HL Deb 30 November 1978 vol 396 cc1410-6

3.35 p.m.


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

Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Strabolgi.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Finance for forestry]:

Lord SANDYS moved the Amendment:

Page 1, line 11, at end insert— (" (3) For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby declared that for the purposes of this section "grants and loans" include loans which are made payable by the Commissioners to owners and lessees of land in instalments, whether yearly or otherwise, for such period of years and on such terms and conditions as the Commissioners think fit.").

The noble Lord said: In rising to propose this one and only Amendment, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum attached to the Bill because it explains that the Bill restates the power of the Forestry Commissioners to make grants and loans for forestry purposes. This is an extremely short Bill of only three clauses with only two Schedules, but nevertheless it is important when related to the activities of the Forestry Commission.

The reason why this particular Amendment was thought necessary by my noble friends was this. We believe that as the intention of the Government under Clause 1 is to set aside Section 4 of the Forestry Act 1967 altogether, the new clause—that is, Clause 1 of the Bill—should leave it beyond a peradventure what the intention of the Government is. The Amendment opens with the words "For the avoidance of doubt". This phrase has a good parentage; it is already embedded in statute law in Section 22(3) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. The aim of the Amendment is to ensure that the phraseology leaves no doubt whatever in the minds of those reading it of the purposes and the flexibility also of the phraseology set out in the Amendment.

The difficulty is really this. In the existing Section 4 of the Forestry Act the following statement is made: The Commissioners may, subject to the approval of the Treasury, make advances by way of grant or by way of loan or partly in one way and partly in the other, and upon such terms and subject to such conditions as they think fit, to persons (including local authorities) in respect of the afforestation (including the replanting) of land belonging to those persons". It makes it clear that a part grant, or part loan, could be included in the powers of the Forestry Commission. The wording of the Government clause is much terser. I do not suggest to your Lordships that terse wording is ineffective—very often it is extremely useful—but in this particular case this is the only section in the 1967 Act which refers to loans.

On Second Reading we had the benefit of a number of your Lordships' speeches in regard to this important factor in forestry today. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, who we regret is not in his place at the moment, made special reference to this issue. He also referred to a Liberal colleague of his, the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, who had put forward to the Forestry Commission a scheme under which loans could be repaid and a loan could be raised on the basis of the value of the final crop.

I believe a number of other such suitable, sensible and ultimately efficient and useful schemes are now in embryo and are being discussed at Reading University. For this reason, would it not be prudent to include in legislation means whereby the loans system could be applied to any such future scheme? I think it would be unsuitable at this stage to go into the details of such schemes. Nevertheless, in the financial world today it is so necessary to have that degree of flexibility and adaptability whereby a loan and grant can be made alternate if necessary in suitable proportions. I hope that other noble Lords will address themselves to the Amendment and, before resuming my seat, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for his assistance in this matter and for his courtesy in going into it in such detail.


While I regret that I was unable to be present for the Second Reading of the Bill, I wish at this stage to welcome the Amendment for very much the same reasons as my noble friend Lord Sandys spelled out; namely, because we in the forestry industry are very concerned that there should be greater participation in the forestry effort by hill farmers—and lowland farmers for that matter; and the particular form of aid at present held forth in the form of grants under the dedication scheme is not always suitable or adequate to encourage them to do planting by themselves.

A number of farmers who have done planting on their hill farms have found great benefit resulting from it, both in the shelter it gives to their pastures and stock and ultimately, after many years, in giving them a reservoir of timber on which they can draw when cash is required for farm improvements. We in forestry in Great Britain—in which, as noble Lords may know, I am involved—would very much welcome seeing hill farmers in particular joining in the effort and planting up parts of their hill farms, which is often possible, to the benefit of the farm itself and, most importantly, for the national forestry effort.

3.45 p.m.


I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, tabled the Amendment, I am grateful to him for explaining its purpose and I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, with his unrivalled knowledge of forestry, has taken part. This has given the Committee an opportunity to consider an interesting scheme for encouraging more planting by owner-occupiers of land, as both noble Lords have said.

