HC Deb 26 January 1981 vol 997 cc649-728

Order for Second Reading read.

4.3 pm

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Younger)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The first objective of the Bill is to enable the Forestry Commission to dispose more freely of some of the forestry land placed under its management by Ministers. That is to be done by extending the powers of disposal conferred on forestry Ministers by section 39(2) of the Forestry Act 1967. The second purpose is to allow Ministers, with Treasury approval, to direct the payment of specified sums from the forestry fund to the Consolidated Fund. The third is to provide for the appointment of an additional forestry commissioner.

Taken together, the proposals are a necessary adjustment to take account of a new stage in the operations of the Forestry Commission. They should also be read in the context of the statement that I made to the House on 10 December, when I announced the conclusions arising from our review of forestry policy. I am glad to say that my statement has been generally welcomed by the home grown timber advisory committee, which represents a wide spectrum of forestry and wood-consuming interests, and is the main statutory body advising the forestry commissioners. A similar welcome has been given by representatives of the private sector. In my statement I emphasised the Government's support for the continuing expansion of forestry both to reduce our dependence on imported wood in the long term and to provide employment in the forestry and associated industries. Forestry is a long-term business, and it would therefore be wrong to be unduly influenced by recent problems in the pulp and paper industries, which have been mitigated by the successful exploitation of export opportunities for wood hitherto processed at home. We believe that in the longer term our rising production will be absorbed by British manufacturing industry and that we are justified in encouraging new planting, broadly at the rate of the past 25 years. That should preserve an acceptable balance with other land use interests and take account of our long-term wood requirements. A faster rate of expansion could disturb that balance and might have undesirable consequences for agriculture, conservation and the environment.

As I explained in my statement, we see greater scope for participation by private forestry, although we intend to maintain the successful partnership between the private sector and the Forestry Commission, for which we see a continuing role both as the forestry authority and as the forestry enterprise. However, we believe that it is right to make more active use of the capital invested in its assets over the years with the aid of public funds, by seeking private investment. That will by done by selling a proportion of the commission's woodlands and land awaiting planting. Clause 1 provides the necessary powers of sale.

The Forestry Commissioners themselves had powers, between their establishment under the Forestry Act 1919 and the passage of the Forestry Act 1945, to acquire land for forestry purposes and to dispose of land and other property not required for those purposes. The 1945 Act vested these powers in forestry Ministers, in whose names the Forestry Commissioners, for all practical purposes, continued to exercise them, and they were consolidated in the Forestry Act 1967. The limited nature of the powers of sale reflected the contemporary belief that the commission would need to dispose only of land surplus to forestry requirements.

If the need should have arisen those powers of disposal were thought to be supplemented, in England and Wales, by those in section 90 of the Agriculture Act 1947, which provided general powers of management and disposal of land belonging to the Minister of Agriculture. In Scotland, the Forestry (Sale of Land) (Scotland) Act 1963 conferred powers on the Secretary of State to dispose of forestry land in the interests of rational land management. The Secretary of State's powers were consolidated in section 39(2)(b) of the 1967 Act, but have been found to permit only minor sales. Moreover, the commission's legal advisers take the view that section 90 of the Agriculture Act is not suitable for extensive sales of forestry land. In that event, the Forestry Act is the appropriate source of such powers. In consequence, very little use has been made of that provision for forestry disposals.

The Countryside Acts of 1967 and 1968 gave powers to forestry Ministers to purchase land for recreation or amenity purposes. At the same time, those Acts amended section 39(2) of the Forestry Act to provide powers subsequently to dispose of land purchased for such purposes. Those powers of disposal are not subjected to the same limitations as those applying to land purchased for forestry. They will of course be subsumed in clause 1, and, in consequence, the provisions in the Countryside Acts will be repealed as shown in the schedule. Perhaps it is also appropriate at this point to say that section 39(4) of the Forestry Act will also be repealed. That provides that Ministers' powers of management and disposal in the Forestry Act are without prejudice to those in section 90 of the Agriculture Act which, as I have mentioned, have been little used and will no longer be required for forestry.

Mr. Mark Hughes (Durham)

I am led to believe that a large number of amendments to the Wildlife and Countryside Bill have been tabled in another place. What are the precise relationships between the provisions of the Bill and the amendments tabled in another place to another Bill? That may cause difficult problems for the Opposition in tabling amendments in Committee. Many of the amendments tabled in another place appear to overlap the provisions of the Forestry Bill. I should be grateful if the Secretary of State would advise the House how those relationships will work and the working of our Committee stage.

Mr. Younger

I appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. There is bound to be some overlapping in the subject matter when one is talking about two activities relating to the countryside. I am not aware that there is a direct or conflicting relationship in the amendments tabled to the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, which is at present in Committee in the other place. But I shall draw what the hon. Gentleman has said to the attention of my colleagues who are considering that Bill and make sure that they look into the relationships between the Bills, if there are any, and explain them to the hon. Gentleman if he feels that he wishes to raise the matter again.

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way again. I must turn to you, Mr. Speaker, on this matter, because the House is presented with a difficulty. Amendments have been tabled in another place to a Bill to which the Secretary of State's name is attached. Those amendments affect the content of the Bill before us and we want to know how far they inhibit or otherwise our ability to discuss the matters that are the subject of those amendments.

Mr. Speaker

I look at amendments only when they come before this House. In Committee, the decision on amendments will rest not with me, I am pleased to say, but with the Chairman of Ways and Means. Only on Report will the matter be my responsibility. The hon. Gentleman is asking me to speculate, and I have always been opposed to gambling.

Mr. Younger

I will speak to my right hon. Friends about the matter, and I hope that the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) will be able to get answers to his worries about the relationship between amendments.

I have traced the legislative background in some detail, so that the Government's reasons for providing a wider authority for the sale of forestry land may be seen in proper perspective. To sum up, Section 39(2) of the Forestry Act permits forestry Ministers to dispose of land required for forestry under the Act which, in their opinion, is not needed or ought not to be used for afforestation or any purpose connected with forestry. In Scotland the Secretary of State has the additional powers to which I have referred, and there are the powers under the Agriculture Act 1947 which I have also mentioned.

None of those powers is adequate for our purpose, which is to give the commission greater commercial freedom to sell some of its land and plantations, and thereby reduce its call on the Exchequer for the future funding of the forestry enterprise. I should like to make it clear that it is no part of our policy to dismember the Forestry Commission, and there is certainly no question of our placing it at a commercial disadvantage by creaming off all its best and most productive areas. Nor are we engaged in pillaging the commission in order to line the pockets of the private sector. The commission will be in full control of the disposals programme, the scale and location of which will be at its discretion. The rate of disposals will depend partly on market demand but also on the need to maintain coherent and effective management. Some plantations will be for outright sale, but others will be leased back on a commercial basis for continued management by the commission.

Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)

What if, after a period, the Forestry Commission is not self-generating?

Mr. Younger

Is the hon. Gentleman asking what will happen if, after a period, the commission requires a further injection of public funds? If so, that is quite a long way ahead. Before the Bill was published, it was not expected to become self-financing until the mid-1990s. In the light of the provisions of the Bill, that will probably happen about 10 years earlier. I would not envisage a need for injection of public funds in the future, because the commission will be able to continue financing its own operations.

In deciding on the method of sale and in selecting areas for disposal under the new policy, the commission will be taking into account a number of important factors. Paramount among them is the need to ensure long-term supplies to wood-using industries, the effect on employment and special commitments to public recreation and amenity.

An important stimulus to past investment in wood-using industries has been the Commission's ability to offer contracts that assured continuity of wood supply in the long term. We recognise that that will continue to be a key requirement in encouraging future investment in the new industries essential for the efficient processing of the increased wood production we expect in the years ahead.

Of course, that is of special relevance in the Highlands where, in the wake of the closure of the Fort William pulp mill, we are giving priority to the search for major wood-using developments to preserve employment in forestry and associated industries, and to exploit our timber resources to the full. The Scottish Office and the Forestry Commission are working together in the search, although it may, of course, take some time. The efforts have recently borne some fruit in the expansion of the sawmill at Kilmallie. Similarly we shall be looking for alternative outlets in Britain to replace the processing capacity lost as a result of the unfortunate closure of the Bowater plant at Ellesmere Port.

The disposals programme will be a limited one, and, on the scale envisaged and with the additional safeguard of lease-back arrangements where appropriate, the Forestry Commissions's ability to negotiate long-term supply contracts with developing wood-using industries should remain unimpaired. In that connection efforts to rebuild processing capacity in this country will be assisted by our recent expression of confidence in the future of forestry and the wood processing industries.

As regards employment, the Forestry Commission will of course make every effort to minimise the effect of sales on jobs in the forest, particularly in those areas where it is the major employer. That is one of the purposes of providing the lease-back alternative to outright sale. In any case, we should not lose sight of the fact that the plantations will continue to require management anyway and work will have to be done whoever owns them.

In addition to land under plantations, it is proposed to sell up to one-third of the commission's reserves of plantable land to the private sector for afforestation. The remainder, being essential to the management of the existing forests or of no interest to private investors, would be the basis of the commission's continued new planting. The commission will also continue to acquire and plant additional land where it is needed to improve the management of its existng forests, or in areas where the private sector is not interested and planting will help to provide rural employment or is otherwise considered to be desirable from the national viewpoint.

Clause 2 authorises forestry Ministers, with Treasury approval, to direct from time to time that specified sums held in the forestry fund shall be paid into the Consolidated Fund. It also repeals section 41(7) of the Forestry Act 1967, which provides the commissioners with limited powers of investment. The repeal of section 41(7) is an overdue piece of tidying up. It was a re-enactment of section 8(6) of the Forestry Act 1919, which was conceived under wholly different circumstances. At that time the forestry fund, although grant-aided annually by Parliament, was managed more as capital to be drawn on as required, and the investment of any money not immediately required for the commission's operations was consistent with that. Since the 1945 Act brought the commission's financial procedures more closely into line with those of Government Departments, the provision has not been used. Now that other arrangements are to be made for dealing with any surplus moneys, it is not required.

The principal provision of clause 2 is for transfers to be made from the forestry fund to the Consolidated Fund. The need for those may arise from two causes. First, as the commission's forests mature and yield an increasing harvest, there will be a positive balance of income over expenditure in its operations as a forestry enterprise. Those comprise primarily the planting and management of trees and sales to the timber market. The break-even point may be a decade or more ahead, but in forestry legislation it is wise to look to the future, as it was in 1919 and 1945. Until then, while new planting continues and the recent plantations are not yet mature, there will still be deficits in the forestry enterprise's cash flow. Secondly, my right hon. Friends and I intend that the current cash flow deficits should be reduced by a new form of income, from sales of woodlands made possible under clause 1. So far as their financial effect is concerned, it will be clear that this is a new market to be explored and likely, as land transactions do, to flow somewhat unevenly.

It is not our intention to allow short-term fluctuations in the property market to disrupt the long-term programmes of the commission. Therefore, to avoid difficulties arising from an uneven flow, we shall separate the commission's expenditure and cash limits from the proceeds of the sale of land and plantations, and of surplus assets, by transferring those proceeds to the Consolidated Fund as extra receipts. Notes on Supply Estimates and the public expenditure survey will show the effect of those receipts on the commission's net call on Exchequer funds.

Clause 3 of the Bill amends section 2(1) of the Forestry Act 1967

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

On 10 December, in reply to the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), my right hon. Friend said that some of the proceeds would be used for the commission's operations and some may be used to reduce the grant-in-aid. His statement now seems to be slightly at variance with that. Am I right in thinking that the entire proceeds of the sale of land and the sale of timber will go into the Consolidated Fund?

Mr. Younger

We are concerned here with the powers necessary to achieve this. The carrying out of it will be a matter of negotiation between the Forestry Commission, forestry Ministers and the Treasury from time to time. We are concerned here with powers that enable it to be done. I have been trying to spell out those powers and their flexibility.

Clause 3 amends section 2(1) of the Forestry Act 1967 to provide that the forestry commissioners shall consist of a chairman and not more than 10 other members. This has the effect of increasing the number of commissioners by one. It is the Government's intention that the additional commissioner should have business and commercial experience outside the forestry and wood-using industries. This is not a reflection upon the quality of the deep and varied knowledge and experience of forestry and related fields which the present commissioners bring to their work.

The present allocation of responsibilities, as the House will recall, was decided in accordance with the eighth special report of the Estimates Committee for the 1964–65 Session. Since then, the advice of the Government to Her Majesty upon appointments of commissioners has been based upon a structure with four full-time executive commissioners, and five part-time commissioners chosen for their knowledge and experience of commerce, the timber trade, trade union matters, and forestry and the countryside. It has not been the practice to specify all these criteria in previous Forestry Acts, although the relevant provisions, which were consolidated in section 2(2) of the 1967 Act, took the wise precaution of specifying a minimum proportion of persons with knowledge of forestry and the timber trade, and, in particular, with scientific attainments and a technical knowledge of forestry. Beyond this, the requirements have changed with the changing nature of the commission's operations, as was recognised in 1965, and it is prudent to leave future Governments room to deal with such changes as they occur. One such change will occur as the commission makes use of the powers given by clause 1 of the Bill. The additional appointment will give the opportunity to broaden the range of advice and experience available to the commission.

This Bill forms part of the balanced approach to forestry policy in the 1980s, which was the subject of my statement. It is not inappropriate that it should be introduced shortly after the annual report of the Forestry Commission, which marked the sixtieth year of the commission's operations. The last 30 years have seen forestry in this country, while still pursuing the objectives set in 1919 and 1945, adopting the most modern technology and methods of organisation in both the public and the private sectors.

These years have seen the institution and successful operation of the representative bodies of the timber growers and professional foresters, the establishment of forestry co-operatives and many groups of forestry consultants and managers. These now include several substantial companies, whose collective contribution to the national programme of afforestation has in some years closely matched that of the Forestry Commission. Their harvesting and marketing operations have also made great progress. With private forestry thus growing in size and capability, it is both feasible and desirable to encourage private enterprise to consolidate and extend its participation in the industry.

The increasing role of the private forestry sector and the work of the commission itself have created a great interest in the future of forestry and in the special advantage of investment in the industry. My right hon. Friends and I therefore believe that the opportunities created by this Bill for private investment in the Forestry Commission's assets will be welcome.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

The Secretary of State has not mentioned the great contribution that the Forestry Commission has made to the improvement of amenities in the coutryside, to recreational, educational and sporting facilities and particularly the forest parks. Will he give a guarantee that on no account will any forest park or any part of a forest park be sold under the provisions of the Bill?

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman was not quite fair at the start of his intervention; I have mentioned the matter on several occasions. This is a responsibility that the Forestry Commission takes seriously. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it takes a lot of trouble to encourage people to come into the forest areas and enjoy the amenities. I made it clear in my 10 December statement that the choice of parts to be sold will be a matter for the Forestry Commission.

Where amenity or access is an important consideration, the Forestry Commission will be able to ensure either that a certain piece of land is not sold or, if it is sold, to arrange that it is leased back so that it can still be managed by the Forestry Commission which can continue to see that the amenity aspect is properly looked after. I believe that that is a full reassurance for the hon. Gentleman. It is very much part of the Forestry Commission's responsibility to maintain the high priority which it gives to amenity. There is no reason why this should not continue after the Bill has been passed.

Mr. Canavan

I should like to clarify this point. It appears from my reading of the Bill that absolute power is given to the forestry Ministers, so that no discretion is left ultimately with the Forestry Commission. It is Ministers, including the right hon. Gentleman, who are given the powers. If the Bill goes through unamended, they will have power to sell forest parks to private landowners who would not be able to compare with the Forestry Commission in terms of providing public access and improvement of amenity.

Mr. Younger

One of the purposes of the Bill is to enable the Forestry Commission to sell off those portions of forest that it considers suitable for selling. I assure the hon. Gentleman that where considerations of amenity exist the Forestry Commission will be able either not to sell a particular area of forestry to which such consideration applies or to sell it in such a way that by lease-back or by some other means it can continue its amenity responsibility in managing that part of the forest. That goes a long way towards giving the assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks.

We believe that a general welcome will be given to the opportunities created by the Bill for private investment in the Forestry Commission's assets. As they are taken up, they will increase the scope of private enterprise in forestry, reduce public expenditure and assist the commission in responding to the increasingly competitive commercial environment, in which all our enterprises, public and private, must operate more effectively to restore this country's economy.

In commending this Bill to the favourable consideration of the House, I emphasise that it does not signify a fundamental change in the role of the Forestry Commission. Those members of all parties who have taken an interest in forestry will recall the tributes to the work of the commission which were paid in a forestry debate in another place on 26 March last year, and in the Adjournment debate in this House on 3 April. In that debate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food expressed confidence that the commission would continue successfully to fulfil its dual role as both forestry authority and forestry enterprise. This Bill is intended to provide the additional powers which the commission in a changing commercial environment will require for that purpose.

Foresty is, by its nature, a long term enterprise. All those concerned in forestry have for a long time been looking for a clear signal of the future trend in the industry to enable them to plan ahead. This Bill and its associated provisions will do exactly that. I am sure that this is the reason why those in the private sector have given a wide welcome to its provisions.

4.28 pm
Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Craigton)

To judge from the rather bland way in which the Secretary of State introduced the Bill one would not think that the powers available to Ministers under this measure will literally allow them to dismember the Forestry Commission. That is the reality of what is provided for in the Bill. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Bill will get its Second Reading. If, however, Ministers want us to take seriously some of the points that the right hon. Gentleman has made and the assurance that he has ostensibly given today, the Government will have every opportunity to prove their sincerity by accepting appropriate amendments to the Bill in Committee. Because of their record on other matters, I do not believe that there is a significant chance of their being willing to do that.

What the Bill is about—and why the Opposition are utterly opposed to it—is the doctrinaire obsession of the Government with the public sector borrowing requirement and the need to reduce public expenditure and, in particular, with selling off as much as possible of publicly owned assets. That is the reality behind the Bill, whatever the Secretary of State for Scotland may say, and I shall come to the Bill's provisions later in my remarks. Before doing that, however, I want briefly to go over the forestry background to the Bill. It is a situation that will be known to all right hon. and hon. Members who take an interest in forestry matters, and obviously I include every right hon. and hon. Member present this afternoon.

Looked at in terms of the national economy, the position is not satisfactory at present, despite the work of the Forestry Commission and private forestry owners over the past 60 years or so. We are still dependent to the extent of more than 90 per cent. on imported wood and wood products. The effect of that on the balance of payments is nearly £3 billion at present. What is more, we know from all the authoritative studies that have been done, whether it be by the CAS or the Forestry Commission—and it is difficult to make these projections and estimates of the likely situation in 25 or 50 years, but it is necessary to do it in forestry—that world demand in the twenty-first century is likely to expand very considerably and that there is little prospect of world supplies meeting the increased demand.

If that situation arises and there are shortages, one of the inevitable consequences will be that the prices that we pay for the wood and wood products that we import are likely to be a good deal higher in real terms, even discounting for inflation and so on, than we are paying today. What is more, as the developing countries are more and more able to supply wood products, rather than the raw material, the manufactured content of our imports is likely to increase as well, and that will impose a further burden on our balance of payments. As a country we shall be extrememly vulnerable. Indeed, we are vulnerable at the moment because we depend so largely on these supplies from abroad.

I do not wish to draw specific parallels with oil supplies, because the situation is not the same. Nevertherless, there are similarities, and it is a matter of common prudence for this country, looking ahead, as we must, and in deference to the problems that future generations may face, to expand forestry activity.

There are various ways in which that can be done, and various figures have been suggested. The Forestry Commission itself suggested three options, two of them involving an expansion in the recent planting programme, and four choices were suggested by the CAS study. I am attracted to the maximum figures suggested in the CAS study. I do not pretend that recent Labour Governments had an impeccable record in this respect. For the purposes of argument today I am willing, not to accept it as a desirable figure, but to take the figure of about 30,000 hectares a year, which is the Government's target at the moment. I do not think that the target is high enough. But, even on that basis, the proposals that the Government are making will make it very difficult to achieve that target except at considerable public expense in the private sector, quite apart from what may happen in the Forestry Commission sector.

Even if we accepted the maximum planting programme suggested by CAS, all that would happen is that, by the year 2025, on its figures, this country would be about 26 per cent. self-sufficient in timber, compared with about 8 or 9 per cent. at present, and the area planted with forests would still be, at 16 per cent., less than the average percentage planted in Europe, which at present is 21 per cent., although it would be greater than the 8 per cent. that is under forest in the United Kingdom at present.

The suggestions made by the CAS and the Forestry Commission are not wild and extravagant ones which would in any sense produce a surplus of wood and wood products in the twenty-first century. Even on the best calculations we would still be dependent upon imported supplies for about three-quarters of our requirements. With present planting programmes and what is likely to happen over the next few years—that will have its impact 40 to 50 years from now—the position is likely to be a good deal more serious.

In terms of what we are doing for the forestry industry, I do not believe that this Government or past Governments have done enough. The rate of planting has not been high enough. What is more, the Government have not done enough for our wood-processing industries. The recent closures at Corpach in Fort William and Ellesmere Port are good illustrations of that. A number of my hon. Friends may wish to speak about Ellesmere Port. I put it on record that it has been catastrophic for the Scottish forestry industry that the closure at Fort William has gone ahead and that the projected newsprint operation is not to go ahead. The saw mill operation mentioned by the Secretary of State provides an additional 25 jobs. It does not in any way meet the reduction in capacity not to mention the reduction of employment, involved in the closure of the pulp mill at Corpach.

Because of that closure the Forestry Commission has lost an outlet for 250,000 tons of wood per year, and 200,000 tons of that wood is now being exported. Most of it is going to Norway and Sweden, where it is pulped and converted into newsprint, which is then exported back to this country at 10 or 20 times the cost of the raw product. However one looks at it, it does not make sense for that to happen. I do not believe that any other country of Europe would allow that situation to develop. Therefore I consider that what has happened at Fort William and Ellesmere Port to be disastrous from every point of view.

That is part of the background. The other part of it is the record of the Forestry Commission. I need not say a great deal about it. It is an enterprise that was established at the end of the First World War. It is not a nationalised enterprise that was the brainchild of a Labour Government. It has had bipartisan support, obviously with differences of emphasis from time to time in its history. It is an efficient organisation, as the Secretary of State confirmed. From time to time it has done things that have upset agricultural and other interests, including amenity interests, but most of the criticisms that have been made in the past about the Forestry Commission in those respects are a good deal less valid, or not valid at all, in the recent history of the commission.

We are not discussing an inefficient nationalised industry that should be disposed of to an efficient private enterprise. The Secretary of State has said that it is efficient. In terms of manpower, which is a great obsession of the Secretary of State, it has been reducing manpower while increasing plantation and wood production. If there are inefficiencies in the Forestry Commission, I wish to see them eliminated, but there has been no allegation of inefficiency, and the point has been made time and time again that it is an efficient enterprise. Therefore, in our opinion, there is no case for interfering with the activities of the commission as the Bill will do.

As well as the support for the Forestry Commission, there has always been a general bipartisan view, politically speaking, that in forestry we need a partnership between private and public enterprise. Labour as well as Conservative Governments have provided the fiscal arrangements that have allowed private enterprise to be involved in this area. Through the Bill, the Government are breaking that partnership. They are also breaking the largely bipartisan attitude in the House and elsewhere towards the activities of the Forestry Commission. I say to the Government, and to all Conservative Members who care about forestry, that that is extremely dangerous and damaging, not only to the Forestry Commission, but to forestry as a whole.

We do not disagree with the proposal in clause 3 for an additional member of the Forestry Commission. There is nothing between us on that. However, we disagree with the other two clauses.

Clause 1, which allows for the disposal of land, is absolute. It contains no qualifications. It would be possible for Ministers to achieve the complete dismemberment of the Forestry Commission. The Bill does not say that a Minister may dispose of land with the agreement of the Forestry Commission, or after consultation with the Forestry Commission, or allow for a consideration of whether the proposal would be better from the point of view of the forestry management or for any other reason. The clause simply says: The Minister may dispose for any purpose of land acquired by him under this section. The Forestry Commission will not even have the power to dispose of the land. As the Secretary of State knows, the land is held in his name and in the name of the other forestry Ministers.

