HL Deb 01 March 1944 vol 130 cc1072-84

VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS called the attention of His Majesty's Government to problems connected with forestry in this country; and moved for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving the Motion which stands in my name I would like to state that I am not an expert forester, but merely one who has been watching with some interest the changing appearance of our countryside and trying to understand the effects of that change on our life. We all know the importance of our hardwood forests to this country in the past. Without them sea trade or even our national existence would have been impossible. I wonder if your Lordships quite realize the extent that these forests covered or the enormous volumes of wood which were necessary for the building of our sea-going ships. I think about the only way you can get any idea of that is to go and look at some of the old oak-built sailing barges which you will still find in the London Docks—the last and most insignificant of our oak-built sea-going ships. They have enormously stout beams and require enormous quantities of hard timber. These, as I say, are the last survivors of a very large fleet of ships.

During the Napoleonic wars, when of course all ships were built of timber, enormous oak forests were destroyed in order to provide them. I read some time ago of one convoy in the Napoleonic wars consisting of 800 vessels. This convoy was continually in sight for three days from Dover Cliffs as it passed on its voyage. Of course, these vessels were by no means the size of vessels we have now, and the tonnage of this convoy must have been dwarfed by the tonnage of many modern convoys. But many thousands of acres of fine oak must have been needed to build those ships, and that was just one convoy. Now the sea has finished with wood as a material, and industry has taken its place in consuming wood. It is largely the soft woods now that are needed. In the last war to relieve the shipping situation, just under 500,000 acres of woodland were cut. I am taking these figures from the Forestry Commission's Report. This led to the establishment of the Forestry Commission in 1919 to try to repair the damage. In spite of repeated cuts in monetary grants to the Commission in the name of economy, and in spite of violent fluctuations in their finances which did far more harm to the Commission than the cuts, in that there were considerable financial losses due to the necessity of destroying thousands and even millions of seedlings which, owing to lack of money, could not be planted—in spite of this, the Forestry Commission succeeded in buying 700,000 acres and in planting 430,000 acres of that area. They have also given financial encouragement to private owners of wood ands to replant and to tend their woods. That is a very important point, as private woodlands constitute a very large proportion of our timber.

As I have said, financial considerations have hindered the Forestry Commission, and, worse still, insecure social conditions have frightened private owners from planting, with the result that when this war stared we had barely made up the loss of the last war. In regard to our timber situation we were just about where we were when we entered the last war, or a little bit worse. Just before this war started we grew only 2 per cent. of the wood we needed. We had about 2,000,000 acres of timber-producing woodlands, and there was a further 1,000,000 acres of amenity woods, that is, woodlands used for other purposes than timber-producing (for example, beauty spots, parklands and woods used as shelter for agricultural purposes, in fact any kind of woods which were not meant to be cut down). These 3,000,000 acres made up just 5 per cent. of the requirements of this country. We were in fact at the beginning of this war just about the poorest European country in woodlands. Of course we can have no hope of emulating countries which are great producers of wood. But it is interesting to compare this country with Belgium, which, like this country, is very densely populated and, again like this country, depends for its life largely on industry. Even Belgium had 18 per cent. of woodlands compared to our 5 per cent. In their Report the Forestry Commission say that by planting until we have 5,000,000 acres of woodland we can supply 30 per cent. of our normal needs. That is to say, we could run level, taking wood from our woodlands and replanting, and get 30 per cent. of our wants, while in times of emergency by emergency cutting we could probably supply a far larger percentage.

The land we should need to use for this purpose would be rough grazing land of little agricultural value and the Commission propose to reach the 5,000,000 acre total in fifty years. This is indeed a modest programme. We must remember that our woods are now being felled faster than ever before. In fact, we shall be lucky if we lose less than a million acres of woodland directly or indirectly as a result of this war, as against the half million acres we lost in the last war. To safeguard our national asset of fine timber—and this is a country very suitable for timber growing—and to give us some margin of safety in similar national emergencies, we must plant, and plant quickly, at least to the minimum which is advised in the Report of the Forestry Commission. Setting aside all questions of land ownership, which my Party might raise at some future date, woodlands in private hands must be controlled to ensure that they are tended properly and that they produce good timber, and owners must be encouraged financially to make sure of this.

