HL Deb 01 April 1936 vol 100 cc363-405

LORD HOWARD OF PENRITH had the following Notice on the Paper:—To call the attention of His Majesty's Government to a Petition (which has been signed by over twelve thousand persons, including the Lords Lieutenant of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire, the Archbishop of York, many Bishops, Members of Parliament and members of the three county councils, the Vice-Chancellors of six Universities, other leading educational authorities in all parts of the country, and the chairmen and officers of all the open-air organisations) asking the Forestry Commission to reconsider their decision to afforest parts of Eskdale and Dunnerdale in the Cumberland part of the Lake District; to request that His Majesty's Government should appoint a Select Committee of this House to in-quire into this matter, and to consider whether it would not be advisable that the Forestry Commission should be instructed to make no further purchases of land for afforestation within certain specified areas of Great Britain, such as the Lake District, which are generally recognised to have special landscape beauty and suitability for public open-air recreation; and to request that, pending such inquiry, His Majesty's Government should instruct the Forestry Commission to suspend all further action in regard to the afforestation of Eskdale and Dunnerdale, except on those parts of their property which are covered by the current year's programme of operations; and to move for Papers.


My Lords, you will deeply regret, I know—and certainly in the circumstances no one will regret more sincerely than myself—that the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Penrith, who was to have moved this Motion this afternoon, is unavoidably prevented by illness from bringing this Motion before your Lordships. He is, under doctor's orders, confined to bed. The noble Lord has asked me to apologise to your Lordships for his absence and, unfortunately, also to undertake the task of taking his place. I know your Lordships will sympathise with the noble Lord who has been prevented at the last moment, after his unremitting activities in this cause, from laying his case and the benefit of his intimate knowledge of the subject before your Lordships. I use the words "at the last moment" somewhat feelingly, for it was only after midday to-day that I knew that this task was to be imposed upon me. I cannot, of course, pretend to anything like Lord Howard's knowledge, or indeed to any intimate knowledge, of the threatened district, and I venture to address your Lordships, if I may so put it, primarily as a member of the general public who is deeply concerned for the fate of this loveliest of English districts, and, beyond the immediate horizon, is deeply anxious as to whether His Majesty's Government and the Forestry Commission may commit themselves to a mistaken policy which may at some later date gravely threaten other districts besides that with which we are at the moment immediately concerned. I hope that if there is—and I am sure there will be—any obscurity or incoherence in what I say, your Lordships will be good enough to attribute that to the advocate and not the cause.

I hold in my hand a very remarkable Petition. Your Lordships will notice that the Motion in Lord Howard's name begins by drawing attention to this Petition, which is, I venture to say, one of the most remarkable documents that can have been presented for many years to a Government Department. May I begin by very briefly reminding your Lordships by a short historical retrospect of how this remarkable document, on which I shall have to say a word or two in a moment, came into being. The Forestry Commission already owns in the Lake District two large areas, and it is indeed largely from experience of what has happened in those areas that the Friends of the Lake District and the other signatories to this Petition are rightly concerned to-day. More recently the Forestry Commission has purchased an estate of, I think, some 7,240 acres in the valleys of Eskdale and Dunnerdale. Curiously enough, of those 7,240 acres only 2,100 are regarded as being economically plantable, and the original intention of the Commission, as I understand it, was to plant the whole of these 2,100 acres which were regarded as being the economically plantable portion of the 7,000 odd acres which had been purchased. That scheme was at once recognised to threaten what may, I think, fairly be called the heart of the Lake District. It meant a plantation in the foreground of one of the finest natural amphitheatres of the Lake District, or indeed in the country. The result, naturally, was an outcry upon œsthetic and other grounds, as to the validity of which I think it will not be difficult to satisfy your Lordships in a moment.

The Forestry Commission, if I might so put it with all due respect, after attempting at the outset to pooh-pooh this outcry altogether, eventually consented to the appointment of a Joint Committee with the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. A Joint Committee was appointed and invited the delegates of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England to inspect the threatened area. Those delegates unanimously reported that it would he advisable to abandon the whole project of the plantation of those 2,000 acres. I should like to draw your Lordships' special attention to the fact that the delegates of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, as I understand it, unanimously reported against the scheme, for we shall undoubtedly be told that the proposal for a Select Committee of your Lordships' House is unnecessary because the whole matter is in the hands of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, an admirable body for which I have the very greatest respect, and to which we all owe very great gratitude. But this initial incident does, I suggest, at once make it clear that we cannot expect too much from the Council. Here you have the delegates unanimously reporting against afforestation, and the result is not the abandonment of the project but only that the Forestry Commission offers to refrain from afforesting some 440 acres. The result of the unanimous recommendation of the delegates of the Council is that only 440 acres out of 7,240 acres bought and the 2,100 acres economically plantable are to be saved.

If I may trouble your Lordships with a small calculation, as I understand that two-thirds of these 2,100 acres are in the Dunnerdale Valley, that means that one-third, or 700 acres, are in the Eskdale Valley. The Forestry Commission has already offered to spare from afforestation some 440 acres in the Eskdale Valley, as I understand it, so that in order to save the Eskdale Valley completely it becomes only a question of rather less than 300 acres. That, I think, is a point which it is well worth bearing in mind. For the rest, all the Commission was prepared to do was to promise that it would set about its task but that the area would be carefully treated from an amenity point of view. Carefully treated from an amenity point of view! I venture to suggest, with all due respect, that that in effect means nothing. It is like saying that if you propose to plant a petrol station in front of an ancient Cathedral you will do so with all due respect for amenities.

At this stage, my historical retrospect finishes, because at this stage the Friends of the Lake District organised this very remarkable Petition. This Petition sets out that the signatories ask the Commission to reconsider its decision to proceed with the afforestation of Eskdale and Dunnerdale. It says:

" We desire also to affirm our conviction that any further extension within the heart of the Lake District of afforestation such as that which has already taken place on the slopes of Whinlatter Pass and in Ennerdale would do most serious damage to the landscape of a region unique in England and having unparalleled claims to be considered an inviolable national heritage."

Signatures to that Petition were only invited from persons with personal knowledge of the Lake District. I do not know how many of your Lordships have seen it, but I should like to draw your attention to the fact that that Petition is signed by the Lords-Lieutenant and High Sheriffs of all the three Lake Counties—Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire—by the Chairman of the County Councils of Westmorland and Lancashire and the Vice-Chairman of the Cumberland County Council, by the Bishop of the Diocese, by a large number of landowners who include at least three members of your Lordships' House, by four ex-Cabinet Ministers, who include the noble Earl, Lord Derby, the Duke of Devonshire and two others, by the Archbishop of York and ten Bishops, by the Lord Mayor of Liverpool and five ex-Lord Mayors of Liverpool, by a number of persons representing art and letters, and, lest it should be argued these are but the familiar protagonists of vague æsthetic causes, also by a number of economic experts including the late Chief Economic Adviser to the Government, Sir Llewellyn Smith, the present economic adviser to the Bank of England, Mr. Henry Clay, by Sir William Beveridge and Mr. J. M. Keynes.

We all know that there are petitions and petitions, and there are also petitioners and petitioners. We all know that there is a readily recognised type to whom the signing of petitions has become a habit and almost a vice. Your Lordships will not confuse this distinguished body of signatories with that easily recognised type. Myself being intimately connected with one of our ancient Universities—I may be prejudiced—I should not like to leave the question of the overwhelming authority of these signatories without drawing your Lordships' attention to the extraordinary strength of academic opinion represented here. Universities are places in which not only culture but also the higher criticism is cherished. If this were really, as has been suggested, a mere vague outpouring of sentimentalists and cranks, would you find the Vice-Chancellor of the great and ancient University of Oxford—foremost, as ever, in good causes—appending his signature to it? Would you find four other Vice-Chancellors? Would you find eight heads of Oxford and Cambridge Colleges, twenty-one professors, thirty-nine Fellows of Oxford and Cambridge Colleges and the headmasters and ex-headmasters of Eton, Rugby, Harrow, Winchester and seventeen other public schools? I suggest that that is an overwhelming manifestation of public opinion.

Faced with that Petition the Forestry Commission suggested, I understand, that there were certain inaccurate statements in the document which had been put out when these distinguished signatories were invited to give their signatures. What exactly the inaccurate statements were was not particularised, though the Friends of the Lake District have had their attention drawn to various possible charges, as to which all I need say is that, even if all could be established, they do not amount to anything of very material substance. I do not think that the noble Marquess who replies for His Majesty's Government is likely to seek to base his answer upon them, but even if he does it would always be possible, I suppose, to deal satisfactorily with them at a later stage. Why did these distinguished signatories sign in such overwhelming numbers? Firstly, obviously on œsthetic grounds. That, of course, is cardinal. To talk œsthetics, to talk matters of taste in public, is a delicate and difficult task and I do not propose to delay your Lordships for more than a moment with that, but I do suggest that this is the gist of the matter.

