§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Sir Henry d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Walsall, South)
I beg to move to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:this House takes note of the Seventh Report of the Estimates Committee in the last Session of the last Parliament and of the Eighth Special Report from the Estimates Committee, relating to the Forestry Commission.The work of the Estimates Committee takes place upstairs and sometimes a long way from this House. Its deliberations and Reports see the light of day in these familiar Blue Books, which most hon. Members find it unnecessary to read. Only occasionally do we have a debate on the Floor of the House as a result of an Estimates Committee Report and then, for obvious reasons, the time selected is usually one, as it is today, when it may suit many hon. Members on both sides of the House to be absent.
In these circumstances, one is tempted to inquire what is the object of having an Estimates Committee at all, and what purpose is served by these occasional debates. I think that the answer is that, by the very nature of the Committee, its Reports are not liable to make news. Sub-committees to whom Votes are allotted for investigation and report do not enjoy the benefit of a secretariat and staff comparable to that of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. These subcommittees consist of a handful of hon. Members, of whom it can be said that the only thing they have in common is that they are neither Ministers nor employed in any other capacity by the Government.
Therefore, they can be expected to cast a whole eve upon, and take a dispassionate view of, those items of Government speeding which they are asked to consider. They are helped in their work 42 by one of the Committee Clerks of the House and their success or otherwise is substantially influenced by the skill and expertise which he brings to their aid. In the affairs of the Forestry Commission, with which this debate is concerned, Sub-Committee B had the benefit of the assistance of Mr. Robert Rhodes James, who has now retired from the service of the House to take up the academic career for which the historical books which he has written prove that he has a remarkable aptitude. I am sure that it would be the wish of all members of Sub-Committee B to place on record their very great appreciation of the services which he rendered to them as their Clerk during this and earlier inquiries.
As I have said, the Estimates Committee is not geared to conduct the same sort of searching inquiry as the Public Accounts Committee. What it can and should do is turn the torch of its investtigation on to some of the more obscure corners of governmental responsibility and expenditure, collate in a convenient form the relevant evidence, present it in a convenient form, together with its conclusions, to the House of Commons, and. via the House of Commons, to the Minister himself.
This gives the responsible Ministers the opportunity of taking a fresh look at some of their problems. When, as in the present case, the House has the opportunity of debating not only the Committee's Report, but the Minister's reply to it, simultaneously, the conjunction should result in a well informed and non-partisan debate on a subject not necessarily highly topical but important and worth the brief consideration which it is proposed to devote to it.
That is, anyway, my hope, and that is why I am so grateful that the Seventh Report of the Estimates Committee on the Forestry Commission, together with the Minister's reply thereto, Cmnd. 199, has been selected for debate today. Some of us on this side of the House may wonder from time to time about the responsibilities of the Minister of Land and Natural Resources. While these doubts are by no means allayed even now, we would all agree that, if there is to be such a Minister, it is fully appropriate that, so far as England is concerned, he should be the Forestry Minister. One of the Committee's witnesses described 43 forestry as a "Cinderella". It may be a disadvantage that, up to now, the Forestry Minister for England and Wales should also have been the Minister of Agriculture. In the event of disagreement on land utilisation, for example, the Minister's decision might, for that reason, have been considered to have been biased in favour of agriculture as against forestry.
The system seems to have worked reasonably well up to now, and the Committee has no evidence to suggest that wrong decisions of that sort had been taken. Be that as it may, we welcome the right hon. Gentleman the Minister to this debate and look forward to hearing from him. The Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales are also Forestry Ministers. We are glad to see the Secretary of State for Scotland here and I am very glad to see that the Principality is also represented. I have no doubt that a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House will speak about forestry problems both in Wales end in Scotland.
In asking the House to take note of these two Reports, I need do no more than touch on a few salient details. A number of my colleagues on the Sub-Committee will wish to develop certain points more fully, but I would not wish to pre-empt their topics. I feel that it would be fitting to comment, however, that as the recommendations which they have made have been substantially accepted by the Ministers concerned, there is not, therefore, much advantage in seeking to develop arguments already conceded.
Historically speaking, the Forestry Commission was set up in 1919 with the duty, as the Report says,of promoting the interests of forestry, the development of afforestation and the production and supply of timber in the U.K.".It therefore has two duties, namely, the development on the one hand of State forestry and, on the other, that of being a forest authority by sponsoring and assisting forestry generally.
Of the total grants in aid voted by Parliament in the Commission's 45 years, 85 per cent. were appropriated to State forestry schemes, and, of the remaining 15 per cent., rather more than half went in aid to private forestry, the balance 44 being absorbed by research, education and miscellaneous special services.
From 1919, when it was set up, to 1939 the Commission planted 369,000 acres and private woodlands owners were given Commission grants to plant 126,000 acres. During the war years the Commission planted 100,000 acres. By September, 1963, it had acquired a total of 2½ million acres of land, of which about 1½ million are under plantation. On the other hand, private woodlands owners have planted 404,000 acres since the war, which, in contradistinction to the Commission, is more than was envisaged in the Commission's Report on post-war forestry policy in 1943.
The first question that the Estimates Committee had to ask itself was whether it was still desirable to expand our production of timber. Here we had the evidence of the Forestry Committee of Great Britain, which in its memorandum to the Sub-Committee gave three reasons, none of which was subsequently controverted. It said, as is shown on page 71 of the Report:Firstly, F.A.O. has reported that Europe has become a net importer of timber. Secondly, the increased use of home-grown timber in this country can make a major contribution to the easing of the balance of payments problems. At present, imports of timber and timber products are costing the country over £400 million per annum. Home production accounts for about one-tenth of all timber used in a year… Thirdly"—This is particularly important—the contribution forestry can make to the problem of comparatively high unemployment in areas such as the Highlands of Scotland and the hill areas of Wales and North-East England.These views were not at all acceptable to the Treasury witness. I should like to quote what the Treasury witness, Mr. R. F. Bretherton, said, because it may surprise some hon. Members to hear it. He said in answer to Question 863, posed by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Milian):Though we entirely accept that there are very strong social grounds for a continuing programme, at the same time we do not regard investment in forestry as a very good way of spending public money from a commercial point of view.When the hon. Member for Craigton pressed him, he said that it was certainly not a desirable investment on commercial grounds.
45 In its Report of 1943, the Forestry Commission had set up a notional target of 5 million acres of afforested land in England. I asked Mr. Bretherton:Is there not a target of 5 million acres?Mr. Bretherton replied:There was at one time a desire of that kind, but that disappeared some years ago.I saidDo I take it that the Treasury view is that the sooner any specific target is abandoned, the better?Mr. Bretherton replied:A specific target to be reached at the end of a particular period, yes. We think the present arrangement by which you fix the planting programme for a reasonable period ahead is probably the best one.At Question 894 I said to Mr. Bretherton:Sir Henry Beresford-Peirse told us that it locks as if there can be no danger of this country ever producing more timber than we need or can reasonably sell?Sir Henry is the Director-General of the Forestry Commission. Mr. Bretherton replied:That, I think, is true.As it happens, there is really nothing in the Forestry Commission's accounts to show whether the Treasury's gloomy view of the commercial viability of the Commission is justified. Until the Treasury can be convinced that there is a commercial future for timber we have to accept its views as expressed in answer to Question 864, namely, that investment in forestry is not commercially desirable for the nation. In all these matters the Treasury view is of such dominating importance that, naturally, it has, if it is maintained, an inhibiting effect on the Commission's future activities. It would seem, therefore, that it is all the more important that the Commission's accounts should be expressed in realistic and intelligible form, and the Committee makes specific recommendations, which have been accepted by the Forestry Ministers, and we shall await with interest the results of their deliberations with the Treasury.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), who ha taken a special interest in these matters, hopes to have the opportunity to speak in the debate so that he can point out to the Committee some of the deficiencies in the present presentation of the Forestry Commission's accounts and 46 how the accounts could be substantially improved, particularly by including a valuation of its growing timber from time to time.
I turn to the composition of the Forestry Commission. We had the benefit of having evidence from Mr. Vane, who is now a member of another place. He has had some experience on both sides of the hill, both as a timber grower and as a former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. In his memorandum he said that the Commissionstill bears the stamp of a body designed to further, first of all, the building up of a strategic reserve of timber, without overmuch regard to the cost.He did not produce any evidence to support this statement, and we did not have any evidence throughout the inquiry that the Commission was interested in building a strategic reserve of timber regardless of cost. There was nothing in our Report to confirm this statement.
But in paragraph 19 of our recommendations we reported:Although it is appropriate that the Commission should be representative of timber growers, your Committee recommend that the Forestry Ministers, in considering recommendations for the appointment of new Commissioners, should take steps to include some with direct commercial experience.This was just as far as the Committee went.
The Minister has gone a great deal further than this. In paragraph 3 of the Eighth Special Report he brings to an end the Forestry Commission as it is today. Paragraph 3 says:The Government consider that a change in its composition is now required both to recognise that, as the Committee point out, the Commission has now passed from being a mainly timber-growing organisation to a new phase when it has an equally important role as a timber-seller and, secondly, to accord with present day practice for bodies with executive functions. They propose that, in future, the Commission should have a part-time Chairman (as at present) and four full-time executive members. … They also propose that there would be five part-time Commissioners who will be chosen for their knowledge and experience of commerce, the timber trade, trades unions matters, and forestry and the countryside.This is throwing the baby out with the bath water with a vengeance. The Forestry Commission has the dual role of developing the State forests, on the 47 one hand, and, on the other, of conducting the authority with responsibility to wards private growers. It has been argued that there may be an inherent contradiction in these two roles in that both the Forestry Commission, on one side, and the private woodlands growers, on the other, may be selling timber in competition with each other.
Nevertheless, it is only right that we should make it perfectly clear that the Forestry Commission has always kept the confidence of the timber growers. This was brought out in evidence by the Forestry Committee of Great Britain, which represents timber growers, and which, in answer to the hon. Member for Craigton, who asked:The Minister is having to rely on the Forestry Commission for advice and you would really rather prefer that there was some independent source of advice in an official sense that the two Ministries?stated:It would be very hard to find an independent source of advice for the Minister.I asked:So, therefore, you would, in fact, like to see a Forestry Department inside the Ministry?To which the answer was:We think that would be impossible to work.Later, I asked:Would you like to see a Forestry Department?The answer I received was:We have discussed this earlier and our opinion was, no.That is a considerable testimonial to the way in which the Forestry Commission has kept the confidence of the interests involved, interests with whom it might otherwise be thought to be in competition.
I feel bound to ask whether the Forestry Commission as it is now proposed to reconstitute it—with only one part-time member with experience of forestry as against the present position with virtually all the members being versed in forestry—will be equally successful in retaining the confidence of the timber growers. I hope that the upgrading of the Timber Advisory Committee, which is now proposed by the Minister, will meet this point.
48 The Committee took a very careful look at the problems of land acquisition, which are covered by paragraphs 50 to 59. I need not repeat the arguments which were deployed. However, I draw particular attention to the question, mentioned in paragraph 57, of the acquisition of suitable forestry land in Scotland by foreign interests. I personally do not believe that there is an cause for alarm on this issue. Perhaps we should be happy that some people living abroad are willing to take a considerable long-term view of our economy by investing in land for forestry purposes. There cannot be much wrong, from the point of view of the private woodland owner, in the present grant system if capital is attracted from abroad to take advantage of it. I agree, nevertheless, that if these small acquisitions became a large-scale thing the matter would have to be looked into again.
The Sub-Committee was seized of the Forestry Commission's planting problems, particularly in Scotland, and having scrambled up and down the hillsides in the pouring rain for two days I do not think that any member of Sub-Committee B will be disposed to underrate the difficulties involved, especially in view of the great distances and sparseness of population. Certainly, the Forestry Commission is making a major contribution, by its planting programme, to some of the poorest areas of the British Isles and we should not underrate its effect in arresting rural depopulation. The Commission combines in its activities work of social value, amenity value and economic advantage. It makes a real contribution to preventing the drift from the countryside and helps to counter the increasing industrialisation and uglification of the country.
The grant in aid in 1963 amounted to £12¼ million, which is expected to fall to £9 million by 1974 and to disappear altogether by 1984. On the economic side, we will not, in the foreseeable future, provide more than a modest fraction of our timber requirements. We are, by European standards, under-afforested. Two European wars in quick succession have denuded our supplies of homegrown timber.
In these circumstances, the Sub-Committee thought it right to subject the Forestry Commission to a searching and 49 diligent examination. In this examination we found much to admire and very little to criticise. Forest timber is a crop, like any other. It needs, in turn, preparation of the ground, planting, cultivating, harvesting and marketing. All these important tasks fall under the competence of the Commission and have, in our view, been wisely and satisfactorily carried out.
We are glad that the Minister has taken note of the suggestions which we made. Where he has gone beyond our conclusions, notably in the total reorganisation of the Forestry Commission, I should perhaps make it clear that there was nothing in the Sub-committee's Report to give grounds for such a sweeping change. Up to now the Forestry Commission has been composed of part-time members, virtually unpaid. If the Minister and his advisers think that it is time for a change, then I suggest that he put on record the fact that the Estimates Committee would also desire to express appreciation of the work that has been carried out by the members of the Commission, working largely on a voluntary basis, for so many years. I very much hope that the Minister will do that in his reply.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Middlesbrough, West)
Hon. Members will agree that on an afternoon such as this we could all benefit from being in some of our excellent forests. We must also commiserate the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) and his fellow Sub-Committee members for having picked two unfortunate days on which to go through the forests.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's attention way; somewhat distracted from what seems to be the prime role of forestry land in thin country—a rôle which was not mentioned in the Estimates Committee Report, but which was mentioned in the Annual Report of the Forestry Commission—and that is the open air, recreational amenity value of the forests and the landscape.
The commercial aspects of this matter have been fully dealt with, including sales and rents. We see that the total revenue of the Commission from non-Parliamentary sources was £½ million, with annual pay rents of £15½ million. We are told that by about 1984 the Commission 50 should be in a position to dispense with the grant in aid. However, we are clearly not dealing with a commercial venture, although we must ensure that we get value for money. We need to look at other aspects when we consider whether we are getting value for the money we spend in this way.
We see in our attitude to forestry a tremendous contrast with the attitude in the United States, particularly the national parks of that country. In America, active encouragement is given to people to enjoy the forests. Here, on the other hand, we put up notices on forest paths leading from main roads saying "No unauthorised persons admitted". Alongside main roads in the United States special picnic places are provided, with log benches and tables, tempting the motorist into the forest to have a picnic.
In Britain, we find lay-bys along our trunk roads in Forestry Commission land with no access at all into the forests. Indeed, if the brave motorist climbs over the fence he merely finds what has become a sordid, stinking public lavatory. There is a tremendous failure on the part of the Forestry Commission to attract people into enjoying the recreational facilities of our splendid forests.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Does not the hon. Member realise the very great difficulties that spring from the danger of fire in the young forestry areas?
§ Dr. Bray
Yes, and if the hon. Gentleman watches television at all he will realise that it is a tremendous selling point for the attractiveness of the American forests in that the propaganda directed at making the public fire-conscious and enlisting their aid in fighting fire is an appreciable factor in dealing with the spontaneous outbreaks that occur. If there were comparable educational effort in this country, instead of this restrictive attitude of trying to keep the public out, there would be a great deal better response than there is today. If we keep people out and make them unwelcome they will set no store on the product we are growing, but if we treat them in a proper manner they will respond.
Speaking for an area that gains very greatly from the North Yorkshire moors 51 National Park, as far as I know the Forestry Commission makes no effort to encourage awareness amongst schoolchildren of the danger of forest fires. If the children were occasionally taken out for demonstrations, if they were made welcome and had camp sites in the forest areas, there would be a different attitude.
I hope that the full-time Commission to which we look forward will make the recreational development of forests a prime part of its job. The Commission is to have part-time members who will be responsible for or have particular interest in commerce, the timber trade, trade union matters, and forestry and the countryside. I suggest that recreation might well be added as a further interest of a part-time member.
The development must be carried out with tact, and there must be awareness of the dangers of fire, and this can be done. Already, the Forestry Commission is—and I welcome it—diversifying its plantations. It is altering the pattern of planting, and has already done so very well in one or two spots on the North Yorkshire moors, but it has not yet got to the point where it deliberately provides camp sites, public ways, caravan sites and picnic spots—and not just tucked away in the most unpleasant parts, but placed where there are wonderful views and where the public can enjoy the amenities offered—
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
To be perfectly fair, only during the Whitsun Recess I motored through Thetford Chase and Brandon and Swaffham, and noticed two picnic spots provided by the Forestry Commission in that area.
§ Dr. Bray
I welcome the information. I also motored on the same road and had the greatest difficulty in finding any picnic spot until we got outside Commission land. But I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman found these spots.
Some hon. Members may have noticed in The Guardian today the headline:Overuse of countryside 'must stop'.That statement was not made by the Forestry Commission, but by Mr. John Foster, the Director and Planning Officer of the Peak Park Planning Board. He contended that too many people were 52 parking their cars by the road in national parks. That is a very negative attitude. We must realise that people want to go into the national parks by whatever means of transport is available to them, and they should be properly provided for.
If, in the process of developing the recreational use of the forests, additional charges have to be borne I think that the proper way for them to be borne is by having the work carried out by the staff of the Forestry Commission itself. It has been pointed out that there is a fire risk and proper consideration must be paid to that. There would also be much greater cost attaching to the development of any further public amenities if this were done by special contractors coming into the rural areas. Many isolated forestry communities are very lonely places in the middle of winter, and any means of attracting people to them from outside by offering some alternative employment would be highly welcome. I therefore hope that the recreational use of the forests will be charged as a resonsibility of the Commission itself, and will not be diverted to some other body.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will say something about encouraging the correct recreational use of forestry as well as its commercial purposes.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray) has not been quite fair to the Forestry Commission. I remember taking a trip to Wales last summer when we saw the most splendid camp provided by the Commission for holiday makers, where they could enjoy the surroundings of the forest area without doing damage.
The hon. Gentleman underestimates the danger of fire in the new plantations. It is only fair to the Commission to say that many of its plantations are still very young; but as they grow up it will be easier for the Commission to provide the public with access to them. But we must not be diverted from the realisation that the fire risk is very serious. Fire has destroyed, and does destroy, a good deal of the best plantations, and we must remember that the Commission's main job is to grow trees.
53 Those of us who are interested in forestry welcome the chance to talk about it, even on an afternoon like this when, as the hon. Gentleman said, many of us would far sooner have been in the woodlands themselves. If we had been touring round our woodlands and comparing what we saw with what we might have seen 20 or 30 years ago, we would have been very struck by the increase in the number of conifers, and the disappearance of the indigenous deciduous trees like oak, ash and beech. Many people may deplore this, but I am convinced that the future demands of the market make it necessary for the Commission to grow conifers, and if it were to be subjected to a lot of criticism on that score I would be the very first to defend it.
At this point, I should declare an interest to the House. I have at present about 1,000 acres of woodlands, and I must say that it brings me very much up against the £ s. d. of forestry, and makes me realise how very difficult it is on a small scale—as it must be on a larger scale—to see where the money is going, and to have a proper accounting system—something to which I shall return later.
I congratulate the Committee on doing a very good job. There have been times when one has been critical of some of its Reports, but I believe that in this case it has put its finger on most of the main points. I do not remember a better Report from the Estimates Committee.
Unfortunately, on these occasions one always has to start off by justifying forestry. I believe that there is very good justification for carrying on forestry in this; country, although I agree that it is vet), hard for the nation, as it is for the private woodland owner, to look 80 years ahead and decide how much timber will be wanted and what kind it is likely to be. That is one of the Commission's very real difficulties. Were it able to do things over again, I have no doubt that it would plant species rather different from those we find in some areas but, by and large, it has done an extremely good job, and has built up a reputation for forestry that is second to none, although for many years the lead has been with Germany and France.
The 1919 Act which set up the Commission gave as the reasons for doing 54 this the dependence on imported timber in peace and war, and areas then existing which were little better than wastes. Those reasons hold good today to a remarkable extent. We have only limited natural resources, and it would be a very great pity to allow large areas to go to waste just because someone in the Treasury was doubtful about the economics of planting trees there. We have to practise the exercise of looking into the future. That is hard enough for a short term, but to look forward 80 or 100 years is very difficult indeed.
There is evidence, I agree, that timber is not required for some purposes for which it was formerly used. Wooden pit props are less used. Fewer railway sleepers and wooden railway wagons are needed. On the other hand, there is increasing evidence from the F.A.O. and other sources of shortage of timber in the Western world and that even America will become a net importer before long because for many purposes timber is still required, and will continue to be required. When one looks round this Chamber one sees a surprising amount of timber, most of which is home grown. Other uses of timber are coming in which affect pulp mills and the production of chipboard.
I agree, however, that the economics of planting simply for these purposes are doubtful because timber needs to be produced cheaper in such great bulk as the price is disappointing. Other uses include fencing. I am glad to see that the motorways have set a good example by the use of home-grown timber. Most important of all is that we should produce more sawn timber. Owing to the depletion caused by the two world wars we are not at present in a position to produce much sawn timber, but I believe that we can produce really good sawn timber in this country. Much of the housebuilding timber is brought in from abroad, but it could and should be produced in this country. One of the jobs the Commission should apply itself to in the next 20 years is to persuade users that the home-grown article is very important.
I must say a word about the defence argument. This was the main argument adduced for forestry until quite recently. Now it is said that a war would be over in five days, or certainly five weeks or 55 five months. We have to look ahead and ought to produce more home-grown timber. Can we afford to waste resources and pay the bill for imports? I believe that there are sound economic arguments for using our land to the best advantage. Secondly, the amount of money we are spending on importing timber is an important factor. The Report refers to the rather modest figure of £245 million a year as the cost of all timber imports for the country. When that is compared with the total amount of money, including compound interest, spent by the Forestry Commission since 1919 the figure is considerably less. It is only £218 million, but compared with the true figure of all the imports of wood products last year it was less than half, because the true figure was £545 million.
