§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Lord DULVERTON rose to call attention to the need for a stable and realistic forestry strategy in Britain, extending into the next century; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I deem it a great honour to be standing here in your Lordships' House asking your Lordships to give your attention for an hour or two to the subject on the Order Paper. The timing of this debate —unfortunate in some ways, as it coincides with such important matters as are going on in another place at this time—is influenced by the publication last month of a study carried out by the Centre for Agricultural Strategy based at Reading University. This, which has become known as the "Reading Report", is entitled Strategy for the U.K. Forest Industry, and is one of the most significant studies of British forestry ever to be carried out. Being just short of 350 pages long, it embraces the most detailed studies of all possible facets of its subject, and considerations affecting these. It draws its conclusion only after consultation with leading representatives of a wide range of disciplines, and it demands, I would suggest, the most respectful 801 attention of Government, and in particular, the responsible forestry Ministers. We are indeed fortunate that my noble friend Lord Mansfield is personally to reply to the debate.
The kernel of the Reading study is its conclusion that the situation of the United Kingdom in relation to world timber supplies and demands upon it, warrants the addition of 1.86 million hectares of new forest plantings over the next 50 years, together with the conversion of another 100,000 hectares of existing, but unproductive woodland, to high forest. That would result, if it were ever achieved, in doubling the present area of forest in the United Kingdom, over, as I have said, the term of half a century. It is a conclusion that calls for the most exhaustive examination of factors.
It is important at this point to refer to a number of other recent reports or examinations of the forestry industry. Among these, the first to mention is the Forestry Commission's publication in 1977 of its Wood Production Outlook in Britain, a report now commonly referred to in forestry circles as "The Blue Book". Next, I would mention the bulletin of the European Communities entitled Forestry Policy in the European Community; and then the recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation on world forestry.
The point is that all four of these authoritative bodies are saying much the same thing. To put that in its briefest form goes something like this. The world population is rising; the demand for timber, with all its uses, including fuel, is also rising; the world's natural forests are being depleted at an alarming rate; Europe is a net importer of timber and Britain is by far the largest of the European importers and is, thus, in a particularly vulnerable position when, as is forecast, her own demands for timber and its products rise, while at the same time these become scarce and much more expensive. Part of the additional expense will be due to the exporting countries processing their timber at home instead of sending it out in the raw for processing and manufacture here by British work-forces and plants.
I have tried to put all that in a nutshell; but the important point is that all four 802 of the authorities quoted agree on the basic fact of British vulnerability, although Reading goes more deeply into many of the issues and, in fact, urges a greater expansion of our forests than does the Forestry Commission itself in the Blue Book. Can we ignore all these warnings? They are of relevance to our children and our children's children more than they are to us here. But are we so selfish as to fail to consider our successors? Heaven knows! we have the most dire problems of present and immediate concern on our hands, including the most stringent and grave economic circumstances. Does this mean that we cannot afford to give some thought and some modest outlay for the future?
I have met some in high places who say, "Ah, but Lord Boyd-Orr was a prophet of doom over our not having enough to eat, and look how marvellously well-fed we are?" Well, some of us are, but, in fact, a great many people in the world are not. The point is that the wonderful advances in increasing the yields from agriculture over the last 30 years have been achieved mainly in crops that have an annual rotation. If the advance of silviculture produces better strains of trees and enables them to grow more quickly, we shall still be dealing with a rotation stretching into many decades. With the greatest respect to the memory of Lord Boyd-Orr—a man of great stature—we are here being warned and advised by many authorities of standing.
Nor can we forget that of our adverse balance of trade, our imports bill for timber has recently risen to £2.8 billion annually—£2,800 million. That is second only to the bill for food imports, much of the timber coming from Russia, while our own forests supply a miserable 8 per cent. of our needs. It is for those reasons, briefly stated, that I hope the House will perceive a need for a stable and realistic forestry strategy. It can only be either of these things if it looks forward into the 21st century. Although I do not look for any definitive statement today of the guidelines or the means of achieving a given strategic goal, I hope that there may he a general acknowledgment of the need—some of us think that it is a pretty compelling one—for Parliament to get to work and to spell out a strategy, taking all factors into account.
803 I hope that this is a topic on which all the major political parties may be able to find a large measure of agreement; for if this can be found—and only so—there is a chance of adhering to a stability of purpose which could enable the most damaging changes of direction, which have hit both the confidence and performance of foresters in the last decade, to be avoided. In this hope, speaking as a Back-Bencher from this side of the House, I felt encouraged when I read the other day of references to forestry in the context of rural life and economy by the noble Lord, Lord Peart, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, in the recent debate upon the "Arcadia" Report of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, which I am very sorry to have missed.
I just wonder whether the evidence of all these reports is not sufficiently important to warrant the setting up of a Committee of both Houses, similar to the Acland Committee set up by Mr. Asquith long ago, and which resulted in the birth of the Forestry Commission and all that has flowed from that. Ministers have so much on their hands at the moment, and I hope that the Government might find some such option to be helpful.
We may not all totally accept the maximum planting option considered by Reading, of 1.86 million hectares; but whether we accept their maximum target or any other, such as the options that the Forestry Commission has put forward, any large-scale expansion of forestry will have to be considered in the light of two major areas of constraint. The first is financial; the second is the availability of land, with other demands upon this finite commodity.
As we all know, the Government are desperately seeking to cut expenditure, and Reading obviously involves a rise rather than a reduction of Exchequer support, whatever the proportions undertaken by the State and private sectors. All the same, noble Lords may feel that a modest rise in such expenditure, likely to be minute when measured against the total national budget, is a reasonable insurance premium against the circumstances forecast for the years ahead.
It is worth looking—and I have tried to avoid giving a great many figures—at the forecast of results of Reading's 804 maximum option for expansion. Taking the value of the timber when converted into pulp, or sawn up, which is the state in which we should have to buy it from abroad, and looking forward to the year 2025, which I know seems a very long time ahead, the product of the new plus the existing forest would be worth £1,700 million per annum at present-day prices. It would be only £828 million if we did no more planting and, of course, in the meantime prices will rise.
The other figure worth a passing mention is that the total product of the expanded forest would represent 50 per cent. of our present needs as opposed to 8 per cent., though, of course, the extent of our needs will also rise by 2025. Of the potential part to be played by private investors, I would say this. Given the prospect of a long-term and stable Government policy, and the confidence which this would restore—for it has been badly shaken in recent years—there are plenty of signs that private forestry investment would be forthcoming to help in building the stronger forestry resource which we neglect to do only, I would suggest, at the peril of being accused of selfish shortsightedness by our successors. We must take steps to encourage the broadening of the base from which private foresters are drawn—a subject which I hope others may develop.
On the question of land availability, we must look almost entirely to the uplands, mainly of Scotland but also, to some extent, in England and Wales. Of course, ordinary market forces will influence the scale and the rate at which land may become available to foresters, but I want to dwell for a moment on the interaction between forestry demands and hill farming requirements. This has sometimes been looked upon as an insoluble collision of interests. Reading, however, suggests that if pasture improvements were carried out on some of the more promising areas of these farms, much land—albeit not in the huge uninterrupted areas that we have so often seen—could be available for trees, with as much livestock continuing to be reared on smaller, though largely improved, areas of pasturage.
This is an important concept, which some of us have been trying to put into practice. It is notable that both the 805 National Farmers' Union of Scotland and the National Farmers' Union of England have, albeit slightly guardedly, on the whole welcomed the Reading Report. There is no doubt that the hill areas of Britain are terribly under-utilised, and that integration of their uses in forestry and improved farming would vastly increase their overall productivity while providing much more employment in these depopulated areas.
We must, however, consider the wildlife of the hills including, in the Scottish Highlands, the red deer which are not just sporting trophies—they are an important natural resource. But the conservation bodies are concerned about other aspects of the impact on wildlife over largely expanded forest areas; and there is alarm in the amenity and recreation world over their possible extension, even though that would be beyond the lifetime of many now in its ranks. It would mean our woodlands growing from 8 per cent. of our land area to 16 per cent. of Britain's land area: a modest figure compared with most continental countries. Here it is worth remembering that in 1973 your Lordships' Select Committee on Sport and Leisure reported among other things:
There is an enormous recreational potential in forests"—
the ability of forests to absorb large numbers of people and still to provide solitude".
Some people of course prefer a crowd, but I think your Lordships will understand the particular value to which that report referred.
However, foresters themselves tend to be very much concerned about landscape and about wildlife; and they would understand that great conservationist, Max Nicholson, when he said that in the conservation struggle there are polarisers and integrators. He said:
Polarisers inherit the pioneer missionary and campaigning spirit and engage in incessant warfare against those of opposing views. Integrators are strong pragmatists who seek the results obtainable by substituting collaboration for embattled deadlock".
Having close connections with the organisations representing private foresters I can unequivocally declare them as being on the side of the collaborators, and actively so.
My Lords, there are many speakers to come after me, and having made those 806 introductory remarks to the subject that your Lordships are invited to consider this afternoon, I must leave it to them—and they are, many of them, most qualified to do so—to expand on other aspects of the case. I would only mention four particular points, which I very much hope others will expand upon. They are, first, the problems and the prospects for the consumer industries; the pulp mills, chipboard mills, and modernised sawmills. They are very important because unless on the one hand they are in existence and ready to take the products of the forest, and on the other hand the forest is producing enough wood to keep them going, there is a serious situation.
Secondly, there is the need to foster the moves—and I stress this—for a degree of co-ordination of forestry effort and strategy in Europe. Thirdly, there is the versatile potential of timber, for uses many of them not yet traditional, but timber is a renewable resource trapping energy from the sun, while the fossil fuels are fast being exhausted. Fourthly, the keenness of all British foresters, growers, managers and workers to respond to a call from Parliament and our Government of today to press on with the job.
I leave it to other speakers to develop these and other points, as I am sure they will do. I look forward particularly to hearing our two maiden speakers. May I say how much I also look forward to hearing my old colleague, if I may regard him as such because I have worked closely with him in forestry for a good many years, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. I look forward to hearing them all, and I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.25 p.m.
Lord TAYLOR of GRY FE
My Lords, first of all I have to declare an interest. I am chairman of a forestry company. I do not own woodlands like many other distinguished speakers who will follow me today, but I am engaged in forestry management and in the attraction of investment to forestry. I want to ackknowledge right away my debt, and I am sure the debt of the whole House, to the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, for initiating this debate, but also for the service he has given to the forestry industry over the years and for his outstanding leadership as chairman of TGO. I can only hope 807 that the efforts that the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, is now making to centralise and co-ordinate the voice for forestry in British politics will meet with the success it deserves. I also look forward this afternoon to the maiden speech of my former colleague in the Forestry Commission, the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, and also to the maiden speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Devonport.
It appears from looking back at the records of this House that we have a forestry debate every two years, which is a rather better record than in the other place, for this subject rarely features in their considerations. The trouble is that forestry is a widely dispersed industry and is really not important in terms of votes. It cannot lobby as effectively as other interests, yet if there is one thing that I have learned in my association with forestry it is a respect for the people who work in this industry.
Foresters tend to be quiet people. They get on with the job of planting trees, enjoying the satisfactions that come from rural employment. They have a deep concern for preserving the beauty of their environment, and they provide opportunites for recreation and wildlife conservation. They are no match for the smart journalists of Fleet Street who frequently criticise them, or the professional lobbyists of the protest industry.
We debated this subject on 14th December 1977. Despite all-party support on that occasion and on previous occasions for an expansionist forestry policy, the industry has declined alarmingly over the past few years. In 1972 the target set for Forestry Commission planting was 55,000 acres per annum, and it was expected that this would be matched by private planting. It has been one of the happy features of this industry that we have had co-operation and matching of activity between the State sector and the private sector. In 1975 the Commission met its target and indeed planted 57,000 acres, but last year it fell to 38,000 acres. Over the same period private planting dropped from 52,000 acres to 26,000 acres last year.
On the occasion of the last debate I sought to get acceptance of three main propositions. First, that expansionist 808 forestry policy was good for Britain; secondly, that forestry investment is long-term and requires confidence and continuity of policy which can only come from all-party support; and, thirdly, that State and private forestry should work together in a healthy and productive partnership. On that occasion the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who I am glad to see in his place today, spoke from the Opposition Front Bench and said these wise words (and I quote from Hansard of 14th December 1977, column 2127):Forestry is…important to Britain, as a money saver and as a money spinner, as a job producer, and as a conserver and indeed promoter of both our heritage and our environment ".He went on,I should like to make a plea to the Government…whether it be to the last few weeks of the present Government or the successor Government…My plea is to think big about forestry; think long term".—[col. 2128.]He added, on the controversial question of planning:I do not think that the fact of being a planner accords to anyone, still less to a body of planners a superiority of knowledge, wisdom or even common sense ".—[Col. 2130.]I should like to feel that this advice, offered to the last Government, represents a commitment on the part of the present Government.
Let me return to the three propositions: first, that forestry is good for Britain. Enough will be said about this, and the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, has already indicated the important economic necessity for additional planting now; we simply cannot afford to spend £1 million for every hour of our working day on timber imports. Let us consider the export effort that is needed in this country from our various industries in order to meet our annual forestry import bill of £2,750,000,000. I sometimes think that we are living in a dream world in this country, protected from reality by North Sea oil. It will not be too long before this resource starts to diminish and we shall face the moment of truth, with a run-down industrial base, having failed to make the most of our natural resources. If we expand forestry now and if we plant trees as from today, these trees will start being harvested as the North Sea oil resources start diminishing.
It was argued in the past that there would be adequate supplies of timber from the Third World. The other day 809 in this House we discussed the Brandt Report, which described the great danger of deforestation in the Third World, and 90 per cent. of the energy supplies in these countries are now met from burning firewood. This is a serious ecological problem, but it indicates that the prospect of cheap timber from that source is not really supportable.
The other assumption, that timber would somehow be replaced by plastics, has also been shattered by the OPEC oil price rises, which have driven the cost of all oil-based materials out of court. What leads us to assume that timber-growing countries will continue to supply logs to our wood processing industries or pulp to our paper mills? The alarm bells have sounded in the report to which the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, has referred. In 1960, 51 per cent. of our imports was in logs, but this had fallen to 37 per cent. in 1976. The proportion of paper imported in the form of wood pulp fell from 77 per cent. in 1960 to 55 per cent. in 1976. All supplying countries are seeking to add value to their exports. Our paper manufacturing is caught in the so-called "Scandinavian squeeze ", where there are substantial pulp price increases and somewhat lower finished paper price increases, which means that the people who have to import pulp are in an uncompetitive position when they turn that into paper in this country. If we are to encourage the rescue operation at Fort William, in which 900 jobs are at stake in that Highland town, if we are to justify the large investments on the Thames Board Mill, and if we are to support the dramatic change of fortune in Scottish timber products, we can only do so if we guarantee a continuing supply of home-grown timber. The new Russian import prices for this year have been increased by 30 per cent. That shows how vulnerable we are, and important industries could be destroyed if we remain 90 per cent. dependent on imports of these raw materials.