All this can only be done by a separate Forestry Commission with statutory powers, but the Commission must be linked in the matter of supplies with the Ministry of Agriculture, and clearly in the matter of planting it must be linked with the Board of Trade in order to make certain that the wood that is planted is the wood that is needed. I hope that the Government will be able to announce a policy soon, because the raising of seedlings takes time and many millions will be needed. As a first step, I suggest that this Report of the Forestry Commission should be looked into by the Government as well as the Supplementary Report published in January this year, dealing with post-war forest policy for private woodlands, which contains some very good suggestions for looking after woodlands and remunerating private owners. I do not think that I need ask your Lordships to listen to me on technical matters con- nected with woodland, because I am no expert. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for moving this Motion to-day and more especially, if I may do so, for the spirit in which he has moved it. The whole of his speech appeared to me to be most co-operative and helpful, and I am grateful to him for the manner in which he put his case. Your Lordships will remember that we had debates on this subject on June 22 and July 29 of last year, with a very full debate on the latter date. I think I am right in saying that nearly every speaker on the latter occasion—with the exception of the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, who was no doubt restrained by modesty—paid tribute to the Forestry Commission's Report. It was made quite clear in that debate that all your Lordships felt that you had before you a document which placed the facts, the needs and the possibilities clearly and forcibly before the public, and which indicated a very definite move forward in the direction of large-scale forestry development as well as a hopeful measure of assistance towards reafforestation of felled areas.

Rarely do we find members of this House united on a main goal of policy, but in this case I think it may be said that we are all convinced that it is a supreme national duty that at the earliest moment when labour and materials are available we should set to work to insure this country against the perils of a timber shortage which on the present occasion, as during the last war, has resulted in felling very large areas of timber which was not fully grown, and in locking up, at a time when all shipping is so greatly needed, a large tonnage of ships to transport timber for our war needs. Planting cannot be for the immediate pleasure or gain of the planter; it is definitely associated with statesmanship, both national and domestic, which looks twenty-five, fifty or more years ahead. The length of time before planting can show a return necessitates a very long vision. It may be added that, thanks to our soil and climate, soft timber is frequently of economic growth in this country within twenty-five years—a fact which is not generally known—and, thanks to the aid of science and mechanization, and the general knowledge which has been brought to us largely through the efforts of the Forestry Commission, I think that we are also now able to say that we can expedite the growth of young trees to an extent which was previously not considered possible.

It may be many years before we are able to balance our trade, but, however long that may take, it is our duty so to increase the productive character of our industries, such as afforestation, that they can make a real contribution to our prosperity by providing a considerable proportion of our needs from our own soil. Early in his speech the noble Viscount mentioned that 500,000 acres were felled in the last war. As a matter of fact, the figure is 450,000. I should like in tabloid form to try to present the main points of this big policy. With regard to the history of the reconstruction plans, we have before us, as the noble Viscount remarked, the Report on Post-War Forest Policy presented in June, 1943, in which the immediate and ultimate objectives for British forestry were defined. The two main heads were: First, 5,000,000 acres to be planted in fifty years, comprising 2,000,000 acres of replanting and 3,000,000 acres of new afforestation; and secondly, more intensive State action for the encouragement of private woodland owners to dedicate their woods to the main object of timber production, to give grants for replanting and maintenance, and to enlarge the facilities for giving technical advice.