I feel confident that the money has been well spent, but, nevertheless, it is worrying to find from the Report that the attitude of the Treasury is still so sceptical. I can understand that the evidence before the Treasury may not be as concrete as the Treasury would like, but it seems to be taking a rather short-term view of the way in which balance of payments can be benefited by growing more timber at home. I believe the figures I have quoted show this. Quite apart from the purely economic arguments, there is the argument about amenity which was used by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West. There will be a dividend of beauty to be derived from planting up so much of the country.
I come to some of the changes in the constitutional position which the Minister has announced as a result of this Report. First, I wish to apportion praise and blame. I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has accepted the idea of having advisers in the three Ministries concerned to advise him directly on forestry matters. This has been advocated for a long time. It means that those engaged in private forestry, and timber merchants, will have direct access to Ministers. That is excellent.
I am not certain, however, whether it is a good thing for the Commission to have three masters instead of two. It flows from the desire to put Welsh forestry on an equal and separate footing. I hope that the comparatively small 56 part of the Vote concerned with private forestry can be made a separate Vote. That would be very useful. When I was at the Admiralty, and we were responsible for merchant shipbuilding, in order to emphasise that it was quite different from warship building, we put it under a separate Vote.
Important in the Report is the challenge to forestry today—the problem of marketing. We have to judge these constitutional proposals by seeing how far they succeed in improving the likelihood of marketing the timber which, after 40 years, will be coming along very much more rapidly. It is absolutely no use planting 1,449,000 acres and selling the timber in "penny packets". The only people who can take the initiative and sell in large quantities are the Commission. This, in turn, can benefit private owners.
I wish to say a few words about the new composition of the Commission. I dare say that the Minister will refer to this later. From what I know I have some doubts about whether he is pursuing this matter on the right lines. I understand that he is allowed only 10 commissioners under Act of Parliament. The new chairman will be part time and there will be four full-time members of the Commission. There will be a director-general who will be the deputy chairman, although a civil servant. There will be full-time members for management, for harvesting and marketing and for administration and finance. The appointment for harvesting and marketing is the key appointment and we shall judge the proposal very largely on the ground of who is chosen for that position. I suggest that it might be better to bring in someone from outside for that job. There will be five other part-time members to make the total composition of the Commission.
I understand that one of them has to be versed in science, one in trade union matters, a third in the timber trade—which, presumably, means a timber merchant—and a fourth is to have commercial experience. That is very important indeed. The net result will be that room on the Commission will be found for only one private woodland owner, whereas at present there are six. That seems to be a bad thing. Those who have personal experience of forestry are in a position 57 to make a special contribution, particularly when serving on a board such as this. It seems a pity that the Parliamentary representatives were abolished. If the right hon. Gentleman has to reconstitute the Commission in future he might consider enlarging it to include a couple of Parliamentary representatives. That would keep this House in touch with what the Commission is doing.
There are two points about the reconstitution of the Commission. First, the private woodland owner seems to be being pushed out. Secondly, as I understand the Minister's proposals, it seems as though he intends simply to upgrade the civil servants and make them full members of the Commission. I am not at all sure that this is the right course. I think that they are excellent people. I am doubtful whether they are paid high enough salaries. Even for technical civil servants, as opposed to ordinary civil servants, the range of salaries is very low, unless there are special negotiations with the Treasury. I have had personal experience of that.
I believe that these men must be paid the salaries they deserve, because they are doing an excellent job. I do not believe that there is any analogy here with, for example, the Board of Admiralty on which admirals who are servants of the Crown serve. It is only very recently that civil servants have been included on the Board. There is much to be said for having well-paid full-time experts and, above them, people brought in from outside, particularly representatives of timber users, perhaps somebody from the house-building trade and other trades which will take all this timber which we hope to produce.
Therefore, I hope that the new Commission will not be a mixture as before, but that the Minister will face the very new and the very real problem of marketing all the timber which is coming along. I hope that he will, by setting an example and by setting standards, help to improve the marketing of private timber, because it is much more difficult for private owners. They usually have very small parcels to sell compared with the Commission and they are obliged to follow where the Commission leads. Let me say at once that in some cases the Commission is already doing an excellent job. We came across an example in South 58 Wales, last summer, where a local firm had been making boxes from imported timber and had switched over completely to local timber from the Commission's woodlands in South Wales. This kind of initiative needs every encouragement.
The accounts have long been considered to be unsatisfactory. Perhaps this matter is at the root of the Treasury's rather curious hostility. It is curious to me, since such a great contribution is being made to the balance of payments. The net cost of the State forests last year, as I estimate it, was £17,716,000, which is a very considerable amount. As yet, the receipts are disappointing. The sales of forest produce amounted to only £2½ million, which only slightly exceeded the cost of maintenance of plantations alone before any overheads are included. We must not be too deceived about this. Forty years is a comparatively short time in the growth of trees and at first only limited plantations were planted. We are just coming to the really important phase, but the House should have an account of how the money is being spent.
It is difficult to see exactly how this can be done. It is disappointing that we have to debate this subject this afternoon without having the annual report before us. The Report goes up only to the end of March. We are told that in the annual report there will be a new form of valuation of woodlands. Up to now it has been a fairly sketchy affair, and, as the Report rightly says, the smallest error in that valuation would make a very large difference to the asset which has been created for the nation. It will be interesting to see just how the new valuation will be done when the report comes along. A costings branch is to be set up, although I am a little uncertain whether that will get us much further. I believe that more attention must be paid to the accounting system, if only to convince the Treasury and the nation that a good and sound job is being done.
I notice that with regard to land acquisition there was some criticism of the Commission in respect of the 800,000 acres of non-forest land which it holds. I have seen something of this. I should be inclined to defend the Commission over this matter. I do not think that the Commission can he expected to plant an unduly high proportion of the land 59 it acquires. Much of it would not repay the effort.
There has been some criticism about forest holdings. I can envisage a place high up in the Welsh mountains where there was a small forest holding. It was an excellent thing. The man living there was at the disposal of the Commission for odd jobs. He was up there on the spot. By having the holding he was enabled to be there, whereas otherwise he would have had to have been brought from a long way. The arrangement was to the Commission's advantage.
There is scope for much more planting, particularly in certain areas. I am not sure how far the social argument would justify one going to areas where it is known that trees will never be produced very satisfactorily, such as the low rainfall areas in the north-east of Scotland. However, there is a very good future for forestry in areas such as the West Coast, where there is a high rainfall.
It is significant that in the early stages in South Wales there was a good deal of opposition to planting. We were told when we were there that the local feeling has come round completely and people now do not like it when the plantations are ripe and they have to be cut down. Much prejudice has to be overcome on this score. We must stick to areas of fairly high rainfall. I believe that there are still a number of areas of high rainfall where trees can be economically grown and the Commission has the knowledge and the expertise to plant them.
At present, private woodlands represent 64 per cent. of the total forest area. Paragraph 84 contains some criticism about delay in bringing the grants up to date. The grants to private owners have been a little disappointing. A large number of owners are under the dedicated scheme. Many of them were very upset by the first provisions of the Finance Bill, which we are happy have been changed. I myself, being a very cautious person, have always been under the approved scheme, even though I got less help in that way, because I never knew what was going to happen.
There are very special problems for private owners. I believe that the Commission has done a good job in looking after them. In recent years confidence 60 between private owners and the Commission has increased enormously. Most private owners have a higher factor for the cost of fencing than has the Commission. I make a plea for one kind of grant which has been refused up to now, although I believe there is some sympathy for it among the experts. I refer to a grant for forest roads. On going round the Commission's woodlands I am struck by how successful and how comparatively cheap the forest roads have been. It is no good planting trees unless they can be extracted. I hope that before long it will be possible to make some grant to private owners towards the cost of forest roads.
I hope that the good relationship which exists between private owners and the Commission will continue. When I go round my woodlands about once a year with my private consultant the Commission's representative comes with us. This is very useful, because one can crosscheck on every theory as to what species should go into a particular place.
I believe that a tremendous job has been done, and can continue to be done, by the Commission. That is why I am a little anxious about what I imagine will happen, namely, that private owners will be more or less pushed off by the Commission. I believe that as part-time people they have done a good job. Some of them might well have been paid in the past, because they have given up a lot and have put in a great deal of time. I can think of examples where the money would have been very useful indeed.
I conclude by again congratulating those who have produced the Report. It is a very useful one. They have posed the main question. It is now a question of getting the right machinery so as to get the marketing going correctly before the main flood of timber comes along in the next 20 years. I believe that the real battle in forestry will not be fought in the forest glades, but in the corridors of Whitehall. I wish the three forestry Ministers luck, and they will probably need it, in their future battles with the Treasury.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
I should like to join in complimenting the authors of this Report. I have found it extraordinarily interesting reading. It 61 will be very useful to have the accounts of the Forestry Commission set out in a more realistic form in future. However, it will be very difficult for any group of people to do that really effectively, because there are too many unknowns.
As has been mentioned, it is difficult to estimate what the value of crops will be when they reach maturity in 80 years time. It will also be difficult to estimate the value of thinnings when they come along in 20 or 30 years' time. I would have thought, therefore, that however seriously we attempt to value the crops standing at the moment on the Commissions' plantations, there are still so many things about which one is doubtful, that the figures are bound to be rather vague, even when the effort has been made.
From the world point of view, there will probably be an increasing shortage of timber in the years ahead, and I should have thought it right to assume that fact when one is considering programmes for 100 years ahead. I also believe that there will be increasing uses of timber of one kind or another brought about not only by an expansion in the consumption of paper, but by many other industries which may be developed and may use timber in the years ahead. Therefore, from a national point of view I do not think it is a mistake to make these investments. Indeed, I would rather see more money spent on the expansion of forestry than is contemplated at present.
I also fully agree with what has been said about the desirability of using up wasteland. A lot of nonsense is talked by people who admire just waste. Whenever I see a heath with nothing growing on it, or densely covered with hawthorn bushes, I always want to see that land put to better use on behalf of the nation. Whilst, obviously, we can never plant up an enormous amount of the wasteland in this country, in the Highlands, and so on, there are other areas which can and should be used to advantage. From the amenity point of view it is desirable to have a contrast between forests on hillsides and bare hills above when planning the use of our land. I favour making good use of the plentiful wasteland in this country.
We are finding a solution to the problem of using timber grown by the 62 Forestry Commission, and I should like to compliment the Commission on the initiative it has taken in helping to set up the pulp plant at Fort William and the assistance given in providing chipboard factories in Thetford and other parts of the country. Not enough credit has been given to the Commission in its efforts to find uses for the products from its own plantations and from private owners' plantations.
In addition to the points that have been made about the finances of the Commission and the difficulty of valuing the growing crops, there is also the difficulty of valuing the social work done by the Commission. Whether some part of the grant given to the Commission could be based on its social work as a separate item I do not know. Even that would be rather difficult. But one can see what has been done in parts of the Scottish and Welsh highlands and parts of East Anglia, which has been of enormous benefit to the nation. Apart altogether from the commercial results of that development, there is the social benefit in making it possible for communities to live in places where depopulation is proceeding at a rapid rate.
The Commission is finding some difficulty in recruiting labour in Scotland. Unfortunately, in many areas the forests have come too late and communities have already disappeared. It would have been useful if active afforestation had taken place in some of those areas 20 or 30 years ago. It is now a question of offering good work to young people in the hope that they feel it is worth while following their fathers into the industry. It may take time for a labour force to grow up in some of these areas unless people come in from other parts, such as the Outher Hebrides, where there is no afforestation. The value of preserving or reviving social communities in this way cannot be assessed in terms of hard cash, but, nevertheless, is of very real value to the nation.
I support the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) in referring to the change of attitude which has taken place in many parts of the country. When visiting some of the Welsh forests last year I was struck to find that in almost every county people were approaching their local Members of Parliament and 63 asking, "Cannot we have a sawmill here?" or, "Cannot we have a chipboard factory?". But when one went into the matter fully one found that the timber grown in the area was sufficient only to meet the needs of the existing plants. No doubt, with an extensive planting programme in the future there can be further developments of that kind, but I thought it very interesting to come across this strong local pressure to create subsidiary industries to use the products of forestry.
Unfortunately, there is not enough timber coming forward to supply the needs of developing industries. One knows of the proposal after the war to take over an area by compulsory purchase in the upper Towey Valley, which was turned down after a good deal of agitation. Many of the farmers whose areas would have been taken subsequently came forward and offered their land to the Commission, although not always in adjoining packages. They felt that it would be useful to let the Commission come in there, but they did not want it to do this compulsorily. They were, however, quite willing in many cases to sell the land voluntarily.
One is finding that the battle between the sheep farmer and the forester is no longer being fought so bitterly as in the past. In many cases even sheep farmers are prepared to hand over their farms if they get a reasonable price and they see that good use is to be made of the land.
It is difficult to value financially all the amenity and social work done by the Commission. I strongly disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray), who criticised the Commission's attempts to develop the use of its forests. I have been very impressed by the work done in the creation of camp sites in the Forest of Dean and the Grampians, and the forest parks run by the Commission especially in Scotland. There are no national parks in Scotland such as we have in England. But I would point out that in letting people into the forests and asking them to make good use of them, in providing facilities and enabling them to enjoy the amenities there, one also has to protect the forests.
Whilst I was in Wales last year I found that a forester in charge had 64 managed to persuade coach owners in the neighbouring seaside resorts to run conducted tours in the forests to see the very beautiful country, much improved by the trees, behind the seaside resorts. But he said, "I could not allow all the roads concerned to be open to casual motorists coming in, because we have forestry operations taking place all the time. Trees are being hauled and fellings are taking place and people would be running into our tractors or into the timber. Therefore, the routes which I have to lay down have to vary according to the work taking place in the forest." It is perfectly reasonable to have this type of access for people to enable them to see the forests.
I should also like to draw attention to what is happening in parts of Wales and in East Anglia in the education of schoolchildren in many villages to enjoy and appreciate the forests. Many schools have little plantations allotted to them where they do the planting and thinning on advice from the Commission. This has proved useful in encouraging young people to go on to work for the Commission in many cases.
The whole of the mining area round the Vale of Neath has been densely afforested in recent years. The area must have been extraordinarily ugly before the trees were planted. Initially when it was planted there was great danger of fire because it was the custom there to burn the moor and of course the forests went up in flames too. But now there are large well-kept forests, many of them with deer, and these are greatly appreciated by the local people.
It has already been mentioned that when it was proposed in one area to remove larch trees and replace them by other trees there was an extraordinary outcry by the local population because they did not want to see the forest disappear after 20 years and they did not understand the need for the replacement. A great deal has been done since then by way of educational work by the Commission and people now enjoy walking through the forests as a recreation.
§ Dr. Bray
Is my hon. Friend aware of the provisions made in other countries for the development of the recreational use of forests which go very much beyond the admirable efforts of the Forestry Commission which he has described? Does my hon. Friend feel 65 that it is adequate to interest children only from the mining and forestry villages immediately adjoining when those who should be enjoying the forest are those who live in the big towns and cities?
§ Mr. Parker
I fully agree that the wider the educational work goes the better and that knowledge and appreciation of our forests should be brought to the notice of children in big towns and cities. Already, visits are being made by some city schools to these forests, but there is a great difference between countries where there are enormous forests which were never cut down and a countryside like ours where we are creating forests anew. I appreciate what is done in the national parks of the United States, but many of the forests in that country are completely derelict. They are not looked after and second growths are allowed to come up anyhow and any way. Our own Forestry Commission has a good record in education, but I agree that more could be done than has been done in the past.
It is not easy to put a financial value on this kind of work. In south-eastern England it is already the accepted policy of the Commission to try to develop its woodlands for the use of the urban population. Savernake Forest is an interesting example. It was planted by Capability Brown as part of a large country house estate with magnificent avenues which were subsequently neglected. It came into the Commission's possession on the definite promise that indigenous trees only would be planted. The Commission has done fine work over the years, partly with natural generation and partly with intensive planting, and the forest is open for public enjoyment; Boy Scouts and other campers are making good use of it.
The Commission also does a great deal of planting to hide the ugliness of the past. In the Forest of Dean it is fairly simple to plant over slag heaps. In Somerset an enlightened landowner planted over old mining tips. Some of these have now been handed over to the Commission; they all make very handsome woodlands. A great deal of planting of that kind is being done. It might not be commercially successful in all cases but from the national point of view it is added amenity.
Some of the national parks have very fine forests. Snowdonia is an example. 66 I fully agree with those who would not like to see a large extension of conifer planting in the Lake District, but there are other national parks where the Commission is faced with unjustified opposition to planting. Pembroke National Park mostly consists of windswept sea coast and is obviously unsuitable for planting but there are areas there where planting would add to the beauty of the national park by providing a contrast between the mountains and the valleys and the sea coast. In many of our national parks the Commission should be welcomed and asked to go ahead with a certain amount of planting. I should like to see all the national parks have some kind of landscape planting done, in conjunction with the Commission, to provide tree coverage and wind breaks, but if this kind of work is to he done by the Commission it will be difficult to value financially and to say who should pay for it.
Other work which the Forestry Commission does which is worth while, but is, again, difficult to value in terms of money is the running of various arboretums. There is a very fine pinetum at Bedgebury. There is Westonbirt, in Gloucestershire. These are open to the public to enjoy as well as to experts in forestry. This is part of the Commission's work and the cost comes out of its general funds. All this social work done by the Commission is well worth while. It should be continued and if possible extended.
I regret that the agreement on the planting programme, reached between Lord Dalton and the Commission after the war, has not been carried out, mainly because of the difficulty in obtaining land. It is extraordinarily difficult to criticise the Commission effectively about the price which it pays for land. After all, the price of marginal land is affected largely by agricultural subsidies given by the nation.
If Parliament votes subsidies, especially to hill farmers and others, it raises the price of any land that the Forestry Commission wishes to buy. Therefore, the Commission is having to pay more because of the subsidies which this House has given to farmers. Land prices are thereby artificially raised. If the agricultural subsidies were to disappear overnight, the price of the land which the 67 Commission has to buy for planting would decrease.
Despite what has been said, I hope that we do not have any wide extension of the practice of foreign purchasers buying land in this country for forestry. I understand that, in the Grampians, one can get land more cheaply for afforestation than in many parts of central Europe and therefore this constitutes a temptation to foreign buyers. However, it would not be to the national advantage to have any great extension of this process.
§ Mr. George Y. Mackie (Caithness and Sutherland)
Does not the hon. Gentleman know that foreigners have been buying land in the Scottish Highlands for the past 100 years?
§ Mr. Parker
But most of them have come from other parts of the United Kingdom. I was speaking of purchasers from across the seas. Our own people who buy land pay their contribution towards the Forestry Commission's work through taxation, I hope.
Another difficulty in the way of the Commission is proving to be the setting up of city forestry syndicates. I understand that one of the ways of escaping at least some taxation is for these syndicates to buy land for afforestation. But, unfortunately, they do not possess the social sense of the Forestry Commission. They tend to take on labour for a particular job and then get rid of it, whereas the Commission and those private landlords who have been planting for years feel an obligation to their staff as people who live in a community and are part of it. The work of these syndicates will raise the price of land to the Commission still further, although their work is not as satisfactory as that done by the Commission or by those land owners who have carried on forestry for years and who feel responsible to those who work for them.
Another question relating to land concerns preservation orders. If such an order is issued by the planning authority in an area, it can sometimes take the form of a ruling that the same kind of trees must be planted on the land concerned as in the past, although this may not commercially be the best crop for that land. We all agree that, from the point of view 68 of amenity, we want to keep some of our traditional trees—the beech and the oak, for example. But if, in a certain area, as a result of a planning order, the land cannot be commercially maintained then either a grant should be given by the authority which makes the order or the land should be taken over by that authority and maintained by it.
In Committee upstairs, we are now considering a Bill dealing with commons. I hope that it will not be too long before it becomes possible for a good deal of common land in the Welsh hills and some other parts suitable for afforestation to become available to the Forestry Commission or to other persons for forestry. At present, there is a lot of sentimental talk about the need to preserve our commons and no one wants to destroy people's rights without compensation. But if land is simply being wasted and is suitable for afforestation or other crops, then it is better transferred to those who will do the job. Much common land in the hills could well pass to the care of the Forestry Commission.
It should also be a general rule that when reservoirs are created by local authorities or other water authorities, the land draining into them should normally be afforestated, probably by joint schemes between the Forestry Commission and the local authorities—as was the case with Liverpool and the Forestry Commission for Lake Vyrnwy. In all these ways we might increase the amount of land going to the Forestry Commission. We understand its difficulties with regard to price, the obtaining of land and the various activities of city forestry syndicates which may obtain land which would otherwise go to the Commission, thereby making it more costly for the Commission to buy land.
It is important that the Forestry Commission has moved forward to the idea of adding its workers to existing village communities instead of establishing hamlets right out in the wilds where people can have no social life of any kind. It is highly desirable that we should make forestry workers part of existing communities and build up existing villages.
I understand the difficulties in some places because some local authorities—I believe this occurs in parts of Scotland —are not keen to provide housing for 69 Forestry Commission workers and expect the Commission itself to do so. In some areas, the Commission has done so. In the main, however, it is desirable that forestry workers should, like other workers, obtain their houses from the local authorities and should be part of the community as a whole. No doubt the Forestry Commission can advise local authorities concerned as to the amount of land in the area likely to be planted in years to come and such advice would assist the local authorities in their planning for housing.
It is also important that housing provided for forestry workers should be designed with tourist amenities in mind, in the sense that forestry workers can be expected to take in tourists during the holidays, especially in isolated places. If we are to develop interest in our forests, it is important to provide accommodation on the spot and so houses for forestry workers should have enough spare bedrooms for the boarding of tourists.
