, in fact, a very unhappy commentary on the policy followed in those interwar years that at Long Ashton there is a research station with several acres of willow beds; so far, the only tangible product from those beds has been the hybrids which have been exported to the Argentine to set up there a very successful willow growing industry for re-export to this country. That is something which I suggest is intolerable.
There is a considerable acreage of land in Somerset which is eminently suited for the growing of willows. It is the home of willow growing, and it is not at present of any use, or very little use, for ordinary agriculture. For willow growing we do not ask for anything but the same assistance of assured markets and an assured future which is promised to the rest of agriculture. There is a 20 years' amortization on willow beds. Therefore, there is again a long-term problem which must be carefully considered by anyone venturing now. I also suggest that consideration should be given to the extension of willow growing in Scotland, as an adjunct to a cottage basket industry. It has been tried in Skye; it has been tried on the Duke of Montrose's estate, and in places where I myself have assisted in the rehabilitation of willow beds. It is a matter which I hope will be looked into, because I can assure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland that these two things, raw materials and basket making, are things which I have started myself in remote parts, and which I hope to see developed. I hope the suggestions I have made to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will receive his early and careful consideration.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)
If the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland is to answer all the questions that have been thrown at him tonight from all sides of the House, I shall have to finish almost as soon as I have risen, because I think a basketful has been handed to him. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture is delighted that it is not his turn again, but that he can hand it over. This Debate has been of great value, if only that it has served to ventilate and give air to this truly vital problem of forestry in this country. Let me 139 avoid thin ice at once, and say that when I use the expression "this country" I mean the whole of Great Britain. It is high time the country realised what forestry means, and should mean. I join with the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) in regretting very much the small attendance in this House, on both sides, for such an important matter. However, there it is. I hope hon. Members will read that to which they have not listened.
There is no doubt that forestry must be a major thing in our national economy from now on. As has been pointed out from several sources, two wars have denuded our forests to an extraordinary extent. In Scotland we have mile after mile of hillside absolutely laid bare, so that people who know it Well really hardly recognise it; and I have no doubt that in certain parts of England it is the same. I do not think that the mere fact that we have cut down timber like this is going necessarily to get into the people's heads what we have to do. I do not think that the people of this country, by and large, understand what is meant by afforestation; and I hope that this Debate, the publicity it will have in our constituencies, will make people realise that it is in their own interest, and not only in that of those of us talking about this subject.
I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, rather shyly, dissociate himself from the deplorable remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Inverness in August. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will publicly dissociate himself from what is a most outrageous statement, contrary to all the facts. A man in the Chancellor's position, even though addressing a Labour rally, had no business to mislead the country in that way. He had a perfect right and opportunity, the same as any of us, of verifying the facts. The Minister of Agriculture has convicted him out of his own mouth, not only on 30th November but again today. I think, if I may suggest it, that this subject of forestry must, whatever happens, in spite of our feelings, be kept out of the welter of party politics. It should go far beyond that, and I hope that that particular occasion will be the last we are to hear of party politics in forestry. The hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass), with 140 that bee that buzzes so violently in his bonnet, maintained a magnificent calm in the circumstances. He has shown an example of what can be done with the busiest bee if necessary; and I think that he took a broader view, and made a most helpful speech.
As in all other industries, there is no doubt about it, one of the main troubles in this industry is housing. We cannot get away from the fact that we must have houses if we are to get the men where the work is to be done. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us a little more definitely about the houses which are to be built for these workers. I am not yet quite clear about it. Does he mean to say definitely that these houses, when built, will be let on perfectly normal, everyday tenancies subject to the Rent Restriction Acts, and so on? Does he agree that that is the case? I will sit down if he will give us the answer now. Does that apply to the forest holdings? I should like a definite answer on that, and I know that the rest of the House would, too, because it is still very much in the air.
I should like to pass for a moment to training facilities. We have heard a great deal as to what is to be done. The Minister's statement was, perhaps, a little sketchy, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) said. I should like to hear a little more about it, and I trust that the Secretary of State for Scotland will give us a little more detail about what is going to be done in training men up to and including the university standard. What universities in Scotland are going to do this, and how much will they be able to do? It is a difficult job. I know they are full up, but if we are not to get these poeple trained up to university standards our programme will not go ahead as it should.