The charm of the English countryside—some of your Lordships may have noticed two pictures in The Times newspaper this morning—is that it is unregimented. Even in the most domesticated counties there is a certain irregularity, a certain indefiniteness of outline, a merging of woodland with field and field with orchard. It has never been better put than by that great poet, primarily and perhaps for ever to be associated with the Lake District, Wordsworth, who, when describing how trees gradually climbed up the mountains, said:

" Gradually, however, by the quality of the ground, and by increasing exposure, a stop is put to their ascent; the hardy trees only are left: those also, by little and little, give way—and a wild and irregular boundary is established, graceful in its outline, and never contemplated without some feeling, more or less distinct, of the powers of Nature by which it is imposed."

And speaking later precisely about this question of plantation—although you will notice that he spoke of larches which to some extent have been supplanted by other soft wood trees—he says:

" It is therefore impossible, under any circumstances, for the artificial planter to rival the beauty of Nature. But a moment's thought will show that if ten thousand of this spiky tree, the larch "—

he might equally well have referred to the Douglas pine—

" are stuck in at once upon the side of a hill, they can grow up into nothing but deformity; that while they are suffered to stand, we shall look in vain for those appearances which are the chief sources of beauty in a natural wood."

He referred in another passage to planting for profit, and he wrote:

" To those who plant for profit…I would utter first a regret that they should have selected these lovely vales for their vegetable manufactory."

A more modern writer in the Spectator last month says:

" To blot out Upper Eskdale under a dense carpet of regimented fir trees all exactly alike is as great a sacrilege as to place an aerodrome in Hyde Park."

The effect is to reduce the scale of the landscape for miles around. The visitor to the countryside finds himself walking between rows of Christmas trees in stark straight lines, blotting out all the wild essential beauties of the landscape.

If there are any of your Lordships—I do not suppose there are—who are inclined to feel that in this age the æsthetic must always give place to economic considerations, may I suggest that even on that plane a very valuable economic asset of this country is the unspoiled beauty of the Lake District? There are economic arguments which I am not going to elaborate, because I trust that others will deal with that aspect of the case, but I may say that it is suggested that this scheme means the displacement of a considerable amount—I will not put it higher—of sheep fanning, and sheep farming among the small sheep farmers who have maintained themselves as small scale independent farmers for centuries. I believe that if your Lordships examined a map showing the activities of the Forestry Commission you would see great blank areas in such districts as the Pennines and the Yorkshire moors. I think if it is proposed to displace some of these independently established sheep farmers in the Lake District we are entitled to ask the Forestry Commissioners why they should prefer to displace sheep and farmers rather than turn out, say, grouse from the Yorkshire moors.

There is one other point which I should like to make. It is of course true that recently a grant of £100,000 a year for five years for afforestation within fifteen miles of the distressed area in West Cumberland has been made. I do not want to trouble your Lordships with topography, but I just wish to make this point. That area includes roughly two-thirds of the Lake District, and all the important part of the Lake District, the part which members of the organisation the Friends of the Lake District seek to safeguard. What I should like your Lordships to realise is that, also within that area, fifteen miles from the distressed areas, are plenty of suitable areas, fell and otherwise, which could be far more harmoniously and appropriately planted than any part of the Lake District proper itself. It may be said: "Why not leave the whole matter to the Council for the Preservation of Rural England?" I sought to meet that point a moment or two ago when I referred to the unfortunate results of the recommendation of the delegates of the Council on that Joint Committee. It is no fault of theirs. Any private body of that nature working hand in hand with a Government Commission, a statutory body, is very much in the position of the young lady of Riga who entered into that very ill-judged partnership with the tiger. It is no blame to the Council itself that we should claim that to leave the matter solely for action by the Council is not a satisfactory answer to this proposal.

Finally, might I safeguard myself against being thought to have said anything derogatory to the admirable activities of the Forestry Commission itself? I would suggest to your Lordships that its undoubted devotion to its main purpose, which is primarily that of planting conifers, for the overwhelming majority of the trees it plants are conifers, disqualifies it from being likely to remember some of the considerations which I have ventured to try to put before your Lordships. It is in order to remind the Forestry Commission of these facts, and to remind the nation also, that the noble Lord put down his Notice. An offer has been made to safeguard a further 300 acres in Eskdale by paying compensation to the Commission, and I understand that a wider offer has also been made to repurchase at cost price the whole of this acreage which is in question. There need, therefore, be no question of the Forestry Commissioners losing financially by the abandonment of this scheme.

That is the first object of the Petition: to keep the plantation out of Eskdale certainly, and, if possible, out of Eskdale and Dunnerdale together. Beyond that we should like, if your Lordships will agree, the appointment of a Select Committee of your Lordships' House to consider the wider problem of whether the Lake District and other areas should be reserved from this particular activity. Till a Report from that Select Committee was produced, we would suggest that the Forestry Commission should confine its activities to its present year's programme. If that is granted, there need be no fear that its activities will be reduced, or that there are not plenty of other far more suitable places in which they could be carried on, and we shall still possess the Lakeland which we know at present. I beg to move.


My Lords, I should like, if I may, to join with the noble Lord in the regrets he expressed at the absence of Lord Howard. I am sure that I am joining your Lordships generally in expressing our sorrow at the cause of his absence. This question was very near Lord Howard's heart, I know. I have had correspondence with him about it, and I know how greatly disappointed he will be at not being present to-day to move the Motion. I would also say that I am sure that Lord Howard will be well satisfied and pleased with the very adequate, full and excellent way in which the Motion has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Elton.

I know the Lake District, but I do not know the two dales under consideration; I do not know Eskdale and Dunnerdale. But I am sure that your Lordships, both those who know that district and those who, like myself, do not, will be quite certain that it is a very beautiful part of the country and a part of the country which should not be spoilt unless to do so is necessary to fulfil some vital national need. There are cases, no doubt, where beauty may have to go down before utility, but I feel quite certain that this is not one of those cases. The party to which I belong, the Labour Party, have always been much in favour of afforestation. We think it is a very necessary thing to provide adequate timber for the country. We realise that industry, carried on as it is to-day by individual enterprise and on the basis of private profits, cannot give us many of the things which we ought to have, and timber is one of those things. There are many things which private enterprise cannot do where profits are not sufficient or where returns come in very slowly. Afforestation is one of those cases in which the returns are very slow in coming in, and it is not an industry which private enterprise can carry on satisfactorily. Therefore it has to be done by the State; and we should like to see more afforestation, not less, and to see it more efficiently carried out.

But that does not mean that you want afforestation anywhere, or where it interferes with other interests and other amenities. I think your Lordships will agree that you ought to plant on land which is the most suitable land to obtain for growing trees. You ought to plant where transport is easy, where the timber can be easily and inexpensively transported to the places where it is required; and you ought in your afforestation to provide the maximum of employment possible without reducing employment in other industries. How far does this proposal to plant in Eskdale and Dunnerdale comply with these tests which I have suggested? Of course, with regard to this land, some of it may be suitable planting land. I do not know, but it strikes me as an extraordinary thing that the Forestry Commission should buy or become possessed of 7,240 acres of land of which, on their own showing, only 2,100 acres are economically plantable at all: that is, only 29 per cent. of the land of which they have become possessed is suitable land for planting. That strikes me as a wasteful and rather unbusinesslike proceeding.

Then with regard to transport. I understand that the nearest railway head to this district where they intend to plant is eleven miles away; that there are no proper main roads down the valleys, and that a very heavy expenditure will be involved in making roads, in building bridges and in supporting existing bridges. Then, again, with regard to my third test: the proposal does not meet even my third test with regard to employment. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has told the House, the industry there is mainly sheep farming, with some small general farmers too. They have been there for generations, as the noble Lord said—good, hard-working, thrifty people, well established in the countryside there. Of course you might get a net increase of employment by afforestation, but I doubt it. At any rate, as the foresters come in sheep farmers will go out, and small holdings will be abandoned. That seems to me to be a curious policy for the Government to adopt—a Government which has believed very much in small holdings and is spending considerable sums of money on promoting them. It seems to me a mistake to destroy small holdings in one part of the country whilst spending money on building them up in another. Then there is another industry in that district which is quite important, and that is the catering industry. Large numbers of visitors go there and are put up in the farmhouses, and if you destroy the amenities of the place of course the catering industry will suffer.

