HL Deb 20 February 1951 vol 170 cc391-413

2.50 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a Bill which everyone, I think I can safely say, will welcome in principle, for I am sure that your Lordships will regard it as being necessary and desirable. As your Lordships are already aware, its purpose is to protect and to build up our reserves of timber, one of our most essential materials in war and peace time alike. In war, timber would be one of our scarcest raw materials, and I am sure that it will be generally agreed that we must go on stockpiling in growing trees, as in other essential materials. This is one of the many defence measures which, whether we like them or not, everyone agrees are now necessary and inevitable. In normal times we have been far too dependent for supplies of timber, for building and other important home industries, on imports of timber grown in other countries, supplies which are often hard to get. We must do what we can to reduce this dependence on producers overseas. This means that we must continue to develop our native forest industry and prevent any further waste of the scanty reserves of standing timber which are left us after two major wars and the indiscriminate exploitation which went on between the wars.

Accordingly, this Bill proposes to make the Forestry Commission's duty of providing for an adequate reserve of growing timber a statutory responsibility. As your Lordships will notice, that is provided for in Clause 1 of the Bill. To carry out this duty the Commission will need the powers and the administrative machinery set out in the Bill. But I should like to point out at this stage that one of the most important powers proposed to be given in the Bill, the power to control by licence the felling of trees, is not by any means new. It is a power that has been exercised since 1939 under Defence Regulation 68. I am sure your Lordships will agree that this power, which is as essential now as it was during the war, should be expressly authorised by Statute, instead of being applied as it is now, under a war emergency regulation.

Before I deal with the contents of the Bill, I should like, quite briefly, to remind your Lordships of the sad story of the decline of our timber reserves since the First World War, since that was the beginning of the events which have led up to the introduction of the present Bill. I think it will convince your Lordships that the amount of mature timber available from our home woodlands has fallen to an alarming level, and is still falling, despite the efforts of the Forestry Commission and woodland owners, backed up by successive Governments. In the First World War, submarine warfare made it necessary to increase home production to the utmost. The result was that production rose from 900,000 tons in 1913 to 4,250,000 tons in 1918, while some 450,000 acres of home woodlands were felled during the period of the war and the immediate post-war years. Between the wars, strenuous efforts were made, both by woodland owners and by the Forestry Commission, to repair the damage which had been done. There was some planting by private owners, inevitably on a modest scale, and the Forestry Commissioners planted about 370,000 acres. But, by the time the Second World War broke out, the reserves of mature timber still fell short of what they had been in 1914, although some of the plantings carried out immediately after the end of the First World War were beginning to yield some useful produce, mainly in the form of pitprops and poles.

The story of the devastation of our home woodlands during the Second World War does not need retelling. It is too fresh in the memory of all of us. We can, however, as a result of the 1947 Census of Woodlands, assess with reasonable accuracy the extent of the loss caused by the late war, and of the great areas of unstocked woodland carrying stumps dating in many cases back to the First World War. Out of the total of about 3,500,000 acres of woodlands existing at the time of the census (that is, in 1947), whether privately owned or owned by the State, about 660,000 acres had been felled. A further 150,000 acres were devastated—that is to say, that all the worthwhile timber had been cut out, and of the remainder, half a million acres were scrub, and therefore unlikely to produce a timber crop of any value. In all, felled, devastated and scrub woodland amounted to 1,300,000 acres, or nearly one half of the total woodland area in the country. Moreover, of course, a large proportion of our fully stocked woodland is far from maturity. Nearly three-quarters of our softwood plantations are under thirty years of age—that is, thirty to fifty years from the age at which they will be ready for felling. That is the debit side of the account.

Let us now for a moment look at the credit side. Steady progress is, of course, being made with the replanting and restocking of felled woodlands, and with the afforestation of bare land. By the end of this season's planting, that is, five years after the end of the war, the Forestry Commission will have replanted some 67,000 acres of felled woodland, and will have afforested a further 150,000 acres. We estimate that about 71,000 acres of private woodlands will have been restocked during the same period. But all this, of course, admirable as it is, can be regarded only as an insurance for the future. No worthwhile produce can be expected from these post-war plantations until about 1965, and for many years after that only thinnings will be available, which, though useful for pitprops, raining timber, and fencing stakes, will not provide large quantities of timber for other purposes. Meanwhile, the demand for timber shows no sign of slackening, while at the same time there is increasing difficulty in securing sufficient imports. In these circumstances, I am sure everyone will agree that it would be quite indefensible to allow what little useful timber remains in the country to be felled indiscriminately.

