HC Deb 12 November 1980 vol 992 cc547-69

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton]

6.47 pm
Mr. Sidney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

I am delighted to have this opportunity, much earlier than I had dared to hope. to draw the attention of the House to the forthcoming National Tree Week, which this year takes place from 15 to 23 November, and further, to the urgent need to plant trees both in our towns and in the countryside

Perhaps I should begin by declaring an arboricultural interest. This goes back to when I first arrived in the House and was lucky enough to draw a place in the ballot for Private Member's Bills. That Bill made provisions, among other things to strengthen powers to discourage unnecessary tree felling. Unfortunately the Bill failed through lack of Parliamentary time, which led The Guardian to report the even in its next issue under the succinct heading "Trees Bill Axed."

I am particularly grateful to have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) and of many hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I hope that mention of those two hon. Members gives some geographical spread to the importance of what I hope to say.

Having failed din, my legislative intentions, I mounted a campaign to try to persuade the Government to designate 1973 as national tree year. I express thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), then Secretary of State for the Environment, for taking up the challenge and, as only he can, giving it the succinct title, which caught the front headlines of the newspapers, "Plant a tree in 1973."

Following that year, the Government encouraged the setting up of the Tree Council, which consists today of about 25 bodies drawn from major environmental organizations, professional institutes, public and private landowning interests, and very importantly, local authority associations.

In its seven years of increasing activity the Tree Council has had three very distinguished and eminent chairmen. The first was Dame Sylvia Crowe, who at one time was president of the Landscape Institute. I count it as a great honour to have been elected recently an honorary member of that institute. Dame Sylvia was followed by Mr. John Workman, an eminent forester, who at one time was president of the Royal Forestry Society. The current chairman is Mr. Kit Aston, a former mayor of Windsor and Maidenhead and a business man, who has made tremendous inroads into drawing attention to the importance of tree planting. I pay tribute to them all.

The Tree Council decided that one of its activities should be to draw attention to its work by organising an annual National Tree Week. The next one begins this Saturday. In this connection, I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), who, when he was a Minister responsible not only for sport but for drought, rain and every other force majeure under the sun, took a particular interest in and had responsibility in the Department of the Environment for trees. He gave active help, encouragement and personal interest to the Tree Council in its formative years, backed, as it then was, by a very modest Government grant. Next year the Tree Council is going fully independent, and it has now become completely self-financing.

I come finally to the right hon. Gentleman's successor. I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) as Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who is to reply to the debate.

When talking about tree planting, I wish to differentiate between the forests of Britain and amenity and landscape trees. It is the latter category to which I wish to address my remarks.

The Tree Council has chosen as its theme for tree planting this year planting to commemorate Her Majesty the Queen Mother's eightieth birthday earlier this year, and I know that just short of 200 significant tree-planting events will be taking place in areas all over the country, each planting 80 trees to commemorate each of the Queen Mother's years. There will be many more tree-planting ceremonies. But National Tree Week is really to draw the need to the attention of the public, and I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will participate in some of these ceremonial tree-planting schemes.

This year's National Tree Week also marks the beginning of a national tree campaign over the next three years. Again, the theme of that triennial campaign is to try to bring home, especially to young people, the importance of our arboricultural heritage and to set out on a very ambitious project to have planted one tree per head of the population of Britain by the end of 1983.

Right hon. and hon. Members may ask why we need to plant as many as 56 million saplings over the next three years. The answer is quite simple. It is because of the four Ds that are always affecting our tree stock adversely: disease, drought, natural death and new urban development.

We all know about the havoc and ravages wrought by Dutch elm disease. The latest figures that I have show that of an estimated 29 million elms in Britain about two-thirds have already succumbed to the disease. The proportion of deaths of trees due to this disease in Southern Britain is much greater. It appears to be less prevalent in northern Britain, because elm trees are spread around more sparsely. But Dutch elm disease is only one. Beech bark disease is prevalent in many parts of the Chilterns.

It seems almost inconceivable to remember that the summer of 1976 brought about what was probably the most serious drought this century. That resulted in the death of many saplings. It happened at a bad time, perhaps because many of those saplings had been planted during National Tree Year three years before.

It is obvious that trees die in the fullness of time. In addition, many trees are uprooted because of new developments, with the insidious spread of urban land and town development into our countryside.

