HL Deb 13 July 1949 vol 163 cc1212-70

2.57 p.m.

EARL DE LA WARR rose to call attention to the position of Forestry in the United Kingdom and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, it is some time since we in this House debated forestry, and as it seemed to me that we had reached somewhat of a deadlock in forestry matters, it occurred to my mind that it might be useful if we could have a discussion on the subject. It is perhaps all the greater pity that there should be this hold-up when in fact there is a tremendous amount of agreement in principle on the subject.

Following the very heavy cuttings during the last two wars, and the obvious need to take precautions against any possible future troubles, no one would question for a moment the wisdom of our having set ourselves the national target of 5,000,000 acres of productive woodland over the next fifty years. It is also generally agreed that the present Minister of Agriculture was right in his speech in November, 1945, when he said that in his opinion this target could be achieved only if the owner of private woodlands were to play his full part. This, indeed, becomes obvious when we remind ourselves that no less than three-quarters of the existing 2,000,000 acres of woodlands are to-day in private hands, and that those figures do not include the 1,000,000 acres of small woodlands which are not, I believe, included in the official figures. It has taken the Forestry Commission just on twenty-eight years to plant 500,000 areas, although I agree that that is not an entirely fair indication of their rate of progress because, obviously, they have now speeded up their planting programme. From figures which were published yesterday, I believe they were able to plant 36,000 acres last year. Filially, it would not perhaps he out of place to remind your Lordships that well over 90 per cent. of the timber which was used in this country during the war was in fact supplied from private forests and woodlands.

I have seen in the Press excerpts from the Forestry Commission's Report published yesterday. None of us has had a chance, I take it, of reading that Report, and as this Motion has been on the Order Paper for the last four or five weeks one would have thought that since it was possible to publish the Report yesterday it might have been possible, as a matter of courtesy, for this House to have had it a few days earlier, or at any rate to have had something of a preview of it. Figures are published in the Report stating that over 60 per cent. of the woodlands in Scotland, over 45 per cent. in Wales, and something over 30 per cent. in England come under the description of "felled, devastated and scrub." In ease those figures should be used as a taunt against private woodland owners, may I say that the figures ought to he a matter of pride and not of shame to private woodland owners, since it is owing to the extent to which private owners were prepared to allow their timber to he cut during the war that these woodlands are in that state at the present moment.

Landowners are not only willing but are definitely anxious to play their full part in achieving the 5,000,000 acres programme. From its very inception—in 1921—the landowners have always given the Forestry Commission their full support. For years now it has been perfectly clear to all landowners that their own efforts would have to be co-ordinated within the framework of a national plan. Not only have they frequently expressed their approval of the dedication scheme; it is true to go further and say that that scheme owes its inception to the work and enthusiasm of a group of landowners, including that great veteran landowner and forester, Lord Courthope, who was one of the most active. I mention him particularly because I think all of us wilt greatly regret that for reasons of health he is unable to be with us to-day. Forestry owes much to him.

We want it to be quite clear that any suggestion that landowners are holding back from the dedication scheme because they do not want to join in some Socialist system of planning is just rubbish. The dedication scheme is not Socialist-planning; it was conceived by landowners who will still support it, provided that it is put forward in a form which they can accept. Landowners are refraining from dedicating and from doing much planting for perfectly good and, in present circumstances, quite inevitable reasons. After all, in performing the act of dedication and in planting a crop that takes so many years to harvest they are committing not merely themselves: they are committing those who will follow. Unless, therefore, they are satisfied as to the fairness of the scheme, and are satisfied that a fair and adequate return can be obtained front their expenditure, then not only are they unable, but I should say they have not the right, either to dedicate or to plant.

I do not know what the noble Earl going to tell us to-day, but from what have heard of certain discussions that are taking place between landowners and the. Forestry Commission and the Government, it looks as though there is a good chance of a happy outcome from the discussions on the details of the dedication scheme, Some of the difficulties look like being cleared up, and if that is so one is very pleased. I am also pleased to be able to say that, so far as if know, during the discussions that have taken place little has been said about any possible threat of nationalisation in the event of agreement not being arrived at. I think your Lordships will agree that if such a threat had been made, it would have been much to be regretted, and it would have been the worst possible basis of co-operation for all concerned. It is impossible to have satisfactory co-operation on the basis of threats. Speaking entirely for myself, I must say that if such a threat were made I very much hope that we should tell the Government to carry on and do their worst. After all, if they did, it would not save them any money; they would have to meet the expense of doing all the planting themselves; and as, according to their last Report, the Forestry Commission are considerably behind in their programme, one rather doubts that they could, in fact, handle the job. In saying this however, I should like to make it doubly clear that landowners really desire to be given an opportunity to make their contribution to the great national problem and the great national need—a contribution which they feel themselves to be eminently qualified to make, not only by virtue of their intimate knowledge of their own woodlands but by virtue, in a great many cases, of an exceptionally deep and long experience of forestry generally.

Now, what is the trouble? What is the cause of the hold-up? First, from the viewpoint of the dedication scheme to which I have already referred, there is the lack of any provision for revising the maintenance and planting grants in the light of changed wages, changed values of money and so on. When agricultural wages go up, the prices of agricultural produce are allowed to rise, and there is machinery for negotiating this rise. In the case of timber there is no such machinery. Then there is the lack of any provision, in any circumstances, for reviewing the decision to dedicate. Obviously it would not be reasonable for landowners to ask to contract in and out of the dedication scheme as they like; and they will not ask that. But certain circumstances can arise after an act of dedication, when it might be for the best if the decision could be reviewed. There is the lack of any provision for appeal on purely sylvicultural matters; and there is the further point of considerable import- ance, when it is so difficult to obtain assistance in one's offices and therefore to deal with the demands for over-detailed and over-complicated accounts. These are immensely important points, but I have already said that we are hoping for some agreement about them, and therefore it would not be right for me to detain your Lordships in discussing them.

But a great deal more important—and, I am afraid, a great deal more difficult to reach agreement upon—are the questions of security of market and of prices. We all have to recognise, of course, that it is even more difficult to promise complete security to forestry than it is to promise it to agriculture. The return is so much more delayed. So much the more can happen between the giving of a pledge and its fulfilment, between the planting of a forest and its harvest. But all the more, because it is a long-term investment, there has to be some assurance to the forester if he is going to undertake this investment. All that he has asked for, and all that it would be reasonable to ask for, is that the same type of assurance be given to the forester as is given to the agriculturist in Clause 1 of the Agriculture Act. That has been called a pledge. We have read that clause sufficiently to know that it is nothing of the kind. It is a long-term assurance and as such would go a long way to help the forester, especially if it were given life and reality by the granting of fair prices for timber at the present moment.

Why do we claim that prices for timber at the present moment are insufficient? The two simple statements that at the present moment the Government are paying for foreign timber a great deal more than they are paying for homegrown timber, and that since 1939 the price of timber has been allowed to rise by only between 25 and 26 per cent., should be a complete answer to that question. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to amplify those statements with one or two facts and figures. No increase at all was allowed for standing timber between 1939, when the new controlled war prices were fixed, and December, 1946. All through the war, therefore, with costs steadily rising as they did, the private forester was allowed nothing extra for his timber. During that period—that is, from 1939 to 1947—the price of imported softwoods went up by 300 per cent., and the price of imported pit-props went up by 200 per cent. Since 1947, the price of imported softwoods has gone up yet further. It is true that the price of imported pit-props has gone down slightly, but the figure still shows over 200 per cent. increase on pre-war imported prices. If we go back and compare that with what has happened to home-grown timber, they had their first and only increase since 1939, in December, 1946—a 26 per cent. increase.

For softwoods to-day, the price varies for different qualities by a penny or so here and there, but I think I should be safe in saying that on an average the country mill is paid 3s. 11d. per cubic foot, and the town and port mills about 5s. per cubic foot, while for overseas softwood the Government are paying between 7s. 9d. and 8s. 3d. per cubic foot. It is true that the home forester has also a subsidy of 3d. per cubic foot for thin-flings. I see the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, smiling. So do we, because we know how utterly inadequate is the idea of a 3d. subsidy for thinnings. I would here like to ask the noble Earl who is to reply for the Government two questions. First of all, why, above all in these days of exchange difficulties, do His Majesty's Government think it right, fair, desirable or wise to pay foreigners more for their timber than they pay the British forester? I think the House would appreciate an answer to that question in this debate to-day. Secondly, I would ask why the Government insist upon paying flat rate prices for timber in this country with no encouragement to those who produce the highest quality or who standardise their timber? Surely the whole object of the Government in their price system should be to encourage the British forester in every way possible to produce the highest quality and to market the commodity in the best manner. The Government are doing the same with horticulture as with timber, but whether or not there is some principle of equality behind it, I do not know. I would ask the Government to give their attention to that point, and if there is a good reason for it perhaps they will be good enough to give the House that reason to-day.

So much for the treatment of homegrown timber, as compared with the treatment of timber from overseas. I should now like for a moment to compare it with the treatment accorded to other commodities in this country. Between 1939 and 1947, wages generally rose by 80 per cent., and the general price index by 89 per cent. Agricultural prices rose by 130 per cent. and agricultural wages by 159 per cent. That again is contrasted with the 26 per cent. rise for home-grown timber. Yet, as we all know, the forester has to pay the increased wage of 159 per cent. that agriculture has to pay. As the agricultural worker's wage goes up, so does the forester's. Those of us who are lucky enough to buy a piece of wire know how much more we have to pay for it. The price of young trees has risen. Everything that the forester has to buy has risen. One hesitates to generalise about figures, because circumstances vary so much in different cases, but I think your Lordships would agree that if I gave an average figure of about £10 per acre cost for planting before the war and £40 per acre for planting to-day, I should not be far from giving a fair average.

There again you have a 300 per cent. rise in cost, against a 26 per cent. rise in price. I take no account for the moment of the extra cost of maintenance through the years while that crop is coming to harvest. In face of facts and figures such as those, can the Minister of Agriculture be serious when he said—4 repeat his own words: the owners of private woodlands can play a very full part in achieving the new national target of 5,000,000 acres. Private woodland owners, like other owners of land, love their land, they want to develop it; they want to play their part in this great national undertaking. But unless they are millionaires, able to throw money away, how can they commit their estates and their successors to large schemes of planting? The average landowner cannot do it, and if the State like to take it on they will have to face exactly the same relation as between cost and price as does the private owner. I know the argument has been put forward that the White Paper on Stabilisation of incomes, issued early in 1948, makes any rise in price impossible. If no rise in price should have taken place after the issue of that White Paper, why have wages generally been allowed to rise throughout the country by 10 points and agricultural wages by 11 points? And why has the general index of wholesale prices throughout the country been allowed to rise since then?

To-day, of all days, it is particularly unfortunate to find oneself in the position of arguing for an increased price for anything at all, but at the moment I am not so much asking the Government for anything as trying to tell them the true facts of the situation. I am telling them—and I am doing so with some certainty of being right—that without some concession they must not count on any considerable increase of dedication under the scheme; nor must they count on any effective increase in the amount of planting on private woodlands. With the best will in the world, it just cannot be done. It may be said that trees now being cut were planted at very much lower costs than those ruling to-day. That is perfectly true; but it is a great deal truer to say that current planting is undertaken from monies received from current cutting, and therefore there must be some relation between current cost and current prices.

