HC Deb 05 December 1952 vol 508 cc1917-89

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)

I beg to move, That this House calls attention to the need for a comprehensive policy for the planting, extraction, conversion and marketing of timber grown in the United Kingdom, especially with a view to assuring that the best use is made of the large quantities of such timber which will be ready for the market in the next few years. There are a great many hon. Members of this House and, I am sorry to say, the majority of the public outside to whom forestry has little or no appeal. The supply of timber in this country from home-grown sources has for many years lacked the support of public interest, and it is amazing to me how far we have succeeded, in spite of that lack of interest, in doing as much as has been done.

I suppose that the last time that there was live and vital interest in home-grown timber supplies was in the days when our warships protecting us and giving us security were built solely from timber grown in this country. Since that ceased to be the case, I think it is historically correct to say that the public interest in timber supplies has steadily declined.

It might well be thought that in raising this issue I was going to launch out on an attack upon the way in which the body set up by Parliament to encourage the growth of timber by private woodland owners and to grow timber themselves—namely, the Forestry Commission—had carried out their administration and plans. That is very far from being the case. In general, I should like to pay a very warm tribute to the Commission and to express great gratitude for what they have done in the last 30 years or so.

As I say, the Commission have lacked public interest and support. It is no insult to the House to say that forestry and the duties and activities of the Commission have not attracted a very wide interest. Some of us are very sorry indeed that this should be the case. Nevertheless, it is essential that we should thank the Commission and pay tribute to the work they have done.

As a background to the Motion, I should like to remind the House of the extent of our forest areas, embracing the Forestry Commission lands and forests and privately-owned woodlands, including, of course, those owned by public corporations and bodies. There are over 3,500,000 acres of potential and actual forest land, which is just about 6½ per cent. of the total land area of Great Britain. This figure does not, of course, compare in any way with the percentage devoted to the growing of timber in European countries, many of which have greater proportions of their total land area occupied by forests.

At the same time, it is often forgotten by those who compare European forest acreages with our own that we ourselves have no natural forest whatsoever and that all our woodland acreage is the result of the work and enterprise of private woodland owners and of the Forestry Commission. It is also forgotten by the majority of people that over 80 per cent. of our forest area is privately owned, leaving some 18 or 19 per cent. in the ownership of the Forestry Commission.

When one looks at what has been done by the Forestry Commission over the last 30 years or so, and at the actual acreages planted, the figure becomes even more surprising. Almost by a backstairs method, so to speak, trees have been planted over 700,000 acres. Those of us who either know or belong to Scotland or the North of England are probably more aware of the immense amount of work which has been done than are those who live in the southern area of this island.

It is now almost impossible in the North, and especially in the West of Scotland, to go any distance at all without finding some very considerable forest area which has been planted and is managed and maintained by the Forestry Commission. It is a little disquieting that the amount of land which the Forestry Commission have been acquiring is now showing a tendency to decline or, to put it another way, although they had been enabled to acquire a steadily increasing area of land up to last year, now the area they have been able to acquire has declined slightly.

I am not saying that the Forestry Commission as a whole have not made mistakes; of course, they have made mistakes, but those mistakes have been due not so much to policy as to the actual execution of that policy. In many instances we all know—and it is no insult to them to say so—that they have rendered themselves widely unpopular by the methods they have used in acquiring and planting land with trees. Equally, it is perfectly true that there has been built up what one might call a sentimental resistance campaign, in many cases not based on the hard realities of life as we have to know it in these islands today.

Taking the picture as a whole, we can say that the Forestry Commission have fully performed their main function, which was to grow forests themselves, to encourage the growing of forest trees by the private woodland owner, and thereby to build up and maintain a timber reserve for this nation in time of emergency. That was their prime function and the main purpose for which the Commission was set up.

Now I believe we have arrived at the point where their primary function is beginning to achieve very big results. It may well be—it is in fact one of my main contentions—that, whilst their primary function of growing trees and seeing that they are grown in this country has been carried out efficiently, on the whole, and with great energy, we now come to the stage where the result of their labours is coming on to the market, or shows signs of coming on to the market in the next few years, and they are not quite so clear as they should be as regards future policy.

Frankly, I do not blame them. I do not think it would be right if we handed over the drafting of high policy to the Forestry Commission, or to any other commission. It is for Her Majesty's Government and this House to set out and agree to the main lines of high policy. It is because I believe we have reached that crucial point where we have to switch over, or add to, the interest of growing trees the interest of how best to dispose of them, that I put this Motion on the Order Paper.

It may be asked why I did so at this particular moment. I believe this moment is now within the field of urgency. It is within the field of urgency for three reasons. First, the vast bulk of the thinnings, especially thinnings which are bound to come on the market within the next 10 years, looks as though it will be far in excess of any quantities which have come on to the market in large blocks in years gone by, certainly since the formation of the Forestry Commission. Secondly, if that is a true picture—and I think I can prove that it is—what steps are being taken, or can be taken, by the timber trade and the converters of timber, or manufacturers, to deal with that flush of supply. Thirdly, what steps are being taken by Her Majesty's Government, or have been taken, which will assist the timber trade in the efforts they are called upon to make, or which may hamper them?

As regards the first point, if the House will forgive me, I say that personally I have no interest which I feel I should declare. My interest is as a Member of this House and the interest of all taxpayers. I am not a direct forest owner although certain rash people sometimes ask me to advise them on the manipulation of the affairs of their estates and, naturally, forestry does enter into their interest. Nor am I a member of any of the associations to which I shall refer, either in the timber trade or in forestry. I should like to make that clear, because all the information which has reached me has not been induced by me but has been voluntarily submitted to me by the larger associations and individuals who are vitally interested in this matter, as we all should be.

I inquired of the Forestry Commission what their estimate of future supplies of thinnings would be taking a year 10 years ahead, 1961. They most courteously gave me their estimate, but I must admit that it was an estimate of future supplies of thinnings which I could not accept. I apologise if I am speaking in very elementary terms to many hon. Members who know a great deal about this subject, but it is not always appreciated that unless the grower can dispose of his thinnings at reasonable prices, the cost of the main crop of the mature trees at the end of the rotation—which may be 70 or 150 years—will become impossible.

After all, thinning is part of the operation of the production of trees. Unless thinnings can be disposed of at a reasonable price, the lock-up of capital is so long and the amount of capital locked up is so great that no one would wisely indulge in growing trees at all. If we are to have economical production of timber in this country, the grower must have some assurance that his thinnings are to be disposed of at a reasonable price.

The estimate I got from the Forestry Commission as regards future supplies of thinnings—the significance of which I will deal with in a moment—was that in 10 years' time the supply would have risen 50 per cent. above present levels. The present level of thinnings is round about 11 million cubic feet. Therefore, on the Forestry Commission's figure, the estimate of thinnings coming forward in 1961 would be between 16 million and 17 million cubic feet. I am sorry, but that is a figure I cannot understand and cannot accept.

When I got it, I examined the Forestry Commission's Reports and the Forest Record, in particular Forest Record No. 3, which is the census of woodlands and summaries of reports, which shows the various age groups of the forests and so on. Whichever way one examines the figure, I found it would appear bound to be exceeded by a very considerable amount.

I submitted the figures to those far better qualified to examine them, and they came to the same conclusion as I did, except that their estimate was even higher than that which I had myself made. An estimate which I believe would be a fair one—not unreasonable and certainly not exaggerated—is that in 10 years from now there will be about 330,000 to 340,000 acres under thinning, that is to say, more than three times the 1951 State forest area for thinning production.

Working on a ratio making full allowance for the present rate of production of thinnings, that would mean that, far from 16 million to 17 million cubic feet coming forward in 1961, there will be about 30 million cubic feet from the Forestry Commission alone. Out of private woodland thinning in 10 years' time, working on the same sort of ratio, and making very full allowance indeed, another 20 million cubic feet will be coming forward, giving a total for 1961 of some 50 million cubic feet as compared with the figure of 18 million cubic feet today.

That is a picture which certainly reveals an urgent situation. It is urgent because one cannot expect to build up a market either for the thinnings or for the lighter timber which is bound to be cut in the process of extracting pit props, or the means of manufacturing that wood into useful products, unless there is some form of planning ahead to encourage those who would undertake those enterprises. Already the National Coal Board are taking 45 per cent. of their requirements of pit props from Scottish timber and some 15 per cent. from English timber.

Taking the figure of 50 million cubic feet by 1961, that means that by then that market at least will be reaching saturation point if it has not actually reached it. I am not speaking in opposition to the Coal Board or other mining interests when I say that, in view of the difficulties there will be of bargaining because of the state of supply and the market, it seems most unlikely, unless something is done, that the pit-prop market will be able to maintain an economic price for thinnings by 1961. if it is true, as I believe it is, that about three times the available supply of pit-prop wood will be available in 1961, we shall have reached saturation point, or very nearly, and shall have put the whole market in jeopardy.

Unless something is done, we shall not have an alternative market for the lighter woods which are bound to be cut in the ordinary process of thinning. That view is supported by several bodies, in particular by the Country Landowners' Association. They put the matter quite tersely, and I should like to read a quotation from a memorandum which they have sent to me: It means also that in the near future very large and rapidly increasing quantities of small conifer thinnings will be seeking a market.… The magnitude of the tasks lying ahead should not be underestimated. On the one hand, there is an obvious necessity to conserve our remaining slender supplies of timber against possible future emergencies. Equally vital, on the other hand, is the need to restock, restore to full production and expand our woodland acreage. It is unfortunate, if inevitable, that the one should to some extent conflict with the other. They go on to state perfectly logically that unless some alternative market is found for the light timber about which I have been speaking, in their view the difficulties of the forest grower—the grower of private woodland and the Forestry Commission—will be very acute within the 10-year period of which I have been speaking.

Up to recent months the market for lighter scantlings and the small woods—that part of the thinning process which is such a light nature that it cannot be used for pit props—has been found by small wood pulping undertakings and to a certain extent by the wallboard and hardboard industry. Lately this industry has been unable to absorb as much of the home-grown product as they would wish because of the heavy imports of finished wallboard from abroad.

I am delighted to see that we are using such a lot of wallboard because it implies that our housing programme is succeeding and going ahead, but I, like those who live in the houses and those who build them, would like to see far more wallboard made from British timber instead of foreign currency being used to purchase foreign made wallboard.

That raises the point of how far the home timber trade and the manufacturer has gone and is preparing to go to meet this flush on the home market of which I have been speaking. There is no possible doubt that the timber trade as a whole is only too willing to go ahead, but if it is to do so and manufacture these products efficiently from timber, it must have up-to-date plant, and to install such plant today for the manufacture of wallboard or any of these products is a very expensive matter. The industry must not only have up-to-date plant but some security of supply.

I wish to know from the Minister what steps are being taken to encourage or induce the Forestry Commission—speaking of them only for the moment—to enter into long-term contracts or working conventions or any other arrangements with the bigger manufacturers and elements in the timber trade who could help to meet this position. Also, before they risk these larger enterprises, they must obviously have some protection, not from the normal importation of normal types of product but from political arguments so that we do not find our home market flooded with foreign timber manufactures while at the same time our own plant in this country is not working to full capacity.

That view is fully supported—I will not weary the House with quotations—by the two main timber trade associations in this country, who could not speak more strongly about the grave risk that is being run by subjecting the home timber trade, and, therefore, the Forestry Commission and other growers, to the risk which they are running today. I should like to know how the timber trade or the grower can feel any security as regards a market when one notes the importation of pit props today.

An even more serious matter about which I should like some explanation from the Minister is the importation from dollar countries of hardwood used to strengthen and build railway wagons for British Railways. What possible excuse can we give for importing hardwood from dollar countries when hardwood is available in this country and when the slightest inquiry through the responsible channels would have shown those who bought that hardwood where British-grown hardwood could be obtained without the use of a single dollar. How can anybody feel any sense of security when that sort of thing is going on?

That brings me naturally to my third point. What are Her Majesty's Government doing to give more positive assistance to the trade and the growers. At the moment the evidence seems to show that Her Majesty's Government are not aware of the need—or the urgency of the need—for seeing that preparation is made to deal with the situation that is bound to come along.

I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to reassure the House in this matter, and I should like to ask him some questions. Why has not Her Majesty's Government compelled or induced the Forestry Commission to set up a commercial section with strong representation from the bigger elements of private woodland owners, to handle, direct with other Government Departments and perhaps with private enterprise, discussions in connection with long-term commercial agreements? I know that the Forestry Commission have set up a Timber Utilisation Committee, but I do not think that that Committee could possibly be described as an active commercial body.

I tried to find out what that Committee had been doing, and though it is made up of most eminent people and I have great respect for the work they are doing I do not think a great deal of their work is very relevant to the sort of problem with which the industry is faced today. According to the memorandum sent out by the Country Landowners' Association, I see that this Committee has made a survey of potential supplies of small hardwood thinnings. Surely that is rather out of date? Bulletin No. 3, issued by the Forestry Commission gives a complete picture with regard to that.

Why does this Committee have to go over the ground which has already been covered by the Forestry Commission, as set out in black and white in their own publication, which says that surveys have been made of potential supplies of small hardwood thinnings? Although that is urgent in one sense, it is nothing like so urgent as the other problem to which I have referred, because the market for small hardwood thinnings can be dealt with by better organisation among private woodland growers themselves.

The Committee does not seem to be tackling the main issue with which the whole forestry industry is faced and is bound to face to a growing degree in the next 10 years. It appears as if this eminent body has been devoting a high proportion of its time either to work which has already been done by the Forestry Commission or launching out on lines which have little relation to the serious problems we have to face.

One of the heaviest costs of planting is the protection of the plantations against rabbits. Why is it that so little has been done by the Forestry Commission or by Her Majesty's Government to encourage a real campaign for the greatest possible elimination of rabbits? The moment an area is clear-felled or even very drastically thinned there is a natural re-afforestation which is of extreme value and which would save the nation and the grower a great deal of money, but so long as there are rabbits running about wild over a large part of the country natural regeneration and re-afforestation becomes a complete and absolute impossiblity. What is my hon. Friend doing about the rabbit problem?