Too high a proportion of our trees, specially in the countryside, are past their maturity. We should have been planting at a much greater rate over the last few decades. Quite irrespective of the ravages of Dutch elm disease, many of our landscapes will be affected adversely over the coming decade because too many of our trees are too old.

Sadly, we have lost many of our trees, especially in what I describe as the eastern arable counties of England, as a result of modern farming methods. Far too many of our hedgerows have been uprooted, and our hedgerows are the seedbeds of much of our rural tree stock.

It has been calculated that if we are to pass on to future generations a plentiful supply of trees of amenity value we need to plant six saplings to ensure one mature tree for posterity, because of droughts, disease and developments.

The main purpose of raising this issue on the Adjournment is not to ask my hon. Friend and his Department for money. I have always believed that tree planting is essentially an activity for individuals. It makes a refreshing change for an hon. Member to ask in the House that we should see what we can do to help preserve our arboricultural future rather than ask the Government at local or national level. I must make two possible exceptions, however. The first is that Government Departments, statutory undertakings, public utilities and local authorities have a responsibility where they are the owners of land. I draw special attention to the excellent tree-planting schemes of the Department of Transport in the building of new roads and motorways.

I make only one suggestion to my hon. Friend about looking at the possibility of making direct grants. I believe that we need specific help in the wake of the havoc wrought by Dutch elm disease for what has been called "sanitation felling". I apologise for that phrase, but it is not mine. Perhaps I can explain what sanitation felling is. Where it has been found practical to try to check the spread of Dutch elm disease, some successful schemes have been adopted. Let me give two examples. The town of Brighton, separated as it is from the rest of Sussex by the Downs, has had a successful policy because it has been able to control the amount of infested timber entering the town. It has managed to form a sort of cordon sanitaire and has felled trees in order to stop the spread of this dreaded disease. Another example is the island of Jersey, where 80 per cent. of the trees are elms. After a somewhat belated start, Jersey now has an active policy on sanitation felling.

There is a need to give certain local authorities help to carry out these necessary felling policies where there is a practical opportunity of saving some of their elm trees. I mention the Edinburgh area in particular, as well as some of the eastern counties of Scotland and most of the northern counties of England.

I commend the Forestry Commission, which comes under the aegis of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Minister is my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, who is a former Secretary of State for the Environment. He has had a happy translation for tree lovers. I pay tribute to the work done by the Forestry Commission, particularly with regard to the introduction of new plant health measures. Incidentally, that has been done in association with EEC regulations, so perhaps that is one good thing that has come out of the Community.

In my view, these new plant health measures will minimise the risk of diseases being imported. I should also like to thank the Countryside Commission, which comes under the aegis of the Department of the Environment. It has done sterling work in giving practical and financial help in tree planting schemes, despite the modest sums of money available.

I want principally to take this opportunity to encourage individuals and families to plant trees. I am sure that the Tree Council would want me to offer the following advice: of course, we want people to go out and, if they wish, plant trees in their front or back gardens, but it is important that they should get advice on the right species of tree to be planted, the right place, and the right time.

The right species depends upon the nature of the soil and the amount of pollution in the air. Clearly, some trees, such as the London plane, are more resistant than others. As to the right place, it is vital to find out who owns the land as well as to check on any development proposals that may take place in that area. It would be quite absurd to plant a row of trees by a road only to find that in the next White Paper programme that road was due to be widened. The right time is not as easy as it may sound. Generally, we are at the beginning of the tree-planting season in the autumn, although we should avoid planting during mid-winter, when there is a greater risk of frost, even though the weather in this country is not at all certain. The alternative time for planting is the early spring.

Secondly, individuals and families who are interested in supporting tree planting should contact one of their local environment groups, such as the local amenity society or the local branches of the Civic Trust or National Trust, both of which are members of the Tree Council. It is essential to have a co-ordinated effort in a village or in the ward of a town rather than sporadic tree planting without any such co-ordination.

Thirdly, people should call upon the abundance of expertise that exists, particularly from local authority departments. If the local authorities do not have the money, or do not consider tree-planting to be of a sufficiently high priority on which to spend money at this time, I am sure that they will use the expertise of their parks departments and managers to give advice to the public. I should like to see a situation whereby people would naturally plant trees—for example, to commemorate anniversaries, birthdays, and happy family events, or in remembrance of people who have passed on.

