HL Deb 24 February 1965 vol 263 cc851-912

4.34 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, there is no Member of your Lord-ships' House who is better fitted to address you on the subject of forestry than the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and he has done it to-day in his usual lucid and commendably brief fashion. With all that the noble Earl has had to say I am in complete agreement, except that I rather put forward the view that the difficulty which the Forestry Commission have found in obtaining more ground for the future usually lies in the fact that they have been unwilling—I think in most cases unable—to pay the market price for such ground as has come into the market.

Every year a considerable number of properties—I am alluding mostly to Scotland, of course—come into the market. These properties are advertised in papers like Country Life and Field and in other sporting periodicals, as well as in the daily Press. Often one is quite well aware that a considerable proportion of them have a large proportion of land which is suitable for afforestation. Why, then, do the Commission not buy? The reason, I am sure, is almost always because, owing to the stranglehold of the Treasury, the Commission are not able to offer a price which the owner can get elsewhere.

Many of these areas not only have a very high sheep value but are also good grouse moors, and if a man is able to get for the combined sporting and agricultural value a price decidedly in excess of what the Forestry Commission are able to offer him for the purpose of planting trees, no one, surely, can blame him for taking the better offer. The Commission have hitherto wisely refrained from exercising compulsory powers, and I hope that they never will have to. It may well be in certain cases in the future that the Commission may be driven to this length, but that would be a lamentable state.

I am entirely at one with the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, in his views on the importance of timber to the Highlands. Afforestation is really the only way by which the present population there can be not only maintained but restored somewhat towards its former level. The noble Earl stated that at least ten times the number of people would be employed in forestry as would be employed in sheep-rearing on the same ground. That statement erred on the side of moderation. It is not my intention to bore your Lord-ships with many figures this afternoon, but I think, for the benefit of those who are not familiar with the details of the rather lamentable battle that takes place on occasion between the protagonists of sheep farming, on the one hand, and of forestry, on the other hand, that it might be as well if this information were given.

The value of land from the point of view of producing sheep is, of course, a very varying one. One gets rich farm lands where it is a question of how many sheep one can carry to the acre. Seldom, if ever, I hope, would there be any question of planting such land. But when one gets up into the Highlands it is a question of how many acres are required to carry sheep, and in the Borders that varies from perhaps a little over two acres to between ten and fifteen or even more acres per sheep. In the past it was usually considered that the lowest number of sheep in a hirsel that one shepherd could look after economically was 400. Since then the position has changed. The shepherd's wages have risen very considerably, indeed; something which no one would grudge him, as a shepherd is one of the hardest working of all agricultural workers, themselves the hardest working of all workers. But at the same time it has to be borne in mind that the rewards for a sheep farmer have not increased in like measure.

The increases in the prices of mutton and wool have been infinitesimal in comparison with the rise in shepherds' wages. That means that the shepherd will now have to look after more sheep, and the economical hirsel has risen to 600 and is rising to 800, and it may sometimes go up to nearly 1,000, depending on the nature of the land. There are 640 acres in a square mile and, if you have land in which you need 10 acres for every sheep you require 10 square miles; and 10 square miles is not a reasonable amount to expect one shepherd to look after and to cover in a day. The result is that gradually, by sheer force of economics, the already unsatisfactory state of the agricultural population in the Highlands is becoming even more aggravated. If you take quite good sheep land where four acres are sufficient for a sheep, that means that, roughly speaking, one shepherd looks after perhaps 2,500 acres, and with the area of, say, a small glen of 10,000 acres there may be employment for four men.

Those who subscribe to the publications of the Forestry Commission will see that when they buy land they are able, roughly speaking, to plant up about 50 per cent. of it. I think that before long they will be compelled to plant about 60 per cent. But even taking the figure of 50 per cent. with a property of 10,000 acres, then 5,000 acres are planted, and it has been shown on the Continent of Europe, where trees, on the whole, do not grow as well as they do in this country, that when forests are properly under way they require approximately one man in permanent employment for every 100 acres of timber. That would mean that your 5,000 acres would employ 50 men, whereas before it would have employed four. That is a ratio of 12½ to 1.

Furthermore abroad, where of course the timber industry is of infinitely greater importance than it is, unfortunately, in this country, it is calculated that for every man employed directly in growing the wood some four are employed in processing. Therefore there can be no possible comparison, so far as employment is concerned, between forestry and sheep farming. I myself hold strongly to the view that forestry is the only thing which can really regenerate the Highlands, where the natural resources are so very limited, where we have virtually no material, where nowadays there is not very much fishing, where hydro-electric power will make life much more comfortable for people but will not afford much more work, where tourism at best can be but seasonal and where winter sports are very erratic, depending upon the type of winter we get. The result is we must be prepared for a considerable expansion of forestry, particularly in the North of Scotland, if we are to do our duty to the Highlands. That means that a lot of land which is now carrying sheep will be put under trees.

It will be asked whether there is any reverse to this medal. Of course, as in most human things, there is. There are some three disadvantages. The first is the loss of food, which is a point often brought forward by the sheep protagonists; but, frankly, the amount of food which will be lost by the transfer of land would not be sufficient to keep us going for one week in the event of a war and can be dismissed as negligible. The second is the really serious one from a sociological point of view. It means the disappearance of a considerable proportion of one of the finest classes of workers in the country; that is to say, the hill shepherd, a man who is better educated than one might expect, of independence of mind and often a great student of nature. That, however, is inevitable.

The third objection is one which I fear will not be regarded as such on the Government side of the House, although I feel it very strongly. It is that, because of our economic conditions, by far the greatest part of this forestry expansion will have to be carried out by the State, which means that more and more land will be diverted from private to State ownership; and that, my Lords, is something which I say frankly I abhor. First of all, it has to be remembered that the Forestry Commission, efficient though it is, like any other Government Department is inefficient when compared with the best private foresters. In this connection I should like the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, or the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, to state categorically what is the average cost of planting an acre of trees under the Forestry Commission, taking into account all the costs involved. I can guarantee that it will be very much higher than under even moderately efficient private ownership.

That being the case, what are we going to do to encourage forestry? The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, spoke about marketing, in which he was fully justified because, as my noble friend Lord Dundee said, the person who plants trees has very little expectation of making money out of them in his own lifetime. If a young man starts planting when he comes of age and lives to 80 he will see little, if any, of his own plantings clear felled. He will possibly be getting money by selective felling of the oldest ones, and from the middle-aged ones he may get a certain amount from the larger thinnings; but the man who plants trees is really planting for generations yet to come.

The private landowner who is planting to-day is not looking for a vast fortune for his descendants, but he feels, with justification, that if he is expending these very large sums of money, even with the very good planting grants which are now in existence, his descendants ought at least to have some reasonable recompense for his own frugality. That is where we must hope that, with all the big new ideas on taxation, some adumbrated and others still menacing us from the clouds, there will not be anything done that will defeat this object, because I can assure your Lordships that if that happened it would be an end to the expansion of private forestry.

My Lords, we badly require guaranteed markets in this country. It does not matter how efficient we make ourselves, with the assistance of the Scottish Woodland Owners' Organisation and similar bodies, if we are not going to be able to sell our trees what is the point of growing them? The same applies to the Forestry Commission. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said, with all too much truth, that we are importing some 90 per cent. or more of our timber. Surely, when a very large proportion of that could be produced at home, thus saving us a great deal of foreign exchange, particularly in hard currency, that should encourage this Government—or any Government—to see that forestry, both public and private, was made profitable. There was actually a time (and I say this seriously and truthfully), between the wars, when it was found cheaper to bring pit props into the ports of Fife from Archangel by sea rather than transport them by lorry from central Perthshire. This may seem, and is, the epitome of ridicule; nevertheless, it is a fact. It is up to any Government in power in this country to see, in the interests of the nation as a whole, that such a state of affairs is not repeated.

There has been a little talk of pit props to-day, but unfortunately the wooden pit prop is largely on its way out. The mines are becoming steadily fewer in numbers, and the older mines are being replaced with modern ones which tend to use steel rather than wooden props. This by no means appeals to many of the miners, who consider that when the wooden prop began to crack it gave audible noise that the roof was likely to come down, whereas there is no warning with the steel prop. Be that as it may, the pit prop market appears to be on the way out. For small timber there remains only the possibility of bulk conversion for plasterboard, chipboard or pulp, and that is where the Government, by loans and, if need be, by subsidy to set up plants, can do a very great deal to assist, and can encourage those who are planting to-day to continue with their efforts.

The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, talked about forestry serving a social purpose. If by that he means that woods, public or private, are to be thrown open for the use of the public as a whole, I must enter a caveat, at least until they have attained a fairly ripe age, because there is nothing more dangerous than people wandering about in young woods—and it is, of course, so often young people who go into those places, for purposes which I will leave to your Lordships' imagination. From the timber owner's point of view, those purposes do not matter, but what does matter to him is that in the intervals between other occupations, these people smoke cigarettes, and all too often the result is a forest fire. If the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, will look at the various reports of the Forestry Commission he will see what very great damage has been done in that way and how much public money has been wasted. Every private owner with woods of any size has had fires in them, and while no-one wishes to prevent the people of this country from wandering about woods, it must be understood that, in the national interest, such wanderings must not take place until the woods have reached an age where the danger of fire is nonexistent, or at least minimal.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison—who, with becoming modesty, admitted that he had no very intimate knowledge of woods—said that he was prepared to listen to what was said. That is at least a promising beginning, and we must hope that the present Government will look with sympathy upon what could, in England, be a very much more important industry than the average Englishman realises, but which, in the Highlands of Scotland, is life and death so far as the population of that area is concerned in the future.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that I may be allowed to add my own words to those of my noble friend Lord Mitchison in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for raising this subject today. Those of us who still remember him in another House, under another name, in his undergraduate days, must feel that not least among the many services he has rendered to this House and to the nation must be counted his initiating this important debate, on a subject on which he is able to speak with so much authority. I must confess that the only possible advantage of the attenuated Benches on this side of the House is that any attempts on the part of the noble Lords opposite at tossing the caber are more than likely to miss their mark.

Anyone would have to be a very determined seeker after Party strife who would claim that the growth of our national forests has shown any appreciable change with the change of Government, or that trees are particularly sensitive to the alignment of these Benches or to the weight of opinion in the Division Lobbies of this House. In fact, I think we can quite honestly concede that this Government have so far done very little to assist afforestation. We must not, however, think of them too harshly on this account, for I am informed on good authority that the average period of gestation for any new afforestation policy is something like forty years, which must be deemed rather a long expectation of life even for a Conservative Administration. Why, even a third of this period is regarded in some quarters as almost too long a period for continuous Tory rule.

My own qualifications to speak on this subject are slender in the extreme, and probably less than those of any other Member of this House. For, if I had to declare my special interest, it could certainly not be in therô le of a landowner. In fact, my own direct interest does not go beyond the possession of some 18 trees of an assorted Japanese miniature variety which arrived in a box as an unsolicited gift around last Christmas time and which are still lying, I regret to say, in their original wrappings. So, I am afraid, it is likely to be some time before I am able to qualify for a special Government grant as a dedicated private woodland owner. My main object, however, in participating in this debate is to stress one or two points of general interest arising from the last statement of policy on afforestation (or was it only a declaration of intent?) made by the previous Government in both Houses on July 24, 1963, and the added emphasis laid on them in the Seventh Report of the Estimates Committee, issued on July 8, 1964.