I do not know what is the future of the dedication scheme because I gather that it has been discovered to be untenable in law; but how can anybody be expected to continue to dedicate or keep his binding word under a dedication scheme when he sees a very grave risk that by continuing to plant or replant as he is bound to do he is handing not assets but liabilities to his heirs and successors? Unless some security or hope of security is given for the future, after the next 10 years, any dedication scheme or any scheme which follows the present one in its legal form is bound to fail.

I would ask my right hon. Friend whether the time has not come not only to set up what might be called a commercial committee or body almost analogous to the Forestry Commission, but also to consider the advisability of setting up something in the nature of a timber marketing scheme. The timber crop is as important as any other agricultural crop. The Agriculture Act, 1947, certainly gave an assurance to those growing agricultural crops, and how much more necessary is an assurance to those who are sinking far greater amounts of capital in growing timber for a far longer time than any other farm crop can possibly call for.

It is the duty of the Forestry Commission to build up, encourage and maintain an emergency reserve of timber, and it would seem that at this moment, owing to the very admirable work done in the past, there is something like five years' reserve of pit-prop timber; that is to say, if the area ripe for pit props were felled in an emergency, there would be something like five years' supply of pit props. It would be wise for my right hon. Friend to tell us what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the extent of the reserve they wish to see built up by the Forestry Commission.

The views I have put forward are views which I have found to be endorsed, supported and put even more urgently than I can possibly put them by all the responsible bodies who are connected with the timber trade and with forestry itself outside the Forestry Commission. This is a matter which cannot possibly be pushed aside any longer. I should not dream of attempting to give any figure for the capital value of the total area of all our forests. There is no doubt that it is a very big figure. But when a responsible body says that unless some efforts are made now, within a few years the thinnings will have to be allowed to lie on the ground to rot, one realises that it is an urgent matter which must be dealt with by Her Majesty's Government.

I make no apology for introducing this subject of forestry. I only hope that it will be introduced into a wider area than can be covered even by these benches today. Why it is that neither the Forestry Commission nor Her Majesty's Government nor anyone else has succeeded in bringing forestry forward with films, slides, talks about it in schools on an interesting basis—translating so many acres of forest into so many houses and so many packing cases, for instance—I do not know. But the time is coming when that must be done, and when it is done, and public interest revives, then unless some plan has been made to ensure that the results of many years' hard work are not wasted, there will be an outcry and a scandal in this country.

11.41 a.m.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

I beg to second the Motion.

I am sure the House will agree that we have reason to be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing) for giving us this opportunity to discuss, in the relative calm of a Friday morning, this very important domestic topic of forestry and timber. I must admit that much of what he said was news to me, as I think it may have been news to most hon. Members; and that, in itself, is surely justification for bringing this topic forward this morning.

This subject is not particularly controversial, but it is of growing importance, for two reasons. First, my hon. Friend has already dwelt on the contribution which our forestry and timber makes and can make towards the general agricultural problem of self-sufficiency of which we speak a great deal. Unlike most continental countries, in this country forestry is hardly mentioned in the same breath as agriculture and we scarcely include it in the same category. Secondly—and this is why we do well to discuss the subject today—while fully endorsing what my hon. Friend said about the work which has been done since the war by the Forestry Commission, in most difficult circumstances, the fact is that the Forestry Commission are acquiring land, power and influence fairly fast—faster, I think, than everybody know—and their responsibilities are becoming very great.

They have already acquired something like 1,700,000 acres, over 100,000 acres of it in the last year, and I believe their aim is something like 3 million acres by the end of the century. Under the 1951 Act, they have acquired: the general duty of promoting the establishment and maintenance in Great Britain of adequate reserves of growing trees. That is a tremendous stewardship and, as my hon. Friend has already shown, there are indications that at the moment they are not fully able to meet all their responsibilities. I do not quarrel with their increase in power and influence, which I think is inevitable and is accepted, but it means that it is right and proper that from time to time this policy should come under the review of the House. As things are, the likelihood is that the Forestry Commission will get more and more land and more and more direct and indirect control over it.

That brings me to the first point I want to make. I hope this progress will be accompanied by a stronger spirit of friendly partnership between the Commission and the private owner. That relationship is most important. My hon. Friend has spoken of the existing relations. For the future, I make it that they will stand roughly in the ratio of two to three—private owners to Forestry Commission; for out of a final total of 5 million acres, the Forestry Commission will have about 3 million acres and the private owners will have about 2 million acres. I think the census gives the owners 2.3 million acres capable of economic management.

I believe there is room for both private owner and Forestry Commission; both are essential. But there is no doubt which is the stronger party. Since 1951, the Forestry Commission have been responsible not only for their own acreage but, in many important respects, for private acres too. Whether this is a good or a bad thing was discussed when the Act was before the House, but it is certainly not always conducive to the friendliest relations between the two parties.

The Forestry Commission is, of necessity, acquisitive; that is their job, and I make no complaint about it. Their Annual Report, however, makes it clear that this year they had great difficulty in getting the land. They acquired 1,000 acres less this year than they planted. They have some fairly powerful controls for acquiring land, and I think it is important that the Commission should seek every opportunity of explaining its special needs. For instance, many people question the need for acquiring more land than is to be planted. I do not quarrel with this; we all know the necessity for having large reserves of land which cannot immediately be planted. But in all this the Forestry Commission could do very much to help themselves if they were to make it clear to many people who do not understand forestry what, in fact, they are trying to do.

The private owners, on the other hand, for reasons of which we are all aware, are not perhaps on the defensive but are in greater difficulties. Estate management does not become easier in this country as time goes on—and that is no fault of woodland owners. Indeed, I think their record bears examination. In the first world war, their land produced something like 450,000 acres of timber, which saved 17 million tons of shipping space. In the second world war, all land—including those of the Forestry Commission—produced 660,000 acres, so that the total in two world wars was one million acres of timber felled in this country.

It is that devastation which has put the Forestry Commission in its present very strong position. I agree with my hon. Friend that sentimental interest must not be allowed to stand in the way of handling this problem of conserving our timber reserves efficiently, and I do not think anybody will quarrel with that. On the past, the private owner can look at his record with a certain amount of pride, and the difficulties which he meets today are due far more to causes outside his control—death duties for one, and taxation for another—than to neglect on his part.

I am not seeking to make anything out of this, but if we look at the quinquennial post-war planning programme we see that the private owner achieved 84 per cent. of the target while the Forestry Commission achieved 75 per cent. I agree that the two cases are not comparable, but the figures indicate at least that the private owners have not been inefficient.

That brings me to a point already mentioned by my hon. Friend—the dedication scheme, which I think already involves 500,000 acres, which is about a fifth of the total. In their current Report, the Commission state that progress is slow but satisfactory. I understand that about 150,000 acres are in the scheme, 70,000 have been approved and 270,000 acres are in the course of preparation.

The Minister knows that difficulties have arisen and that the legality of the scheme has been in question. I am not sure in my mind whether the 1951 Act was altered in its application, but in any event there is now a case for something to be done. I sincerely hope that no attempt will be made to patch up this business and to run along hoping for the best, but that this opportunity will be taken to produce a new and simplified scheme which will put the whole thing beyond reproach and remove the doubts which exist in the minds of many people about how they stand or how the scheme stands in relation to their land. We should welcome some information from the right hon. Gentleman on that point. I do not think anyone will argue the merits of the scheme—it has some excellent points and some which were not so good—but there is great suspicion of it in some quarters, which will not be diminished by the feeling that it may not be legal any way.

Of this scheme and of the Forestry Commission's difficulty, which is a serious difficulty, of requisitioning more land for future planting, I would say this. I think there are two ways in which the Forestry Commission can approach this: one, which, I am sure, they will shun, is by getting tougher, the other is by getting co-operation. To conclude what I want to say in this part of my remarks, I would add that I hope they will put all their weight on the latter course, and that my right hon. Friend will encourage them.

There are two or three minor matters I want to raise. The question of vermin was raised by my hon. Friend, and I want to emphasise what he said. Private woodlands and Forestry Commission land are infested not only with rabbits but with grey squirrels, jays and magpies, and it is admitted in the Commission's Annual Report that the situation is getting worse. These pests are considered a curse to forestry, but they are also a curse to agriculture as a whole, and unless we solve the problem they make for us, not only will the foresters suffer but a good many farmers as well. The Commission stresses that as long as they are tolerated—I do not know by whom they suppose they will be tolerated—so long will forestry be burdened with the unnecessary expense of rabbit-proof fencing and large numbers of trappers who have to be employed to protect our woodlands.

My right hon. Friend has, I think, a large interest in what are now called "rodent operators." In fact, I think he has a monopoly of the nation's rodent operators. There would seem, surely, to be a good case here for a concerted effort, in conjunction with the Forestry Commission and, if necessary, with the National Farmers' Union—with everyone else concerned. Vermin cannot be tackled on a Departmental basis. A concerted drive is needed against an increasingly difficult problem.

I would add a word now about small woodlands and their cost. The Forestry Commission plants, and very necessarily plants, on a large scale, but in our timber policy, certainly in our agricultural policy, the small wood, the copse, does play an extremely important part. Much of it today is in a very, very bad state indeed, certainly in my own county, Kent. I understand that the Commission is turning its attention to the smaller areas, and I hope it will continue to do this. One recognises that the small areas are less economic, and that it is harder to make a small wood into an economic proposition, but it is a contribution to agriculture in the widest sense, and I hope that this point where agriculture and forestry come together will be studied very closely.

The last point I want to make is on the economic side, which my hon. Friend has said so much about, and I would say this. In the end, the welfare of our woodlands will not depend upon one scheme or one Act, or even the exhortation which the foresters receive from the Forestry Commission but on a sound economic timber policy. The private owner ought, as far as possible, to be assured of a fair price for what he disposes of, and in that not only the Minister of Agriculture but the President of the Board of Trade also has responsibility. I do not think the private owner has much chance of doing his job between the two millstones of bad prices for his products in his lifetime and heavy Death Duty when he dies. Between those two millstones I do not think there is a very rosy outlook for him, and as this is a business and not, as many think, a hobby, there is bound to be but one result.

Besides, the private owner does not work for his lifetime. The whole essence of the work is that it is hereditary. One does not necessarily grow for oneself, but for what one passes on, and I do feel that this question of economic return to those who do what they can for the woodlands of this country ought to be taken rather more seriously. Modern conditions do not encourage a very longterm outlook in forestry. It is not altogether a question of security, although, I think, not many in this country feel very enthusiastic about planting for the longer term, hardwood trees, for instance, oaks. But that is not the whole question.

The Austrians, whose agriculture and forestry I had a look at this autumn, are very much less secure than we are. They have got the Russians occupying a quarter of their country, but they have that feeling that their woodlands—of course, they are more extensive than ours—are a heritage, and they have in that common faith achieved a happy partnership between the State and the private owner. I went into that a bit and was awfully impressed by the way in which in Austria they have got the State and the private owner marching side by side, neither one encroaching on the other, and both motivated by this feelng that woodlands are a heritage, and that one must leave behind at least as much as one finds, if not more.

An era in which it is difficult to make provision for their sons, let alone their great-great-great grandsons—of whom they think when planting oak trees—is not a good one for landowners to plant them. The atomic era is not one in which people plant oak trees with very great confidence.

I, as many hon. Members must have done, have conducted many parties round the House, and have never failed to take them to contemplate the great roof of Westminster Hall, the roof of William Rufus, for which the timber came from the Courthope estate in Sussex, and that timber—

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Not William Rufus. It was Richard II, to the design of his master carpenter.

Mr. Deedes

I gratefully accept the right hon. Gentleman's historical correction. My point is this, that centuries afterwards, to repair the ravages of World War II, I think I am right in saying, timber from the same private estate was used.

Mr. Ede

I always thought so, too, until I read a recent account of this House, where it was said that the original timber came from a different wood. It seems a great pity to spoil such a good story.

Mr. Deedes

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I think it is a legend essential to the point I am making. It is a legend that ought to be preserved. I am not in favour of spoiling it. If it is not true, I have misled a very large number of my constituents.

Mr. Ede

So have I.

Mr. Deedes

Anyhow, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is seized of my point. Forests and forestry have a great tradition. I am sure that the Commission has shown itself alive to that. I do not wish to underrate the work that it has done, but what I want it to do is to regard itself as a partner with the private owners, not as their master, though it probably could, because of controls achieve the position of master if it wanted to. Let it not be the master but the partner of the private owners in this tradition, and as a partner who can still learn quite a lot from the older order. I do hope that my right hon. Friend will do all in his power to help in that, and to achieve that very sound policy.

11.58 a.m.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

I want, in a few words, to put my ideas as an ex-miner to the Minister of Agriculture. In the first place, I want to say how very pleased I am that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing) has selected this subject for debate, which is of paramount importance to the future of this country. I am not very much concerned about whether the woodlands and the forests are in private hands or owned by the State. They are absolutely essential to the welfare of the future prosperity of this country. There is no disagreement on that point. But, like the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), I believe that there is room for these two things to proceed together with the ultimate object of benefiting the nation.

I also want to stress my profound appreciation to the Forestry Commission for all that they have done. They are entitled to our gratitude, because 32 years ago they established a good foundation and on that foundation we have been building ever since. But the point that occurs to me is whether we have been building quickly enough, whether there has been sufficient speed and expedition applied to the planting and development of trees. The kernel of the Motion before us is contained in the words: That this House calls attention to the need for a comprehensive policy for the planting, … of timber … We are all agreed on that and upon the need for timber supplies. Fifty years ago we were the third in the list of timber-producing countries in the world, having regard to the size of our island. Now we are second from the bottom of the list. Some people ask why that is so. We have to remember that great inroads were made into the timber supplies of this country in the First World War and again in the 1939–45 War. Those great inroads have never been "fetched up" as we say in Lancashire. What we want to do by discussing this Motion is to ginger the Forestry Commission into "getting up" the arrears which have accumulated, not because of any fault on the part of the Commission, but because of those great inroads into our supplies.