I know that I should not be speaking for landowners to-day if, in times like these, I said anything that seemed in any way to be presenting a pistol at the head of the Government. Whatever is done about prices, I am sure that landlords will continue to do their best. But I can only repeat, if the Government want landowners' help as much as the landowners want to give it, then the Government must find some way of giving them a very different ratio between costs and prices than that which exists to-day. If they feel that, for some overriding reason which we can all well understand, they cannot deal to-day with the question of price, then let them explore what most of us would admit to be the second-best method—namely, that of helping to decrease costs by some increase in assistance during the earlier stages. In normal circumstances one would certainly not suggest, that subsidies are the best way of putting an industry on its feet, but it may well be that increased help for planting and a higher thinning subsidy would be a more practical method of proceeding to-day than by giving a higher price for timber. From the national point of view, one would certainly see some advantage. Money would be paid out by the Treasury only in so far as the land was actually planted or the woods were actually thinned.

We do not want to encourage more felling to-day. That is clear from the Forestry Commission's Report. We are felling to-day at a greater rate than we are planting, and we have to go carefully there. We do not want to encourage more felling. We do want to encourage planting and thinning. After all, it is not much use planting if you are not going to care for the subsequent plantation and thin it properly. Therefore, my Lords, why not, for the time being at any rate, concentrate on giving more encouragement to planting and thinning, and then perhaps later, if and when the economic situation changes for the better, we can have another look at the right way of dealing with the matter—namely, through price. That is a suggestion which I make purely on my own behalf, and speaking for no one but myself. I put it forward for the serious consideration of the Government. But whatever method the Government choose, they should be quite clear in their mind that they must do something if they want more timber planted in private woodlands; and the sooner they tell us what they are going to do, the better. For there is no question whatsoever that if they make it at all possible they can count on not only the willing but the enthusiastic support of the private woodlands owners. I beg to move for Papers.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, as one of the many in this House who practise forestry I am pleased to have the opportunity once again to urge the closer and more constant attention of His Majesty's Government to this industry. Its importance is receiving more recognition as the need for more home-grown timber has become greater, but with the Government's eyes more on State forestry, which does not have similar economic problems, the outlook for private forestry is allowed to remain far from satisfactory. The Forestry Commission continue to make excellent progress in planting fresh areas, and though not up to the high target aimed at that progress is very satisfactory and could hardly have been greater. In the selection and acquisition of land for planting they are always in a difficulty to find hill farms, or parts of farms, which are more suitable for forestry than for sheep. Great care is taken to keep a fair balance between the two, but in cases where large and quite good farms have been acquired, it has been suggested—and I think sensibly—that the land should be divided between forestry and farming more than has been the case so far, keeping the suitable parts for sheep and cattle and other and less suitable parts for planting. The benefit would be on both sides, and the stock would have the advantage of the shelter. If the Commission could spare some of the land which they have acquired for planting, I am sure the effect on the farmers, and particularly the sheep-farming population, would be very favourable.

My Lords, I would like to-day to refer to only a few of the many points which concern the industry, especially the private forestry side, and those which are necessary for its success and prosperity, and I will confine myself mainly to the economic side. The disappointment among growers about prices allowed for their trees has been expressed on previous occasions. The position is still that prices are controlled; and as has been pointed out by the noble Earl, the maximum fixed in 1939 for the sale to merchants of standing timber has been increased very little in relation to the increase in wages and other costs falling upon growers. At the same time the Government are prepared to pay far more for imported timber than for timber of similar quality grown at home. As an illustration of this may I say how discouraging it has been to see almost twice as much paid for imported pit-props when vast quantities are available here—quantities which cannot be felled, extracted, prepared and sold except at prices that are far from attractive.

It has often been stated that to grow softwoods it is necessary frequently to thin the young plantations and to remove suppressed and surplus trees to provide more room for the better ones. The principal use of these thinnings is for pit-props, but if prices are controlled and are very poor, clearly the expense of thinning cannot be undertaken except by a few people who are able to stand the loss for a time. Thus it turns out that the Government are paying for imported pit- props large sums which could otherwise be spent on timber for houses. The point is often made that a shortage of timber is one of the main reasons for housing delays and limitations. I venture to repeat the suggestion which ha; often been made before, that more building timber should be purchased and that the production and use of home-gown pit-props should be increased. This could he organised without much difficulty, and it is estimated that in a very short time a saving of up to £3,000,000 a year of overseas expenditure would result, which money could then he diverted to timber for building. Of course, an adequate price for pit-props or else a payment for thinning would be necessary.

Many conferences have been held and this point has been prominent at all of them. Forestry representatives attending these conferences have been sent from one Department and from one Ministry to another—to the Forestry Commission, to the Timber Control, to the Board of Trade, to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries—in the hopes that they might eventually find the right person to whom to put their case. Ultimately, an advisory committee has been constituted which has to deal with price fixing and economic questions. Unfortunately, the only announcement of any financial aid was made at the beginning of a sitting of a conference as a decision of Ministers which could not be discussed or amended. This was the special payment for thinnings, to which the noble Earl referred a few moments ago, and which we felt bore little relation to the needs and could have been much improved if a short consultation had been allowed. If these payments were only a little larger they would be very valuable, but the opportunity has been missed. Concentration on this question of thinnings has been rather frequent, and I apologise to your Lordships if I have dealt with it again at some length. But it is recognised as the foundation of success in our softwood and mixed plantations, and, in fact, for most of our plantations it is an absolute necessity. Moreover, it is an operation which must be carried out at the right time.

There have been one or two rumours that we should shortly hear a Government announcement of a favourable nature which would encourage landowners to dedicate. I hope that the Minister will be in a position to-day to give us some encouragement or, at any rate, to let us know whether, and how soon, another announcement will be made. I would urge Ministers to think again about this thinnings issue, unless they have already arranged for something better. I feel they could combine this very' happily with the question of increasing the available timber for housing and the benefit would be to both. I would like Ministers to remember that revenue from thinnings is of far more importance now to growers than it was previously, there being now so little timber of a maturer type to fell, and particularly in view of the curtailment of felling. The receipt of revenue from thinnings is one of the few ways in which growers can be helped to pay their annual expenses. But while the authorities are genuinely trying to make it possible to do this without loss, they are taking great care to avoid any possibility of profit being made on the thinning operations. If they realised that the revenue was required for annual working expenses, which are very numerous if really good forestry is to be carried on, then I think that a more generous outlook would follow.

It is difficult here to describe what are all our forestry costs. It would he much easier if we were going through the woods themselves—hard woods, soft woods and especially mixed woods—to show in detail what the very large number of items are which must be constantly attended to. And be it remembered they are all items which involve substantial expense and for the payment of which it is very difficult now to find the revenue. If we are to provide the largest amount of good quality timber and useful commercial timber of all kinds, we must throughout the course of the rotations attend to all these items punctiliously. A very high standard is rightly demanded of us under dedication, and it is not to be expected that this standard will be reached unless the necessary revenue can be found somewhere.

It may not be generally realised how different and how much simpler is the work of State forestry compared with private forestry. State forestry consists mainly of the mass planting of hill sides and large acreages with a very few species of trees, mostly softwoods. This is a correct policy for the Government to follow, as these softwoods are very much needed. But in private forestry our problems are much more complicated. We have to deal with all those small and awkward pieces of land which are not suitable for farming or for any other kind of cultivation, and at the present time we are concerned very much with the replanting of felled woodlands—that is, woodlands which were felled some years ago during the war—upon which there is a tremendous amount of cleaning-up and preparation to be done. There are many things which we have to attend to continuously in these small mixed woods which do not fall on the Forestry Commission in the early stages of their large scale planting. As their own costs in providing houses for their woodmen and roads for access to the woods and for the hauling of timber are greater, the Forestry Commission are realising more to-day how much larger our expenses are for similar work. These have to be taken into consideration in fixing prices and in any assistance received. As a favourable decision on this issue is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I hope he will occasionally find time to look at forestry requirements.

Reference has been made to the curtailment of licences for felling. It is generally agreed that unfortunately this is necessary. Two main points about it are that felling should continue and should be allowed on sylvicultural grounds, and that the scheme should not be so inflexible as to prevent felling being carried out if and when it is considered that trees ought to be felled. For a moment or two I shall like to refer again to the dedication scheme. I have noticed criticisms in another place of the slowness of woodland owners to dedicate their woods and of the owners for not coming into the scheme, as if it were a scheme promoted for their benefit and on terms which were favourable to them. I have seen one or two threats, or suggestions, to withdraw these benefits unless they come in quickly. If there is any misapprehension among Members of Parliament, I think it is desirable to show that the expression of opinion to which I refer is not correct, and how it goes wrong. Surely the scheme was intended, and rightly, to secure the better management of woods, the quicker replanting of war-time fellings and generally to see that privately-owned woodlands do their full share in growing good timber and replenishing supplies in this country at the earliest possible date.

But it ought to be realised that the proposals are mainly for the benefit of the State; and they are often regarded as being very one-sided in favour of the State. If a landowner fulfils the terms of the dedication, he becomes entitled to some financial assistance, but a great deal is expected of him and little inducement has been offered in return. It is right that landowners be asked to practise good forestry, but if demands upon them are entirely uneconomic, as in many respects they are, then there is a greater obligation upon the Forestry Commission, who are their advisers, the Minister in charge of Forestry and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to make it possible to discharge those obligations. I feel it is necessary to continue to urge some of these matters upon the Government and to try to get them to recognise the problems. I understand that there is an amendment of the clauses to the dedication covenant which should never have been in the covenant. I trust that in doing this the Government do not consider that they are doing enough for private forestry. Like all landowners, I hope the moment will soon arrive when, although we do not like the dedication scheme in the form in which we have been obliged to accept it, we shall be able to say to all woodland owners that the conditions are sufficiently favourable and to urge all of them to come into the scheme and do their utmost for forestry.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, the Reports published by the Forestry Commission, of which the twenty-ninth was issued this week (I have a copy here in my hand), are of great value to the public in giving a bird's eye view of what the position actually is and how it is shaping. Progress is being made in certain directions but I think your Lordships will agree that the general advance is not fast enough. While we are going four and five steps forward we are slipping two and three back. We are grateful to the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, for so clearly dealing with the very important aspects to which he has directed our attention this afternoon, and also to the noble Duke for speaking to us out of his very great knowledge and experi- ence. I should like briefly to emphasise another aspect of forestry and to raise one or two practical points.

The mandate of the nation to the Forestry Commission includes both the production of timber and the promoting of the interests of forestry in general. There is, of course, no sharp line between these two objectives, and it is the latter to which I would for a moment call attention. I should like to express my appreciation of the work of Sir William Taylor, who during the year covered by the Report resigned the post of Director-General of the Forestry Commission. It was always a great satisfaction to know that he was so good a naturalist. I have no doubt that his successor, Mr. A. H. Gosling, will maintain that attitude. I am sure that in any printing that comes under his influence or control he will desire to take full account of what is appropriate to the district concerned, that he will pay due attention to questions of landscape and ecology. A great plantation of conifers looks well and in place where there is plenty of room, on a high moorland or on the side of a mountain in Scotland, but it will not fit easily into many of the landscapes of our English counties.

I understand that 1,200 acres in the Quantocks have recently been acquired by the Forestry Commission. Examination of the locality and experiment may show that spruce will grow well and give a return in sixty years time, while ash may grow less well and give its return only in double that period. If that is so, the balance may be weighed too heavily on the side of conifers for a decision favourable to the hardwood. Even so, there may be room for some inter-planting of hardwood or, at any rate, for a fringe of the more ornamental conifers. All I would ask is that the Director-General and his colleagues should be free, and indeed should regard it as their duty, to give due weight to considerations of appropriateness and beauty of landscape before coming to a final decision. I know that they themselves will wish to do that, and I hope that the Government will make it clear that that is what they are commissioned to do. Commercial considerations, financial considerations of profit and loss, are important, but they are not the only considerations which the Forestry Commission are bound to take into account.