The economic arguments are overwhelming, but even if they were only marginal, there are other important reasons for forestry as a good thing for Britain. As we move into the so-called microchip future, provision for leisure and recreation will become increasingly important. That has to be anticipated, planned and managed, otherwise it could have serious effects on our countryside. 810 Forestry can absorb large numbers without damaging growing crops or disturbing the environment. Twenty-four million day visits were paid to the Forestry Commission estates with their nature trails and camping facilities last year, as compared to 15 million the previous year. That will give some idea of the pressure of people wishing to get out into the country and enjoy it. Camp sites on the commission estates provided 1.5 million camper nights last year. There are over 10,000 miles of forest roads in the estates from which the motor car is banned. These are the last refuges for those who seek to walk in the countryside, to enjoy its refreshing peace and the opportunities to observe wild life, the changing colours of the trees, and to hear the song of the birds without the competition of the drone of motor traffic or the dirge of transistor radios. All of that has been created while at the same time the land is being made more productive.
I was born in a city, the City of Glasgow, and within less than an hour's journey there is now the magnificent Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, with easy access to the mountains in the Trossachs and Ben Lomond. When I was a youngster we were all anxious in those days to collect the maximum number of Munros to our climbing trophies, and we used to go to that part of the country. Then I had to pay a toll to the Duke of Montrose simply to walk on that road through the Trossachs. Access to the peaks was protected, and it became extremely difficult to climb these excellent mountains. Today thousands of young people escape from the dull uniformity of the high rise flats and the dreariness of television and mass entertainment to discover the adventure and the variety of nature, thanks to the establishment of the forest park.
The same can be said about Europe's largest man-made forest at Kidder, where nature trails and camp sites welcome the youth from the large conurbations of Tyneside. I often feel that those who criticise the forestry planting programmes should get a rucksack on their backs instead of a pen in their hands and walk the length of Glen Affric and see the extensive planting that has improved the bare hillside. Care has been taken to protect and preserve the remnants of the ancient Caledonian Forest.
811 Consider for a moment what would have happened if recreation in the New Forest had not been managed and controlled by the forest authorities, while at the same time providing for timber production. The hordes who dash from London for caravanning, walking, camping and picnicking could have destroyed this gem of our national heritage. These examples of Forestry Commission practice have been copied extensively by private forest owners, and access facilities and provisions are incorporated in the dedication contracts on which grants are paid.
We have the balance of payments and recreation, but I should mention employment. A good deal has been said in this House in recent weeks about the question of rural employment. We had an important debate on transport facilities for schoolchildren in the countryside and we had a discussion on the closing of village schools and reference was made to the closing of country post offices. All of these depend on a lively working community. As agriculture becomes more mechanised, numbers diminish and the demand for more wilderness areas is heard in the land. Forestry at the moment occupies only 10 to 11 per cent. of our total land surface, and to the wilderness advocates I say there is beauty too in the sight of men and women working in the countryside and living a balanced life in their village communities.
I suspect that in terms of the balance of payments, recreation and employment, there is agreement that forestry is a good thing. If that is so, why is it declining? Why is the planting programme being reduced? The first problem is the availability of land. We must banish the old prejudices about forestry being the enemy of agriculture. The noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, has not only preached but practised how, in an integrated planning scheme, forestry and agriculture can be integrated to make both more productive. The CAS report, to which the noble Lord referred, makes some interesting proposals, such as leasing and crop-sharing, but I can see immense difficulties in terms of taxation in the operation of such schemes. However, it is important that we look seriously at some of the proposals for 812 financing the expansion of forestry policy included in the CAS report.
Whenever one mentions new incentives to release land or plant it up, one faces opposition, particularly in the present economic climate. But when I reflect on the massive incentives which are available to other industries and to foreign investors to come into the United Kingdom—sometimes as much as £100,000 for every single job created—the forestry demands in this highly productive and very necessary industry would be extremely modest. In my own company activity we have ample evidence of finance being available if land were released. Recently a large United Kingdom institution allocated 10 million dollars for forestry development, but we had to turn to Georgia in the United States to satisfy that investment; we bought land and trees, small immature crops, in that part of America. All of this indicates that private investment is available if land were released, and I hope that some of the suggestions in the report for encouraging the release of land will be investigated further.
It has already been stated that a sensible integration of forestry and agriculture as part of a national land use policy could help both industries and encourage food and timber production. Farmers are hard pressed at the moment with rising costs and it should be possible to generate some cash by the release of marginal land for growing trees. The Forestry Commission could improve its management efficiency by perhaps realising some of the small plots of widely dispersed land to neighbouring estates. I am not for a moment suggesting that the Forestry Commission should be dismantled, but if one looks at the pattern of the estates it is clear that there is room for some centralisation or co-ordination of some of their investment in land ownership.
Another major constraint on forestry development referred to in the report is:Difficulty and advice in obtaining clearance for planting is another disincentive to afforestation".I have a number of examples with me which I will not quote in detail. There have been cases where land has been released by agreement with the seller, has been cleared by the Forestry Commission, in some cases cleared where it 813 has been in a national park by the National Park Planning Committee, by the NFU and by all other amenity organisations, and at the last minute the Countryside Commission has entered and prevented the afforestation of the estates. Those particular cases represented intelligent land use which would have improved the stock carrying capacity of the particular estates. I should have thought that in those instances there was a substantial loss to the seller of the land as well, being unable to realise the necessary cash which he planned to plough back by way of land improvement.
I suggest that there should be more expeditious handling of some of the planning applications for forestry and there should be more faith in the Forestry Commission's wisdom and good guidance in dealing with these matters. The Forestry Commission have been guided over the years by experts within their own ranks and by the recruitment of distinguished landscape architects like Dame Sylvia Crowe to ensure that forestry does not offend against the environment, the countryside, and their judgment should be trusted.
I suggest, too, that we should look at other cash provisions which might encourage forestry; for example capital grants to our harvesting industries, as they are made available to other industries, might be an encouragement. The Government might also consider—probably the Chancellor of the Exchequer is doing that about now—incentives by way of capital gains tax for approved schemes of land use for forestry. We might look, too, at the fact that the cycle of production in tree nurseries very much resembles that of agriculture or horticulture, yet the forest tree nurseries are not treated on the same basis as agriculture or horticulture. We might also examine, in order to make land productive, the reestablishment of scrub clearance grants. Those are specific items which the Government might consider. But what is needed in this country is a commitment to the idea that forestry is a good thing and should be supported in the national interest, and I hope that the debate which the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, has initiated today will encourage that commi meat.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Lord TANLAW
My Lords, I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, can have any higher tribute than that which is represented by the list of speakers who are to take part today in this debate on forestry. We look forward to the maiden speeches that are to follow on this subject. Those of us who attended the very valuable conference entitled"A National Forestry Policy"held under the auspices of the Royal Society of Arts, in June last year, and who then heard the keynote speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, will realise that what he said this afternoon was an expansion and extension of the policies put forward at that time. At the conference the interests of the farmer, the forester, and the environmentalist were expressed—and expressed without any form of prejudice.
I can open the contribution that we wish to make to the debate from these benches by saying that we wish to take party politics out of forestry, as we have always done. This is the view expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Dulverton and Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and it is indeed our view. The decline that the industry has suffered over the past almost 15 years has been due to one reason or another, but has arisen basically because of uncertainty: the uncertainty of the future of a crop that takes 50 years to grow. Any uncertainty that people may have as to whether the crop may be taken with or without penalities is bound to create some doubts in the industry as a whole. This situation has certainly been reflected in the private sector and, unfortunately, has been carried over into the public sector as well.
In the past we have had many forestry debates in this House. We have called for recognition from the Government of some of the main objectives that the forestry industry is attempting to attain. Once more we want to call for recognition, this time from the noble Earl when he winds up, of those very same objectives. I have in mind, for instance, what recognition the Government may have of the value of the forestry industry in terms of saving timber imports. This point has been mentioned by the two previous speakers. Secondly, there is the recognition that commercial planting of trees should be looked upon for tax and other purposes as a 50-year crop.
815 Thirdly, there is the recognition that the planting of trees by the Forestry Commission, and through the grants given to private forestry, is perhaps the best investment that the Treasury has made for the taxpayer since the Second World War. I should be interested to hear whether the noble Earl can advise the House of any other investment made by the Treasury which has protected the taxpayer's money from inflation and, at the same time, made a contribution to the assets of the nation through appreciation over a 50-year period. What other investment made by the taxpayer has produced a return of enjoyment of the kind that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, mentioned: strolling through the forest walks, enjoying seeing wildlife.
The noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, is again asking the Government for these very necessary reassurances to the industry, coupled with which is the added incentive for Her Majesty's Government to recognise that forest-based industries, from planting to milling and selling the end product, will make a very real contribution to stabilising rural employment for the next 50 years. This is provided of course that the infrastructure—mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe—in the form of primary schools, post offices, transport, and other services, remains without further cutbacks.
When we speak about the depletion of our natural resources—as, it seems, we have been doing frequently in the past few months—we should bear in mind that it is time that Her Majesty's Government recognise that timber is a renewable resource, and that it will in fact make a major contribution in the field of alternative energy strategies in the next century.
The main purpose of my intervention from these Benches is to ask for further recognition by Her Majesty's Government that there is a place for Government incentives to encourage hill farm/hill forest integration. This is today being practised by me and by the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, and others. I now have 16 years' experience of the problems involved and of the benefits that can be achieved.
Before emphasising these, I think it would be worthwhile to consider who, 816 apart from the Forestry Commission, are the owners of forests. In the private sector the owners have been either large institutions, or relatively large private landowners. The objectives of this type of owner—the pure forester, one might call him—with outside access to capital, are bound to be different from, say, those of a working hill or upland farmer who, until now, has seen no need to have a forestry element in his farming operations, even if he could afford it. Furthermore, it has been impossible for the small owner-occupier to finance a forest, because the grants have benefited only those who have capital to create the plantations in the first place. Therefore, farm/forest integration has really been an academic subject for the small owner-occupier. I wish to know from Her Majesty's Government whether they intend to exclude this sector from the reafforestation of some of the hill and upland areas of this country; or is it part of the Government's forestry strategy to include integration of the small working hill or upland farmer?
Things may be different now, in that I believe that it has been recognised by both the farming and forestry industries that there is a need to come to terms with the development of the hill and upland areas of this country in the pursuit of maximising land use. The world renown (which has been referred to) in which our farmers have been held as a result of their efficiency in the lowland areas can hardly be bettered. However, it is only in the hill and upland areas where further investment and productivity can be achieved, because this type of farming has remained under-capitalised.
So much for the different type of owner. Surely the same also applies to the Government departments concerned with forestry and hill and upland agriculture. Forestry grants are operated in a completely different way by a different set of civil servants from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Therefore it has been virtually impossible to obtain any specific fiscal benefits or incentives for operating hill farm/hill forest businesses. If this type of integration is considered generally beneficial, I believe that the time has come for an integrated farm/forest department to be set up to look at the whole matter in the terms that I suggest. This need not necessarily involve an increase in administrative staff, but merely an official liaison between two Government 817 departments to look at the financial and fiscal incentives towards encouraging farm/ forest integration and thus achieve the very large increase in forestry that is recommended by the Reading Report.
Some people might not know what farm/forest integration involves. Put very crudely, if you have a hill farm with a wooded area or a forest, you leave the gate open so that the stock can have freedom to go in among the trees and come out again if they wish. This has cut down the food intake, has protected the stock from the harshness of our winters, and has been generally beneficial to the economics of running an operational hill-farm forest. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, has discovered this himself.
The sheep versus trees argument, which has been referred to, is I believe coming to an end. In Galloway, which is an area I know well, over the past 10 years the sheep population has actually increased, and is still increasing, despite the area having become the most heavily forested area in Scotland, with 21 per cent. of the land being used for growing trees. These figures were contained in the CAS Report of 1976 and in the Borders Region Report of 1975, and in my view they alone dispel the myth that trees and sheep do not mix.
The fiscal case for farm/forest integration is equally strong if one considers that the life of a working hill farmer on his land is effectively 50 years, during the course of which he will have had to rebuild his dykes and farm buildings twice and his fencing four times, apart from installing and improving hill drainage. This calls for a considerable capital input for which historically it has been the tradition to use the banks, with the farmland as security.
The point I am making is that a hill farmer lives off only his income—which is derived from his stock sold at the market from year to year—without any capital resources, except the land itself. There is no incentive to undertake capital improvements without capital, especially when it is recognised that the average net return for the industry is in the region of 5 per cent. and that the current rates of borrowing are in the region of 21 per cent. Consequently, the country is going to be faced with a large number of hill and upland businesses being forced into liquidation due to this one reason alone.
818 Naturally these farms will fall into the hands of the banks, who will recoup their capital through the sale of the property; but the only purchasers of these forced sales will be the Forestry Commission, institutions, or an ever-decreasing number of private owners or investors. A young qualified working farmer straight from agricultural college, say, has no chance of purchasing one of these farms; nor, for that matter, do the sons of farmers who have had to sell a part or the whole of their farms for the very reasons I have just given.
With the National Farmers' Union, who have also come round to this point of view, I firmly believe that farm/forest integration can go a long way towards preventing these forced sales by injecting a capital element into the life of a hill farm. If there were some means whereby a working hill farmer could obtain finance at a reasonable rate of interest—I say"reasonable "; about 3 per cent.—to plant up between 50 and 100 acres of his worst land with a commercial crop, it would then be possible, at the end of a 50-year period, to sell the crop, even valued at today's prices, at about £1,000 an acre, which would enable the capital improvements to be paid off at the end of this period and the farm handed down to a member of the family free from banking encumbrances. However, even this scheme would fail if the farmer concerned was forced to borrow at 21 per cent. in order to carry out his capital improvements, of which the hill and upland land is in great need, as the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, has mentioned.