One other feature in connection with education. I might call it "reeducation." It is essential that many people, owners and agents, and so on, who have worked at forestry all their lives and have knowledge of it, should have an opportunity of being brought right up to date in modern scientific methods, as, perhaps, they are not quite so up to date as people with recent opportunities of learning. I believe that owners and agents and people like that should be given the opportunity of attending short courses. They must be 141 short courses because they are busy men; the courses must be central, and the bulk of them must be out of doors.
All forestry work, like agricultural work, must be done out of doors. A book is all right as far as it goes, but if you rely on a book for agriculture or forestry, you will be like the person who took a correspondence course in swimming and then wondered why he drowned when he got into the water for the first time. I do hope the Minister will give some consideration to this question of the possibility of training for people who are already in the forestry industry, because I think it would be valuable. Given the houses and the training facilities, I am perfectly certain that we should get the men as well. Thousands of men coming out of the Services today are horrified at the thought of going or returning to a cramped, unhealthy city life. They will tell you so all over the country, and if they could be sure that, for themselves and their families, they could find really good up-to-date houses and could also get the training, I am convinced they would go to this work. But there must be those two things. One cannot get away from the housing question and one cannot get away from the fact that they must be trained.
I would like to go into the question of employment in a little more detail. A great many statements have been made about it, and one rather remarkable statement was made by the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye), who said there was no such thing as unemployment at present. Perhaps he meant only in his part of the world, in which case I must say that he is extremely lucky. But a point which is definitely germane to this subject is that unemployment is becoming a very important question in Scotland, and I will indicate the position because I do not think it is understood. Our Scottish population is one-ninth of that of Great Britain, while our unemployment is one-quarter of that of the whole of Great Britain. There are two men idle in Scotland for every one in England, and 4½ for every one idle in London. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State knows that that is the case, because he was told so in no uncertain terms by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) when both of them honoured my constituency with a visit not so long ago. The hon. 142 Member for Dumbarton Burghs gave those figures to the right hon. Gentleman and they show what a really serious position there is in Scotland these days. Forestry, properly handled, would be a very valuable contribution towards a solution of the problem, but we come up immediately against difficulties in relation to the hill sheep farming industry, and it does, of course, want the most careful co-ordination on the part of both the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State.
May I indicate what can be done in forestry as opposed to hill sheep farming? On good sheep ground in Scotland, and I have no doubt it is very much the same in England, three acres per sheep are needed. The average hirsel in Scotland is 400 sheep, so 1,200 acres are needed for that size of flock, which needs one man to look after it. On a typical hill farm in Scotland of some 6,000 acres, at that rate, five men would be employed, or, with the farmer himself and perhaps an orraman, seven men in all. Of sheep land of that quality, probably 75 per cent., if not 100 per cent., would be quite suitable for afforestation. I will take 75 per cent. which, when in full production, could employ one man per 100 acres. If I have got my arithmetic fight, that means that it could employ 45 men in place of the six or seven which the sheep industry employs in the same place.
These are impressive figures. I am not of course suggesting for a moment that that proportion should be taken away from sheep farming and given to forestry. I am only pointing out that that is the effect per 100 acres of the changeover from one to the other, and it is a thing which I hope the Secretary of State will consider very carefully. These figures are obtained from a very reliable source, and they work out too for continental countries where afforestation is carried to a high standard. I think that they are probably minimum figures. In addition, we have to realise that probably four or five men will be indirectly employed for every man directly employed in forestry, on haulage, in sawing mills and so on. It can be a very big contribution to the needs, first, of preventing unemployment, and, secondly, getting men on the land, where we want to see more good fellows with their families.
I should like to give emphasis to something which was said by the hon. 143 Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), and that is on the question of hardwoods as opposed to softwoods. Hardwoods are essentially a matter for the Forestry Commission. Softwoods may give the private owner a few returns in his lifetime and that of his son, but in the case of hardwoods it will be his great grandson before there will be any return, and in any case the estate will probably have been broken up a long time before the greatgrandson is fortunate enough to receive anything. I hope that the Minister will assure us that the Forestry Commission are dealing with this question of hardwoods.
