THE EARL OF BUCKINGHAMSHIRE rose to call attention to Her Majesty's Government's present policy on forestry; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, on April 3 of last year it fell to my lot to draw attention to the Watson Report on the subject of timber marketing. It has again fallen to my lot to-day to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper and to draw attention to the policy of Her Majesty's Government in the light of that Report and their statement of July 24 this year. In that statement they drew certain conclusions, and with the permission of the House I will quote what was said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 211 (No 199), col. 180]:
The Government have carried out a review of forestry policy. In the light of current conditions—strategic, economic, agricultural and social—they have reached the following conclusions. The planting programmes of the Forestry Commission should be fixed for periods of ten years at a time. For the five-year period 1959 to 1963 the programme will be about 300,000 acres which allows for some increase over the present annual rate of planting. For the period 1964 to 1968 the planting programme will be reduced to about 235,000 acres, when the Forestry Commission's existing plantations will begin to come into full production.
The House will remember that in 1945 Her Majesty's Government laid down a programme to produce, over fifty years. 5 million acres of productive woodlands. It was then estimated that by the end of the period one-third of our requirements would be home-produced. It would appear from the statement on July 24 last that the 1945 target has been abandoned, and we owners can see no reason for this change. We appreciate that targets must be flexible but we can only infer that the target of 5 million acres has been
reduced and we should very much like to know the reason.
§ We have heard, too, a great deal about the Departmental Committee on Forestry, and the statement given to the House on July 24 was apparently based on that Report; but we have never heard anything about the Report, and no White Paper on it has been issued. We should be most grateful if Her Majesty's Government could give us information on this matter. We are grateful, and more than grateful, that the old maintenance grant has been replaced by the new management grant, as mentioned in the statement, and we are equally grateful for the increase in the planting grant.
§ We were told at that time that the system of felling licences would be eased; and for that, too, we are grateful. We appreciate that there is a need for its continuance. We understood from that statement that dedicated woodlands would no longer require licences, and we were told that a statutory instrument would be laid. It has not yet appeared, and I am wondering whether Her Majesty's Government can give us information on when it is likely to be laid.
§ The grants announced on July 24 were made contingent upon the recommendation in the Report of the Watson Committee that a Woodland Owners' Organisation (as I shall call it) would be formed, and I am very pleased to announce—and I have authority to do so—that that condition has been fulfilled and that a Woodland Owners' Organisation for England and Wales will be formed; the resolution for that purpose was passed last week. I believe that one is to be formed in Scotland, and I am hoping that those Scottish Peers who are speaking may mention something about it. Believe me, a lot has gone on behind the scenes in the formation of this organisation and there is still a great deal more to be done.
§ We still have a large number of problems to face, not the least of which is finance. I have mentioned the new management grant and also the fact that the planting grant is continuing; but at the same time as Her Majesty's Government announced these arrangements they announced that the thinning grant would be terminated. I wonder whether Her Majesty's Government realise the grave concern that this decision has caused. We 399 have all heard of cases where private owners all over the country were encouraged, immediately after the war, to plant a great deal. Those young plantations are just reaching the thinning stage. I would also point out here that the Watson Committee never contemplated the removal of the thinning grant. It is being removed just at the time when those young plantations are coming into production from the thinning point of view. I would also add that owners of these woodlands were not consulted. Do Her Majesty's Government realise that this fact has, quite frankly, undermined confidence?
There are large quantities of thinnings which may be coming on to the market and very large numbers of them will be coming from the plantations of the Forestry Commission—even more, in fact, than from private woodlands. My information is that in 1949 the Forestry Commission's output of thinnings was a total of 7¾ million cubic feet; that in 1956 it was 13¼ million cubic feet; and that they estimate that they will produce 25¼ million cubic feet by 1965 and 44¼ million cubic feet by 1975. I am told that the estimate for the same period, 1965–75, of thinnings from private estates will rise from 14 million cubic feet to 17½ million cubic feet. May I quote from a statement that the then Minister of Agriculture made on December 5, 1952? He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 508, col. 1959]:
The whole forestry programme must to some extent depend on whether there is a good outlet for the thinnings.
He also added that
… the forestry programme to some extent must depend on this and a market must be found.
We are frankly very worried about the thinning position and we hope to get reassurances on it.
May I now come to deal with the older timber and timber in general? As a result of the lack of interest in the 19th century and of heavy selective fellings in two world wars we have been left with a great deal of second-rate timber, and this has caused a serious problem. If we cannot sell our second-rate timber we shall have no cash coming in for replanting and restocking. The problem is partly one caused by the sawn timber trade and the troubles are due to the
difficulties of that industry. Again may I quote from what the then Minister of Agriculture said on December 5, 1952? He said [col. 1963]:
I want to refer to sawn softwood supplies. It is common knowledge that while the paramount need of this country at present is to preserve the safety of its balance of payments, 95 per cent. of the softwoods used in this country are imported and cost foreign currency Every bit of sawn softwood produced from home produced sources is thus of great importance.
I should like to know whether the present Government stand behind the statements which were made at that time.
§ This is all leading up to what is really the main point of my Motion to-day: the present state of the markets. Grants and administrative machinery are all very well, but I am sure that noble Lords on all sides of the House recognise that they are only a means to an end. The end itself is to develop a healthy forestry, and that involves finding suitable markets for such mature timber as we have, and more particularly for the inferior timber I have referred to that has been left after the two world wars and for the increasing volume of thinnings. Markets are very hard to find to-day; sales are difficult; prices are low and they reflect the difficulties of the home-grown timber trade industry.
§ May I quote one small example on my own property? I had a man, known as a Bodger, who used to make chair legs on the estate. He has had to go out of business. Noble Lords who have been at the Royal Show in the last couple of years may have seen him in the forestry section, making his chair legs as an exhibit. He made them with a simple lathe in a simple hut in the woods. He has been there for many years and he used to work in the beech woods. Now he tells us that there is no demand for chairs and chair legs for schools, and that is the reason he had to go out of business. I would emphasise that here is another small industry which has died as a result of the situation to-day. The sawn-timber trade has fallen away. We hear all over the place of mills closing down, big ones as well as small ones. I believe I am right in saying—although I am open to correction on this statement—that mills as far apart as Liverpool, in the North, and somewhere near Gloucester, in the South, are cases in point. Frankly, my 401 Lords, the bottom has fallen out of the market; and I am sorry to say so, but the national policy of virtually duty-free imports does not help.
May I suggest one or two steps to try to help improve the position now that the traditional outlets have fallen into decline? May we be assured that the Government will stand behind their past pledges that markets will be found for home-grown timber in the nationalised industries, which they themselves said would be found, and in Government Departments? Again, may I quote from the same statement made on December 5, 1952, of the then Minister of Agriculture [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 508, col. 1960]:
In respect of home-produced pit props, it is the policy of the Government to ensure that all the home-grown timber which is suitable for use in the mines shall be so used.
At that time we took it that this meant all forms of mining timber. My latest information is that the National Coal Board have stopped buying British mining timber or, at the most, are confining their purchases to areas where producers are close to the mines. I am told that if there were a reduction of 7 per cent. in the imports of mining timber the position would be put right. I believe it is a fact that the railways have abandoned the manufacture and repair of wooden wagons. That may be necessary for the situation to-day, but have they ever thought of giving a trial to hardwood sleepers? Could not the Government persuade the Transport Commission to do this? It is general on the Continent; why should it not be done here?
§ I now turn to what I believe has been a very great storm: the subject of the fencing of our new motorways such as the Preston Road and the new Yorkshire Road from St. Albans to Birmingham. I understand that up to now Swedish softwood has been used for these new roads. I am told that it has been used because pressure-creosoted softwood was specified. Yet English oak is available at a lower price; and those who have it available are finding it very difficult to sell. I am sure it would last almost as long. Could not the Government be persuaded to try to use this? Would the Government, too, try to encourage the starting of new processing plants? I am sure that they have been doing so to a certain extent; but could not such things as pulp mills and 402 chipboard factories be encouraged by the Government? The Government are in a strong position to foster such developments by their control over capital expenditure and by their allocation of industry.
§ I now come to another aspect of the problem: the high cost of transport. We have found, both locally and nationally, that transport is a costly business. Timber value itself is low compared to its bulk and weight. In both world wars it was found necessary to subsidise transport for timber because of that. That is not being done to-day, but I believe that the problem merits investigation by the Government. May I give as an analogy the cost of sugar beet? I understand that sugar beet to-day is carried from the farms to the factories at a certain set price. Could not the same be done for timber? Could there not be some sort of arrangement such as that? Then C-licence lorries often drive home empty. Could some arrangement not be made for them to carry timber instead of doing so?
§ Second-class timber, I am told, could be made into cable drums, and there are surely a number of other uses to which such timber could be put. I mention all these suggestions because I again want to emphasise the point that at the moment the bottom has fallen out of the market, and we want help from the Government, and otherwise, to do all that we can to put this right. Are the Government really sympathetic? We on our side should like the nationalised industries to buy more in this country and to buy British, which, so far, they have not done to a great extent.
In the statement on July 24 the Minister stated [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 211, col. 181]:
The Government recognise the importance to the forestry industry of an efficient home-grown timber trade. They believe that the measures now announced will be welcomed by the trade as well as by woodland owners, and will help both to plan ahead with confidence.
My Lords, the Government hoped that what they announced in that statement would be received with pleasure. Whilst it was to a limited extent, so far as the owners are concerned it also met with a great deal of disappoinment. This has largely arisen from the apparent abandonment of the 5-million acre target and the apparent neglect by the nationalised industries of home-grown timber. These
points leave us in doubt whether the Government stand behind forestry generally, and we want reassurance on this.
§ I should like to ask the Government three main questions. First, do they stand behind the past pledges of Ministers and really wish for an expanding State forest coupled with an expanding private forest supported by strong selling organisations of the timber trade and of the organisations of woodland owners? Secondly, would they again assure us, in no unmistakable language, that they desire a stable, prosperous, and expanding home timber industry? The third question is: May we have confirmation that the nationalised industries will buy more, and will buy British? We urgently hope for reassurances on these points. I feel bound to draw the attention of the House to the only too general feeling among foresters that forestry to-day is not regarded as so important as it was thought to be a few years ago.
§ My Lords, I have tried to express some of the anxieties that have been felt by private woodland owners all over the country. I have also tried to express their gratitude for what has been done and is being done. But we still want more. I am afraid. Other noble Lords will, I trust, develop some of the points that I have raised, and I hope that we shall hear quite a bit from the Scottish side. Finally, I should like to add that I sincerely hope the Government will be able to reassure us on some of the points I have raised to-day. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.4 p.m.
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, in rising to support in many ways the noble Earl who has moved this Motion, I must confess that I feel a trifle nervous at the order of batting this afternoon. I am followed by the whole of the eleven on the other side, and for that reason I feel in a rather difficult position. However, I would warn the eleven who follow me to be a little careful in their criticisms, because on reference to the last but one debate we had in this House on this subject, when we discussed the Watson Report, I find that no fewer than four of the noble Lords who spoke are now in the Government. I therefore warn those who follow me what may happen to them if they are too critical this afternoon. Not only are those four noble Lords in the 404 Government, but the Government speaker on that occasion has had a lift and is now able to occupy another position.
In our last discussion on the Watson Report the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, speaking for the Government, made this statement. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 202, col. 1083]:… everything that has been said … will be studied with great care by my right honourable friends.According to the noble Earl who has just sat down, the Government do not appear to have exercised very much diligence in the study of what was said, and I hope that, before we depart to-night, the Government will be able to tell us something of what plans they have in mind for the future of the forestry industry.
With the object of promoting confidence and stability within the home timber industry, the Watson Committee were asked to consider measures and report. The words "confidence and stability" seem to ring a bell—though not the bell some of your Lordships may be thinking of! There is a similarity between the words "confidence and stability" in forestry and the words "healthy and thriving' in agriculture, a position which we discussed a short time ago. I hope that the Government really do mean what they seem to suggest in the words "confidence and stability". I wonder if the Minister will be able to tell us whether, in the opinion of the Government, there is more confidence and stability in the forestry industry to-day than there was when we discussed the Watson Report. The noble Earl who moved this Motion does not seem to suggest that that is so, and the latest Annual Report of the Forestry Commission is not full of enthusiasm and encouragement, except possibly in the field of private forestry. The Commission still encounter problems, and in the future these may become increased and not lessened.
We are told in the Commission's Report that the forest year of 1957 was "uneventful"—a very striking remark—and it would seem that there was a decline in the Commission's activities in some directions. When progress is aimed at and hoped for, and where production is so essential, uneventful years are not likely to satisfy the desire to reach the goal which we hope still awaits well-planned 405 and organised forestry operations. I hope that the next Report from the Forestry Commission will tell us of great events and great achievements.
It is obvious from the statement of July 24, to which the noble Earl has referred, that recognition has now been made of the unlikelihood of reaching the hoped-for area of afforested land—a vast area, so far as this country is concerned—which was set as our national aim a few years ago. When the nation embarks on a big undertaking, I think it is desirable that it should endeavour to carry it through to the desired result. It may be disastrous if, upon reconsideration after five or ten years, it is found necessary to diminish still further the foresters' efforts to develop their industry and to change materially the scope of finance and assistance which can be given to them. I think that this is extremely important.
