HL Deb 20 May 1970 vol 310 cc1144-53

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. This is a Private Member's Bill, introduced in another place by my right honourable friend Mr. Duncan Sandys, and was to have been introduced in your Lordships' House by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, who unfortunately is ill and unable to be here. He has asked me to do it in his place, although I am afraid I shall not do it with his fluency and eloquence.

The object of the Bill is quite simple. It is to close two loopholes in existing legislation designed to safeguard our fine heritage of trees and woodlands. As your Lordships will know, under the Town and Country Planning Act 1962 a local planning authority may make tree preservation orders on amenity grounds. That means that the owner of the trees may not cut them down without the consent of the planning authority. But an exception is made in the case of woodlands which are subject to a forestry dedication covenant. Under such a covenant the owner of the woods dedicates them for the purpose of forestry and agrees to manage them in accordance with a plan drawn up in co-operation with the Forestry Commission. The Forestry Commission in such a case work in close collaboration with the local planning authority, and an owner who manages his woodlands in accordance with a forestry dedication covenant is not subject to a tree preservation order from the local planning authority. This is obviously sensible, and avoids duplication.

But a problem arises and one loophole appears when an owner dies or sells his woodlands and his successor, or the purchaser, is under no obligation to observe the terms of the previous owner's covenant, although technically it remains in force. The result is that the new owner may cut his trees as he wishes and the local planning authority have no power to make a tree preservation order. It is this loophole that Clause 1 seeks to close. It allows a local planning authority to make a tree preservation order, even if there is a forestry dedication covenant in force, but only under two conditions: one is if the woods are not being managed in accordance with a plan approved by the Forestry Commission, and the other is only if the Forestry Commission agree. I hope your Lordships will agree that this effectively closes the loophole but provides adequate safeguards for the private owner who is operating a dedication scheme.

The second loophole is a similar one, and it arises in cases of felling licences. As your Lordships know, anybody who wishes to fell trees has to get a licence from the Forestry Commission, and the Commission may make conditions, usually, and naturally, insisting on the replanting of the felled area. But in this case, too, the owner who has made a dedication covenant is exempted from any such conditions, for obvious reasons. Once again, however, if an owner sells or dies, his successor, or the buyer, is technically treated as if he was still operating the dedication scheme, even though he is not observing its terms, and he may cut trees without first obtaining a felling licence and without any obligation to replant. Clause 2 seeks to close this loophole. A felling licence will be required unless the woods are being managed under a plan agreed with the Forestry Commission. I hope that your Lordships will agree that this is a useful Bill which will ensure that there is no getting round the expressed will of Parliament to preserve our great heritage of woods and woodlands. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Aberdare.)

6.52 p.m.


My Lords, foresters are not opposed to the thinking behind this Bill, but the Bill as drafted is far from clear in a number of its sentences and is thought to be likely to lead to overlapping between the Forestry Commission, who are the forest authority, and a local authority. It is hoped that assurances will be given during the course of this debate to clear up these very reasonable apprehensions.

The noble Lord has explained the purpose of the Bill, but I was sorry that he said very little about forestry being a business, and how many of the most beautiful woods in Europe, in this country and in other countries, are those which are and have been for many years run as a business. There was no mention in his short speech of forestry being a serious economic undertaking. Secondly, I am not sure that he is correct in saying that a new owner of dedicated woodlands, where the plan of operations had automatically lapsed, was in a position to cut down trees on a lavish scale without a felling licence. That was the impression that I gathered. I think I am right in saying that such an owner is only entitled to cut down the quarterly allowance as agreed with the Forestry Commissioners, and for the rest he needs a licence.

The loophole is that the Commission under such conditions are not in a position to lay down replanting conditions. The gap which has been represented to us is not really a very wide gap, but it can exist, and I should think it would be of advantage for us to try to bridge that gap by some simple legislation. But what I am afraid of here is that a spectre has been created that vast areas of woodlands in this country are at risk when the owner dies, and therefore it is necessary for, not one public authority, but two public authorities, to step in and try to prevent some remote possibility from happening.