I should like now to mention an important alterat on proposed in Clause 15 of the Bill for the purpose of modernising one stage of the existing procedure for the compulsory acquisition of land. Acquisition of suitable land since the war has not kept pace with the needs of this large forestry programme to which I have just referred. So far as possible, of course, the Commissioners rely on negotiation and persuasion to acquire the land they want, but enough land could not be obtained in this way. Although, under the Forestry Act, 1945, the Ministers already have power to acquire land compulsorily, the procedure laid down unfortunately involves unnecessary delay and expense. It means, for example, that a local inquiry must be held, even when the only matter at stake is the purchase price. It also means that, if an objection to a draft compulsory purchase order is sustained after the order is made, the order must be confirmed by Parliament by means of a Provisional Order Confirmation Bill, which has to go through all its stages in both Houses. We are therefore proposing in this Bill to apply to such purchases the more expeditious procedure of the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act of 1945. This, of course, preserves the right of an objector to have his case examined by Parliament, but means that such cases can be settled much more quickly, with a speedier passage through Parliament. At the same time, this Bill will provide that, where an objection to a compulsory purchase relates solely to the amount of the purchase money, a local inquiry need not be held, and the order can be made without reference to Parliament.

I think it will be of interest to the House if I describe, quite shortly, the way in which the Commission operate their present control on home-produced timber. The Commissioners fix a quota which represents the volume of timber which they consider is the maximum which can be felled consistently with their duty to establish and maintain a national reserve. They intend in future to fix this quota for a period of five or ten years, though with an annual review, so that land owners and timber merchants can plan ahead and see where they are going. The quota for the country was reduced in 1949 and 1950, and has been further reduced since then. For the first nine months of 1951 it will be 16,800,000 cubic feet of hardwood and 5,300,000 cubit feet of conifers. I am not going to hold out any hopes (I wish I could) that current rates of fellings can be increased in the near future. In fact, they are probably still on the high side.

It is obvious that some of the applications received for licences to fell will relate to timber which should be felled immediately—for example, because it is overmature—and in such cases licences will, of course, be issued. Others will relate to immature trees, which it would be contrary to the principles of good forestry to fell, or to trees which for some other reason—such as the operation of tree preservation orders—ought not to be felled. These applications will be refused. Some of the applications will, however, relate to mature timber, which is nevertheless capable of standing and increasing in volume for some years without deterioration. The licensing of these applications must be spread over a period of years.

If your Lordships will allow me, I will now briefly explain the main provisions of the Bill in greater detail. As my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will wind up, I feel I need not go into as much detail as I should otherwise have to do. He is incomparably better qualified than I am to deal with this matter, and noble Lords who speak in the course of the debate will have a chance of having their questions answered by him. I have already mentioned Clause 1. It is proposed in Clause 2, that no person should be allowed to fell a growing tree of over three inches in diameter, apart from certain obvious exceptions which are set out in the subsections of this clause, without a licence from the Forestry Commissioners. Your Lordships will notice in this clause that quite a large number of types of trees can be felled without licence. For example, in addition to making obvious exclusions, such as fruit trees, trees in private gardens and public parks, it is not proposed to require licences for trees under three inches or, in the case of a coppice, under six inches in diameter. Moreover, an owner will be able without a licence to fell up to 275 cubic feet of his own timber in any calender month. This is a very appreciable amount—in fact, it may be too much. As your Lordships will notice, the Commissioners will be able by regulation to provide for additional exceptions. Although they may restrict or suspend the concession I have just mentioned—namely, as to the amount of timber that a man can cut for himself without having to ask permission—they will be able to do so only by regulations which will be subject to an affirmative Resolution in both Houses of Parliament. There, I think, is a very substantial safeguard for the timber or woodland owner.

The proposal in Clause 3 is that if a licence is granted the Commissioners may impose conditions in the interests of good forestry and agriculture, and in particular a condition that the land must be restocked and managed for a period of up to ten years. This represents an important change from the procedure under the existing Defence Regulation, which gives the Commissioners no power to impose conditions on the grant of a licence. I am sure your Lordships will agree that it is only right that a man who benefits from the felling of his timber should be obliged, in the national interest, to replant and to protect the growing stock.

Clause 4 of the Bill also represents an important change in present procedure. When a licence is refused under the Defence Regulations which operate at the moment, the applicant has no statutory right of appeal. In practice, he may ask to have his case reviewed either by the regional advisory committee, which exists in each conservancy, or by the statutory National Committee for the country concerned, or by the Commissioners themselves. This has worked remarkably smoothly, and I am glad to pay tribute to the co-operation and good will that the Commissioners have received from both woodland owners and merchants in working this informal procedure. Nevertheless, it seems highly desirable to give a specific right to any person aggrieved by the refusal of a licence, or by the conditions which have been attached to a licence, to have his case reviewed by the Minister. The procedure laid down is that after it has been first considered by an impartial referee the Minister shall have the power to confirm, reverse or modify in any other way he thinks right and proper, the decision of the Commissioners. Of course, the Commissioners will have to give effect to the Minister's decision.