I now wish to turn to the æsthetical side of this matter, which was dealt with so delightfully by the hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning). It is important that our countryside should not be covered by grim Teuton or Russian forests. There can be beauty, if the thing is done properly. There should be a mixture. Flowering trees should not be forgotten on the hillsides of Scotland, England and Wales. Among the coniferous and other trees, a few flowering trees here and there would make a difference to what is the most beautiful countryside in the world.
This subject has received ventilation and consideration in this House today, and we all welcome it, because it richly deserves it. I hope and trust that Members who represent rural constituencies, who have the problem at first hand, will not be the only Members who think that this subject applies to them, but that Members who sit for urban constituencies and our great cities, who after all form the vast majority, will realise that this applies to them and their people just as much. The maintenance and restoration of our countryside is or should be and could be the most pressing problem of our time. Farming must take first place, because it is our daily bread and we depend on it, but forestry, certainly in hill areas, offers employment and repopulation on a much larger scale than that of hill farming. There is ample room for both, and ample need for both. Fundamentally they are one problem, and they should be treated as such. It may be difficult, but that is the job of the Ministers concerned. There must be an end to competition between the two, 144 because they are and should be complementary.
We thus have on problem, and that is to restore this countryside of ours, this beautiful country in which to live is at once our privilege and our opportunity. I know that this question of forestry is of immense importance in England and Wales, but to Scotland it is absolutely vital. It is in the hands of the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland that this great problem lies. It is an immense responsibility. They have the power, as has been pointed out. Have they the drive, the will and the energy to push it through, because if all other industries fail, it will be bad enough, but if the land fails, it will be the end? As has been pointed out by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan), vast areas in the world have been turned into deserts by man, and we want to be sure that that does not happen again. The main feature in turning those areas into deserts was the cutting down, on a vast and ruthless scale, of the forests and woodlands that previously existed. If you play the fool with nature, you will always lose. So far, it has happened far less in our country than anywhere else. It is for us, as representatives of our people in all parts of the British Isles, to decide which way we are going in this matter of forestry and farming, because those are the factors which will eventually decide the issue.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)
In my reasonably long membership of this House, now reaching back over 24 years, this is, to the best of my knowledge, the first occasion on which we have spent a full day of Parliamentary time in discussing afforestation. I think that is some answer to the challenge that has been made as to whether the Minister of Agriculture and I are showing the necessary drive in getting on with the job of afforestation. I think we are. My right hon Friend, in outlining the policy we are seeking to pursue, has indicated that we are determined to make forestry an essential part of our national economy. It has not been that in the past. I shall not apportion the blame tonight, because I am speaking to a Motion, in which I hope sincerely the House will support us, to approve the Government's policy. Even though the House has not been full to 145 capacity to hear this interesting Debate, the Debate has been full of meat from the beginning. It would be impossible for me to deal with all the points that have been raised, but I shall endeavour to reply to the more important ones. I assure every hon. Member who has spoken that the OFFICIAL REPORT will be scanned by my right hon. Friend and I for the purpose of gaining all we can from the Debate, and that we will give the fullest consideration to every one of the helpful suggestions that have been made.
In Scotland we have a grave unemployment problem. I entirely agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) that we have here a way of dealing effectively with that problem. It is one of the measures by which we can bring back to rural Scotland some of those people who have left the rural areas, and can at last take effective steps to bring about the repopulation of several of the areas that have been depopulated in the past.
One or two points which I will now mention were raised by the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson). He suggested that we should have a careful look at the people engaged in getting timber out of Germany. I assure him that not only have we to see that we plant and grow trees in our own country, but that it is essential, in the interests of our own forests, that we should at the moment get the maximum amount of wood out of Germany. To get that wood we have had to part, rather regretfully, with some of our own forestry workers and experts. The right hon. Gentleman can rest assured that the most careful consideration is being given to this matter. I am sure he will agree that if we are to save many of our immature trees we must get the maximum amount of wood out of Germany. It will be an effective way of making the Germans pay reparations without economically and disastrously affecting them, while benefiting us socially in a material way by providing us with wood for our houses and pit props for our mines.
