HC Deb 26 March 1947 vol 435 cc1364-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

10.28 p.m.

Mr. Vane (Westmorland)

We have had a most disappointing hour and a half. All the Amendments proposed by us in the Committee stage have been rejected. I say, in all seriousness, that a very big chance has been missed. Our proposals were all concerned with the improvement of the Bill and involved no great changes in principle. If the question of arbitration had received a greater measure of generosity, the Minister would have done a certain amount to dispel—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I must point out that we are now entitled to discuss only what is in the Bill, and not what the hon. Member hoped might have been put in the Bill.

Mr. Vane

I was trying to say that we have missed a great chance to improve this Bill. This Bill depends on the relationship between the Forestry Commission and private woodland owners, and on that foundation will depend its success. Everything in this Bill has been written in the light of what the Minister believes this relationship to be. The Forestry Commission and private woodland owners are being invited to enter into certain covenants, which is a novelty in this country. The Minister has miscalculated the relationship which exists between the Forestry Commission and private woodland owners, and in consequences, he has miscalculated the strength of the foundations on which this Bill has been built. I regret that it is unlikely as a result to achieve the rapid measure of success we should have liked. It is not very long ago since the Forestry Commission entered into operations, and like many novelties, it was met at first with a measure of resentment, a great deal of which was unjustified. Instead of meeting that resentment with a certain amount of tact, they conducted themselves in rather a colonial manner in the countryside, and people in some quarters still believe their attitude towards private forestry has been one of contempt.

I do not want to pursue this subject very far, or I shall be ruled out of Order. But I hope that the Minister did not altogether reject the pamphlet on postwar forestry which was produced about the same time as the White Paper. It is possible, of course, that his advisers in the Forestry Commission may have concealed this from him, but he will find in that pamphlet, on page 15, a very fair, constructive criticism of these relations which are the very foundation on which the success of this Bill depends. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will bear this in mind, and do all he can to dispel those misgivings which may remain. I do not wish to quote at any length, but he will see that there is criticism of what—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member is going beyond my Ruling, and is not dealing with what is in the Bill. He is now, I understand, discussing another document altogether.

Mr. Vane

I was about to refer to the attitude taken by the Forestry Commission, in reply to a certain report made to them by their consultative committee on the question that there should be more elasticity in the system under which private woodlands are transferred to the State. I feel that what the Government are proposing in this Bill is a reflection of that attitude. I hope that the Minister will in future do all he can to show that that opinion, which may have been held in the Forestry Commission some time ago, is held no longer, otherwise this Bill is on a shifting foundation, and will surely fail.

10.32 p.m.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

I think that, for once, a large part of the House will agree with me when I say that we all wish to see this Forestry Bill go well. There must be few people in this country who do not realise that under the system of dedication as laid down in this Bill, there is a real chance of developing and improving forestry in this country. That, as I understand it, is the main object of Clause 1 of the Bill. It is not merely a question of improving already existing woodland, but also of restoring those woodlands which have been destroyed, or rather cut, during the war. That is an object with which we all agree, and it is one in regard to which there has been a very great deal of support for this Bill. I do not with, at this late hour, to be critical of details of the various Clauses of the Bill itself, but if this system of dedication is to work, then it is quite certain that there must be con- fidence on both sides; on the side of the Forestry Commission, as well as on the side of the owner. There should be in the Bill a Clause which would bring that confidence into being, to enable both parties to work together for the common object. I regret that as the Bill stands it is not, as effective for that purpose as it might be. I will not, however, go into details; we have already discussed those. All I wish to say is that I regret that the Government have not been very amenable to the persuasion of those who really understand this subject. I regret that they have not taken advice offered to them, and I deeply regret that a Bill of this magnitude—and of such vital importance to England, Scotland and to Wales—should be taken at this time of night in a small House; and that the Committee stage had to be taken so late this evening.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I must point out that the hon. Member has not said one word about what is in the Bill. No one knews better than he does that that is the only subject which can be discussed on Third Reading.

Mr. C. Williams

Of course, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I accept, as always, your Ruling. I will not go into that matter in any detail. I regret that the Bill is as it stands; I think it should have been a much better Bill, and that its effect will only be half as good as it might have been, but for the incompetence of the Government.

10.35 p.m.

Major Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)

The Minister of Agriculture mentioned a point concerning the grant for woodlands which had not been dedicated but which were properly maintained. I understand that certain grants would be available in those circumstances, but the Minister did not say which grant. Such information as I have obtained is in the reverse sense, and I only wanted to know—

M. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think that question arises on the Bill.

Major Mott-Radelyffe

It was an interpretation of what was in the Bill, and was referred to by the Minister on the Committee stage.

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)

I should not be allowed by you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to go into Committee points on Third Reading, but if I have created any false impression, I will clear it up later with the hon. and gallant Member.

10.37 p.m.

Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)

We will take note of that, and, perhaps, if the right hon. Gentleman did make a mistake, he will arrange to answer a Question, so that everybody can have the information? We are sorry the Minister was unable to accept any of the Amendments, but we wish the Bill well. This is the final stage of a very important Measure, and it is unusual, insofar as this House is concerned, in that it originated in another place, and came to us after considerable discussion. It is indeed, just a machinery Bill. It introduces, however, a very important new principle in the dedication covenants, which we entirely accept. We think this is the right way, in present circumstances, in which to tackle this problem, and I thank the Minister very much for doing something for which we had asked, namely, providing draft deeds of covenant, which are referred to throughout the Bill. We did not think we could consider the matter satisfactorily unless we knew what sort of covenant could be drawn up between the Commission and the covenanter. The Minister has made them available, and we are extremely grateful to him. The timber position in this country is very serious, and is likely to continue to be serious for a long time, as a result of the destructive havoc of two wars in a comparatively short period in the lifetime of trees. We hope this scheme—which did not entirely originate with this Government at all, but which had been discussed for a long time and had the general approval of all parties—will work out successfully. We can only hope that what we thought were the Minister's mistakes were not, in fact, mistakes at all, but that the Minister was right and we were wrong. I think that is rather doubtful, but we wish the Bill well.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. T. Williams

All I wish to do is to express my thanks to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen opposite for trying to improve the Bill. I should like to add that, if there has been an impression in the countryside that the Forestry Commission are anti-landlord, I should deprecate that myself. I hope this will be the beginning of a better relationship all round, so that we can get on with afforestation on a large scale. In reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Windsor (Major Mott-Radclyffe), there is a £10 grant for land which is not suitable for dedication.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, without Amendment.