In the statement of July 24, 1963, the then Government asserted that the Forestry Commission should aim, in the following ten years, from 1964 to 1973, at planting another 450,000 acres, in addition to its existing 1¼ million acres. It further exhorted the Forestry Commission to bear in mind the need to provide public access and recreation, and to devote more attention to increasing the beauty of the landscape". These are fine words, and reflect great credit on the previous Administration's intentions. Such matters as increasing the volume of our home-produced timber, and of its benefits to our balance of payments—for I understand that our wood-using industry is now handling about one-third of our largest group of imports, valued at some £450 million a year—I must leave to more expert speakers to discuss; also such matters as the increased acreage planted by some private owners, whether by extension of dedicated woodland or by the approved woodland schemes; or the reasons why, out of the 2¾ million acres of woodlands now in private ownership, some 1 million acres have been allowed to develop into scrubland or bracken, thus rendered almost useless for afforestation.

I should, however, like to ask what progress is now intended by the Government in promoting the aesthetic and protectiverô les of the forest, and its use in encouraging open-air recreation, as suggested on page 10, paragraph 20, of the Statement of Forest Policy in the 44th Annual Report of the Forestry Commission. I ask this advisedly, because in the Seventh Report of the Estimates Committee, issued a year later, there is this very remarkable paragraph, No. 80 on page XXVI: While your Committee have no reason to believe that the Forestry Commission's education services are not being administered effectively, they are not convinced that overall responsibility for educational matters ought to be borne, as it is at present, by one of the Directors of Forestry. The educational programme is of such importance that your Committee would wish it to be either the direct responsibility of the Deputy Director-General or that of a new Director of Education". They then go on to make this startling recommendation for a Committee, one of whose main objects is the scrutiny and pruning of public expenditure: Your Committee accordingly recommend that overall responsibility for education should be vested either in the Deputy Director-General or in a new appointment of a Director of Education". Unfortunately, the Estimates Committee do not go on to state what they conceive to be the duties of this new Director of Education, and one is sorely tempted to try and follow out the workings of their minds. Are they perturbed at the wastage of trained foresters from the Commission, or the fact that so many students undergoing intensive training for higher degrees at one of the four univer- sity schools of forestry change their minds half way through the course and desert forestry for some more attractive or more lucrative profession, with better prospects of advancement? Indeed, they say that one student of forestry, after graduating, decided, on second thoughts, to enter the Church, where he felt his own previous experience as a forester would still be of considerable use to him—I imagine, in tending human saplings after his experience with sylvan saplings. Or are they thinking of the niggardly £17,000 out of the £437,000 spent on research in 1963 allocated to the universities and higher institutions for fundamental research in sylviculture?

Our prestige as a nation in forestry matters depends largely on the encouragement we give to fundamental scientific research, quite regardless of its direct applications to marketing schemes, or improving the quality of home-grown timber, or its effect on the volume of our imports or on our balance of payments. Or, were the Estimates Committee thinking of the wider role of education among the mass of our population, to which the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, briefly referred, of trying to instil in our school children from the earliest age a love and reverence for plant life in the same way as they are taught a love and reverence for animal life? It would appear to me that this education cannot be begun at too tender an age. In fact, it would be far easier to obtain dedicated students of forestry, and especially of sylvicultural research, and also far easier actively to prevent the careless starting of forest fires, which the noble Lord referred to so feelingly, if this reverence for plant life were inculcated in our school children even in the youngest classes throughout the length and breadth of our land.

In this respect I believe we are lagging far behind other countries. In America, for example, Arbor Day is recognised as a national holiday. In Israel, the "New Year of the Trees" has been celebrated annually since post-Biblical times as a special holiday, set apart, when the school children march in procession with a sapling in their hands to plant it in a specially dedicated garden. In our own country the ceremonial planting of trees seems to be largely reserved for Royal occasions.

But, my Lords, could we not set apart one day in the year as an annual springtime holiday, when our school children could be shown in the morning coloured films of the beauties of our woodlands and our natural countryside, and given talks on the preservation of our forests? And could they not also be encouraged to go out in the afternoon to some corner of a public park or of newly-acquired common land (if the Bill concerned gets piloted through by my noble friend), or even to some of our disused allotments to plant their own saplings and subsequently to tend the growing plants? This is a job that cannot be left to our education authorities, with all their manifold preoccupations and activities in so many other directions. It is primarily a job for the new Director of Education of the Forestry Commission, appointed, as recommended by the Estimates Committee, on a full-time basis to carry out his duties in their widest possible application.

My Lords, I pass on to Paragraph 49 of the Report of the Forestry Commission dealing with the Forestry Exhibition held at Blackbushe in June, 1964. Could not this idea be modified and adapted for showing in our schools; and multiplied a hundredfold on a travelling basis, so that the work of the Forestry Commission could be brought home intimately to our schoolchildren, not only those in the older forms, but even among the younger children of the tenderest age? Dare I ask what the Government have done, or are doing, or, more important still, what they propose to do, in this direction?

I come now to Paragraph 50 of the Annual Report, headed "Publications" and listing eleven new publications issued during 1963. Among them are two booklets, one on Aids to Working Conifer Thinnings, and the other on Felling and Converting Thinnings by Hand. But, lest too much emphasis be laid on the thinnings, they also issue two excellent guides, one to the forests of North-East Scotland and another to the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley. Could they not issue also some publications of direct interest to our schools, attractively illustrated and produced, so that our children will learn to keep and treasure them and, through them, be stimulated to a love and enthusiasm for the beauties of our countryside and woodlands?

Finally—for I have already delayed this debate for far too long—I cannot desist from concluding with the time-old parable of the ancient sage who in the ninth decade of his life was found to be planting saplings in his back garden. His disciples came to him and said: "But, how come?"—or words to that effect. "Here you are, planting saplings which you can never hope to see growing to maturity in your lifetime!" And the sage answered: "My friends, I came empty into this world and I shall shortly be leaving it, empty as when I came. But I was able to enjoy the fruits of the vision and industry so thoughtfully provided for me by my own ancestors. Is it not right that I should think of my own descendants, and try to provide for them, in return, a little of the fruits of this bounteous earth which I myself have been able to enjoy?"

There are two modest observations that this parable evokes. One is that at no age in the lifetime of either an individual or a Government is anyone too old, or too young, to engage in the planting of saplings. The second thought is this. We in our own generation have been profligate in the misuse of the bounties of our woodland treasures. In two world wars, we have squandered our heritage. We have made such ruthless inroads into the natural beauties of our forests in order to cope with the demands of our war efforts that even to-day our countryside is despoiled. It is therefore all the more incumbent upon us now to bequeath to posterity a Woodland legacy that can still invoke for our generation something of a benediction, rather than a curse, from the lips of those who come after us.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, it has been widely hoped that the Government will be able to state clearly what they want from State and private forestry and that they will give full encouragement to both; and the friendly approach of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, to-day will be much appreciated, as will be the indications which he has given to us. I shall endeavour to say a few words appropriate to the requirements of forestry, although I should much prefer to be in the woods helping to grow good trees and to produce good quality timber. I would assure the noble Lord who has just spoken that the beautification of the countryside is not being overlooked and that every attention is given to it. I should also like to support him in the reference I think he made to encouraging young children, by way of interesting literature in regard to trees, do look after trees and, I hope, in particular, to be careful about trees in the neighbourhood of towns to avoid their being spoiled.

My Lords, everyone concerned with the advancement of forestry wants a quicker expansion and a fuller recognition of timber production as a necessary and important national industry, not because he is crazy about trees but because he knows that a much bigger contribution can be made to the national economy, that healthy employment in the country areas can be increased and that conditions generally in this country are favourable. While this implies a bigger acreage being planted by the Forestry Commission, we maintain that there should also be a steady increase under private ownership and that there are many places where this is more suitable.

I hope that enough has been said recently to show how great is the annual increase in consumption of timber in Britain and in Europe, and to show that we must do more here, now and quickly, if our position is to be better and not worse in twenty years' time. With an import bill around £450 million a year for timber and timber products, a most unfavourable item in the balance of payments, it is to be hoped that the Treasury will look more favourably upon investment in forestry. It has been indicated to some of us concerned in recent years with negotiations about forestry that the representatives of the Treasury regard forestry as an industry in which too much money, and not too little, is being invested. I hope that this impression is incorrect. But it is also disappointing to those among us who are anxious about this matter that we never have an opportunity to meet the Treasury representatives who, I understand, give these views to members of Governments.

It would be premature to discuss the special problems of the Highland counties in any detail, but I may briefly mention that in their solution increased forestry is certain to figure prominently. Full co-operation will be important to secure the provision of sufficient suitable land, with due regard at the same time to the effect on farming and on other important aspects of the Highland economy. It would be more beneficial in every way if private, as well as State, forestry participates. Private owners will be able more easily to carry out what the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, was saying, I think, about the settlement of foresters and their families in villages with other people.

The noble Lord indicated the shortage of land belonging to the Forestry Commission as being a restrictive element in the planting of the acreage annually accomplished by the Commission. If this is a difficulty, I feel that we in Scotland should try more than ever before to provide land which is suitable and can be spared for forestry. But I myself feel that the difficulty has been more opposition from the Treasury to the expansion of forestry. If I can have an assurance about that, either now or at a later date, ! shall be pleased.

The provision of forests without injury to farming has often been a difficulty, and this is a very important matter at the present time. It is acknowledged that the Forestry Commission have always been able to secure voluntarily enough land to complete their programme, but there are now signs of more pressure for compulsory acquisition. I think that most of us hope that this can be avoided, and if it is tried prematurely, it will make the voluntary offer of land less forthcoming. I feel that the appeal by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, to landowners is one which we can take up, and I am sure that we can help more to encourage our friends to offer land to the Forestry Commission if they are not planting it themselves, and if it is suitable. I feel that a stronger lead is necessary from the Government and Parliament to try to make the nation more forest-minded and to bring home to everyone that a much larger acreage is required to meet our needs.

About the acquisition of land, I would say that there has been a steady improvement in the mutual approach among farmers and foresters. At the present time, the National Farmers' Union in Scotland is being most helpful in this matter, and I feel that there is more assurance of a sensible combination of farming and forestry. On the economic side of forestry, referring perhaps more to private foresty, it should be remembered that the prices obtainable by growers for their timber are much lower now than they were ten to fourteen years ago, whereas costs are much higher; and as wages of other industries go up, it is only natural that there is a continual rise in forestry wages also. As your Lordships know, the returns in forestry are slow, as well as low, and for the planting and replanting since the last war there will be a long wait before growers can expect a surplus and a profit on their expenditure. If they are encouraged to continue to plant and increase their acreage of trees, any surplus, or any available money, will be needed for this. If it is to take 65 years or so for the Forestry Commission to break even, then it must also be a long time in the private forestry sector.

Taxation has been devised by Parliament differently for forestry, because of the high initial and continuing costs, the long-term nature of the investment and the low ultimate return. I refer to this matter because many persons are disquieted by rumours of a change in forestry taxation and of the possibility of new taxation, which may remove from timber growers both the incentive to grow trees and the financial ability to do so. I would strongly urge the Government to act wisely about this, and to confer with the industry before any adverse changes are contemplated. I urge them to avoid any action that would discourage and reduce the efforts to add to the nation's timber resources, or the employment of families in the countryside; so that capital investment in timber production will not be discouraged at a time when we are asking for increased production of timber for many different purposes.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am going to assume, as the basis of my argument, that this Government, like all other Governments since the war, wish to encourage the private grower of timber. If this is not the case, I think there is little point in continuing this discussion further; but I am personally quite convinced that, like every other Government, this Government wish us to have thriving woodlands, grown by private owners as well as by the Forestry Com- mission. Like my noble friends Lord Mansfield and the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, I am very worried about the taxation position on timber. In the last four months we have got used to government by threat, and I should be grateful if, when the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, comes to wind up at the end of the debate, one or two of the threats hanging over the timber industry could be removed.