At the end of the day, the Forestry Commission—I do not say this disparagingly—is a creature of the Government. The commission is appointed by the Government. The people who work for it are civil servants, they are ultimately responsible to Ministers and are subject to direction by Ministers. Therefore, one need not draw any distinction between what Ministers may want and what the Forestry Commission wants, because at the end of the day the Forestry Commission will carry out Government policy. I am not disputing that, because that is the nature of that body. Therefore, to talk about the Forestry Commission having discretion in this matter is wholly misleading.

If this proposal were being made simply to allow the Forestry Commission to tidy up some of its estates, I should not disagree with it. From what the Secretary of State has said, I accept that the present provisions on land disposal are over-rigid and prevent the introduction of sensible tidying-up arrangements which would not involve a great deal of money. If the Bill were doing something to remedy that situation, there would be no disagreement between the two sides of the House, but it is not proposed for that reason. The Bill has been introduced, and the disposals will be forced through basically to save money.

The Secretary of State made a number of contradictory remarks. First, he said that all decisions would be up to the Forestry Commission. He said that it would decide which land would go where and at what rate it would be disposed of. However, he gave the game away in answering an intervention. He said that although the Forestry Commission would in any case become self-financing as its sales increased over the next few years—by about the mid-1990s—the Bill would enable that figure to be brought forward by 10 years. In other words, the commission would be self-financing by about 1985.

As soon as that is said, one begins to put figures on the disposals, because we know what the financing requirement for the Forestry Commission is now. In 1979–80 it was rather inflated for special reasons, and was about £43 million. That includes the forestry authority which is not part of the commercial Forestry Commission enterprise. Thus, the figure is less than that given and is reducing. However, as soon as one says that self-financing will be brought forward from the mid-1990s to the mid-1980s, one has a figure in mind. Before the end of the day we should like to know what figure the Secretary of State and the Government have in mind. What are these disposals to achieve over the next few years?

As soon as a figure is quoted, it exposes the farce of saying that the Forestry Commission will be a free agent. It will be a free agent in the same way as local authorities are free to decide their own rents at present. They are free to decide their rents, but the Government take the money away by the housing support grant. The same will happen to the Forestry Commission. It is free to do what it likes, but the money will be taken away from it. Either the money will be made up by the Forestry Commission, by selling land or plantations, or new planting will virtually come to a halt. In any case, the figures for new planting and land acquisition and so on are all being savagely cut over the next few years through the cash limits that are being imposed on the Forestry Commission.

Thus, the Forestry Commission is told in effect that unless it gets the money from selling off its mature forests, whether it likes it or not, or whether it is good for management purposes, it will not have the money for new planting. If it does not have the money for that, it will not be able to continue on the present scale. It will not even be able to maintain its labour force or continue as an expanding enterprise in terms of the amount of land under forestry plantation.

The Secretary of State let out another piece of interesting information today which we have not had before. He said that the Forestry Commission will dispose of one-third of its present plantable land. Presumably that is under Government instructions as well. The Secretary of State did not tell us how many hectares that would be, but I understand that land now awaiting planting held by the Forestry Commission—nearly all in Scotland—amounts to just over 70,000 hectares. Thus, 20,000 to 25,000 hectares of Forestry Commission land will be sold off, according to what the Secretary of State said. That information was let out in a rather casual way. That is a significant amount of land, and will inevitably cripple the Forestry Commission's planting programme over the next few years. However, that planting programme will be crippled by what the Government are already doing. The figures for that have been published.

According to the figures given to the Forestry Commission purchases of land will be reduced to about 4,500 hectares a year. The Secretary of State will not dispute that figure. The total industry in Britain will, according to the Government, plant about 30,000 hectares a year, yet the Forestry Commission will have enough money over the next few years to acquire only about 4,500 hectares. What is acquired today, particularly when one-third of one's reserves of plantable land are sold off, very soon determines what one will be able to plant in future. In any case, the planting will be considerably reduced because of the Government's cash limits. I believe that the figure will be further reduced, according to the Secretary of State today. It will be 11,900 hectares in 1980–81, and that figure, even before today's announcement, was scheduled to drop to fewer than 9,000 hectares in 1983–84. Those are Forestry Commission figures. Yet, according to the Government, we shall need about 30,000 hectares a year.

The Bill means that the commission will be squeezed in every possible direction. It will have to sell off a large part of its present plantable land. It will not get enough money to make up the stock of plantable land because of the cash limits. Therefore, it will not be able to plant at a level at which it is perfectly capable of planting at the moment and at which it wishes to plant. It will also be forced, by cash limits and the Bill, to sell off many mature or semi-mature forests to private enterprise. That is the reality of what the Government are doing, and all the Secretary of State's blandness cannot disguise it.

The Forestry Commission faces other cuts at the moment. Its research activities are being cut, although the House of Lords Select Committee has said that more research is needed in forestry and that there should be a more coherent programme. Certain criticisms were made by the Committee, yet the research budget is already being cut. No new recreational activities are now being undertaken by the commission. It is maintaining what it has, but it is providing no more forest parks, because the money has been taken from it.

That money and that kind of activity cannot be made up by private enterprise. Whatever else, private enterprise does, it cannot make up for the loss of recreational facilities that will be involved in the sale of Forestry Commission land or the reduction of Forestry Commission activities. Yet the Government's line is that this can be made up, that there should be a great expansion of private activity.

I have said already that I am not opposed in principle to increased activity by private enterprise. The Labour Government tried to encourage it, and I stand by that. But in does not have to be done, and it should not be done, at the expense of the Forestry Commission. In particular, it should not be done in such a way that private enterprise simply buys existing commission forests. That has nothing to do with the expansion of forestry; it simply transfers ownership from the commission to private enterprise. It provides no new planting and no expansion of forestry. Yet that is the main effect of the Bill.

Even that would not be so bad if what the Government had in mind was genuine private enterprise, acting at its own expense. But private investment in forestry, particulary these days, depends almost exclusively on fiscal regimes. I am not talking now so much about the new grants, although the new system seems simpler than the old. I should not disagree with simplification, but we shall want to examine the figures in comparison with the present system.

The new system of grants will itself require legislation, I understand, but the Government were so desperate to get through this Bill to sell off some of the Forestry Commission's forests and get some money that they dealt with this subject on its own.

We can discuss the grants at a later stage, but they are less important than what happens over taxation. My hon. Friends will be able to go into that in detail in Committee, but those who are interested in forestry know that it is excluded from capital gains tax and is subject to valuable concessions on capital transfer tax—concessions introduced by a Labour Government. What particularly attracts private investment in forestry are the arrangements for income taxation, which in effect mean that those on high marginal rates of taxation can invest in forestry in the early years when losses are made and capital investment is involved, at the expense of other taxpayers, by electing to be assessed under schedule D and setting their losses against other taxable income. There are considerable tax benefits in that procedure. Then, when the forests are getting to the stage when they might begin to make some money, the investments are sold off so that those concerned do not begin to pay tax on the profits. The land and the forests revert to what was meant to be the normal schedule B taxation provisions, which are based not on profit, but on a third of the annual value of land concerned.

I do not want to go into this in detail because, interestingly enough, it is dealt with in the eighth report of the Public Accounts Committee for 1979–80. Also interestingly, that report is to be debated on Thursday as one of the debates on the PAC. But this switch is going on. That is what is attracting private investment in forestry, and it is costing the taxpayer a considerable sum.

In that report the PAC said: If the Government consider that additional forestry subsidies are necessary for policy reasons, we consider they should be granted openly through Votes subject to Parliamentary control rather than left to the fortuitous consequences of the exploitation of a tax loophole which depends more on the personal circumstances of the taxpayers concerned than on forestry merits. Those who are taking advantage of this loophole are not genuinely interested in forestry. There are many of them still around in the private forestry sector. They are concerned with forestry investment as a means of obtaining tax relief.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

The right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that the Chairman of the PAC, who put his name to that report, was also the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and administered the very system that the right hon. Gentleman now says the Government should change.

Mr. Millan

I agree with that. I have said that the concessions on the CTT in particular were introduced by the Labour Government and that if we are to have private investment in forestry a fiscal regime must allow that to happen. But that exposes the absurdity of what the Government are doing, because that costs the taxpayer money as well.

These loopholes, if they are indeed loopholes, which are presently comparatively limited, are already costing the taxpayer between £8 million and £10 million a year. That is brought out by the Inland Revenue evidence quoted in the PAC report. That kind of arrangement is already costing us more, in tax forgone and therefore in its effect on the PSBR, which obsesses the Government, than the reduction in subsidies to the Forestry Commission, which, at least in the earlier years, if we accept the Secretary of State's assurance, is likely to be the result of the Bill.

The matter is, however, more important than that. If we are to expand private investment in forestry to make up for the shortfall in the commission's new planting, as will be the inevitable effect of the Bill and the cash limits that are already squeezing the Forestry Commission, the cost to the taxpayer is likely to be much more than the cost of allowing the commission to get on with the job, as it is able and willing to do. Therefore, at the end of the day, this absurd exercise is highly unlikely to save any public money.

That is why I said at the beginning of my speech, and repeat now, that this action is being taken, ultimately, for doctrinaire reasons rather than for sensible reasons of public policy, either forestry or, indeed, financial.

Mr. Cormack

What would be the cost to the taxpayer if private investment in forestry were not encouraged? The right hon. Gentleman talked about the tremendous import bill. We are anxious to increase and expand forestry.

Mr. Millan

Whether the national target is 30,000 hectares a year or some other figure, the way in which it is broken down between the Forestry Commission and the private sector does not make much difference at the end of the day to the cost to the taxpayer. Private enterprise will not do the job without the incentive of expensive tax concessions. That point is brought out by the PAC report, which, as I say, fortuitously will he debated on Thursday.

Incidentally, I have never seen a weaker Treasury minute in response to the recommendation: The Treasury … note the views of the Committee and are discussing with the agricultural departments the issues arising from the present provisions for the taxation of woodlands, bearing in mind the special factors necessarily applying to a very long term investment of this kind.

Mr. Younger

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman appreciates the seriousness of the matter for the future of forestry. Does he remember that his right hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett), when he was Chief Secretary, was specifically asked to change the tax regime and refused because he believed that it was essential to the private sector? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that any suggestion—and he has not quite said this—that he does not approve of the tax regime would be most damaging for expansion in private forestry, to which he has been paying lip service? Will he come clean?

Mr. Millan

It is only the Prime Minister who discloses Budgets in advance. I shall not disclose the next Labour Government's Budget in advance. The point is unassailable and has to be accepted by Labour as well as Conservative Governments. I shall be interested to hear the reply. If we want private investment in forestry and a balance between private and public investment, tax concessions have to be made, which will still cost the public purse a good deal of money. I want to see a role for private enterprise and a leading role for the Forestry Commission. The balance is being upset by the proposals in the Bill.

Some of the absurdities of the proposals were exposed in the Secretary of State's speech. For instance, under the lease-back arrangement the Forestry Commission will sell the forest, lease it back and continue with its management. The purchaser will not lease the land back to the Forestry Commission out of the goodness of his heart. He expects to make money. His net profit, whether through tax or in another way, will be a direct abstraction from the public purse. Lease-back has a certain attraction for the Forestry Commission management, but will be carried out at the expense of the public purse. No one will take the land from the Forestry Commission and lease it back without financial gain. Lease-back is an unnecessary process. The Forestry Commission is already managing the forests perfectly well. The Secretary of State seems to find it an acceptable way to get rid of public assets. It is totally unacceptable.

Mr. Younger

Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that someone who has bought an area of land at a proper valuation should be expected to lease it back for nothing?

Mr. Millan

I am suggesting the opposite. The money that could be made by the Forestry Commission will be made by a private owner. I cannot see the advantage of that when the Forestry Commission will have all the work of managing the estate. The Secretary of State's question merely confirms my point. There is no argument for the lease-back arrangement.

There are also serious reasons of forestry management for maintaining a large Forestry Commission enterprise. Private enterprise in many respects cannot do the job. It cannot guarantee the supplies that are needed for the larger wood-using industries. That point is well made by the British Paper and Board Industry Federation in its extremely adverse comments on the Government's proposals and the announcement by the Secretary of State last December. It states: the wholesale selling of large tracts of Forestry Commission land, if this is the intention, cannot but damage the Nation's interests. Industries that consume a good deal of wood require assurance of supply. They cannot always get that from a multiplicity of private owners, who, when the price goes down, naturally want to hold back their supplies from the market. The Forestry Commission has a national obligation to maintain the viability and health of forests and the forestry industry. It is an illusion that selling off land to private enterprise will benefit the consumers. It will be a considerable disadvantage.

A forestry programme tilted towards private enterprise and away from the Forestry Commission is not only bad financially, but extremely bad for the management of the Forestry Commission's assets and our forestry resources. That is one reason why the trade unions, who were not consulted about the proposals, bitterly oppose them. They are also concerned about the effects on rural employment. The Forestry Commission provides continuity and assurance of employment, which private enterprise, for perfectly legitimate reasons, cannot always do because of its dependence on casual labour and so on.

The Bill could have disastrous effects on our forestry and mean the end of the bipartisan approach to forestry. It is a short-sighted, doctrinaire Bill. If we accept the Secretary of State's assurances, its effects will be only trivial, and the Bill is therefore not worth having. However, I fear that it will be implemented on a substantial scale and that its effect on our forestry industry—and I do not exclude the private industry—could be calamitous. We therefore oppose it.

5.10 pm
Sir Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)

I have sympathy with some of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan). That may be because my father was one of the progenitors of the Forestry Commission and its first chairman. In those days he was accused by some landlords and lairds of being what was then called a Bolshevik.

I draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the general danger of the Bill, that is, simply whether it is the Bill of forestry Ministers or the Bill of the Treasury. If it is merely a Treasury Bill, I must warn my right hon. Friends that to buy up the Forestry Commisssion at under £600 million—it is undervalued at that sum—would be a real snip for one of the international companies. In 20 or 30 years' time it would be worth about £2½ billion, even at present prices. It would be an extraordinarily good buy for the charitable trusts set up by Dr. Ludwig for the development of Brazilian forestry. It would be a comparatively small sum for a major oil company. I hope that my right hon. Friend will provide safeguards in Committee and that it will be made clear that decisions will be made by the commission, in the form of advice to my right hon. Friend and other forestry Ministers, and not by the Treasury.

Mr. Canavan

Is there any truth in the rumour that Lonrho is interested in the Bill and possibly in buying the assets from the Forestry Commission?

Sir Hugh Fraser

The hon. Gentleman had better refer that issue to the Lonrho board.

I draw the attention of the House to the sums that we are talking about, which are not gigantic in international finance. As I have said, I have some sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will provide safeguards in Committee. For example, we do not know who will introduce the next Budget of a Labour Government. Heaven I think will forbid, but for all we know, it could be introduced by someone who would do a deal and be prepared to sell the whole damned thing.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is necessary to consider the future of the forestry industry as a whole. We must bear in mind some of the arguments advanced by the CAS and the Forestry Commission. We all know that it is rather like using a crystal ball when we consider the likelihoods. However, a possibility is an intermediate position between the stance taken by the CAS and what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

We must consider the figures that will emerge by the turn of the century for the importation of forestry products. There will be an enormous change over the next 20 years. In 25 years British oil will be depleted. At that time, too, the tropical forests will be almost totally exhausted. At that stage there will undoubtedly be great changes in agriculture and construction because of the end of a great many of the synthetics that are dependent on oil for their basic production. Beyond 25 years we shall get into a positively stratospherical ionospheric explosion of prices and shortages. We must bear in mind the size of forestry programmes that Britain really needs. We must consider an annual planting programme approaching the level reached in 1961, namely, 40,000 hectares. We must be considering a planting programme of that size over the next 25 years. That will mean an eventual addition of about 1.4 million or 1.5 million hectares of forestry compared with the 1.6 million advocated by the CAS to be made available to the national forestry programme in its forecast up to 2025.

I know that such a programme will cause many problems. As everyone who is involved in forestry will know, it is a matter not merely of hectares but the productive use that is made of each hectare, including planting. That is on the assumption that the Secretary of State and other Ministers are thinking of a considerably increased forestry programme. I have been in touch with those such as the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, who was well known in the House as Johnnie Dalkeith. He and others are talking of an increase to between 14 and 16 per cent. of the national acreage devoted to forestry compared with the present 8 or 9 per cent.

If we have good Ministers in charge of it, the Bill will be useful provided that it is tightened up in some of the ways proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. However, there are other features that have to be borne in mind. One of the problems will be finding the land available for forestry. The danger is that the Forestry Commission will be pushed out into the most arid areas. If that happens, expenses will increase and the burden on the taxpayer and on agricultural and other departments will increase.

When we consider the felling programme put forward by the commission, interesting and able though it is, should we be thinking of doing away with the grants for very small plantations? There is a great deal of in-filling to be done in forestry which should be considered. It must be remembered that since the war British forestry has probably lost about 8 million miles of hedgerow. It is possible that it has gained potentially about 8,000 miles of railway land. Some of my hon. Friends from the north of Scotland—I do not talk about the islands, which have no railways, but the mainland, on which there are a few—know that it would be possible to make good use of embankments. When one travels down to Ayrshire, it is noticeable that there are abandoned railway lines that probably amount to several thousand acres. These are areas that could well be planted, and they should be considered.

The first problem, then, is the availability of planting land. A second problem lies in the advice of the admirable Sherfield report on the scientific aspects of forestry which was produced by the scientific committee of the House of Lords. There are three interlocking and important spheres. First, there is the issue of deciding on the type of plant and rotation that should be used. There are new hybrids entering the market that are of great importance for acid soils. Secondly, there is the relationship of afforestation with hydrography. That is a concept that is becoming of great importance. Thirdly, we must consider the value of amenities and the relationship between agriculture and farming and how one can keep the other.

At present, responsibility is fractionalised between three or four Departments.

There is a great deal to be said for the recommendation of the Sherfield report that there should be a chief scientific officer attached to the Forestry Commission, and that the commission should be given not less money for research—I believe that it receives about £3 million at present—but considerably more.

The CAS proposal is that roughly half the new plantings be done by the commission and half by private enterprise. One then finds that about £22 million more is needed for planting by the Forestry Commission than is being spent today. But what does one find? Cuts are proposed. Reference has been made to reductions in planting from 11,000 hectares to 9,000, 8,000 or 7,000 hectares.

I have great confidence in my right hon. Friend, as a good friend of forestry. But I suggest to him, first, that he should amend the Bill a little in Committee to make clear that it is his Bill, not a Bill introduced by the Treasury to try to pull everything back, with disastrous long term consequences. There must be an expansion, and a major expansion, in forestry. I shall not go into the present problems, which I hope are temporary, but it is ridiculous that people in the North of Scotland should be sending timber to Sweden and then reimporting it. That is madness which it is difficult to understand.

I wish greater power to the elbow of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and of forestry generally. When my father and others around him set up the Forestry Commission he hoped that the ratio between private and public afforestation would be about 60:40. That was in 1919, and there has been a war since. The targets that he set have been achieved, but the 60:40 ratio was never achieved, because of changes of Government, changes of Government policy. It has always amounted to about 50:50. I should like to see more emphasis on private enterprise, if that were possible. The one thing that must not happen is the destruction of the commission merely in the pursuit of the idea that the Treasury should be able to claw back money. That would be a national disaster.

I hope that the answers to some of these questions will be made clearer at the end of the debate than they were in my right hon. Friend's opening speech. I refer to the questions of amenity, development by the commission for the good of the general public; the protection of woodlands; and the contol and sale of assets by my right hon. Friend. I do not see why some of the assets should not remain in British hands. In the North of Scotland many farms are being bought up. Some of the buyers come from Norway, Denmark and other parts of the world. It is important that these assets should remain in British hands.

Another factor to be examined is the ordinary individual. I am not particularly Left-wing, and nor was the late Dean Acheson, but I remember once having a conversation with him about the great problem of capitalism—that in 30 years' time the whole world would belong to foundations and insurance companies—in which he said: "Boy, I look forward to the day when, like the dissolution of the monasteries, some of the goddamn American foundations are dissolved!" When one makes projections one sometimes finds that everything will be owned by a Japanese company or a faceless pension fund. I am sure that the National Union of Railwaymen pension fund would do a great deal better if it went into forestry instead of buying Picassos and odd things that it shoves away in vaults. That would at least be a contribution to British productivity.

I hope that at the end of the debate we shall have reassurance on these matters. We do not want to see the Forestry Commission robbed. I regard the Bill as what I believe is called in the City merely a scheme of financial rearrangement, by which some of the commission's capital assets can be put to better purpose in the further development of forestry, not clawed back into the Treasury maw or to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement. That is what the object of the Bill should be. If that be the object, I am happy to vote with my right hon. Friend. If not, I may have to join the Opposition.

5.27 pm
Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

It is interesting to look at the Government's proposals and to see how far the Bill carries them out. The Secretary of State for Scotland told the House in his statement on 10 December: With the projected rise in demand for timber into the next century and with the world's forests likely to come under increasing pressure, the Government believe that long-term confidence in both forestry and wood-processing industries in this country is fully justified. We look for a steadily increasing proportion of our requirements of timber to come from our own resources. A continuing expansion of forestry is in the national interest, both to reduce our dependence on imported wood in the long term and to provide continued employment in forestry and associated industries."—[Official Report, 10 December 1980; Vol. 995, c. 1405.] Those are brave words, and good common sense, but I question whether the Bill does anything to carry out those aims. As the right hon. Gentleman himself said, only 9 per cent. of our present timber requirements are produced in this country. The right hon. Gentleman further said that the figure might be 15 per cent. by the end of the century. All of us will agree that that is not good enough.

Both the Reading report and the Forestry Commission's document "The Wood Production Outlook in Britain" set out the need to double the area under timber in the next 50 years. How was that to be achieved? The main point made by both reports was that it could be done only if there were continuing expansion, without the changes of policy that had followed changes of Government in the past. Changes were made by both the last Conservative Government and the last Labour Government, both of which set back the planting programmes. If we are to achieve that expansion, the ideal is to have 50 per cent. planting by the State and 50 per cent. by the private sector.

In a forestry debate on a minor Bill in 1978, I suggested joint talks to try to agree a common forestry policy between the two main parties, to avoid the continued effects of upsets following changes in Government policy. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) was then leading on the Bill for the Conservative Party in Opposition. He welcomed my comments, and he said that he would pursue the matter with the then Minister of Agriculture, my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin). After long consideration, the Minister of Agriculture replied that he was awaiting the two reports before making a decision. Nothing came of that approach.

The general feeling that there should be continuity in forestry policy has been widely welcomed throughout the industry. On 27 April 1980 I received a letter from Mr. Harris, secretary of the forestry liaison committee. He said: There is no question but that all the organisations that make up the forestry liaison committee wish to see a continuation of the joint partnership in forestry between the State and private sectors. We are completely with you that a joint party policy that does not change with a change of Government is what is needed, and that a major cut-back in the Forestry Commission would be as deplorable as the setback in the private sector in the early 1970s. It is for this reason that all the organisations which we represent support you entirely over the need for a joint forestry policy in the next 50 years. That view was also supported by Mr. James Galbraith, who has recently become chairman of the Forestry Committee of Great Britain. He said in a letter dated 12 August 1980: I hope … for a really constructive statement to be made by the Government in the near future which will command the general support of all parties to take the forestry industry out of the political arena so that we can get on with the job of doubling the area under trees to 16 per cent. of the United Kingdon area over the next 50 years. Those statements contradict the suggestion of the Minister that he had the full support of private enterprise on this Bill. The forestry industry as a whole wanted an agreed policy and a continuation of policy, despite changes of Government. Why have this Government moved away from any such policy?