You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that you occupied a very responsible position before you occupied a more responsible position as Speaker. In days gone by a debate was initiated when you were Minister of Town and Country Planning and we tried then to focus the attention of the Government upon the importance of the timber supplies of this country. I want to make two suggestions. First of all, I want to ask the Ministry of Agriculture and the Forestry Commission if they will extend their experimenting and research work in the industrial areas, because I think that there is an opportunity of reclaiming some of the land which is now lying derelict and waste.

I have in my mind the constituency that I have the honour to represent, which has been supplying deep-mined coal to this nation since 1540. I am not blaming anybody for the scars that are left. All that I am anxious to do by my suggestions is to put right something which is wrong. There are a number of towns in my constituency, and it may amaze hon. Members when I tell them that when we made a survey some years ago in a mining town of 6,000 population we discovered that the number of acres under pit heaps and under water and the number of acres of marsh land represented three to four acres per head of the population.

There is an opportunity for the Ministry of Agriculture to do some experimenting to find whether that land can be brought back into the production of timber supplies. That is one of the ways in which, without taking any agricultural land and without developing existing forests, we can do something of great utilitarian value to the nation in the years to come, and something which will give amenities to the people whose amenities have been destroyed by deep coal mining. I recall that yesterday I mentioned that suggestion in a supplementary question. It is of paramount importance, particularly in Ole North-West, South-West and on the North-East Coast, that experiments should be made to discover how far land which has been lying derelict and waste should be brought back into the production of timber.

I have one further suggestion, which will not take an inch of land in the sense of destroying land which is of value. I wonder sometimes whether we could develop more tree planting in the hedgerows between field and field, and estate and estate. An hon. Member opposite appears to indicate dissent, but I can tell him that in some districts this has been tried out. By the intermittent planting of trees in hedgerows one does not take a fraction of land which is used for other purposes. If hedgerows were planted with trees, six, eight or 10 feet apart, we should have a supply of timber in years to come when that timber is required.

There should be keener supervision of the trees which are now growing, because since 1941 opencast mining has despoiled the countryside and taken away amenities from our villages and towns. When the opencast mining people come along they have shown no mercy for the tree life. I have in mind a village in my constituency where the opencast mining contractors brought along their large bulldozers and bludgeoned the trees down without mercy. To me, it is a crime to destroy or cut down a tree if it can be saved.

Again quoting from my own experience, we have in our village a railway station which has won the first prize for beauty and care for six years in succession. On top of a bank by the station there were 14 beautiful silver birch trees. The silver birch is my favourite tree. Those trees were planted there when I was a boy. I watched them grow, and there they stood in all their majesty and beauty. When I went home a fortnight ago I found that somebody had given instructions that they should be cut down. That to me was the greatest crime I have known from the point of view of the preservation of trees. Somebody, somewhere who had no idea of the beauty that those 14 birch trees created in that village station had given those instructions.

I remember learning when I went to school a quotation to the effect that before one had permission to destroy a tree one should also be compelled to plant two in its place. I appeal to the Ministry to experiment and do research work in the direction of restoring and reclaiming derelict land in our industrial areas and to consider how far it is practicable to plant trees in our hedgerows in order that our supplies of timber may be assured in the future. I have often asked a question, and I ask it now, about what the position of this country would have been in the 1914–18 and the 1939–45 wars if our predecessors had not had the foresight to encourage the planting of trees.

There is a great responsibility resting upon Members on both sides of the House to see that we leave no stone unturned to ensure the planting of trees, so that posterity may thank us for them in the days to come, as we thank our predecessors for what they have done.

12.10 p.m.

Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)

I should declare my personal interest in this debate by saying that I speak as a private woodland owner.

I am very happy to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) in his remarks. I support him in practically everything he said, and I certainly agree with him in what he said about the beauty of the silver birch. I also support his idea of reclaiming much of the industrial areas by replanting them with trees. I think that the question of hedgerow planting is a little controversial in some quarters, but I agree with the hon. Member about that, and I would put forward the idea for future thought of planting more shelter belts, which can be particularly useful in the North of England and Scotland.

I welcome very heartily the opportunity of adding my congratulations and thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing) for bringing this useful Motion before the House. May I also congratulate him very respectfully on the extremely thoughtful speech which he made. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will be grateful to him for what he has said to us today on this matter. There is no doubt that we have reached a stage in our national forestry when the question of marketing the by-products, in the shape of thinnings particularly, is in need of further thought, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing the matter before us today.

The time may well be upon us when we should consider the following three points. Are we to continue planting in vast bulk the softwoods for which there must inevitably, to make them economic, be an outlet for their thinnings, and are we to grow these softwoods, perhaps in conjunction with hardwoods, to a longer term than at present envisaged? If we cannot find an economic outlet and market for the by-products of forestry, shall we be in a position to reach the 5 million acre target originally envisaged? I believe it to be very important to consider that position.

Before I deal in more detail with that matter, I should like to take the opportunity of mentioning one thing which has not been referred to this morning. I should like to extend my good wishes and congratulations to the new Chairman of the Forestry Commission, Lord Radnor, who happens to be a near neighbour and a constituent of mine in Wiltshire. I am sure that the Forestry Commission will prosper under his guidance, and I wish him all success.

I think that we must face the fact, which has already been pointed out by several hon. Members, that sometimes in the past there has not been the closest of friendly relations between private owners, the Forestry Commission and the public. There is a lack of understanding. I feel sure, however, that, under the guidance of the new Chairman, this will be swept away, and that there will be closer and more friendly relations.

In that respect I cannot but help notice the answer of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to a Question which was put to him by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) the other day in regard to the names of private woodlands. This is only a small point, but the Forestry Commission have got into the habit when they take over a private woodland of calling it by the name of a forest which may be 20 miles away, and people living in the locality do like the name of their old wood to be left. I am glad to see that the answer indicated that this is to be so, and I thank the Minister very much for agreeing to this.

The dedication scheme has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), and I should like to say a word on that matter. I am afraid that it cannot be said that the dedication scheme up-to-date has received universal acclamation or that it has been very popular. We now understand that the lawyers who drew up the scheme have found it untenable in law. I am no lawyer, but I have a great respect for that profession; but even the greatest, no doubt, make mistakes sometimes. It remains, therefore, for some new decision and guidance to be taken by the Minister of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Forestry Commission, and general thought will have to be given to the matter.

I should like to express the hope that any new arrangement will be more conducive to general agreement than the last one, and that in any new arrangement there will not be too many complicated amendments to the existing covenant deed or scheme, and that a simple arrangement will be made, so that private woodland owners can understand the scheme more clearly than has sometimes been the case in the past. I hope that too many different categories may not arise out of any amendment that may be brought forward. Perhaps the Minister will dive ample time to consideration of that matter, rather than rush forward with any new idea.

I should like to emphasise a point in regard to the post-war planting which, I think, may be useful to us in this debate. The tarcrets for forests to be planted were envisaged in the White Paper towards the end of the war. In connection with the State forests, a total of 217,600 acres have been planted since the war, or 75 per cent. of the programme visualised. They are in fact a bit behind. The target for private woodlands of 62,900 acres planted was 84 per cent. of the programme of 75,000 acres. It may be said that while a little friendly competition is useful, the private owner has certainly done his bit in that respect, despite many difficulties, not the least being the question of extra housing in the outlying areas where the Commission have had the advantage of houses especially built for them, which the private owner has not had.

I should like to refer in greater detail to the position of the home-grown timber industry and the timber merchant side, on which I do not pretend to be an expert, but which is nevertheless a vastly important matter for the sale and marketing of the products of our forests, whether privately or State-owned. I think that we owe a great deal to the timber trade for its work in introducing modern methods of machinery for the thinning out and extracting of timber from our forests and making it saleable to the various concerns which use it at the present time.

It is as well to remember that the whole industry is really going through a form of revolution at the present time, because, under the felling regulations laid down in the last Forestry Act, the volume of mature timber felled annually is rigidly controlled. That means that hardwood sawn timber production will remain stationary, while the volume of softwood thinnings is bound inevitably to increase. Therefore, the whole set-up of the timber and marketing trade must alter in that ratio.

It is worth asking here—though I know it is a controversial question—whether we are, in fact, planting, either in private or State forests, sufficient hardwood as opposed to softwood at the present time. I would say that we are not, for when we take a casual look out of the train window wherever we go in this country we see a preponderance of softwood. Though the wooden walls of Old England, last used in the Battle of Trafalgar, may be out of date, the need for hardwood, I believe, will be found to exist in the new processes that will be discovered for dealing with it in the years to come. I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister will say a word or two on the hardwood position.

The home-grown timber trade have the organisation and equipment for extracting the thinnings of our softwoods, and have the most up-to-date new methods for dealing with that matter. But these new processes are, to a great extent, dependent on the erection of modern and often expensive new plant in order to turn that timber into various materials, and thus make it saleable to the people of this country. First, there is the pit-prop industry. I hope that my right hon. Friend will use all the influence he can with the National Coal Board to see that our home-grown pit props are used to the maximum in the years to come. This is very important because thereby we could save foreign exchange, particularly dollars.

There is also the question of turning timber into wood turnery of all sorts, wood pulp, wallboards, fibre boards, and the like. Again, if merchants are to set up the expensive machinery necessary for the production of these various commodities, they will want to know more than they do at present about their long-term position regarding regular supplies of home-grown timber. It may well be that the time will come when some form of marketing board, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Westonsuper-Mare, would be useful, not only to the producer of the timber, but also to the trade who sell it to the merchants for manufacturing purposes.

There is also the matter of railway wagon timber. I understand that at the present time, the trade, with which I have no connection whatsoever, are finding it difficult to negotiate with any particular body regarding the utilisation of home-grown timber for the construction of railway wagons. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will make it his business to see whether he can get the industry concerned and the appropriate Minister to consider having further consultations on this point with a view to using our own wood in the manufacture of railway wagons. That, again, would save foreign exchange.

It is interesting to note that we were told the other day—in answer to a Question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare, I believe—that our imports of timber from Canada, which is, of course, a dollar country, amounted to 179,246 piled cubic fathoms at a cost of £6.2 million. That would seem to indicate that we could grow more timber in this country and make full use of it. There would be the added advantage that we should save further dollars, which would be in the interests of the country at the present time.

I received a letter this morning in which it was stated that the annual abstracted statistics show that in 1943 we produced 526,100 standards of round pitwood in this country, while in 1951 we produced only 62,400 standards. Here, surely, is proof that there is scope for considerable further production in that direction.

I have already referred to the needs of those who are prepared to provide processing plants with which to manufacture our timber goods, but I want to emphasise once again the importance of something being done, if possible, in order to give them confidence, because I believe that is a very important matter for the industry as a whole.

There are one or two other small points I wish to raise. The first is the vexed question of sawdust. I do not think that any scientist, either in this country or anywhere else in the world, has ever found a proper use for that substance. I commend it to inventors and scientists, for whoever could find a real use for it would probably make a fortune. I believe that experiments to this end have recently taken place in the United States, and that some progress is being made on this subject. Those experiments, 1 suggest, should be watched very carefully from this side of the Atlantic, because they might prove of use to this country.

Some hon. Members have mentioned the difficulty of rabbits. I will not deal with that problem except to say that the difficulty is fully appreciated, as, I believe, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare pointed out. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford drew attention to the damage done by the grey squirrel. I do not think that matter can be too strongly emphasised, and I want to thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for the work he has done through his organisation to enrol all in the countryside in grey squirrel clubs and the like in an endeavour to cope with this increasing menace to our growing trees. Incidentally, I commend anybody who is a member of a grey squirrel club to watch the walnut tree as being the most likely place in which to find the culprit.

There is also another animal, which has not so far been mentioned in this debate, which does damage to young trees as a whole. It is the very beautiful roe-deer. When I was a boy—which is only 45 years ago—there were practically no roe-deer in the West country. Now one can see them at any time in that part of the country, and it is surprising how they have increased in numbers. In the forests of Austria and Germany the calling of the roe-buck is one of the most fascinating sports of Central Europe. A little thing like a fountain pen filler gives the necessary call.

The sport has never been tried in this country except on an amateur basis, but I think it might be considered by those who live round Forestry Commission areas. It is a fascinating sport, and, at the same time, is a way of keeping down roe-deer. Those engaged in this sport usually start at five o'clock in the morning, and this might be a pleasant diversion after an all-night sitting. Furthermore, it is a painless way of destroying roe-deer compared with the unfortunately brutal method which is sometimes employed with a shotgun. This calling is done with a rifle—it is a hit or miss method—and means a painless death.

I should like to say one last word regarding the areas—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford referred—devastated as a result not only of the last war, but sometimes of the earlier war. So high a price was paid by our woodlands when timber was taken, and rightly taken, for essential war purposes that there has resulted in a time-lag in catching up with the clearing of this scrubland. I am wondering whether my right hon. Friend, when any further arrangements for forestry planting are made, can see his way to give an added incentive in respect of the genuine scrublands from which good timber was cut too young in the war and which now have to be cleared, without any remuneration being given for clearing. The clearing is just as expensive, and possibly more so, as if there were good timber on the land. An added incentive of this kind to small woodland owners would encourage them to see their way to plant more quickly and readily.

12.32 p.m.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

I assure the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) that there are no roe-deer in my constituency of Salford. It may seem strange that a Member who represents a distinctly industrial constituency should take part in this debate, but this is an instance of a Lancashire man being concerned about London.

All of us from time to time, because of the duties of the House, are compelled to seek some restricted exercise in fresh air, and in my case that is done in Kensington Gardens. On many mornings of the week I have the opportunity of walking round those gardens and deriving considerable enjoyment from the walk. Whilst I know that the Minister of Agriculture is in no way responsible, I feel that he might use his influence with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Works in connection with what I have to say.