I thought that in some respects the July statement was an unfortunate one, but I recognise its good point—the increased maintenance grant is acceptable to small woodland owners. We look to the Government to strengthen, if necessary, the ways and means which should be open to an industry which enjoys, as forestry does, the efforts of both State and private enterprise, to carry out as nearly as possible what it has set out to do.
I have made reference to the noble Lords who follow me. It is apparent from the list that the owners of woods and plantations are well represented in your Lordships' House, so I need not speak on their behalf this afternoon. There are other interests involved in our consideration, and I want briefly to record another side of the picture. Progress in the industry is essential, not only for the well-being of the owners and their agents and the executives of the Forestry Commission, but also for the well-being of the men who are engaged day after day in the many manual and mechanical operations that keep things moving. Employees in the woods on private estates can turn their hands to other estate work as occasion requires, and if they are diligent, intelligent and of good behaviour, and the financial position of the owner is sound, they are more or less secure. On the other hand, those who are employed by the Forestry Commission are particularly dependent for their livelihood upon confidence and stability in the industry. It is therefore 406 important from every angle that in seeding, planting, thinning, felling, marketing, processing, transporting and replanting, the Forestry Commission should be enabled to work at full capacity in order to achieve the final result.
According to statistics, the peak year of the Forestry Commission was 1954. In that year the area planted was 70,000 acres. This dropped to 50,000 acres in 1957. The area acquired, including both land purchased and land leased, covered 77,000 acres in 1954, and again there was a drop, in 1957, to 56,000 acres. In other words, there has been a drop both in the area which has been planted and in the area which has been acquired. I am advised that for the ten years ended 1956 it was planned to plant 900,000 acres, but in fact only 61½ per cent. of that programme was achieved. For these reasons, and maybe for others, the regular labour force employed by the Forestry Commission in England and Wales declined from 8,792 in May, 1950 to 7,318 in October of this year, a very considerable drop. No doubt most of these figures are generally known, but I thought it desirable to record them again in order that the trend of events in this important forestry undertaking might be appreciated.
It is clear that the Forestry Commission have experienced, and are experiencing, difficulty in acquiring suitable land for afforestation. Up to the present they have relied upon private negotiation and good will on the part of owners to help in trying to reach the acreage quota which has been set. It may be that if the Government come to the conclusion, as I hope they will, that more and still more afforestation is essential in our economy and for the future national activities and survival, then the use of powers of compulsory purchase will have to be seriously considered. On October 29, 1957, when we had a debate on forestry in your Lordships' House, my noble friend Lord Huntingdon spoke in favour of compulsory purchase, but the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, said that it was not Government policy at that time. Perhaps in future there may have to be a revision or re-thinking of that policy.
I am in favour of voluntary negotiation in respect of all land purchases, if they can be carried out in this way, but compulsory 407 purchase procedure must be adopted in certain circumstances. In future, more realistic prices, bearing some relation to market values, can be offered, and that may ease the difficulty of obtaining land for afforestation. Prices paid in the past may not have been very attractive. I notice that the average price as declared by the Forestry Commission in their Report is on the low side, although I limit this observation to England, as my experience has not made me familiar with prices in Scotland or Wales. If an owner has something to sell, then he has the right to expect fair compensation in the way of a purchase price, according to the market worth of the commodity, be it land, timber, livestock, corn or any chattel or property. I hope that noble Lords have noticed that I mention corn, which is rather a sore point with me in regard to agricultural prices. There should not be any attempt on either side to drive hard or sharp bargains. I hope that such has not been the case in the past in connection with the purchase of areas for forestry purposes.
I should like to say a few things about mining timber, to which the noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, has already referred. I should like to draw the attention of your Lordships to what the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, said on April 3, when he was dealing with the question of imports. He said that imports from the Commonwealth countries of pitwood, wood pulp and newsprint from any source are duty-free. The noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, has already mentioned the question of imports, and I want to endorse what he said in that respect.
I notice from the Forestry Commission's Report that last year consumption of home-grown timber in the mines showed an increase of 8 per cent., mainly attributable to sawn mining timber; but at the same time a build-up of stocks in merchants' yards indicated production in excess of demand. I wonder whether the noble Earl who is to reply will be able to tell us the position in regard to pit props in stock at the present time. I apologise for not having given him notice of this question, but I looked for him yesterday in the hope that I might tell him what I was going to say. I should also like to know whether there is close co-operation between the National Coal 408 Board and the Forestry Commission for the full supply of the requirements of the Coal Board. Here again I would endorse what has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, and hope that British products are receiving priority and that the importation of pitwood free of duty is not harmful to British production and the employment of British forestry labour.
I want now to deal with a matter which may be important, so far as my own county is concerned, and I should like to pose a question to the Minister in connection with the Forestry Commission's depot and mills at Brandon. Rumours have been circulating in the county that it is intended to close this depot, and I understand that no denial has yet been made at top level. I think there has been a local denial, but not one at top level. It can be readily appreciated that the closing down of this depot, generally fairly full of sawn and other mining timber whenever I have passed it, would materially affect the business life of the small country town of Brandon, and it might make the men working in the depot redundant and liable to unemployment. Men who have become skilled in their work are worth retaining. It might also affect the working of the forests around the town such as Thetford Chase and other forests. If the Minister is unable to reply to that question at this stage, perhaps he will be willing to reply if I table a Question on the subject.
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY. MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord, but it may be convenient if I intervene now to say that I have just had the reassurance of the Chairman of the Forestry Commission (it is an advantage to have him sitting behind me in this House) that there is no intention whatever of closing this depôt at Brandon. That is from the highest level.
The Chairman of the Forestry Commission has 409 given me the assurance—and it is his depôt—that there is no intention of closing it—
§ LORD WISE
I thank the noble Earl.
I hope that the decision announced in July in regard to the cessation of the thinning grant will not mean a curtailment of work on private woodlands. Some figures have already been given, but I have culled these further figures from the Report. Last year 860 schemes in regard to thinnings were approved in Great Britain by the Forestry Commission. These cover 11,607 acres and an estimated output of over 3 million cubic feet of timber. That is a goodly contribution to our national output, and the cost to the Exchequer amounted to only £47,000. That £47,000 was, I think, well spent, and it could be renewed without much trouble. It would appear to me that these were worth-while operations, since they not only added to our timber output but helped to improve our future prospects of production and of maintaining healthy and thriving woods.
In connection with thinning and felling work undertaken by the Forestry Commission, I would call attention to the point that apparently it has now become part of the Commission's practice to employ private contractors to carry out work which in the past was done by private labour and by the Commission's own employees. The volume of thinnings sold as standing to contractors increased from 14 per cent. of the area thinned in 1954 to 38 per cent. in 1957. Naturally, I do not know the terms under which private contractors are employed (and I do not propose to refer to "top level" at this moment in that respect), or the merits or demerits of the action in the eyes of the Commission. But I wonder whether the procedure is a profitable and correct one from the national standpoint. The great beauty of our forestry discussions, as I think is recognised on all sides, is that they are so open and free. We can approach an industry and occupation which absorbs our interest with criticisms, suggestions and inquiries, in the hope that good may accrue from such discussion in the nation's interest and for the benefit 410 of those who seek to leave some tangible record of their labours in British wood, plantation or forest.
§ 3.30 p.m.
THE EARL OF BRADFORD
My Lords, I should like to support the Motion of my noble friend Lord Buckinghamshire. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, expressed his apprehension about the batting order of the eleven that follows him, and I echo that apprehension. It seems to me that that eleven shares a certain weakness which has become apparent with our eleven which is at present appearing in Australia—that is to say, a weakness in its openers—and it seems to have been necessary to effect a promotion from the second, third or even lower eleven to be an opener on this occasion.
The noble Lord has also drawn a parallel between agriculture and forestry which I think is very apt. Agriculture has often been described as the Cinderella among the industries of this country. I think perhaps that characterisation has ceased to be apt and that the mantle, or perhaps I should say the glass slipper, fits better the younger sister of agriculture, which is forestry. This young lady has been even more restricted and cold-shouldered than her elder sister, agriculture. She was allowed out for a brief fling under licence, under very strict control, for a period after the war, but that fling was a very brief one indeed.
There is an almost complete lack of forestry tradition in this country since the days of the "wooden walls". We are, I believe, a nation of tree lovers, but we are certainly not a nation of forest lovers. There seems to be a complete lack of appreciation of the multifarious roles which forests can play. Added to that, in the last century we have opened our market to the virgin forests of the world, and the result has been the complete neglect of what could and should be an immense national asset, a neglect which I believe is unique among civilised countries, and which has been only partly remedied since the creation of a Forestry Commission and our national forests.
There are many different aspects of the importance of a thriving forestry industry in our national life. I might mention the strategic, economic, social, meteorological and scenic aspects; the effect of soil fertility, water supplies, and others. The strategic aspect, which until 411 recently I suppose was the most important, now appears to have gone with the wind and the nuclear age. Other aspects are insufficiently understood, and their importance, I believe, much under-rated. We have no need in this country for the thousand-mile shelter belts that Russia is now planting. We have no need to plant millions of acres of bare mountainside as China is doing, for flood control and for timber. It is inevitable, I think, that we must concentrate on the economic aspect, as it dominates so much of our thinking and must be uppermost in running a forest industry, as it is the point where our main difficulties lie to-day.
The man in the street would probably say, "What is all this fuss about forestry? I hate conifers anyhow, and timber is a material of the past." He thinks of this as an age of steel and concrete, of oil and plastics, and now nuclear power. But it seems to me that all the advances of science serve to underline two things in this context: the first is our natural shortage of industrial raw materials, except for coal, and the second the growing importance of timber as a raw material. We now import over £400 million worth of timber and timber products, one-tenth of our total import bill. The pattern of consumption is certainly changing, but the uses of timber as a raw material are ever growing. Some of your Lordships may have seen a book which was published shortly after the war, called The Coming Age of Wood, by the Deputy Director General of F.A.O. Forestry, which follows up the theme of timber as the raw material of the future.
I was interested the other day to see a scientific article in The Times entitled "A Challenge to the Chemist", with a sub-heading "New industry based on wood still in the future." This article stressed the problem of the utilisation of lignin which is, after cellulose, probably the most important material available from wood, and which is a chemical storehouse of raw materials. If the problem of lignin can be solved, then the use of wood for raw materials for chemical purposes is almost unlimited. There is evidence to show that timber will be an even more important raw material in the future, and both the Watson Report and the Zuckerman 412 Report stress that importance. If this is the case, utilisation of timber is bound to increase and our bill for imports will mount, if we assume that the world will be content to go on stripping its forests and sending us the produce.
As the virgin forests become exhausted—and they are becoming exhausted—costs are bound to mount even if supplies continue. In any case, to my untutored mind, unfamiliar with the intricacies of international trade, it seems to me that there must be many advantages if as much of this market as possible is to be supplied from home sources, assuming it is economically sound to do so. Here I believe we are on strong ground, and it can be shown to anyone's satisfaction that not only do we produce some of the finest hardwoods in the world but we grow softwoods of comparable quality far more rapidly than most of our main suppliers—for example, the Scandinavian countries. That is apart from certain specialist lines, such as joinery timber. During the war, we became almost self-supporting in our hardwoods, and produced, I believe, about one-third of our softwood needs, almost entirely from private sources.
The post-war policy for forestry aimed at supplying eventually 30 per cent. of our needs and building up a national forest of 5 million acres both national and private. I do not believe that this was a really ambitious policy, and yet now, apparently, it has been cut down. Even if we are satisfied, we shall still have the smallest forest area, proportional to our size, in Europe. This country has now invested over £100 million in its national forests, and I believe that that sum—a very large one—could bring a manifold return if our policy were a wise one. The produce of these forests is increasing fast and the markets depend very much on the use of thinnings which are coming from those forests.
But what of the brighter side of the industry? Here I must declare my interest as a producer. I believe the picture has both its bright and its gloomy sides. It is bright in the way the response has come to the appeals to rehabilitate and plant our woodlands. Private owners are now planting a bigger annual acreage than was forecast in the post-war forest policy and the rehabilitation of private woodlands has been proceeding at a satisfactory rate both within 413 and without the dedication scheme. But I am convinced that it could proceed much faster still and it is in the national interest that it should proceed faster. I should like to quote one sentence from the Report of the Committee on the Marketing of Woodland Produce, the Watson Committee, where it says:… every additional acre of timber grown by the private owner means that the State is saved an outlay many times greater than any assistance given.The limiting factors are, I believe, economics and confidence. This is the gloomy side of the picture. There is no activity in which long-term confidence is so important. Those who plant trees do not expect even their sons to get most of the benefit from their present plantings, but possibly their grandsons. Tree planting is not only a long-term investment but an act of faith in the future, and it must he supported by a belief in the future of private ownership. Unfortunately, at present confidence is very low, but it could, I believe, rise enormously if a strong lead were given by the Government.
The other major limiting factor is the economic position of forestry. A forestry programme requires the investment of large capital sums. The pattern of ownership has been changing considerably. It is often thought that the woods of this country are owned by a few very large landowners. Certainly there are still large landowners with large areas of forest; but with the break-up of large estates, a process which has been going on now for so long, the pattern has changed considerably and ownership generally is in much smaller parcels and even, to a great extent, in farm wood-lots. Such forest businesses, both large and small, must be self-supporting, and even large owners in these days have not large reserves of capital and cannot in any case afford to let their capital lie unproductive. Solvency inevitably depends on sales, and that at present is the rub.