It seems to me incredible that there should be no alternative to this proposal. I cannot believe that there is not a suitable alternative. Is there no other part of the country that can be planted equally well, if not better? What about some of the Yorkshire moors and some of the Scottish highlands? Can it be, as the noble Lord suggested, that in those parts of the country grouse are thought to be more important than timber? Is the Forestry Commission finding difficulty in obtaining suitable land? I would like very much to know that. Are the landlords unwilling to part with suitable land for planting? Are they holding up land and demanding extortionate prices for suitable land? Why is it that of the land which the Forestry Commission holds for planting only 60 per cent. is plantable land? How is it that they have to buy so much land that is not plantable? If the Commissioners are being held up owing to difficulties such as I have described—the difficulty of obtaining suitable land and the difficulty of prices—why cannot they use their compulsory powers of purchase and buy suitable land for planting, instead of planting in places where they are ruining the beautiful parts of the country? I think until those questions are satisfactorily answered no one will allow that it is reasonable or wise to destroy a very beautiful piece of English scenery, and I very much hope that the Government will agree to appoint a Select Committee, as is suggested in the noble Lord's Notice. I also hope that that Committee will be given wide terms of reference, so that it can go into questions beyond the one with which the Resolution deals.


My Lords, I desire to say very few words on this subject, as I cannot pretend to any special knowledge of the district and therefore shall not attempt to enter into any criticism. I would like first of all to join in the expression of regret that the noble Lord in whose name the Motion appears on the Paper is not able to be here. As we know, both his personal distinction and also his intimate knowledge of the country affected would have made his contribution to the debate especially valuable. At the same time I think your Lordships must all have felt that the case could not have been more happily presented than it was by the noble Lord opposite, both in fullness and in the clearness with which all the different facts were set out. I am glad to think that in this House none of us are likely to take extreme or even bitter views of the possible action on either side. We are not bound to assume that the Forestry Commissioners are purely soulless people, thinking only of how many trees they can plant and how cheaply they can get land on which to plant them, and entirely indifferent to all considerations of taste and also to the preservation of wide mountain spaces, over which young people, to-day, love to roam. Neither, on the other hand, need we suppose that those specially concerned with what I may call the open spaces side, such as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, and other bodies, of one of which I have the honour to be President myself, are completely indifferent to the economic side of the matter—that they in no way realise the fact that there is a shortage of timber in this country, and also that afforestation does reduce unemployment, not only directly by providing employment but also by the valuable provision of a number of small holdings, worked by those who at some times of the year are employed entirely on forestry.

I was a little surprised to hear the statement of the noble Lord who spoke last, that he feared that small holdings in Cumberland might be abolished or diminished in number by this scheme, for I have always supposed, and I think I am right in supposing, that in all great afforestation schemes definite provision for small holdings forms part of the entire project. There may, of course, be active objections to the planting of a part of this area from the purely afforestation point of view. It may be that the Forestry Commissioners are wrong, and that they are proposing to plant trees at an altitude and under conditions which are unsuitable for planting. If so, there should, of course, be further inquiry. Of course we have to realise that, although Cumberland is one of the favourite holiday grounds of the country, it is not only a holiday ground, and that, as Lord Elton himself admitted, there is a part of Cumberland which is definitely distressed by the misfortune of the depressed heavy industries there of coal and iron: that, on the face of it, makes it a suitable area for some effort on the part of the Forestry Commission. As the noble Lord pointed out, there has been a consultation between the Forestry Commission and the representatives of several of the societies which in instances such as this would protest against any destruction either of amenity or of an open space. The noble Lord seemed to think that the representatives of these societies were in too weak a position in attempting to arrive at a compromise with the Forestry Commission. Well, we shall hear no doubt from the noble Marquess representing the Government how far that charge can be regarded as substantiated. It does not seem to me on the face of it that it need be so, because from what I know of the principal representatives of those societies I should have thought that they were well able to hold their own, even with a statutory body such as the Forestry Commission.

I quite admit—in fact I more than admit, I entirely agree—that it is desirable that this matter should be further examined. Everything that has fallen from the noble Lord opposite and from the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, shows, I think, that there is a strong feeling that this matter ought not to be allowed to rest exactly where it is, and therefore I should hope that we are looking forward to hearing that any definite action will be held up until some further inquiry has been made. It has to be borne in mind that, though a certain delay in pursuing an afforestation scheme may be unfortunate, it is not important; whereas if a wrong scheme is entered on and the countryside is spoilt, or unfit land is taken for planting, we should be powerless later to remedy the mistake; once done it cannot be undone. Surely that is a strong reason for some further inquiry. At the same time, I cannot join with the noble Lord opposite or with the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, in thinking that a Select Committee of your Lordships' House would be the best body for such an inquiry. I have a long experience of such Committees, and we all know how admirably and conclusively they arrive at decisions on questions of property and questions of the particular direction in which a public improvement ought to be carried out. But on a general question of this kind I do not think that such a tribunal could act to very much purpose. It seems to me that if an inquiry is to be made at all it is more the kind of inquiry which should be entrusted to a Royal Commission, assuming the subject to be large enough—and it may be—by which some definite inquiry might be made, probably on the spot, or by calling in a number of people who could be asked to sit upon it. I would ask the noble Marquess on the Front Bench, if he agreed—as I hope he may—that some inquiry ought to be made, to indicate what his view is as to the line which the inquiry ought to take.


My Lords, I would like to join with other noble Lords in expressing my regret that my noble friend Lord Howard of Penrith is unable to be here to-day. One knows the great interest that he takes in his own native fells, and he would have put the position very clearly before us. But we need take no exception to the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has stated his case. It has been extremely clearly put, and I am certain that your Lordships are in possession of the whole facts from that point of view. The matters arising out of this Question have a very considerable effect upon the forestry policy of the country, and as I had the honour of being on the Forestry Commission for the first ten years of its life I should like to be allowed to make some general observations upon the work that is going on. I may have to go a little far back, out your Lordships will probably know that for at least two, or probably three, generations there has been a great demand upon successive Governments of this country to embark upon a forestry policy. But it was not until the experiences arising out of the War that the Government of the day saw the real disaster to the country which had almost occurred, and might very well occur, from an almost entire dependence upon foreign countries for the timber which we require here.

That dependence showed itself in the fact that a large amount of tonnage which was required for the importation of the food and other important commodities had to be taken up for the importation of timber, and it was quite clearly in the mind of the Government of that day, which appointed the Commission to deal with the matter, that steps should be taken to avoid any possibility of such risk occurring again. Another effect of the War was to deplete almost the whole of the private woodlands of this country. There were before the War about 3,000,000 acres in private hands. After the War a census of woodlands showed that there was less than one half of that area of productive woodlands. High taxation and other things prevented the replanting of those areas, and the break-up of estates through Death Duties has distributed them among the small farmer-owners who do not want to have timber, who certainly will not replant, and who endeavour to turn whatever may have been under plantations into rough grazing ground. There was also the other object of providing increased employment and of increasing small holdings. I was glad to hear the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, in his statement replying to Lord Sanderson, say that there has been a great increase of small holdings, due to the work of the Forestry Commission. Moreover, it is the best form of small holdings, because it puts the man in possession of a house and probably ten acres of land, and at the same time provides him with part-time employment. It is on those conditions more than on any other that the small-holding movement is, I believe, likely to succeed in this country.

The Commission was, as I have said, appointed by the Government and presided over by Sir Francis Acland. The policy which the Commissioners laid down was adopted by the Government and appears in what we know as the Acland Report, It is a very large policy indeed. It requires the acquisition, throughout the course of the operation of the policy, of no less than 1,800,000 acres, and that is in itself a very formidable undertaking. It is formidable not because there is not a very large quantity of land available—everywhere owners are endeavouring to sell—but on account of the fact that a great deal of the land is not suitable for afforestation. You have, on the one hand, land which is too good, land under crops and good grazing land. It would be entirely uneconomic to turn such land into forestry. There is, on the other hand, very little, if any, waste land in this country. By waste land I mean land which does not produce food or does not employ labour. There is no difficulty in buying land, as the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, stated. The difficulty is in buying actually suitable land. The price offered and accepted is certainly not high. I think I am quite safe in saying that the Forestry Commissioners have bought land very much cheaper than any Government Department has done before. The average price per acre, in my time at all events, did not exceed £3 capital value, and I do not think you can complain that the landlord grasped a very great deal in asking that sum.