§ Mr. Westwood
I do not think it is possible to get the maximum wood out of Germany in any other way, and we are not parting with any of our men unnecessarily. 146 The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of the cost of the houses. That cost varies from month to month and I cannot give him the cost. It will be no greater than the cost of building other houses. No one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that in last year's legislation we provided subsidies to enable us to build houses in the remote areas. The capital cost of these houses will be no greater than if they were built by the local authorities who would have the right to get the subsidy for those remote areas.
§ Mr. Westwood
I cannot give the figure for England. That is a matter for the English Minister. The subsidy for Scotland can be as high as £35, plus an additional grant, with no limit for remote areas. We must have the facts before we can determine finally in the Department what the grant is to be.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will remember that the Forestry Commission said in their report in 1943 that the cost then averaged £494. Surely, he knows what the cost will be. Will it be £1,000, £2,000 or £2,494?
§ Mr. Westwood
I have told the House that I cannot say. I shall not give any figure on which hon. Members can trip me up afterwards. Hon. Members have known me now for 24 years and I shall not give any figure of which I am not absolutely sure. All I can say is that the cost will be no higher than that of similar houses that might have been built by the local authority.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
It was indicated to us by the Minister of Agriculture that the Scottish Special Housing Association would be building these houses. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman indicate the timetable to which the Association will work?
§ Mr. Westwood
It is true that the Special Housing Association in Scotland is being used as agent or instrument for the building of houses in these remote areas. That is one of the reasons why we set up the Special Housing Association. The hon. Member for East Fite (Mr. H. Stewart) need not try to get me to give figures of which I am not sure. No one would be more ready than he to look up the figures in order to see whether, 147 a week afterwards, he could catch me out. He is not going to catch me out tonight. It is not so easy, because sometimes the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) waits until I am not here to attack and seldom attacks when I am here.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
The right hon. Gentleman is making an entirely unjustified statement. He was not here, because he chooses to be out of the House during Scottish Debates, when he ought to be present.
§ Mr. Westwood
This is getting very interesting. I have noticed the period of time during which the hon. Member for East Fife has been in the House during this Debate.
§ Mr. Westwood
I wish certain hon. Members were able to take medicine, as well as try to give it. There were one or two very important points raised by hon. Members during this Debate—
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is going to answer the questions which I asked. I asked whether, as far as England is concerned, the Minister of Agriculture had abandoned the idea which he put forward in his speech of 30th November that the local authorities were to build houses, and I also asked about the rents that would be charged for these new houses.
§ Mr. Westwood
The rents will be comparable with the rents charged to agricultural workers. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that that is very reasonable. As far as the local authorities are concerned, speaking for Scotland, if I can induce them to build, I will. If I cannot, the Forestry Commission will carry on the building in accordance with the plans already indicated to the House. I will have some figures to give concerning Scotland, if I can get time between now and 10 o'clock, when the Debate automatically ends.
Several hon. Members have raised the problem of education in its connection with forestry. The Minister of Agriculture and I and the Forestry Commission are fully aware of the need for training 148 and for special education facilities for forestry. We have three different types of training and education. There is the training and education for forestry officers. They are university trained, so as to be able to plan and supervise afforestation. Then we have the foresters. They are trained in the Commissioners' schools to supervise the workmen in the forests. Then we have the workmen, including ex-Servicemen, who are to be trained in manual operations under the Ministry of Labour's scheme. There are four university schools for forestry officers—in England and Wales—Bangor and Oxford; in Scotland, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. If anyone asks me whether they are giving the turn-out we would desire, my answer is that that would be impossible at present, but they are doing what is possible in existing circumstances to give us educational facilities and trained men. The output from all four schools is estimated to be 27 in 1947, 64 in 1948, and 109 in 1949, so that there is a progressive increase. We will do what we can to try to improve the speed and provide additional facilities.
