§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is a very short Bill. It received extremely close attention in another place where, as hon. Members are aware, forestry experts, as well as legal experts abound, and where there are not a few private woodland owners. It was due perhaps to their knowledge of the need for afforestation and the importance of timber in our national life that many Amendments were moved, and several useful Amendments accepted to which I shall make reference later. The Bill passed through all its stages without a Division, and because administrative action is being held up pending the passage of this Bill, I hope that it will not be long delayed in passing through this House.
On 30th November, 1945, I announced to the House the general programme to be carried out by the Forestry Commissioners, and private forestry has a very important part to play in those proposals. The dedication scheme referred to in this Bill, provides for covenants of dedication, whereby an owner, in return for certain State assistance, undertakes to manage and to continue to manage his woodlands in an approved way. The scheme is well known and well understood by private woodland owners. The origin of this dedication scheme can be found in Command Paper No. 6447 and in the Supplementary White Paper No. 6500. The Forestry Commissioners have already made preliminary inquiries among private woodland owners to ascertain, if possible, what kind of response there is likely to be to this dedication scheme. Hon. Members will be interested to learn that we have had 590 offers, comprising 329,500 acres, consisting of 205,000 acres in England, 113,000 acres in Scotland, and 11,500 acres in Wales. And so there is no doubt at all about the popularity of this scheme, and if it can be made a real success, it will most certainly play a very important part in helping us to restore the devastation in our private forests, particularly since 1939.
1196 The essential feature of the dedication scheme is that dedication shall run with the land. In other words, it will bind not only the present owner but successive owners, thus securing what is perhaps the most vital thing in forestry, a continuity of policy and sound management throughout. The main feature of this Bill is to enable certain classes of limited owners, such as tenants for life, in England, and liferenters and trustees, in Scotland, to enter into dedication schemes which will be binding on their successors. There is also the minor object in Clause 7 of adjusting the administrative position in regard to the signing of documents on behalf of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Only officers of the Department of the Secretary of State for Scotland at present can sign on his behalf, which excludes officers of the Forestry Commission who do all the necessary work. It causes, I understand, a great deal of administrative inconvenience. Clause 7 corrects that, and enables officers of the Commission to sign documents on his behalf in connection with his powers and duties under the Forestry Act, 1945.
Since I made that announcement in the House in 1945 the timber supply position —as, I am sure, every Member will be aware—has grown steadily worse in this country. Many very desirable developments are restricted. Building, transport, and almost every part of our industrial reconstruction campaign is affected to some extent by the shortage of timber. It is not generally appreciated, even yet, that approximately 50 per cent. of the country's standing timber has been felled since 1939. Even by that time we had scarcely started to make up the leeway we lost between 1914–18. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that we should reconstitute our forests at the earliest moment, and this small Measure will, I believe, be a definite step in that direction.
I said, earlier, that I would refer to the Amendments made to this Bill in another place. Hon. Members will see in Clause 1 (1) that where there happens to be. a dispute between a woodland owner and the Forestry Commission, as to whether there should be a change of user for particular land or not, the woodland owner will now be able to appeal directly to the Minister against any decision previously taken by the Commission. The 1197 same applies in Clause 3 (1), relating to Scotland, which again prevents the Commissioners being judges in their own case. A new Clause, Clause 5, is designed to protect well-managed, dedicated woodlands from compulsory acquisition under the Forestry Act, 1945, while Clause 6 now provides that only those advances made within 30 years from the date of compulsory purchase shall be charged against compensation payable, plus 3 per cent. compound interest. These various concessions have made the Bill much more acceptable to private woodland owners, than was the case when it was originally introduced. It is entirely based on voluntary principles; there is nothing compulsory about it. Private woodland owners are both anxious and willing to take full advantage of it, and I hope the. Bill will receive a very speedy passage through this House so that the best use can be made of the dedication scheme.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I wish to speak not only on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House, but as one who, for nearly 40 years, has taken a practical interest in forestry, and who is—if I may strike a personal note—now enjoying the fruits of his labours in seeing cut the timber which he was responsible for planting or having planted. I agree with the Minister that this Bill is useful. It is an excellent thing that at long last this House and country are beginning to take an interest in forestry. I should be out of Order if I pursued that point now, but I think a great deal could be done by Members on both sides who are interested in forestry, to get out of the minds of certain members of the public what might be described as the "pretty pretty" idea of our countryside. There are some people who prefer to see a wood of decayed trees, instead of growing timber, and such people occasionally write articles to the newspapers. I am, as a journalist, intensely suspicious of people—except Sir William Beach Thomas—who write weekly articles for newspapers about the countryside. Most of them know nothing about the subject, except from what they have seen in illustrated newspapers. Therefore, if this Bill, and other Measures like it, can do something to create a forestry-minded public in this country, and make forestry what it should be—an important industry 1198 from every point of view—it will do good.
I agree that the Bill has been improved in its passage through another place, but there are two or three points that I want to make, and certain questions I want to ask. First, may I tell the Minister that I have to leave shortly, owing to an engagement in the country, and I hope he will not think me discourteous if I am not in my place when these questions are answered. I think it should be mentioned that it is possible to obtain a planting grant quite apart from this Bill. Planting grants have been in operation for years, and some owners of woodlands may prefer to have a planting grant rather than adopt the dedication scheme. As I have found from personal experience, it is also possible to enter into perfectly proper business arrangements with the Forestry Commission whereby, if one is near a State forest, one can obtain the advice of the local forestry superintendent in regard to a private forest. I have done that in my own case, with most beneficial results.
My right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House would have preferred, under Clause 3, some form of arbitral appeal rather than an appeal to the Minister. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give consideration to that point because I think it would be possible to appoint an arbitrator to whom an appeal could be made. The second point to which we attach importance is that the form of dedication should be prepared as soon as possible. We should like to see it prepared before the Bill goes through the House, and I cannot see any reason why it should not be prepared. I understand from certain private discussions that I have had with the right hon. Gentleman, that the general form can be seen in the White Paper, but that is not enough from our point of view, and I wish to press strongly that the form of dedication should be available at the earliest opportunity.
My third point is a slightly novel one to raise on a Forestry Bill. I do not know whether there are any Members in the House at the moment who sit for Divisions in Kent, but if there are they will know, as I know, what is not perhaps generally known, that in the Weald of Kent and Sussex there is the highly important and recently resuscitated underwood industry. 1199 This ancient industry, in the 18th century and afterwards, was of such importance that huge areas of land in Sussex and Kent, which were formerly agricultural, were turned into underwood, into what the French call sous-bois. It arose because the proceeds to be obtained from this underwood were, in the days of depression after the Napoleonic wars, greater than could be obtained from agricultural land. We should like to see this Bill cover the dedication of underwood land. This trade was heavily hit by foreign importation in the 50's and 6o's of the last century. I remember asking a former Minister of Agriculture, nearly 40 years ago, to help us, but at that time, nothing could be done. Then, under the general tariff system, there was some slight improvement in certain aspects. The making of hoops in this trade used to be profitable, and it is interesting to note that Cobbett in his "Rural Rides," refers to the fact that labourers in Sussex and Kent earned much better wages than in most other parts because they were able to work in the winter at this underwood trade.
There has been recently a profitable aspect of the underwood trade in Kent and Sussex in the making of chestnut split fencing. It was not only valuable during the war, but it is valuable today, and it will continue to be so because of its use on housing estates, in the absence of iron and other forms of fencing. This can be made a valuable trade. It pays good wages and gives good profits to the buyer and to the owner. A godson of mine, a noble Lord, in another place, even before the war, found that it was possible on his estate, to sell underwood, 10 years old, at a gross price of £29 to £30 an acre. A lot of this underwood land is not in good hands, but that which is in good hands yields good profits. Much of it is in poor condition. I think that if we could have a form of dedication for underwood it would be possible to improve the trade, and I would raise that as a question to be considered.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
May I ask the noble Lord what is the length of time generally required for the maturing of underwood? He mentioned 10 years in relation to split chestnut fencing. Could he tell us to what uses under-wood can be put besides the two which he 1200 has mentioned—split fences and hoop rna king?