There is one other point which I believe is going to be raised on an Amendment later, and I do not want to speak at length. I should like to think that where it is thought right by the Forestry Commission to give their consent to a local authority proposal to make a tree preservation order under the conditions in this Bill and to bridge the gap, that tree preservation order would automatically lapse, be repealed, come to an end, if the new owner made a proper plan, a working plan, approved by the Forestry Commissioners. As drafted, the Bill does not provide for that, and I am rather doubtful whether the Amendment provides for it either. I make that point in advance in order to avoid making a second speech. I should like the Minister, if he can, to give me assurances to meet those misgivings, which arise, I think, very understandably from the extremely loose drafting of the Bill.

6.56 p.m.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has explained the purpose of this small measure, which I can say straightaway has the full support of the Government. Although the amendments which the Bill makes to the existing legislation on trees are small ones, they are none the less important. It is on occasions such as this that we see the value of the Private Member's Bill procedure. It avoids having to wait for an appropriate piece of Government legislation in order to make small changes that are desirable in the general law. We welcome the initiative of the sponsor of the Bill in the House of Commons, and are grateful to the noble Lord for agreeing to pilot it through this House.

I do not intend to go into the technicalities of the law on trees. In outline, the Bill, as the noble Lord said, deals with two weaknesses in the existing legislation. These mainly stem from the fact that the control exercised by the Forestry Commission under a forestry dedication scheme may largely cease when there is a change of ownership and the plan of operations relating to the management of the land is no longer legally binding. In those circumstances the Forestry Commission may not be able to control felling and replanting. That position creates a difficulty in connection with tree preservation orders. At present, a local planning authority may not make an order where a forestry dedication scheme is in force. That provision was based on the assumption that in these circumstances adequate control would be exercised by the Forestry Commission, but it may not be the case if the plan of operations under the scheme is no longer in force. It is right, therefore, that the local planning authority should not be precluded from making a tree preservation order when that happens. It is not proposed, though, that a tree preservation order should be made where there is a continuing interest in forestry which will be controlled by the Forestry Commission. I hope that point will be of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. It is for this reason that the consent of the Commission will be needed before the local planning authority make an order.

Doubt has been voiced about the question of the change of ownership, say, following the death of an owner, when the local planning authority might make a tree preservation order before the new owner has had a chance to agree a new plan of operations with the Forestry Commission. That will not happen, and the safeguard is in the need for the local planning authority to obtain the Commission's consent. I can give an assurance on behalf of my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, and the Secretaries of State, that the Forestry Commission would not agree to the making of a tree preservation order where a plan of operations was no longer in force as a result of a change of ownership, if the new owner intended to agree a fresh plan of operations with the Commission. I hope that meets the noble Lord's point.


I thank the noble Lord.


The other weakness which the Bill seeks to remedy relates to the powers of the Forestry Commission to attach replanting conditions to felling licences. No such conditions can be imposed where the land is subject to a forestry dedication scheme, even though, if the plan of operalions is no longer in force, the Commission may no longer be able to exercise effective control. It is clearly right that the Commission should be able to impose conditions in these circumstances in the same way as they do in other cases. Otherwise, an owner would be able to avoid the obligations ordinarily imposed on owners of dedicated land. In all these circumstances, and in view of the explanations and assurance I have given, I hope that the House will see fit to give this Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a.

Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to Resolution):

7.0 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into a Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Aberdare.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Modification of restriction on power to make tree preservation orders]:

LORD ABERDARE moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 19, at end insert— ("( ) Where a tree preservation order is made in respect of land to which this section applies, the order shall not have effect so as to prohibit, or to require any consent for, the cutting down of a tree in accordance with a plan of operations or other working plan approved by the Forestry Commissioners, and for the time being in force, under such a covenant or agreement or under a woodlands scheme made under the powers contained in the Forestry Act 1967.")

The noble Lord said: This Amendment is designed to meet points which were put to my right honourable friend in another place by my noble friend Lord Dalkeith, and I trust also that it will go some way towards meeting the point made by my noble friend Lord Inglewood. May I say that I acknowledge what a great expert he is on the matter of forestry, that I think I slipped up a little on the felling licence side, and that what matters is the replanting conditions rather than the freedom to fell. But I hope that, with the assurances which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, gave, and with this Amendment, he will be happy about the Bill.