There was an interesting article in the Chartered Surveyor of 9 April 1980 by what I would call a silvicultural ignoramus, who knew nothing whatever about forestry policy or the need for continuity in forestry policy. His main criticism was that the State owned a large amount of forest land, and that that should not be so. He did not put forward any argument showing why that should not be so. He simply made an ideological assessment.

By adopting this policy, the Government are destroying all chances of a long term agreement. That is a disaster from the national point of view. At the same time, the planting programme is at its lowest for 30 years, which will not encourage more planting. Some of the other actions that have been taken as a result of ideology are also extraordinary.

The Forestry Commission has two functions. It is a research body, and a body that helps private forestry as a whole. It is also a nationalised industry, and its main activities are the planting and harvesting of timber. When the Government made cuts last year, they treated the Forestry Commission as a Civil Service Department, not as a nationalised industry, and the commission therefore had to cut back on its staff. With increased reaping of timber and harvesting of the crop, more people are required as the years go by. Those people will have to be taken away from planting, maintenance and so on if the number of civil servants is to be kept the same. If any other nationalised industry needs additional labour, it is allowed to increase its staff for that purpose.

Another peculiar thing has happened. The Forestry Commission was given the job of planting the motorways, but in order to cut back on the number of Government employees that job was taken away from it and put out to private contracts at a greater cost. That is a stupid ideological policy that is being carried through in order to reduce the number of civil servants.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) asked how land would be sold. We do not wish land to be sold to foreign owners, whether they are oil companies or other companies in the timber industry. We do not wish large parts of our forests to be owned by companies in Norway and Sweden. We should like to know how the land will be sold, and to whom. We all agree that minor pieces of land can be disposed of without difficulty. The National Trust recently bought up certain land in North Yorkshire—hilly, rocky country that is pleasant for climbing and walking. Rightly, the Forestry Commission did not want it, and, in any case, it did not intend to plant it. The National Trust will arrange for easy access to the land.

That sort of sale is perfectly justifiable. But what will happen to the proceeds from the sale of land and standing timber? That should be made clear. From what has been said so far, it seems that most of the money would go to the Treasury and would cut down the grants that are made to the Forestry Commission.

I agree that there is a wide area for investment in forestry by private enterprise. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) pointed out in his report on the City the interest that is now being shown in forestry by the pension funds. I cannot think of anything better, and it should be encouraged rather than discouraged. Expansion of private forestry should be part of a national plan in conjunction with action by the State sector.

What will happen about sales? Will the Forestry Commission have to give permission for sales in every case? It has been asked whether it would be necessary, and whether it would be an obligation on the Forestry Commission when a sale is made to stipulate that the land remains under timber. If it is not, we shall not be building up the large forestry reserves that we shall need early in the next century.

For example, Thetford Chase was planted mainly on sandy soil, but the barley barons may decide to buy it, cut down the timber, put fertiliser over it and in a good year they may get a catch crop of barley. On the other hand, a foreign group might wish to buy the whole forest as an economic unit. What will happen to old Crown lands such as the New Forest and the Forest of Dean? It would be a scandal if they were sold in any part. Not only are they used for timber producton, but they offer leisure amenities.

What about Sherwood Forest that was planted with large trees under the Forestry Commission and is enjoyed by all the people of the Midlands industrial towns who go there for recreation? Cannock Chase is in the same position. Much of the woodland in England is amenity land for the benefit of our industrial population. Hainault Forest, which is no longer just inside the boundaries of my constituency, is used widely as an amenity by people in my area. A few years ago the Greater London Council wanted to turn it into a caravan site for foreign tourists coming to London. There was an enormous outcry at the time, and it was stopped. That shows that forests are important from the point of view not only of timber products but of people enjoying them.

The North Wales forests—for example, Bettws-y-coed—are widely used and enjoyed by Lancashire people who spend their Sundays and holidays in that part of the country. We must consider all these amenity forests. For example, are the forest parks in Scotland to be sold off? It is important that every amenity forest being enjoyed by the public should be very carefully watched. We should not allow sales if such amenity forests are widely used by the public.

Some private owners like the Duke of Buccleuch encourage people to use their forests. Indeed, they have created pathways through them. But, on the whole, most private forestry is fairly new and has not yet been developed for amenity purposes. We hope that it will be, but there is no encouragement for it in the Bill. If we want to maintain the amenities created by the Forestry Commission, careful watch must be kept on any proposed sales.

The Bill, by preventing any agreement between the parties—an agreement which has operated for some time—is a disaster for forestry. When we have another Labour Government, there will be another reversal of policy on this issue I stick to the point that I made earlier: the right thing in the long term is to have an agreement between the main parties that the policy shall operate irrespective of any change in Government. If the policy outlined in the Bill is pursued, there is bound to be a change when another Labour Government take office. We shall have nationalisation of land that has been sold. It is not good to have breaks in policy. It will revive party strife in an area on which there has been a consensus of policy in the past.

I strongly oppose the Bill and shall vote against it.

5.43 pm
Mr. W. Benyon (Buckinghamshire)

Although the Bill deals entirely with the public sector, I propose to say something on the private side. Therefore, I declare my interest as an owner of commercial woodland.

There is nothing more barren and depressing in politics than jobbing backwards. "If only" are the two words that can be written on the tombstones of most politicians. That may seem a curious introduction to this modest measure of only four clauses, but the question that I ask myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends is: will the Bill, in conjunction with the measures to assist private forestry which we shall be debating later this year, produce more trees in sufficient numbers to make a major impact on imports of timber and timber products? That is the crunch.

I ask two subsidiary questions to that one. First, what degree of import substitution do the Government envisage on their projected planting programme of 30,000 hectares a year? Secondly, if the private sector does not fulfil its part in this bargain, will further funds he made available to the Forestry Commission to make up the balance?

I was most interested to hear the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser). As he rightly said, his father was one of the founding fathers of the Forestry Commission, which was set up to overcome the ravages of the First World War. Such were the ravages and decimation of our forests that the politicians of that day, who were no different from politicians today, were forced to come to terms with the dereliction of our forestry resources. They were so galvanised that they set up the Forestry Commission. But, even then, certain reservations were made—not least by my right hon. Friend's father. If those reservations had been heeded we probably would not have been having this debate today, because a far more ambitious programme was postulated by certain people at that time. What is more, at intervals since then, voices of a similar nature have been raised. Knowledgeable people have said that we must increase the planting programme if we are to have a real effect in future.

We now stand at a moment of supreme opportunity. This country has had a stroke of luck. The resources of the North Sea have produced an asset of tremendous wealth. Indeed, it is the envy of most other nations, but that resource is finite. During the 25 years or so that we shall have that resource we must plan for future generations so that they have something when the oil and gas run out. The Government, to their credit, have already attempted to do this in respect of energy. They have looked far into the future and said "We must take certain decisions not in the short term, but in the medium and longer term".

Industrial regeneration is on everybody's lips. This afternoon we witnessed further enormous sums being proposed for a British industry. Industrial subsidies and money being paid under the regional policy, the various Employment Acts, and so on, amount to a very large sum. Agriculture, too, has rightly had its share. Yet, when it comes to forestry, we seem not to care to the extent that we care about the other matters that I have just mentioned.

About 9 per cent. of our timber requirements are produced from our national forests. We are told that if nothing else happens that figure will rise to about 15 per cent. when they reach full maturity. Our import bill, as has been said this afternoon, amounts to £3,000 million. If one accepts the forecasts in the Reading report, as I do, that figure is likely to soar despite the increase in the proportion taken by home supplies. The reason is that consumption is outstripping production and replacement throughout the world. These estimates and others have not been contested by knowledgeable people. They have been sniped at generally by people saying that the tropical and subtropical belts will be the panacea for the future, but those areas are some of the most disturbed and difficult parts of the world and are likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future. We are unlikely to get the stability necessary for a long-term forestry policy in those areas.

In passing, I pay tribute to the Reading report, not only because of its comprehensiveness and clarity, but because it has no axe to grind. It is produced not by foresters, landowners or timber merchants, but by well-informed people with substantial research resources at their disposal. It is increasingly respected as a work of considerable importance in forestry.

The resources at present going into forestry are derisory, even taking account of the point about taxation made by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan). The resources going into forestry are minute compared with those going into energy, industry or, indeed, agriculture. The grant-in-aid in the last financial year was £43 million. I think that about £8 million went into the forest authority role of the Forestry Commission, of which only £2 million went in grants to the private sector. Even very modest additions to that would have a tremendous impact in future years.

My hon. Friend mentioned the possibility that the forestry estate might be bought by some faceless fund or something of that nature because it was such a good investment. The fact is that a small investment now will yield the most tremendous dividends at the turn of the century and beyond.

That brings me to clauses 1 and 2, which deal with the power to sell part of the forestry estate of the commission. I agree with those who have spoken. If that power were vested solely with the Forestry Commission and its recommendations were to be approved by the various Secretaries of State, I should have no objection. It would simply place the Forestry Commission in the same position as any other private concern in the business. It is a change that clearly needs to be made in the present law.

As has been pointed out, however, this is a general enabling power for the three Secretaries of State. Perhaps I might interject a question here. Is it not time that we had one Minister, in these very small islands, responsible for the forestry industry? The present system involves a diversion of effort which confuses many people and causes difficulty. I do not like general enabling powers, no matter which Government are in power. I object to the principle. I hope that the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone will be followed by the Government. I believe that this power must be restricted when the Bill goes into Committee.

The real point at issue is what happens to the proceeds of the sales. That is why I intervened in my right hon. Friend's opening remarks to that question. If I understood him correctly, he said that the proceeds go into the Consolidated Fund. That seems a little more definite than the reply that he gave to the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) on 10 December, but again this must be spelt out in greater detail. Frankly, unless I have misunderstood the arrangements completely, I cannot see that there is any incentive for the Forestry Commission itself to sell. By and large, it would be selling mature plantations when it still has the expense of planting and maintaining immature plantations. The Forestry Commission appears to get nothing back from this. It seems to be simply a power to prevent its spending any more because, as I understand it, this would be set against its grant-in-aid for future years.

This aspect must therefore be spelt out in greater detail. If it is to work, there must be some kind of incentive for the Forestry Commission to sell. Otherwise, our worst fears will be realised—that it is simply a power in the hands of the Secretary of State to enforce sales.

We must consider this matter in relation to the changes to be made in the dedication scheme when we debate the consultative document later this year. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) referred to a forest, which happened to have certain recreational facilities in it, being sold and leased back. He asked how those facilities would be safeguarded. Far more important, how does one ensure that that land remains under forestry after the sale? As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, as the dedication scheme will disappear there will be no reason why a forest should not be cut down and ploughed up.

I am prepared for the Forestry Commission to sell parts of its estate, provided that it can play its part in a continuing programme of expansion alongside the private sector. Frankly—and I say this direct to my right hon. and hon. Friends—I do not believe that the private sector can do this on its own.

The solution that we have had up to now has been a peculiarly British one. So far as I know, it does not occur anywhere else in the world. It is a peculiarly British combination of public and private interests and investment in one industry, and it has worked well. It always seems to me to be a good adage that if something works well one should not change it, and one reaches for one's revolver if people produce reasons for doing so that cannot be substantiated in good enough terms.

One of the difficulties of this industry is that so few people know anything about it. For example, oak being felled in this country today was planted at around the time of the Franco-Prussian war. Conifers in full maturity were planted when Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister. It shows a pretty good sense of confidence that they were planted at that time. Very few people understand how much must go into producing a commercial tree.

Perhaps I might digress for a moment. A firm approached me the other day with what I thought was a very good idea for bringing the knowledge of trees to the notice of more people. I have put it to the chairman of the Forestry Commission. The idea was that instead of getting a little toy or gift after buying six packets of corn flakes, or whatever, one would get a tree. One would not receive it personally. The Forestry Commission would plant it in a particular forest, to be known as a public forest. One's name would be on a board, and one could go there and see one's tree growing over the years. I know that there are difficulties and that it might be impossible to carry out, but I thought that it was an excellent idea. I liked it because it would bring the facts home to more people and give them an interest in what is a very long-term affair.

It has been said that great forests are like people. Their birthplace must be carefully prepared, and it is very expensive. When they are young, they are defenceless and have to be cosseted. They do not begin to earn their living until a relatively late age. They become infirm—known as "going back" in forestry parlance—and eventually they die. Throughout that long period, they are in jeopardy.

The only caveat that I enter to the idea that pension funds and other organisations should invest in this longterm operation is that they should be aware that many things can happen. The forest may burn down. It may blow down. It may become diseased. Many things can happen to it. Forestry is therefore a difficult operation.

Those who criticise tax concessions for forestry—and I was glad that my right hon. Friend pressed the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton on this—should realise that nobody in his right mind would make an investment, the proceeds of which could not be reaped for 50 to 100 years, unless there were certain advantages in so doing and which involved some protection against natural and manmade hazards that might be encountered during those 50 years or more.

The real trouble is that there are no votes in forestry. Relatively few people are employed in the industry, although there could be many more if we expanded the national forest, and the results are not quickly apparent. Therefore, in a sense, the industry is a sitting duck for the fainthearted, for the politically expedient and for the vested interest. I have always thought that it is very difficult for politicians to be canonised, but if my right hon. Friend wishes to be known by future generations as "the blessed George", he should take his colleagues—and his civil servants and particularly the Treasury—by the scruff of the neck and insist that there should be greater investment in this industry and that more resources should be put into it. By doing that he will do more for future generations and for the happiness of this country than many of his freer-spending colleagues do at the moment. Most important of all, he will break the cycle of missed opportunities that have so bedevilled the industry over the past 60 years.

6 pm

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) put his finger on the matter which should concern us all in the debate when he asked whether the Bill will expand forests and reduce imports. I think that we may safely guess that it will not have that effect. I agree that reafforestation should be expanded and that the forestry programme should have continuity. However, at this stage, I shall confine my remarks to the Bill.

I know that the Secretary of State for Scotland is not afraid to go over the top, but on this occasion he was at great pains to avoid any flak. He tiptoed along the trench below the parapet in an attempt to outflank the Opposition, trying to make it appear that no aggression was intended. But we all know that this Bill is another example of the Government's intention to reduce public expenditure and to restructure State enterprises.

The Bill may well be a watershed in the management of forestry, since the commission is being asked to raise its own funds through the sale of land which it controls. At one stage, the Secretary of State seemed to suggest that the sale of land was a matter for the commission to decide. But the wording of the Bill is clear. The sale of land is entirely in the power of the Minister. The Bill says: The Minister may dispose for any purpose". He is not required even to consult the Forestry Commission at that stage. It is interesting that the two Conservative Members who have spoken so far expressed grave reservations about the Bill's intention.

The Bill makes no reference to the amount of land that can be sold, nor to the limitation. The Government should have learnt by now—the Labour Party is equally guilty—that the uncontrolled sale of land can lead to chaos. The best example of this is the farcical set-up at Portavadie, in the South of Scotland. My party is entirely opposed to this type of mismanagement of land—our greatest asset—and the Bill does nothing to allay the fears that Scottish land can be sold off like bars of soap at a church guild sale of work.

It is naive to assume that individual or institutionalised holdings of forestry land will in any way guarantee suitable management and benefit' the community. No doubt the Government believe that there will be no shortage of likely investors, such as pension funds, because of the reasonable track record of similar institutions looking after agricultural holdings. But forestry is a different matter. It requires more in the way of back-up facilities such as communications, schools, and so on. That is particularly true in Scotland, which holds most of Britain's forestry. In addition, there is the possibility—a likelihood—that private owners may restrict access to the woodlands. One particular asset that the Forestry Commission has brought to Scotland, and elsewhere, has been the availability of forest tracks for outdoor pursuits such as walking and orienteering.

The Government believe that the Bill will attract additional investment from companies and individuals. But it is morally wrong to sell land in which so much public money has been invested. Theoretically, the Government believe that the channelling of resources to the Treasury is a method of guaranteeing the public interest. We all agree that when forests mature the Government should benefit from those funds, but not at this stage.

However, there are two reservations here. First, the arrival of the funds in the Treasury does not guarantee reinvestment in the industry from the public purse. That is a matter that should be written into the Bill in Committee. It is logical to expand afforestation at a time when the import bill for timber is running at about £3,000 million per annum, but that major investment cannot be left to the whims of individuals and institutions.

Secondly, forestry costs a great deal in terms of initial capital investment. As the enterprises develop, they become increasingly self-financing. According to the Whitley Council, 70 per cent. of the commission's expenditure was met by grants. That has now declined to 50 per cent. and will continue to decline until, by the end of the century, the nation's forests will be earning cash for the taxpayer. Thus, if the Bill goes through the taxpayer will be denied the fruit of his investment. The Bill is not so much cashing in an insurance policy as denying that the insurance policy ever existed.

On the economic front, there is no guarantee that the investments envisaged by the Government will be attracted by this legislation. More attractive investments in forestry are offered by other countries. According to an article in The Scotsman, on 16 January: If forestry is left to the private investors they will turn to America where comparable planting land prices are sometimes as much as six times lower, and where the sunbelt states can offer softwood plantations for pulping on 30–35 year rotations. The Government should not assume that there will be a similar wave of patriotic fervour among private investors.

The Bill proposes—it is almost its only worthwhile proposal—that there should be an extra commissioner. I suggest that that commissioner should come from Scotland, given that Scotland has at least 50 per cent. of Britain's forestry industry.

On the employment side, much concern has been expressed that jobs may be lost. A further loss of jobs in Scotland is something that we do not need. The unions fear that a wholesale redistribution of ownership of lands will not extend the amount of afforestation, or that land sold will even remain as woodlands. That is a real fear. In those circumstances, the unions are very doubtful about the employment prospects.

Private owners already have substantial concessions on capital transfer tax and other taxes. Any benefits that the Government might expect from the sale to private owners will be diminished by increased amounts to be paid out in those areas. In saying that, I do not criticise those taxes. I merely point out that the benefits will not accrue even to the Treasury to the extent that has been suggested.

The other point concerns the valid issue raised by the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser), who asked whether there would be any limitation of persons to whom the land could be sold by the Forestry Commission. Could it be sold to foreigners as has happened in the North of Scotland where it occurred and where the Government showed a total disregard for the ownership of land?

It is generally agreed that the Forestry Commission, while not beyond criticism in some respects, has done a good job. If the Bill is enacted, the Forestry Commission's role will be diminished. The Bill is against the public interest. In my opinion, it should be abandoned.

6.8 pm

Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) that the Bill concerns a matter of immense importance—an importance that will increase—and for that reason we must give the subject serious consideration.

I welcome the Bill, but only just. I cannot say that I welcome it wholeheartedly because, having considered the matter, and having listened to the views of other people, particularly in the South-West, the area I come from, my welcome has become a little cool. The Minister will have to listen carefully to all that is said today and change some of the Bill's proposals in Committee in order to allay the fears that some of us have.

I understand the Government's intention, but it would be dangerous if the proposals were carried too far. That could happen. Therefore, I am a little hesitant. I support the Government in trying to save taxpayers' money. It is easy to say that, and then have reservations, but forestry is a particularly difficult issue because everything in forestry takes years to mature. Damage can be done if there is the slightest loss of confidence.

I pay tribute to the Forestry Commission. We in the South-West approve of most of what it has done. It has provided employment in some of the most remote and difficult areas, some of which I have the privilege to represent. The advice that it gives to private forest interests is of immense importance.

Another important factor is that the Forestry Commission has helped in the maintenance of our countryside. Some of the very poor, wet land in the South-West has been planted by the Forestry Commission, when no one else has wanted it. That has been of immense benefit to the area and to the beauty of the countryside.

There have, however, been problems with the commission. It is said that agriculture and forestry go together. So they do in many instances in terms of windbreaks, shelters, and so on. But when 45,000 to 50,000 acres of land disappear each year under roads and concrete it is necessary to make a careful judgment about whether the further planting of forestry is more beneficial to the nation than turning the marginal land over to food production. We must not overlook the clash in some areas between forestry and food.

For all that, however, I pay tribute to the commission. The only row that I have had with it in the 16 years that I have been privileged to be a Member of Parliament has been about forestry houses. I was never happy that it sold off its houses in remote areas. There was no question but that the communities in some of the remote parts of my constituency would have died without those houses. I believe that the commission has now made some adjustments in that respect.

I have some doubts about whether the Government's action will create confidence in the whole of the forestry industry. Some years ago, as a junior agriculture Minister, I was responsible for forestry. I remember that the Treasury, which one might say is the enemy of many people, conducted an inquiry into the subject. The Ministry was able to squash it firmly, but even so it produced much uncertainty and caused much loss of confidence. I ask my hon. Friend to make clear in Committee and afterwards that there will be no loss of confidence because both sides of the industry will be assured that the Government mean to continue their support for forestry, with all that that means.

I draw the attention of my hon. Friend to the brief that was sent to the Treasury by the Economic Forestry Group. The four points that it makes are all aimed at maintaining confidence in the industry. The Forestry Commission and the private sector have worked well in partnership. I want that to continue because the future of forests in this country depends on that and on the creation of confidence.

I have received letters from the South-West expressing disquiet about these proposals. The region has small forests and woods, and if they were to be sold to any great extent the commission would be rendered unviable in the region. That would be disastrous, because I do not envisage many private investors buying some of the poor wet land in places like Halwell and Beaworthy in my constituency. I hope that my hon. Friend will take on board the expression of disquiet. It would be most unwise to sell land in some of these areas. Of course, the position is different where there is a large block with adjustment between private and State forestry, and where viable forests would be left after a sale.

The Bill clearly gives freedom to dispose of assets that are managed by the Forestry Commission. That freedom should be given but I urge the Minister to exercise caution, care and selectivity about what is done. I do not like the term "any purpose" as it appears in the Bill. Do we want to sell the forests for "any purpose", which might mean that they were not planted again? The land might be put to all sorts of other uses. That is not what we want. I hope that my hon. Friend can clarify his intentions and spell out further safeguards.

The Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland. I take this opportunity again to declare an interest in respect of a former position that I held, when I was the Minister at the Northern Ireland Office. If hon. Members on both sides want to see how to run forestry, I urge them to go to Northern Ireland, where there is properly integrated forestry system embracing farming, fishing and recreation, with participation by private interests and the State, the latter in the form of the Northern Ireland Ministry of Agriculture. We have much to learn from Northern Ireland about forestry and the amenities that go with it.

The Bill says nothing about further planting. I referred earlier to the slight clash between agriculture and forestry in terms of the need for increased food production, but I do not doubt that much land exists that is unsuitable for producing food. Irrespective of how much money is poured into it by way of drainage, lime and fertiliser, it will not become a viable proposition. I therefore hope that planting will continue in certain areas. I do not want the Forestry Commission to be denied that opportunity.

It is important that some of the proceeds from the sale of assets should be put back into further planting in these areas. Such planting is of great importance to areas such as mine and to Scotland and Wales because of the work it provides for those who service the forestry industry—the haulage companies, the garages, the people with the heavy implements. The general life of a sparsely populated area is enhanced by the activities of the Forestry Commission and the private forestry interests, and it is important that planting should continue in those areas.

I always try to read the briefs that are sent to me, and to prove that I shall make one or two points from one of them. The Country Landowners Association has sent us a small, useful and balanced brief. It feels strongly that the problem of taxation needs careful examination, particularly in respect of the deferment of CTT and the lack of CTT relief for let land. No doubt the Minister has read this brief and will take note of these taxation difficulties which, if not resolved, will deter the private sector from purchasing the land. I do not think that the Minister mentioned that in his opening speech.

Lastly, there is marketing. I am not an expert in marketing timber, but if one considers the amount of timber that will come from our forests in the next 20 to 25 years, one cannot think that we are well prepared for that. Fortunately, in the South-West we have a chipboard factory in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) at South Molton. Without that we should be in serious difficulty. The supply of pit props has come to an end, and stakes and fencing are not in great demand. The provision of timber fencing for motorways is also coming to an end. I am fearful of the future of timber marketing, whether from private of State forests. If we add to my fears the closure of the pulp factory in Scotland, the situation becomes difficult.