Some land is too good, there is very little waste land, and so you have always to fall back on mountainous land or heath land, and for several reasons. These lands, although they do produce food, produce a relatively small quantity of food to the acre. They are what might be called of low economic value. But there is a natural limitation in respect of these lands because so much of them, like the deer forests in the Highlands and like parts of the Lake District which we are discussing, are in their upper elevations impossible for planting owing to exposure or thin soil or matters of that kind, and a great deal of the low land is unplantable on account of heavy peat or bog. You are thus reduced to only a small proportion of the mountainous land which is available. Lord Sanderson suggested that it is very unbusinesslike for the Forestry Commission to purchase an area of 7,000 acres, of which only 2,000 are plantable, but the reason is perfectly clear—that is one single estate. They get the 7,000 or 8,000 acres, but they pay only for the plantable land. What the actual price was in this particular case I do not know, but probably it did not exceed £3 per acre, and I do not think Lord Sanderson would say that that is an excessive price to pay for 7,000 acres of land. These are some of the difficulties of getting suitable land.

Then we come to what is probably the main subject of this debate—the question of amenity. I suppose that as a general proposition your Lordships would agree that, on the whole, woodlands add to the amenity of the country. It would be a terrible day for this country if our woodlands disappeared and nothing was left to hide the pylons and factories and ribbon building which seem to be part of our coming civilisation. But while that is true as a general statement, I can conceive that woodlands improperly situated, which really hide natural features, might have a contrary effect—that is to say, they might spoil the amenities of the country. Every forester, whether he is a Government forester or a private forester, knows quite well that when his work does change the face of the country in many respects he is bound to consider the landscape effect, and I think that in every case he attempts to do so. That, however, will never prevent criticism. In this country I think our critical faculty is very highly developed, because whenever any one, particularly a Government Department, attempts anything new, there is quite certain to be an immense amount of criticism, and it would be quite safe to prophesy that when the time comes for felling the plantations which are now being created, exactly the same class of people will raise some criticism.

I am certain that many of your Lordships on your own private estates have met with a great deal of criticism in the matter of cutting down a plantation in the ordinary course of afforestation. All sorts of complaints appear in the local Press as to the sin of destroying beautiful trees. A Government Department has already considered that aspect fully, because in the Town and Country Planning Act there are certain model clauses which can be enforced by a regional authority, enabling them to schedule trees or groups of trees against being felled and also—and this is perhaps a good idea—to prevent anyone felling a plantation unless he replants it. I do not know if these provisions are put into force but they are there. Criticism is quite certain whatever you do. In several instances I can remember local objectors to the work of the Forestry Commission have appeared. One case, your Lordships may remember, aroused considerable debate in this House, and that was in connection with the New Forest area.

There was undoubtedly a difficulty about interpreting the New Forest Act, but after considerable consultation and very careful surveys of the whole position we appointed a local committee, the New Forest Society, to act with the Forestry Commission, and work has proceeded in an exceedingly pleasant way ever since. I do not think any objections are ever raised. More recently there has been a committee acting as between the Forestry Commission and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. I remember several other instances where discussions took place, and as a result of these discussions the Forestry Commission, when we found the objections sound, either refrained from acquisition or reduced the area of planting to fit in with the ideas of the objectors. Exactly the same procedure has been followed in the present case. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, described pretty accurately the fact that in the course of negotiation there has been, at all events, an offer made by the Forestry Commissioners to reduce the area of planting and site it in a way which, in their opinion, will not injure in any respect the scenic value of that particular area.

The statement of the noble Lord was put forward in an admirable way, and I think a great deal of restraint was used, because one knows quite well that feeling in the district runs very high. There were, however, one or two points in his speech which struck me as being, perhaps, reminiscent of certain statements which have appeared in the public Press in the last few months. Perhaps it would not be fair to suggest that, because some of these statements in the Press have been so inaccurate. They have implied all sorts of ideas to the Forestry Commissioners and made all sorts of suggestions as to the result of their work which are quite untenable. I do not like to say that that long array of Vice-Chancellors and economists who have supported this Petition would be taken in by these statements, but the noble Lord himself used the expression that the proposal would blot out Upper Eskdale. My information is that there is no foundation for that statement, and that such planting as there is at the bottom of the valley cannot by any chance have any blotting out effect in respect of the scenery there.

Then we were told that in order to gain access to mountain ground visitors would have to walk between rows of stark Christmas trees—I think that was the expression. I must ask your Lordships to consider that for a moment. A good deal was said in the newspapers about spoiling the access of the public to this land. The position really is that, while formerly the public had the privilege of access to that mountain land, now that it is in the hands of the Forestry Commission they will have rights of access and rights of recreation over all the land except a small area, not one-fifth of the whole, which is being planted and which for the time being will have to be shut off from the public. The Forestry Commissioners were very careful to make paths through these stark Christmas trees so that visitors may see them and get as easy access as possible. But it is obvious that the idea in the mind of the Press, or whoever wrote to the newspapers, was to endeavour to persuade the public that the Forestry Commission were endeavouring to stop access. Nothing could be more untrue. I recollect that there were one or two other suggestions—they were not mentioned by the noble Lord—referred to in the Press. There was the statement that the action of the Forestry Commission would destroy the amenity of land which has been purchased or received by the National Trust, and that the ownership of the National Trust in the Scafell range was in danger. It is impossible to understand what was in the minds of the persons who wrote such letters to the Press. Still they appeared there, and it is not impossible that they did exercise some influence upon the minds of those who signed the Petition. Those, I think, were the main things, but there may be many others of that nature.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, also quoted from the poet Wordsworth as to the poor effect of regimentation and regular lines, which are so different to what is presented by natural woods. Of course that is so, and the poet was perfectly right. The modern plantation can never vie with the beauty of the natural woodlands of this country. Unfortunately, in so few places can we get natural beauty, but the Forestry Commissioners are really doing their best in this respect. The statement that the plantation in Bassenthwaite has spoiled the appearance of the valley is met to some extent by later ideas, for example, the planting in almost every case, at any rate where possible, of irregular lines of hardwood trees for the boundaries so as to mask the effect of the area of conifers, which seems to be so disliked. I should like to say in passing that there is a perfectly meaningless prejudice against the planting of conifers in this country. You can very seldom get land which will grow them, and it is not worth while planting them on unsuitable land, but there is in masses of conifer plantation, whether larch or spruce or anything else, a magnificent mass effect. Any of those who have walked through the bigger woodlands in the South of England or Wales, or, better still perhaps, in the Tay Valley or Speyside or Deeside, will realise what an immense landscape beauty there is in these woodlands, and, as they thin out and the public can walk through them and see these magnificent State trees growing out of a growth of heather or bracken, it is a wonderful attraction not only to the natives but to all tourists who go that way. I would like to see hardwood trees planted, but where you cannot get hardwood trees, then I certainly would raise no objection to the planting of these conifers.

As to the suggestion that a Select Committee should be appointed, I was very glad indeed to hear what the noble Marquess said. It would unnecessarily interfere with the work which the Commissioners have really got to do. They are charged with a very great responsibility, and unless their work is a stable work, unless it is continuous, unless it goes on without interruption, it is impossible for the country's policy to be undertaken. They will always, I am quite certain, have as full regard as possible to natural amenities. There is no desire to spoil amenities. Quite the contrary. But they would not be justified, I think, in the work they have to do, in view of what I have said and the difficulties of getting suitable land when it is wanted, in allowing that responsibility to be taken by any one else. From the action of the Forestry Commissioners in the past I think your Lordships may be quite satisfied that they will use their best endeavours to preserve as far as they can the natural beauties of the country.


My Lords, I am sure we have listened with great interest to what has fallen from the noble Lord who spoke last. I believe that we do appreciate the work which has been done during the last few years by the Forestry Commission and we hope that they will continue in their good work. It may be—I do not know—that in this particular instance they have made a mistake in the purchase which they have made and the intentions which they have shown of planting a considerable part of the two valleys that have been named. I was for thirty-five years the representative of the Lake District in the House of Commons, but these two particular valleys in question to-day were outside the district that I represented, and I cannot, therefore, claim that I have any special knowledge of them. But it seems to me that the whole matter of planting in beautiful spots is one entirely of taste, of discretion, of degree.

I do not think that anybody would approve of large square blocks of dark green trees being plastered on some of the hillsides of the Lake District. There are, it is true, on some of the lakes considerable plantations, and, indeed, I am not sure that the beauty of the Lake District is not very largely enhanced by the woods which we see running down from the hillsides to the lakes or the lower valleys in contrast to the rather barer views that we get in Scotland. As I say, it seems a matter of degree. In some places these plantations can very well be planted without any disfigurement. In one of the latest acquisitions of the National Trust, at the end of the Lake of Ullswater, there are to my knowledge plantations which have been there for some time and which certainly add to rather than take from the beauty of that particular spot. The great thing, after all, is to obtain variety. A long, bare hillside is not necessarily beautiful except for the variety of tone and colour which you get from it. The birches and the larches and the alders along the lake add to the charm of the prospect, and I am not opposed to conifers being planted provided they are not put, as I say, in great square blisters. That I feel would deteriorate very much from the view.