I noticed in a recent storm that very many trees had come down in Kensington Gardens and in Hyde Park. That drew my attention to the fact—I think I am right in this—that most of the trees in the Royal Parks in London are of the same age. Nowhere can I see any signs of saplings or new growth. We are getting a tremendous amount of enjoyment in our generation out of the beauty of those parks, and I dread to think of the Royal Parks in 100 years from now, almost devoid of those beautiful trees.

I only intervene very briefly to ask the Minister of Agriculture to use his good offices with the Minister of Works to see whether this matter cannot be inquired into. Some of the present trees must make wonderful timber and would be of tremendous commercial value. On the other hand, the future looks pretty black judging from the present state of the Royal Parks. Having drawn the Minister's attention to this, I apologise to him that I have to leave the House to catch the 1.15 train to a constituency which is completely devoid of trees.

12.35 p.m.

Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)

I, too, add my expression of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Westonsuper-Mare (Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing) for having raised this very important subject of home timber production. I hope that my hon. Friend and the House will forgive me if I do not deal with the higher aspects of future timber production in this country but rather direct attention to the locality which I have the honour to represent.

In Northumberland, we have not only a very productive agricultural county, but one which plays a very large part from the point of view of home timber production. We have some of the largest private woodland areas in the country, and in the North Tyne Valley the Forestry Commission are establishing the largest forestry area in the whole country—a vast belt running for 30 miles from the Scottish Border down to the Roman Wall. In answer to a Question which I put recently, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture stated that the Forestry Commission now own more than 8 per cent. of the total acreage of Northumberland.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) said, the Forestry Commission are very acquisitive. In the past many trenchant criticisms have been made in the House and in the Press regarding the activities of the Commission. I have only come into contact with their work in the last few years. I certainly do not criticise their work, because I have visited most of the tens of thousands of acres which they occupy in Northumberland, and I have seen their undertakings also in Norfolk, and I can only say that I have been extremely impressed by the enthusiasm and vigour with which they are conducting their operations. The House and the nation can safely feel that they have in the Forestry Commission a body of servants who have a love for their work and who have developed a remarkable esprit de corps.

I do, however, foresee one possible danger. That is, that the Forestry Commission may allow their enthusiasm to get the better of their discretion. As I have said, the Commission now own 8 per cent. of the very large county of Northumberland—more than 105,000 acres in one county; and it seems to me that when it is remembered that a large part of this work still has an element of guesswork or even of gamble about it, it is highly undesirable that too large an experiment should take place in one part of the country.

Another difficulty is that those who are advocates of afforestation have too often in the past underrated the value of hill sheep farms. The fact is that both timber and food can be got from very much the same type of land. Of course, it is a long time before the nation sees any dividend from good grazing land which is taken over for afforestation, and in the meantime the national larder suffers a severe loss from good sheep and beef rearing land.

At a time when we are asking the agricultural community to increase production, psychologically it is very undesirable that a single productive acre should be taken over unless there are essential reasons for doing so. Within reason, we all accept that for strategic purposes a certain amount of good grazing land must be planted up, but there are limits to this policy, and I suggest to my right hon. Friend that so far as Northumberland is concerned the limit has been reached. I ask him to consult with the Forestry Commission to see whether they could not give an undertaking to the agricultural community in that part of the North-East of England that except for small areas, they will not expand to any great extent in Northumberland.

Perhaps, whilst I have the opportunity, I might raise two minor but local points with my right hon. Friend. Often, in the past, criticisms have been levelled against the Forestry Commission on ground of extravagance, largely because the houses or roads which they have been constructing have been considered excessively costly. The answer is that the remoteness of the areas concerned has made the services to be laid on to those houses and roads expensive.

I trust that the Forestry Commission will not allow ill-conceived criticism to cause them to skimp the new villages and the many dozens—indeed hundreds—of houses which they are putting up in the forest areas. In my Division alone they are going to build eight new villages from scratch. They have started on some of those villages. No one can say at the present time that they are exercising much in the way of imagination or intiative in putting up good villages with good designs. I would urge that they should take this excellent opportunity of producing really model villages in the forest areas. It is not so much a question of spending more money as of taking trouble and of using initiative.

I have one final point. Running right through this North Tyne Valley, this vast forest area, is what is known as the Border Counties branch line from Hexham to Hawick. We are told by British Railways that this line is not paying, and the line is threatened with being closed down. We hoped that with the advent of the Forestry Commission much more traffic would be diverted to that railway and that this would enable the line to be kept open. The line is of great importance to the inhabitants of the area, particularly with their long winters with frost and snow. A bus service is nothing like adequate.

Now, to their dismay, the local inhabitants are finding that the Forestry Commission are apt to use their own transport, or road transport, to take away thinnings and other products. I would ask the Minister to suggest to the Forestry Commission that they should negotiate reasonable terms with the railways and try to divert to the railways much of the traffic now going by roads which are quite unsuitable for this purpose. Thereby the Forestry Commission would help the railways and please the local inhabitants, who have, by and large, co-operated very well with the Commission, although they did not welcome the Commission when it first arrived in that area.

12.42 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

The hon. Member for Hex-ham (Mr. Speir) has made an important point by pressing the need for striking a balance between the use of agricultural land for normal agricultural purposes and for planting timber for our successors. It is a point which both the Minister and the Forestry Commission must have continually in mind. It has been said so often that I am almost afraid to repeat the phrase that those two interests must be complementary and not warring.

On the housing point, I agree with the hon. Member that when we are creating we should try to create not merely something of utility but something of beauty. Much of the work of the Forestry Commission is creating beauty as well as utility. For that reason I welcome the remarks of the hon. Member in that connection, and I appeal to the Forestry Commission always to be considerate of those interests.

I must remark, in passing, that it is to the credit of the Forestry Commission that what they have already done by way of housing has enabled them to maintain a labour force of, I think, 12,000 over the last three years. That is no mean achievement. In the agricultural field we have, during that period, lost something like 52,000 workers from our farms. It seems to me that the jobs are to some extent parallel. They are rural, and many of the workers concerned have to live in isolated spots because of fire protection, and the like.

We, on the agricultural side, can learn something from the experience of the Forestry Commission in this connection. The Commission are not satisfied with the labour force that they have at their disposal, but it is in the nature of a major achievement to have kept 12,000 workers during a period when the agricultural industry has lost something like 52,000.

I wish to add my congratulations to those which have been offered to the mover of this Motion on his choice of subject. After the storms of this week it is nice to reach a leafy woodland glade into which a certain amount of sunshine seems to come. It has come this morning, because in many of the speeches has been much of the real beauty we find in woodlands. I liked the speeches tremendously. I hope I may say without fear of being thought patronising that I liked the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). It struck me as having something of real poetry in it. It is nice, as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, to speak of trees as we see them, love them, adore them in our fields, where they are alive, holding their green sunshades over our heads, talking down to us with their hundred thousand whispering tongues, looking down on us with that sweet meekness which belongs to huge, but limited, organisms. We have to speak of trees as we see them and love them, but it is also our job to speak of trees in their planting, management, maintenance, thinning, felling and marketing, and then starting the whole round of that process again in perhaps 60 or 80 years. It is part of our difficulty that we are planting and maintaining very largely for the people who will follow us.

The Report of the Forestry Commission is one of those reports that are well worth reading. This morning we ought to pay tribute to the work of the late chairman of the Commission, Lord Robinson. He did an excellent job of work as the chairman of that board, and he is very lucky to have a monument in living, growing things of beauty and eventual utility. Having said that, I must go on to welcome the new chairman and to wish him well in the job which he has to do in the years that lie ahead. I agree with the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) that we have to examine the work of the Commission from time to time in this House, and that this Motion gives us an opportunity of doing so.

The Report for 1951 shows that there has been a considerable increase in the number of trees planted in the five-year period from 1946–47 to 1950–51. We see that the Forestry Commission's own planting has risen from 26,400 acres in the first period I mentioned, to 57,200 in the second period. That is a considerable and worth-while increase of more than 100 per cent., and is something which we must welcome. Private planting, too, has increased from 9,000 acres in 1946–47 to 12,300 acres in 1950–51. The increase of the Forestry Commission's planting is, of course, very much greater.

Despite this considerable progress, we are bound to feel some little concern at the Commission's statement on page 11 of the report. The hon. Member for Ashford mentioned that we must have some reserve of land if we are to continue the planting and if the Forestry Commission are to continue their work. Here we see that the Forestry Commission mention the fact that they are working on reserves which they regard as being very much too low. They say: In their White Paper (Cmd. 6447) the Commissioners estimated that they would need to acquire, in order to carry out their planting programme, 1,090,000 acres of plantable land during the first five post-war years; they have only succeeded, however, in acquiring 209,000 acres—some 8,000 acres less than the area actually planted in the quinquennium. It is true that experience has shown that it is possible to carry out a planting programme with somewhat smaller reserves of land than were deemed necessary in the White Paper, but after making full allowance for this, the fact remains that the current reserves have reached a disquietingly low level. I think we ought to have some answer from the Minister as to why the purchases have, in fact, reached a "disquietingly low level."

What are the difficulties? Are they legal difficulties? Have we or the Forestry Commission sufficient powers to enable them to go on purchasing the land which they must have, if they are to continue this programme? Is there any difficulty arising out of the use of the compulsory purchase procedure, which was passed, or rather amended, in the Forestry Act, 1951? Are there any snags, and are we running into any difficulties about this? If so, what is the Minister doing about it? What does he propose to do to ensure that the Commission have sufficient reserves of land to enable them to continue this programme, which, of course. is of tremendous importance?

I am not going to underrate the importance of private planting and forestry maintenance. I believe it is absolutely essential, and I agree that we must see that the private owners work with the Forestry Commission and that the two work together. I think that the experience of Austria, which has been mentioned in the debate, is important, and I remember that I looked at that scheme when I was there. I thought there was something going on there from which we here, and people in other countries, could learn.

The progress that has been made in the dedication scheme is not fast enough. I really do not know why that should be the case, but I do think that the points made by the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) are extremely important. Are there legal difficulties? Is it, in fact, misunderstanding which prevents a greater rate of dedication, because, surely, there is value in this dedication arrangement?

Mr. J. Morrison

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. May I remind him that there are some legal difficulties in the drafting of the documents?

Mr. Champion

If that is the case, it is quite obvious that we in the House of Commons should press the responsible people to do something about it and do it quickly. I am glad the hon. Member for Salisbury has mentioned the matter. I certainly had every intention of doing so, but, as he has already referred to it, I would only add my voice to his and express the that that those responsible will do something about removing these legal difficulties and some of the misunderstandings which they have created. It is true that, in the year under review in this Report, the area of woodland has doubled, but I think the pace could be very much faster, and that it is our job to try to produce an acceleration of this rate of progress for the years that lie ahead.

Having said all this, it does seem to me that the rate of planting is still too slow. The present Minister, when he was speaking in the Second Reading debate on the Forestry Bill in July, 1951, told us that, of the 3½ million acres in this country classified as woodlands, 1¼ million acres are classified as "scrub, devastated, or felled." In the whole of the period since the end of the war, we have planted only 280,500 acres, which must mean that we still have in this country nearly a million acres of "scrub, devastated, or felled."

How much of this is fit for replanting? Must we not press on until we have, in fact, covered the whole of the million acres which are going to be of value to those who come after us, and will be of benefit to them when the thinnings begin to show themselves? These are important points, which have been raised by many hon. Members, and I hope that the Minister and the Forestry Commission will be applying their minds to this job in order to ensure a greater degree of planting.

On the timber production side, the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare has given us the benefit of what is obviously an extensive knowledge, despite the fact that he disclaimed any personal interest in it. I wonder how far he is right, and how far the Forestry Commission happen to be right, in this connection. It seems to me that the Forestry Commission are rather seeking our protection against the pressure of the timber merchants. I notice that, at the top of page 9 of this Report, we are told: The Timber Merchants' representatives on the Committee expressed dissatisfaction with the level of the hardwood quota in particular and urged that it should be increased. Further down, on the same page, where they tell us of the results of their examination during the year 1951, they arrive at a figure for the next 10 years of the quota of timber to be put on the market. Here, it is made obvious that pressure from the timber merchants has caused them to alter the amount for the first of those years, and I am wondering if there is, in fact, too great a pressure being placed on the Commission when they are carrying out their functions under the Forestry Act, 1951, and of course, the powers which they had prior to that Act under, I think, the Defence Regulations.

Here, of course, we are up against something which is going to cause difficulty. I think it is inevitable that, if we have the timber trade pressing, on the one side, for something which appears to the Forestry Commission to be too much, and, on the other side, the Commissioners exercising their powers under the Act, it is for the Minister to look at these two opposing points of view, and, perhaps, eventually come down on one side or the other.

My personal opinion is that he must support the Commission in this, and I think that view is supported by the fact that we are facing a situation in which we have to try in a very short time to get our timber quantities up to the point at which we shall have sufficient timber planted in this country to cover at least those million acres which are still under "scrub, devastated and felled."

Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing

I think the hon. Gentleman is dealing with a reference in the Report that is not really the matter on which I was speaking. The subject dealt with on that page is the timber felling quota, which is quite a different matter to the amount of thinnings coming forward, which is not subject to that procedure, but comes under a different procedure altogether.

Mr. Champion

I was thinking about timber felling. In this connection it is vital that we should support the Commissioners in the actions they are taking. I am bound to agree with the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare that we are inevitably going to have difficulties in the timber trade in that it was originally designed mainly for the handling of hardwoods. In the years to come it will have increasingly to turn to the marketing of softwoods.

We must have consideration given to something in the nature of a marketing board. I have not given enough thought to this subject to discuss it at length, but it is a matter of some importance to the trade and the future marketing of the timber which will be coming from these forests, and which have been planted by the Forestry Commission and some private owners.

The Minister must support the Commission against all comers. I cannot help referring to the fact that this nation suffered a great loss in its woodlands as a result of the Geddes Committee in 1922 and the May Committee in 1931, both of which made niggling savings on expenditure by the Commission in their planting. This country has suffered and is still suffering as a result of that. I appeal to the Minister to resist any temptation to make any cuts in this direction.