The problem of housing has been referred to repeatedly. The Minister of Agriculture and I, along with the Commissioners, recognise the need for attractive houses with all amenities. I want in Scotland, in the development of afforestation, to work with the health services. I am referring to rehabilitation. I am thinking of the men who have to be rehabilitated after accidents in mines, after industrial disease, and after ordinary diseases which make it impossible for them to go back to their own occupations. Like the Minister of Health, I see a glorious opportunity of associating afforestation with the health services, so that a man who is certified by his medical attendant as being unable to go back to the mines will have a chance, if he can be fitted into the afforestation scheme, to become a useful citizen, creating his own livelihood, instead of gradually deteriorating in health and strength, and finally becoming a burden on the community. Again, I cannot get personnel into forestry unless I can provide for those who come into forestry as good housing conditions as are provided elsewhere. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and I, along with the Commissioners, recognise the need for attractive houses with all amenities. 149 There is one point that I want to emphasise in connection with the Commissioners. It has been suggested that we give orders to them as we do to civil servants, but they are not civil servants in the ordinary way. I want to pay a full meed of praise to the splendid work which all those engaged in forestry, officially, have been doing, particularly during the last 12 months. Very few of these Commissioners are fully employed or fully paid; a few are partly paid, but the major number are citizens of both England and Scotland who are willingly giving of their knowledge and service to help us in dealing with this great problem. It is but right that from this Box I should pay a tribute to that public service which they are giving—irrespective of politics—because they were not chosen for their politics but for their knowledge in connection with forestry work, and they are doing a splendid service in the interests of Scotland. I am sure the same applies as far as concerns England.
The Commissioners agree that housing must be of the best we can provide. So far as possible houses will be put in communities, but there are cases where this is not possible in the interests of effective management. I entirely agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning): fires will sometimes break out at night and we must have our forestry workers on the spot. But we have to see that although they may be isolated from their fellow workers the conditions under which they live are, if at all humanly possible, uniformly good so far as housing is concerned. Where the local authorities are able, we shall allow them to provide houses, as I have already indicated. There will be no need then for the Commissioners to provide them, but where the local authorities do not build, houses must be retained for the workers required in the forests, but they will be subject to the ordinary conditions as already indicated by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture.
§ Mr. Westwood
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has already explained that, and I am repeating it.
§ Mr. Westwood
I have not much time and I have not interrupted other hon. Members. Another important question which has been raised is that of fire protection. This is a matter to which the Commissioners have given, and will continue to give, their fullest consideration. I am advised that it is not to be solved by towers and telephones alone, although some may be necessary, but that it requires an integrated system of detection and the prompt arrival of the fire fighters, adequately equipped. Above all, prevention must be sought by precautionary methods and we have to try to interest children in trees. By using our educational system we will endeavour to inculcate in them a love of trees. Far too often children, because they have not been trained aright, destroy the trees in our countryside. We shall have to see that our educational system also fits in with the policy of afforestation, and we shall have to teach the hikers and the others who will be using our national forests—which must work into and become part and parcel of our forestry proposals—that it is wrong to light fires and then not to see that all the embers are put out before they leave the spot. We have to educate the adults as well as the children in the need for a real preventive action and preventive measures if we are to avoid forest fires.
The Commissioners are sometimes worried by the carelessness of the general public, and if we are to make a real success of afforestation I agree that it is not by the Commissioners themselves doing the work, or by the Minister and I supervising that work and being responsible to Parliament for it. It is by all members of the community realising that these are their trees and their forests, that they have to take a personal interest in seeing that they are safeguarded and that we are enabled really to get on with the job, and that the trees are not destroyed as a result of the carelessness of individuals.
I was asked some important questions in connection with the dedication scheme, and I can give assurances to the House—assurances on behalf of the Government and of the Commissioners—that every help and cooperation will be given by the Commissioners and they will expect every help from private owners to make the dedication scheme a success. I can say without any hesitation that the fullest cooperation and help will be forthcoming 151 so far as the Commissioners and the Minister and I are concerned to make the dedication scheme a success. I hope I have touched on the main—
§ Mr. Westwood
It is certainly true that there is a need for revision in connection with timber prices. I cannot give a date at the moment when the announcement will be made. I can assure the House that this matter is receiving active—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is the proper Parliamentary word; the Minister assures me, the very active—that means it will not be too long delayed before an announcement is made—consideration of His Majesty's Government, but I am not in a position tonight to make the announcement or to fix the date when an announcement will be made.