The Amendment brings within the scope of Clause 1 of the Bill approved woodlands schemes, as well as forestry dedication schemes, and owners operating approved woodland schemes will not therefore be subject to a tree preservation order. In point of fact, in this case too the Forestry Commission consult with the planning authority before agreeing to an approved woodlands scheme, just as they do on a dedication scheme. But I hope that your Lordships will agree that this gives further safeguards to the private woodland owner and is a valuable Amendment. I beg to move.


This Amendment is very nearly incomprehensible, but I think the meaning of it is that where after a tree preservation order, with the consent of the Forestry Commission, has been made, a working plan is then approved, at least such part of the tree preservation order as is in fact concerned with the cutting down of trees will not have effect. I hope the noble Lord will agree with me that instead of his words surely it would be very much better to have something straightforward, such as where, after a tree preservation order is made in accordance with subsection (2), the plan of operations or other working plan approved by the Forestry Commissioners in accordance with the dedication covenant or an approved woodlands plan comes into force, the tree preservation order shall cease to have effect or be repealed. The noble Lord's Amendment in fact provides that the tree preservation order will remain running, as it were, in cold storage on the books of the local authority. Surely it would be preferable in these circumstances for a tree preservation order to lapse when the proper working plans are revised and brought into effect. I would commend that idea to my noble friend and to the Minister. If the Bill cannot be amended in that way here this afternoon, there will be another opportunity in another place next week.


I fully accept that this Amendment is complicated and difficult to understand, and perhaps it would be best if I set out—I hesitate to say "the Government's understanding" of what this Amendment means, because the Government drafted it, but if I set out my understanding of what this Amendment means. We shall then see whether that meets the noble Lord's purpose—because we are here attempting some "instant legislation", as is customary at this time in the life of a Parliament; and I hope that we shall not be forced in any way to throttle back on our breakneck speed on this excellent little Bill.

These two Amendments, taken together, ensure that where a tree preservation order is made under the Bill it will not have the effect of prohibiting, or of requiring the consent of the local planning authority to, the cutting down of a tree where this is in accordance with a plan of operations or other working plan which has been approved by the Forestry Commission and which is in force under a forestry dedication scheme or an approved woodlands scheme. Before approving a plan of operations or other working plan under a forestry dedication scheme or an approved woodlands scheme, the Forestry Commission consult the local planning authority in those cases where a tree preservation order is in force or where the Commission otherwise consider that there is an amenity interest. The views of the local planning authority are taken fully into account by the Commission and any sustained objections by the planning authority would be met or the Commission would not approve the plan.

It is therefore unnecessary to require the owner to obtain the consent of the local planning authority where felling is in accordance with an approved plan of operations which is in force. This position is recognised in the form of the tree preservation order which is prescribed under the Town and Country Planning (Tree Preservation Order) Regulations 1969. Under those regulations a tree preservation order contains provisions which have similar effect to the present Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, asked: Why do it in that way? Why not abolish the tree preservation order in those circumstances? But I think that there is an amenity case, a case to do with local authority influence and control in these matters for saying that in this case of dual responsibility it is better to keep the thing there even if it is in a somewhat shadowy condition or, as the noble Lord himself put it, on ice.

The regulations which I have just quoted relate to England and Wales. Comparable provisions will be included in regulations to be made before the end of the year, prescribing the form of tree preservation order in Scotland. The Government would advise the Committee to accept this Amendment.


I have a good deal of sympathy for what my noble friend Lord Inglewood said about the tree preservation order. But I am afraid that at this late stage in the Bill it is rather awkward to make a change, and I hope that he will agree that, if this Amendment is accepted, the tree preservation order is in the background and provided that there is a working plan in operation, will not affect the management of the forest by the private owner. I hope that, as we are at the very end of this Parliament, my noble friend will allow this Amendment to go through.


There is nothing to commend "instant legislation". It is as ineffective as "instant trees". But at this late stage I do not wish to press my noble friend any further.


With the leave of the Committee, I would say that I should never dream of commending "instant legislation" if I had knowledge in advance of any objection to what was proposed. I should just put it on record that in this case I did not.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


This is a consequential Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 1, leave out ("subsection (1) above") and insert ("this section").—(Lord Aberdare.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported, with the Amendments.

Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to Resolution), Report received.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. In doing so, may I express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and to the Government for their help in the drafting of the Amendments.


And their assurances.


I move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Aberdare.)

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.