We then come to the programme for the first decade. The desirable programme advocated is 1,100,000 acres, of which 600,000 represent replanting and 500,000 new woods. Emphasis is laid on the very great importance, from the point of view of national safety, of getting the maximum possible areas planted in the first and second decades. Next, we come to forest research, services for which have been continuously maintained by the Commissioners, in contact with other institutions and organizations both at home and abroad, with the help of an Advisory Committee appointed in 1930. Grants in aid have also been made to university and research institute investigators in ancillary fields. It is proposed that this policy be continued, and that a central research station be set up, in accordance with the recommendation of the Cabinet Sub- Committee of 1920. Education has hitherto been provided at four universities and at the Commissioners' forest apprentices' schools. Additional facilities are now required for the training of forest officers, foresters, and woodland owners and their agents or factors, and the requirements can be met by suitably revised courses at the universities and forest apprentices' schools, supplemented by facilities for shorter courses. The Forestry Commission propose to continue their series of reports, bulletins and leaflets, and to extend the scope of their publications to cover all aspects of forestry and forest protection.

Three statements have been made on behalf of His Majesty's Government on the subject. There was the statement by my noble friend Lord Selborne on June 22 of last year, in reply to a Motion by Lord Mansfield. Secondly, there was a statement by Sir William Jowitt, the Minister without Portfolio, in July, 1943, and there was a third statement, again by Lord Selborne, in this House, in reply to a Motion by the Duke of Sutherland. All the statements have the following points in common. First of all, the Report on Post-War Forestry is a Report by the Forestry Commission and not by the Government. Secondly, the Government are still considering the Report, and have not yet come to a final decision, which must be fitted into the general framework of post-war reconstruction. Thirdly, the Government will be guided by the advice of Parliament and by representations from outside bodies. Fourthly, they are determined that there shall be a vigorous post-war forest policy.

Sir William Jowitt, the Minister without Portfolio, speaking in another place, made additional statements, and perhaps, as he was speaking with great authority in his position in connexion with the work of reconstruction, I may be permitted to quote from his speech. First of all, dealing with the continuity of finance for forestry, which I think interests the noble Viscount very much, he said: We realize that it is impossible to achieve a satisfactory programme unless there is a continuity of finance, and therefore in whatever plans we finally announce to the House we shall provide for that continuity. With regard to the need for rapid postwar action, he said: It is a matter of great importance that we should now, as soon as possible, within ten years after this war, plant to a very considerable extent. Then, with reference to the question of immediate steps to be taken, he gave us a positive assurance that The Forestry Commission have asked for an answer now as to what steps they should take, and I want to say, on behalf of the Government, that they should take all steps that are now open to them to prepare for a great expansion of their efforts. In particular, the Government want them to take steps to acquire land, even although it need not be diverted from its present use for some years. Here I need hardly say that it must be acquired in the fullest consultation with the Agricultural Departments. Surveys should be made and plants should be raised on a large scale and such preliminary steps as are possible with a view to increasing training and education should be taken now. We want them to get ready to go full speed ahead when peace comes. Then we come to the five pre-requisites mentioned in the main Report, which are all, I am sure, familiar to your Lordships and I will not quote them. Sir William Jowitt again touched on these points with the following important statements: It is obvious that, whatever policy the Government may decide to adopt, the carrying out of that policy must be entrusted to an ad hoc forestry authority. It is not settled yet what the relationship between the forestry authority and the responsible Minister should be. He also pointed out that close collaboration is required between the interests of forestry and agriculture. He said that there are obvious advantages in having a unified Forestry Service for the whole of the United Kingdom, and that the Royal Scottish Forestry Society and the Scottish Land and Property Federation concur. He stated that there is no difficulty in devolving executive functions to the respective parts of the Kingdom. He said that the necessity for greatly extending research is also accepted by the Government. Sir William Jowitt offered to receive representations on the Commission's scheme of dedication, and blessed the steps which the Commission were taking to consult the various bodies interested in forestry. Quotations are always unpopular, but it seemed to me that we wanted to have before us those definite statements by His Majesty's Government.