The Committee will appreciate that the scheme would be a fundamental departure from the structure of financial help presently available for planting, which takes the form of outright grants, and clearly there would be a number of administrative problems over long-term loans which would need to be considered very carefully, quite apart from the merits of the scheme itself, as a means of putting more land under trees. I assure noble Lords that our minds are by no means closed to the scheme which has been put forward by the Country Landowners Association. I know the Forestry Commission are aware of the scheme and have discussed it informally with the Country Landowners Association and others, but they still have it under detailed study and it is too early to say what the outcome will be.

Whatever the merits of the case for making loans available on the lines proposed by the Amendment, the Amendment is not necessary. Clause 1 as it stands will enable the Commissioners, with Treasury approval, to, make grants and loans to owners and lessees of land, for and in connection with the use and management of the land for forestry purposes … on such terms and conditions as the Commissioners think fit".— and those are the operative words. That clause is widely drawn to give maximum flexibility as to the type and level of grant or loan and the method and timing of such payments and the terms and conditions under which they are made.

Under the terms of Clause 1 as now drafted, it will be entirely within the province of the Commissioners, subject to Treasury approval, to provide loans in a lump sum or by yearly instalments or at any other interval should they decide to do so. Clause 1 also enables loans to be made in individual cases for as many years as are appropriate in the circumstances. The Amendment is therefore unnecessary as it would not add in any way to the powers already provided by Clause 1. In view of that, I hope Lord Sandys will withdraw it; I assure him that what he wants done can be done if, after full discussion, it is found feasible to do it.


I was happy to hear what the Minister said about the Amendment. It may not be necessary technically to make this sort of amendment, but the debate has at least made it quite clear that, in the mind of the Government and perhaps of the Forestry Commissioners too, is the problem about which my noble friend Lord Dulverton spoke, a problem which arises not only for hill farmers—important though it is to them—but for the land and the national effort in forestry.

I hope the Forestry Commission may also consider it part of the scheme to give loans to smaller people for small woodlands. At the last stage of the Bill I mentioned the need to make the country more beautiful as well as more prosperous. We have lost a tremendous number of broadleaves; small woodlands are particularly attractive, but often rather expensive to produce, so if that can also be borne in mind, in addition to the hill farming point, I should be happy to accept the Minister's clear assurance that all these things are within the scope of the Bill as drafted.


I agree with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Glenkinglas, but do we not already get grants from the Forestry Commission for small woodlands? I have had them—I agree that was some time ago—and I thought they were still available.


I may have misled my noble friend. I am well aware that there are grants. I was hoping there could be loans as well.


I am grateful to my noble friends for clarifying the position, and I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Dulverton for his support of the Amendment and to my noble friend Lord Glenkinglas for his remarks: I shall be addressing myself to the subject which Lord Glenkinglas raised on clause stand part. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, said the Amendment added nothing to the powers in the Bill, and that is true. Nevertheless, it is our contention, and I stand by it, that it is a question of draftsmanship and the need to avoid doubt. There must be doubts in the minds of a number of your Lordships who have spoken to the Amendment. If there is dubiety I hope we shall have an opportunity between now and Report stage to examine the case further. I think that it would be for the benefit of the Committee if I withdrew the Amendment at this stage and returned to it on Report.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


This is probably an opportunity to refer to a very important matter which was raised on Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Glenkinglas, the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, and others. We have already informed the Government that the reason why a whole stream of Amendments has not been addressed to the Bill is that we felt the need for a high degree of care and restraint in adding to a Bill which consists of only two clauses and which has a narrowly drawn Long Title. Nevertheless, our enthusiasm for including in forestry matters the urgent question of the replacement of lost broad-leafed species in this country, notably through the loss of elm cover throughout most of the United Kingdom, is very pressing. I understand that a report is being prepared and will be published in the early spring of next year, so it would be imprudent to attempt at this stage to include further matters. However, I hope that an opportunity will be given for us to bring this matter before the Government once again in the course of a debate at a suitable time.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he said and for his forbearance in not seeking to enlarge and extend what is really a very small enabling Bill by the addition of subsequent Amendments and clauses, which would not have been included in the Long Title. The Bill seeks to do only two things, as I explained on Second Reading. I am sure that there will be an opportunity for a debate after Christmas, if the Opposition wish; there can be discussion through the usual channels. It is a subject to which the Leader of the House, with his great experience in these matters, and I look forward, and I am sure that a debate can be arranged at an opportune time.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clauses and the Schedules agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment: Report received.