As another illustration let me refer to the difficult piece of planting which faces us in Cornwall. Here it is not a question of very remunerative timber production but of reclaiming derelict land and adding to the amenity of the countryside. The area to which I refer is by no means a vast area, but there are a number of places which in the aggregate make up a very considerable extent of land; and at present it presents a sorry and dismal appearance. Being largely covered with refuse from mines, the soil is poor and contains elements—particularly arsenic—which may be deleterious to the growth of trees. Careful experiment will be needed. In some places it will probably be better not to begin with trees at all. The great family of leguminous plants are notoriously good with certain minerals. Why not begin by trying tree lupins in some place, and perhaps a clover like trifolium subterraneum in others? It may be well to help them out at the start with basic slag. Crops of this kind will certainly improve the soil and add to its general condition. These, of course, are only suggestions, and I refer to them merely to remind your Lordships that the Forestry Commission are by no means concerned only with trees.

A representative of the Forestry Commission recently attended a preliminary conference in Cornwall in regard to the employment of labour in dealing with our waste areas. I suggest that another fuller conference should be held to deal with the great waste heaps in the china clay district, as well as these derelict mining areas, and that the National Agricultural Advisory Service, in conjunction with the Forestry Commission, should get to work experimenting and preparing for various types of planting. Clause 72 of the National Parks Bill gives power to the local planning authority to deal with such areas as those to which I have referred. What applies to Cornwall no doubt applies to other counties as well. I think I am right in saying that in one respect Cornwall is ahead of other counties. The county planning authority have on their staff a forestry officer who has already done very useful work. Where there are such officers, I hope there will be a close liaison between them and the Forestry Commission. Indeed, the whole question of liaison between all the authorities concerned with planning is a most important one.

As an instance of fruitful co-operation I would refer to the interim policy of the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade issue the licence for felling. Recently a number of trees have been disappearing before the planning authority have had time to make the necessary preservation order. It is important for that authority to make these preservation orders as fast as they can, but in the meantime I am glad to know that in cases of doubt or difficulty the Board of Trade consult the planning authority before issuing a licence. This now provides a temporary safeguard of great value. I realise that the resources of the Forestry Commission are limited, and I believe they are making good use of the resources they have. Of the two main suggestions that I have in mind, one may not be immediately practicable, but the other, I think, may be. The one that may be practicable is this: Could not the Forestry Commission begin to take an interest in smaller plantations than those with which they have hitherto concerned themselves? In a county like Cornwall, for example, there are smaller woodlands, of sizes varying from 200 acres down to 30 or 40 acres, which, as they are often found together in the same district and are not widely separated, could be taken together as a group and worked together as a unit.

The other suggestion, not perhaps practicable until the resources of the Forestry Commission have been increased, arises out of my own experience. About three years ago it became clear that there were trees in my grounds that were positively dangerous, and ought to be felled. With great difficulty I persuaded a small local firm of woodcutters to undertake the job. They started and stopped; they started and stopped again; they broke down a wall, they took away the timber they could sell, and cut up a good deal of the rest as firewood for me. I have no complaint against the men; they worked well and skilfully. But I am not tidy yet, and I never shall be. Would it not be possible to establish an area tree service, with a depot at, say, Plymouth, to look after Devon and Cornwall? Then, when people like myself wanted a small job done—a score or a dozen trees cut down, or even a smaller number—we could apply to the depot, not only for advice, but for the carrying out of the work. I have in mind a depÔt equipped with a tractor, a lorry and a good gang of men who would do the work, making the proper charge for labour and giving the proper credit for the timber removed, and so on, and finally giving advice and helping in the re-planting. Such a service would be parallel to the service already rendered by the agricultural services, which are ready not only to give advice but to help—for example, to prune fruit trees for individual growers.

Such a service would further play the part of a forestry sanitary service. It would deal with trees that are a menace to other trees. Not every dead tree should be demolished. Some dead trees may serve a useful purpose in sheltering beneficial insects, or insects which are the food of beneficial birds, and their premature removal might upset the wholesome balance of nature. Other dead trees—those, for instance, infected with honey fungus—should be completely cleared out as soon as possible. I hope the Forestry Commission will one day see their way to providing such an area tree service; and the sooner the better. It would greatly encourage private persons to plant trees, and we ought to be planting trees all over the country. Of recent years, far too few trees have been planted. The more the Forestry Commission can encourage the planting, not only of large forests but of small plantations, or even individual trees, the better. Meanwhile, I should like the Commission to know that their progress is being watched by this House with keen interest and sincere appreciation.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, forestry is one of those subjects on which your Lordships' House has such a formidable array of experts that one like myself, who cannot claim that status, should make a correspondingly brief demand on your time. The object of this debate is to draw the Government's attention to what we on this side of the House all agree is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. No one, least of all the noble Earl who will reply to the debate, will deny the vital importance of timber production to this country. The official policy, I believe, is 5,000,000 trees in fifty years. The Forestry Commission cannot hope to do all that by themselves. The private woodland owners saved this country's timber position in the last two wars. They had a very thin time after each of those wars, and they are having a very thin time now. But a great deal of responsibility for that programme and the achieving of that target is on the owners of private woodlands, whether they be individuals, whether they be colleges, whether they be local authorities or corporate bodies of any kind, owning woods of every shape, size and nature, but in the aggregate forming a substantial part of our national forest capital. Two wars have eaten rather deeply into that forest capital. We have not only the task of replacing it, but we have the task of vastly expanding the acreage.

I feel that one of the troubles of forestry in this country is the attitude towards it of the country as a whole. Too great a tendency exists to blame owners for not keeping their woods in good condition. Forestry is not a rich man's hobby, as many people conceive. It is high time that it was regarded for what it is, which is an integral part of agriculture; and agriculture can produce only if it is an economic proposition. Forestry, like agriculture, is to my mind a vital strategic interest to this country. You can lose a war through lack of timber just as surely as you can lose it through lack of food, and one deserves the same priority as the other. All our problems in the forestry world parallel those of the farmers. We are in fact farmers, but farmers with a difference. A farmer gets his return at the end of every year, but those like myself, who plant oak trees wait 150 years for our return, though we do not do all the waiting ourselves.

We can produce timber to the extent and the degree we must, only if we are allowed to do it economically. In spite of all the conferences and all the conversations which have gone on over the last four years, forestry is still not an economic proposition, nor does it begin to be one. For forestry to be an economic proposition there must be three things: there must be a good price for good mature timber; there must be, as each of the three previous speakers have pointed out, a good price for thinnings, and there must be a market and a fair price for other forest produce in all its different forms. Take the price of good mature timber these days. We know from recent financial happenings that we are not a rich country, and that it is hard for us to pour out more money in grants at this difficult time. But at present we are getting the worst of both worlds. The timber price is controlled below the world market price. There is a very strong case for price-fixing machinery which would review the case from time to time and give it some relation to costs, to which, at the moment, it is absolutely unrelated.

Then thinnings, Thinnings, as the noble Duke said, are the mainstay of a forester's income. The price is pitifully inadequate at the moment, and the Government are well aware of this. It is round about half what we pay to import the same timber from abroad, although I know it is claimed that the miners rather prefer imported foreign timber pit-props. You will never get good pit-props in this country unless you get a good price for your thinnings. Then the other forest produce, whether it be hazel or quick-growing trees for special purposes, like poplar or willow, is a most chancy and unco-ordinated market. All the vital necessities which foresters must have, such as wire netting, plants and seeds, are hard to get and extremely expensive to acquire. There is a perpetual up-hill struggle to find housing for people who work in the woods. The Forestry Commission have achieved in their way a very great deal, but they play the most curious dual role for, on the one hand, they are the sole official advisers on forestry matters for the Government of the day, and, on the other hand they are the largest forestry enterprise in the country, competing at very great advantage and with a power to control their competitors. The dedication scheme has been mentioned by the three previous speakers, and, as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has said, there is much to be said for it. Woodland owners played a great part in bringing it into being, but at the moment many people are hanging back. A prudent man hesitates before he commits himself, he hesitates far more before he commits those who come after him, and the limitations imposed by the existing covenant are not covered by the benefits which accrue.

That is the position as I see it, and I will take up very little more of your Lordships' time. There is an expression in fashionable political parlance: a "constructive alternative." Many good and constructive points have been made in this debate, and many more will follow by noble Lords who come after me. I would like to throw out just two or three suggestions. First, I think there is a strong case for some kind of price-fixing machinery which would fix a Government-controlled price for timber and periodically review it in the light of costs. After all, we must have a selling price which is related in some way to the cost of production, and that price-fixing body could go a long way towards providing an assured market. Or, alternatively, there is the opposite. The opposite is to decontrol and allow a free market for timber, which would mean that inferior timber would fetch a smaller price than at present but that good timber would fetch a very much better one. At the moment with a low controlled price, we have the worst 'of both worlds.

Then there is the question of thinning. Forestry is an economic proposition only if your current expenditure can be met from your current income. That is what makes the whole question of thinnings so important. If thinning is too uneconomic to carry out and the woods are left unthinned, it reduces the price of your final crop which may have stood for years. There is a strong case for setting up a marketing research body. Woodland owners would gladly subscribe to its seting up and I think the Treasury should play their part as well. To give one small example of how utterly unco-ordinated the markets are, I may say that a neighbour of mine in Oxfordshire the year before last sold a considerable amount of hazel to a firm in Staffordshire, who sent a truck the whole way down from the Potteries—a very great distance—to pick up 4-ton loads and take them back. They did so because he was the only person they knew who sold hazel rods. There was no authority of whom they could inquire where they could get them nearer. That lorry on its way down must have passed hundreds and hundreds of woods full of hazel. The whole thing is com- pletely unco-ordinated and chancy to a point where forestry economy is in a most perilous balance.

This is the only forest country in the world in which there are so few pulp mills. There are only three in the country. The great value of pulp mills is that they provide a steady market for the less marketable forest produce. There is a strong case for encouraging them to increase as there is also for an expansion of the plywood industry. The Government can encourage that, maybe by loan or grant or by some tax relief, so that the industry may come into being and be properly spaced out and spread over the length and breadth of the land. The sugar beet industry is a perfect parallel. There was support for sugar beet factories. The farmers then marked out an acreage which they planted with sugar beet to meet the requirements of the factories, and a powerful and rich industry has grown up as a result. Then there is the question of materials. If you are trying to replant and laying out large sums of money it is a frustrating thing if you cannot get wire netting. Unless wire netting is to be given higher priority, thousands of acres will remain derelict and unplanted. I will not go again into the question of the tied cottage and housing, but many people do not realise that the man who works as a forester must live a life often as isolated from village communities as a shepherd does upon the hills of Scotland or Wales.

I think there is a great field for private owners to go ahead with arrangements for co-operative management. Many woods are too small to support a forester whereas if several owners co-operate to employ one they can share the cost. Similarly in regard to sale. This is one of the things on which we need the Forestry Commission's most active support and encouragement. The last speaker, the right reverend Prelate, made most interesting and sensible suggestions on those lines, but we cannot, as private woodland owners, go ahead until we get all possible support from the Forestry Commission. Last of all there is the question of dedication, about which the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, spoke. The benefits are not commensurate with the limitation. As he said, the last thing we on this side of the House would suggest is that the landowner should have the option of contracting in and contracting out at will. At the moment, however, if a landowner finds himself in a position where he cannot really pull his weight on his side of the bargain, the wood may be dedicated, but it will none the less drift towards dereliction. There ought to be some provision in the covenant by which, if a landowner finds that he cannot carry out Its side of the bargain, arrangements can be made on a reasonable basis for he continuance of the careful management of those woods.