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this subject. My parliamentary interest in trees now goes back 10 years, although I concede that during that time I have been out of the House more than I have been in it. When I was successful in getting the National Tree Year designated I can remember some of my hon. Friends referring to me in the Smoking Room as "the doggies' delight". There was some point to that, because at the time I was also the honorary secretary of the all-party animal welfare group.

Thanks to the Tree Council, I believe that there is a greater public awareness of the need for tree planting. That gives me great personal satisfaction. The Tree Council deserves as much support as possible, and I hope that it gets it in three ways. First, I hope that it will receive the financial help that it deserves in voluntary donations from individuals and industry. Secondly, I hope that it will receive the active help and support of many more members of the public. Thirdly, I hope that it will receive the understanding of central Government and the support of local authorities. It is on that final point that I look forward to my hon. Friend's observations.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Not for the first time, the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) has performed a service to the House. As a fellow campaigner on various issues, I think that the House would be somewhat poorer if some of us were not allowed to indulge in campaigns of this kind.

I remember hearing the hon. Gentleman speak on this subject more than a decade ago, and I am sure that he has rendered a considerable service by returning to it again tonight. I am glad that he paid tribute to Dame Sylvia Crowe, who has done tremendous work. It was also generous of the hon. Gentleman to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), who, as a Minister, took an active interest in these matters, as has the Under-Secretary who is due to reply to the debate tonight. Some of the most beautiful trees in Britain can be found in the Minister's area, although I am not sure whether Glentress and Glen Trool are situated in his constituency or in the area of Kirkcudbrightshire. At any rate, some of the most beautiful trees in the whole of Europe are located in that part of Scotland.

I also pay tribute, as the hon. Gentleman did, to the work of the Countryside Commission. If there are any doubts about the work of the commission, one only has to look at what it has done for tree planting throughout Britain, both in Scotland and England. That tribute also extends to the Scottish Countryside Commission.

No debate on trees would be complete without some reference to the herculean efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), who has led many expeditions to forests in all parts of Britain and has gone to enormous pains to interest his colleagues in forestry in general and in ornamental tree-planting in particular.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) has another Adjournment debate on an important subject. Therefore, I shall be brief and refrain from going on and on.

Bearing in mind the cutbacks that are taking place in public expenditure, what is the Government's assessment of the way in which local authorities have reduced the tree planting that they might otherwise have done? It would be unreasonable to expect any accurate answer, but there must, surely, be a general impression. My general impression is that tree planting, possibly understandably, has been considered a peripheral activity rather than a central one, and that like so many peripheral and desirable activities it has suffered accordingly. It is a pity that we should go through a decade during which little tree planting is done compared with what should be done.

The age curve of trees should be kept as constant as possible. It is a fact that in areas of new building planting never happens except at the beginning. It seems that we do not get round to it. Planting has to feature in the original plan. I should like a refutation of the general impression, which many of us have, that tree planting has suffered greatly in an era of public expenditure cutbacks. I hope that I shall hear a governmental comment on that in relation to local authorities and new towns. My information from firms such as Scottish Land is that sales of saplings have decreased considerably in the past 18 months. It is my impression from the new town that I represent that many of the plans and expectations that it had three or four years ago have had to be slimmed down or curtailed. I ask for a factual statement.

Having complained about cutbacks, let it be said that some of us are appalled at the amount of vandalism that has been done to newly planted trees. One wonders why in Britain, as opposed to what happens in France, the Federal Republic of Germany and in many other countries—indeed, some countries with a lower per capita income than that of the United Kingdom—such appalling vandalism should be inflicted on sapling trees that are planted in urban areas.

It is easy to state the problem; it is more difficult to know what to do about it. Have the Government any ideas on how vandalism against newly planted trees can be reduced? Having stated the problem, it is easy to wring one's hands. It is another matter to know what to do about it. Has any guidance been given by the Home Office, the Department of the Environment or the Scottish Office? We know that, time and again, trees that are planted in good faith by councils that are proud of what they have done are vandalised.

