HL Deb 05 April 1967 vol 281 cc963-83

2.52 p.m.

THE DUKE OF ATHOLL rose to draw attention to the problems of land use in the Highlands and the rural areas of Scotland; and to move for Papers. The noble Duke said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I put this Motion down in very wide terms because I thought it would be useful if we had a debate at this time on rural Scotland; and, although I see that the list of speakers is headed, "Debate on the Highlands", in fact my Motion covers not only the Highlands but also the Borders and Galloway. I am delighted to see that my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood is to speak on behalf of the Borders, and that my noble friend Lord Sinclair is to make his maiden speech extolling the virtues of Galloway—a speech to which we all look forward.

Since we last debated Scotland there have been several developments. The first that I must list is the start of the operations of the Highland Development Board; the second is the publication of the report of the Cairngorm Technical Group; and the third is the publication of the Countryside (Scotland) Bill, which appeared just before Easter. Other factors which have affected the rural areas of Scotland possibly more than any other part of the country have been the imposition of S.E.T., the disastrous slump last year in the price of store lambs and store cattle, and the removal of investment allowances for forestry and hotels. And while I am mentioning forestry, another factor has been the lack of buoyancy in timber prices. I will deal with all these points in more detail later, but first I should like to make a few general remarks.

These factors have all had, to put it mildly, an unfortunate effect on rural Scotland, as they have hit particularly hard at the three major industries on which we depend for so much of our income—agriculture, forestry and the tourist trade. Before I go any further, perhaps I ought to try to define exactly how big rural Scotland is, what its area is, and what extent of the land mass of Great Britain it covers. The whole of Scotland has an area of 30,405 square miles, and of this I suppose it is fair to count four-fifths of it as still being fairly rural. So we are talking about an area of about 25,000 square miles. The total area of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, is 94,207 square miles, so rural Scotland covers over a quarter of the total area of the whole of the United Kingdom. I hope this will convince noble Lords from England and Wales, and those from Northern Ireland who are still here, that it is quite a sizable area, and that although we may not have the richest or most valuable land in the country, it is sufficiently large that we ought to make sure that we use it in the best way possible.

Of this land, at the moment about 1,780 square miles are planted with trees. Of this area, approximately two-thirds are Forestry Commission plantation and one-third private owners. In addition, the Forestry Commission has about another 300 square miles which it proposes planting in the near future. This will give a total area under timber of just under 2,100 square miles, or about 8 per cent. of rural Scotland. Deer forests cover 4,700 square miles, as near as I can ascertain, which is about 19 per cent. of rural Scotland; and the remaining 73 per cent. is covered by a mixture of grouse moors, hill-sheep farming and more intensive lowland farming, as well as, obviously, a small area which is covered by roads, buildings and things like that, with which I will not concern myself. As can be seen, at the moment by far and away the greatest part of Scotland is used for farming of one sort or another, and I think it is extremely important that we make sure that this land is being used in the best and most efficient way possible. Therefore, I shall try to suggest ways in which we might use this land more efficiently, and how we can encourage this to come about.

The problem of land use in the Highlands and Borders of Scotland has been bedevilled for many pears by the problem of depopulation. We have regarded it as a sin to allow depopulation to continue, so efforts have been made from time to time artificially to encourage people to stay in areas which are unattractive economically. This has caused the perpetuation of the crofting system, the encouragement of small farms outside the crofting counties, and in some cases rather uneconomic planting by the Forestry Commission which they freely and rightly admit that no private individual would be able to afford to carry out, but which they do for largely social reasons. I therefore think that we must make up our minds whether our land use in Scotland is to be dedicated entirely to being economically the most efficient, whether we are to try to give maximum employment, or whether we can find some compromise between these two extremes which might be rather better.

Before going any further, I think I should point out that if one goes for the maximum economic use of the land one may depopulate certain areas to such an extent that there would be no future in anyone providing public services at all, such things as posts, roads or anything like that, which is the only way in which we can make these areas attractive for people to live in. Therefore, while perhaps parts of the Scottish mainland and the Islands could be put to better use, we must always bear in mind that we cannot make the use so efficient that we leave absolutely no people there at all to enjoy the land.

