HL Deb 19 November 1976 vol 377 cc1609-13

3 Page 1, line 20, leave out "and (v) forestry;"

The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason:

4 Because the protection of the Bill should extend to persons engaged in the activities which the Amendments seek to exclude.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 3 to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 4. It may be for the convenience of the House if I deal at the same time with Amendments Nos. 5 and 23, to which the Commons have also disagreed.

I am sure noble Lords would not want me to rehearse all the arguments which the Government have put forward both here and in another place as to why forestry workers should be treated under the Bill no differently from workers in other sectors of agriculture. Suffice it to say that we believe that the two industries are inter-related to such an extent that including agriculture and excluding forestry would be indefensible and would certainly lead to the same kind of problems as I mentioned on Amendment No. 1.

I should, however, like to take this opportunity to scotch the argument that the provision in the Bill for a separate and subsequent appointed day for forestry in some way implies that the Government are less happy about applying the Bill to forestry than they are about applying it to the rest of agriculture. The reason for the delay is purely to enable us to gather information. The purpose of the survey now being conducted into forestry tied cottages by the Tavistock Institute is purely to establish factual data about numbers of forestry cottages and so on, similar to that which is already available in respect of other agricultural tied cottages. Quite simply, we do not believe that it would be right to apply the Bill to whole-time forestry workers until we know more about the extent and distribution of tied accommodation in forestry.

My Lords, I do not know of any compelling reason why forestry workers should be denied the protection of the Bill. There is every reason why they should be protected. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on the said Amendment to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 4.—(Lord Pearl.)


My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader if the House has not gone through all the arguments again, but may I rehearse two of them which seem the key arguments which the Government have deployed in favour of including forestry workers in the Bill. The first one was that the pay and conditions of many forestry workers are subject to the Agricultural Wages Act. The second was that forestry is an integral part of the agricultural industry. We should counter those arguments. First, the pay and conditions of the Forestry Commission workers are not subject to the Agricultural Wages Board, and I am sure that noble Lords will accept that the Forestry Commission employs the majority of woodsmen and houses them in 1,500 houses. This leaves only a relatively small number employed by private woodland owners.

On the second point, that forestry is an integral part of the agricultural industry, no previous legislation has defined forestry as part of agriculture, neither the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948 nor the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. The truth of the matter is—and we infer this from what the noble Lord has said—that the Government simply do not know enough about the housing conditions of forestry workers, and so they include forestry in the Bill and, at the same time, say that the Bill shall not apply to forestry workers until a later date. The Consultative Document, which has been so often quoted during other stages of this Bill, says: The provision of tied cottages for forestry workers has seldom given rise to the kind of problems or controversy found in agriculture". As the noble Lord said, there is so much uncertainty about forestry workers and their housing conditions that the Government are having a survey undertaken by ihe Tavistock Institute in order to provide tnformation. Almost all the forestry workers, including Forestry Commission workers in Scotland, are excluded from the Bill because Scotland is not included in the ambit of the Bill. All the Forestry Commission workers in England are excluded. Who is left? A very small number indeed, of whose problems, if any, the Government are wholly ignorant.

I would have thought that there would be enough strain on the local authorities to perform their existing housing duties, to which would be added new duties under this Bill in respect of farm workers, without adding this small number of forestry workers as well. This strain on housing authorities is surely the reason why the other 80 per cent. of tied houses are not being legislated for. I suggest that this small number of forestry workers could, without any hardship whatever, have remained outside the ambit of the Bill. I think that the Commons Reason, that the protection of the Bill should extend to forestry workers, is a bad one, considering that the Government themselves are quite in the dark on the matter.


My Lords, I fear that it is not only the nationalised industries that are suffering from too much Government interference. Alas! That disease has crept further into agriculture and now into forestry. However, despite legislating in advance of the report on the industry, and despite the fact that there has been an improper length of time for disscussion, I am sure that the private foresters of England will try to make this Bill work, as well as trying to look after their retiring employees as they do at the moment.


My Lords, there are the strongest reasons for disapplying this Bill to private forestry, as we heard in Committee and, indeed, on Second Reading. I believe that the Government have made a grave mistake here in insisting on writing-off our Amendment. It would have been no particular concession to those who have advanced this case. It does not add either pragmatism or anything else to the Government's argument in this instance. It appears to be out of spite to the industry.


My Lords, may I in reply to noble Lords say that I think that the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, has put his case moderately, but has repeated many of the arguments which we heard on a previous occasion. I do not think there is any bigotry at all here, and I believe strongly that forestry should be included, for obvious reasons. It is often very difficult to separate forestry from agriculture. In reality, the Agriculture Minister always becomes the Forestry Minister in this country, and in many other countries forestry is regarded as part of the agriculture scene, as it inevitably is. The whole question of developing agriculture is involved here; for example, whether or not one provides more trees for shelter belts. I could go on showing the close link between the two sections. I have never regarded forestry as being apart, even though we may have different administrations in the sense of having a Forestry Commission. One could argue about the different sections of farming. Indeed, noble Lords opposite are pressing for fish farming to be included as an agricultural project. So that one cannot be too dogmatic. I shall not rehearse all the main arguments, and I hope that noble Lords will not press this Amendment.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, there is one point which I should like to make. When he was Minister of Agriculture, the noble Lord was responsible for deep-sea trawling. I should not have thought that that was necessarily part of agriculture.


My Lords, I am not talking about that. I am talking about artificial breeding and trout farming. Many honourable friends of the noble Earl have continually pressed for this, and indeed there has been a debate in another place on the subject.


My Lords, may I question something which the noble Lord the Leader of the House said? He said that forestry is an integral part of agriculture. I agree that it is an integral part of agriculture in large parts of the world, but I would not say that it was in this country. The noble Lord gave the example of shelter belts to show that it is an integral part. But I should have thought that it was highly unlikely, if I were in agriculture and wanted to plant some shelter belts, that I would employ a forester and give him a cottage for the purpose of doing that. I would employ an outside contractor.


My Lords, there are noble Lords who employ foresters who are doing agricultural jobs.

On Question, Motion agreed to.