Therefore, what we have said, and what we have been saying since I have been involved with Liberal politics—since 1959, that is—is that there is a case for a land bank; or, if that does not find favour with the Government, for their giving consideration to operating a special loan service through the existing banking system which could allow hill and upland farmers to put their businesses on a sound financial basis through access to capital at a reasonable rate of interest. This policy is long overdue, and in the view of Members on these Benches is much preferable to the grant system, which seems to favour only those who have capital to begin with in order to become eligible for a grant. I think an indication from the noble Earl would be very helpful, if he could say whether this country is going its own way 819 or whether it is going the way of the EEC concerning looking at capital grants or capital loans, because if we do not go along with this view, then we shall be out on a limb in relation to what is general European policy.
Finally, I want to say only one word about the environment because I am looking forward to hearing what my noble friend Lord Winstanley is going to say, with his experience and the respect in which he is held in the Countryside Commission. But the point is that I feel that we as foresters do not always get it right. I think I do, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, thinks that he does; but we are open to constructive criticism, and we should listen to it. But what I ask is that those people who represent the environmentalist or conservationist angle, should do so with fact and with fairness, and we will listen to them. If they do so with prejudice, without actually getting their boots muddy and without having visited the hill and uplands areas to sec the role of a forest in wintertime, then I feel that their case is being undermined and we are going to get the wrong kind of environmental policy, which will clash with the commercial and other elements of the forestry strategy which we are looking for in this country today.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Lord GIBSON-WATT
My Lords, to make a speech on forestry in your Lordships' House is rather like sailing a ship between Scylla and Charybdis, because wherever one looks one sees experts upon this subject—even on the Front Bench—and that is not normal in every legislative Chamber in the Western World. I confess an interest, in that I am myself a forestry owner in Wales and I am a part-time Forestry Commissioner. My noble friend Lord Dulverton does the forestry industry as a whole a great deal of benefit when he raises this subject in your Lordships' House. I suppose there is nobody who has done more, particularly on the private side of the industry, both in England and in Scotland, than my noble friend. Until recently, for three years he was president, and for three years before that he was chairman, of the Forestry Committee of Great Britain, which, as far as the private side is con- 820 cerned, is the major organisation which deals with Government and tries to help the private side. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, who spoke from the Dispatch Box, has been a notable chairman of the Forestry Commission, and I remember well the co-operation which we had personally at a time when, as a Minister in another place, I had a marginal responsibility for forestry. There is no doubt that what he has said today is very sound common sense. To the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, I can only say that I hope he has a "hot-line" to the Treasury, because so much of what he says depends on the attitude of those who in fact sit there.
Like all three noble Lords, I believe that we must have a larger forest industry, for the reasons which have been very well given: not only because we can save imports, but also because, at a time when the number of unemployed is extremely high and looks like being extremely high in the part of the country which I come from, which is Wales, we must look to jobs in those areas. Today, forestry employs in all about 33,000 men and women—there are not many women, but women are coming into the industry; in Wales alone there are 4,000—and that is a pretty big industry to think about. I believe that we have to increase this employment, to integrate forestry with agriculture and, wherever possible, to blend these new plantations into the landscape—remembering, too, that forestry is one of the few renewable resources that we have, and also that in this country trees grow over twice as fast as they do in most parts of Western Europe.
I think that the expansion of the industry is now accepted as a national requirement by all except a very few, who at present are unable to see the problem in sufficiently broad terms. The Reading Report is really going to be of great help to us, because it was not produced by foresters—that is the point. The forestry Blue Book, which was produced by the Forestry Commission, was a fine book. It was well researched and well produced. But what is interesting, as has already been said, is that the Reading Report goes even further, and asks our Government and our country to do more. Therefore, this is not a study which can be pigeonholed by any Government in office; 821 and I was indeed glad to see that the National Farmers' Union had given it a fair reception.
My Lords, if we are to get a large expansion of forest, where is the land to come from? Let me take, first of all, the question of the private woods, and let us be frank about this. There are some woods, owned by big and small owners, which are a joy to see, and there are many of them; but it is also a fact that for various reasons a lot of woods in private hands have become understocked and derelict. It is estimated that there are 281,000 hectares (the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, will forgive me for dealing in hectares; the Forestry Commission has to deal in hectares, but I know that the private side does not yet) as against 7,000 hectares in the Forestry Commission. Of course, the reasons vary from lack of capital to replant after wartime fellings to repeated taxes on death or a lack of forestry knowledge and advice. I think that Government fiscal policy could certainly help in this direction, but perhaps on Budget Day I had better leave that factor alone.
My Lords, the present price of timber should certainly encourage private owners to invest, provided that private owners, both big and small, can see some hope of their successors inheriting enough to carry on the good work. Because, to be perfectly frank, no man plants for himself; he plants for future generations. I do not believe the Government are being urged to give us detailed answers today. All I think we are asking of the Government today is to give us a general statement—it will be accepted, I feel sure, by all parts of your Lordships' House and another place—which will help and favour forestry by giving the confidence which is so very necessary.
The problem of finding land is a difficult one. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, referred to investment in the United States. One would like to see investment more and more in this country particularly when the planting has dropped to something like 20,000 hectares a year. But, whereas private estates still have a certain amount of land which no doubt will be planted, some of this is in national parks, and we come to the difficult problem of planting in national parks. It is a problem which we cannot avoid, because the 822 difficulty is that most national parks are in the hills and, whereas most of the people who enjoy the parks are in favour of deciduous trees, they (and I) do not like the look of a lot of Sitka spruce. I would say to those who love the parks and their beauty that, whereas the Sitka spruce may be very ugly, a larch is not. In spring a larch is one of the most beautiful trees in the wood. I would say to those in the parks, some of which I know well, that, whereas the tops of these hills must remain sacrosanct, the bottoms of them are very under-used; a lot of them are covered with bracken and gorse and unused by bird, man or beast. I think it is in those areas that we could look for some increase in planting.
Then we come to the question of derelict land. There is a lot of that about; and it is not only derelict land left by mining but by industry as a whole—disused railway lines and so on.
One has only to go to the Lower Swansea Valley to see perhaps the best example of reclamation done by the Forest Commission in the heart of the most mineral-infested land in the whole of this country to see what trees can do to help those who live in the big industrial areas. Also, I come to the question of the 11 million acres of common land—dare I speak of it?—much of it in Wales. A lot of it is neglected and covered in fern, thorn and gorse. It is a misuse of land—a misuse which must be unacceptable in a country with so dense a population as ours. I sometimes feel that there is a conspiracy of silence about the commons as though the ghosts of the enclosures and the clearances are still with us. But, in my view, it is a national duty to improve these commons—not just for forestry but for farming, for amenity and for public access. Here, again, it is essential to get a bi-partisan approach to this very sensitive and difficult problem of seeing common land play a greater part.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, referred to the huge contribution that the Forestry Commission make to the amenities. If I may take one example. In the beautiful Tintern Forest, in the valley of the Wye, there is a walk for blind people which goes for a quarter of a mile. Here—without going into details—is a walk where different kinds of trees with different 823 smells and different feels can be enjoyed by blind people; and there cannot be many examples of this sort in the world. But it is an example of the way in which the Forestry Commission have used their intelligence and inspiration to improve the amenities.
It is no secret that forestry of late has found some opposition from some of the environmentalists. But I remember about 35 years ago, as a "green" Parliamentary candidate, standing outside Old Radnor Church making a political speech, looking at the valley below and saying, "What a beautiful place you live in". I remember an old man in the crowd turning round to me and saying,"Yes, but you cannot live on the view ". I say this, to some extent, in a national sense. However much we love the view and refresh ourselves when we take our walks in the high places, there comes a time, in a period of high unemployment, when our country needs trees and when we must remember that we cannot totally live on the view. I think, also, that it would not be a bad thing if the forester (both State and private) got a little more credit for what he has done as an ecologist. I quote some words which I think are apposite:' The Forester was the original ecologist '. Thus spoke a member of my faculty, somewhat chagrined at the massive eruption of environmentalists, most of whom live years earlier had never even heard the term 'ecology' but who suddenly had become authorities on the subject. As long as 40 years ago, any respectable forestry curriculum included a required course called silvics'. It is still in the curriculum though most schools have been calling it forest ecology ' in the last decade. Silvics was simply ecology by another name and was one fundamental base on which a forestry education was built".These words were spoken by Allyn Herrick, Dean of Forestry Resources, University of Georgia. Our foresters, too, have been experts in ecology for many years; and they deserve to be given the chance to play their part in creating a bigger forest, a bigger source of energy, an industry where more and more men and women can get a good job in the open air.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ The Duke of BUCCLEUCH and QUEENSBERRY
My Lords, in 20 years in Parliament, this is the first occasion on 824 which I have found myself following a maiden speaker. l have reflected on what a worrying situation it would be if one found oneself following someone one cordially disliked who had made a speech with which one thoroughly disagreed. It is with profound relief that I find myself following my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt, because not only have I known him for many years and heard him speak on many subjects in another place but, in this particular context of forestry, we have heard a most illuminating address showing that he has an immense wealth of knowledge on the subject; and I may hasten to say that this is one of many subjects on which he is immensely knowledgeable and wise. I am certain, therefore, that I speak for all noble Lords when I say how much we look forward to hearing him on many future occasions.
In particular, I would say how much I agree with what he has said about the Reading Report. The fact that it was written by non-foresters makes it all the more valuable. As this is the first occasion on which I have had the honour to address your Lordships on the subject of forestry, I must declare an interest, in that I am chairman of a company which does indulge in forestry activities in both Scotland and England, together with the inter-related activities of agriculture, public amenities and recreation. I think can claim to have about as even a balance of interest in all of these as it is possible to find. Because today is such a special day in another place, I suspect that we could almost preface our remarks by saying,"Between you and me and these four walls…" However, even if our words penetrate no further than my noble friend the Minister of State for Scotland, who is to wind up, and his advisers, this debate should be worth while.
May I say at the start how strongly I support all that my noble friend Lord Dulverton said in his opening address—and which was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, who I have come to admire as a forester over many years—about the United Kingdom's precarious position due to its over-dependence on imported timber in an age of increasing shortage of readily available softwoods. We are desperately naked in our vulnerability 825 when at the mercy of overseas suppliers for 90 per cent. of our needs. Alas! it will take a lot more than a fig leaf to clothe our nakedness: instead, I fear, we shall require a massive branch of Sitka spruce, which will be less decorative and possibly more uncomfortable.
Some years ago in past forestry debates in another place, my constituents complained that we tended to baffle them by bandying about mind-boggling figures of thousands of million of pounds or hoppus feet that were quite meaningless to ordinary mortals in their immensity. Perhaps therefore I could try to express the true situation today of our present £2,750 million annual import bill by expressing it in the rather more comprehensible form of £1 million spent every three and a quarter hours, with the reminder that, with only 10 per cent. greater self-sufficiency that could have resulted from foresight before the war, we could today be saving ourselves £1 million every other day.
However, it is no use simply being wise after the event. What matters is that we should be wise now by recognising that we must make increasingly greater efforts to provide timber 30, 40, or 50 years hence. Considering that the Almighty has provided us with the soil, climate and a considerable area of land that can grow trees faster than any of our traditional suppliers, it seems ludicrous that we should have scorned opportunities for so long. The three main reasons or problems are easy to discern: confidence among growers, competition for land; and political and environmental pressures. But solutions are more difficult except for the first of these three.
This is the necessity for potential growers of trees to be inspired with the requisite degree of confidence to embark upon such a uniquely long-term investment. This is something which Government and Government alone can do; and, what is more, it is something it can do at virtually no extra cost to the taxpayer, simply by restating that it will stand by policies of steady expansion proclaimed by previous Governments of all political complexions, and affirming that it will never again fall victim to disastrous Treasury cost-benefit studies, as happened in the early 1970s. It is common knowledge that the Treasury is, always has been, and always will be reluctant to approve any form of investment where money 826 disappears for as much as five years, let alone 50 or 150 years. As a result, it is unlikely that encouragement for forestry will emanate from that source. This of course must make the task that much more difficult for the Ministers responsible for forestry. I hope that we may hear from my noble friend the Minister of State for Scotland today that it is not too difficult. Occasionally when we ask for measures to inspire confidence we are told that if we really believe what we say about over-dependence upon imports and future world shortages, we surely need no further help from the Government. That may sound plausible enough, but it ignores that vitally important point about it being such a uniquely long-term investment, and all the complications and anxieties associated with that. Variations in taxation policies alone have a significant effect.
The second problem concerns competition for land. It is quite clear that expansion of forestry can take place only on the hills and uplands where agricultural production is lowest. Opposition from some farmers is only to be expected, often based on unfortunate experiences in some of the earlier large-scale afforestation schemes. More recently however there have been many excellent examples where new plantations have been so well integrated with agriculture that the livestock population has been maintained or sometimes increased. Again, my noble friend Lord Dulverton is a very good example of what can be done. One might think that these would provide adequate reassurance, but in spite of them one still comes across diehard farmers with an automatic emotional reaction with the battle cry, "You cannot eat trees!" I think that foresters are entitled to retort:"You cannot eat bracken".
A few years ago, I learned from a Parliamentary Question that the total area estimated to be covered with bracken was something like 960,000 acres. As your Lordships know, bracken tends to grow on good mineral soils. One might therefore expect that those farmers who show such concern for land lost to valuable trees would show even more concern about land lost to valueless bracken. It would not surprise me if an even larger area of land has been lost to useless 827 Molinia grass, often as a result of poor moorland or pasture management and nomadic grazing habits.
Although the number of farmers opposing afforestation is declining, as is the vehemence of their opposition, the amount of land becoming available for forestry and penetrating the bureaucratic planning barriers, is disturbingly small. For further assurance, I might give a factual example of the effect of afforestation in a particular area. In the Borders region of Scotland, between 1952 and 1972, 10 per cent. of the area was afforested. I may say that it was done in a fairly clumsy way, as we now see, in as much as there was a good deal of blanket afforestation. In spite of that, the population of breeding ewes fell by only 3 per cent. from 241,000 to 234,000, a drop of 7,000—a very small amount. On the other hand, the breeding stock of hill ewes—and, after all, it was on the hills the trees were planted—actually increased by 37,000. Much of this was blanket planting without much regard to integration. But it still shows that afforestation can lead to more intensive land use by farmers, as well as by foresters, especially with better shelter, new roads and the subdivision of large areas into more scientifically controlled grazing areas. Many hill farmers jump at the opportunity when they can sell off 100, 200, or 300 acres to forestry, and devote the proceeds to improving the remainder of their holding. Hill farms are generally short of capital and this is an excellent was of raising it.