A related problem lies in the planting of trees on derelict land. The Secretary of State for the Environment was asked in June what steps he had taken to encourage tree planting and natural vegetation on derelict land in inner city areas. The Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services replied that he was seeking to encourage the return to beneficial use of derelict land in inner cities and that, where appropriate, that would include the planting of trees and other natural vegetation. The right hon Gentleman pointed out that the urban programme grant was available to help appropriate cases, especially in partnership and programme authority areas, and that the setting up of land registers would hasten the release of land owned by the public sector.

I think that it is fair to ask the Government to explain their policy on tree planting on derelict land. Those of us who represent old coal and shale areas have been greatly impressed by what local authorities have been able to do, especially in the shale mining areas of the Lothians. It would be wrong to say that nothing has been done. Much depends on the activity of the local officers concerned. It is often a matter of individual enthusiasms, and where there are enthusiasms within councils or among officials a great deal has been done.

It is right to ask for the Government's philosophy on what can be done, even during a time of financial shortage, to further tree planting on derelict land, either for timber or for ornamental reasons. What our ancestors used to achieve is astonishing. I shall have the good fortune this weekend to attend a conference at Ditchley. As some hon. Members will know, Ditchley is in the grounds laid out by Capability Brown. Many of the trees in the great parks go back to the 1740s or 1760s. There has been comparatively little planting since.

As the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet said, anyone who is concerned about aboriculture and the landscape of Britain has good reason to be concerned about the age curve. The problems have been compounded by Dutch elm disease. I shall not say much about that. We in Scotland have been let off comparatively lightly. I know that the authorities have been extremely efficient in taking action at the first sign of Dutch elm disease. It is easier for us in Scotland than it is for those in England because we have fewer elms and, as the hon. Gentleman said, they are spaced further apart. It may be that control is easier. I should not like the debate to go by without paying tribute to the West Lothian district council and a number of other councils that have been extremely alert and vigilant. As soon as a report has been received of tell-tale browning leaves, they have done something about it.

What is the policy on roadside trees? We all know what has happened as a result of the straightening of roads. The A904 used to be a beautiful road, with oaks on both sides. It is the Edinburgh-Bo'ness road. The road has been straightened and the oaks have not been replanted. The main roads are the responsibility of the Scottish Office or the Ministry of Transport. I do not suggest that we should go back to the Napoleonic lines of trees, but we should make some serious effort to initiate more planting in suitable areas. It would, for example, be unwise to plant trees alongside motorways, because of what could happen in 80 years time. We do not want motor vehicles travelling at 70 mph to crash into fallen elms, beeches or oaks. Nevertheless, from the point of view of land management and the beauty of the countryside, a great deal more could be done.

I raise one further issue on tree planting, though it is not strictly within the terms of the debate. Had it been a later debate, I should not have raised it. Anyone who is concerned with tree planting must be concerned with what has happened over Corpach and Fort William. Wood is exported from Scottish ports to Scandinavia, where the wood is made into pulp, and the pulp is then brought back to the United Kingdom. That is hardly a sensible way of doing things.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

It would be easier, cheaper and better to do the pulping here.

Mr. Dalyell

It is mad to demand that wood should go from Scottish forests to Scottish ports and acros the sea to Norway and Sweden. The wood is manufactured and processed in those countries, and returns at an enhanced value. That cannot be good for the British economy. It is dispiriting to those who have worked hard to make such a facility available in the Scottish Highlands.

The amount of unemployment benefit and the industrial grants involved at Corpach and in the For William area should be included in the calculation. In any calculation one must include the amount of unemployment benefit that is paid. That would not be necessary if we were to process our wood. It is legitimate to raise that question, because those interested in trees and tree planting will be concerned about the situation.

7.20 pm
Mr. John MacKay (Argyll)

My qualification for speaking in the debate is that my constituency is probably covered with more trees than any other constituency in the United Kingdom. The Minister may say that his is the most covered constituency, but I think that mine will beat his by a few hundred thousand sitka spruce.

I should like to add to the point made by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) about tree planting in urban areas. Recently I was in Ballachulish, where the Scottish Development Agency has done some work, including tree planting on an urban scale. The foresters were most amused at the concentration of saplings. They would never have dreamt of planting trees so close together on the hillsides of Argyll. After we had laughed for a bit, we discovered that the reason, as the hon. Member for West Lothian said, was the vandal factor. The idea is that if trees are planted very thickly even vandals will get tired of knocking them down. I should like to think that the vandal factor will work, but I fear that it will not and that the vandals will come back the next day with renewed energy. Vandalism is a major problem in cities, particularly where young trees are involved.