I hope that, following the reorganisation of the Forestry Commission, we shall continue a forward policy. I have been very struck over the years by the very high standard of person that the Commission has managed to recruit at all levels. The work seems to have inspired interest and enthusiasm and the service seems extraordinarily happy and well run. I hope that nothing will be done to interfere with that. If forestry is to make its proper contribution to rural life and national wealth, it must be a happy service and must continue to work as well as it has in the past. I hope that the Ministers responsible will do their best to assist the service forward in the years to come.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
Perhaps I may take this opportunity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to say what pleasure it gave all of us to learn of the high honour which has been bestowed upon you.
We have been very interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and many of us were also pleased to see the honour which has come his way. Certainly, the hon. Gentleman displayed complete erudition in discussing forests. I may have misheard him, but 70 I think that he could have added, or perhaps he did, that the public can wander at will in the New Forest, in all the sections of the forest apart from those being planted up Reverting to the original argument, picnic sites in Norfolk, I am perfectly convinced from what I saw that the picnic sites at Thetford Chase and Brandon are those that belong to the Forestry Commission.
Although not a forester, I did find the work to be extremely instructive and interesting. Some people have said that the Forestry Commission is unnecessary and that it should be wound up. In fact, one hon. Member of the House told me so only a short time ago and said that we could well dispense with the £17 million that we pay to the Commission every year. There are two reasons why I think its work is valuable. The first is that, quite apart from any major war, if a conventional war were to break out in a part of the world, such as the Far East, I am sure that the price of timber would rise impossibly high and we should rely with gratitude on our own supplies.
Secondly, looking at the overseas trade reports, I see we spent £216 million a year on foreign timber, including £166 million on coniferous timber alone. Certainly, it is of enormous help to have our own supplies. Speaking as a director of a company which uses a good deal of timber, I know that we always have orders in for far more than the Forestry Commission can supply of the right quality. Therefore, I think that it is obvious that for a long time ahead they must be doing the right thing in planting up.
Looking at our national problem as a whole, if only we had oil, non-ferrous metals and sufficient timber how very much better our balance of payments position would be. In my work on the Sub-Committee I admired the silviculture side of the Commission, the planting and the spraying of trees, the research and the huge ventures in Scotland and other parts of the country. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor Goldsmid), the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, we watched planting in an enormous downpour in Scotland and I suggested to the Forestry Commission that it might become subscribers to the advanced weather forecasts supplied by the Meteorological Office.
71 I also made the suggestion, which the research centre thought was worthy of consideration, that it might co-operate with the "Met" office in doing more short-term work on the question of climate and conditions and its effect upon the trees. This would operate in much the same way as the present system of advice to farmers, for example, when spraying potatoes in conditions which are likely to bring about a potato blight.
Coming to the larger features of the Forestry Commission's work, although I greatly admired the agricultural side I was more critical of their business side. I was not happy about the form of accounts and valuation. As my hon. Friend has mentioned, I did not think that the selling side was strong enough, particularly as the emphasis would soon be on selling. At present, the Forestry Commission is in a seller's market, but as it hopes to be self-supporting in 1984 selling will obviously be more important.
I was also not satisfied with the use of that very great tool of industry, costing. As a businessman, I am very conscious of the value of stock in hand and work in progress. I know that if these things are wrongly calculated one tends to make a profit when one has not. Even in a medium-sized business £20,000 worth of stocks, wrongly valued, can be a very serious thing and that is why in industry the annual stock-taking is such a meticulous ritual, along with the accounting of stock, calculating the value and the work in progress.
If one has 20 machine tools in a works half made, one must know the value of those machine tools and how they should appear in the accounts. If one is a property owner one needs to have an up to date valuation of one's property—particularly in business if one wants to avoid a take-over bid being made against one, although I hasten to add I have not heard of a take-over bid for the Forestry Commission being put forward yet.
I pressed these points in the discussion we had with the Treasury and in Question 914 in the Committee's Report I asked Mr. Bretherton, the Under-Secretary in charge of agricultural finance:Would it help you to have a straightforward profit and loss account every year 72 instead of or in addition to this form of account?He replied:I think it will be extremely difficult to draw up a profit and loss account which meant anything in the case of the Forestry Commission.I pressed him a bit further and he went on to say:I think the thing we are most often interested in is the division into what really is capital expenditure and what may be regarded as current expenditure. That you do not get out of these accounts very easily. If we could find a way to do that, we would like to do it; hut, again, it is not very easy.I followed it up by saying:It would certainly help the ordinary outside public to see accounts in the same form as company accounts; in other words, a profit and loss account and a balance sheet. Do you think it would be possible to construct that?He replied:Certainly, we will look at that, if it would help.I understand from the recommendations, which I will come to in a moment, that the Forestry Commission is to look at that particular problem and we all look forward to receiving accounts, which I expect will come out with the annual report in a week or two.
On the subject of valuation of land, in Question 21 I asked the Director General:In your balance sheet, in these 1962 figures we have, you show the value of your land as £5,843,000, and that has been increased in the year by £281,000. Is that purely a built up figure on the cost of acquisition? Has that £5,843,000 been built up over the years?Sir Henry Beresford-Peirse said:That is the cost.I asked him:That is, presumably, a conservative figure?He replied:It is, yes".As that is only cost the value today must be considerably higher.
My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) followed up that particular point when we went to Scotland, and asked the Scottish member of the Scottish Forestry Commission what the position was in Scotland. The reply is in Question 1403. My hon. Friend asked about the value of the Commission's land in Scotland being revalued in order to show a more realistic picture of the financial position 73 of the Commission in the balance sheet. The witness said:There is no doubt that the land we have acquired is worth a lot more than the acquisition figure over the last 30 or 40 years, but the question of revaluation is a question for the Controller of Finance (Mr. Turner). I think one would say the picture as presented at the moment is quite misleading. It puts no value on what is a very large asset and a growing asset. It just does not appear. The taxpayer does not realise what he has got for his money because of the form of the accounts.My hon. Friend the Member for Chester went on to say:Mr. Dickson would admit that there is a large hidden asset there?and the witness replied:Yes, in land value alone.On those two points, the value of the forest and the value of the land, we would like to see up-to-date valuations. That was recommended in the Committee and we are looking forward to hearing what is to take place in due course. On the accounting side we made three recommendations, that valuation of trees should be up to date, valuation of land, and that there should be a summary of results and a balance sheet and profit and loss account so that the taxpayer can see what he is getting.
As to the Departmental replies on these points, paragraph 39 of the Report states that the Commission was discussing with the Treasury and the Comptroller a system of valuation for forests and that this would be set out in the annual report and, no doubt, in the trading accounts. We should like to know whether the Minister can tell us anything about this.
As stated in paragraph 41, we asked for a comprehensive review of the presentation of the Commission's accounts and in principle this request was accepted. It was said that the Commission would distinguish between the operation of the forest enterprise, on the one hand, and the Commission's other activities, such as the administration of private woodland owners and research, on the other, and that the Commission would present also the accounts for the forest enterprise so as to identify the cost of the formation of the forest, the returns from the harvesting of the crop and the results of the management of the Commission's estates. We look forward to seeing these 74 details also in due course. Our other recommendation that a summary of the financial results should feature prominently with explanations of the most significant items was also accepted.
The other point on which the members of the Committee would like to know what is happening—because, naturally, we have not heard anything yet—concerns the recommendation that the Commission should establish a new costings branch under the authority of the Controller of Finance, working closely, where necessary, with the work study section. This recommendation was accepted in principle and we would like to hear whether a costings branch has been established and what progress it is making. Anybody with experience in industry knows the enormous value of an up-to-date and efficient system for the costing of planting, farming, tractors and equipment, for example, and for determining whether the depreciation is correct and the property management is right.
Those are the points on which I was particularly interested, apart from the silviculture side of the Commission's work, in which we as members of the Committee were interested. If the Minister today can throw light on these matters, I am sure that the Chairman and other members of the Committee who are present would like to hear what he has to say.
Subject to those points of criticism, I felt that the Commission was carrying out its work well, that it was a great asset to the nation and that it was generally to be congratulated upon its activities.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Will Owen (Morpeth)
As the Seventh Report from the Estimates Committee was originally drafted prior to the change of Government, it has now had the opportunity of being examined by the new "Establishment". We welcome the opportunity that is now presented for my right hon. Friend the Minister to make his observations upon the recommendations of the Estimates Committee in his capacity as Minister of Land and Natural Resources. The very fact that many of the Committee's recommendations have received initial commendation is of considerable encouragement to those of us who served upon the Committee.
75 In assessing the possibilities of the value of forestry, the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) indicated its contribution in previous wars and speculatively reminded us that it might be of some value in the event of a third world war. My immediate reflection upon that comment was that in the event of a third world war there would not be much left of either the forests or the Commission.
Nevertheless, I have no doubt, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will endorse this view, that forestry in Britain is a vital industry for our economy. It is vital in the sense that we import 90 per cent, of our timber requirements, at a cost of £240 million. I have no doubt that this has not gone unnoticed by my right hon. Friend bearing the importance of the balance of payments. The possibility of being able to encourage the development of the industry to make an effective contribution to the nation's timber requirements is worthy of the maximum support.
Over the past years, the industry has reflected itself largely as a mixed economy. On the one hand, there is the State sector and, on the other hand, there is the private sector. Conjointly, they have contributed to the development of an industry which will begin to make a contribution, economic and social, to this Britain of ours in the foreseeable future.
In that respect, I listened with considerable interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby), who declared his interest as a private owner in the approved sector of forestry. Looking at the contribution made first by the dedicated sector and then by the approved sector, one sees that over recent years the private sector has contributed to a more effective degree than the State sector. It has to some extent increased both its land acreage and its planting, while the State sector, although it has increased its land acreage, has not increased its planting. This in itself is a challenge to the State sector. Obviously, there are reasons for this. Fundamentally, the reason is the inability of the State sector to obtain suitable land on which to embark upon effective planting.
Why is it that the State sector of this industry is unable to secure suitable land 76 upon which to expand its planting, which is so vitally necessary for the well-being of the timber requirements of Britain? It seemed to us during the course of our inquiry by the Committee that the difficulty lies in the fact that the Commission does not have the power to embark upon any degree of compulsory purchase. It seems to me that unless it has powers of that character, the Commission will be somewhat hamstrung and in difficulty in fulfilling its target or quota in meeting the nation's requirements.
I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Minister will be prepared to examine this singular limitation upon the State sector of the industry and see to what extent he can assist the Commission, either by undertaking a more extensive survey or by engendering a more dynamic drive, and whether, if both these methods fail, he will give the Commission basic powers to enable it to bring into play the necessary suitable land to fulfil the target that is so frequently placed upon the agenda.
We have listened to comments about the industry's moving into the latter years of the twentieth century, and to some speculation whether public investment in this field is now out of tune with the changing pattern of our age, as we are moving into an age of plastics and concrete, and doubt has arisen whether continued investment of the taxpayers' money in forestry is really going to be a sound investment, since there are no immediate returns but speculative returns over the next 25 or 40 years.
I have no doubt whatever that the public investment in this industry will provide an effective return and will find an effective market for the industry's products to the end of this twentieth century. I do not for one moment say that even the development of the new industries is likely unduly to affect the importance of timber for the economic and social life of the community. Therefore, I personally am prepared to give every possible encouragement to the Commission to undertake an expansion of its work so that we may be assured of a place in the future.
It is true that it was the impact of the First World War which denuded the hillsides, and particularly the valleys of South Wales, of the trees which had rested there for centuries. There was 77 recognition by the nation then that we were not to be caught in that difficulty again, of not having available home supplies of timber to meet our economic requirements, and through the Act of 1919 we paved the way for a vitally Important economic and social factor in the life of our community.
Forty-six years after we look at the Forestry Commission and see the magnitude of the contribution which it has made, and we recognise the reservoir of public finance which has been invested in it, and now we may honestly ask ourselves, have we not reached a point in time when we can anticipate some effective return?
That brings me to a point which has already been mentioned, but which is worthy of emphasis. Now, in this period of the history of the Forestry Commission, we have a golden opportunity of harvesting some of the rich possibilities which were sown nearly 25 years ago. The product of the planting of yesterday is potentially a marketable commodity today. The skill and enterprise which were a feature of the Commission in years past, and shown in the plantations, and in the care of them and in the development which has taken place, are now presented with a new form of activity, and we in the Estimates Committee felt that this necessitated a new approach for the Commission. That is, if we are effectively to harvest the product of past years' endeavours we need effective marketing organisation, effective research organisation, effective understanding of the impact of the European timber producers and commercial organisations on British timber.
I welcome the provisions which my right hon. Friend has proposed following the recommendations made by the Committee, and that he recognises that harvesting and marketing are now a specialised job. In that respect I hope that we shall be able within the next decade to see some indication of specialist appointments paying dividends, because without doubt we cannot go on on the old basis which the Commission has tended to follow over the past 20 or 30 years. There is need now for the introduction of specialised organisations and specialist crafts, to be assured of ability to deal with the problem of 78 harvesting the product of past years' sowings.
The private sector, both dedicated and approved, has been the recipient of support from the taxpayers' resources for nearly 46 years. During our inquiry it struck me as of more than passing interest that we were informed that the private sector makes no interest payments upon the grant made to it—it is a grant, not a loan—and that the product of its efforts makes no contribution to the sum total of the surplus of the Commission. This struck me as somewhat odd, especially in contrast with the general practice which has emerged over past years, for when this House has tended to assist the private sector within the economy, as it has done on many occasions, it has made interest-bearing loans; and yet within the field of the Forestry Commission's work we are prepared to make grant aid to the private sector, and by so doing we see no basic return for the nation.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will have some observations to make upon this singularly challenging feature, to see whether it is possible that where public money is advanced some return is assured upon that public money.
I am disappointed that my right hon. Friend has not found it necessary to appoint an education and research officer. There is to be a combination of the education and research departments, but this department under an administrative officer can become the Cinderella of the Forestry Commission. The work of education and research is vital to the Commission, vital to the training of its personnel, vital to the opening up of fields of inquiry, essential to the efficiency of the industry as a whole. As such, I believe that it merits the appointment of an officer, with a clearly defined department, specifically to deal with the matter of education and research. I ask that this matter be given further consideration, because of its importance to the industry.
There have been singularly few strikes or labour disorders in this industry. In fact, it can be set up as an example of good labour relations, and it must be remembered that these good relations exist among people who work in isolation, under most difficult conditions at times, and who are not too well paid. They 79 have elected to serve the country resolutely and loyally.
I welcome the delegation to a member of the new establishment of special responsibility for trade union relations. It is not only a question of fixing wages and determining hours. It is just as important to be concerned about the conditions under which employees work and live. I support what was said by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). Forestry workers should no longer live in isolation. They should be embraced within the communities near the plantations on which they work. This will enable them to feel that they are part of the community, rather than that they are an isolated and somewhat forgotten army. There is an urgent need for a little more humanity and a little more social welfare, as well as a little more recognition of the services rendered by these lower-paid workers.
Finally, may I, as a member of the Committee, pay tribute to the Committee's staff and to those witnesses who so willingly gave us their help and guidance in the production of the Report. I join hon. Members who have already spoken in asking the House to accept the Report, with its recommendations, and to open up a new field of development for the Forestry Commission.
§ 5.53 p.m.
The Earl of Dalkeith (Edinburgh, North)
Having declared my interest in forestry at 2 a.m. about a fortnight ago when discussing the Finance Bill, perhaps I need not waste the time of the House by doing so again.
I very much welcome this opportunity for a debate on forestry. It is many years since there has been one on the subject in this House, although I believe that there are fairly frequent debates on the subject in the other place, where there is a wealth of talent available to deal with all aspects of forestry. Fortunately, forestry has always been kept out of the cockpit of party political strife, and long may it continue to do so, but one of the interesting features about it is that almost without exception every politician who has studied the subject has arrived at the same conclusion irrespective of which party he represents. I am therefore rather 80 sorry that there is not a larger gathering here today to learn something about forestry from the pearls of wisdom which have fallen from the lips of my hon. Friends and of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I think that the time has come for a complete reappraisal of forestry policy in the light of the needs of this country over the next 100 years. I think that we must try to formulate some sort of broad outline target of what we should be aiming at 100 years hence. I know that it is the custom of Government Departments to limit their thinking and advanced planning to five or ten years ahead, but that is not good enough for forestry. We have to look 50 or 100 years ahead and plan accordingly.
I notice that the Eighth Special Report refers to providing information about what the Forestry Commission is doing, and what the Government are doing in regard to forestry. Paragraph 24 refers to periodic reviews being made, but I doubt whether that will take into account planning as far ahead as 50 or 100 years, which is what we ought to be working on now.
One of the most alarming aspects of the whole Report, which was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'AvigdorGoldsmid), is the attitude of the Treasury to forestry. I shall not repeat the quotation which my hon. Friend made, except to refer to it as being in paragraph 863, where it is clear that the Treasury has not been able to bring itself to the necessary state of long-term thinking about forestry, which I believe is vital for the future.
All the forecasts that we can get at the moment—and the Forestry Department at Rome of the F.A.O. is a reliable source—suggest that there is going to be an increasing world shortage of available timber supplies. Timber is one of the most essential raw materials in a highly sophisticated society such as ours, and as standards of living rise, so the consumption of timber increases in all its many different forms, from pulp to planks, and everything else in between. This means that world prices will almost certainly be forced upwards, and a country such as ours, which is dependent upon imports to the tune of 90 per cent. of our requirements, will therefore be 81 extremely vulnerable when shopping outside for its timber requirements. Many other countries which are less vulnerable than we are have recognised that they must embark on a fairly considerable expansion of their forestry programmes, and I doubt whether we are expanding anything like fast enough at the present time.
We are much more vulnerable to the effect of outside world prices than we need to be, because we are using only 7 per cent. of our land surface for tree growing, compared with 26 per cent. over the rest of Europe. We are using far too small an area for this purpose. I am told that even though our home production during the next decade will rise by about 70 per cent., this fairly considerable increase will barely enable us to hold our own in meeting the demand for increased supplies.
One of the inevitable conclusions which anybody who studies forestry must reach is that there must be a considerable expansion both in the private and the public sector. There must be a far better use of our land and natural resources than there has been hitherto, and this means close harmony with agricultural interests, because it is only too clear than there will also be a world food shortage in the years to come.
I am convinced that it is possible to have an expansion of both forestry and agriculture. I think that the two can be harmonised. I think that trees in shelter belts, and plantations skilfully laid out with roads, would enable hill farms to be better divided up so that we could get away from some of our traditional and rather nomadic systems of grazing our hill lands. If that were done, we could increase the output of our hill farms, although on a smaller acreage than at the moment.
The question of choice of land will be a very difficult one. This is referred to in Observations 22 and 23. I am a little worried about Observation 22. I wonder whether we shall find ourselves with the right set-up for solving some of the difficulties which will arise as a result of competition for the same piece of land by both foresters and farmers. It might be a good idea to have local panels of arbiters who could advise the Minister in case of dispute. This point deserves to be considered carefully.
82 Observation 23 refers specifically to land surveys, and to the fact that a pilot survey is being undertaken. I am a little doubtful whether we shall derive comparable benefit for the cost which is likely to be involved in carrying out the sort of land surveys which I believe to be referred to in this paragraph. Most of the required information can be easily obtained from local knowledge, and is probably already available, certainly to local Forestry Commission officers, who know their regions fairly well.
Nevertheless, we are going to have to be very careful about the way in which land is selected for tree planting. Sometimes land-owners have been unfairly blamed for not producing more land for the State to plant. This criticism is merited in some cases, but generally speaking landowners have been unjustly blamed. It is often the occupier of the land—the farmer—who is most averse to allowing the planting of trees. Only this morning I received a letter from a tenant farmer on whose farm I was hoping to plant a shelter belt of 30 acres. This land was solidly covered with whins. It was of no use to man or beast, but the farmer immediately replied that this was the very best part of his farm and that he could not allow me to plant 30 acres. He said that I could have 12 to plant on. This was even though I had made it clear that I would undertake, by chemical sprays—possibly by helicopter—to reclaim another area of his land which was also covered with whins, as a quid pro quo. He was still reluctant to allow me to plant a wood of a size which would be an economic proposition. The harmonising of forestry and agricultural interests is of immense importance, but it is a matter which presents some difficulty.
The acquisition powers of the Commission were referred to by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Owen). Those powers have been in the hands of the Commission at times, but it has been most reluctant to use them because the Commissioners are the people who have to go on living with those from whom the land has been compulsorily acquired, and compulsory acquisition is almost certain to reverse the progress that we have been making, to an increasing extent, in harmonising agriculture and forestry interests. 83 It is therefore very important that compulsory powers should be used only in the last resort.
The expansion of forestry can make an enormous contribution not only towards solving our balance of payments problems—which will be with us for the better part of the next 100 years—but also in respect of the social aspects of life, and especially in terms of the drift of populations from outlying districts to urban concentrations. It can also make a great contribution in increasing amenities and therefore encouraging tourism. That point has already been mentioned this afternoon.
I detected a note of criticism in the voice of the hon. Member for Morpeth in connection with the Commission's planting and expansion in recent years. In all fairness, he was unnecessarily harsh when he said that it had not been expanding as it should have. It has been expanding fairly rapidly. The Minister can probably give the exact figures, but about 55,500 acres were planted by the Commission in 1963, which is the last year for which figures are available. It has plans for planting about 450,000 acres in the present decade, which started last year. That is a considerable amount.
The hon. Gentleman followed up his criticism by saying that the reason for this failure was that the Commission was not able to buy the land it wanted. There are certain areas where it would like to buy more land. In my opinion, the way to do this is to employ a better technique of approach to those who have available land. We must encourage them by pointing out that it is in their own interests that their land should be planted, either directly by themselves or by the Commission. Hon. Members on both sides of the House who went on a forestry tour in Forestry Commission woods only three or four weeks ago will have noticed that in the north-west of Scotland, where the rainfall is highest and the rate of growth of trees is greatest, the Commission has as much land as it wants—but it cannot get the manpower with which to plant it. The area concerned is fairly close to Fort William. Criticisms about the Commission's not being able to obtain land are null and void when applied to a great many of the more important afforestation areas.