There is one point upon which I think the Forestry Commission are not sufficiently careful, and that is in the obstruction of views by the plantations which they make. A few years ago I was at Thirlmere. Your Lordships may possibly remember, although it was a long time ago, that the Manchester Corporation acquired the lake and the immediate watershed around Thirlmere and planted a series of plantations there, most magnificent plantations of Douglas fir and Sitka spruce and other conifers. Parliament imposed upon the Manchester Corporation the duty of making a new road along the east side of the lake in order that the public might enjoy the prospect of the lake and of Helvellyn. When I was there last the view from this road was almost entirely obstructed by the trees which had been planted by the Corporation below the level of the road. You could not see the lake at all, and the irony of it was that the road had been made for the express purpose of enabling people to see the lake! I humbly expressed to such representatives of the Corporation as were there on the occasion of my visit, the desire that at all events there should be vistas through the trees. Whether those vistas have been cut or not I do not know, but a vista, just a glimpse which you get through the black woods of a patch of shining lake below you, is not the equivalent of the broad view of the lake from end to end which otherwise you could get as you passed along the road. I think in a matter of that sort the Forestry Commissioners have to be very careful not to obstruct views. I am glad to say that in a totally different part of the country, in the County of Suffolk, where I am largely interested in preserving the beauty of the country, I have found the Forestry Commission amenable to the views which have been put forward by the Suffolk Preservation Society; and I believe that in this instance they would also meet the views of responsible people.

To come to the particulars of the Motion and the question of the appointment of a Select Committee, I noted that the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, thought a Select Committee of this House was an undesirable and an unsuitable body to hold the investigation. He proposed a Royal Commission. Is not that too potent an instrument to decide what, after all, is only a small question which relates to some 2,000 acres in the Lake District? A Royal Commission takes a long time, it works—


May I interrupt the noble Viscount to say that my impression was that the purpose of the proposed Select Committee would be to inquire into the whole question all over England and not merely into the matter of these two valleys.


No doubt that is so, but I think a Royal Commission would take a great deal longer than a Select Committee and is really too large an instrument to crack such a small nut. I do not know whether there have been other cases brought before your Lordships—I do not think there have—of so-called errors of judgment on the part of the Forestry Commission, but after all we only recently passed the Statute under which the Forestry Commission work. It is altogether too soon, I think, to review the whole of the situation. Therefore personally I am opposed both to the Royal Commission and to the Select Committee. I prefer the arrangement of a Joint Committee of representatives of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and of the Forestry Commission and the National Trust. I think they might well be entrusted with the duty of examining this particular difference of opinion and of arriving at a reasonable and just solution.

The Forestry Commissioners are sensible people. They do not run amuck. The representatives of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England know very well what the public want in this regard, and the National Trust have had so large an experience of matters of this kind that they can well be trusted to come to a sound decision. Therefore I should be perfectly prepared to leave the whole matter to the judgment of that Committee which is now sitting. I am afraid that if we set up a Select Committee or a Royal Commission it would to a very large extent hamper the work which is being carried on by the Forestry Commission. We know quite well that when a Government Department is being put upon the rack in that sort of way, the attention and the time and the minds of the chiefs of that department are devoted wholly to the case which they have to put before the Commission and they find it difficult to embark on fresh work. I would not for a moment wish to interrupt in any way the work of the Commission, and for that reason I think it is very undesirable that we should appoint any inquiry. At the same time I think that the Petition which has been so widely signed, and which carries such a weight of authority in the names of the important persons who have signed it, will give to the Forestry Commission an indication that they have to be careful of the way in which they regard public amenities. I am certain that after this debate the Forestry Commission will be alive to the difficulties which may present themselves if they do not pay sufficient regard to what has been put forward by the Petition.


My Lords, the speeches we have heard this afternoon have indicated how great, and I hope how growing, is the public interest in the relations of afforestation and the general amenities of the countryside. I have listened with great interest and I hope I may ask your Lordships' permission to state what has been going on between the Forestry Commissioners and an informal Committee which they have taken into consultation for a good long time past. I am myself connected with the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, which together with the National Trust, one of the largest owners in the Lake District, and the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society, which is responsible for watching the interests of a vast area of commons in this district, have been discussing with the Forestry Commission.

I quote from page 55 of the Report of the Forestry Commissioners for the year ending September 30, 1934. Your Lordships will see that we have been talking to the Forestry Commission for some time. They say:

" The Commissioners have recently been in communication with the Council for the Preservation of Rural England on the subject of the relation of forestry and afforestation to the amenities of the countryside. As a result a joint informal Committee has been formed to meet from time to time for the discussion of outstanding questions. In these densely-populated islands there is scarcely an acre of accessible land in which someone has not an economic or sentimental interest. The Commissioners consequently welcome the opportunity of discussing with so representative a body and from the view of the national welfare those changes which are inevitable in the utilisation of the soil if an adequate reserve of standing timber is to be provided."

That Committee is quite an informal one. The members meet on any occasion which seems desirable to the Forestry Commission or to the Committee themselves and they discuss every kind of question within those very broad terms of reference—the question of view, for instance, which is very material to the matter to which Lord Ullswater referred; the question of the species or type of tree to be planted; and, above all, the question of outline and boundary, which is in my opinion one of the really crucial matters in this problem of afforestation.

That has been going on for a good long time, and we have been pressing the Forestry Commissioners to form in the Lake District what we call a "sacrosanct area "—an area, that is to say, in which no afforestation can take place without our consent. Now the Forestry Commissioners have met us on that point and—I do not think there is anything confidential in this—there is in effect the outline of a sacrosanct area. I ought to say that we want to extend that area, and we have asked that it be extended. For instance, we should like the Loweswater territory included; the Vale of Keswick might suitably be brought into it; the Troutbeck Vale, by Windermere, again; and finally, Martindale, by Ullswater. The mention of that particular area allows me to wish many happy returns to the noble Viscount, under whom I sat in another place thirty-five or forty years ago and who to-day celebrates his eighty-fifth birthday. As he well said, this is all a question of degree, and if we can persuade these people of the correct degree, we shall, I believe, be meeting the case of ninety-nine critics out of a hundred.

But, my Lords, I very much want to impress this point upon you, that this is far from being a small local problem. Other areas are involved. You cannot say, "Now, we are going to stop afforestation in this particular district." Afforestation is like water; all the schemes are inter-related and each one is more or less dependent upon the others. The whole organisation of any given planting is not drawn up for one particular area or one group of areas, but deals with an estate as a whole. These people have an estate of a million or one-and-a-half million acres in England, and you cannot say, "We will cut out this entirely "; you have to consider all together. That is contemplated quite frankly by Lord Howard: he says he wants to discuss the question of certain specific areas in relation to the afforestation of Great Britain. Let me remind your Lordships of the kind of problem about which this Joint Committee are now talking. They are talking about the Lake District about the Snowdon District, about Breckland, about the New Forest, about the Borders, Dovedale, the Forest of Dean, Dartmoor and Exmoor; and of course there is the whole Scottish problem as well. This is a very big problem indeed, and it is, moreover, mixed up with the problem of the national park. You cannot dissociate the problem of the national park from that of afforestation. So, when we talk about a Select Committee of your Lordships dealing with this, we must remember that they would have a great deal to do: they would have to master the whole of the national park problem as well as this very complicated problem of afforestation.

Now I do not think your Lordships have ever discussed the national park fully, but you all well know that it is a very popular demand. It is not only a popular, but it is a praiseworthy demand, and in every way a wholesome demand. For my part, I will not for one moment agree that a large policy of afforestation is inconsistent with a fine national park. In the terms of the noble Lord's Notice, how- ever, the Lake District is singled out as especially important. I was very sorry that the noble Lord opposite should have attacked the Forestry Commission so severely—" The ground is too high; it is too inaccessible; there is no adequate transport; there are too many conifers; the scheme is going to do away with small holdings; the purchase was wasteful." My Lords, these Forestry Commissioners are really very expert and very efficient people. My noble friend beside me, Lord Clinton, who is well known in Scotland, at any rate, as one of the protagonists of scientific afforestation, my friend Sir George Courthope, Sir Francis Acland, and others have devoted their lives to this subject, and they are surrounded by a group of real professional experts. I assure Lord Sanderson that these people cannot be condemned offhand like that. So far as the small holdings are concerned, it is not right to mislead public opinion in that way. There have been letters in the newspapers saying that we are sweeping away the smallholders, "these fine yeoman farmers "—and all that. But, my Lords, these Forestry Commissioners are spending a great deal of time and money in establishing these small holdings. It will be found in the course of time that one of the most economic small holdings in this country is one which is not solely dependent upon agriculture.