The National Farmers' Union in Scotland and England understandably protest at any further loss of farmland for whatever reason so long as potential farmers greatly exceed the number of available farm units. I think it is interesting to note that in England the National Farmers' Union is now showing a particularly enlightened attitude. From a paper which reached me only yesterday, may I quote one paragraph written on 21st March? The NFU says:The NFU fully accepts and appreciates that there is a pressing need to alleviate Britain's considerable trade deficit. Furthermore, we would agree that a realistic forestry strategy for the United Kingdom and the EEC is essential if timber production is to be increased. We cannot however accept a policy of increased 828 planting unless this is designed to be not only of benefit to the forestry industry, but also of benefit to alternative land uses and to rural communities. For this reason the NFU would favour only a strategy for increased afforestation which sought the sensible integration of forestry with the present farming systems so as not to disrupt or sterilise large areas of the nation's food-producing land.Likewise, the Scottish NFU have been making more encouraging noises of late. Their anxieties regarding farmers North of the Border are obviously greater. as so much of the future expansion in forestry must take place there. I have received the following letter from the Scottish NFU today, and I shall quote one paragraph:We believe that the two objectives of increased home output of timber and increased agricultural production can be achieved through a policy of integration on individual forms of agriculture and forestry. Our policy document sets out a number of obstacles to present achievement of this policy and suggests ways in which integration can be encouraged".In that policy document they set out a number of sober and mainly constructive ideas for breaking down the barriers to achieving well-integrated forestry expansion, and any further reactions the Minister of State for Scotland can make to these will be of the utmost interest to all of us. Also, it would be useful to know whether he visualises a situation in 40 years' time where forestry might occupy from 41/2 million to 5 million acres, with agriculture sticking at between 13–131/2 million acres: that is, for Scotland alone. I personally would not quarrel with those figures, in the belief that they can be sensibly achieved.
From experience, I realise how very hard it is to be precise about the economic advantages of forestry versus sheep in many situations. Quite often, where the balance is fine, the deciding factor may be something quite different, such as public amenity, recreation or sport. No one should under-estimate the very real economic importance of that uniquely British creature, the red grouse, which. when properly cultivated in association with sheep, can usually defeat forestry in commercial competition.
Finally, I would turn briefly to the problem of the political and environmental pressures. As a founder vice-president of the Conservation Society, I applaud the growth in recent years of interest in the countryside by our mainly 829 urban population. There is no doubt that the hills and uplands have an important part to play in catering for leisure and recreational activities. There is absolutely no reason why forestry, if properly managed, should not make an important contribution to this, rather than being a hindrance. There are so many marvellous examples to prove the point and this afternoon the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, mentioned the National Park and the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park in Scotland, just outside Glasgow.
I think everyone would agree that blanket afforestation with little variation of species needs to be confined to the places which are least sought after by the general public. But elsewhere forestry can break up the monotony of wide expanses of empty, barren, windswept countryside with light and shade and contrast. In due course it can provide more varied and attractive landscaping and walks, with a greater variety of bird and other wildlife. The practice of leaving spaces of two or three acres is becoming widely accepted by foresters as being sensible, not only for wildlife but on silvicultural grounds, especially in areas where wind-blow is a potential hazard. In the last 30 years, much has been learnt in the matter of landscaping forests and in this connection one cannot fail to praise Dame Sylvia Crowe for what she has done for the Forestry Commission—not that she was entirely original, for there are superb examples all over the country and in particular in the south of Scotland, where many landowners in the last 150 years, including some of my own forbears, laid out plantations so as to resemble the patterns cast by cumulus clouds. However, Dame Sylvia Crowe was the pioneer of artistically landscaping large-scale forests, and I believe she deserves a place alongside Capability Brown.
Although one is thankful for the pressure groups who fight for high standards of conservation and amenity, I am sometimes anxious that some of our more enthusiastic friends occasionally overstate their case in a way that can be counter-productive. For instance, one finds the voices that most vigourously denounce the planting of trees to be the very same voices that denounce the felling of trees. The truth is that in nature nothing stands still. So many national beauty spots are beautiful because 830 of trees that once went through the unattractive "teenage" thicket stage that incurs such displeasure. They then grow old, they decay, they die and have to be replaced.
The difficulty of finding an harmonious solution to such conflicting interests of more trees, more food and more recreation is of course immense but, I believe, not insurmountable. One realises that the Ministers responsible are subject to many great pressures, and I only hope that all who are involved with these issues simultaneously will try to help them to reach the right decisions. I, for one, am convinced that with good will and good sense on the part of all concerned, the expansion of forestry can be achieved reasonably harmoniously. Although forestry provides nearly 40,000 jobs, directly or indirectly, rival pressure groups may he numerically greater. However, I hope that one outcome of this debate will be that my noble friend the Minister of State for Scotland may feel emboldened to adopt an expansionist attitude to forestry.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Viscount DEVONPORT
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for the kind things they have said on my behalf. In partciular, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, for suggesting a number of points on which, despite the many issues which have been discussed already this afternoon, I feel I might still be able to make some sort of contribution.
It is with considerable trepidation that I seek to contribute anything in this House, but I am particularly grateful to the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, for giving me a platform from which to step off, since I am in perhaps a rather unusual situation, being involved professionally as a landscape architect and also being a forest owner and hill farmer. May I say, just before I proceed, to the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, who finds the Sitka spruce, I gather, rather unattractive that I am afraid my passion for trees is so great that I find any tree which is growing well on its site attractive.
I should like to declare the interests which I have just mentioned, with one or two additions. Like the noble Duke, the 831 Duke of Buccleuch, I am also involved in sporting and recreational activities and so I have a fairly wide view of the things that go on in the hills. I should like also to say that, having worked professionally for the greater part of the last 15 years in the inner city areas of this City and of others abroad and as I now live on the rather remote hills of Northumberland, I deeply sympathise both with the urban leisure and the rural livelihood views of the hills, whether or not they have trees on them.
My present concern relates to the way in which those of us who farm and plant trees on the hills can contribute to the renewable national resources which have already been well identified. I should like to come back to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, relating to the strengthening of shrinking and relatively deprived rural communities on the hills and in the North-East of England. These are to be found sometimes within 25 miles of a regional centre such as Newcastle. How can we, through the vehicle of forestry, contribute to a better visual environment, because to me this is one of the very important outcomes of the subject we are now discussing?
Briefly, I wish to underline a point concerning resources because natural, exhaustible, renewable resources are the basic issues with which we are involved. Within the context of the European Community we can grow timber up to three times as fast as most of our partners. This is a particular special resource which we have in this context, and it cannot be too greatly under-scored that this resource must not be wasted. I shall leave fruit-growing and other subjects to contributors from further south. I believe that our hills in particular have the favoured climatic resources which enable grass and trees to grow. Therefore, what has been said about the integration of farming and forestry is especially important because they are resources that exist in good measure in this country.
I wish next to mention in this context a human resource. Long before urban manufacturing industry became established in Britain we had an individual talent for creating wealth by commercial enterprise, by having an eye for promising 832 opportunities and the courage to invest effort and money into them, in the knowledge that our Government and countrymen would support and benefit from our own energy. Evidence suggests that, despite its decline, perhaps, in recent decades, we retain today the latent desire in greater measure than much of the population of our trade competitors.
Given clear priorities, the sensitivity to our environment and the stability enjoyed in the 16th and 17th centuries, I believe that we could mobilise our human resource of individual enterprise to the task of restructuring and intensifying our 6 million hectares of uplands. Planting trees is a very important part of that job. If we are to be responsive to the external economic demands and the desire to impose conscious design on our surroundings, which is an inbuilt human characteristic, I believe that we have a very exciting time ahead of us.
This was the context within which John Evelyn in the 17th century and Coke of Holkham in the 18th made their philosophical and scientific contribution respectively to forestry and farming, but in both a case ultimately to the art of landscape which we all enjoy. I am convinced that landscape quality is a direct reflection of the quality of resolution of practical problems by those who created and, above all, who manage our land today.
Nan Fairbrother, author of New Lives, New Landscapes, which was published in 1970, who sadly died a few years afterwards, has contended that man's distinctive quality, unknown to other creatures, was exactly the desire I have mentioned; namely, consciously to organise the landscape around him for no other reason than to satisfy his instincts. This motivation is a key to the area in which so-called economic demand and pressures come together with the subjective feelings of people who go into that landscape and who drive through it and those who are not directly linked to that landscape economically. We need to live on the land, and at least to know it in all seasons, in order to make the right and wise decisions. I suggest that in the past so much of forestry's bad name on the hills has stemmed from desk management instead of site knowledge. Economic failure has also followed. Partial understanding of the problem will result in incomplete and unsatisfactory landscapes.
833 There are one or two areas of forest policy implementation which have not been dealt with, and I should like to mention them now. To achieve these aims in both private and public sectors the enterprise must be profitable. It must remain unencumbered by administrative delay, and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, has already referred to the serious consequences which can result. It must be carried on in an atmosphere of long-term security and there is no doubt that this last matter remains necessarily a governmental responsibility.
I believe that there is a need for an effective national forum representing growers, importers, manufacturers and consumers of timber products—I stress particularly the consumers—which, having resolved its members' internal differences, can, as implied by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, speak to Government with a clear united voice. In Holland an organisation known as the Landbouwschap has already successfully operated along these lines for nearly 30 years in representing that country's agricultural sector.
I believe that something should be said about the implications for employment and the attraction of British or overseas capital for investment, particularly into the processing industries. The forest industry's claim to be favoured by Government will rest on its track record—a record which is already high. In international terms the United Kingdom forest industry enjoys low production costs and good growth rates. The private sector gives private investors similar returns to those in manufacturing industry generally.
It is clear that in remote rural areas some of this industry's particular characteristics are most valuable. In a recent survey conducted in 1978 in Scotland, which may be said to represent the forestry and timber processing industry nationally, the following conclusions were found. Out of 78 industries the forestry industry was able to generate employment more successfully, and was able to sustain stronger "linkages" back into the economy. It was also able to achieve far higher labour input as a proportion of total input costs than any other industry, and ranked high on the list of industries most able to stimulate output and income. In addition, the secondary factor of jobs 834 in the service industries are particularly good in forestry. That matter is of great concern to all of us who live on the uplands where unemployment is increasingly a problem.
I ask the indulgence of the House to mention one or two other matters which the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, suggested might be taken up in the Minister's reply. I believe that we should welcome the present overriding need of forestry on the hills, because it represents an intensification of the drive to higher productivity which, properly considered, will improve our landscape. There is some reason to believe that the rather haphazard development by different uses on the hills in recent years is the result of a lack of any dominant economic force. There is no reason on many of our uplands why one hill has a few hundred acres of trees on it and another does not. In my view, that scene is conveyed to everybody. It needs no training or understanding of forestry to understand that. It is a conceptual, instinctual response by anybody, anywhere. They can recognise a consistency in the landscape, which is basically the result of a reflection of a healthy economic pattern and a clear economic strategy.
I should just like to summarise. I believe that ample examples have been given of the advantages of the integration of farming and forestry. Many noble Lords in this House have a great deal more experience than myself in this matter. I should just like to refer to one aspect involving an enterprise known as the Demonstration Farms Project, which has been initiated by the Countryside Commission specifically to help farmers. I have been lucky enough to be involved in the only upland scheme in England and Wales, and we are now in a position where we have the tenant or his son actually becoming involved in forestry. I feel that this is a very important step forward. Undoubtedly, there are other fiscal means which must be looked at, but I am not expert in these.
Lastly, having heard a lot about integration with farming, I should like to draw the attention of the House to the implications of how we afforest, and of how forestry is, in fact, carried out. There are some ideas which would be worth stating at this time, which it may be 835 possible to carry out in the future and which may reduce the criticism of other organisations involved in the uplands. So I should like very briefly just to list some of these.
Consideration should be given to a "succession" system—that is to say, starting off with a pioneering species, such as conifers and pine, and introducing soil-improving and more demanding species of more profitable timbers. This is done on some hills elsewhere in the world, and I believe that it is something which has not had enough research. There is the use of fast-growing hybrid leaf trees in Scandinavia, which have already been mentioned. There is the use of deciduous southern beeches, which the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, who has made a great contribution, may well tell us something about. Then there is the use of a goat willow for pulp logs, as in Sweden. There is the poplar-type intensive culture of rapidly growing conifers, which is carried out in New Zealand. These are some of the possibilities which, in some form, while still being productive may be able to help integrate our need for forestry to other uses.
On the basis of my understanding of the strategy of the forest industries, there are strong productive, wildlife and landscape arguments for adopting a programme of maximum planting of1.957 million hectares, and I can see no justification for planting less than1.1 million hectares, which effectively interferes with none of the other major land users, including water gathering. By careful integration with farming where it is present, this should be achieveable without significantly lowering livestock production nationally, as the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, pointed out.
I would expect our children to enjoy a more economically, socially and visually diverse scene than we have known. Arguably, Britain's greatest contribution to the visual arts in European culture over the last 1,000 years has been the English lowland landscape of enclosure, which was consciously created in the 18th century. It was created by those who managed the land, from the big landowners through the yeoman farmers to the cottager. We have before us a great and exciting opportunity, in the 836 way in which we restructure and intensify our hills and mountains over the next 50 years. Here forest trees, conifers, spruce, hightops and burns will be the pattern, not the meadow hedge and arable of 200 years ago. Few countries in Europe have so large and clean a slate to work upon, and few so much to gain economically, socially and aesthetically from its proper execution. Let us be worthy of our great tradition.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ The Earl of BRADFORD
My Lords, it was with special pleasure that I found this afternoon that the luck of the draw had placed me in the privileged position of following my noble friend Lord Devonport, and therefore had put me in a position to congratulate him, not only on the depth of his experience of his chosen business of landscape architecture, but also on his keenness and knowledge of the forestry scene, particularly in his home district in the uplands of Northumberland. It is a great gain to your Lordships' House to have among our numbers somebody who is an experienced landscape architect, and we shall look forward in future to hearing much more of his knowledge in that direction and, no doubt, in others.
I should also very much like to follow my noble kinsman the Duke of Buccleuch, in congratulating my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt on his excellent speech this afternoon and on the breadth of his knowledge, too, in the forestry and agricultural fields. The loss which the other place must have suffered is, I think, more than compensated by the gain to your Lordships' House of the experience of my noble friend.
