§ 2.35 p.m.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government by how many acres the Forestry Commission have reduced their prospective planting of conifers, in view of the fact that it is now certain that pit props will be obsolete before the trees are mature.]
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, the Forestry Commission have not reduced their prospective planting of conifers. Pitprops are produced mainly from conifer thinnings and not from mature trees. Although the total usage in the mines is likely to decline there is still room for a large increase in the use of home-produced props, especially in England and Wales, at the expense of imported ones.
My Lords, while thanking the noble Earl for his Answer, am I not right in thinking that the policy of the Forestry Commission is based on two assumptions? One is, that there might be a national war emergency over 844 a long period in which trees would be required. But there is not the slightest possibility of a long period of national emergency now, so that that assumption has been done away with. As regards the thinnings of the trees, they are required for pitprops, pulp and chipwood, and it is quite clear, of course, to every-body except the Government——
I am coming to the question. Do not say "Order, Order!" It is quite clear that that assumption also is becoming obsolete, judging by the number of millions of tons of coal that we have in reserve. I should therefore like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, instead of going along on their usual assumption that everything is all right, they would be prepared to have an inquiry into this question, to see whether it is not possible to save public money by not planting too many conifers in England.
My Lords, I find some difficulty in finding the pith of that long supplementary question, but I think it would be inappropriate, on a Question dealing with the future use of pitprops, to give a detailed Answer on the assumption on which forestry policy is based. As to whether there will be an inquiry—I was not quite sure into what—I think the Government do not feel at the moment that any inquiry is called for in this matter.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, as the noble Earl has admitted there is likely to be a smaller demand in future for small timber softwoods, could he say whether Her Majesty's Government are pressing Government Departments to import less and to use home-grown supplies?
My Lords, I did not say that there was likely to be a reduced demand for softwood. I should like to remind your Lordships that 97 per cent. of our sawn softwood needs are at the moment imported, and that there is a vast market to be broken into here.
§ LORD DERWENT
Could the noble Earl answer my question, whether the Government are encouraging Government Departments to buy home-grown supplies as opposed to imported supplies?
My Lords, Government Departments will always buy home supplies if they are of equal quality and price.