§ Earl Winterton
I am obliged to the hon. Lady for her courteous intervention. I am not an expert in all forms of underwood. I should say that in the case of chestnut underwood, it would be 15 to 20 years before one would get the first cutting. The uses of underwood are very various in different parts of England. In some parts it is made into wattles for hurdles, hoops for barrels, fencing rails, stakes, peasticks, bean sticks, walking sticks, thatch pegs, and so forth. I am talking of that part of England with which I am familiar. There is an enormous amount of underwood land which has gone out of cultivation. In Sussex, Kent and Hampshire, if something could be done through the agency of this Bill to improve the underwood trade, it would help very materially. It would be out of Order for me on this Bill to go further than I have done, but perhaps it would not be committing a serious breach of Order, if I suggested to the right hon. Gentleman that it might be a matter for consideration whether the Forestry Commission should not be given some powers to consider the question of underwood as well as high-wood. It might be worth while looking into the statistics that exist because this trade has had a recrudescence in recent years. My hon. Friends on this side of the House have no objection to the Bill, we think that it is a useful Measure. I end by saying that I think the Bill has been improved in its passage through another place, and I hope that it will do something to sustain this great and growing interest in forestry, which should be one of the props of our national economy.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Colonel Ropner (Barkston Ash)
The Minister in introducing the Bill drew attention to the devastation suffered by our woods since 1939. The destruction of our woodlands started long before that and one has to go back at least as far as 1914 to appreciate fully the appalling reality of the devastation. One of the evil legacies of the two world wars which have occurred in the space of 30 years is that privately owned woodlands are today in a shocking state, and I think that the word "devastated" is one which gives a better description than any other.
I hope that I shall not be ruled out of Order if I offer some suggestions to the 1201 House on why the planting and rehabilitation of our woodlands in the inter-war years, and perhaps before, did not proceed as fast as it should have done. In passing, I would remind the House that those woods which haw given the greatest contribution towards our war effort, in the two wars, by providing the bulk of the timber were largely those in the hands of private woodland owners, and those which had been established by the intiative and enterprise displayed by past generations of landowners. It is a pity that the rehabilitation of our woodlands was so slow during the inter-war years. There were many reasons for that—successive Governments were responsible —but I do not wish to dwell at length on any particular factor. Suffice it to say that the home market had to fight against uncontrolled imports; the incidence of direct taxation prevented landowners from investing large sums of money in a long-term enterprise such as forestry; the incidence of Death Duties led to the breakup of large estates which had been economic units in forestry, but were not so when once they were broken up; and a psychological factor of some importance was that owners of woodlands could no longer be certain that any investment which they made in establishing plantations would benefit their successors. There was no longer the certainty. perhaps not even the probability, that estates would pass to sons or grandsons.
The introduction of a scheme of dedication will, to some extent, mitigate the discouraging factors to which I have drawn attention. But those factors still operate, and, indeed, have been added to Even today, private woodland owners are prohibited from felling, and capital is locked up in the woods. Where a licence is granted to fell, then the sales must be made at controlled prices, which are far below the current world prices of timber. Direct taxation gets higher and higher, Death Duties get higher and higher, and, therefore, the uncertainty of succession to which I have referred becomes more and more uncertain. In addition to that there is, temporarily we hope, a shortage of labour and a shortage of materials, and more important still an extreme shortage of young trees.
In fairness to the private woodland owner, I must also remind the House that, 1202 during the war, woods, many of them immature, were compulsorily felled. The wood was sold at controlled prices, and even if a profit was realised, most of that profit went in paying Income Tax and Surtax. Woodland owners, I think, displayed great patriotism and I heard no complaint when woods were compulsorily felled, although there was considerable heartburning when young and favourite plantations were slaughtered to provide the pit props which were so sorely needed. The Bill we are considering today will give no dole for land owners. If any hon. Member opposite attempts to argue that it is just another unearned dole for landlords I would say that woodland owners are entitled to some State aid in view of the very great difficulties and handicaps which have been placed in their way by the past actions of the State. These actions may have been necessary at the time, but certainly they have contributed to making forestry a precarious profession.
I want now to make some criticisms of the Bill, and I hope that the Minister will consider them constructively. At the outset, speaking as a Member who sits on this side of the House and as one of the signators to both the main Report and the Supplementary Report of the Forestry Commission, I certainly hope the House will give this Bill its Second Reading today. Here let me reinforce the point made by the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). It is wrong for the Government to ask that this Bill should be discussed before the terms of the dedication contract have been made public. This Bill was discussed in another place at the very beginning of December if not at the end of November, and I know complaints were made there that it really did make discussion of the Bill—I will not say nonsense—but extremely difficult if it was not known what the terms of the contract were going to be. Since the Bill was discussed in another place, two and a half months have gone by and the Bill is now before this House and the Minister is still unable to give that measure of enlightenment which I suggest the House is entitled to before, being asked to consider the Bill. I believe that this is a difficult document. It is being, I will not say negotiated, but discussed with representative woodland owners, but no progress seems to have been made. It must indeed be a vastly important document if 1203 after months of negotiations its final form is not reached. It is essential to know the details of this deed when considering the Bill for it may be that the covenant will be more important to woodland owners than the Bill itself when it becomes an Act.
I now ask the House to turn its attention to the irrevocable nature of the deed of dedication under Clause 1 of the Bill. Perhaps "irrevocable" is too strong. As originally drafted, I understand that the Bill read that the deed of covenant would continue in operation: "except with the previous consent to writing of the Commissioners.In another place, there was added these words: "or in case of dispute under the direction of the Minister of AgricultureI suggest that as the Forestry Commission is now virtually a Department of the Ministry of Agriculture in England and of the Secretary of State for Scotland in Scotland, the Minister of Agriculture cannot be unbiased in case of dispute. I appreciate that the whole basis of the dedication scheme is that as much suitable land as possible shall be dedicated for all time for the purpose of growing timber, and, of course, I appreciate that the growing of timber is a long term agricultural operation.
It may be possible to reap a crop black Italian poplar or of the new German hybrid poplars in perhaps 25 years. Where rainfall and other climatic conditions are suitable, it is possible that spruce, larch, Douglas, and Thuja may be reaped—to continue the agricultural simile—in under something less than 5o years and in not more than 100 years. In the case of pines in the north or east, it may be more than 100 years, but in the case of hard-woods it may be more than 200 years. Any of us with any knowledge of forestry, realise that the Minister must have a strong element of permanency in his dedication scheme. It is for that reason that we support the whole idea of dedication, and yet over really long periods, circumstances may completely change, and the change may affect either the Forestry Commission or woodland owners. I submit there should he in the dedication scheme, a loophole through which either the Commission or the private woodland owner may crawl 1204 to freedom if circumstances have changed completely.
It is difficult to give illustrations. We cannot anticipate the unexpected, and the future is unknown. The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. M. Philips Price) knows better than I do of some or the changes in the past. Take the oaks in the Forest of Dean and in many other places. They were widely spaced to provide crooked timber—the knees and elbows—needed for the construction of our battleships. Those oaks were planted when no one knew that iron would float. I am told that the yews in our churchyards were planted to provide the bows for our longbow men, before some fiend invented a more dangerous propellant in the shape of gunpowder—the beginning (If the atomic age. I can imagine the Minister of Agriculture in those days—after it had been found that iron would float and after gunpowder had been invented—saying to himself, "Well, you never know. It is my job to provide wood for battleships and yew for longbows. Iron may rust, the powder may kill the chap who is trying to let off the gun and I think that some day we may go back to wooden battleships or longbows." That is the attitude which I think the Minister of Agriculture of those days would have taken. It should not have been for him to decide whether, in the circumstances, there should be a complete change over. That would have been more the task of the Minister of Defence, had he existed.
May I try to illustrate what may happen in the future? Will plastics or glass replace timber? They may. Great progress is being made in constructional work and in other directions with both plastics and glass, and in this atomic age when modern alchemists are in fact changing one element into another some entirely unsuspected quality of the soil or subsoil of some locality may encourage private enterprise to make experiments in order to ascertain whether that quality cannot be put to a more useful purpose than growing trees. In a case of that sort it should be for the Minister of Supply or the President of the Board of Trade to give a decision whether the land in question should continue to he used for growing trees or not. This Bill will be greatly improved if, between now and the Committee stage the Minister can devise words which will allow him to make provision for 1205 an appeal to some Minister or individual other than himself.
I turn now to the subject of grants. This raises the thorny question of how best to deal fairly with small woodlands. It is clear that in the case of privately-owned woodlands which, in the first place are considered suitable for dedication and then become dedicated, the planting grant and the maintenance grant will be paid. I wish to ask whoever is to reply, what factors will be taken into account by the Forestry Commission when determining whether to accept or reject a dedication offer? Will the overriding consideration guiding the Forestry Commission be whether they would wish to take over a wood in case of default by the owner? May I have an answer to those two questions later? If the assumption inherent in my question; is correct it will give rise to very grave unfairness as between one owner and another.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Perhaps I might answer that point now to avoid its repetition later? Quite obviously, if the area of land was suitable and the private woodland owner agreed to grow the right kind of timber, then it would be entirely in his hands to determine whether or not he would enter into a dedication scheme. If, however, he was not disposed to enter into a dedication scheme but allowed the area of land to grow nothing, and to run riot, then, and only then, would compulsory purchase be contemplated. Thus it is entirely in the landowner's hands.