84 In discussing the question of the expansion of forestry generally, we must consider the very important question of the right balance between the State and the private sector of the industry. This is very important from the taxpayers' angle. In my opinion the interests of the taxpayers are much better safeguarded if extra encouragement is given to the private sector. The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) is clearly preparing to produce a counter-argument, but I have little doubt that it is cheaper for the taxpayer if this work is done by the private sector, although there must clearly be an expansion of both the private and the State sectors.
Sweden is a good example of a much more highly developed forestry country than ours. Even though Sweden has an almost permanent Socialist Government they consider that a proportion of 80 per cent. private and 20 per cent. State afforestation is about right. That may be the sort of target at which we should be aiming.
Much of the future expansion in forestry will have to come through small woodland areas, integrated with agriculture, in the form of shelter belts scattered over considerable areas. These are not the sort of areas which the Commission wants to plant. They are not the sort of areas which are attractive to it as a commercial proposition. Clearly, there are areas which can be planted far better by the owner-occupiers or by landowners. Commons have been mentioned. Some of them could carry a considerable crop of trees. There are also old mine workings and ironstone workings. I have some experience of these and such areas are not attractive to the Commission. A great many have been undertaken by the private enterprise section of the industry, and I happen to be involved with a company which has been a pioneer in this kind of work in various parts of the United Kingdom. It is something which, I believe, is worth undertaking.
Clearly, if we are to have the required expansion of the private sector—the State as well, but the private sector in particular—there must be greater inducements to make it possible. During the last two wars our national reserves of mature timber, which were mostly at that time in the hands of private enterprise, 85 were more or less devastated. That meant that the capital which was so necessary for their re-establishment after the war was removed from the industry. It will, of course, take a great many years to recover, and not until there is a balance of crops of even age groups, and only then, will forestry in this country become a completely viable proposition. The post-war Labour Government recognised this problem, and Sir Stafford Cripps and others—to give credit where credit is due—did a very good job in helping to put forestry on to its feet after the war.
Fiscal policy in this matter is obviously of crucial importance. This is one of the points on which I think it is so vital that every hon. Member should do everything he can to influence the Treasury. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) said that the battle in the future will take place in the corridors of the Treasury, not on the Floor of the House. The Treasury is permanently suspicious of what private forestry owners are doing. I think that this is partly because of a natural and perhaps understandable reluctance to lose sight of Government money for as long as 50, 80 or 100 years. Somehow, we have to break them down over this.
One of their anxieties is always over the switching which can take place between schedules B and D. This is probably not the moment to go into this, but this is something which was carefully drawn up and agreed and approved by many Governments of different colours as being the right way to encourage forestry over the years. It is absolutely essential that it should go on. There is some misapprehension in the Treasury about the existence of abuses of this form of fiscal advantage, as it is considered to be. They sometimes go out of their way to chase imaginary ghosts. But this is something fundamental to viable forestry in this country. If the fiscal situation is changed in any way, forestry will cease to be viable and people simply will not invest their money in growing trees. This is what we should care about now more than anything else.
The hon. Member for Morpeth had a certain amount to say about why it is that the taxpayer is not getting a return on the money which he gives in the form of grants to private forestry. Of 86 course, the taxpayer gets an advantage. He is getting a reserve of timber which will be very much to the advantage of the nation over the long term for our balance of payments. The hon. Member should remember that trees are subject to death duties when they are felled. So some of the money does come back to the taxpayer.
Another point worth emphasising is that forestry and agriculture form the only industry which has to bear the full cost of housing its employees. This is a very heavy capital burden. At this time, when the expansion of forestry is held up more by the lack of capital than anything else, this is something which should be remembered.
The Eighth Special Report deals with a great many important matters. One of these, clearly, is the reorganisation of the headquarters staff, the running and management of the Forestry Commission, and the general direction of forestry in this country. I think that this is the right time for such a change to be taking place, because the Forestry Commission is now changing over from being a purely growing organisation to a selling organisation as well.
This is a new phase in its life. Also the Forestry Commission now has to adapt itself from being an organisation which had to grow trees, more or less regardless of cost, in order to produce a strategic war reserve to being an organisation which has to be commercial and viable for the nation's economic benefit.
Marketing is one of the principal weaknesses in forestry today, both in the private and the State sectors. This, of course, involves the timber trade as well. Improvement here is immensely important, and I think that the appointment of a new Head of Harvesting and Marketing is a good idea. I wish him well. We have a long way to go yet. One of the hindrances at present is the lack of capital for rationalising our marketing system.
I think that this is perhaps a good opportunity to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble), the ex-Secretary of State for Scotland, on what he did in regard to the Fort William Pulp Mill. This has clearly made a most staggering impression on a very large area of north-west Scotland 87 and will have an immensely important effect socially as well as in terms of the general economy of the country. We hope also to see a pulp mill at Workington, for which I also congratulate those of my right hon. Friends who were responsible.
Mention of that mill brings me back to a part of the Eighth Special Report. Paragraph 4 refers to the regional controlling of the different areas. I think that we may get into a difficulty in borderline cases. A pulp mill at Workington will be fairly close to Scotland and much of the timber which goes there will come from Scottish forests. We have to be careful that the regional organisation of the Forestry Commission is not in completely water-tight compartments. There must be a certain amount of overlapping and co-operation between adjacent regions.
Paragraph 9 refers to the Forestry Commission's responsibility for representing and promoting the private interests in forestry. Whereas there are at present extremely good men at the top of the Forestry Commission who understand the problems of the private sector of the industry, we cannot be certain that this will always be the case. The interests of the Forestry Commission and those of the private sector are not always identical. For instance, the Forestry Commission does not have to pay death duties and their problems are in many respects somewhat different. The Home-Grown Timber Advisory Committee has been recognised—a fact which I welcome—as being the representative body for private industry. I also welcome the fact that direct representations may be made to the Minister. That is very important.
Research has been referred to. This is, of course, immensely important, and I am not sure that sufficient attention has been paid to it so far. The research into the right types of trees to grow is important. The Forest Products Research Laboratory at Princes Risborough is doing an excellent job, and the Forestry Commission and the private sector are doing a good job, in finding the right types of trees to grow. For instance, a new type to this country is Pinus Contorta, which originally was not considered very highly, as its name implies. But recent tests have shown it to be a very useful type of 88 wood which will grow fast on bad soil. Much more research must be undertaken to discover the right type of Pinus Contorta to suit our soils. Incidentally, the Forest Commission now calls it Lodge pole pine.
Market research is very important. Also of vital importance is research into mechanisation and handling methods. This brings me to the costings branch which it is proposed to set up. This is most necessary. Paragraph 20 refers to it. All the forestry costing done so far has been carried out by the forestry departments of the universities of Aberdeen and Oxford. I pay tribute to the very excellent work done by the individuals who have produced these reports. Among them is one of my ex-tutors from the days when I studied forestry at the university. So far this has been the only basis on which costs in forestry have been properly and thoroughly analysed. Whereas I hope these will not now be eclipsed by what the Commission will do, I think that the introduction of a costings branch in the Commission is important and valuable as a parallel method of finding out what costs are involved, thereby enabling the Commission to be in a position to advise the Treasury and Ministers about what our forestry policy should be.
Work study is another thing which will have to be undertaken more in the future. This brings me to the question of the training of foresters. An immense reduction in the cost of production can be achieved by streamlining the methods of working in the forests. The Commission has been doing a great deal of useful work study and training work. I am pleased that there will be a logical merging of the education and training branches, as mentioned in paragraph 27.
Another very important subject is scales of pay and the amenities for those who work in forestry. If we are to get good men in the woods and forests, which we need, we shall have to pay them wages which compete with wages in industry and elsewhere. This must be recognised. Although the agricultural wages are the yardstick at present, I know very few foresters who are receiving anything like as little as the minimum agricultural wage. It is extremely important that we should remember that if we are to get 89 good men we must pay them decent wages and provide decent houses for them.
I agree with a certain amount of what the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray) said about amenities. Access to our forests is of interest to the general public. Perhaps this is an instance where the new Commissioner who is supposed to be specifically interested in the countryside may come into his own. The Commission allows as much access as it can at present, but there are always dangers of people being run down by tractors or being hit by wires double-drum winches, of trees being felled unexpectedly or of roads being blasted. There are certain hazards in the woods, and a certain amount of care must be taken to ensure that the public are directed to where they will be safest.
I was informed the other day that the Commission allowed pony trekkers through some of its woods in Inverness-shire, and I was interested to discover that it actually charged the trekkers for going through the woods, something which most private woodland owners would never dream of doing.
Still on the question of amenities, roadside trees are immensely important. We must think more seriously about this it the future. The Commission is becoming more aware of the value of planting attractive trees on the edges of its forests, particularly when they are near roads. The private sector has for many years been doing this. But there is now the awful hazard of trees falling on top of people, and unless the woodland owner is highly insured it could cost him a great deal of money. Some woodland owners do insure. The company of which I am a director does not insure its trees; instead it takes the trouble to make sure that all the trees likely to fall down are removed, but it means that some attractive trees which might have been left there are no longer there. It may well be that we should consider some scheme whereby, when it is decided that certain trees should be left standing, the Commission or the local authority will be invited to pay the insurance premium to enable the trees to remain.
Finally I would suggest that the most important thing that the Minister can do 90 is to work as hard as he can upon the conversion of the Treasury to an understanding of the really long-term problems of forestry, thinking ahead 100 years or more, and, at the same time take more steps to inform the general public that an investment in forestry, in both the private and the State sections of the industry, is one of the best investments that the nation can make. I add my voice to those hon. Members who have congratulated the Estimates Committee upon the extremely good and thorough job that it has done.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
These debates are traditionally conducted on a non-party basis, which puts me at a slight disadvantage. If the noble Lord the Member for Edinburgh, North (The Earl of Dalkeith) had made his speech in the Scottish Grand Committee, he probably would not have got off as lightly as he may do in this debate.
At the outset the noble Lord declared his interest, which we all know. I want to declare mine. At the beginning of the war I was a conscientious objector, and I was conditionally accepted as such provided that I did agricultural or forestry work. I was sent down to the Doone Valley in North Devon to fell trees on behalf of the Forestry Commission. For every tree that I felled I got blisters on my hands. Nevertheless, it was a very enjoyable experience. That was followed by further tree felling in the dales of Yorkshire and subsequently by tree planting just south of Jedburgh. Whenever I go past those forests I recall my contribution to the beautification of that part of the country.
To listen to this debate one would not think that we were talking about a nationalised industry of many years' standing—since 1919. From what has been said up to now, this is no junk yard. We have an investment of about £250 million, 85 per cent. of which is State forestry and the rest private woodland. It is an industry in which, by the nature of things, the investor—that is the taxpayer—must wait a considerable time for a return on his capital.
For this reason it has always been a tempting target in times of financial crisis for the Treasury to suggest cuts, if not outright abolition. Indeed, in 1922, as 91 the Report recalls, the Geddes Committee on national expenditure recommended the abolition of the Forestry Commission. That recommendation was not accepted by the then Government, although the investment programme of the Commission—and, therefore, its activities—was substantially cut back. The same happened in 1931, in another financial crisis, when another committee on national expenditure recommended a drastic cutting back.
From the outset, the Forestry Commission has had a difficult childhood. Successive Governments have run hot and cold about it, mostly cold. Today's speeches have shown that the Treasury view towards the Commission is somewhat jaundiced even yet. Hon. Members have pointed out that in the past the Treasury has adduced the argument that public expenditure could not possibly be justified from a commercial point of view. The same could be said about public expenditure on education. Whenever there is a financial crisis there is a great temptation, particularly when the Conservative Party is in power, to cut back on education. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The same could be said of pure research, from which the immediate return is often negligible and from which the long-term return might be problematical. If we were to judge every form of public investment in terms of economic return, short-term or long-term, we would be defying the concept—
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
Before the hon. Gentleman continues, and since he spoke of Conservative Administrations cutting back on education in times of economic difficulty, is he aware that at the time of the well-known credit squeeze when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) was Chancellor of the Exchequer the Education Estimates went up markedly all the time, as a reference to the figures will show?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is my fault for not intervening before. There is nothing in this Estimates Committee Report about education.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am obliged, Mr. Speaker, and while I would like to follow the point made by the hon. Gentleman, 92 suffice to tell him that I could quote in support of what I said the situation when Dame Florence Horsbrugh was Minister of Education.
I urge the Government to give an assurance that they will seek to eradicate this view which has existed in the Treasury for so long. The Select Committee Report for 1948–49 took the view that the Forestry Commission was doing a fine job which would secure for the nation a satisfactory return eventually, and it mentioned the year 1984. I do not know whether there is any significance in that date. The present Estimates Committee has taken the same view.
In addition to the economic return, the present Estimates Committee correctly points out the social return which is financially immeasurable but which is nevertheless very real, particularly in Scotland. The creation of employment, the use of waste land and the establishment of national parks cannot be measured in financial terms, but they are extremely important, particularly in remote and rural areas.
The contribution which the Forestry Commission makes to our balance of payments has been mentioned by several hon. Members. The Committee stated in its evidence that total imports of timber and timber manufacturers were about £245 million a year and were likely to rise fast in the next 10 years. There appears to be some discrepancy in the figures. The private woodland owners gave the figure of £400 million, while the figures which I have received from the Library research department give a total for wood and lumber, plus wood manufactures, excluding furniture, of about £220 million for 1963, just over £280 million for 1964 and slightly over £78 million for the first quarter of 1965. In the last five years the tendency has been for the figures to increase.
The Earl of Dalkeith
If the hon. Gentleman will look up the Answers to various Questions which I have asked the President of the Board of Trade in recent weeks he will see that the figures for wood and wood products, including pulp, come to rather over £500 million for the last complete year. Perhaps by not including pulp and paper the hon. Gentleman has been misled, as, perhaps has been the Treasury.
§ Mr. Hamilton
This emphasises the confusion that exists about the interpretation of what should be included or excluded from the overall figures. I hope eat the Minister will clear up this confusion when he replies. Nevertheless, the balance of payments element is substantial, and to the extent that we can produce more home-grown timber we will help to solve our balance of payments problems. I do not take the defeatist view adopted by the noble Lord the Member for Edinburgh, North, who said that our balance of payments problems will he with us for the next 100 years. The present Government hope to solve them within the next two years. I agree that they were with hon. Gentlemen opposite for quite a long time. They did not solve them. We hope to do better than they did.
There is no doubt that we must try to look ahead in this matter, and all the evidence indicates that in the next 20 years the world demand for wood and wood products will substantially increase. Europe, excluding Russia—and this applies to America, too—will, by the year 2,000, be wood-deficit countries or will have ceased to be major exporters. In addition, there is bound to be an upward trend in timber prices so that the assets of the Forestry Commission will be enhanced in value and home-grown timber will be an extremely important element in our economy as the years go by.
If we do not make additional efforts now the strain on our balance of payments will intensify. If we fail to step up our planting programme, particularly in Scotland, we will suffer in the years ahead, remembering that there is a great social return, apart from the economic advantages, although they are considerable.
Bearing these things in mind, it is regrettable that the story of the Forestry Commission has not been one of steady and continuous growth but of stop-go with jerks and starts. The Estimates Committee Report gives a potted history which demonstrates this admirably. It recalls, for example, that in 1944 the Commission submitted a report on postwar forestry policy which advocated the attainment of 5 million acres of effective 94 forest by the Commission and private owners in the following 50 years.
Never since then has the Commission achieved that target. In the seven years from 1952 to 1958 it reached just over half the planting target of 850,000 acres, but the plan for the five years from 1959 to 1963 had to be revised, and the Minister decided on a regular quinquennial review. The target for the next decade was then put at 450,000 acres, but we have never been told what Scottish acreage was included in it. In a debate in the Scottish Grand Committee on 21st July, 1964, the former Under-Secretary of State said that the Secretary of State had said that there must be a figure somewhere of the Scottish contribution to that 450,000 acres, but as far as I know no such figure has ever been produced. We ought to have it. An acreage of 450,000 for the next 10 years is not at all ambitious—it is very much a conservative estimate. In 1955 it was envisaged that 1½ million acres would be planted in the period to 1965.
I want to emphasise the point made by the Estimates Committee that Parliament is given very little information about the facts on which the Government's conclusions are based. One of the advantages that we have always claimed for a publicly-owned industry is that there is a Minister answerable to Parliament for it, and we get facts and figures that we do not normally get about private industry. We therefore have a right to demand more information than we are currently getting. The Government have gone some way to meeting this point in their reply to Recommendation No. 13, but I should be very grateful if that could be spelled out in a little more detail. It seems to me that with each quinquennial review a White Paper should be issued giving in detail the facts on which the policy is based, and in each intermediate year there should be a detailed progress report in the Forestry Commission's annual report so that Parliament is kept informed about these matters.
In view of the substantial contribution that forestry can make to solving the balance of payments problem and stopping the population drift from, for example, the Highlands of Scotland, the planting programme in that region should be very substantially stepped up. I entirely 95 agreed with the noble Lord the Member for Edinburgh, North when he referred to the concept of the Fort William pulp mill, but I must point out to him that had it not been for public investment in that area by the Forestry Commission—and investment by the private woodland owners as well—that project would have been impossible, as the memorandum submitted to the Estimates Committee makes quite clear. We should, therefore, not underestimate the contribution that public investment has made to that venture.
I understand that the pulp mill will take about 12 million hoppus feet of timber per year, of which 6 million will come from the Commission. Can the Minister tell us whether there is any possibility of other pulp mills in the Highlands, or anywhere else in Scotland? This development itself underlines the importance of the Government's intentions to strengthen and increase the representation of commercial and marketing interests on the Commission. This is a step in the right direction, and one that I believe is warmly welcomed on both sides of the House.
It has not so far been mentioned that forestry is a comparatively large employer of labour. Evidence was given to us to show that, on average, it employs one man per 100 acres. Upland sheep rearing employs one man per 500 acres, and in poor hill areas in Scotland only one man per 2,000 acres gets employment. Forestry therefore employs anything from five to 20 times as many workers per 1,000 acres as does sheep farming or hill farming.
That brings in a very important consideration. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Land and Natural Resources is to reply to the debate, because I take it that one of his functions is to encourage a scientific approach to the use of land. The Elgood Committee recommended that more scientific methods of determining land use should be adopted, and I hope that my right hon. Friend can give us some assurance on that point. This constant conflict between farming interests and forestry interests must be determined at some level, and it must be determined after taking into account all the social, economic and other factors involved.
96 Land acquisition is the fundamental problem. In Scotland, the Commission's programme has fallen far below expectations, largely because of the difficulties of securing land suitable for planting. The Estimates Committee adduces three reasons for this—the rise in cost of suitable land, the competing requirements of agriculture, and the emergence recently of a somewhat new problem, which is the acquisition in Scotland of very suitable forestry land by Dutch, Norwegian, Swiss and other foreign purchasers who, it is claimed, can buy land more cheaply there than anywhere else in Europe.
I was rather interested that the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, who opened the debate, should think that we can view this development with some equanimity. It is amazing how Conservatives view foreign take-overs with equanimity, but as soon as we suggest our own people taking over the land there is the most awful row. They do not mind the Norwegians, the Swiss or the Dutch taking over Scotland, but just let my right hon. Friend suggest that the Highland Development Board should take it over and see the row there will be.
The Earl of Dalkeith
I am sorry to intervene again, but on the question of land prices there is sometimes rather an exaggeration. I do not know if the hon. Member is aware that the Forestry Commission is buying in many parts of Scotland as much, if not more, than it can plant at £5 to £15 per acre. Very few people throughout Britain realise that land can be bought for as little as between £5 and £15 per acre.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I shall quote another authority in aid, not a red revolutionary body but one which is responsible and probably more authoritative than the Estimates Committee. The Minister has powers of compulsory acquisition, but it has been pointed out that they are scarcely ever used.
In Recommendation No. 11, the Estimates Committee suggested that present procedures for land acquisition for forestry should be re-examined. I am sorry that this was one of the recommendations which were rejected. Despite what the noble Lord said, the acquisition of land, especially in the Highlands and Islands, is crucial. I quote an authority 97 in aid, the Advisory Panel on the Highlands and Islands, in its document on Land Use in the Highlands and Islands. It produced arguments for and against compulsory acquisition. Right hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench know that the members of that board are by no means revolutionaries or people who can be called Socialists who believe in public ownership per se.
In paragraph 73 of the Report they said:…. there is the problem that in the Highlands the Forestry Commission very often have to compete not with agricultural offers but with offers by persons interested in the land for sport and amenity rather than agriculture.In paragraph 74 that Report says:We … recommend therefore that the statutory procedure for compulsory acquisition of land for forestry be reviewed and amended as necessary to make it more flexible and less narrowly based.That is recommending that there should Ix more compulsory acquisition if we are to be serious in extending the planting activities of the Forestry Commission. My right hon. Friend is piloting a Bill though the House, the Highland Development Bill, by which he can exercise compulsory rights of acquisition, presumably on behalf of the Forestry Commission. I hope that tonight either he or the Joint Parliamentary Secretary replying on his behalf will give an indication that those powers will be used in the interests of the Forestry Commission and of an extended planting programme in the Highlands.
We are led to believe, and I have no reason to disbelieve, that the Government are anxious to encourage a more even distribution of industrial and commercial establishments as between one region of Britain and another, and in particular to disperse away from London and the South-East. Any reading of the Forestry Commission's statistics will show that by far the largest proportion of the Forestry Commission's activities is in Scotland. Yet we have the ludicrous situation of the Commission's headquarters being in Savile Row, London. It is like putting the Coal Board's headquarters in Wick—just about as stupid and indefensible. The Forestry Commission's research station is at Farnham in Surrey. There are 109 scientists there and only 15 in Scotland. Yet in the years 1959–63 well over half the plant- 98 ing took place in Scotland, nearly twice as much in Scotland as in England.