" Much of the area about which we are talking is too high for planting; why waste money on buying it? "—says Lord Sanderson. The reason is this. When you buy an estate, the man who sells you the estate says you have to take good and bad; you cannot take just the good and leave him with the bad, useless property. The result is that, when you buy high land for afforestation—a few hundred feet up—there is often land above it which you have to buy and which very often stands in your books at a ridiculously low figure. What I want to point out to your Lordships—and it has not been stated this afternoon; I wish Lord Clinton had said so—is that that land is not wasted to the public. I do not know who owned the estate; it was private property and the landlord was presumably entitled to fence it off. Now it is in the hands of the Forestry Commission, and for all time the public will have an area of 5,000 acres or more over which they will be free to roam unembarrassed in any way by afforestation, and the public will be the richer in consequence.

In this area you have the ground which is going to be planted and you have the upper land which the Forestry Commissioners have said will ultimately be placed at the disposal of the rambler and the hiker; and in addition you have the commons, on which lords of the manor like Lord Leconfield encourage the holiday maker. Finally, you have the National Trust. Between these bodies you are securing this area as a great healthy and open-air centre, and afforestation therefore, I may point out, gives free open rights to the public which the public has never enjoyed before. Moreover, it is safeguarding this high land against what I am very much afraid of, and that is the summer bungalow, occupied for six or eight weeks in the high summer when the weather is finest. That would be a most disastrous disfigurement of the whole of that glorious area.

Therefore, do not let Lord Elton, who has denounced the Forestry Commission so bitterly, think that there are not counterbalancing advantages conferred on us by these people. I confess that I am in these days considered a very old-fashioned person, because I admire trees. Among trees I admire conifer. I thought that Lord Elton almost hated trees. His reference to the tree as a Christmas tree through which the innocent hiker from Bradford or Liverpool walks is not true natural history. For the first few years a larch tree has the form of a Christmas tree—as a rule we prefer spruce—but after a few years you get a tall cylindrical bole, such as that of the Scotch fir, and I am one of the old-fashioned people who still admire a noble tree. When people talk about a dark green hideous uniformity of colour, there again their natural history is wrong. In a number of years, as anybody who has travelled on the Continent or in wooded country knows, a coniferous wood assumes most wonderful colouring. There is no more tender green than that of the young larch tree and few trees are more gloriously coloured in the autumn. The dark Scotch fir is beautiful too, and whatever these pundits may say I am going to admire these trees for the rest of my life.

Now, my Lords, it is assumed that there are no trees indigenous to the Lake Country—that there are no larch trees there—but if you examine the country you will find that the trees are creeping up the valleys, and that the tree is indigenous to England pretty well all over. We must not say, for that reason, that no trees are to be planted in hilly country here. I agree that great care is to be exercised. On that point I agree with my noble friend Lord Ullswater. It is a question of degree, and our province is to persuade the Forestry Commissioners, if they are planting in a wrong area or in a bad manner, to amend their ways. They recognise that quite well. They know the problem, I venture to say, just as much as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. They realise the conflict, so-called, between beauty and utility, and without disrespect may I say that the Forestry Commission have progressed very greatly in the last few years—I might almost say since the time when Lord Clinton retired from it.


Thanks very much.


I believe it is now axiomatic that they do not plant along rigid lines. A polygon is always a hideous thing, but when on a hillside a polygon of trees is a turpitude. On the other hand, if these rigid forms are modified by here and there following the contour lines, by putting a bulge or making a gulf, by breaking frontages and leaving some space unplanted, and by having belts or clumps of hard wood trees, nearly all that objection disappears, and you can do away with that rigidity which is the fundamental distinction between the natural and the planted woodland. How can we make most certain that the Forestry Commission will remain alive to what one may call the amenity aspects of afforestation? Lord Howard in his Notice suggests a select Committee of your Lordships' House, and Lord Sanderson, I believe, wanted to extend the terms of reference to the Committee. Lord Crewe proposed a Royal Commission instead.


May I explain, because Lord Ullswater, I think, also misapprehended what I said. I was very far from proposing a Royal Commission. I said that if any body had to be appointed I should prefer a Royal Commission to a Select Committee, but I should be far more pleased to see the whole matter left to the informal Committee.


I am very much obliged to the noble Marquess. I have spoken much longer than I had intended and I will hasten. The reason why I think that a Select Committee of this House is unsuitable is that a Select Committee would really be fighting against experts the whole time. That is not usual with Select Committees. Nine out of ten of our Select Committees deal with public life, matters of public utility, and the making of laws for the government of this country. On those matters we are capable of talking to anybody, and successfully, but on this point we should be entirely dealing with experts, and find ourselves in great difficulty. Secondly, the Committee would have to travel all over Great Britain, and Scotland too, and would have to see all these selected and specific areas, and decide where afforestation was possible. And finally we should have to deal with questions of acquisition under the very terms of this Motion. That is not the way to let these people buy their land cheap—to send the Select Committee of your Lordships' House to look round to see which is the suitable area. These are practical difficulties to which I think your Lordships must pay very serious attention.

I pointed out, moreover, that all areas are inter-related, and therefore we should have to deal with practically all the afforestable land which is now under review by the Forestry Commission. Forestry is not a temporary or a transitional problem, it is a continuing problem, and to do the work properly we should have to have a continuing Committee, for these matters are not settled once and for all. There is a constant revision in the practice of forestry: you constantly revise your programme. And, as I say, the final objection to the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, is this. You are going to substitute political for non-political control of afforestation. This work is now being done by a Commission, which is a vague, indeterminate, and certainly a non-political body. If you get a Committee of this House, or a Joint Committee of the two Houses, running and controlling afforestation, you immediately bring in the political issues. That is unavoidable. What will be the result now, for instance, in this particular area? You get all the pressure of politics to bring the Lakeland into the afforestable area, because some of these towns on the Cumberland coasts are among the most distressed of the distressed districts of England. I urge therefore that we had better go on as we are.

So far as this particular area is concerned, I repeat that we want a sacrosanct area in Lakeland, and we want some of them elsewhere. I am glad to say that the Forestry Commission have met us, and we are discussing this same problem in all sorts of other parts of the country, and they have already met us very favourably. We want constant, informal and private consultation with these Commissioners, and we do not want them to do anything in the Special Areas by way of afforestation which may ultimately prejudice the use of these areas for national parks. I really believe that we have made a good start during the last few years with these advisory committees—and there are, by the way, plenty of other advisory committees with which the Forestry Commission is in touch—and I hope that the authorities of this body will consent to go on keeping the well-informed people in their confidence and receiving from time to time any advice they may be able to give.


My Lords, in spite of the brilliant speech from the noble Earl to which we have just listened, and in spite of the unsolicited testimonials which he has paid to the Forestry Commissioners, I stand here as an unrepentant supporter of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I do so not that I have any authority to speak, but because I have intimate knowledge of the country concerned. For many years my family has been connected with the Lake District, and my family is living there still. Indeed, for fourteen years we were mainly in the Duddon Valley itself, and for the last eleven years I have found my happiest holiday in Eskdale. And I want to say quite firmly and strongly here that we still desire that the Forestry Commission shall call a halt to its activities in Dunnerdale and Eskdale, if not for eternity at any rate until some authoritative Committee or Commission has reported.

For the Lake District is a very small district, small in extent, small in its mountains, small in its rivers, small in its valleys; and any very striking change becomes in that neighbourhood a revolution, and a scheme of afforestation small in itself may affect the beauty of a whole valley. How it will affect the area concerned we know only too well, because we have instances to guide us. We need not wait till the planted area has grown up in Ennerdale, we can see for ourselves what has happened on the Whinlatter Pass and in the neighbourhood of Thirlmere, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, has already made allusion. Anyone who has driven over the Whinlatter Pass from Keswick to Crummock Water, anyone who has undertaken that shin-breaking walk from the top of Lord's Seat to the top of Whinlatter Pass, anyone who knew Thirlmere when the Corporation of Manchester first took it over, still more anyone who, like Lord Ullswater, knew it before the Corporation took it over, will realise what a deadening effect the planting has had on that neighbourhood. In spite of the affection of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton, for the conifer, I believe that the great majority of people feel that the planting of these trees does spoil a great deal of the hill country of England, and particularly when it takes that tidy geometrical form in which so many planters have delighted.