§ Colonel Ropner
I think that the Minister has only partially answered the question which I put to him. Let me give an example of what I have in mind. It may well be that there is a small wood in close proximity to a number of other plantations managed by the Forestry Commission. When I say "small" I mean really small—something like five acres. The owner may wish to dedicate, and I am presuming that the Forestry Commission would say to themselves, "Yes, we will allow him to dedicate because if he defaults and we are compelled to take over the wood we can manage it since it is in close proximity to other forests which are being managed by us." But there might also be the case of an owner of a very much larger plantation which, by reason perhaps of its isolation and the ultimate difficulty of the extraction 1206 of the timber, would not be acceptable to the Forestry Commission and would not in fact be taken over by them in the event of any kind of defalcation by the owner. I do not want it to be the case that the test of whether a wood is accepted for dedication should be whether it is ultimately suitable to be taken over by the Forestry Commission. I am asking for information, but if that is the case I think it is very wrong and will lead, as I have said, to unfairness as between owner and owner and will, in fact, deprive the country of very considerable quantities of woodland.
There is another category of woodlands —those which are considered suitable for dedication but are not dedicated. In other words, those which the owner is not willing to dedicate. I presume that if such woods were mismanaged, they would be compulsorily acquired under the 1919 Act, and I think it is right that they should be But supposing they are properly maintained, and suitable for dedication, but not in fact dedicated. Will such woods continue to receive a grant under the 1919 Act? I am advised that they will not. But the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, in announcing Government policy said:I would. however, like to point out that there is available for the small woodland owner, even with woods which are not suitable for dedication, a £10 per acre grant.Since he said, "even for woods not suitable for dedication," it would appear from his statement that woodlands suitable for dedication but not dedicated will continue to receive a grant under the 1919 Act. If that is not so, I think the Minister would be well advised to make it clear during the afternoon.
The third category comprises woods which are unsuitable for dedication—in other words, small woods. These are very important to the economy of the country and there are about one million acres of them. They provide amenities, they afford shelter for man and beast, they are mostly on good land, and they produce quite a high percentage of our hardwood. Well managed small woodlands are more expensive to maintain, although they give a higher yield per acre. I suggest that all woods, if they are well managed and however small, including even those which we should regard, and describe best as shelter belts, should get an acreage grant. If the wood covers only a very 1207 small acreage, it would then get a small grant, but it would be of assistance. It is true that the only sanction which could be imposed by the Government upon a defaulting owner would be recovery of the grant, but even so the Government would be making a good bargain in encouraging the proper management of those very small woods. They would be making a real contribution to the beauty of the countryside. That is important, when we desire that the Forestry Commission should be supported by the goodwill of the country and when we know that there is very considerable, even if mistaken. criticism of the Forestry Commission because of the allegation that they grow what are called "black woods." So far as it is economically possible, we should encourage the planting and care and management of hardwoods.
I want to ask the Minister another question, and I hope that he will answer it. What machinery is being set up to determine, in the shortest possible time, which woodlands are or are not suitable for dedication? There will be cases of woodland owners who apply to be included in the dedication scheme, but who will be turned down by the Forestry Commission because of the unsuitability of their woods. On the other hand, we shall get cases of woodland owners who apply for grants under the 1919 Act and who will be told that they cannot qualify but must dedicate. There will be thousands of cases which will need decision and in which questions of this sort will require to be settled. Meanwhile, the devastated areas will retrain unplanted, fences will be tumbling down, and the land will be a wilderness of weeds. The longer a decision is put off and the longer the planting is delayed, the more difficult will it be to rehabilitate those areas when the time comes. Also, the more labour will it require, and the greater expense will be incurred. I shall be very glad if the Minister will tell us how he proposes to cope with the large number of inspections which the Forestry Commission's department will have to make, in order to reach conclusions in cases of that sort.
Finally, we know that the dedication scheme places on those who enter into it the onus, first, of entering into a deed of covenant: secondly, managing their woods according to a plan; thirdly, keeping 1208 elementary accounts, and fourthly, providing skilled supervision. I hope the Minister and the Forestry Commission realise that of those four obligations by far the most difficult will be that of providing skilled supervision. There are thousands of owners the extent of whose woodland is so small that the cost of maintaining even one forester is-not justified. I hope that, as part of the service which the Forestry Commission will be able to give, either in connection with the dedication scheme or outside it, there will be skilled assistance. It should take the form of itinerant parties of four, five or six men —may I call them "working parties" without offending the Minister of Agriculture by borrowing an expression used more often by the President of the Board of Trade?—working under a highly skilled foreman. They could visit areas and could do, in one area after another, that work which the owners of woodlands are often incapable of carrying out from their own resources. I know that the Forestry Commission are short of skilled labour and that it would be difficult to house the men when they visited each area, but I hope in the end that some step of that sort will be taken.
I conclude by expressing the hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading and that when we get to the Committee stage the Minister will be prepared to improve what is already a good Bill.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Forest of Dean)
Like the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) I support the Bill. He put forward quite a number of important details which I hope the Minister will consider. The main object of this short and simple Bill is to clear away certain legal difficulties which are in the way of dedication. The need for it arises out of the postwar Forestry Report, published in 1944 by the Forestry Commission. That report envisaged for the first time the principle of dedication of private woodlands for the purposes of timber growing for the nation. The hon. and gallant Member, like myself, sat as a member of the former Forestry Commission when that report was produced. I am glad that at last some steps are being taken towards implementing that very important report.
Here we have, for the first time, the principle of dedication accepted by the 1209 State. The State must be the principal agent in the great afforestation programme. Forestry policy is evidently a long-term policy. Moreover, large estates are tending to break up, and the main agency for the management of large blocks of forests obviously must in the future be the State. There is a wealth of knowledge and experience among owners of private woodlands, and it would be a great mistake for the State to ignore it. There have been large estates run for decades, if not for centuries, in this country, where there has been an immense accumulation of knowledge as to the working and management of woodlands. Many owners sold outlying parts of their estates but retained their own farms and certain blocks of woodlands. For those medium-sized estates, and in some cases for the larger ones too, the dedication scheme will be very useful. Private owners ought to be able to give to the State the benefit of that old experience and knowledge which they have accumulated, while they themselves should get back from the State information and knowledge about new processes and new methods of management.
As I see it, there is a very useful interlocking relationship between agriculture and woodland management. In the case of the owner of a small farm who keeps three or four hundred acres of woods, there is an interchange between the men working in the farm and the men working in the woods from season to season. As has already been stated, a very large trade has been resuscitated in the South of England out of coppice woods. As I pointed out just now, there is also a very large trade developing in woodland materials for fencing, gates and so on for the farms. That sort of woodland should be dedicated. I am sure that all good woodland owners have in the past dedicated their woods to the growing of timber and not to the keeping of pheasants. In the days of depression during the latter half of the last century much planting went on although it did not pay to plant. Planting was done for the love of planting. The men who had the woods, loved to see the woods grow, and the nation benefitted by that during the war, when unfortunately the bulk of the Forestry Commission's plantations were not ripe. The 25 to 30 year plantations are now coming in for their first thinnings, and they will increasingly 1210 be able to provide what the nation requires. During the war, the nation had to fall back on what was planted during the last 50, 80 or 100 years by those who planted for the love of it.
This Bill now makes the dedication scheme possible. It sweeps away the difficulties which come from entailed estates where dedication might not be correct in law. I hope that all those who can do so will dedicate and not hold back. I am afraid there is still a certain amount of hesitation. No one should expect to get grants from public funds unless he dedicates his woods to the State. I am not in favour of bringing any of the advantages of this dedication scheme to those who do not dedicate. If they do not dedicate, it is for stupid reasons or for no reason at all. Some do not like to see Forestry Commission officers coming and looking at their woods. I am always delighted to see Forestry Commission officers coming to see my small woods, and I pick their brains and give them in return what little knowledge I may have accumulated. Therefore I do not see any reason for hesitation.
The deed of covenant should be drawn up as quickly as possible. In fact, the House ought to see the deed of covenant, and it should be laid on the Table. I do not know what the provisions are in this matter but it is far too important to be left to the Forestry Commission. The House should see a thing of this kind, in order to decide whether they approve. One thing gives cause to owners to hold back a little, and that is whether it is worth the cost. I think it is. I can quite understand a little hesitation because the cost of running woods has gone up by leaps and bounds. The cost is as much as 100 or 150 per cent. above prewar figures, and yet in the case of the price of timber for sale, the latest increase was 25 per cent. and before that there was only a small increase at the beginning of the war. That is not very much encouragement and a revision in that direction would encourage a good many owners. That is the only complaint the owners have now in relation to this scheme, and they ought to get over that. Even if it needs an act of faith to dedicate, they should dedicate. I am very glad to see this Bill brought before the House, and I hope it will be given a Second Reading.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) will forgive me if I do not follow him immediately although I wish later to refer to one or two of the points he raised. I wish to put some points to the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I hope that he may be able to give us some reply. In opening the Debate the Minister of Agriculture said that the Forestry Commission had already received some 570 offers of dedication. Like the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, I find there is a considerable amount of hesitation, and that the 570 could be vastly increased, if certain matters were cleared out of the way. The first thing is the matter of the dedication covenant. It ought to be made known. In what other business would anybody be expected to sign a cheque, without knowing what it was for? I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to tell us that the actual covenant which the owners are expected to sign will be laid on the Table of this House in the near future and before the Committee Stage of the Bill is taken.