As has been said frequently, growing trees is a long-term enterprise, and one expects to have equally long-term treatment, so far as tax is concerned, on the timber one grows. It is also, at the moment, only marginally profitable to grow trees; and this has been brought out by studies by Aberdeen University, among others. This makes it all the more necessary that woodland growers should have some security as regards their future financial position. Therefore, I should like to know—although I have little hope of being told at the end of this debate—whether the proposed capital gains tax will be applicable to the commercial felling of timber. At the moment, I gather from what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said in another place that it probably will not; but if the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, could confirm this, I think it would set at rest the minds of all timber growers.

If the commercial felling of timber is not to be liable to this tax could we also be told whether the tax will be applicable to transfers of timber owing to death or by gift? If this is the case, it will lead to a most unfortunate position, because rather than hand over his maturing trees, or even half-grown trees, to his heirs and successors, an owner, in order to save the capital gains tax, will cut them all down and hand over the land as empty land. I sincerely hope that this will not be the case. Here again I should appreciate it if this could be confirmed or denied. And it would be helpful if that could be done at this moment, rather than later, because we are just entering the planting season, so far as timber is concerned, and I am sure that people would be far more inclined to plant trees if they were sure of the future tax position.

If additional taxation of the forestry industry is to be imposed, after estate owners have been encouraged by Governments of both Parties to enter into long-term and legally binding commitments by dedicating their land—which commitments involve very heavy expenditure—one must question the good faith of a Government that subsequently alters the whole tax position so as to render these commitments almost incapable of fulfilment. If this tax does apply to timber, it will undoubtedly in the very near future kill all private planting, the importance of which, according to the Highland Advisory Panel, cannot be overestimated in the remoter areas.

Assuming that we receive satisfactory replies from the Government to the above questions, what other factors are stopping people from growing trees—something which I think everyone who has spoken to-day considers is desirable? There are, of course, the people who will not grow trees at any price because they do not like trees. There is nothing one can do about that, except possibly to give the Forestry Commission easier powers of compulsory purchase of their land in those areas where it can be shown that it would be in the interests of the nation to plant trees.

But there are many people who would very much like to plant far more trees than they do but who, for various reasons, cannot do so. The first of these reasons is lack of capital. For the first 20 years of its life a wood is bound to cost the owner money. For the next 20 years he will probably break even. It is only after the trees are 40 years old that he can possibly hope to start making a reasonable sum of money on them. Could there not be some long-term finance? While I recognise that this is a difficult problem, I should hope that the Government might consider putting aside some money which could be lent for long periods, at a fixed rate of interest, for the purposes of growing timber. This problem is slightly helped by the fact that the Forestry Commission will lease land. I should like to give publicity to this fact, because I think that many people would be delighted to lease their land to the Forestry Commission for growing woods but at the moment do not realise that they can do so.

The second difficulty faced by the average private person in planting is that of obtaining advice. Possibly the planting of woods is a more technical problem even than agriculture. It is essential to plant the right trees, the right distance apart; to drain the land properly; and there are many other problems. Many people are simply put off by the fact that they do not know whom to turn to for this advice. The Scottish Woodland Owners' Association and its equivalent body in England are trying hard to put this right. I would therefore ask all people who want to plant woods but feel that they have not the necessary "know-how" to join these organisations, from whom they will be able to obtain the most expert advice which will save them making many mistakes in the future.

Thirdly, there is the difficulty of tenanted land. At the moment, if for various reasons a farm tenant wishes to plant some woods, he does not get compensation for them on his outgoing from his landlord. I can see that to alter this law would raise difficulties, but I would suggest to the Government that it might be worth studying so that tenants could plant, particularly, shelter belts, which in many cases can amount to quite an appreciable amount of timber. I think that if this law were altered one might find an easier relationship between the tenant and landlord when one or other of them wishes to plant timber.

Fourthly, in the remoter areas these is the difficulty of getting the labour required. This applies particularly to the fact that, if you are going to plant a large block of trees, for the first four or five years you need a lot of labour; then for the next nine years you do not need any; and then you need a small amount for thinning each year. This makes it difficult for the private owner to plant economically, if he has little labour of his own and lives in a part of the country—as is the case with most of the Highlands—where there is not much casual labour to be obtained. I was wondering, therefore, whether the Forestry Commission would consider lending (and by "lending" I mean that the private owner would have to pay for them; or perhaps I should say "hiring out") some of their employees to the private woodland owners in the more remote areas so that they could have sufficient labour when they require it at their peak periods.

Fifthly, there is the difficult question of guaranteed markets, which has already been touched on by my noble friend Lord Mansfield. Probably forestry is the only form of agricultural land use in this country in which there is basically no guarantee of a market at the end of it. Most Governments have realised this and have done all they can to encourage ancillary industries dependent on forestry. But I should like to think that perhaps in the future there might be some form of guaranteed markets so that we, as woodland owners, know that when we come to thin and clear fell our trees we shall be able to get a reasonable return on the time, money and effort that we have put into that.

Finally, I think we must consider the other uses that can be put to land which many people would like to see planted. Personally, I am not convinced, even though it would give more employment, that all agricultural land in the more remote areas should be put under trees. I think in some ways this would be a pity. There are also other questions to be considered, such as the encouragement of tourism in Scotland. There are people who consider that hills covered with a mass of trees are not so attractive as the barren hills were when they first saw them. I do not agree with this theory, but I think it is one that has to be considered, particularly when you come to plant near well-known viewpoints. The Forestry Commission are much more careful about this now, I am delighted to say, and I hope that it will not be a problem in the future.

Secondly, on this particular subject, there is the fact that deer are becoming more and more profitable. Most of the venison shot is exported to Germany, and therefore it gives us valuable foreign currency. Much of the woodlands in the Highlands of Scotland could be used, when they have reached a sufficiently old age, for the winter shelter and feeding of deer, as a subsidiary purpose. I would hope, therefore, that the Forestry Commission and private woodland owners who do not do this would consider letting deer into some of their more elderly woods, so that we shall no longer suffer from the problem of deer trying to raid young plantations or agricultural land through being driven out of their traditional wintering areas by enormous deer fences. I realise that, for the first twenty years or so of any wood's life, you canot afford to let deer into it, but after that the damage they do is relatively small, and their value is increasing from year to year by a considerable amount, and is earning us quite a lot of foreign currency.

There is one other small point which I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison. I believe the Irish have done quite a lot of experiments in County Sligo, of growing trees on very wet, very bad, peaty land, which some of the west coast of Scotland resembles. Has his Department liaised with the Irish over this, or have the Forestry Commission liaised with the Irish? If so, are there any means whereby we can—and I speak now as a private individual—find out the result of these experiments which the Irish have conducted, and which I think would be of great interest to people who would like to plant woods on land which in many cases resembles the west coast of Ireland?

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my voice to the chorus of congratulations and thanks to my noble friend Lord Dundee for once again introducing the subject of Forestry to your Lordships' House, and for calling for an increased forestry programme. I should also like to express appreciation of the very encouraging speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison.

When I saw this afternoon the list of noble Lords who were to speak in this debate, especially from this side of the House, it seemed to me that your Lordships might get a rather false impression that trees grow only in that far, damp, misty, but beautiful land, which lies somewhere to the North of England. As I heard noble laird after noble laird sweeping to the attack, and saw the long list of further noble lairds to follow me, I not only felt rather lonely as a spokesman for England, but seemed to hear the skirl of the pipes, and the strains of "The Flowers of the Forest". May I reassure your Lordships that we do grow trees South of the Scottish Border. I myself have tried to grow trees in the Highlands and in England, and I think I grow better trees in England than I do in the Highlands. On the subject of the Highlands (about which I must confess to be woefully ignorant, in comparison with noble Lords who have preceded me this afternoon), I would say that I believe that it is possible for trees and sheep to live together, and that the planting of large areas with trees does not necessarily mean the replacement of shepherds. It is my experience that trees and sheep can grow together, and can increase in numbers together. I hope that I am right in saying this, and that my noble friend Lord Craigton can also find that this is in fact the case.

In the past, in the matter of ministerial responsibility, forestry has languished as the junior partner, first, to agriculture alone, and latterly also to fisheries and food. This Cinderella status has been emphasised by the fact that although the Ministry had two "f's" a third—Forestry—was not added at any time, and by the fact that, although the Minister was responsible for forestry, his Ministry never have been. Ministers of Agriculture and Fisheries and Food have generally been far too busy with their other responsibilities to have much interest in forestry, and have generally confined their forestry activities to reading a prepared policy statement in Parliament once every five years. In fact, I find it hard to remember when a Minister of Agriculture last gave a lead to the industry in a public speech.

Her Majesty's Government have now taken the most interesting step of creating a new Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. I understand that among the many functions of the Minister is the responsibility for forestry in England and Wales. I am not clear, however, whether this is also a departmental responsibility—


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, but one has to be very careful with the Welsh. The Secretary of State for Wales has responsibility in relation to Wales. Perhaps I need not go into the exact relationship now.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his correction. It is also not clear whether the Minister will continue to rely, as hitherto, on the Forestry Commission for advice on forestry matters, or will have within his Department an additional source of advice, as recommended by the Estimates Committee in their Report last July. In the absence of this information, it is very difficult to calculate the balance of advantage to forestry from the creation of the new Ministry. On the plus side, one can see that the Minister will include among his responsibilities such matters as National Parks and tree preservation orders. It can be only an advantage to have one Ministry, instead of two, dealing with these matters: it should make for better balance and understanding between amenity interests and forestry.

Possible disadvantages would seem to be, first, the separation of forestry from its sister industry, the land, at a time when there is much talk, and some action, of integration between the two. Secondly, I have a doubt whether a Minister, or a Ministry, concerned primarily with planning and land use is best placed to promote forestry as an important home industry. I very much hope, however, that we have a champion of forestry both State and private. It is, I think, of the utmost importance to have a correct balance between the two—that is to say, State forestry and private forestry. I think it is as well to remind your Lordships that private forestry is still the more productive partner, producing some 90 per cent. of the hardwoods and well over half of the conifers put on the market in this country. However, the State forestry will overtake the private side about 1970. Private forestry is ready to play its part in any programme of increased afforestation, but woodland owners have two essential requirements: stability of the industry and security and confidence in the future.

I have spent the last few years trying to recruit for the Timber Growers' Organisation, which is the equivalent in England of the Scottish Woodlands Owners' Association, of which we have heard. This organisation was set up at the request of the Government as an organisation representing woodland owners, and I have found that this question of confidence has been the main difficulty both in recruiting members to the organisation and in inducing them to dedicate their woodlands. In fact, I have had quite a tussle with some Members of your Lordships' House on the subject.

It is, I think, a truism to say that forestry is a long-term undertaking, but he who plants spruce must wait 60 years to see it as saw-timber, pine 80 years and oak more than a century. Few men have the chance to see the maturity of the trees they have planted. Those of us who plant trees do so for the advantage of our grandchildren. The wish to hand on something worth while to succeeding generations is one of the strongest motive forces in tree planting, but without a feeling of security and confidence in the future few landowners would plant trees. It was the trees from private woodlands which made a vital contribution to victory in two world wars. Those trees would not have been there if the landowners of the 19th century had not had security and confidence in the future.

The need for more trees is greater now than ever it was. Uses of timber multiply. Our imports of timber and timber products are vast, exceeded only by those of food and oil. Whereas in the past we have had the bulk of the world's forests to choose from, Europe is now a net importer of timber. A world shortage is officially forecast by the end of the century. We shall need all the timber we can grow at home. It is real wealth from our own soil, the only permanently self-renewable raw material that we can grow, and with more uses than any other raw material. In any increased forestry programme, private as well as State forests must play their part. The planting record of private woodlands since the war is a good one, their proportion of the desirable programme having been handsomely exceeded in the last eight years. I think the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, said private woodlands have been planting three acres to one acre of State forest. I think that was the case in the first ten years after the war, but the figures I have show that in the last eight years private owners have planted well over 272,000 acres as against over 462,000 acres by the Forestry Commission, which figures I think are accurate. I may say that in this England has more than amply played its part, as has Wales.

Confidence in the future is the main necessity. That confidence has been recently shaken, as several noble Lords have mentioned, by rumours of impending adverse fiscal measures, and the planting programme has been affected.

Nothing could help more to bring about the desirable atmosphere of confidence than a firm declaration by the Government that no fiscal measures adversely affecting private forestry are now contemplated. The administration of forestry in this country is a remarkably illogical one, yet has worked well. The State forest authority has been responsible for the control of private forestry while being in direct commercial competition with it. Friction has been largely avoided in the past while the State forests have been largely in the establishment stage and because authority has been wielded in a benevolent and friendly manner by the Forestry Commission. I should like to pay my tribute to them for their ever helpful attitude, and in particular to the present Chairman the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, and his predecessor the noble Earl, Lord Radnor.

However, the State forests are becoming ever more productive; their production of conifers is likely to exceed that of private woodlands in about 1970, and (the element of competition may well become much keener. If the present structure of the industry is to remain, there will have to be close co-ordination on marketing matters to avoid the swamping of private forestry by its big brother. It is very desirable that there should be a real and close partnership between the three parts of the productive side of the home forestry industry—that is to say, State forest, private forestry and the home timber trade. To this end the setting up of area marketing liaison committees in England and in Wales was a promising beginning, and it is to be hoped that these will be consolidated and improved. One of the weaknesses at present is a lack of co-ordination and proper integration in the home timber trade, and it is much to be hoped that the trade can sort out its difficulties and become streamlined and strengthened in its organisation.

I have finished my main theme, but there are three other points which I think are important and which I should like to raise. The first concerns the growing of hardwoods. At one time Great Britain was largely covered by deciduous woodlands. The demands of the consumer are now largely for softwoods, and at least 90 per cent. of present planting is of conifers. There is, however, still a large demand for good quality hardwoods, and large quantities are imported. Unfortunately, for various reasons it is totally uneconomic to grow hardwoods here, especially oak and beech, which are the traditional deciduous hardwoods. I should like to ask whether an investigation of the possibility of special assistance in growing hardwoods on the better soils in this country which are still in private hands could be made.

Another point concerns forestry research, which I think is extremely well done by the Forestry Commission and the Forest Products Research Laboratory. But it seems to me that the standard forestry practice in this country is even-aged forestry, consisting of first blanket planting, followed eventually by felling and replanting, and this has become tacitly accepted as the best system. In many parts of the Continent this has been tried and discarded in favour of uneven-aged mixed forestry, with its many advantages such as greater growing volume, improved health of soil and forest, greater amenity effect, prevention of erosion, and so on. The only disadvantage, or the main disadvantage, is the difficulty of management, which I think should be accepted as more of a challenge than a difficulty. There are many who think that uneven-aged mixed systems should be investigated much more thoroughly in this country, particularly in the hilly districts.

Lastly, I should like to raise the question of hedgerow timber. We used to have great wealth of timber in our hedgerows and fields, but this has been much reduced and not replaced, and there is very little young growth. Some years ago a Committee sat on the subject under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, and made a Report with many recommendations, none of which, I think, has been carried out. I have not given notice of this question, but I would ask whether this Report might be looked at again and whether there might be some possibility of implementing some of its recommendations. In conclusion, I would assure your Lordships that the private woodlands, in England at least, and Wales, are ready to play their part in the national economy, given suitable encouragement.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to join with other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Dundee for initiating this debate. I feel that it has been far too long since we have had a debate on this subject. In my opinion, there is a feeling of uncertainty throughout the industry, and this is caused by a certain lack of positive direction coming from the Government.

As your Lordships know, by a combined effort between private owners and the Forestry Commission, a great deal has been done to replace the damage done to woodlands by the two wars. Private owners have been encouraged to invest capital. In this they have been encouraged by the Forestry Commission on behalf of the Government. They have been given tempting grants and an acceptable tax system. We now hear rumours that this tax system may be changed. I do not suggest that nothing should be changed, but I think that before anything is done great care must be taken to ensure that it does not do damage to the industry; that it will be beneficial, and will not be done just to satisfy the Inland Revenue who may not be too happy about their books. We have an industry to keep going. I would remind your Lordships of what has already been said several times, that the capital invested in forestry is a long-term investment, spread over many years, and it is absolutely essential to keep it coming in. As has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, we cannot have a "Stop-Go" policy. Capital must keep coming in if we are going to have a successful policy.

The other cause for uncertainty and disquiet is the manner in which these policies apparently are decided. One gets the impression that the Treasury feel that we foresters are a somewhat unnecessary evil, that we have to be placated. I wonder what account has been taken of the timber that is going to be produced in this country over the next few decades, and of the timber that is going to be required for consumption within this country. I am informed that there is every indication there will in fact be a timber shortage starting some time during the 'seventies and going on well into the next century. Therefore, surely it is absolutely vital that we have an industry that is capable of producing as much timber for the home market as possible.

I should like to say that, in my opinion, the woodland owners have in the last few years done a tremendous amount to help themselves. They have formed associations and co-operatives, some of which we have already heard about. These in themselves have gone a long way to improve the management, to find better working methods, to find new markets and to exploit these. But still assistance is needed in various directions. Without going into too much detail, perhaps I might mention just one—namely, roads. Strangely enough, the policy in the past in regard to planting has been to plant big blocks, and as these have become ready for felling it has been absolutely necessary to be able to get into the woods to get the timber out. This has to be done by the use of heavy lorries, which entails the making of roads. These roads are exceedingly costly. Anything that can be done by the Government towards assistance in this respect would, I think, be gratefully received all round.

The other point to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention concerns the small woodland owners. I am thinking of people who have under a hundred acres of woodland. These people in fact comprise 88 per cent. of all the private woodland owners within the country, and their acreage accounts for 25 per cent. of the whole. This is not something to be cast aside. It seems a pity that there is no provision for encouragement or assistance for them to put their woods in order. There is a scheme for small farmers. One wonders whether a scheme of a similar sort could not be put into effect for small woodland owners.

I think we all wish to see this industry as a really satisfactory industry, and one upon which we can look with pride. I hope that by the end of the day we shall have such guidance from the Benches opposite that we may know we may go forward with absolute assurance and confidence.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, so many points have already been raised in this debate that I have been able to scratch practically all mine from my list. I am left with just two. My two points are, first of all, the use of land for forestry in upland areas; and, secondly, the rela- tionship of private forestry with the Government. In some parts forestry and agriculture have been clashing. This has been going on mainly in the upland areas, just the areas where timber and agriculture should be complementary to one another. Clash is by no means general, but it does occur. There are, and probably always will be, a few rather narrow-minded people who just cannot see the wood for the trees. Unfortunately, little do those people realise the importance of agriculture and forestry in our upland areas being complementary to-day.

My noble friend Lord Dundee raised the point that forestry does a lot towards giving employment. That is absolutely true. But I should like to correct the record slightly in this respect. I do not agree with him entirely. I think he gave the impression that if we had forestry all over the Highlands there would be no lack of labour. That is not so. I have been looking carefully at the figures, and one can see that in certain areas agriculture employs more per acre than does forestry. I admit that you get the opposite position as well; but I do not think it is right to say that forestry quite definitely employs more than agriculture. What we want is that both forestry and agriculture should help by giving diversification of labour.

I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison. If it is not out of order to say so from these Benches, may I say that I greatly enjoyed his really excellent speech? The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, pinpointed the fact that you cannot look at forestry in isolation. I have seen some areas that were completely devoid of livestock, mainly because there were no trees to protect the animals from devastating winds. In fact, it has been claimed that in some parts of the Borders shelter has added no less than 30 per cent. to the stocking of the areas. The complementary aspect of forestry and agriculture cannot be confined to employment and stocking of the upland areas.

There is another important aspect—namely, finance. Agriculture provides income—the bread and butter; but agriculture cannot expand without capital. It is in this respect that forestry can play an extremely important role, as a source of capital. Eventually, when it has been going long enough, forestry will provide income as well as capital; but at present the rule, rather than the exception, is that one generation sows or plants for the next to reap. Forestry is a sound investment.

But I would add the one proviso given by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensbury, in which they said that there must be no juggling about with taxation in regard to forestry. The very idea of forestry and agriculture living together helps to keep that essential balance which is so important to the conservation of our natural resources—soil, water, wild life, to mention a few. This, in its turn, makes the countryside attractive for people to live in and attracts others whom we want, such as the tourists. However, forestry in the United Kingdom is not something that should be carried on in vast areas having no boundaries, with the balance of nature allowed to get out of hand. Rather is it an industry that is, ideally, integrated with other land uses. In short, we want to see trees in many more places, but not in blocks running into hundreds of acres. Nor do we want the countryside to become nothing but dark green conifers so far as the eye can see—as I am afraid is happening in some parts of Scotland.

Hardwoods, although uneconomic in many parts, especially Scotland, must be planted by the Forestry Commission and by private owners. Not only do they relieve monotony, but they are also necessary in the interests of good sylviculture. In this respect, encouraging words must come from Her Majesty's Government to the Forestry Commission. And the Forestry Commission, in turn, must give encouragement, not only by word of mouth but also in the form of finance to private owners. The upland sheep or cattle farmer must be encouraged not only for the sake of good husbandry but for the amenity of other people to plant trees: trees to give shelter to his stock; timber for fencing; and—possibly most important of all—to give him a reserve of that much-needed asset, capital. This is not happening and the reason is quite clear to see. It is just a lack of education on the subject, although I heartily agreed with the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, when he said that more attention might be given to forestry on television. As I am associated with Independent Television, I would welcome, now that we have lost cigarettes, any advertisements for trees.

The reason why farmers do not plant trees is largely the high cost of establishing a small wood. The cost of fencing alone for a small wood can be as high as £40 an acre. This is very high when one considers that the final product may be worth only about £100 an acre. Might I suggest that the Government should advise and assist the upland farmer in the integration of farming and forestry? I would suggest that Her Majesty's Government should seriously consider giving a specially favourable grant towards the establishment of shelter woods (I emphasise the word "woods"; I do not mean belts) in upland areas.

Might I suggest that, as the benefit would mainly accrue to agriculture, the assistance so given should be administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, and not by the Forestry Commission? I think that it would be far more appropriate that any assistance for this purpose should come from the agricultural side rather than from the forestry side, as the Forestry Commission are charged with entirely economic projects from the forestry point of view.

My second point concerns private forestry. We have already heard that there are to-day two organisations in existence, the Timber Growers' Organisation, in England and Wales, and the Scottish Woodland Owners' Association, in Scotland. I believe that these two organisations suffer from one great handicap: they tend to be the poor relations of the Forestry Commission. Not only is their voice relayed to the Government by the Forestry Commission or by the Forestry Committee of Great Britain, but, worse still, they have to rely on getting a share of the "cake" which the Government have already handed to the Forestry Commission. It is only natural that the Forestry Commission should indent on the Government for the type of "cake" they want, and it is that "cake" which the two private woodland organisations then have to get a share of.

