§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.15 a.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The Bill comes from another place where it was very fully considered, as these Bills usually are, and it was substantially amended while still fulfilling the essential purposes which the Government had in mind in introducing it. There have also been consultations and discussions with the interests concerned. These, I am glad to say, have been most harmonious and friendly. I think I can claim that as it now stands, the Bill is acceptable to all the interests concerned.
It will hardly be necessary for me to stress the importance of timber in our economy. If we had substantial reserves of growing timber in our home woodlands that would make a considerable impact upon our home industry, our foreign trade and the balance of payments position, in addition to helping us substantially with the very real social problem of housing. Unfortunately, we have extremely limited supplies available in our home woodlands. Progress is being made, however, with the planting and afforestation of new areas.
Since the end of the war, that is, in the last five planting seasons, the Forestry Commission have replanted about 67,000 acres and have afforested about 150,000 acres of bare land. In the same period, the owners of private woodlands have replenished about 71,000 acres. Hon. Members will no doubt agree that this is no mean achievement, but our requirements are such, and indeed our timber production potential is such, that we must make every possible endeavour • to accelerate the planting rate in this country.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland would particularly like to see more planting in the far north—in Ross, in Sutherland and other counties in the Highlands. We take the view that there are thousands of acres in the North of Scotland being very little used for 2675 agriculture and in some circumstances not being used at all. They are not easily adaptable for agriculture, but they could, with great profit to the Highlands and to the country as a whole, be given over to the growing of trees. Afforestation is a very long term business and must-always be regarded as an investment for the future. The new plantings since the war to which I have referred will produce no return until about 1965. For many years after that, they will provide thinnings only. Those thinnings are important enough, in all truth, for pit props, fencing, and so on, but they make no contribution whatever to our needs for many other important purposes.
In those circumstances, it seems clear that we must make every effort to conserve our existing reserves of timber and to increase them as quickly as possible. That is the main purpose of the Bill. It is to be regretted that owners of woodlands will not be permitted to fell as much of their timber as they would like, and that home grown timber merchants in their turn will be short of supplies. The House will agree, however, in view of the interests concerned, that there is a real need for this restraint and that it must be provided by statute. It is against that background that the House is asked to consider the Bill.
Straight away in the first Clause of the Bill responsibility for promoting the establishment and maintenance of adequate reserves of growing trees is placed upon the shoulders of the Forestry Commissioners. Some hon. Members have assumed—some have mentioned it to me —that the Commissioners have had this responsibility hitherto. That is not so, and the Bill seeks to put the matter right. It would be pointless to impose this duty on the Commissioners without at the same time arming them with the necessary powers and administrative machinery to control the rate at which home grown trees will be felled. I should make this point clear. The Bill provides that in carrying out their duties the Commissioners must consult fully and adequately with all the interests likely to be affected. It also provides safeguards in the form of inquiries and hearings, which make it impossible for the Commissioners to exercise their powers in any arbitrary or dictatorial way if they are ever so minded. 2676 The second main object of the Bill is to bring into line with modern practice the procedure available to my right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland in regard to the compulsory acquisition of land for forestry purposes. Perhaps I might expand this a little. In the past the Forestry Commissioners have relied almost exclusively on the purchase of land by agreement, and we all agree that it is very much better to acquire land in this way than by the exercise of compulsory powers, but the need is so great that it is unfortunately sometimes necessary for compulsory powers to be exercised.
In very many cases within our knowledge over the last few years where the owners and the Commissioners have had to resort to the cumbersome and very expensive procedure laid down in the 1945 Act we find that the only real obstacle to a settlement has been the price to be paid for the land. Under existing powers a local inquiry must be held into a compulsory purchase order even where the difference over the price is all that prevents an agreement being reached between the parties, and what seems most absurd is that under the existing procedure the local inquiry does not deal with the price to be paid.
That is to say, under the existing procedure we must have the local inquiry but the local inquiry does not deal with the outstanding difference between the Forestry Commissioners and the owners of the land. The decision as to the price to be paid is determined by the Land Tribunal. In addition, if any objection to a compulsory purchase order is maintained after the order has been made, it must be confirmed by Parliament by means of a Provisional Order Confirmation Bill which has to go through all its stages both here and in another place.
I repeat that this procedure has proved to be most cumbersome and expensive. The Bill substitutes the more expeditious procedure of the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act, 1945, which is now used for almost all other land acquisitions. I hasten to add, however, that the right of an objector to have his objections examined by Parliament is fully preserved under the procedure which is now proposed but it will be at much less expense 2677 and will take much less time. Moreover, the Bill provides that where an objection to a compulsory purchase order relates solely to the price to be paid, a local inquiry need not be held and the order need not come before Parliament.
It will probably be for the convenience of the House if I now say a word or two in explanation of some of the principal Clauses of the Bill. I have already dealt with Clause 1. Clause 2 lays down the arrangements for the licensing of felling. The Commissioners at present have the powers which are granted to them under Defence Regulation 68, but it will be generally agreed that the powers given under Defence Regulations should as soon as possible either be given up, if they can be given up, or provided more fully in a statute with all the safeguards that can be provided in an Act of Parliament. The control proposed here will apply mainly to growing trees of over three inches in diameter.
Clause 2 (2) contains a long list of exemptions from the licensing provision. I think I need call attention only to paragraphs (g) and (i), which give owners the right to fell without licence very appreciable amounts of timber—I am told that it is the equivalent of about 10 good sized trees for estate use—and they are allowed to sell up to 50 cubic feet of this allowance in any one month. In subsections (3) and (4) the Commissioners are also enabled to provide for additional exceptions by regulation. I want to present a fair picture to the House and I should make it clear that the Commissioners are enabled to restrict or suspend the concessions to which I have just referred but it will be noted that in that event the regulations will be the subject of an affirmative Resolution in both Houses of Parliament.
It will probably be of some interest to the House if I briefly describe the way in which the Commissioners operate their control on home produced timber. A quota is fixed representing the volume of timber which the Commissioners consider is the maximum that could be felled consistent with their duty to maintain a national reserve. During the last three years the quota for the country has been steadily reduced each year and for the first nine months of this year it has been reduced to 16.8 million cubic feet of 2678 hardwood and 5.3 million cubic feet of coniferous wood, the latter figure being exclusive of thinnings. In fixing the quota the Commissioners have always consulted the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee, and hon. Members will observe that Clause 15 puts a duty upon them to continue to do so.
When applications for licences to fell relate to timber that should be felled immediately—for example, because it is already over mature and is not likely to remain standing without deterioration—licences are always issued. Where applications relate to immature trees, which it would be contrary to the principles of good forestry to fell, or to trees which for some other good reason ought not to be felled—here I have in mind in particular the operation of the tree preservation orders—the applications are normally refused. A great number of applications, however, relate to timber which the owners would insist is mature and ought to be felled but which in the opinion of the Commissioners is nevertheless capable of standing and increasing in volume for some years without deterioration. The licensing of these applications is normally spread over a fairly long number of years.
Hon. Members will have observed that under Clause 3 the Commissioners may attach conditions to a licence when they grant it; in particular, the condition that the land, or other land in lieu, must be restocked and managed for a period up to 10 years. This represents rather an important change from the procedure under the Defence Regulations. We have thought it right, however, in the national interest to provide that the owner who benefits from the felling of his trees should be obliged to make a contribution where it is appropriate that he should be asked to do so and, where he can reasonably do so, to build up our reserves for the future.
Clause 4 also seeks to deal with one of the shortcomings of the Defence Regulations. At present there is no statutory right to challenge a refusal of a licence to fell. We now propose that any person aggrieved by such a refusal or by the conditions attached to a licence may have the case considered by a committee. This committee will consist of a chairman appointed by the Minister and two members selected by him from a panel 2679 appointed after consultation with the regional advisory committee and with the associations representing woodland owners and timber merchants and other organisations concerned with forestry matters. When this committee has reviewed any such cases referred to it, it will report to the Minister whose duty it is to decide whether to confirm, modify or reverse the conditions made by the Commissioners and, of course, the Minister will direct them accordingly.
Perhaps I should call the attention of hon. Members to the provision in this Clause that although applicants objecting to the conditions attached to a licence may have an immediate review, those whose applications have been refused altogether must wait three years for review. I should add in parenthesis that an applicant may renew his application to the Commissioners for a licence at any time. I trust that the House will agree that this period of three years is not an unduly long time to ask an applicant to wait before he can have his appeal against a refusal considered by the Minister. After all, three years is a very short period in the life of a tree and normally ought not to cause any hardship to the owner.
Moreover, the trees will continue to grow during this period and the crop will, as a rule, be earning its keep. If, on review, the Minister supports the Commissioners in their decision, the applicant must wait five years before he can have a further review. I should again make it clear that applicants have a right to submit a fresh application to the Commissioners for a licence at any time and are not subject to this limitation of three or five years, in the submission of any such renewed obligation.
Clause 5 deals with compensation and gives a right to compensation for loss through deterioration in the quality of the timber if and where this should happen and where it was due to a refusal to grant a licence. This is another right which does not exist at the present time. I should add that in our view there is no case for compensation for loss of expected profit or for a fall in the price of timber after the licence has been refused. We take the view that the refusal only postpones the time when the owner can sell his timber and he is not pre- 2680 vented from realising his assets later. Any dispute as to the compensation to be paid under this Clause will be determined by the Land Tribunal.
It has been represented to us that woodland owners might find themselves put at some disadvantage in maintaining and developing their forestry work through their being denied the income that would have come from their timber had a licence been granted. In the circumstances, quite apart from compensating the owners for deterioration in the quality of the timber when a licence was being refused, Clause 6 provides for immediate assistance by way of loan to those owners who have dedicated their woodlands in perpetuity, or to those others who have not dedicated their woodlands but are managing them according to the principles of good forestry.
Clause 7 gives power to the Commissioners to require an owner to fell trees. If the granting of such power seems to some hon. Members to be a little inconsistent with what I have been saying up to now about the need to maintain our reserve of timber, I would explain it in this way. There will always be owners who will desire to have their timber felled prematurely and there will always be others who, for what appear to them to be good reasons, will not wish to realise their timber when it has reached the age at which deterioration would inevitably set in.
In the circumstances we have felt it right to enable the Commissioners to ensure to the best of their ability that, within the quota of timber which they have agreed should be felled in any one year, the trees most appropriate for use at this time should be felled, and that timber which might well stand for a period of five, 10 or 15 years more, will be allowed to grow and expand in that time.
Perhaps I should also explain that the person who has received a felling direction has also been given substantial protection against arbitrary action. He, too, can have his case reviewed by a committee such as I have described. However, in contradistinction to the powers of the committee in Clause 6, it is provided in this case that the decision of the committee will be final, and the Commissioners must act in accordance with 2681 the report of that committee. The committee, however, are not obliged merely to confirm or revoke any felling licence; they may equally report that the direction should be modified and, again, the Commissioners must act in accordance with that report.
Now I turn to Clause 8. A person who is issued with a felling direction is also given further protection under this Clause. If the owner concerned represents to the Minister that compliance with the direction would involve him in a net loss, the Minister is empowered to consider such representation and, if he thinks fit, he may revoke the direction. If the Minister feels unable to revoke the direction he, in turn, must refer the matter again to a committee constituted as before and, if the committee reports that a net loss will be caused by compliance with the direction, then the Minister must modify the direction in accordance with the report, or he may revoke the direction.
Further, and this is quite important, at the choice of the person affected either the Minister must purchase the land on which the trees stand or the Commissioners must purchase the trees. That is to say, if the owner is to be at a considerable financial disadvantage and feels that he must have the income from his timber and is being prevented from felling it, he can elect in those circumstances to say to the Minister, "You must buy the land" or to the Commissioners, "You must buy my trees."
Clause 10 provides that a licence shall not be refused, save in very exceptional circumstances, for the felling of any trees in accordance with a plan of operations as approved by the Commissioners and also provides that felling directions may not be served in respect of woodlands which are managed in accordance with such a plan. Further, no conditions may be attached to any licence for the felling of trees in a dedicated woodland.
I have heard it said that these concessions are all very well—and I should here say that they are the result of Amendments made in another place—but it is said that they will benefit only large owners who can afford the staff necessary for large scale forestry operations. That is not so. The owner of any woodland who is prepared to manage it properly and whose working plan the Commissioners are prepared to approve, will get 2682 nearly all the benefits described. It is not true that the Commissioners will only accept for dedication very large woods, or woods on very large estates. There is at least one scheme approved for a woodland of less than six acres. Provided that a woodland is capable of producing satisfactory timber and that the conditions are complied with, it is not refused for dedication on account of size.
Clause 11 lays down the methods and procedure whereby conditions and directions may be enforced. These call for no special mention and I pass on to Clause 12, which deals with penalties for unauthorised felling without a licence and failure to carry out valid requirements of felling directions, or conditions of licences. It is hoped that these will be seldom invoked. They are not oppressive penalties and I believe they are just sufficient to serve as a deterrent.
Turning to Clause 13, as hon. Members will know, under the 1947 Town and Country Planning Acts, planning authorities may make tree preservation orders for reasons of amenity. Once an order has been made, the consent of the authority must be obtained for the felling of any of the trees concerned. The effect of this has been that when a tree preservation order has been made the owner must obtain the consent of the planning authority and a licence from the Foresty Commission before he can fell the trees. This is obviously quite ridiculous and the anomaly is here removed. In future one application only will be made, and that to the Forestry Commissioners.
Clause 15 gives statutory recognition to the existing advisory committees and obliges the Forestry Commission to maintain these committees in future. I am glad to say that, after a slow start, these committees are now functioning well and I believe they will prove of great value in solving the difficult problems which arise in carrying out control of felling and in furthering the objects of the dedication of woodlands.
Clause 19 proposes to give the Forestry Commissioners power to prescribe certain matters of detail by regulation. The House does not usually give these powers lightly and I think they are rightly always a little hesitant to give these powers to a body such as the Forestry Commission, 2683 or any other commission. But I would call attention to the provision that regulations can only be made after consultation with the Central Advisory Committee which represents private woodland owners and the timber trade, etc. The regulations are to be made by means of Statutory Instruments which are subject to the usual Parliamentary control. In particular, any regulations which restrict or suspend any exemption provided in the Bill from the licensing procedure are to be subject to the affirmative Resolution procedure. After our recent experiences, perhaps there will be less criticism of the negative Resolution procedure. It may be that we shall find hon. Members prefer to have the negative rather than the affirmative Resolution procedure in future.
I will not deal with the remaining Clauses, which are either normal or formal. This Bill is now broadly acceptable to all the interests concerned. I trust the House will agree with its aims and objects. I hope that they will accept them as worthy of unanimous support. By enabling felling to be controlled and providing that where trees are felled they must be replaced, we believe it will do a great deal to protect the countryside. It provides machinery for ample consultation in accordance with our democratic way of doing things. For these reasons, I am confident that if the Bill passes through its remaining stages in the same co-operative spirit which has brought it to its present stage, it will satisfactorily meet a very real national need.
§ 11.46 a.m.
§ Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond, Yorks)
In introducing the Bill, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has explained many of the provisions of the Clauses in detail, but, besides his speech, to which we have listened with great attention, hon. Members on all sides of the House will have had the advantage of considering the debates which took place in another place on this Measure, as a result of which many important changes have been made since the Bill was first introduced.
Today we are considering the Bill as it has been sent down to us from another place, not as the original Bill. I think it right that the House should appreciate that, because I have gone very carefully 2684 through the original text and the present text and have found that a very large number of Amendments have been made to this Measure.
As a background to our discussions today, the House will do well to remember that timber in all its forms is a product used in almost every sphere of our life. It is necessary to build houses, it is necessary to build factories, and it is necessary in the mining industry for pit props, to which the Joint Under-Secretary referred. It has many other industrial uses. Our timber industry has been going through a very difficult time. We recall that two world wars have taken place since the beginning of the century and the condition of the industry during those periods must have convinced us all, if we were not already convinced, of the necessity and vital importance of our home forestry industry.
During the First World War, and in the immediate post-war years, approximately 450,000 acres of British woodlands were cut down and used to meet our requirements for timber. I pass over the various stages in between the wars to the Second World War, during which our homegrown timber supplies had to be stretched still further.
The Minister of Agriculture informed the House, I believe in November, 1945, that the produce of the private woodlands of this country saved us during those years approximately 17 million tons of shipping space. That was a very great contribution from the timber resources of our country, but the House will agree that as a result of this great effort there were bound to be serious results to our growing timber and today, in whatever part of the House hon. Members sit, we must all be anxious as to our reserve position of timber.