There is a great deal of hesitation among small woodland owners. There are numbers of small woodland owners in Scotland. They do not all, as the Minister of Agriculture gave us to understand, sit in another place; there are quite a few who sit in this House. There are many who are vastly interested in this Bill, and the whole question of small woods is one of the greatest importance. The hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) said that a small wood might be accepted for dedication if it were situated fairly close to some Forestry Commission operations, but that if it were situated in an area remote from the Forestry Commission's operations, there would be some difficulty about accepting the dedication. The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean said that everyone ought to dedicate. There are people who are willing to dedicate, but we understand that if their woods are situated far away from Forestry Commission regions there may be some difficulty and the dedication will not be accepted.
We might get over that in the way suggested by the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean and myself in an earlier Debate on forestry, that is with mobile quads of forestry officers. Inspectors 1212 and workmen. In that way the Forestry Commission would be able to maintain supervision over woods no matter where they were. I think the Forestry Commission have this matter under consideration. I was in fact told by a representative of the Commission in Scotland that they are actually considering this matter. If it is intended, when the trained foresters and other labour become available, to promote these mobile squads, I cannot see why it should not be possible to accept the dedication of woodlands, however small they are, and in whatever part of the country they are situated.
Another point is with regard to the future of dedicated woods. In another place the matter of finances was raised, and it was pointed out how a present owner would bind his heirs and their heirs to an obligation which it might be impossible to honour, owing to the impossibility of foreseeng what would be the financial situation of, say, the grandson or whoever might succeed in the second or third generation. I believe the Government considered the matter, but I ask them to reconsider it seriously. A good scheme was put forward in another place and was not accepted, but I feel the Government might be persuaded either to adopt that scheme or to do something of a similar nature.
My last point is that of submitting to arbitration decisions of the Forestry Commission about future suitability. In connection with the Agriculture Bill, I was a great supporter of the Forestry Commission being placed under the Minister of Agriculture in England and Wales and under the Secretary of State in Scotland and. vis-à-vis agriculture, I still believe that to be the best set-up, but this is a question of deciding, perhaps not in one hundred or two hundred years, as the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash said, but in the not too distant future, whether a dedicated woodland is really being put to its best use. In Scotland we are at this moment studying what can be done to improve conditions in the Highlands. One of the lines which is being followed, is the exploration of the minerals resources of Scotland. It may well be that in the Highlands of Scotland there are certain minerals—in fact there are such minerals—which can be worked for the good of the country. Yet those minerals, may be found in areas covered by woods, and it would be up to somebody to decide 1213 whether it was better for the country to keep the woods, and not bother about the minerals, or quarry the minerals and not mind if the woods are destroyed in doing so. Obviously, as far as Scotland is concerned, the Secretary of State, according to this Bill, is the authority who will have to decide any dispute between the owner of that land and the Forestry Commission, but it is possible that a dispute may arise, because of the decision of the Secretary of State, between his Department and the Department responsible for quarrying those minerals in future. Would the Government look at that problem and see whether it is not possible to put into this Bill, before it passes the final stages in this House, some means of providing arbitration for a decision of that sort?
Those are four points on which I hope the Secretary of State will be able to enlighten us a little. In saying so, I do not want to indicate at all that I belittle the Bill; like all other Members I welcome it, but would like to make it slightly more workable.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-Western)
One of the things that strikes me about the situation today is that we have now a. Socialist majority in this House, and are giving consideration to a Bill, the purpose of which is to provide a subsidy for the purpose of growing trees on privately owned land and to give supervision to those who own private land on which trees are growing but who are unable to do that for themselves; whereas, 25 years ago, or maybe a little more, there was a Conservative majority in this House and they passed a Bill for the State to take over land for the purpose of growing trees. It seems to be a little topsyturvy, but perhaps it is the truly I British way.
I had some doubts myself, whether we ought to support a Bill with these powers, but one thing it brings out is that now we must treat woodland as crops; we must treat the whole business of forestry in this country from the point of view of the crop that it brings to a nation's need. As we have during the past 40 years felled far more trees in the country than we have planted, our urgent task is to enable replanting to take place on the very best land, and with those trees which are or will be needed as rapidly as possible. Therefore, I shall support the Bill, be- 1214 cause I want to see the smaller woodlands of the country replanted as soon as possible. The more quickly they can be replanted, the easier will be the task, the less will be the cost, and the sooner they will come into production. So I shall support the Bill from the point of view of getting better production as quickly as possible, and also because it brings into operation a degree of stability so far as the dedication scheme is concerned.
During the past century there was a certain amount of stability about our well managed estates. At least, in my native county of Norfolk they were well managed from the point of view of timber production as well as agricultural production. There was stability because those who planned could and did see through many years. Now, with the breakup of estates and with the changes that have taken place, there has been a loss of the element of stability. We want to get it back as quickly as possible, and this is a step in that direction. So, while I hope the Bill will pass, I also hope there will be a great deal more to follow. I went through one of the woodlands in Kent this weekend, and was struck with the element of decay and neglect right through it. There was ample mature timber, some of it dying from the top downwards, and much of it needing attention. We must get an element of State control, as well as an advisory service, into the whole of our woodlands as soon as possible. If this scheme will enable that to be done, both for the planting of new trees and control over existing woodlands, then it is a step in the right direction.
§ 5.10 p.m.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
I do not think the hon. Member for South Western Norfolk (Mr. Dye) was quite right in saying that this was mainly a Bill to pay subsidies, although I appreciate his scruples. It is a Bill to enable the Forestry Commission and private owners to enter into a special kind of covenant, which we know as the dedication scheme. I have been a supporter of this scheme since it was first published. Although I have regretted the methods by which it was launched, I hope the Minister will accept any criticism I offer today as criticism based on my practical experience, and not just an attempt to pick holes in the Bill. I thought the Minister's statement that the dedication scheme was very widely accepted and 1215 understood was really an overstatement. All in fact that has happened is that some 570 owners have signed a flimsy piece of paper which says:I am prepared to consider placing the above woodlands under the Forestry Commissioners' Dedication Scheme. As at present advised I prefer basis r or basis 2.I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has ever tried to work out which is the correct basis to adopt in any particular case. It is not easy. I think that officers of the Forestry Commission who will be going round visiting woodland owners will bear me out in saying that in a great many cases it has been difficult to get them to sign, not only because it is difficult to decide whether basis No. 1 or basis No. 2 is the correct one, but also because they would prefer to hold their hand until the dedication convenant has been published and they know exactly what they are being asked to enter into. That is a very reasonable position to take up.
There has been a certain amount of misunderstanding about the meaning of the word "voluntary" in this instance. The first announcement of policy was made by the Minister in November, 1945, when he said:the alternative to proper management under State aid, will be State acquisition, and the Forestry Commissioners will be so directed."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November. 1945; Vol 416, c. 1789.]I understood that as offering two possibilities. We could either accept the dedication scheme, or expose ourselves to the possibility of having our woodlands acquired, except that there was a number of small woods which were to be ruled unsuitable for dedication. Many owners immediately began to inquire what constituted suitability for dedication. We have never had any rules as to suitability for dedication. I think that 15 months or so after the scheme was accepted by the Government, we deserve to know more about it. Later it was suggested that there was a third course but it is not very easy to decide. I do not know whether it is disrespectful to refer to what the Lord Chancellor said in another place, but he tried to explain it and I think he left it a little more confused than when he started. I hope that whoever replies to this Debate will make it clear whether there are two or three alternatives.