Woodland owners have in two world wars lost not only practically all their best timber but, in many cases, also, in the last war, thriving immature plantations which would now be the main bread-and-butter lines. They are left in general, in many cases, with second quality hardwoods for which traditional outlets are shrinking, and shrinking fast, and which must be sold if they are to 414 remain solvent. Markets are undoubtedly the crux of the problem. We appreciate help in the form of grants, and obviously they are a help, but I believe that they are merely a pittance when they are set against the ever-rising costs of forestry. We appreciate the new management grant, but much of the benefit of that has been off-set by the withdrawal of the thinning grant, which I think was probably the greatest encouragement of all to the proper tending of young plantations.
I believe that I speak for all forest owners when I say that owners would he glad to be rid of grants if adequate markets were available for their timber. The Government statement of July 2 expressed the hope that private forestry could dispense with all but nominal grants in twenty or thirty years. I believe that every private owner would echo that hope if adequate markets were available for his produce; but when he sees the mines taking less and less of his timber, the railways ceasing to make or repair wooden wagons, and the new roads fenced with imported softwood or concrete posts, while apparently little is done to encourage new industries to use home-grown timber, he can surely be excused for thinking that this part of the Government statement is a pious hope with no practical support behind it.
if I might, I would quote an example of an extremely keen private owner, one who retired from the Foreign Service at the end of the last war, who took over an estate in rather poor condition, with its woods at least half devastated. The timber was gone and he found about 300 acres of woods, half of them completely devastated. He was obliged to make both ends meet. This he could do as long as there was a reasonable market for his hardwoods and as long as that market remained stable. Now he is unable to sell sufficient for the solvency of his business, and he has had to dismiss half his staff. I believe that that is not an isolated case. Not only has be had to dismiss labour, but this means the neglect of much of his past work. I believe it is in the light of cases such as this that failing markets for hardwoods are so serious. Surely we are in a bad way when English oak will not sell at home but American and Japanese will. The fencing of the new motorways has been mentioned by several speakers. I have here a photograph of a new road 415 in Derbyshire round the proposed Staunton Harold Reservoir which has been fenced entirely with home-grown oak. It looks extremely handsome. I believe it is durable, and I hope it will outlast the imported softwood of the new motorways. If it can be done on this one new road, why not on the others?
I believe that one of the great difficulties has been a long-standing prejudice against home-grown timber, a prejudice that has grown lately, and this exists especially in Government Departments, in the nationalised industries, and among local authorities. Part of the reason, undoubtedly, is that during the vastly accelerated war-time production a good deal of the produce was hastily and not too well prepared and not well seasoned. I believe that this has had a major effect. But it is too much to condemn home-grown timber on that account alone. Undoubtedly there has been a lack of good seasoning and of grading methods. That, I believe, can be put right. The home trade and the producers have not been as well organised as the importing trade, but new organisations are now being formed which should put that to rights. This, however, is not nearly sufficient in itself. I believe that two things are even more essential: confidence and adequate markets. I hope that the Government will feel able to state in unequivocal language that it desires to see a stable, prosperous, expanding, home timber industry. I hope that the Government will also be able to urge on Government Departments and on the nationalised industries that they should at least not discriminate against home-grown timber. And I hope that they will be able to encourage the setting up of processing plants for woodland produce.
My Lords, I have spoken for too long, but there are two other points I should like to make before I close. One is the very considerable effect that estate duty has on private forests. Its effect can be completely crippling on an industry whose finances are in any case extremely wobbly. I believe that if there is any form in which inheritance should be encouraged it is in timber, as it is in a great many other countries. As things are, an heir inherits a burden which he can virtually never lift and which is a veritable millstone around his neck.
416 For my last point I should like to quote a few sentences from a special supplement in The Times of recent date. They read as follows:Technical development is being pushed forward with equal vigour in the woods and the mills. Everything possible is being done to increase the yield of saleable products from each tree and to achieve balanced utilisation of species. Everywhere the accent is on good housekeeping and the elimination of waste.Unfortunately, that did not refer to the United Kingdom; it was a description of the forestry industry in British Columbia, the most heavily forested province of Canada, which I suppose has the biggest reserves of forests in the world. This report goes on to mention a number of other interesting things about the utilisation of sawmill waste and the fact that 90 per cent. of the sulphate pulp produce in British Columbia comes from that same sawmill waste.
I believe that the research which is going on in this country is most excellently done, but it is quite insufficient for the purpose. The Timber Development Association are doing extremely good work, as also are the Forest Produce Research Laboratory, under the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and the Forestry Commission's own research department. But I am quite certain that there is need for far more research on forestry methods and on utilisation, both mechanical and chemical, and perhaps the chemists might even be able to solve the problem of the utilisation of lignin. The Government must reaffirm their support by practical measures. We have had enough reports and inquiries and pious hopes; there is great need for action.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ LORD LOVAT
My Lords, crisis is typically attended by confusion, whether it arrives suddenly or insidiously. It is always there, for various reasons, and we should recognise its existence. I should like to preface my remarks with those words, because in Scotland (and I am the first speaker who represents that area North of the Border in this afternoon's debate) we have reached the point where neither merchants nor proprietors are able to deal with the impasse which has occurred in the softwood timber trade. Previous speakers—I am honoured to be associated with the noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, who has raised this 417 debate—have made points all of which have been most pertinent, but most of them have referred to hardwood. We in Scotland can grow the very best softwood, and I feel that for a moment I might dwell on the history of the afforestation policy in the North and afterwards make suggestions and proposals to alleviate what is becoming a very serious situation.
In the White Paper on post-war forestry, published in 1943, it was recognised that the Forestry Commission would have increasingly to interest themselves in the marketing of timber, not only because the sales from State forests would increase enormously but also because private sales were becoming their concern as the result of a dedication programme which they succeeded in obtaining and from which I think most of our woodlands enjoy the benefits. But I do not think that at that time it was sufficiently foreseen that, as the result of two world wars, an enormous spate of young timber would be coming into the market. That is, in fact, what has happened as regards the thinnings of our forests, whether they are national or private, as has been made perfectly clear by the Forestry Commission and all who have knowledge of sylviculture.
We in Scotland have now come to a stage in our journey along the eighty-year road—and I am glad that previous speakers have made it clear that it takes at least eighty years, and that it is only our grandchildren who will enjoy the doubtful benefits of what is rapidly becoming a depressed industry. It is only after these eighty years that we can hope for results. In the meantime, we have, in some way or other, to ease the crippling burden of the running of our forests. We have to find a market—that is the whole point—and we have not been able to do so. There is an enormous amount of pit-wood coming forward in Scotland at the present time. The most recent figures show that the Forestry Commission themselves in Scotland are turning out nearly 7 million cubic feet—that is, Hoppus feet—per annum; and we have yet to find ways and means of disposing of it. It is a serious state of affairs.
Your Lordships should know that except for a Swedish type of sawmill at Troon, and a very small chipboard factory in Annan, which can manage to deal with only 1¼ million cubic feet, the 418 rest of the Scottish woodlands are finding it increasingly difficult to deal with their thinnings. For example, in the Island of Mull, which I happen to know well, there are some 5,000 acres of Forestry Commission woodlands which are now in a position to be thinned, yet the thinnings cannot be disposed of in any way. Once an owner, as a private individual, is in competition with woodlands which are non-profit-earning, or there are finances available to thin them without expecting profit, he finds it increasingly difficult to get on with the job with his timber merchant.
We who come from Inverness, in the far North, have waited for no less than ten years to realise the dream of a pulp mill. That, I feel, is essential. I hope that the Government, who have done so much to promote industries elsewhere, notably the strip mill in the Clyde, will think seriously of a pulp mill for softwood timber in the North of Scotland. We in the North suffer not from bad woodlands, but from the freight rates, which really make it quite prohibitive to get timber away to the South. I should like to add that the Scottish Regional Coal Board have done their part in accepting our timber although we get no benefit from the freight rates—they call them the "frights" in Scotland, which is a most suitable name.
The noble Lord, Lord Wise, asked a most innocent question when he asked where the British mines got their pitprops. I am sorry to tell your Lordships that they are almost entirely imported. That seems a most unfortunate state of affairs. In Scotland we have only three classes of timber—pitprops, which present the main problem; boxwood, where again business suffers great damage from importation, and a certain amount of sleepers, 7 per cent. of which have been considered sufficient to supply British Railways' needs. Yet in the year 1958 we had the whole of our sleeper market destroyed by importation. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, who I see sitting in front of me, will bear in mind that the sleepers that came in were almost entirely Russian. I cannot understand why the Board of Trade thought it necessary to go to Russia to draw timber when there is plenty of soft fir available on their doorstep. I hope that that will be borne in mind, because it seems to be extraordinarily muddled thinking.
419 We have done our best as private individuals to promote the growing of timber, but those who have dedicated would, I feel, have every right to reconsider certain clauses in that dedication, because, as many speakers have already said, carrying on with only small grants and further State assistance without any guaranteed market is a difficult matter, and it would be much better not to dedicate our woodlands and to turn into sheep walks some of our hillsides which we had thought of planting out with trees. A comparison between agriculture and forestry production and methods is a very apt one, but no speaker has so far made this point, which I should like to emphasise: that forestry wages are increased to the level of agricultural wages whenever there is a rise, but unlike the latter industry there are no price reviews or guaranteed markets for the timber which the men are working. I think it is high time that we should look after that section of the business and not be badly flooded out by competition from the Forestry Commission.
I ask your Lordships not to think that I am hostile to the Forestry Commission. The reason why I am speaking high up in the batting order—unworthily high—is that my father was the first Chairman of the Forestry Commission and I have a great admiration for all their works. But it seems to me that there is one real criticism of this august body. I may be wrong, but as a layman I get the impression that, while they have enormous zeal and enthusiasm, and are all very charming people, they do not seem to have a head for business. On the one hand, you see an energetic section of that body urging you to spend more on trees—they never stop trying to get more acreage under forest; and if you cannot plnat it yourself they are quite prepared to take it away from you. But what is on the other side of this organisation? Is there any correlation between the marketing and planting? If there is I have still to meet it. But I hope they will realise that as private individuals we have reached the point where it is becoming increasingly difficult to go on planting trees without the assurance of some kind of future.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ THF EARL OF LONSDALE
My Lords, I, for one, and I am sure all other noble Lords here this afternoon, whether, like so many of us, they are engaged in the 420 forestry industry or not, will welcome this very important Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire. As he so aptly put it, the forestry industry of this country is at a crisis in its affairs. The bottom has dropped out of the market. We have had limited debates on forestry in the past two years: on the Watson Committee Report, in April of last year, and on the Zuckerman Committee Report in October last year. On the latter occasion the noble Earl Lord St. Aldwyn, who replied for Her Majesty's Government stated on behalf of the Government [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 205, col. 574]:… 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 wording allowed one to expect that something as considered and detailed as the White Paper of 1943 would be forthcoming, and to hope that a radical change of emphasis would result, taking account of the changed prospects of this time, fifteen years later. All we have had is the statement of July 24 this year, coming nine months after the time when it was promised.
This short Government statement on forestry does not seem to do anything more than continue the policy of 1943 and to give some aid to small forest owners. This latter aspect is, of course exceedingly valuable, and will certainly help towards enabling them to put their woodlands in order, if they have not already done so. I was going to say a great deal on the removal of the thinning grants, but so much has already been said by other noble Lords that I will confine myself entirely to supporting and endorsing the remarks of my noble friend Lord Buckinghamshire about the removal of those grants. It is a tragedy silviculturally, as well as economically, because it may lead to late thinning in order that the thinning can be conducted at a time when some payment will be made; and such late thinning will consequently impair the quality and growth rates of the plantation.
After all the time that elapsed before the statement was made, and considering all the material and information available to Her Majesty's Government, that statement seems ill-considered, unimaginative and even hasty, a product more of the period of thinking about the necessity for 421 anti-inflationary measures than of the long-term future of an industry which depends upon plans made for a generation or two ahead, rather than for five years, or even the current year. In view of the statements of Her Majesty's Government in the last few years, I am sure that no harm is meant, and that no lack of support is implied for this country's forestry industry and that at the end of this debate we shall have more elucidation and explanation of the statement and of the aims of Her Majesty's Government.
Our home forestry industry is not, as yet, a big one. In economic terms it is really very inconsiderable, and as such perhaps does not merit a great deal of consideration. It has, however, made a large contribution in two world wars to saving our nation. Before the last war it provided only about 4½ per cent. of this country's timber and timber-product needs, but during the last war it provided nearly one-third; and after the war, as we have heard from other speakers, there was little standing timber left of any age, or at any rate of any quality.
The past record and difficulties of the industry are well known. Perhaps less well known is the enormous amount of planting which took place in the postwar period and since the inception of the Forestry Commission. It was stated in this House as long ago as February 23, 1955, that the average imports of timber and pulp in the previous five years had been £24 million, while home production for those five years averaged £10 million. So far as I can discover from the latest available figures, the situation is still much the same. The Report of the Forestry Commission for 1957 gives the quantity and value of their production and the quantity licensed for selling from private woodlands. That does not mean to say that the quantity licensed for selling from private woodlands was actually felled, but that generally follows very closely. The value of the two together would still be about £10 million.