Much more must be done in that area. It is likely that a great deal of money will have to be spent, whether by grant-in-aid or by subsidy, to set up some system. The Government will have to look carefully at the costs of energy. Otherwise we shall have to continue to export our timber and pulp and buy it back again. The whole subject needs to be looked at carefully, I fear for the future of marketing and whether we can process or otherwise deal with the enormous amount of timber to come out of our forests. It would be a shame if other nations rather than ourselves were to benefit from our resources. I hope that the Minister and other hon. Members will turn their attention to that in Committee. It is an important matter.

I have been rather long winded.

Hon. Members


Mr. Cormack

Carry on.

Mr. Mills

It is heartening to hear my hon. Friend say "Carry on". It is rare that one hears that when speaking in the House. I repeat, though I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is not deaf, that I welcome the Bill, but only just.

6.22 pm
Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)

I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to good speeches and a constructive approach by hon. Members on both sides. I hope that the Government will take heed of what has been said. Many of us are worried about the future and the contribution that the Forestry Commission will make. We are looking for a means to safeguard the interests of the Forestry Commission.

The history of forestry in this country has been one of steady, indeed rapid, progress, built on firm foundations. In the post-war years it has demonstrated how an industry can be transformed and improved by the application of technological advances turning the rural craft of pre-war years into a highly organised, efficient organisation. I am sure that we all agree that the Forestry Commission has been very efficient in past years.

Industrialisation came comparatively late to forestry. It developed quickly and has inevitably placed a great strain on the professional and technical managers in keeping abreast of developments. Nevertheless, we have seen the average planting rate of the industry increase to three times the rate of the inter-war years and timber production has more than doubled.

At the same time, the industry has steadily reduced its payroll and the call on grant in aid has been reduced from 79 per cent. to 47 per cent. by increased financing from receipts. I wonder what the Government's target is for the next two or three years.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) to read a newspaper in the Chamber?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)

I saw the hon. Lady, but I assumed that her actions were connected with the debate.

Mr. Cormack

The newspaper is made out of trees!

Mr. Howells

In 1950, 13,200 people were employed by the Forestry Commission, compared with 8,200 in 1980. The forest area has increased from 200,000 hectares in 1950 to 960,000 today. Thus in Great Britain the management of plantations is almost five times the level it was in 1950. The harvesting programme is also almost five times the 1950 level. That has been achieved with a fall in employee numbers of almost 40 per cent. The figures show steadily increasing efficiency in almost every Forestry Commission operation.

The Government have expressed their commitment to the continuing expansion of Great Britain's forest area. They have given a vote of confidence to the industry at a time of severe recession. However, in their desire to see more planting by the private sector they are causing unease to the Forestry Commission, whose share is bound to fall in future. Private involvement can be stimulated by grant aid, tax and other fiscal concessions, but it is wrong to develop and support private investment in forestry with substantial grant aid from public funds and, largely, to the exclusion of the public sector. I welcome a certain amount of private investment, but it should stand on its own feet.

The main provision of the Bill is to widen the commission's powers of disposal. It is intended to use those powers to sell a proportion of forestry land and holdings and to reduce the call on public funds for running the forest enterprise. We were told by the Secretary of State for Scotland that one-third of the land already in Forestry Commission ownership would be sold to private enterprise, but he did not say which third or when the land will be sold. Will the Forestry Commission be forced to sell that land next year, the year after or within the next decade? Perhaps the Under-Secretary will tell us when he winds up.

While it is right to welcome the opportunity to dispose of small, awkward or separated pieces of forestry estate which are difficult to manage—we all accept the need to sell small parcels of land, whether in Scotland, England or Wales—I am alarmed at the possibility that large blocks of forest, or whole commercial forests, may be sold under this policy. If the Government set a target that the grant in aid—the call on public funds—should be eliminated, it might force the Forestry Commission into large outright sales of forest areas which have been built up with difficulty, but with great care, over 60 years, and are now almost fully self-sufficient.

Perhaps the Forestry Commission might even find it necessary to sell the plantable reserves that have been acquired with great difficulty and after full consultation with agriculture Departments, planning authorities, the National Parks Commission and so on. Certainly, wood-using industries are concerned that the commission should not be reduced or dismembered, because they are fully aware that continuity of supplies can be guaranteed only by a body such as the commission. Private woodland owners are affected in their management by their tax positions and continuity of supply is a secondary consideration to them.

There is a need to reduce public expenditure wherever possible, but the commission is a trading body and there is every prospect of its breaking even fairly quickly as the immediate post-war plantations increasingly come into production. It would be criminal to sell such areas for doctrinaire reasons. I have lived in an area where trees were planted between 1929 and 1940. I remember my father telling me "When you cut trees, remember that they take 50 years to grow but you can cut them down in five minutes. So be careful when passing judgment, even on a tree".

Another worry has been expressed by landowners, represented by the CLA. If large areas were sold, they would soak up investment money and would very likely depress land values too far and reduce the value of private estates. In addition, the commission is anxious that if it is forced to sell in order to raise cash it will have to sell on a depressed market, especially in the next few years.

We are in a unique position compared with the rest of Europe, because we have a rapidly-increasing timber yield. However, we have seen our pulp and chipboard industries damaged during the past 12 months by an overvalued pound, which allows foreign pulp and board to flood the country, and by excessively high energy charges that our competitors in Europe do not have to suffer. However, I am hopeful that eventually new wood-using industries will be re-established in this country. They will need the raw material that can be provided here by the Forestry Commission.

The private sector would not be able to match the State enterprise in that regard, because of the multiplicity of ownership and conflicting management policies. It therefore follows that it is essential to keep the State forest service in its present form, subject, of course, to adjustments for sensible estate management, in order to provide a springboard for new wood-using industries.

I share the view of others in the House and outside that there is an element of compulsion in the Bill and that the commission will be forced to sell assets in order to survive. In the long term, it is wrong to pursue such a policy. Therefore, my right hon. and hon. Friends will vote against the Second Reading.

6.33 pm
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

My feelings about the Bill are somewhat mixed, but we can unite in saying that we are delighted that, at long last, we have a forestry debate. I have been an hon. Member for nearly 11 years, and this is the first time in my recollection that we have had a full day's debate on forestry, though another subject has done rather better.

I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) who said that he welcomed the Bill, but only just. I am tempted to say that it is another case of a Government having been long in labour, but producing a hit of a mouse, though it is perhaps slightly more sinister than most mice. I am always suspicious of the Treasury—I fear the Treasury, even when it brings gifts—and the Bills smacks more of a Treasury Bill than a forestry Bill.

As my hon. Friends have said, we must ensure that in Committee we make it plain that the Bill is about forestry. I have no doctrinal hang-up about the commission's being allowed to sell parts of its assets, but it is essential that the Bill is transformed into a measure that is unalterably for the good of forestry.

We are dealing with the future of our only replaceable raw material. In many ways timber is one of the most versatile of our raw materials, but the sums that we devote to it are, as was brilliantly illustrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon), derisory in the context of the national budget.

We have had the Reading report, to which I add my tribute, and there was an erudite debate in another place last year when speaker after speaker indicated the importance of forestry to our future. I am saddened that the message does not seem to have got home, either in the content of the Bill or even in the consultative document, on which I hope that we shall have another full day debate before long.

Most hon. Members will have received a document from Timber Growers Great Britain Limited which states: Although the United Kingdom can never be fully self-sufficient, it must at least be prudent both economically and strategically to ensure a large increase in our stocks of growing timber. As a natural renewable resource of rising value and world importance, which also provides shelter and employment, it is a desirable national asset. Not only is it a desirable national asset, but it is a crucial national asset, and in a dangerous world the word "strategically" cannot be stressed too strongly. So much of our imported timber comes from vunerable or dangerous parts of the world, and that is a matter that we should not lightly dismiss.

Referring to the Reading report, the timber growers' document states that while forecasting future shortages and high timber values, it also examines several possible expansion programmes for the United Kingdom and propounds doubling the present woodland area over the next 50 years to a total of 16 per cent. of our land area. We believe that an expansion of this sort is entirely practicable and can be achieved without reducing total agricultural production while at the same time meeting any reasonable requirements for conservation and sporting interests. Doubtless we shall have from my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) a robust questioning of those assumptions later in the debate. The House will listen with care to my hon. Friend, because he is an undoubted authority. In spite of the fact that I do not challenge my hon. Friend's knowledge and experience, my vote goes to the timber growers.

The Father of the House the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) was right to point out that for forestry to survive there must be confidence and stability, and therefore in this industry, perhaps more than any other, we need a bipartisan approach. I do not think that Governments of either party over the past several decades have anything of which to be proud.

Mr. Canavan

This sounds like the Gang of Three.

Mr. Cormack

The hon. Gentleman is a Gang of One, and a somewhat vociferous gang. If he cared to listen to the debate and to take part in it, we might listen with more care to what he says.

I think that I am speaking for hon. Members in many parts of the House when I say that I hope that the Bill can be so altered in Committee and shown to be a Bill so truly in the interests of forestry that the bipartisan approach is not disturbed. It is essential for Conservative Members to recognise the importance of the Forestry Commission as it is for Opposition Members to recognise the importance of tax and fiscal incentives. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) nodding so vigorously.

I should like to emphasise the point made by the Secretary of State when he intervened in the speech of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) and said that the present Chairman of the PAC, when Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was adamant that these concessions should not be abolished or significantly altered because without them there would be no private forestry. As has already been made clear in the debate—my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser) gave a particurlarly vigorous and robust performance—the question arises: who is going to invest in a crop that does not come to maturity for 50 or 60 years unless there are proper incentives?

Mr. Mark Hughes

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that very few Labour Members do other than recognise that this partnership between private and public forestry has been one of the great successes of a mixed economy? To destroy that for no good reason is an appalling proposal.

Mr. Cormack

I associate myself entirely with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. This is a splendid example of a mixed economy at work. I do not believe—and so far as it lies within me I shall make sure it is not the case—that the Bill is necessarily an attack on the mixed economy. I do not believe that my right hon. and hon. Friends intend it as such. It is important that in Committee we make it plain that it is not such an attack.

I should like to quote briefly from the trade union argument. The Forestry Commission Whitley Council paper says: We support wholeheartedly the Government's firm commitment to the continued expansion of forestry and applaud their intention to maintain the long-standing, successful and harmonious partnership between the public and private sectors.". The council recognises that partnership, although it goes on to make critical comments about the Bill. I should like to try to defend the Bill to some degree. To defend it, the House needs to have certain questions answered.

I start from the premise that there is nothing sacrosanct about Forestry Commision land. I have no objection to certain sales taking place. It is important, however, that the land in those sales should be carefully and freely chosen. I should hate to think of vast areas of Cannock Chase on the borders of my constituency being sold off. Where land is sold, it should be in outlying areas. It is important that the Forestry Commission should be able to keep and to deploy the proceeds from those sales for the good of foresty.

I would also argue that where land is sold it should not necessarily be sold to the highest bidder. A number of hon. Members have expressed apprehension about land being sold to foreign buyers. There is a limit to what can be done in placing restrictions on the sale of land, particularly to countries within the EEC, but one thing that can be done, and which can be stated specifically in an amendment to the Bill, is that the land need not necessarily be sold to the highest bidder. I shall give two examples where it would possibly be disadvantageous for that to happen. Much Forestry Commission land, including some in my constituency within a mile of my house, was acquired as a result of a compulsory purchase order from an owner who did not necessarily wish to sell it. If that land is to be sold, I believe that the previous owner should have the first chance of buying that land.

I also believe that if land that is being sold is adjacent to a major private forest, the owner of that major private forest should be given an opportunity to acquire the land. Whether this is done by an amendment to the Bill, by directive, by circular or by advice, it is not necessarily for hon. Members to discuss in detail here and now. It would be against natural justice and the interests of forestry, agriculture, good husbandry and everything else if it were possible for land to be sold merely to the highest bidder without any regard to the way in which the land was first acquired by the commission.

Mr. Mark Hughes

We are at risk, I recognise, of going into Committee points. I trust that the hon. Gentleman and I will be members of the Committee. Another problem is small parcels of land of 10 or 20 acres. Will the hon. Gentleman accept the need for the sale of such land to be restricted to the adjacent occupier?

Mr. Cormack

In broad general terms I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have to be careful precisely how the land is chosen and sold, and to whom it is sold.

I should like to refer to a letter that I received from a former hon. Member, which makes that point. He says: The private side of forestry, as much as the State side, needs a viable Forestry Commission. Some sale of woods which are uneconomic to manage, usually owing to the location, would be better disposed of, but the streamlining of the Commission should end at that point. The sale of critical elements of their estate would destroy the morale and the financial viability of the Commission. That point should be carefully borne in mind. We can debate ratios of 50:50 or 60:40, but we must not distort the ratio unduly. That is why I have been a little concerned about the lack of precision in ministerial statements on the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to allay some of our fears and doubts and clarify the position when he winds uo the debate. We have had no indication of precisely what the Forestry Commission will be required to do. On the one hand it is said that the commission has total autonomy and freedom, but, on the other, that it must sell something. I want to know where the balance is. What guidance, if any, will be given to the commission? What requirements will be made? What sort of land have the forestry Ministers in mind?

I should like to emphasise a point that has already been made from the Conservative Benches. I should like to see one Minister responsible for forestry. It is unsatisfactory that there should be the present division. That is not said in any critical spirit of the Ministers concerned. I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland here, because he contributed a valuable Conservative Party policy paper on forestry before being elevated to his present position. I hope that he abides by the spirit of what he himself wrote two years ago.

Mr. David Myles (Banff)

In wanting one Minister, is my hon. Friend saying that forestry should be considered in isolation? I have strong feelings on that matter.

Mr. Cormack

I am not sure about the words "in isolation", but I shall wait to be convinced by the persuasive arguments of my hon. Friend, who will doubtless have an opportunity, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of enlightening and entertaining the House later in the debate.

Two factors that the commission should be instructed to take accout of in any sale are the public benefit and amenity aspect of its woodlands. My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West referred to this, but it cannot be emphasised too often. I pay tribute to what the Forestry Commission has done to heighten public awareness of the countryside and to give people opportunities to enjoy it. I enter one caveat. I do not think that the Forestry Commission has always paid sufficient regard to wildlife; nor, until relatively recent years, has it been sensitive enough to the need to plant some of our native hardwoods around its vast plantations. To suggest that everything the Forestry Commission has done is perfect would be ridiculous. I believe that it should be instructed to take account of amenity and public benefit when it is disposing of woods.

One comes back time and time again to the fact that what we are really debating is the future of a great national resource. We do not stand comparison in percentage terms with our neighbours on the Continent. When one goes to France and drives through miles and miles of beautiful woodland, one rather regrets that only 8 per cent. of our country is producing a resource of such enormous significance and importance.

I had a letter from my predecessor as chairman of the Conservative Party's forestry committee, Sir Jasper More, who was well known and loved by many right hon. and hon. Members. He gave enormous delight to us by his speeches and knew more about forestry than most of us will ever learn. In his letter about the Bill and the general approach at the moment, he says: I was shattered by the complacent tone about the planting programme. He does not believe that we have stressed the need for planting as much as we might have done.

There is real and genuine disappointment among those who have contributed much to forestry and know a great deal about it that the Government have shied off any definite commitment to an expansionist target. I should like us to have a clearly defined target. I should like my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to take us into his confidence and indicate clearly what the Government have in mind.

The Bill is really no better than a Green Paper. A Green Paper can have many advantages, but it should not be presented to the House as legislation.

Mr. Mark Hughes

It is a terrible Bill.

Mr. Cormack

In my view, it is a Bill that is capable of infinite improvement, and I hope that together we shall have a chance to improve it, but the hon. Member for Durham need not think that, in seeking to improve it, I shall attack the basic strategy that land should be sold. I shall seek to point out that if this is to give a real impetus to forestry in the last part of the twentieth century, it has to give much greater encouragement than it does, and much greater protection than it does. It can only be part of a comprehensive policy on forestry, and we await those other parts with much interest. They must include even greater incentives to the private planter and owner so that they can be a real, expanding and fruitful partnership, for the good of us all.

6.53 pm
Mr. John Home Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)

The House has just heard a helpful speech from the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), who obviously knows and cares a great deal about the forestry industry. It is interesting to note at this stage of the debate that, of all the eight right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken since the Secretary of State for Scotland sat down, not one on either side of the House has indicated wholehearted support for the Bill. The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser) even went so far as to indicate that he might find it necessary to vote against the Second Reading. It is interesting that the Bill should have run into such difficulty at this early stage. If it receives a Second Reading, the Minister has been given fair notice of a rough passage in Committee.

I have a certain constituency interest in forestry. There are 12,000 hectares of forestry land in the counties of Berwickshire and East Lothian, of which 10,000 are in the private sector and only 2,000 are owned by the Forestry Commission. What is interesting is that, besides that 12,000 hectares which are growing trees at present, there are about 30,000 hectares of rough grazing, much of which could and perhaps should be planted with trees in due course.

A number of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to the history of the Forestry Commission and have stressed the fact that we have had more than 60 years of a bipartisan approach to forestry which right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House agree has worked well for all concerned.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I hope that my hon. Friend will not lay too much stress on the bipartisan approach. There may have been general agreement that the Forestry Commission should exist, but the practice of successive Tory Governments of giving money to the landlords contrasts greatly with their enthusiasm, or lack of it, for the Forestry Commission.

Mr. Home Robertson

I do not want to make party political points in the debate. If we are to get anywhere on this issue, we need to prolong and develop the bipartisan approach and to encourage those Government supporters who have indicated their opposition to some of the principles to be enshrined in the Bill to put their votes where their mouths are for a change.

The Forestry Commission has co-operated well with its neighbours throughout the period that it has been operating. It has co-operated relatively well with agriculture, which has not always been easy for it because they are conflicting industries. The commission has co-operated well with private forestry interests, which must also have been difficult from time to time. As we know, the commission has achieved spectacular increases in tree planting and in the production of timber in the 60 years that it has been operating.

As a number of right hon. and hon. Members have said, the commission is an extremely efficient organisation in terms of labour, capital and everything else. It is hard to find anyone who will criticise the principle under which the commission operates. In my opinion, it is one of the best possible examples of a State enterprise operating entirely beneficially within a mixed economy. I find it surprising and a little disappointing that any Government should be seeking to make life more difficult for a State enterprise which is operating as well as this, and I hope that it is not just pure spite that is motivating them to do so. We know that the Government do not like State enterprise. We hope that they are not setting out deliberately to make this State enterprise inefficient so that they will be able to decry it as they have decried other State enterprises.

The question which has to be asked again and again of the Minister is why the Government want to set a time bomb ticking in the heart of State forestry in the form of clause 1 of the Bill. The Secretary of State has to accept that that is what the clause amounts to, in effect. It ends long-term planning in what has to be seen to be an extremely long-term industry, as the Secretary of State himself described it Under the terms of the Bill, it appears that literally no piece of the Forestry Commission's forests or plantable land will be safe from hiving off under this Government or under future Secretaries of State.

It has been suggested that the provision will affect only small detached parcels of Forestry Commission woods which are difficult to manage. If that was all that we were discussing, I should not necessarily quarrel with the Minister, because I have a number of these small parcels of woodland dotted about my constituency which obviously are very difficult for the commission to manage. One which always strikes me as particularly anomalous is a few acres of woodland right beside Muirfield golf course. Whenever the commission decides to extract the timber from that piece of woodland, it will have to drag it across one of the fairways of the golf course. I hate to think of the repercussions that that could have.

There are indications already that the Government are thinking of taking this hiving off exercise a great deal further than the small, irrational pieces of land to which I have referred. Some of my hon. Friends were present at a meeting with trade union representatives last week, and we have heard reports that already offers are being made to a Conservative in the South of England for parcels of planted land in excess of 1,000 acres. This may be an indication of what is to come.

On 10 December, when the Secretary of State for Scotland made his original announcement, he tried to assure the House that the Forestry Commission would have control over what it should sell and when it should sell it. However, clause 1 is perfectly clear. It says: The Minister may dispose for any purpose of land acquired by him under this section. That is unequivocal and makes it clear that the Minister can do just that. He can direct the Forestry Commission to sell off as much land as he likes, wherever he may like or require.

In today's debate, we discovered that the proceeds of those sales will not go into the budget of the Forestry Commission. They will not be available for buying or planting land, but will go back into the maw of the Treasury, into the Consolidated Fund. If that is not straightforward asset-stripping in an efficient public enterprise, I do not know what is.

Some of my hon. Friends came with me to the Forestry Commission's headquarters in Edinburgh on 6 January, where we met the chairman of the Forestry Commission and other officials and representatives of the trade unions. We tried to find out from them a little more about the detailed effects of the Government's proposals. However, we did not get much information from them on that occasion. It is abundantly clear that there has been little consultation by the Government with either some of the officials of the Forestry Commission or trade unions whose members' jobs may be affected by the Bill.

At one stage in our discussions, the chairman, Sir David Montgomery, admitted that sales could bite into the hard core of the forestry enterprise. He went on to say that he did not think that that was likely. However, under the terms of clause 1, it would be possible under the directions of a Minister.

When some of us suggested that the Bill gave excessive power and discretion to Ministers, the chairman of the commission said that the Bill could always be amended. It can, and I hope that it will be amended in the coming weeks. However, now is the time to amend it rather than waiting for any anomalies or evils to emerge from the powers which the Minister is seeking under the Bill as drafted.

The statement which the Secretary of State for Scotland made last month in the House said a certain amount about policy. He said: We see a greater place for participation by the private sector in new planting, but the Forestry Commission will also continue to have a programme of new planting, in particular where it will contribute to the rational management of its existing plantations, and also on the more remote and less fertile areas, where afforestation will help maintain rural employment."—[Official Report, 10 December 1980; Vol. 995, c. 1405.] The Forestry Commission will be expected to carry on buying and planting difficult pieces of land, but why on earth is the private sector not buying up and planting land to the extent the Government want? That would be easy for it to do so. A good deal of land is on the market because hill farming is having a bad time. I have no doubt that a number of hill farmers would be happy to sell some of their land to the Forestry Commission or to private foresters, but, as far as I am aware, the private sector is not making any massive purchases. As a result of the Government's cash limits, the Forestry Commission has had to stop its buying programme. Thus, there is no one to compete with the private sector foresters at the moment. However, there is not much sign of massive private buying and planting at this stage.

With all the private capital that the Government seem to think is swimming around looking for forestry investments, why are not the owners of that capital coming to places such as the Lammermuirs in my constituency and buying up some of that 30,000 hectares? It is there for the taking if they want to buy it, but they are not doing so. Instead, the Government propose that they should get the opportunity to buy ready-made forests which have been grown at public expense.

I believe that the Government are forcing the Forestry Commission to sell off blocks of good land—either planted land or land ready for planting—probably at a low price because much of that land will be put on the market at once and prices could be depressed. They intend to sell off the land to private investors. At the same time, the Forestry Commission will be required to go into the market and buy the more awkward pieces of land—in the hills, in the sourer land or wetter land—which will be more expensive to develop and plant in order to keep up the planting programme which the Government have set. That is a shuffling exercise between the private and public sectors. No new forestry land will be acquired as a result. The Government are doing no favours to the industry or to long-term timber production.

Mr. John Mackie, a former Member of the House and a former chairman of the Forestry Commission wrote to The Times on 18 December. In particular, he made the point which I have just made, that if private investors want to buy into forestry they are free to do so now, without the need to cannibalise the Forestry Commission.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) sent a copy of that letter to the Minister of State, Scottish Office, Lord Mansfield, who sent my hon. Friend an interesting reply: Mr. Mackie suggests that if there is private money to invest it should go into new enterprises. We certainly expect private investment in new planting to increase, but it is evident that some potential investors have a preference for existing plantations. That is what it is all about. It appears that the Bill is being drafted in order to suit those private investors who prefer to buy bigger plantations, rather than for any long-term benefit to the forestry industry.

The Minister of State went on: I have no doubt that some of the sales will involve small peripheral areas such as those Mr. Mackie mentions, but I cannot discount the possibility that some larger areas will also be involved". Therefore, it is clear that the Government are thinking in terms of selling off large slabs of Forestry Commission woodland or planting land. Nothing is safe under the Bill.