1216 My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner), who was at one time a Forestry Commissioner, referred in particular to woods which might be managed to dedication standards, but where the owners have not entered into the covenant. I would like to know, as many owners would like to know, whether that is allowed for or not. I hope we shall have a very clear statement on this point. Then we come to the question of who is to decide in a case of suitability where a dispute arises. I hope it will not be the Forestry Commission, because it is utterly wrong that they should be judges in their own cause. Either they may refuse something which is inconvenient to them, or they may put pressure on an owner one way or the other to suit themselves. Although I would not like to impute too ill motives, I think it is wrong in principle that anyone should be judge in his own interest. There is no reason why there should not be an independent tribunal. It need not be as elaborate as the tribunal to be set up under the Agriculture Bill. Or again, since we have accepted arbitration by an arbitrator appointed by the President of the Chartered Surveyors' Institution under a later clause, and there are a great many practising surveyors available who have had as much experience in forestry as the Forestry Commission, I do not see why we should not have such arbitration.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I think it was explained very clearly by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, in another place, that there are the three alternatives. One may dedicate, one may decide to carry on afforestation without dedication, or, under the 1945 Act, it is clearly possible to purchase compulsorily. But, in regard to compulsory purchase under the 1945 Act, as was clearly explained, one would have to pass through the local inquiry, time for objections, examination of objections and, finally, a positive Resolution in this House, and in the other House before land could be compulsorily purchased. I do not think any private owner need fear the unfair operation of the 1945 Act, when, in the last analysis, it is not an outside arbitrator, but Parliament. which will have the last word.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having made that clearer. I never meant to suggest that he was going to be unfair, but only that the issue was confused. I have had the 1217 honour to be a member of the advisory committee of the Forestry Commission and private owners in the north-west region. Many people have written to me asking all sorts of questions on this point in particular and I have always had to say I did not know the answer. I hoped we would sooner or later be given a dear answer. Now I think we have at least an advance on what was said before. Another serious matter is the shortage of Forestry Commission officers available to help private woodland owners. We find one man has to look after nine or 10 counties. One of the officers I was speaking to admitted that it was quite beyond the powers of any normal man to keep in touch with woodland owners whose property might amount to a quarter of a million acres, some of which would be widely scattered over several counties. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to increase the number of officers in this branch of the service.
Now I should like to refer to Clause 6 which contains the financial provisions. I think it is normal that any Treasury should adopt the attitude which I believe has been adopted in the drafting of this Clause. It is perfectly proper, where grants have been made to any private person, that they should be recovered in any later acquisition of the land by the State. But I do not know whether it has been fully considered exactly how forestry finance works. A young plantation can be assessed to Income Tax at the choice of the owner either under Schedule B or under Schedule D. If it is under Schedule D the owner will pay tax on the grant he receives, and if he is a Surtax payer at a high rate; instead of £10 he may receive 5s., and instead of 3s. 4d., it may be a matter of 2d. If he does not pay tax at such a high rate, the amount, of course, will be proportionately more, but it is only the taxpayer at a very low overall rate who receives something which is significant. As I understand it, if such woods are acquired within 30 years of the time of their original planting the original grant, plus maintenance grants, plus interest at 3 per cent. per annum, will be deducted from the purchase price or compensation.
I do not know whether the Minister has worked out the figures, but I have calculated that. in the case of a wood 29 years old, the £10 grant, with com- 1218 pound interest at 3 per cent. per annum plus the small maintenance grants, would amount to rather over £31 per acre. I do not know whether the Minister agrees, but I am sure that, in the great majority of cases of Scots pine planted on moderate land, and certainly in the case of oak and beech, the planting of which the right hon. Gentleman would surely like to encourage, it is extremely unlikely that the market value of a plantation 29 years old would be as much as £31. In those cases, if in lieu of Death Duties certain woods are handed over, will it be necessary to hand over an additional small sum of money to make up the difference, or will some other arrangement be made? I can scarcely believe that particular form of hardship is really intended.
I would like to know also the basis on which the value is to be calculated in the case of any such woods being taken over. Is it to be calculated on the basis of cost of production, plus a certain reasonable interest per annum up to the time of acquisition? Is it to be based on market value, because woods at auctions are rather chancey; or is it to be based on the estimated final value appropriately discounted? That is a very important matter. I think the deduction from what I had tried to show is that if a person is paying Surtax at a high rate, he might be better advised, even if he did dedicate his woods, not to accept the grants, because he would possibly be better off without them. It sounds odd but this liability for repayment may become a very serious burden. I would like that matter to be looked into again. Is it clear, too, that this liability melts away after 30 years? A person it seems is to carry a very heavy liability for 29 or 30 years, when it melts away suddenly. Would it not be better if there were some form of scaled reduction in this liability rather than a sudden cessation?
Finally, I think the whole approach to the forestry dedication plan has been conducted rather on the poor relation basis. I hoped, when the original announcement was made, it would be a little more generous and that we would not be subjected to these unwarranted delays. I think this is a poor return to the private woodland owners who, during two wars, have produced enough timber to keep the coal mines in production. I think too that, since the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary have stumped the 1219 country talking to farmers about the great twin pillars of their policy, efficiency and stability, they should at least give forestry the same advantages as are being given to agriculture. Undoubtedly we have in this Bill the pillar of efficiency, but I would like to think that the right hon. Gentleman would add to the structure the other great pillar of stability.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Major Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
I think that hon. Members in all parts of the House will have enjoyed, as I did, the very well-informed and constructive speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), who talks with great authority on all questions of forestry. All the speeches that have been made this afternoon have reflected a general measure of approval of the Bill. In view of the appalling shortage of timber, we will support the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture in every way in his efforts to replant the felled areas and ensure that British woodlands in future are as fully productive and properly managed as is possible.
The framework of this Forestry Bill has certain similarities to the framework of the Agriculture Bill. In the Agriculture Bill, the farmers and landowners are asked to accept direction and control in return for a guaranteed price and assured market. In this Bill the woodland owner is asked to pledge himself by dedication to efficient woodland management, but, unlike the Agriculture Bill, there is no mention of any price structure or assured market for home-grown timber. Since the success of these two Measures ultimately depends upon the degree of confidence which the Government's policy inspires both to farmers and woodland owners, my criticism of the Bill is that, although it is called a Forestry Bill and although it sets out the machinery of dedication, it has not been accompanied by any clear statement of policy to enable the woodland owner to assess in any objective way the pros and cons of dedication.
I sympathise with the Minister of Agriculture in the very anomalous position in which he finds himself. As Minister of Agriculture he is charged with the direction of forestry policy. In the pages of this Bill, he is making an appeal to woodland owners to dedicate. The wages of those who are engaged in forestry come 1220 under the terms of the agricultural wages Bill, but the crux of the whole matter—and this is a question to which every woodland owner who is considering dedication must pay attention—is the price of home-grown timber. Nothing has been said about that. Unfortunately, the price of home-grown timber is outside the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture and is in the hands of the President of the Board of Trade. The hard fact remains that, whereas the wages of those engaged in forestry, being allied to the agricultural minimum wage, have increased roughly speaking, since 1939, by 117 per cent., taking into consideration shorter hours and increased holidays, to which no one objects, it was not until two months ago that there was any increase in the price of home-grown timber, and even now, in spite of the recent increase, the price-level is not more than 25 per cent. above the prewar figure. The uncertainty as to what will be the price of home-grown timber in future is bound to weigh very heavily with any woodland owner. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will say, quite correctly, that the demand for home-grown timber at the moment, in view of the shortage all over the country, is so obvious that the market is assured. That is true, in the same way as it was true throughout the war. But equally the act of dedication on the part of a woodland owner is permanent and binding, as indeed it must be, except in very exceptional circumstances. He must therefore look very much further ahead to a period when we hope the overall shortage of timber in this country will not be as acute as it is now.
I want briefly to make one or two more detailed comments on the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman cleared up some doubt in my mind, and I think in the minds of many hon. Members, about the alternative to the dedication scheme. He has made it quite clear that a woodland owner is free either to dedicate, or not as he wishes and, provided that the management of his woodlands is above reproach, there will be no interference or threat of compulsory purchase. That is quite clear. I hope the Minister will also make it clear whether, in the event of a woodland owner not dedicating but managing his woodlands properly on his own, he will receive any grants. Will he receive the grants 1221 available under the 1919 Act? Many woodland owners are still in the dark about that. The point is an important one for this reason. If the Forestry Commission are to be the ultimate authority for deciding whether a particular area of woodland offered to them by an owner for dedication shall or shall not be accepted, it follows that, if the Forestry Commission should decide, that they will not accept dedication, that woodland owner may not get any further grants towards continuing to manage his woodlands properly. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some information on that point.
I now want to refer to the planting grant of £10 per acre and the maintenance grant of 3s. 4d. per acre. I understand that these will he reviewed at the end of five years. No doubt these grants are very acceptable, but when the potential dedicator of his woodland is considering the question of grant, he will find that the actual size of the grant is merely a gesture from the Government, because they do not bear much relation to the cost either of planting or of maintaining woodland. The cost of replanting today is in the neighbourhood of £30 per acre, and the cost of cleaning and maintaining a new plantation, at any rate for the first four years, until such time as the young trees have got their heads sufficiently up to be above the undergrowth, amounts, according to my calculation, to £3 10s. per acre per cleaning. Recently planted areas, where timber has been felled before the planting commenced, require at least two cleanings a year, so that the total cost is certainly not less than £7 per acre. Moreover, these grants of £10 per acre for planting and 3s. 4d. per acre for maintaining, are subject to tax where the owner elects to be assessed under Schedule D.