It is suggested that imports are now of the order of £400 million, so that our contribution is now only 2½ per cent.—or 4 per cent. if one sticks to the old figures of 1955. Incidentally, the output of private woodlands seems to be about one-fifth less than in 1953, the year of the Scottish windblow, when, owing to the 422 sudden increase in the amount of timber available for the market, it could not be absorbed and the price fell appreciably, only to recover when the windblow had been consumed. That leads me to think that the market cannot now absorb more than is being produced at home at the moment. Although I have not given the noble Earl who is to reply any notice of this question, I should be glad to have the up-to-date figures of the imports of both pulp and timber, and also those of home production.
I hope that what I have said will have revealed the relative insignificance of the industry at present, with an output of less than 0.1 per cent. of that of agriculture—and a mere pittance compared with that of the National Coal Board. It is stated, however, that the contribution of the nation's forests to the economy by the end of the century is expected to be equal to about one-third of the national consumption. On the basis of £400 million of imports now, production therefore must rise from the present £10 million to £133 million in the coming forty years; in other words, a thirteen-fold or fourteen-fold increase is foreseen—an average annual increase in output of something of the order of £3 million. To a tremendous extent this will be in the form of small thinnings, as the enormous acreage which has been planted begins to yield.
How on earth is this enormous quantity of small thinnings to be absorbed when we are virtually in glut conditions now? I hardly think that, with the way the trade is organised at present, and without very great expenditure on the provision of processing plants, it is feasible to absorb this expected gigantic increase of output. Quite apart from the mills and processing plants required, think of the houses, the social facilities and so on needed to cope with this tremendous increase, not to mention the strain on our already congested road system.
Are we right to insist on the creation of this enormous national forest in the present foreseeable circumstances? It has been judged, and often stated, that this is desirable on economic grounds to assist our balance of payments. The industry will therefore have to be put on a basis very different from its present one if it is to be able to cope with this ever-increasing output. Surely, rather than 423 thinking in terms of a strategic reserve, outmoded in the present nuclear world, we should think, first and foremost, in terms of the potential contribution to our national economy. In that respect I suspect that the emphasis should be on the production of artificial timber substances, rather than on growing timber to sawing size. Those processes would be better done here than abroad, as has already been suggested by my noble friend Lord Bradford, and on two counts: first, to keep the manufacturing and processing at home, and secondly because this country, by reason of its rainfall and climate, is more suitable for rapid growth and suited least for slow-grown structural timber. Production of slow-grown timber should, to my mind, be left to countries with colder climates, like Canada, Finland, Sweden, British Columbia, Russia and others, where it can be produced and transported in bulk by ships and dealt with at the ports of entry.
If we must have a reserve of sawn timber, I feel that provision of this should be left to the Forestry Commission, who make use of the least productive land, by and large, and produce slower grown timber, on the average, than does private forestry. Private forestry should be encouraged to produce short-rotation timber for processing, which can be done in one generation. The advantages of the dedication of private woodland as timber-growing land are considerable; and it is a sad commentary on the general feeling of insecurity at the moment that, for death duty and taxation reasons, so little timber land has, in fact, been dedicated. Out of the one million-odd acres in England at any rate—I do not know about Scotland and Wales—only 251,000 acres are dedicated.
As I was saying, the emphasis has been on the creation of a strategic reserve; in fact that has been done by Act of Parliament. The 1951 Act laid down that a reserve of standing and growing timber is to be supplied. Private owners, consequently, have not been encouraged to produce short-rotation timber, except in exceptional circumstances. In industrial areas, where there is heavy air pollution, private owners have in some cases been encouraged to grow spruce on a twenty-five year rotation, because it is the only timber that will grow, and then only for a short period. I am sure that the time 424 has come for a division of the responsibilities of the private owner and of State forestry towards the aim of creating a large and significant industry. State forestry should in the main be encouraged to produce heavier sawn timber, and private owners should be encouraged to produce smaller sizes of timber on short rotations for processing. Obviously, no sharp division could ever be made because of the suitability of different types of land for different types of production, but the emphasis could be placed in that direction.
The main point, I wish to make is that the July statement makes no reference to one of the two main recommendations of the Watson Report which calls, in paragraph 159, for a Central Consultative Body. I have been trying to develop the argument as I have gone on that the aims of State and of private forestry should be different and I think it follows that their control should be separate. At present we have in this industry a state of affairs which prevails in no other industry to my knowledge. The State sector exercises not only control over but also management of the private sector, and yet their outlooks, once we get away from strategic considerations, must differ markedly particularly as time goes on. State forestry has complete security of tenure; private forestry has security for only a generation or two on top of which the Forestry Commission who exercise control—and have done so in a remarkably fine and efficient manner as the years have gone on—are answerable only to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in person.
Surely it would be much more reasonable and proper and practical if the Ministry were responsible for the Forestry Commission, on the one hand, and for private forestry on the other, being itself advised by a body such as was envisaged in the Watson Report: a Central Consultative Body with an independent chairman and some independent members. In saying "an independent chairman" I do not intend any criticism whatsoever of the present Home-grown Timber Advisory Committee which has as its Chairman that great and respected forester whom we have with us this afternoon, the Chairman of the Forestry Commission, Lord Radnor. But I respectfully submit that as the aims of State and private forestry should differ, advice to 425 them and about them should be independent. In the words of paragraph 160 of the Watson Report (if your Lordships will forgive me for quoting), the consultative committee should have to undertake the following duties, among others:To obtain and collate statistics on home-grown timber, State and private, including production by categories, and to form estimates as to future trends and changes;To review the adequacy of existing markets both immediate and in the future;To advise upon and encourage development of new industries and the expansion of existing industries, where necessary, in order to absorb projected surpluses.A fourth recommendation was:And to make recommendations if and when necessary for the financial assistance to the industry as they may consider appropriate.I believe that a consultative body with aims such as those would perform a very worth-while function. It may be appropriate also for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to take over the Forestry Commission sections which administer and provide advice to private forestry; they might equally take over the research establishments and operate a Forestry Advisory Service for the benefit both of the private owners and of the Forestry Commission, in the way that they operate National Agricultural Advisory Service.
The idea of a central consultative committee was welcomed in the debate on the Watson Report in April, 1957, and the door was left open by the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, when he ended his remarks on these recommendations by saying that the Government would certainly give them—the recommendations concerning the consultative committee—the serious study they called for. I would therefore ask the noble Earl who is to reply to tell us, if he can, why no reference was made in the July statement to this idea of a Central Consultative Body; what the Government think of this idea, and whether they consider that the time is ripe for private and State ownership to be separated; and finally, regarding the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, whether he thinks it is time for the Ministry to assume responsibility for private forestry on the one hand, and for State forestry, in the form of the Forestry Commission, on the other. In this last connection I must remind the noble Earl that in the debate on the 426 Watson Report he set up to be a protagonist of adding another F to the M.A.F. and F.—though for a slightly different reason, because he was talking of the integration of forestry and agriculture. We had also another protagonist for adding "F" to the initials, and that was the late and respected advocate of a sound and healthy forestry, the late Lord Jowitt. My Lords, that is all I have to say, and I hope and sincerely trust that the Government can give the industry some real assurances that they mean and intend to promote a prosperous forestry industry in the foreseeable future.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, in addition to the reasons that have been expressed for thanking the noble Earl for introducing this Motion, I have an additional reason for being grateful to him, because I was one of the signatories to the Watson Committee's Report. When that Committee reported two or three years ago I felt that their Report was not received with that immense enthusiasm for which we had hoped; but I cannot help feeling more than gratified this afternoon because so many noble Lords have referred to the wisdom of the Watson Report. If the Government are going to move in the direction of the suggestions we made, it will perhaps be a case of better late than never.
I was very glad to hear the noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, specifically announce that the Woodlands Owners' Association is in process of being formed because that was one of our particular recommendations in addition to the one just mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Lonsdale, who has just spoken. I hope that all woodland owners will join it. We recommended the formation of this body at the time, I well recollect, because we foresaw an immense flood of thinnings coming from the Forestry Commission plantations in five or ten years' time, and the owners would have only the good will of the Forestry Commission to rely upon if they were not to be completely swamped.
But if, aided by the offer of quite substantial maintenance and planting grants, we can get this organisation formed, as I hope we can, I think the private owners will have much more chance of securing a share of the market, which I hope will by then be much stronger than it is now. We have heard 427 during this debate that the future use of timber and wood should be well assured in new and fresh directions, and although the market has fallen very badly just at the moment, that has happened to other commodities and in trade of other forms, and perhaps the pendulum will, before not too long, swing in the other direction. After all, a good deal of money has been invested, both by the Government and by private owners, in forestry during the last few years—and by "a few years" I mean, in the life of a tree, thirty or forty years.
It may interest your Lordships to know that the total Parliamentary vote to the Forestry Fund between 1920 and 1957 amounted to £89 million, of which by far the greater part went to the building up of State forests. Although this figure is not strictly comparable, during the year up to September. 1957, a total of £821,000 from the Forestry Fund was spent on private forestry. Had that run at the same rate over the thirty years (which I do not think it did), it would have meant that about £30 million was spent on private forestry. There is, therefore, a pretty considerable investment to be taken care of if it is at all possible. I should think that all forest owners and all agriculturists must have learned by now that Government pledges are, to put it mildly, subject to review. I remember, when I was starting in active politics, the repeal of the Corn Production Act after the First World War, which entirely reversed the very strict and strong pledges given to the farmers by the Government of the day.
However, the facts which remain all the time are these. One is that no Government, so far as I can see, will ever introduce protection in regard to timber. The present Government are involved in other great issues, such as European Free Trade; and they cannot, and do not mean, I am perfectly certain, however much we press them, to introduce protection for the timber trade. I think we must make up our minds about that. It would be a very difficult thing to implement, for this reason: that although many speakers have said that we must guarantee markets for timber, there is the other side of it, which is that the quality of the timber to be guaranteed must be good.
428 It is true that there is a large amount of second-rate stuff about now which is very hard to sell. But it is equally true that during the war, when the importation of timber almost stopped, it was found, for instance, in the mines, that a lot of pitprops were not up to quality, and a prejudice was formed against them. In the last fourteen years that prejudice has been largely removed, yet there was a prejudice against home-grown timber, simply because the men who used those pitprops did not like them. Men who are working in the mines naturally want the highest quality, and it is up to us to produce that. The other thing that sticks—and I think we must recognise that it will continue throughout the twentieth century—is the process of death duties, which gradually extracts all the capital which would otherwise be used, at no great cost to the Government, to replant our timber.
The other point which I feel is influencing the change in policy, and why we may not now get the 5 million acres under forestry by the end of this century, is the emergence of a new factor. I do not know whether this is so, but I think that the Government may be reviewing the position in the light of nuclear fission. It may well be said that nuclear fission and atomic explosion will end a war in a couple of weeks and that you will not need to have reserves of timber lasting five or six years. I do not know whether or not I am right, but those are the kind of factors that crop up all the time. Then, one often finds that noble Lords say one thing while they are on the Back Benches but—not necessarily through any fault of their own—do not find it quite so easy to carry their words out when they get on to the Front Benches.
In my view, a really important factor why we should continue forestry is the need for conserving rainfall—and in the vast urban population that we now have we must have water. In Wales (on behalf of which country I am speaking this afternoon, as opposed to Scotland, for which other noble Lords have already spoken), English towns always like to come to us to get their rainfall. They have nowhere else to go apparently. Probably they must go where the rainfall is heaviest.
429 Having tried to make a case why forestry should exist, even though the factors change somewhat as time goes on. I would say once more that the private owner still has a great part to play. I do not know whether your Lordships are aware of the exact figures of planting that has taken place. This represents a further point in favour of the argument, which has already been presented, why one should look after the investment. In the first decade of postwar forestry, ended September, 1956, the Forestry Commission planted 584,000 acres, representing 61 per cent. of its target. During the same period, the figure for private forestry was 165,000 acres, representing 82 per cent. of its target. In the last two years private forestry planting has been running at about 200,000 acres a year, and that is the maximum ever envisaged for private planting in any White Paper programme. There is the picture.
The particular point to which I wanted to refer this afternoon, so many general aspects having already been dealt with, is the actual administration by the Forestry Commission of their policy of integration: that is, the integration of the farms and the forests. It has been mentioned only once in the debate this afternoon. Now, what exactly do they mean by this in practice? I yesterday obtained some figures about afforestation in three of the counties in Wales to which the Forestry Commission turned their particular attention. I was told that in the counties of Carmarthen, Cardigan, and Brecon, 60,900 acres had been planted up to the end of the last planting season, and that the approximate area to be planted in the next three seasons is 12,500 acres. I am not quite clear whether that means per annum or is to be spread over the three years. The land in hand for planting is 32,000 acres, so I would suppose that the 12,500 acres is a yearly plant, although do not know.
Now, that country is, of course, a very productive sheep-walk country. In the past the Forestry Commission have planted huge blocks of conifer, and there are now vast silent forests in which no light reaches at all. The sheep have been removed from them, to say nothing of the obliteration of magnificent scenery which is a great tourist attraction and which in 430 a few years' time will completely disappear in these vast forest areas. What does genuine integration mean? I think it means the planting of forests in sheep country which would achieve the highest common factor of interest, one with another; that is to say, that large shelter belts should be planted. There is also the aspect of changing over from these huge blocks of forest to the planting of much smaller areas. Integration, which appears to have come fairly smoothly in England, has not come quite so smoothly in Wales, although I am the first to agree that the relations between the Forestry Commission and agriculture in the last few years under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Radnor have improved out of knowledge.