The position today is brought out very clearly in the Census of Woodlands, 1947–49, Summary Report, which was published by the Forestry Commission in January of this year. From this Report, we learn that there are just over 3,400,000 acres of woodlands in this country, and that over 1,250,000 acres are classified as scrub, devastated or felled. That means that more than one-third of our woodlands today are not growing timber for our use, which, I think the House will appreciate is a serious position.
With these figures in our minds, I know that the House will give very careful consideration to the Bill, the primary purpose 2685 of which is to include in the duties of the Forestry Commission the maintenance of adequate reserves of growing trees, and those last few words are a quotation from Clause 1. At the same time, I would like to put the other side of the argument, which is that the maintenance of adequate reserves is only one side of the question. Our acreage in this country is limited, and every acre should be used, in fact, must be used, to the best advantage, whether it is producing food or timber.
May I say here that the forestry industry and the agricultural industry are complementary one to the other and should work together to this end. It is often assumed by those who are particularly interested in agriculture that forestry is something of no interest to them, but that is far from being the case. I believe that a well-developed forestry industry is of the greatest assistance to the agricultural industry and vice versa.
I should like to refer to certain Clauses in the Bill, although I do not propose to go through every one. I would refer first to Clause 1 (2). We on this side of the House are pleased to note that the Forestry Commissioners are now to consult the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee in the performance of their duties. I should like to refer to this Committee for the moment. The House will recollect that it was set up by the Board of Trade in 1949 to represent owners of woodlands and timber merchants, and to discuss with the Board of Trade methods by which felling should and could be curtailed. When the Forestry Commission last year took over responsibility for the control of felling, the responsibilities of this Committee were transferred to them, and we think that it is very important indeed that this Committee is now recognised under Clause 15 of the Bill.
Under this Bill, major burdens—and there are certain burdens to be borne—will be borne by the private woodland owner and not by the Forestry Commission, which has the responsibility for the State forests, although it will be the duty of the Forestry Commission under the Bill to administer it. To convince the House of the importance of this point. I would give one set of figures.
The total area of woodlands over five acres in extent in Great Britain is just 2686 under 3½ million acres, and, of this figure, no less than 2,800,000 acres are private woodlands and only 600,000 acres are State forests; in other words, the Forestry Commission are responsible only for one acre of woodlands for every four acres in the hands of private owners. The maintenance of reserves of growing timber on any considerable scale must, therefore, chiefly be carried out in private woodlands rather than State forests, and that is an important point for the House to remember in considering the important duties of the Forestry Commission under Clause 1.
The Joint Under-Secretary explained, in regard to Clause 2, that it provides that trees shall not be felled unless a licence is granted by the Commissioners. Subsection (2) of this Clause is important, because it sets out exemptions to this provision, and, since the Bill was originally introduced, Amendments have been made to it in order to facilitate estate maintenance. My right hon. and hon. Friends attach importance to this consideration because for good estate management the use of a considerable amount of timber is necessary.
We do not want to clutter up the good management of estates by the necessity of continually asking for licences, and by magnifying the amount of paper work, which wastes such a lot of time, both in estate management and in the Government Departments concerned. Therefore, Amendments have been made to this Clause to facilitate maintenance work, and it will be the hope of all hon. Members that they will be effective.
We consider that Clause 3 is most important, since it provides that the Commissioners may, in the interests of good forestry and in the performance of their duty to maintain adequate reserves of growing timber, refuse to grant licences to fell. As the Bill was originally drafted, the Commissioners were the sole judges whether licences for felling should or should not be granted, but we are pleased to note that, in carrying out their duties under this Clause, the Commissioners must take into account advice tendered to them by the Regional Advisory Committee.
I think at this point we ought to put on record exactly how these committees 2687 came into being and how they are comprised. These committees were set up in 1945–46 for each conservancy in Great Britain. There are five in England, two in Wales and four in Scotland, and, in passing, I would point out that they do not include the New Forest or the Forest of Dean, in which latter area I know the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), is keenly interested. These committees have done valuable work in the past, and, along with the other committee to which I have already referred, are now to be given statutory authority under Clause 15.
My hon. Friends and I should like an assurance that the Minister has satisfied himself, not only about the provision in this Clause that the Commissioners will tend to pay great attention to the advice tendered by the committees, but also that the Commissioners intend to use this provision in the right way. The whole administration will obviously depend upon the complementary work that can be carried out between these committees and the Commission, but this particular Clause will be very difficult to administer, and I will explain why.
If a woodland owner wishes to fell a wood which is mature and ready to fell, the Commissioners should, in the interests of good forestry, grant a licence, and on that there can be no dispute. It is their duty, on the other hand, to maintain adequate reserves of growing timber, and, for this reason, they may have to refuse a licence. In circumstances such as those, we believe the advice tendered by the Regional Advisory Committee will be invaluable in reaching a balanced judgment in those cases, provided the whole system is working complementarily and there is no antagonism between the Forestry Commissioners and the Regional Advisory Committee.
Clause 4 provides that where the Commissioners refuse to grant a licence to fell trees or grant it subject to conditions, the aggrieved person can appeal to an independent committee. The Joint Under-Secretary dwelt for a considerable time on this Clause. I understand from him and from reading the Clause that this committee is to act only in an advisory capacity under the provisions of this Clause, although under other Clauses its report will be final.
2688 We well appreciate that there may be cases where in the national interest the Minister may be justified in refusing a licence and in so doing disagree with the advice tendered by the committee set up under this Clause. But my hon. Friends feel very strongly that this committee should have final powers in the case of conditions attached to licences and that it should be for the committee to decide whether those conditions are reasonable or otherwise. I hope the Minister will be able to say a word about that when he replies to the debate.
We fully agree with the intention of Clause 5 to provide compensation for loss in consequence of depreciation in the value of trees attributable to deterioration in their quality as a result of refusal of a licence to fell. But my hon. Friends would like more information from the Minister when he replies as to how he intends to prove the degree of deterioration which has taken place between the time of the refusal of a licence to fell on national grounds and the time the licence is finally granted. It would appear to be an extremely difficult problem to solve, and we should like to know more about it.
If I may jump a Clause or two, because it is appropriate to bring this in here, we appreciate that under the provisions of Clause 10 trees on woodlands subject to dedication covenants, or covered by a working plan approved by the Commissioners, will not be affected by this Clause as they cannot be refused a licence to fell except when an emergency has occurred. The Joint Under-Secretary gave us one example of a small woodland owner, but we on this side of the House are anxious about the position of the small woodland owners because we feel that those owners whose woodlands, for the most part, are not suitable for dedication or management under a working plan, will be those likely to suffer under this Bill.
Can the Minister give us an assurance that applications for licences to fell by small woodland owners will always be given sympathetic consideration and that he will give directions to that effect when he is giving directives to the Forestry Commissioners? There is a real danger that small woodland owners will find themselves in a difficult position in certain 2689 circumstances as a result of this legislation. We should also like to know how the Minister proposes that the rate of compensation should be determined, as that is not clear under this Bill.
I do not propose to go into Clause 7 in any detail, except to note in passing that my hon. Friends are pleased that in this Clause due regard is to be paid to the interests of agricultural amenity and convenience when felling directions are given. We consider that to be of great importance.
It would appear that Clause 13, which refers to the operation of tree preservation orders under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, is very complicated. The Joint Under-Secretary elucidated the plans which are proposed under this Clause. Am I right in thinking that, under this Clause, in certain circumstances if no agreement was reached it would be the duty of the Minister of Local Government and Planning himself to decide whether any one tree in the constituency of any hon. Member of this House should be cut down and used as timber or should be left standing for its amenity value?
That appears to be the case from a reading of the Bill, and I am certain the whole House would agree that that is absurd. Surely the actual effective operation of this Clause cannot really work that way. I hope the Minister will give the House some information about how the Government intend to operate the Clause. Surely one could not have a senior Minister in any Government responsible for determining whether one tree in the constituency of any one hon. Member should be felled or not felled.
The Joint Under-Secretary referred in considerable detail to Clause 17, which amends the compulsory purchase procedure. I would only add that I understand this new procedure is known as the modern method and I think the House would like the Minister to justify his intention to increase the rate by which he can further compulsorily acquire land. If this is the correct procedure—and there is a very balanced argument with regard to it—we hope that the new method will reduce the cost to the private owner who wishes to oppose an order for compulsory acquisition. That is of great importance, be- 2690 cause the present procedure operates very harshly on the individual owner who wants to oppose such an order.
There are many other points which my hon. Friends will wish to discuss, but I emphasise again the part the private woodland owner must play both in maintaining an adequate reserve of growing timber in the national interest and in maintaining the level of silviculture in this country. We on this side of the House have always maintained that continuity of policy is essential to the agricultural industry. How much more important is it that forestry should be guided by a long-term policy since the forester has to work in decades and half-centuries. The Joint Under-Secretary referred to that when he pointed out that planting which had taken place in recent years would not come into fruition as timber at the earliest until 1965.
We hope the Minister in introducing this Bill, which has our general support, is not only endeavouring to meet the immediate problems but intends by giving statutory recognition to the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee and to the Regional Advisory Committees, that this Bill should be the foundation of a longterm forestry policy for this country for many years to come. I think the House will agree that with that purpose in view it is by no means certain that the existing forestry authority is the best constituted to administer this Bill. I hope the Forestry Commissioners, together with the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee, will take a very early opportunity to consider this problem as soon as the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament
§ 12.10 p.m.
Mr. Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
I am delighted to take part in this debate, and I welcome the introduction of the Bill by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I cannot quarrel a great deal with what the hon. Baronet the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale) said about the Bill. I am not an expert on forestry, but I should like to declare my interest, first of all as a lover of trees and, secondly, as a defender of the will of the people against bureaucracy.
I welcome the Clause 1, the general principle of which is to protect and build up our reserves of timber. I also welcome the subsequent Clauses relating to the 2691 restriction of felling. As the House knows, licences for felling have hitherto been granted by Defence Regulation No. 68 of 1939. They were granted by the Board of Trade prior to the Forestry Commission, and I am afraid they were granted rather indiscriminately; certainly, a great deal of indiscriminate felling from the amenity point of view has been permitted since the end of the war.
Whatever else these advisory committees do in the future, I hope they will have a uniform policy for the felling of trees and the restriction of licences, because I find in my own constituency in Wales that there is one conservancy for one part and another conservancy for another part, and although in the country where I live they are very good in other parts there is too much indiscriminate felling allowed at present. I would also say to those people who object so much to the Forestry Commission that they themselves should not do so much of this indiscriminate felling. I should like from the Minister an assurance that greater consideration should be given to areas in the National Parks than perhaps to other parts of the country.
My chief object in taking part in this debate is to try and link up Clause 1 with Clause 17. I appreciate that the principles in Clause 17 are not new; they are to be found in the Forestry Act, 1945. I should like to disclose some of the reactions I find in Wales against the procedure with regard to compulsory purchase. First of all, let no one either inside or outside this House say that the Welsh nation as a whole are against the principle of stockpiling of trees. I do not like the word "stockpiling," but it is very essential that we should have adequate reserves of timber, especially for our defence needs and for the ordinary economic requirements of the nation.
The Forestry Commission have done some good work. They have been rather slow with regard to re-afforestation in this country as compared with some other countries, and I trust that they will "ginger up." Their intentions, no doubt, are very sound, but I regret that the administration at the top in Wales is not very healthy. That is a criticism from the Socialist benches, but I am sent here to make that criticism, and I do so even if I am on my own. In any 2692 opinion, the Public Relations Department of the Forestry Commission is not what it ought to be. If there had been better public relationship in Wales there would not have been all this objection and misunderstanding.
Let me illustrate the foolhardiness of that Department in Wales. I was invited to address a meeting of trade union branches, to state why I objected to the Forestry Commission doing so much in Wales. I gladly accepted the invitation, but to be certain that I was putting forward the views of the Minister I got in touch with the Director of Forestry in Wales, and the brief I received contained only 10 lines. It is possible to preach a sermon from any text but, believe me, when one is not certain about the subject it is very difficult to speak with a brief of only 10 lines. Nevertheless, I was grateful to the Chairman of the Forestry Commission for giving me his views. I put the case from both sides, and my side won.
There are many suggestions which should be considered by the Forestry Commission. For instance, we ought to include forestry education in the rural and secondary schools. That would do a great deal of good, particularly in Wales, because although we have a forestry school there, out of 30 students going in each year only six come from Wales. We are also disappointed that the people who go through the school get promotion in England and Scotland but not in Wales. That is an important point which should be considered by the Minister.
What else is wrong in the policy of re-afforestation? First of all, I am certain there would be great support for examining the question of the re-afforestation of derelict woodlands. recently put a Question to the Minister on this issue. Between the two wars 85,567 acres of woodland were felled, and since that time only 45,612 acres have been re-afforested. While compulsory orders are made against small farmers whose land is good for agriculture, there is not a single compulsory order against private landowners for re-afforesting these woodlands. There may be reasons for this, but the lack of public relationship does not put that reason across to the Welsh nation. Small farmers are concerned about their land. I wish the 2693 Minister of Agriculture: would stop some of the speculators from the City of London coming to Wales, buying up these great forests and selling the timber to the small farmers at inflated prices.
There ought to be some attempt—perhaps not from the legal standpoint but from the humanitarian standpoint—to promote a real understanding of what is needed by the Forestry Commission. In the district in which I am interested the Forestry Commission and the Department of Agriculture have taken two years to survey a great area of land. Then they gave seven days' notice to the farmers that they wanted the land. Is that good public relationship? Not at all. After the survey, what happened? There was a joint consultation with one Department; there was none with the Ministry of Health, the Department of Education or with the Ministry of Transport. Then there was an announcement. Objections were invited in the Press, and then there was a local inquiry. At the inquiry the Foresty Commission did not send a responsible representative. The Director of Forestry for Wales was not at the recent inquiry. There were officials who did not go into the witness box, but who merely put before the inquiry a stencil copy of the case.
There were two learned gentlemen, Members of this House, at the inquiry. I attended the inquiry mainly as an observer. I am sorry now that I did not go in for the law. I think it should be stated that no reasons were given by the Forestry Commission why such a large tract of land was required. No reason was given to justify the order at all. No cross-examination of witnesses for the Forestry Commission was permitted in any way. In my opinion, the rights of the people were not properly safeguarded. This procedure applies generally. The Minister institutes an inquiry and makes an investigation; the question is taken right through to the Minister, and there is no appeal to anybody else at all. Surely that is wrong.
I may be asked whether there is a precedent for adopting any other procedure. I have here Command Paper 7278 entitled, "Needs of the Armed Forces for Land for Training and Other Purposes." It is a very important document and I am certain that the Minister of Agriculture knows all about it. Surely he can 2694 look at this problem from the same aspect and try to adopt some of this procedure. It is laid down by the Command Paper in connection with the Services' land requirements—land similar to that required by the Forestry Commission.
First of all, they have regional consultations with local authorities, water undertakings, and so on. Secondly, there is an inter-Departmental committee to look at the objections which are put forward. That is a very good thing. Next, there are public local inquiries and—mark the difference—the local authorities, amenity societies and other bodies and organisations representing public interests are allowed to give as much evidence as is possible and, even more important, the officer commanding who requires the land gives evidence in the witness box and can be cross-examined not only by eminent people but even by ordinary folk like myself. I think that is a very good procedure.
Furthermore, the guiding aim, according to the White Paper, is to safeguard the public interest in all these matters. What happens in connection with the Services' land requirements before the public inquiry is held? Informal consultations take place between all the interested parties. I suggest to the Minister of Agriculture that if that procedure had been adopted in the Towy afforestation scheme there would not have been many objections, but there would have been a great deal of co-operation in the area. If we can have such a procedure in connection with defence purposes, something similar should be adopted in this case, too. In the last resort, in the case of the Services' land requirements, thanks to the vigilance of Welsh Members of Parliament, we can go to the Prime Minister himself, if everything else has failed. We can make representations to him where land is required by the Service Departments.