I next wish to raise a point upon Clause 6 of the Bill, a point which my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland put, but which I want to put from a slightly different aspect. If, after a grant has been received, a wood is compulsorily acquired because the woodland owner has not managed his woodland satisfactorily, the sum representing the grant he has received is deducted from his compensation and is repayable at 3 per cent. per annum. Can we have an assurance that, in arriving at the correct 1222 repayment figure, the amount of tax which the woodland owner may have paid on the grant he received, before his woodlands were compulsorily acquired, will be deducted from the annual repayment which he has to make to the Forestry Commission? Otherwise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland said, he will, in fact, be paying back, in his 3 per cent. per annum plus compound interest, a sum total of more than he has received.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, when speaking in the Forestry Debate, on 24th October last year, referred to the all-important question of houses. He said:As with agriculture so with afforestation no homes, no men; no men, no trees; no trees, no safety for this country.''—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 24th October, 1946; Vol. 428, c. 58.]He could not have said a greater truth. Again, the woodland owner who is only too anxious to dedicate, only too anxious to see his woodland property managed efficiently, is today faced with the overriding problem of shortage of houses. I believe it was in the same Debate that the right hon. Gentleman told us that the Ministry of Works was building 1,200 cottages for the exclusive use of forestry workers, a wise and sensible course to adopt. But the private woodland owner who is short of a house, and who wants to employ an extra forester, has to build one without any subsidy, even assuming that he can get materials or a licence to build a house for the exclusive use of a woodman.
To sum up, the dedication scheme is certainly designed to ensure that woodland areas are fully productive and efficiently run. But the act of dedication by which the owner fulfils his part is only half the bargain. The Government must fulfil their obligations in accepting the act of dedication. So far, the right hon. Gentleman has been singularly silent on the part which the Government intend to play in fulfilling their obligations where timber prices are concerned. I only hope that, before long, their attitude towards this matter will be a little less lukewarm, and a little more definite, than it has been today.
§ 5.35 P.m.
§ Mr. York (Ripon)
My first point is in regard to the dedication document. The Minister seemed rather over-con- 1223 fident about this dedication arrangement. My experience is rather different from his. I admit the figures which he has given, but the acreage which is to come, not in the dedication deed but under an agreement to consider dedication schemes, is an entirely different thing. The owners have not yet been given an opportunity to decide whether to dedicate. I have been trying to find out what was the reaction of woodland owners to the dedication scheme, and in certainly two cases of well-managed woodlands, the owners or their agents said to me, "We have to dedicate." That was their outlook. When I questioned them they said, "If we do not dedicate we shall not get any help in these times of unnecessarily high prices, and also we shall stand in danger of compulsory acquisition." The Minister has certainly gone some way today to dispel that bogy.
To make quite sure I have understood the right hon. Gentleman correctly, I will put the matter in this way. There are three alternatives before a woodland owner. The first is to dedicate and get the full grants—on whichever basis he elects. The second is to manage his property efficiently and well, and to obtain the planting grant. The third is, that, if he fails to maintain his woods efficiently, he can expect, quite rightly, compulsory purchase. I believe that those are the alternatives, but there is one question in connection with the third alternative which I wish to ask. The Minister said that compulsory acquisition would be difficult to carry out. Am I not right in saying that the Acquisition of Land Act, 1946, can be used by his Department in order to acquire any land under this- Bill?
§ Mr. York
I am glad to have that indication from the Minister that I am wrong.
I wish to press briefly the criticism as to the dedication for all time. It is rigid, and we do not require so much rigidity in land utilisation, I can visualise many occasions upon which it may be wished to change the use of land which is covered with trees. The Forestry Commission should be the very last to be given the opportunity to judge whether it should or should not be changed, because obviously the Commission will be preju- 1224 diced in favour of keeping that land under trees. The mere fact that the Minister has had the Bill amended, so as to give a further right of appeal, if one can call it so, to himself, is really not making the appeal very much stronger, for this reason: the advice which the Minister of Agriculture receives will come from the Forestry Commission. Therefore, that is really of little value.
I strongly suggest that the right way in which to approach this matter of appeal, is for disputes with the Forestry Commission over the change in the use of dedicated land to be heard before the Land Tribunal under the Agriculture Pill. I see no reason why that body should not deal with this matter. If that is not practicable, for reasons which I hope to obtain at a later stage, then, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) suggested, the matter should be decided by arbitration as provided in Clause 5. I am frequently asked by owners and agents whether or not I consider that they should dedicate. I am in great difficulty in answering their question. In the case of the owners of the larger estates, I can say quite simply, "Yes, obviously it is in your interest to dedicate." But in the case of the man with one woodland of, say, five, ten or twenty acres, it is very difficult. It is difficult for anybody to advise until we know more about what the Ministry have in mind.
The latest report which I received from one agent about the dedication of a small woodland was that, in his opinion, it was necessary to dedicate. The area in question was something like 30 acres He said that, after thinking the matter out and talking it over with various experts, he had come to the conclusion that the safest thing would be to dedicate. The Minister says, and we have so understood in this House, that in fact the Forestry Commission will be quite incapable of dealing with any dedication in the case of small woodlands, at any rate for a long number of years. They do not know the conditions under which they will have to operate. While the owners of large woodlands are fairly clear upon what they must do, I suggest to the Minister and to the Forestry Commission that they should concentrate upon making clear the, procedure which the owner of a small woodland should adopt. They should explain 1225 the methods which are open to him, and the help which can be afforded. If that is done, then I shall feel more confident about this matter. I hope that we shall have the opportunity of taking up one or two small points in Committee. Apart from that, I welcome this Bill.
§ 5.44 P.m.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)
Owners of private woodlands are asked to dedicate their woodlands in advance of the establishment of a State service which has proved its competence to accept and supervise dedicated woodland, and, as many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House have pointed out, in advance of the specific terms of the deed of covenant with which they will have to comply. As the Minister pointed out, they must do this for all time. Thus, they must lay a permanent burden upon their successors to reafforest their property in such a way as the Forestry Commission may direct. I must confess that, with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner), who speaks with authority as a former Forestry Commissioner, I do not like the irrevocable nature of the decision which must be made. There ought to be an escape clause somewhere. To allow reconsideration by the end of each rotation perhaps would give rise to too many administrative difficulties.
There would not be the same difficulty in allowing a fresh decision to be made by an inheritor at each succession. That would be more fair than the present proposals, and it would remove a doubt from the minds of many owners of woodlands who are wondering whether they have the right to commit their successors in this way. It is true that the Bill enables the Forestry Commissioners to allow dedicated land to be used for some purpose other than the growing of timber and that, in the event of a dispute, the matter can be referred to the Minister, in the case of England and Wales, or to the Secretary of State, in the case of Scotland. But the circumstances in which land may be withdrawn from dedication have not been disclosed. As more than one speaker on this side of the House has pointed out, the trouble is that both the Minister and the Secretary of State, are responsible for Government policy and for the actions of the Forestry Commission. Thus, to that 1226 extent, they are judges in their own case.
We would like to see some provision for arbitration in such cases which, I think, are likely to be rare—cases in which an heir desires to divest himself of the obligations fastened upon the inheritance. Though the Minister has stressed the voluntary nature of the dedication scheme, I think there is still a widespread feeling that the alternative to failure to dedicate land which is suitable is State acquisition. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Windsor (Major Mott-Radclyffe) thought the position was quite clear. I want to bring before the House two pieces of evidence which make me think that there is a doubt about it. If there is no doubt in this House, at least there is a doubt in the country. First, I want to quote a correction from the Land Agents Society's Journal of January, 1947. It is headed:Correction—re Dedication of Woodlands.It says:We have been asked to correct an error in the report of the meeting of the Somerset and Dorset branch which appeared on page 257 of the November, 1946, Journal. In the general discussion on the subject of the dedication of woodlands there appeared in paragraph 5 the following expression of opinion: All the woodlands on an estate need not be dedicated, and plantations expressly reserved for the payment of death duties can be excluded from dedication on that account. We are asked by Mr. D. Stileman, of the Forestry Commission, who attended the meeting, to say that, All woodlands judged to be suitable and necessary for timber production must either be dedicated or acquired by the State; plantations which have been formed or are reserved for the payment of death duties can only be dealt with in the felling proposals in the plan of operations; clearly, they cannot be excluded from dedication.If that is wrong, then I think a further correction should be published by the Forestry Commission. The second piece of evidence is more recent. In "The Times" newspaper—which we in Scotland call the London "Times," of 5th January, 1947, the Forestry Commissioners advertised for a divisional officer for land acquisition duties, at a salary of ii,000 a year. My friend Professor R. V. Lennard, of Oxford, in drawing attention to this advertisement, proved in a letter which he wrote to "The Times" last week, that, at the end of the year covered by the Forestry Commissioners' latest report, the Forestry Commission already owned over 336,000 acres of plantable 1227 land not yet planted, and he suggested that an appointment of this kind, of a divisional officer for land acquisition duties, might well be postponed for a further few years.
