HC Deb 30 June 1976 vol 914 cc371-4
6. Mr. Thompson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will introduce measures to encourage the restoration of private sector tree planting to the level reached in 1973–74.

12. Sir John Gilmour

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what amount of tree planting has been established in Scotland between September 1975 and May 1976 in both the Forestry Commission woods and in privately-owned plantations; and how this compares with plantings in each of the last three planting seasons.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Hugh D. Brown)

Records maintained by the Forestry Commission relate to financial years. Provisional figures for 1975–76 show commission and private sector planting of 41,000 and 23,000 acres respectively. Figures for previous years are given in the commission's annual reports.

The Government have noted the drop in private sector planting but are not convinced of the need for any new measures at present, although we are keeping a close watch on the situation.

Mr. Thompson

I have no wish to go back to estate duty and all the jiggery-pokery that went with it, but will the hon. Gentleman have a word with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and urge him to make alterations in the Finance Bill to encourage private woodland owners to raise the level of planting to that which they are capable of achieving, so as to avoid the loss of 2,000 jobs in rural Scotland, as estimated the other day by the Chairman of the Forestry Commission?

Mr. Brown

This is only one factor—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] Do not be so offensive. This is only—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Does the Minister realise that in theory every remark like that is addressed to me?

Mr. Brown

I shall try to be more specific in future, Mr. Speaker. This is only one factor, altough not an insignificant one, in the apparent loss of confidence in the private sector, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that changes were made to the capital transfer tax in Schedule 9 to last year's Finance Act. They have given considerable benefit as well as applying the principles of the redistribution of wealth, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept.

Sir J. Gilmour

Does the Minister agree that in the next few years forest products will be the biggest single drain on our external payments, and that it is now essential for the Government to review the taxation methods which they introduced, which I think were supported by SNP Members? Does he appreciate that it is essential that the Government should listen to the advice that is given to them by the forestry industry, otherwise the drain on our export payments will materially increase and will have a damaging effect on the country as a whole?

Mr. Brown

I fully appreciate the concern of the Scottish woodland owners. I met them only a couple of weeks ago. I share their concern, and I repeat that we are giving the matter consideration. We are certainly watching the trend. The Government fully recognise the important contribution that the timber industry—both the public sector and the private sector—can make to the balance of trade.

Mr. Buchan

Will my hon. Friend reject the blandishments of the SNP and its land-owning friends, who want to continue with the tax dodges that have lost so much revenue and good agricultural land to the country in the past? Does he agree that the proper way of proceeding is to expand in the public sector through the Forestry Commission? Finally, will my hon. Friend reject the suggestion of the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) that the money used for the Chrysler rescue operation should be used to plant trees instead?

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend asks so many questions that it is difficult to reply to them. There is an increasing planting programme by the Forestry Commission. I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome that. As for the use of good agricultural land, he will know that there are excellent arrangements between the Forestry Commission and my Department. I am not aware of any specific problem. In answer to his first question, I find it quite easy to resist the blandishments that come from the SNP.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

As long as the Government encourage the Forestry Commission to be put in a position that does not allow it to use its powers of compulsory purchase to obtain suitable land for planting, is it not the case that the programme that has been supported by Labour Members to encourage private planting, creating a job-dependent situation, is something that the Government must take seriously? Will the Minister now answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson)?

Mr. Brown

As usual, the hon. Lady is in a bit of a mess. I find her question almost incomprehensible. Until now the Forestry Commission has been able to acquire most of the land—

Mrs. Winifred Ewing


Mr. Brown

I am sorry; it is not rubbish. I met the Chairman of the Forestry Commission last Friday and we discussed this matter. On a voluntary basis, and using the market, the Forestry Commission has been successful until now in maintaining enough land by the normal processes of the market. Indeed, it has a bank sufficient—

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

If the hon. Gentleman believes that, he will believe anything.

Mr. Brown

May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker? The hon. Lady said that, if I believe that, I will believe anything. That is not accusing me of lying, but it is coming pretty close to it, and I rather resent that. I repeat that the commission has a satisfactory land bank at the moment, as a result of the normal processes of acquisition.