For this reason, I think that the Highland Development Board are quite right to concentrate on growth areas. It is the way they go about it that rather worries me and, I know, worries many of my noble friends. They seem to have been remarkably bad in their publicity. For instance, an article which appeared in The Times, and which one has every reason for thinking was inspired by the Highland Development Board, said—and I am quoting from The Times of Saturday February 25: Here again there is a question of local status. The farming group and their womenfolk in particular are not prepared to welcome an influx of salary-earning executives who might usurp their positions of authority on local councils and committees. Does that sort of article really do any good? Do we think that people in the Highlands are likely to welcome the work of the Development Board if the Development Board inspire statements such as that? In any case, what truth is there behind this particular statement? I think it is highly unlikely. Most people, in my opinion, are only too pleased to get off a committee if they can find someone to take their place on it, and particularly so in the case of voluntary committees which give one no reward at all other than the feeling that one is doing good. I should have thought it would be much better if the Highland Development Board concentrated on their job and left this sort of publicity to others.

My Lords, having said that I should like to say once again that I think they are right to concentrate on growth areas. I am sure it is essential for the Highlands of Scotland that there should be these growth areas, and I am sure that when we look at the problem of depopulation in the Highlands of Scotland we ought to look at it as a whole and not by individual parishes. Every other country with the same sort of topography as Scotland has suffered from the people tending to congregate more and more in the towns and villages and to leave the countryside free to Nature. This is not only happening in Scotland; it is a trend that, in my opinion, we cannot reverse.

I should now like to say a little more about the Highlands in a more general way. Other noble Lords are going to talk about other areas and so I feel it is only right that I should talk about the area I happen to know best. Unless minerals are found in large quantities in the Highlands, I think we can presume that the main use for the Highlands in future is going to be for agriculture, forestry and recreation. Agriculture is likely to be a diminishing industry as regards employment. The Cairngorm Report makes this perfectly clear. It is a trend which in agriculture is universal throughout the country. It is in my opinion a healthy trend. It shows that agriculture is getting more and more efficient; I am sure this is true. So I think we cannot look for increased employment in farming. But, in addition, the farmers in this area have had a hard time over the last two or three years. The price of store sheep has gone back to approximately what it was in 1948. It will not surprise noble Lords to know that labour costs have not gone back to the same extent, and neither has any other cost for that matter.

This means that it has been very difficult for any hill sheep farmer—and the majority of farmers in these parts are hill sheep farmers—to make any money at all. They really have had a very hard time. I should like to suggest that, rather than continuing to battle away with hill sheep on the West Coast and in such places, it might be better to encourage the farmers to give up part of their land—or even all of it where it is very small—and to use the hills for stalking deer and the low grounds for planting trees. I think this might easily be a more economic use of the land. It is hard to prove this in figures, but in places where it has been tried I think it has given more employment and the financial return will in the long run probably be better. The difficulty about showing this in figures is that it is very hard to take into account the amount of money already invested in agriculture in those areas in stock, in buildings and in the know-how of the people concerned. But I think this might be worth considering.

From the land use angle, the Government, although probably unintentionally, are encouraging this by deflating the price of store lambs and cast ewes. They did this by restricting the credit to a great extent last year and at the same time allowing cheap imports. They may, in these ways, force many farmers out of business. That will save the Government a lot in subsidies, but if they seriously believe in this policy—and I think it is a tenable policy—it is only right that they should say so, so that people can make plans and arrangements and get out of farming voluntarily if they can. The Government have shown signs that this is their attitude by the Agriculture Bill which contains some excellent provisions for the amalgamation of farms. I hope that they will continue to pursue this policy to a certain extent, although it obviously can be overdone.

My Lords, perhaps I may quote from paragraph 3.8 of the Cairngorm Report on this matter: It is not known to what extent the occupiers are obliged to carry on working single-handed and to what extent they prefer to do so in spite of a poor return, but an inference can be drawn from general depopulation of much of the Area that the farming livelihood does not offer enough, especially to the young. If the Cairngorm Working Party are right in thinking this, I believe it to be a key point. I think this is a natural process and one which is going to come about any way. But I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, to try to make it as easy as possible for people to transfer from farming in these rather difficult areas to other activities.