I believe that integration is the answer to what we want to achieve. Farmers have begun to see that a good forestry policy is necessary in the interests of the nation. Sometimes it has been argued that the rural de-population of central Wales can be reversed by afforestation, but I am not quite sure how true that is. It can effect something in the very early stages, when there is a good deal of thinning and other work to be done, but as the area planted becomes bigger and bigger it requires almost no maintenance at all and it would seem a pity not to be able to use local labour or even local farmers on part-time work. That is beginning to happen among the smaller farms, but, of course, farmers with 5,000 or 6,000 acres of sheep-walk do not want to turn themselves into employees of the Forestry Commission. There are thousands of sheep still there.
I would suggest as forcibly as I may that there should be closer consultation between the Forestry Commission and the agricultural committees or farmers' organisations in the counties concerned about which land should be taken for forestry and which should be retained as food-producing acreage. That seems to me to be of vital importance. I would stress that closer planning for forestry and agriculture could be the right development in that part of the world. Then, I believe, there will be almost no friction and things can go forward on the scale and at the pace that are desired.
I hope that the Government will be able to tell us whether they are reversing 431 or slowing the programme of 5 million acres. It is much better to say whether that is so. They say that a review will take place every five years, and naturally we hope that the review will be in the right direction. I often wonder whether the Government can really guarantee a full market. What the Government can do, I think, is to hold the ring and help to secure favourable conditions for the creation of a market. We should not always be running to the Government; we should be ready to help ourselves. But I think that we are entitled to say that we should have the same treatment as has been accorded already to other industries, especially in the starting of new factories, in our case for the manufacture of such things as pulp board. I do not think that we should ask for any more than is given to other industries over and above what is necessary to safeguard the investment made, or try to put forestry in a more favourable position than is accorded to other industries.
§ 4.35 p.m.
My Lords, I want to approach this question from an angle different from that of my noble friends who have spoken this afternoon. They have nearly all spoken as producers of timber. I am connected with a firm which makes objects of wood and is therefore a purchaser of timber, and of English hardwoods at that, so I feel that I ought to enjoy a certain popularity with some of my noble friends who have spoken, although I hope that it will not be measured by the scale of the contribution which my firm can make to their needs. Of course, the purchases of one small firm are infinitesimal, but even an output of only some £60,000 worth of wooden objects a year does give one a possibility of making some conclusions, though I am afraid they may seem of a somewhat obvious nature.
My first conclusion is that if one does succeed in designing an article which finds favour with a client, or a group of clients, there is no difficulty whatever in selling it at a profit. My second conclusion is that if, by reason of difficulties of machining or the amount of waste, the use of British home-grown timber is uneconomical, there is a tendency to use imported timber—however odd that may sound. 432 Continuing from these conclusions, I suppose that it is possible for the manufacturers of any article to find clients and adapt their wares to their needs. In the case of the manufacturing trade in the timber industry, the capacity of small firms to make these adaptations is limited. It is really limited to matters of design. Anything in the nature of experiment in new processes or research is completely outside their capacity. I think I am right in saying that nearly all the manufacturers of wooden articles in this country, including even the furniture manufacturers, are comparatively small firms.
First, let me take the subject of waste. I have heard it stated that on the average one-third of all timber sawn in this country is left as waste. I suppose that as manufacturers, as opposed to sawmillers, we can possibly find some use, by fresh ingenuity in designing smaller objects of work, for some of this waste; nevertheless, it is inevitable that there should be a considerable residue. I understand that recently in the Liverpool area and in Monmouthshire, in particular, processing plants have been set up which turn waste products and thinnings and other types of wood waste into cardboard, fibre-board and paper. No doubt that is of the greatest assistance to producers and manufacturers within economic range of these plants, but outside that range there seems to be nothing whatever. Nor, in the bewildering complex of committees, federations and associations in which the trade is organised, does there seem to be any body which can give worthwhile advice about the disposal of such waste material, still less provide any facility for processing.
My own knowledge of these matters is so limited that I would not have presumed to address your Lordships at all had I not noticed that the same subject had been dealt with recently in a far more comprehensive and forthright manner, and, of course, with greater authority, by some of the leading men in the industry. For example, Mr. Philip Reece, the Director of the Timber Development Association, recently said:It is generally conceded that if you are to stay in business you must produce what the public want. That is not quite the same thing as believing you can persuade the public to want what you have got. I do not believe that our solution is to be found in merely trying to persuade people to use wood. I do believe, 433 however, that we can increase the sale of wood by designing wooden articles and components better and cheaper than our competitors.He then goes on to investigate the amount of research which is being devoted by what I might describe as the competitors of timber—the chemical industry, metallurgical industry, the asbestos industry, and so forth—and he reckons that on an average 2 per cent. of the turnover of those industries is being devoted to research, compared to timber, where it is about one-thirtieth of one per cent., probably less than one-sixtieth of the average rate of all British industries combined. He goes on to say:The battle is not between one raw material and another; it is between one finished article and another, it is between one design and another, it is between the 60,000 back-room boys I have mentioned and your back-room boys, and the odds are about 300 to one.Mr. Bryan Latham, another well-known figure in the timber industry, has dealt with the same matter and seems to suggest that, in his opinion, although research is going on in various parts of the world, there is not sufficient co-ordination between the agencies of research and the practising timber man. Speaking with all the restraint that one would associate with a member of the Forestry Commission, he seems to support, and quotes in approval, what Mr. Reece had said. One may wonder why, in the face of these expert views, more has not been done by the trade itself. I can only surmise that the importers, who have the biggest financial interest in the trade, have not so far been particularly interested in the problems of the producer or manufacturer in this country. Their function is to marry up demands for sawn timber of specified dimensions with suppliers from all over the world, and they may have no contact at all with the actual timber they sell.
So it seems that, despite the great variety of organisations which exists (and more seem to be formed every day; I went into a new one myself the other day, with, I may add, considerable misgiving) there seems to be no organisation which really assists the needs that I have mentioned; that is to say, the better utilisation and new methods of utilisation of home-grown timber. I notice that a well-known figure in the trade has expressed himself somewhat forcibly on the question of these committees. Writing to the Timber 434 Trades Journal, Mr. Robert Batcheller ends up by saying:Sufficient committees exist for the purpose of the home trade, and for the landowner. All that is required is that they are immediately co-ordinated for the benefit of all—particularly the consumer, who after all is on the receiving end of all this latest planning chaos.I am not, of course, qualified to say whether these comments are justified, but I should have thought that it was common sense to study the requirements of the consumer.
We have heard a great deal this afternoon about finding new markets, and that is one way of putting it. But another way to look at it is that the markets already exist, and if the consumer is not satisfied with home-grown timber in its present form I should have thought it would be right for the Government to use their good offices to see that he gets it in forms that will satisfy him, whether by grading, processing or in any other way. If the consumer-end of this business is satisfied, everything else will fall into place.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH AND QUEENSBERRY
My Lords, being a grower and producer of timber and a promoter of forestry for many years, I should first express an interest in forestry. Secondly, as it has been announced this afternoon that The Woodland Growers' Association has been started in England, I should like to say that we are on the point of completing the formation of the Scottish branch. I rather hope that the actual title has not been settled, and I think that perhaps "Timber Growers' Union", or some such name, might be even more appropriate.
The difficulty of selling and the misfortune of having to accept lower prices have been discussed at length; and I may add that the anxiety is widespread throughout the timber trade. The effect is bad upon the confidence of growers, and there is less revenue for them to replant and to carry out their share of the national reafforestation programme. The Forestry Commission are just as much concerned. Certain causes are clear and definite, such as the changeover by the railways from timber to steel wagons; the movement from wood to cardboard for box-making; the use of foreign timber for fencing along trunk roads; and the temporary reduction 435 in orders from the National Coal Board for pitwood. This has hit the home-grown industry very hard—I hope that it may be only temporarily—and we must all try more than ever to counteract and overcome a serious trend. If some markets are disappearing, others are being found and more must be found.
Though we may dislike it, we cannot begrudge the steel industry their success in securing the changeover from wood to steel, but they can be reminded that the valuable benefits and advantages to them of protection against imports and the making of substantial revenue available to them for pushing their products are not available for the growers of trees. The oak and other hardwoods of England are severely hit by this; and it will be worse if European timber in place of English oak continues to be used for fencing on trunk roads. It is well known that the strength and quality of English oak are satisfactory and that the life of fencing of English oak will be thirty to forty years. We ask the Government and the Department concerned again to take these points into consideration, and we submit that on balance the national advantage favours, and strongly so, the use of home-crown oak.
The slowing down of orders recently for conifer thinnings and sawn material for the mines has caused much worry. We hope it is true that the National Coal Board will shortly be placing fresh orders for timber grown in this country. We thank them for previous contracts, and we urge a closer co-operation now. We ask them to take more from British forests in the coming year and a smaller percentage from Europe.
In Scotland, the relationship and co-operation between the miners and forestry is friendly and strong, and the Scottish miners take almost 100 per cent. of their timber from the woods in Scotland. We thank them for this. The annual output in Scotland is about 12½ million cubic feet, and of this, 10 million cubic feet or so can be absorbed in the Scottish mines. This leaves 2½ million cubic feet—a surplus steadily increasing—to be utilised for other purposes or to be sold to the pits in the North of England. It will help immensely both State and private forestry in the North of England and in Scotland if the mines in the 436 North of England will use a larger percentage of home-grown timber. It is a fact that the economic dependence upon this is very great indeed, and I hope it is correct that friendly discussions are taking place in London now and also on the spot. I think it is appropriate to appeal, on behalf of all who are engaged in forestry, both workers and woodland owners, most strongly to the National Coal Board, to the miners and to those who buy the timber for them, for their good will and confidence in our produce, and for their support at a time of vital importance and great difficulty. If the Government could make any announcement as to the prospects in regard to this it would be most welcome.
An all-out effort is needed now to come together. We maintain that the use entirely of home-grown timber in Scotland and, to a lesser extent, in the North of England, shows that we can compete in quality and price with European timber, and we trust that this can be confirmed by the National Coal Board and the miners. At present, the percentage of home-grown timber used in the North of England, as, for instance, in Durham, is believed to be quite small, and we ask to be allowed to provide an increase during the coming year and future years. If the National Coal Board can continue during 1959 and subsequent years to take an increasing percentage of the volume of British grown timber, the worst part of an acute marketing problem will be overcome. If there are any ways in which any of us as representatives of forestry can help to achieve this solution, our services are at anyone's disposal.
I would strongly support the demand by my noble friend Lord Lovat for pulping plant somewhere in Scotland, and also for an additional board factory. The enterprise by Bowater in the Mersey, preceded by the Airscrew-Jicwood chipboard factory at Annan, are surely two of the best assets to British forestry for a long time, helping to counteract the loss of other markets. It is to be hoped that these will be extended and that far-sighted plans may be under contemplation now, because from now on the conifer forests in the Highlands and the West of Scotland will be needing a much bigger outlet for their produce, and they are too far from the mines to benefit substantially from an improvement south of the Border.
437 Though marketing has been the principal subject to-day, we are equally concerned with the creation of new forests, the re-planting and re-establishment of felled woodlands and the improvement in quality of our existing woods. Official recognition has often been expressed of the severe damage to British woodlands during two wars, with financial loss and correspondingly increased costs of reestablishment, but practical attention to this seems to be less evident when official decisions are made. For twenty years or longer we have to go through a period of re-afforestation that must be costly for all who undertake the planting and growing of timber, and more costly for private forestry, with its large percentage of small woods and a higher proportion of hardwoods. I think we should all like to be sure of a more enthusiastic policy for forestry, and to have declarations emphasising this—declarations which will restore confidence.
It seems possible that the Government may have been under-estimating the future advantages of several things, such as a more encouraging lead and inspiration now, and the creation now of more woods and of better woods. They may be under-estimating the cost of establishing woods of a high quality and the benefits of many kinds, as have been mentioned already, both socially and with regard to employment in the country districts: the financial advantage to the nation of making more use of our land and natural resources, increasing the wealth of the country and saving currency on purchases from overseas. One might emphasise again the opportunities, particularly now, for increasing employment of a healthy nature at a time when unemployment is increasing.
I would remind the Government that after the war woodland owners were asked to re-establish their woods. They were told that our timber was so precious that felling must be limited, and this at a time when prices were very good. Now that prices are lower and sales are difficult, the official attitude seems to have changed and to be more lukewarm, We hope that this is not so. Much of these felled woodlands remain to be replanted, and though it has been shown that progress is good, it is important to replant quickly and not to allow the felled woodland to waste and deteriorate. The sooner it is planted, the sooner it 438 will reach a more productive stage. In this connection, though there was disappointment a few months ago with the abrupt and unexpected termination of the thinning grants, we should acknowledge and express recognition of the usefulness of the grants now approved. I should like the Government spokesmen to tell us that they wish all private woodland owners, as well as the Forestry Commission, to make all speed to replant.