He is under considerable pressure from time to time, as all Ministers must be, from back benchers to bring about cuts in expenditure which might relieve us of a certain portion of the burden of taxation. I ask the Minister not to give in to these pleas about something which is as important to this country as timber and the work of the Forestry Commission happen to be. If the Government are going to use an axe, do not use it on these trees and do not use it on this body. I do not quite know what was the meaning of the point about sawdust made by the hon. Member for Salisbury. I cannot help thinking that if my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) has his way, there would be much less use for sawdust in bar rooms and so on.

Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)

Alcohol can be distilled from sawdust.

Mr. Champion

If we are going to produce alcohol from sawdust it might be that we will be able to use it in a different way from today. It might be possible to drive our cars on the alcohol we get from sawdust.

I appeal to the Minister to watch the work of the Forestry Commission and to help it in its job of getting back to a sufficient planting of trees as well as improving the maintenance standards in this country to ensure that we will not again face the difficulties we have had to face in the past.

There is one personal point I should like to mention as I finish. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince mentioned hedgerow timber. It seems to me that that has some value, and it is protected by the Forestry Act, 1951. But in my journeys around the country I see much of this hedgerow timber having the life choked out of it by ivy. Wherever one goes one sees that happening, and I always notice when I go to visit my relatives who are farming that they will go miles over their acres on a Sunday or some other day examining their land and never permitting me to pass a single dock without pulling it up. But I have never seen my friends or relatives carrying a bill hook with them and do anything about this ivy. It only needs a nice, clean cut and the thing is dead. I have done it with my penknife in my walks around the country. I ask the farmers to look out for this ivy which is destroying valuable timber and has no beauty about it.

Having said that, I will conclude as I began by thanking the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare for submitting this Motion today which I feel sure the House will accept, and urging upon all concerned in an age that talks so continuously of destruction to go on building something for which our children will thank us.

1.5 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture (Sir Thomas Dugdale)

I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I intervened at this stage in our debate, and I should like straight away to re-echo what has been expressed by all hon. Members who have taken part in this debate, namely, to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing) for moving this Motion today.

It is only on rare occasions that we have an opportunity in this House to discuss this most important industry, and both his speech and other contributions to the debate will do much to help the Forestry Commission and other Government Departments in their work and focus attention on the really essential problems that face this industry at the present time. I should like to record our deep appreciation to my hon. Friend for raising this subject.

This is the first time that we have had a debate on forestry since the death of the late Lord Robinson, and I should like to pay tribute to the great work which he did for forestry through the greater part of his life. Lord Robinson was the Technical Secretary of the Acland Committee which reported in 1917, and it was that Report which led to the formation of the Forestry Commission. When the Commission was appointed Mr. Robinson, as he was then, was appointed the Technical Commissioner and then, as the House knows, he eventually became Chairman of the Commissioners.

He devoted a tremendous amount of his time to the interests of forestry, and the House will recollect that he died in harness this year while leading the British delegation to the Sixth Commonwealth Forestry Conference in Canada. I am certain that the House would like to put on record our appreciation of what he did for forestry and the great public service that he has given to this nation. Having said that, I should like, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) mentioned, to welcome his successor Lord Radnor. I am certain he will have the good wishes of Members in all parts of this House in this difficult but responsible office which he has been asked to fill.

It would take a very long time to answer in detail all the various points which have been made during the debate. I will try to deal with the main ones and I will see that the others which I do not happen to mention are examined either by the Forestry Commission or by the Government Department concerned. I can assure hon. Members who have taken part in this debate that their points will be given the most careful consideration.

Passing to our discussion, I should like to remind Members that the forestry policy with which we are concerned today was set forth in the White Paper by the Forestry Commission and published in 1943–44, in Command Papers 6447 and 6500. It is important to remember that there is no division between the two sides of the House on policy in these matters. In those White Papers the policy proposed was that the State should devote 5 million acres of land to effective timber production. Of this total, 2 million acres were to be secured from existing woodland, and 3 million acres afforested over a period of 50 years. In addition, in the first 10 post-war years they proposed that the State should acquire some 1,850,000 acres for forestry, and should plant or replant in that period 900,000 acres. That programme was agreed by both sides of the House in 1945 and my predecessor made an announcement to that effect.

It is important to consider that last figure as background, because, although it has not been possible to fulfil every part of the programme in its entirety appropriate to the first six years since it started, I think that a very good start has been made. Although I do not want in any way to be complacent about what was said by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East I think that on the whole good progress has been made, is being made and will be made. I will give figures to support that. The Forestry Commission have either planted or replanted during that period 218,000 acres, which represent 75 per cent. of what they planned for that period. On the other hand, private owners of woodland have planted about 63,000 acres, which is nearly 84 per cent. of their estimated progress in the period set out in the White Paper.

I do not think the House would wish me to go into details of the reasons why the programme has not been fully achieved. As hon. Members have realised, there have been difficulties associated with the post-war period, such as lack of housing, difficulties of expanding the supervisory staff required and the difficulty of procuring the land. The House will agree that it is much better, where possible, to obtain land as between a willing buyer and a willing seller than to have to resort to compulsory purchase under the Acts.

In addition, the more of this marginal land which is planted to forestry the less land there is to be drawn upon afterwards and it is the more difficult to be selective. In my capacity as Minister of Agriculture, the problem of increased agricultural production is also very much in my mind at the moment. It is very important that we should protect any land capable of producing more food for our people at present. But by and large, I think good progress has been made.

I would emphasise that by far the greater part of the old timber in this country belongs to private woodland owners and has been grown without assistance from the State in any form. I wish to pay tribute to the many woodland owners who are continuing the tradition of good woodland estate management and playing a full and valuable part in the rehabilitation of the countryside.

The Commissioners like other Government agencies, have been forced to modify their plans in the light of the current need for reduction in the scale of Government expenditure, but that does not mean at all that there is to be any big cut in the programme of the Forestry Commission. I shall always have the point made by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East very much in mind. But the Commission have been able to assess more realistically than was possible in 1945 the rate at which they can continue planting and replanting. They are confident—I think this figure will commend itself to the House—that they can continue to plant at the rate of something like 65,000 to 70,000 acres a year.

I should like to refer to the great value of this afforestation work, not only as a means of ensuring our future timber supply but also as a measure of social improvement and re-population in many parts of the country, particularly in Scotland and Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) referred to villages which have come into existence due to the work done by the Commission over a period of years. We can now see actual examples of new villages in places as far apart as the Welsh mountains, Northumberland and Dumfriesshire, to mention only a few at random. I am certain that those responsible will take note of what my hon. Friend said about the planning of those villages. But the fact remains that they are centres which have been created by the expansion of our forestry industry. They must be to the good of the people living in those areas and also to the good of the industry as a whole.

What I believe is a most important part of the development of recent years is the increasing extent to which the Forestry Commission have been able to afforest land which a few years ago was regarded as unplantable. I think that is a very big advance, and it is the result of the development of new techniques and experience based on experiments over a long period of years. This work is still going on, and I understand that the Commission hope that it will be possible as time passes to tackle even worse types of land than is practicable at present. That joins up with a point made by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) in a speech which was appreciated in all parts of the House, when he spoke of looking to the industrial areas for replanting and research into that problem. Certain research into that problem is going on.

The Commission are continuing assistance to the private woodland owner by way of planting grants to owners of small woodlands in addition to the owners of dedicated estates, which at present cover some 150,000 acres. Several hon. Members mentioned the dedication scheme, and I think it would be right to say that there is a misunderstanding of the present position. The sooner a very clear statement is made about the position, the better it will be for everybody. I wish to make it abundantly clear that there is nothing under the various legal considerations which in any way suggests that dedication schemes are illegal. They are not illegal and the whole principle stands—in fact the scheme stands.

What is in dispute is in regard to certain conditions which may not be enforceable against successors in title. It is a technical point dealing with what happens in the passing of the estate upon death. I agree that there has been misunderstanding on this matter, and the sooner a clear statement can be issued by the Forestry Commission, or in whichever way is appropriate, the better, and I will see that that is done as early as possible. I will say no more about dedication schemes in this debate this morning.

I pass now to another way in which private woodland owners are planning their woodlands. Some are doing so systematically and in a satisfactory manner, but for various reasons do not wish to dedicate their estates. Many of these owners have submitted their working plans for the approval of the Commissioners, and when this is obtained they enjoy the benefits conferred by Section 10 of the 1951 Act. Not many owners have taken advantage of the provision up to now but there is this provision as a sort of half-way house between those who wish to dedicate and those who do not.

The Commission are also continuing their thinning grants scheme on a basis designed to meet the cost of first thinnings, which are sometimes uneconomic. That brings me to the question, discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare, of the produce from the home woodlands. Before I turn to thinnings, which I think is really the main problem for our consideration today, I should like to dispose of the point made by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East when he referred to the actual quota.

We are having no difficulties at present about the felling programme. It is true to say that all concerned, the trade, the Forestry Commission and the owners, all accept the fact that the quota is necessary, and, speaking in liberal terms, there are no difficulties. No doubt some people would like it to be a little more, some a little less, but by and large we are having no difficulties. I quite agree that the felling quota must continue. That is accepted by all sections of the industry.

I now come to the question about thinnings, raised particularly and in detail in the most interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare. From the forestry point of view—if the House will forgive me for being rather elementary in this matter, but I think it is as well to have it on record—thinnings are a necessary silvicultural operation which is carried out for the health of the woodlands. Not only do the thinnings themselves make a valuable contribution to our industries, but the trees remaining after thinning have more growing space and so reach saw-milling size more rapidly than if thinning is neglected.

That really means that so long as there is a good market for the thinnings they will not be neglected. Accordingly, the whole forestry programme must to some extent depend on whether there is a good outlet for the thinnings. I have already said that it is universally accepted that the control of felling is necessary in the present state of our woodlands, and I can hold out no prospect of the output of mature saw timber being substantially increased in the near future. Therefore, production from thinnings, particularly in the case of conifer woodlands, is of great importance. It is increasing at a very rapid rate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare gave certain figures which he thought were probably more accurate than those of the Forestry Commission. I will give one or two definite figures which will be of interest to him and to the House. The Commission's total output of thinnings in 1949 was about 7¾ million cubic feet and this was sold in one form or another for a total of approximately £1 million. During 1952 the output will be about 13 million cubic feet, which it is estimated will realise about £2 million. Those figures alone will show the House, and make abundantly clear, how important it is to find suitable markets for thinnings.

It is true that there is a divergence of view between the Forestry Commission and my hon. Friend about what the position will be in 10 years' time. They put the increase at 50 per cent.; my hon. Friend thinks it will be rather higher. I have given two figures which are facts, and the other matter is one for the future to determine.

Let us now consider the markets for these thinnings. By far the greatest market for the thinnings from growing coniferous plantations is that for pit props. The annual consumption of the coat mines amounts to approximately five times the estimated production for mining purposes during 1952. It therefore follows that there is an ample market for home-produced pit props, if properly prepared and seasoned, for many years to come. In respect of home-produced pit props, it is the policy of the Government to ensure that all the home-grown timber which is suitable for use in the mires shall be so used.

The balance of the material now required in the mines has to be imported. The means by which this policy is immediately carried into effect is by the preparation of annual import programmes which effectively limit the amount of foreign exchange which can be spent on mining timber. In working out import programmes, allowance is always made for the consumption of home-grown pit props on the highest basis which appears practical for the year in question.

I shall say more about these import programmes in a few minutes. First, I wish to turn to the position of the National Coal Board, because it is their duty to the community to secure supplies of all the materials they need at reasonable prices. At the end of 1951, when supplies of mining timber were very scarce and stocks of mining timber in the hands of the National Coal Board were consequently low and it was necessary to obtain supplies both to meet consumption and to build up stocks, the home timber trade in England and Wales, after consultation with the private growers' interests and with the Forestry Commission, followed a procedure which had been evolved in Scotland a year or two earlier.

At this point I wish to check the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare as to the amount of pit props going to the National Coal Board at present. In the first nine months of 1952 home production met National Coal Board consumption to the extent of 8½ per cent. in England, 13 per cent. in Wales and 52 per cent. in Scotland. In other words, Scotland has in this field been far in advance of either Wales or England. The average for Great Britain for the same period was 16½ per cent. For that reason, the home timber trade in England reached an agreement last year with the National Coal Board, following the procedure which had been evolved in Scotland a year or two earlier, for fixed prices for 1952 for a wide range of mining timber specifications.

The price fixed represented a considerable advance on the prices paid in 1951, notwithstanding that the agreement did not specify delivery of any fixed quantities. The success of these negotiations is shown by the fact that during 1952 deliveries of home-produced pit props to the collieries increased steadily. Thus, in spite of imports at a high level during 1952, much of which were used to build up stocks, the proportion of home timber used in the mines has been substantially greater than in 1951.

During the latter half of this year overseas prices for mining timber tended to fall fairly rapidly. The National Coal Board and home producers, together with allied interests, reviewed the 1952 prices and as a result of their consultations together new prices have been agreed for 1953. These prices are 11 per cent. or so below the 1952 levels, and whereas the 1952 arrangement was on a "free-on-truck" basis, the National Coal Board insisted on a form of limitation of the freight to be charged to them.

Whilst I would emphasise that the agreement was freely negotiated, it cannot be said that the home producing interests—growers and timber merchants alike—welcomed the change which had been made in the agreements reached last month. The change may cause difficulties for the producers in different parts of the country with regard to transport, though I am aware that the Coal Board have their own difficulties in that regard. But representations are being made to the National Coal Board with a view to examining the whole question of purchase, allocation and transport of home-produced pit props. In addition, provision has been made for a review of the agreement in the middle of 1953.

There are two points which it is very necessary for me to state here, and which affect forestry interests. First, it is the duty of owners, merchants and all producers to make sure that they prepare their produce for the mines to a satisfactory specification. It is not right to expect the National Coal Board to absorb badly prepared material. Secondly—and I think this is of equal importance—the Coal Board must know in good time the production to be expected from the home woodlands in order that they may design their import programme accordingly.