Your Lordships will have noticed in this clause that although persons aggrieved by the conditions attached to a licence may have their case reviewed immediately by the Minister, a person refused a licence altogether must wait three years before he can have his case reconsidered. There are, as I hope on consideration your Lordships will agree, sound practical reasons for this deferment. Some idea of the number of refusals likely under the Bill can be gathered from the fact that in 1950, the last year for which figures are available, out of about 11,000 applicants for licences the number refused was 1,600. The cost of dealing with a large number of appeals which would probably follow such refusals would be out of proportion to the benefits. For example, there would inevitably have to be an increase in the numbers of staff, and people would be taken from productive work where the country needs them at the present time. Looking at it from the point of view of the owner, it can seldom be a real hardship to the owner of the trees if his licence is refused for a period of only three years. As your Lordships well know, a timber crop does not need to be harvested in any particular year. Three years is a very short space in the life of a tree, and the trees will continue to grow during this period and. as a rule, will earn their keep.

Your Lordships will see that Clause 5 of the Bill proposes to grant a right to compensation for loss through deterioration in the quality of the timber, where this is due to a refusal to grant a licence. Here again, we are offering a right which does not exist at present. We feel that there is no case for compensation for loss of expected profits, or for a fall in the price of timber, after the licence has been refused, for such a refusal only postpones the time when the owner can sell his timber; it does not prevent him from realising this asset later on. It is therefore not unreasonable that, in the national interest, he should run some degree of risk. But we do think it reasonable to provide against loss, when, as a result of a refusal of a licence, the timber deteriorates in quality. We have also felt it desirable, apart from compensating owners for deterioration in the quality of their timber where a licence has been refused, to provide in Clause 6 for immediate assistance by way of loan to those woodland owners who have either dedicated their woodlands in perpetuity, or who are managing them as good foresters should. Such owners, for example, might be prevented from realising capital necessary to finance their other forest operations on account of the refusal of a licence to fell. It is very necessary, I think, that they should be able to look after the rest of their woods, and we therefore propose that the Commissioners shall have the power to grant loans.

Your Lordships will, I hope, agree that the next two clauses, Clauses 7 and 8, giving power to the Commissioners to compel a man to fell trees, are a necessary corollary to control by means of a quota. It would be manifestly wrong that the Commissioners should grant a licence to fell timber which could well remain standing, if at the same time there were stands of timber elsewhere in other parts of the country beginning to deteriorate because the owner had not applied for a licence to fell. Moreover, the Commissioners should have power to compel a man to thin his plantations. As your Lordships are well aware, failure to thin is as effective a way as any other of ruining a wood. Such powers of compulsion are, however, not to be given lightly or without due consideration. We are therefore proposing in this Bill that a man on whom felling directions have been served may, before he has to comply with them have his case reviewed by the Minister. Secondly—and this is another safeguard for the same person—the grower can also represent to the Minister that compliance with the directions which the Minister has issued would involve him in a net loss. If the Minister is satisfied that such compliance would involve a net loss, he may modify the directions so that they do not cause a financial loss; he may revoke them altogether, or he may purchase the land. If he purchases the land, it must be done on terms which, if they are not agreed, are settled by reference to the Lands Tribunal. If the Minister does none of these things within a specified time, although he is satisfied that compliance with his directions would involve the owner in a net financial, loss, then the directions automatically lapse.

I should like to say something about Clause 12 of the Bill, which relates to tree preservation orders. This is a clause which caused me a serious degree of perplexity when I first studied the measure, and I think it may also have been somewhat baffling to other members of the House. Clause 12 relates to what shall be done when there are tree preservation orders which have been made to protect trees on amenity grounds. As your Lordships know, under the 1947 Town and Country Planning Acts, planning authorities may make these orders for reasons of amenity, for the maintenance of the seemliness of the countryside. Once an order has been made, the consent of the authority must be obtained to the felling of any of the trees concerned. That is the present position, and the effect of it is that when a tree preservation order has been made the owner must obtain the consent of the planning authority who made the order, as well as a licence from the Forestry Commission, before he can fell his trees.

