HL Deb 28 January 1947 vol 145 cc171-7

2.55 p.m.

Read 3a, with the Amendments (according to Order).

Clause 1:

Forestry dedication covenants (England).

(1) In this Act the expression "forestry dedication covenant" means a covenant entered into with the Forestry Commissioners (in this Act referred to as "the Commissioners") to the effect that land shall not, except with the previous consent in writing of the Commissioners, be used otherwise than for the growing of timber (within the meaning of Section three of the Forestry Act, 1919) in accordance with the rules or practice of good forestry or for purposes connected therewith, being a covenant not containing any expression of intention contrary to the application of Section seventy-nine of the Law of Property Act, 1925 (which provides that, unless a contrary intention is expressed, a covenant relating to any land of a covenantor or capable of being bound by him shall be deemed to be made by the covenantor on behalf of himself or his successors in title and the persons deriving title under him or them).

THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON) moved, in subsection (1), after "Commissioners", where that word occurs a third time, to insert "or, in case of dispute, under direction of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries". The noble Earl said: My Lords, in the Report stage of this Bill some doubt and anxiety was expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and other noble Lords on one particular question. That was the point that if an owner had dedicated his woodlands and then changed his mind, or if his heir should change his mind, and wish to use his land for another purpose, then under the Bill this could be done only with the consent of the Forestry Commission.

As I understand the argument, noble Lords thought that if that were the case it might be that the Forestry Commission would be so prejudiced on the side of growing timber that they would not accept what might be a reasonable proposal of a change of user, either in the national interests or in some other essential economic interest. For that purpose the noble Lord in his Amendments suggested that this question should be considered by an outside arbitrator. In the meantime I have been giving this matter a good deal of study—and we, on this side of the House, always recognize the deep interest and the desire of your Lordships to improve a Bill and make it as good as possible. We want to meet the wishes of the noble Earl as far as we can, but we have not been able to go quite so far as he suggested. His Majesty's Government have decided that we can introduce an Amendment into Clause 1 which would make it necessary for any question of dispute between the forest owners and the Forestry Commission to be referred to the Minister of Agriculture. This would not be implicit, but definitely stated.

I hope that the noble Earl will recognize that we have gone quite a long way to meet him, and that he will feel that this does remove the fear he might have that, in practice, these matters would be left entirely to the Forestry Commissioners, and that the Minister of Agriculture or the Secretary of State for Scotland would merely be asked to put a sort of rubber stamp signature to their agreement. I hope that this will meet the points raised by noble Lords, and I ask you to agree to this Amendment.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 1, line 10, after "Commissioners" insert the said words.—(The Earl of Huntingdon.)


My Lords, I would like to thank the noble Earl for the concession that he has introduced at the eleventh hour. As he has just said, it does not go the full length of the Amendment I proposed on the Report stage, but it does go some way. It is true, I suppose, that the Forestry Commission at all times have to act under the direction of the Minister of Agriculture, and therefore, even if the noble Earl had not proposed this Amendment, or if this Amendment were not accepted, it would always have been open to the Minister to have directed the Forestry Commission to give a particular decision in a particular case. In fact, I think my noble friend said as much during the debate.

I do, however, agree that there is advantage in having in the Bill that this matter has, in the case of a dispute, to be decided by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, thereby giving some assurance that disputed questions will not be decided purely on the merits of the proposal from a forestry point of view, but that they will be decided on wider grounds. I think it is a useful Amendment to the Bill, and it may have the effect of inducing more land owners to enter into a covenant. I felt sure that if land owners believed that a covenant once entered into was really irrevocable, no matter how much circumstances may have changed, a great many of them would have been deterred from entering into these covenants.

In any case, the inducements for entering into the covenants are not too great. The subsidy conferred by the scheme, in view of present costs and the likelihood of their rising, is not a generous one, or one that would make very much difference in the budget of most estates. Therefore I doubt very much if the hopes of my noble friend, the Chairman of the Forestry Commission, that a great many land owners will avail themselves of this Bill, will be realized. But I think that the Amendment which the noble Earl has proposed twill go some way towards reassuring some land owners, and I should like to thank him for the concession he has made.


My Lords, I should like, in one word, to add my thanks to the Government for the spirit of co-operation which they have shown in this matter. 'There was a slight suggestion— I expect it was unintentional—in the speech of the noble Earl, that this was a matter which appealed to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, alone. That is not the case. It was a point which had been worrying a very large number of noble Lords on this side of the House, and I am quite certain that, while I do not say that this Amendment will relieve their anxieties completely, the fact that the Government have made this modification in the Bill will, as Lord Selborne has said, be a help in securing wider approbation for the Bill in the country.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3:

Forestry Dedication Agreements (Scotland).