To add to our concern, we have heard rumours during the past week—I sincerely hope that the Minister will be able to refute those rumours—that the additional forestry commissioner, who is provided for in clause 3, could be a merchant banker, whose brief would be to flog off the woods to his friends in the City or elsewhere. That may not be idle speculation, because the Forestry Commission has no expertise in marketing land, so perhaps that is what the Minister has in mind. He may comment on that when he replies.

The Bill is a cynical and unjustifiable ploy to suit the interests of private speculators at the expense of a respected, well-tried and efficient public enterprise. The whole exercise is being dressed up as an effort to reduce the Forestry Commission's grant-in-aid, However, it is important to emphasise that the Forestry Commission's grant-in-aid will be phased out over the next 25 years anyway, as production builds up as a result of large-scale planting over recent years. However, as ever, the Government are content to sacrifice long-term national interests if their proposal will bring about a short-term reduction in the PSBR. It appears that that is what the Government are now suggesting.

We have already seen that short-sighted policy in action in the wood pulp industry, to which a number of hon. Members have already referred. The Government have allowed the pulp mills in Corpach and Ellesmere Port to go under. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) said, there is now the ludicrous prospect of a new export trade in timber for pulping being sent to Scandinavia—about 200,000 tons a year. That will be processed abroad and much of it will be reimported. That is the kind of short-sighted management which does not inspire much confidence among anyone who is concerned about the future or forestry of any other industry.

Speeches by hon. Members on both sides have shown that the Bill is potentially bad for forestry. If it is bad for forestry, it is bad for jobs in rural areas. It is bad for timber production, because there is no guarantee that private buyers of planting land will plant as soon as they buy. It could take a long time for that land to come into production. It is bad for the timber supply, because there is nothing to compel private owners of woodlands to market timber in a regular fashion. It will come on to the market in dribs and drabs, when the prices are highest. That could make further difficulties for the building industry and other timber users.

I was unhappy about the Bill when I first saw it. Careful analysis of it has shown that it has practically nothing to recommend it. It is right that we should oppose it, and I hope that others will carry their reservatons as far as the Lobby. If by any misfortune it should reach the statute book unamended, a number of us will have to start applying our minds to the question of what will be done by the next Labour Government about recovering land which is likely to be flogged off at any price by this Government.

7.11 pm
Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

Unlike the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon), I should declare an interest in attempting to have a small commercial woodlands operation. The only trouble is that any mature timber that I have seems to be unsaleable because of transport difficulties, any that is growing well seems to be killed off by the pine beauty moth, and the balance seems to be destroyed by the red deer and the bad weather. Thus, I am an unsuccessful forester.

The reason that we have a three-line Whip tonight—the "love-in" between the Labour Party and the Forestry Commission—is due to the fact that the Opposition have regarded it over the years as a back-door way of nationalising the land and getting their foot in the countryside. That is one reason why I welcome the Bill, because I want the Forestry Commission to withdraw from vast areas of the countryside.

I congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland and the other two Ministers concerned because at long last I believe that true Conservative principles are coming through. Like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, they are beginning to realise that the only way to curb an organisation such as the Forestry Commission is to change its ownership. It is no good taxing Government Departments with cash limits. They always cheat. The only way to stop it spending too much money is to change its character by changing its ownership.

In that vein, I want to examine two areas. First, I want to look at the sale of Forestry Commission land in the shire counties—by which I mean the real shire counties. Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire—

Mr. Peter Mills


Mr. Kimball

I mean the proper shire counties, as designated by Surtees and not the provinces—the shire counties of the East Midlands and East Anglia, the low rainfall areas and the heavy clays. Then I want to examine the problem of the sale of land in the upland areas of England, Scotland and Wales.

These are two distinct problems. I am very conscious that my constituency, in the North-East, is overshadowed by Pelham's Pillar, erected by the Yarborough family to commemorate the planting of the millionth tree. In North-East Lincolnshire, we have on the Brocklesby estate probably one of the finest examples of private forestry in this country.

The interesting thing about that private forestry is that the first, second and third thinnings are all consumed on the estate. They are not involved in any Government pulp mills or processing plants. They are all turned into fencing and other materials on the estate, and the final stands of timber are sold at public auction to the local timber merchants, mostly for the furniture trade. That is the kind of forestry enterprise for which there will always be a place.

There are also three State forests in my constituency—one on the banks of the Trent at Laughton, one at South Willingham, both on blow-away sand, which even in the middle of Lincolnshire is not much good for any other form of production, and a rather exceptional Forestry Commission enterprise in the very south of my constituency, near Bardney near Southrey, perpetuating the regeneration of lime forest.

I should like to look in particular at the blow-away sand forests and the way in which they were obtained by the Forestry Commission. I discovered that most of that land which the commission has is on 996-year leases, at half a crown an acre. How were those leases entered into? They were entered into by people, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser) said, after the 1914–18 war, when our forests had been decimated, and after the last war, when the then Socialist Government put terrific pressure on landowners to snake land available for forestry. One was told that it was one's patriotic duty to see that the State had some land.

With the powers of compulsory purchase which the Forestry Commission then had—and which it will still have after this Bill is enacted—people thought that it was probably easier to make a deal with the commission than to refuse to have anything to do with it. Thus, the forestry acreage went up with a bang because people's patriotism was touched.

I should like to ask the Minister for an undertaking that, where forestry land was made available under those leases, at least those estates will have the chance to buy out the leases at whatever is the correct market value, plus the value of the timber growing there. First refusal should be given to the original estates that owned those lands, so that it can come back into the normal estates scheme—bearing in mind the tremendous pressures that are put on landowners, particularly when Labour Governments are in power, to make land available for forestry.

When I deal with the upland areas, I shall remind the House of the terrific pressure by the Highlands and Islands Development Board to make land available for forestry; it too has compulsory purchase powers for this purpose.

My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) pressed the Government on the subject of the sale of land. I am pressing the Government on the question of these patriotic leases. Can it be made absolutely clear that when the Forestry Commission decides to sell land, as in the case of Crichel Down, that land will be offered first at its economic value to the original owners?

Hon. Members have paid a great deal of attention to the subject of hardwoods and the part that they play in amenity. Certainly, in Lincolnshire, the record of the Forestry Commission on amenity and hardwoods has been a total disaster. Only a Government Department which had planted a fairly large acreage of spruce and oak on bad clay, where they will not grow, would decide that the spruce was being killed by the undergrowth growing up and by the hawthorn and decide to spray all its plantations with scrub killer, thus killing the oak which was the amenity crop in the first place. That is what we get from a Government Department. That was in the area of Pickworth wood, in the south of the county.

I do not find the Forestry Commission a very good neighbour either in the South or in the North of Scotland. I do not see why it should place restrictions on access to its forests which no normal landowner would place on the normal activities of the countryside. I do not see why, when it comes to deer control, the Forestry Commission in East Anglia should inflict on people who are interested in doing it a germanic form of stalking—namely, from a high seat—and insist that that should be the only way of shooting the deer in those forests. That policy was such a disaster that the commission had to rescind it after a short time.

I have dealt with the activities of the Forestry Commission in so far as they affect East Anglia. I do not believe that there is a case for having a forestry programme in the counties of Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire or Norfolk. That land is far better used for agriculture and there is a place to a certain degree for some amenity forestry planting.

I turn now to the second part of the problem—the activities of the Forestry Commission in the upland areas. When my right hon. Friend made his statement, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), to whom I gave notice that I would raise this matter, quite unjustifiably accused me of obstructing the Forestry Commission in Scotland and the upland areas. I have had a letter from Mr. Mackie, whom the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian quoted. He wrote to me early in 1978, saying that he was very pleased to hear of the negotiations in process with me for some more land for afforestation and thanked me most sincerely for my co-operation. Perhaps the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland is not here today because he is not sure where he should be sitting in the Chamber.

I do not believe that in this day and age there is any case whatsoever for mass planting of the uplands in England, Scotland and Wales. I do not believe that that is what most people who want to enjoy those parts of the country want to see. They do not want to see a vast expansion of the Forestry Commission in the wilderness areas.

What worries me is that much of the land that the Forestry Commission has in reserve is in the wilderness areas, but with luck the problem will solve itself. Transport costs are making it uneconomic to grow trees in the upland and distant areas. I am glad that the pulp mill at Fort William has closed down. It did not make sense. Wiggins Teape's annual report on the pulp mill at Fort William stated that the trouble with the mill was that the price having to be paid for the raw material was too high. It was never admitted that the wrong kind of mill had been installed. On the other hand, the Forestry Commission's annual report stated that the one way to makemore money was to get more money out of the pulp mill. I do not want to see the Government doing anything to create a bogus market for forestry in this country.

It is marvellous that we are exporting our first thinnings from Scotland to Norway. That is the right way to do it and not to spend taxpayers' money on subsidising an industrial enterprise that is not economic.

Mr. Geraint Howells

What are the hon. Gentleman's views on all the other mill closures?

Mr. Kimball

The problem is the same as the one in the Liverpool area. The enterprises must stand on their own feet. I do not want more upland and uneconomic areas of Britain planted merely to subsidise an uneconomic end product.

The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian said that in the present state of hill farming he was sorry that the Forestry Commission was no longer a buyer of land. We have a dangerous situation in the upland areas. How do people pay off their overdrafts on a hill farm? They persuade the Forestry Commission to buy a small acreage.

Mr. Home Robertson

The Forestry Commission is not buying.

Mr. Kimball

I know. It has been stopped. That is a good thing. A lot of harm is being done by the extension of forestry in the upland areas. If people cannot afford to keep their hill farms going, they should sell them as a good asset and not destroy that asset by putting a large number of trees on it. If people decide that they want to continue to live in those areas, we must examine the problems under the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, and pay them to leave the land alone instead of using the taxpayers' money for the Forestry Commission to destroy it.

I wish to deal with the argument that the Forestry Commission creates employment in rural areas, creates amenities, helps with wildlife and supports the rates. I can only speak from my experience concerning employment in rural areas. I have always said that I would make land available to the Forestry Commission if it would give an undertaking to help with the local school and would put people in houses in the village communities.

In about 1975 there was a Green Paper on forestry in Scotland. It was decided to withdraw the workers from the really rural areas, move them to nearby towns and transport them out to the forests. We have not had co-operation from the Forestry Commission in maintaining the rural communities. It has been its deliberate policy to work the other way. Perhaps my experience is exceptional, but I have a feeling that it shows the general policy of the Forestry Commission.

I also find that the Forestry Commission is extremely belligerent and bullying in its attitude about making muir-burn. Why does Argyllshire have no grouse left? Why is Argyllshire now such a miserable county? The reason is that people have not been able to burn the uplands properly because of the Forestry Commission. Let us face it, muir-burn is not very well done in Scotland today. There is a certain lack of supervision. People are inclined to light fires in the evening and let them go, although that does less harm than not burning the hill at all. The Forestry Commission is extremely bullying to employees and crofters over making muir-burn. It is up to the Forestry Commission to protect its own plantations; to run a bulldozer round the outside and keep up its firebreaks properly on the outside. In my experience, it certainly does not do that.

I wonder whether the House realises the harm that the planting of our uplands can do—and the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) will agree with this—particularly to fishing. What provides the rateable value in Scotland? Good fishing provides much more money in Scotland than many other activities. People go to Scotland to enjoy good fishing.

The first harm that the Forestry Commission does in planting uplands is to remove the sponge. We want good boggy areas to hold the water so that it is there in June in the dry periods to keep up the flow of the rivers. I can give one example of where, as a result of one-third of the watershed going under trees, a spate that would normally last 21 days is gone in 17 because the run-off has increased. Better drainage gets the water down to the sea. What is the effect of that? The run-off is horrid—sour, peaty, dirty, with a lot of filth suspended in it as a result of ploughing the uplands in order to plant trees. It has a disastrous effect on our rivers.

Worse still, once the trees start to grow, the position does not get any better. They canopy over all the burns and spawning streams and kill all the bacteria and bugs on which the young parr and fry live. I could show hon. Members one burn where 10 years ago in October one could see the cock fish cruising about on the reds waiting to go up the burn to spawn. We shall not see one-fifth of that fish population waiting to go up the burn now because it has become sterile through the canopy of trees.

Latterly the Forestry Commission has repented. It now plants 30 yards back from the streams and plants alders. It is beginning to learn, thanks to the influence of Dr. Mills of Edinburgh university. [Interruption.] I do not mean my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills); he is on the other side of the argument. He finds the Forestry Commission an advantage. I am sorry, but I find it a disadvantage.

One reason why I welcome the Bill is that I see it as a withdrawal of a Government Department from the countryside. I asked one well-known farmer in my constituency yesterday what his reaction was. He said "Well, what I always find about the Forestry Commission is that the men get the same pay as ours, but they appear to do less work." That is a pretty genuine criticism.

7.30 pm
Miss Joan Maynard (Sheffield, Brightside)

Apart from the speech of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), which was the true blue voice of Toryism—certainly the hon. Gentleman supports fishing, if not forestry—I have come to the conclusion that there is not much support for the Bill on either side of the Chamber. A number of Conservative Members have sought assurances from the Government on crucial issues. However, it is not assurances from the Government Front Bench that will count. What is important is what appears in the Bill.

The Bill is entitled "Forestry Bill", but it should be known as a Treasury Bill. It can be described only as a rip-off. It removes restrictions on the disposal of land acquired for forestry. It is an obvious piece of public asset stripping.

Clause 1 is an open cheque to sell any part or parts of the Forestry Commission's property. There are those who are in favour of selling outlying areas, but the Bill is not restricted to such areas. It gives the right to sell any part or parts of the commission's property for any purpose. That right rests not with the commission, but with the Minister. There is no guarantee that the land that is sold will remain in forestry. Many hon. Members have rightly expressed concern that some of the land might be bought by multinationals or large corporations. I am sure that that concern is general.

We have heard forestry referred to as a great national resource. I agree with that. We have heard our land described as one of our greatest assets. I agree with that, too. It is because I agree with that that I have always been in favour of the public ownership of land. I hope that the next Labour Government will be committed to the public ownership of land. I do not want to do it by any form of creeping paralysis, as the hon. Member for Gainsborough suggested the commission has tried to do over the years.

The Bill is merely another example of one of the things that the Government are good at doing. They are not good at doing many things, but they are good at public asset stripping. The Bill is a naked and unashamed piece of public asset stripping. The trade unions involved in forestry, including my own union, the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, are opposed to the Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) said, they were not consulted. There has been a shocking approach to the workers in forestry, who object to the Bill for a number of reasons.

Their first objection is that the Bill is an example of public asset stripping. Secondly, they do not believe that it will make for the expansion of forestry. It will merely split and divide the existing cake differently. The profitable part has been made profitable by public investment. Workers' skills will be sold off to private enterprises or, more accurately, to multinaltionals and large corporations, which do not come into the category of private enterprise. They are supporters of anything but enterprise.

The unions do not believe and I do not believe that the Bill will create any more jobs. We think that labour is likely to be shed in rural areas, rather than more labour taken on or the present jobs maintained. Jobs are already in short supply in rural areas.

This is an enabling Bill. It will enable the Government to sell what they like of Forestry Commission property. They will be able to use the money for anything that they wish. If there is any money available for investment, it should be used for new Foresty Commission enterprises and for new planting, rather than for buying commission property.

I should like to see a real expansion of forestry. I have wanted to see that for as long as the commission has been in existence. Although the Government say that they are committed to an expansion of forestry, I am convinced that the Bill will not achieve that. For example, the rate of planting in private forestry is only half of that in the public sector. Why should we have any confidence that if our forests are sold to the private sector there will be expansion?

The Bill is a major attack on State forestry. The attack is being made at the time when State forestry is coming to the profitable stage. Forestry is a long-term business. Until now both major parties have been committed to State forestry. We have only a small forestry industry and Britain is less wooded than many other countries. The present size of the industry is at least viable. If it is made any smaller it will cease to be viable, especially if all the profitable parts are sold off. If that happens the public sector will be left with scattered and uneconomic pieces of woodland to administer and work. They will inevitably be unviable. Private owners will employ less labour because they will be less concerned about environmental and recreational aspects, which the commission has developed carefully and successfully in recent years.

It is inevitable that the multinationals or corporations that buy forests will not consider it important to provide access for walkers. They will not be interested in the recreation of others. They will be interested only in the profit that they can make from the enterprises that they have bought.

Mr. Myles

The hon. lady is speaking of State forestry having to be economically viable. Does she not think that in a long-term industry there are greater things to consider than immediate economic viability—for example, the environment and the countryside generally?

Miss Maynard

I agree with that. We do not have a large forestry industry. If we reduce its size, it will become economically unviable. I am not saying that economics are the most important factor. I am arguing that if the Government take away sections of the forests, especially the profitable sections, they will make what remains unviable.

I suspect that the farmers and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—I have always seen the two groups as synonymous—will support this obnoxious Bill. Farmers have often been anti-forestry, especially anti-State forestry. The Bill is a blow to workers in rural areas, as it will mean fewer jobs. It is a blow to ramblers and to all who seek their recreation in the countryside. This is being done by a Government who are bent on public asset stripping. It is a bad Bill for those who live in rural areas, and a very bad Bill for the country. I shall vote against it tonight. I hope that Conservative Members who have been expressing their reservations will support the Opposition when the Division takes place.

7.38 pm
Mr. Ian Lang (Galloway)

I hope that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) will forgive me if I do not follow her down the same blood-red avenues of Socialism. On the whole, the debate has been moderate and reasonable. It is crucial that in debating issues such as forestry we avoid the party political shuttlecock, which can be so damaging to an industry that is dependent on long-term stability. I say in his absence that the speech of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) was somewhat intemperate in that respect. His indignation must have been rather artificial because when he began his speech there were only eight Opposition Members in the Chamber, and five of them were on the Opposition Front Bench.

It is important to have an awareness of the time scale of forestry if we are to put the debate into perspective. Trees grow slowly and perhaps that is why we debate them so rarely.

Mr. Canavan

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are only eight Conservative Members present?

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that information, but the hour is well advanced, and it is the Opposition who regard the Bill as controversial. We regard it as merely the most common of common sense.

If you cut open a tree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will find that the rings are there in intervals of one year, but if you cut open the Official Report of debates on forestry you will find that the time scale is somewhat wider.

Timber is a raw material of infinite variety, adaptability and aesthetic quality, a natural and renewable resource of immense durability. One need only look at the great hammer beam roof of Westminster Hall, next door to this Chamber, to see an example of timber that has gone on doing beautiful and useful service for six centuries. It is suggested, although the evidence is lacking, that when it was damaged by Nazi bombs in 1941 the oak used to replace it came from the same estates—and indeed might even been growing when the original trees with which it was built were felled. Against that background, the doctrinal and party political squabbles seem massively irrelevant in discussing forestry. What is needed more than anything is stability, continuity and confidence.

We should assess the Bill in the light, first, of how it will help the forestry industry to thrive, prosper and expand, and, secondly, of whether it will increase the stability and confidence necessary for that expansion. On that basis, I welcome the Bill, though not entirely without caution.

It is a short Bill. On the face of it, it does not do much, but there is much that it does not do or say that could happen as a result of it. Against the background of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, which removed some of my reservations, and subject to further clarification of some points, I believe that the Bill can and will create a new impetus for expansion, which is badly needed in the industry.

A great tribute is due to the Forestry Commission, not only to the dedicated and far-sighted conservators and commissioners of the present day but to their predecessors, right back to the sixteenth Lord Lovat and his colleagues who set up the commission in 1919. In 60 years or so they have built up a substantial and varied portfolio of large forests and small woodlands. They have developed great skills of management and have moved through the unfortunate blanket plantation era, which I once heard decribed as "Scandinavian gloom", to the more enlightened era of landscaping and the introduction of recreational and amenity facilities.

It is in the nature of forestry that the problems of this century can be traced back to earlier centuries, when such words as "depletion policy" would have been incomprehensible. In 1512 the famous Royal ship "Great Michael" is said to have laid waste all the timber in the Kingdom of Fife, and indeed required Norwegian imports to finish it. During the Napoleonic wars up to 30 hectares were required for a 100-gun ship. Already at the beginning of the seventeenth century King James VI had found it necessary to introduce the coal-burning habit to the households of London, starved of logs. In the next 200 years the oaks in the six Royal forests of England were reduced from 2.3 million to a mere 500,000. So there is nothing new under the sun in forestry.

The First World War triggered off the creation of the Forestry Commission and the great new development of forestry that has taken place in this century. The Second World War inevitably imposed a major setback, but in the 60 years of distinguished work by the commission well over 1 million hectares have been planted, and they are worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

I believe that the commission is now the biggest landowner in the country. It is therefore so dominant as to be effectively a monopoly. However benevolent a monopoly it is, it must to some degree impose a stultifying effect on the future development of forestry. That, too, is why I believe that now is the time to be moving on.

The distinguished work of the commission, and the healthy partnership that it has developed with private woodland owners, should not be jeopardised, and I believe will not be, by the change in balance between these two complementary sectors that the Bill will bring about. But when Mark Twain said, "Buy land—they ain't making it no more", he did not mean that one should go on buying it indefinitely, and his advice was to individuals, not to public bodies.

Now that the commission has built up its expertise and its dominant role in British forestry, it is reasonable to say that it is fully capitalised and should be allowed to run itself, mobilising its assets and freed from dependence on annual grant in aid. Provided the sale of land is sensibly and gradually introduced, and the market is not swamped, and provided the Treasury is restrained in its demands for payments into the Consolidated Fund—both important provisos—I believe that the commission should enjoy a measure of self-governed stability from which to continue to grow and prosper, and continue to play an invaluable role in the forestry scene.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser), my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) and others, I would prefer to see a safeguard to stop the accumulation of too much land in too few hands—especially in foreign hands. In addition, I emphasise that forestry is about building capital, not cash flow. Therefore, it is important not to force the pace of disposals for the wrong reasons. I hope that at the end of the debate we shall, learn the target for revenue from disposals and when the Government hope that target will be achieved.

I believe that the commission would be keen to sell many small areas of forestry land. It accumulated many areas in small amounts in the 1950s, when planting was urgently needed and the owners of the land could not see a viable way of planting it themselves. Subsequently the commission gathered up other small plantations, sometimes by commutation of estate duty. I hope that in disposing of those small unwanted parcels of land the commission will give first refusal to the original owner or to his successor in title, because fragmentation of estates is dangerous and damaging. This might be an opportunity to enable some private owners to consolidate and increase the size of their estates to a more economically viable size.

I hope that the large plantations run by the commission—I think that I have one of the largest in my constituency, in Glentrool forest—will not be the prime targets for sale. I should welcome reassurance on that tonight, because we should not embark on the wholesale break-up of large forests, which might jeopardise the maintenance of supplies on a large scale to incoming industries. I do not think that private forestry can compete with the commission in this area, although I accept that under lease-back arrangements it might be possible to achieve the necessary accommodation.

Equally, I hope that the commission will still be allowed to add to its stock where an appropriate opportunity arises: where economies of scale would make sense; perhaps where poor farmland suddenly becomes available and it would enable the farmer to receive cash with which to improve the rest of his farm; where there are key areas that would improve the management of a large forest; or where it might increase the facilities for many other activities that a large managed unit can provide for.

In my own constituency alone the commission's land is used for Army exercises, Duke of Edinburgh Award activities, pony trekking, orienteering and a host of other recreational and social facilities. I cite only one example—Raider's Road in Galloway, which is an imaginitave tourist attraction, introduced by the commission and widely welcomed in the area. All these things can be done, and increasingly are being done, by the commission. It is important that we acknowledge its role. I was grateful when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did so, displaying a proper concern that those facilities should not be lost in any disposal of land and forestry resources that might take place as a result of the Bill.

As regards clause 2 and what will be done with the proceeds of the sale, it is important not to milk the forestry industry. If cash is to be taken out of forestry under the provisions of the Bill, it should be used rather as a stimulus to bring still greater investment back into the industry. There is concern is some quarters that what happens as a result of the Bill may be merely the recycling of existing money. It is important that we establish our anxiety to attract new money.