This information, certainly as far as England and Wales are concerned, has not been readily available up to now. No doubt that is why we have the very different percentage figures between Scotland, on the one hand, and England and Wales, on the other. I recognise the difficulties, but I suggest that owners and merchants must, in their own interests, devote urgent attention to this problem. I emphasise the urgency because, unless accurate forecasts by quantity and sizes are available, not only is the home producer putting himself in a poor position to negotiate but he is also running the risk of missing an opportunity to secure a steady outlet for an increasing supply to a market whose requirements are being met at present to the extent of less than 20 per cent. from home sources.

I hope the House will forgive me for dwelling rather at length on that particular point. I have done so because I believe that this market for our softwood timber is such an enormously important field, and the more it is appreciated that the market is there the more we shall get co-operation by all concerned to see that really good quality prepared material is made available to that market.

There are other markets for small material to which I should like to refer. One of the most important are board mills—mills producing boards such as hardboard and insulating board which is used extensively in the building and other subsidiary industries. These mills are capable of using material which is both smaller than pit timber and unsuitable for the pit wood market. At the present moment there are three such mills in existence, all in the South of England, but the Forestry Commission and other interested bodies are discussing the possibility of establishing more of these mills in different parts of the country. There are two projects in Scotland which have been investigated in considerable detail. Up to now no additional plant has been erected, but in the view of the Forestry Commission and the trade there is definite scope for expansion in this field.

Secondly—to mention a subject which, curiously enough, has not been mentioned in any of the speeches today—there is the question of pulp. The manufacture of pulp from home-grown timber has not hitherto been extensively developed. The reason for that is that the kind of timber required for pulp is the same as is required for pit props, and up to now there has not been a big enough supply for both. But it is known that a great deal of the production from the home coniferous woodlands is suitable for the production of pulp, and when we reach the stage where production is much greater than it is today it may well prove that the development of pulp production from our own material is justified. The consumption of pulp is enormous and home production could meet the country's needs only to a very small extent for very many years to come, but I think it will interest the House to realise that we have that to fall back on when we are looking into the far-distant future.

Now I want to refer to sawn softwood supplies. It is common knowledge that while the paramount need of this country at present is to preserve the safety of its balance of payments, 95 per cent. of the softwood used in this country is imported and costs foreign currency. Every bit of sawn softwood produced from home sources is thus of great importance. I have noted with great interest the developments which have been taking place recently in connection with the production of sawn material from logs of smaller sizes than were hitherto usually sawn.

This leads me to say that I believe there is scope for the development of special machinery for sawing the output of the largest sizes from the coniferous plantations which are now coming to the thinning stage, but if we are to do that, do we not come straight to the point that was so well made by my hon. Friend who opened the debate—the question of long-term contracts? The Forestry Commission are paying a great deal of attention to this point. They realise that merchants are entitled to ask for some security of tenure before they lay out large capital sums in the provision of equipment and the provision of houses for workers in the setting up of the industry.

Some long-term contracts for thinnings have already been placed and the Commission are considering how far and in what way they can ensure adequate supplies over a reasonable period of years for merchants who are prepared to concentrate on particular blocks of woodland. The Commissioners are also willing to consider practical proposals from timber merchants, and are themselves prepared to take the initiative where such proposals are not forthcoming. In addition to that, the Commissioners have already under consideration a suggested pilot scheme under which they would co-operate with a merchant in the ownership and management of a mill which would tap the large areas of forest now beginning to produce in large volume.

I do not think I can say more than that in the debate today, but what I have said has given an indication of the importance which the Commission and the Government attach to this problem. The Forestry Commission have working a Departmental Advisory Committee on the Utilisation of Home-Grown Timber. Having kept the House rather longer than I intended, I will only add that the detailed points will be considered carefully, as well as other points which I have not mentioned.

May I refer again to the speech of the hon. Member for Ince and his reference to hedgerow timber? A committee is being set up by myself, in conjunction with the Secretary of State for Scotland, under the chairmanship of Lord Merthyr, to advise on hedgerow timber and small farm spinneys, and I hope that their report will be useful. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) raised many interesting points, but I think they have been covered in what I have already said.

Mr. Ede

Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) about a greater proportion of new plantings being of hardwood? It is distressing, in counties which used to grow hardwood, to see that hardly any is being planted but that firs, which seem quite incongruous in the surroundings, seem to be taking their place.

Sir T. Dugdale

I cannot add anything very definite about it at the moment. It is considered that the proportion of planting of softwood and hardwood is satisfactory. As the right hon. Gentleman knows only too well, it takes a very long time before the results of the plantation of hardwood are seen, but I personally agree with him from the amenity point of view, as I very much like to see a nice oak or ash or beech growing, and I think a mixed plantation—and I am talking as a private citizen now—is far preferable to great blocks of one kind of tree. I have the point very much in mind.

May I conclude by saying that the Government fully recognise the need for a healthy and stable forest industry. Both the private woodland owner and the Forestry Commission have their part to play, and, should the need arise, I shall always be willing, in my dual capacity in this field, to take up with my colleagues any question which appears to endanger the health of the forestry industry by depriving producers of a reasonable market and a reasonable return for their produce.

I should like to add what is a truism, but which will nevertheless bear repetition. It concerns the relationship between forestry and agriculture. Previously it has been suggested that the interests of these two great functions are opposed to each other. I believe that to be a complete misunderstanding. The interests of forestry and agriculture are complementary, and if we are to have a healthy and flourishing forestry industry, it follows that we shall receive, at the same time, many benefits to agriculture.

I end as I began and thank the House, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare, for having initiated this debate in which a number of hon. Members have taken part.

1.47 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)

When I saw this Motion on the Order Paper, I felt we should be grateful to the hon. Member for Weston-Super-Mare (Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing) for giving the House an opportunity of discussing a subject which is important not only from a commercial point of view but from an aesthetic point of view.

I listened with considerable interest to the rather long statement by the Minister and I felt that in his dual capacity he seemed to be on a trapeze this morning, frightened of overbalancing in one direction or the other; and that is quite understandable, having regard to the conflict which has taken place in the past between the forestry side of his work and the agricultural side.

Representing an industrial area like Droylsden, in Lancashire, I could deal with the commercial side of the matter which is under consideration today. I have a coalfield outside my division in which a large number of my constituents work, and it is a matter of great importance to the coalfield, as to everyone else, that we should have an adequate supply of props of a suitable kind. But I have been prompted to intervene in the debate this morning more because I happen to be a native of Snowdonia. I was born at the foot of Snowdon, and my mind goes back to the picturesque scenes of my early days, with the large woodlands and the plantations which practically every farm and large house in the area had associated with it.

Listening to the debate today, I cannot help feeling that the plantation of trees is an act of faith. I am reminded of that by an advertisement which I and no doubt other hon. Members have seen from time to time, which says that he who plants an avenue of trees cannot, in the very nature of things, expect to see them in their full and rich glory; he plants for England. In the case of my forefathers, they planted, and planted beautifully, for Wales, too—and trees have formed an important part of its history, its poetry and indeed its culture. It is in connection with this culture and on behalf of certain areas of my native land that I want to say a few words now.

When I was a boy there was a small number of forests. The bulk of the people who managed them, who treated them, who controlled and maintained them, were regarded then—and I say it with no disrespect at all—as foreigners. They happened to be English, but they were regarded as foreigners in those days. The tragedy of it was that a large number of those people, because they had no knowledge of the customs or the language, failed to become part of the culture of the area in which I was brought up.

Therefore, I would impress both on the Minister and on the Forestry Commission that it is essential, if we are to develop the industry on the lines we all desire, that we should try to integrate the industry with the natural cultural life of the areas in which the Commission's developments are taking place. I would suggest to the Minister, if he is not too busy—I am sorry to interrupt the Minister's conversation, for I know he must have many things on his mind—that we have to integrate the forestry developments with the natural cultural life of the areas in which they take place.

For example, I should like to see the Minister and the Forestry Commission and educational and other local authorities in those areas try to inculcate forestry into the minds of the young folk of the areas concerned who care for trees and who have been brought up amongst trees. Here is an opportunity to develop their talent and their native ability. In developing those we shall not at the same time be disrupting the natural culture of the area. It should be one of the responsibilities of the Minister of Agriculture in Wales to make sure that a large number of young boys who are naturally interested in these things take their part not only in the felling of trees but in the more scientific aspect of the development of the growing of trees. I hope that that will be taken up quite seriously, because, as I said before, trees in all countries have always formed a great part of the poetry and history of the country.

That is my first point. We should be careful that with our extensions of these schemes we do something to enrich the localities in which the schemes are developing, and I think that in that connection there should be a great deal of consideration given to the cultural amenities of the people who, because of the very nature of their work, are living in isolated conditions.

I have seen many such places such as Trawsfynydd in North Wales and other parts of Merionethshire where these schemes are going on. The people working on them ought to be provided with transport to make it easy for them to take part in the general cultural life of the community into whose locality they have been drawn. That is important in attracting the right kind of people for the work. I should like that aspect not to be overlooked. I think the commercial aspect as well as any other demands the encouragement of the right kind of people into those areas.

The second point with which I want to deal is the time-lag that seems to be taking place between the felling of trees and replanting. During last summer, when I went to North Wales for a holiday, I went through what used to be the prettiest little patches in Bangor—the beautiful dell of Nantygarth. I was shocked when I came along that dale last summer to find that it had been despoiled almost beyond repair by a wholesale felling of trees. As far as I can see, there is no possibility within a reasonable period of time of rehabilitating that pretty little dale, to make it as it was in the years that I knew it.

What co-ordination is there between owners of land and the Forestry Commission? This land does not belong to the Forestry Commissioners, but to an individual landowner. He has cut the whole of those trees and defaced, in my opinion, a beautiful part of the country, and as far as I can see there is no prospect in the near future of amends being made in any suitable form. One could multiply instances of that sort.

I remember after the 1914–18 war, when I came back after service with the colours, revisiting some of the most beautiful parts of Flintshire—The Leete, between Mold and Rhydymwyn, one of the most beautiful little places in North Wales. I knew there had been a need for timber, but the whole landscape had been transformed into ugliness, and beauty had been replaced by squalor and ugliness.

What co-ordination is there between the owners of those woodlands and the Forestry Commission to make sure that where trees are felled there is not at the same time a conversion of a beautiful piece of country into an ugly piece of country? That is the second point.

My third point is one which a number of hon. Members have made in the debate, and on which the Minister has touched, and that is the very necessary co-operation which is required between the Forestry Commission and the people interested and the farmers. I am not sure how far the farmers are to be blamed in this connection. Perhaps the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) will not agree with me here, for he is a keen farmer, but I am not sure how far the farmers are to be blamed for the shortage of suitable trees. When I was a boy there used to be a practice amongst farmers—my grandfather was one—that if a tree fell another had to be planted in its stead. It was regarded as one of the prime requisites of good farming to make quite sure that there was an adequate number of trees on the land.

Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

That was in the bad old days.

Mr. Williams

Of course, there were some very bad things in the old days. I am dealing now with only the good things. There were plenty of bad things even in North Wales. However, I have not time to follow the hon. Member into that question, and I should be out of order if I did so. I think he will agree with me—I judge so from the tone of his intervention—that the farmers did take seriously the question of planting and replanting trees. Farmers realised in those days not only the beneficial effects upon their land and upon their cultivation of having those trees, but also that they added to the picturesque nature of their farms.

Which reminds me of a particular farmer who went into one of those areas—and ultra-modern farmer, a farmer who wanted to have everything so tidy that there would be no complaint on the score of untidiness. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) referred to the same thing—the hedges, and the building up of hedges. I was brought up amongst people who took a tremendous amount of pride in their hedges, not only from the point of view of beauty but from the point of view of good farming. But here was a modern farmer who went into one of those areas and saw all those hedges and said, "Look at all those hedges—those untidy rows of hedges. We must cut them all down." Down they came and wire netting replaced them in every field. Everything was all right until he woke up on a cold spring morning to find that the sheep and the lambs that had been sheltering near that wire netting were all dead. The old farmer of course, had recognised the value of good hedging and of having the right kind of sheltering trees in those hedges.

I find that in some places in North Wales there has been a tendency for the interests of farmers and of forestry and woodland people to conflict. It is very necessary that great care should be exercised to try and bring about a good understanding between those two elements. There is a good deal to be said sometimes for the farmer who sees a good patch of land which would be very suitable for richer cultivation being taken for afforestation, whereas another part of his estate which was not so good could have been assigned with advantage for the purpose of tree planting. A good deal of study is necessary in order not to discourage the good farmer and particularly the smallholder.

I repeat that we should integrate this new system into a great worthy scheme so that it fits into the life of the countryside where developments have taken place. Secondly, there should be no undue time-lag between felling and planting. In line with the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), I would add that we must not overlook the hardwood. I find that some of the great trees of my early days are becoming few and far between. They served a great purpose in those days and will continue to do so. But when one deals with these hardwood trees, as I said before, one must deal by faith and not by a Geddes or May Committee, because the people who come after us will not thank us for denuding our land of the protection and the beauty of these hardwood trees.

Mr. Champion

Would my hon. Friend permit me to mention the figure which is given in the Forestry Commission's Report on hardwood, which is very striking indeed? It is to the effect that in the year 1951, which is covered by this Report, the Forestry Commission collected 30 tons of beech masts for seed purposes and 88 tons of acorns, so fortunately that aspect has not been neglected.

Mr. Williams

I am glad to hear that, but I am only going by my observation of the countryside and I am certain that, whatever the statistics in "acornage," anyone looking at the countryside will be convinced that we have neglected this aspect in the last few years.

I thank the Minister once again for a very comprehensive statement. It seems to me that the whole matter is being actively pursued and considered, and I again thank the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare for giving us the opportunity of having this discussion today.

2.4 p.m.