In my constituency the Forestry Commission has planted many sitka spruce in serried ranks. Most people will realise that although that was done for the best of reasons, it might not have been the best way of tackling the problem. However, there were many reasons for doing it. It was thought that such planting would be a splendid way of keeping people in the countryside. Unfortunately, that has not been the result. My constituency has a few forest villages, and most of the houses are empty. The Forestry Commission is using those houses as holiday homes.

The people who work in forests are so specialised that outside gangs are employed, for example, to plant. When the Forestry Commission wants to weed or thin the forest, gangs are brought in. Gangs are also brought in to extract. Such gangs come from all over the country, and many of them come from fairly large towns. They are not indigenous. That is one of the major problems facing the Forestry Commission in Argyll. In most of Scotland and in those parts of England with large areas of forest, the scheme has not achieved what we expected in terms of the population.

The agricultural workers remain our best hope of maintaining an indigenous rural population. I do not understand why we cannot integrate forestry and farming, as other countries do. It is imperative that the Government should introduce a scheme in the near future that will integrate forestry and farming. The people of Chipping Barnet do not want to see blanket planting when they come to rural areas. They want to see open countryside as well as tree after tree. Integration is essential.

If a small estate or a large farm does some planting alongside its farm work, it can increase its productivity. My hon. Friend the Minister is a sheep breeder of note, and he knows that that is so. Many estate owners in my constituency planted trees on a portion of their acreage. As a result, capital was released, which enabled them to invest in the agricultural side of their farms. They have thus increased their production of sheepmeat at while using fewer acres. That is important.

I do not expect my hon. Friend to answers my questions, because he probably came armed to answer one debate about tree planting in cities, but, I hope that he will convey to my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that we need a policy of general integration for forestry and farming in the near future. With such a policy, both operations could continue and we should have the trees that we shall undoubtedly need. In addition, it would help to keep people in the countryside. Preferably, the same people will be involved in forestry and farming at different times of the year.

7.25 pm
Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)

It is with a sense of déja vu that I rise to speak briefly. Before I became a Member of Parliament I witnessed the popularity and adulation achieved by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman). At that time he represented a constituency in Birmingham and he gained great respect by raising the topic of trees. We all remember the "Plant a tree in '73" campaign, and all that it did for my hon. Friend's political career. Like him, I am an urban animal. When I was a small boy I used to walk through some old woods called Highgate woods, in North London. They are in the care of the corporation of the City of London. I thought then—and I have not changed my mind—that the importance and attraction of those woods should be protected and promoted.

Highgate woods were also in the former borough of Hornsey. You may recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that those woods were famous, and the area was known as the garden borough of London. Because of the destruction caused by the war, a councillor encouraged local firms to plant flowers, shrubs and trees on bomb sites and other damaged areas. Those areas became more attractive. An otherwise badly hit urban area was planted with cherry trees and with other trees that flower in the spring and which make the area look very attractive.

Such initiative should be encouraged and continued. I often travel to see friends in Hampshire. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) remind me of that area. The Collingwood oaks are found in that area. They are planted in serried ranks, and are extraordinarily beautiful. They add a new dimension to that part of Hampshire. I applaud the National Tree Council. I hope that National Tree Week will be a success. I have already contributed £25 towards it by buying a tree. I have not been told where the tree will be planted, but I hope that my successors and those who live in the area in which the tree is planted will thank me for that, if for no other reason. Other hon. Members could also contribute in that way. I should like to encourage them to do so, because not only is tree planting important; the National Tree Council is providing all sorts of materials to make youngsters aware of the way in which trees contribute to society. They hope to make youngsters aware of the variety of trees, and they are giving them pictures, and so on. I heartily applaud these activities, and wish those involved well. I, too, know of roadside trees dying of Dutch elm disease. I am told that replacement trees cannot be planted alongside the road, but must be set back. Land owners, particularly farmers, are not keen to plant trees that will interfere with their fields in a way that trees alongside a road had not done previously. That prevents many trees being planted. I shall be delighted if that information is incorrect. Perhaps my hon. Friend will tell me that it is.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet on getting a debate on the subject. We often thank our ancestors for their foresight in planting trees all over the country and for the beauty and enjoyment that they give us. I hope that by raising this subject people will become more aware of the importance of planting trees, for whatever reason—good, bad or indifferent—whenever they get the chance. The more trees, the better it is for society.