Since these pronouncements the Commission have been in close consultation with the woodland owners resulting in the agreements which are set forth in the Supplementary Report on post-war policy, which I think is worthy of your Lordship's attention and which was published in January. Fundamental principles agreed in the Report include rapid procedure with the rehabilitation of woodlands; financial assistance to owners who are prepared to carry out the work and can give satisfactory assurances; continuation of the war-time system of felling licences until the reserves of standing timber are adjudged satisfactory; and the necessity for some control of private forestry. That I think largely answers some of the important points raised by the noble Lord. Other fundamental principles are that the act of dedication on the part of the owner is to include an undertaking to make timber production the main object; to work to an approved plan; to employ skilled supervision; and to keep adequate accounts. Agreed principles are that owners must be prepared to bear a substantial portion of the costs; that in the event of dedication tending to break down, so that the State has to assume management, assistance afforded shall be taken fully into account in the terms of settlement; and that assistance shall cease when the woods are self-supporting.

The proposal that State assistance should take the form of 25 per cent. of net expenditure was not seriously controverted, but woodland owners expressed a unanimous desire for an alternative option, and after "very thorough" discussion it was agreed, in regard to dedicated woods, that there should be: (a) A planting grant of £7 10s. od. Per acre both for hardwoods and softwoods; (b) loans according to circumstances at the rate of interest at which State forestry is financed, plus a small operating charge; (c) a maintenance grant for 15 years at 2s. 6d. per acre per annum, planted and properly maintained; (d) a maintenance grant for 15 years of 2s. 6d. per acre per annum on all productive woods other than new plantings covered by (c); (e) the grants to be revised after five years on the basis of ascertained costs. The Commissioners recommend these proposals as a reasonable agreed measure of assistance in the immediate post-war period. It is further agreed with the owners that assistance for the replanting of small woods (not suitable for dedication), so far as they are specifically available for timber production, should take the form of a planting grant of £7 10s. per acre. This, I think, will be a great encouragement to several of your Lordships who took part in the last debate, when they specifically raised this question.

But I must point out that this Report has only recently come to hand; it is a recommendation, and not a Government decision. The Commission have discussed education with the forestry professors and other interests, and have reached agreement regarding the general measures required. Discussions have also taken place with representatives of the home timber trade. If I may mention something still fresher, the Commission have been working out a scheme in outline for the organization of a Forestry Corps of 25,000 to 35,000 men to be employed on suitable operations in the forests, road-making, etc., on demobilization, the men to be housed in camps sited with regard to the distribution of woodland, and to be available for work in the State forests and private woods. It is suggested that men should engage for a term, say, of six months in the first instance, with provision for the release of any man who may secure suitable civil employment at any time; work done by members of the Corps on private estates to be paid for by the owners. I need hardly say, as one who most earnestly is seeking for means by which we can ensure the early employment of our demobilized Service men, that this proposal appeals to me very much. But the plan is in course of preparation still by the Forestry Commission and, of course, has not yet been accepted.

The societies have raised the question of advisory versus executive committees in the future administration of private woods. The Commission are not in favour of executive committees on the ground that recipients of grants should not be the parties to administer these grants. On the other hand, it is thought that there is scope for advisory committees and that with good will on both sides they can do effective work. Some progress has been made in defining the procedure of advisory committees and their relation to the Commission. These are matters which the Commission are prepared to discuss further with the representatives of woodland owners. I may mention that I noticed with pleasure that at their annual meeting on February 23, the Royal Scottish Forestry Society passed the following resolution: That this general meeting of the Royal Scottish Forestry Society, after full discussion of the post-war proposals by the Forestry Commissioners, recognizes that a substantial advance has beeen made towards full agreement, more especially in the alternative of planting and maintenance grants in place of a deficiency grant. It is glad to hear from paragraph 4 of the Supplementary Report that the Conference will meet again for further discussion in an endeavour to reach agreement on all points. I think your Lordships will agree that it is very satisfactory to see the spirit of agreement which has been brought about among the interests concerned under the aegis of this Commission, which, as your Lordships are aware, is of a non-Party character, and which has done admirable work.