Most of us would accept the necessity of compulsory acquisition only if we could be sure that it would lead to increased planting or to more efficient management, but can it? It is far better for estate woodlands to be operated by estate staffs than by the Forestry Commission, if reasonable efficiency can be secured. The estate staff will attend to all the duties on the estate, as well as to hedgerow timber, fences and general maintenance, and the private forester will provide timber with less drain on public funds than in the case of state acquisition. Moreover, the Forestry Commission already has its plate full, as the letter from Professor Lennard has shown. It has more plantable land than it can digest, and the only alternative to making it economical and worthwhile for the owner to dedicate might well be that the land should revert to jungle.
Several hon. Members have referred to the fact that there is no indication in the Bill of the minimum size of woodlands which may be accepted under dedication agreements. Private woodlands have not been extensively supported by the State in this country. In the 20 years between the wars, for every £1 of public money spent on private forestry, over £20 has been spent on State forests, and yet, in spite of this, privately-owned forests have saved this country in two wars. Many of the large forestry estates have been broken up under the pressure of high taxation. They have been replaced by a number of smaller owners, whose plantable acres are not individually large but which can, in the aggregate, make a great contribution to our total timber production. In cases such as these, the difficulties involved—the preparation of a working plan, the skilled supervision of someone of head forester status and the lack of centralised nursery facilities for the provision of seedings and transplants—could be overcome by more co-operative management. It seems to me unlikely that this will come about spontaneously, and I regret that the Bill makes no provision for the financial assistance which might be necessary in the early stages if co-operative management is to be encouraged.
1228 The Minister has introduced this Bill with few but fair words. The House has welcomed the Bill and his words. What it wants now, and it wants it at once, is the Deed.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
I hope the hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) will forgive me if I do not follow his line of argument. I think I ought to declare my interest in this matter. I own woodlands; I have 'not yet dedicated them, though I hope to do so, but I shall want to see this covenant before I do. In the meantime, I am getting on with my working plan. I think we are all anxious to play a part in the Government's programme to re-establish our forests, because, if this national programme is delayed, and if this scheme of dedication is not a success, our position with regard to timber in the future will be very serious. I think, therefore, it is vital that every inducement should be given to owners to dedicate, if possible, and I hope that any small suggestions which we make in this Debate will be given full consideration.
That brings me to the question of grants. The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye), I think, looked a little askance at them, but it will be remembered that, apart from anything else, owners of private woodlands have, or will have in the next few years, greater expenses than the Forestry Commission, in their planting operations. In nearly all cases, they will be planting land on which the woods are cut by order of the Government, because the timber was requisitioned, and land which has been lying fallow for three or four years and is now covered with undergrowth, whereas the Forestry Commission are planting virgin ground. I think I am right in saying that the Forestry Commission, during the war, only clear felled some 2,100 acres of conifer plantations out of the 133,000-odd which they possessed, whereas the private owners, of course, had to clear fell in nearly all cases, and could not thin, as the Forestry Commission did, because labour was not available. That makes their task much greater than it would otherwise have been. In the case of young plantations of 25 or 30 years, which the owner probably would not have touched until they were 60 or 70 years old, he will have a double capital outlay to meet, and as 1229 he has to expend that capital now, I think a grant is very well merited.
I hope the organisation inside the Forestry Commission which looks after the dedication scheme will be, as far as possible, separate from the rest of the work of the Commission. I hope the organisational staff will be separate, because of the different nature of the work and I feel that the smoothness of the operations would be assisted by having separate divisions for the two sides of their duties. I hope that, as far as possible the scheme will be extended to small estates. I believe there are many small owners who are anxious and willing to come in, and that, in many cases, they have the capital which they are ready to spend on forestry, but they would like a little more information as to who will be chosen and who will be left.
Next, I think the services that are going to be provided, and which were outlined in the White Paper, should include central depots for the larger instruments and implements, such as bulldozers, prairie-busters and draining machines, which no private owner can afford to keep, and I would like to suggest that there should be mall bands of skilled foresters able to go about and visit estates. They would be very valuable from several points of view, one of which would be in marking plantations for thinning. The use of experts for that purpose would be of considerable value, and, in the future, would probably add largely to the value of the final crop. I hope, too, that gang labour may be considered. Such labour can be employed at the right time of the year and need not be supported throughout the rest of the year by private owners.
I do not wish to detain the House for long, but there is one word I want to say about timber prices. I wish to support the proposal put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. York) that timber should be considered just as other craps are considered today, and that, just as under. the Agriculture Bill the market and the price for farm produce are guaranteed over a period, something of the same sort might be done for forestry produce. After all, it is a crop, and I do not see any real reason why something in the nature of a "February review" should not also apply to forestry products. Something of that sort would be much more valuable than grants far planning 1230 or maintenance. I would rather have some system whereby the price and the market were guaranteed than subsidies. It would be a more secure and more businesslike manner in which to work, and I hope that the suggestion will be considered.
Finally, I want to say that I support this Bill in every way, and that anything I may say in the form of criticism is said to try to make good better. I hope it is a form of business that will increasingly come into operation in this country. I think that, in the future, this system—a kind of combination of public and private enterprise, working side by side and with mutual benefit—will characterise much of our business. Of course, we must be sure that private enterprise will be given a fair field, and I am sure that the British spirit of sportsmanship will ensure that it is. The Government must remember that, in this particular competition, one of the competitors is the steward and the clerk of the course as well. Unless competition is fair, it is of no value. If it is fair, I am quite convinced that the private forests will hold their own with the Forestry Commission.
Just before the war I went to Sweden and took with me a letter of introduction from the head of the Forestry Commission to his opposite number in Sweden. I paid some interesting visits to their nurseries, laboratories and museums. I asked to be shown one typical Swedish forest estate. I do not suppose that the one they showed me was their worst, because I am sure that, in similar circumstances, this country would not have shown its worst. In Sweden a great number of the forests are State owned, but the one which they took me to see was privately owned, which rather looks as if in Sweden, at any rate, though it is a country of rather nationalised industries such as hon. Members opposite would like this country to be, private enterprise in forestry can still hold its own.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
We so seldom have an opportunity to discuss matters arising out of forestry policy, or forestry administration, that I am sure everyone is very grateful that, on this Bill, the Chair has, perhaps, allowed rather a wider Debate than we had originally anticipated. But that will not do the Ministers any harm because, after all, in Debates on this sort of topic in 1231 this House it is really the experts who speak. We have had the benefit of speeches from two ex-members of the Forestry Commission, the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Philips Price) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner), and from the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), who is probably the best informed on this topic of any hon. Member in this House. I do not propose to amplify what has already been said, but I hope that Ministers will look at what they have said and take into account some of the very valuable suggestions made by them and other hon. Members.
If I merely very briefly intervene as the last speaker on this side of the House, it is to say, as my noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) said earlier, that we welcome this Bill as a machinery Bill. From that point of view, I think that Ministers have no reason to be vexed with the course of the Debate. As has been previously expressed—it is nothing new—the general opinion is that the dedication scheme was a sound idea. Most people have come to the conclusion that it is a useful part of the machinery for developing the forests of this country. It is all very well saying that a particular idea is a good one, but it is necessary to see whether the incentives for carrying out that idea are sufficiently good in themselves. I do not think that the course of the Debate has entirely proved that. It will be much easier to decide the value of this plan when it is known exactly what are the terms and the conditions of the deed. I hope that the Minister may be able to give us some assurance on that point. Some hon. Members may have an idea of what is contained in the deed, but the great bulk of us certainly have not, least of all many of those who are trying to make up their minds whether to enter into one of these covenants. I would emphasise what my noble Friend said, that it would be a great convenience to all of us if we could see that document before this House finally parts with the Bill. After all, the Bill has been through another place, and we are in the rather unusual position of a revising Chamber. If it is not completely settled in its final terms, I suggest that it might be printed and circulated in a draft form, as has often been done before in other matters. We 1232 have had the draft Charter of the B.B.C., for example.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)
I am with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in that.
§ Captain Crookshank
The right hon. Gentleman says that he is with me, and, in the absence of the Minister of Agriculture, I think that we are going to have it. That is good. I would like to make the point that, if Ministers are going to let us see this document, they should also see that we do not part with the Bill before that happens—that the next stages are not rushed ahead until we have had a chance of seeing that document. That is the first point which emerges, and, as far as I can see, the Secretary of State is going to give us a very satisfactory answer to it.