The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, if he will allow me to say so, always answers debates not only with great courtesy but with close attention to the points that we on this side have raised. I do not think that on this occasion he will be able to maintain that the economics of private forestry are satisfactory at the moment. I should like to know whether he agrees with me that forestry should be regarded as an integral part of agriculture and, as such, looked upon as a vital strategic interest; and whether it is to be put on such a footing as to provide a living for those who pursue it. I trust the noble Earl will unfold a plan when he rises to speak, and I shall be very grateful if he will give me his views on the points which I have raised.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I think it proper that I should disclose at once that I am the President of the Royal Forestry Society of England and Wales. I should like to make a few remarks on this subject, though the noble Earl who initiated this debate has stated the case for the private forester so clearly and so fully that there are few more words that I need add. He gave your Lordships a sufficient number of statistics to show you, I think, that this case is worthy of a full reply—which I sincerely hope we shall get from the noble Earl. I emphasise only one figure which the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, mentioned. He said that the price of imported pit-props has gone up by over 200 per cent. It is a striking fact that whereas the price allowed to the home producer has gone up only 26 per cent. the figure for imported pit-props between 1938 and 1948 has risen by 259 per cent.

It has also been mentioned by the noble Duke that foreign pit-props secure nearly double the price paid for the home-produced article. This is a striking fact. We do not ask to be paid equally for inferior stuff. The fact is that a price nearly double that paid to us is being allowed for the same catalogue article of the same quality—at least on paper. If it be the case that the home article is inferior, then by all means let there be two different prices, but it is now assumed that the home article is not inferior. I am by nature a free trader, and free traders do not like protection—not even sometimes, when it is the British producer who is protected against the foreigner. They like it a great deal less when, as in this case, the foreigner is protected against the Briton. I believe there is one other example of the kind, but this is the most striking one in the country to-day. We always said that in theory we do not want to be subsidised. We have always said "Give us a fair price"; but so far, in our view, we have been denied a fair price. A subsidy has been offered us instead.. We are not so foolish as to refuse that subsidy if that is the only choice. But the subsidy is inadequate by a wide margin, as the noble Earl said in his opening remarks, and the question I should like to ask in connection with the subsidy is this: To what accounts is it debited? Is it debited in the national accounts to agriculture or forestry, on the one hand, or to the National Coal Board on the other?

The noble Earl dealt sufficiently, I think, with the question of dedication—an all-important topic. If we obtain satisfaction—and as a result of friendly negotiations with the Commission I think there is a reasonable chance that we may—on the four detailed points which are now nearing completion, we shall soon be left with the vacuum caused by the totally insufficient price of timber. What we all want for the British producer is to come into the scheme of dedication. We all want that, but before we achieve it we shall have to have what the people in the City call "confidence." We shall have to establish the right atmosphere, and I am afraid there are few signs at the moment of that right atmosphere being created. On the lower levels the relations between the Forestry Commission and the private woodland owner are everything that could be desired. In the fields and in the woods throughout the country we co-operate with them happily, and they help us substantially. Their officers and conservators are all out to help the private woodland owner. But I regret that I cannot say the same of the Forestry Commission at the higher level. Rightly or wrongly—I underline those words—there is an impression abroad in the minds of the private foresters that the Forestry Commission at the highest level are not sympathetic to private forestry. There is nothing that I would desire at this moment more than to get rid of that idea. But to pretend that it does not exist is foolish and will lead us nowhere. The noble Earl may tell me I am wrong; I wish he were justified in saying so, but I honestly believe that he would not be correct.

When we go to the Government with our complaints and pleas and suggestions it is a little bewildering to be confronted by quite so many Government Departments. We go, as I think is right, to the Minister of Agriculture, who is the Minister of Forestry. As another speaker has mentioned, everything we say is referred (no doubt properly, on paper) to the Forestry Commission; but as the same noble Lord pointed out, the Forestry Commission are becoming yearly to a greater extent a competitor in a semi-nationalised industry. I am not sure that there is any other industry in this country which is in quite the same position of being half-nationalised, where one half has to put its case to an authority which immediately submits it to the other half. If justice is done—and I am not in a position to say that it is not—I am afraid that in that respect it does not always appear to be done. Perhaps the most valuable contribution the noble Earl who is to reply could make to assist us this afternoon is to try to clarify to a greater extent than hitherto the exact position or relationship between the Ministry, the Commission and the various other Departments involved (such as the Board of Trade and, perhaps, the Treasury), on the one hand, and the private woodland owner, on the other.

May I now speak finally in an individual capacity? The right reverend Prelate touched upon a subject which is very near to my heart. He referred to waste land. How I agree with him! When I go around the country, whenever I see a piece of land that is waste—and I am afraid I see much—it strikes me most forcibly that something is wrong and ought to be put right. This touches upon a greater question because there is in the country a great complaint that the Forestry Commission are taking good agricultural land for planting. As the right reverend Prelate said, the answer is surely that the Commission should take smaller pieces of land and be content with more diminutive forests. The Forestry Commission will say—and I am sorry to see that the Chairman is not in his place on the Cross Benches this afternoon—that that is not economic. From their point of view, the narrow point of view of the Commission, they would be right in saying that it is not economic. But there is another point of view—the national point of view.

I say without hesitation that from the point of view of the whole community it is economic and in every way desirable that much smaller areas of woodland—I am thinking of the steep dingles and dales and hillsides, of places which are covered with scrub and cannot be ploughed--should be afforested. How? My humble suggestion is this: that there should be some authority in suitable divisions throughout the country—I suggest at a county level—to see to it that these pieces of land are somehow planted. I am speaking now quite unofficially, but I would give that authority whatever powers were necessary to go round and see to it that those areas were no longer wasted, because I believe that, if we are going to rely upon growing our own food and producing our own timber, as we pretend to be, we can no longer afford the luxury and extravagance of these small derelict, overgrown pieces of land.

The noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, made another interesting suggestion. I entirely endorse the suggestion that pulp mills should be very much extended in this country. It is a thoroughly economic way of getting rid of all otherwise unproductive timber, for I think we are a long way behind other countries in this respect. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has done the whole industry a great service by introducing this subject this afternoon. I look forward keenly to the reply by the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, which will, I can assure him, be given the fullest attention by all the woodland owners of this country and by the members of the forestry societies.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, without taking up too much of your time, I hope I may be able to make a contribution which is not entirely worthless to this discussion to-day. May I start by saying that I am one of those who have great admiration for the Forestry Commission and for the work they are doing? It is an inspiring and encouraging sight to see our great State forests growing in number and in volume; but, as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has pointed out so clearly, if the maximum production is to be obtained from Britain's woodlands, it is absolutely essential that the Government give the same attention to private forests as they do to State forests. That is absolutely essential, because Great Britain has the highest proportion of private forests to State forests of any country in Europe. In spite of the rapidly extending State forests in this country, the private forests must continue to play a very important part in our national economy for many years to come.

It is, however, the importance of the smaller woodlands in this country that I want to stress this afternoon. Whatever one may think of the dedication scheme, as regards the smaller woodlands which remain outside the scope of that scheme, their position is anything but satisfactory. As your Lordships know, these smaller woods have probably contributed as much as any other class of wood to the needs of this country during two World Wars, They have given some of the finest timber. That, of course, is because they are generally situated in soil which is favourable for the growth of good quality hardwood timber—agricultural land and such like. They serve a vital function in that they shelter man and his beast, and his crops. As the right reverend Prelate has pointed out, they help to conserve wild life—a most important point. They also conserve our water supplies. Finally, as the right reverend Prelate has also pointed out, they make no small contribution to the quality of our landscape.

In their Report on Post-War Forest Policy, which I think was issued towards the latter end of the war, the Commissioners estimated that our small woodlands comprise roughly 1,000,000 acres. That represents between one-third and one-quarter of our total woodland acreage. It has always been, and still is, a mystery to me why, when the Government were by this new policy trying to encourage the fullest production in our forests, there should have been this line of demarcation, this great definition placed between small woodlands and other woodlands. If these woods form such a large proportion of our present acreage, why are they treated unfavourably compared with other woods? Let us see what the position is. A woodland owner whose wood is not considered a suitable subject for dedication may apply for a planting grant of £10 an acre but he receives no maintenance grant, as is the case with regard to dedicated woods. In effect, it seems to me that the Government are saying "We will give you so much encouragement to plant, but after that we do not mind what happens; we wash our hands of you." Of course, if the owner does not apply for this £10 grant, I suppose his land remains derelict, and is not planted at all. That seems a strange way of increasing the productivity of our woods. I would like the noble Earl who is to reply to explain, if he can, exactly why these smaller woodlands have been left outside the scheme of compulsory State supervision.

I emphasised the importance of these small woodlands in the debate in your Lordships' House on the Second Reading of the Forestry Bill, in 1946 and I remember being warmly supported by several noble Lords, including Lord Radnor and Lord Mersey who spoke in strong support of the importance of the small woodlands. The noble Earl who is to reply to-day said on that occasion: There are masses of small woodlands which it would be difficult for the Forestry Commission to deal with satisfactorily. I agree. But I do suggest that the administration of our forest authority should be so organised that it can deal with them. The present personnel of the forestry authority to deal with private woodlands, and with all the small woodlands in the country, is quite inadequate. For example, to take one conservancy in Scot-land in which I am interested—namely, the south conservancy—here we see 150,000 acres under private ownership. I think that figure is correct. I took it from the census which has been compiled recently. There are 150,000 acres of woodlands in private ownership in the south conservancy in Scotland, and to inspect those woodlands, to administer the dedication scheme, I think there is one man—it may be two, but I do not think it is more. Surely that is an impossibility. Here I would like to pay a tribute to our forest officers in the Commission, who are helpful and generous in their treatment, and about whom I have had no complaint from anybody. But with the best will in the world it is impossible for such a small body of men to deal with this very large acreage of woodland, and I am certain that the small woods in this country will never become fully productive until the whole machinery of administration is overhauled.

My Lords, could we not with advantage model ourselves on some of the Continental countries—in particular, the Scandinavian countries—where efficient management of woodlands has been undertaken for years, and is applied to all woods, large and small alike? I might refer in particular to Sweden and to Finland. Here we see local forestry boards all over the country. In Sweden I think there are twenty-five forestry hoards, one to each county. These committees, as one might call them, have not only advisory powers but also executive duties—that is to say, they have to see that the policy of the Government in regard to forestry is carried out. In Denmark, again, we see far more decentralisation than in this country.

There is one point with regard to the advisory committees which were set up under the Forestry Act. I know a little about these committees. I have the honour to be chairman of one of the regional advisory committees, and I am sure that any of your Lordships who is in touch with these affairs will bear me out in saying that, with the best will in the world—and I am sure they are doing everything they possibly can—they can accomplish very little at present because there is very little for them to accomplish. I suggest to His Majesty's Government that these committees might well be reconstituted; and like the forestry boards in Sweden and Finland they might be given executive powers, as well as the purely advisory powers or duties which they at present possess. I submit that they might well be modelled more on the lines of the agricultural executive committees, which have done so much to revitalise the farming industry. These methods have been proved successful in the sphere of agriculture. Might they not prove equally successful in the sphere of forestry? A technical staff, of course, might be available, or attached to these committees, to give guidance on the latest forestry practice, and they would be there to help in administering the dedication scheme where that was necessary. But what we want above all is decentralisation of control if these woods—the private woods and, in particular, the smaller woods—are to receive the attention and the sympathetic treatment which is so necessary to their fullest production. I hope that His Majesty's Government will give some consideration to the suggestions which I have made.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to reinforce what my noble friend has said about increasing the personnel attached to the advisory services of the Forestry Commission. Speaking from the point of view of a local planning authority, I can say that in the southwest conservancy area it is difficult to obtain assistance and advice on forestry affairs when we ask for it. It is difficult because the office concerned is very much under-staffed, and I hope the noble Earl, when he replies to this debate, will give us some idea whether there is any plan for increasing the personnel available for this consultation. The consultation arises, of course, not only with owners of private woodland but also with local planning authorities, and that comes under those sections of the Town and Country Planning Act which deal with tree preservation.