If the Government are serious about this matter they should ensure that the Commission's headquarters are directed to Scotland. I appreciate that the research station cannot be transplanted holus-bolus to Scotland, but we ought at least to have an assurance that future extensions will be centred in the North rather than in the South-East. There are the strongest social and economic reasons that this should be so.
The Estimates Committee is to be congratulated on producing this Report, which has given us an opportunity to debate a subject which is rarely debated on the Floor of the House. If it awakens interest in the subject and causes our people to realise the important contribution which the industry can make to the overall economic problem, it will have served a very useful purpose.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)
I am glad to have the chance of making a short intervention and, in particular, to make some reference to the problems of forestry as they affect the Principality of Wales. I am grateful to the Minister of State for Wales for being present and to the Secretary of State for attending the debate earlier.
The House will forgive me if I do not follow exactly on what the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) said. He started, with the best of intentions, to be bipartisan, but he strayed a little when he confessed his belief in compulsory purchase. I am sure that he will not blame me if I do not follow him further than saying that I disagree with his remarks on that subject.
The Seventh Report of the Estimates Committee and the Eighth Special Report have been good Whitsun reading. They have given us a good deal of food for thought. Anyone who has had experience of the Forestry Commission over the years will have realised that whereas probably no other country in the world can produce a State forestry organisation of as high quality in silviculture, many people have made known their views that in our industry on the commercial side there has been something lacking. This has been readily admitted by the Commission itself and on various occasions 99 the Commission has taken steps to rectify it.
When I was a member of the National Committee of the Forestry Commission in Wales for a most exciting and interesting period this was one of the problems we faced—a situation in which plantations were growing in volume and excellence yet the parallel problem of how to find markets and how best to exploit them. The greater emphasis put on the commercial side of the Commission's workings was very much stressed in questions put by the Estimates Committee, which were repeated today by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid). This has been the underlying reason why we have reached a kind of watershed in forestry affairs.
I agree that the Government have gone very much further than the recommendations that the Estimates Committee put forward. Whereas it was recommended that the commercial side should have special attention, the Government have gone much further and have made swingeing alterations in the whole structure of the Commission. The new Commission is to have a part-time chairman. I think it questionable whether he should be working in a part-time capacity. There are to be four full-time executive members. The Director-General will be ex-officio deputy chairman and the post of deputy director is to be abolished. There are to be three members in charge of forestry management, harvesting and marketing, and administration and finance. Then there are the five part-time commissioners chosen for their special knowledge.
I support the contention of my hon. Friends that in an industry of which the major part is being run on the private side there should be more place in the new Commission for a representative of the private side of the industry. The importance of good relations between State and private forestry has been stressed. Hon. Members have pointed out how successful they have been. It would be an insurance for keeping these good relations if one of the commissioners were to be recognised as a representative of private forestry.
As I see the new Commission, it will concentrate authority very much more in the hands of the Director-General. It 100 will concentrate it, too, in the hands of the Forestry Office in London. Without intending any disrespect to the present holder of the post of Director-General, I question whether, in the long run, this is in the general interest of the industry.
I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us later what his views are: first, whether the chairman is to be full-time or part-time and, secondly, who the chairman is to be. There is no doubt that with the new changes and with the new commissioners, some full-time and some part-time, a very strong chairman will be required. Again, and what I say does not reflect on past chairmen of the Commission, I myself favour the idea of having a chairman who has some effect upon the Commission's affairs. I do not want the Director-General to be in sole charge.
It is worth noting that the Committee which advised the Government on this subject was not merely the Estimates Committee, but was a committee of civil servants which is referred to and known as the Murrie Committee. We have no report of the Murrie Committee. I have not seen the report. I doubt very much whether many right hon. or hon. Members have seen it. This is the typical Civil Service committee that reports from time to time upon these matters. It is worth noting that not even the Minister was present at its deliberations. I do not believe that the chairman of the Commission was.
I question whether it is a good procedure to have such a complicated and far-reaching problem discussed by civil servants alone. They are very knowledgeable gentleman. The fact remains that they produce an answer and initiate a policy; they put it up to the Minister, and he is placed in the position of taking it or leaving it. On an occasion such as this, when the whole forestry industry is going through very great changes, I should have liked to think that the Committee which considered this matter was not entirely limited to people on the official side.
One serious drawback arises from the abolition of the Deputy Director-General and of the Directors for England, Scotland and Wales. I believe that the choice which the Commission will have in the appointment of a future Director-General will be severely restricted. Perhaps the 101 Minister will say something about this and prove that my fears are wrong.
My second criticism is over the abolition of the three national Directorates. Paragraph 4 of the Eighth Special Report says that the Committee proposesthat the three national Directorates … should be wound up and their functions reallocated between the Conservancies and headquarters … For this purpose headquarters staff will be located in Scotland and in Wales.This must take authority both from Cardiff, and from Edinburgh. Virtually no decision of major importance will be taken anywhere but in the head office in London.
On page 4 of the Eighth Special Report we come to the soft soap. That does not describe it too strongly. Paragraph 5 says this:The Government attach great importance to the rôle of the National Committees in assisting the Commission in matters where the factors and the problems affecting England. Scotland and Wales are liable to differ.However, if the Director for Wales is got rid of, which is the matter which concerns me at the moment, and if the members of the National Committee are left in turmoil, not knowing whether they will be asked to retire under the new régime or whether they will be asked to serve on and, even if they are asked to serve on, not knowing what function they will have, the sort of paragraph which is dished out to us at the top of page 4 has very little meaning. The future rôle of the National Committees is very much in doubt, and I hope that the Minister will be able to say something in reassurance on this.
The Secretary of State for Wales, with his new-found executive responsibilities for forestry, will find his job made the more difficult by the fact that the Directorate for Wales has been abolished and the rôle of the National Committee has not yet been worked out. I am astonished that the right hon. Gentleman has lent his name to these recommendations. I ask him to reconsider them with his colleagues.
I want to put one or two specific points with regard to Wales. First, is the Gwydyr Forestry School to be kept in its present location? Will it continue to take roughly the same number of forestry students as it has over the years? Secondly, will the North Wales and the South Wales Conservancies remain where they are, or will the North Wales Con- 102 servancy at Shrewsbury move into Wales? It is rumoured that it is to be moved to Aberystwyth. Is this so?
This is a year of change in forestry. It is a year of change in Wales even more so, because of the change of forestry responsibility. We now have a situation in Wales with regard to forestry which can be put in this way. The Secretary of State is like a Welsh general half way between Cardiff and London. He keeps his G.1 in London—that is the Director-General. There is no commanding officer in Cardiff, just a liaison officer, even if a senior one. There are two company commanders getting on with the job in Cardiff and possibly in Aberystwyth. From the sidelines the chairman of the Commission is breathing down his neck part-time. That is as I see it at present. I do not believe that this is the way that forestry should be carried on in Wales.
Yet decisions will have to be taken. Executive decisions will have to be taken. Who is to be responsible for them? We know that in the country as a whole there are three Ministers responsible. As regards Welsh responsibility, although the Secretary of State himself is responsible he ought to have a more definite chain of command. I do not believe that the changes that have been made at present go any way at all to helping him in his new-found responsibilities. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell me that my fears and suspicions are wrong, but at present I see no reason to believe that this will advance or improve efficiency in Welsh forestry.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to intervene and I, too, would like to pay my tribute to the work done by the Estimates Committee.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. George Y. Mackie (Caithness and Sutherland)
I shall be brief. I regret to say that I have found some of the speeches rather like some forests—slow growing, remarkably late maturing, and, like some of the Forestry Commission's woods, repetitive in texture.
I agree with the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) in distrusting some of the parts of the reorganisation. It is right and proper to have a professional board. All the large and successful commercial organisations have full-time professional boards, and I think that 103 this is a step forward. It is also true to say that the composition of the Commission has often operated against some of its interests because many of the members were private woodland owners themselves. I do not say that they let this fact influence them knowingly, but they obviously could not help it on many occasions. From a Scottish point of view I cannot believe that this will he a good move.
We are abolishing the national headquarters and we are moving something else to London. I, too, find the Report disturbing when referring to the headquarters' staff in Scotland and Wales. It says that they will be given authority wherever practicable when business arising in those countries is normally disposed of there. I have never seen a concentration of power in London benefit Scotland greatly and I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will look again at this matter and see that some authority is left in Scotland.
The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) was entirely correct when he said what an extraordinary thing it was that the headquarters of this organisation should be in Savile Row. I always thought that the purpose of the Commission was arboreal and not sartorial. The Minister of Land and Natural Resources should examine No. 25, Savile Row and see whether it is being wasted. I am sure he will find that this is so. I can see no reason for the headquarters being there. It should be moved forthwith to Inverness or, indeed, Wick. That would be an excellent centre and far better than No. 25, Savile Row.
The senior officers who will be appointed in Scotland and Wales will be purely liaison officers and will have no purpose except to smooth over some of the complaints that will arise. This is an example of centralisation which will not benefit Scotland. I cannot see direct liaison between London and the conservators in the different areas leading to efficiency. In Scotland as a whole we have separate problems. We certainly have a far larger area which requires planting and we certainly have a greater social need for it.
I should like to refer to Recommendation (xi) which is an authorisation of the 104 study of the buying powers of the Commission. There is no doubt that a great deal of study is needed here. In the past, land has been bought in estates, certainly in Scotland, and wherever the Forestry Commission has bought this land it has planted a great deal of agricultural land which has resulted in ill-feeling in the area. I think that this sort of reputation which the Commission has is entirely because of the buying set-up. We cannot expect to work a national forestry plan, neither can we expect to work any decent ecological plan for the development of the natural resources of an area through the piecemeal buying of land in the Highlands.
I know that the private owners of land dislike compulsory acquisition, but there is no need to buy whole estates in order to plant trees. I am certain that the Commission or the new committee studying the buying powers and powers of acquisition should consider an area as a whole. There it should place the trees, and then offer the required incentives to the landlords to plant. They can cooperate with agriculture. They can form new holdings and make the farmers in the area grateful for the trees, instead of, as at present in many cases, extremely resentful and refusing to co-operate in the planting of trees which would benefit the pasture, because an acre of shelter is often worth an extra acre of grass.
It is immensely important to use our land, because there are large areas of land not only in Scotland but in South Wales, Cornwall and other places which, at present, are being wasted. There is no question that we shall need the timber. Hon. Members have pointed out how much timber we shall be using for chipboard and other things. But I would ask hon. Members to observe the mountains of paper which flow through this Chamber. Looking at the beautifully carved wood around us, I guarantee that there are more cubic feet of wood flowing through this House in the course of a year than there are in the whole of this heavily timbered Chamber. With prosperity there seems to come a great increase in the use of paper, and I am sure that we shall have an increasing need, and that a larger proportion of paper will be used for many years to come. We must, therefore, speed up the planting of trees in this country.
105 There are other factors connected with the use of land, and I should like to refer to the sort of practice that is being followed in some parts of Scotland where too many trees are planted in one place and too few in another. There is a landowner at Don-side with good agricultural land, who is planting all the land on his estate. He is putting good agricultural land down to trees, whereas in other parts of Scotland there are vast areas, with not a tree for miles, which would be immensely improved by going down to trees. The winds whistle across the land it is no good for sheep and little good for grouse or any form of grazing.
We have got to have a national plan for trees, and I think that this can be done very easily and that the co-operation of the owners, farmers and sporting tenants can be obtained. It is not impossible for trees, sheep, cattle, grouse and/or deer to a certain extent to go together. The whole business of land use needs to be looked into when the special powers referred to in Recommendation No. (xi) are considered.
I said that I would be brief. I therefore conclude by saying that the Forestry Commission and the proposed reorganisation can do a great deal of good in this country. I ask the Ministers concerned to look again at the centralisation which is proposed. I do not think we shall get any more trees or land or anything else by putting more staff into Savile Row. We should decentralise and give more power to the regions instead of taking it into the centre. In this way we shall get better planting of the countryside and more trees.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
We have had an interesting debate, with constructive speeches from both sides of the House, and I should not like to hold its attention too long because on a subject such as this there is a temptation for speakers to go over ground which has already been covered. It is 46 years since the Forestry Commission came into being. During that time we have seen few substantial changes in the set-up and organisation of the Commission. Until now it has been basically run by part-time members as was originally conceived. We have therefore taken, for good or bad, a considerable step forward today with the 106 suggestion that forestry should be transferred to the control of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. I am sure we all welcome this special attention that is being given to forestry.
My noble Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (The Earl of Dalkeith) emphasised the shortage of timber which will come about in Europe in the next decade or so. I have no doubt that this is a fact and that if the Treasury only looks at what is happening at the moment it will see that it is laying itself open to putting the country in a weak position in the future. We must plant and build up now reserves for the future without too much consideration for the present. It would be penny wise and pound foolish to cut down on forestry growth now, as the Treasury seem to wish to do.
I should like to express appreciation of the workers employed by the Forestry Commission throughout the country. I have visited a great many of the State forests and I have been struck by the extraordinary dedication of workers in forestry. It is a job which people enter so wholeheartedly that they seem almost to lose their judgment and sense of balance and they devote themselves to it, often to the exclusion of their own self-interest. This enthusiasm has certain dangers which I should like to bring to the attention of the House.
I believe that the governing body of the Forestry Commission has always been bitten by what one can describe as the planting bug. Again and again one finds the foresters concentrating on and emphasising the need to increase the size of individual forests. This is all very well, but it has resulted in their having a blind spot towards what comes after the planting. All foresters on this side of the House, and all on the other side who are connected with forestry, know perfectly well that there are two aspects of forestry. One is the planting. The second and far and away the most expensive and tedious is the clearing and thinning after the planting. Although it is nice and convenient to say that one has a certain number of acres of woodland, and although there is a temptation to increase the forestry acreage each year, the fact is that if one increases the planting one has an ever-increasing weight of thinning and maintenance to do in later years.
107 It seems to me that the Forestry Commission is unbalanced in this matter. A week or two ago, with the knowledge that this debate was to be held, I visited Hamsterley Forest which I believe is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong). The forest is from 40 years old and was planted originally on a moorland. It is an interesting forest in many ways. I made a tour of it, some part legally and some part illegally in that I went to places where it was said that drivers should not be allowed to go. I was struck by the considerable difference between the areas which are to be seen from the road and those which are not to be seen unless one takes the trouble to go into them. I have noticed this in nearly all the great forests run by the Commission.
On the side of the public roads there is evidence of great attention being given to thinning, high pruning and brushing-up, but there is a great difference in the areas away from the road. It shocked me to see in those areas plantations of Scotch firs up to 15 years old which had never been brushed up and plantations of trees of about 20 years old which had never been thinned. In other areas, admittedly visible from the main road, the disadvantages of this type of forestry could be easily seen, because where the thinning had been rather belatedly done there was a good deal of damage from wind. In these forests there is considerable evidence of concentration upon planting and not enough attention being paid to what comes after.
Another aspect which is not very satisfactory is that the Forestry Commission decides what dedicated land should be thinned and what should not be thinned and it gives advice on the subject. I cannot believe that it is wise that the Commission itself should have woods which should be thinned and which are not and at the same time it should give advice to other people which it is not following itself. The time has come when there should be an inquiry into the whole of the Commission's activity.
Apart from the forest which I have mentioned, I should like to be practical and mention another, that at Thetford, which I do not think is in the constituency of any hon. Member now present. This forest also seemed to me 108 not to be run in the wisest manner. It is planted on soil which does not appear to grow the cleanest and most successful type of timber. Much of the timber is of a coarseness which makes it unsuitable for commercial use, yet in spite of this the forest is extended and extended and more and more land is taken over which I believe could be put to better use.
There is also considerable planting in my own constituency in the Cheviots. It seems to me that the Commission is building up for itself a considerable problem there by concentrating on one age-group of trees which later on will exert an almost intolerable pressure on those who will have to do the cleaning up and maintenance of the woods. All these things point towards the fact that now, when for the first time for many years we are turning over a new page in the history of forestry, it is necessary to have an inquiry into the whole of the operation of the Forestry Commission throughout the country. We must make quite sure that the money is being spent wisely and with a long-term view and not merely being concentrated upon one single aspect—planting—which is to the detriment of the future because of the amount of timber of one age which will have been grown.
I have made this rather critical contribution because I believe that there is now an opportunity for proper appreciation of the value of forestry to the country and an opportunity to put the Commission's house in order. I believe that now that we have made this advance it would be wise to look into the operations of the Commission to see whether it is not possible to bring more balance and sense into its operations.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Bert Hazell (Norfolk, North)
I begin by paying tribute to the Forestry Commission and the work it has done, particularly in the remote areas of the North Riding of Yorkshire, where it has been responsible for maintaining the life of very tiny hamlets that otherwise might have gone out of existence. I suppose that it is only natural that, as the work of the Commission changes from growth to utilisation of the product, change in administration should come about.
The reading of these Reports has been most interesting to those of us who have had some connection with the work of 109 the Commission. For a long time I was responsible for the negotiation of wages and piece work rates for the Commission's workers in Yorkshire and it has, therefore, been my privilege to visit many of the forests in that great county and to see the work undertaken.
Knowing so many of the employees personally, I subscribe to what was said by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) about the measure of enthusiasm of those who work in the forests, from the lowest grade to the top of the set-up as it has been. My purpose in speaking today is to express my concern about the future pattern in the changes contemplated in the working of the Commission. In the past there has been amicable machinery between the unions and the Commission. The Reports indicate fundamental changes, but I hope that the machinery which has worked so effectively will be permitted to continue.
There is no denying the fact that there has been little if any industrial strife in tic forests administered by the Commission since it came into being and those responsible on both sides deserve tribute for the manner in which negotiations have been conducted. Nevertheless, those negotiations always take an extremely long time to finalise. It might be that, under the new set-up, the Commission could look at its negotiating machinery with a view to a shorter time elapsing between the commencement and completion of negotiations.
In recent years, there has been growing concern among employees—who have been falling in number—at the growth of contract work. I hope that my right hon. Friend and others responsible, when considering the situation afresh, as they will when the new set-up comes into being, will take stock of that concern. After all, employees engaged by the Commission look for some measure of permanency in their employment and one would hope that, instead of a falling number of forestry workers, there will be a steady growth.
It has often been my duty to undertake negotiations for piece-work rates in the Yorkshire forests and there is no denying that the introduction of piecework over the years has aided productivity very considerably. I hope that this 110 trend will go on. Nevertheless, I have been told in recent months that foresters and others have informed their gangs that there must be a limitation to the amount of piece-work because the money is running out. My experience is that, if one limits piece-work in this way, one does not promote the best sort of relationship and production is bound to suffer as a consequence.
The basic rates of pay within the industry are not very high compared with the rates in industry generally and the chance of a man being able to supplement his income by piece-work is attractive to him. I hope that the development of piece-work will continue in every branch of work undertaken by the Commission—from seedlings to the utilisation of the forests themselves.
I would also like the new set-up to consider the possibility of better opportunities of advancement for keen young men who join the Commission's service as workers in the forests. At the moment, these opportunities seem very limited. If such opportunities were provided they would encourage more of our younger men perhaps to stay in the remoter villages and hamlets than is the case at present. Usually, they tend to move away to the towns and larger villages, saying that there is no opportunty for them except as ordinary labourers in the forests. If there were greater opportunies for advancement in the employment of the Commission, this would help retain some of the young people in the smaller hamlets. This is absolutely essential if there is to be continuity of employment, not only from the point of view of the workers themselves but from that of the Commission itself.
With hon. Members on both sides of the House, I was privileged, a few weeks ago, to visit Scotland to look at some of the forestry work there. As we went from forest to forest we heard of the difficulty of recruiting local labour. This difficulty could become very widespread in England unless we do something to show the younger people who are at first attracted to the work of the Commission, but who, as they get a little older, move to the towns, that there are opportunities of advancement to the higher grades in the industry.
I hope that the Ministers responsible when the new set-up comes into being 111 will look into the whole question of education and advancement and will take into account the need to offer such facilities to those who go into forestry and to provide greater opportunities than appears to have been the case in the past, thus affording young village people chances that have not perhaps been theirs in the past.
One feature I noticed when we visited Scotland was the fact that there was quite a considerable number of women workers employed in the forests. As far as I am aware, certainly so far as Yorkshire is concerned, I do not think that we have embarked upon the employment of female labour in forests. This might be something that could be looked at. It appears to be working very successfully in Scotland. If we are to keep our villages and hamlets alive there must be opportunities for women as well as young men in order to retain the lifeblood of the countryside that is so vital.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)
Perhaps one of the most significant points in this debate was highlighted in what my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) described as the Forestry Commission reaching a watershed in forestry administration. It is on this point I would like to speak first. I think that the most significant thing in the Report, which has been acted upon in the Special Report, is in the proposed reorganisation and regrouping of staff in the Forestry Commission, and the division into three separate functional parts. I think this is particularly significant for two reasons. The first, as has already been said in debate, is that the work of the Forestry Commission is now at a stage of fruition where there is an actual prospect of better return from the forests themselves. Secondly, it is significant because it shows the hopes that the Treasury has that the subvention which the Forestry Commission gets will in the future neither be so large nor continuing.
While this is good in many respects, I think it is perhaps unfortunate in that it recognises only the crop function of forestry. It is this crop function of forestry that a great part of the debate this afternoon has dealt with. Whilst the Report envisages the development of 112 forestry on a more industrialised basis, I think it fails to take into account the very many and varied non-crop functions which forestry has. Many of these have been touched on in the debate, but I do not think sufficient emphasis has been laid upon the contrast between these two different aspects of forestry work.
The timber crop is not just a matter which we can discuss in terms of industry. It is something which affects the whole of the community as well. These various non-crop functions embrace a very wide field indeed. To mention a few, there is still in Great Britain the question of the prevention of erosion in which forestry can play a very big part. There is the fixing of sand-hills such as we had in the Culbin Sands in Morayshire. There is also the influence of forestry on water catchment areas, something that is of great importance to hydro-electricity in Scotland and also to the whole question of water conservation for other industrial purposes. The question of shelter for stock has already been mentioned. There is often a conflict between interests of agriculture and forestry, yet, when properly integrated, I believe it is not only feasible but also profitable to these particular industries.
