HC Deb 11 May 1964 vol 695 cc10-1
10. Mr. Harold Davies

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied that he is acquiring enough land to support the forestry programme outlined in his statement on 24th July, 1963; to what extent progress is now being made towards solving the problems of conflicting interests for land use such as that between forestry and sheep farming; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Soames

I consider the Forestry Commission should be able to acquire enough land to carry out its programme. At the end of 1963 the reserve of plantable land was about 300,000 acres. Relations with the farming community have much improved over the last few years, though there are bound to be occasional sources of friction. Land to be purchased by the Commission is always cleared by the Agricultural Departments before acquisition, and the interests of hill farming in general are taken into account.

Mr. Davies

Whilst thanking the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, may I ask whether he remembers that in his statement in July last year he gave a programme for 1964–73 in which he estimated, as we understand from the technical journals and from the Ministry, that we would need to acquire 80,000 acres of land per annum to meet this programme? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, according to my information, we are not meeting it? Will the right hon. Gentleman encourage more of this development which has been encouraged in the past? Will he consider the imaginative idea of helping local authorities in industrial areas to plant on some of the old pit sites and to use soil from the great road-making areas like the M.1 and M.6 to cover the pit sites? Will the right hon. Gentleman also, as we on this side of the House did when we were in power, give grants to private owners to make this use of their land?

Mr. Soames

I announced for the decade 1964–73 that the Forestry Commission will aim at planting a further 450,000 acres, but this does not mean over ten years an annual acquisition of 80,000 acres a year. If acquisitions continue at their present rate, coupled with the reserve of 300,000 acres, which I agree are not in the best areas and would not all come into this decade, I think that we should have enough land to carry out that programme. As for the hon. Member's detailed question about planting for specific purposes in specific areas, I will look at what he has said, and if he likes to give me more details and develop this thought I will consider it.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

Is it not a fact that the relationship between the Forestry Commission and sheep-raising interests is now very much better than it used to be?

Mr. Soames

Yes, Sir. I believe this to be so. We have, of course, noted this and hope it will continue to do so to the greatest extent possible.