The question of tree preservation and the ensuing orders was briefly touched on by the right reverend Prelate and, if I understood him aright, he seemed to be in favour of widespread use of such orders. I would question whether it is wise, in the interests of forestry or of amenity, that these orders should be so widespread that they might tend to cover the majority of private woodlands. I say that for this reason—and it is really an important point which has only recently come into view—because the new legislation under the Town and Country Planning Act is only just beginning to have effect. It is not the Minister who keeps the forest under his wing, but the Minister of Town and Country Planning who issues regulations and memoranda on the subject of tree preservation orders. These orders, of course, impinge extremely severely on all existing private woodlands, and it is, I think, a matter for the consideration of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries as to what advice he is prepared to give to the other Minister, the Minister of Town and Country Planning, on this question.

How far are our private woodlands to be placed under this control of the local planning authorities? Are local planning authorities properly equipped with technical officers to deal with the subject? The right reverend Prelate has told us that the county upon which he keeps a benignant eye, Cornwall, is already equipped with a forestry officer. Only last week the County Councils Association decided to recommend to their members that county councils—that is to say, local planning authorities—should not engage highly-qualified technical forestry staff for this business. That was done because we felt it would be a great mistake if each county in England were to try at this stage to engage forestry staff to deal with forestry matters in its area, seeing that all counties are more or less in the hands of the Forestry Commission and their advisory officers. We feel that it will make confusion worse confounded if each county—and there are a great many counties in Scotland, England and Wales—is to have what in effect will be a baby forestry commission issuing orders on the control of felling and getting the Minister to confirm tree preservation orders. I think this is a very important point, because I doubt whether there is full co-ordination by the two Ministers in charge of these matters—the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, so far as forestry is concerned, and the Minister of Town and Country Planning in the matter of tree preservation orders.

I think those of your Lordships who are foresters—and there are many here this afternoon—would be well advised to look closely into the papers already issued on the subject of tree preservation and the orders that flow from them. As I see this problem (and we have recently had to give this matter a good deal of attention in the county from which I come), if these tree preservation orders are not used with great moderation they will tend to act as disincentives beyond all the other matters of which your Lordships have been told this afternoon, both by the noble Earl who opened this debate and by subsequent speakers. This will, on top of all the other matters, have an adverse effect on replanting; and, of course, replanting is the centre of the whole problem. Indeed, if these tree preservation orders are pressed by the local planning authorities to the utmost, I think they will prove to be the last straw that breaks the camel's back.

Your Lordships will observe that you may plant your trees and everyone will bless you. But when it comes to felling, the local planning authority, at a moment's notice, may issue a tree preservation order absolutely forbidding the felling of the crop. It is true that compensation, or a certain degree of compensation, may be payable if such an order is made. But the Minister, in his latest circular, number 66, which was issued this year says this: The memorandum is designed as a comprehensive guide on the policy and procedural aspects of Tree Preservation Orders. It should remove the uncertainty which local authorities have experienced regarding the extent of their powers,"— And these are important words: and should also remove the fear of unduly heavy liabilities for payment of compensation. Your Lordships have all had very considerable experience now of what is meant by compensation, and I need not refer to it at any great length. We know that compensation nowadays really means only what it is convenient for the Government to pay. It does not mean anything else. But if there is to be no "fear of unduly heavy liabilities for payment of compensation" it means, in other words, that whatever the crop of timber may be the compensation will be paid at much below its real value. That, I think, must be the meaning of those words if they are examined.

On studying these documents, your Lordships will ascertain that there are two ways of escaping these orders. You can escape the possibility of a tree preservation order by dedication. That, of course, is the simple way. But many of your Lordships, I think, will doubt the advisability, at the present day, of taking that step. Still, as I say, should you dedicate you escape. The other, and so far as I can make out the only other, way of escaping the threat of tree preservation orders is by establishing your plantations in areas so remote from the general public that they cannot be seen—I quote the words of the Memorandum— whether from footpath, road, railway or river. There is a further qualification: that the woodland is not open to public access. These are very strange conditions. What is meant, in fact, is that so long as you plant your trees somewhere where no one can see them from any of the places I have mentioned, you are in no danger of a tree preservation order. The Minister, I am sure, is anxious to encourage replanting of private woodlands, but I doubt whether this control which is envisaged by tree preservation orders will help towards the object which he has in view.

Observe this: when the Minister wished to increase agricultural production he removed control; he said: "I will have no more direction orders for agriculture." If he wishes to increase replanting and to encourage the maximum production of private woodlands he must do the same there. He must remove controls. Therefore, those who have to deal with this most complex question of tree preservation orders are very much worried about the implications of this tree preservation policy. It is not only a policy which affects the rural counties of England; it will arise also in those counties that have large urban populations—and urban populations are more likely to press for the implementation of the tree preservation policy. Of course, the words in themselves are inaccurate. Nobody—not even a Minister—can preserve a tree. A tree has a natural length of life and then it will die. All the Minister can do is to defer the felling of a certain acreage of woodland. Surely the right way to look on this problem is to look on it as deferment of felling and to consider whether it is in the interests of the public or of amenity to defer felling, rather than to try to provide a standpoint that is utterly ridiculous.

I apologise for speaking at such length, but this is a matter which I feel needs more co-ordination between the two Ministries concerned. At the present time the local planning authorities have not the trained personnel, and we are anxious that the Forestry Commission should be strengthened, so that advisory officers can give their advice to local planning authorities. We feel it a much neater form of administration that the Commission, who have all their established officers throughout the counties, should take on this extra load, in preference to starting what I have described as a "baby forestry commission" in each county. There is an important principle here—namely, that we must have uniformity throughout the country in regard to these orders. If each county is to have its own policy then, of course, uniformity cannot exist. It is of vital importance that tree preservation orders should be made more or less on uniform lines throughout the country, because in any other case serious injustice would be done as between county and county.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, however agitated the flutterings it may cause in the official dovecote, there is no reason to doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, threw a most accurate stone at the beginning of his speech. Speaking from the less onerous position of a member of the Council of the Royal Scottish Forestry Society, I can confirm the impression, amounting almost to a certainty, that is among us all, that, despite the great ability, enormous energy and undoubted integrity of the noble Lord, Lord Robinson, the Chairman of the Forestry Commission, since he has assumed that chairmanship he has shown himself at best indifferent, at worst even hostile, to private forestry. Private forestry, and with it forestry as a whole, is to-day suffering very much from that.

The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, in his admirable introductory speech, mentioned the slowness with which dedication is coming into effect. Like the noble Earl, I have had no opportunity of seeing more of the Forestry Commission's latest report than the brief excerpts that have appeared in this morning's Press, but from it one gathers that, at least until comparatively few months ago, only one instrument of dedication had been successfully completed. Though it is possible (but I do not think probable) that some of these excerpts, through their very briefness, may have given a wrong impression, one gathers the opinion that it was mainly due to delay or obduracy on the part of forest owners. Nothing could be further from the truth. Take my own case as an example. The moment the dedication scheme was mooted, although I did not think very much of it—and I think rather less of it now—I announced my complete willingness to adhere to it. In spite of the years, rather than months, that have gone by since then, nothing whatever has happened, although my woods have been surveyed by the courteous, painstaking and efficient junior members of the Commission, against whom I have not the slightest criticism to make. Once the report had gone back to headquarters, it seems to have disappeared and lawyers' wrangles are going on as to the details of dedication, not particularly affecting my own case but affecting every one. Through the whole of the proceedings, I have held the view that dedication itself was quite unnecessary and the same effect could have been brought about by a simple Act of Parliament, or, indeed, by a section of the last Forestry Act which we passed. We could have achieved the same result and got everything going much more quickly.

It is unfortunate that many people do hang back from dedication, but that is inevitable. I do not think it would be fair to say that landowners as a whole are not replanters. I know that many of us are replanting, and some on a considerable scale, but of course we are doing it entirely out of capital. There is no income produced which can go more than a little way to meet replanting costs at the present time, and, as has already been pointed out strongly, but not too strongly, it is really unfair to woodland owners to expect them to show the efficient management that many of them are continuing to show when wages have risen by 150 per cent., and the prices received for timber by only some 25 to 26 per cent. No ors grudges forestry workers increased wages or better conditions—forestry workers nearly always are hard workers—but higher wages unaccompanied by a corresponding increase in prices are a heavy drain upon the economy of any estate and particularly on the owner of woodlands.

A certain amount has been said to-day about the small woodlands which the Forestry Commission seem inclined to treat in a rather cavalier fashion. It is undoubtedly true that a great deal more supervision, advice and help are required, because small woodlands are the ones for which it is most difficult to frame a policy and which are the most expensive to replant. It is quite likely that many of your Lordships not closely connected with forestry do not realise how much more expensive it is comparatively to fence a small wood than a large one. May I give a few examples? A tiny plantation of one square acre—that is approximately seventy yards square—requires 280 yards of fence to enclose it. If, however, you have a square of two acres, 200 yards per acre will be required; for a square of eight acres, 100 yards per acre, and for forty acres, about 44 yards of fence per acre. And if you are able to achieve the theoretically desirable but generally impracticable aim of one square mile of timber, you will have to use only 11 yards of fence for every acre enclosed.

The costs of planting to-day are serious, though I was unable altogether to accept the figures given by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. In my own case, before the war the average costs of planting were £12 rather £10 an acre. I am glad to say that in no single instance since the war have my costs ever approached anything like £40. Even so, re-planting is an extremely expensive business and, as I have said, the smaller the wood, the more expensive it is. The fact that planting costs for the last two years have been abnormally low, owing to the very favourable weather conditions, does not mean that the burden is not there, and that there may not come unfavourable winters and springs for planting when the cost will be even double what it is to-day.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, spoke shortly of the controversies that have been aroused by the Forestry Commission's acquisition and planting of good sheep ground. There is no doubt that in certain cases they have been rather unwise in their choice. Equally, from the broad point of view there is no doubt that a vast extension of planting upon certain sheep land is greatly to be urged, particularly in Scotland. At this point let me make it clear that I am not speaking as an enemy of sheep. I have good sheep farms myself, and I breed both pedigree and commercial sheep. But so far as Scotland, at least, is concerned—I do not speak for England and Wales, because I have not sufficient knowledge of them —there are to-day literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of acres which would be better under timber than under sheep.

I know that these remarks will not be popular among the flock masters, but I can substantiate them to the full, at least so far as the provision of employment is concerned in these rural areas of Scotland—areas which are so sadly needing new industries, and where the popular cry is "Get the people back to the glens." If one compares the amount of employment given by forestry with that of sheep farming, one finds it is usually between ten and twenty-five times as large. These figures may seem rather startling, but they can be substantiated. One of the leading sheep farmers in the north of Scotland a few weeks ago gave it as the average of eight acres of moorland to support one Cheviot sheep. I will take it from an angle rather more favourable to the sheep, and take it at five acres. It is true that there are many sheep farms which can support a higher population of sheep—even three, or fewer, acres per sheep—but they are of such high quality that no planting should be done with them, unless for shelter belts, which are badly needed on almost all sheep farms.

Here let me say, as an obiter dictum, that any planting of such shelter belts should be sufficiently wide that eventually they can be used from the timber as well as the pastoral point of view. If one takes the average number of acres it requires to keep a sheep, and if one takes the number of sheep that one man can look after in the Scottish hills as between 400 and 500, it is obvious that one man will be employed on something like 2,500 acres of ground alone. On a farm of 10,000 acres only some four shepherds would be employed, with perhaps a farmer who did not himself manage a hirsel of sheep. If one assumes the maximum figure of seven or eight, that would be all one could reasonably expect to see employed.