Recreational facilities have been mentioned during the debate and I have great sympathy with what the Member for West Middlesbrough (Dr. Bray) said. In Scotland, according to the evidence submitted to the Estimates Committee, there are at the moment only about £6,000 a year being spent by the Commission on these amenity services such as camping sites, wardens and so on. Where it is being spent I think it is being spent well, such as in the Glenmore area in Inverness-shire, which shows what the Forestry Commission can do and has already done in developing these recreational facilities. I understand from the Estimates Committee Report that this amount in Scotland is liable to rise to £20,000 a year but still only represents about half of one per cent. of the total amount of money that will be spent by the Commission.
The question of employment in areas of depopulation has been mentioned. In this I would follow the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) and say it is not just a question of employment for the man of the family but also perhaps for the wife and certainly for the sons 113 and daughters as well, if we are to keep people within these particular areas. We have heard how in certain areas of the north-west of Scotland close to Fort William it is difficult even to get labour, and I would suggest it is partly because of lack of employment for other members of the family. We have also to take into account the question of the provision of general social facilities which make life attractive in these areas.
All these things have already been recognised in the work of the Commission, and I personally pay tribute to what it has done in fulfilling these non-crop functions. What concerns me now in the change of emphasis within the Commission is where these non-crop functions fit into the new functional divisions. Are we going to see the development of a large undertaking which will be devoted to industrialised forestry? Can we be sure that proper heed will be paid by the Forestry Commission in the future to these wider responsibilities?
In the memorandum submitted by the Commission to the Committee it is pointed out that the Forestry Commission has power to acquire land for afforestation where there is depopulation, without any reference to the Treasury so long as the return from this is more than 2 per cent. I would like to ask the Minister if this is going to continue in the future and will it in fact be implemented? I would also ask if this could not be extended further where planting is advisable perhaps to prevent river flooding or silting, where there is need for water conservation, or where there is need for shelter for farm land in upland areas. In all these things the cost of planting and the cost of forestry activity is relatively high in relation to the commercial return. I hope that in this respect the Commission will not only continue but will extend these functions which it has exercised in the past.
The question of education has been touched on briefly. The Commission is the biggest single forestry employer in Britain and, as such, it has a tremendous influence on the type of career available within forestry in this country. Because of this I believe it has a responsibility for education to make sure that education in forestry is in tune with the kind of jobs and careers available. I would like 114 to ask whether, in view of the future change of emphasis within the Forestry Commission, there is going to be more opportunity for commercial careers, such as cost accounting and market research. Are these things going to be of greater importance so far as careers are concerned, or will there still be opportunity for those who have a proper training in forestry and in resource management as a whole? I welcome the recommendation of the Committee that the question of wastage of foresters should be investigated. A great deal of money is being spent on education and if foresters leave this can be wasted.
I would like to deal with education not just at the forest level but with higher education. It is most important that the forestry schools at universities should know exactly what is happening so far as careers and education is concerned. We now have only four forestry schools left in Britain, at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Bangor and Oxford. Already we have seen a great change in the type of courses which these schools offer.
With the diminishing opportunity for forestry in the Colonial Service, there has had to be a great change of emphasis. Perhaps the greatest change of emphasis that has taken place is at the Department of Forestry at Edinburgh University where it has changed to a Department of Natural Resources. I think this is very significant. I understand that last year this Department, of all the Departments in the Faculty of Science, in proportion to the number of places available was more heavily over-subscribed than any other Department in the Faculty.
This shows the interest that is taken in this type of activity by young people leaving school. There is a responsibility for the Government and, perhaps, also for the Commission to make known what kinds of careers will be available for those who are keen to undertake this kind of training. It should start at school so that teachers may know whether to advise young people to undertake this type of career. It is important, too, for those who have already started on forestry training if they are not to be disappointed.
For that reason, it is to be regretted that within the new set-up of the Forestry Commission, education is to be a subsidiary function of the director responsible 115 for finance and administration. The Estimates Committee recommended that there should be a director who was specifically and solely responsible for education. It is very much to be regretted that that recommendation is not being implemented.
Coupled with education I should like to mention research. The Report of the Estimates Committee recognises the need for more fundamental research in forestry and in doing this it reinforces the Report of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy for 1962–63. Whilst I recognise the work of research which is done by the Commission at Alice Holt Lodge and the field research which is carried out by the Commission at other places throughout Britain, it is clear from the evidence submitted to the Estimates Committee that there is enormous scope for more research to be done through the Universities and other non-Government institutions.
From the evidence submitted to the Estimates Committee, it appears that less than £10,000 a year out of a total of £437,000 which is spent on research is actually spent in universities and other non-Government institutions. This appears to me to be a pitifully small sum and to cover a very narrow range of studies when the whole spectrum of forestry problems is so broad. It is disappointing that the Estimates Committee did not make specific recommendations concerning research and how this position might be rectified.
Perhaps the reason for the hesitancy in making definite recommendations in that respect is the formation of the Natural Environment Research Council and the supposition that it will take over much more responsibility for research in forestry. This is, perhaps, something about which the Minister might be able to tell us tonight. What people need to know within the research sectors of forestry is whether the Commission will continue to finance and extend research and exactly what relationship with research the Natural Environment Research Council will have.
Another disappointing feature in research, which is allied with the question of education, concerns the division in the Commission which is to be responsible 116 for research within the new set-up. Again, it is unfortunate that a separate division is not to be responsible for research. Most of the State forest services overseas have a director with specific responsibility for research. There is an argument for combining research and education in the hands of one director responsible for the two. In this way, a great deal of new impetus, fresh ideas and encouragement could be given in these important spheres.
If in replying to the debate the Minister can answer these points, he will remove a great deal of uncertainty. The uncertainty starts amongst those who contemplate embarking upon a forestry career. It certainly exists among those who are training in forestry and also among those who are undertaking research, both within the Commission and in the universities.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)
My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell), who is no longer present, have both referred to careers in the Forestry Commission. It is important that we should appreciate exactly how much the Commission has done in providing careers for forest officers who have returned from various Colonial Territories that no longer want them. This has had its effect on the careers of younger people who were already in the Forestry Commission in England, Wales and Scotland.
Everybody has rushed in and praised the Forestry Commission and said that we must spend more money and plant more trees. I am disappointed that the Estimates Committee, too, should have fallen hook, line and sinker for the social argument. The House should approach this argument with a certain amount of care before we pour more public money into an industry which no private individual would contemplate doing without the grants which are given and without the favourable tax position. My noble Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (The Earl of Dalkeith), who plants a large acreage and is one of the leading private foresters, admits that private forestry would not be viable without the special tax position that it enjoys. I welcome the fairly guarded evidence which the Treasury gave to the 117 Estimates Committee. I welcome the fact that for once we have seen the Treasury bending over backwards to be in favour of private forestry as against State forestry on the ground that it yields a better return.
The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Owen) pointed out that one of the troubles was that the State forestry programme was held up by the lack of availability of sufficient land. The only way to bring more land forward is to pay a more realistic price for it. I hope that when the recommendation of the Estimates Committee is put into practice and land is shown in the Commission's accounts at its true value, the Commission will pay a better price for land. It would be amazing then to see how much mere land becomes available and comes forward.
Perhaps one of the most significant answers in the Report of the Estimates Committee was that given in reply to question No. 1404 when the Director for Scotland, Mr. Dickson, admitted that there was a large hidden asset in the land which the Commission owned. It is fair to say that in his tenure as conservator for the Northern area, Mr. Dickson has probably played a greater part than any other person in building up this large hidden asset at a very low value. I hope, therefore, that when the Minister winds up the debate he will say that the Forestry Commission will be in a position to pay a more realistic price for land before he even contemplates a new system of compulsory purchase to get the land.
I hope that with that caveat about the money which we are spending on the Commission and on forestry as a whole, the House will not rush in and demand that we should have a bigger forest acreage, particularly in Scotland, above the 12 million hoppus feet per annum needed for the Fort William pulp mill. We passed a Bill only two years or so ago giving a fresh grant of public money for the Fort William mill. I do not think that the full significance of that mill or the effect that it will have throughout Scotland has yet been appreciated.
What I am frightened of is that particularly after the issue of the Seventh Report of the Estimates Committee, the 118 Forestry Commission will build up vast reserves of plantable acreages far in excess of the amount needed for the Fort William pulp mill and that before we know what is happening there will be a further application to this House for another grant for yet another pulp mill in the northern area. I am in no way convinced that the social arguments are valid or that we are getting the best investment for our money. We do not know what new materials will be coming forward even for the processes of making paper over the next 10, 15 or 20 years.
I should like to make three quick points. The time has, I think, come for a complete review of the grants to private forestry. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) dwelt on this, but he did not develop the point far enough.
Next, a word about the land use surveys and about the step which the Commission has taken in the appointment of a new director to deal with all the wild life in its forests. I am sorry that when the Estimates Committee looked at the question of pest control and wild life more was not made of this important new appointment which the Commission has just decided to make. I hope that the Minister, when he consults the Forestry Commission, will decide to carry out the recommendations which, I know, it is pressing on the Seretary of State of Scotland, namely, that the Scottish Deer Act should be amended in line with what is now being carried on on the Forestry's Commission's plantations in Scotland and that the Scottish Act should be brought much more in line with the English Act, so that there should be a proper weapons clause and a close season for roe, fallow and sika deer in Scotland.
Many hon. Members have talked about amenities provided by the Forestry Commission. My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns has just mentioned the question of £6,000 a year being spent by the Commission in providing amenities in Scotland. It was only last November that the Conservator of the New Forest gave evidence to the Committee on the Countryside in 1970 to the effect that in the New Forest alone 25 foresters and 14 lorries are employed four days a week picking up the litter dropped at the weekends.
119 Is that the right way for the forestry Vote to be used? Is it right that the forestry Vote should be used to the extent of £6,000 a year in Scotland in providing these amenities? If people want these amenities, surely they should pay for them. Surely if anybody wants to go into the New Forest and have a picnic on one of the camping sites he should pay to go in.
The demand for amenities in the Forestry Commission's plantations divides into two perfectly distinct demands. There is the person who wants the most gregarious amenities—somewhere to park his car, somewhere to be in a crowd the whole time, somewhere where he can buy buns and tea. These sort of people are comparatively easy to cater for, and one can charge them in many cases for the facilities which are provided if they want to enjoy them.
Then there is the other sort of person, probably represented by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray), who wants to use the national forests and the national parks themselves for the solitude which they provide. There is a growing demand for this sort of recreation, and for watching wild life and all the rest of it, and this growing demand, unless we look at this problem and limit access in some way, is such that the very large number of people who want to enjoy this sort of recreation will destroy the very asset which they want to preserve.
On the question of a review of the grants for private forestry, I think perhaps that I can say that in my constituency, in Lincolnshire, is one of the classic examples of private forestry in the United Kingdom—Brockelsby, compared with two State forests, one on the Trent side and one on the eastern side of the county. It is most significant to look at these forests as a visitor would see them and see the difference between the hardwood, long-term planting of private forestry and the, in many cases, very dubious planting such as my noble Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) mentioned at Thetford, where there are endless conifers, and particularly certain Mediterranean conifers which will not produce the very 120 best kind of timber on the strong land which one finds in Lincolnshire.
It is significant that it is only in the north of Scotland, in the Highland areas, that private forestry has fallen below its expected target, while everywhere else in the United Kingdom private forestry has gone over its expected target. In the five-year period it has fallen behind its expected target in the north of Scotland and the west of Scotland. I think that it is because of the grant structure which is available to private forestry. This has weighed in favour of people with existing forest acreages. It has weighed in people who have 600 or 700 or 1,000 acres of standing trees.
I would like the Minister to look at the possibility of revising these grants. I know that one will get more for the first 200 acres and slightly less for the next 100, and the balance on the remainder, but if we want to encourage private forestry we might well say that if a man has no existing standing timber we will give him a higher rate of grant for the first 30 or 40 years, till the estate begins to produce. I think that there is a case for looking at the whole structure of grants to private foresters.
Finally, on the question of the land use surveys, I believe that we shall get into a frightful muddle over this. Because what is, in fact, happening? The Ministry is carrying out over certain parts, particularly in Scotland, surveys not to decide how the land should be used, but how many plantable acres are available. This is a very dangerous thing because we shall get figures and percentages of plantable land quoted.
That is not the way to get a sensible land use policy. We shall get many people saying that they have large acreages; they will say they have large chunks of plantable acreages in order not to be bothered and pestered when their reserves run down.
This is not the way to get a proper land use policy. We should get a revision of the grants, particularly in the upland and Highland areas, and the Commission should pay the proper commercial price for land which it wants and then we shall get the normal operation of proper land use, particularly in Scotland. We ought not to regard 121 forestry policy as a solution to the problem of hill farming as a whole. I do not think that that is the right solution in any way.
I hope that, despite the very many Dice things which have been said in this debate and in the Estimates Committee's Report about the Commission, we shall view with a certain amount of suspicion any vast expansion in the Forestry Commission's acreage, and I hope this House will pay due attention to the very sensible warnings which have been uttered by the Treasury on this particular form of expenditure.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) issued a warning that there should not be greatly increased developments in afforestation in Scotland, and he pointed to the fact that we had already undertaken considerable public expenditure on the pulp mill in the Ford William district. He seemed to argue—I hope that I am not doing him in injustice—that there should be an end to this particular industrial development in Scotland.
I would remind him and the House that afforestation is not confined merely to the Highlands, and that the Forestry Commission carries on quite a considerable activity in South Ayrshire and in south-west Scotland generally. I fail to see why this barrier should be drawn, or that an attempt be made to prevent further expansion of the pulp industry in the south-west of Scotland, because if it is good for the Fort William area and Argyllshire and Inverness-shire, why is it not also good for the areas in South Ayrshire and in Galloway where, I believe, there is a great deal of possibility of development because, after all, the pulp industry is a coming industry, and there is no reason at all why the southwest of Scotland should not join in and why the industry should not be developed there?
In my own area and the area of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) we know places where pulp mills could be established which would prevent the long transportation of timber to the pulp mill in the Fort William district. We hope that in the next decade we shall see an extension of this industry, which will 122 provide good possibilities of employment, in the south-west of Scotland.
At one time there was a move in the area of Girvan, where there has been quite a lot of unemployment, to build a pulp mill, and now that we are all agreed that the pulp mill at Fort William has been a good thing for Argyllshire, I do not think it should be suggested that that should be the end of the development. I am sure that the people in the area are looking forward to the extension of the pulp industry and associated industries. I am sure that they are all looking forward to more development and not less.
I have listened to many of the speeches during the debate. I have not heard anyone argue that the Forestry Commission should be denationalised. I heard the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. George Y. Mackie) deliver an interesting discourse on the need for future planning. He stressed the need for planning under the auspices of this State Commission. I have not heard the Opposition say that the Forestry Commission, which, after all, owes its initiative to State enterprise, should be scrapped and denationalised. Indeed, at one time I thought that I was listening to a conference of the Young Socialists. Hon. Gentlemen opposite abandoned their ideological prejudices and expressed enthusiasm for this State enterprise, for planning ahead, and for the future development of this industry. This is a good thing. Even the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) is brimming over with enthusiasm for this development of a State enterprise.
It does, of course, provide money for the landlords of Scotland. It is an excellent way of getting respectable national assistance from the Government. We seem to be in favour of a mixed economy and the payment of subsidies for the growing of trees. The landlord is to benefit, and when it comes to building a pulp mill, private enterprise is going to benefit by establishing an industry from which it hopes to make profits and pay dividends. I hope that this forward-thinking of the Opposition in this matter will be continued in respect of other nationalised industries.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough said that the Forestry Commission ought 123 to pay more for land. I think that it should pay less. Some landlords are enterprising, but others own land because it happens to have been bequeathed to them by some robber ancestor or some illegitimate earl or lord. I suggest that the landlords in Scotland are not being treated meanly. They are not being treated ungenerously at all. They have received substantial subsidies. They have received substantial incomes from afforestation and the development of State enterprise, and I hope that the lesson of the Forestry Commission will not be lost on the Opposition when we come to consider other parts of our economy.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)
This debate has covered many aspects of forestry, and I should like to make a few comments on the subject because, like many other hon. Members, I have Forestry Commission woods in my constituency.
Future land use is the key to the future of forestry development in this country, and on studying the Estimates Committee Report, and on looking at the United Nations Report on Forestry Trends in Europe, I find an interesting sidelight on what we have been talking about. It is estimated that, by 1975, 6.5 million hectares of agricultural land will become surplus to agricultural use and production in Europe because of increased agricultural yields. I know that this may lead us on to discuss whether they should be kept in production because of the world food shortage, but it is an interesting sidelight that in Europe they are considering transferring large quantities of land from agricultural to forest use.
I believe that it will be necessary for us to develop a new concept of land use if we are to ensure that our land is used properly. As has been underlined by many hon. Members today, forestry is the only land use which enables us to make multiple use of land. One cannot enter land on which crops are growing without doing damage to them, but, once forests have matured, apart from the various ecological uses to which they can be put, they provide camping sites, areas for outdoor sports, and so on. They provide real possibilities for the increased leisure 124 which we know we are going to demand during the next few years.
With a growing population, and with an increasing number of towns and villages, finding places at which people can enjoy their leisure hours will become a real problem. The beaches will not be able to accommodate all the people who want to go there and, therefore, other parts of the countryside will have to be found for recreation and leisure. We must get rid of any old-fashioned ideas that boundaries are sacrosanct, and that because at one time an area was a field, or a wood, it must of necessity stay that way forever. I hope that we will get a better use of land in the future, and I hope, also, that an increasing amount of it will be used for forestry.
One of the facts which emerges from a study of the subject is the increase in employment which forestry provides in the countryside. I hope that we shall be able to develop employment in forestry by employing people who, during other parts of the year, work on the land, or are engaged in fishing, because in this way we will be able to keep rural communities going in the more out-of-the-way parts of the country.
One of the recommendations of the Estimates Committee which I find difficult to understand is that the Forestry Commission in England should be taken out of the hands of the Ministry of Agriculture and put in the hands of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. Surely here we are going against the recommendation in the Report of the Highland Panel on Land Use which, on page 68, says:Agriculture and forestry remain the vital 'key' means of achieving economic improvement and providing local employment. They must be co-ordinated.We see the same sort of thing in the Estimates Committee's Report on page 99, where the Chairman asked:The first thing we would like to get down to is the relationship between the two Ministries and the Forestry Commission. To what extent are the Commission's staff the Minister's advisers on forestry matters?The Permanent Under-Secretary replied:Entirely. On all forestry matters, he takes his advice from them, and no one in the Ministry of Agriculture would intervene at all in a forestry matter.Surely we try to achieve greater integration and co-operation between forestry 125 and agriculture, rather than have them sitting in two opposed camps and having two Ministries fighting over them, and perhaps having to put the matter before a Committee to decide what the land use should be. I am glad that in Scotland we are to continue to keep responsibility for forestry in the hands of the Secretary of State. Scotland should be very glad about this.
Another question mentioned in the Report was that of marketing. We should take special note of the trend in timber production. The volume of timber in logs for sawing is falling. The United Nations report estimates that between 1950 and 1975 this volume will fall from 60 per cent. to 49 per cent. of total forest products. We know that in this country the use of pitprops has declined, and also that at the same time the use of pulp wood has increased from 18 per cent. to 44 per cent. of all forest products. In Europe the individual log quota of smaller sizes has risen from 35 per cent. to 50 per cent. This is important to many other affected interests, not only in coniferous plantations, but also in hardwoods. in Denmark, for instance, second-quality beech is taken, sawn into small sizes, kiln-dried and put together again in the form of hardwood flooring. This enables it to be used in smaller sizes than has ever been possible before.
I direct the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland to a report which hi or his advisers may have seen concerning Norwegian forestry. There are many similarities, in terms of climate and type of country, between Norway and Scotland, and the report stresses the fact thatWithin Norway, sawlogs now account for only two-fifths of the output; the remaining three-fifths of the cut, together with the waste from the saw logs goes to the pulp or board mills.This type of development will come to this country in the future, and we must encourage it if we want to make certain that we build up our resources to the maximum extent in Scotland. I hope that account will be taken of this fact.
Many hon. Members have stressed the importance of forestry to our balance of payments. It is hardly necessary to repeat what has been said, but it is a fact that, apart from oil, forest products form the biggest single import into this country.
126 We must redress the balance in the future. The Forestry Commission and private woodlands can do a great deal to help our economy in this respect.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Like many other hon. Members, I have heard many speeches in this debate. Although I represent part of the City of Glasgow, which has no agriculture, I have taken an interest in forestry affairs in the past. Like my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), I have been struck by the seeming contradictions in some speeches made by hon. Members opposite. Although many of them profess to have a deep and undying interest in the progress and future prospects of this industry for the nation's good, and as an investment for the nation, none of them has suggested that he would be willing to make any contribution by way of sacrifice to help the Forestry Commission or the industry.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Has my hon. Friend observed that the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) is the new Chairman of the Conservative Party in Scotland—and he welcomes the new powers given to my right hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Hannan
I was about to come to that point.
I had noted that the trend of two or three of the speeches of hon. Members opposite was not to make suggestions how the Commission could be helped in the acquisition of land—which is its great problem, and will continue to be so for many years—but rather to indulge in a great deal of special pleading on behalf of private landowners. Hon. Members opposite urged that they should be given further inducements, so that their property could be developed by planting trees.
I am glad that the Committee's Report suggests that forestry affairs in Scotland should remain under the Secretary of State. I read with interest the Committee's Report, containing full details of the relations between the Department and the Ministers, in the form of questions to and answers by the officials of the Department. It has been obvious to me for many years that the great problem facing the Commission is the acquisition of land for planting. I welcome the fact that in paragraph 3 of the Eighth Special 127 Report there is an indication that three memberswill be responsible for forest management, harvesting and marketing, and administration and finance, respectively.It remains my view that despite the Report's forecast of future events the main problem confronting the Commission will be the acquisition of land on which to plant. Twentieth century British forestry must be mainly concerned with planting because two world wars have devastated all the forests that we had, and a period of up to 100 years is required to bring trees to a productive state.