I am sure the House will agree that my criticism is valid and that the Minister should give some consideration to what I have said. It may not be possible to introduce it into legislation, but in any event let us have a better understanding of the position. In addition to the views I have expressed, perhaps hon. Members would look at the views expressed in the Memorandum for the Council of Wales and Monmouthshire, of a recent date. In 2695 it they will find, in paragraph 170—and I will read these words, because they are important:The Panel "—that is, the Panel on Rural Depopulation—are fully aware of the opposition to some of the Forestry Commission's proposals, and while they are assured by both the Ministry of Agriculture and the Forestry Commission that there is the closest co-operation between the two Departments and that no land is released unless the Ministry of Agriculture are fully satisfied after proper consultations, they feel that there should be closer liaison with all local interests and with the local authorities (both the county councils and the councils of county districts) who are responsible for the provision of schools, roads, housing and water supplies, and who have local notice and are anxiously concerned about the best use of the lands in the interest of local communities.I do not think any right hon. or hon. Gentleman would disagree with that paragraph and I therefore suggest to the Minister that he should consider the suggestions I have made and the criticism I have made. At the same time, I can assure him that anything I can do in the House to improve this Bill and further to safeguard the interests of the people, I shall be only too willing to do. I give my wholehearted blessing to the Bill.
§ 12.26 p.m.
§ Colonel Ropner (Bark ston Ash)
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) has made a most attractive speech, but I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him, for I must confess that I found very few of his remarks at all relevant to the Bill which the House is, discussing today. I hope the House, too, will forgive me if I mention at the outset that until 1945, when the Forestry Commission was brought under the Ministry, of Agriculture and when all Members of Parliament on the Commission were bundled off, I had for eight or nine years had the honour and pleasure of being a Forestry Commissioner. At that time, forest policy was entirely non-party and I very much hope that forest policy in this country will aways be non-party and above party.
In my view, and I think it is a view which is shared by the whole of the House, the story of State forestry since 1919, as opposed to private forestry, has been one of enormous progress, with few 2696 failures and with great achievements. As has already been mentioned today, in spite of the devastation in our State forests as a result of the demands made by the Second World War, there are still extensive stands of timber in this country and it requires very little imagination to visualise not only the growing economic value of our State forests as one annual ring after another is laid on but also to visualise the peace, beauty, dignity and majesty which these forests will acquire as they mature. I hope they will survive to be enjoyed by successive generations—generations untroubled by the thought that the forests must be indiscriminately felled to meet the demands of a third world war.
The story of private forestry is very different. A love of trees, satisfaction of the creative instinct, the provision of congenial employment, sometimes the forlorn hope of an economic return—these are some of the factors which have led to the planting and the establishment of extensive forest areas by private persons. But in the end, and over a period of years, the success or failure of private forestry must depend on confidence—and that confidence must largely be derived from a belief that a fair financial return will accrue from forestry operations; or, in other words, that in the end the price of timber will pay for the outlay of finance and of labour.
The rotation of a forest crop is anything between 80 to perhaps even 200 years, and, consequently, that confidence must be based on the belief that the rights of property will be respected over an equally long period, that a man himself or his successors may reap where he has sown, may benefit from his own or his forebears' labour and financial outlay. Such has certainly not been the case with forestry for a number of years. For the most part, and over a long period, the price of timber has been completely un-remunerative, and when, as on occasions, the price of timber has been higher, then taxation has confiscated whatever profit was made.
I have ventured to draw attention to the urgent need of an agreed, all party, long-term policy for private forestry because from what has been said by the Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland today and from what was said in another place one might suppose that this Bill 2697 was introduced to promote greater efficiency in forestry and to encourage private forestry. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Sir T. Dugdale) will, perhaps, excuse me if I remind the House that almost his concluding words were that he hoped that this Bill would be the foundation of a long-term forest policy. Of course, this Bill is nothing of the sort. It can by no stretch of the imagination be said to be the foundation of a long-term forest policy. According to the Title it seeks, first, toprovide for the maintenance of reserves of growing trees in Great Britain and to regulate the felling of trees;and, second,to amend the procedure applicable to compulsory purchase orders.In case there is any doubt with regard to the object of the Bill, in case the House has been constrained to think this Title mis-describes its objects, the Lord President of the Council, in another place. used these words:It is"—he said—promoted entirely in order to try to safeguard our fast diminishing reserves of growing timber.Then he went on to say:That is the sole purpose of the Bill.This is, in effect, as the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor said, a Bill to effect the stockpiling of growing trees. We may well agree with the noble Lord who, in another place, said that the stockpiling of trees is necessary and desirable, but what the noble Lord did not say, what the Joint Under-Secretary of State who introduced the Bill here today did not say, is that what is necessary and desirable from the point of view of the country is to be paid for not by the country but by landowners and woodland owners.
I do not, of course, overlook the provisions of Clause 10, but I submit that that Clause gives very scant protection to woodland owners, particularly the owners of small woodlands, who, I still think, in spite of what has been said, will have great difficulty in having dedication schemes approved. In any case, of course, the approved plans which are part of a dedication covenant, must in 2698 future be governed by the need to stockpile and not, as has been the case in the past, by the test of good and efficient forestry. It is the Forestry Commission Itself which approves the working plan, the necessary basis of a dedication scheme. The Forestry Commission is now charged for the first time with the duty—and here I quote—…of promoting the establishment and; maintenance in Great Britain of adequate reserves of growing trees.That is stated in Clause 1.
Good forestry on the one hand and stockpiling on the other are by no means the same thing, but the Forestry Commission must now refuse to approve any dedication scheme unless stockpiling is an element in it. While, therefore, Clause 10 seems to offer some relief to the owners of dedicated woods, and may indeed do so in the case of dedication schemes which are already in force, all future dedication schmes must penalise the woodland owner if the Forestry Commission is to carry out the new job that is being imposed on it. Let me read Clause 1 again:The duty of the Forestry Commissioners… shall include the general duty of promoting the establishment and maintenance in Great Britain of adequate reserves of growing trees.With due respect to the draftsman, that really is nonsense, and I suggest that a paraphrase of that Clause—a much more accurate description of what, in fact, the Forestry Commissioners are asked to do —is this, "The duty of the Forestry Commissioners shall include the general duty of compelling other people to stockpile, and any cost involved thereby shall be borne by the woodland owners." That is the real meaning of that subsection of the Clause, and we are surely bound to ask, and the Government must explain, why the stockpiling of timber is singled out for exceptional treatment.
The Government have not said, and do not say, to the producers of food or battleships or rubber or aeroplanes or cotton or rifles, "Go on producing, go on manufacturing or go on growing, but the country will not buy until the need arises, and, moreover, you must not sell meanwhile to anybody else." If that were done in the case of those things that I have mentioned production would cease; rearmament would fail. But in the case of timber that is precisely how 2699 the producers are, in fact, being treated by this Bill.
I have said—and it is true—that forestry in the past has been a non-party matter, but hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who stump the country breathing fire against anyone who has still managed to retain a little property or a little capital must not be surprised if this further infringement on the rights of property, this unique and, as I think, in many ways unjust treatment of the producers of timber, of one raw material out of the many which the Government must be giving thought to, brings, in the end, forestry into the front rank on the political battlefield.
Let me remind the House that it is right hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Minister of Agriculture and his hon. Friends, who, by imposing penal taxation, especially the high rate of Death Duty, drive people to fell immature timber. There are woodland owners who, because of taxation, just must realise some capital, perhaps in a desperate endeavour to keep their property otherwise intact. It is the estate breaker and not the estate owner who is responsible for the felling of much immature timber, and I suggest that of the estate breakers this Government are the outstanding and worst example.
Do not let us deceive ourselves by repeating the complacent and, I think, rather smug remark that was made in another place, that the power to control by licences the felling of trees is not by any means new. Of course it is new in peace-time. The power to control felling was taken in 1939 by Defence Regulation No. 68. It was a war measure, and in war-time a lot of bad things are done in a good cause. But to make this licensing, to enforce licensing by statute, is new. That is a fact. Whether it is right or whether it is wrong, it is a fact which should be faced.
Before leaving this question I want to make it quite clear that, in my view, the Government have a perfect right to impose any conditions, including felling restrictions, in any and all cases of planting for which in future a grant of public funds is asked and paid. But this Bill, of course, is retrospective. Forests which 2700 will be affected by this Bill have been growing for decades, perhaps even for centuries. What are left of our private woodlands—and let us recall that it was the private woodlands which saved this country from defeat in two world wars—were planted, were established, were cared for by perhaps generations of men —a small section of our people—without State aid, or if with State aid, then on terms that were set out at the time, and which certainly did not include any suggestion of felling restrictions. Where no State aid has been given in the past this Bill is legalised confiscation. Where State aid has been given it is still confiscation and it is also a breach of contract.
This is not the way to encourage landowners to add to the timber reserves of this country. This Bill will rob all standing timber of some of its value—and how do we know that the next so-called Forestry Bill will not take away from owners whatever value remains after the passing of this Bill? This Bill is bound to stifle the enthusiasm of those who would nurse new forest areas with that devotion which is so characteristic of tree lovers. Those who build our forests must look many years ahead. Already, the prospect is not too good. I suggest that this Bill is yet another disfiguring landmark on the horizon.
Before I sit down I want to deal, but only very briefly, with one other matter. It is the second object as declared in the Title of the Bill, namely, to amend the procedure applicable to compulsory purchase orders. When I was a Forestry Commissioner we used to boast —and, I think, proudly—that we had never used the power of compulsory acquisition, although that power had been held for about 20 years. Now compulsory acquisition is not only being used, but it is being used more and more frequently. On the whole, as has been admitted from both sides of the House, it is a bad practice, and one which should not be adopted if other methods can be found. A bad practice can soon become a vicious habit. I hope that the Minister, when he replies, will give those assurances for which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks., asked, namely, that it will bring no new hardship or expense or difficulty to those woodland owners who desire to resist compulsory purchase orders.
2701 I will close by saying that there is a fund of good will among foresters. Indeed, I think organised forestry—that is to say, the forestry societies—are sometimes in advance of what we may call public opinion. Among the general run of foresters there was practically no opportunity of consultation before this Bill was introduced in another place. I submit that with more consultation, and with more consideration of and with greater sympathy with the past and present difficulties of woodland owners, particularly small owners, the Government might have promoted a Bill to help, as well as control, forestry. As it stands the Bill must be discouraging. It will vitiate that confidence in the future so essential not only in the interests of good forestry but for carrying out the declared objects of the Bill itself.
§ 12.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)
As has been observed, this is a very different Bill from the Bill which was originally presented, but, even with the difference, it is a Bill which should not have been introduced on a Friday morning. This is a Bill of very serious importance, and it goes much beyond forestry. I very much regret that the House is being invited to give this Bill a Second Reading. I should prefer to see it rejected by the House.
This morning the Joint Under-Secretary delivered a very important speech, which merits close attention by all parts of the House. In it he gave the reason why this Bill was being introduced, and connected it with the Defence of the Realm regulations. He observed that the Defence of the Realm regulations ought by now to be abandoned or to be incorporated in our statute law. This, he said, was the time to incorporate the Defence of the Realm regulations in the statute law of this country, and that is precisely what the Bill does.
The hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) referred to the position of forestry since 1919. What is the defence of this Bill? It is sought to make a two-fold defence. First of all it is said that this Bill is economically necessary. Why does it become necessary? Simply because every other activity is controlled, this control must be introduced. Thus another control is added. One control breeds another, and the pro- 2702 duction and stockpiling of trees is being controlled to such a degree that the term is not even defined.
Look at Clause 1. It imposes upon the Forestry Commissioners the duty ofpromoting the establishment and maintenanance in Great Britain of adequate reserves of growing trees.What are the adequate reserves? Who is to determine what the adequate reserves are? How are the Forestry Commissioners to know what are the adequate reserves? What is the definition? There is only one way in which to find out the adequate reserves in any fair economic system, and in any prosperous economic system, and that is by balancing it with the other industrial development and economic welfare.
I have heard used in the House this morning the phrase used in another place, that there is "premature felling of trees." To use the word "premature" is to use a question-begging word. To describe it as "waste" is also to use a question-begging word. Nobody fells trees unless he makes a profit by felling them. That must be the answer. He who says that it is premature and wasteful means that in his opinion, or in the opinion of the Forestry Commission, not in the opinion of the person felling the trees, it is premature and wasteful. But by what right, except by authority, is one opinion substituted for the other.
I am not criticising the ability or the expert knowledge of the Forestry Commission. However distinguished and however expert they may be, their decision is an authoritarian decision, and when this House puts that power in the hands of anybody, in the name of the economic welfare of the country, it is substituting one authority for another, and building up an authoritarian system.
We had better make clear in our own minds what we are doing. The harshness felt by the landowners under this system are very small as compared with other considerations. This problem arises, because in one section of our economy after another in the last 20 or 30 years, principles contrary to our sense of freedom are introduced. First of all they were imposed by the war; but here we, in the name of the economic welfare of the country, we are imposing controls which were found necessary during the 2703 war and making them a permanent part of our legislation. That alone in my view would justify us throwing out the Bill on principle alone, but there are other reasons why the Bill does not merit a Second Reading.
The second main object to this Bill is that it changes the procedure by which the Forestry Commission can compulsorily acquire land. Let me turn to that for a moment. The present procedure is set out in the provisions of the Act of 1947. I venture to think that if this House had had the time to consider that Act, together with the Schedules and also the Town and Country Planning Act and other Acts of a like nature, instead of sending them to a Committee upstairs, where the House as a whole could not bring its mind to bear upon their serious provisions, things might have been vastly different. The fact is that during the last five years major Measures were considered in that way and passed without due consideration.
The Forestry Act, 1947, provides by its Schedules that a man can be deprived of his land which can be compulsorily acquired by the Commission without him having access to the courts of the country. The claim is heard by a special tribunal, and the person appointed by the Minister conducts the inquiry. The object of that inquiry is "to inform the Minister." That is the language of the Schedule. But the Minister has already had from the objector all the objections placed before him. There have been full consultations, and usually he has also received a deputation supporting the objection. There is no new information which can be placed before the inquiry which is not already in the possession of the Minister.
The arbitrator is appointed to hold the inquiry, which is merely to hear the objectors present the case already in the possession of the Minister. No case is presented by the Minister except a written statement, and that need not necessarily be accurate. Indeed, much of it may be totally wrong. No one represents the Forestry Commission to say why they want this land or what is the special purpose of it. The only people that can be heard are the objectors, who state over again what they have already stated many times before.
2704 Similar provisions appear in Schedules of other Acts dealing with the compulsory acquisition of land. Attempts have been made to set the orders aside, on the ground that the objectors have not been able to present their case fully, because they did not know the full force of the case against them. Some of the cases have gone to the highest court in the land, the House of Lords. The judges have said this about this class of inquiry —and I am quoting the actual language of some of His Majesty's judges—" this class of inquiry is a complete farce." Indeed, in one case, in which the present President of the Board of Trade was concerned in the House of Lords, he argued that there was no pretence at doing justice and no pretence of appearing to do justice. That was a perfectly accurate and true statement of the position, and it was this House that made that law.
It is that kind of procedure which the Parliamentary Secretary this morning said was a cumbersome and costly method, but bad as that method is we propose in this Bill to substitute a far more totalitarian system. There is nothing to be said for the system of compulsory purchase which we are abolishing. It is a completely unjust procedure. For it we substitute a procedure which places the matter under the control of the Minister. There are no rights of redress, no access to the court, and nothing to safeguard the position of the owner.
Here, on a Friday morning in this casual way, we are presented with such a far reaching proposal. In this way the rights of the people are done away with. This principle is brought before Parliament like a thief in the night and with no proper consideration at all.
§ Mr. Kenyon (Chorley)
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not realise that it is the duty of every Member of Parliament to be here on Friday as well as on other days?
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
With that criticism I should agree, but the contention has always been that major Measures are introduced only on other days of the week. This is a major Measure. It is concerned directly only with the stockpiling and preservation of trees, but in doing that we come across the argument which underlies the Bill, that there is a special body in this country 2705 which knows the right quantity of trees that are needed, and we hand the power to them. In handing that power over to them we deprive the subject of any legal redress at all. That is something which the House should not pass. Let this Bill have its Second Reading, and then it will not be long before the whole government of this country goes to some expert body.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)
One cannot help having mixed feelings about a Bill of this kind, and although one recognises it is essential, at the same time one would have hoped that it would have been possible to dispense with it. No one likes restrictions of this kind in peacetime. The hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) has argued strongly against some of the provisions of this Bill on the ground that it is going to restrict even more the fights of the private citizen. I do not think that he appreciates how serious is the condition of the country in regard to reserves of timber, or how serious is the timber famine. I do not think the House will share his view that when such conditions exist the State is not entitled to preserve the country's natural resources.