I hope that the Treasury will stimulate the attraction of new money with tax incentives and other forms of help, and involve a wide variety of new investors, institutional or individual, perhaps including the pension schemes of some of the more prosperous trade unions. This is important partly to reassure the work force that it has secure jobs in an expanding industry.

I should like to see funds being used also for training schemes to attract young people and provide opportunities for them in forestry. I should like funds to be used to develop the processing of timber and to assist the establishment of new timber-related ventures. For example, a reassessment is being carried out of the possible uses of softwood, so much of which goes to pulp. It is increasingly thought that some of it may be seasonable and usable for structural purposes. The development of stress-grading techniques and standards in areas such as my constituency could lead to the establishment of more jobs in forestry-related industries.

I should like to say a word about agriculture, because although Dumfries and Galloway is the most densely afforested region in the country, with forestry up from 4 per cent. of the land in 1947 to 21 per cent. now, compared with 9 per cent. in the rest of the United Kingdom and 12 per cent. in Scotland, farming is undoubtedly a sector of extreme importance there. My right hon. Friends have already shown their unwavering commitment to the survival of the hill farming industry. One need only cite the sheepmeat regime, the suckler cow premium scheme and the massive increases in the hill livestock compensatory allowances as three examples of help that has been given in this area.

But the pressures from forestry remain, and integration is the key word here. The Scottish National Farmers Union and the Forestry Commission should be congratulated on their co-operation in working to reconcile the sometimes conflicting interests of farming and forestry. In passing, it is worth noting that in Germany 87 per cent. of private forest holdings are integrated with farming enterprises. That is the route along which we must go in this country, and this Bill will help us to do so.

I am encouraged that the mutual suspicions are dwindling, helped perhaps by the 1976 report of the Centre for Agricultural Strategy, which said that if the present rate of planting continued to the end of the century the loss of agricultural production would be only 1½ to 2 per cent. Because of the pressures on farming, productivity is improving far faster than that. We have a highly efficient industry, probably the most efficient in Europe, and it will remain so and become more efficient.

During the decade since 1969, despite rapidly expanding forestry, the sheep population in Dumfries and Galloway rose from 1,030,000 to 1,092,000. The time scales of sheep and timber production are so disparate as to defy realistic comparison, but there is a need for the Government to find attractive ways of helping farmers to become increasingly involved in forestry as a cash crop, perhaps in partnership with institutional investors. The maintenance of the schedule D/schedule B option may help in that respect. This is a fertile area for imaginative and constructive schemes, and I hope that more research will take place in the future.

The forestry grants scheme that was announced last month by my right hon. Friend will also give encouragement to farmers—tenant farmers as well as owner-occupiers—to plant some trees and to renew existing plantations, which will provide shelter for their stock, fence posts for the farms, fire wood for the farmhouse and enhance the landscape.

Mr. John Brewis, my distinguished predecessor in this House as the Member for Galloway, who is now chairman of Timber Growers Scotland Limited, recently drew attention to a study of possible forestry integration with farming that was carried out by Edinburgh university last year on 13 hill farms totalling about 43,000 acres. The report found that after 26 per cent. of the land surface had been planted skilful management led to an increased stock-carrying capacity. The number of lambs weaned rose from 8,678 to 11,321, and livestock units, including cattle as well as sheep, rose by one third. Still more important, although farm jobs fell from 35 to 32, an extra 26 jobs were created in forestry.

As the recovery of agricultural employment cannot offer enormous potential for jobs, the importance of the extra jobs to be generated by forestry holds out a great hope for rural employment which it would be folly beyond belief to ignore. I am sure that farming productivity will continue to improve, given a fair wind, and forestry, far from hindering agriculture, can enhance it. I hope that the Bill will provide a new opportunity in that sector.

I offer a few observations in a wider context, because it is crucially important to underline the strategic importance of forestry to this country, and the need to encourage and expand it. The world's tropical forests are now being devastated at a net rate of 16 million hectares per annum. When we set that against our total forestry acreage of 1.7 million, we begin to see the massive scale of that devastation. At the same time, the populations of developing countries, whose demands for timber can only increase, are growing rapidly. Already, those developing countries account for two-thirds of the world's population, and it is expected that their population will rise by 60 per cent. by the end of the century. That can only lead to a large increase in real terms in timber prices, and to scarcity and shortages. Already Ghana, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand have banned the export of some unprocessed wood.

The European Community is vulnerable, being only 40 per cent. self-sufficient, but the United Kingdom is more so. As several of my hon. Friends have pointed out, 90 per cent. of our timber needs are imported, at a cost of about £3,000 million a year. If France can have 25 per cent. of its land under trees compared with our 9 per cent., and seven times as much forestry per head of the population as the United Kingdom, there must be scope for a rapid and large expansion in this country. It is not without significance that France has twice as much privately owned forestry as is owned by the State and public bodies. I say that not in criticism of the Forestry Commission, which has done a marvellous job in many respects, and I hope that my remarks have confirmed my belief that it will still have a large role to fulfill in the future.

It is time for a change. A new dynamic is needed. Although trees grow slowly, time is short. Subject to the minor qualifications that I have voiced, I welcome the Bill as part of that change and as introducing a new dynamism. I also welcome the aims behind the consultative paper on the administration of felling control and grant aid, and the statements made today and last month by my right hon. Friend. We urgently need to achieve the optimum use of all the land in this country, the best possible management of our woodlands, the most effective deployment of our existing resources, the attraction of new resources into forestry and the continuaton, against a background of stability and confidence, of a close partnership between the public and private sectors. I hope that this Bill will bring closer the achievement of those aims.

7.57 pm
Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

I share the concern of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) that the Forestry Commission might sell off large tracts of forest land, such as Glentrool forest in his constituency, but he does not seem to realise that by voting in favour of the Bill he will give power to the Secretary of State for Scotland to do precisely that. If the Bill is eventually passed the hon. Gentleman will have no opportunity, because of the lack of parliamentary accountability, to challenge the decision of the Secretary of State to sell off these valuable forest lands.

The Forestry Commission is one of the most successful examples of public ownership and public enterprise in this country. It has existed for over 60 years, yet now its success—and possibly its very existence—is threatened by the Bill, which stems more from Tory Party dogma than from the interests of forestry and rural life in general. The Forestry Commission was set up just after the First World War because of the extreme timber shortage that prevailed. Things have changed much since then, but, nevertheless, the role of the commission is still very important. Indeed, it is essential. Forestry in this country accounts for only 9 per cent. of the total area, compared with the Common Market average of 22 per cent.—we have one of the lowest areas of forestry in the Common Market—and the world figure of 29 per cent. We import over 90 per cent. of our timber requirements, amounting to about £3,000 million a year. That is a considerable contribution to the deficit side of our balance of payments. There are reliable estimates of a world timber shortage within the next half century, but we have the opportunity to minimise the effects of that world shortage if we do something about it now—and with the right policies it is possible to do something about it now. Unlike coal, gas and oil, wood is a renewable resource, and it will become increasingly important as a chemical and industrial feedstock.

Conservative Members often criticise the public sector of the economy by making unfair comparisons with the private sector, with the intention of putting the public sector in a bad light. They would be hard put to do that with the Forestry Commission because, by almost every standard of measurement, every criterion, the commission surpasses the private sector.

Both the public and private sectors have about the same area of productive woodland—over 800,000 hectares apiece. On new planting, last year the Forestry Commission's record was 15,800 hectares—almost twice the private sector total of 8,600 hectares.

On restocking, in 1973 the private sector was slightly ahead of the Forestry Commission with 4,100 hectares compared with 3,800 hectares, but by 1980 the Forestry Commission had overtaken the private sector on restocking, because it had 5,700 hectares compared with 3,100 hectares in the private sector. There was an increase in restocking in the public sector in those seven years compared with a decrease in the private sector.

Comparing wood production by volume of timber removed by thinning and felling, in 1973 the Forestry Commission had 1,560,000 cubic metres, compared with only 790,000 cubic metres in the private sector. In 1980 the corresponding figures were 2,060,000 cubic metres for the Forestry Commission, compared with only 860,000 cubic metres for the private sector. The Forestry Commission's wood production is therefore more than twice that in the private sector, yet there are fewer people doing all that work in the Forestry Commission. The commission employs only 8,043 people, compared with 11,007 in the private sector.

Part of the reason for the greater productivity and efficiency in the public sector is that the Forestry Commission sends more of its employees on forestry training council courses. The latest report points out that the Forestry Commission had 14,906 trainee course days, whereas the comparable figure for the private sector was only 4,868. So, by almost any criterion that we pick, the track record of the Forestry Commission compares very well with—in fact surpasses—that of the private sector.

During the Christmas Recess a deputation from the Scottish Parliamentary Labour group met representatives of the Forestry Commission and of some of the trade unions involved. The latter expressed grave apprehension about the damaging effect that the Bill might have on employment prospects. It is naive for the Secretary of State for Scotland to say, as he did, that there would probably be very few, if any, redundancies and that any redundancies would be taken up by the private sector. Things are not as simple as that, and the Secretary of State knows that—or at least should know it.

More than 33,000 people are now employed in forestry and wood processing and there are literally hundreds of thousands of jobs in other related industries. Examples of that are the chipboard industry, which has a factory at Cowie in my constituency, and the paper and board industry which faces grave difficulties, mainly because of the Government's policies. The Paper and Board Industry Federation has expressed great opposition to the Bill because it believes that significant hivings off of forest lands will eventually interfere with the continuity and reliability of timber supplies which are so essential.

The only reason behind the Bill seems to be the Government's doctrine of wanting to cut public expenditure willy-nilly, without any thought for the consequences or whether that public expenditure is a good investment or otherwise. Even if we confine ourselves to this aspect of public expenditure, I doubt whether there will be any net saving in public expenditure terms.

The 1979–80 financial statement of the Forestry Commission indicated a total expenditure of £93 million. That was an extraordinarily high year in terms of expenditure, but we must remember that it includes VAT payments to the Treasury and the payment of several million pounds in grants and services to the private sector. The total Government grant-in-aid to the Forestry Commission for that financial year was about £43 million. Therefore, even in that year—which does not appear to be the best year to pick—more than half of the Forestry Commission's income was self-generated.

If the Forestry Commission sells large parts of the land, not only will it lose a valuable, asset, but the purchaser might be a private landlord or financial institution with no expertise in the development and improvement of forestry. Even if there were lease-back arrangements, the Forestry Commission would have to incur further expenditure to fulfill the terms of those arrangements because it would have to pay rent to the new owner of the land.

Again, in terms of public expenditure, we must take account of the additional millions of pounds in tax concessions that would have to be doled out to private sector interests, and that would mean a loss of revenue to the Treasury.

It also appears to me to be very unfair that the proceeds from any sales could, if the Minister so directed, go into the Consolidated Fund—the Treasury—rather than into the forestry fund, which would help to encourage more capital investment in forestry.

I should like now to mention the importance of access to the countryside. The Forestry Commission has a very good track record—it may not be impeccable, but it is very good—compared with most private landlords, not only in terms of access, but in the provision of recreation, sporting and educational facilities. For example, there are camping facilities, caravan sites, holiday homes and log cabins. There are nature trails which provide a great deal of pleasure and education for schoolchildren and others in the study of local flora and fauna and other aspects of life in the countryside. The Forestry Commission provides opportunities for sports, such as angling, walking, orienteering and pony trekking.

In the United Kingdom there are seven forest parks. Five are in Scotland. The Queen Elizabeth forest park lies partly within my constituency. It stretches from Loch Lomond to the Trossachs. It is an area of outstanding scenic beauty. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that it is one of the most outstanding areas of its kind in the world. Many people, not only from that area, but from elsewhere, who visit it, would consider it to be an act of ministerial vandalism, an absolute tragedy and a national scandal if that part of our national heritage were to be sold, possibly piecemeal, to some of the neighbouring landlords, especially when we consider who some of them are—the Duke of Montrose, Sir Hugh Fraser and, not very far away, the estate of the Younger family, whose eldest son and heir introduced the Bill as Secretary of State for Scotland. The only possible beneficiaries from the Bill would be big landowners, multinational companies, financial institutions and other big business interests.

It has been obvious from the start that the Government are hell-bent on hiving off as many public assets as possible. In my view, that is why one of the first things that they did when they came to office was to get rid of the previous chairman of the Forestry Commission, John Mackie, whose knowledge of forestry was respected in many quarters, and replace him with David Montgomery, a Tory Party hack from local government. The reason is now clear. The Government wanted an obedient puppet to preside over this sordid exercise in public asset stripping to line the pockets of their rich friends. They did not even consider the serious, long-term damaging effects upon forestry, wood processing and allied industries and the jobs of the thousands of workers involved. That is what the Bill is all about, and that is why the House should not give it even a Second Reading.

8.11 pm
Mr. Alex Pollock (Moray and Nairn)

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), in a purely temporal rather than a doctrinal sense. I certainly do not intend to follow him into the woods as he goes to explore the flora. I prefer to direct my remarks to other aspects of the debate.

The House is correct in seeking to conduct this Second Reading debate against the background of three other factors: the present state of the nation's forestry assets, and its likely requirements for timber by the end of the century, together with the Government's statement on forestry at the end of last year in response to those two matters.

It is a well known fact, as has already been pointed out in the debate, that more than 90 per cent. of Britain's timber requirements are met by imports at a cost of nearly £3 billion per year. That staggering figure must also be seen against the background of a substantial fall in new plantings by both the Forestry Commission and private woodlands throughout the 1970s. Indeed, private woodlands had been reduced from some 20,000 hectares in 1972 to a mere 6,600 hectares in 1978.

The United Kingdom's likely timber requirements by the end of the century are equally startling. The world as a whole will face a timber shortage by the year 2025. By that time, United Kingdom consumption is forecast to increase by 90 per cent. Fortunately, we have a climate which allows rapid timber growth, and with only 9 per cent. of land afforested there is considerable scope for expansion. Indeed it is estimated that with investment in an expansion programme we could supply up to 26 per cent. of our requirements by 2025 and rather more thereafter.

The Government's response in their December statement was essentially twofold: first, a strong commitment to the long-term expansion of forestry, and, secondly, greater involvement by the private sector in achieving that expansion, together with no major change in fiscal policy. Again, if I understand the thrust of the Government's statement correctly, the clear implication at that time was that the long term expansion target was unlikely to be met without a significant injection of funds from the private sector. While the case for expansion has not been seriously challenged by the Opposition today, the greater involvement of the private sector is quite another matter—not least, I think, because the Government themselves acknowledged in that statement; The main basis of policy for the future must remain the successful and harmonious partnership between the private sector and the Forestry Commission."—[Official Report, 10 December 1980; Vol. 995, c. 1405.] Yet it is now proposed to change the balance in that partnership.

In those circumstances, it would seem incumbent upon the Government to persuade the House of the need for change and to allay the fears of those who, in no spirit of partisanship, feel considerable disquiet and unease about the scope of the powers being sought in the Bill. I should certainly be failing in my duty to the House and to my constituents if I did not say that I share a number of those feelings of unease and disquiet. I trust that the Minister will help to allay those fears when he replies for the Government tonight. I shall touch upon one or two of the fears. They have been mentioned in other speeches, but I wish to emphasise the seriousness with which they are felt by Members on the Conservative Benches.

First, if the Government expect to rely upon private funds for the expansion programme and for some reason those funds are not forthcoming, are the Government still prepared to provide the necessary funding, out of the central Exchequer if necessary? In other words, is the commitment to forestry as strong in monetary terms as in the statement last December?

On the other hand, if a large number of sales take place, how satisfied are the Government that they can impose relevant conditions upon the purchasers in order to ensure that progress is made towards the planting targets for the next century that have already been emphasised as a precondition for the country's very economic survival at that time? Is there not at least a danger that institutions or multinational organisations will invest not so much for the sake of forestry, but rather to play the market in such a way as to suit their own financial advantage at any given time?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirmed in his opening remarks that one-third of the plantable reserves could be offered for sale. If that is to be the case, is there not a real risk of new owners postponing viability dates? Further, I understand that there has been a trend in recent times to increase the sales of thinnings in middle plantings. That, again, may well not accord with the national targets that we seek to achieve by the end of the century. What is the fail-safe plan in the Government's mind to ensure that the targets will be maintained?

Further, is there not a risk that in reducing the amount of public holdings there will be a denial to the public purse of what ultimately would be a very high return, in other words, selling plantations at a time when the greatest net discounted revenue will not yet have been reached? Can the Government give an assurance that the selling price will take account of the potential loss of profit to the nation?

Lastly, in connection with the question of purchase by institutions and possibly multinationals, what safeguards do the Government propose for rural communities which are dependent on forestry for their employment? This matter has been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides. Can the new owners be relied upon to maintain staff on their payroll? If a commitment to forestry is not the prime motive of the new owners, might they try to cut corners en route to their profit and leave highly committed foresters abandoned in their wake? If that is a risk, it is not a prospect that I welcome.

One idea floated earlier was that consideration should be given to the appointment of a Minister for forestry and forestry alone. I make another suggestion; the idea has grown in my mind with the development of the Government's actions since they came to power. There is an increasingly strong case for having a Minister for rural areas—not a Minister of Agriculture, not a Minister of forestry, but someone who has the task of monitoring the overall impact of those various parts of Government policy as they impinge on rural communities and their capacity to survive. I simply plant that thought in the Government's mind in passing.

In raising those matters, I should not like it to be thought that I am necessarily hostile to any disposal of Forestry Commission land. It has become apparent to me in my constituency "surgeries" that there are a number of anomalies which could be removed by sensible rationalisation and disposal. Equally, it is imperative that the Government underline their wholehearted commitment to a major and continuing role for the forestry Commission. I dare say that the scare stories of total dismemberment of publicly owned land can be easily scotched. I accept, from what my right hon. Friend said at the beginning of the debate, that they are quite without foundation.

However, other real worries remain among those who support the Government and those whose sole concern is the future well-being of the forestry industry trust that those fears will be allayed by the Minister when he replies. If not, those fears and that disquiet will persist throughout the remaining stages of the Bill.

8.22 pm
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I apologise to the House for not being present for the whole debate. I had to attend to certain constituency matters.

The Bill has nothing whatever to do with forestry. There is nothing in the Bill, nor in the background to it, that relates to forestry management or to the work done by the Forestry Commission. The Bill arises purely and simply because the Government are short of money. The Government's philosophy compels them to take public assets and hand them over to private industry wherever that appears right. If there had been criticism of the Forestry Commission for not having done its work properly over the past 60 years, there might be some reason for taking over the assets that it has built up and hand them to private enterprise, but I doubt whether anyone has any serious criticism of the Forestry Commission.

I do not say that the Forestry Commission has been right on every single aspect of policy during its whole existence. I am not saying that is should not be criticised where there are deficiencies in its policy. People who know the commission better than I do doubtless have some pungent criticisms to make of it, though I sometimes wonder whether some of those criticisms are a little unfair. For example, the commission has done sterling work in deep ploughing in parts of the country where trees normally do not grow. It has sought by its policy on drainage and deep ploughing to plant trees where trees have previously not grown. Some people believe that, while the Forestry Commission ought to experiment, that kind of experiment at high levels is a waste of public money. That may or may not be true. In any case, it is a criticism of detail.

Some people have criticised the Forestry Commission for the experimental planting that it has carried out, in particular in Caithness. If one goes to Caithness and looks at the planting that has been done along the coast, one sees that the trees have not grown at anything like the rate that might have been expected. Those of us who know Caithness know that it is a wind-blown area. The saplings—I think that it is correct to a call them that—do not grow because the wind stunts their growth. About eight or 10 years ago it seemed as though experimental planting in the area was doomed to failure. However, I was in Caithness about two years ago and I was surprised at the way the plantations, had taken hold and were beginning to grow. In a curious way they had formed their wind break. The trees nearest the coast were not growing to the extent of the saplings sheltered behind them which had taken a good hold and were growing strongly.

I do not criticise the Forestry Commission for experimenting. With the price of timber going the way it is, perhaps the commission should have been more adventurous and planted more. There is a desperate need for timber in this country, but if it had been left to the private growers to meet our needs we should be in a much more serious position.

The criticisms of the commission have been largely on points of detail. There has been no substantial body of criticism which over the years, since the establishment of the commission, has said that the industry ought to be in private hands and that the commission is unnecessary. There are only two reasons for the Bill. First, the Government are short of money. They are desperate to sell anything they can—although I should perhaps qualify that. They want to sell only the profitable parts of public enterprise where the bulk of public money has already gone in to provide assets. That is why the British Rail hotels are to be sold and why private investment is to be introduced into some parts of British Airways. A pure accounting view of the commission does not give proper credit to the money it has had to pay to protect private interests.

My father-in-law is often critical of the commission on points of detail, but strongly supports it, as the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) knows. My father-in-law's view is that the commission has had to spend far too much on fencing simply to protect private deer interests. Whether in terms of its management policy, its nursery policy, its experimentation policy or even its accounting policy, the commission is an outstanding success. It does no service to the many foresters and conservators who have spent their lives in the industry to say, as clause 1 does, that the commission can dispose, without restriction or qualification, of land acquired for forestry purposes.

The Bill arises, secondly, from the Government's desire to ensure that the interests that they represent—the private foresters—get their hands on the pickings. If there were a glut of timber at the moment or if its price was very low, the Government would not want to sell the commission's assets. However, they are making sure that their friends get their hands on the easy pickings and they have a nice neutral sounding word for that—privatisation. I prefer to use the word "piratisation" because that is what it is—pillaging the public purse. Throughout the whole spectrum of British industry the Government are simply pirating the nation's assets.

I started by saying that the Bill had nothing to do with forestry or forestry management. With the experience of the Forestry Commission over the years, I should have thought that there would be something in the Bill which would be helpful to the commission and to those interested in afforestation. The commission has operated under great handicaps with the acquisition of land and planting. Private industry has not suffered from the same restrictions in taking land out of agricultural use and putting it into forestry use as has the Forestry Commission. The commission has been much more hemmed in by the policy of successive Governments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) said that he did not want to disturb the bipartisan approach that had existed towards the Forestry Commission since its inception. I understand why he said that. Some Conservative Members, to give them credit, have expressed misgivings about the policy behind the Bill and my hon. Friend did not want to upset them, because when one wants to tempt a few reluctant rebels into one's Lobby the last thing to do is to insult them. I shall not insult them, especially not the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock), who is nodding so agreeably.

However, I do not go as far as my hon. Friend, who said that he did not want to make political points. The Bill is political, pure and simple. If it were not political, there would be more in it than simply the power to sell off the assets of the Forestry Commission. There would be more in it than increasing the size of the board to a chairman and not more than ten instead of nine members. There would be more to it than the additional financial effect of £3,500. There would be more than the fact that any assets sold will not go to the Forestry Commission.

As this is a political Bill, we are entitled to draw a political conclusion. Labour Governments try to put more money into forestry and encourage the Forestry Commission in its work. We have seen Tory Governments—although this is the last thing to which they would admit—try to hold back the work of the Forestry Commission. They have devised schemes whereby private forestry was encouraged. Some people are upset at the way in which private companies have grown up, some of them with fancy sounding titles. Instead of showing an interest in forestry, all they are interested in is the money to be made from it.

The truth is that there has not been a bipartisan approach to the Forestry Commision except at a minimal level. Now we see the Tory Party's mask beginning to slip. The Minister will say that it is not the Government's intention that the Forestry Commission's assets will be liquidated entirely, that it will be only at the margins. I think that we shall find it will be more than that. The Government are saying that it is not just the best land that will go from Forestry Commission ownership to private ownership, that it will not be the best forests or the well-grown forests which will be transferred. There will be an even spread, they claim; the Forestry Commission will not be left with only the most arid and barren of land, it will be left a decent share of proper forestry. But private money will be put only where there is a sign of good, quick returns. There will not be a mad scramble among the private companies to take over the most difficult land—the forests which take longer than normal to grow to fruition. Only the most luscious land will be chosen.