The questions of management and marketing are of the highest importance, but the immediate need of the Commission is for land. The territory acquired and the planting accomplished by the Commission show that it is working on a very narrow margin, and has been doing so for a long time. Some assurance can be given to the Commission that it will be able to accomplish the sort of planning which hon. Members opposite have been advocating if they help by making some concrete suggestions how this should be accomplished.
I agree with the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) that there should be no quarrel or antagonism between agriculture and forestry. It is assumed, apparently, that land use in the Highlands and Islands is to be for agriculture, and that if there are any other competing needs the organisations concerned should justify their claims against the needs of agriculture. If consideration is given to those other uses, the main question which arises is what is to be the effect on agriculture. I therefore welcome the surveys which were initiated by the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) in various areas and the invitations to the so-called competing interests to come together to state their case, after which, on consideration of the matter, a decision would be made.
In some places, forestry has been looked upon as an interference with agricultural pursuits. I disagree with this. It is the best use to which the land can be put—making use of our natural resources to overcome the balance of payments problem which confronts us. I 128 conclude from this Report and the consideration of the annual reports of the Commission that agriculture has no inherent or privileged right in the land. I think that it should be required to justify its claims on the same basis as forestry. If there are opportunities for increasing the production of the forests, it surely lies in the Highlands and Islands, because, in that area—9 million acres, which constitutes 47 per cent. of the total land area of Scotland—there is still vast room for improvement. Indeed, only 388,000 acres were under trees at September 1963.
According to the figures in the Reports resulting from the surveys which the right hon. Gentleman had presented to him, while it is difficult to estimate the total area suitable for forestry, nevertheless, on the basis of the surveys already completed, half a million acres were plantable, out of 3½ million which had been surveyed. On that basis, it is thought that there are about 1 million acres available for forestry in the north of Scotland.
§ Mr. Wingfield Digby
Would the hon. Member not agree that the trouble about the islands of Scotland is the very great danger of wind-blow? Would he not also agree that the two trial plots in the Island of Lewis, although they have had some success, have not been entirely successful and one at least is in a very sheltered position?
§ Mr. Hannan
I do not dispute broadly what the hon. Member says, though I do not think that it detracts very much from my general statement about the Highlands and Islands. If the hon. Member would now do the House the honour of reading the Report of the Highlands and Islands Panel on Land Use in the Highlands and Islands, he would find that his statement just now would be tempered somewhat and other reasons would be adduced for not fully accepting what he said. Forestry is a self-perpetuating resource and the change from agriculture to forestry means that employment would be increased six-fold.
I welcome the Committee's Report. I am wholly in favour of the Forestry Commission being given all the assistance possible by my right hon. Friends, in the hope that it will be encouraged to go ahead and deal with the problem which lies before it, but we must do all we 129 can to assist it in turn by acquiring land on which to plant. Whatever complaints and criticisms have been offered from one or two hon. Members opposite about absence of thinning and the rest, I am sure, from my talks and contacts with friends in the Commission and in the industry, that these matters can be looked at as the years go by.
I reiterate that the big problem is to help the Commission, in the meantime, to acquire the land. There has been mention of the compulsory powers of Ministers, but certain difficulties have cropped up in that respect. The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) invited the Commission and the Government to put greater pressure on the Treasury to pay higher grants to private owners, but, of course, the Commission is not in competition only with the owners. Commercial interests are coming in, and the higher the price which is paid to one individual the greater will be the number of competitors and the amount of competition, and up and up will go the price. That, naturally, would suit some hon. Members opposite, but it would not be in the best interests of the nation, nor of the taxpayer.
I hope that my right hon. Friends will bear in mind some of the proposals which have been made and that in future the Commission will be able to show still greater benefits for the nation as a whole.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
I was glad to note earlier that at least two hon. Members had had the good sense to visit Norfolk and spend some time in Thetford Chase, part of which is in my constituency. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray), there are picnic places devised by the Forestry Commission which enable people to drive their cars off the roads, avoid certain fire dangers, make the collection of litter easier, and so on. I hope that those hon. Members have noticed the large chipboard factory—I think it is the largest and most modern in the country—at Thetford. It is a good example of how one always finds new uses for timber as old uses become obsolete.
I should also declare a small interest in that on my farm I have some 70 130 acres of woodland, mostly derelict, devasted during the wars, and I confess that I have some trouble in rehabilitating it. I find that looking after woodlands tends to come after more urgent, or seemingly more urgent, agricultural needs. Woodlands tend to be a residual to which one devotes spare labour and time when one has it. I mention that because it has perhaps been our national fault in dealing with forestry. As a nation we seem to have been astonishingly indifferent. Perhaps it was because in the ninetenth century we fell in love with iron and forgot wood.
It puzzles me that the Treasury should take such an indifferent view. On studying some of the answers given in the Report, I came to realise that the Treasury does not normally project its views beyond twenty or thirty years. That is not very much in tree growing. It probably means poplars for matches and willows for cricket bats, but any other form of tree growing is beyond the Treasury horizon. Therefore, I very much welcome the Committee's recommendation that we should take forestry much more seriously.
I am impressed by the balance of payments argument. The fact that we supply only 10 per cent. of our needs in timber and timber products from indigenous sources seems a woeful commentary on past generations. We and Holland are at the bottom of the Europe league in the area covered by forests—with 7.5 per cent. of our acreage in woodlands—and that is something which ought to be remedied.
When one examines the balance of payments figures a little more closely, it seems that on any calculation based on an increasing population and increasing demands we shall be very hard put to it to maintain as much as that 10 per cent. even if we succeed in realising the 1945 target of 5 million acres planted. It is likely that the demand will continue to rise with standards improving, greater demands for newsprint, more housing, and so on. Whenever anyone mentions the amount of work which is now being done by concrete instead of wood, there is a tendency frequently to overlook the enormous consumption of timber for shuttering. Likewise, most packaging 131 material is made from timber or timber products.
For these reasons, our true imports are worth about £500 million a year, and clearly the Treasury has overlooked the important element of pulp. Nearly all of that could have been produced at home, since we are speaking of temperate products because the amount of tropical hardwoods, cork and so on, included in the Customs returns is very small, under £30 million altogether. With a prospective European shortage, which is certain to come from 1975 onwards, our likely consumption could easily rise to annual imports of about £800 million a year. I therefore support a policy of expansion.
I welcome the new organisation of the Forestry Commission for two reasons; first, because it will now get down to the important job of commercial selling and, secondly, because—subject to some of the criticisms which have already been voiced—it will put private forestry in a slightly better position from the point of view of organisation and direct access to the Minister. It is important for us to move into an age of effective marketing, and we might learn some lessons from the agriculture industry; for example, that it will not be easy to sell British forestry produce unless it is available in standard qualities, high qualities and in quantity so that it is easy to meet specifications. I hope that one of the duties which the Minister will place on the Forestry Commission will be to publicise the need to use British materials so that architects and engineers will think in terms of specifying British materials when they are available.
When we consider marketing, grading and so on we see that private associations have learned a lot and that there has been a welcome development in co-operative forestry associations. We have a very good one in East Anglia. There are now about 3,200 members of the Timber Growers' Association in England and Wales and in the Woodland Owners' Association in Scotland. Together they comprise the Forestry Committee of Great Britain. That Committee was a good example of a much needed institution. The Government provided some 132 financial support to prime the pump and, after three years of support, the Committee, through subscriptions and commissions, is now economically viable and independent. It represents nearly 900,000 acres of forest land in private hands.
I have been looking into some of the comparative costs between private and Forestry Commission work because I anticipated that there would be criticism of the private industry. When one considers the planting and establishment costs, which are the important comparisons to make, one finds—as was made clear in a Parliamentary Answer on 2nd June—that the Forestry Commission's current average costs for planting are £41 per acre, ranging from £27 to £75, and that its establishment costs—that is, the four years' work subsequently, such as beating up and weeding—vary from £9 to £75 per acre, with an average of £30.
That means that the operation, including land at £7 per acre, averaged £78 an acre. Figures extracted from the Oxford University Survey of Private Woodlands show that the initial clearance cost is high because so much of private forestry has taken place on old woodland sites. Clearance, fencing and planting, weighted average, cost £54.2 an acre, and subsequent establishment £27.9. The comparison costs per acre, therefore, are £78 Forestry Commission and £82.1 private, excluding land cost. It is very difficult to compare like with like, but, broadly speaking, the private afforester will, on the whole, have rather higher fencing costs because the area is smaller than that normally worked by the Commission. As against that, I suspect that the Commission's overheads are considerably higher.
It is clear, in any case, that just as the Commission cannot hope to break even until about 1984, because it takes 40 years or more to join up woodland production into a repetitive cycle, so the private woodlands depend entirely on the continuation of planting, management and similar grants for at least another 30 years until that, in turn, joins up in the same way as with the Commission. Furthermore, if the private woodlands are to continue, it is essential to maintain their present taxation structure, and I am glad that in our earlier debates on the Finance Bill the Financial Secretary 133 accepted our case. It is worth noticing that in all the time from 1919 to 1963, grants in aid to private forestry have totalled about £12½ million—a modest sum, and a considerably lower grant-in-aid than that given in practically any other country in Western Europe which supports private forestry.
The clear need for the future is more land. The best advice I have had is that about 1 million or 1½ million more acres will be needed. The question is where it is to come from. Some marginal farming land could obviously go to forestry, but one of the difficulties has been for the Commission to get it. I do not think it necessary to use powers of compulsion, but it is desirable for the Commission to have a much more active purchasing policy carried out by officers at the highest level in order to induce owners to sell or lease their land if they do not themselves propose to afforest it.
Further, I hope that we shall be able to get some acreage from our common lands, a great deal of which is under-used. I believe that when the Commons Registration Bill and subsequent legislation is enacted we shall find that we can use a lot of our common lands, and not merely preserve but increase the amenity. On the amenity side, it should be possible to build up very attractive recreation by the combination of woodland and water and, perhaps, the provision of horse riding on bridle paths, such as one sees in the forests of South Germany.
The relationship between forestry and agriculture will remain one of the key subjects that the Minister will need to study, and a problem he will need to resolve. With the other forestry Ministers, under the Commission's ownership he will have over 400,000 acres of agricultural land. I should like to know what machinery for advice on agricultural management and what establishment he will have in the Ministry. Although he told me earlier that he would rely mainly on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I assume that he would have some agricultural sections in his own Ministry.
I should like to know what plans the Minister of Land and Natural Resources has for studying the integration of forestry and agriculture. We have heard that there is to be obtained considerably 134 more employment in forestry than in marginal sheep farming. If the two can be integrated there could be a gain all round. We should not underestimate the very real difficulties, but there is a great opportunity for deriving extra income from part-time or whole-time work in forestry. There is the structural and social difficulty that much of the land which could go to forestry is now in marginal farming activities which do not produce a very satisfactory return to the farmer but such farmers, although small in their scale of business and scarcely viable, are independent and their own masters.
I do not think it at all easy to suggest that they should turn over their land to forestry whether they are occupiers or tenants, for that would destroy their whole structure of self-employment and tenure. To them and their sons it might not offer a very attractive alternative form of employment. This is a point which deserves a good deal of study and research in order to see whether it is possible to devise a system of bringing forestry and forestry earnings into marginal farming so that the farmer or his son does not necessarily have to surrender his independence and become an employee. Actual earnings can be increased by greater productivity.
Someone mentioned work for the family. If the forestry is well planned with modern methods, it should provide a certain amount of comparatively light work which women could carry out, either in a forest nursery, or for example with some of the new methods of weed control by chemicals. This could perfectly well be done by women if need be. Therefore, I hope there will be a development over the next few years in devising more effective ways of integrating forestry and agriculture.
I am sure we should accept the need for increased woodlands. That being the case, we want planted acreage from whatever sources we can get it. The Treasury may be singularly unmindful of future difficulties and callous about the fate of future Chancellors of the Exchequer, but the general tone of this debate has been to confirm our belief that an extension of the forestry programme represents a form of national saving because we are devoting resources and money to products that 135 can be available only to the next generation. This is a form of investment we should support.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)
I should like to associate myself with those hon. Members who have expressed their appreciation of the work of the Estimates Committee in producing a really worthwhile Report. I want also to thank the Chair for calling one Member from Wales. The Secretary of State for Wales or the Minister of State, Welsh Office, has been present throughout the debate. A large number of hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies have been called. A substantial number of hon. Members from English urban constituencies have been called. Therefore, it is not inappropriate that a Member for a Welsh constituency should speak, although at this stage of the debate I want to confine my observations to some specific points relating to the position in Wales.
The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) referred to rumours he had heard about the North Wales Conservancy moving to Aberystwyth. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm those rumours. If he cannot do so now, I hope that ultimately he will be able to do so. I am certain that the administration of the North Wales Conservancy will be carried out very efficiently indeed within the Welsh Border, and, in particular, at Aberystwyth.
Several hon. Members have referred to the Commission's new set-up. They have, in particular, expressed anxiety about the abolition of the three national Directorates. More than one speaker has spoken of the danger of subservience to Savile Row. I have sympathy with this point of view. The position will have to be watched carefully. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that, whether the Commission in its internal operations in Wales or in Scotland or in England has or has not a measure of autonomy, the political responsibility is clear. The political responsibility for the Commission's operations in England will be with the Minister of Land and Natural Resources. The political responsibility for the Commission's activities in Wales will be with the Secretary of State for Wales. It is on the political level that 136 worthwhile decisions will be made, and the political responsibility is fairly and squarely on the shoulders of those two Ministers.
I want to refer to some sentences in the paragraphs of the Report of the Estimates Committee dealing with the Commission's constitutional set-up. Paragraph 9 says:In the Ministry of Agriculture there is no source of advice available to the Minister on forestry matters.Paragraph 12 says this:The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture said that successive Ministers of Agriculture had expressed concern at the lack of independent forestry advice in the Department, and that 'they think there is some lack in the system'. The Director General said in evidence that this was probably true in relation to private forestry matters in particular"—that is, a lack of independent forestry advice in the Government Department responsible for aforestation.
We have had the switch now from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources for England and to the Secretary of State as to Wales. What is the position now in view of that change-over?
The Estimates Committee made this recommendation:the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should consider the desirability of providing himself with an additional source of advice on forestry matters within his Department.So far as England is concerned the Eighth Report says, in paragraph 6:These Ministers will feel themselves free to seek advice from their senior officers as well as from the Forestry Commission …I take that to mean that, for England, the right hon. Gentleman will have a senior officer to advise him on forestry matters. This is extremely important, whether it is in relation to England or Wales. In Wales, the Secretary of State should certainly have a senior officer in a position to advise him on forestry matters. The reason I emphasise this is the reason given by the Permanent Secretary in paragraph 12 of the Seventh Report to which I referred, namely "independent forestry advice".
I refer, in particular, to the Secretary of State for Wales. He will have to make decisions involving problems of afforestation which have many aspects and conflicting interests in relation to land usage and social problems of one kind or another, including employment. He will 137 also have to give advice and make decisions in relation not only to the Forestry Commission, but to private forestry as well. It is extremely important, therefore, that the Secretary of State should have recourse within his own Department to a senior officer who is in a position to advise him on forestry and who is independent of the Forestry Commission. The Secretary of State will continue with his activities, but in exercising an independent judgment in relation to his responsibility for Wales as a whole he is to have independent advice.
That is particularly important for Wales. The position in Scotland has always been far more satisfactory than in England or Wales because, as the Seventh Report states, in paragraph 9,… a senior official of the Scottish Office does provide a source of additional advice if required because the responsibilities of the Secretary of State cover a very much wider field than those of the Minister of Agriculture.The Secretary of State for Wales has no responsibility for agriculture. Therefore, it behoves him to have a ready source of advice and guidance in maintaining a proper balance between the calls upon land by different and sometimes conflicting interests. I hope that I can obtain an assurance on that point.
We have heard from a number of speakers of the importance of obtaining a better relationship between agriculture and forestry. I have been involved in some of the conflicts which have existed in the past between agricultural and forestry interests in Wales, and I agree that the present relationship is far better than earlier relationships. I believe that the Forestry Commission and the agricultural interests are beginning to realise that there is room for joint activities in their own interests. I do not want to open old sores. I think a great deal of the problem in the past was the poor public relationship activities of the Forestry Commission, and I believe that there has been an improvement in that respect and a more constructive approach on the part of those interested in agriculture.
However, I entirely agree with hon. Members who take the view that it is high time that agricultural and forestry interests put their heads together and worked to create plans of mutual benefit. 138 The people of Wales have looked to forestry as one means of alleviating the problem of rural depopulation. It is only right that I should say that so far we have been profoundly disappointed, although in saying this I am not depreciating what the Forestry Commission has done.
Paragraph 337 of Command 2602 on Development and Government Action in Wales says, with reference to the Forestry Commission and employment, thatContraction of the total labour force continues …".The position in the matter of direct employment provided by the Commission in Wales is not improving, but deteriorating slightly. There was a drop of 100 between 1963 and 1964.
The one hope in this connection is based on what is said in paragraph 325 of that Command Paper:Plantations in the production stage now form over one quarter of the total area of plantations, but no difficulties are experienced in disposing of all timber offered for sale.That position will change relatively rapidly and within the next few years the proportion of plantations at the production stage will rise. If the Commission is to make a worth-while contribution towards the solution of the problem of rural depopulation, efforts must be made to ensure that that timber which has reached the production stage provides the maximum employment to people in the rural areas. Although I appreciate any contribution towards the solution of this problem, the Commission's contribution at the moment is very small.
I have been green with envy of the talk today of Fort William and the danger of Scotland having a second pulp mill. Hon. Members have expressed a fear that there will be so much timber available in Scotland that a second mill will be needed, when, at the same time, Wales is crying out for something of that kind and some additional source of employment in rural areas ancillary to forestry. When the Secretary of State for Wales looks over the whole problem of regional planning I hope that he will have in his mind at all times the increased contribution which forestry activity should be able to make in Wales now that the production level has reached a much more commanding position than it has had in past years.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)
One of the things which struck me most about the Report of the Estimates Committee was the evidence given by the Treasury, and I was glad to see the Committee's conclusion that expenditure by the Forestry Commissioninures directly to the national advantage.This is something which we should shout from the housetops. We should make clear that this expenditure on forestry is useful in building up an imports-saving industry and is also useful for social reasons. It has had a considerable effect on population in Scotland. There is a village in Argyll which had an adult population of 55 in 1951 with 11 children. In the last Census the adult population was 373 with 126 children, a remarkable increase.
These points have been dealt with fairly thoroughly by other hon. Members in the course of the debate and I should like to refer in the time available to me only to the ways in which the Government could possibly help private forestry. One difficulty is that the tenant farmer is unable to plant on his land partly because he does not get any compensation. The Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Land and Natural Resources should look into this and possibly by a small amendment make it possible for tenants to plant trees.
For crofters in the north, loans for planting would be helpful. There was a system of loans for planting which was withdrawn in comparatively recent years. In certain areas like my own—Galloway —there is great difficulty in getting workers for forestry. I should like the Commission to work much more on an agency basis and do planting for people who cannot get workers to do the job although they have suitable land available.
The Commission's future success will depend on the good will and confidence that it secures from other land-users, such as the sheep farmers and the land-owning interests. If it tries to use compulsory purchase on a large scale, the only result will be great delays and it will lose the confidence and good will that it has built up over so many years.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ The Minister of Land and Natural Resources (Mr. Frederick Willey)
I intervene not to conclude the debate but to help the House in its consideration of these two Reports. This is an unusual debate. By convention, we are discussing the Seventh Report of the Estimates Committee, but it so happens that we are able also to consider the Eighth Report which, in effect, is the Government's reply to the Estimates Committee. The burden is, therefore, on me to explain why the Government are taking certain action.
The position is that the Forestry Commission has been broadly supported by almost everyone who has spoken. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) was rather critical. With his usual courtesy, he wrote to the Minister whom he assumed would intervene in the debate. But he wrote to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and not to me, so I can only assume that he is rather out of touch with developments and that the strictures that he was making were on the last Administration.
I think that the Seventh Report of the Estimates Committee has been widely accepted. The reservations made by hon. Members have largely been on the question of whether the Government have been too enthusiastic in following through to what we believe to be the logical conclusion of some of the recommendations. I join with those who have paid tribute to the Estimates Committee. It has produced an excellent Report. As a past chairman, I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Sub-Committee because I know the work and responsibility which fall upon him. He can well take comfort in the knowledge that, within 12 months, the Report that he presented last year has been fully implemented.
If there be any criticism at all, it is that the Government have gone further than the recommendations of the Report. The Inter-departmental Committee has been mentioned. I emphasise that the decisions taken have been those of the Government. Of course, as is usual and right, the Government have taken advice inter-departmentally but the Government are responsible for the decisions and are accountable to the House for them.
141 The Report and the action that the Government have taken expeditiously—the need was for expedition—are, of course, no reflection on the Commission. The Government agree with the Estimates Committee on the excellence of the Commission's work. The international reputation of the Commission has been mentioned. I share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) in saying that it is remarkable that, when the House holds concrete practical discussions of public national enterprises, they are very often conducted in this atmosphere.
This is a remarkable public enterprise because it is dealing with land ownership and land management. It is significant that there has been no criticism of the Commission. On the contrary tribute after tribute to the work it is doing has been paid. The reorganisation which we are carrying out arises from the historic development and the success of the Commission in its operations. I would emphasise that we are taking this action very largely on the grounds which the Estimates Committee put forward, on the conclusion which they reached, that the first phase of the operations of the Commission are now coming to an end and we are entering a second phase in which it has an equally important rôle as a timber seller.