Both the Minister of Local Government and Planning and the Forestry Commission are anxious to relieve woodland owners of unnecessary paper work—I hope that the Government may occasionally be credited with the desire to cut away red tape—and much of Clause 12 represents an agreement between those two authorities that in future application should be made to one authority, instead of to two separate authorities. What will in future happen under the Bill is this. All applications for licences to fell will be made as at present to the Commissioners, but where there is a tree preservation order in force, applying to the trees which an owner wishes to fell, unless the Commissioners decide to refuse the licence—in which case of course they will be in entire agreement with the planning authority— the planning authority must be consulted in every case. The Commissioners may, of course, decide that if it were not for the interests of amenity, they would grant a licence to fell without attaching conditions. They may decide that, from the point of view of the timber, the wood is not worth having, and that they can safely leave it to the planning authority to say whether the trees should stand or not. In such a case, instead of disposing of the application themselves they may pass it over to the planning authority, and of course no licence under the Bill would then be required. Otherwise, where there is a forestry interest, the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Acts and of the order will cease to apply to the trees concerned, and all the provisions of this Bill will take their place, the licence which the Commissioners may issue being equivalent to permission to fell under the Town and Country Planning Act.

Though this procedure may sound very complicated, it is really only a simplification of the existing machinery which has to be operated by woodland owners who wish to fell trees protected by a tree preservation order. If there is a conflict —as in certain cases there may be— between the respective claims of forestry and amenity, and if these claims cannot be agreed between the Forestry Commissioners and the planning authority, they will come up in the usual way for decision between the Departments, if necessary to Ministers. That is a way in which all interdepartmental conflicts should ultimately be resolved. There is one incidental advantage of this Bill which I feel sure will appeal to all noble Lords. This House has always been deeply concerned about the preservation of the countryside. Many noble Lords have rallied to its defence when it has been threatened with disfigurement by reason of the requirements of industrial and urban development and by the Service Departments. This Bill will help to preserve one of the most precious assets of rural England, its woodlands. Some, of course, are new, and some are very old, but all alike, with their abundance of wild life and the beauty of their walks, are a source of pride and pleasure to local people and to visitors from the towns. As one who, like many of your Lordships, has spent much time living in the country, I feel that it is a special privilege to commend to the House a Bill which will do something, at any rate, to save the countryside from further irreparable damage. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a —(The Earl of Listowel.)

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I think we have all been greatly interested in the speech of the noble Earl, and I was particularly interested in his last few sentences. They seem to me so completely typical of the whole attitude of the Government towards the owner, who, after all, has something to do with regard to the planting of trees. The noble Earl spent a long time talking about Clause 12, but he never once mentioned the land owner. He spoke of several Government Departments, including the Town and Country Planning Department, and others who, apparently, are warring over the corpse of the land owner. But of the owner who is supposed to have at least some concern in these matters the noble Earl did not once make mention.


May I point out to the noble Earl that the object of Clause 12 is to help the land owner, the owner of woodlands, to dispose of this matter with more facility than he is able to do at the moment? That is the purpose of the clause.


I am sure the corpse is glad of it. However, as I was saying, the noble Earl mentioned the almost universal agreement on the general principles which are laid down in this Bill. He is perfectly right in what he said in that connection. There are certain major principles on which we can all completely agree. To my mind, the main points that stand out are these. First, it is right and proper that the control over the felling of immature timber that is being exercised to-day should continue to be exercised. In addition, the noble Earl stated—and in these days, when there is such vital need of stockpiling of law materials, I do not think any of us would disagree with him—that it may frequently be necessary to prevent the felling of mature timber. On that point, and on the conditions attaching to the refusal to permit felling of mature timber, I will say something later. Personally, I should not disagree with the noble Earl when he claims for the nation the right to say that, where wood has been felled, in certain cases the land should be replanted. I do not think that any of us can have failed to be horrified by some of the devastation which has been caused in some of our great wood-lands by the cutting of trees and by the leaving of the land in a state of complete neglect.

The third right which the Bill claims is the right to compel the felling of timber. Many of us have frequently seen plantations of immense potential value for the future which are not being properly thinned and require to be so treated. The tragedy is that disagreement should be forced upon us when there is a very large measure of agreement among those who care about forestry on these points. I think I am right in saying that the Government have not even bothered to consult the United Kingdom Forestry Committee over this Bill. I understand that the Bill has been shown confidentially to the Chairman, and possibly to the Vice-Chairman, of the Committee by the noble Lord. Lord Robinson. But nobody would say that that is consultation, especially with a body most vitally interested in forestry and most able and willing to help, as is shown by their past record.