It is also my privilege to join the general chorus of congratulations to my noble friend Lord Dulverton, both on introducing this subject this afternoon, and also on the tremendous work that he has done in recent years in the representation of private forestry on a broad canvas, particularly of the Timber Growers' Association and the Forestry Committee of Great Britain; and again, too, on the wonderful work that he has done in the integration—or, as I like to think of it, the interaction—of forestry and agriculture in the hilly areas of Scotland. His work there is an example to all, which I have tried to follow in a very small way.
837 At this stage, I should declare an interest in that I have a commercial interest rather similar to that of my noble kinsman the Duke of Buccleuch, in the forestry scene, from the seed to the timber, over not quite such a large canvas as he exercises, but none the less quite a considerable one. My interests also spread in many other directions, particularly to a love of trees. With scant regard for the purity of classical languages, I call myself a dendromaniac, caused, I think, by the fact that I must have been bitten at some stage by a mad tree, rendering me subject to an incurable but very rewarding form of sickness.
I should also like to say that, apart from the unfortunate coincidence of other attractions in another place, my noble friend Lord Dulverton has chosen a particularly timely moment to introduce this subject, in that we have recently had four reports, of which the weightiest, certainly in avoirdupois and probably in the depth of research it has gone into, is the Reading Report which covers a very wide canvas and which I hope will have much influence in Government circles.
It is also topical, in that public attention has been drawn to the subject in a number of other ways. The magazine Ecologist has recently published two extremely interesting numbers, the first on tree diseases and the troubles which we are experiencing from them, and the second on the rapid disappearance of the tropical rain forest and the possible problems that may result both to ourselves and to world climatic conditions as a result, and pointing out that it is partly up to us to introduce the remedy—which is the wider planting of more trees. There was also a most interesting article recently in the Guardian, entitled Taking to the Trees.
The terms of this Motion are not particularly new. From my own recollection, we have been asking for the same treatment for at least the last 30 years, which covers roughly the time during which I have been concerned with the representation of private forestry interests. The treatment that the forestry industry has received during that time is most easily expressed in somewhat unparliamentary terms, which I shall not use in your Lordships' House. Certainly, there seems to have been all along a lack of awareness in Government circles of the importance of the subject, and also a lack of awareness 838 of the need for a long-term agreed policy between the two main political parties. I would hope that the situation is now different.
Certainly the difficulties have been pinpointed by the recent oil crisis and the forthcoming exhaustion of the hydrocarbons, which has brought with it an interest in renewable resources, of which the forest and its trees is undoubtedly the principal resource. We are, I think, likely to be faced in this instance with another OPEC-type situation. But in this case there can be no fortuitous discoveries, like North Sea oil which saved us on the hydrocarbon front. There cannot be any new, undiscovered forestry resources. We have no longer an underdeveloped Empire from which we can draw all the timber which we need—the world does not owe us a living—and we suffer from comparative poverty in our existing, forestry resources, which I hope may be remedied to some extent as a result of the debate this afternoon. It is notable, too, that virtually all other countries in the world are building up their forestry resources, and in many cases on a vast scale. We are the poor relations, but it is still not too late for us to remedy the situation to some extent, if only Her Majesty's Government will give us the stimulus.
There are in existence forests of many different kinds, created with many different purposes in mind. I would instance in particular commercial forests created for timber and other products. But there are also protective forests—giving shelter, stopping the deserts, and for other reasons like preventing erosion; there are amenity, recreation and social forests; there are forests of true crops for food; there are forests for the utilisation of the biomass, a subject which again is attracting a very great deal of attention as the hydrocarbon sources run out. And there are, of course, other purposes for which forests have been created or are used.
Forests, too, serve one of the most useful possible purposes in purification of the air by converting carbon-dioxide, upon which they appear, for some extraordinary reason, to thrive, into pure oxygen which is the basis of all life on earth as we know it at present. But all these types of forests could—and should, in my view—be multiple purpose, mainly because the 839 principal component of all forests is the tree, of many species, of course, and many kinds. The tree is one of the very great marvels of nature.
There is much talk these days of solar energy but usually in the context of the direct utilisation of solar energy; and yet we have before us trees as the most wonderful example of the natural application of solar energy, not just through their photo-synthesis and their photo-chemistry but in many other aspects, too. No man-made pump can possibly equal the efficiency of a tree in pumping up vast quantities of water from below the ground to a height of possibly over one hundred feet and then transpiring that moisture into the atmosphere. I have always regarded the forest as the powerhouse of the future. It has always been a surprise to me that, somehow, we have never managed to tap that source of energy and turn it to our own use and profit. In this connection, I was most struck by a sentence in the Guardian article which I could almost use as my text this afternoon. It ran as follows:A world rich in trees stands very close to our evolutionary subconscious needs".A world poor in trees is certainly a very poor world indeed.
We are asking this afternoon for an expansion of forestry in this country. In doing so, we must realise, as many speakers have already mentioned this afternoon, that many interests are involved other than those of the foresters themselves. There are many interests in the countryside generally; they are basically commercial interests, amenity and conservation. As other speakers have already mentioned, there is far too much polarisation of interest and a great need for harmonisation as between what appear to be at the moment opposing interests, because I believe there is a very great deal of common ground and that common ground is principally centred on a common regard for trees as such.
On the production side I would support particularly those speakers who have spoken in favour of the integration of agriculture and forestry. This has perhaps tended to become a catch phrase and not very much has been done, except by some private interests, and particularly some 840 individuals like my noble friend Lord Dulverton.
In regard to the amenity and conservation side, we in this country have acquired a great reputation for plantation forestry which, if I may describe it, is, generally speaking, even-aged monospecific plantations, and I should like to echo the tributes paid already to Dame Sylvia Crowe for the work that she has done in changing that aspect of our lansdcape and to echo the words which were also spoken this afternoon, that it is change in the landscape to which people mainly object. A great many people think of a landscape as an unchanging backcloth or a permanent tribute to Capability Brown. Of course it is nothing of the sort: it is essentially a dynamic, ever-changing entity. We cannot stop the change; the best thing we can do is to try to control it in the right direction. That is a very important function that we have to exercise.
There is, too, a great demand for more variety in the landscape, which has also been mentioned several times this afternoon and a demand for more ecologically-based forestry. For 30 years I have been engaged on trying to meet this need by introducing mixtures into my woods: mixtures by species, and to some extent mixtures by age in selection forestry, which is much more difficult. It is now quite easy to show that such systems can be workable, although clearly they are more difficult to work in the uplands than they are in the lowlands. It is a subject on which I think very much more research is needed, and I hope that Government action can be taken in this direction.
At the moment noises are emanating from Brussels for some kind of common forestry policy. I hope that no such common forestry policy will emerge, especially if it appears on the lines of the Common Agricultural Policy, but at the same time I think a common framework introduced by the EEC could be of very great advantage to us.
My Lords, I have taken up too much of your time and I should only like to mention one other small point, which is that no speaker yet has mentioned the very great need to control that unmitigated pest, the grey squirrel. Those of your Lordships who know the Chiltern woodlands will realise that those are some of the most 841 beautiful woodlands in the country, and they are not only under threat from the grey squirrel but are being completely destroyed as a result of a failure to control it. Finally, my Lords, I would only say that the overriding need, in my view, is not only for more trees but for more forests.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord IRVING of DARTFORD
My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, for the opportunity which he has given us to discuss this important subject. I should like to think, too, that the useful suggestion he made about a joint committee will be given serious consideration. I should like also to congratulate the maiden speakers. Both of them made interesting and constructive contributions from great experience and both will enrich our debates by their membership of the House in the future. I want to make a very short contribution, my Lords, because unlike all those who have gone before and I believe a number to come— I am not an expert in forestry, but I believe that the Reading Report is a valuable contribution to understanding the problems of securing a satisfactory forestry policy. It recognises that afforestation can be detrimental or beneficial, depending upon the care taken in designing our new forests and, my Lords, we must take that care. This reconciliation of our industrial needs and the needs of the environment is all important and, if I may say so, not just in forestry. But the fact that the Reading Report believes this reconciliation to be possible gives us a reassurance which opens the door to developing a policy which could be of the greatest benefit to us industrially.
The development of our own sources of raw materials is vital to our getting a satisfactory balance between our imports and exports. The paper and board industry with which I am associated— and I am happy to declare an interest— is the largest single user of homegrown timber and is currently consuming 637,000 metric tonnes of soft wood and 189,500 tonnes of hard wood and 150,000 tonnes of wood residues. This represents 15 per cent. of the United Kingdom wood pulp requirement costing £311 million. However, the United Kingdom as a whole is one of the largest importers of forest products 842 in the world. In 1978, 98 per cent. of the total annual United Kingdom consumption of forest produce was imported, at a cost to our balance of payments of £2,378 million. So an increase in our homegrown timber would be a direct help to our balance of payments.
The consumption of soft woods will increase in the early 80s and, with increased capacity coming on stream at the new integrated pulp and board complex at Workington in Cumbria, any further expansion of existing pulping plants or the establishment of new ones— for example, the one under consideration at Fort William, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe— will require an assurance that increased capacity can be supported in the long term by supplies of the right species of small round wood at economic prices.
Increased afforestation would therefore be essential as current small round wood annual production. although rising by 10 per cent. in the next 20 years, will fall back to current levels by the year 2025. The recent study has shown that pulp wood prices in North America were significantly below those in the EEC. Currently the delivered timber costs at the paper mills is one of the main factors in making the United Kingdom unable to be competitive with the equivalent imported products. The significantly higher harvesting costs of the smaller average size trees, which are the main source of pulp wood supplies, mean that timber growers are unable to obtain an adequate return on the sales of thinnings, at a price acceptable to the pulp mills. I believe that a Government early thinning grant would be a very useful help in this respect.
With the United Kingdom imports of timber and timber produce at 2 3/4 billion in 1979, an efficient and long-term increase in the harvesting of trees in the United Kingdom must be very much in the nation's interest. The paper sector working party has already recommended that afforestation be increased by 2 1/2 million hectares by the year 2,000. I believe that this should be considered as a minimum. It would be much more advantageous if the figure of 3.2 million hectares, as stated by the Forestry Commission in their Blue Book, Wood Production Outlook, and supported by the Reading Report, was achieved.
843 It has been said that the cover of forest in the United Kingdom is only about 7 1/2 to 8 per cent. at the moment. This great programme would only double the cover of forest in the United Kingdom. The level of production would provide the raw materials for any further investment in wood pulp. The recommendations of the Reading Report are, in my view, a sound basis for proceeding, and the industry believes that it is perfectly possible to achieve a sensible compromise between the requirements of the forester, the hill farmer and the environmentalist, so that we and generations to come can draw increasingly on the nation's only regenerable raw material. I hope, therefore, that the Government will be able to give support to an adequate and effective forestry policy.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ The Earl of DUNDEE
My Lords, I think that everything I had intended to say in this debate has already been said, much more effectively, by those of your Lordships who have already spoken. I therefore do not propose to detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes. I, too, like my noble friend Lord Devon-port, rang up this morning at an early hour the Forestry Commission in Edinburgh, and they gave me exactly the same figures as they gave him, which have now been revealed to your Lordships. I think it is a little disturbing. I would not mind if we had bought a lot more timber for a proportionately lower price, but to buy a lot more timber for a price which is proportionately even higher is not a good businesslike thing to do. It is, of course, in the long run an unanswerable argument for afforesting a great deal more. I think the Forestry Commission has usually done very well, particularly under the chairmanship of the noble Lord opposite; it has been sensible as well as efficient. Whatever change may be made in the future, I do not think we ought to make much change in the conditions and powers and functions of the Forestry Commission.
I should like to say how much I appreciated and enjoyed the speeches both of my noble friend Lord Devonport and of the noble Lord opposite who is an ex-chairman of the Forestry Commission. The only other thing I would mention is that my noble friend Lord Mansfield, who is 844 going to reply, has always been a very keen and effective forester, as indeed his father of beloved memory was. The late Lord Mansfield, who was probably a great friend of most of your Lordships, certainly of mine, afforested a great many places in Scotland which would not otherwise have been devoted to timber, and I think his son, my noble friend Lord Mansfield, is carrying on what he did very well indeed.
§ 5.25 p.m.
My Lords, I, too, must begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, for giving us the opportunity to debate this immensely important subject. In private talks and discussions I have had with him I have already learned a great deal about forestry, and I am quite sure I have learned a little more from him today in this debate; I am sure we all have. I must at once join other noble Lords in congratulating our two maiden speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, conies to us with immense experience, not only in forestry but in all countryside matters, and I am quite sure that your Lordships' discussions of countryside matters will be immeasurably enriched by his presence here. I greatly enjoyed what he had to say to us today. The noble Viscount, Lord Devonport, comes as visible proof of the possibility of integrated agriculture and forestry. I was most interested to hear what he had to say, particularly with regard to demonstration farms. From his own demonstration farm I am quite sure a great many people will learn a great deal, and I have no doubt that we shall learn much from him on many occasions in the future.
Despite the unanimity on this subject, in your Lordships' House, I think we have already found that the debate has focussed our attention on two national policies of immense importance which from time to time are inevitably in conflict. We have a national policy, and rightly, and we have a need to maximise food and timber production from the land. With that I wholly associate myself, as, I am sure, does everybody in your Lordships' House. In addition, we have a national policy with regard to the need to conserve and protect scenic beauty and sensitive landscapes in our diminishing countryside. In reminding your Lordships that occasional con- 845 flicts must inevitably arise from time to time between those two, I hope I shall not be classed with those mistaken people to whom, as Blake wrote sardonically, "A tree is but a green thing standing in the way". On the contrary, I am deeply conscious of the extent to which trees can enhance our landscape and its scenic beauty, quite apart from their role as habitats for wildlife, and indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, pointed out, habitats for life which is perhaps not quite so wild. Here I would join him in paying tribute to the enormous contribution which the Forestry Corn-mission has made in providing recreation, countryside opportunities of great value and great pleasure, for very large numbers of people, something the Commission has done with great imagination and great skill. I would underline what my noble friend said about the Commission.
There are conflicts, and we saw conflict at its starkest perhaps in the '60s, when we were ripping out hedgerows at a rate of 10,000 miles a year. I am delighted that we are now reversing that trend. Here I must declare an interest as chairman of the Countryside Commission. I take pride in what the Commission has been able to do, with grant aid, for tree planting, to farmers and to landowners, to help the reversal of that very undesirable trend. I should like to say— and I hope to be believed when I say it— the Countryside Commission is not anti-forestry. I am aware that there is a widespread impression to the contrary. It is brought about by our occasional involvement in the conflicts to which I have referred, particularly in national parks. It is easy to see why we are sometimes misunderstood. If we agree with something, that is not news, but if we occasionally, very occasionally, object, then that is news.