These valleys which are concerned are really beauty spots in one of the most beautiful places in the world. In an area that has been so little spoilt and which is still built and planted in the Cumbrian or Westmorland or North Lancashire way, there are three farms particularly concerned. The southernmost, Birks Farm, has in its neighbourhood natural copsewood and birches, from which it gets its name. The two more northerly farms, Black Hall and Brotherilkeld, lie at the foot of bare uplands leading up respectively to Harter Fell and the Scafell range which are in form and outline all that can be desired, and I submit to your Lordships that anything like the kind of afforestation to which we have grown all too accustomed of recent years in the Lake counties would really be disastrous to that exquisite neighbourhood. I am no botanist, but I do know the botanical effects on the natural growths of these plantings—how the mosses and the grasses and the seedlings which are left there by winds and birds lose their colour and revert to paleness under the shadow of the woods. I cannot feel that your Lordships would readily consent to so precious a district losing one of its chief claims to beauty.

But I think there is something more important to be said than that. In these mechanical days we are seeing a great revival of the noble art and pastime of fell walking. Youth hostels are springing up or being equipped everywhere. There are holiday houses, there are travelling associations, and into this district there come more and more men and women who are really trained to enjoy its beauty and the open air life which it affords. Partly it is that they are not able to spend money in going far afield to Norway, or Switzerland, or the Highlands of Scotland. Partly it is that they are pushed off the road in other parts of England and Wales by the motor car, and here at the top of Dunnerdale and in Eskdale we have the inestimable advantage at present of having no motor road out. Hard-knott Pass and Wrynose are not yet traversable by motors, and the result is that in these valleys there is peace and quiet, and innumerable pathways lead to the sanctuaries of Scafell and Bowfell and the Crinkle crags. In spite of what has been said about the generosity of the Forestry Commissioners throwing open the upper fells to walkers in the future, it is to my mind certainly true that on the lower fells, at any rate, where the planting will be, they will for a time certainly, if not always, be grievously restricted. There will be wiring, there will be walling, and instead of their being able as now, in spite of the fact that the land is privately owned, to travel about freely as they will, they will be confined, as Lord Elton has pointed out, to certain well-marked pathways, and the places for them will lose the freedom to which they have been so generously admitted.

I speak as one of the signatories to the Petition, and I should like here to say that they are asking for nothing like selfish exemption for themselves and their own neighbourhood. They realise, as the noble Earl has pointed out, that there are other places to be considered too, and they would be only too glad to lend their assistance in saving them. The unselfishness of some of the signatories has been proved by the fact that they have made an offer to buy the whole district back. Equally, we believe, there are open spaces still available for afforestation and still obtainable cheaply for that purpose. Many suggest themselves to us as we think over the matter, and we do not believe that even a Committee of this House would be bamboozled into paying excessive prices for the privilege. There has been in recent years all too great a shrinkage of rural England, and it seems to us that the true policy for preserving it is the policy which has been followed in certain noble gifts that have been given to the district—gifts, for instance, by Professor George Trevelyan in Langdale and by Sir Ernest Simon towards the upper waters of the Duddon. There the farms are kept in their own condition, cultivated as before, used and accessible as they have always been, open and unspoiled for everyone who wills to use. I desire to support the proposal that the noble Lord has brought forward.


My Lords, I have been very much interested in the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Crawford. I, like him, have agitated for a Forestry Commission. I took a great deal of pains, when I was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to arrange for the whole of the Royal forests to be scientifically felled and scientifically planted, and I have revelled in the amount of work which the Forestry Commissioners have done. I know they make mistakes. In my own district, in the County of Durham, they have planted trees 900 feet to over 1,000 feet above sea level, open to every wind that blows from the east or from the west, and there is not the slightest chance of any of these trees ever becoming more than a sort of stunted Japanese oak in size. But on the whole the Forestry Commission have done their work well, and I am satisfied that they are doing it well to-day. What I want to feel is that they are in touch more with the general public and that they realise, not only the amenities in connection with their planting, but the use to which their trees should be put, so that industries may subsequently be produced in those areas where afforestation takes place.

It is a pity that all our paper has to be made out of foreign pulp. It is a pity that so much foreign timber is imported into this country when it might be grown at home. I have a few figures in my hand which may interest the House and the public in connection with the extent to which pit props are not made of wood. It is because we in the colliery districts are not buying very much home-grown timber that I want to direct attention for one moment to one or two facts taken from the Divisional Inspectors' Reports. Steel props, steel straps and bars, steel arches, steel girders, steel plates, and steel chocks are being more extensively used in our collieries and are replacing home-grown and foreign timber. In Scotland it is remarkable that underground roadways were supported by steel arches to the extent of 427 miles at the end of 1934. A considerable increase has, I believe, taken place since then. In that year sixty additional miles of steel arches were used instead of timber. In addition thirty-seven and a half miles of roadways were protected by cambered girders, compared with nine and a half miles at the end of 1933. In the northern division, the division of Durham and Northumberland, the total amount of roadway supported by steel arches increased from 170 miles to 246 miles. The number of steel bars in use increased from 202,000 to 368,000. In Yorkshire, steel arches increased from 205 miles to 266 miles.

Therefore, instead of attention being directed to colliery requirements, as was the case soon after the War, when it was realised that so much of the timber required in our collieries had to be home-grown, the Forestry Commission ought to realise that they should plant trees not so much for the use of props in our collieries as heretofore, but should think more of the amenities connected with our plantations. It is very important that this matter should be inquired into in some form or other and not allowed to rest, and I hope that as a result of this interesting debate, Lord Howard of Penrith, whose absence we all deplore, will feel that his Motion has been worth while.


My Lords, I rise only to ask the noble Marquess who is going to reply one question. My justification for doing so is that for a great many years I used to go in June or July to walk in the Lake District. One cannot do that year after year without realising that it is an area of quite exceptional beauty with a character and uniformity of its own. I confess I am a little alarmed by the trend of this debate for this reason, that while I think the proposal for a Select Committee or a Royal Commission is undesirable, we are confronted with the possibility of a secret conspiracy between the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the Forestry Commission, which apparently is going to arrogate to itself sole control of the question of amenities from one end of the country to the other. I think it would be a very desirable thing if the body of those who have signed this Petition, people peculiarly associated with the Lake District and having a special interest in it, should be associated with the Forestry Commission. I would like to ask the noble Marquess whether it would not be possible for the Government, even if they reject the larger proposal, to take steps to bring into touch with the Forestry Commission, and perhaps more largely than heretofore with the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the body of signatories to this Petition. I cannot imagine anything more fatal to Lakeland than that you should have an area in the middle preserved exactly as it is, and the outer parts covered with forest. I think the thing must be considered as a whole, and every valley must be considered on its merits. The people who ought to be most closely associated with the inquiry are those who have tried to preserve the priceless beauties of perhaps the most beautiful section of our country.


My Lords, may I with your Lordships' permission say that there is nothing secret about the Council for the Preservation of Rural England? It consists of a number of private individuals. There are hundreds of societies who are interested in the open life of England, and also a great number of public bodies, and I do not mind who is on the Committee or who is not so long as they are efficient.


Perhaps the noble Earl will welcome the suggestion that more might be associated with it.


I do not know if the noble Marquess means the Archbishop of York. I must think about that.


My Lords, I should like if I may first of all to associate myself with those of your Lordships who have deplored the absence this afternoon of Lord Howard owing to illness. I have had myself the pleasure and the privilege of working with Lord Howard on problems of this kind, and I know with what passionate sincerity he is attached to the beauties of the countryside and particularly the beauties of the Lake District. May I say that I think Lord Howard has been fortunate in the noble Lord who has on this occasion deputised for him. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, made a speech of great moderation, particularly in view of the depth of feeling which has been aroused over this question, and I realise that there is a very strong feeling, certainly throughout the Lake District, that it would be disastrous were anything done which should seriously damage the amenities of that beautiful tract of country. With the objects which the noble Lord has in view there will be many who sympathise and not least amongst them, if I may say so, myself.

I do not think it is too much to say that the National Trust, of which I happen at the time to be Chairman, has done as much as, or perhaps more than, most people or organisations to preserve for the people of this country the beauties of the Lake District. But having said that, I would remind your Lordships that we have to take the modern world as we find it, and the world as we find it is not always the world as we should like it to be. There are, I have no doubt, a great many people who would like to live in a world where nature was untrammelled and uninterfered with by the activities of man, but we all know that such a world does not exist. Nature is interfered with by the activities of man in many directions. Many of us I am sure would like to live in a world in which the jerry-builder had not been a product of human evolution, but he is there, and we have to recognise his existence. I am happy to think that the Forestry Commissioners do not interfere with nature in so damaging a way as many other human institutions do, but I do realise that there are parts of the country and there are occasions on which the activities of the Forestry Commission might be held to be damaging to the amenities of the country.