Apart from consultation, there are several points on which I would say that disagreement has been forced upon us. The Bill talks of the control of felling. Control by whom? In the agricultural legislation under which we live to-day we see in the agricultural executive committees an admirable way, not only of having control of the industry but of helping the industry to control itself. Is there anything in this Bill about asking those who are interested in forestry to come in and assist in these measures of control? There is nothing whatsoever. Control is to be exercised by the Forestry Commission, and if a landlord is aggrieved he may apply to the Minister, who appointed the Commission, and the Minister's only advisers on forestry matters are the Forestry Commission. Anxious as we are to co-operate in these matters. I must say to the Government that co-operation will not be obtained, cannot be obtained, and cannot be hoped for, on terms such as these.

I should like to ask the noble Earl to consider these points. First, I would suggest to him that the Government should seriously consider setting up an organisation comparable to the agricultural executive committees. We have the whole framework in the existing Home Grown Timber Advisory Council, and the regional advisory committees. I admit instantly that they are not akin to the agricultural executive committees, but we have the personnel there. As at present drafted, the Home Grown Timber Advisory Council do not function under the Bill. All those connected with the Forestry Commission will admit that in their advisory sphere the Council are doing exceedingly useful work. Why cannot they be mentioned in the Bill? I see that the Government are now submitting in another place the Sea Fish Industry Bill, in which provision is made for the statutory existence of a Sea Fish Industry Advisory Council. This is to be only an advisory council. I suggest that these advisory councils should be given executive power, corresponding to that of the agricultural executive committees; but at least it would be something if the Home Grown Timber Advisory Council were given statutory recognition in the Bill.

As I have said, at the present moment appeal at all points goes back to the Forestry Commission and to the Minister. At no point can we escape the Minister. I should like to suggest to the noble Earl that he would be wise to consider some appeal body, possibly along the lines of the Agricultural Lands Tribunal, with a chairman with legal experience, a land owner and a land agent or surveyor. If a body of that character were set up for the consideration of appeals, it might be possible to establish greater confidence amongst those whom we are asking to plant trees. Another point on which disagreement had been forced upon us is the refusal of licences for the felling of mature timber. Can the noble Earl tell me of any other commodity which the Government have decided to stockpile where they take power to say that the owner or manufacturer of that commodity must carry the whole of the financial cost? Do the Government say to the manufacturers of aeroplanes that they are going to need a large number in the near future, and that the manufacturers who make them must stock the machines at their own cost?

Clause 6 of the Bill says, in effect, that where a land owner has been deprived of the money to which he is entitled, the Government are prepared to lend him money, at interest, to make up for the loss of capital. Let me take a concrete example. Suppose that one of us has to meet a large payment for death duties. Perhaps his father, many years before, indulged in a scheme of planting, with the sole object of helping his son to pay death duties. These woods come to a state of maturity, and are ready for cutting; yet the land owner is prohibited from cutting them down. Whatever the sum he needs — £10,000, £50,000 or £100,000—he is not able to gather it in. What compensation is offered? Under Clause 5 of the Bill, the compensation offered is only for depreciation in the value of the trees. That is not necessarily what he wants compensation for; he wants compensation for the fact that he has either to come to the Government, under Clause 6, or else to go into the money market and borrow money at interest, in order to pay the death duties, or whatever debt it is that stands against him. We are being asked to dedicate our land to forestry purposes and to submit our schemes to show that we are going to pursue an orderly rotation in our planting operations. It is almost certain that the prohibition to fell mature trees will upset the whole of that rotation, but there is no compensation for that. If His Majesty's Government desire—and many of us think rightly desire—to stockpile timber, or any other commodity, there is one sensible and just way in which they can do it: they ought to purchase it. If that timber has matured, and they purchase it, and within a reasonable time fell and remove it from the ground so that proper forestry work can continue on that land, that timber can be put aside and allowed to season. With the country at present lacking any seasoned timber, this will be all to the good.

There is one other point I should like to make, which is perhaps not so vital as those to which I have referred already. In Clause 7 of the Bill power is taken to compel the felling of timber. I have said that I do not think any of us can reasonably object to what I believe could well be the main purpose of this clause— namely, to ensure the proper thinning of plantations. But this clause is not limited to that purpose at all: it takes a general right to compel felling. In the case of war none of us would question that right for a moment, but I suggest to the noble Earl that the power to go further than merely to compel thinning belongs to a period of emergency; it should not be in a permanent Act of Parliament, but in a regulation suitable for dealing with an emergency.

There are many other points on which noble Lords will desire to speak. I have tried simply to deal with two or three of the points that I believe constitute the main difficulties to our agreeing with the Bill as fully as we should like. Let me impress upon the noble Earl that we who have lived on the land for years, and love it, want to co-operate with the Government and the Forestry Commission in making the best of the woodlands of this country. I believe that in the Government's plans for afforesting 5,000,000 acres in this country they are dependent on private land owners for something over 2,000,000 acres. I say that they will not get that 2.000,000 acres, or the co-operation that they need, if they handle private woodland owners in this manner. The Forestry Commission is a great body, financed by the State, which has done magnificent work; but one has only to mention names such as Lovat, Clinton and Courthope to realise to whom the Forestry Commission owe a tremendous amount of the success that has been achieved. It is a great State body, with which the land owners of this country have co-operated and to which they have given a great deal.

Have the private land owners fallen down on their task, or shown an unwillingness to co-operate? If noble Lords look back to a Report issued by the Forestry Commission in 1943 they will find that it says that not only have private land owners done their duty, but in many cases their woods compare more than favourably with those administered by the Crown. In December, 1946, the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, paid a warm tribute to many private owners of woodlands. He said: In the past private owners of woodlands have contributed an enormous amount of timber for this country's needs, and I should like now to acknowledge the very great debt that we owe to them. What has happened since then that noble Lords opposite should think it necessary to introduce a Bill of this character, in this spirit, with these dictatorial powers, without even consulting the United Kingdom Forestry Committee? I repeat that we want to co-operate, but we shall find it difficult to do so in these conditions. I end by making an appeal to noble Lords who sit opposite. I would certainly recommend my friends to give the Bill a Second Reading, but I suggest that between now and the Committee stage the Bill should be re-examined by noble Lords opposite and those on this side of the House. Possibly we can meet to discuss the matter and establish that spirit of friendly co-operation in this great undertaking that we all want to see go forward for the good of the country.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to intervene in this discussion for a few moments to endeavour to put the view of the amenity societies in respect of this Bill, and more particularly that of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, of which I have the honour to be the honorary secretary. I say at once that the main purposes of the Bill have our wholehearted support. The maintenance of reserves of growing trees has always been part of the economy of rural England, though I feel that the noble Earl opposite is perhaps right in saying that for a long time its essential character has been overlooked. Certainly in present circumstances it seems to us vital that the matter should be planned and managed in such a way that control can be established, so as to prevent sporadic and uneconomical felling, and more particularly to ensure that when felling does take place effective steps are taken to see that replanting follows immediately. Obviously that has been a part of this problem on which over the. last years there has been a tendency for us to fall down.

While I say that, and while, of course, timber is an essential crop, it is almost always more than a crop: it almost always has an amenity value, and in many cases: an amenity value of outstanding importance, because the beauty of the English countryside depends to a very large measure upon trees. I am sure all noble Lords will agree with that. Over the last years that fact has been recognised more and more. It has been accepted that in certain cases of individual trees, and even of clumps of trees and woods, the amenity value sometimes far outweighs the economic value. In order to ensure that individual trees or clumps of trees may be preserved for the appreciation of the people of this country, recent planning Acts have provided measures under which preservation orders may be made. Again, the Forestry Commission has shown itself sensitive to this aspect of the matter and has frequently negotiated with the Council for the Preservation of Rural England— the negotiations have been friendly on the whole—and has established a Committee of which some of your Lordships are members: a joint committee of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the Forestry Commission to deal with problems of this sort. Yet until the postscript of the noble Earl's speech there was a complete absence of reference to the amenity side of this matter, and it seems to me that, no doubt through inadvertence rather than through any deliberate intention, the framers of this Bill almost completely overlooked the great importance of the amenity side in forestry and in felling. If I have a criticism of the Bill to make it is that that side of the matter has been overlooked, and if I have a suggestion to offer it is that at a later stage in the progress of the Bill your Lordships should take steps to see that some general words are inserted to ensure that the Forestry Commission, in carrying out their duties under this Bill, shall have due regard to the amenities.

When the Bill setting up National Parks was before your Lordships' House, it was pointed out repeatedly from both sides of the House that the National Parks Commissioners, in carrying out their duties under that Act, would be placed under an obligation to have proper regard for the interests of agriculture and forestry. It would have been the obvious thing to do to pay a compliment to the National Park Commissioners and the amenities movement by insisting that in this Bill the Forestry Commissioners, in carrying out their duties under this Bill, should have due regard to the amenities in the same sort of way. It may be said that there is no need for that because in fact the Forestry Commission do so, and, on the whole, as I have already indicated, we have good relations with the Forestry Commission, and in a number of cases they have taken amenity into consideration. But that is not always so, and from time to time there are very distinct differences of opinion. After all, the Forestry Commission have to regard the matter primarily from the point of view of timber being a crop, and if there is a conflict of interest, obviously as long as they are the judges the economic side must, from their point of view, come first and the amenity side must be put into the background: unless of course it is made their statutory obligation to consider amenities under the terms of the Act under which they work.

We live in a time when the beauties of rural England are more under threat from one side and another than they have ever been before in the whole history of our country. It does not matter whether you look at this Department or that, almost every one of them has some interest in exploiting the countryside, an interest which, sooner or later, almost invariably seems to clash with the interests of amenity and of beauty. Whether it is the Minister of Fuel and Power who wishes to take the top soil off enormous tracts of England in order to extract coal; whether it is the Minister of Health who is concerned with damming up the most beautiful valleys in England in order that reservoirs may be established so that people can have water, or whether it is the Central Electricity Board, which is a competitor with the Minister of Health in the damming up of beautiful valleys in order to get reserves of electrical energy, in one way or another all the beauties of England are under attack at the present time. I should say that the Forestry Commission is perhaps less dangerous to us than many of those other Departments, but it has been a danger from time to time, and I should like to see a provision in this Bill that in carrying through its work it should have due regard to the interests of amenity and beauty.

That is the main substance of what I have to say, but there are a few points of a rather detailed and perhaps Committee-stage character which I should like to make rapidly so that the noble Earl who has charge of the Bill may be able to consider them between now and the next stage. There are, as he has pointed out, certain types of felling which are excluded from the operation of the Bill. I think they are dealt with in Clause 2. I should like to suggest to him that he should add to those the possibility of excluding nature reserves. The nature reserves which are established under Part III of the National Parks Act are very small areas which have been set aside because they have some peculiar interests from the point of view of the students of ecology, botany and biology generally. I suggest that they might equally well be excluded from the provisions of this Bill, which might be of great assistance to those in control of them.

I have considerable sympathy with the views put forward by the noble Earl who has just resumed his seat in respect of the provisions for appeal, whether under Clause 4 or under Clause 7. It seems to me that these rights of appeal are inadequate, and particularly inadequate in that they give the amenity societies no sort of locus standi to protest or take part in any inquiry which may be held or otherwise to make their voices heard, except possibly through the Press which, of course, we have had to do in respect of many matters over a long period of time. But under the present Government, in a number of measures which have passed through Parliament in recent years, provision has been made for bodies like the Council for the Preservation of Rural England to have a locus standi in questions where, under the Planning Acts, for example, problems arise as to whether a particular building shall be allowed or particular plans for a building shall be confirmed, or if there is an appeal in a case of that sort. That has been of great advantage to us, and I think my noble friend Lord Silkin who is sitting on my right, and who was for a long time the Minister of Town and Country Planning, will agree with me when I say that those rights have been very sensibly used and have been of great assistance. I should like the noble Earl who has charge of this Bill to consider whether he could not help us in that way in connection with appeals. Clause 7, to which the noble Earl opposite referred a good deal, deals with the very important question of felling directions which may be given by the Forestry Commission. I should like to ask the noble Earl whether he could not see to it that in making orders under which felling is to take place, the Forestry Commission should again be required to have regard to amenity considerations.

Finally we come to Clause 12 which, as the noble Earl said, is rather obscurely drafted. I confess I find it difficult to accept his explanation of it. As it appears to me, this clause, in effect, gives the Forestry Commission the power to override a local planning authority which may have made a preservation order in respect of a particularly fine tree, or a particularly interesting clump of trees. If your Lordships will glance at the clause you will see that it starts: Notwithstanding anything in a tree preservation order, a licence granted or directions given by the Commissioners under this Act after the date on which the order comes into force shall be sufficient authority for the felling of any trees to which the order relates. … That seems clear enough, but the noble Earl said it was a question of consultation if the Departments disagreed. Yet in subsection (3) it appears that the Commissioners may: … instead of refusing or granting a licence under this Act … refer the application to the authority by whom the tree preservation order was made. So it is for them to exercise their discretion whether they will do so or not; and if not, surely the operative words in Clause 1 give them in effect a dictatorship. There may be some fine type of tree which is the crowning beauty of the countryside for miles:, and yet they can say it is to be cut down, and, so far as I can see, the local authority has no power to intervene. Therefore, I should like the noble Earl's views on the question clearly expressed. I should like to know that he agrees that the local planning authority should be dominant in this matter. Very often, as I have said, the economic value of trees is not comparable with their aesthetic value; that is why these preservation orders are made. I cannot see why it should be necessary for the Forestry Commission to have these powers at all I am sure the noble Earl will agree that a rather clearer form of wording might be inserted. Finally, I should like to repeat that the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the amenity societies as a whole are heartily in support of the general objects of this Bill.