Looking at the matter from the timber point of view, it is obvious that if 10,000 acres of land were taken over by the Forestry Commission, or anyone else, it is not likely that they would he able to plant more than half that amount; half of it, at least, would probably be unsuitable for planting. It has been shown on the Continent of Europe that once a forest gets into full working order—which will not happen for a good many years—there is employed directly in that forest one man for every 100 acres of trees. Furthermore, in ancillary occupations, in the handling and manufacture of the timber derived from the forest, another four men per 100 acres are employed. Thus, directly and indirectly, one man is employed for every twenty acres of forest land. Those figures refer to the Continent of Europe, but in this country—at least when the right places are chosen—trees grow better than abroad. So the figures here would be probably more, rather than less favourable. In other words, whereas you employ a maximum of seven or eight—or, to be generous, ten—on your 10,000 acres of sheep ground, you are going to employ several hundred in forestry, a number depending, of course, upon how much land you are able to put economically under timber.

From the point of view of Scotland, therefore, I would like to see the Forestry Commission's figure of timber greatly exceeded. To my mind, for a long-term policy they have been all too modest. I would like to see 4,000,000 acres of Scotland under timber within a century. That would give employment directly and indirectly for some 200,000 men, or considerably more than all those employed in Scotland in agriculture and coal mining together at the present time.

There is one point that has not been raised by any speaker to-day, but it is one which is vital to the whole forestry programme. It is this. The country and the Government—not this Government particularly; any Government—have got to make a choice between timber and trippers, between pines and picnics. It is absolutely useless to have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of coarse end conifers at the present time, and then to allow the public, officially or unofficially, to have unrestricted access to them. As your Lordships know, we have just passed through a very long hot and dry spell, and there have been many serious fires throughout the country. Perhaps the most serious—certainly the worst of which I have personal knowledge—could be seen from my own windows at home, when on the estate of one of the best owners in Perthshire—one who takes a great interest in his woods, which are admirably managed —between 150 and 200 acres of young trees were largely destroyed by fire some ten days ago. It is beyond all reasonable doubt that that fire was started by the carelessness of a picnic party. Not only can the owner not afford such a loss, but there is the question: Can the country afford it?

The position in forestry is very different from that in agriculture. Even most townsmen would regard it as not very good behaviour to go stampeding through a field of growing corn. But if a field of growing corn is totally destroyed, only the profit for one year is lost. If fire sweeps through a young wood, there may well be lost something which has been done at great expense over the last twenty to twenty-five years. Again I ask: Can the country afford it?

A few years ago I spoke on similar lines in your Lordships' House, and a few days later I received a letter from an infuriated lady—who I must say had the courtesy to sign her name and address—saying how iniquitous it was that the selfish landowner should seek to prevent the public from wandering at will in those woods which God had provided for their amusement. It was in no spirit of irreverence that I was constrained to point out to the lady that more than 95 per cent. of the woods on my property, and on most other properties, had been put there directly by myself or my ancestors at great cost, and were of considerable value to the country, particularly as at that time we were passing through the greatest timber crisis in our history. The lady wrote back and expressed agreement with what I had said. I do not think that most townspeople are hostile, they are just ignorant; but unfortunately ignorance is at times just as dangerous as wilful maliciousness. It does not matter if 100,000 people go through a wood and behave themselves and are careful, but if the 100,001st throws away a cigarette end, or, still worse, does not extinguish his picnic fire, it is then goodbye to many hundreds of acres and thousands of pounds' worth of timber.

The Forestry Commission suffer just as much, if not more, than the private owner. I remember a fire on the banks of the Borgie a few years ago, when many hundreds of acres of Forestry Commission land were devastated. Therefore, I put it to the Government that it is absolutely essential that there should be a stiffening of legislation in regard to public access to young coniferous woods. It may be that differentiation between the young woods and the older woods is rather difficult to achieve by legislation, but something has to be done, otherwise it is not going to be worth while either the Forestry Commission or the private owner planting woods if they are only going to have the horror and humiliation of seeing them partially or totally destroyed a few years later through the carelessness of one or two people.

Here I would like to add that the question of insurance of woodlands is one which ought to be taken up a great deal more vigorously than it ever has been. At present it is practically impossible to insure woods, except at prohibitive rates. I do not blame the insurance companies for making prohibitive rates, because some of the responsibility must lie upon the woodland owners themselves. Naturally only those who have reasonable expectations that they will suffer from fire take the trouble to insure, and as a rule they are willing to insure only those woods which are close beside a railway or a much frequented road or by-pass. I dislike compulsory interference more than most people, but I do feel that there is a case for the imposition of a small levy on all dedicated woodlands (possibly making it a little higher where they are in a very dangerous position) out of which a fund could be established to repay those who lose their timber. The other way to do it—and I think probably a more satisfactory way—would be, if such a levy were instituted, to make some arrangement with the great insurance companies, who, at least until they are nationalised, will do the job with considerably more efficiency than any Government Department.

I have spoken at considerable length, but I do feel that these forestry debates are on a subject the importance of which is not generally realised in your Lordships' House or throughout the country. Just as the world is facing in the not very distant future a crisis of the first magnitude in regard to food, so is it facing an equally severe crisis in regard to timber, and particularly softwoods. There are still large quantities of hardwoods in Africa and South America. Many of them are far away, and many of them are so hard that it is difficult to turn them to commercial use. Those reserves do exist, but the reserves of softwood are getting less year after year, and at an absolutely frightening speed. Some years ago I was in the office of the Chicago Tribune, and I saw roll after roll of newsprint being brought in, all of which had been manufactured from trees grown, I think, in Canada. Something like forty acres per day—it may be per edition, but I will take the moderate view—of Canadian timber was required by that one newspaper. The world to-day cannot expect to get woodlands of this kind reafforested by natural regeneration at anything like the speed at which they are being devastated. So from our own point of view, and from everyone's point of view, it is essential that we in this country should get as much woodland under cultivation as soon as possible.

This can be done only if there is a more sympathetic attitude adopted to the private woodland owner, because, great as have been the accomplishments of the Forestry Commission, and able as those who direct them are, if they are to undertake the administration of all the woodlands of this country it will be an impossible task. They have not now, and will not have for many years, sufficient trained men to look after the woods they now possess, let alone those they are planting. Private forestry and the Forestry Commission should and could go hand in hand, but the attitude of certain persons will have to be changed before this very desirable result can be attained.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, like many noble Lords who have preceded me, I am one of those woodland owners who view the question of present-day prices with very great concern. As many noble Lords have said, while wages and other expenses of timber production have gone up by a very great deal since the beginning of the war, I believe I am right in saying that there has been only one increase in the price of timber; and that was in 1947. I may point out that since then wages have risen very substantially. May I give one or two personal examples of what I have found? In the Chiltern Hills we have found that the price of beech has about doubled since 1938, but the House has heard from several noble Lords what the Government are paying for imported timber. In Scotland my woodlands are right on the edge of property belonging to the National Coal Board. I should be willing to supply the National Coal Board with a small amount of pit-wood, but prices are such that they just do not make it an economic proposition for me to do so, whether it is for thinnings or a final crop. Yet the Coal Board are paying for imported supplies much higher prices than the home grower is getting. I think I am right in saying that the home grower receives 2s. a cubic foot less for pit-wood than the foreign grower. Is this not quite unjustified? It is certainly no encouragement to me to grow better pit-wood. As one or two previous speakers have said, there is a fear that the foreigner is being protected at the expense of us woodland owners.

The noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, made a suggestion which I would like to support—namely that the timber grower should be treated like the farmer. It is true that agricultural crops mature in one year, while forestry crops may take anything from 60 to 120 years to mature. But surely this is a difference only in degree, not in principle. I maintain that it should he possible for an owner to replace his timber sold at present-day prices with seedlings planted at to-day's costs; and if that owner is a good forester he should have a reasonable profit in sight, taking account of the growing time of the timber and the maturing of it, and also the present cost of all operations. But we have had no proof yet that this is the position. I may be accused of saying that the owner may be making capital profits out of his wood. But surely he risks capital losses as well. Either way, if I were that owner I should not be interested in the price at maturity.

Regarding the owner's expenses, which I have already mentioned, I have been on outings to Forestry Commission estates. There they are able to carry out experiments in seeding beds and planting, large and small, and it is right that they should do so. It. is very useful to have the Forestry Commission doing these things, because we owners have the chance of learning from them possible means of improving a technique which is difficult for us to study with our more limited means and our smaller acreages. I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, in his belief that the Forestry Commission should make use of more small portions of waste land, because I feel that the Forestry Commission would do us wood-owners a big service in showing how we can keep down expenses on our smaller areas.

The question of dedication is one to which I have given much thought. I am sure we all agree that the primary object in forestry to-day is to re-establish woodland areas which have been devastated through the two World Wars. But as regards dedication, many owners are adopting a policy of "wait and see" before they, lend themselves to dedication. Why? The first reason is prices, as I have already said. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, mace that point strongly in his speech. Another question that has been referred to is perpetuity. Some owners have grave doubts about tying up their property permanently; they feel that if they do so, they will be tying their successor's hands. Governments come and Governments go, but will Government or individual planning last for ever? Is it in the national interest that dedication should be carried out in perpetuity? I should like to make one point in that connection. Having dedicated his woodland in perpetuity, an owner may be carrying out expensive forestry operations in his woodlands. He may be unfortunate enough to drop down dead to-morrow, and his successors may find that they cannot carry on because the Government have taken all their money in death duties. Is it fair for the Government then to step in—as they can under the dedication scheme—when the successor cannot carry on owing entirely to circumstances beyond his control?

To sum up, I should like to make three main points. The first concerns prices. The second is that the timber grower should be treated as a farmer. The third is the question of perpetuity. We should like answers to these points. And, by way of a small supplementary, I should like to ask the Government why it is that although the Annual Report of the Forestry Commission was ordered to be printed by another place on May 18, it was published only to-day.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, for all who are interested in the forestry industry, this has been a most important debate. As has already been said, all of us must now be convinced that clearly something needs to be done in the near future. I should like to deal with one or two points which have not been covered and which are very important. One is the utilisation of coppice and undergrowth, and the second, which is extremely important, is the future supply and training of young woodmen, upon whose skill depends the whole of our industry. To anyone seriously trying to appreciate the forestry picture as a whole, the softwood-hardwood controversy is not likely to cause much heat; while no one will deny the necessity for a large-scale softwood plantation, it must not be forgotten that there is still a large part to be played by the hardwoods. These large woods and coppices have for centuries been our main source of supply for building and other similar industries, but they are now dwindling, first because of the large demand which has been made on them in the two wars; secondly, because there has been some neglect due mainly to the fact that it has not been easy to keep them in proper order; and thirdly, because there has not been enough encouragement by the Government in the matter of markets and prices to make it worth while to sell underwood economically. Even now, the local demand is dwindling; and a skilled woodman will go through a piece of woodland and throw out many pieces which could really be put to many uses.

Hazel and other woods, for instance, are left to mature, and sometimes to rot. The impression that it is not economical to sell these timbers is a wrong impression. Some of them are very valuable for pea sticks, clothes props, shores, stakes and the like, and ought to be sold at a good price. I am told that excellent fencing stakes can he made out of split oak; and the manufacturers of china ware will tell you that the finest crates are made of hazel rods. It is astonishing that very little indeed of this is realised by the Ministry of Supply. Indeed, twice during the war they isued a Memorandum to wood owners, saying that stakes were not to be made of oak but were to be made out of "oak tops." My agent wrote and asked what exactly these tops were, and eventually an official was sent down to tour the woods. He came to the conclusion that no one really knew what was meant, and that the estate could carry on doing what they had been doing very well.