There has not been a bipartisan policy. Tory Governments have looked after the interests of private forestry and Labour Governments have tried their best to look after public forestry, though some of my hon. Friends who know the industry would quarrel with the way in which Labour Governments have put too much into private forestry.

If the Bill had been concerned with the interests of forestry, we should have seen something in it to establish better training for foresters. Some time ago, I had correspondence with the Minister on whether there should be better training, taking foresters through to the higher national diploma. There is a channel through the universities into forestry, but there is no proper training scheme for those in the industry.

It is a pity that a public enterprise that has served the nation marvellously should be messed about in this way. Not only will land disappear, but many people who have spent their lives in forestry and thought that they had a future in the industry may feel that the commission is not the place to stay. There could be a drift of manpower and a loss of morale in the industry and among the commissioners.

The Bill will be resolutely opposed and I hope that it does not reach the statute book, but I suspect that the Government will use their majority to drive everything before them and will not allow proper discussion of the proposals. It is a disgrace that they have produced such a Bill. I live in hope that they will one day feel ashamed of themselves and realise that they are in Government not simply to help those in the City or those who want to make a private profit out of a public asset and will occasionally give a thought to the needs of the nation.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. The Front Bench speeches will start at 9 o'clock. I have on my list three hon. Members who have been sitting in the Chamber all day and one hon. Member who has only recently come into the Chamber. I do not know how we will work out the arithmetic, but we shall start with Mr. David Myles and see how it goes.

8.37 pm
Mr. David Myles (Banff)

If I had been asked to predict who would follow in the debate, I would not have chosen the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). I know his constituency well and pass through it on the way to my own. I have admired the rose beds and wonderful parks in his constituency and the efforts made to beautify Aberdeen, but I did not think that there was any Forestry Commission land there or that the commission had much relevance to his constituency. I congratulate the hon. Member on speaking for so long, though it means that we who have a constituency interest will have to curtail our speeches.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I do not have any Forestry Commission land in my constituency. The only trees in the constituency are those that I slice or hook into when I am on the golf course. However, that does not mean that I do not have a deep interest in the forestry industry.

Mr. Myles

That brings me to the speech of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). The hon. Gentleman is a landowning farmer and it surprised me that he said that his only integration with forestry was on the Muirfield golf course. I wish to introduce a note of discord in relation to the hon. Members, on both sides, who are starry-eyed enthusiasts for endlessly increasing the planting of trees.

In harmony, perhaps, with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), I do not believe that forestry problems should be discussed in isolation. As I suggested to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), too often forestry is examined in isolation, yet the effects of any forestry policy are widespread on other land uses in the countryside.

It is difficult to discover the authors of a pamphlet called "British Forestry—Into the Next Century". It seems to be produced by the executive committee, State foresters section, of the Civil Service Union. It has a photograph on the front—I bow to the better pronunciation of the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells)—showing Gwydyr forest. That is supposed to be a good example of forestry. To me, it is a horrific example, because it shows blanket forestry in the worst sense. It ignores the rest of the land use in that part of the countryside. It sterilises a great amount of useful land for a fairly long period.

Where the dominant influence in forestry is a State body such as the Forestry Commission, it is important, as the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) said, that we get a balance. The balance, however, has to be correct. Who is to say what is the correct balance? The priority interest of the Forestry Commission is afforestation and the economic viability of that afforestation. It does not have much interest in the considerable effect of afforestation on the major land use, which is agriculture. There is no requirement on the commission, to my knowledge, to further the integration or to ensure the interaction of forestry and farming in a way that is beneficial to the nation as a whole.

I commend the document mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Lang) "The Interaction of Forestry and Fanning" by W. E. S. Mutch and A. R. Hutchinson and produced by the East of Scotland College of Agriculture and the university of Edinburgh, dated October 1980, which says a great deal about the interaction that can take place between forestry and agriculture. This is a valuable document. I wish that the Forestry Commission had considered interaction a great deal more before planting such massive areas in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Galloway and for Argyll (Mr. MacKay).

Forestry expansion has been the land use policy of successive British Governments since 1917. The three methods adopted to achieve that expansion have changed little in over half a century. The Forestry Commission, as the State forestry enterprise in this expansion has purchased and long-leased land on the open market to create State forests.

It is interesting to remember that, in the days when the father of the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser) was the first chairman of the Forestry Commission, the amount of land envisaged for planting was 715,000 hectares, whereas the Forestry Commission has achieved a planting of more than 1¼ million hectares. It appears that the balance spoken about originally has gone slightly in the direction of State forestry. In the name of economy, this has been done in massive blocks which have not always been in the long-term interests of the countryside and, as the Secretary of State himself said, forestry is essentially a long-term commitment.

Despite the admiration of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West of State forests in other European countries, I am reminded that on one occasion Humphrey Lyttelton described driving up the middle of a State forest as being rather like driving up the middle of a toothbrush. In my opinion, there is a certain truth in that comment.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) spoke of the employment interest in this Bill and of the danger to it if Forestry Commission land was sold. However, we should remember the amount of employment in these areas before some of these massive plantings took place. There was considerable employment in many of these glens and other afforested areas. People were employed in agriculture and other rural pursuits. That fact seems to be ignored.

Forestry provides what is so often a transitional type of employment. It does not employ people who live in the area concerned. Instead, it employs squads of people who tend to go round a fairly large area, and it does not really encourage the growth of rural communities as does a real integration of all the other interests. Much more consideration should be given to that state of affairs. I am sorry that the Bill does not take account of this, although the consultative document on private forestry does to a limited extent.

There is a great deal of talk about investment in private forestry and about grants to private forestry not being in the national interest and resulting in lining the pockets of wealthy landowners, or some such. I hasten to add that I am but a humble tenant with a landlord who, with my co-operation and interest, has done a great deal of planting in areas which I thought were useful to me and also useful to him for his sporting interests. Incidentally, those sporting interests must not be ignored in terms of employment and wealth creation

I do not understand the assumption by Opposition Members that any money which is generated by or goes into private enterprise is thereafter totally lost to the State. That is complete nonsense. There are any number of enterprises which are far better in private hands than in those of a monolithic State organisation. The Forestry Commission is moving into that category.

I, too, have my reservations about the Bill. I have not yet said whether I welcome it, because I am not altogether certain that I do. If I express another reservation which I have about it, it will probably be seen as a slight compliment coming from my left hand to the past work of the Forestry Commission.

My reservation is about the control of vermin and the control of pests—rabbits, hares, roe deer and so on—which often come out of the woods. The fencing which was seen to be such a waste of public expenditure is meant either to keep the rabbits and hares in or to keep them out—I am not sure which. I often wonder what would happen to the foxes that are bred and protected in forestry plantations if that sort of area were sold off. There would be no body such as the Forestry Commission to which I could complain. Although it has not done much about the complaints that I have made, I wonder if more might be done, if a mineworkers' pension fund or something owned the land. It might bring out the poachers in order to catch the vermin, but I am not sure.

I welcome the power that the Bill will give Ministers in what I hope will always be a democratically elected Government. There is nothing wrong with taking power away from the Forestry Commission and giving it to the Minister so that he has the power sell off some of the forestry land or land that was waiting for forestry, if that is seen to be in the public interest.

The document to which I have already referred says, in case study No. 13: Under the Forestry Act of 1919, the Forestry Commission was given powers to establish and lease small holdings of land to persons who were fully employed in forest work. Initially, these forest holdings, as they were called were established to encourage agricultural workers who had been made redundant to take up employment with the Forestry Commission. I sincerly hope that it is not felt necessary to sell off these forestry holdings, which are a valuable first rung on the ladder for at least some agricultural workers—I have much concern for agricultural workers.

I hope that the Bill will bring a greater flexibility into forestry policy and will release public money for further forestry integration in lands that are sold. There is no doubt that many hill farms—even lowlands farms such as the one farmed by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian—could benefit from planted areas strategically sited for better land use.

I plead that the extra commissioner proposed in the Bill will have a vision of this integration ideal, as forestry policy requires those who can see beyond the wood and the trees.

8.54 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

I make no apology for entering the debate at this point, because my constituents are particularly concerned about the Bill. Although I think that they would have preferred me to speak this week on Wednesday's business, if it had not been changed, I am sure that they are equally concerned that their views on the Forestry Commission should be expressed in this debate.

Many of my constituents go into the countryside to enjoy it for their pleasure and recreation. For almost 50 years members of the Ramblers Association spent some of their time criticising the Forestry Commission for its attitude, because during that period it had two mottoes. One was to plant as quickly as possible, and the other was to keep people out.

That disregard for the appearance of the countryside and the discouragement of access harmed the Forestry Commission, but very slowly, as a result of pressure from those who wanted to use the countryside, the commission changed its attitude. First, it began to take much more care with the appearance of its planting. In areas of outstanding natural beauty its recent policy of planting both hardwoods and softwoods, and of under-planting just before it starts to fell softwoods, has done a great deal to maintain the countryside's appearance.

Gwydyr forest in Wales, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Myles), shows how areas of scenic beauty are well looked after by the commission. However, the commission always points out that that is not a commercial activity. It is done for the nation at large, particularly those who enjoy the countryside, and it costs money. No profit is made.

There have been steady improvements in the commission's attitude. Since it celebrated 50 years of existence in 1967 it has provided many opportunities for access by the general public, with forest trails, forest centres, information and forestry museums. I and many of my constituents applaud that development.

However, my constituents fear that the Bill will mean that woodland will have to make a profit—a retrograde step. That will happen in two ways. First, the Forestry Commission will feel that it must look much more to profit than to access. Secondly, the private investors who move into forestry will have no concern with appearance or access. That is what disturbs many of my constituents. They would like the commission to continue to develop the countryside, increasing the planting and taking account of the natural beauty of the countryside.

They would also like more access. As people get more leisure, so there will be more demand for access. Many areas in the national parks now suffer from overcrowding. The very peace and quiet for which people go to the countryside are destroyed by pressure of numbers. Vast areas of forestry could be opened up for people's enjoyment.

The Bill puts almost all that at risk. I hope that it will not be given a Second Reading, and that if it goes through many more safeguards will be introduced in Committee to ensure that the amenity use of forests is maintained—whether by the Forestry Commission or by private developers. We must be given a guarantee that care will be taken of apppearance and that we will not see just the cheapest trees planted in straight rows.

8.58 pm
Sir Albert Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) for allowing me a few minutes of his time. I will keep my promise to sit down by 9.5 pm.

I have not been here for the whole of the debate, because I have had to spend three hours in the Public Accounts Committee, but after some of the speeches of Labour Members that I have heard I am glad that I have not been here all day. I have never heard so much exaggerated nonsense talked about any subject. One would think, from what we have heard, that any private enterprise in forestry was motivated only by the desire to make money and that everything the Forestry Commission did was done so efficiently that no one could better it. The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) gave a number of extraordinary figures about people employed which bore no relation at all to the Forestry Commission report.

I have a private forest in your constituency, Mr. Deputy Speaker, which I have owned for a quarter of a century. When I took it over it was a wreck of derelict land. A local authority report now states that it is an area of outstanding beauty. I encourage the public to use the forest. They police it for me. I have put in three new lakes. In my innocence, I believed that even as a Member of Parliament I might have time to catch a few fish, but I have not done so in 25 years. However, the point is that others can enjoy the amenity.

An Opposition Member said that as the Bill was short it must be political. That is a stupid argument. It is clear from the Forestry Commission report that the return on forest is 3 per cent. If the Government have to borrow money at 15 per cent. and earn only 3 per cent. on it, it is not good business; it is darned rotten business. It takes 40 years for a forest to mature. The increase in value, with a difference of 12 per cent., over that period has to be enormous. Why should anyone want to buy such forests? Pension funds are the most likely bodies. They want in 25 or 30 years time money that has some relation to the cost of living, taking inflation into account. It is a good investment for them.

One of the best reports on forestry has been published by John Clegg, a firm that specialise in the field. As time is short, I shall quote from it only briefly. The review deals with what happened in 1980 and explains why the Forestry Commission has not been buying land, although that has not made the value of land drop. One sentence at the end is particularly interesting: But the prospect of opportunities to buy State woodlands may also bring forward a wider range of buyers. The Forestry Commission, with its expert knowledge, can buy derelict land, develop it, and sell it to make a profit, as can private investors. What is wrong with that? The Minister explained that some of the money from the sale of Forestry Commission land will be used to redevelop plantations. That is right.

One mistake that the Forestry Commission makes is that it has one non-industrial worker for every two industrial workers. In private enterprise the ratio is about 4:1. Another mistake is that the Forestry Commission runs its own aeroplane, which is stupid. Is the pilot paid Civil Service rates or private pilot rates? I have hired planes to photograph or spray my woodland. The time to do that is in the early morning. There is a great difference between the pay of a private pilot and a Civil Service pilot. The Forestry Commission also uses its own road gangs. Private enterprise gets such work done at a time to suit the contractor and therefore at a lower price.

I said that I would sit down at 9.5 pm. Like all prepared speeches, the best parts remain unsaid.

9.5 pm

Mr. Mark Hughes (Durham)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain) for his brevity.

Given the debate, especially in another place and in this place, as well as the country at large, over the future requirements of the forest industry for the next 50 or 70 years, the Bill is a pitiful response to the requirements of forestry policy in 1980. In pursuance of that I quote Lord Ferrers in another place in December 1977. He said: Forestry is … important to Britain, as a money saver and as a money spinner, as a job producer, and as a conserver and indeed promoter of both our heritage and our environment … I should like to make a plea to Government"— —this was when the Labour Party was in Government— whether it be to the last few weeks of the present Government or to the successor Government … My plea is to think big … about forestry; think long term."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 December 1977; Vol. 387, c. 2127–28.] Anything less big and less long term than the Bill would be hard to imagine.

In the debate in March 1980 Lord Mansfield, again in a debate in another place, said: From the time when we took office, we have been actively engaged, with the aid of the Forestry Commission, in a searching and fundamental study of these questions. Although we are pursuing this with vigour, it is something that we cannot skimp, as we want to be certain that the quality which emerges is positive and constructive, and provides an acceptable balance, given the limited land and other resources available to us."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 26 March 1980; Vol. 407, c. 886.] Those words came from the mouth of a member of Her Majesty's Government and represent what the Government envisaged for forestry policy, but they have produced a pitiful, pettifogging little Bill, which does nothing to deal with the long-term requirements of the forestry industry, whether private or public, with the national economy's requirements for forestry products or with balance of payments problems. It does nothing to deal with a range of fundamentals that have been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. The Bill is inadequate.

Let us consider the relationship between private persons, institutions, institution owners and the Forestry Commission, one of the most complex relationships in the proper management and creation of a woodland estate. It is clear that there is an advantage to an institution because of the gestation period of forestry investment which is not available to ordinary human beings, except the most long-lived. Unless one invests with the lifelong expectations of a two-year old, one is not likely to recoup the benefits in one lifetime.

Therefore, any transfer from the State to privatisation inevitably tends to move towards institutional arrangements, because, given present taxation, the lifetime of any individual makes forestry ownership a problematic capital investment. Those who have read the report of Professor Bowman and his colleagues at Reading will know how, at page 49 and elsewhere, they isolate the fact that the absence of a requirement for day-to-day management and detailed involvement make forestry much more attractive to the institutional investor than it can be under any circumstances to the private owner, whether he be occupier, landlord or renter.

Next we come to the possible competition or incompatibilities between forestry as one form of land use and use for sheep farming, deer, grouse, water resources, recreation, visual amenity and so on. These problems have been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides, including the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Myles). To what extent can the House insist upon a private individual securing the visual amenity of the other 50 million inhabitants of these islands if it transfers the capital resource of forestry to him? We have not yet acquired the necessary mechanics, the legal framework, the arrangement.

I am led to believe that in the other place today 400 or 500 amendments to the Wildlife and Countryside Bill were tabled. Many of them overlap this Bill, being involved with planning controls over forestry. In Committee on this Bill there will no doubt be great difficulty for the Chairman in determining those amendments that are apposite to the Committee stage and those that are precluded because they are already the subject of debate in another place.

Mr. Myles

Why does the hon. Gentleman think that a planning authority, a State organisation, any form of State control, has more of a feeling for the environmental beauty of the countryside than someone who has lived there and hopes that his successors will live there for generations?

Mr. Hughes

I have no doubt that those whose souls are in the intimacy of the countryside in which they live have that depth of feeling. I am not satisfied that a pension fund has it. Under the Bill it is not the individual that may be the purchaser, but an institution that is soulless and lacks such amenity values. I see no evidence that the pension funds of many of our great industries look to the visual amenities of the mass of the public when they determine their investment or management policies.

Mr. Peter Mills

The hon. Gentleman really must not make such sweeping statements. I can give a whole list of institutions that take great care—the Church Commissioners, the Crown Estate Commissioners, and many more.

Mr. Hughes

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to see where the Church Commissioners are the largest landlord, let him look at County Durham and at the desecration of the countryside that has been carried out in their name. I have bought too much property from the Church Commissioners on long lease to be told that they are the ideal landlords.

Let us now look at the next stage—at rural depopulation. There is no doubt that the major reason for the massive afforestation programme is to halt rural depopulation. Whatever the balance of payments problems, there is an overriding reason—as declared in the Conservative Government's 1972 White Paper—that we cannot do other than start from the requirement of reversing rural depopulation in areas which, without major planting programmes, would not provide adequate population levels in difficult areas of the countryside.

What does this regrettable Bill provide? Does it provide anything to stem rural depopulation or to assist in this area? Does it do anything to improve the visual amenity? Does it do anything to improve the recreational facilities of the great mass of the urban population? Does it do anything for the red deer or for the sheep farmers? The answer to all those questions must inevitably be "No". As speaker after speaker on the Tory Benches has intimated, in terms of the good management of land, of forestry and of resources, this is not a Bill that should commend itself to the House.

I turn now to the active proposals in the Bill. If it is passed, the House must ask itself to whom the Forestry Commission is likely to sell and under what controls. First, I advise the House that if the Bill is passed in its present form it will be available to the several Ministers—Scottish, English, et al—to authorise and instruct the Forestry Commission to divest itself of every square yard that it owns.

There is no time span. There is no recourse to this House. There is no coming back to the House for a statutory instrument. If that fit of madness overtakes them, we in this House have no come-back. As it stands, the Bill is asking us to sequestrate our rights as Members of the House of Commons to control the Executive. We are asked to transfer inalienably that power to the Ministers of the Crown so that they may, as they see fit, involve themselves in a reversed sequestration of Crown lands to private owners. If they do that, who will be the likely purchasers, and what are the likely types of land or forestry assets that will be purchased?

In order that they should purchase, there must be some palpable advantage to the purchaser. No one will buy to lose money, or I see no evidence that that is the probability. If it is a private individual, we get into the mare's nest of tax avoidance, schedule B, schedule D, and the whole range of problems raised in the eighth report of the Committee of Public Accounts. Reporting on 14 February last year the Committee said: 16. The combined effect of these provisions is to make it advantageous for an occupier of commercial woodlands with a high personal rate of tax to elect for assessment under Schedule D during the early years of a new plantation. The heavy costs of planting and maintenance will then give rise to losses and allowances which can be set against his other income for tax purposes. He can avoid tax under Schedule D on the profits from the eventual sale of timber by selling his interests in the woodlands to a new occupier. The standing trees will then be treated as part of the land, and not as stock in trade, but their value will not attract any charge to capital gains tax. Under the new occupancy the woodlands automatically revert to asessment under Schedule B and remain so over the perhaps lengthy period when the profits from the sale of mature timber are being realised. The cycle can then be repeated by a fresh election for assessment under Schedule D before the land is subsequently replanted. 17. The C & AG's examination suggested that these provisions were being exploited by syndicates of high rate taxpayers. The Inland Revenue Department confirmed this. They explained that the syndicate might have a score or more members and they moved in as soon as woodlands had been felled and needed replanting. They remainded in occupation only for the comparatively short period while expenses were heavy and resulted in losses which they could set against their income from other sources. The chairman of the Inland Revenue, Sir William Pile, in reply to the question, we see that there is no central record of the tax lost because of this manipulation, but can you give us some indication of the order of magnitude of what is going on?", said: We think possibly, £8–10 million of tax. That is per annum.

The House is being asked to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, with intent, increases the opportunities for tax avoidance. If the Government want to save £5 million of the PSBR by adding that opportunity for tax avoidance, so be it, but do not tell the country or the House that that is in the public interest. To rob the general taxpayer to provide a tax haven for a private few is not part of the tradition of the House. I hope that we shall reject the Bill on those grounds, if on no other.

The Bill is an offence to the powers of the House. It provides an untrammelled power for Ministers whether of Scotland, Wales or England to instruct the Forestry Commission to transfer as much as they—the Ministers—wish. It has nothing to do with the good management of the forestry estate. If that had been the purpose, if the Government had said that they wanted the powers so that the Forestry Commission could shed small parcels of land that are difficult to manage, that would be a different matter. But that is not what the Bill is about. The Bill provides that Ministers shall instruct the Forestry Commission—with no reference to the long-term requirements of the forestry industry, and with no recourse to the House to do anything about it.

The Bill is an offence in its failure to measure up to the challenge and the requirements of the forestry industry for the next 50 years. It simply does not begin to do that. It skates over a minuscule area. There is a word game in one of the popular papers which leads people to look through dictionaries, and, as I discovered last week, there is a word for a niggard, a mean person of narrow mind. It is "scrunt". This is a scrunt's Bill. It is a Bill of niggards, of persons of narrow mind and narrow concepts, bent on introducing dogmatic proposals.

In their narrowness, however, the Government have provided the Opposition—and, I hope, many of their fellow Conservatives on the Back Benches—with a little hope. In their wisdom they have chosen a long title for the Bill, which enables any amendment whatever to the 1967 Act to be moved, because the long title says that it is a Bill, to Amend the Forestry Act 1967, and for connected purposes. The Government may therefore rest assured that, not merely will we vote against the Bill tonight, but that in Committee we shall seek to change its obnoxious content and to add to it in such a way as to make it a proper vehicle for dealing with forestry in the next 20 years.

9.28 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jerry Wiggin)

In reviewing today's business on the radio this morning, an LBC commentator said that the Forestry Bill was more important than it might appear at first sight. She was absolutely right, certainly for the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes), whom I congratulate on his maiden appearance on the Opposition Front Bench. I hope that we shall see him there more often.

More importantly, perhaps, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, the Bill has given the House the first opportunity for a full day's debate on forestry for 30 years—since 1951. Perhaps in a sector whose production cycle is between 50 and 80 years that is not inherently odd. Both the Government and the industry need to look well ahead in all their decisions. I am not sure whether, in considering these matters, a gap of 30 years is quite short enough. I am glad that in the range and variety of their contributions to today's debate, hon. Members have in fact looked well ahead. We have had a wide-ranging and helpful debate.

The Government have considered the future strategy of the industry in the light of the way that forestry has developed since the war. That period saw a firm emphasis on expansion, the increasing importance of commercial and social aims for forestry and the growth of private commercial afforestation.

The Government's policy statement, setting out our commitment to continued expansion, our belief in a greater share of this for the private sector, and our commercial approach to the management of the public funds invested in the Forestry Commission over the years, is the logical culmination of the post-war development of forestry. The Bill is a necessary and practical measure towards the achievement of these objectives, because it remedies the odd situation in which, while Ministers can now sell land going out of forestry, we cannot dispose of land which will continue to form part of the national forestry estate.

I want to underline this point, because it goes to the root of many hon. Members' interventions today. Any land which the Forestry Commission chooses to offer the private sector under the Bill will remain in forestry. It will continue to contribute to the development of our resources of timber, to the benefit of the industry and the nation.

Forestry must, of course, be seen not only in its historical context but in its relation to other sectors of the economy. Forestry does not exist in a vacuum. It has inter-relationships with the wood-processing industries which are its market, with the farmers with whom it must coexist, with the environment, and with the expanding leisure industry anxious to enjoy the beauties and amenities which woodlands can offer.

