HL Deb 03 July 1923 vol 54 cc779-80

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I do not think I need say more than that its main object is to transfer to, and invest in, the Forestry Commissioners those 70,000 acres of woodlands which are administered at present by the office of the Com missioners of Woods. The Forestry Commissioners are charged with the development of sylviculture in these islands, and it is only natural, therefore, that they should administer what really are State forests. This is an agreed Bill amongst the Departments concerned. It involves no charge on the taxpayer; in fact, the reverse is the case. It will lead to economy and undoubtedly to better administration. At the present moment an anomalous state of things exists. The Forestry Commissioners really administer the Crown woods but have no authority or responsibility in doing so. By this Bill a dual control will be removed. There will also be a reduction of staff. It will, therefore, tend towards economy. Woods which are running side by side, one owned by the Forestry Commissioners and the other vested in the Commissioners of Woods, will be administered by one body. That is the effect of Clause 1.

The other clauses are simple and direct. Under Clause 2 the Development Commissioners, who have, in fact, no longer any concern with forestry, will hand over their duties to the Forestry Commissioners. Clause 3 provides that in the unlikely event of the Civil List being discontinued, adequate arrangements shall be made for valuing the woods and handing back the sum at which they are valued to the State. Clause 5 deals with the question of advances to landowners and corporate bodies. It takes away some of those regulations which made this grant inoperative. It also makes possible payments to Members of Parliament. It does not infringe any principle from the fact that Forestry Commissioners are executive officers, and Members of Parliament have no direct influence in the payment of grants.

Clause 6 regularises the position of civil servants in case they become Forestry Commissioners, and gives an additional advantage to those civil servants in the employ of the Forestry Commissioners. The Schedule deals with the safeguards relating to the position of commoners and others interested in land which is to be transferred. In this connection the Society for the Preservation of Commons and Footpaths made certain suggestions which were adopted in another place.

In asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill, I should like to express the hope that it may return to another place more or less in the condition in which it was sent up to your Lordships' House. The congestion of business in another place is considerable. This Bill went through with minor Amendments, and unless there is serious objection to any of the clauses I trust that it will return to the other place in more or less the form in which it is at present. This question has been considered for at least two and a half years. The Crown woods are administered by a body who are not really responsible. We have duality of control, which has undoubtedly led to a waste of public money. It should now be ended. There is also this further point. Last winter about 400 schemes were initiated by private individuals and municipal authorities in connection with unemployment. Until this Bill becomes law it is impossible to pay the grants which were promised. The work has been done for at least six months. We had hoped that the Bill would have been got through two or three months ago, but owing to the pressure of business this has been impossible until the present moment. I recommend the Bill to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Lovat.)

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.