The periodical, selected felling of timber has the advantage of stimulating undergrowth, and also of letting light into the woods to encourage regeneration and to give the ditches a chance to be cleared. We all know how the clearing of ditches affects the efficiency of timber growing. Ditching is now so expensive a matter that I would ask his Majesty's Government whether they will consider arranging for the Ministry of Agriculture, or the Forestry Commission, to hire out at reasonable cost mechanical ditchers for this vital task. I also earnestly ask them, in the name of good forestry, not to forget this historical side of the industry, which is such an excellent ground for the training of young woodmen. They have indeed, happily, somewhat encouraged this course by approving grants for regeneration schemes.

I would like now to say a few words on the position of the training of young woodmen. It is unfortunate that, in spite of the many advantages that fall to a woodmen's lot, there have not been the number of recruits that one would wish. This is due to a large extent to the attitude of many schoolmasters and townsfolk who think that a woodman's job is not one for anyone educated but is only for some uneducated yokel. That is a most dangerous attitude. It is dangerous for the future of the industry. I feel that if the attractions and advantages of this most skilled trade were put in front of both the boys and their parents and if some scheme of apprenticeship was evolved, it would improve the position a great deal. The trouble nowadays is that woodland owners are apt to fight shy of taking on many young boys without the assurance that they will stay for some time. For the first year of training a young boy is not bringing anything in, and it is only gradually that the owner-employer will get something back.

The Forestry Commission and the universities have been running excellent forestry courses, but I submit that they have been concentrating too much on turning out the skilled forestry super- visors and not enough on producing the skilled axemen. There is a very real and grave danger of there becoming a glut of these supervisors who, like the tramp of old, will be too light for heavy work and too heavy for light work. I personally know several men at Oxford who this summer have left with full forestry degrees but not the slightest idea of what job they will do. This is due partly to the lack of positions, but also to the fact that owing to the present-day price situation the present economic position in forestry is so precarious. No owner can pay those men, who have spent three years learning at universities, the salaries which they rightly deserve. Thus, as a consequence, we shall find that landowners will say they would, if possible, pay a man a good salary to supervise their woods, but that they cannot afford it. Lastly, I suggest that other courses should be run to turn out skilled working foremen, for it is the foreman who will have to bear the brunt of the industry.

Before I sit down I would like just to summarise what I have said into four main questions. First, is it the policy of His Majesty's Government to recognise the importance of the minor hardwood trees and to encourage the full utilisation of undergrowth? Secondly, would the Forestry Commission or the Ministry of Agriculture consider the hiring out of mechanical ditchers? Thirdly, are the young men now being trained in the great forestry schools all over England guaranteed any form of employment? Fourthly, would the Ministry consider an apprenticeship scheme for young men, and also set up schools for preparing skilled axemen? We await with keen anticipation the reply of the noble Earl. I promise him that we will listen carefully to what he says. I think he will agree that he has heard many constructive speeches from this side to-day. We hope that his will be as constructive. He has heard many facts, and I should like him either to dispute those facts or admit that there is some case, and that this case should be remedied for the sake of the whole country.


My Lords, I should first like heartily to agree with the last speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, when he says that this has been a most useful debate with a remarkable amount of constructive suggestions coming from all sides. In fact, there are so many suggestions that I am sure noble Lords will not expect me to answer them all in detail. I can assure all those who have spoken that their suggestions will be taken to their proper destination, very carefully considered and, if possible, acted upon. There was a happy start to this debate, in that there has been more or less general harmony and agreement upon the necessity for growing more trees and for building up our timber supplies. I join cordially in those thoughts, suggestions and feelings. But we are up against what I think is rather a serious difficulty, and possibly a danger, which we must face and tackle. We in the Ministry of Agriculture and all our officers in the Department continually go round the country stressing the need for more food. We want every ounce of food from every inch of our soil. Far be it from me to retreat one inch from that position. In fact, we asked the agricultural industry to grow far more than they have done, for we need as much food as we can grow at home.

There is the danger that, while stressing the importance of growing food, the short-term necessity, drastic as it is, may tend to obscure the long-term need of forestry which, over a long term, is equally important in the national interest. It is very important to achieve a balance between the two. We must never lose sight of the great needs of our forestry and the building up of our woodlands. The whole trouble about the position has been, to put it briefly, that for many years we have been cutting down our woods and not replanting to balance what we have cut. Wars have come, and more than one speaker has emphasised that timber is an absolutely essential material of war. It has been cut down. Bastions of defence have been built up and in the process trees have been felled which we have not replanted. War not only requires timber in vast quantities; it requires also special kinds of timber. Unfortunately, it is a material which is extremely bulky and difficult to transport. Therefore, our woodlands are an inviting target, as they provide the essential supply of the timber we need.

If I may, I will give your Lordships one or two figures. During the 1914 war and the immediately succeeding years, we felled 450,000 acres of our woodlands; whereas between 1939 and 1944 we actually took out of our woods 17,000,000 shipping tons of timber. That, of course, is a colossal amount. I would agree here that the private landowners who planted up those woods in past generations certainly served their country well, when we think of the need that arose for that material during the war. But, while the whole country agrees about the war-time need of timber, it does not always recognise how important it is to have timber for peace-time uses. The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, told us about his experiences when he was in a newspaper office in Chicago. He emphasised the fact that an enormous acreage of timber was being used for newsprint at that time. We must not lose sight of that fact, because the big forests of the world from which we have drawn timber in the past are gradually shrinking at the same time as the population and its needs are increasing. That is a serious consideration. And even if it were not, we have not now the currency with which to buy what we would like to buy.

There are two other considerations which I suggest your Lordships might bear in mind. One is that difficult and much argued point of climate. I know there are different schools of thought on this point, but it would seem that woodlands do to a certain extent affect rainfall and also act as a guardian against soil erosion—and that is a matter about which we must be very careful. I hope that the ordinary farmer will learn to appreciate that fact, because I think very often he looks on a tree as something that just takes up so much space on his land and gives nothing in return, except per-haps fencing posts. We should look upon it as a defence against erosion and as helping towards the fertility of our soil. It is always saddening when in certain parts of the country one sees trees smothered with ivy and dying, trees which would make good timber and would be good to look upon. The right reverend Prelate dealt with the æsthetic point of view, and that is not unimportant. Woodlands do give to this Island a character and beauty which I am sure we all wish to preserve.

Having agreed heartily upon the necessity of building up our timber stocks, I should like for a moment to look at the position in which we find ourselves today. I am glad to say that His Majesty's Government have, from the first, realised the necessity for building up and encouraging the replanting of our woods. The noble Earl who initiated this Motion was good enough to draw attention to the statement of my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture on November 30, 1945, in which he referred to the importance of forestry and also announced that in the five years from 1946 to 1950 the Chancellor of the Exchequer would provide £20,000,000 for the Forestry Fund. That is a big sum and we mean to see that no Geddes Axe shall attempt to cut away this support for the Commission.

The Forestry Commission in their Report suggested that within fifty years we ought to have 5,000,000 acres of woodland, and that in the first ten years the target for the country should be 1,000,000 acres or a little over. Plans were worked out; schemes were evolved; the Government accepted certain responsibilities, and so the matter was launched. In the meantime a census of woodlands was taken to find out the true position. That census has not quite been completed, but I am glad to say that I have some figures, which are provisional in the sense that they are not the final figures, but they are accurate enough to give the position of the country to-day. It appears from the census that the area of all woodlands in private ownership, counting only those over five acres in extent, is about 2,800,000 acres. The area of State forests is 600,000 acres. This gives a total of 3,400,000 acres of woodlands. Of those, approximately 2,400,000 acres have been classified as suitable for economic management. It seems reasonable that at least 2,000,000 acres should be devoted to growing timber. This need not in any way rule out the part use of this area for amenity and sport. But we are looking for 2,000,000 acres as the figure. At present rather less than half may be regarded as passably productive, and of the remainder, 1,000,000 acres urgently need replanting or regenerating and in the meantime are completely unproductive. Of course it is the heavy fellings of the last few years which have brought about this state of affairs.

It was and is considered that the task of rehabilitating all these private woodlands might prove too great for private owners; and so, as was originally proposed, the Forestry Commission have taken up their responsibilities. It is hoped that private owners, for their part, will also take up their responsibilities. It was hoped—and this will be essential to the argument—that in the first ten years private owners would dedicate 400,000 acres and plant about 200,000. Up to February, 1949, we find that on the basis of area 75 per cent. of the woodland owners have not committed themselves one way or another; while the owners of 80,000 acres have definitely refused. Up to July, 1949, only fourteen estates totalling 12,029 acres have actually been dedicated. I must say one cannot call that an overwhelming response to the dedication scheme, and it has been rather a disappointment to the Forestry Commission and I think to all interested in the scheme.

Now I come to what is perhaps more important—namely, the question of the actual planting which has been carried out. The total area planted by private action in the first three years—that is to say, from September 30, 1946—is 23,300 acres, against a programme of 30,000 acres, which is roughly 78 per cent. of the target. Unfortunately, the Forestry Commission have been held up to a certain extent by the question of dedication, because there are many woodlands which obviously require replanting. In some cases the Commission would perhaps have set about acquiring this land, but they did not do so until they were quite satisfied what the owners were going to do, and particularly whether the land was going to be dedicated or not. As a result they have also fallen behind in their target, although not to such a great extent. In the same period they have planted 33,247 acres as against a target of 40,000 acres, which is approximately 83 per cent. We find on analysis that the position is not even as good as that, because while in the first two years private owners of woodlands more or less kept up to the target, in the third year there has been a very heavy drop. In fact, planting in the third year has fallen to 9,100 acres out of a target of 15,000 acres, or only 60 per cent. The general indication that we have seen— this is more indefinite, of course—is that that drop is getting worse.


Would the noble Earl agree that that drop is due to the shortage of plants, and that all the plants that were available were used?


I would be quite ready to agree with the noble Duke, but that is not the only consideration. What I am trying to make clear is the serious nature of the falling off in our planting. I quite agree with the noble Duke that that is one of the very important considerations.


Does the noble Earl agree that every plant that was available was used, and that that was the controlling factor?


I would not go as far as that; but I do know that that has been a considerable difficulty. I think your Lordships will agree, in view of the figures which I have just given, that it is, to say the least, an unfortunate position. But there it is, and we must face it. It is extremely important that we should do what we can to replant our woodlands and to try to get nearer to the targets in the future.

Various suggestions have been made this afternoon as to incentives which might he offered with a view to increasing the areas planted. The first matter which I would like to discuss for a moment or two is the very important one of the dedication scheme. As the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, indicated, discussions have been going on, but unfortunately I am not in a position to make any statement about them at present. All I can say is that points which have been mentioned are being carefully considered. I would like to emphasise that the scheme is entirely voluntary. I want to disabuse the mind of any noble Lord who may think that this is a sort of blackmail or threat. I thought that the Lord Chancellor, in a speech some time ago, made it clear that it is an entirely voluntary scheme. Noble Lords can enter into it or they can remain out, just as they please. But I really cannot see why there should be and great objection to the scheme, although I am prepared to admit that noble Louts may find the financial inducements, as they are at present, not all they could wish and perhaps, in their view, insufficient.

For the dedication of their woodlands, all we are asking people to do, under the scheme, is to give an undertaking that the woodlands shall be properly managed. That, of course, is an undertaking on the part of the owner and it is also binding on his successor. I cannot see why there should be objection to undertaking to do something which surely every owner of woodlands wishes to do and will do. Whether such an undertaking is given or not, every owner will certainly wish to do his best to carry out proper management. In consideration of the undertaking, the State gives certain benefits, planting grants, advice and assistance. It was hoped that owners generally would take advantage of this scheme. Of course, the State reaps substantial advantage from it—I am not trying to disguise that for a moment. The advantage which the State gets is that it is known that there is some form of guarantee that these dedicated woodlands will go on being properly kept up, and that there will not suddenly be a period when a successor of an owner may let things slide and thereby throw away the fruits of past work. Ultimately, I should think, the greatest advantage to be derived from planting woodlands is that the owner is conserving capital in his estate, and that it is capital which, on balance, is treated very favourably in the matter of taxation, and particularly in the matter of estate duties. The planting and maintenance of woodlands enables an owner to put a sum aside, perhaps for his successors, and it appears to me to be an easy, valuable and worthwhile method of conserving a capital sum. And that capital sum, be it noted, will in the future go on being more favourably treated than almost any other form of capital.


May I ask the noble Earl whether he is aware that the Inland Revenue authorities refuse to give the usual concession for timber in the case of private estate companies when their estates are being valued under, I think, Section 55 of the 1940 Finance Act? If he is not aware of that fact, may I suggest to him that it is a very important consideration, because it cuts out the whole of the concession for timber to which he has just referred?


I will certainly study the point which the noble Lord has raised. I should have thought the two great advantages from planting woodlands were, first, that the owner can choose whether he is assessed under Schedule B or Schedule D, and, secondly, that estate duties can be carried over and do not have to be paid until the timber is cut. I would also point out that the value of timber is not charged at the date of assessment. But, as I say, I will look into the noble Lord's point and see whether what he has mentioned is a factor which militates against dedication.


The private successor of a private owner has to consider death duties, whereas the Forestry Commission do not.


I agree that the Forestry Commission are in a better position in that respect. After all, their properties are national State forests and we cannot very well impose death duties in respect of the Commission, because they never die.

I would like now to pass to what I think is another important matter raised during the debate—the question of timber prices. I think there is an almost universal feeling among your Lordships that the real trouble is that it is not really an economic proposition to plant and grow timber to-day. You have intimated that you feel there should be better prices if possible. The noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, and others, suggested that timber should be treated as an agricultural crop, and that we should somehow work out a method of guaranteeing future prices of timber in the same way that we guarantee the prices of many crops grown in the agricultural industry. The first difficulty in the way of doing that—I think this was emphasised by the noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire—is that whereas our agricultural crops are, so to speak, annual events, returns from timber will not come in for 60 or 120 years, though there may be some revenue from thinning and other things in the meantime. This greatly complicates the problem of guaranteeing. You cannot commit Governments of the future for 120 years ahead. I am not saying that it is impossible to work out some scheme, but the proposition is very difficult and much more complicated than guaranteeing prices for such crops as barley or wheat, which are grown annually and which can be altered in accordance with our price reviews.

In regard to this matter of prices, it has been pointed out that since 1939 maximum prices have more or less stayed the same, though they had one uplift in 1947. Maximums were worked out in 1939 to give a very big rise in prices in order to anticipate future rises during the war.


I hope the noble Earl will correct himself, and not suggest that it was a very big increase: it was, in fact, only a moderate increase.


Perhaps I might accept the word "moderate." It all depends on the individual point of view; on what you call "big" and what you call "moderate." On matters such as this naturally ideas are apt to differ. Nevertheless, prices at the beginning of the war were put high to allow for a rise in prices generally—the maxima were 50 per cent. higher than in the previous decade. Whether you call that a "big" or a "moderate" increase I do not know. In January, 1947, there was a further increase of 25 per cent. And there the matter more or less rests. When I say that, I do not want to give the impression that I am at all unsympathetic to the views which have been put forward to-day by noble Lords on the subject of prices. On the other hand, we must remember that in view of the White Paper on incomes and profits, any suggestion of an increase of prices for an important commodity such as timber must be carefully considered by His Majesty's Government before any decision can be taken. However, I understand that a very strong case has been put up to the Board of Trade and that this matter is now being considered. I am sure that your Lordships' remarks this afternoon will be taken into careful consideration when this matter is finally decided.

Various questions were asked which I will try to answer as best I can. First I should like to thank noble Lords, and particularly Lord Haddington, the Duke of Buccleuch and Lord Merthyr, for their kind words about the officers of the Forestry Commission. It is gratifying to know that their services are appreciated, and that it is recognised that, on the whole, they are doing a good job of work. On the other hand, I must take strong exception to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, about Lord Robinson. I can say from first-hand knowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Robinson, has devoted much time to private forestry and private forestry owners. His only difficulty is that he has not, unfortunately, had the response which he would have liked. I would like to remove one illusion of several noble Lords: there is no hostility whatever on the part or the noble Lord, Lord Robinson, the Forestry Commission and my right honourable friend the Minister against private woodland owners. The Forestry Commission have their hands more than full. The greatest joy they could have would be to see woods springing up, well managed, in the hands of private owners. Anything they can reasonably do to help private forestry, the Forestry Commission are most anxious to do.

Many valuable suggestions have been made this afternoon. The suggestion about pulp mills made by the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, is interesting. I think these would be found to be a great asset. I should like to say a word about small woodlands, a subject brought up by the noble Earl, Lord Haddington. Small woodlands can provide a valuable source of supply of timber. Wherever there is a group of small woodlands that could be taken over economically, the Forestry Commission will consider doing so. In regard to suitable small woodlands whose owners want them to be taken over, the reason why they cannot obtain a maintenance grant is that there is no guarantee of maintenance. When a woodland is dedicated, the owner guarantees to continue the standard of management, and so obtains a maintenance grant. When there is dedication, we give a grant because we want to encourage the growth of timber; but where there is no guarantee of what would happen when the timber is planted, we do not give a maintenance grant. Nevertheless, we do recognise the value of small woodlands, and we hope that these may be used to the greatest possible advantage.

The noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, asked me several questions. I think I have already dealt with the ques- tion of treating forestry and agriculture in the same way and also with the suggestion that prices were not in accord with wages and that it was unfair to the owners not to give them better prices. As I have said, we are considering the whole question of prices, and the noble Earl's remarks will be carefully considered. I agree that pit-props can make a valuable contribution to our timber trade. At the moment the difficulty is that there is a certain prejudice in the mining industry against British timber. If pit-props could be peeled and better graded, I think we could overcome that prejudice.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who kindly gave me notice of his question, seems concerned about tree preservation orders. I can assure him that these orders apply only to amenity woodlands, such as beautiful avenues, trees on village greens and, for instance, certain glades in Sherwood Forest. In these cases the local planning authority should have power to invite a scheme for the preservation of these woodlands, and I would emphasise that any scheme must be confirmed by the Minister of Town and Country Planning. That seems to be a quicker method than an understanding between the Minister of Town and Country Planning, the local planning authority and the Minister of Agriculture to force woodland owners into dedication through preservation schemes, as the noble Lord suggested. That is not the intention at all. Preservation orders are only for the purpose of preserving amenity woods and trees.


But whose word goes, if there is a dispute between the Minister of Agriculture, who is responsible for trees, and the Minister of Town and Country Planning, who is responsible for something quite different?


I assure the noble Viscount that we work in the closest co-operation and that the interests of forestry will not be forgotten by my right honourable friend. The noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, kindly gave me notice of the questions he wished to raise. He asked whether it was the policy of the Government to recognise the importance of the minor hardwood trees and to encourage the full utilisation of undergrowth. Of course, we agree with that policy, whenever this can be done economically. His second question was whether the Forestry Commission and Ministry of Agriculture would consider the hiring out of mechanical ditchers. Of course we would, but the Forestry Commission have no machines: all their ditching work is done by hand. Those machines that are owned by the county committees have been and normally are in full use, and there is no spare time available because we are working so hard at agriculture. Therefore I do not think there is much chance of their being used for forestry.

The noble Lord's third question was about graduates in forestry courses being given a guarantee of employment. Here I am afraid I must say "No." Those who graduate in these courses may not necessarily go into Forestry Commission work. They may go to the Colonies, where there is a big demand for graduates with technical qualifications, or they may go to private owners. We cannot give a firm guarantee of a job if they pass the course. The noble Lord's last question was whether apprentice schemes could be evolved for young men, particularly in training in the use of the axe. The Forestry Commission have already five forestry schools—two in England, two in Scotland and one in Wales—where general forestry matters are taught, particularly maintenance of trees, forestry and planting. Actual axe work is taught on the spot when they go into the forests to work. However, we will consider that point and see whether an apprentice scheme would serve a useful purpose.

I was also asked to make completely clear the difference between the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Forestry Commission. In case there is any misunderstanding about that, I may say that the Minister of Agriculture is also the Minister of Forestry, but in a different capacity; that is to say, the Minister of Agriculture is responsible for the work of the Forestry Commission which is, nevertheless, completely separate from the Ministry of Agriculture. That is perhaps not always appreciated.

I think I have now answered all the major questions.


Would the noble Earl be good enough to deal with one point I raised—namely, why it is felt desirable to pay the foreigner much more than the home grower of timber?


That is a point which comes into the general prices. I cannot anticipate any statement that may be made.


I was not asking for a change in the policy, but why it is the present practice of the Government. There must be a good reason for it.


I really cannot give a statement at this moment. It is a very involved matter, and it would be wrong to anticipate matters which are under consideration. I would like to answer a question which the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, put to me categorically about the importance of agriculture and forestry. We fully realise the importance of forestry, and the need to the country of timber. In a way it is similar to agriculture. We recognise it as growing crops, the only difference being that these crops take a long time to mature, so that forestry is run under a different section.


Before the noble Earl sits down, will he say whether the Government are prepared to consider the important question of the protection of woodlands against fire?


That is a very important question and, if I may, I would couple with it the suggestion of the noble Earl with regard to insurance. We have been considering the question of the insurance of woodlands, but it is difficult, as the premiums would be very high. Nevertheless, it is a most desirable course. Whether some levy could he decided upon, and whether the woodland owners would be agreeable to pay it, is a matter well worth looking into. We will look into that and the other point which the noble Earl raised. I am sorry to have taken up so much of your Lordships' time, and for not giving more definite statements on the subject. In spite of that, the ideas which your Lordships have put forward are like seeds which are planted: they will no doubt root and soon produce monster trees. I would like to urge on your Lordships the importance of forestry and the replanting of our woodlands, and I would ask you to go out from this House as missionaries and spread that particular gospel abroad. If we can get it known throughout the country, it will work wonders. I hope that we shall all endeavour to further this cause, so that we can at last see the woodlands of our country properly replanted.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Earl for having done his best. It is an uncomfortable thing to mention now, because it might make one feel very hot, but no doubt many of us have had the experience of sleeping on a deep feather bed—it is always comfortable at the time; but you wake up in the morning feeling completely fogged. I confess that I feel rather in that state after listening to the noble Earl's charming speech. He is always charming, always courteous and full of the best intentions, but sometimes, if he will forgive my saying so, he is a little ineffective. Not one word has been said from the Government Front Bench this afternoon that is going to cause a further single tree to be planted in this country. The noble Earl said it is not always recognised how important forestry is. By whom is it not recognised? It is recognised, not merely on this side of the House, but by the Forestry Commission and throughout the country.

This has been a very friendly and constructive debate, but we had hoped, at least, to get some message of encouragement that could go out to the private landowner, who the Minister of Agriculture has said must be brought in. The noble Earl said that the Ministry are very disappointed that more landowners have not dedicated land to the growing of trees, and that more planting is not being done by the private owner. We warned the noble Earl when the Forestry Bill was before your Lordships' House that there were things in that Bill that would not be tolerated. We are still engaged in negotiation and in trying to settle the very points about which we warned him. After a reply like the one to which we have listened, one is tempted to start one's speech all over again, but I assure your Lordships I shall not do so. I know the noble Earl has taken a great deal of personal trouble, but in thanking him I must say how bitterly we regret the sort of brief he has been given. It is not going to help at all in this very serious situation. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.