Unfortunately, the Forestry Commission may like chocolate cake, while private woodland owners would far prefer to have some spicy cake; so they do not always want a slice out of the same cake. The Forestry Committee of Great Britain can do much to see that the private woodland owners get the right "cake". But what is really needed is that the two private woodland organisations should have direct access to the Ministers concerned. I believe that that would be a great step forward, if we could achieve it. Finally, I would say that I am quite convinced that there is a great future for forestry. Forestry and agriculture must be complementary, certainly in the upland areas; and private woodland organisations must be able to have the ear of the Ministers concerned.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, may I add my words of gratitude to those which have already been expressed by others to my noble friend Lord Dundee for introducing to-day's extremely interesting debate. My noble friend in his speech, which I enjoyed so much, referred to the recent report of the Highlands and Islands Advisory Panel. He touched on the subject of the crofters and the smaller farmers in the Highland counties and their possible participation in forestry in the hills of the North. That is a point my noble friend Lord Forbes has just picked up again, and it is the only one upon which I wish to detain your Lordships for a few moments this evening.

I should like to elaborate briefly on this point, for it is one that I believe holds special importance, and importance of a social nature. I hope that as such it will commend itself to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, who referred to his own interest in the social aspects of forestry. There have been suggestions on the part of certain crofting communities that they should organise themselves so as to join in the national forestry effort. There are many practical and great difficulties to be overcome if ways and means are to be devised to enable them to do this. Some people feel that they might be almost insuperable. It is worth a great amount of effort to try to start a process whereby the smaller farmer or landowner could play a part in the pattern of reafforestation in the Highlands and in the country as a whole.

There is a revolution or, if that is too violent a word, at least a metamorphosis of land use unfolding in those sparsely populated areas, and it is a change of emphasis from sheep to trees. That has already been touched upon very ably by many noble Lords this afternoon, but I should like to touch on one particular point. With the greatest respect to the Forestry Commission, there is a danger of the Commission's becoming not only a preponderant influence but, in some of the remoter parts, a monopolistic agency superimposed on the existing structure of the countryside. It would in the long view, socially and economically, be a great pity if this were to happen. To say this is not derogatory to the Forestry Commission, and I hope my noble friend Lord Waldegrave will believe me when I say that I would not make the point if I felt that way about the matter.

Something has been said about the need for private forestry to make an even greater effort than in the past, and with this view I, for one, feel great sympathy. But it is for the small farmer, and for those crofters who wish to engage in tree planting, whether as shelter for their stock or on a commercial scale or as a combination of both, that I want to put in a special plea. These men would be unable to make a start without encouragement, advice and, probably, assistance, backed up by the Government itself and by Government agencies. I am very glad to know from the Chairman of the Crofters' Commission that serious attention is being paid to one or two specific proposals which have been put before him and he is looking into the matter in order to see whether a pilot scheme or schemes could be put into effective operation to allow something of the sort to take place. He tells me, too, that the coming of the pulp mill to Fort William has done much to awaken the interest of communities and individuals, whose activities have perforce, for generations or even centuries, been limited to unremunerative sheep farming. Their interest has been awakened by the new promise which the great outlet of the pulp mill provides and which it will open up to timber.

The Chairman has told me of the difficulties—and I can well understand them—that stand in the way of starting the sort of pilot scheme that I have touched upon. If anything is to be done and a start is to be made, the sympathy and the advice of the Forestry Commission will be needed in large measure. I am sure this will not be lacking if viable proposals can be devised. But in some cases legislation and Government action will be necessary if a start is to be made in the direction I have outlined. I very much hope that the Government will regard the sociological importance of the possibility as being, in the long term, very great.

I would end as perhaps I should have begun, by asking the forgiveness of my noble friends from Scotland for my brief trespass North of the Border, even if they do not perhaps entirely agree with all I have said. I would trespass even further for a moment, having been much pleased by the noble Lord, Lord Segal, who told us of the ancient sage planting his trees, and offer noble Lords, with great temerity in the face of my Scottish friends, the motto of the Royal Scottish Forestry Society: Ye may aye be sticking in a tree, It will be growing when you're sleeping.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but I should just like to say a few words to support very strongly what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, on the question of maintaining an adequate supply of hardwood. This is a subject about which I have felt very strongly for a long time. It is, I suppose, impracticable to do anything compulsorily, but there is no doubt that hardwood is needed and will continue to be needed. It is a very slow growing crop, but unless we keep on planting it we shall not see any stocks and, eventually, our country will be entirely devoid of it. As it is, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get really good seasoned English oak from any ordinary timber merchant.

I have often toyed with an idea which I think is entirely fantastic, but which, none the less, expresses what I have in my mind. That is the idea of legislation to force any private individual, when he cuts down a tree, to plant within the period of one year another of a similar species. In that way, it would be possible to prevent our present stock of hardwood from being diminished. That is probably not a practicable measure, but I wish something could be done to emphasise to all those who are planting trees that hardwood will always be a valuable crop.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, I hoped that it would not be necessary to speak to-day, when so many learned Lords who have such a wealth of knowledge on this subject have already spoken. However, there are one or two points which I feel have not been fully covered and which are of vital importance to forestry. My noble friend Lord Dundee, to whom I must add my thanks, complained about the delay in securing clearance for the Forestry Commission to purchase land. On the other side, some of the agriculturists complain that it is too easy for them to purchase land. Of course, if the position is altered it would only add to the problems of the Forestry Commission. For instance, the agriculturists feel that all members of the agricultural executive committee should be consulted before clearance is given, and not just the chairman. Would it be possible, I wonder, for the Forestry Commission to purchase, largely on speculation, land which they think is suitable for forestry? This would involve their being able to sell, although I believe that at the present time they are very restricted in what they are allowed to do in this respect.

My noble friend mentioned the legal difficulties of acquiring common land—I think, particularly, in regard to England. But I should like to emphasise how difficult it is for the Commission to purchase croft land. In spite of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Dulverton, I feel that the answer is for the Commission, and not the crofters, to do the planting. It would be much better if the legal system could be made easier so that they could purchase and plant shelter woods.

There is a most important problem that has only barely been touched upon, and that is the fire problem. The wastage in our woodlands can be enormous. This summer I had two members of a Russian delegation staying with me, and I asked them how they competed with fire in Russia in their enormous woodland areas, which must be sparsely populated. They told me that they had mobile fire squads which were flown in. I do not know whether anything of this kind can be done here—perhaps by training some of our military services; but I feel that a lot could be done, for at present, once a fire is established in any of our woods, we have no facilities for putting it out. This problem is becoming greater as our woods become bigger. When they were quite small the fires could be beaten out with brooms, but now that they are coming to thicket stage proper fire appliances are needed to put out any fires that start.

Our fire services appear to be geared largely to house fires and not to woodland fires. For instance, when you call the firemen out to a fire they come out in leather-soled boots, without any tackets, which obviously are quite unsuitable in heather country. I have raised this point with the authorities, and there appears to be some difficulty with the Firemen's Union, but I cannot see that it is insuperable because it must be for the benefit of the firemen as well. Also I understand that the fire services are not allowed to tune in to the same wavelength as air services. When there is a large fire a spotter 'plane would be most useful, and I believe that the R.A.F. is most eager to co-operate; but, obviously, if the pilots could not tune in to the firemaster on the site such co-operation would be impossible.

We then come to the question of the Land Use Survey, which has been mentioned largely in agricultural quarters. I would emphasise the danger of this. The Forestry Commission make surveys, and this is admirable; but if there is a hard-and-fast ruling it is impossible to manage one's land properly. Many of your Lordships may have had experience of planning designations which, as you will know, it is very difficult to reverse, and if any land survey is to be made I feel that it must not be rigid. My noble friend the Duke of Atholl mentioned help from the Forestry Commission with private planting. I am sorry that he has left, but I would inform him that the Forestry Commission is most helpful and co-operative in this respect when it has men available. But, of course, if its programme is properly geared I should hope that men would not be available.

The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, mentioned the social problem. I feel that this is most important, though not perhaps in the respect taken up by some of my noble friends. It is most important that planting should not be done too quickly. There is a tendency for the Forestry Commission, when it gets a piece of land, to plant it as soon as it can. It has already been mentioned that after about five years there is a further period of from ten to fifteen years, when there is very little to do to those woods. At such times these men have to be taken a considerable distance to other lands where the Forestry Commission (though I gather that it is short of land in certain places) has land. It is the local difficulty which is the trouble, and I believe that to some extent the Commission has brought this difficulty on itself by planting these specific areas too quickly. It is difficult for the Commission, because it does not know what land it will have available, but this is a point that should be watched very carefully. For instance, on my own particular estate the Commission suggested that I should plant everything within eleven years. I refused to do that. I pointed out that I should have to build houses for the foresters and employ those men for eleven years, and there would then follow a period when I had nothing for them to do. I now have it on a 22-year period, which is far more satisfactory.

To some extent the Highland Panel's Report bears out the same thing. It says that there are 500,000 acres available and cleared for planting by agriculture. Now if this is planted at the existing speed of planting in the Highlands, those 500,000 acres will all be planted in 28 years. Together with existing plantings, this seems to be reasonable, and from the social aspect it would mean that the men would be in permanent employment. But the Panel's Report suggests that this planting should be speeded up, in which case, if their recommendations are adopted, the whole area will be planted within a period of 20 years. If that were to happen, I think that in many areas, for a period of years, men would have to be taken some distance to be employed.

One other small point is the question of land improvement. Trees are a great improver of land. Their roots go right down into the subsoil and they bring up minerals. Sheep had a great era last century, after the plantations had been cleared, and now they have steadily deteriorated. We are having to resort to the use of minerals and all sorts of "dope" which formerly we did not have to use, and this, I believe, is due to the fact that a lot of the inherent wealth of minerals in the ground has been soaked out of it. This is particularly so in the wetter areas of the West Coast, where the peat forms a type of slime after a number of years and the whole surface deteriorates. I feel where it is possible—and I know that it is possible only in certain places—there ought to be a rotation. After you have grown your trees you should not immediately replant but put on stock. The stock will benefit; you will lose any moss and such things connected with the trees, and the trees will benefit when they are replanted. So you should be able to increase the stock upon your ground and increase the whole mineral content of your soil.

Finally, I would say to my noble friend Lord Bradford that I hope he will come to the Highlands more often, because I think he will probably find they are not so misty as Shropshire.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord said he was afraid of the Lands Commission. What Lands Commission is this?


I was speaking of the Land Survey. There is pressure at the moment, I think, particularly from the Scottish Farmers' Union, for a land survey to be made, and I am saying that I hope that, before anything is decided, great care will be taken over this matter. 6.28 p.m.


My Lords, I want first of all to thank the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for letting the Scots loose in your Lordships' House, and then to apologise for yet another Scotsman taking part in this debate. I am primarily a farmer and I am only in my spare time a forester. I believed a long time ago that ideally land which could not be used for farming should be put to use in forestry. Therefore, since that time, thirty years ago, I have planted ten acres every year, and occasionally beaten my programme, with the result that I now have 400 acres afforested. I can now see in ten-acre patches the mistakes I made twenty years ago. The shelter that this is now producing on the estate is quite invaluable. My tenants are coming to me and saying, "Can you plant us a shelter belt?", which is different from the normal farming outlook. They see the value of shelter belts and small blocks, and the use of ground which would otherwise lie idle. There is an enormous amount of this kind of ground which I think should be treated, and, I hope, profitably, in this way.

To my mind, integration is one of the biggest points at this present time. We have a great start with the Forestry Commission, which has done wonderful work. It has made its mistakes, but so have we all, and it has now got to the stage where I think we must look at the whole problem from a rather different angle. Before going any further, I must say that I liked the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Segal, about education.

My Lords, there is a farm adoption scheme, and I do not see why there should not be a forest adoption scheme. I am afraid the farm adoption scheme is not as healthy as it might be, but people are wrestling with it, and I think it is a good scheme. I think the same idea could be extended to a forest adoption scheme, to very great advantage. There is, unfortunately—and if one reads the Seventh Report of the Estimates Committee it will be seen that it is underlined two or three times—the scepticism of the Treasury with regard to forestry. I will not bother to read from the Report, but any noble Lord who wants to will find it there. They still look right down their noses at forestry, which I think is a great pity and discouraging to other people.

However, I should like to take up one point which is concealed discreetly almost at the end of the Report, because a lot has been said about the value of labour. I do not deny that value at all, but I think there is a word of warning here. This occurs at page 176 of this Report, and is Question No. 1443. It is about labour, and it is the Conservator, West Scotland, Mr. J. E. James, who says this: I may be in rather a peculiar position here. I have no rural sources of labour upon which I can draw. The only labour pool I can draw on is from the industrial part of Scotland, where one would not normally expect to get good country labour. The result is that if I wish to increase my staff or replace wastage, I have to go more or less to that pool, and I get a very poor class of labour. They have not been brought up to think in country terms. Many of them cannot even use an ordinary simple garden tool. So that, so far as quality goes, I am very doubtful whether we are really going to get the labour we need. We shall have to train what increases we want ourselves locally, which may be a slow and expensive business. But, if we can get the townsman who is prepared to live in the country, we shall have to face up to the expense and time needed to train him". Further on, he says: I have a wastage in the Conservancy of over 20 per cent. In some years it has been as high as 55 to 60 per cent. That gives you an indication of the labour troubles we have. In another set of questions, Mr. Millan asks: I am not quite clear why you have not got a pool of labour in your own area. You are operating in an area which suffers from unemployment and depopulation. Why is it that you cannot attract some of that labour, which otherwise drifts down to the towns? The answer is: We pick up an odd man or two in the islands and in the west, but the number of people we can get does not meet our requirements at all. I am drawing a parallel between west Scotland and east Scotland. In Aberdeenshire and Angus"— I take exception to the fact that they have not put Kincardineshire in at all, but there it is— there is a natural agricultural population. They may be totally employed or not—I do not know—but the inbreeding of country work is inherently there. We have not got that here. Mr. Millan pursues the point, and asks: But you are still operating in an area where there is depopulation, where young men are going into the towns?", and the answer is: I would not think there is very much of that, except from the islands. In places like Oban, Lochgilphead and Campbelltown—those really are the three centres of population, I think—as far as I know there is no unemployment. That is what was said by the Conservator. West Scotland. The point I want to make is that if you chase the shepherds off the land you cannot, in due course, employ those shepherds' sons, because they have gone. You have to bring labour back. I think you should have regard to that point and should encourage the shepherds to plant the jobs for their sons; endeavouring, however you do it, to keep the farm population, the agricultural population, on the land and to employ it, somehow, for the twenty years before it is fully employed in forestry.

A certain amount has been said about the shortage of timber that we are promised from Europe. The very recent F.A.O. Report pointed out that in certain kinds of timber, which is building timber and saw timber, the actual harvest had gone down, not up. But it had greatly increased for use in pulp and manufactured woods, which is a change of use. The danger of relying on that, so far as we are concerned, is that there are several alternative methods of making pulp for paper, if you have to use them. You can use bagasse, you can use straw or you can use flax for all these paper boards; and, if it really comes down to it, you can get a mature pulp wood crop in certain undeveloped countries in five years—such as, for example, Swaziland, where the rotation of pulp wood is five years. Trees just grow as you look at them. So the importation of pulp wood might be both a method of helping a developing country and a much more economical method of producing pure pulp—or, anyway, a very competing method for our own factories.

So far as the food trends are concerned, which I think one must consider, F.A.O. state that the balance of production is only just holding its own, even if it is doing that, in the very deplorable conditions as regards food that obtain at the moment in the world. Certain countries and certain areas are prospering, and it seems to me a logical thing—whether it happens or not, I do not know—to think that there will be a marketing sphere, comprised of Japan, Australia and New Zealand, which will take away, and very rapidly take away, any surplus mutton, lamb or beef. So I think we ought to be a little careful when we keep thinking that food comes in by the shipload whenever we want it. One day it may not. This is another reason why I think we have to be careful about chasing people off the hills; and it supports the other argument.

Now I said we should look at it from rather a different way. I think the accent now should be on marketing. The trees are coming in and are growing. When you start talking about marketing, I personally think that the first thing you should do, looking at Scotland, is to find your handy centres from the transport and communications point of view, and plant as much land as you can within a 50-mile radius around those points; because, although the Fort William Pulp Mills say that 100 miles is economic, or they hope it will be (they have in fact gone 137 miles) they do not want to go so far. Furthermore, whereas an uneconomic sheep can walk off the land, you have to transport an uneconomic tree off the land; and that is a point we must look at and plan.

So far as the N.F.U. survey is concerned I find myself rather in sympathy. What I want to do—and I want to do it unofficially, with the blessing and perhaps a little poking from the Government Department, as all these areas are covered by an N.F.U. committee—is this. To begin with, if any farmer does not belong to the N.F.U., that is his own fault; and there is a Scottish Landowners' Federation Committee, and if he does not belong to that, that is his fault too. Now, if those two bodies got together with the Department of Agriculture chap and the Forestry Commission chap, and had an unofficial and very rough and ready discussion, saying, "I think I should like to plant 50 acres here, or 20 acres there", you could at least then get something on a map and get a rough idea of what you are playing at. The whole thing at the moment is completely haphazard, and that, I consider, is something we should endeavour to stop.

There is one other thing that I want to say from the sylviculture point of view. You take out your worst trees when you are thinning. You do not take out the best trees; on the whole, it is usually the worst trees, at any rate at the beginning. Some of our trees are distressingly like inverted carrots. They are quite fat at the bottom and go up to a point with an enormous taper. Owing to the wind, to pigeons of starlings or other animals, a lot of them in a good many parts of Scotland where it is desirable to grow trees are bent or bowed. This can be overcome by a method employed in some of the younger countries and known as "finger-jointing". In the finger-jointing method you take the fat bottom of the tree after sawing and join it to the next part with a finger joint, and thus build up a standard building section of any length. You do not need to grow it in one length—that is something which you can produce only from the best trees. This is one way of overcoming the problem of what in my part of the world are called the "orra" trees.

Another method is to build up a standard building section of laminated wood. I think that these two methods should be started, at least experimentally, to produce a much more economic market for the bad timber which must be cut out anyway. Those trees would then produce a better price than one wouid expect to get for pulp. I should like to say one thing to my noble friend Lord Forbes. If he will appear at Blackburn Bridge—and I think he knows where that is—on Wednesday, March 3, he will find that the institution of which he is a director is televising an experiment on controlled burning in connection with forestry, carried out by Alginate Industries. This will take place providing it does not rain all the time.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, at what used to be regularly referred to in your Lordships' House as "this late hour" (which was sometimes at a very much earlier hour than this) I have the choice of offending individual Lords by not replying to every point which has been raised or, worse, of offending every noble Lord by attempting to refer to every point which has been raised. I must therefore try to keep one eye on the clock and to steer such a course as will enable me to complete the voyage in a reasonable time.

First of all, I should like to say how much my noble friend Lord Mitchison and I have appreciated the range of this debate which, as new Ministers responsible for forestry, among other things, we have found extremely helpful. I can say at once that the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, about the need for co-operation and mutual confidence between the Forestry Commission and private forestry, which was accepted wholeheartedly by my noble friend, is also my own point of view. I can assure noble Lords that anything we can do, as individual Ministers, to help that frame of mind continue as the permeating doctrine in forestry will be done.

From that general statement I should like to go on to some of the points which have been raised in the course of the debate. The first—in point of time, and not because I wish to be controversial—is Lord Mansfield's suggestion that the Forestry Commission, as a public body, must, in the ordinary course of events, be a more wasteful organisation than private forestry.


My Lords, I would not say "wasteful"; I would say expensive.


Well, my Lords, I would regard unnecessary expense as being wasteful. However, whether more expensive or wasteful, in any event the information I shall give him acquits the Forestry Commission of either charge. It is difficult to give figures which are not capable of contradiction at one point or another when one must deal in averages (which is all the noble Earl asked for, and all that he could expect to be given), but in 1964 the average cost of the Commission planting was about £40 per acre. We believe that the cost of private planting was about the same, and in some cases a little more.

Having regard to what has been said on taxation and grants, to which I shall come back later, I would suggest that it is perhaps not in the interests of private forestry that the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, should seek to prove that planting costs private forestry a great deal less than £40 per acre; otherwise the grant of £22 12s. would seem to be unduly generous. On that point I think the Commission can be considered to be doing an efficient job if one looks at it from the point of view of costs.


Did the noble Lord's figure of £40 include all the overheads—administration and the like?


My Lords, I doubt whether it would—I gather that it would not. On the other hand, I doubt whether the private forestry operator counts in all of what might be regarded as overhead costs in running the more attractive parts of his estate.

I want to go on to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Segal. We found his references particularly unusual but, at the same time, particularly attractive. On the matter of the Director of Education, all I can say is that it is premature to refer to this question at the present time, for this is merely one of some proposals made by the Estimates Committee which are being examined both by the Commission and by the Minister, and upon which it will be possible to say much more, of a more definite nature, at a later time—and I hope that it will not be too much later. On research, I am afraid that he did the Commission an injustice. The figure of £17,000 to which he referred was only the Commission's grant to the universities. Fundamental research and other research, such as in botany and genetics, carried out by the Commission is grant-aided from other sources. The Commission's total expenditure on research in 1964 was £500,000, out of its total grant of £13½ million. So I think it is a fairly high proportion of the money available.


My noble friend will forgive me for interrupting, but I was fully aware of the fact that this figure had been allocated to the universities for research. I am sorry I did not make that point quite plain in my remarks.


I thank my noble friend.

The final point about stimulating interest in schools we found a particularly interesting suggestion, and I am certain that the Commission will be very happy to consider this suggestion made by my noble friend. I should say, in connection with this matter, that, while the custom of the House prevents the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, from taking part in our debate by speaking, he has paid us the compliment of sitting through the whole of the debate, and I have no doubt that he will be paying noble Lords the compliment of acting on the suggestions which have been made (although he has not been able to comment on them), where it is appropriate or within the power of the Commission to do so. I express the hope that this suggestion is one which the noble Earl will take up in due course.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, raised the question of advice to private owners. Private owners can get advice from a variety of sources. First of all, naturally they can get it from their own organisations, and in particular from the Scottish Woodland Owners' Association. They can get advice from numerous consultants (though presumably that is rather more expensive), and also, where appropriate, from the Commission. I may say that they use this last source of advice freely. Perhaps the reason they use it freely is that they get it free. Finally, there are many contractors, large and small, who will carry out work for owners. In appropriate cases, the Commission do work for owners, on the basis that costs and overheads are repaid. In this connection, I hope they take into account every possible overhead which the noble Earl might foresee. On the other hand, having regard to the attitude of the Forestry Commission to private forestry, I think that their reckoning of the overheads will be on a fairly reasonable basis.


My Lords, I assure the noble Lord, from what they have charged me, that they do take in all overheads.