There has always been a conflict between agriculture and deer when the farms and the stalking have not been in the same occupancy. This is due to the fact that there is an acute shortage of wintering ground for any animal in the Highlands of Scotland. In post-war years this has been worsened by the Forestry Commission who have fenced in enormous areas of ground for planting without thought for the poor animals whose wintering ground this previously had been. These deer—for they are largely deer, I freely admit—have had to be killed. This leaves a vacuum on the higher ground where these animals used to summer. I should have thought that this must be an appalling waste of land.

I would suggest that the Forestry Commission ought not to do this in future, but should plant smaller areas at a time and should let the deer into those of their plantations which have already reached, say, about the third thinning stage. Admittedly, the deer will do a little damage but in most cases it will be small and in overall land use it will show large dividends. I should like to say that I think the Forestry Commission are moving in this direction. They have become much less disenamoured of deer in the last few years, and I should like to give them a particular pat on the back for the way they treat their roe deer. I think they are a long way ahead of any private individual in this. Most private landowners who have roe deer on their land could learn a great deal if they were to study the methods the Forestry Commission have for controlling them.

Reverting to the conflict between agriculture and deer, I feel that the evidence shows that in many cases not only would more forestry and possibly more deer on the moderate and bad hill farms be better for land use, but it would give greater total employment. Forestry employs about one person per 120 acres. Hill sheep farming possibly employs one person per 800 ewes. It used to be 500 ewes, but it is now between 800 and 1,000 on an average. It would also have the advantage of saving the Treasury a large amount of subsidy, so they ought to be quite keen on this change of land use.

My Lords, I should now like to turn to forestry. The Government have just announced their intention of introducing legislation on compensation to tenant farmers whose farms are compulsorily acquired. I think this legislation is long overdue. The amount of money that tenant farmers have received for their farms when taken over for housing or when roads have been put through them has, in my opinion, so far been lamentably small; but I am rather worried that the Government propose extending it to apply where landlords take back land for forestry. Although nearly all agricultural leases contain a clause to the effect that the land can be repossessed for other purposes such as forestry, this is very seldom done. Where it is, it is usually done by agreement between tenant and landlord, and I think the Government proposal may have the effect of making tenants very reluctant to come to an agreement with their landlords because they may feel that if they hold out they might be able to get this extra compensation. From a forestry point of view I think that would be a pity. This is a minor point, but it is one more small irritation in the life of the forester.

I think it is universally agreed that far more land in Scotland could be planted, some without even affecting the agricultural and stalking interests to any great extent, provided that there was consultation and co-operation between the parties concerned. There is more likely to he this degree of tolerance where all three are in the same occupation. Therefore I feel that the maximum use of land is likely to be achieved by private forestry rather than by the Forestry Commission, although I am bound to admit that recently the Commission have been much more reasonable, realising that they cannot just look on forestry in isolation. None the less, I think that to get a real advantage from forestry private individuals must be given encouragement and be convinced that both political Parties want more home timber. This is absolutely vital. I do not think the Government have done that. Planting trees costs a great deal of money. Admittedly, one receives a planting grant if one's woodlands are dedicated or approved, but in very few cases does this grant start to cover the actual cost, and in many cases it covers only about one-third or one- quarter of the cost. Planting trees is a very long-term investment.

A recent survey of landowners with suitable planting ground revealed that when asked why they had not planted it the majority replied that they did not have enough faith in the future of forestry. I think this a very sad thing. The Government must give them this faith in the future of forestry. The Government have done the opposite so far, although they have done only one disastrous thing. They dithered so much about the position of forestry in relation to the capital gains tax that one got the impression that they were most reluctant to recognise that forestry had to be put in a special position. The Government dithered over the position of forestry in relation to the selective employment tax and it was only after a lot of pressure that they agreed to premiums being refunded as in the case of agricultural workers.

The one disastrous thing which the Government have done is to remove the investment allowances and not allow forestry the benefit of investment grants. Forestry and the hotel industry, so far as I can make out, share this doubtful distinction, and the sooner this is rectified the better. That would be one thing which would make people realise that the Government believe in private forestry and do not regard it as something which is a quite good thing to do, but not really to be encouraged, because it would be much better if the Forestry Commission did it all.