For example, in the Snowdonia National Park about 55,000 acres were afforested with our approval, assistance and support. However, we objected to seven acres on a rather dramatic skyline and, of course, those seven acres were news. The other 54,000 odd were not news at all. At this point, without wishing to provoke an argument— I am not anxious to have one — I must take issue for a moment with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, who, when referring to the Commission, said that we had stopped something. We do not have the power to stop anything. We 846 have no powers to do anything. We are purely an advisory body with a statutory duty to advise Ministers. In the case to which I imagine he was referring we have recently given advice to two Ministers in the present Government who, it would appear, have accepted our advice and, it would also appear, have not accepted perhaps the advice which the noble Lord might have given. I am sorry, but these type of conflicts will occur from time to time.
§ Lord TAYLOR of GRYFE
My Lords, I am not suggesting for a moment that the Countryside Commission has powers to stop. I was referring to a particular case as regards which negotiations had been going on for four or five years and which in fact had been cleared by the National Parks Planning Committee in the area concerned, the NFU, and the Forestry Commission after consulting the local amenity bodies. At a late stage— which was very distressing for the seller concerned, and which frustrated employment in that area of South Wales— there was intervention which prevented this integrated forestry and agricultural development. I was referring to that belated intervention.
My Lords, I am sorry that I provoked the noble Lord I must not pursue him too far down that course, but I realise the case to which he is referring. It is one in which we had agreed a policy with the National Parks Committee, indeed totally agreed a policy in which there was a presumption against afforestation in a certain very small area. Later the National Parks Committee reversed its decision, a decision which it had formerly agreed with us. However, I entirely agree with the noble Lord as regards what he said about the need to try to resolve these conflicts at a very early stage and the need to create a situation in which there is not uncertainty and in which people really know where they stand. I am sure that anything that I can do and all noble Lords can do towards that end will be helpful to us all.
However, in general, I assure your Lordships' House that we are anxious to support and encourage increased timber growing. But there will inevitably be occasions when, exercising our statutory 847 duty, we may have to advise Ministers that regimented blocks of Sitka spruce are not appropriate or acceptable on sensitive skyline ridges. But I hope and believe that those occasions will be very rare.
As regards our interest in the promotion of tree planting, surely the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Last year, out of our very limited resources we gave £1.6 million to the private sector in grant aid for small woodlands. When we compare that with the £2.5 million given by the Forestry Commission for the same very limited purpose— and I wholly accept that this is a very minor matter for the Forestry Commission compared with their massive task in commercial timber production— it is evidence, bearing in mind the smallness of our budget, of our intention to try to assist woodlands where we can. I am delighted to say that we have started a dialogue with the private sector in the hope of being able to help with grant aid both the number of trees planted and the variety of trees planted in small private woodlands.
Having mentioned small woodlands, I am led to make the first of two points. I believe that there is a little danger perhaps of small woodlands and their importance being overlooked. If the Forestry Commission, in economic difficulties which we all face, has to pull out of that type of sector— and I would understand if it had to do so— we must not leave it unprovided for, bearing in mind that our statutes limit us to grant aid in areas of less than 0.25 of a hectare, which is a very small woodland indeed. I hope that there will not be a vacuum left behind at some stage.
There is just one other important point that I should like to make, and I have really half made it in response to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. I am referring to the need for much better consultative procedures in order to resolve conflicts or, better still, to prevent those conflicts from arising. I think that perhaps it is time that we took a new look at the RACs and the way in which they are constituted and the way in which they work. That is a long subject. I hope that we can devise formulae which will get rid of many of these conflicts. I am sure that we all share the same ends.
Finally, I hope that on many occasions 848 in your Lordships' House I have demonstrated my concern for the state of the rural economy in many areas, and I am particularly concerned about the rural economy in upland areas. Thus I would wish to underline what has been said by many noble Lords in this debate— particularly the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw— about the need for fiscal measures to assist upland farmers in the integration of forestry and agriculture. I was immensely interested in the figures given to us by the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, figures which I shall study very carefully and which shall hope to pass on to the upland farmers with whom I am in daily contact, who perhaps may not have benefited from that type of wisdom. I think that the noble Duke's contribution was immensely important. Finally, I hope that what I have said today will indicate that there is not only unanimity in your Lordships' House between all the parties on this particular matter, but that despite the fact that I am the chairman of the Countryside Commission, there is the same fine ecumenical spirit on these Benches.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Lord GISBOROUGH
My Lords, I should like to start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, for introducing this debate which is most important, and to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, and the noble Viscount, Lord Devonport, on their very exceptional maiden speeches. One cannot begin without first paying tribute to Professor Bowman's report on forestry. It is a most valuable work and one that deems close study. I shall not repeat the figures that show a British and European deficit in forestry. The need for vastly increased production here and abroad is indisputable and the time-scale of production makes the need for increased action immediate. There is an ancillary reason for growing our own timber for the future. Countries are insisting on exporting a high proportion of finished wood products, protecting their own conversion industries and denying ours, which need in turn a high United Kingdom timber volume to succeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, explained.
There are two overwhelming needs, and they are urgent. First, there is no 849 common Community forest policy and that is surely a vital first step. There is much to be said for including forestry in the CAP. Secondly, it is essential that there should be a common political policy towards forestry in this country and I think that that point has been made by most noble Lords.
As regards Europe, a Community strategy could give support to forestry in areas most suited for quick growth, such as in northern Britain where, at present, sheep at a low rate of productivity often take precedence. Many countries have forestry and farming integrated— especially Norway— even on small scales and there is no reason why the same should not happen here. But, until a rotation is achieved, the small sheep farmer would have to be helped not only to plant the trees, but to maintain sheep output on a reduced, but improved acreage. To achieve that, one taxation theory being floated is that there should be a 90 per cent. grant for planting and weeding bare land only, and thereafter all planting should be paid out of the proceeds of felling, or that this should be an option to the present system. It would certainly encourage the hill farmer to plant, and would equalise the net planting cost to men of high and low incomes. As it could lead to a lessening of marginal farm grants and a lessening of EEC timber importation, such a grant might well be aptly made, and applied for, from Community funds.
But grant aid to forestry to the hill sheep farmer as a productive part of his one-man operation, would have to be limited to a few acres a year so that the labour demand remained low and the eventual return became an annual income. Secondly, a thriving private forestry sector depends on an agreed all-party policy and the treatment for taxation of woodlands is a very important factor. Forestry is too long-term to be treated as a political football. We need a strong all-party forestry committee so that the problems can be understood by all parties, and a long-term policy agreed.
Where the planting exceeds harvesting acreage, the Schedule D-Schedule B syndrome gives a carrot to the forester to plant trees for the next generation, and appears to lead to a bonanza on felling. What is not appreciated is that for every 850 acre felled, there are probably 100 still growing, requiring fencing, planting, cleaning, weeding, thinning, draining, pruning and all the other management needs. Therefore, it is unlikely that the income from B woodlands, even tax free and even if not already reduced by CTT, anywhere near covers the net costs of young woodlands for the majority of owners, unless there is a high proportion of mature woodland and an established rotation. Therefore, the carrot of B is nowhere near as large as it appears to the uninitiated, and particularly to the prejudiced.
CTT treatment is at present very detrimental to the encouragement of forestry. There are two options. Option one is to delay payment until felling and pay tax on the full, final enhanced value. This means that tax is eventually paid on the increment of growth, the increment of value and the increment of quality through management during the life of the successor. This is utterly inequitable and is a severe discouragement to look after inherited timber and to produce the best quality.
Option 2 is to pay at death. This leaves years before felling, during which the crop can be ruined by grey squirrels, can be burned down, can become diseased, or can simply lose demand value, such as in the case of poplars, and he followed by another death and a further CTT payment. It really is essential to return to the old system of payment of duty on felling at the valuation at the time of death. In particular, the threat of a wealth tax on forestry horrified foresters, and the cumulative loss of confidence in the mid-I970s is reputed to have lost the country no less than 70,000 acres of young forestry. Over the last 20 years we have seen an increasing number of individuals and corporations investing in timber through the medium of management companies. The high tax rates have undoubtedly been a factor in encouraging some private individuals to plant.
The hill land acquired for forestry has provided much-needed capital for the sheep farmers to improve their lot, even on the reduced acreages left for their sheep. But there is also a strong demand for the purchase of growing timber and this, of course, has no tax relief on purchase, though management com- 851 panies compete against each other for clients, and this competition breeds efficiency.
Meanwhile, the Forestry Commission has vast acreages of forest currently valued at some £560 million, has no competition and calls on a £30 million a year grant from the Government even after 50 years of being in business. One wonders whether it will ever show a profit. Surely the time has come for the Commission to sell off large tracts of growing forest. The huge sums raised could either reduce its annual Government subsidy, or could be used for increased planting, or both. With timber prices due to rise in a decade or more, it seems an ideal time to sell. The forests sold could remain dedicated and the Comission could compete with management companies to look after them for its purchasers, thus spurring its own efficiency. Further, unlike new planting with its tax relief, sale of growing trees— even young ones— would mean a net inflow of funds to the Treasury, which must be an attractive proposition.
As regards new planting, if the Commission can plant and sell off, well and good, but there is no advantage in using public money if private money can be used instead. There is one injustice that should be looked at by the Government while they look at the policy of sale, and that is the question of Forestry Commission leases. I must declare an interest here. Soon after the war the Forestry Commission demanded very long leases of land for forestry at fixed rentals of 2/6d an acre for up to 999 years. Is that not correct?
§ Lord GISBOROUGH
My Lords, the powers and threat of compulsory purchase forced many landowners to enter into leases against their better judgment. The Commission should now either offer the land and trees back to the lessors at valuation or agree to do so after the first crop has been felled, subject of course to conditions of private replanting. It cannot be just to hang on to leases extracted in the first place with the implied threat of compulsory purchase.
One more point on the Commission is that it is flooding the market with surplus 852 young trees to the disruption and worry of private nurseries. Fair competition is all very well, but the Commission can undercut, as it does not have to make a profit to stay in business.
Increased forestry has to overcome many problems, one of which is common land, which has already been mentioned. At the moment there are vast acreages of useless hillsides of moorland classed as commons. These cannot be planted for posterity. Surely it is time that a compromise be reached whereby these hillsides be freed from this archaic restriction. Surely it is more important to look forward to timber production then to worry whether a hill has been a common in past centuries. But this would be a thorn for the Government to grasp. Will they look into it? Perhaps the commoners could have an interest in the timber grown or share in the cost, but whoever owns those hillsides, they cry out for planting. Anyhow, much of this common land hillside is covered with bracken and, according to one authority, bracken has been increasingly implicated as a cause for human stomach cancer via meat, milk and water. This surely lends a sense or urgency to getting all these hillsides planted. It also calls for better grants for the eradication of bracken, regardless of reseeding.
Conservation is another problem. Where trees are to be planted there is an outcry; there is an equal outcry where they are to be felled. The public want a status quo. Unless the countryside is to become a sterile museum, it must change, as it always has in the past, to modern needs. There is no harm in covering a remote hillside with single species, and when they are grown, the forests will become dear to the hearts of conservationists.
On the other hand, where a forest overlooks, for example, a town or is in rolling farmland, it is vital that the species should be carefully chosen to provide the best aspect. Private forestry has practised amenity planting for generations and the beauty of the English countryside is owed to the amenity planting of past generations of private foresters. But the position is not helped by the break-up of estates, because the owner-occupier, with an interest charge of possibly £350 per acre on a £2,000 an acre purchase price, cannot afford to devote land to forestry 853 as can the estate owner losing only perhaps £35 an acre or less rental. Incidentally, this huge on-cost for the owner-occupier must contribute to inflation and to the cost of food.
So far as wildlife is concerned, some interests, including the Commission, have also been very much at fault. Where large tracts are planted, as in Dumfries, private forestry under management companies has left frequent rides, not only to help control vermin, but to allow wildlife to thrive with the alternate forest and open grass. The Commission's large blocks have denied ability to control vermin and have discouraged wildlife. One result is that in the Commission land all deer have to be shot on sight, while in the "rided", even very young private compartments, deer can be allowed to thrive in controlled numbers without damaging young trees.
But the conservationists have made their point and the Commission and the management companies now pay much greater regard to amenity and conservation, as have the private foresters for generations. It would, for example, be vastly detrimental to every interest, including amenity, if forestry now became a planning matter with every local society objecting and holding up planting, as has already been mentioned.
One of the demands of the public is for more access to forestry land. Where forestry can he organised to receive visitors, this is an excellent concept, and there have been some great examples of success. But casual entry by footpaths close to centres of population simply means that trees are chopped down for firewood, initials are carved into growing trees, ruining them, and there is a severe risk of fire. If the public demand and get too much access, the result will be that no one will plant trees anywhere near areas of population.
Another curious anomaly is that contractors still sometimes stipulate imported timber. This increases the import bill and keeps the price of thinnings below the cost of production. Will the Government help by requesting British timber for their contracts? Anyhow, British thinnings cannot compete with the American CIF prices for the United Kingdom pulp milk, which inhibits thinning of woodland and 854 thereby reduces later growth. There are huge acreages of under-thinned plantations for this reason. To avoid compounding this problem an early thinning grant from the Government or the Community would greatly increase the growth and quality of timber for a later year and avoid wasting middle-aged plantations.
Forestry is an act of faith and of dedication to the future, and is contained by an attitude of mind that must be cherished. Once lost, it could not be regained, for no sane forester plants for his own benefit when the return is so long and so low. His son, who will benefit, must have the encouragement similarly to dedicate for the future. In time, in a long time, if we keep our sights exclusively towards producing the volume, we could lick that £2,370 million import Bill, but if we do not we shall find ourselves unable to afford a decreasing supply.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Lord GLENKINGLAS
My Lords, like so many people who have already spoken, I have to declare an interest, because my family at least has an interest in trees, although I do not believe I own any at all unless an occasional magnolia or embothrium count as forest trees. Like all noble Lords who have spoken, I have enjoyed listening to the many expert people who have been talking on this most important subject, which was so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, and so well responded to by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, as I think everybody in the House would have expected them to do. They are both considerable experts in their own field.