The Commission had been instructed to increase nursery stocks, which was a point the noble Lord mentioned, to proceed with land acquisition, and to carry out other preparatory work, and it is proceeding within the limits of the labour and materials available. Large quantities of home-grown seed, conifer and hardwood, have been collected for sowing, and supplies of spruce and Scots pine seed, which keep we I when properly stored, are being kept in reserve. During the last sowing season some 10,000 lbs. of conifer seeds and 95,000 lbs. of hard woods, chiefly oak and beech, were sown in State nurseries and 73,000,000 seedlings were lined out to provide trees for planting out in future seasons. I am also glad to read in this Supplementary Report the striking tribute paid to the woodland owners who, notwithstanding many difficulties in the past and, your Lordships will agree, with very meagre encouragement in years gone by, have made such a massive contribution to our war effort. Indeed it is slated that only three or four per cent. of the timber available in this great crisis has come from other than the woodlands to which I have referred. That is, of course, no kind of criticism of the Forestry Commissioners, who only started in 1919 and could not have produced timber at an earlier date. Here I should like to add my own small tribute to the many tributes paid to the Forestry Commission in the last debate. I happened to succeed to a property a year or two ago, and found that some hundreds of acres were in the hands of the Forestry Commission. They had secured the property very economically for a small amount, and I was impressed by the very efficient way with which the whole business was carried on.

It is clear from the proposals in the Report that forestry is intended to take a real place in our reconstruction, and will be of an imposing character, ranging up, as the noble Lord has mentioned, to 5,000,000 acres as the ultimate aim. Forestry will assume a place in our national economy of vital importance, not only from the point of view of providing work for our people, which it will in some measure do, but of balancing our trade, strengthening our exchange position, and, most important of all, promoting our safety in time of national emergency. On that all of us in this House, and I expect in the other Chamber as well, are united. I have no doubt that these proposals will receive the most sympathetic consideration because the Government share with your Lordships the desire to promote wide-scale planting along scientific and economic lines at the earliest date.

Whilst the final form is still under consideration, I can say that the Government are prepared to go a long way, and we are generally in agreement as to the prerequisites which I mentioned earlier. Your Lordships will appreciate that owing to the man-power situation labour at this moment is not available and, even if it were, there is a very great scarcity of materials, so that it is impossible on any large scale to start to-day as we all should wish; but those with knowledge of forestry will realize that in many areas this is not wholly to our disadvantage as weevil must be eliminated and plants are not as yet available in sufficient quantities. I think, however, your Lordships will agree that the mere fact that the Government proposal is for a grant of £50,000 in the coming financial year proves that, although this may only be a token of our intention, it is a real gesture of sympathy with the proposals which I have endeavoured in compressed form to enumerate to your Lordships to-day.


May I ask the noble Lord whether he can add something about the Forestry Corps of which he spoke? Will the workers be obtained locally through the local agricultural committee on will the labour be centralized in London, and will private woodland owners be able to negotiate direct with headquarters in the matter of wages?


My Lords, I am afraid it would be improper for me to enlarge on the very brief statement I have made because this proposal has only been entered upon very recently, and the plan is only at this moment under discussion. I gather that there is no doubt that private owners will have opportunities of securing men from this Corps. That is the intention that is being worked upon because, as I stated earlier, private owners would in that case have to pay the wage concerned. I am sorry I cannot give any further answer.


I thank the noble Lord for his very helpful reply, and especially for the new information he has given us on the subject of the Forestry Corps. I can imagine that there will be many men in the Services who, on reading of the proposal in respect of this Corps, will welcome it as a trade really fit for a man after the war. I thank the noble Lord, and beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned.