HL Deb 29 October 1957 vol 205 cc551-76

4.1 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Wise, to whom we are very much indebted to-day for this Motion, I am very sorry that the late noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, is no longer here to speak to us on the subject. I have happy personal recollections of his great interest in forestry and of his enthusiasm for a large extension in it. Both in conversations in this House and on the occasions of visits to my own place in Scotland he was most helpful.

The noble Lord, Lord Wise, has this afternoon covered the ground very thoroughly. He has dealt adequately with the Report and its objectives and has given us many facts about the situation in forestry. I wish this afternoon only briefly to give my support to the Report and to emphasise the valuable information which it contains. I regard it as a most interesting production and the recommendations which it contains as being very important indeed. As I have said, my object in speaking is to give my support to it and to emphasise its value. I wish also to urge that early steps should be taken to implement it. I think that those with experience of land management and forestry and marginal lands will agree that these are just the sort of Report and just the sort of recommendations that are needed now. That such an able and practical Report should be presented is only natural, seeing that it was compiled by such a distinguished Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Solly Zuckerman, to all of whom I feel we are very much indebted.

Among the principal objects indicated are the fuller use of a vast acreage of hill and marginal lands and also a way to increase the population resident in and employed in the countryside. One finds in the Report the recognition of forestry as a national industry taking its place in the same way as agriculture, and one would like to find this recognised in a much wider sense to-day. It points out to us how very small indeed is the acreage under forestry in Britain compared with that in other countries. It emphasises our natural climatic advantages and puts before us many reasons for an expansion and many benefits that will come from it. But although progress has been faster than ever before, it is still slow when compared with that of other countries.

While the Committee are clearly favourable to a large expansion of forestry, the emphasis is upon the integration with farming and upon the way in which the expansion should be developed. The Report wisely urges the utmost cooperation in the use of land between farming and forestry for the benefit of all. The mutual advantages to farming and to forestry are pointed out. There are very few sentences in the Report with which one might disagree as a landowner, and there is no need to refer to them now because they do not affect the conclusions. I am confident that landowners will welcome the Report and willingly help to carry out its recommendations.

Lord Wise has suggested that others might wish to say a little more about integration. Travelling about marginal lands in different places, among uplands and hill farms, one constantly sees places where well-sited plantations would be most helpful. On larger agricultural estates this integration has been practised for a long time, but perhaps it has not been continued so much during the last fifty or sixty years. There is ample opportunity for an extension again now. There has been a friendly reference to integration of my family's woodlands in Scotland and to the amount of woodlands laid out and integration carried out by an ancestor of mine whose tutor and companion was Adam Smith, the famous economist, under whose influence my ancestor benefited in the management of land as he did similarly in a wider sphere. The Forestry Commission have shown great helpfulness in their endeavours to promote co-operation in the integration of forestry and farming. Although I have no doubt that they would much prefer to concentrate upon the larger areas of woodlands, they are, whenever opportunities occur, very keen to help individual landowners in this integration in smaller acreages.

The Report visualises that the main contribution towards extension of forestry will come from the State, and I suppose it would be correct that most of the available evidence would support this. But I would point out that the increase in private re-afforestation in recent years has been quite considerable and it is steadily increasing. I believe that it can and will be increased much further still, and l maintain that it would be an advantage to the nation's finances and in other ways a saving in national expenditure if private woodlands could make a much bigger contribution than they do now.

There are references to the Forestry Commission's difficulties in the acquisition of land, and I believe now that attention has been drawn to them that these difficulties can be overcome—and they certainly should be overcome. I feel that in both these matters it would be useful and appropriate now for the Government and their representatives to state that the future of forestry is a matter to which they feel that great importance should be attached. It is desirable that the nation should be told that it is the wish of the Government that forestry should be expanded both by the State and by private landowners. I think that if there is an appeal to landowners to do more forestry, and if this is supported by practical assistance, and if, at the same time, there is an appeal to landowners to assist the Forestry Commission wherever they can by making suitable land available, then the Forestry Commission's programme will not be restricted or delayed by insufficiency of land. I am sure that landowners would wish to help the Forestry Commission in these acquisitions and that by cooperation between the two sufficient land would become available for afforestation.

As I said at the beginning, attention has been drawn to the social side of the expansion of forestry. All those who live in country districts and in upland valleys know only too well how the depopulation of the countryside has been going on. We know how easy it is for people to be drawn away to the towns and how difficult it is to get them back. For instance, a few years ago a new industry was set up in a small town in the south of Scotland and appeals were made to the rural population to go and work in the industry. They were offered higher wages and a five-day week, and many people left the countryside to work there. Within the last few weeks that industry has closed but I see little hope of getting back to the land the people who worked there. In another case a small industry has closed, again in the south of Scotland where employment in forestry is available if the people wish it, but I do not see people going back to the land unless they have been on it before.

It is not unnatural that a countryman should view with some apprehension the increasing demands for a five-day, forty-hour week, which would take people away from the land to the towns even more. The only way I can see of bringing the population back to the sparsely populated districts is by an extension of afforestation. The many advantages this would bring are clearly and ably set out in this Report: how it will help local efficiency in many ways and how it will help in the provision of local services which otherwise would not be economic in a small population. I do not feel that the agricultural population need have any worry about that, because if we have more families engaged in forestry and on the land, there will be more people in the next generation to look after the sheep and cattle and farmlands. I have endeavoured to speak briefly on this subject to-day, having had the privilege of speaking on forestry recently. I urge the Government to give sympathetic consideration to this Report and see that everything possible is done to carry it out.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords, I feel great regret that my noble and learned friend who originally was to have introduced this Motion is not here to-day to do so, but I feel that we are carrying on the sentiments which he felt so strongly. I think that we are all agreed about the necessity of building up our forests. We all know the arguments, and there is no need to recapitulate them. There are the æsthetic, the amenity, the climatic (it is surprising how quickly climate can be changed through loss of trees), and above all, the commercial or economic arguments.

We are all agreed about the need to build up our forests, but what is actually happening? We still import something like 90 per cent. of the timber we need. Two world wars desolated our forests. One dreads to think what would happen if ever this country were engaged in another major war: we should hardly have enough timber left for our own coffins. I was interested, as we have all been, in studying this thirty-seventh Annual Report of the Forestry Commission. I must confess that I found it very disquieting and depressing. I am surprised that the noble Lords who have spoken, and the noble Duke who made such an eloquent speech, should not have been more perturbed by the contents of the Report.

The danger to our forests was realised as far back as 1943, when it was seen that our national position was very precarious indeed. At that time a big plan was promulgated, that we should build up our forests to an area of 5 million acres over the next fifty years, of which 3 million acres would be planted by the Forestry Commission on land acquired by them and 2 million acres would be on privately owned woodlands, of which about half at that time were unproductive. That was accepted as a minimum scheme for national safety, and a desirable programme was drawn up of what should be planted in the first ten years in order to get on with the scheme, making all allowances for the difficulties after the war, for the lack of labour and seed, and other problems which had to be faced. The desirable programme was worked out to be the planting of 1,100.000 acres, but this was turned down as being too ambitious, and a programme of something like 900,000 acres was aimed at.

When we look at this Report we see that private woodlands have done very well. There has been a great improvement and a notable increase of planting by private owners. For instance, in the three years 1954, 1955 and 1956 the area planted went up from 19,100 acres to 22,100 acres, and then to 27,100 acres. I think that that is very creditable, and points to the success of the scheme of giving grants and of the provision by the Forestry Commission of useful advice and help. When we come to the other side of the picture, the building up of 3 million acres by the Forestry Commission, we find a very different and, I am afraid, very depressing position. If I have understood the Report aright, in the first decade only 61 per cent. of the target was planted, and only 27 per cent. of the land intended to be acquired was acquired. To give again the equivalent three years, 1954, 1955 and 1956, we find that the area planted went down from 70,400 acres in 1954 to 67,900 acres in 1955, and to 62,400 acres in 1956: in other words, from 1954 to 1955 we had a drop of 2,500 acres, and from 1955 to 1956 a further drop of 5,500 acres.

So far from keeping up to the target aimed at of 65,000 acres a year, in 1956 we are 2,600 acres down. But, unfortunately, that is not the end of the story. If we look at page 43 of the Report, we find that in this year forest fires accounted for 4,078 acres—another big gap in our forests. Noble Lords may say that it was an exceptional year, and we should all admit that it was one of the worst years we have ever had for forest fires. But there will be other bad years, and that is something that we must take into account in our general forestry programme. In spite of the loss due to fire, we still allowed 7,500 acres clear felling. So we are down by some 14,000 acres. What is the reason for this tremendous and steady drop? Instead of going up and up, as the plan envisaged, we are going down and down.

In the Report the Commissioners rightly point out that the whole trouble is that they cannot acquire enough land for planting. Luckily, they had a certain amount of reserve land which allowed quite good figures of planting in the early years, but this has been used up, and since that time they have not been able to get hold of the necessary land for planting. That is a fairly clear statement, and, as we saw before, only 27 per cent. of the land which was desired has actually been acquired. On page 218 they go on to say—and this shows that it is not a question of the land not being there: There are undoubtedly areas in private ownership not at present being used to the full for food production which would be admirable subjects for afforestation by the Commissioners but have not been offered for sale voluntarily. In fact, I think the whole tenor of the Report is that there is a vast quantity of land which is eminently suited for planting trees but which, for one reason or another, the Forestry Commission cannot get hold of. What is to be done about this? Surely we are all agreed that we must have this land and that we must plant these trees in one way or another. One answer would be, I suppose, to give more money. If people are offered enough money for that sort of bare land, surely they will part with it. But what the Treasury would say to that suggestion, at a time when we are all being urged to economise and pull in our belts, and when Lord Hailsham has told us that we are fighting a six months' war against inflation, I do not know. But I think it would be a terrible mistake, however desperate the battle of inflation may be, if we allowed a fifty-years' programme upon which our whole national safety depends to be imperilled. That is one way.

Another small way, I suggest, is in the dedication scheme. I think the dedication scheme, of which all your Lordships are aware, is an excellent one, but I wonder whether one small modification might not help to promote the scheme further. When an owner dedicates his woods, and plants according to the plan, when all the timber has been felled, many years hence, he has pledged himself, and, as I understand it, his heirs and successors, or the heirs and successors in title, never to use that land for anything except forestry. I wonder if that particular restrictive covenant on the land is not one of the psychological barriers stopping people from dedicating their woods. They feel that they are losing the intrinsic value of the land, by having it used only for forestry. That is not a big point, but I know of one or two owners of woodlands who have taken that point of view, and I suggest that it might be looked at by the Forestry Commission and by the Government.

But, of course, the whole answer to the question, if you cannot get this land, if you cannot offer enough money to buy it, is compulsory purchase. This is something which the Forestry Commission have set their faces dead against. To quote the Report again, they say (on page 8) that they believe that the use of compulsory purchase in any but very exceptional circumstances would not in fact achieve the purpose they have before them—that purpose, naturally, being to acquire the land and plant the trees. But they do not say in the Report—at least, I have not been able to find it—why. They go on to refer to all sorts of amenities they are willing to offer land owners, hoping that in time they will be more reasonable, but there is nothing beyond these pious hopes. I would suggest that the principle has been accepted by all of us, that in the event of land not being properly used—whether it be agricultural land, land for production or for forestry—such land can be compulsorily acquired at a fair price. That is something we have all accepted in agriculture, and I do not see why the Forestry Commission should not in certain circumstances use their compulsory powers. Perhaps the Government do not like this idea, but it seems to me to be the only answer. So far from making it more difficult, or, as the Forestry Commission say, so far from it not achieving their purpose, I think that that threat in the air would make owners more willing to sell voluntarily. It might also encourage people to join in the dedication scheme, because one important point of the dedication scheme is that once an owner has dedicated his woods they are free from the danger of any possible compulsory purchase. If it is true that the Government will not accept that idea, we should like to know what other answer they have to remedy this tremendous fall—not a standstill, but a fall—in the necessary planting of our woods.

One other question which I think is interesting and important is that of common land. The Forestry Commission estimate (though they wisely point out that this is only a rough estimate, because no full facts or figures can be given of common land without a proper survey being carried out), that about 800,000 acres of common land in this country is economically plantable for trees; and they suggest that out of that area something like 400,000 acres might be planted. The big difficulty is that of "rights of common," and I should be the last of your Lordships to wish to infringe those rights. I think that in a country like ours, with an enormous population in relation to the land, to take away what rights we have and what few open spaces are available for that population would be devastatingly bad in every way. But there are, I understand, large areas of this common land which not only are not used but are unusable—covered with bracken, brambles and so forth—and which could well be planted and, if properly planted and well planned, could, in course of time, even add to the amenities—provide pleasant woods through which eventually people may wander.

The big difficulty, as I understand it, is always the powers of acquisition. It requires the agreement of all the common owners. which it is usually impossible to obtain. There is always someone who cannot be found, or who turns up later: or one man who sticks out. I suggest that Her Majesty's Government might consider some minor legislation which would alter the necessity for a unanimous decision into one of, say, a two-thirds majority—that is to say, if two-thirds of the common owners agreed that woodland could be planted, it could, with the consent of the Minister of Agriculture, be taken over and used for forestry. There is one interesting proposal put forward by the Commission on parish forests (which would be equivalent to the communal forests which they have on the Continent) which might interest the local inhabitants in having their own woodlands. Whether it is the parish or the rural district council who would be responsible, they would be helped and advised by the Forestry Commission, but would look after these forests themselves and would eventually reap the profit. That seems to me a possible development and well worth examining. I do not wish to detain your Lordships much longer, but I do want to urge the fact that we are desperately short of land for these forests and that we must get it somehow. If we cannot get it voluntarily, it seems to me that the Government must look at ways and means of getting it compulsorily.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, like everybody else, I deeply regret that this Motion which was put on the Order Paper last July by Lord Jowitt cannot be moved by him. He was a very good friend of forestry and, indeed, to farming, and this Zuckerman Report covers so many subjects on which Lord Jowitt had so often spoken in this House, with so much knowledge and wisdom, that we must particularly feel his absence in debating it. I think that this Report is by far the best document on the subject which has yet been published. The Committee's analysis of the situation is brilliantly lucid. They have evidently taken the greatest pains, not only to ascertain all the relevant facts but to set them down in their right proportion. I hope that the Report will be carefully studied by all the Government Departments concerned. I do not yet know whether my noble friend who is to reply is in a position to tell us what the Government are going to do about it. If he could do so it might make the debate a little more interesting than it is at the moment.

On marginal land, I do not think the Committee have exaggerated when they tell us, on page 14, that if 3¼ million acres of upland grazing were improved to a fairly moderate extent, we should gain between 100,000 and 130,000 tons of carcase beef, which is equivalent to one-third of our total beef imports, and which would have a valuable effect on our foreign currency position. I think the Committee have done right to point out that although the hill farmer is getting a great many kinds of special Government assistance which nobody else gets, the total amount of assistance which he receives in the end is, in fact, much less than the assistance received by the ordinary lowland farmer, because the hill farmer is not usually producing the end product on which Government deficiency payments are made. In my opinion, perhaps the most important kind of assistance to the hill farmer is the subsidy on hill breeding cows. Although a great many farmers are not making as much use of this subsidy as they ought, it is doing an enormous amount of good, and I am sure my noble friend will agree that since it takes a very long time to build up a herd of breeding cows in the Highlands, the continuance of this subsidy ought to be assured for a reasonable period, and it should not be chopped and changed about whenever we find that we want a little more of one product and a little less of another.

As for capital improvements, assistance is now given by the Government, first, under the Hill Farming Act which came first (that applied only to the Highlands) and next by the Marginal Production Act, which brought in the uplands and foothills but also covered the Highlands, so that there is a certain amount of overlapping. It is much quicker and more efficient, as a rule, to get an improvements scheme through under the Marginal Production Act, because you have to deal only with an official of the Department of Agriculture, instead of having a long three-cornered correspondence between the owner, the Department of Agriculture and the agricultural executive committee. Although we are often accustomed to complain about the slowness of the Civil Service, I think the movement of a good civil servant is sometimes almost like that of the Russian earth satellite when compared with the movement of the average agricultural executive committee. If there is any likelihood of having some Consolidation Act co-ordinating all these pieces of legislation, I think it would speed up things very much. It would make matters considerably more efficient if the Hill Farming Act could be merged with the Marginal Production Act.

The Committee also point out—and this is perhaps rather a grave matter in some ways—that a great deal of this money which we are giving in public assistance to hill farming is being wasted, or at least is not being used as effectively as we should like it to be, because a great many of the farming units which are receiving the assistance are uneconomic in size or in shape. I do not think the Zuckerman Committee really expect that the Government are likely to accept their suggestion (I would not describe it as a recommendation, because it seems to be put in language which anticipates that it will not be accepted), that we should imitate the Dutch, who, we are told, are now carrying out a full-scale reorganisation of all their farm boundaries, which will end up by everybody having a piece of land equal in value to the piece of land which he had before, but in a completely different place. I do not know anything at all about Dutch farming, and I think it is probable that when this scheme is carried out it may still leave a great deal to be desired, but I believe that the observations of the Zuckerman Committee on this subject should be prominently borne in mind by the Government if they are contemplating any amendment to our present extremely rigid and sometimes obstructive laws relating to agricultural tenure.

As for forestry, the Committee quote, as the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, has said, one of the Reports of the Forestry Commission which says that they cannot continue to fulfil their planting programme, and that it is bound to decline in speed. The Forestry Commission describe this as unpalatable and the Zuckerman Committee here describe it as more than unpalatable, for reasons with which I think most of your Lordships are so familiar that it is not necessary to repeat them. The Zuckerman Committee propose that the Forestry Commission should now be instructed to extend its activities by acquiring small areas of land or leasing small areas of land to be planted, not exclusively for silvicultural purposes, but to help agriculture by providing shelter and improving the composition of the soil for the mutual benefit of forestry and agriculture. That, of course, is a thing which many private land owners have been doing for many generations. The only reason why the Forestry Commission has not been able to do much in that way, is that to plant a small area of land costs a great deal more per acre than to plant a large area. The Forestry Commission has in the past been expected to grow the maximum quantity of timber for the country at the lowest possible price, but there is no reason why the Forestry Commission should not do this if it is instructed to do so and provided with the necessary funds.

I am sure that the Zuckerman Committee do not mean to suggest—I certainly do not interpret them as suggesting—that we ought to have some uniform pattern of integration to be applied everywhere. There is no general rule which could be applied. In some places we ought to have 90 per cent. farming and 10 per cent. forestry; in others, 10 per cent. agriculture and 90 per cent. forestry; in some places, perhaps 100 per cent. of one and nil of the other. Whatever we do, for heaven's sake do not let us stop the Forestry Commission from carrying out the existing programme on which they are already engaged! This proposition that they should now undertake as large as possible a programme of planting smaller areas for integration with agriculture must be in addition to, and not in substitution for, the existing activities of the Forestry Commission.

The Report, my Lords, I think quite fairly and reasonably, explains the reasons why the Committee do not expect that private forestry can make a major contribution to our national forestry programme. They do not add—although I think perhaps it ought to be added—that under the "Desirable Programme" which we are now supposed to be carrying out, and which was laid down by the Government after the war, private planters have fulfilled between 80 and 90 per cent. of their quota whilst the Forestry Commission has been able to fulfil only 61 per cent. of its quota. But, of course, the greatest contribution from private forestry has been from land owners to whom forestry is a major interest, and the kind of land owner with which the Zuckerman Report is principally concerned is the owner to whom agriculture is the major interest and to whom forestry is perhaps only a very incidental sideshow.

There is one definite proposal which the Committee make, on page 40, paragraph 136, which applies only to a limited number of persons; that is to say, to owner-occupiers of marginal hill areas. That may be a class of person who are not very numerous but I think they are very important for the purpose which the Report has in mind, and I think this recommendation deserves our particular attention. May I quote it? At the request of the owner, the Forestry Commission would draw up a plan for planting suitable parts of a farm, with an estimate of the costs of planting and maintenance. This scheme would then be submitted as the basis of an application for a Government loan. It the application were agreed, the money ' loaned' would be earmarked to be drawn upon by the Forestry Commission, who would carry out the work of planting and maintenance, either directly or by supervised contract work. Some of the labour might, in fact, be supplied by the farmer himself. … The owner would, for the time being, have surrendered effective control of the planted areas and a low rate of compound interest would be added to the loan."— That must have been written before the bank rate went up to 7 per cent.; anyhow, a rate of compound interest would be added to the loan to cover the cost of the work. The Commission would remain responsible for the supervision of the plantation until the sale of the produce of the plantation had repaid the capital and interest on the loan. The loan would not, however, be foreclosed unless the owner interfered with the management of the plantation by the Forestry Commission. If the plantation proved to be a failure …"— if it did it would be the fault of the Commission who were managing it— the loan would be cancelled. The main advantage of such a scheme, as compared with the lease of the land by the owner to the Commission is that it gives the owner a personal interest in the success of the plantation, and that it is therefore likely to encourage him to learn something of the business of forestry. My Lords, at first sight, you may think that this proposal is so much to the advantage of the owner and so much to the disadvantage of the Government that the Treasury would not be at all likely to accept it. Like the noble Earl. Lord Huntingdon, I feel a little sensitive about supporting this proposal at this particular moment, because I happened last Saturday to have a conversation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer (which I hope he will not mind my repeating) in which he said that the House of Lords was infinitely more troublesome than the House of Commons in pressing him to spend far more public money than he can afford.

But what does this proposal really amount to? If it were adopted, the Government would not have to spend more money. In fact, they have to spend less than if this land were leased or bought by the Commission, because some part of the work, fencing and labour, is to be provided by the farmer himself. The whole of the interest and capital of the loan has to be repaid out of the proceeds of the timber, so that the Treasury get all their money back, and it is not until the wood is finally felled that the farmer's grandson, perhaps in fifty or sixty years' time, will get some benefit which would all belong to the Treasury if the wood had belonged to the Forestry Commission. In return for that, what the Zuckerman Committee suggest we shall get is an encouragement to the farmers to learn something about forestry. That, I submit to your Lordships, would be a very valuable gain to the nation, because what we want to do is to create a new breed of farmer who knows something about trees and who can distinguish between a tree and a weed, which a great many cannot do.

In France, for a very long time (I hesitate to mention France, because the present financial condition of France is not an example which anybody would want the Chancellor of the Exchequer to follow) the small peasant farmers have always been interested in forestry, and they have always, I believe, been assisted by Government loans. In the year when his daughter is born, the French farmer, with the aid of a Government loan, plants his little wood of poplars, which is a very quick-growing tree, and in the year when his daughter marries, the poplars are cut down and used to give her a small dowry. I am afraid that we could not do that in Great Britain unless the farmer's daughter were willing to wait until she was fifty or sixty years old before she married—I know of some who do, but it is an excess of prudence which ought not to be encouraged in the national interest. If it is done for the benefit of the farmer's grandson here, instead of his daughter, it may still give him an interest—and in my view the creation of real interest in forestry among the farming community, or a prominent section of it, would be an enormous gain to the nation.

I want to say only one more thing. I think that the Zuckerman Report has abundantly confirmed what many of us have been saying for a long time, that our Highland rural communities in Scotland can be saved from final extinction only by a greatly enlarged forestry programrne. We are, in all Parties I think, in favour of integrating forestry in the Scottish Highlands with agriculture, and with crofting and with fishing. and with small rural industries and everything else. But the fact remains that the only practical thing which so far has filled the empty schools in the Highlands with children, restored derelict Highland villages and created new social life there, is afforestation alone. While we are all anxious to integrate forestry with every other kind of occupation, do not let us bind ourselves to any academic and universal pattern of integration which would reduce our hopes of regenerating and repopulating the Scottish Highlands.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, welcome this Report. I am sorry if I have to sound a discordant note among this noble hand of forestry enthusiasts, but in particular I must contest the point just made by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, that the only way to restore the Highlands of Scotland is by the planting of forests or the development of more forests in that country. I do not think that that is the way at all, and it is on that subject that I wish to speak.

Whilst I do not agree with all the conclusions in this Report, I think there is much good sense in it and it well deserves the attention of Her Majesty's Government. I welcome the Report if for no other reason than that it draws attention once more to one of the great unsolved problems of our country, namely, the neglect, the waste and the misuse of land to which a number of speakers have referred to-day, this in face of the fact that we continue to buy from abroad one half of all our food stuffs at a cost of £1,250 million per annum. That we should tolerate this state of affairs when the unbalance of payments creates such a strain on our economy is just incomprehensible.

In expressing my views on this subject I am referring especially to the High-lands of Scotland where the problem is most serious, and particularly to the counties of Argyll, Inverness, Ross and Cromarty and Sutherland, with much of which I am familiar. As is stated at page 47 of the Report, these four counties cover 8 million acres, representing 14 per cent. of the total land area of the whole United Kingdom. To illustrate the extent of the neglect and waste of land in this huge area, the Report tells us that the total population of these 8 million acres is only 220,000 people—men, women, and children—and that they carry only 1.5 per cent. of our cattle and 8 per cent, of our sheep. Doctor Johnson once said that "the Highlands seem very remote." But with modern transport they are only a night's journey from London, and this matter of the development of the Highlands of Scotland is, I beg your Lordships to believe, a national question.

My main criticism of the Report is that I think it places too much emphasis on forestry. As I say, I am sorry to introduce this note, but the Report deals with forestry, agriculture and marginal land, and it goes on in an able fashion to review the current use of land for agriculture and forestry, with particular reference to the marginal areas. Reference has been made in the Report, and it was mentioned by at least one speaker this afternoon, to the strategic value of home-grown timber. It has been suggested that we should develop forests sufficient to maintain our timber supplies in the event of a war of up to three years' duration. Surely, modern methods of warfare now being planned make any such idea unthinkable. I certainly disagree that such a contingency should be accepted as a solution for the marginal lands in the Highlands, or I think for anywhere else.

My own view is that forestry should be developed only where the land is unfit or unsuitable for agricultural purposes, and particularly for the production of food. Away back in the dawn of history in Great Britain the whole country was covered with forests. It was a forestry paradise, and it has needed much sweat and tears in the days since then to clear the land and make parts of Great Britain what they are to-day. When a Scottish settler goes to Canada to clear and improve agricultural land in, say, Ontario or British Columbia, his biggest enemy is the tree which he has to remove, including the enormous stump which grows from Sitka spruce and Douglas fir, the stumps of which can be seen littered over many parts of the Highlands of Scotland to-day. I am afraid that if we were to give some of our forestry enthusiasts their heads our grandchildren might well be confronted with a similar situation in some parts of the country within a hundred years from now.

On the other hand, I agree with the Report that there are areas, particularly on the hillsides and high lands, where forestry could be developed. There should be more amenity planting of trees, to provide shelter belts for animals and to maintain the scenic beauty of the country. On no account should the Government allow any more planting on low ground, particularly in the glens of Scotland, where the land is capable of agricultural use and particularly the carrying of livestock for food.

I personally think that forestry schemes in the Highlands, and probably elsewhere, should be under Government direction and control. Of necessity, many of these schemes must go through the land of a number of different owners. There are considerations other than those of pure timber production economics. There is the question of windbreaks and amenity reasons of one kind and another, which make it desirable that forestry developments should be State-owned, that the land should be purchased by the State and developed by the Forestry Commission. I think that the Committee hinted at this in one or two sections of the Report, but. I must confess, very timorously, no doubt having regard to the politics of the Government which they knew would be reading the Report later on.

But assuming that all this could be done, we are still left with the over-riding problem of how to get the great areas of the so-called marginal lands in the Highlands developed for agricultural purposes, for the production of food, and to attract men on to the land to do it. In my opinion, nothing of any real consequence can be done in this matter so long as so many of the great estates in the Highlands of Scotland are owned and maintained primarily for sporting purposes. There are, of course, notable exceptions—men, including Members of your Lordships' House, who are blazing the trail and showing how the Highlands of Scotland can once more become a great storehouse of food and meat for the rest of the country.

The difficulty of getting access to the land, particularly in the Highlands of Scotland, whether for agriculture or forestry has been referred to by several speakers in this debate. There are ways and means by which this could be done, but this is neither the time at which nor the Motion on which to develop that. I hope, however, that Her Majesty's Government will try to arrange to open up those 3 million acres of deer forest land which we have in the Highlands of Scotland, half of which is quite capable of development for stock and food production, so that men who want to get on the land for farming may be able to do so. I welcome the Report and I trust that it will have the attention of Her Majesty's Government.

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, first I should like to associate myself with the remarks of the noble Earl the Leader of the House and my noble friend the Lord Chancellor in relation to our late colleague, Lord Jowitt. Some very warm tributes have been paid to him this afternoon and I feel that no further words are needed from me, but perhaps it is most appropriate that on the day when tributes are paid to him we should be discussing a subject which was very near to his heart. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, took over this Motion which was in the name of Lard Jowitt, and I am sure we are most grateful to him for arranging for this debate on this particular day.

I am glad to have this opportunity of expressing on behalf of the Government our thanks to Professor Solly Zuckerman and the Natural Resources (Technical) Committee for the full and detailed study which they have made of the problems of the hill and upland areas of Great Britain and of the contribution which agriculture and forestry might make towards their solution. The Committee emphasise in the present Report the vital place in our national agricultural economy of the hill and upland areas as a breeding and rearing reservoir for cattle and sheep. They argue that if the general depopulation of the outlying and remote areas continues there is a risk of losing the present production of these areas instead of gaining the additional production of which they are capable. They conclude that the development of agriculture in these areas will not be sufficient by itself to reverse the economic trends which lead to depopulation and they suggest that the solution lies in a policy of integrating forestry and agriculture.

Integration is, in fact, already the established policy of Her Majesty's Government. We accept the view that the closest integration of forestry and agriculture in the hill and upland areas of Great Britain will be of benefit to both and to the marginal hill areas as a whole. We agree that agricultural and forestry interests should be co-ordinated locally as they are on properly managed estates, like those mentioned by the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, to-day. As the Committee say, the extension of forestry, properly integrated with agriculture in the hill and upland areas, will help to preserve and strengthen the rural community, and, clearly, the development of agriculture and forestry in the hill and upland areas must march hand in hand. The extension of forestry and the measures that the Government are taking under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts are complementary and not in any way conflicting activities.

The Committee suggest in their Report that much land suitable for planting may not be offered to the Commission because the attitude of the agricultural community to afforestation is one of suspicion and even hostility. This may have been sometimes true in the past, but I can assure your Lordships that the Forestry Commission are most anxious to be good neighbours. It is the policy of Her Majesty's Government, by planning and consultation, to iron out these difficulties, and in recent years we have heard less and less of them.

Her Majesty's Government share the view of the Committee that the Forestry Commission must manifestly be a good neighbour to the agricultural community. The Report quotes various examples of ways in which the Commission might do so. The Commission is already doing a very great deal in this field, in such matters as timing planting operations to meet the convenience of farming as far as possible; by the maintenance after they are required for forestry purposes of planation fences so long as they are needed in the interests of stock grazing on adjoining land; by the burning of heather or rough grazings at the expense of the Commission on farm land immediately next to their plantations; by the loan of Commission staff to do this on repayment for farmers over wider areas; by giving a lead in pest destruction campaigns against rabbits, grey squirrels, foxes and other pests; by siting forestry roads as far as possible to serve agricultural as well as forestry needs; by making available to farmers heavy roadmaking and drainage machinery in areas where contractors' resources are scarce; and by the loan of forestry labour and transport to farmers at harvest-time in periods when forestry work is not at its peak. In all these matters the Commission have done a great deal and are constantly seeking further means of improving these relations.

Perhaps the most important aspect, however, of the policy of integration is the pattern of planting. In the future this will become increasingly one of fairly small blocks on poorer, less accessible, or more exposed land, with farming continuing on the better land where the wintering capacity will be increased by the shelter provided by the trees. I hope that goes some way to meet some points made by the noble Lord, Lord Macpherson of Drumochter. This does not mean that the planting of land in large blocks will cease to be done. There may well be occasions when it is the most practicable solution. The Commission have always depended for a large proportion of their land on being able to acquire whole farms or estates and this will continue to be an important source; but the planting of land in large blocks is not necessarily inconsistent with the policy of integration and there is no reason why the Commission should not continue to plant in this way in suitable areas.

We look, however, towards more smaller-scale plantings in future and we hope that private owners will co-operate in making such areas available for afforestation. There is already a scheme by which owners who dedicate their land to forestry can obtain grants, and, if they wish, a loan as well. This does not, of course, meet the case of the owner who, while he wishes to retain control of his woodlands, lacks the men and equipment to carry out, for example, heavy clearance planting programmes—that, I think, was one of the points raised by my noble friend Lord Dundee. To meet this difficulty the Commission have introduced a new scheme which I feel is an extremely helpful one. Up to now, they have "peen prepared to lease land from landowners for planting purposes and the ranges of the leases have been anything from 99 to 999 years' duration. They are now prepared to enter into leases with a break as short as ten-year intervals. So a lessor can, if he wishes, recover the land and buy the plantations if he is able to show that he can manage them properly. I feel that this is extremely important, because it means that an owner can lease his land to the Commission, have the trees planted, and yet not necessarily commit his successors to having the plantations run by the Commission. It would mean that his successors would have the opportunity of buying back that land at any of these regular intervals.

As the Committee point out in their Report, the Forestry Commission are as much concerned to encourage the creation of new forests on private land as with the development of State forests. In fact, I think I should be right in saying that, provided the trees are planted and maintained, the Forestry Commission do not mind at all whether they are planted on their land or on the land of private foresters.

Your Lordships will be familiar with the action which the Commission are taking to encourage private forestry under the dedication scheme, the approved woodlands scheme and the small woods and other grants, while assistance to cooperative forestry societies has always been one of the main features of the Commission's general policy.

In paragraph 126 of their Report the Committee mention the special position of afforestation in the crofting areas where, as announced by my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Scotland, in July, 1955, the Forestry Commission have been specially authorised to undertake plantations even if this means in some instances planting on land which will give a smaller return than is normally looked for". The Committee suggest that this policy should be adopted as a national policy, but the Government do not accept this suggestion. We regard the policy which has been adopted in the crofting areas as an exceptional arrangement to meet the special difficulties of those areas, and we see no case for applying it to the hill areas as a whole. If the national forestry programme is to be soundly based, taking the country as a whole, schemes of afforestation should be capable of justification in their own right.

The broad recommendations of the Committee on the integration of agriculture and forestry are, however, very much in line with the Government's views and, indeed, have become to a very large extent our established policy. It is our policy to acquire land by agreement, to plant only the land that can best be spared from agriculture, and to pursue throughout the objective of integration. I would stress that, in spite of what the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, feels, we firmly believe that unless this land is acquired by agreement, and not by compulsion, we shall be building up a store of animosity from the agricultural community as a whole, which would be detrimental both to forestry interests and to the national interests.

The other main recommendation of the Committee was that efforts should be made to find new end-uses for forestry products. This is something which the Commission have very much in mind. They have already been successful in encouraging the establishment of new factories, using home-grown forest produce, and the substitution of such produce for other materials formerly used by existing factories. They are watching new development in the use of wood very carefully in case any new processes emerge which are suitable for introduction in this country.

The noble Lord, Lord Wise, asked me about the proposal which is mentioned in paragraph 98 of the Report, for an O.E.E.C. productivity inquiry into the economics of small-scale pulping plants. I am glad to say that this investigation has been approved by O.E.E.C. who have appointed an eminent Canadian expert, Mr. P. R. Sandwell, to undertake it. He will be advising on whether small-scale pulping plants would be economic for this country and others and, if so, the minimum capacity which should be considered and the size recommended as most economic.

He is already collecting and studying data, and will be visiting Europe next March to carry out a field study of such things as location, labour, power, water and chemical requirements, capital costs and the quantity of timber needed. He hopes to submit his Report to O.E.E.C. by the end of September next year. If, as we hope, the result of this investigation is encouraging, the Forestry Commission and other Government bodies would certainly do all they could to encourage developments, for, as the Report says, it would help to solve the problem of outlets for thinnings and would provide a great encouragement to the development of forestry.

Early in their Report, the Committee discuss the justification for the forestry programme adopted in 1945 which aims, as several noble Lords have said, at a managed forest area of 5 million acres by the end of this century. They reach the conclusion that although strategic considerations have changed there is a greater economic reason now than before for investment in the planting of trees. This point was touched on both by the noble Duke and by the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon.

In this connection, I think, your Lordships will be interested to know that the Government have decided to carry out a thorough review of the bases and objectives of forestry policy, taking full account of all the economic, social and defence factors involved. This review is being carried out by the interested Departments, with the concurrence and assistance of the Forestry Commission. The decision reached by the Government as a result of this review will be announced in due course.

The noble Lord, Lord Wise, asked me how forestry would be affected by the proposed European Free Trade Area. The position on this is still as I explained in our debate on the Watson Report last April. It would not be possible, I am afraid, for timber products to be excluded from these arrangements in the same way as is proposed for agriculture. The exception for agriculture was not intended to cover raw materials of agricultural origin for industry, such as cotton, wool and timber. If we once started to propose exemptions in the industrial field, whether for materials or products, other countries would do the same, and then all the expanding export opportunities which we hope to secure from the free trade arrangements would disappear. It is not the intention, however, that any changes under the scheme should be sudden, but that the adjustments should be spread over a period of about twelve years, as the noble Lord knows.

The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, pressed for compulsory purchase, but, as I have said, I do not feel that we can ever see eye to eye on that question. We believe that it is fundamentally an unsuitable approach. The noble Earl also asked various questions about commons. As he knows, a Royal Commission on Commons is sitting at the moment. Though, obviously, I cannot forecast when their Report will be published, like him I hope that it will be with us before long and that we may be able to take action on it.

The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, was anxious to see the scheme under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts amalgamated with the marginal production scheme. The noble Earl will appreciate that that will need legislation, and although we are anxious to simplify these matters as far as we possibly can, it would need very careful thought.


My Lords, I said, if the Government are going to have a consolidation Bill.


I am sorry, I must have missed that qualification, but I will certainly bear in mind what the noble Earl has said. He also raised the question of amalgamation on the lines of the Dutch scheme. I understand that the Dutch scheme is not really applicable to this country because it deals with the fragmentation of holdings to an extent which we, thank Heaven, do not have in this country. They get, for instance, a holding of say twenty acres split in thirty or more separate plots and scattered over a large area and it is for the consolidation of these that the Dutch scheme is designed.

If I may say so, noble Lords have stuck commendably well to the motion on the Order Paper to-day, which relates to the Zuckerman Report, and there has been remarkably little straying from that Report. I feel that there are a number of problems in forestry which your Lordships would like to discuss within the measurable future, and I would welcome a debate on the issues affecting private forestry at any time before Christmas suitable to your Lordships. I think that I have dealt with most of the main issues raised by the Committee's Report and I have tried to deal with as many as I could of your Lordships' questions. The main conclusion of the Report is that agriculture and forestry can flourish side by side to the advantage of both and to the benefit of hill and upland areas generally. That is the foundation for our belief in the policy of integration and the social and economic benefits that can flow from it.

5.24 p.m.


My Lords, in rising again to speak, I should like to thank the noble Lords who have taken part in our discussion this afternoon. As the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, said, we have, within limits, kept to the Report, and we have had an opportunity, which I think may be unique, of hearing two different opinions from Scotland. At any rate, I think that the discussion has served its purpose very well. The noble Earl has been able to give us much useful information about the views and intentions of Her Majesty's Government. He has invited us to discuss private woodlands again in the future, an invitation which I hope some noble Lord will take up. On that occasion, I hope that we shall have as interesting a discussion as we have had to-day. I raised this Motion as a labour of love. I have done what I sought to do and I think that your Lordships will agree that to-day has been an appropriate day for our discussion on forestry. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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