As a Minister I cannot say that I would disagree with that. The noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, raised the question of deer. The Commission work closely with the Red Deer Commission. However, they do not agree that the damage by red deer to plantations is not important; the age at which trees get beyond the stage of being damaged by deer probably comes down in the end to a difference of opinion. On the noble Duke's final point, the Commission and Ministers have been in close touch with the Irish Forest Service. In fact, it is true to say that there is a valuable two-way traffic in ideas between the Irish and ourselves, not only on planting in peat, but on all aspects of forestry.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, said that everybody wanted expansion more quickly and he mentioned the benefits which would accrue to production, to the balance of payments and to employment from an expanded forestry programme. I was glad to hear him say this, because forestry Ministers are also of that opinion, and in the consultations which must of necessity take place with our friends in the Treasury all that has been said by noble Lords to-day will be made full use of in pursuing our proposals. We particularly appreciate what the noble Duke has done in connection with encouraging his friends who are landowners to make land available to the Commission, and I wish to thank him for offering once again to give this service to the Commission. I hope that this time he will have an even greater response than on the last occasion, when it was very satisfactory. I also hope that it may be more lasting in every case, because some of his friends changed their minds after the first step had been taken. Their withdrawal cannot be placed at the door of the noble Duke. The effort to get them to make the offer was his, and it is for that work I wish to thank him, and it is that which I wish him to repeat, even more effectively.

Both noble Dukes referred to taxation changes, as did the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and this question figured increasingly as the debate went on. My notes are particularly against what the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, said. I had warned several noble Lords beforehand about the danger of saying too much about this, but I did not know that the noble Duke was going to make a feature of this point and did not warn him. What he asked me to do was to anticipate the Budget statement. But he went on to say that he had little hope of getting an answer. As a prophet, the noble Duke is completely accurate. I would add a little warning. If he and other noble Lords go about assuming that the Government and my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer have it definitely in mind to alter either the level of forestry grants or forestry taxation, they are in danger of creating a climate of opinion for the very thing they are seeking to avoid. Having regard to what the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, said about fire hazards and forestry, I think it may be unwise to shout "Fire!" about taxation before anybody has even struck a match.

The noble Earl, Lord Bradford, raised a point about the Committee on Hedgerows and Farm Timber. This Committee was appointed by the Forestry Commission and reported as far back as 1955. The Committee's recommendations were partly in the form of injunctions to the public and the private interests concerned, and partly in the form of proposals for legislation, which would have raised a number of complex issues. So far as the first is concerned, the Forestry Commission have respected the Committee's intentions. The complexity of the problems which are raised on the legislative side probably account for the fact that ten years have elapsed without any Bill coming forward. Obviously, it would be an act of rashness if, after a period of only a few weeks, I were to suggest that we were able to introduce legislation which defeated the combined efforts of the two successive Governments who were our predecessors. All I can hope for is that some more enterprising Members who have Private Members' Bills in mind may think of this, but I say that without implying that Her Majesty's Government would be able to find time for it.

I have mentioned what I consider to be two inaccuracies in the debate. I must say that the climatic description of Scotland by the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, was the inaccuracy that shone out like a blinding beacon of light. Frankly, I wondered where he had been. I wondered whether the noble Earl had been looking down from an aeroplane. The noble Earl wondered what advantage there would be in a change of Ministers. First of all in case his fears should be weighing heavier than his hopes, I would remind him that in Scotland there is no change. The Secretary of State remains the Forestry Minister. But to the less fortunate part of the country—in relation to forestry, not, I am afraid, in relation to many other things—one advantage of the change is that the Minister of Land and Natural Resources will be able to seek advice from his senior officers as well as from the Forestry Commission on the broader aspects of forestry policy in a way which was not appropriate for the Ministry of Agriculture previously to do. This does not mean, either, that the forestry Ministers will have fewer contacts with the chairman and officers of the Forestry Commission. So I think, on the whole, that the noble Earl would be justified in having more hopes than fears from the change.

The noble Earl also referred to the difficulties of a co-ordinated home timber trade, and hoped that it would be possible to have improvement. All I can say on this is that we echo his hopes, and anything which can be done by Her Majesty's Government in the sort of climate of opinion which we have at the present time about expenditure will be done. And I have no doubt that the Commission will be as co-operative on this aspect of giving help and advice as they have been on so many others.

The noble Earl might be interested if I read something from a paper which the busy lads in the Box have given me about research, because it has something which is of interest on the subject of hardwoods, which was raised by a number of noble Lords. The Forestry Commission have their own research branch, and, as I mentioned, their expenditure an 1964 was close on £500,000. The main lines of research and development are laid down by a committee representing all the interests concerned, now called the Utilisation Sub-Committee of the Home-Grown Timber Advisory Committee. This committee has laid down priorities for research, taking into account the joint programme agreed between the Commission and the Forest Products Research Laboratory. The highest priority was given to research for the improvement and more complete use of the marketing of low grade oak. Among the other matters dealt with by the Utilisation Sub-Committee in the last year have been markets for hardwoods, accelerated production for timber, and the use of home-grown timber in buildings and motorway fences. So I think the point that has interested a number of noble Lords, and which I would also say interested Ministers very much, is one which the Commission are dealing with in a most practical way.

The noble Marquess, Lord Ailsa, referred to the attitude of the Treasury. I did not hear him perfectly and I was not certain whether he accused the Treasury of considering that foresters were a necessary or a non-necessary evil. I hope that he was doing the kinder thing and saying they were considered a necessary evil. But, in any case, I think he is being a little hard on the Treasury. I can speak from only a few months' experience, and I speak perhaps a little unwisely at the beginning of some negotiations which might be tough. All I can say (in case they are likely to be reading this speech) is that we have not found them unduly unreasonable on this matter, but we should expect them to live up to their best records rather than to seek to emulate the poorer ones.

The noble Lord, Lord Forbes, disputed the figures of labour and employment which were given principally by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. I should like to say how interesting the figures submitted by the noble Earl were. He was most careful to point out that there was a wide range of employment. I do not think what he said was inconsistent with the point of view put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, because the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, did say that there was some very good land which it would be really criminal to turn over to forestry, and where the production, even in terms of sheep, was very high. But then it went to the other range, where the number of acres per sheep was very high and the production was very low. So I think that probably, taken over the average, and having regard to the fact that the disputes about the use either for sheep or for trees is much more frequent in the upland areas, where the land tends to be more of the poor variety rather than the reverse, I should find it difficult to disagree with the figures put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but for the sake of the record I must say that I did not dispute the figures of my noble friend Lord Mansfield. What I said was in relation to what my noble friend Lord Dundee said about the Highlands. I thought he gave the impression that forestry gave much greater employment in the Highlands than agriculture did. I said that this was not so in all cases.


I think I could equally acquit the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, of making a charge of general application. He also spoke of a range of employment; and obviously if you take the most favourable range, the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, would be wrong, but if you take the least favourable range, he is very right. Probably if you take an average the noble Earl is still right; and I should think that it was in averages that he was talking.

On the subject of finance, where there have been by this time a number of suggestions for additional grants—grants for road purposes was one; and another was mentioned which escapes my memory—the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, said that what the Forestry Commission asked was not always what the private owner would want: the Forestry Commission might like chocolate cake, whereas the private owner might like a spicy cake. I rather thought that the emphasis on the taxation of grants was in danger of creating what I suggest is an erroneous impression, and is a very extreme case.

The noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, in his intervention in Scotland, but not in Scottish affairs (because this is not a Scottish debate, but a United Kingdom debate), had no need to apologise, for the point of view he expressed was not put forward by any other noble Lord, and I found it most interesting. I can assure him that the point about crofters or small farmers and land owners joining in afforestation work is one with which the Government are in complete agreement. We believe that these people have a part to play. I shall have a little more to say about that later on when I deal with a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee.

The noble Lord, Lord Burton, raised the question of fire hazards. I am going to depart from the advice I was given, because I have been given an answer and dared to use it. I had better not look round. The information is that, so far as the Forestry Commission are concerned, the fire-service arrangements are really excellent. They have a highly organised radio-controlled fire-fighting service. They do the best they can for private forestry, which is to act as a good neighbour. They cannot, of course, undertake to maintain a fire service which would be capable of servicing all their own areas and the areas of all other adjoining proprietors. I am quite sure that in this matter they, like I, would be particularly anxious to follow up the information which the noble Lord, Lord Burton, gave as a result of the inquiries which he put to the Russian people, with their much greater forests and presumably much greater fire hazards. I certainly should wish to follow up this suggestion.

The noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, referred to his tenants' appreciation of shelter belts. I was glad to hear this, because, as he said, this is very much against the run of things. When it is suggested to the small farmer that putting up shelter belts is both in his own interests and in the interests of forestry, too many of them think that the Forestry Commission, or those interested in forestry, are trying to "put one over" on the farmer. This is not the case at all, and I hope that what the noble Viscount has said about the appreciation of this in practice will receive the publicity which would be so helpful and of great advantage, both to agriculture and to forestry. It will help in breaking down what is in many ways an unnecessary antagonism between forestry and agriculture.

There was an impression which seemed to be held by more than one noble Lord that the Forestry Commission have an arbitrary restriction placed on them by the Treasury as to the price they can offer for the acquisition of land. This is not so. Generally speaking, the Commission have little difficulty in agreeing a price, and in very few cases is the price the stumbling block in the acquisition of land. In fact, there have been cases where the Treasury have authorised a figure of up to £15 per acre for land which a number of years ago, say ten years ago, might have been worth only £4 or £5 per acre. I think that will confirm that there is no fixed figure in mind. But, having said that, I should perhaps add that I should not like to create the impression that the Forestry Commission are allowed to go ranging over Scotland offering £15 an acre for land.

On the subject of guaranteed markets—and this was another point raised by a number of your Lordships—the best guarantee is the fact that we have to import 90 per cent. of our requirements of timber. I cannot think of a better guarantee to encourage people to go into the production of timber than to know that at the present time only one part in ten is provided from home resources. Therefore, with an efficient industry (and no one has suggested that forestry in this country is inefficient) the opportunities for breaking into this market, if not guaranteed in so many words, offer the next best thing to a guarantee that any industry could look for.


My Lords, surely much of the imported timber is grown far more cheaply abroad, because it is natural timber. I agree that in the future it will be worked out, but at the moment the only cost is that of cutting and transporting the timber to where it is required. This is what worries so many timber growers in this country.


Let us hope that the fears on the two subjects, the ability to compete with imported timber and that of taxation, both prove equally groundless.

Many of the points raised in opening the debate by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, have already been dealt with by my noble friend Lord Mitchison, and I should like to take up some of those which my noble friend deliberately left to me. Before doing so, may I say that the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, speaks with an authority which comes from his long interest in the subject, plus the fact that he is a distinguished forester in his own right. My noble friend Lord Mitchison agreed, as do I, with his point (to which I have already referred, but I think it is worth repetition) that the closest collaboration and mutual confidence between private forestry and the work of the Forestry Commission is an absolute essential for successful forestry operations in this country. I think I can justly claim that the Commission have a good record in this respect, both in the way they have administered the grants schemes and from the technical advice and assistance which they are always willing to give to private landowners. This is something which we all hope will continue in the future, because the activities of both the Commission and private landowners contribute to the nation's timber resources, and there is no essential reason why one method should be preferred to the other. We should hope in the interests of the country, to see the maximum contribution coming from both sources.

I do not propose to go quite so far back into the matters to which the noble Earl referred in opening his speech, but he referred to the "undesirable programme" recommended in the 1943 White Paper. I think it is important, as my noble friend Lord Mitchison has already pointed out, to remember that this was prepared during war time, and the strategic considerations, which were a very important factor in the minds of those who drew it up, do not have quite the same validity at the present time, although we should be foolish if we were to ignore them in their entirety. I should say that the policy of Governments in recent years has been based on the reviews of the 1958 and 1963 Working Parties on Forestry Policy. The 1958 Working Party considered that the strategic case for forestry was no longer of the same validity, and since then the procedure has been on the basis of quinquennial reviews and, I would suggest, on a more realistic appraisal of what is required in the national interest in modern circumstances.