Major W. Hicks Beach (Cheltenham)

I hope that the hon. Member for Droylsden (Mr. W. R. Williams) will not mind if I do not follow him, though in principle I agree entirely with what he has said. I want to deal quite shortly with one aspect of timber growing in this country. It is a very difficult but a very important one—that of replanting of common lands which were formerly timber growing and which of necessity, before and during the war, had to be cut down. The owners of the commons, generally known as lords of the manor, are faced with a serious problem. I must declare my interest here and say that I am one of those unhappy people, the lords of the manor, who had a considerable acreage of timber cut. It was not done compulsorily, but the timber was required for the purposes of the war and if I had not agreed it would have been compulsorily acquired.

I was faced therefore when the war was over with something under 300 acres of common land which had not been cleared by selective felling but was absolutely bare. That land, of course, is subject to common land rules whereby it cannot be enclosed. I know that it is political dynamite to suggest that one should enclose common land as a permanent measure. I do not suggest that for a moment. At the same time, if we are to develop this vast acreage in Gloucestershire, for instance, and indeed over the whole country for the production of timber, for which it has great potentiality, some method should be devised whereby owners can put up a scheme to the Ministry for temporary enclosure whilst replanting is taking place.

I should be the last to suggest permanent enclosure, but if this matter is approached in a sensible way I cannot see why it should not be possible for such schemes of temporary enclosure to be put to the Minister for his approval. At the moment, he has certain powers over common land by legislation. I do not see why schemes should not be put to him whereby these large areas of common land should be replanted by degrees and thus enclosed for seven or eight years until the timber reaches a height at which it can protect itself. It should be a condition that when the trees reach that height the fencing should be taken down and enclosure should cease. I hope that this matter will be taken up by the Ministry, because it is a very live problem.

If the Minister will visit Gloucestershire he will see these vast areas absolutely bare and awaiting replanting. They cannot be replanted because, as the law stands, they cannot be enclosed. I know that there is an official answer that one can dress trees with a dressing which keeps rabbits away. I have tried that, but it does not work. It was recommended by the Minister's predecessor.

To plant on land without enclosure is also too tempting to people. It is against human nature that people who visit the area in their motor cars should not take a tree away occasionally to plant in their gardens. I believe that by common sense all round between the owners of commons and the commoners it should be possible to devise some kind of scheme whereby we could plant these common lands and create a great source of timber production.

2.8 p.m.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

Although the speech by the Government spokesman was a very lengthy speech on this occasion, at any rate its length was some indication of the importance to be attached to the subject under discussion. I do not complain that the Minister should have treated the subject in the way he did; but I thought that he was rather early in the field and, if I may say so, that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) was also rather early. Perhaps they both assumed that there was not sufficient interest in the House to keep the debate going for the reasonably long time that we might have expected.

Mr. Champion

My hon. Friend did not get up before I spoke.

Mr. Hudson

I was waiting to hear a number of speeches first so as to be better able to deal with the matter—better able than was my hon. Friend because he did not wait.

It has been a good debate. Perhaps I have a right to claim to be something of a judge of afforestation debates, because I have been taking part in them since the 20s. I believe that I made my first speech on a Report by the Forestry Commission in 1925. I claim another interest, and I wish that more of my hon. Friends were here to hear me say that I acquired my enthusiasm for this subject from Keir Hardie, who spent much of his time on the subject on propaganda platforms and indeed in speeches in this House. One of those speeches was reproduced as a pamphlet, a copy of which I still possess. It had a tremendous circulation in the working-class movement.

Those were in the days of unrelieved unemployment. Keir Hardie saw the relationship that a big forward afforestation policy might have in providing an outlet for people who could not get work. It may have been, from our modern point of view, an elementary approach to the matter, but I claim that the speeches and propaganda of Keir Hardie had their part in stirring up the general interest which, by 1917, led to the creation of the Forestry Commission and to the general good work that has been going on since.

Unemployment over the last few years has disappeared. But the notice which we got yesterday regarding the London dockers brings back again the point that we have still to think of this and other matters in relation to potential unemployment. I am thinking of one district in particular to which this House has had its attention drawn recently—the district around Nelson and Colne and Burnley, which has now been scheduled as a special district for measures of reconstruction. I notice that the Minister added territory in Yorkshire around Barnoldswick and other places which should also go into this area, and which will now require from the Government special consideration in reference to unemployment.

I know that district well. It lies on the flanks of Pendle Hill, where today not a tree grows, and where, at any rate on the foothills—and the very extensive foothills of Pendle Hill—there was once a complete forest. In fact, the name is retained in the district. There is still a place called Pendle Forest, where the trees have disappeared. There is the necessity to reconsider the planting of trees in this wild, uncultivated area, largely given over to sheep farming and nothing more than sheep farming.

There is the necessity to consider territory like that from the point of view of planting or preparation for planting, although I realise that one cannot begin to talk about planting until one has carefully prepared the saplings. That takes a few years to do, and we cannot begin this tomorrow, next year or the year after in the Pendle area or those areas which have now been scheduled with reference to the unemployment problem which is mounting there. We should be getting on with the preparation of land for a considerable extension of afforestation in that area.

I realise, of course, that the whole question of growing trees in territories like those in the Pennines needs a considerable amount of research work. although, as I have said on previous occasions, from the point of view of climate and altitude there is not the least reason why the greater part of the flanks of the Pennines should not be covered with trees in the same way as the flanks of the Norwegian mountains are covered with trees, and as many parts of Scotland, with a more rigorous climate, are covered with trees.

There is no reason at all why this great expanse of country at the moment producing nothing but sheep and a little cattle, as the result of the improvements that have recently been made in hill farming, should not be used for this purpose—[Interruption.] I am thanking the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing), as other hon. Members have done, for introducing this Motion, and I am telling him that from what I know of this area there ought to be much more determination and forthright effort to get a considerable extension of afforestation in the Pennine area.

When I first began to talk about these things, hardly anything was being done in this country, as, for example, in the Lake District, about State afforestation. I have certainly seen an advancement in that direction since the days of Keir Hardie, when he was delivering speeches to the unemployed at Whitehaven. In those days on the slopes of the Lakeland mountains there was none of the wonderful development which has since taken place, and there was certainly a great amount of country that was given over to mutton that is now given over to trees.

I know that what has been done in Ennerdale today can be done in many other parts of the Lake District. I know that when one begins to talk about the Lake District one runs up against all sorts of prejudices. I recall the spurts of correspondence which take place from time to time in the "Manchester Guardian" by Lakeland enthusiasts, who, in search of beauty, believe that we would do great harm to the Lake District if we grow trees there. What are the objections which are raised by country lovers to the growing of coniferous trees?

Austria has been referred to. Look at the gorgeous forests on the slopes of the mountains in Austria. Neither was there anything more beautiful than the small forest which formerly clothed the slopes of Simon's Seat on the estates of the Duke of Devonshire in Wharfedale. There was an unforgettable effect as the setting sun illumined the trees. As I have said, not far from Wharfedale there are great expanses of territory with no trees at all as, for example, in the Pendle Hill, although the geological formation of millstone grit and the covering of turf on top of it is as good for experiment in afforestation as almost any other type of land.

I claim that there is no possibility of getting the million acres that were dreamed of. I use the word "dreamed" because even the million remains a dream, but considerable progress has been made towards it in Ennerdale, where the dream has become a fact. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not mind my saying that a lot of the progress made was due especially to the efforts of his predecessor, who was very active in pressing forward this matter.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for moving this Motion and for getting the mind of the House back on to this question of very large development in afforestation within the next few years. I repeat that I am quite certain, remembering all that Keir Hardie used to say, that what we are already doing in Nelson and Colne and in that part of Yorkshire recently scheduled for specialist treatment, we could do in other parts of the country to the benefit of the London docker. Members on these benches ought to be considering the importance of the questions we are now discussing.

One issue was raised in the course of this debate which prompts me to say something about a minor detail. My hon. Friend thought I should get lively on the question of sawdust and what could be done with it. It did not occur to me that sawdust needed to be considered very much. I know that alcohol is a possibility, but I was not thinking about that, as the House might expect me to be. I was thinking about the use of sawdust in the development of compositions of one sort and another that are now available for building purposes.

Sawdust is a particularly good substance for constructional purposes owing to its non-conduction of heat and sound. If only we could find the right mixture in order to get the proper consistency for the manufacture of walls, partitions, and even for outside shelter, that would be very useful. I know there is not sufficient sawdust in this country with which to develop a very large industry on that basis, but I think that more experiments could be made with a view to utilising what is available.

I am told, for example, that one of the things against this utllisation, is the fear of the insurance companies, based Ion its inflammability, and the premiums they would have to charge owing to that risk, if material manufactured from sawdust were used in building construction. I do not press that point too far, but, if it is so, then let us make further inquiries to find out what can be mixed with sawdust in order to limit the danger of inflammability and any other danger that may be associated with it.

My hon. Friend's reminder brought me on to the question of alcohol, and everybody knows that I will ride that, horse if I can. It also gives me the opportunity of reminding the Minister that on this subject of thinning, a considerable part of the land in Kent is being used for the growing of chestnut poles. These chestnut trees do not provide timber for the mines, although I have no doubt that their wood could be used for that purpose. I know that chestnut is used for fencing and for split paling, but that is not the main reason these chestnut poles are being grown. They are being grown for use as hop poles.

There are thousands of acres of land under hops in this country, and, in addition, there are thousands more acres growing this sort of timber in order to serve the needs of the brewers. Our economy is being distorted in the interests of liquor. Some of us are always fighting that, and I think the land ought to be used for growing other sorts of timber. I have nothing against the chestnut tree as such. Indeed, I am very fond of these chestnut woods. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame."] Why should it be a shame? Bluebells and primroses grow in chestnut woods better than anywhere else. It is good to get a breath of the freshness that-comes up from the woods. Better that than to wait for the use to which the thinnings are ultimately put.

The hon. Gentleman opposite talked just now about the care that must be exercised regarding the maximum amount of land under food production. But he was careful to say nothing about drink production. For that reason, I should like the Minister at some time in the immediate future to look carefully, together with the Forestry Commission and everybody else concerned with this matter, at the way in which land is being used in that particular direction. I think the land would be better used growing other sorts of crops.

There is one other detail which interests me very much, and again I gathered my impressions from what I have recently been learning in Kent. There are many woodlands which have lately been sold either for building purposes or for the development of smallholdings. I agree that the county agricultural committees and the town planning committees have their say in the matter, but I notice that when sales of woodlands have been effected the trees are slaughtered and burned, or in other ways are used uneconomically.

I am sure the new owners get their price for the timber. Indeed, I believe that in some circumstances they could probably get a bigger profit out of the timber than they secure from the rents on the smallholdings or from the house and garden which they build on the land. This question of the change of use of the land ought to be much more carefully considered by the town planning and agricultural committees than seems to be the case at the moment.

There is one last thing I want to mention. I was told by an hon. Friend of mine with whom I discussed this question of trees in Ennerdale and the Lake country, that one of the reasons for the development of afforestation is the demand for charcoal at the present time. We are, apparently, importing all the charcoal required in certain refining processes of the steel and other industries. If we could utilise the waste land on the edge of our hills in the Pennines, in the Lake District, and in the South of Scotland to any considerable degree, one of the many beneficial results would be that we could increase the production of such things as charcoal.

I notice that the right hon. Gentle, man in the course of his speech did not reply very explicitly to the very strong appeal of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East about holding firm against the economists. Perhaps he could not. It is not the axe of the woodman that is to be feared, but that of the economist. Like my hon. Friend, I. am afraid now that all the pressure that is being used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer will mean the sort of economies that the Geddes axe brought although I am sure they will not be imposed by the wish of the right hon. Gentleman. I understand that amongst the economies imposed by that Committee were some on beautiful nurseries of trees. Millions of them were left to be choked by the weeds, unattended and sometimes crowded out. It has taken years to make good the stupid loss that was imposed in those days.

I have a certain confidence in the right hon. Gentleman that he is in earnest about this matter, and I add my plea to that of my hon. Friend that he should resist with all the vigour he has any attempt now to cut down on what allocations have been made for the development of our forests. So much is involved in the future in this matter and there will be a terrible loss for future Chancellors of the Exchequer if this thing is not courageously dealt with. I add my plea to that of my hon. Friend.

2.33 p.m.

Colonel Ralph Clarke (East Grinstead)

Before I join in the debate, I want to declare my interest as an owner of woodland.

In following the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), I should like to say how very much I agree with him that local authorities often do not seem to recognise that land growing timber is growing just as good a crop from the agricultural and national point of view as is land in hay, corn or even hops.

I should like also to call attention to an intervention by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) on the subject of the origin of the timber in the old roof of Westminster Hall. I think we are all agreed that the present roof came from Wadhurst in Sussex from the estate of a late colleague of ours who is now in another place, Lord Courthope. I have always heard that when the roof was replaced about 30 years ago, the records showed that the original timber also came from Wadhurst in Sussex from the estate of a man also called Courthope—but I have also heard that the present Lord Courthope has been unable actually to trace the descent from this particular individual.

The second thing I want to say relates to some remarks of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) about the planting of trees on pit heaps. I could not agree more with what he said. I have heard it said by some people that in certain places nothing will grow. However, if one goes to mountainous areas where there are great exposures of rock and soil without any humus upon them, it will be seen that even there certain species of trees seed themselves. I can recollect places like that where a lot of various trees seeded themselves and grew up.

We are all most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing) for raising this subject, and, with deference, I should like to congratulate him sincerely on the personal knowledge and experience he has given us and on the great research he has made into the questions he has raised. With the Minister, I also want to congratulate the country on the fact that the national forest policy today has achieved sufficient progress in its first phase, the phase of planting, that we are enabled to consider the second phase, that of selling.

I am glad that so many speakers emphasised the part that the private owner must play and is playing. The Forestry Commission is much better known. That is bound to be the case, because the Forestry Commission have a public relations department. They would be failing in their duty if the work of the Commission was not known, but the actual relationship today between private owners and the Forestry Commission can be seen from a study of the Census of Woodlands, 1947–49, which can be obtained from the Stationery Office.