The second point, about which a great deal has been said, is in regard to the problem of what is to happen when a person wants, for some reason or another, to divest himself, if it can be done, of the obligations under the covenant. Who is to have the final say, and is there to be some form of arbitration? I think that, here again, the Minister, either on the Committee stage or today, will have to go into further details. I agree that we are in somewhat of a dilemma because, obviously, the general objective and the whole point of having forestry dedication covenants at all, concern the rate at which trees grow. The whole point is that they should last for a very long time, until full grown or longer. The dilemma which we are up against is that, while from the general point of view, the covenant should be for a very long time, on the other hand, this House is always very reluctant to legislate "for ever and ever, Amen."
Circumstances may entirely change. For instance, there is the possibility of the decreasing importance of timber or the more advantageous use of a particular piece of land from the agricultural point of view. There are all sorts of considerations. In the Bill one finds that the final court of arbitration is to consist of the Minister of Agriculture or the Secretary of State for Scotland. My hon. Friends and I are not entirely satisfied that that is the best place at which the final word should remain. I hope, therefore, the Minister will not be too adamant when we discuss this matter in Committee, and that, in 1233 the meantime, he will consider some of the suggestions which have been made, including the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. York) namely, whether this might be the sort of question which should go to the land tribunal to be set up under the Agriculture Bill.
The third point which I urge upon the Minister is that he should make quite certain that from the point of view of incentive there is, in fact, a financial incentive in these proposals. This afternoon we have had quoted some figures which I would ask the Minister to get his financial experts to scrutinise. I recognise that, when figures are tossed across the Floor in a short Debate, he cannot appreciate their full implications, any more than any other hon. Member who is not an expert in this matter. It might be that a grower would be better off financially by accepting the dedication and not taking the grant. If that is a possibility, it seems quixotic to have a scheme such as this which is intended, to some extent, financially to help the growers. I hope this point will be carefully considered, as well as the other point which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Windsor (Major Mott-Radclyffe) raised. Quite apart from the question of the grants, one of the considerations which growers must have in mind is the price of timber, and consideration should be given to the question whether better arrangements can now be made, or envisaged for the future, with regard to the marketing of timber. I commend that matter to the attention of the Ministers concerned in relation to the usefulness of this Bill, and not as a general proposition, although as a general proposition, too, there might be a good deal to be said.
This is a machinery Bill, and we hope to see it work out, as we all desire, for the improvement of forestry and for the replanting as rapidly as possible of the denuded forests of the country, although, of course, it cannot be very rapid. The Minister pointed out that 50 per cent. of the timber which was growing in 1939 has now been cut. That is a tremendous change, and has got to be remedied in some way or other as soon as possible. Therefore, while we welcome this Bill as the machinery Measure which it is, and we will do our best to secure its passage 1234 through the House, we on this side of the House would like the Ministers to bear particularly in mind the three specific points which have been mentioned; namely, the desirability of our seeing the covenant before we part with the Bill, the desirability of the Minister looking into the question of who should have the last word in the case of disputes, and, thirdly, the desirability of the Ministers looking at the financial side and ensuring that if grants are intended to be given for the purpose of rendering financial assistance, that assistance is, in fact, received. I am sure the Ministers will look at those points, and I can assure them that we on this side of the House do not propose to divide against the Bill.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)
The manner in which this Bill has been received by both sides of the House makes my task in winding up this Debate very pleasant and comparatively easy. When this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament and is administered, as it will be, in the spirit in which this Debate has been carried on, with the good will of the private owners of woodlands in this country, we will reflect that we have been doing something very useful tonight in discussing a Bill which will be effective in assisting forestry in this country. If I do not deal with all the points that have been raised, it is because several of them are really Committee points which can be further discussed when we get into Committee. I shall try to deal with one or two of the main points which have been raised. For instance, the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) was very desirous that the scope of the Bill should be extended to include underwoods. I would refer, in passing, to one part of his speech when he dealt with chestnut split-fencing. That would have provided a very fine test for some of those who took part in the Debate on the Civic Restaurants Bill. It might occasionally have caused a little difficulty when discussing that problem, if this had been one of the tests. I can assure the noble Lord who, I know, has another engagement and is not able to be in the House at the moment, that the point which he raised is covered by the definition of "timber" in Section 3 (6) of the Forestry Act, 1919, with which this Bill has to be read. I am sure that will give the noble 1235 Lord a certain amount of satisfaction when he reads it tomorrow.
The main point which has been raised is the desire expressed, I think on both sides of the House, that the terms of the agreement—the dedication deed, or something approaching it—should be placed before the Members of this House before this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. It was extremely difficult in the early stages to have the terms of the agreement, because we did not know what would happen. We are now a little nearer to turning this Bill into law, and I can give to the House the assurance that we shall endeavour to have a model. I put it in that way because the same wording could not apply in every case. It has been my experience, in connection with local government, that time and again we have. sent to local authorities model bylaws which were a guide to them in drafting their own bylaws. I shall endeavour in the Committee stage to have a draft or model dedication scheme. I think that is as far as I can go, and I think also that it is a reasonable proposal. We shall endeavour to have something in the way of a model dedication scheme which will guide the Members of the Committee in their deliberations when dealing with this Committee point.
§ Mr. Westwood
I thought I was meeting the wishes of the House in making this proposal. I cannot tie myself to the details. Surely, it will satisfy the House: if I say that a draft of a model dedication scheme will be available to Members. As I have already pointed out, the terms of the actual agreement itself will have to depend upon the Bill as and when it becomes an Act of Parliament.
Another important point that has been raised is in regard to the nature of the dedication, and the desire on the part of hon. Members that there should be some loopholes. The loopholes must be as few and as difficult as possible. I am sure that in the dedication document there will be an escape Clause, which, as I have already 1236 said. will have to be made as difficult as possible. Because if we are to help forestry we must make it difficult to get out of the bargain once it is entered into. There never was any law without providing for exceptions. As I have said, the exceptions ought to be made as difficult as possible; but I understand there will be an escape Clause in the dedication document. Another question I was asked was, what was the machinery we proposed to use to make sure we were getting the right kind of land, and giving the right advice to owners of private land? The appropriate forestry officers are appointed in each conservancy, and they are charged with the duty of advising private owners, dealing with them in rotation, on exactly what should be done with their land, giving them the best advice possible That is the machinery we shall use. the machinery of the Forestry Commission as it exists at the present time, which will be at the disposal of private owners so as to give them the best possible advice in dealing with this particular problem.
Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that the present machinery is totally inadequate for this task, with approximately one officer per quarter of a million acres; and when can we have some improvement?
§ Mr. Westwood
As we make rapid improvements, not only in connection with the dedication but with afforestation. Our machinery is inadequate, but the Commissioners will build up the machinery in connection with the work as it progresses. Surely, that is the right way to deal with a problem of this kind? The other important question was that of arbitration. There will be—at least, I expect there will be—an arbitration Clause in the deed of dedication. But the question of an independent arbiter was debated in another place, and it was decided that so far as this Bill now before us was concerned, in the event of there being a conflict between a private owner and the Forestry Commission, the arbiter was to be the Minister of Agriculture in the case of England, and myself, as Secretary of State for Scotland, in the case of Scotland. I think that is a point which can be debated in Committee, But I can hold out very little hope of there being any change in the attitude of the Government so far as the proposal now in the Bill is concerned.
1237 I hope I have dealt with the main points which were raised. If I have not dealt with every question put, it has not been through any discourtesy to those who put the questions, but because I think they are mainly questions which can be debated more fully, and replied to more fully, during the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
Could the right hon. Gentleman answer one question, about which many of us feel very deeply, namely, the position as regards Schedule D and Income Tax? It may well be that he cannot answer that now. But we are giving this Bill a Second Reading, and I ask him to give an assurance now that he will go into the matter with the Treasury, to see that this is a real grant of money rather than something which is to be taken back immediately by means of taxation?
§ Mr. Westwood
I give the hon. Member the assurance that we will go into this particular matter fully in Committee.
§ Mr. Williams
The right hon. Gentleman is, I think, treating me quite generously, but the real point is: Will there be Treasury consultation, as it must be a Treasury matter?
§ Mr. Westwood
Definitely. But I have been long enough in this House, long enough a national administrator, and long enough not only in this, but in other Governments, not to give that sort of assurance now. We do not do things of that kind unless we have had consultation with the Treasury. I can assure the hon. Member that consultation will take place, and a full explanation will be given during Committee. With those answers to the questions which have been put, and with the explanations which I have given, I trust that the House will now give this Bill a unanimous Second Reading.
Could the right hon. Gentleman give any indication whether the Government intend to look into the question of the level of homegrown timber prices, and to bring those prices up more in certain cases?
§ Mr. Westwood
That does not arise on this Bill. I am sure that if I had taken up time in dealing with that it would have been open to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to rule me out of Order.
§ Colonel Ropner
Could not the right hon. Gentleman take a little more of the time of the House in answering some of the questions which were put to him during the afternoon?
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. Joseph Henderson.]