The costs for all owners of all woodlands of all sizes are growing, but for smaller woodland owners they are worse in proportion, and for the first time there is a special encouragement and financial help for the owners of small acreages of woodlands. For example, for woodlands of 200 acres, if five acres are cleared of scrub annually and five acres planted annually a grant of £300 is obtainable. If the Government intend home-grown timber to have a market in the future, will they encourage also the more active afforestation of the smaller woods, and will they also encourage during the next live years a more intensive scrub clearance programme in all woods? Will they show that it is of importance to get rid more quickly of these wasted areas, and will they, above all, encourage all who are associated with the Government in any way—their own Departments and nationalised industries, also—to be as helpful as possible in "buying British"?
There was a suggestion that the Forestry Commission are not able to secure their land in large enough acreages and quickly enough. I feel that there is a preference for the present policy for the acquisition of land, but this imposes upon landowners and farmers a responsibility to help by making suitable land available. As a farmer and landowner in Scotland, travelling about the country I feel that the required acreage should be obtainable without injury to farming. I think that it is agreed among all concerned in farming that this is so and that it can be done with reasonable consultation in advance and by integration of land, agriculture and forestry. Finally I would submit that in comparison with the position in all other countries the target of 5 million acres as laid down for this country a few years ago is very modest and should easily be accomplished, and I once again urge that we endeavour to achieve it.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, before the noble Duke sits down, may I ask him a question? The noble Duke and other noble Lords sitting on the other side have made complaints that the National Coal Board has not given all the support to the forestry industry that it could do. The noble Duke also said that our prices were competitive with imports from other countries. Could the noble Duke tell the House the approximate price of pit-props from this country and the approximate price of imports?
§ THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH AND QUEENSBERRY
My Lords, I hope the House is in agreement with me that I made no complaint at all against the National Coal Board. I asked them for greater co-operation in the future and I made an appeal—I hope a most friendly and courteous appeal—to them. I said to what extent we are dependent upon their good will and support. In regard to the prices and quality, the specifications, lengths and preparation, I submit that we can compare very favourably with the imported article; and if there are any complaints from the mines about home-grown timber I think it far better they should be made at once and gone into, and we should avoid any material which is not suitable.
§ 5.5 p.m.
My Lords, as a backwoodsman I feel I must apologise for intervening in this debate, because I know it is your Lordships' policy to thin out such noblemen, replacing the hairy faces by feminine tresses. I thought we had knowledge of this subject which might be useful. Unfortunately, I think most of my thunder has been stolen by previous speakers, and I should not like to weary your Lordships by repetition. There are, however, a few points which I think I can still make.
We all know that forestry, except in the case of the Forestry Commission, was in the doldrums up to the First World War and between the two wars. Then, after the last war, forestry got its "New Look", and in that regard I think due thanks must be given to the Party represented by noble Lords opposite who brought in that scheme. Everything then went well; we planted up to the hilt of the labour and finances available ten, twenty or thirty acres per year, as laid down by our instructors in the Forestry 440 Commission. Now, after those twelve years, our thinning grant has been cut. Your Lordships have heard what other noble Lords think of that. I think it is a breach of faith on the original undertaking, especially as in 1947 the agricultural wage was £4 10s. a week and it is now £7 16s.—and quite rightly so. But, as has already been pointed out, we have no "February Price Review".
This perhaps is all destructive criticism. Let me try and do something constructive. The Scottish Lords have all said that they want more pulp mills in Scotland, and I am perfectly certain that in England the same thing is required. We should like the Government to go into the question of more pulp mills. A few very good ones have been put up; there is one at Ellesmere Port, and one for hardwoods in Chepstow, Monmouthshire. Could not forestry be treated more like agriculture in the way of draining grants and road grants? After all, you cannot grow trees unless you can drain the land, and you cannot expect timber unless you can pull your woods out.
Much has been said about roadside fences, so I will not quote the Preston By-Pass which I went down yesterday, but I should like to quote one little experience of my own. I had a good deal of land opencast coal-mined, and the Coal Board restored it very well and put up the fences. The fences were of concrete and wire. Eight years afterwards those fences have completely crumbled. After all, when a good bullock scratches himself on a concrete post it does not give; it breaks. On another part of my estate I was digging up an old fence made of chestnut hardwood. As a matter of interest I found out when it was put in; it was exactly eighty-five years ago, and it was really as sound as when it was put in; and that fence was not even treated. So when we ask the Government to put up wooden fences instead of concrete, we are asking them to do better and not worse.
There is one other point, and I am afraid it again hits at the Coal Board. There is a wood-wool factory in Herefordshire, and 200 ton lots of imported Baltic pitwood, six feet long by six inches across, are being sold by the Coal Board to the factory. I believe that the manager is very pleased with it; he says that the quality is so good and uniform 441 that he is able to cut down his orders from the local landowners and the Forestry Commission. I think that we ought to learn that it is all the same firm. It has been mentioned that strategically a large reserve of forests is not necessary. That may be so. I feel, however, that, even if there is a nuclear war which is over in a week, the country which has a good reserve of timber will be in a better position to face the future. In any case, surely from an æsthetic point of view we want to have our countryside adequately covered with good trees—not the broken down woodlands which we saw after the last war. Surely, too, socially we want to have a thriving population such as in agriculture, working and living on the land.
§ 5.12 p.m.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
My Lords, I apologise, first of all, for not being present to hear the opening stages of this debate. Especially I would apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, to whom we are most grateful for bringing about this debate. I am particularly sorry that I was not present to hear his speech. I am not going to apologise for intervening in this debate because I consider that this is a matter of great urgency and one that will not wait. If I repeat what has already been said, I am sorry; nevertheless. I do not think it will do any harm, because it cannot be rubbed in sufficiently hard enough.
Forestry is a longer-term problem even than agriculture. It is not a matter for Party politics. One can have twenty different Governments in the life of a plantation, because it takes from sixty to eighty years for trees to mature, and you can go through quite a number of Governments in that time without doing any harm. I am not trying to "crack up" the landlords, but I submit that over the past few hundred years the landlords have more than played their part in forestry. It is true to say that during the last two wars they cut immature trees which would now be of great value to them; but they produced trees at a time when the country was down on its knees; and had it not been for them the country would have been in sore straits. Please do not think that I wish in any way to detract from the work of the Forestry Commission, because I do not. I have the greatest admiration for the Forestry 442 Commission. I think they are doing excellent work. We have excellent relations with them. They are most helpful on every occasion. I cannot speak too highly of the co-operation which they show.
But I would remind your Lordships that it is impressed upon us again and again by the National Farmers' Union that there must be security of tenure for farmers. May I ask: what about security for forestry programmes? Who can possibly afford to continue to plant for these enormous forestry programmes without some hope of security and a reasonable guarantee of prices showing a remunerative return? As was mentioned by the noble Lord. Lord Lovat, wages keep on rising. But what about sale prices? They do not go up; they do not keep in line. We had another rise in wages the other day. We were asked to dedicate our land to forestry. We did so—some of us not without misgivings; in fact. I took a great deal of persuading. I remember arguing very strongly with the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, whether this was the right policy. For a long time I did not take part. Then I thought about it again, and I am now taking part. I am planting from 200 to 300 acres a year, as I am sure are many other people. This programme takes a big slice of capital to maintain. Unless we get some security we cannot possibly continue.
Apart from the resources of private owners, I understand that there is locked up in the Forestry Commission about £1 million in money. I cannot believe that Her Majesty's Government can afford to throw away that vast sum, whatever they choose to do to the poor private owner. As Lord Lovat pointed out, thinning of our softwoods must he done if we are to look after our woods properly and if the woods are to get the necessary air and light. To get the complement of increment at the right moment the producer has got to thin; and he cannot afford to thin unless he can get a guaranteed market. The Coal Board in Scotland have reached saturation point, so far as thinnings are concerned. If we look at the potentialities of the thinnings which are coming from Great Britain, and especially from Scotland, in the next five or six years, we see that we must 443 find some outlet for the thinnings or the whole programme will fall flat.
It is not possible to build up a sound foundation for a forestry programme in a night. We know of the chipboard factory in the South of Scotland and we know of the pulp mill in Cheshire; but may I point out that distances tell a very strong story in prices, and we must look ahead. We shall have an enormous number of thinnings corning from Scotland alone, both from the Forestry Commission and from private owners, and we must have some means of dealing with those thinnings, such as a pulp mill. I earnestly desire that the Government should start as quickly as possible helping to establish a pulp mill in Scotland in order to deal with the enormous numbers of thinnings that are bound to come forward within the next five or six years.
I do not specify the place where a pulp mill should be, because that can be decided later by experts and by the acreage of the plantations called for. But a pulp mill, or sonic other means of dealing with these thinnings must be found; we cannot afford to wait. Pulp mills and such-like take time to build, and if it is intended to lay the foundations for a prosperous forestry policy, that building must be done at once—there is no time to lose. So I say: get your pulp mills now. Do not wait for the O.E.E.C. Report. We cannot afford to wait. I hope that we shall have some satisfactory reply from Her Majesty's Government showing that they are aware of the immensity of the problem; that they will not just note it, but will do something to help us on this vital matter which brooks no delay. We want confidence and leadership and we want more woods, and better ones
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ LORD GLYN
My Lords, I wish to raise one matter in connection with this debate that has not received much attention—namely, the major part that transport plays in the whole of this question. It is extraordinary that to-day we find the Transport Commission looking around in every direction for freight, yet, while there is all this freight in Scotland, and more freight offering later on because pulp mills and chipboard factories and the rest may come in, nothing—or 444 very little—has been done to get away from the old prosaic method of taking the timber from the woodlands to the railhead. It is quite well known to all of your Lordships that recently the Army have been able to devise machines capable of going cross-country. If we have faith is forestry—and I hope we all have—then it is about time that the British Transport Commission had faith and invested money in improving methods of transport: for at the present time, as has been mentioned several times in this debate, it is the cost of transport that prevents the sales we want.
Much has been said of the policy of the National Coal Board. In Scotland, at the present moment the Board are taking over 85 per cent. of Scottish timber for the mines, and there is every reason to believe that within a very short time they will take about 100 per cent. But we have to remember that pit props are not as popular as they were. The mechanisation policy which the National Coal Board are carrying out necessitates the use of steel. Steel has to be used in conjunction with pit props, and I feel that the Board have really done a wonderful job in combining the two materials, because after all, it is the miner who must have the last word on safety, and there is a feeling, quite understandable, that there must be some steel protection in certain of the pits.
The other day I read that Sir Brian Robertson had stated that he welcomed very much the policy of Her Majesty's Government in making all these new roads, and felt that the more roads they made, the better. I am quite sure that what he had at the back of his mind was that if we can get more roads the congestion of traffic will be such that people will have to go by rail, and that that will probably solve, or help to solve, the passenger problem. But it will not solve the freight problem. I hope, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government will go into this matter as one of extreme urgency and do something to induce the nationalised railways to work in closer co-operation with the National Coal Board and other organisations; because at the present moment there is a gap between their work.
The other day I went to see some wood being drawn out of a considerable area of woodland. It was quite impossible for 445 the wood to be drawn down in the ordinary way, and the people who were doing it said: "If only we had some of those mechanised means of lifting the timber and hauling it down, it would improve its quality. We should get it far more quickly and cheaply." At present there is no organisation in the British Transport Commission which deals specifically with the hauling of timber out of woodland. Surely that is one of the first things to be done. I believe that if the right policy is pursued there is no reason why in sixty years' time there should not be a population of 250,000 people interested in forestry in the United Kingdom. I believe it can be done, and our climate is far more suited to the production of timber than to ordinary forms of agriculture. That is surely so in certain parts of the Highlands, where we can grow finer timber than can any other place in the world. If only the whole matter could be gone into with the assistance of the Ministries concerned! I feel that they have neglected what is a very important aspect of our future economic position in that they have not considered (perhaps because they do not believe in it) that it is necessary to use special means to deal with this very particular industry.
I have here details of the method by which rates are charged for conveying timber from place to place. Reading this, I find it quite obvious that the higher cost—which the National Coal Board, for instance, must take into account—which arises when timber has to be moved any distance over sixty miles is such as to make the acquisition of that timber almost prohibitive. We have to remember that we are competing with foreign timber which for most of its way is waterborne and comes into this country at very special rates. This Island is so small compared with areas on the Continent that we do not have the rivers down which we can float timber. But we have railroads which are not in heavy use because they have not been adapted to the necessity of meeting this tremendous demand by all interested in forestry. Something must be done at once, or we shall be swamped by the normal growth of that which everybody has been encouraged to plant; and it will mean rot and ruin to a great many people if the stuff cannot be moved from where it is grown to where it can be utilised.
446 I feel, therefore, that this debate is of the utmost importance. I do not think that we can blame Her Majesty's Government for not improving means of transport, but I feel that there has been a lack of drive by forest owners and persons who convert timber to other uses, in not meeting the British Transport Commission and pointing out to them—it is their business—that the Commission are losing traffic day by day and will be quite unable to meet the abnormal demands that must result from the increased amount of thinnings which will be brought into the market in future.
§ 5.28 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF AILSA
My Lords, I must declare an interest, as I am, in a small way a grower, producer and retailer of timber. At the present moment I am entering into the second decade of a dedication scheme and on this occasion I should like to offer a tribute to the officers of the Forestry Commission for all the assistance and encouragement they give—which they have certainly given to myself in carrying out this project. While we have not always agreed, we have always been able to agree to disagree.