Several references have already been made to it, but I will only detain the House with two more. First of all, of the total volume of timber over three inches in diameter contained in woods of over five acres in this country, the private owner, including the corporations, owned in timber at that time 2,280.3 million cubic feet as against the Commission's 378.1 million cubic feet, roughly a proportion of six to one in favour of the private owner. The former figure includes the corporations.

Let me give another figure for the growth increment, which is a matter of great importance. Two-thirds of the actual growth increment is today accruing in forests or woods belonging to private owners. That clearly shows that though the Forestry Commission is much better known and very much more powerful, for it has the law and the covenant behind it, in the partnership—which I think is the relationship which it has been said should exist between the Forestry Commission and the private owner—very much more of what business people call solid assets belong to the private owner than to the Forestry Commission. I admit that as time goes on the position will keep changing. The Commission is bound to get larger and larger shares in the industry. But today the solid assets are overwhelmingly on the side of the private owner.

I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), whose constituency is neighbouring mine. He also emphasised this point of the desirability of partnership between the Forestry Commission and the private owners. I was very glad when he talked of what the pattern of ownership was in Austria. I should like to mention that there is the same pattern of public and private ownership in Sweden. Incidentally, when I was there in the days before the war and asked to see one of their best forests, I was glad that the one they showed me was privately owned.

Dedication was spoken of. It follows naturally from discussions on the relationship between the Forestry Commission and the private owner. For the moment, it appears to have broken down on a legal matter—I will not say "quibble." I hope that something fresh will be proposed as soon as possible. I suggest that it be something rather simpler than the old covenant. Possibly it would be more attractive if it were less permanently binding and if everybody who bound himself to carry out a forestry plan was sure of some financial recognition, and not only those who actually came under the full control of the dedication covenant. If that were done, many more of the smaller estates which at the moment are standing out might be attracted in.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

What kind of financial recognition has the hon. and gallant Member in mind?

Colonel Clarke

No doubt the hon. Member knows that those who are in the convenant and bind themselves by the covenant get grants for planting and grants for maintenance every year, but those who are only working under a forestry plan do not get those grants. I am only asking for something that exists already to be more widely extended.

In recent years I have found the Forestry Commission most helpful and obliging, and I give them a particularly good mark for that, because since the 1951 Act they have been very hard pressed to get through their work. Parliament imposed a great deal of additional work on them with the 1951 Act. Private owners should be grateful for the help the Commission have given in spite of that.

Though they have been very helpful in giving advice about planting, it is not so easy to get from the Commission advice about marketing. By the very terms of the 1951 Act they are bound to concentrate more on the opposite point of view, that of telling private owners what they may not sell in the way of sawn timber, rather than helping them to dispose of thinnings and minor forest products. That brings me to the problem which a number of hon. Members have already posed, of the best way in which to dispose of thinnings and minor forest products in the next 10 years.

I believe that this is essentially a selling problem, and I will talk of the matter a little later from that point of view. Extraction and conversion are primarily tasks for the timber trade. Direct sales will probably have to take place between the National Coal Board and the Forestry Commission, as two nationalised bodies. For other disposals, other "extractions and conversions" as they are referred to in the Motion, it will be better for them, and particularly conversion, to be concentrated in the hands of the timber trade. My experience in business is that very few men are good producers and good salesmen too. The functions are totally different.

The British timber trade is one of the oldest trades in the country, compared with which trade in metals is modern. The timber industries are very old and honourable, with considerable experience in the last war of using home-grown products again. They are willing and able to do all they can to promote further sales of home-grown timber products if they can be assured of constant and consistent supplies over a reasonable period. Unless they can be so assured, I do not see how they can be expected to find money with which to buy machinery, recruit staff and carry out the necessary experiments which must come before any new industry is built up. Most important, of course, also is making plans to restrict their import programme.

How is this information to be provided? What is needed is a sort of production programme, both from the Forestry Commission and from the private woodlands, a sort of additional census of woodlands projected into the future, and relating not only to the actual time when the last census was taken. The question comes: Who is to do this? My first idea was that it was the natural function of a body which has been set up in recent years and called the "Advisory Committee on the Utilisation of Home-Grown Timber." It does much useful work already, and. it has good potentialities, but frankly, I do not think it is sufficiently high-powered to undertake this very pressing task.

I would like to leave the solution of the problem to the Minister. He is the head of the Forestry Commission. I am sure he would have the loyal co-operation of private owners in working it out, and he has at his beck and call a number of experienced officers handling statistics, records and everything of that sort. The proposed census of production should be worked out for about 20 years, if possible. That is the usual time reckoned when we put in machinery and wish to see it working until we can write it off. It should, be accurate for the first decade but obviously would be less accurate for the second decade, as regards the Forestry commission and the private forests too.

The Minister spoke of what the Forestry Commission were planning to do and what their production would be. It is essential that private owners be brought in too. Their production at the present time and for the next two or three decades, is bound to be potentially. greater than that of the Forestry Commission. It should comprise not only large sawn timber and thinnings of different categories—the large for the pit props and the smaller for pulping wallboards, etc.—but should also bring in some of the overgrown underwood that fills so many of our woods up to 40 years of age, material which has grown past all the normal uses of underwood, such as faggots, bean-sticks, hurdles and so on. Birch, alder, and willow can be disposed of to the turners. Chestnut for fencing is easy. Oak and hornbeam are the natural woods suited for charcoal.

It needs most careful working out. When this information is available in a document will come the time for working out the selling problems, and that is stage three of the Commission's work which will really establish British forestry. I want to emphasise that, at the moment, the selling problem has been practically untouched by the Forestry Commission. In the whole of the last Report, issued in May, 1952, which consisted of 52 pages, there were only 24 lines devoted to the sale of forest products. I know that the Commission has been very busy, but that is really very little.

I also realise that, until some production programme is available, it is impossible to do more than prepare tentative plans, but I think something might be done between the Forestry Commission and the National Coal Board for the purchase and sale of pit props. The Minister spoke of the relations between the two bodies and of the obligation which the National Coal Board had to obtain the most reasonable prices. Of course, that does tempt them, quite naturally, to go abroad and buy cheaper there, rather than buy at home, but the Forestry Commission, on their side, have a similar obligation to get the best price they can for the home-grown products.

I can foresee a slight clash of interests between the two nationalised bodies, and I would put forward the idea that, possibly, they could meet on a plan something on the lines of the old Wheat Act before the war, under which, where the price at home was below the price abroad, a levy brought the two together. I will not go into it further, but I believe that the system of the Wheat Act could be used as a basis for a selling scheme for pit props.

Reference has been made to other uses such as charcoal, and, particularly, an outlet for sawdust, which is really the most embarrassing drag on the market at present. Charcoal has advantages in regard to the transport problem since the great problem is to get timber or underwood, when cut, on to a hard road; when there it is easy enough to sell it. Charcoal has the advantage that it can be brought out in very small bulk, and I think that may be a very great help.

In the remaining few minutes, I want to refer to one or two problems that have arisen in my own part of the world. The first is the difficulty that we are all having in establishing new woods on areas previously occupied by coppice with standards and which are now very much overgrown and about 40 years of age. They are costly to cut down, and, when they have been cut down, for a number of years afterwards it is very costly indeed to prevent new growth from the old stubs smothering the young trees, even if quickly growing young trees are put in. I would ask whether the research side of the Forestry Commission could find some kind of weed killer which could be used on the old stubs, bramble and undergrowth, but it is essential that it should be one with a limited duration of effect; otherwise, it will kill the young trees. In view of the resources of science today in this atomic age, I think it should not be beyond the bounds of possibility that the Commission should find a solution to the problem.

Secondly, I think everyone will agree that a great proportion of the private woods suffer from lack of thinning. There is the difficulty of getting staff to do the job properly, and I should like to make a suggestion to meet it. There are in existence a number of firms and companies which buy marked thinnings standing, and then carry out the thinning themselves. Obviously, the owners cannot let them do the marking as well, and that is the difficulty. We want this marking done by really skilled forestry foremen, but the people on small estates have not got them.

Would it be possible for the Forestry Commission to keep a pool of such men who could go to one estate on one day or in one week and to another estate on another and carry out the thinning? I hope it may be considered with a view to the idea being carried out at a reasonable cost. I know that one can always employ a consultant to come down and do the job, but he will charge about five guineas a day and that expense cannot be met.

I was very interested in what was said by the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) about the closing of railways in large Forestry Commission areas. I want to ask whether more use could not be made of our railways in connection with forestry. We all know the difficulties of extraction, in view of the fact that our forests are not laid out with good hard roads such as we find abroad. There are many places where railways run through forests where the addition of small sidings to take two or three trucks, with a wharf built at the side, would help in the loading of timber and forest products, which could then be got away without having to be taken on the roads at all. From that point of view, I think it would be a great mistake to close any railways running through forest territory, which should be kept open as long as possible.

Finally, may I once again thank the mover and seconder of this Motion for doing what I think is a great national service in raising this question today? It is not a question of internal economy only, because there is a dollar interest associated with it. I think it has already been said that, in the first 10 months of 1952, according to the Trade and Navigation Accounts, £146 million was spent on timber imports from dollar countries. It is a lot. We are congratulating ourselves that this year we are not importing any United States coal, but we are, I believe, in fact, importing very considerably more pit timber from Canada, and that is referred to in the last Report of the Forestry Commission.

It must be remembered that, roughly speaking, for every ton of coal won, two cubic feet of pit timber are required, and that is a great deal. From what the Minister and others have said, I believe that quite shortly we may remove this slur, as I think it is, in having to import pit timber. When we are stopping the importation of foreign coal, though still importing foreign wood to meet our own home needs, we should at least be winning our own coal with home-produced timber, and, until that desirable result is achieved, any money that we have to spend abroad should as far as possible be spent in the sterling area.

2.59 p.m.

Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

I hoped that I might have had a quarter of an hour in the debate but as I do not want to delay the next Motion, I propose to say what I have to say in a very few minutes. We are discussing today a matter of extreme importance, and I must add my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing) for giving us the chance of what has been a very good debate. Although we have been a very small House, it will, I think, be generally admitted by anybody who reads the debate that we have done a great deal more good today than we did yesterday, when we had a very full House.

We are discussing the problem of what steps should be taken to make good the ravages of something like 80 or 90 years of industrialism. During that 80 or 90 years, we have seen not only our agricultural land, but also our forestry, devastated, and the devastation has not been made good. I am glad to know that we are now going to take more active steps to make it good.

I do not want to get on to the question which I raised some three weeks ago on a certain other Friday. I want just to call attention to the fact that we still remain constant at a figure of something like 16 or 17 million acres of what is called "rough grazing." That is something that wants more tackling in the future than it has had in the past. Those figures are available from the returns which each individual farmer completes, and I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to analyse those figures right down to the farm, and when he has done that to let the county executive committees instruct their district committees to say what that "rough grazing" really includes. I am perfectly certain that those 16 or 17 million acres are capable of producing something.

I know that in Scotland on some of the very high deer forests it looks as if nothing would grow, either grass or timber, but the fact that they are called forests impresses me with the fact that one day they were forests and I want to see the day come when they will be replanted.

I want to say how much I agreed with the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). He and I agree to a very large extent on this matter and we have spoken about it on many occasions. The only point on which I did not agree with him was the planting of trees in hedgerows. Those of us who have to deal with fields where oak trees are growing in hedgerows realise that they are completely uneconomic, although very beautiful. Corn will not grow underneath them—at least, it will not yield; the trees frequently have to be looped in order to get the combine or whatever it may be under them, and even when that is done one frequently finds a bough tumbling off the tree and breaking the machine.

Therefore, if any trees are planted in hedgerows I suggest that it should be the tree that is planted so much on the Continent: the poplar. These trees are not wide-spreading, and one can grow them as well as corn. At the same time, they are very expensive because they damage the fence which is growing underneath them.

I agreed very much with the hon. Member on the question of waste land in the coal areas, which is tremendously unsightly. In my opinion, now that it has been weathered, it should be growing some timber, to the beauty of the land and also to the helping of the national purse.

I want to say a word about thinnings. It is extremely important that the Forestry Commission should investigate a more valuable way of utilising thinnings. At present they are more or less a dead loss. They do not repay the labour which is entailed, and anyone who wants to keep a woodman and to keep the wood properly looked after wants to have something from the annual thinnings to pay the wages. If we are to produce the timber which the Coal Board require, we must have the woodmen who can regularly go around to trim the trees and to get them more in line with the Continental trees.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) spoke about hill sheep farms which have been taken for timber in Northumberland. This is a subject that is causing a great deal of concern. I had a little hand in the Towy Valley scheme, which caused a great deal of conflict between the Forestry Commission and the farmers. This job has to be done sensibly. There must be discussion and co-operation between the agricultural side and the forestry side, because if a hill can run a few sheep it does not necessarily follow that that is always an economic use for the hill.

All these subjects must be treated sensibly, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister, who, when he came into office, dealt with the Towy Valley scheme in a practical way and healed what was a running sore. Therefore, I should not like it to be thought that I want to see all the hills running a few sheep when they might be better employed growing timber.

Another important aspect of the problem is that forestry and hill farming go hand in hand. If we want to keep people out on the hills of Wales, Scotland, or wherever it may be, we must have a community there, and build up a community. If we have hills planted with trees the farmers can go into the hills in the winter and earn a living from forestry and they will remain and cultivate the farms in the valleys during the summer. We shall then have a more numerous community which can live and feel that there is someone living next door. By that means we may retain the younger generation who at present are leaving the hills.

I could say a lot more on this subject, which I think is very important, and I hope that the time may arise when we can discuss it further.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That this House calls attention to the need for a comprehensive policy for the planting, extraction, conversion and marketing of timber grown in the United Kingdom, especially with a view to assuring that the best use is made of the large quantities of such timber which will be ready for the market in the next few years.

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