It is one of the happier aspects of forestry that it is largely, totally without political commitment except very occasionally and on the fringe. The real problem about it is not that we disagree but that having all agreed we cannot get anything done about it, and that is something which I am sure between us, if we go on long enough— and it takes a long time to grow trees— we shall succeed in achieving. It has also been a great pleasure to all of us, and perhaps particularly to me, to listen to the two maiden speeches. The first by my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt, who was rash enough to ask me to introduce him to the House— which I did. Now I am very glad indeed 855 to have listened to his maiden speech. I was also— and many of your Lordships will agree with me— particularly pleased to see the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, back again and in reasonably good voice.
One of the pleasures of speaking late in a debate of this sort, with so many expert people debating a topic of which they have real knowledge and skill, is that one has spent a good deal of time over the past 48 hours concentrating one's mind carefully on saying a few well-chosen words and then, by the grace of God, one's noble friends have said almost every one of them, so that one is reduced either to making a list of noble Lords with whom you agree and sitting down, or trying to find some small aspect of what they have said which perhaps needs a little extra attention.
Of course, this debate is right in being concerned with strategy for all the obvious reasons; the length of time that it takes to grow a tree; the length of time it takes the Government to make up their mind; and for the reasons my noble friend Lord Gisborough mentioned in his excellent short speech, of taxation and the implications of tax on the confidence of people who are growing trees not for themselves, perhaps not even for their children, but for the future and the good of the land. Many of us, however old-fashioned it may be, still believe that the land we own we hold in trust for the generations that come.
By curious coincidence Scotland has become particularly important, not only because of the oil revenues that it at present produces from offshore— if one can put it that way— but also because, as the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, first said in this debate, the revenue from oil is inevitably going to run out in exactly the same sort of period when the enormously increased import savings are going to come if we plant trees now. If we plant them much later, then there will be an extremely ugly gap, which most of us will not be here to see but will be serious and difficult for our children.
The next point I want to say a word on is integration. I think I was one of the earlier people in on this particular act. I can remember being so horrified in about 1950 at the absolutely unbelievable 856 attitude of both the Scottish Office and the Forestry Commission of that day that I went and saw a newly-appointed gentleman who was called the Minister of State for Scotland, who happened to then be a Peer of the Realm known as the Earl of Home. He was the first person who managed to bang the heads together of the Scottish Office and the Forestry Commission and get them both to promise to do something useful. They did promise, and nothing happened, but it was not Lord Home's fault because he was entirely in favour of it at the time. It was merely the inertia of both the commission of that time and the Scottish Office of that time which failed to get anything done.
When talking about integration one has to remember that people use the phrase "hill land". Hill land is an enormously variable substance. In my part of the world the hill land is subject to something like 12 1/2 feet to 13 feet of rain, and we are extremely lucky if all goes well if, in an average year, we can get a 70 per cent. effective lamb crop. A little south of me where you get much more gentle slopes and a much more amenable climate, you are really not doing very well on your hill land unless you are getting 90 per cent. and even 110 per cent. of lambs, and this variation is enormously important when you are looking at the return of your hill land and whether it can be viable.
I do not believe in any real sense that hills which are producing around 70 per cent.— and many produce a lot less than that— of lamb crop can be said to be gainfully employed producing sheep. I do not say that sheep cannot have some part to play on those hills, but that should not be their primary objective. Therefore, how are the people who are doing their best, as I have been trying to do for the last 50 odd years, to use that land as a useful natural resource? I think the answer is that one has to sell a certain amount of the worst land for forestry, and you have to use the now quite considerable amounts you get for it for the expensive business of highly-intensive sheep production.
May I just give an example to your Lordships. Last year— in a very bad year, it is true— the sheep we had under intensive care (if that is the right expression) in a shed were lambing at a rate 857 that we put out a 233 per cent. lamb crop. The sheep on the hills did not make 50 per cent. From that one illustration, although it was an extreme one, one can see that when people talk about the number of sheep that this is not really the important part of the argument; it is what they produce. With one quarter of the number of sheep last year on our ground we could have produced as many lambs as would have been produced on the hill.
There is one other point that has been mentioned already by one or two speakers, and that is the pulp mill. I have a slightly proprietorial feeling about the pulp mill because I helped to bring it to Scotland in the teeth of the opposition of the Board of Trade of the day. My noble friend Lord Polwarth was at the Scottish Council at the time. We pulled it off. As Secretary of State at the time, I was not entirely keen that it should make an enormous profit for Wiggins Teape, although it was confident that it would be a viable operation; but I was aware that there were vast areas of under-thinned trees all round about in the forests, and unless the pulp mill was started the full potential of the forests of Scotland would not be realised. If we are going to go forward, as I hope we are, with a major planting programme, we must match it with suitable factories, saw-mills and other things, to "eat" the trees as they come out of the forests.
I thank your Lordships for allowing me to speak for a short time. If the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, who has come back, will check the Hansard Report, I think he will find that he said that the Fort William Pulp Mill employed 900,000 people. I wish I had been able to bring in as many people as that, but I think that one or two extra noughts have crept in.
§ Lord TAYLOR of GRYFE
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Glenkinglas, for a moment, my few minutes' absence was entirely due to the fact that I was correcting that figure upstairs.
§ Lord GLENKINGLAS
My Lords, I am so glad to know that the noble Lord has picked it up. Lastly, there was at one moment an idea that in some way forestry could help crofting communities. I do not know whether that has happened. I 858 have never thought that crofting communities were particularly viable. If forestry can in some way help them, I, for one, would be delighted.
§ 6.1 p.m.
My Lords, may I also offer my thanks to Lord Dulverton, Lord Taylor, and to the two maiden speakers who have participated in this debate. It has been of considerable interest to me because I almost felt myself moving my lips and saying exactly what so many noble Lords were saying in the course of this debate, not because I am an authority on this particular subject so far as practical engagement therein is concerned, but because for some 70 years I have been interested in its operations. There is no need for me to declare a "personal interest". I have been associated voluntarily with an organisation involved in the planting of trees and also with agricultural development. I had, of course, intended to say much of what has been said. I draw attention particularly to the importance of growing trees for pulp. I also endorse what has been said with regard to recreational purposes and, in general, to the importance of the forestry industry.
The organisation to which I refer is connected with the development of a new country that had been entirely deluded of trees. I am talking about Israel. The occupation of Israel by Turkey almost denuded the whole country— Palestine as it then was— so far as the remnant of trees was concerned. Those who were interested, particularly the original settlers there, who went inspired by their desire to re-create the Jewish ancestral home, immediately set about rectifying the position and, with their bare hands, they planted trees.
It will be interesting, perhaps, for your Lordships to know that when I led the first parliamentary delegation to that land in 1934, the very first public thing that we were given the opportunity to do was to plant trees with our own hands in a forest that was being planted near Haifa called the Alexander of Macedonia Forest. It was an introduction to what I learned was being done in areas that had been absolutely bare of trees, and what it was proposing to do in the future, for the purpose of restoring life and industry to that land.
859 It is interesting, but I am not going to go over the ground why this is important. It has been very adequately covered by noble Lords who have spoken already. But I should like to touch on one other aspect that has not yet been raised. That is, what method can be used, not only by the Government and private enterprise, but by the community as a whole, so that the importance of this particular subject may be realised. Some 80 years ago a fund was created in respect of Palestine called the Jewish National Fund. In addition to dealing with the development of forestry, it also dealt with the development of agriculture. With regard to the points that have been raised here as to whether any conflict existed or should exist, I may say that, so far as Israel is concerned, anyhow, the forests have not created a problem.
Since the National Fund, the original planters have planted over 127 million trees in that small land. Of course, it has had a wonderful effect— perhaps a greater effect from the point of view of health, as in, for example, the removal of malaria and other diseases than would apply here. Nevertheless, it has created a great interest in individuals throughout the world and I have had occasion to deal with this particular movement in almost every civilised part of the world. It has brought about an immense interest in creating forests instead of using stones, et cetera, to commemorate important personalities and to indicate people's desire to have their names remembered for ever by their forests. There are a large number in Israel, British forests among them; for example, the Queen Elizabeth Jubilee Forest; Balfour; King George V; Churchill; Harold Wilson and many others. I will not give the full list, but those who have been greatly admired in the world are remembered for ever as long as afforestation continues.
May we consider how they got finance for those forests. Today we are talking about financial difficulties here. Faced with similar difficulties, the Jewish National Fund looked, as they have done in the past, to communities in the various areas in which they live to contribute towards the purchase and planting of trees in those forests, where the names of statesmen, et cetera, can be commemorated, and this has been a remarkable success.
860 Bearing that in mind, I am wondering whether it could be encouraged for afforestation in our country. It is a matter, incidentally, which could be successfully operated by the Government in conjunction with private enterprise; there is no reason at all why it should not be done in that way. If a person wishes to commemorate, say, an important event in his life, he can buy 100 trees, or perhaps 1,000, which is a grove, for planting in a forest. That can be done instead of someone spending his or her money on, perhaps, gifts which on many occasions are useless and which accumulate until the person dies, after which they may be thrown into the wastepaper basket. Instead of that, the person making the gift receives a certificate stating that he or she has contributed towards the planting of trees in a forest.
I make that suggestion to all who are interested in afforestation. I strongly advise those who are able to visit the areas about which I have spoken to see what has actually been clone there. It is a remarkable and fascinating achievement, as are so many others in Israel. I suggest that contact be made with Israeli experts and perhaps with other countries to look carefully at that illustration of what can be done if people really want to increase the prospects of their country. I was anxious to put this new idea forward and I hope it will be taken on in a manlier which will produce sufficient money for the forests themselves, without having to spend more than a comparatively small amount to advertise this appeal, which is exactly what has happened in the case to which I have referred. I thank noble Lords for having given me the opportunity to make this point. I could speak at much greater length, but I am aware of what has prompted those who have spoken so extremely well in the debate and whose views are, I think, accepted unanimously by your Lordships' House.
§ 6.14. p.m.
The Earl of CAITHNESS
My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Dulverton for raising this important matter today and 1, too, wish to add my congratulations to the two maiden speakers. The need for a clear forestry policy is evident, as has been proved today, but I hope those who finally determine that 861 policy for this country will give very serious consideration to what they want as an end product; that is, the final crop. It is evident that the greater the number of trees which contain a high volume of timber we can grow, the more our import bill will be reduced. Not only, therefore, is the policy important, but so is the management strategy.
If we look at the present management system in this country, it will be found that, almost without exception, owners and the Forestry Commission are growing large areas of even aged timber which they clear fell and which are most in blocks of the same species. Just because "everyone" is doing it, is it correct'? I do not think it is and I seriously question it. First, the end product of the majority of the soft wood timber in this country, being pine or spruce, will probably be sold for pulp or similar industrial uses, such as pit props and wood wool. This is the poor end of the market and can be likened in agricultural terms to the straw market for an arable farmer.
If one looks back in history at the pulp market in this country, it is not a happy story, and if your Lordships require further proof, I would suggest a quick visit to Fort William to question a few men whose livelihoods are in jeopardy there. I am sure they will confirm that this is a poor market and that therefore this country is quite wrong to pursue any policy where pulp wood will be the only use for a major part of the crop. This means that most of the planting on the higher ground in Scotland and Wales must be highly suspect. Unless the even aged clear felling system is abandoned in favour of no clear felling, which at least offers a chance of growing larger and more valuable timber on these sites, I fear that the desired objective of producing more good timber will not be achievable.
That is the direction that woodland management in this country should take. It is a policy which should appeal to the Countryside Commission and, from what I have heard of the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, I hope he will drum it into his officials that it is a good policy. It is also a policy which the noble Viscount, Lord Devonport, and the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, mentioned, and I should like to take it a stage further, as it 862 has been proved to work by an area of woodland in Norfolk which I know well.
At the beginning of this century the largest trees on this heathland were mostly rough old Scots pines and were not of great milling value. Now, the largest trees are Douglas fir, which have attained heights of 90 to 100 ft., whereas the old Scots pines' height was 60 to 70 ft. It would not have been possible to grow the Douglas fir and other valuable species, such as oak, Spanish chestnut, larch, tsuga and thuja, without leaving the Scots pine and birch cover in the first place, and the timber would not have been as large without other large trees round about to aid growth in the early and middle years. Very little of the timber goes for pulp and, when it does, the price obtained from the nearest pulp mill, in Kent, renders the sale probably valueless, after transportation costs. I have some figures on this. The Sittingbourne pulp mill are offering— these figures were obtained last Monday— £14.50 per ton of mixed conifer. If one analyses the production costs, it will be £8 to £10 per ton and £6 for transport.
Besides being able to grow bigger trees, which are more suitable for milling purposes, there are numerous other advantages of the policy of uneven aged management with no clear felling. It is easier to introduce a variety of species, which are probably more adaptable industrially and valuable as a final crop, than an area of even aged species. There is an improved habitat for wildlife and, again, with a variety of ages and species, there will be an increased variety of wildlife, as one is offering a greater range of habitat. The fertility of the soil can be improved, thus enabling larger timber to be grown.
Has the Forestry Commission reported to the Government the results of any tests it has undertaken on the effect to the land of growing, say, three rotations of spruce which is clear felled at perhaps 60 years of age, a policy to which some noble Lords have referred'? Can the ground on the poorer sites then grow a fourth crop of spruce, or will all the goodness have been leached out so that heather can barely grow on that site? What erosion will take place following clear felling where deep drains at regular intervals have been gouged out of the 863 hillside? Has anybody considered the long-term problems that pure, even aged management might— and I think probably will— cause foresters in the future?
We are doing something entirely unnatural, and I believe that it is wrong to follow this policy. It would be much better to work hand-in-hand with nature, rather than fight against it. If one looks at any of the great natural forests of the world, one will not find pure, even aged woodland; instead one will find that these forests are of mixed species and are uneven aged.
In addition, there is the disease factor, and although there will be some disease in the mixed, uneven aged woods, it will not be as much as it will be in the even aged species. In order to produce its own timber, nature did not have to spray square miles of America with dioxin, with its terrifying results, which some of your Lordships might have seen on television the other night. Neither did nature have to spray acres of Caithness against the pine beauty moth, or acres of Cannock Chase against the pine luper moth; that was all taken care of.
Another advantage of the management policy I am advocating is that it reduces the possibility of wind blow. The loss of timber in areas such as Thetford Chase, by the gale in 1976, was enormous, and I doubt whether the Forestry Commission will ever tell us the real figures, even if they themselves know them. The difference in the effect on the uneven aged woodland, to which I have already referred, and the pure, even aged timber of Thetford Chase, a few miles further South, was noticeable even to the eye of a non-forester. Although there was considerable loss in the former, large parts of Thetford Chase looked like a battlefield.