7.31 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Hector Monro)

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) for giving us the opportunity to debate tree planting. He was the originator of the national tree planting year in 1973. I am sure that it must give him considerable satisfaction to realise that the seed that he sowed has grown over the intervening years and that there is now a much wider recognition of the need to plant trees. I am especially pleased that he was able to raise the subject this week. We should heed his words, as many people did in 1973. We should congratulate him on his personal success, which has been supported so generously and effectively by the Tree Council and many other bodies and individuals. He started it all, and the House should recognise the part that he has played in this achievement.

I have been pleasantly surprised at the geographical spread of the debate. I was naturally glad to have the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) involved, with his great knowledge of the countryside. I thank him for his kind words about the trees in Dumfries, although some, I accept, are in Galloway, and are equally beautiful there. It was pleasant, too, to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay). I know that he probably has more trees in his constituency, but the important point is that our constituencies have a greater percentage of their land mass covered by trees than any other region in the country. I certainly bow to him as he has the tallest tree in the country in his constituency. He also has immense personal knowledge of the countryside. I am also glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) is involved in the debate. He, too, made an important contribution.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for West Lothian mentioned his hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). We all know what he has done in what is the longest career in the present House of Commons through his involvement with the Forestry Commission. The country would have been much poorer on many occasions without his intervention to the advantage of the Commission.

The hon. Member for West Lothian posed a difficult question concerning the impact of local authority expenditure cuts on tree planting. I must be honest and frank. I cannot give him an answer now. It is difficult even to give an impression. My Department has done its level best to shelter the environment from what restrictions on expenditure there have been by helping historic houses, national parks and ancient monuments. We have, wherever possible, taken a long-term view, which is imperative with tree planting and the countryside. I hope that local authorities take the same view.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet has rightly spoken at length about National Tree Week and the National Tree Campaign, and I am happy to endorse his views. In answer to a parliamentary question about tree planting in national parks, I replied on 5 June that it was the Government's policy to encourage planting of trees in all suitable places, and that of course includes towns as well as the countryside.

My colleague Lord Bellwin took the opportunity of the debate on 16 April on the Trees (Replanting and Replacing) Bill to set out the Government's views about tree planting. I draw attention in particular to what he said about the advice given to local authorities in Department of the Environment circular 36/78 to develop policies within financial constraints for their own planting and to set an example to private owners. My noble Friend also said that we had no reason to believe that local authorities would award tree planting any lesser priority than heretofore. In mentioning the circular it is right to record that it was initiated by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell). I welcome what was said about the right hon. Gentleman's part in the campaign.

Lord Bellwin also pointed out the valuable contributions that can be made by civic societies, county naturalist trusts and other voluntary groups, and urged whole hearted support for the Tree Council's National Tree Campaign, which had been launched the day before.

I endorse what has been said on both sides of the House about the Tree Council. Its chairman and membership have led the campaign enthusiastically and effectively. I also agree with what has been said about voluntary support to the movement, both physical and financial. I make the firm declaration that the Government understand the importance of the issue.

It is also right to commend the Forestry Commission. The chairman, Sir David Montgomery, is a good Scot, as the hon. Member for West Lothian knows. His predecessors have also played their part. Those of use who move about the country are aware that it is becoming more and more evident that the Forestry Commission is opening up our forests—which, after all, belong to us as a nation—for recreation, walking and other forms of enjoyment. In Scotland it is particularly evident. The Forestry Commission has the message firmly on board that people want to enjoy forests as well as looking at them from afar. There is much greater understanding of the importance of a degree of amenity planting around the conifers, which are bound to be the main weight of commercial planting in Scotland.

I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll said about Forestry Commission planting in his constituency. There has been disappointment over the relative lack of jobs that have resulted from the plantations in the countryside. It is a fact of life that with modern machinery for extracting timber, fewer men are required. My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll made an important point. We want to see people living in the countryside to keep it alive rather than travelling long distances by car to work and leaving rural communities relatively denuded.