In view of what has been said about the rôle of the Commission I would emphasise that I regard as equally important as the paragraph which has been relied upon, paragraph 95, the paragraph following in the conclusions of the Estimates Committee Report:Your Committee are satisfied that the large amount of public funds now invested in forestry will in the long run be recouped. In addition, account must he taken of the social benefits not susceptible of financial evaluation which arise from forestry, such as the provision of rural employment, the utilisation of waste lands, and the establishment of National Forest Parks. Your Committee conclude that the expenditure carried on the Forestry Commission Vote inures directly to the rational advantage.That is a conclusion which is shared by the Government and I believe the debate today has shown that it is shared by Members on both sides of the House. We are debating this subject to two difficulties. One is, as hon. Gentlemen have said, that we have not got the 142 annual report of the Forestry Commission before us. I can tell the House that that report will be published in a few days' time, on 23rd June. It is unfortunate we have had the debate before the report, but this is one of those difficulties which occasionally arises.
However, I can say that the report will include a tentative valuation of the forest estate as it was on 30th September, 1964, and that it will include a commentary of the year's financial results. In other words, it will provide what the Estimate Committee suggested it should provide. I can add that the new form of accounts will be introduced to have effect from 1st October this year. In other words, the new form of account will operate from the new forestry year.
The second difficulty we face is that this debate inevitably ran well beyond the Estimates Committee Report itself. We have been asked about our plans for the forestry programme. It is not necessary for me to assure the House that everything that has been said will be given due weight by the Government. But we are in the difficulty that the Government are considering the whole question of the forestry programme. We are reviewing the programme in the light of the sort of consideration that has been given in the debate today. Until we reach conclusions we cannot come to the House and place before it any reconsideration that we may have made of the forestry programme. This review will take some time. As I have said, in the review we have to pay regard to a number of complex inter-acting factors. We have to pay regard to the submission that we have just received from the Home-Grown Timber Advisory Committee. Meanwhile, it is difficult to give proper weight to various questions which have been put before us.
As an interim measure, and without prejudice to whatever final conclusions the Government may reach, I can announce that the Government have desided that the Scottish programme should be increased by 12,000 acres over the five-year period from 1964 to 1968. This has not been done at the expense of the English or Welsh programmes.
§ Mr. Willey
Yes. That is an interim adjustment which we have made in view of the particular need to increase the programme in Scotland. As I say, this does not affect the programme in either England or Wales.
§ Mr. Willey
No. It is 12,000 acres over the five-year period.
To return to the Report of the Estimates Committee, as has been shown by various speeches in the debate, the reorganisation of the Forestry Commission has been very much facilitated by the change in Ministerial responsibility. The fact that we now have in England a Minister responsible for forestry who is not responsible for agriculture has considerably facilitated and helped the reorganisation. To anticipate the point made by the hon. learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen), it means that both the Secretary of State for Wales and myself have the benefit of the advice of senior officers of the Department. As a result, the position of forestry is considerably strengthened.
There has been criticism of forestry being the concern of a Department separate from agriculture, but the hon. Member who referred to this spoke about co-operation. The co-operation is between two different bodies. The difficulty which faced the Minister of Agriculture, and particularly the historical difficulties of the background, made the situation difficult and the change which has taken place has made it easier to reorganise the Forestry Commission. In addition, as has been emphasised throughout the debate, the fact that we now have three forestry Ministers—the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister of Land and Natural Resources in England—has also facilitated the reorganisation.
The remarkable thing is that the only criticism on that score was from the hon. Member who spoke in those terms. As the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan was fair enough to point out, we have not had any criticism from Welsh Members. As the hon. and learned Member said, this change guarantees that the political decisions which are taken 144 give full effect to the different character of forestry in the three countries.
It is largely those two factors which have resulted in something else which is quite remarkable. I refer to the fact that the reorganisation has taken place without any dissatisfaction being expressed by the timber industry. The change has been fully accepted by the private woodland owners and by the timber trade. This, I believe, is largely due to the fact that the private woodland owners and the timber industry feel that there is a more direct Government responsibility for the forestry industry. By way of an aside, it is in line with this that we have recognised formally the position of the Home-Grown Timber Advisory Committee, which has formalised the position of the private side of the industry.
To return to the Report and the action we have taken, as I have said, the first reason upon which we base our action is the conclusion of the Estimates Committee that the Commission is now substantially a timber seller. The other reason is a different reason, but, again, it has not been challenged in the debate, and it is this, that with the increasing responsibility of the Commission, and recognising, too, the development in other public and large corporations, we have taken the view that we should have full-time executive members on the Commission.
It is very comforting to us, having taken this decision, that we have found that Lord Waldegrave, Chairman of the Commission, fully supported the view we formed. I think that anyone looking at the problems of the Commission, anyone looking at the work which the Commission is carrying out, would be driven to the conclusion that effectively to do its work this Commission should have executive members on the Board and that those executive members should necessarily be full-time.
To ease the reorganisation, Lord Waldegrave and his colleagues, the members of the Commission, put their offices at the disposal of the Government, and I would take this opportunity of paying a very sincere tribute to Lord Waldegrave for the work which he has done on the Commission and to his fellow commissioners. It is a very real public duty which they have discharged.
145 That is why it is a comfort to know that we have his support in the action we are taking. It is in no way a reflection on the way they have conducted their work. On the contrary, it is because the Commission has successfully got through to this stage of its operations that we are obliged now to reorganise the Commission to make it fit its new responsibilities.
I am happy to say that Her Majesty the Queen has been graciously pleased to appoint Mr. Leslie Jenkins as the new Chairman of the Commission as from 1st July. Mr. Jenkins is the current President of the National Association of British Manufacturers and will shortly become a vice-president of the proposed new Confederation of British Industries. Among other things, in the early days of the war he was engaged in the organiation of supplies of timber from Canada for the Mosquito programme. I am very grateful to him for accepting this appointment. We hope to announce the appointment of the other commissioners shortly.
The Chairman, as, I think, has been anticipated, is part-time, but the four full-time members will be the Director-General, who will be Deputy-Chairman, a full-time commissioner for forest management, a commissioner for administration and finance, and a commissioner for harvesting and marketing. I was very interested in what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) said. I anticipate that we shall be advertising for this appointment. I agree with him that one cannot look upon recruitment to the Commission as necessarily being confined to the staff of the Commission itself.
§ Viscount Lambton
Is it the intention that the Commission will definitely be confined to 10 members?
§ Mr. Willey
I shall come to that in a moment. I have dealt with the part-time Chairman and the full-time executive members. We now have five part-time members, and as will be seen from the Report they will be chosen for their knowledge and experience of commerce, the timber trade, trade union matters, forestry and the countryside.
The position of woodland owners was raised. Again, I pay tribute to the woodland owners who have served on the 146 Commission. They have contributed to the work of the Commission. There will be places for the woodland owners on the new Commission.
I have defined the categories of people to whom we look for members of the Commission. I would emphasise two points. One is that the commissioners are not representatives. It would be wrong to regard them as representatives. They have to be appointed for what, in the light of their individual capabilities, they are likely to contribute to the Commission. It would be wrong if they had any representative character.
The other point that I wish to emphasise is that in creating the Commission we are bound by the Forestry Acts, and, as has been said during the debate, the numbers are limited. In fact, the Commission is limited to nine members other than the Chairman. This limits the scope of appointment to the Commission. To go beyond this would mean legislation.
That is the reorganisation which we have carried out with regard to the Commission, and it is perhaps significant that it has not come in for any serious criticism. I think that we are right to have gone rather further than the Estimates Committee recommended. In the light of its recommendation, and of modern developments with regard to any such board, I think that we have made the Commission a more effective organisation by providing for full-time members.
We have followed this reorganisation through to the Commission's staff, because we have full-time members coming through to the Board. Broadly speaking, we have grouped the staff according to the new commissioners. We have provided, also, for further reorganisation, which I think is fully justified on a review of the work of the Commission. We have not only regrouped the staff to match the new Commission, but we have streamlined it and simplified the administration. That is why we have a straight run through to the conservancies, and greater delegation to them. In reply to the hon. Gentleman, perhaps I might point out that having a straight line through from the Commission to the conservancies means less centralisation, and it is for this reason that we are winding up the national directorates; 147 this is giving conservancies a greater responsibility. Following the devolution of political responsibilities, particularly in the case of Wales, and because the directorates were more or less post offices, we are providing for more effective decisions to be taken in the countries concerned. We have three forestry Ministries now, and what we are doing is providing greater direct responsibility for the conservancies in each of the countries. A fairly large office of the Forestry Commission will be situated in Edinburgh. It will consist of 40 to 50 people with a senior officer who will have full powers of delegation within the Commission in regard to acquisitions, and by far the greater part of the Commission's acquisitions of land now takes place in Scotland. He will be the main link between the Scottish Departments and the Commission.
I was asked about the position with regard to Wales. The Welsh directorate office at Aberystwith will be replaced by the North Wales Conservancy office which will move from Shrewsbury during the next year. Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman thinks, this will mean an increase in staff at Aberystwith of between 20 and 25.
§ Mr. George Y. Mackie
How much of an increase in staff will this mean in Edinburgh, and will there be a link between this staff and the direct control of conservancies from headquarters in Savile Row?
§ Mr. Willey
There will be an increase in staff at Edinburgh, and a direct relationship between the conservancies and Edinburgh. This is not new to Scotland, but it is new to Wales. One would not have a political devolution unless one intended effectively to provide for these decisions which can be taken in Scotland and Wales, in fact, being taken there.
Significantly enough, there has been no mention of the national committees. These will remain in existence. They will have on them the senior officers in England, Wales and Scotland.
The question of costings has been mentioned. The Commission is setting up a costings branch. It will, naturally, take some time to gather special experience. There will also be a new branch in the marketing section. There is no fundamental change in research, but the Direc- 148 tor of Research will not have a place on the Commission. Anyone who studies the work of the Commission will appreciate that it would not be expected that the Director would become a member of the Commission. I am sure that this reorganisation will provide a more economical and efficient form of organisation. Its purpose is to recognise that the Commission itself should play more of an executive rôle, and that there should be a direct chain from the Commission, through its headquarters, to the conservancies.
I want to deal broadly with the place of the Commission and its work. I am surprised that more attention has not been paid to paragraph 96 of the Seventh Report. We have relied upon that, as well as on paragraph 95, as being essentially concerned with the function and rôle of the Commission. We can be heartened by the fact that if we take a realistic view of the future we see that a large proportion of the public funds which have been invested in forestry will be recouped. That is satisfactory.
I must say at once that there is no justification for the criticism that has been repeatedly made of the Treasury. The Treasury is concerned not merely with the problem of forestry. It is concerned with the balance of payments difficulty, and the rest. Life is not as simple as some people believe. We have to strike balances. We have to judge what is the better investment. I would ask those who are vitally interested in forestry, to recognise this.
I conclude by calling attention to some other factors affecting the forestry programme. It is rather childish to criticise the Treasury as being against forestry. That is not so. The Treasury must pay regard to other forms of investment; it must hold the balance between long-term and short-term investment—and our difficulties are very often short-term.
This country is in a very weak position, looking even to the fairly near future. I was away for a few minutes during the debate and during that time I believe that there was mention of the value of current timber imports. The correct figure is £500 million, and that includes all uses of timber. The contribution made by our own timber industry is about £30 million.
Looking ahead, therefore, we cannot foresee a period in the future in which 149 our domestic production will make a significant contribution. But the future position, is even more difficult than that—because the situation in Europe can change quite dramatically in a relatively short time. We must, therefore, show great interest in the Forestry Commission and the production of timber in this country.
Other important factors have been mentioned during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray) is quite wrong about the attitude of the Forestry Commission. Among the objectives of the Forestry Commission contained in the formal statement of their objectives approved by the Commissioners in 1963 was the objective:to give due attention to the aesthetic and protective roles of the forest and to encourage open-air recreation.With some exceptions my experience is that where possible, the forests are open to access. I can only think that my hon. Friend was endeavouring to obtain access by car. The position is that, in the forests, there is no access from cars. This may be because of husbandry or because of the conditions on which the Commission obtained the tenure. The Commission provides access and the first national forest park was created as long ago as 1935.
As an illustration of this—I want to give the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) an opportunity to speak—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] There is no "Hear, hear" about this. His will be the second intervention from the Opposition Front Bench. I offered to speak first to meet the wishes of the right hon. Gentleman. This is a non-partisan debate to which I was asked to contribute to help to debate the Estimates Committee's Reports.
We were talking about the pressure on land and land use and the use of land for forestry. During the last few days I have been discussing this with members of the Forestry Service in the Netherlands. There is intense pressure on land use there and I was very surprised that they regarded as probably of the first importance the use of forests for amenity and recreation. One has to pay much more attention to this now, when trees are very much a part of the country.
I emphasise that this debate has concentrated on the economic aspects of 150 forestry production. We have to think of this more widely now, in the context—as several hon. Members have said—of land use, making the proper land use, not only the cost of providing the use, but the cost of not providing the use. Bearing these considerations in mind—the changing value of forests not only economically, but socially—I am sure that the House will welcome the reorganisation which we are effecting and which has been supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House in this debate.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Noble (Argyll)
I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me some time. He could have spoken a good deal earlier in the debate and he said that he wanted 20 minutes. I shall have to try to cover a number of points which he did not speak about in his speech and which I think might well be a useful basis for the thinking which will be taking place, as the Minister told us, between this debate and the review of forestry. When that review is finished I hope that the Minister will let us have a proper debate on the new plan if and when he is lucky enough to put it forward.
The Estimates Committee has been widely congratulated for its Report. The Chairman said that it was so often the way with these debates that they took place on rather an awkward day for other Members of the House. This is an awkward day for the whole House, because, as the Minister says, the Report from the Forestry Commission is due next week. If the Government had arranged their business a little better so that we had had a reasonable holiday at Whitsun, we should have been able to have this debate on the Report as well.
I cannot agree with the Minister in his arrangement of the new ministerial setup. I think that it is a mistake to separate forestry from agriculture. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Scotland has maintained in Scotland the position which existed before. I think that it is equally anamalous that the Secretary of State for Wales should take over forestry when he has no authority for agriculture. I do not think that this is a good set-up, but we must see how it works.
I want to say a word on the planting programme, a subject mentioned a good deal during the debate. I think that 151 in the past the Commission has made a great many mistakes. That is inevitable. Trees, unlike most other crops, are there for years and years to show one's mistakes. Most other crops are harvested in a year, and if they were bad, one forgets about them.
One of the main reasons why the Commission has made mistakes is that the House, for the last 40 years, has hammered on and on at it about the acreage it should plant. My noble Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) made a most important point which I hope the forestry Ministers will consider. He said that there had been far too much concentration on planting and gave an illustration of what one sees if one goes round the back of many Commission woods. I am probably the Member of Parliament most surrounded by Forestry Commission woods, and, like him, I have been round the back of many of them.
If the country needs timber, there are two ways of getting it. One can plant a vast number of acres and manage them badly or plant a small number and manage them well. The House has often put the Commission wrong in demanding acres planted instead of acres well managed. This is an important point to be considered very carefully in the future by the new people who are concerned with costings, and so on. Anyone who works on the land producing anything will tell one that just to produce a lot of poor quality crop is often a great waste of money, and a great deal of the country's money has been wasted in this respect.
§ Mr. George Y. Mackie
Is it not possible to plant more acres and manage them better in a constituency like mine, which frequently has 8 to 10 per cent. unemployed?
§ Mr. Noble
I shall be coming to the hon. Member's point, if not to his constituency, in a moment.
The Minister talked for a short time about Commission reorganisation. I join him in paying tribute to Lord Waldegrave, who, like so many of his predecessors, has worked extremely hard for a very little reward, and very often very little praise, to create the considerable successes that the Commission has had.
152 I have never met Mr. Jenkins, but I am sure that the whole House would wish him the very best of success. I am a little sorry that there is to be a part-time chairman again, because I believe that the expenditure of money and the importance of getting a good return for the expenditure merits a full-time attention of the chairman. However, it may be that a few hours of Mr. Jenkins's time will be worth a whole day of the time of other people. We must wait and see.
I regret very much the decision, which seems to have been firmly taken, that the Commission's headquarters should remain in London. I agree with the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton)—as I do occasionally, but not always—that the headquarters ought to go to Scotland. My Welsh hon. Friends did not seem to claim it for Cardiff. I should like to see it go to Perth. It would be naturally at home there, and I hope that it would fit in very closely with the Research Council for Natural Resources, which I am certain that the Secretary of State for Scotland will have situated in Scotland before long.
There was another point made by the Minister with which I profoundly disagreed. He said that the directorates were nothing more than post offices. I remember going fairly regularly to see the directorate in Scotland over a number of years past, but I can assure the Minister that it was a great deal more than a post office. It is a pity that the directorates should have been devalued, if it is the right expression to use, and I do not believe that the Minister meant what he said about there being a large increase in the number of people in Edinburgh from this point of view. I think that he meant to say that that would happen in the conservancies.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
There will be some reduction in the number in Edinburgh, but a strengthening of the number in the conservancies, keeping a direct link between the conservancies and Edinburgh.
§ Mr. Noble
I thought that I should put the Minister right on this complicated matter.
A point on which I feel particularly strongly concerns Recommendation (1), on the question whether or not the 153 forestry Ministers should set up a small organisation within their Ministries to give them advice. The observations on that recommendation expressed doubt about this and observed:These Ministers will feel themselves free to seek advice from their senior officers as well as from the Forestry Commission on the broader aspects of forestry, as the Secretary of State for Scotland has always done.In my experience I found that the senior officers in the Scottish Office came to me and asked, "Can you give me advice about forestry?". There was nobody there who was regularly in touch with forestry matters, although by tradition the Assistant Under-Secretary had carried out that task.
As the Secretary of State for Scotland knows I felt some months ago that this WAS a problem which ought to be tackled and that we should develop in Scotland a small branch which could give independent advice and look at the problems on behalf of the Secretary of State so that we were not entirely in the hands of the Forestry Commission for the advice that is needed for answering Parliamentary Questions and dealing with other problems. I hope that further attention will be given to this matter by the forestry Ministers.
The Forestry Commission has in the past trained a great many officers and it now seems to be cutting down its training programme. This is a mistake because the number of people trained in this work, in both the State and private sectors of the industry, should be increased. There is need for more trained forestry experts in the field and I have heard that the forest school in Benmore, in my constituency, is to be closed. There are indications that the programme for training foresters is to be cut down. If we are to develop the sort of forestry industry we need we must have forestry advisers going around the country, in the same way as N A.A.S. and advisers from the colleges of agriculture give advice in Scotland.
A great deal has been said on the question of costing and it is vitally important that the Commission should know more in future about what its operations are costing. It was staggering to read the evidence on this subject and to learn that the Commission has no qualified accountants. I was surprised to learn that, 154 after a trial in one or two places, the Commission decided against having accountants and that this enormous Department, which spends millions of pounds of the taxpayers' money, should not have one accountant. Indeed, in some of the evidence on work study the Report states that in one or two areas where there had been particularly good results from thinning and extraction the Commission had requested that the figures should not be disclosed for commercial reasons. That is very difficult to understand, as I believe that the Commission has no commercial competitors.
According to the Report, the Commission holds just under £½ million worth of agricultural land, and has an operating profit of between £18,000 and £20,000. I know this land—I have seen a great deal of it. Quite frankly, the Commission is not a good landlord. Its rents are fairly high. Any forestry Ministers looking round the Commission's lands will be fairly shocked by the state of gates, fences, and other things, even though all the timber in the world is there. That is not something of which the Commission should be particularly proud.
The Commission talks a good deal of the difficulty of acquiring land, but in my experience this is generally a phoney excuse. It is a question of price. Very often it is the fact that in the past the Commission has been a bad neighbour and has been extremely rigid in the sort of arrangements it has often made to acquire parts of land and, perhaps, if it has turned out later to be an inconvenient part, to exchange it with the owner for some other piece. It has often been the Commission's own rigidity and inflexibility in using its powers of persuasion that has been the trouble, not the failure to use its powers of compulsory purchase. I do not think that it has once asked the Secretary of State for compulsory purchase powers for any part of its estate.
Probably the most important problem facing the Commission today, at least in Scotland, is labour. The Report says that it is losing about 5 per cent. of its trained foresters. That, in itself, is not desperately serious, although it is a high turnover, but in page 176 of the Report we find the Conservator of the West of 155 Scotland reporting a wastage of 20 per cent. last year and a wastage in some years of as much as 55 per cent. or 60 per cent. As he put it:We pick up an odd man or two in the islands and in the west.…That makes no real contribution to the solution of depopulation, which was one of the main social reasons for having the Commission there.
Let us for a moment consider the reasons for this. The Commission does not attract local people because its housing, rents and rates are often not as good as are available in other local industries. The villages are distant, and do not always have the amenities that they should have. As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Hazell) has said, the Commission often gives piecework to its own workers only if it cannot get contract squads to do the work. By comparison with any reasonable landlord, it fails most dismally to look after its old employees. All these things create conditions that do not attract local labour.
The Minister has said that it is unfair to blame the Treasury attitude, but I profoundly disagree with him. It is very easy for the Treasury to say that it is difficult to plan 40 or 50 years ahead. It would be very difficult to accuse it 156 of being pusillaminous if we were producing 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. of our timber requirements, but we are not—we produce 10 per cent. If they were even 200 per cent. or 300 per cent. out, we would not be flooded with too much timber.
Anyone reading the Treasury's evidence to the Committee would feel that the Treasury was determined to stop money going particularly to the Commission. Part of the reason for that is that the accounts have been bad, and because Commission's commercial judgment and management have been bad. If the forestry Ministers can improve things in this direction, there is a future for forestry, both privately owned and State owned, and I believe that the Treasury will help.
§ Question, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question, put and negatived.
§ Proposed words there added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Seventh Report from the Estimates Committee in the last Session of the last Parliament and of the Eighth Special Report from the Estimates Committee, relating to the Forestry Commission.
§ Committee Tomorrow.