Mr. Robert Hughes

The Minister stated quite categorically that any land disposed of by the Forestry Commission will remain in forestry. That is not what the Bill says. Clause 1(2) says: The Minister may dispose for any purpose of land acquired by him under this section. I hope that the guarantee that it will remain in forestry will be written into the Bill.

Mr. Wiggin

I shall discuss that matter when I answer some of the points that have been made. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not answer him at this moment.

The Government had to take into account these factors in reaching their conclusions, and nothing in our strategy statement or the Bill is intended to detract in any way from the balanced—and I hope symbiotic—relationship between these interests in which the Government and the Forestry Commission firmly believe. Against that general background, I want now to respond to the individual points which hon. Members have made.

The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan), who spoke in his usual impeccably honest manner, granted the point that the record of the Labour Government in forestry—I think I quote him correctly—was not impeccable. I have no wish to make further party points. Private sector planting during the period of the last Labour Government was not good, for reasons which may become clear during the rest of my speech.

The right hon. Member spoke of a target for planting. I remind him that almost every planting target that any Government of whatever colour have produced over the past few years has almost never been fulfilled for one good reason or another. Therefore, I propose to resist, without much persuasion, the temptation of stating a target. However, I can say that it is our firm intention that, however far the swing may be to the private sector, there will be a minimum planting rate, an absolute minimum, some time in the future for the Forestry Commission of not less than 5,000 hectares a year. But I should add that this year's programme will be over 20,000 hectares. The private sector appears now to be expanding. At the moment, applications for grant aid are being received by the Forestry Commission at a rate in excess of 20,000 hectares a year. It does not take much arithmetic to see that the immediate future looks extremely good. The hope is that the trend will go away from the Forestry Commission and to the private sector.

Mr. Mark Hughes

Why should the Minister express that hope?

Mr. Wiggin

Simply because if the Forestry Commission plants trees it has to pay the full cost. If the private sector plants trees the Exchequer provides only the grant aid. In the interests of the taxpayer it seems sensible that we should seek to protect the revenue where private capital is available. We make no pretence. That is the basis of our legislation.

The right hon. Member for Craigton mentioned the Fort William and Ellesmere Port schemes. I think that he accepted to some extent, as he must, that the Government fell over backwards to try to help both these operations. An investment package was offered as were advantageous prices. In the case of the Forestry Commission those prices were scarcely profitable, if at all. Britain has had a newsprint pulp industry for only about 25 years. It is a world product which can be produced profitably at times of recession only in certain parts of the world. This does not happen to be one of those, and the more is the pity. The sooner we can get that industry back the better. However, the Government cannot be blamed for not making every possible effort to keep it here.

Furthermore, the suggestion that we should decry our export trade which has so rapidly and competently been built up in small round wood seems a great pity because we have been able to maintain employment in the forests, even opening one or two small harbours to expedite the business. It has happened very quickly and it is quite profitable.

When the right hon. Gentleman went on to deal with capital transfer tax and claimed with some pride that the Labour Government had made great concessions to forestry, I felt compelled to remind him that it was his Government who brought in the wretched tax. I suppose that one could claim credit for not beating one's wife as hard as before, but that seems a strange philosophy.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that on 9 December my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made clear that he proposed to continue the tax concessions given by the previous Government for the same very good reasons that they gave. Without suitable tax incentives private individuals will not plant trees, the return from which is not harvested for 70 or 80 years. In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman said, I do not believe that this is a bad investment for the British nation. It is a way of helping private forestry, a way that works, and a way that we intend to continue.

Let me say a word now about the quantity of sales and the figures that the Forestry Commission has devised. We must be clear that to a large extent these have to be guessed because the commission is testing a new and untried market. The commission has to take account of a number of precautions that I shall describe. It is estimating that sales in the forthcoming-year will be about £10 million and about £15 million in the following two years. That must be set in the context that every £10 million of sales represents only about 1¼ per cent. of the available assets of the commission.

As for the handling of the sales, it will be in the interests of the Exchequer and the commission that they should be optimised—that is, that they should take place at the best price and that the commission should not seek to spoil the market to the detriment of its assets and those of the private owners. I believe that perfectly good common sense will prevail, under market pressures, to ensure that the process does not get out of hand.

Mr. Cormack

Will my hon. Friend give the House an assurance that there will be no obligation in all circumstances to sell to the highest bidder, for the reasons mentioned during the debate?

Mr. Wiggin

I shall be dealing with what my hon. Friend said in his speech in a moment. The final matter raised by the right hon. Gentleman is of great importance. It concerns the labour force that might be associated with any transfer.

Mr. Millan

Will the Minister give us more information about where the sales will take place? That matter worried some of his hon. Friends as well as myself. He has given us no indication of where the sales will take place. We are drawing small bits of information from the Government as we now have the figures. They could have been given by the Secretary of State earlier. But we are still no nearer knowing where the sales will take place.

Mr. Wiggin

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that my speech—if I am allowed to make it—is packed with useful information in response to the debate. He asked me about the labour force. May I deal with that?

Mr. Millan

If the hon. Gentleman's speech is packed with all that useful information, will he answer my question?

Mr. Wiggin

The answer is simple. The Forestry Commission has instructed its staff to draw up a programme of sales, the conditions for which I propose to tell the House shortly. The precise locations of the proposed sales will depend on those condiditons being fulfilled in each given area. The answer to the question whether wood A or wood B would be sold is not for me but for the commission and will become public knowledge as soon as the commission has made its decision.

We have to give consideration to the work force and its future. If a wood or a forest is sold, management and labour will be associated with that sale, in exactly the same way as when a business or a farm is sold. It is to be reasonably assumed that the new ownership will take on that labour force. If that is not done, redundancy payments will become available to the staff in the ordinary way. If the suggestion is that the private sector will employ fewer people than the Forestry Commission—which is what I think the right hon. Gentleman is intimating—one should ask why that should be so. I do not think that it will be.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser)—whose position is well understood and respected and whose father's contribution is one of history, but well-valued history—mentioned the value of the Forestry Commission. It is a rather better bargain than he thought. The way in which the commission values its trees is not the way in which my right hon. Friend or I would value them, but it satisfies Government accounting. The value stands in the books at £840 million. However, it is not unreasonable to assume that in market terms the value of the land and the trees on that land could be half as much again. We are talking about a considerable asset, built up with the help of taxpayers' money over 60 years.

My right hon. Friend also asked me about sales to foreigners and the amenity considerations that we would take into account when making sales. The Government, and anyone else selling land in this country, have no powers to prohibit the purchase of land by foreigners from the Community. But in this context we do not expect there to be any great interest. The returns are not likely to be sufficiently attractive to foreign buyers. I can give an assurance that if there is substantial trend to buying by foreigners or multinational companies, which might have undesirable social consequences—bearing in mind that most of the sales will probably take place by tender—the Forestry Commission will take that into account when it consults Ministers.

Mr. Donald Stewart

That is the point which we are trying to get clear. The Bill says that the Minister will have power. There is no reference to the commission even being consulted.

Mr. Wiggin

Since 1945 the ownership of the land on which the commission operates has been in the names of Ministers. The purchase and sale of that land has always been decided by the commission. That is a fact of law and the way in which Governments have operated. There is nothing new here.

Amenity is a more difficult problem. The concept of covenanting access to land that is sold is complex. Of course, in the first instance the commission will not seek to sell land that is used considerably for recreation and access. We shall go for the more remote woods. I do not accept that sales will take place only to those who will not maintain access. Plenty of private owners are anxious to maintain access and will do so. All such matters will be taken into account.

My right hon. Friend asked about the benefit of the Bill for forestry. I hope that he will not consider it improper if I quote a letter sent to him by the Duke of Buccleuch, a former long-time Member of this House and, whatever Labour Members may say about him, an extremely knowledgeable forester, who has given much time and knowledge to improving the nation's forestry. I know that my right hon. Friend will hold his views in high regard. He wrote: As you probably know better than I do, the future of forestry probably depends more upon long term faith in the future than upon anything else, and that this has been bedevilled for the last twenty years by a running battle with the Treasury which detests anything that must inevitably involve some degree of crystal gazing. It is not proper for me to say at the Dispatch Box whether that is correct.

Sir Hugh Fraser

I am glad that my hon. Friend quoted that letter. The danger of the Bill is that it is a surrender to the Treasury. It would be a different matter if it were a Bill devised by Ministers interested in forestry, but it could be read as a straight surrender to Treasury Ministers.

Mr. Wiggin

Far from it. The object is to allow the commission the independence that its wealth should give it. The concept that a body worth more than £1,000 million should need investment by the taxpayer to keep it going—this year the figure will be about £35 million—is an utter nonsense. If, by selling some of its surplus assets, the commission car maintain its planting programme and its independence, far from being in the hands of the Treasury it will be out of the Treasury's hands. I hope that I carry my right hon. Friend with me on that point.

Concern has been expressed about the possibility of too much land being sold. However, if the commission were to seek to sell too much it would be its own worst enemy, because the price would collapse and the commission would not be able to get the money that it wanted.

As for the expansion of planting, we shall have to wait and see. I hope that the private sector will take up the challenge that we have offered it and will understand the expressions of good faith in my right hon. Friend's statement in December. So far, all the indications are that it has done so and that we are set on a better path for forestry than for many years.

The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) said that he thought that there was to be a division in the mythical all-party policy on forestry. I believe that he is mistaken. I do not see the Bill as a destruction of the commission or of the partnership between the commission and the private sector. Indeed, I see the Bill as a strengthening of that bond. His call for the Forestry Commission to stand on its own feet is exactly what we are seeking.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon), whose deep knowledge of the industry is well known, asked whether the private sector could deliver the goods. I think that he wishes to know whether we shall be satisfied with the planting programme that the private sector is likely to produce. Only time will tell. I believe, however, that we have set the scene. I believe that the confidence is there. I am hopeful that my hon. Friend will be proved right.

My hon. Friend also asked about the enabling power for Ministers to sell land. I remind him that at the momemt Ministers have the enabling power to buy land. The anachronism that we cannot sell forestry land is the raison d'etre for the Bill. The concept that the whole Forestry Commission should be sold off is patently ridiculous. No one would be able to find that sort of money.

The question of the forestry fund has been misunderstood. The money from sales will not go straight into the Consolidated Fund. That is a misconception. It will go into the forestry fund. If and when there is a surplus in the forestry fund, that may be paid into the Consolideated Fund with the approval of forestry Ministers. It is true to say that the Treasury sees, after 60 years of paying out, some right to the rewards of that investment. Equally, if we were to pay the result of sales straight to the Treasury, the Forestry Commission would have an insuperable problem in trying to manage its enterprise. The fluctations of the market from one year to the next would make its programmes, planning and financing impossible. This compromise, which is new and a step forward in these matters, will, I believe, insulate the Forestry Commission against these fluctuations.

Mr. Millan

How will the cash limits be affected by the proceeds from sales?

Mr. Wiggin

It is by this device that we hope that they will not be affected. In other words, the cash limits will be calculated without respect to the fluctuating sales by the use of the forestry fund as a balancing operation. This matter will be debated fully in Committee. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for going no further at this time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) rightly raised the question of the conflict in land use between forestry and farming. I do not wish to go into that matter in great detail except to say that those who preach the unbounded expansion of forestry must appreciate the constraints that exist. That is the point, I believe, that my hon. Friend was seeking to make. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who looks at these matters from the other side, and I, are acutely conscious of the pressures and on occasion we seek to resolve them personally.

The management structure of the Forestry Commission has deeply considered the criteria for disposals. The instructions given by the Forestry Commission to its staff are, first, financial considerations; secondly, the maintenance and development of the wood processing industry; thirdly the maintenance of employment and viability of local communities, especially the socially fragile areas; fourthly, the use of forests for public access and recreation; fifthly, the interests of conservation, research and education; sixthly, the effects on management; seventhly, the market preferences having regard to other criteria; and, lastly, the rationalisation of the forestry estate. These are the criteria being used.

My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) spoke about the Forestry Commission not selling to the highest bidder. That raises considerable problems of public accountability. Sales of land, whether by this Department, the Forestry Commission or any other Government Department, are conducted, as my hon. Friend will know, under strict rules. How these sales are conducted and what the land fetches are matters for scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee. My hon. Friend has raised a difficult point. I understand fully his concern. There has been only one case of compulsory purchase by the Forestry Commission in its history. That was many years ago. Nevertheless, that point raised by him and by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) occupies my attention. At the moment, there is no easy solution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock) talked about replanting rates. I hope that he will forgive me if, for reasons of time, I do not go into what is in effect a hypothetical question. Where there are existing trees, anyone who wishes to fell them to use the land for some other prupose first will have to obtain a felling licence. It would seem that, where the land is likely to be suitable only for trees, that would be grantedon condition that replanting took place. Therefore, there is already a substantial inbuilt protection. As for the sale of plantable land—that is, land available for the reserve—which is clear, bare land, and it will be sold at a forestry price.

The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) was kind enough to suggest that we might have a merchant banker as a Forestry Commissioner. Certainly I shall look into that. My hon. Friend for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir. A. Costain) spoke some very good sense about finance.

The private sector makes a very valuable contribution to the diversity of our forests. It provides 95 per cent. of the broad-leaved woodlands. But, in recent years, for every two trees planted by the Forestry Commission, the private sector has planted only one. Private planting rates look like going up to 20,000 hectares a year, and this seems to be a commendable change. While grant aid and fiscal reliefs provide only a proportion of the cost of planting by the private sector, the Exchequer bears the full cost of Forestry Commission plantings.

It has been observed, rightly, that expansion in forestry depends on confidence. That is why the Government made their policy statement. I recognise that our need to carry out a full review may have made some private woodland owners hesitant about the Government's commitment to forestry. There was also the recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee to change very substantially the tax treatment, and, of course, owners were aware that a Rayner investigation was under way.

All these doubts have now been swept away. The Government have made a firm commitment to the continued expansion of forestry. We will enable a new element in the private sector, through this Bill, to invest in the existing forestry estate. We have made it clear that we intend to continue the present very favourable income tax arrangements for forestry. Lastly, we shall be maintaining the value of private woodland grants but simplifying the administration very considerably. In future, instead of the complex legal formalities of the dedication schemes, there will be a simple contract between the applicant and the commission.

The private sector is assured of the Government's backing for an expanding industry, in improved access to land, the continuance of its tax concessions and simpler but equally valuable grants. I have no doubt about the willingness of the private sector to play its full part in the future expansion of forestry. However, it will still be a part and not the whole. The Forestry Commission will still be the forestry authority and will still have its own programme of new planting. As it always has been since the First World War, forestry will continue to be a partnership between the public and the private sectors.

The Government believe that a sensible attitude to the management of the Forestry Commission's capital assets, their own public expenditure objectives and the commercial interests of private investors all justify some shift in the balance of this partnership towards the private sector. The Bill will facilitate this process and so enable the expansion of the nation's timber resources which we are all looking for to take place on a wider basis. Therefore, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes, 301, Noes, 240.

Division No. 52] [9.59 pm
Adley, Robert Fairgrieve, Russell
Aitken, Jonathan Faith, Mrs Sheila
Alexander, Richard Farr, John
Alison, Michael Fell, Anthony
Ancram, Michael Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Arnold, Tom Finsberg, Geoffrey
Atkins, Robert (Preston N) Fisher, Sir Nigel
Baker, Kenneth (St. M'bone) Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Flecher-Cooke, Charles
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Fookes, Miss Janet
Bendall, Vivian Forman, Nigel
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Fox, Marcus
Bevan, David Gilroy Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fraser, Peter (South Angus)
Biggs-Davison, John Fry, Peter
Blackburn, John Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
Blaker, Peter Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Body, Richard Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Garel-Jones, Tristan
Boscawen, Hon Robert Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Glyn, Dr Alan
Bowden, Andrew Goodhart, Philip
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Goodlad, Alastair
Braine, Sir Bernard Gorst, John
Bright, Graham Gow, Ian
Brinton, Tim Gower, Sir Raymond
Brittan, Leon Gray, Hamish
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Greenway, Harry
Brooke, Hon Peter Griffiths, E. (B'y St. Edm'ds)
Brotherton, Michael Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Brown, M. (Brigg and Scun) Grist, Ian
Browne, John (Winchester) Grylls, Michael
Bruce-Gardyne, John Gummer, John Selwyn
Bryan, Sir Paul Hamilton, Hon A.
Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Buck, Antony Hampson, Dr Keith
Budgen, Nick Hannam, John
Bulmer, Esmond Haselhurst, Alan
Burden, Sir Frederick Hastings, Stephen
Butcher, John Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Butler, Hon Adam Hawksley, Warren
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Hayhoe, Barney
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Heath, Rt Hon Edward
Carlise, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n) Heddle, John
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Henderson, Barry
Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Chapman, Sydney Hicks, Robert
Churchill, W. S. Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Holland, Philip (Carlton)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hooson, Tom
Clegg, Sir Walter Hordern, Peter
Cockeram, Eric Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Colvin, Michael Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)
Cope, John Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Cormack, Patrick Hunt, David (Wirral)
Corrie, John Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Costain, Sir Albert Hurd, Hon Douglas
Cranborne, Viscount Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Critchley, Julian Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Crouch, David Johnson Smith, Geoffrey
Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dickens, Geoffrey Kaberry, Sir Donald
Dorrell, Stephen Kimball, Marcus
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. King, Rt Hon Tom
Dover, Denshore Knox, David
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Lamont, Norman
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Lang, Ian
Durant, Tony Langford-Holt, Sir John
Dykes, Hugh Latham, Michael
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Lawrence, Ivan
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Lawson, Nigel
Elliott, Sir William Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Emery, Peter Lester Jim (Beeston)
Eyre, Reginald Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo) Rifkind, Malcolm
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Loveridge, John Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Lyell, Nicholas Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
McCrindle, Robert Rossi, Hugh
Macfarlane, Neil Rost, Peter
MacGregor, John Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
MacKay, John (Argyll) Scott, Nicholas
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Shelton, William (Streatham)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
McQuarrie, Albert Shepherd, Richard
Madel, David Shersby, Michael
Major, John Silvester, Fred
Marlow, Tony Sims, Roger
Marshall Michael (Arundel) Skeet, T. H. H.
Marten, Neil (Banbury) Speed, Keith
Mates, Michael Speller, Tony
Mather, Carol Spence, John
Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Mawby, Ray Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Sproat, Ian
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Squire, Robin
Mayhew, Patrick Stanbrook, Ivor
Mellor, David Stanley, John
Meyer, Sir Anthony Steen, Anthony
Miller, Hal (B' grove) Stevens, Martin
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Mills, Peter (West Devon) Stewart, A. (E Renfrewshire)
Miscampbell, Norman Stokes, John
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Stradling Thomas, J.
Moate, Roger Tapsell, Peter
Monro, Hector Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Montgomery, Fergus Tebbit, Norman
Moore, John Temple-Morris, Peter
Morgan, Geraint Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Morris, M. (N'hampton S) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Mudd, David Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Murphy, Christopher Tinn, James
Myles, David Torney, Tom
Neale, Gerrard Townend, John (Bridlington)
Needham, Richard Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Nelson, Anthony Trippier, David
Neubert, Michael Trotter, Neville
Newton, Tony van Straubenzee, W. R.
Normanton, Tom Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Nott, Rt Hon John Viggers, Peter
Onslow, Cranley Waddington, David
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Wakeham, John
Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby) Waldegrave, Hon William
Page, Richard (SW Herts) Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Parkinson, Cecil Walker, B. (Perth)
Parris, Matthew Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Waller, Gary
Pattie, Geoffrey Walters, Dennis
Pawsey, James Ward, John
Percival, Sir Ian Warren, Kenneth
Peyton, Rt Hon John Watson, John
Pink, R. Bonner Wells, Bowen
Pollock, Alexander Wheeler, John
Porter, Barry Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Whitney, Raymond
Price, Sir David (Eastleigh) Wickenden, Keith
Prior, Rt Hon James Wiggin, Jerry
Proctor, K. Harvey Wilkinson, John
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Williams, D. (Montgomery)
Raison, Timothy Winterton, Nicholas
Rathbone, Tim Wolfson, Mark
Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Rees-Davies, W. R. Younger, Rt Hon George
Rhodes James, Robert
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Tellers for the Ayes:
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Ridsdale, Julian Mr. Anthony Berry
Abse, Leo Allaun, Frank
Adams, Allen Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ernest Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack George, Bruce
Ashton, Joe Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Atkinson, N. (H'gey,) Ginsburg, David
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Golding, John
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Gourlay, Harry
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) Graham, Ted
Benn, Rt Hon A. Wedwood Grant, George (Morpeth)
Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N) Grant, John (Islington C)
Bidwell, Sydney Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Bottomley, Rt Hon A. (M'b'ro) Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Bradley, Tom Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Bray, Dr Jeremy Haynes, Frank
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W) Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Heffer, Eric S.
Buchan, Norman Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Home Robertson, John
Campbell-Savours, Dale Homewood, William
Canavan, Dennis Hooley, Frank
Carmichael, Neil Horam, John
Carter-Jones, Lewis Howell, Rt Hon D.
Cartwright, John Howells, Geraint
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Huckfield, Les
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Hudson Davies, Gwilym E.
Cohen, Stanley Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Coleman, Donald Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Conlan, Bernard Janner, Hon Greville
Cook, Robin F. Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Cowans, Harry John, Brynmor
Craigen, J. M. Johnson, James (Hull West)
Crowther, J. S. Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Cryer, Bob Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n) Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Dalyell, Tam Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Davidson, Arthur Kerr, Russell
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Kinnock, Neil
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Lamborn, Harry
Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd) Lamond, James
Deakins, Eric Leadbitter, Ted
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lestor, Miss Joan
Dewar, Donald Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW)
Dixon, Donald Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Dobson, Frank Litherland, Robert
Dormand, Jack Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Douglas, Dick Lyon, Alexander (York)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)
Dubs, Alfred McCartney, Hugh
Dunn, James A. McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Dunnett, Jack McElhone, Frank
Eadie, Alex McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Eastham, Ken McKelvey, William
Eills, R. (NE D'bysh're) Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
English, Michael Maclennan, Robert
Ennals, Rt Hon David McNally, Thomas
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) McNamara, Kevin
Evans, John (Newton) McTaggart, Robert
Ewing, Harry McWilliam, John
Faulds, Andrew Magee, Bryan
Field, Frank Marks, Kenneth
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Marshall, D (G'gow S'ton)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Ford, Ben Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Forrester, John Martin, M (G'gow S'burn)
Foster, Derek Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd) Maxton, John
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Maynard, Miss Joan
Freud, Clement Meacher, Michael
Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Mikardo, Ian Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Snape, Peter
Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby,) Soley, Clive
Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen) Spearing, Nigel
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Spriggs, Leslie
Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw) Stallard, A. W.
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Stoddart, David
Newens, Stanley Stott, Roger
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Strang, Gavin
Ogden, Eric Straw, Jack
O'Neill, Martin Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Palmer, Arthur Thomas, Rt Hon G. (C'diff W)
Park, George Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Parker, John Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Parry, Robert Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Pendry, Tom Tilley, John
Penhaligon, David Tinn, James
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Torney, Tom
Prescott, John Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Price, C. (Lewisham W) Wainwright, E. (Dearne V)
Race, Reg Walker, Rt Hon H. (D'caster)
Radice, Giles Watkins, David
Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S) Weetch, Ken
Richardson, Jo Wellbeloved, James
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Welsh, Michael
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) White, Frank R.
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N) White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Whitehead, Philip
Robertson, George Whitlock, William
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW) Wigley, Dafydd
Rodgers, Rt Hon William Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Roper, John Williams, Rt Hon A. (S'sea W)
Ross, Ernest (Dundee West) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H. (H'ton)
Rowlands, Ted Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Ryman, John Winnick, David
Sever, John Woodall, Alec
Sheerman, Barry Woolmer, Kenneth
Sheldon, Rt Hon R. Wrigglesworth, Ian
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Young, David (Bolton E)
Short, Mrs Renée
Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford) Tellers for the Noes:
Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Mr. Ron Leighton and
Silverman, Julius Mr. George Morton

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).