This does not, however, mean that we are not anxious to see a substantial and continuing programme of afforestation; and, as the noble Earl has pointed out, one of the keys to the situation is the rate at which land can be acquired for planting. In Scotland, the Commission have in the last five years acquired 117,000 acres and planted 161,000 acres. It is, however, significant that the land reserve at the end of 1964 was still slightly higher than it was five years previously, due to reclassification of land and to the Department of Agriculture clearing more land than was originally intended for planting. What we are concerned about, however, is not only the rate of acquisition for the Scottish programme, but also the distribution of the acquisition. At present no land is becoming available to the Commission from the extensive and very plantable grouse moors in the southern and eastern Grampians, and it is in this area that the Commission have a sizeable work force which is now being used to less than its full capacity. This rather emphasises the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Burton. It is my hope that the Commission will succeed in acquiring more land in this area in the near future—and I hope that the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, has a fair number of friends in that area.

I readily agree with regard to the difficulties foreseen by the noble Earl in persuading hill sheep farmers to make over land to forestry. Both the Forestry Commission and the Department of Agriculture are at pains to adapt planting programmes to minimise the conflict with farming, but it remains the case that there is a lot of prejudice on the part of Scottish hill farmers against afforestation. Your Lordships in general—the Duke of Atholl and Lord Forbes in particular—who have spoken to this point, may be interested to know of an experiment which the Department of Agriculture in Scotland has proposed to the Black Face Sheep Breeders' Association. This is designed to demonstrate how much land on many extensive hill farms can be planted up without any detriment to stock-carrying capacity. I hope that the Breeders' Association will be able to give their full support to this experiment, which would involve the survey of a number of hill farms throughout Scotland by officers of the Department's Land Staff, and the Forestry Commission. As I say, the object of this exercise is to show that some part of the nation's afforestation requirements can be met by planting on smaller blocks of existing farms, thus integrating farming and forestry, to the benefit of both.

I think at this point I should also refer—and I cannot remember which noble Lord raised the question—to shelter woods rather than shelter belts. This is a point which is referred to in the land use report of the Highlands Panel, and as your Lordships know, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is considering this report at the present time, and I will particularly draw his attention to the fact that that point has been raised in to-day's debate.

The noble Earl had some stringent comments to make on the procedure whereby the Commission consult other Departments before they buy land. My understanding is that he is a little off the beam here. In recent years a great deal of trouble has been taken to make sure that the machinery for giving agricultural clearance works speedily. In fact clearance can be given by my Department in three days. With anybody else that is almost equivalent to deciding before you have been asked. The Forestry Commission have assured the Minister on several occasions that they are now satisfied with the pace at which the machinery operates. The noble Earl will note that that sentence includes the words "they are now satisfied"; the presumption is that there was some time in the past when the noble Earl's strictures were justified. I have not gone sufficiently into the matter to be able to claim the credit for the new Government. I have the feeling that they were satisfied before we appeared on the scene.

In recent years we have also taken care to ensure that Forestry Commission proposals to acquire hill farms are not objected to if the hill farm is on the small side as regards viability. Your Lordships will be aware that the minimum of hill farming viability is rising steadily with increasing costs, and a decision has more and more to be taken on giving the hill unit to forestry or retaining it as a farm. No doubt mistakes have been made, but by and large the Commission's view is that they are reasonably satisfied with the way things work. In the last five years, during which the Commission acquired close on 120,000 acres and bid for a good deal more than this, there were only three occasions where agreement at official level could not be obtained with the Agriculture Department so that reference to Ministers was necessary.

It is true that an anomalous situation can arise when the Forestry Commission—because of what appear to be good agricultural considerations—are prevented from offering for a unit whose subsequent owner himself plants the land. This may in some cases be because a private owner, in deciding whether or not to carry out afforestation, bases his judgment on such considerations as tax liability or other personal circumstances. The only way of dealing with this problem would be to carry out a land use scrutiny of all private planting proposals which are put forward for grant. This would need legislation.

To come now to the wider picture. As your Lordships are aware, the present Government have made clear their determination to make a reality of regional economic planning. In some areas—particularly the Highlands—forestry must be a front runner in future development. This is bound to be a subject which will attract the early attention of the new economic planning machinery. The proposition until now has been that the main benefit to be derived from afforestation is increased stability in the rural population. It is the case that the establishment of communities of forest workers can strengthen the structure of rural areas, especially when, as now happens, the Forestry Commission add these communities to existing small towns and villages. It can, however, be argued that the benefits of afforestation in a regional development context are much more substantial. The establishment of the pulp mill at Fort William, for example, demonstrates that afforestation can provide an industrial core for the Highland economy. Where timber can provide an industrial base, there should be a multiplier effect on employment in associated wood processing and service industries.

Your Lordships would not expect me to refer at any length to the Bill which was introduced yesterday in another place and which will establish a Highland Development Authority. I was very pleased at the words of welcome which the noble Earl gave to this Bill. Having said that, perhaps it will be sufficient if I say that a large and sustained Highland afforestation programme is an essential complement to the setting up of the new Authority. The Highland Panel's report on land use contains many interesting and constructive suggestions. Coming at this particular time, it exemplifies and illuminates the many problems which the machinery will have to tackle.

To sum up, the 1963 Statement provided for a programme of 450,000 acres in the ten years 1964-73, which was quite a good outlook in comparison with previous figures. This was the situation which the present Government inherited, and as forestry Ministers frankly we are not too happy about it. It will therefore not surprise your Lordships to hear that, as an integral part of regional planning, we are now looking carefully at the implications of an increase in the size of the programme.

Finally, I would join in the remarks made by all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate in expressing thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for having initiated it. Once again a debate which is predominantly a Scottish debate—because of those who have taken part, rather than because of the subject—has shown how interest in something which is for the general benefit of Scotland does not find this Table any barrier to discussion, and that we discuss it as if we were all sitting round a board room table instead of on Parliamentary Benches. To the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for having introduced the debate, for the very thoughtful way in which he did so, for the useful suggestions which came both from him and from all other noble Lords who have taken part, I express the very grateful appreciation of Her Majesty's Government.


My Lords, could the noble Lord give an idea what the Commission's policy is with regard to hardwood?


I made a reference to the fact that the Commission are encouraging research into the use, the economic use, of hardwood. If we are to persuade people to grow more hardwood the first thing is to satisfy them that they or their successors or, much more likely, the successors of their successors, are going to have a market for it. I think the Commission are tackling this in the right way in trying first to get an economic use for the hardwood.

7.28 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to all your Lordships who have taken part in this debate, particularly the two Ministers. Before I ask leave to withdraw the Motion, I shall do no more than pick up one or two loose ends which I see lying about. I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, that we need not be bound by the "desirable programme". He pointed out that it is more than twenty years old. The only reason I referred to it was because we are not doing as well, and I suggested that we should do at least as much. If the noble Lord meant that we should do better, I am with him.

The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, also referred to the desirable programme by saying that the strategic arguments are not quite the same to-day as they were in 1943. Of course the strategic arguments change in all sorts of ways in five years, or in two years, but I hope that that does not mean that our forestry planning can be changed whenever the strategic arguments do—because in that case we should not get any long-term planning at all; and I am sure noble Lords opposite cannot be in favour of abandoning long-term planning. Many of us have oak trees which were planted about the year 1800, because the Government of the time, which was a farsighted Government, pointed out that the war against Napoleon was depleting our supplies of oak to make warships and they must be replenished. That was done, and some of them are now being cut down—but not, of course, for the purpose of building the kind of warship that Nelson commanded, although with a purpose just as profitable to the nation. So I hope that any change in strategy will not be used as an argument (I was rather afraid that here the noble Lord was going over to the Treasury side) for cutting down this programme.


My Lords, may I say that, if I were expressing the hopes of Her Majesty's Government, what we should like to do is to take the best years of the previous Administration and hope that we could accomplish that as our minimum.


My Lords, I am glad to hear the word "minimum".

The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, also drew a rather happy picture of two gentlemen walking down a corridor in St. Andrews' House, each with a cheque book. Of course, the point is that it would be only the Forestry Commission who has the cheque book. The other cheque book is not at St. Andrew's House, but in the drawer of a private offerer. That is what I wanted to avoid. I also agree with Lord Mitchison's quotation from Lord Home in the debate ten years ago about compulsory powers. I think it is a good thing that they should exist, and I quite agree that in individual cases it may sometimes be a good thing that they should be used. But of course, we cannot rely on it as a major means of getting land, because in the great majority of cases it would be taking the sheep from sheep ground, and that would antagonise the farmers. I think that gradually an improvement in public opinion towards forestry is taking place. I hope this will continue.

My noble friend the Duke of Atholl mentioned loans for planting, and suggested that we ought to have them. I am not sure whether or not he is aware that we had them until a short time ago. I borrowed myself and I have not yet finished paying the loan back. But when I was on the regional committee of one of the Forestry Commission areas, I found that there were an enormous number of people whom we tried to persuade to do more planting but who did not know that they could borrow. We were beginning to get people more interested when the loans were stopped. I do not know whether that was because of the Commission or of the Treasury. I think loans are an entirely good thing, because in the long term forestry is obviously something which, like housing, ought to be financed with a loan. The only qualification I would make is that if there is any hope of starting loans again this would have to wait until the bank rate returned to less than 7 per cent., especially in Scotland, where interest rates are supposed to be 2 per cent. above the bank rate, and no forester or anybody else would pay that rate of interest.

The noble Duke also spoke about ancillary industries. No one has congratulated the late Government on making the big loan which they did to Wiggins, Teape for the new pulp mill. I did not have anything to do with this as a member of the late Government. I did not have to give any attention to forestry as a member of the Government. I think I can say, without there being anything personal in it, that it is one of the best things for forestry that ever happened in Scotland; and it is an argument for speeding up our planting programme now because most of the materials for the mill at the moment come from abroad. But there is this great market which is now located in the West of Scotland, and it should be a great encouragement to Scotland and private planters to speed up the planting programme.

My noble friend Lord Bradford said something which I think I must again stress in case it was missed. He pointed out—and I hope there is no doubt about it—that in the Highlands you can have both trees and sheep. Of course you can. Trees do not mean that sheep are going to disappear. In the County of Argyll, where most planting has been done, about 9 per cent. of the whole county has either been planted or is about to be planted, but there are now more sheep there than there were before the planting began. Of course, at some places planting may displace some sheep. But there is no reason why it should displace agriculture. Look at the example of Austria. All the plantable ground in the uplands and highlands is covered with fine timber. But there is plenty of agriculture, though perhaps not in the same pattern as we have in the Highlands. It is more in the uplands. There are stock rearing and farming, although perhaps not so many sheep. But you can certainly have both trees and sheep.


My Lords, on what the noble Earl has just said, may I suggest that this may encourage the Black Face Sheep Breeders' Association to take part in the experiments along these lines which the Commission are now undertaking, to prove to those who are still doubtful that sheep and trees can go together?


Yes. I could tell the noble Lord equally interesting stories in regard to that from my own experience. I think I mentioned it in a letter which he may have seen; but there is no time to go into it now. I am glad he should make that reference. I was really hoping to hear of some indication about expansion from the two Ministers who spoke. Naturally, they have got to be cautious about it. But I was glad to hear Lord Hughes say that the Forestry Ministers are in favour of expansion; and when he referred to the Highlands Development Bill he said, I think, that forestry was going to be a front runner. I hope that it will be a "must" for our Highland policy about which the Government will make up their minds, and that we are going to have a bigger planning programme than we have now.

That is really my primary purpose in putting down this Motion to be discussed by your Lordships. I think it is a good thing to discuss it in this House, because there are so many of your Lordships who know far more about forestry than I do, and we have had the benefit this afternoon of a great deal of well-informed advice. I am glad to have what I feel is an assurance from the Ministers who have spoken that they seriously intend to do more planting than has been done up till now. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.