I should also like to welcome the new management grant that was announced earlier this year. I feel very distressed at the withdrawal of the thinnings grant, because, as has been stated already to-day, thinning is one of the most important forestry operations. If it is not carried out properly and at the proper time it might as well not be started at all. I myself, have witnessed this on the estates which I now manage. There was a large forestry programme up to the First World War when most of the woodlands were cut out some before time, some when they were ripe. My grandfather, who then managed the estates, lost heart, and for forty years no thinning was carried out. What a task we have had to try to bring those woods back into order! I doubt whether I shall be lucky enough to see the results of my labours; probably my son will. I just hope so.
That is why I think it is such a great pity that the thinning grant was dropped, because in these difficult times it gave at least some encouragement to wood growers to thin their woods at the proper time and not to wait in the hope that the market would improve. I should like 447 to say how grateful I am for the Scottish clearance grant which has been made. I come from an area of scrub where if woodland is cut this year it has to be planted for next year, otherwise the chance is lost and the scrub will be as high as, if not higher than, these Benches. At the present moment I am doing an area of 150 acres, cut ten years ago, where the average height of the scrub is now 10 ft. Every acre of that has to be cleared before we can put even a single tree in it. I say for my part that the grant is a great asset.
Now I come to a point that has already been pressed this afternoon, and I wish to press it again; that is, the need for better organised marketing. As I have said earlier, I am, as I call it, a retailer of timber in a small way. Although the estate has been dealing with such work for the last ten years. I have taken an interest in it only over the last two years; and I have been staggered at the lack of enterprise which has sometimes been shown when we have been trying to get markets. There are the old-established markets; timber has gone to the pits here and there; but there is little drive to try to get into new markets. Some people want the timber to sell itself to the consumer! I feel that more could be done by endeavouring to get the wares to the consumer and to prove them to him. We should have an article which we can sell him at a competitive price and which will do the job he requires.
In this connection, one strives against one great obstacle, and that is the antipathy which exists in a great many places against home-grown timber. If one goes into the building trade one finds that in many places they will not look at it. I have had to resort to giving timber away to try to prove my point that home-grown timber is as good as imported timber. If it is not possible to provide the right class of timber the grower should not try to compete, but where he can provide what is wanted he should try to do so. Home-grown timber is gradually creeping into the market; but it is a long battle. In many specifications of local authorities and other bodies putting out building specifications foreign timber is specified. I think that everything should be done to encourage the withdrawal of that small 448 part of specifications, so that where home-grown timber is available it stands a chance of being used.
The next matter I wish to speak about is one on which a great many things were said by the noble Lord, Lord Glyn: the problem of transport. It is the key to the whole forestry operation. It is our nightmare that we live with at the moment. I myself, in a very small way, have been delving into the problem and experimenting and trying to find methods of improvement. There is one method which I should like to suggest to Her Majesty's Government, and I would ask whether they will pass it on to the British Transport Commission. Have they ever considered the use of low-loading trailers in connection with what I might call low-loading wagons? The timber could be loaded on to the trailer, taken to the railhead and put on to a flat wagon and taken by train to its destination. It could later be taken off the wagon and delivered to wherever it has to be sent. In that way a great deal of manhandling would be eliminated.
At present, if timber is transported by rail the timber has to be put on the bogie on the right side, then taken to the goods yard; from there it is again transported, and it has to be manhandled again when it is sent to its destination. It has to be manhandled four times. It should be possible to devise a means on the lines I have explained (rather badly, I am afraid) to reduce the manhandling to two occasions instead of four. That idea is adopted when furniture is transported by rail. If furniture is being sent from one end of the country to the other enormous boxes are filled with the furniture and when the person sending it arrives in the North of Scotland, or wherever he is going, he finds the boxes are there. Surely the same can be done in many other cases. I understand that the brick trade adopted that system, and I think that the timber trade can follow suit.
The last thing I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government is whether they could consider giving assistance to people who try to invent or produce forestry machinery of various kinds. I am doing it myself in a small way in connection with machinery for wood-cutting. I know a young man who is devising an implement for bringing timber out of the woods. It is similar to a small motor 449 caterpillar and it is man-driven. We hope that if it is successful it will replace the use of the horse. A horse is useful, but unfortunately people cannot be found nowadays to look after it. One would like to think that if a person was prepared to put his time and energy into this field the Government would be prepared to give some reward for it. That, my Lords, is all I wish to say.
§ 5.36 p.m.
My Lords, I am very grateful, as I am sure all your Lordships are, to the noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, for having inaugurated this debate. We have had a most useful discussion. It has covered a wide field. It gives me the opportunity, which I welcome very much, to state where we stand in regard to forestry. There have been many extremely constructive points raised and constructive speeches made, which I am sure my right honourable friends, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the Secretary of State for Scotland, will consider with the care they deserve. It seems to me that this has been the best type of debate which takes place in your Lordships' House: a body of very considerable experts giving, soberly and in a considered way, their constructive suggestions on an expert subject.
If I had to pick out any two speeches for their value in this connection, I should like to thank particularly the noble Lord, Lord Dynevor, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, for their constructive speeches. But I cannot help feeling a little disappointed that there were still so many of your Lordships who were pessimistic and painted rather a gloomy picture, because I do not believe that it is warranted. Those noble Lords seem to think that the Government are dragging their feet over forestry. They have alleged that there has been a great loss of confidence in the future—the noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, stated that point very strongly. They seemed to think that the Government have abandoned their oft-repeated objective of building a great estate of forestry in this country, both in private and in State hands, and they implied that Government assistance., when it is forthcoming, is both grudging and inadequate. It is certainly 450 not anything that the Government have said or done, or have neglected to say or do, that has given rise to this gloomy view. As recently as July 24 last the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made a statement in your Lordships' House which reaffirmed the Government's recognition of the importance of this industry.
The noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, asked two specific points in connection with this. He asked whether we could know what the party of officials who had been set up to advise the Minister had said. The answer to that, quite shortly, is "No". Their report was a departmental report of the type that Ministers must have to advise them on these subjects. It is not for publication and it will not be published. The noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, also asked about the Statutory Instrument that was to be laid in regard to felling licences. I can give him a more encouraging answer on that question, because I can say that this Statutory Instrument is already agreed in draft and will shortly be laid before Parliament. If Parliament accepts it, as I have every reason to hope it will, it will mean that dedicated owners (if that is the correct description of them) will no longer require felling licences.
I think that we might now spend a moment or two in enlarging upon the statement made on July 24 last. The point which the noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, made was that there was no mention of the 5 million acre target, and that that must be taken to mean that the Government had rejected the whole programme and the whole basis which that target implied. I am sure that there is a misconception here. This target figure was first suggested, I understand, by the Forestry Commission in 1943. It has never been either accepted or rejected by any Government since then. In 1945 Mr. Tom Williams said—and I quote from Hansard:These are very large proposals which will need careful consideration, and for these reasons the Government cannot at this stage be finally committed to acceptance of this programme.My Lords, that kind of target figure was rather in fashion in those days, and I am sure that we should not read too much into it.
451 It is much more important for us to remember that when the whole of our forestry policy was revised by Ministers recently they took the view (it was announced in the statement of July 24) that there should be an immediate increase in planting; that the planting to take place in the next ten years should be half a million acres and that the planting which was to take place in the next five years should be at the rate of 60,000 acres a year, which was an increase, over the previous rate. The Forestry Commission already have over a million acres of plantation; there is at the present time some three-quarters of a million acres of effectively managed private woodland; and after what was announced on July 24—that there was to be this immediate increase in planting—surely we can accept that the Government have not abandoned their objectives in forestry. The programme is very formidable and I think that it completely disproves the charge made by the noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, that there has been a radical change of policy and an abandonment of the Government's objective.
So much for the State forests. What about the private owner? The proposed new rates of grant then announced mean that private forestry will receive in grant aid in 1959 half as much again as they will receive in the year 1958. There will be a total increase of £420,000, and I think noble Lords may like to hear some of the detailed figures. In the financial year 1958, dedicated estates are expected to receive £387,000 for planting. For the next year the estimate is £514,000. The maintenance grant, which will cost this year £104,000, will go up next year to £305,000, and the approved woodlands grant will go up from £34,000 to £80,000. "Yes", say the pessimists, "but we lose the thinning grant and the poplar grant". Certainly we lose the thinning grant and the poplar grant, but I venture to suggest that an exchange whereby you lose £60,000 and gain £420,000 is not wholly a bad one—and that is what the position is.
The Government accepted the proposal that management grants should be introduced on the scale which the representatives of the woodland owners themselves proposed, and accepted at the same time 452 that the planting grant for owners of approved woods should be doubled. That meant that some other forms of grant had to be sacrificed, and that no special grant could be made available for thinning—which, after all, is one of the operations included in the proper management of woods. Quite apart from that, there is more than one technical opinion, so I am informed, about silvicultural value of very early thinnings. The new system has made money available for general silvicultural management, and by not tying it to a particular operation it gives greater freedom to the owner. Taking it all round, the new grant system will give more money to owners and particularly, at the urgent request of the United Kingdom Forestry Commission, to the small owners. On average, the management grant should give them something like 13s. for each productive acre, as against the 5s. 6d. of the maintenance grant. That is more than the Watson Committee recommended, even allowing for the fact that the maintenance grant would presumably have gone up as a result of the review which has taken place, and which has resulted in the increase of the planting grant from £17 to £20 an acre.
I think it is again worth while reminding your Lordships of the actual rates which are payable. They are 18s. for the first 100 acres. 12s. for the next 100 acres, and 7s. for the remainder. All this is against the old maintenance grant of 5s. 6d.—and that in itself was only on a proportion of the dedicated area. These increases are really very substantial. To take a not untypical example, a 250-acre dedicated woodland estate, clearing, say, five acres of scrub a year, will receive in future a grant of about £330 a year, or about £6 a week. That is equivalent to more than three-quarters of the cost of a full-time skilled forestry worker, and an estate of 250 acres of woodland would not have to employ a great many workers. I hope that I have been able to show noble Lords that neither in the State nor in the private sector are these gloomy suggestions of lack of faith by the Government in the future of forestry justified: nor is there any lack of concrete evidence that the Government are willing to give necessary assistance.
Let me now turn to the difficulties of the market, for the other main charge in the opening speech by the noble Earl, 453 Lord Buckinghamshire, was that the market had collapsed—I think that was his phrase. Other noble Lords rather reinforced that view I am afraid. The noble Earl, Lord Lonsdale, even went so far as to say that he saw no prospect of reviving it at all. At least, that is what I understood him to say, and unfortunately he is not in his place at the moment. I do not want in the least to be complacent about the difficulties of the market. I fully realise that there are substantial difficulties—after all, I am a woodland owner, on a small scale—and that we have got to face these difficulties; but let us not exaggerate them. Let me first take the question of mining timber, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wise, and to which he asked me to give particular attention. The noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, also raised this question.
This year, as we all know, the Coal Board was forced to reduce its level of mining timber stocks, and this has had the effect (as in every case where stocks are being run down) of reducing purchases; and it has led to difficulties. But here I should like to emphasise two points which nobody has been charitable enough to raise this afternoon. The first is that the National Coal Board, in reducing its purchases, reduced its imports by 31 per cent., whereas it reduced its purchases of home-grown timber by only 7 per cent. This readjustment of stocks by the National Coal Board is expected to be complete by the end of the year, and I am glad to be able to tell noble Lords that the Chairman of the Forestry Commission, Lord Radnor, informs me that only on Monday of this week he had a complete reassurance from the Coal Board that its policy to buy as much home-grown pitwood as possible, subject to price and quality being suitable, remains unchanged. That is one of the assurances that we have been asked for over and over again, and I am happy to be able to give it. The National Coal Board hopes that purchases of home-grown pit-props will shortly return to their normal level and resume the upward tendency which has been so notable during the last few years. Let us not forget what a huge market there is in this country for pitwood and how little of it in England and Wales is supplied by home-grown timber.
454 There is another question which I confess is more difficult. It is how to provide markets for the large volume of second quality hardwoods, especially oak, under private ownership, particularly in England and Wales. In the past, the traditional market for this timber has been the railway wagon trade, the making and repairing of wagons and wagon bottoms. Here is a challenge. We cannot expect the Transport Commission to go back to wooden wagons. We have to find other markets for these woods and I do not see why that problem should be insoluble. My noble friend Lord Buckinghamshire asked what had happened about using this timber for cable drums. The situation is that about two years ago it was agreed to give a trial to home-grown hardwood for cable drums. This trial is not yet complete, but it should be within a short time and we must hold our thumbs and hope that it will be found suitable. The British Transport Commission are trying out sleepers of home-grown wood. They may be a little rigid about it, but perhaps pressure can be reasonably brought to bear, by hard bargaining and negotiation, to see whether a decision cannot be speeded up. The noble Lords, Lord Bradford and Lord Forester, spoke of fencing as another use for second quality hardwood. Stakes, fencing and gates are normally produced on private estates.