(1) In this Act the expression "forestry dedication agreement" means an agreement entered into with the Commissioners by an owner or a limited owner of land to the effect that the land or any' pact thereof shall not, except with the previous consent in writing of the Commissioners, be used otherwise than for the growing of timber (within the meaning of section three of the Forestry Act, 1919) in accordance with the rules or practice of good forestry or for purposes connected therewith.

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, the next Amendment is merely to apply the same principle to Scotland, where agriculture and forestry come under the Secretary of State. I hope that your Lordships will pass this Amendment also.

Amendment moved— Clause 3, page 3, line 6, after ("Commissioners") insert ("or, in case of dispute, under direction of the Secretary of State").—(The Earl of Huntingdon.)


My Lords, while this Amendment will give some satisfaction, I feel that it hardly goes far enough. Before the Bill leaves this House, there are other points which ought to be raised. Since the discussions which took place before Christmas, there has been more opportunity for consideration of the proposals by those owners of woodlands who will be affected, and a number of disquieting features have become more prominent. I refer to many of the principal things which will help to accelerate or delay re-afforestation: the lack of houses for woodmen, the lack of young trees for planting, and the prices for standing timber. So far as I can ascertain, no single house for any woodman required to work on re-afforestation has been provided by the Government or local authorities, nor does there seem to be any sign of action or interest in this matter, in spite of the representations which have been made.

With regard to plants, the Forestry, Commission are doing their best this winter to help. The planting season, however, is well through, and even the small number of plants required cannot be provided. The Government have made a good bargain for the State. They have imposed terms which are really quite severe, and in return there is all the greater obligation upon them to see that conditions are provided under which re-afforestation may take place. I do urge the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland to make themselves more aware of the essential conditions and the economic requirements of the industry. I urge that either they make it possible for the work to be done or that they give an assurance that time will be given for re-afforestation to take place. Otherwise, as the noble Earl has just said, many of these people will not enter into dedication, because of the fear that, owing to the lack of houses, they will not be able to get the necessary labour and so will not be able to implement the contract. I think that this is a very necessary step for the responsible Ministers to take.

In connexion with the economic side, I hope that some attention will be given to the inadequate prices that are allowed in this country for standing timber of good quality. Some noble Lords may have noticed that during the recess a very small increase in prices was allowed over those fixed in 1939, in comparison with prices allowed to foreign growers and importers which have been going up by leaps and bounds—in some cases by as much as 100 to 150 per cent., and even higher. It is worth remembering that growers of good quality timber are to-day still receiving prices equivalent to, or lower than, those they were getting in 1938, although the costs of production are much higher. I hope that attention will be given by the Ministers responsible to those and to many other points in the carrying out of the Bill because the Bill in itself is not sufficient. It will depend so much on the way in which it is carried out and on the attention paid to those requirements.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


Before the Bill finally passes through your Lordships' House, I would like to ask the noble Earl one question which still gives me great uneasiness. I very much regret that I was not able to be here during the previous stage of the Bill. I gather from my papers that a concession has been made and, if it is so, I trust that the noble Earl opposite will save your Lordships' time by interrupting me to tell me so straight away. The point which has given me some anxiety is to be found on page 4, line 35. It is not clear to me whether the "rate of three pounds per cent. per annum with yearly rests" is to be subject to deduction of income tax. If that is so, and if the noble Earl can say that it is so, then of course what I am about to say does not apply. If it is not so, your Lordships will observe that it puts the woodland owner who has received a grant in a very difficult position, because if he had gone to his banker and borrowed the amount of the grant, the interest on that grant would have been deducted from his yearly income, and he would not therefore have had to pay tax upon it. If he has had a grant, and has to pay it back, at 3 per cent. compound interest, without deduction of tax, he will be in a position of having to pay tax for up to thirty years upon the interest of the grant, and will not be allowed to deduct it from his total repayment in respect of that grant.


The noble Lord asked me to interrupt him, otherwise I should not have done so. We went into that question on the Report stage and I stated—as the noble Earl will see if he will look up the report of the debate—that the woodland owner having his woods taken over by the Forestry Commission, and having to repay his grants plus interest, would be allowed to claim the interest as an allowance against his income tax or surtax. We did discuss that and, as the noble Lord asked me to interrupt him, he will no doubt excuse my doing so.


I am obliged to the noble Earl and beg your Lordships' pardon. I was very anxious about this point.

Bill passed, with the Amendments, and sent to the Commons.