Many rights are still preserved to the private citizen by which, if he is aggrieved, he can obtain redress. Question time in this House is one of the ways he can make his grievance known. Somebody who may be seriously aggrieved at the result of a compulsory purchase order applied to his land under this Bill may find 101 ways, especially as we have a free Press, by which his views can be expressed. It is an abuse of the King's English to say that we are slithering down into a totalitarian state.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
Does the hon. Gentleman think that it is right and fair that a man who may have lived all his life on his land, and his family have lived there for generations, who is farming it, desires to farm it and is prepared to grow trees, shall be dispossessed at the will of the Forestry Commission, by a compulsory purchase order, without redress by the courts at all?
§ Mr. Price
If the Forestry Commission were threatening to throw a man out of the house were he had worked all his life, and if he had no other means of livelihood, public opinion would prevent that from happening. I am sure that a situation of that kind will not arise. The hon. and learned Member, being a lawyer—I am not a lawyer—raises these special issues, which may seem very serious. Naturally we do not like restrictions of this kind, but the shortage of timber is such that the State must take action to preserve timber.
One would like to secure that the annual fellings of the nation did not exceed the annual increment of the growth of the nation's forests. That should be the guiding principle under which this Bill will be administered. I am not sure whether it is possible to do that in the immediate future. The shortage of timber is such that it may be necessary in some cases to cut more than the annual increment of growth, perhaps for a year or two ahead. I hope that the situation may be met by the importation of timber. The importation of foreign timber is lower now than it has been in living memory. It is worse than it was during the war. That makes the situation still more serious, and so do delays that take place in the purchasing of foreign timber or in shipping timber here after purchase.
We still have considerable reserves in hardwoods, but we are practically depleted of home-grown conifers and soft woods. It is right, therefore, to prevent massacre of trees by selfish interests. When estates unfortunately break up because of Death Duties, are we to allow a timber merchant, as has been happening for a long time, to buy up those estates and slaughter the timber, leaving the whole place derelict? I know one particular instance of that, and I am sure hon. Members know of others.
This practice has been restricted to some extent by emergency powers, but we cannot govern in that way. We must have a Bill on the Statute Book to enable us to stop that kind of thing from happening. There are also small owner occupiers and farmers who do not understand much about woods who may have woods on their property. It may be necessary to guide them, and on occasions 2707 to restrain them, from cutting where they should not cut.
I am glad that the advisory committees are to be fully consulted. I have had the pleasure of serving on one of those committees for some years, and I can testify to the fact that the relations between them and the Forestry Commission are altogether admirable. The committees represent mainly the private forest and woodland owners. They exchange views with the Commission, and nearly always there is an understanding which augurs well for the carrying out of this Bill in practice.
We must not only consider the conservation of timber and the control of felling. We must bear in mind that unless trees are felled regularly our woods will deteriorate. In my lifetime I have seen more woodlands ruined by not using the axe than by using it. If woods are not thinned at prescribed intervals they are bound to go back. The Forestry Commission must, in formulating a policy, always bear in mind that the thinning of woods at prescribed periods is absolutely essential if we are to obtain the maximum annual increments of growth. In other words, cutting can increase the potential timber values of the country, although it may take a few years.
I am one of those who have dedicated their woods under the Forestry Commission's post-war plan. I am under an obligation to carry out a plan of operations, which involves prescribed thinnings. In this connection it is not enough to have the provisions of Clause 2 (2, g) which allows a woodland owner to thin without licence trees up to four inches in diameter. I have some oak woods that are semi-mature, oak coppice being converted to high forest. Unless I thin every 10 years those woods will deteriorate, and the thinnings may be up to from eight to 10 inch quarter girth. The subsection to which I have referred is thus not enough, but I am glad that under Clause 10 dedication covenants are specially recognised.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I am in a different position to that of the hon. Member, in that my woodlands are not dedicated, but I have to get permission under the present system to cut. It is only fair to the Forestry Commission to say that I have found them to be very 2708 reasonable in the matter of felling for the reasons mentioned by the hon. Gentleman from the point of view of improving the wood.
§ Mr. Price
Yes, indeed. I hope the noble Lord did not think that I wished to indicate any criticism of the Forestry Commission about this. I merely wished to point out—I am sure the Forestry Commission will appreciate it—that those owners who have dedicated and are carrying put the approved plan should be specially considered.
I know that under Clause 10 (2) there must be over-riding security for the State and that in the event of some really serious national crisis or act of God it may be necesasry for even the dedicated woodlands to cease cutting—I think we all accept that—but there is a somewhat obscure passage in Clause 2 that I should like cleared up. It was mentioned in the discussion in another place. I do not quite understand it.
There are owners who have not dedicated and yet are working to a plan approved by the Commissioners. That is a very good thing, but it looks to me as if they will be treated in just the same way as the owners of dedicated woodlands. The Joint Under-Secretary said that they will get "nearly all the benefits described in the Bill." One does not want to discourage private woodland owners from getting plans of operation approved by the Commissioners, but one also does not want to discourage dedication. The dedicated woodland owner is liable to sanctions and has burdens imposed on him and may have his woodlands requisitioned if he does not carry out the plans, and I believe that he should be put in a better position compared with the owner who has not dedicated but only works to a plan.
Will those who have not dedicated but nevertheless work to a plan get the same advantages in being able to demand that the Forestry Commission buy their trees if they are refused a licence? In what way will they be put at any disadvantage as compared with the dedicated woodland owner? If we are to encourage dedication, as we should as much as we can, there should be some advantage under all these Measures to the prospective woodland owner who dedicates his trees.
2709 The Government have been almost generous in that part of the Bill in which they allow the dedicated woodland owner, and presumably the other types I have mentioned, if they are included, to sell their standing timber to the Commission if they are refused a licence. That should be a great encouragement to all woodland owners who dedicate, and I hope that they will not now hold back. Perhaps there was some reason for them to hold back a few years ago owing to the very high costs of wages and materials, and when the prices of timber were still controlled at very low levels, but now control of that kind is off and we have the provisions in Clause 10 there is no reason for holding off.
It seems that there may be some dissatisfaction about compensation under Clause 5. Owners who have not dedicated and who cannot sell compulsorily to the Commission will be compensated in a way which will not give them anything for any loss they may incur through postponement of sale if the market goes against them, and they will only get the value by which their timber has deteriorated. The hon. and gallant Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale) said that he would like to know more about how it is proposed to estimate the loss in value, and he expressed the fear, as I do, that it may be very difficult to estimate.
I am very glad to note that under another Clause amenities will be preserved and that the tree preservation orders of the Ministry of Local Government and Planning will be linked up with the control of felling by the Forestry Commissioners, but I am not clear who will have the last word on this. Will it rest with the Minister of Local Government and Planning, or will it be a joint responsibility between him and the Minister of Agriculture? Naturally there will have to be consultations between the two Departments, and presumably in nearly every case they will agree about something or other, but we ought to know who will be the final arbiter if for some extraordinary reason they do not agree.
I hope that National Trust property will come under this part of the Clause and that the National Trust will be protected from compulsory felling orders to which 2710 I suppose it might be subjected. The National Trust owns all its property for the purpose of maintaining the amenities upon it. I know that it is not always easy to balance amenity preservation with good forestry, and yet it should be possible in the long run. The public in England—not Scotland—have been rather ignorant about forestry. In this respect the Scots are very much better, for they understand forestry better than the English, but I hope that the education of the English in this matter will proceed.
At the Royal Agricultural Show at Cambridge yesterday I was very glad to see that the Forestry Commission had an excellent exhibit which should go a long way towards removing the prejudice which still exists in the English mind about forestry, and particularly about conifers. The Commission is often very unfairly attacked for planting conifers on land where only conifers can possibly grow. I know that in their young stages conifer plantations are not very beautiful. Still, trees have a habit of growing, and some of the public do not seem to realise that. I believe that in 30 or 40 years the people who have been objecting to the planting of conifers will be objecting to the Forestry Commission cutting down the "beautiful conifer forests." I hope that the process of education will continue.
The Bill will do a lot to preserve our national heritage, in spite of what the hon. and learned Member has to say about totalitarianism. It will serve to remind us of one of the great truths, which is the motto of the Royal English Forestry Society, "Serit arbores, quae alteri saeculo prosint," which means: "It will be the trees that go down to another generation."
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Digby (Dorset, West)
I was glad to find myself in agreement with many of the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), who used to represent a constituency with a title more appropriate to this debate—the Forest of Dean. For instance, I thought he was absolutely right to stress the importance of thinning and how unfortunate it would be if anything in the Bill were to discourage people from carrying out thinning as often as it should be carried out. I am in a little doubt as to whether that might not be the case under the Bill, and, if so, it would be 2711 a serious thing. I therefore hope that the Under-Secretary will consider that point carefully become we come to the Committee stage.
I did not know whether the hon. Member was actually proposing that felling should be reduced to the rate of annual increment, but I find it difficult to believe that was his real intention because, according to the census, the present consumption is five times the rate of annual increment and it would mean reducing fellings to one-fifth of what they are at present.
§ Mr. Philips Price
I was careful to point out that it was impossible to do that in the near future, but that it was a thing to aim at.
§ Mr. Digby
I agree with that ultimate objective, but if it were adopted at the moment it would result in a difficult position.
The Bill is no complete answer to the problem. Indeed, a strong case was made against the principle and method of the Bill by the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris). We must remember that what we are likely to achieve by the Bill is very limited. We all agree on the need for preserving the timber supply of this country. On the other hand, we should be wrong if we did not remember the limitations upon the stockpiling of trees. Trees are living things. They are not like ore which can be left in the ground. Living things are not subject to endless life, but to sudden death—a thing which at times must exercise the minds of the Government. For instance, in Zanzibar, where the clove industry has long been the primary means of support of the island, "sudden death" of trees is a matter which exercises their minds very much. In those tropical conditions clove trees can die off completely within one week.
I am not suggesting that anything like that happens to our English trees, but there is no doubt that some die rather quickly. Therefore, we must be sure that in any steps we take for stockpiling trees, there are adequate safeguards where trees are dying back. The process can take place within the three-year period of review. It is possible that a beech tree 2712 which was healthy when the original application was made and refused, will be a comparatively useless piece of timber by the end of those three years. I cannot see any adequate safeguard for that in the Bill. There are other hazards, such as wind, which can do considerable damage to plantations during the waiting period.
When we consider the general question of how best to stockpile the trees of this country, I cannot help remembering that what we really want are supplies of seasoned timber. I wonder whether it is best to keep all the trees standing, instead of allowing some to be turned into seasoned timber of which we are so desperately short in time of war. Seasoned timber is so much more valuable than hastily cut timber which has not had time to season properly.
Neither do I believe that we can consider the preservation of trees in isolation. This must be considered in connection with planting as well. I have an interest in this matter because I have something to do with the management of woodlands. After all, the woodland owners supply the vast majority of trees in this country at the present time, and from their practical point of view they see things a little differently from anyone reading this Bill. They have their annual expenses. To carry out thinnings they have to employ trained woodland staffs, and if fellings are decreased there will be an annual deficit which is not an easy thing to manage if they cannot sell timber.
There is another practical point in connection with fencing, at any rate in the south-west of England. It is a considerable part of the expense of woodland management and it increases where the trees are left standing for an extra period. On the general question of preservation, I want to remind the House how very arbitrary is the quota figure. From what I have read of the debates in another place, I gather that the quota figure is one which the Forestry Commission consider we can afford to fell in a given year. However, we have to remember the number of trees which are likely to die back in that year and, therefore, there must be a degree of flexibility or the position will be absurd.
Like the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen I do not really like the 2713 licensing system, but it may be the only practical solution for our difficulties which we must accept as a necessary evil because we can find nothing better. I am all against the over-inspection of individual trees, but when it gets to the point of the Forestry Commission having to inspect every tree in every hedgerow in England, we are getting to the state where we can hardly see the wood for the trees.
I believe the licensing system involves a certain amount of delay in some cases. And not only delay; there have been cases of refusal without inspection. Curiously enough, in the trees round my home there were a number which on inspection were found to be badly dying back. A licence was applied for and was refused without inspection. It was necessary to question that finding before we could get permission to cut down the trees which were deteriorating all the time. This shows that the present system is very far from being foolproof.
With regard to the exceptions from licence, on the whole the list is satisfactory, subject to the doubts which the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West, has over thinnings, some of which I have. But there are two points which seem to me to need to be looked at. The first is the case of decaying trees and whether it is possible to make an exception of trees which are dying back. I quite agree that there would have to be some safeguard against abuse. But, if it is not done, a large amount of valuable timber is liable to be lost each year in the way I have described simply because the quota of the particular area will be exhausted—the notional quota, although, in fact, the trees are known to be no good in the ground.
Secondly, I come to the allowance of 275 cubic feet a month, quite regardless of size of the estate. That seems very unreasonable because some large estates—and there are still estates of considerable size—require a great deal of their own timber for maintaining their farm buildings, cottages, and so on. To allow them only the same amount as someone like the person mentioned by the Under Secretary, who had six acres of dedicated woodland, appears absurd. I am told this amount is roughly equivalent to three elm trees. That is not really an answer to the very real problems of keeping up farm buildings at present.
2714 My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks. (Sir T. Dugdale) rightly emphasised how important it is that the inter-dependability of forestry and agriculture should be fully maintained. Some mention has been made of the dedicated woodlands and I very much hope that when the reply is made we shall be told how many are dedicated now. When I asked a Question in November I was told that there were only 45 owners and the acreage was 35,000 acres of woodlands, which is a very small percentage of the total woodlands of this country. In that connection, I am glad that working plans are in operation and that they are to have the same privileges, if that is the right term, as fully dedicated schemes.
Quite obviously, if dedication is not to proceed at a very much faster pace than that mentioned in answer to the Parliamentary Question, it will not be a major factor in the situation. Once again I wish to emphasise what has been said in another place, that there is no provision for consultation with local owners in this matter and that one cannot have anything in any degree approximating to the agricultural executive committees.
There is another matter I wish to merit ion, the question of sawmills. There are. estate sawmills run in connection with woodlands in a number of places and it goes without saying that these new restrictions on felling will place them in a particularly difficult position, especially where new machinery has been put in. If one has machinery one wants to keep it busy, or it does not pay for itself. These restrictions on felling will create a very, special problem for the owners of sawmills. I must confess I do not see the answer, but this is one of the many factors owners are bound to take into account when facing the annual balance sheet about which I spoke earlier.
We have to encourage the owners, not only to manage their woods well, but also. to push ahead with replanting and natural regeneration so that future generations shall reap the benefit.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) quite rightly stressed the doubts in the minds of property owners, great and small, as to the future and emphasised that of all crops trees are the longest 2715 term crop. That is particularly the case in the South-West of England from which I come where, in many places, an oak or an ash is the tree which grows best. It takes a long time and when there is no certainty as to the future it is very difficult to be sure of getting the best possible management of woodlands. After all, the party opposite—let us face it—have been conducting a war of nerves against owners of property, great and small, and they must not be surprised if owners have some doubts whether they are wise to go on sinking their capital as is happening in many cases in the woodlands of this country.
I wish to say a word about the difficulties in settling the forestry and amenity argument. It seems to be left somewhat indeterminate in this Bill. From the amenity point of view I can see that there are very few trees we would ever like to see felled, but we have to make up our minds how far those considerations are to prevail over purely forestry considerations. I know of a whole wood dying back rapidly, the felling of which is being held up for purely amenity reasons because it happens to be situated near a great city. It is a very real problem, as even is the problem in a case of that kind of replanting, where damage for the purposes of a public footpath through the wood will make replanting extremely hazardous.
I think we ought to have some clearer indication as to how far whole woods round our great cities are to be considered as primarily of amenity value and only secondarily of forestry value. I fully appreciate the desire of people living in the cities to enjoy the woods, but we have to measure how far our shortage of timber in this country justifies us in allowing whole woods to decay if necessary merely to provide that amenity value.
I give general support to the Bill, but I have some doubts about many of its provisions. A number of these points are little more than Committee points, and I believe we can do a lot to improve the Bill, which is not sufficient in itself to solve our timber difficulties. It is one thing to preserve existing timber, but that must not stop us from getting on with replanting and also with regeneration and the encouragement of woods 2716 large and small and even, perhaps—although I know this is arguable—the encouragement of hedgerow timber. I very much hope that this Bill will serve a useful purpose.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Kinley (Bootle)
Like many other hon. Members who have already addressed the House, I want to start by referring to the opening paragraph of the Bill, which lays upon the Forestry Commissioners the duty of providing for adequate reserves of growing timber in this country. I propose to diverge from that starting point in a direction that has not so far been mentioned. I agree with much that has been said by many speakers so far. My own approach is that of one knowing nothing whatever about forestry and nothing whatever about agriculture, but as one of those who believes that, until we can provide far greater reserves of growing timber in this country than any living citizen can recall, we shall not be beginning to solve the forestry problem.
I agree with those who declare that without trees we cannot live, unless we live as do the Eskimos, and none of us would be prepared to contemplate that in this country. Either we have a well-wooded country or we have a country which is drifting into the ocean by a process of erosion. As we depend for our food upon the soil, and as the soil depends upon trees to protect it and to secure its adequate and regular watering, then the amount of food which we devour should also promote our requirements of an adequate number of trees.
The reserve of grown trees that I would call adequate would multiply our existing supply by tens and further tens, and I suggest that the efforts of the Forestry Commission, however good they may be, and however satisfactory they are so far as they have gone, should be contemplated by the wide awake citizen with the emphasis upon that phrase, "so far as they have gone." They have not done nearly enough, and they will not be able to do nearly enough, so long as they remain relying upon their own efforts, and I therefore suggest that the Forestry Commissioners and all the interested Government Departments should make a fresh approach to the problem.
2717 For instance, we have somewhere about 200,000 farmers in Britain. In my opinion, every one of them should be an active and live agent of the Forestry Commission. He should be planting trees himself on his own land, not only to hold his soil where it is, to act as windbreaks and as shelter for his animals and his crops, to get water in his soil against the time when rain is not so frequent as we commonly have it, but also to hold back the heavy rainfall and regulate its flow into the rivers, and from the rivers into the sea, so as to protect the soil against the erosion that follows almost inevitably from heavy sunshine and heavy rain.
Our territory is not nearly large enough to justify us in allowing it to go to waste, as we have done in the past and as we still do today. So I suggest that we must find ways of adding to the strength of the forces at the disposal of the Forestry Commission by bringing in other agents. I say that every local authority in the country should also be an active agent of the Forestry Commission. Every local authority ought to be seeking where it can grow trees in its area, in the towns, in the outskirts and elsewhere. Wherever there are open spaces that can usefully be taken up by trees, there trees should be grown by the local authority, and they should do it systematically and perpetually.
Every local authority has greenhouses. In these greenhouses they can start the seedlings. Every local authority has open spaces, such as a farm or other land, which could be used as nurseries for the seedlings. From there, they could be sent into the other open spaces, and supplied even to private citizens to grow in their own gardens. Local authorities should not rest content until they have discovered by experiment how many different kinds of trees will grow in their area, and have discovered by experiment those which thrive and those which do not.
While referring to this point, may I suggest that the local authorities should lay a very strong emphasis in their efforts on the development of the cultivation in their area of all kinds of fruit trees, of which we have far too few in our country, and which we leave too much in the hands of those who regard fruit merely as a profit-maker? I want to see our towns covered with fruit blossom in the spring.
I want to see fruit trees in all our streets and avenues and along our main roads. 2718 I want to see them growing here year by year, and to see the citizens of our towns becoming acquainted with the beauty of these trees in the springtime, when they are in full blossom. I want also to see the younger ones, particularly, learning, as many of them have not learned, that fruit grows on trees. They think fruit comes from the shops or from barrows. There are millions who do not know that fruit comes from trees.
I also want to see a civil population which will be able to tell one tree from another. They do not know now. We are completely ignorant of all the differences there are between these trees, what woods they provide and what functions they are best adapted to perform. I suggest, therefore, that we should call in the farmer and lay upon him the duty of planting trees. I also suggest that he should fill his hedges, as far as he can, with fruit trees, in place of hawthorn, because we cannot have too much fruit, and fruit trees will grow there without any attention from him.
In addition to the farmers, all the local authorities without exception should do the same. The amount of land at their disposal is amazing and they have opportunities for doubling our existing reserves of growing timber. I am not regarding these trees as timber but as trees, as ornaments, as essentials to civilised city existence and as very useful lessons to the younger growing generation.
I want to call into aid also all those youth organisations which, in my opinion, ought to be assisting in the restoration of their own native land. The Boy Scouts organisation and all the cadet brigades throughout the land would help if called upon and as they operate chiefly in the towns and cities they can be brought in to help by the local authorities as part of their organisation.
I would have every school have its own plantation for its own trees. I would have lectures given to the children on the differences in trees and on plants and shrubs. I would have every class maintain its own little plot and I would have a stipulation that every new scholar entering a school must plant his or her own tree and care for it through the whole of the school period. In that way we would bring up a generation of children who would understand and love trees and as they 2719 grew up into citizens would teach their own children precisely the same thing. If we did that there would be hope that we would obtain an adequate reserve of growing trees. Without that I think we shall fail.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)
I hope that the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) will not think me discourteous if I do not follow him in great detail, but I should like to refer to two points he made and to say how much I agree with him. First, with regard to shelter belts which have not been mentioned before in this debate, I am sure that more could be done, especially in Scotland, to provide them. Their provision would make the labour question in agriculture and forestry a joint one and at the same time promote the health and welfare of stock. I entirely endorse the remarks of the hon. Member about tree blossom around towns, although one always hopes that all the trees one plants will bear fruit which unfortunately is not always the case.
I agree in general with what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), and also my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Digby), have said. Instinctively I should like to agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner), and the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris), but when I use my eyes when travelling by train or car, or when I am walking through the woods of this country, I must admit that if the timber in this country is to be conserved for the purpose of some further future unfortunate development, such as war, there is need for something to be done in conservation.
The title of the Bill is "The Forestry Bill." I would almost call the Bill "The Forestry and Defence Bill," because I believe that is what it really is, and it has been said in some criticism of the Bill that it does not go into a great deal of detail about the future of the forestry side except from the angle of conservancy.
Hon. Members have pointed out the part the private woodlands owner has played in our forestry through the years, and anyone who follows the development 2720 of our woodlands knows how much of these private woodlands were cut down in the two wars. During the last war that timber was felled in many areas before it was ripe. This has altered the whole rotation of our forestry system in some areas, and it has meant that before the cutting of the war years can be made up a further clearance has to be made of the natural undergrowth which has regenerated. It has to be cleared often at as great an expense as the cost of the real timber, with no money return whatsoever.
The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) has now left the Chamber. He referred to his visit to the Forestry Exhibition at the Royal Show, and I met him there yesterday. Whilst I give most hearty praise to the Forestry Commission and to other private undertakers for the way they showed their exhibits in a stand there, I must make the criticism that to plant fir trees in the best white clover is something which the Forestry Commission might do a little too often. However, their example of damage done by rabbits was excellent. In a neighbouring stand the heading read roughly to the effect, "Timber is like corn. When ripe it should be cut." I wonder how much this Bill will affect that very true saying. It may well be that through this Bill timber will not be cut when ripe, and I am nervous on that score.
The Joint Under-Secretary said that the closest liaison and consultation had taken place before this Bill came to this House. It may be that consultation took place before it came to this Chamber, but, as I understand it, there was precious little consultation or liaison before it came to the Palace of Westminster. That is a great pity, because the interest of forestry is more truly served by close liaison between the Forestry Commission, the private owner and various representative bodies rather than by the Commission doing these things quite arbitrarily without adequate consultation beforehand. However, that is the position today.
I should like to refer to one point which has not been mentioned at all so far in this debate. I find from an answer to a Parliamentary Question on 16th February that the Forestry Commission control 684,000 acres of unplanted land and that of these 320,000 acres are to 2721 be planted, of which 190,000 acres are provisionally to be planted in the next three years. We in this country have to consider whether we can afford to sterilise so much land over a period of ten years, because that is what it amounts to, and whether in so doing we can afford to jeopardise the agriculture of this country by closing down on such a big area. In the light of this, our food supplies and the situation of the world—although it would be improper to discuss that at any length on this Bill—can we still afford to say that we will definitely plant five million acres? I believe that at another time, perhaps in another debate, we should consider further that important problem.
The third question I wish to ask is why there are so many difficulties—they have been apparent from the speeches of two Welsh Members—with regard to the Forestry Commission as a whole working with woodland owners. From what I know in Scotland, things work better there than in England. This may be because Scotland is further away from Whitehall. Certainly the general feeling and the collaboration has not been what it should be. Although I do not like making individual criticism, I believe there is a question of retirements taking place in the reasonably near future, and I can only say that I hope the general approach of the Forestry Commission towards representative bodies of owners will be more happy in general than it has been in the past.
I come to Clause 2 and the question of felling. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West, mentioned a point with regard to the limitation of felling—275 cubic feet per month for estate purposes provided that not more than 50 cubic feet are sold, regardless of the size of the property. It cannot be too strongly emphasised that timber used on the estate is for the benefit of the agricultural community and farmers in general. I hope there will be some means on the Committee stage of making it possible that this arbitrary rule will not make it difficult for proprietors to keep in line with their running repairs which are so vital to the wellbeing of rural England, Scotland and Wales, as a whole. Perhaps it might be possible to let this amount of 275 cubic feet accumulate so as to make it unnecessary to cut the whole lot in one swoop each 2722 month, and to cut it at certain times of the year. Perhaps the Minister will consider that matter at a later stage.
I am glad to see in Clause 3 that the Commissioners must take into account the advice of the Regional Advisory Committee. Perhaps the Minister would say a word or two on subsection (4) relating to the felling of timber for agriculture or for the estate. The position there is not quite clear to me. Are we satisfied on the question of appeals in the case of disagreement, which is dealt with in Clause 4, if only the Minister has the power of appointing the sub-committee of two and a chairman, that there will be a question of bias on the side of the Minister? In saying that, let me assure the Minister that I intend nothing personal, but I believe it is as well to have a safeguard against appointments being only in the hands of the Minister, whatever party future Ministers may belong to.
In Clause 5, although itappears that some compensation for loss is to be given when a felling licence is refused, it is as well to remember that the forest owner is not in the same position as the farmer who, under the Agriculture Act, had the benefit of guaranteed markets and assured prices. It may well be that these trees are cut down at a time of slump in timber prices, a time which is most inconvenient because of death duties, and it seems that some further consideration is necessary. As to Clause 13, is it necessary still to have two authorities acting in connection with tree preservation orders? Would we not be wiser to regard the Forestry Commission alone as the authority there rather than bring in the Ministry of Local Government and Planning as well, with a duplication of duties?
In Clause 17 relating to compulsory purchase orders, the right of appeal to a High Court in the case disagreement apparently goes by the board. I cannot help feeling that to depart from that safeguard is setting a dangerous precedent, and I should like to retain it. There are two instances which it would be improper to mention in detail in this debate; one was the Towy Valley scheme. There is supposed to be an inquiry in these cases. The Forestry Commission do not have to give their side of the case. They merely hear evidence from those who object. I was told by a Welshman, 2723 although I am not an expert on Welsh affairs, that the dates fixed for these inquiries—there were two Welsh Members of Parliament interested in the case, representing the objectors—were, first, Budget Day, second Welsh Affairs Day, and the third day was the day of the Forestry debate itself, which was later changed to a day when we were considering the Committee stage of the Finance Bill.
The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
I should like to clear that up at once. The inspector conducting the inquiry is a Welshman. He decides the date when the inquiry should be held, and not the Minister.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am obliged. All the same, it was rather inconvenient for the Members concerned.
I do not wish to delay the House longer, for I know there are other hon. Members anxious to take part in the debate, and time is short; but I hope that we shall consider, if not in the course of this Bill, at some time, the question of a 10 year system of laying aside our land for forestry. Can we in a small country such as this afford to sterilise so much land for so long ahead?
§ 2.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Moeran (Bedfordshire, South)
The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) are the first speakers in this debate to have paid more than passing attention to the interests of agriculture. The tenor of the whole debate and of the Bill itself has been to treat timber as a crop, which indeed it is—and a crop of great importance in the strategies both of peace and war. But timber is more than a crop, and I was glad that the hon. Member for Salisbury made reference to its other aspects.
The first defence against erosion is timber, and the main area for such defences is the catchment area. In spite of what high pressure salesmen may say, the farmers' best insecticide is the bird, and we cannot have birds unless there is tree cover in which they can live. It is significant that Clause 3, which I think we all accept and which I welcome, gives powers to the Commissioners to 2724 grant or refuse a licence having regard to the interests of "good forestry or agriculture." I am glad those words are in, because no reference is made to agriculture either in Clause 1 or in the Preamble. The only reference in Clause 1 to the purpose of the Forestry Commissioners is that their duty shall include that ofpromoting the establishment and maintenance …of adequate reserves of growing trees.I ask the Minister to look at this again to see whether it cannot be amended to make quite clear and explicit the duties of the Commissioners, not only to provide for a stockpile of timber, but also to have regard, in their licences and in any conditions they may impose, to the interests of tree cover and all that implies, and to the interests of agriculture. In common with other bon. Members on both sides of the House I have the greatest respect and admiration for the Forestry Commission, for their abilities and their work in the past, but although they may well interpret the interests of good forestry or agriculture, as referred to in Clause 3, I think it would be wiser if the full scope and breadth of their powers were recognised explicitly in the Bill, and referred to in the Clause which gives them their powers.
There is one other point I want to make on the Bill. Legislation cannot secure the planting of the trees which are needed, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle referred in some detail. Legislation can do a lot; the Forestry Commissioners can do a lot; but the tree cover which is needed in this country cannot be provided by the Forestry Commissioners. They can only encourage and persuade the owners or the occupiers of land to plant the trees where they are needed.
If any further argument were needed to persuade us to give a Second Reading to the Bill, it lay in the speeches of the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) and the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner). I am sorry they are not in their places. They dilated upon the rights of property owners—and, indeed, the rights of property owners should be given due, but not exclusive weight; but they said not one word about the duties and obligations of property owners and tree owners. 2725 Every hon. Member will have instances in his own mind not only of good forestry and good cultivation, but also of wanton destruction of timber done because some kind of profit could be made from it. Perhaps I might cite a case from my own experience, where a spinney was stripped of wood and sold to the timber mills and not a single attempt made to replant it; or of the piece of land which was offered to me—a miserable half-acre—at a price of £600 an acre. When I asked my neighbour's land agent how he justified that fantastic price, he said, "You have four magnificent trees on that ground which you could sell tomorrow for £100." If had bought that land I should not have dreamed of destroying those trees. They form one of the finest clumps of beech I know in the country. If I had owned the land and then sold it, I should have sold it only on the terms that they should be preserved.
The approach which I have indicated is the over-commercial approach upon which the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen commented when he suggested that if a wood could be cut for a profit, that was the major consideration. The restrictions, the powers and the provisions of this Bill are urgently needed for the protection of the community against that kind of despoliation which takes place, and will take place in the future unless some such Bill is introduced. While I know that legislation cannot create the kind of attitude of mind to which my hon. Friend referred, and which we must have if we are to see our fields and our land afforested as they should be, it can do much to prevent the prevailing un-wisdom of many landowners, who are prepared, for a quick profit, to destroy what should be the heritage of their children.
Charles Morgan described what I have in mind very well, and what we cannot do by legislation, in an essay which he wrote on "Singleness of Mind." He said:Like all great aims, singleness of mind is not an end, it is a beginning. A countryman has it who, being himself very old and without hope of the event, goes upon his knees to plant an acorn in the ground.That attitude of mind, that singleness of purpose, will not come from any legislation, but it is what we desperately need. I welcome this legislation because it is a useful check, in the interim between un-wisdom and wisdom, to protect men from the results of their own overhasty foolish- 2726 ness, just as one sometimes has to protect a maniac from his own self-inflicted wounds. I hope, therefore, that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading because, for that purpose, it is a contribution of value to the community.
§ 2.16 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
Like others who have taken part in this debate, I must disclose a personal interest in the subject under review. In fact, I think I can claim to be the oldest Member of the House, if not in years, certainly in length of ownership of woodlands. I doubt whether anybody in the House has owned woodlands for something like 43 years, as I have done—hardwood, standard wood and underwood included. If I may make a personal reference, I am in the remarkable position of being able to make quite valuable thinnings from conifer woods which I myself have planted.
We have had a very agreeable debate today, especially as it has been a nonparty subject. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), said in opening for this side of the House, there is no party issue involved in the Bill, although we have some criticisms to make. Indeed, as it is essentially a non-party debate, I feel I can make certain criticisms even though they may be against something said on this side of the House; and, frankly, I do not agree with the general views expressed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner).
Incidentally, as an old Member of the House—and this is not a reflection on my hon. and gallant Friend or any other hon. Member—I want to say how much I deprecate the modern system, especially on a Friday, of coming to the House, making a speech, and then disappearing afterwards and not being seen for the rest of the day. When I first came to the House it was an unwritten law, which was more or less enforced by the Chair, that Members who took part in the debates should remain in the Chamber, allowing a reasonable time for refreshment, during the greater part of the debate and that they should not make a speech, hurry out of the House to correct it upstairs and then catch a train to their constituencies. It does not conduce to the proper conduct of debates. So I am sure that my hon. and gallant 2727 Friend will not mind if I say I am not in general agreement with the views which he expressed.
I did not hear the views of the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris), who represented the Liberal Party in this debate—and represented it for a very short time—but I gather that he spoke on the same lines as did my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash. While I would not go as far as the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Moeran) in what seems to be a criticism of private landowners, I agreed with him to this extent—that in present circumstances I think it is inevitable that there should be a considerable measure of control over private woodlands following, mutatis mutandis, the system which has grown up and which has been accepted by both parties in regard to agriculture.
During the war it was the war agricultural executive committees, and today it is the agricultural executive committees. In other words, just as these semi-official bodies have an official authority to a considerable extent over agricultural operations, so we must have some control in the case of woodlands, although we on this side of the House have a duty to put down any Amendments which we think are necessary to protect interests which we think require protection.
I want to take up only one or two other points that have been referred to in the debate, if I can read the writing of my notes, which is a thing I always find difficult to do. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), criticised Clause 5. I was glad to hear him make the point that there is not sufficient consideration of the matter involved, and I should like also to support him in what he said about coppices and about the diameter under which no licence is required as being too small and which ought to be enlarged. I think that that is a very important point.
I should also like to support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Digby), when he criticised the smallness of the amount of timber to be cut on estates irrespective of the extent of the estates. I hope that when the Minister replies he will deal with that point. I think that there should 2728 be some sort of sliding scale. I also agree with the point made by my hon. Friend—a very important point—when he referred to the case of those estates which are possessed of a sawmill.
My hon. and gallant Friend also raised a very important point of which, I have no doubt, the Minister made a note, and to which, I hope, he will reply, and that was the doubt in which we are all left as to whether woods near populous centres are to be considered from the point of view of their amenity value, the amenity value being the first consideration. I personally hope the economic value will be the first consideration. I see no reason why, because a wood is near a town, it should be preserved if the trees are in a decayed state.
That brings me to a point which I should like most emphatically to make. I think that the value of this debate is that hon. Members on both sides of the House have emphasised the economic importance of woodlands in this country. I should like to say here that it was with pleasure that I heard the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) urge that this country should be—if I may use the term—more "tree minded" than it is. I think that this debate will do a good deal of good through the impression which the speeches of hon. Members, through their being reported in the Press and in HANSARD, may make on the public of the enormous economic value of woods and woodland products to this country.
A derelict woodland, with great gaps in it caused by fallen trees left to rot on the ground, and with the remaining trees wind-swept and slowly dying, and with not a healthy one among them, is the most melancholy sight for all of us who care for the country and for trees. To see such a sight is, if I may say so, like looking at the Liberal Party. On the other hand, to anyone who cares for the country and for trees, to see a thriving woodland of whatever category, and especially with young trees growing in it, is a pleasant and most stimulating sight, because there one sees growing a natural product and an essential raw material, and growing every year, and so, whether in public or private ownership, adding to the general reserves of the wealth of the nation. It is because of these general considerations that we on this side of the House support this Bill.
2729 As I know there are several hon. Friends of mine who want to take part in the debate, I shall raise only one or two points. The first is concerned with the composition of the Commission, which it is, I think, in order generally to discuss on this Bill, because the Commission is being invested with very considerable new powers. I want to be very careful in my choice of language in what I am about to say.
For many years—I do not know how many years: I think something like 10 years—a noble Lord in another place, Lord Robinson, was the principal official —if I may use the word—of the Commission. He occupied a position very Similar to that of a Permanent Under-Secretary in a Government Department. I should like to say, although I have not the pleasure of his personal acquaintance, that I believe that the noble Lord to be a public servant of great capacity and integrity. However, it is contrary to every canon of administrative propriety that a man should be a public official of civil servant status, although not actually a civil servant comparable to a Permanent Under-Secretary in a semi-Government organisation for years longer than is customary in an ordinary Government Department and then for a further term of years be made the chairman of the organisation. That is not in accord with the ordinary practice in the administration of this country.
The result is very interesting. I am making no attack on the noble Lord or making any reflection on him in saying that Lord Robinson has tended to feel, Le Commission c'est moi. I have heard people say outside this House that the Forestry Commission and Lord Robinson have always been one and the same thing. This state of affairs will not continue much longer when the noble Lord retires, and when he retires the good wishes of the whole country will go with him, and its thanks for the fine work he has done.
But I must make one further observation. I think that possibly if the noble Lord were to be succeeded by some one of a rather more emollient temperament it is possible that some of the Commission's many disputes with local authorities and rural preservation Societies would be resolved. I hope it 2730 will also be made quite clear that the Forestry Commission under the law as it stands is subject to the directions of the Minister of Agriculture, because it has not always been quite so clear in the past. The matter was discussed in this House at considerable length before, and that is the position.
When it comes—and this is my last word—to these disputes which the Commission has had with various bodies I must make an attack on the people whom I regard, although they are quite unconscious that they are in that category, as being very unpatriotic. Certainly rural preservation societies and similar bodies have unfortunately allowed themselves to be ruled to far too great an extent by the type of person who looks at the country from what I would call a "pretty pretty" point of view.
I should like, for the benefit of making the point more clearly, to explain what I mean by saying what the attitude of these people is in detail. To the "pretty pretties" an empty and barren moor growing worthless heather and bracken on a bare hillside is a delight, a joyful thing to their aesthetic souls. When the wicked Forestry Commission or a private owner wishes to plant it in order to provide valuable raw material for this much harassed land whose available soil is very small they howl forth their anguish, and they beg their Members of Parliament to intervene, and Questions are asked in this House about all this devastation that is going to be allowed, because this area of land is to be planted with trees or tilled for the growing of food. They say, "People will not be able to walk there. How dreadful." That is the kind of attitude which these people take, and they have done a good deal of mischief in the country.
These people have, unfortunately, considerable influence with some of the local authorities. To see a decayed tree or better still a whole wood of such trees always appeals to those people, and they promptly petition the local council to make a tree preservation order. There really have been some terrible examples of tree preservation orders made as a result of such agitation by those people, and brought into operation in the case of trees which, from the point of view both of appearance and economy, should long ago have been cut down. What we 2731 want in this country is not so much tree preservation as a sense of the need to grow more and more trees and to get every space of the soil cultivated for either the production of food or the production of timber.
In a country like this we cannot afford to see so much land left idle. I may add that these people are not confined exclusively to the Welsh Marches, the Lake District or to Scotland, because we have them in the South of England. They are highly indignant, for example, that the Forestry Commission should have planted a portion of the South Downs; they are perfectly furious to think that both private owners and, in some cases, agricultural executive committees should have dared, by ploughing up the land, to grow double the amount of food that was grown before the war, simply because they can no longer gaze on gorse and bracken and a few sparse sheep. That is the sort of attitude these people have towards our soil. They have been attacked very successfully by several of us in Sussex, and for the moment they are quiet. No doubt my observations this morning will cause great indignation amongst them.
I do not want to detain the House longer, or to treat this matter as a frivolous one, though I do ask for support from both sides of the House. I do not want to exaggerate things. Of course, there should be every opportunity in the country like this for the harassed town dweller to walk over the countryside, and there should be the preservation of footpaths, and things of that kind. But to hold the view that the countryside should not be devoted to its most economic uses, whether it is in public or private ownership, simply because to do so may offend the alleged aesthetic sensibilities of a certain type of person, is absolutely wrong in a country such as ours, where every inch of soil should be cultivated and used in one way or another. I hope that these people, who are not confined to one political party or to one sex, will realise that, so far from doing something in the public interest they are doing something which is contrary to the public interest when they endeavour to put blockades in the way of improving the afforestation of Great Britain.
§ 2.33 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
I am glad to have this opportunity of taking part in this debate, even for a short while, in face of such keen competition from these benches. I noted what the noble Lord said about hon. Members leaving after making their speeches, and, as one who has sat here and listened to the debate, I shall not dart away when I have finished, like some of the back benchers opposite have done.
Although I am a Member for a Midland constituency, I speak with the voice of Northumberland, where we have the Kielder Plantation, a model of which I saw in the Festival Exhibition a few days ago. I want to take a somewhat wider view of this Bill than has so far been taken; certainly wider than the, if I may say so, legalistic view of the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) and the somewhat financial view of the hon. and gallant Member for Parkston Ash (Colonel Ropner).
In debates on world affairs, we constantly speak of a "food famine." I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), who says that we are facing a timber famine. In the past, our main imports have come from the Scandinavian countries, and we are now facing diminishing supplies; we are having less imports from that quarter.
Stockpiling has been referred to, and in this context we have a gallant ally in the United States. When the pioneers, our grandfathers, went there, we have timber cover from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, even to the Middle West. Today, the only large virgin supplies of timber are in Central and Eastern Siberia, where they have about 1,500,000 square miles of timber as opposed to the 3,500,000 acres in our islands, of which 2,800,000 acres are privately owned. In these islands, we think in terms of conserving millions of acres, while in the Soviet Union there are millions of square miles.
That is the context in which we must consider this Bill, and that is the spirit in which to approach all these measures for conserving our national wealth. In particular, we should then consider in that context, the legalistic, almost financial, objections of hon. Gentlemen opposite who spoke earlier. The 19th Century was an age of exploitation. The 20th Century 2733 must, to my mind, be an age of conservation.
Our resources are being slowly eaten away, and afforestation is a slow task. We have heard today about past landlords; some have been good and some have been bad. On the whole, I wish to pay a compliment to the past squires of these islands, who in the 18th and 19th centuries planted all the timber which we are enjoying today. At the present stage of our economic and social history, and of public planning, the Government have come into the field, and we do owe a debt to those public-spirited landowners who went before.
But, even so, Clause 12 is necessary to deal with the few bad owners today, in order to provide safeguards against the few remaining anti-social owners. While this generation is paying for the misdeeds of the last—that always has been so, and perhaps always will be so—it is up to us today to try to save the next generation from the sort of thing from which we are suffering because of the misdeeds of a small minority in the past.
It is not merely a question of actually felling timber and losing the wealth we now possess. There is, in the agricultural field, the wider question of soil erosion, because the timber and its roots naturally bind the soil. While the timber is there. the rain falls into the leafy soil, sinks to the subsoil below, and percolates through the soil, and there is not the danger of the topsoil being washed away. In the classical Empires of the Middle East, millions of acres were rendered completely useless, and today the French and other colonists are paying the penalty of the past misdeeds of the classical Empires of the past. Let us therefore bear all this in mind.
Now I am no alarmist, but we have had two world wars, and I am young enough to remember, from the days when I was in the mining areas in Northumberland, that Mr. Lloyd George said that our pitmen had only six weeks' supply of pit props left in the mines at the end of the 1914–18 war. It therefore behoves us to take all possible measures to safeguard our supplies of timber. Here, I must take sides with the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash, when I look at Clause 1, which imposes upon the Forestry Commission the duty, under Section 3 of the Forestry Act, 1919, of 2734promoting the establishment and maintenance in Great Britain of adequate reserves.This Bill is, to my mind, by no means wide enough.
My mind goes back to a debate in this House, to which I listened with interest when the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) spoke about the waste land and the plots of land which were unused all over these islands. He compared the standards of husbandry here with those in Belgium, Holland, Denmark and similar lands. I would emphasise that we should ask our friends in the farming community to endeavour to use these waste plots of land. I will say more than that—and here I am talking almost like a totalitarian—if these owners would tell us that they have not the money or cannot do anything whereby they can use the land, then I say let someone else do it for them. This land should be used in the interests of the nation at large, and the Forestry Commissioners or someone else should be given the task of using the land to the best advantage for the cultivation of timber.
In our mining areas, I have often thought that the slag heaps and other unsightly things should be used in some way. Then, in addition, there is the question of marginal land of all descriptions, upland or lowland. It has been said that there is a conflict of claim as between agriculture and forestry. I do not believe it for one moment. We have a Minister in office today who has shown by wisdom, tolerance and by his past actions how keen he is to reconcile whatever may be within the alleged conflicting claims. There is no need to have this bogey, and I would suggest that the county agricultural executive committees be used in this capacity to advise him if there is any alleged conflict.
In conclusion, I want to say that I most warmly support the Bill despite the objections of some hon. Members opposite, because we are not merely conserving the amenities of the countryside, such as the beautiful woods and the forests with all their flora and fauna, which we need to conserve for the town dwellers, but we are doing something for the advancement and future well-being of this land of ours.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
Hon. Members on all sides of the House must indeed be anxious about the timber posi- 2735 tion in this country in the event of an emergency and about general standard of woodland management. As far as this Bill is a step in the right direction for either of those considerations, then hon. Members will support it. However, I hope when the right hon. Gentleman comes to wind up that he will address himself to the very telling point put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner), as to whether this Bill is a stockpiling timber Bill or a Bill to encourage an improved standard of woodland management. In a great many respects those two objectives appear to conflict.
This Bill is very different from the Bill that was first discussed two or three months ago in another place. Had that Bill been unamended, the Forestry Commission would have had very wide powers. There would have been very few safeguards. Moreover, I think the Bill as originally drafted drove a coach and four right through the whole of the principles of the original dedication scheme. I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale), put in proper perspective the contribution which the various categories of woodland owner have made. I do not think that that is always realised. He told us that out of a total of 3½ million acres 82 per cent. are held by private owners and 18 per cent. by the Forestry Commission.
But that does not include the small woods of under five acres or the hedgerow timber. What I think is remarkable about the latter category is that one-third of the timber felling programme for 1951 comes from it, which serves to indicate how extremely important is that little known category represented by hedgerow timber and the small woodlands under five acres.
It is fairly clear from those figures that the success of this Bill in very large measure must depend upon the willing co-operation of the private woodland owners. In the past the right hon. Gentleman has paid his own tribute to the part, which private woodland owners have played. He told us in November, 1945, that of all the timber produced in both wars no less than 95 per cent. came from the private woodland owners, so he is in no doubt in his mind as to the 2736 great contribution which was made by them.
The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Moeran) told us that he thought that woodlands should be preserved from one generation to another so that the new generation could enjoy something which the old had enjoyed. He went on to accuse various woodland owners of spoliation—I think that was the word he used—but it seemed to me that he forgot one rather important point, namely, that if every woodland owner was quite sure that his own children would be able to see and enjoy the trees which he himself had seen and enjoyed then there would be no need whatever to fell the timber before that timber was mature.
It is the incidence of Death Duty which has necessitated woodland owners felling timber before it was mature. It was not because they wanted to do so, but because in many cases it was the only realisable asset that they had, and it was because they could not see how the property could be handed on to their children unless they felled the timber to meet Death Duty and other charges, that, in fact, they did it. That was how the spoliation came to be committed.
I should like to draw a comparison between the Agriculture Act of 1947 and this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt remember that in Section 1 of the Agriculture Act there occurs a reference to productionat minimum prices consistently with proper remuneration and living conditions for farmers and workers in agriculture…"—this is the important phrase——and an adequate return and capital invested in the industry.I think hon. Members are all agreed that the needs of agriculture and forestry are complementary and not conflicting. Clause 1 of this Bill imposes upon the Forestry Commissioners the general duty of promoting, establishing and maintaining in Great Britain an adequate reserve of growing trees. I cannot help feeling that art adequate reserve of growing trees can only in the long run be maintained if an adequate return can be expected from the very large sums which have been invested in private woodlands. It would not be at all a bad plan if the right hon. Gentleman could see his way to insert some such phrase in Clause 1 2737 of this Bill as appears in Section 1 of the Agriculture Act, which I have just quoted.
I agree with a good many hon. Members on this side of the House that the small woodland owner is the cinderella in this Bill. He is a man who is left out and who has been neglected. If we are not careful he may not get a square deal, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman, when he comes to reply, will say a word of encouragement for the small woodland owner, because there are over 187,000 acres of spinneys under five acres. Most of these small woods are probably unsuitable for dedication, though I do not see why they should dot be maintained according to a plan agreed by the Commissioners. The small woodland owner is outside the protection given to the dedicating woodland owner under Clause 10. He is obliged to stockpile his trees where the felling licence is refused. His compensation is likely to be inadequate.
That brings me to the subject of compensation. I hope that the Minister will tell us how he proposes that anybody should execute a kind of judgment of Solomon in assessing the deterioration of a tree or of a wood for which a felling licence has been refused. No compensation is payable under the Bill unless deterioration can be proved. I can see what the right hon. Gentleman is trying to get at, but how is the extent of deterioration to be proved unless the tree is cut down? Take the case of trees which have reached maturity and where any further annual growth will be negligible. They are not actually deteriorating, but the felling licence has been refused. The owner will lose 3 per cent. to 4 per cent. interest on the capital represented by the value of those trees every year in which the felling licence is withheld.
I am glad that in Clause 10 an owner of dedicated woods to whom a felling licence has been refused may, under certain circumstances, request the Commissioners to buy, fell and remove the trees. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash that it seems curious that the Government should request only the owners of timber to stockpile at their own expense. It is a wasteful way of stockpiling timber to leave trees past maturity still standing in 2738 the ground. They ought to be in the timber yards and the ground should be replanted as soon as possible. To leave such trees standing because the felling licence is not granted is the worst way of stockpiling and is preventing fresh planting being started.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look into the way in which the quota system operates. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Digby) that in some respects it operates too rigidly. I understand that the Forestry Commission have a quota system based upon a fixed period. That means that if one applies for a licence to fell, and the Commissioners have already reached the quota permitted, one does not get the licence until the next period. This system is of particular difficulty where licences are applied for to fell hedgerow timber, which can only be felled early on in the season, before the farmers want to get on to the land.
It is no good the Forestry Commission saying, "We cannot give you a licence for felling hedgerow trees this period, because our quota is exhausted. You can have it in the next period," which may bring the applicant to the middle of sowing or to the middle of harvest time. That is no good. The quota system, though admirable in theory, is too rigid in practice. I also hope the right hon. Gentleman will pay particular attention to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison), in respect of the 275 cubic feet which an estate owner is now allowed to fell without a licence.
If that figure is irremovable and rigid, irrespective of whether the estate owner has a woodlands acreage of 1,000 or of 50. the owner should be allowed to accumulate his right to fell. If he does not want to use up his 275 cubic feet in one period he ought to be allowed to fell double, if necessary, in the next period. To apply a rigid rule only defeats the object for which the regulation was made.
Mr. Ian L. On-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
My hon. Friend has said that it will be wrong that the woodland owner should not be allowed to accumulate, where his acreage was small. Surely that depends not only on the woodland acreage, but upon the total acreage of 2739 the estate which has to be served from that woodland.
§ Mr. Mott-Radclyffe
I quite agree. But, broadly speaking, a woodland acreage of under 100 and a woodland acreage of more than 1,000 are in quite different categories with regard to the amount of timber required for estate purposes. That is the point I tried to make. This is much more an administrative Bill than an afforestation Bill but, in so far as it helps to improve the general woodland management and to preserve timber for stockpiling in the present emergency, I support it.
§ 2.58 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)
I am glad to have heard the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) pay a tribute to the landowners of the 18th and 19th centuries who enriched our beautiful country with so much growing timber. The same thoughts occurred to me. I think the hon. Gentleman is a townsman; so am I. As I listened to the debate the feeling ran through my mind that the nation owes a debt of gratitude to those people if for nothing else than for the contributions our timber made in two world wars.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, in opening the debate, said that in the Highlands more could be done. That is almost in the nature of an understatement, because so little has been done in the Highlands. We are amazed, when we take the train or the road up through the Grampians, to see thousands of acres, around Aviemore particularly, that were cleared during the First World War lying in the same barren and derelict condition as they were left in at that time. I am not exaggerating. There are thousands and thousands of acres in the Highlands where trees were cut down in the First World War and where nothing at all has been done in re-afforestation. The Forestry Commission have had all the powers to deal with the matter in the intervening years, and I doubt whether the Bill will give them any more powers.
A reference was made by the Under-Secretary to the great county of Sutherland, one of the largest in Great Britain. The Forestry Commission are doing very little indeed there. What is being done is being done at sea level in the valleys and 2740 yet we find Norwegian and sitka spruce growing in more northern latitudes than ours and at higher altitudes.
Is there not something pathetic in seeing agricultural land used for growing trees and farms being taken over mainly to provide homes for the full-time foresters? It was laid down in the Acland Report which is the father and mother of the Forestry Commission that the main staff of forestry workers employed throughout Great Britain should be part-time workers from the crofting and agricultural communities. In the area to which the Under-Secretary referred, where, a few months ago, unemployment was four times the average for the rest of Scotland, there is a shortage of crofters or agricultural workers to do the work which at present is not being done or is being done by permanent foresters for whom small farms are being taken over to provide homes. That is radically wrong, and I urge the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture to look into the matter without delay.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I am sure that the hon. Member realises that the areas about which he speaks in the north of Scotland are almost all in private hands. The Forestry Commission have not acquired land compulsorily in the north of Scotland up to now, and if they are now to do what he thinks ought to have been done by private owners in the past he will appreciate that they will require to exercise compulsory powers. The Bill makes it a little less difficult for them to exercise compulsory powers for this purpose.
§ Sir D. Robertson
What the hon. Member says adds nothing to what I have said and contradicts nothing that I have said. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner), who was a member of the Forestry Commission for eight years, told us that it had been endowed with compulsory powers for a long period, but it had not used them. I doubt if the Commission has had the will to do it. I think that they have been dawdling along. Anyone who drives through Sutherland must take that view.
I was greatly disturbed when the Under-Secretary said that there would be a justification for taking some of the poorer agricultural land. The farming and 2741 crofting community in the Highlands is absolutely up against the Forestry Commission because of the depredations already made. While our need for timber is urgent, our need for food is no less urgent, and the prodigal days of the 19th century and the early part of this century when we could import so much food can no longer return and we must depend more and more on our own production. For that reason I would impress on the Secretary of State that he can find all the land he requires in the Highlands for growing timber without having to take any agricultural land.
The county of Caithness carries the smallest amount of timber of any county in Great Britain; the figure is .4 of 1 per cent. When I inquired why there was so little timber there, I was told that it is too windy, too cold and too wet. All of those reasons are wrong. Caithness is one of the driest places in Great Britain. It is true that it is windy, but there are many equally windy places throughout the world where trees are grown at higher altitudes. Excavations in the peat bogs have exposed roots of trees cut down in abundance by earlier generations. There are always lovely plantations of trees round the mansion houses that exist in the Highlands. It is quite wrong to say that Caithness cannot grow trees. The Forestry Commission must also accept that gospel, because they have only six foresters working in the county. I wonder what the explanation can be. It would be interesting to know it, and I hope that the Minister will tell us.
In Sutherland, where one can go for miles without seeing any evidence of trees, there is one belt, a remnant of the ancient Caledonian forest, which was planted by nature. The Forestry Commission have not attempted to emulate that; they have done nothing at all. It may be that the private owners have also been remiss, but there is a very good reason for it. I cannot conceive how anyone other than a very rich man can afford to grow trees. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash put his finger on the trouble when he said that they had to pay out money month after month and year after year, but did not receive a revenue for a long time. When does the revenue come in? It is mainly when the Death Duty axe falls on the estate. There did not appear much hope for the growers of timber in the 18th and 19th centuries 2742 and the early part of this century when we were importing cheap timber from Russia and the Baltic; and much of the felling which took place was under duress.
I have mentioned the trees round the big houses in Caithness, but there are no big trees where the crofters live. They could not afford to plant trees. Who can afford to pay out wages year after year at today's rate when they will not receive a revenue for years? This is becoming more and more a national job. It is no good throwing stones at the private owner or the small woodland proprietor; there is a great job here for the Forestry Commission to do. Scotland has played its part in this matter in two world wars, just as England and Wales and Ireland have done, but I mention Scotland especially because as a result of the nature of the soil Scotland has made a greater contribution. Scotland is capable of making a great contribution now if only the Government will wake themselves up and then wake up the Forestry Commission and make it get on with the job.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenyon (Chorley)
We are discussing today the devastation of the forests of the country as a result of two wars which have inflicted a huge toll on British forests. As was shown by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris), the devastation of war is not limited to material things but also affects the very principles of freedom upon which we have lived so long.
In regard to the re-afforestation of much of our devastated land, we must realise that the growing of trees is like any other agricultural occupation; it is the growing of a crop. It is a long-term crop and a crop which will bring in no financial return for many years, but the results of tree growing in many other ways besides amenities are being reaped by the agricultural life of the nation year by year from the time that the trees begin to take effect. There is the shelter which the trees provide and there is the added fertility which they bring, and this all adds to the development of our agricultural land.
As in the case of other crops grown on the land, we must recognise that the forests need great care and attention. Forests must be thinned just as we thin 2743 our sugar beet. When the trees have grown to a certain extent they begin to crush each other, like the sugar beet or the turnips do, and we must thin them so that the stronger plants can become permanent forests. Then they need felling when they are ready for it, and all trees do not mature at the same time.
Skilled foresters are needed to go through our forests from time to time and choose the trees which require felling, both for commercial as well as for other purposes. So the forests of our nation are potentially another crop which we have to deal with on the same principle that we deal with the common crops of agriculture, the only difference being that one is a long-term process and the other is usually an annual process.
I want to emphasise that we require more trained foresters. We need men who can advise the private owners on the cultivation of their small spinneys and hedgerows as well as on the forests. This expert knowledge would be welcomed because it would help in the tremendous work they are doing. Let us be fair to the private owners—they have done a great deal of work in the creation of our forests.
All over Great Britain we see areas of devastated land which grew trees that were felled during the war. The clearing of this land is absolutely beyond the pockets of the private owners. To start rooting out some of the old stumps that are left is a colossal task, and the Ministry should assist in replanting this land with trees. As mentioned by the noble Lord the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), the removal of dead trees is something of which everyone should take care. There is nothing more unsightly than dead trees in the woodlands, in the hedgerows, and on many parts of our agricultural land. They are like dead bodies in a civilised society. They despoil the countryside and they should be cleared out.
Now I want to raise a matter that I have raised with the Minister before. This country cannot afford to have waste land and we have discussed the question of water board land many times in the Hill Farming Advisory Committee. Thousands of acres of land in this country which is possessed by water boards is 2744 neither grazed nor afforested; it is just derelict. As we pass over it, we see the skeletons of farm houses, broken fences and restrictions placed upon grazing by those authorities. They refuse to allow grazing, they refuse to afforest it, or they refuse to allow even the Forestry Commissioners to take it over and plant trees.
If they do not use it themselves, then the Forestry Commission or the Ministry should be able to use compulsory powers to take it over and plant it with trees. That would be no detriment but an asset, and it is high time these thousands of acres of derelict land, held in isolation by the water authorities, were taken over and planted with trees for the benefit of the nation.
§ 3.15 p.m.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
When the right hon. Gentleman speaks to his Bill in a few minutes he will be doing something which no Minister of the Crown has ever done before, that is, sponsoring two Bills aimed to improve British forestry during the course of his tenure of office. He is the first Minister directly responsible for forestry, although others before him have had that responsibility less directly. In addition, I believe that he has a growing personal interest in this great industry. If the illustrated papers were correct, he took a day off from the Socialist conference at Margate last year in order to attend a forestry excursion. As Wordsworth puts it:One impulse from a vernal woodMay teach you more of man,Of moral evil and of good,Than all the sages can.So I hope he thought that day in the wood was more profitably spent than in the company of some of his colleagues who, I think, are rather flattered by the description of sages.
Although the Minister was hampered to some extent in his responsibility as long as the Board of Trade was responsible for the felling licensing system, I for one would wish that this second Bill had been introduced to Parliament before his previous Forestry Act. That would have been better planning; here we have a Bill dealing with the general principle, whereas the Forestry Act, 1947, dealt only with certain special cases which would have come more logically after this Bill. Today's Bill has one urgent 2745 characteristic, in that it attempts to put an end to the devastation of woodlands.
As far as this devastation has been brought about by speculation, there cannot be any disagreement between any hon. Members of this House that we cannot afford any such to continue but, besides speculation, as we have also been told by several hon. Members, the necessities of two wars have left their mark on our woods which we can only, and all too slowly, repair. Besides this important anti-devastation provision there is a variety of other objects in the Bill. One which has been paid particular attention during the debate, stockpiling, has been prompted entirely by the needs of defence and not of forestry.
Lastly in these general remarks, may I say that I wish there had been prior consultation with the industry before the introduction of the Bill into Parliament took place? I must declare my interest here. I am a member of the United Kingdom Forestry Committee. It is true that there was a contact between the chairman of the Forestry Commission and the chairman of that committee, but only in the briefest possible way. Certainly nothing took place which could be described as consultation—not 5 per cent. as much consultation as took place with the National Farmers' Union and other interests before the introduction of the Agriculture Bill not so many years ago.
It has been stressed in this debate that forestry in this country is becoming of increasing importance, but I do not believe it is realised by the broad mass of the people how important it is. We speak in terms of increasing our area under woodland up to 5 million acres. Roughly, that is two-thirds of our acreage under corn, and when we try to calculate the capital likely to be invested in the 5 million acres of woods, the necessary roads and houses to service those woods, the sawmilling industry, and so on, we get a capital figure which makes our investment in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company look like chicken feed.
If we were discussing oil, the benches in the House would not be so sparsely occupied as they are. Yet timber is just as important as oil to this country, and it is used in even more ways than those mentioned by my hon. Friends. Apart from the mechanical uses, there are the chemical uses. We 2746 could make no progress without paper and without timber there would certainly be no paper.
The typical woodlands of this country are not vast areas but small areas interspersed throughout the agricultural land of the United Kingdom. It is a sad thought that comparatively few people have a smattering of knowledge of silviculture or take a very great interest in it. It is curious too how the public often protest when foresters try to plant trees and also when foresters want to cut trees down. We have to get a particular code to deal with the problems, but we shall not get a code without some encouragement such as was suggested by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) and others.
In particular, the small owner and the farmer owner want help and encouragement. It is easier for the big woodland owner with a skilled staff, but there are tens of thousands of farms which have a small acreage of woods, perhaps on steep banks or in marshy places which it would not pay to cultivate, which were once under trees and ought now to be under trees. Nothing is done largely because it is generally accepted by the farming community that forestry is a separate industry and has nothing whatever to do with them, whereas in point of fact the two are most intimately connected. We are not going to get the reserve of timber envisaged by Clause 1 of this Bill unless we make just as much use of those hundreds of thousands of small areas up and down the country as of the larger acreages, although it must be an admitted axiom of good forestry that it is easier to grow good timber in larger areas than in smaller areas.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the devastation of woodlands by war and speculation. Probably one of the most useful provisions in the Bill are those which I hope will put a stop to the last loopholes open to the speculator. But, when criticism is levelled at the low standard of silviculture in this country—we have to admit that compared with the Germans and the Swedes our standards are low—it is not so surprising that we have not been able to develop our forestry and woodland industries as thoroughly as other countries have. as it is surprising how much in fact has 2747 been done when we think of the deterrents which exist.
There has never been any steady return on capital invested in growing trees in this country as long as it was largely a free trade one. Again, and I do not want to stress the point, but the Minister of Agriculture started to mutter when my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe) mentioned Death Duties, the right hon. Gentleman cannot pretend that Death Duties are not a very serious deterrent when he bears in mind bow slow a turnover the growing of good quality timber is. There are admittedly certain provisions in the calculation of Estate Duty on timber lessening the burden, but they cannot counterbalance the very serious basic deterrent. When we consider that Death Duties are levied on an estate large or small—when I use the word "estate" I do not mean only a large one—once every generation and that to grow hardwoods may take three or four or more generations, it must be accepted that the growing of good quality timber is not everybody's investment.
I turn to the more detailed provisions of the Bill and I hope the Minister will be able to tell us why it is necessary to include Clause 1 (1). My reading of the 1919 Act is that all the necessary powers are already available to the Forestry Commission. Another point arises. The Bill talks of the Forestry Commission being charged withthe general duty of promoting the establishment and maintenance in Great Britain of adequate reserves of growing trees.Only the other day the Government produced a White Paper dealing with the Ministry of Materials, and if we look at the Second Schedule of that White Paper we see that the growing of trees is one of the duties with which the new Minister of Materials is charged. So, twice within a week the House is asked to grant the same power to two different Ministers. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will clear up this point and will be able to tell us that it will not be the Minister of Materials, but the Minister of Agriculture, who will be responsible; we remember the difficulties which arose when the Board of Trade were responsible for felling licences. Now it appears that there is danger of a contest between the 2748 new Minister of Materials and the right hon. Gentleman.
Like other hon. Members, I welcome the statutory basis which the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committees and the regional advisory committees are now being given. But the fact that they are given a statutory basis does not necessarily mean that they will be made good use of. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that one of the criticisms levelled against the Forestry Commission was that they never used the pre-war consultative committees which had a statutory basis and were provided for by Act of Parliament.
On Clause 2, which deals with timber which may be felled without licence, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will face with an open mind a suggestion put to him that the figure of 275 cubic feet could be improved if some sort of sliding scale were possible. I welcome the fact that only 50 cubic feet of such timber may be sold in any one month. I think that a necessary and welcome provision.
The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), whose views as a one-time Forestry Commissioner we must all respect, was asking that certain of these exceptions might be widened. He speaks with a great knowledge of his subject, and I am sure that hon. Members will be glad to know that, last year, in a competition run by the Royal Agricultural Society, the hon. Member won a first price in what was the most difficult class. I hope, therefore, that what he has said will sink into the ears of the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
Clause 3 contains, perhaps, the most important provision of all, and, for this country, a novel provision. It gives the Forestry Commission power to require that an area in respect of which a felling licence is given shall be restocked. That provision, or something very similar to it, is the basis of the forest law in almost every country of Europe where forestry is treated really seriously. It is that provision which is clearly going to be the bulwark against future devastation. What we want to see in this country is not an increasing number of trees well past their prime occupying ground which is much better devoted to young, healthy, vigorous growing stock, but to ensure that wide wooded areas of this country 2749 shall remain wooded, and that there is a proper sequence of old, middle-aged and young woods succeeding one another in rotation.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has noticed, as the railway train takes him to the neighbourhood of Doncaster, what a pitiful sight is to be seen there in dead and dying trees in the neighbourhood of that town. How much better it would be if these trees were removed, and, instead, young healthy ones were growing in their place. At present, if one were to put in an application for a licence for felling any quantity of trees in that class, it is highly problematical whether one would be given. It would depend on how full the quota was at the time he applied.
The timber resources of this country today would have been far greater if there could have been a campaign to remove all these dead and dying trees. and, for that matter, the illustration which I have given is typical and not peculiar to the district I mentioned. Examples can be seeen from any main line railway train leaving London, and all such trees should be removed and replaced with young growing stock.
What we should aim to achieve is what is called the maximum sustained yield from all our woodland areas, but we shall not attain that maximum yield if a large part of the acreage is to be covered with trees that are well past their best and incapable of growing in volume except by one-half per cent. per annum or even less.
Turning to the stockpiling side of this Bill, may I say I think that these are rather high-handed provisions? When it is clear that timber, irrespective of its age, is no longer making profitable use of the land on which it is growing, it should surely be removed and make way for other trees. That does not mean that it should be consumed, but it should be removed from the land on which it is standing. We ought to think of some better way by which timber could be put into national reserve other than by allowing it to occupy useful woodland ground. When all is said and done, our total woodland resources are very small, and we must really look overseas for the greater part of our timber reserves.
On the question of loans, I do not think this is a very useful provision. To borrow 2750 money at a certain rate of interest in order to re-invest it in timber which is not growing in an enterprise which earns little or nothing is hardly good business.
A most important Clause is that dealing with tree preservation. In the light of our experience in the last two or three years, we have found that certain planning authorities have interpreted the Clause in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, in a far wider sense than Parliament ever intended. When that Clause was before the House, we had in mind famous avenues, clumps of trees or landmarks like Chanctonbury Ring.
Today there are a certain number of counties, such as Buckinghamshire and Pembrokeshire—Somerset is another, and I am not sure that Cumberland is not thinking of going in the same way—which are trying to use these powers on a very wide scale. If so, we shall have conflict between the Minister of Town and Country Planning and the Forestry Commission over wide areas of what should be treated as economic woodlands. This new Clause still leaves the whole position very unsatisfactory. It appears to be a counter-attack by the Minister of Agriculture against the Minister of Town and Country Planning, but one which has only gone so far, and which leaves them both with divided authority over far too large an area.
I wonder if it is not possible for the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether a local planning authority should not retain full authority in built-up areas, and perhaps in other special areas, but not beyond. Properly managed woodlands—whether they are in a special situation, say, on the banks of the Thames or in the ugliest part of England —should be under the supervision of the Forestry Commission for all purposes, including amenity. It is ridiculous to suppose that the Forestry Commission can never be trusted with anything in the nature of amenity. What we all want to ensure is that the wooded beauty of this country shall continue, which means that woods in due time shall be felled and replaced by others.
The noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has spoken about the arrogance with which certain people set themselves up as arbiters of taste in these matters. It is not long ago that the larch, which is now considered 2751 respectable in the eyes of the amenity experts, was considered a blot on the countryside. I was reading a diary last week-end, dating from the time of Wordsworth, in which one of Words-worth's friends was inveighing about the infiltration of the larch into the Lake District. He described the larch as "overgrown asparagus," but the larch is now respectable. Today it is the sitka spruce which is objected to.
I wonder if the stone walls which cross our fells in straight lines in so remarkable a fashion and which are now considered to be so beautiful were so considered at the time when they were first built. They are something quite different from the normal contours and features of that countryside, and must have seemed strange when new. Yet, in their turn, they have now become respectable. I remember a speech in another place by Lord Robinson who admitted that the appearance of young plantations was not beautiful, but said that a young cathedral was not very beautiful in the early stages of its building.
Finally I hope that if the right hon. Gentleman expects the House to accept the new procedure of compulsory acquisition he will be able to convince us that it is really necessary. There is no great urgency. The Forestry Commission say that they would like to hold a 10-year reserve of land. I think that is an undue luxury. Four years' supply would be the minimum and five years' reasonable, but six years' is almost a luxury. Therefore, as far as luxury is concerned I cannot see that any new procedure is necessary.
If the new procedure while safeguarding the rights of the individual spares him expense, I feel that the House ought to be convinced and ought to accept it. But I do not feel that the rights of the individual in this case should be subordinated in any way to urgency. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will look favourably on an Amendment we shall put down later requiring that at a public inquiry his representative or a representative of the Forestry Commission shall always be present to state a case and be subject to cross-examination.
Although this Bill is mainly administrative and it does not set out to develop great permanent changes in our forestry policy—and I say that on the authority 2752 both of the Lord Chancellor in another place and from the title of the Bill—it nevertheless introduces changes which I believe are likely to develop into the foundations of a new forestry law of this country for many generations.
I hope, therefore, that during the later stages of this Bill we all shall be able to co-operate in the aim that in its final form the Bill puts the interests of good forestry first and does not subject them to others, whether defence or amenity. I say defence advisedly, because the interests of defence in this context and of forestry should be exactly the same. It is clearly the duty of this House to see that the foundations are well and truly laid.
§ 3.40 p.m.
The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)
I do not think I have any need to complain of the course of this debate. With the two rare exceptions of the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) and the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris), there has been unity in all quarters of the House on the theme that we ought to preserve and maintain an adequate reserve of timber. The points of detail which have arisen are very proper, and one would expect in a debate of this description, however good the Bill may be—I think this is a good little Bill, since so many Amendments were made in another place—that a number of small, though important. points would be raised.
§ Colonel Ropner
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman so early in his speech, but I cannot let him get away with the statement that I am in any way opposed to acquiring reserves of standing timber. The question was: Who pays for it?
I shall come to what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said later. I do not know what he thinks, but what he said is the point that matters.
The hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Richmond. Yorks (Sir T. Dugdale) who opened for the Opposition, fully appreciated the 2753 universal use to which timber is put. He recognised, as I am sure most hon. Members do, except perhaps the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen, the dangerously low level to which our stocks have fallen.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
The right hon. Gentleman should take the trouble to state correctly what I said.
I should be sorry to misinterpret anything which the hon. and learned Member said, but he wanted the House to oppose the Bill. I shall come to the hon. and learned Member later.
I want first of all to deal with the hon. and gallant Member for Richmond, Yorks. I think he made a first-class case not only for the justification of this Bill, but for almost every word in it. I agree with him that agriculture and afforestation are complementary and they are in no way competitive. When dealing with the question of future acquisitions the most meticulous pains are taken both by the Forestry Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture officials to determine which is the right use to which land may be put, and it does not follow that if the hon. and learned Gentleman can and does attend inquiries to put up a perfectly proper case from his angle, he knows much about the technique of afforestation or even agriculture.
The hon. and gallant Baronet referred to the question of the 275 cubic feet of timber that could be felled each month, of which only 50 cubic feet could be sold on the open market. He asked whether I thought this was the right quantity and whether it was fair between a large estate and a small estate. I think the answer is simply this. There could be a very large estate in the open county of Sutherland, with few or no houses or buildings on the estate, where the requirements for estate purposes would be very small. There might be an extremely small estate which was very largely developed, where the requirement for the estate would be extremely large. Therefore, we could not determine a monthly quota on the basis of the size of the estate.
The hon. and gallant Baronet asked me a question about Clause 4, whether it was reasonable to allow the Minister to have the final decision on the question of conditions that may be laid down 2754 before a felling licence is granted. I only need say that if a licence is given and the condition about replanting can be overruled by the committee, then obviously we should fail in the main object we have in this Bill. After all, we are the only country in Europe where a large quantity of timber is grown without any control over the felling or re-planting.
The hon. and gallant Baronet asked a question about Clause 1, dealing with compensation for loss due to deterioration. We all recognise that this is a very difficult question to determine. Any case of compensation will go to the committee of experts, but, finally—and this, I think, is a safeguard to the landowner as well as to the Treasury—in a case of dispute the amount of compensation for deterioration will be dealt with by the Land Tribunal. I do not think we could find a more appropriate body for it.
The hon. and gallant Baronet also referred to Clause 13—whether the fate of any one tree in the Parliamentary division of any Member could be determined by the Minister. The Minister of Local Government and Planning already has that power, but there is a provision for appeal in the procedure so that the Minister is adequately informed on all the facts of the situation.
I think that the new procedure in Clause 17, to which the hon. and gallant Baronet referred, is necessary for all the reasons which he gave. It is a simplified, less expensive procedure with a less complicated time-table. It was provided in the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act of 1945 and has been applied to very many statutes conferring acquisition powers in place of the Provisional Order Confirmation Bill.
It does not seem to me, therefore, that there are any grounds for objecting to this speedier and cheaper form. We preserve the right to insist that the objection is considered by Parliament and, after all, this is the final court of appeal for the individual. I think the procedure is fully justified in view of all the facts. Reference was also made by the hon. and gallant Baronet to the small woodland owner. I hope the Minister will insist that at all times the Forestry Commission will be as sympathetic and as kindly disposed towards the small woodland owner as they must be towards the large owner.
2755 My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) referred to Clause 1 (1), to which reference has been made so many times since. He wanted to know whether it was really necessary. The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) also asked why we wanted Clause 1 (1) since, he said, we appear to have all the necessary power for the maintenance of adequate reserves of timber. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that neither in the 1919 Act nor in the 1945 Act have we the power we require for the maintenance of adequate reserves of timber. That, of course, is why Clause 1 (1) is in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor suggested that our public relations in Wales were not as good as they might be. We have periodic Press conferences there and we issue literally millions of leaflets. I have never been to a place in Wales in which large areas of timber are owned by the Forestry Commission where I have heard any complaint whatsoever. When a local inquiry is held there is an opportunity for legal combat, and it may well be that we cannot put our case there as the local objectors can put theirs. but I think that is quite proper.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
I intervene only for the sake of accuracy. I quite agree that it would be far better if the Minister were represented at the local inquiries, but it is not true to say that he cannot be represented. If he is not represented. it is by his own choice.
The hon. and learned Member has been told so often that this procedure has been the procedure applied by the Ministry of Health for generations. Whether it is right or wrong is no concern of mine. It is, perhaps, a concern of Parliament; but even if the law in that particular has got to be changed, surely a small Forestry Bill of this description, or, indeed the last forestry Measure, is not the right instrument for making a complete change in this inquiry procedure. The hon. and learned Member knows full well—he must know full well—that a local inquiry is not held for the purpose of allowing the Minister an opportunity of justifying the proposals that he is making.
A local inquiry is for a very obvious purpose—so that the inspector may listen to local objections—
I will give way, but the hon. and learned Member must not blame me if I have not answered all the questions by the end of the debate. Time is nearly up.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
The very issue which the right hon. Gentleman is now arguing has been already argued in the courts, and the judges have held that it is not essential for the Minister to be represented, but that if he is not represented it is by his own choice.
It happens to have been by my own choice that we were not represented at Towey, or in Norfolk, or, indeed, anywhere else, and unless the law is amended with regard to the inquiry procedure I am not prepared to accept responsibility for a complete change. However, that does not alter the simple fact that an inquiry is not held to allow the Minister, whoever he may be, to justify his proposal. It never was. It still is not. An inquiry is held—
—for the purpose of hearing local objections. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor re-referred to what he called the poor public relations in North Wales. I can tell him that before we make any proposal in any area we consult all the local authorities concerned—the rural district council, the county council, the county agricultural executive committee, and so forth; and it is only in the light of their representations that a provisional order is made.
The hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash, I concede, really does understand the problems and achievements of the Forestry Commission, and I welcome his very appreciative references to them today; but he certainly did not appear to like the Bill. He said it was not a long-term policy. I want to suggest to him, with respect. that the Bill could be a long-term policy for afforestation generally, although conservation and maintenance is the basis of it. because I am convinced that the very conserving of more timber will help the owners of timber to help themselves, when perhaps 2757 they would fell immature timber before it had reached its mature height and weight.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested that we are penalising the owners. We are not necessarily penalising anybody. It may conceivably be that we shall be helping private woodland owners. He said that the forestry owners had been singled out for special treatment for the stockpiling of timber. If the hon. and gallant Member thought a bit more deeply about the problem he would agree that since, as the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Richmond, Yorks, said, the private woodland owners own such a large proportion of standing timber, unless some action of this description were taken and hostilities were—though God forbid they should—ever to break out again, the position of this country would be very parlous indeed, and that if the Government failed to do something on these lines they would be failing in their duty.
The hon. and gallant Member referred to breaches of contract, to confiscation, to the breaking up of estates, to Death Duty, to somebody's breathing fire here, there and everywhere. They were ill-considered references in relation to a Bill of this description. In any case, I did not start Death Duty. Nor did this Government. What I was sorry to hear about the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech was that for the first time, to my knowledge—and I have listened to many debates in my 28½ years in this House—politics were brought into a forestry debate, and I very much regretted it. He said that the private woodland owners had saved the nation, and quoted a statement which I made some ago. Who else could have saved the nation, since the private woodland owners own nearly all the forests? Of course they saved the nation, and it is a great pity that their grandfathers and great-grandfathers had not the prevision to do what has been done today.
I have already had my argument with the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen, so I do not need to bother further about anything he said. I wish that he would sometimes think for a moment about pit props, about coal, steel, munitions and defence. If he had his way, and hostilities were to break out, we should not have any pit props, and we should not have the coal to enable us 2758 to produce the steel and munitions for our defence, and there would be no rights for anybody in North or South Wales. I wish that the hon. and learned Gentleman would sometimes concern himself with that. The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) quoted Wordsworth, and I remember another quotation, which runs:A primrose by the river's brimA primrose only was to him,And it was nothing more,I refer to the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) mentioned the importation of timber, which, he said, was all too little. We all admit that, and most of us know the reasons why. He also asked whether under an approved plan small owners would be treated on similar lines to those indicated earlier. Everyone will receive exactly the same treatment, as nearly as can be, since most are small people. It will no doubt satisfy my hon. Friend to know that it is our intention to be as generous to the small owners as we are to the larger owners.
The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Digby) said that the effect of disease and wind-blown trees between an application for a licence and three years hence may, if the licence was denied, be very bad. An owner can repeat his application year by year, and if it can be shown that there have been wind blown trees, or that trees are diseased, I am certain that the Forestry Commission will be able within the quota to see that that kind of tree is quickly removed. The hon. Gentleman also said that in fixing the quota the Commissioners should have regard to the rate at which trees are dying back. I entirely agree. There is no doubt that if the Commissioners act, as I am sure they will, with common sense, this Bill will prove of infinite value to the country.
I am sorry that, owing to the interruptions, I have not been able to answer more than a quarter of the questions put to me, but I hope that we may now have a Second Reading of the Bill.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Committed to a Committee of the whole House — [Mr. Delargy] — for Monday next.