The snag about forestry, and the reason why confidence has partly been lost, is that the price of the final product has decreased by between 7.9 per cent. for felled timber and 10.3 per cent. for standing timber in the last six years; and during the same six years wages have risen by 34.9 per cent. and retail prices, according to the Retail Price Index, by 25.4 per cent. This must mean that forestry is in a much less well placed and happy position than it was six years ago, even if the situation about investment grants had not altered, which is why I think the decision is so strange. To do this to an industry when the price of the final product has actually decreased in the last six years seems to me like hitting a man who is already down.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, thinks that my noble friend Lord Dundee and I are unique in going on about this particular point, but may I read what the Scottish Woodland Owners Association Limited says in its Annual Report? This body was set up by the Government and, in its initial stages, partly financed by the Government, and at any rate has the blessing of the Government. On page 7 of the Report it states: In this context it seems inexplicable that Government should rule that forestry is not eligible for the Machinery and Plant Investment Grants under the Industrial Development Act 1966. In no other industry is there such a strong case for reducing the high incidence of manual labour in the various operations leading up to the supply of material for manufacturing enterprises which arc eligible for these Investment Grants. I will quote two examples to show the way that mechanisation can reduce costs in forestry. The Scottish Woodland Owners Association Limited is buying a certain amount of machinery and making it available to its members on what are known as easy terms. One machine and a squad of three men increased an output of 30 tons to 35 tons a week, which was achieved with the use of a horse, to 67 tons per week over the 44 weeks during which the machine was used; and this included the initial period when the users were familiarising themselves with the machine. So I think that if one took the output for the next year it would be still higher. Therefore, the amount produced with the same number of men was doubled.

The other example I should like to give is the ridiculous situation created by the lost of investment allowances by a forester who wished to construct some roads. He had a large amount of work in prospect and he considered buying a suitable machine and operating it, but investment grants were not available. Nor were they available to his usual forest contractor. So he had to get the job done by a public works contractor, who enjoyed the benefit of investment grants and those extra advantages available to a firm operating within a development area. This, to me, seems absolute madness and an entirely unjust distinction between forestry and every other form of manufacturing industry.

With suitable hesitation, I now turn to the last traditional use of land in Scotland, the grouse moors. These have been subjected to some ridicule, though I do not know why, because it requires a great deal of skill and a certain amount of toughness to shoot grouse. It is a healthy sport, far more so than bathing from the Scilly Isles at the moment. It requires much discipline—usually considered a good characteristic—from those taking part, both beaters and guns. It also has the great advantage that it hardly conflicts with any of the other traditional land uses. About the only way in which it does is that on the whole the sheep farmer likes to burn heather in very large tracts, while the grouse keeper does so in nice small pieces, but this is a minor disagreement and they can usually come to some arrangement without either side feeling that they are being hard done by. But in a poor area its potentialities cannot be ignored, for it generates a lot of money and a lot of employment.

I think that I cannot do better than quote from the Report of the Cairngorm Working Party, who in paragraph 336 say: If the moors were thrown open to the public and little or no management undertaken, there would be small total overheads but also very few birds. The unmanaged moor would put little money into local pockets and in many cases would revert to birch forest. The land would be virtually lying idle producing very little and providing poor sport. I think that we have become rather ashamed of what is known as the "grouse moor image"—unnecessarily so, because in the opinion of this Technical Group studying the Cairngorms that is the best way of using this sort of land, and I think that this should be recognised.

I should now like to turn to the other recreational uses of the land. Since the war pressure from other sources has increased enormously. Ski-ing, pony trekking and canoeing are all post-war developments. Hiking, rock climbing, water ski-ing and sailing have increased their number of devotees by a large percentage. All this has raised problems. It is to try to solve some of these problems that the Government have introduced the Countryside Bill. I feel that its main features and the ideas behind the Bill will have the support of virtually every noble Lord in this House. I hope so, anyway. I would recommend anyone who wants to go into the country to read Schedule 2 to the Bill, which seems to me an extremely good countryside code, although I should like to add at the end of it that no one should play transistor radios or gramophones. I am rather surprised to see that this has been omitted and perhaps in Committee stage this prohibition might be added, because I do not think that other people appreciate the noise of the Beatles coming out of a radio in the wilds of Scotland. We shall no doubt have an opportunity of discussing this Bill in greater detail in future, so I will not dwell on it, except to make one or two general observations.