In discussing the planting of large acreages, we should record the part played by private woodland owners, particularly in variety and amenity planting. The hon. Member for West Lothian was moving rather far from the main issue when he brought in the serious problems at Fort William and generally in the pulping industry. Scottish timber growers have a welcome chance of exporting to Scandinavia, particularly from Leith. However illogical it may seem, it is better than not having the opportunity to fell timber. I certainly take the hon. Gentleman's point on board and I will pass on to the Forestry Commission the comments that should have been directed to it.

Mr. Dalyell

That is all that one can reasonably ask for in such a debate. It would be improper to pursue the subject further. However, will the Minister make sure that other Government Departments take into account the social costs of not processing pulp in the Fort William area? Once social costs are introduced in the Highlands as a whole there may be a different answer to the question of the desirability of processing in this country rather than having wood and pulp transported between this country and Scandinavia.

Mr. Monro

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will have taken all the issues relating to Fort William into account in his discussions with Cabinet colleagues. It is a major matter and I am certain that the points raised by the hon. Gentleman have not been overlooked.

I was pleased that hon. Members on both sides of the House mentioned the involvement of young people. I know that the tree campaign aims to encourage young people to take an active interest in this work, and I understand that schoolchildren and members of the major youth organisations are taking part in the tree-planting ceremonies this week. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is keenly interested in the promotion of planting and nurture of trees by schoolchildren and I understand that he will be setting out his views in a speech in London later this week.

We must also consider the sad and serious issue of vandalism. A beautiful tree can be cut down in a few seconds by a young person who may not even realise what he is doing. Only by interesting young people, displaying to them the beauty of trees and using our schools to the maximum effect, can we have an impact on the problem. I hope that everyone who has heard the debate or will read what hon. Members have said will do everything possible to bring home to children the importance of seeing the growth of trees as well as the plants.

We must involve individuals of all ages. We need a personal involvement. If everyone could plant a tree in a useful place it would be an immense benefit for the next generation.

As Minister with responsibility for sport I have a particular interest in another aspect of the campaign—the involvement of sports clubs. I note from the Tree Council's recently issued "Trees for Tomorrow" pamphlet that the assistance of playing field committees and sporting clubs is being encouraged. We all know how beautiful many of our cricket fields are as a result of their setting among trees, and I feel sure that many of our playing fields for other sports could be enriched if more trees were to be planted around them. We certainly set a fine example at the national sports centre at Lilleshall, where there are some of the loveliest trees in the Midlands. They are looked after extremely well.

It is right that we should say to the Countryside Commission how pleased we are with the impact that it has made in the tree planting campaign. It has been a front runner in a national sense with its system of grants.

I have been glad to hear that the Tree Council has been co-operating on matters of mutual interest with the Countryside Commission, and it would be useful if I were to draw attention to some of the valuable work which the commission has been undertaking on amenity trees. Tree planting forms a significant element in the landscape conservation being carried out in the commission's new agricultural landscape and demonstration farm projects.

The commission has sponsored a special study into how small farmland woods are managed in order to determine how the present decline in these woodlands could be reversed, and after consultation with the Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union it has produced a countryside conservation handbook, consisting of advisory leaflets giving comprehensible guidance to farmers and landowners on such aspects as the planting and after-care of trees and shrubs, hedge management, and dealing with the aftermath of Dutch elm disease. Over the past four or five years it has also provided grant-aid for tree planting schemes, to assist comprehensive local authority programme and to encourage private landowners.

During 1979–80 about £1,400,000 was spent in this way, and I understand that the commission expects to spend a similar amount this financial year. That is a significant sum when one considers that we are talking about amenity trees and not the planting of large forest areas.

While we are discussing the Countryside Commission's work, it would be appropriate for me to refer to hedge conservation. There have been demands to extend the scope of tree preservation order legislation to give protection to hedgerows in addition to trees and woodlands. The commission's conclusion, as set out in its "New Agricultural Landscapes" booklet, was that the conservation of hedgerows was more likely to be achieved by agreement than by compulsion.

To extend controls to hedgerows would place a heavy load on local planning authorities, and in the Government's view that could not be justified. The better approach is by way of advice, encouragement and agreement of the farming community. I referred earlier to some of the work being done by the commission to that end.

Some hon. Members are obviously concerned about planting on motorways and where roads are improved. That is an important aspect and I shall write to the hon. Members concerned. I take a little humble pride in the work that I did as the chairman of the planning committee in Dumfries in the early 1960s on the planting of trees on the A74. They are at last beginning to show how beautiful they will be and some of the autumn tints on the A74 are most attractive.

I should like to see more planting alongside roads. Those of us who drive on motorways know that, while there is planting in some areas, there is none in others. Of course, we must bear in mind the issue of safety, but we want planting to take place at a suitable distance from the roads, and all credit to the authorities that are doing that.

I turn to the direct involvement of the Department of the Environment. The Royal Parks in London are controlled by my Department. Like most of southern England, they have suffered heavily from Dutch elm disease, losing more than 10,000 trees on this account, but they have been carrying out a major replanting programme and are currently planting 3,000–4,000 trees per year, mainly oak, ash, beech, lime, poplar and chestnut.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet produced the catch phrase "the three Ds—the dead, the drought and development". Those of us who come from Scotland could do with a little bit of drought this year, but I accept that the drought had a serious impact, particularly on amenity trees, in 1976.

All hon. Members who have spoken have rightly mentioned Dutch elm disease. The hon. Member for West Lothian spoke particularly about the need for vigilance in Scotland. We have been desperately concerned because of the scarcity of elms anyway, although there are some in very prominent places. I think that I am right in saying that all the trees in Prince's Street gardens are elms. It is very important that they survive the attack that could come from other parts of the United Kingdom.

Sad though the felling of elms affected by Dutch elm disease has been, there is good news. Through the generosity of the Mitsui company in Japan, we have imported about 10,000 disease-resistant Japanese elms, and they have been distributed to local authorities. Four hundred are being given to the Royal Parks. The first was planted today by Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra at a ceremony in Regents Park.

The Tree Council's theme is, excitingly, the Queen Mother's 80th birthday. I cannot imagine anything more appropriate than that that event should be recalled many years in the future by beautiful trees that have been planted this week and in the coming year.

My Department sponsors research work into various aspects of arboriculture, and that is entirely appropriate. Most of it is carried out by the Forestry Commission.

I am glad that the hon. Member for West Lothian mentioned research into the use of reclaimed colliery spoil heaps and other industrial wasteland. He and I would agree that in some areas of Scotland trees are covering up what were once very unattractive vistas. I hope and believe that the policy of planting on spoil heaps, which have often been substantially reduced in size, will continue.

The Forestry Commission has done a great deal of work on this matter, and has produced a booklet, "The Establishment of Trees on Regraded Colliery Spoil Heaps". The Department has been involved through research by Dr. Reynolds, at Oxford university, into the problem of tree roots and building development. That is another issue that we want to keep an eye on, with an interest both in the trees and in buildings nearby. Research here has been significant.

Hon. Members were primarily concerned about tree planting in urban areas. I have referred to the Countryside Commission, whose work, of course, is in the countryside. There is equally a need for tree planting in town. I understand that the tree council concentrates its grants in urban areas.

Earlier this year the Professional Institutions Council for Conservation sent me a copy of its booklet entitled "The Green Environment in Urban Areas" and sought my support for its view that there is much scope for more imaginative and extensive planting of trees, shrubs and other greenery in urban areas. In reply I was happy to confirm our support for its main concept that there is a need for a much greater use of trees, grass and other natural features in urban areas. I pointed out to the council, however, that the particular landscape policies and techniques to be adopted are a matter primarily for local authorities, and that I felt that the organisation's constituent members, embracing the local authority associations, the Institute of Landscape Architects and many other such bodies, were ideally placed to implement the ideas put forward in the booklet.

I hope that I have said enough, particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet, who initiated the debate, to show how important the Government consider the planting of trees for amenity purposes, outwith their interests in forestry policy.

I should like to end by wishing the National Tree Council a very successful future with its National Tree Campaign, its national trees weeks, and the other work that it will be doing in the coming year. I hope that the members of the council will feel in the years to come that all their effort has been worth while. The fact that my hon. Friend has been able to highlight it tonight and that he has been able to launch it again in 1980 after his significant work years ago gives me great pleasure. I wish all concerned great success.