But I would remind your Lordships very briefly of the circumstances in which the Forestry Commission came into existence. I listened with interest to what was said by my noble friend Lord Clinton upon that point, because as a former Chairman of the Forestry Commission he has, of course, intimate knowledge of that body. The Forestry Commission came into existence to make provision against the sort of emergency with which the people of this country were faced during the last Great War. Your Lordships will remember how valuable was the shipping which was available to this country in the circumstances of the War. It is a fact that something like 13 per cent. of the ships which came to the ports of this country were required to bring the necessary timber to these shores, and one of the purposes for which the Forestry Commission was established was to provide against an emergency of that kind in the future. The Commissioners were definitely instructed by Parliament to arrange for the provision of something like three years supply of standing timber in this country. They were also instructed in the course of their activities to pay special attention to providing increased employment. They have during the period of their existence, if I may say so, carried out with a very great measure of success the task which was entrusted to them. They have purchased something like a million acres of land of which some 600,000 acres are plantable. They have actually planted already some 280,000 acres of land, and they have given grants in aid which have been responsible for the further planting of some 100,000 acres of land by public bodies and by private individuals.

The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, made, if I may say so, the most paradoxically unexpected speech of the whole of this debate. The noble Lord spoke as if the activities of the Forestry Commission resulted in the abolition of small holdings. Very far from that being the case, one of the results of the activities of the Forestry Commission has been to increase enormously the number of small holdings. They have actually increased the number of forest workers holdings by hundreds, and these small holdings are now housing some thousands of people, so that, if I may say so, the noble Lord's objection to the activities of the Forestry Commission on that ground were a little inexplicable.


May I interrupt to say that I was referring to the possibility of doing away with small holdings in the particular district under discussion? I thought that sheep farmers would be turned out and replaced by foresters. That is what I meant to suggest. I was not speaking of small holdings over the whole country.


The noble Lord said he was in favour of afforestation generally, but was particularly opposed to it in the areas with which we are concerned this afternoon. I thought that the Party for which the noble Lord speaks had been urging for a long time past the Government to do something for the Special Areas—those areas which have, through no fault of their own but under the play of economic forces over which they have no control, suffered so grievously in recent times. The Government are at this moment proposing to do something to relieve the distress of these people, particularly the people in the Special Areas in the part of the country with which we are more immediately concerned this evening. They have requested the Forestry Commission to undertake a scheme of afforestation over the next ten years involving the planting of some 200,000 acres which will also involve the establishment of 1,000 additional forest holdings (which I should have thought would have appealed to the noble Lord and his friends) and will create direct employment to the extent of something like 2,200 persons a year. I was surprised as I sat listening to the speech of the noble Lord opposite.

Now I come to the arguments of those who support the Motion which stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Howard of Penrith. The circumstances being such as I have described, it is inevitable that there should be some conflict of interests between the Forestry Commission on the one hand and those who are anxious to see the amenities of this country preserved on the other hand. Such a conflict of interests is, in the circumstances, inevitable, and the question which your Lordships have mainly before you this afternoon is what is the best way of reconciling these conflicting interests. The noble Lord who moved the Motion thinks that the best method of doing that is to appoint a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. That Committee, as my noble friend the Earl of Crawford pointed out, would necessarily be a peripatetic body which would have to travel over the whole of the country, deciding questions probably of acute controversy, and, as my noble friend said, meeting at all turns experts on the question. The Government do not think that the best way of dealing with this matter would be to appoint a Select Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, suggested that the Forestry Commission might very well plant their forests on the moors of Yorkshire. I do not know if the noble Lord knows some of the moors of Yorkshire as well as I do, but I can promise him that if a Select Committee made that proposal there would be just as great an agitation on the part of the people in the area affected as there is now. The real fact of the matter is that nearly the whole of the plantable country is country of which the amenities may be affected by large schemes of afforestation. The Government are of the opinion that by far the best method of trying to reconcile these conflicting interests is continuance of the negotiations which, as has been explained, have been going on for some time past with an informal Committee representing the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the National Trust and the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society, to see to what extent they can come to an agreement with the Forestry Commission over this question.

With regard to the more special question—that is to say, the scheme for the afforestation of part of the Eskdale and Dunnerdale Valleys—I have to make this observation. I am told, and I believe correctly, that the former owner of this land had every intention of afforesting it himself. He certainly sold it to the Forestry Commission on the understanding that it was sold for afforestation. I sympathise with those who object very strongly to what have been described as these great blisters of conifers being spread over the Eskdale hillsides, but as a result of the negotiations of which I have spoken between the informal Committee and the Forestry Commission, a large measure of agreement—I do not say complete agreement—has been reached. Of the 8,000 acres which the Forestry Commission bought in these two valleys they now propose to plant only some 1,600 or 1,700 acres. They have also undertaken to pay special attention to the amenities of the valleys.

I noticed that the noble Lord who moved this Motion poured a little scorn upon the suggestion that the Forestry Commissioners will pay attention to the amenities in their planting. He said it was very much as if a garage owner set up a petrol station outside the door of a Cathedral at the same time telling the Dean and Chapter that he would pay every possible attention to the amenities of the matter. The analogy is not at all a tenable one. As my noble friend the Earl of Crawford explained, the Forestry Commissioners have agreed to plant, so far as they are going to plant in Eskdale at all, with due consideration to the contours of the hillside. More than that, they have agreed, so far as that may be possible, to include hard wood along with the soft wood which they propose to plant. In those circumstances I think it is reasonable to say that the Forestry Commissioners have, so far as they can, met the demands of those who wish to preserve intact the amenities of the Eskdale Valley.

May I make an appeal to both parties in this controversy? May I appeal to the Forestry Commission, on the one hand, to endeavour to meet, so far as they can, the requirements of those who stand for the preservation of the amenities of the countryside? I am sure they will appreciate as the result of this debate in your Lordships' House this evening how strong is the feeling on questions of this kind. On the other hand, I make an appeal to those who are standing for the preservation of the amenities of the countryside in their turn to endeavour to appreciate the nature of the task which has been imposed by Parliament upon the Forestry Commission and the difficulties with which the Commissioners are necessarily faced in carrying out their task, since it is a fact that the amount of plantable land in this country is not nearly so large as is sometimes supposed. I make that appeal particularly to the Forestry Commission in connection with this great scheme of afforestation in the neighbourhood of the Special Areas. It is quite true that large parts, if not the whole, of the Lake District come within the area which might be covered by this scheme of afforestation which is being undertaken in the interests of the Special Areas. I sympathise entirely with the proposals which have been made by my noble friends and by the Standing Committee of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, for the preservation, untouched by the activities of the Forestry Commission, of as large as possible an area in the Lake District. I trust that that is an appeal which will not fall upon deaf ears.

Now, my Lords, I do not think there is any more that I need say, for most of the questions which have been asked me have been answered by one speaker or another in the course of this debate. I listened with great interest and with great pleasure to the speech which was made by my noble friend Lord Ullswater, and, if I might say so, I should like to join in the congratulations which were offered to him on the happy event which was recorded in the papers to-day. The noble Viscount is very familiar not only with these problems but also with the particular area of country which is concerned, and when men like the noble Viscount who know the country urge the continuation of the negotiations on the lines on which they are now proceeding, I think your Lordships may be satisfied that, at this present time at any rate, that is the best course for you to pursue with a view to arriving at the happiest possible solution of this question.


My Lords, you would not wish me at this hour to attempt to reply to the points made by the noble Marquess and other noble Lords, although it would be possible to reply to some of them. I should only like to say that I am in some ways sorry that much of this debate has taken the form of a defence of the Forestry Commission. I am sure it was not my intention, and I have no doubt it was not the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Penrith, to make this Motion the occasion for an attack on the nature, constitution and general activities of the Forestry Commission. The question is, is it making a mistake in this one particular localised instance? and on that point I am not yet entirely converted.

I should like to say that I was sorry to hear the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, charge me—I do not know on what grounds—with being one who detests the conifer. I was brought up and spent the first twenty-one years of my life in a country full of conifers; I passionately love conifers; I hate being away from conifers; and I eagerly look forward, after two or three months' absence, to being in a short time once more in that country. But I like conifers in the right place, and the question is whether Eskdale and Dunnerdale are the right places. On that point it seems to me that no speaker in the debate, with the possible exception of the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, was quite at ease. There were many defences of the Forestry Commission in general, but whether it really has selected the right land for these conifers in those two particular valleys did not seem to me to be a matter on which any of the speakers, with that one possible exception, really felt himself confident.

I do hope, therefore, that His Majesty's Government and the Forestry Commission will read the speeches which noble Lords have delivered. I quite appreciate the difficulty which many noble Lords have felt about the appointment of a Select Committee, and therefore I do not think Lord Howard would wish me, and I do not propose, to divide the House on this question. I hope, however, that His Majesty's Government and the Forestry Commission will realise that there are very strong feelings on this point and will do their best even now to spare this district from this particular fate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.