I would like to say a word or two about Scotland in particular. I have to emphasise not only the great interest of the Government as a whole but my own personal concern so far as the success of afforestation in Scotland is concerned. I am responsible as Secretary of State for Scotland. There are three subjects to which I have devoted my life in Scotland—education, health, and I am glad to say that for 25 years I have been an advocate of afforestation. I have always realised that in the economic development of Scotland afforestation must play a very essential and important part. We must have large scale scientific forestry if we are to make a real contribution to the prosperity of Scotland. Sometimes I have to do my work in Scotland—and I have never wasted a day when the House has not been sitting, and not even when the House has been sitting, when I have been in Scotland, in trying to find out for myself some of the problems I have to deal with. In my tours of the countryside I have had an opportunity of inspecting some of the extensive forests such as Glenbranter, Ben More, Glenfinnart and Ardgartan, amongst others, and I have observed for myself how well the trees are growing and some of the scientific experiments that are being carried out successfully in growing trees where there used to be peat bogs and barren wastes. Afforestation is one of the essential things required in our Highland regions.
152 I want to see afforestation coupled with the development of hydro-electricity—this is part of the plan which I have been aiming for for Scotland—with agriculture, and with fishing. I have seen, too, in my travels through Scotland the great scars left on the hillsides by the fellings made during the last seven years, and the great stretches of poorly utilised country which could be made available for forests. There is sometimes a conflict between agricultural interests and forestry interests, but that is the problem I have to solve so far as Scotland is concerned, and my right hon. Friend has to solve it so far as England is concerned. I have an effective machinery, not in Whitehall, but in St. Andrew's House, for dealing with this problem, and if there is a conflict between the Forestry Commissioners as to the wise use of land and my own Department of Agriculture, then at the end of the day it is I, as Secretary of State for Scotland, who have to accept the responsibility of determining to what use that land will be put. The aim and object of my policy is to use that land to the best advantage in the best interests of Scotland and of its economic development. Therefore, I do not allow real conflict to take place between the Commissioners and my Department. I have to he the arbiter if they cannot get agreement, but up to the present there has been reasonable agreement—[An HON. MEMBER: "Not always."]—not always, otherwise they would not requite me as an arbiter, but there has been reasonable agreement so far as the Commissioners and the Department of Agriculture are concerned.
For the removal of the thinnings from the more advanced plantations, better forest roads are required. I saw those difficulties when I was visiting these forests, and we are developing a road programme so that we can deal, effectively and in an organised and scientific way, with this problem of afforestation. The Forestry Commissioners, through their research work and by large-scale ploughing operations—and it was suggested that we should use the best machinery with heavy tackle—have shown how many types of very poor land, which was formerly considered of little use for growing trees, or, indeed, for any other purpose, may be successfully afforested.
Here, then, to my mind is a venture which, integrated with agriculture and fisheries, holds out high promise and con- 153 sequently is worthy of the strongest backing which the Government and this House can give it. I am glad to say that the Forestry Commissioners themselves have recognised the importance of Scottish forestry in their provisional allocation of the estate planning programme for the next five years. The total is 290,000 acres and, of that area, 123,000 acres or 42 per cent. has been devolved on the Scottish National Committee, of which my predecessor, Mr. Tom Johnstone, is the chairman. Ofttimes we have spoken about the Goschen formula in this House. I think I have come fairly well out of this particular formula so far as afforestation in Scotland is concerned.
I would have liked to deal with many other points but my time is almost up. There are two points which stand out in my mind when I am considering the whole forestry problem. The first is the effective, perhaps I should say the essential, contribution which Scottish woodlands made towards victory. That has already 154 been pointed out by a previous speaker. The second is the way in which postwar developments of all kinds are held up by a shortage of timber for house building, etc., and we are now paying very heavily for our neglect of forestry in the past. I can commend to the House the Motion now before us, in the sincere hope that it will be unanimously adopted by hon. Members
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House approves the policy of His Majesty's Government for Forestry as announced by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries on 30th November. 1945.