HL Deb 29 January 1970 vol 307 cc459-60

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they can give an approximate date in the future when the Forestry Commission will cease to sell timber at a loss.]


My Lords, afforestation is a very long-term investment and the full return cannot be assessed for perhaps half a century. Only about 25 per cent. of the Forestry Commission's plantations are as yet productive, but even these are only old enough to produce an interim yield in the form of thinnings. Returns from sales of timber will improve as the Commission's plantations come into full production. The full value of these plantations will not, however, be realised for some 25 or 30 years, when many of the large-scale post-war plantings will mature.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Is he aware that my information is that the Forestry Commission, on an average for the last two or three years, has been selling about £800,000 worth of timber which on the calculations of the Commission has cost £2,200,000 to produce? May I ask the noble Lord also whether the Forestry Commission has any plans to increase efficiency—to streamline management, for instance, and to cut down on the building of very expensive roads, or perhaps even to dispense with the first stage of thinnings?


My Lords, as to the first part of the noble Viscount's supplementary question, I am afraid I am not aware of what information he has, and I rather suspect the source of it. I do not think that the facts I know bear out what he has said. Indeed, before payment of interest, the Commission pretty well pays its way even now. The real difficulty here is that of the financial structure of the Commission, which is being looked into. As to the second part of his question about the administrative structure of the Commission, I agree that that is something which could be streamlined, and steps are being taken towards that end.


My Lords, would the Government consider issuing, quite apart from the Forestry Commission's Report, a short statement showing the total amount of expenditure on afforestation by the Commission since 1919 and the total value of the assets which have been created by that expenditure, including the value of young trees which have not yet reached the thinning stage? Is he aware that the public is not always well informed about this matter, and it might be a help to everybody if the figures could be given separately in a short and easily understood form?


My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl is in agreement with the objectives of the Forestry Commission and is trying to be helpful. I will see whether there is any form in which the information can be given.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that thinnings form a valuable crop in the development of our forestry industry? Can he advise the House whether the Government are still anxious to develop, and where possible protect, the chipboard industry which uses the thinnings?


My Lords, so far as I know, the Government are very anxious to give help to the chipboard industry; but I am not quite certain how that matter ties in with the Question on the Order Paper. If there is a particular point which the noble Lord would like me to answer and he will let me know later, I will see what information I can get.