Above all, the real fears that have been expressed to-day concern the large quantity of home-grown softwoods which will be coming forward to find a market. I will return to that point in detail, later, but at this stage I will just say that I reject the suggestion that the solution of this problem lies primarily at the door of the Government. It is not correct that the Government should solve these problems by the restriction of imports or by pulling any chestnuts out of the fire. Restriction is not a solution that is open to the Government. I thought that my noble friend Lord Dynevor made that point very well. We live by our export trade and drastically to restrict imports in this fashion would be contrary to our whole trade policy and inconsistent with our obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
It was suggested that we could compel the nationalised industries to use all our home-grown timber. I do not think that it is possible for us to use any sort of 455 compulsion. Again, there is the feeling in some parts of your Lordships' House that the National Coal Board, the Transport Commission and other bodies are prejudiced against home-grown timber. I find that difficult to believe. The National Coal Board take one-third of all the timber felled in this country. They have taken nearly 30 million cubic feet in ten months, and there is still room for great expansion in England and Wales, as I have tried to say. It is the case that south of the Border the supplies of pitwood taken by the National Coal Board represent only 40 per cent. of requirements.
I think that English owners should regard this as a challenge. I wonder how soon they will be able to match the 90 per cent. of home-grown timber which is used in the Scottish Area. The excess production in Scotland, which the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, mentioned, can be absorbed and must be absorbed, I think, by sending the overspill, to use a housing term, into the North of England. This can be done without any embarrassment to English growers, because they are taking so small a percentage of the market now. Your Lordships will be glad to know—and this is the assurance for which my noble friend asked—that the conversations which have been going on between the trade and the Northern Area of the National Coal Board on this subject have been going very well. I do not think that we can say that any of the Government Departments, the Ministry of Works or whichever one may be chosen, have any bias against home-grown timber. If they have, I should be the first to condemn it.
We have heard a great deal this afternoon about the Ministry of Transport's road fencing. I am assured that they are willing to use home-grown timber where it compares in price, quality and performance with the imported article. The Electricity Council are willing to take home-grown timber, provided that it is of similar grades and gives them service. The General Post Office is prepared to accept Scots pine, larch, Douglas fir, Weymouth pine and Norway spruce. British Railways, as I have said, have agreed to undertake the trial of hardwood sleepers, and they already take Scottish-grown sleepers in large quantities. The railways have 456 miles of fences, and though they use concrete posts they have no prejudice against timber as such. If they have, it is up to the timber producers to break it down, not to the Government.
I do not say that nothing can be done or should be done to persuade these bodies to take more home-grown timber. Nor need the present specifications, if they are felt to be over-rigid, be necessarily accepted as immutable. It is a matter for hard bargaining between commercial enterprises, each of which should be fully conscious of its own responsibility and of the national interest. It is all very well to say that if production rises, new markets or extensions of existing markets, must be found. Here I would thank my noble friend Lord Gage very much for what he said in that connection.
We have also heard a good deal to-day about traditional outlets. I look upon "outlets" as a feeble word. We have to find markets in which to sell our goods. "Outlets" makes one think of water dammed up and someone taking out the bung, so that it just flows out. It is not going to be so easy as that. We have to go out and sell. As my noble friend Lord Lovat said, we must give great credit to the Forestry Commission for the initiative they have taken. It was they who encouraged the setting up of the Cowal "Ari" sawmill in Argyll. By giving guarantees of supplies, they enabled the very successful chip mill at Annan to be set up, as well as the hardwood pulping plant at Sudbrook, which has been such a godsend to growers in South-West England, and the softwood pulping plant at Ellesmere Port.
My noble friend Lord Airlie referred to the O.E.E.C., and it was the United Kingdom delegation who took the initiative in this matter. I think that it was a sensible thing to do, for it led to the appointment of a firm of distinguished consulting engineers to advise on whether small-scale pulping plants would be feasible in this country.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Earl, but what I tried to emphasise was that thinning is an essential part of forestry practice, and that, somehow, we have got to find a way of marketing those thin-flings, otherwise it will be "Goodbye" to forestry.
My Lords, I agree absolutely with what the noble Earl has said: new markets have to be found to utilise thinnings. But where I would part company with the noble Earl is that I do not think it is for the Government to do this. I think it is for the woodland owners and the Forestry Commission to find new markets. The forestry industry cannot run to the Government and say, "Set up a pulp factory and buy all our wood at guaranteed prices."
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
My Lords, that was not my proposal. I hope that the Government will help: that is what a Government is for.
Well, the Government have to do a great many other things, apart from helping private industry, although of course they will help private industry at the proper time. What I want to emphasise is that once we have got the Woodland Owners' Association, what a great partnership we shall have between the Forestry Commission, acting for the State forests, and the private owners in this sphere!
This brings me to what I think is really the crux of the whole problem. I was delighted to hear the noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, say that the landowners both in Scotland and in England and Wales have decided to go ahead with plans for the formation of the Woodland Owners' Association. If I may break off for a moment, I should like to refer to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Lonsdale, about the consultative committee. He asked why nothing was being done about that. Briefly, the action on the proposal made by the Watson Committee that a consultative committee or council should be set up was deferred by agreement with the growers and the representatives of the home timber trade on the Advisory Committee on Home Grown Timber. The proposals have not been lost sight of, but we felt that the first step was to set up the Woodland Owners' Association and get agreement between the two sides of the industry before proceeding with this other matter.
May I go back to the Watson Report, which we debated in 1957? I remember my own speech on that occasion—I have 458 been reminded of it to-day—and also I remember a notable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who said that enough cold water had been poured on the Watson Report to float off all the private woodlands in England. I confess that I fell into the trap—because on mature consideration I think it was a trap. It seemed at that time that an idea had grown up that the Watson Report was going to come up with a panacea, an easy solution to the problem; that there would be some swingeing tariff, or a marketing board, or massive Government assistance, which would solve all our problems at once. If the Watson Committee had advocated solutions of that kind—which, incidentally, would have been right outside their terms of reference—the Government could not and would not have accepted them. It was wishful and not very intelligent thinking—I say it now, although I was one of the offenders—to think at that time that we could hope, or even suspect, that that kind of thing would come forward.
British forest owners, I am sure, have a future if they will help themselves, They need help while they complete the process of recovery after two world wars during which woodlands have been devastated, and the Government are providing that support in the most effective way: first, by the grants to the dedicated owners—50 per cent. up next year; and secondly, by helping owners by making a substantial contribution towards putting the Woodland Owners' Association on its feet. There must be a body which is thoroughly expert in all the problems and potentialities of the private owners, which will represent them in conducting negotiations with the Government, with great public bodies, for markets, for the amendment of specifications and so on; and a body which can ascertain the facts and organise supplies and make its weight felt. This is the body that I feel will really meet the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage; this is the body that will help to look for new markets and will lobby, whether Government Departments who are users of timber, or private industry using timber.
There is another extremely important development which should be a great comfort to noble Lords who were feeling gloomy earlier this afternoon; that is, that the English timber trade have recently 459 agreed, in principle, to set up a marketing organisation for England and Wales. This really is a step in the right direction. I hope that I shall not wound the feelings of too many of my friends if I state my absolute conviction that sometimes in the past there has been a weakness of approach by both growers and merchants. In too many cases insufficient efforts have been made either positively to sell all the material that is available or to combat prejudice if it should be there. There is a great tendency to assume that if, because of changes in the pattern of industrial consumption, a traditional market declines, the Government should step in and replace it. The Woodland Owners' Association and the timber trade would, it seems to me, be the organisation to give prizes, more properly than the Government could, to the noble Marquess, Lord Ailsa, when he has ingenious ideas for moving timber out of the woodlands. But it will do much more than that. This will be the organisation which can go into the problems so properly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, about transportation costs, and whether we can get rates equalised throughout the country, and questions of that kind. It is not until we have got ourselves organised in the industry that we can hope to get a solution of these difficulties.
THE MARQUESS OF AILSA
My Lords, I agree with what the noble Earl says; but how long have we to wait before these bodies are fully in existence to give us the information we want?
These bodies are in the hands of woodland owners. We shall wait as long as it takes the woodland owners to form these bodies and to get them going. The Government can do no more than pay these large sums towards their establishment, and it is up to the woodland owners to get the bodies established.
This is a competitive age and it is not sufficient to expect a purchaser to buy. Positive efforts must be made to sell. This really is the whole point. It was Emerson who said that if you made a good mousetrap people would tread a path through the woods to come and get it. I have always felt that, if not taken with care, that could be a most misleading statement. If that were the case I cannot see why industry spends hundreds 460 of millions of pounds a year on advertising; and I cannot see why politicians in another place have to go and address their constituents from time to time. It seems to me that we have to pray in aid another poet here, and I should like to quote against Emerson's mousetrap W. S. Gilbert, who, I think in Ruddigore, said:If you want in this world to advance,Your own merits you're bound to enhance.You must stir it and stump it and blow your own trumpet,Or, trust me, you haven't a chance.
That is really what we must think about this afternoon. What we must do is to say now that we shall not succeed in the difficult stage that we are at if we expect markets to be found for us by the Government or anybody else. We have to go out to sell this product, which we are not ashamed of and which is not an inferior or low quality product at all.
Here in Great Britain forestry has two enormous assets: it has a soil and climate particularly fitted and favourable to the rapid growth of trees, and at its doorstep a vast market. English forests—British forests have a vast market.
Great Britain is the largest importer of timber and timber products in the world, and at present we produce only 10 per cent. of our requirements.
I should like to take up a point made by my noble friend Lord Lonsdale He asked me—he did not give me notice of this question—the value of imports. As I understood what he said—I will read it 461 carefully in Hansard to-morrow—although I do not think his figures were quite correct, his estimate of home production was about £10 million. In the view of my advisers that is too low. The figures I have here are that the import of wood and wood products is about 1,000 million Hoppus feet, worth about £370 million, and the total round wood felled in Great Britain is estimated at about 100 million Hoppus feet. Therefore, that is about 10 per cent. of the imports, and not 2½ per cent., as he said. But, still, it is a very small amount; that is the great point.
§ THE EARL OF LONSDALE
The figures I gave were for 1955. The announcement in this House on February 23, 1955, was £10.3 million home production, and £241 million, average, for the previous five years' imports. From the recent Forestry Commission Report I found that licensing to private woodland owners for felling, including those under the quota, was 41 million Hoppus feet. The Forestry Commission output was rather less than 20 million Hoppus feet in the 1957 Report.
I have not the figures in front of me. The point I want to make is that the percentage of home-grown production is very small. I have no doubt that the figures quoted by the noble Earl are correct, and perhaps we can talk about them afterwards. I want to stick to the point that these figures are very small and we have an enormous market which we can bite into. As to production, it is an absolute fallacy to imagine that there are still these vast virgin forests in North America and Scandinavia from which timber can be got with no trouble at all and transported here at a price which is less than the British owner can possibly compete with. That picture is quite out of date. The days of cheap extraction from the accessible virgin forests are almost at an end, and the consumption of timber and of timber products in North America, for instance, is perfectly astonishing. Their newspapers, for example, are rather larger than ours, apart from anything else.
Against this, in this country we have a soil and climate which can produce good timber in greater volume than in almost any other country. The noble Lord, Lord Glyn, made that point, and 462 I was glad he did. I am told that on comparable land yield from Britain can be three times that of the Scandinavian forests. This means, therefore, that in the long run we can produce on better terms. These advantages at the moment are more potential than actual, since the economic as well as ecological balance has been disturbed by two world wars. That is why the Government at the moment are providing the assistance required, by substantial grants, to help the industry to get on its feet again.
I would again say to your Lordships that it is really time to give up this depressing and unnecessary gloom about the future. There is a great opportunity here. With proper attention to management by the grower, and to preparation and sale by the merchant, British woodland owners have nothing to fear. So I can accept the challenge that my noble friend Lord Buckinghamshire made. I have nothing to add to or retract from what my predecessor said from this Dispatch Box on April 3, 1957, when he reaffirmed the Government's confidence in the future of private forestry. I hope I have said enough to reassure noble Lords and to clear up any doubts that there may have been in their minds, and to enable the noble Earl to see tit to withdraw his Motion.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
My Lords, I do not wish to detain your Lordships much longer. I should like, first of all, to take this opportunity of thanking the "eleven" to which the noble Lord, Lord Wise, referred. I am afraid that I must include him in the "eleven", because one of our "eleven" scratched. I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, and I am delighted that three of them come from North of the Border. May I say that I am delighted that the noble Earl who has answered for the Government has, in a sense, accepted my challenge. In another sense he has thrown out a challenge to us. I should like to say here that we woodland owners fully realise that it is our job to find markets. What we are asking the Government to do is to come into partnership with us and help us to find them. I hope that this may be done partly through the Woodland Owners' Association. May I also say that it is news to us that the 463 5-million acre target had never been accepted or rejected. The term I used was that it had been apparently abandoned.
There is one other point I should raise, which is that many of us woodland owners, particularly the smaller ones, lack the labour to carry out the necessary work in our woodlands, often because they are too small. That is where I hope that these co-operatives which are being formed—in which I declared my interest last year—will help. May I say that we are grateful for the grants? I said this in my opening speech, but I should like to repeat that we are grateful for the new management grant and for the increase in the planting grant. As the noble Earl quite rightly said, the new management grant will be of particular benefit to the small woodland owner. It is aimed at him, and he is the person we are out to help.
My noble friend Lord Lovat asked me—he regretted that he could not stay—to make one point for him about transport. One of the difficulties over English transport—and possibly it is a point to bear in mind for the future—is that it costs £20 to transport timber from Inverness to London, £15 from the Border to London, and only £10 from Scandinavia to London. That is a point we shall have to look into once again.
§ THE EARL OF BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
I understand that the first two are for rail, and the other, presumably, is by sea. With those few words I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.