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, as Scotland plays a large part in the British forestry programme, I am sure that your Lordships will listen to a voice from Scotland. It may be followed by one or two other voices from Scotland— though I hope not so hoarse as my own. As has been ably explained by the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, and by subsequent speakers, the object of this Bill is mainly to conserve our timber supplies; and it simply puts on the Statute Book what was previously a war-time emergency regulation. Timber must obviously be controlled. I think that principle meets with the acceptance of all. This is a most important matter, and I congratulate the noble Earl on having moved the Second Reading of this Bill. I must, however, add my voice to the protest made by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, as to the extraordinary secrecy which has surrounded the Bill. Nobody has known anything about it. I do not know of any Scottish Peer who knew that this Bill was to come before us until he saw that it had been read a First time in your Lordships' House— and that was only a fortnight ago. I am told on high authority that even some members of the Scottish National Committee, a Government-appointed body, knew nothing about it. That seems to me a most extraordinary thing. Why all this secrecy? If it had been the latest type of atomic weapon there could not have been more secrecy.

There are many woodland owners who will agree that we need better and stricter forestry laws, but who nevertheless feel that this Bill places in the hands of the Minister far too much power over the private foresters, and that if private forestry is to play its full part alongside State forestry then it should have some responsibility for administration. I have nothing against State forestry. Like the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, I have the greatest admiration for what the Forestry Commission have done. And as chairman of one of the advisory committees set up under the Act, my relations with the Forestry Commission's officers—the people who have to interpret and administer the Act, as it stands at present at any rate—have always been of the very happiest. I have found them sensible, tactful, sympathetic, tolerant and helpful. I do not believe that this is a fortuitous circumstance; I think it is general throughout the country. The Forestry Commission are to be congratulated upon the type of men they recruit into the forestry service.

But it is not in the best interest of private woods that they should be entirely governed by the State; and the owners ought to have representation on any body which governs them. In no country west of the iron curtain are such dictatorial methods employed as are proposed in this Bill. When I last addressed your Lordships in a forestry debate, which was about eighteen months ago, I made the suggestion that we might follow the example of the Scandinavian countries, where regional boards are appointed to govern forestry matters throughout the country. In this country there is far too much remote control; we need to decentralise more. In these Scandinavian countries the boards operate in close touch with private woodland owners. They are there to advise the Commissioners on how to exercise their powers, and on general administration. I have always felt that it would be greatly to the interest of forestry in this country if similar bodies were set up here. They would be representative, as they are in those countries, of all the various interests. They would be appointed by the Minister, and they would act with execu- tive powers, as my noble friend Lord De La Warr has suggested, very much like those possessed by the agricultural executive committees in this country, who have done so much to put farming on its feet.

I think, also, that these committees would be the most appropriate bodies to deal with the various appeals which arise under the different clauses of this Bill, without any reference whatsoever to a Minister. I should like to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will seriously consider inserting a new clause to give effect to the suggestion which I have made. I understood the noble Earl in his remarks to say that dead or dying stag-headed trees, which are deteriorating in value because of age, are to be exempt from a licence—that is to say, that a licence will not be required for the felling of these trees. I understood him to say that. I hope that is correct.


I am sorry if I did not make myself absolutely clear. I do not think I made any reference to this type of tree. What I referred to was the girth of the tree, which is what is mentioned in the Bill. It is true that trees of less than three inches in diameter, except in a coppice, when they can be six inches in diameter, are altogether exempt, and do not require a licence if an owner wishes to fell them.


I feel, and many woodland owners feel with me, that many dead, dying or decaying trees ought to be exempt from the obligation requiring a licence to be obtained. These trees are not specified in Clause 2 of the Bill. We think they ought to be, and I ask again whether the noble Earl will consider that point. It is very important. One other point I should like to mention is that it must be made clear that dedicated woods are exempt from felling directions under Clause 7. I do not think that is clear from the Bill. Felling and operations under the dedication scheme will already have been agreed to, but that is not made clear. It will be most conflicting and disturbing for the owner, if he has made a plan of operation with the consent of the Forestry Commission and has his felling for a certain number all worked out, if this is to be disturbed by this Bill.

There is one other point that I should like to make. Some of us think that amenity timber—that is to say, timber surrounding houses or parks, which in Scotland we call "policy" timber— should be exempt from felling directions. It is exempted in many plans of operations, and we think that that point should be made clear as well. There are many other noble Lords who desire to speak, so I will not take up much more of your Lordships' time. There are many other points no doubt with which they will deal. I should like to congratulate the noble Earl on this Bill. I should like to see it given a qualified Second Reading, on the understanding that many Amendments will be sought, some of them drastic Amendments, on the Committee stage; and further—and perhaps almost of more importance or at least just as important —we should like an assurance that there will be adequate time given before the Committee stage in order that we may be able to prepare those Amendments.