I am not satisfied that the compensation provisions are adequate. The danger of fire on this sort of ground is very considerable. The cost of insuring against fire is almost prohibitive and, so far as I understand it, while people will get some compensation from giving an access agreement initially they will have no right at law to get any more if they suffer damage from fire. I think that where access agreements are made the Countryside Commission ought to set up a fund from which people can be compensated if they suffer a large amount of fire damage.

The second point I would make about the Bill is that the powers of the Commission to make by-laws and appoint wardens seem to me to be insufficient. I also think that they have not been given enough teeth to stand up to the local authorities, the Highland Development Board, the Forestry Commission and even big business. It is too much of an advisory organisation, with not enough power to say what it wants where it comes up against these other Government and semi-Government bodies. A "Cow Green" could occur in Scotland, and so far as I can make out from this Bill the Countryside Commission would be powerless to stop it, however much they felt it would be a disaster. I think that we ought to give the Commission sufficient power to stop undesirable developments like Cow Green in Scotland.

I would say one further thing about access. I am disappointed that the Litter Act has not been extended to include private ground. It is one of the sad things about this country that as a nation we seem quite incapable of not recording our trail with a filthy mess, and it is not pleasant for other people who have to use the land to find bottles, cigarette packets, greaseproof paper and everything else strewn all over the countryside. I have a popular hiking route going through my estate, and when one goes along it in October there is hardly a stretch of five yards where one does not find a sweet paper, cigarette carton or something like that thrown down and left there. I should have thought that it was a simple matter to extend this Act to include private ground. Probably it would not do much good. People do not seem to obey the law to that extent, but it would give some form of redress if one actually succeeded in catching people throwing down paper.

Finally, I would say a few words about the use of water, both rivers and lochs. There are many pieces of water in Scotland which could provide grand trout fishing if they had a little time and money spent on them and were then preserved from the so-called sportsmen who throw everything into them bar the kitchen sink. Angling clubs all over Scotland would be prepared to do this, if their members could be sure of benefiting. This would be an easy and cheap way of improving Scotland's natural resources, it the appropriate section in the Hunter Committee's Report were brought forward for legislation. Surely the Government could do this. This, coupled with the drift net ban, are the two parts of the Hunter Report that need implementing as soon as possible, and then the Government could shilly-shally for as long as they liked over the other recommendations.

Incidentally, having set up a Committee like the Hunter Committee, I cannot understand why, when they make a full and detailed Report, the Government then have to get reactions from all the bodies who have given evidence to the Committee on what they think about the Report. There are bound to be some people who disagree with some sections of the Report. It is the same with every Report. The Hunter Committee were reasonably expert and they spent a great deal of time looking into this matter. I cannot believe that the Secretary of State is likely to arrive at better answers than they did, however long he may think about them, because he simply has not the time to study them to the same extent. I should have thought that once a Committee of this sort had reported it might be accepted that theirs were the best recommendations.

I would also hope that in the new Countryside Bill the Commission would have power to ban the use of speed boats, and therefore of water ski-ing, on certain lochs. I think that this is a problem which is going to get more difficult. I am sure that people appreciate peace and quiet and that there must be some pieces of water left without speed boats racketing over them every fine day in the summer. The problem of canoeing is possibly more difficult. I must admit that I am not a canoeist and do not know much about it, but I believe that the best water for canoeing tends also to be the best water for fishing, and there could be a conflict. I think some arrangement would have to be arrived at whereby people could canoe only in the middle of the day when the sun was at its height, which is the least favourable time for fishermen. I think this is a point which would need consideration in future.

I am afraid that I have been far too general in my remarks, but I am sure that other noble Lords with specialist knowledge will elaborate on many points. I know that at least three noble Lords wish to speak about the Highland Development Board, and I am sure that what they have to say will be extremely interesting. Two or three noble Lords are to speak about the Borders and Galloway.

I have tried to set out the whole scene, as I feel that this is really the duty of the mover of a Motion of this kind which covers a large amount of ground. I am sure that in the Highlands, anyway, the place of agriculture will diminish; I think this is an inescapable fact. Possibly the amount of food produced will not diminish, but the amount of employment given by agriculture will, I am sure, go down and down. At the same time, I am sure that the employment given by forestry and recreation will increase. I hope that light industry will be attracted to the Highlands, especially to the areas where there is a great deal of tourist potential. It is essential that we should get a good employment balance between male and female, and on the whole the tourist industry demands far more female employment than male. To achieve this balance, I think it is essential that industry should be attracted to these places.

I have tried to suggest a few ways in which I think the Government might help. I feel sure that, while they have good intentions, they are rather inclined to forget about the Highlands and the ways in which the more general laws hit this particular area. I am slightly nervous as to what their intentions are. Finally, I want to say to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that if he hears little praise for the Government this afternoon it is not necessarily because they are off course—although I do not think Sir Francis Chichester would be particularly proud of their course—but because it is much easier to criticise than it is to praise. I beg to move for Papers.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I follow the example which was found acceptable on a previous occasion and confine my remarks at this stage to a general policy statement, and later on, if the House so wishes, I will reply to the points which have been raised in the debate.

I should like to thank the noble Duke for the way in which he has introduced this debate, and to say that I am in complete agreement with the way in which he has done so, even though I disagree with many of the things that he has said. To introduce the subject in the comprehensive way in which he has done sets the best possible pattern for the debate, leaving it to other speakers in due course to fill in the details of particular subjects. But inevitably, covering so wide a review, and raising so many points, if I were to attempt to reply to all the points the noble Duke has raised I should have a speech which was as long as his own in the beginning, without necessarily saying any of the things which I particularly want to say. If, therefore, I appear to be replying to some of the points which the noble Duke has raised, it will be because they fall in naturally with the remarks that I wish to make: it does not mean that I shall not be dealing in due course with the rest of them.

Land, and the use of land, are subjects which evoke strong emotions and equally strong expressions of view in most of us. And rightly so. For if the land is our basic resource, it is an asset with extremely limited possibilities of extension and enlargement, and the use or misuse of it can be seen and understood by all. And, not unexpectedly, views about what is good or bad land use are legion. As a practical working definition of good land use, however, I think there is a good deal to be said for that adopted by the Advisory Panel on the Highlands and Islands, in their Report on Land Use; namely: the most effective and economic use of the land having regard to the agricultural, industrial and social possibilities and needs of the area in question". There is, of course, a good deal of control over changes and development of land use. Planning authorities have wide statutory powers to ensure that changes of land use meet certain minimum standards, and there are special statutory provisions in relation to areas of special scenic beauty. But admittedly these are negative rather than positive powers, and they tend to be concerned with localised developments of an urban or industrial character, leaving aside the large areas of rural countryside in which the main uses are agriculture, forestry, sport or simply natural conservation, and it is with these areas that we are primarily concerned this afternoon. In regard to these wide rural stretches I would make two general points. First, we must not overlook the incentive to better and more effective land use which is provided through the various grants for agricultural development and forestry. The Hill Farming Schemes, the Farm Improvement Scheme, and the new Hill Land Improvement Scheme and assistance for development of farming in upland areas, for which provision is made in the Agriculture Bill, are examples of incentives which have changed the face of many hill and upland farms, and will, I am sure, continue to play an important part in this field. Similarly, with forestry. In addition to the extensive programmes of the Forestry Commission, the dedication and other grants for private forestry have met with considerable success.

I was rather surprised at some of the remarks which the noble Duke made about the Government's attitude to fores- try, in which he suggested that we had been less than encouraging: and it boiled down very much to the fact that we had not given the investment grants. But, after all, it must be remembered that we have continued to apply to forestry the especially favourable taxation principles which were applied by the previous Government. These were provisions which other industries did not have. It was because of the long-term nature of forestry that it received them. I would suggest that it is quite wrong for forestry to expect to have the sort of special consideration which it has had in the beginning, and then necessarily to have added on to that everything which may have relevance, in particular, towards short-term industrial benefits which will accrue to the country from the investment grants.

So far as the Government's encouragement to forestry generally is concerned, I do not think the Government need go on the defensive. I would remind your Lordships of some of the things said by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, about the attitude to forestry in the past. To go no further back than 1963, it was at that time that the previous Administration announced its forestry programme for the ensuing ten years, a programme which contemplated the planting of 450,000 acres between 1964 and 1973; and in the years 1964 to 1968 there was a definite programme of 141,000 acres in Scotland—an average of slightly over 28,000 acres a year. This was the position that we inherited.

One of the first steps taken at the Scottish Office was to increase this figure as much as possible immediately in Scotland; and in June, 1965, we announced that it would be possible to increase it up to 30,000 acres as an interim measure, pending a review. The review took place almost immediately, and the following year we were able to announce that from 1969 onwards the figure would be increased to 36,000 acres a year; and the whole of this increase is taking place in the Highlands, where the figures will be up from 14,000 acres to 20,000 acres a year.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but it would be interesting if he could split up these figures, between Forestry Commission and private planting.


I can do that, but not without access to the notes which I have left at the Box. I have the figures, and I shall be pleased to quote them in due course, when I come to reply.

The second general point which I wish to make concerns the Countryside (Scotland) Bill, to which the noble Duke referred, and which we shall be considering in due course. This Bill contains a wide range of provisions designed to ensure the preservation of the beauty of the countryside and the enhancement of the facilities for public enjoyment of the countryside, and for the establishment of a new national agency for the purpose. Local planning authorities will find their hands strengthened and they will be able to take more positive roles in this aspect of land use. At the same time the position of those owning or farming land is fully recognised in the Bill. But I must not anticipate the future consideration by the House of this measure.

As regards the Highlands and Islands I have already mentioned the Land Use Report prepared by the Highland Panel in 1964. Though one may not agree with all its conclusions, that Report provides a comprehensive picture of the land in the Highlands and Islands and how it is used. And the Report does, I think, make clear the tremendous scope and need for a positive and enlightened programme of land use improvement. The Government have, of course, already decided, as part of the increased national forestry programme, to which I have already referred, that the rate of planting by the Forestry Commission and in the Highlands and Islands will be increased from something like 14,000 acres per annum to 20,000 acres per annum by 1969. This is important. Forestry and its ancillaries and their generation and effect on service industry can lead to stability at a number of centres and make them anchor points for the population.

So far the Commission have been able to obtain the land which they require in the Highlands, and I hope that those who are in a position to do so will continue to make land available for planting as required. We recognise that afforestation may seem to be in competition for scarce land with other interests, such as hill sheep rearing and sport—and I do not minimise the value of deer and grouse to the Highland economy, although I would not necessarily go as far as the noble Duke went in the pointings I would give to them. However, it is vital that we secure the maximum use of the land for each potential use. It is for this reason that the Forestry Commission and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries have been engaged, with the agreement of the owners concerned, on a series of surveys of areas, mainly in the Highlands, to assess the afforestation which may be possible without detriment to agriculture. And, as experience has shown, it is quite practicable to maintain sheep stocks in an area, although a considerable proportion of the former sheep land has been planted.

Here perhaps I should emphasise that this increase in Highland, and other, forestry development is by no means intended to be exclusive to the Forestry Commission's planting. Private forestry still has an important part to play in the Highlands and Islands, and this is reflected in the continuing grants for private planting. The noble Duke has suggested that the forestry programme might be impeded by the proposals for some additional compensation to be paid to tenant farmers whose land is taken for forestry. We shall, of course, have ample opportunity to go into all this when we come to discuss the necessary legislation; so I will confine myself to saying that I think he is being unduly pessimistic.

One stumbling block in making changes to secure the most appropriate use of land is unwillingness to disturb the man who is already there. If he is entitled to some reasonable compensation our consciences may be easier. The Forestry Commission, who are as likely to be affected by this as anyone, have said they think it right in principle that tenant farmers should receive some extra compensation when they are displaced for forestry, and they do not think that this should add very significantly to their costs. I hope that private owners will come to see this in the same way. Although I do not want to anticipate our debate on this subject, I might point out now that the proposal is that the compensation should be based on rent. Payments for poorer land taken for forestry would thus be on a rather different scale from that where more productive land happens to be needed for housing or other development of that type.

The special problems of the Highlands and Islands, not only in regard to land use, have of course been recognised in Statute by the establishment of the Highland Development Board, with its extensive duties and powers for development. Similarly, the particular task of developing and reorganising crofting is, primarily, the responsibility of the Crofters Commission. Since the first Report of the Highland Development Board (covering the period from its establishment on November 1, 1965 to December 31, 1966) is expected to be published at about the beginning of next month, and there will no doubt be an opportunity to discuss it fully, I do not propose to deal with the Highland position in any great detail. There are, however, one or two things that I should like to say.

It has all along been recognised that the development and improvement of land use would be one of the major responsibilities and duties of the Highland Development Board. This is inevitable, in view of the largely rural character of their area, and the dependence of much of the area on the basic industries of agriculture, forestry, fishing and tourism. Without in any way anticipating the Board's first Report, I can say that the Board, in their first year or so of office have already given considerable thought to the possibilities of land development in certain areas. In the Strath of Kildonan, in Sutherland, an agriculture/forestry survey has been carried out jointly by technical officers of the Forestry Commission and the Department of Agriculture. A similar survey is in progress in the island of Mull. Such surveys are an essential preliminary to any consideration by the Board of comprehensive development, which, of course, will also take in such things as tourism. The Board are also giving consideration, along with the Crofters Commission, to possibilities of development in certain crofting areas. These are in addition to special localised rural developments which the Board have under examination.

Since these considerations may in due course lead to formal submissions to the Secretary of State by the Board, under the Highlands and Islands Development (Scotland) Act, 1965, and since the Board will no doubt be referring to them in more detail in their first Report, I do no more than mention them as indicating that the whole question of land use development is very much a concern of the Highland Development Board, and will continue to be so. It may be worth noting that the Board have retained the services, on a part-time basis, of Mr. George Houston, Lecturer in Agricultural Economics at Glasgow University, to advise them on agricultural and rural matters.

As regards industrial development, studies are being undertaken into the possibility of major industrial development by private interests in the Invergordon area. For their part, in these studies the Board are examining the problems that would be involved as affecting, for example, questions of housing, water supply and so on. These are, however, exploratory studies, in which the county council are also playing a part, and depend on the outcome of the industrial feasibility studies which are being undertaken by private interests, and the formulation of any specific proposals by them. Obviously, if a major development proposal does come out of these studies, there will be important policy issues to be considered by the Government.

The noble Duke made a reference to an article in The Times. Although members of Her Majesty's Government read The Times they do not write it, and therefore we cannot accept responsibility for what appears in the article. However, I will permit myself this comment on it: that at the end of the day the Highlands and Islands Board will be judged in the Highlands by the actions taken and by the results which the Board bring about, rather than by the opinions which they express, or which may be attributed to them, whether in The Times or elsewhere.

When we talk of rural land use, we tend to think of the farming, forestry or specific recreational activities on the land. I feel it is worth emphasising, however, that land use is not something that is done for its own sake and in isolation from the people. Our rural land use policy will have failed if it does not take account of the needs and possibilities of the communities it is designed to serve and around which the land development takes place. A good deal of thought has been given, and is being given, to the kind of communities we want to develop in the rural areas, and to the best means of establishing and maintaining healthy economic and social conditions in them. Might I mention, in particular, the excellent work carried out by Scottish Country Industries Development Trust in providing their advisory service for small industries in rural areas? The Scottish Council of Social Service, and the local councils of social service which have been developed in a number of areas have also, for their part, made a distinctive contribution to rural development in Scotland. And behind these there is the Development Commission whose great concern and help for many aspects of rural development and welfare in Scotland are deserving of our highest praise and gratitude.

My Lords, I have touched in passing on some of the points which have been made by the noble Duke in his speech opening this debate. I look forward with interest to the speeches which are to be made, and if in due course it should be your Lordships' wish I shall be happy to endeavour to reply to further points which may be made in due course and to those points of the noble Duke upon which I have not touched up to the present.