There is one main disadvantage to my policy, and that is the capital tax structure in this country as it affects woodland. The more valuable the timber, the greater the tax, and since there is always a high standing value, this is particularly noticeable when CTT becomes payable. It would not be going too far to say that CTT in its present form— that is, pre-budget, if there has been a change today— will destroy any mature, uneven aged woodlands, even if the tax is deferred. It also 864 acts as a very effective discouragement to woodland owners to embark on uneven aged management, which surely must be the best management policy for the long-term interests of this country.
Furthermore, those who dedicated their woodlands on the assumption that the capital tax structure would not change for the worse, have been placed in a position of enormous financial embarrassment by the introduction of CTT. There will be some economists, with their graphs, yield class tables, and theorist outlook, who will say that the policy I advocate is uneconomic. They have often been wrong in the past; often enough for me to question them once more.
I should like the Government to ask the Forestry Commission to try to sample uneven aged plots in various parts of the country. The foresters and their advisers might have to be retrained to a certain extent, but this would not be an over-difficult exercise, since many people on the Continent appear to be extremely good at this trade.
I would also hope to see measures taken whereby owners of the existing uneven aged woods in this country are encouraged, not discouraged. As will be apparent, continuity of management is important, too. So a stable policy is even more necessary. I repeat that we must grow more timber, but let us grow better quality, and larger, timber. To do this we need to change our management policy to one of uneven aged with no clear felling, as I have advocated. It has so many advantages, and it combines enhanced amenity value, which we all desire, with increased timber production, besides being a natural integration of land use.
§ 6.24 p.m.
My Lords, I wish to declare an interest in the forestry industry, since I am an owner of lowland forestry land in England and of a sawmill that goes with it. I beg to congratulate my noble friend Lord Dulverton, and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, upon instituting the debate and, above all, upon its timing. I suppose that we should also congratulate the authorities, or the usual channels, in your Lordships' House for selecting this day. With the CAS Reading Report issued only recently, though with sufficient a time margin to have created 865 enormous interest throughout the country, and with another place discussing the launching of a Finance Bill for the ensuing year, what better time could there be for a debate by your Lordships on the subject of forestry?
Land values are going up, the country's economic position is going down, as we hear ad nauseam that the world's renewable or consumable resources are also going down while unemployment is going up. Those are— are they not?— worldwide trends, to which both my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, have referred. In the forestry industry we believe that the United Kingdom section of it has an enormous part to play in putting right this trend, so far as our country is concerned; and it is a long-term role.
The Reading Report refers to the period up to the year 2000 and 2025, and the noble Duke (who is not in his place) suggested even longer periods. Yet the year 2025 is only 45 years away. That is no time in terms of forestry thinking. Foresters are trained to think in terms of a very long timescale. I have no doubt that during the course of today men in my wood will have been felling 200-year-old trees, which were in a pretty sorry old state. They were the last trees to remain following the desolation that became necessary during the Second World War. Equally, men, many men— in fact 15,000 or so of them— throughout the country are just completing a new planting season. Such plantings, 45 years hence, after they have got over the awkward "teenage" stage referred to by the noble Duke, will in relation to this country's industry play a part which I firmly believe will remedy the sad state of affairs which I mentioned a few moments ago.
The report states— this has been referred to today— that 90 per cent. of our wood and wood products are bought from abroad— or rather, that will be the position in 2025, if the forecasts prove correct; but who can tell? However, even on the basis of a modest forecast, I suggest that the worldwide consumption of timber will rise at the kind of rate that has been mentioned, and surely in this country it will rise even faster. If that forecast is anywhere near correct, it will mean that consumption in terms of timber and 866 timber-like products will rise from 39 million cubic metres today to 75 million cubic metres. A cubic metre is not far short of a ton of wood— a fairly large quantity.
How much of this will be produced from our own resources. At the high level the report suggests 26 per cent. At a lower level it suggests perhaps 19 per cent. Whatever the percentage may be, we require a very large increase in our own home-grown percentage, compared with the miserable 8 per cent. which is all that we can today arrive at from our resources. If an improvement on that 8 per cent. is to be made, word must go out from your Lordships' House to Her Majesty's Government to get a policy moving now, because if a policy is not begun now, next year's planting season cannot possibly get under way— let alone the planting seasons that will be required for the next 45 years.
I suspect that when we leave the Chamber and go to look at the ticker tape our minds will be wonderfully concentrated on what has been going on in another place in regard to the launching of the Budget. However, I do not believe that this debate is necessarily so much about money. Perhaps that point will be a source of help to the noble Earl who is to reply. I do not believe— as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and other noble Lords have said— that it is so much Government money that is required by the forestry industry. What the industry requires is confidence. As the noble Earl, Lord Bradford said, and as has been said in your Lordships' House for the past 30 years, and in particular for the past two years, it requires an agreed Government policy. That policy must be agreed and confirmed in Parliament, but above all, it must be agreed by both, or all, of the major political parties. This is stated loud and clear in the Reading Report; and the nation will benefit by such a policy in 45 years' time, when that policy begins to come to maturity. We shall find that a very large percentage (who can tell: the 18 per cent. at the lower scale or the 26 per cent. at the higher scale?) of this huge sum of £2,400 million will be produced here at home.
My Lords, how much extra planting is going to be required? How much 867 extra money is to be found for that planting? I have suggested that possibly not all that amount of public money is in fact required. My noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch and my noble friend Lord Gisborough have already stated that it is the capital taxation penalty upon long term growing that is the major brake on investment in the forestry industry at this time. Remove that, and I believe that private investment will flow back into the forestry industry. In fact, despite the drop that there has been within the last two to three years, there are signs, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has suggested that confidence is about to come back to the industry.
It could well be that in the public sector there are at present (by Treasury terms) uneconomic plantations owned by the Forestry Commission which yet have great potential value. Possibly these could be sold, as has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Gisborough, and the money so raised, with the confidence which has been gained by private industry to buy up such plantations, could be used by the State sector to plant up, in particular, the marginal areas. I would not go so far as my noble friend Lord Gisborough with regard to the Forestry Commission and its efforts, because I believe that over the years the Forestry Commission has been of enormous help and benefit to the struggling woodland owner, both on the small scale and on the large scale.
I am only an English plainsman, unlike the noble Earl who will be replying, and I am afraid that I am not too keen on walking across moors and mountains, especially in the filthy weather conditions which usually seem to exist. But I appreciate that there are many thousands of people in this country who take their recreation by walking, in appalling conditions, over these moors and mountains, owned throughout the country by many noble Lords and, of course, by the Forestry Commission. For some reason, these people, and the spokesmen of these people in particular, do not seem to like trees. I was very interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, had to say; but there are numerous vociferous spokesmen on behalf of these people. In particular, they do not like coniferous trees.
868 I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Devonport, on his maiden speech. It was a most interesting speech and a very thoughtful one, and we very much hope we shall hear him again. But he was in a position to chide my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt, who also made a most interesting contribution in his maiden speech to your Lordships' House, from immense knowledge of his subject. The noble Viscount, Lord Devonport, was able to chide my noble friend over the rights or wrongs of Sitka spruce. I rather suspect— and I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Devonport— that a tree which grows in the right place in the right way at the right time is a beautiful tree, be it Sitka spruce or any other sort of tree; and it will always be of great value.
But, my Lords, I wonder whether there is not a sort of inbred fear among those who walk these moors and mountains in regard to the forests that they might see growing up there one day. Could it be, do you think, the illustrated pictures in Hans Andersen's fairy tales and in Grimms' books? Your Lordships will remember those dark conifer forests in Hansel and Gretel; and even, perhaps, in Snow White, one remembers the eyes in the forest, all looking round the little cottage in the middle of the dank pine trees. Is it something to do with that, I wonder, that makes these people so anti the forestry interests of this nation?
In Europe, America, Russia, India and China— the people are proud of and love their forests. They are proud of them because of the industry that they give to those countries; and, often, in the parts of those countries in which they are, it is very poor and no other industry can flourish. They also love their forests for the recreation that they give. If these people who walk the moors and mountains really went to see the great man-made forests of Thetford— I mention that name being an Englishman— and then those in Scotland and, of course, in Wales, I believe they would be very proud of them indeed, and would have good reason to be so. I would hope that in some way the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, about the requirements for a national forest industry can get through to his friends and colleagues who do this walking, and who can be so vociferous and difficult at allowing a new forestry programme to go forward.
869 My Lords, huge areas are being planted elsewhere in the world for exactly the purposes which my noble friend Lord Dulverton and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, have said—for the prosperity of the future generations of the countries. It was particularly interesting to hear of Lord Janner's experience in Palestine, where, with hare hands, people made the desert flow. I have had the privilege of being a member of a forestry delegation to China, where, on a vast scale, I would imagine that exactly the same sort of thing is taking place as indeed took place in Palestine. It was unfortunately impossible to go to see such an operation, but in a few years' time, I have no doubt, the great new Green Wall of China will be readily visible to those who wish to see it.
My Lords, surprisingly, Chairman Hua has said that trees have no votes in China. In your Lordships' House today, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has said that trees have no votes. I rather suspect that the comparison between those two remains there. But Chairman Hua also said,One man plants a tree with a spade, and several men with axes will cut it down";and, for that very good reason, China requires an enormous acreage of new trees to complete their modernisation, in exactly the same way as Lord Janner has told us about the people of Palestine. What is more, for this modernisation the communes will be mobilised, and I rather suspect that the mobilisation that the noble Viscount, Lord Devonport, has in mind for this country, to grow a few more trees, will be a little different from the Chinese mobilisation for a couple of hundred million hectares in a given number of years. I think the situation could be very different.
In China, my Lords, they have now got a new forestry Ministry—an entirely new Ministry separate from their agricultural Ministry. What is more, they have a new law which is severely enforced—and woe betide anybody who breaks the forestry law. Are those pointers to the way in which perhaps other countries should begin to run their forestry efforts? Are they pointers in some way to the fact that we must tighten up our ideas about a forestry policy and a forestry law for this country? We wait with great interest, with great pleasure and with great humility for the return visit of the official forestry 870 delegation to this country from the People's Republic of China later this year, in May and June.
My Lords, I would ask whether Her Majesty's Government can give the confidence which is needed. I believe that the most serious lack of confidence to be remedied concerns the capital taxation position; but perhaps they can also tell the nation, to give foresters confidence, that we need trees. What is more, we need trees upon one-third of the 6.6 million hectares of upland, mountain and wasteland which have been referred to already in your Lordships' House. After all, 2.2 million out of 6.6 million will still leave 4. 4 million hectares upon which people can walk about or at which they can look. We have heard that Lord Taylor's friend has already found that you cannot live on these sort of hectares—for I suppose one would not call them "acres" any longer.
It cannot be right that the interests of just one narrow group, although representing a large number of people, should he allowed to jeopardise the future prosperity of this nation and the generations to come. Surely, they should not be permitted to jeopardise the jobs of men and women. We have heard that there are some 15,000 employed in United Kingdom forestry and a further 15,000, or probably more, employed in industries in both town and countryside. Those jobs could be jeopardised if a forestry policy is not allowed to go forward. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt, in his excellent maiden speech, the reasons why that policy must go forward if those jobs are not to be jeopardised. Recent articles in the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph have stated, I think, rather surprisingly—and again this perhaps demonstrates the clever timing of this debate—the prizes that are there to be won by United Kingdom forestry. Reading University has stated the requirements for those prizes and the methods whereby they can be won.
From this House, we ask this of the Government and the noble Earl who will be replying. Can we be given the confidence to gain those prizes by the removal of capital taxation penalties and by the production of a genuine, agreed, all-party forest policy confirmed by both Houses of Parliament?
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Viscount INGLEBY
My Lords, may I start by saying how much I enjoyed the ramble through the woods that we have had with the noble Earl who has just spoken. I myself am fortunate enough to look after mixed woods in the North Yorkshire moors, where the woods are planted mostly on the sides of hills, but with some on the hill tops. We are all told there is going to be massive unemployment in the future. That will mean a massive bill in social security benefits. Would it not be better if some of that money, plus a little more, were spent on training and employing some of that vast army to plant-up some of our underused hillsides? Hill planting—and I have done a little of it myself—can he integrated with farming (as my noble friend Lord Dulverton has said) to the mutual benefit of both activities. And it can provide shelter. There are many days in my part of the world when neither man nor beast can exist in the open. It also can he integrated with the landscape. I expect many noble Lords will have enjoyed the excellent booklet that the Forestry Commission has produced on this subject under the hand of Dame Sylvia Crowe.
The hill farmer is always short of capital; he may want to sell part of his land in order to finance improvements on his farm. I should like to ask the Minister whether the Forestry Commission will be allowed sufficient money to buy some of this land in the future. There is also the question of the forestry service which, in many ways, has built up a fund of valuable experience which is not available anywhere else. I am thinking particularly of the making of forest roads on steep hillsides. This is a very skilled business. I know that the forestry service have been asked to economise as much as possible, but I hope that the economies will not be pushed to the point where their valuable advice will not be available to the private sector. I should like to finish where I started by asking again whether some part of the vast army of unemployed would not be better employed planting-up some of our hillsides.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ The Earl of LONSDALE
My Lords, at this late stage of the debate on my noble friend's important Motion I do not imagine that your Lordships will be pleased 872 if I speak for too long. All noble Lords who are interested in forestry and knowledgeable about United Kingdom industry—or who have become so through the years—are passionate in the belief that we must have a considerable expansion of the forestry industry because of the necessity for a great deal more timber production to ensure greater resources now, to save imports and to reduce the impact of the undoubtedly growing scarcity in the next century. I will not refer to the Blue Book or to the Reading Study—and we have had enough about that today—or even go back to the deservedly-maligned cost-benefit analysis of seven or eight years ago, which took far too short a view. I think it was my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry who said that the Treasury always take far too short a view, a view from one Government to the next, or from one three years to the next three years; whereas, as far as forestry is concerned, it has to be a 50-year or a 100-year view.
Many of us have said that politically there ought to be an all-party agreement on a long-term forestry strategy of the country, which will not change from Government to Government but will persist with the agreed support of all parties in Parliament and stand the test of time over 50 years or so. Most important to those of us who participate in and think about forestry is that we shall be much maligned by our children and grandchildren if we do not take positive steps at this time to produce an expanding and forward-looking national forestry policy.
Like so many noble Lords who participate here today, I have many interests in the United Kingdom industry which I must rightly declare: past office holder, predecessor of the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, member of national and regional advisory committees, one of Lord Winstanley's RACs; and I have recently been invited to be co-opted as a layman to the forestry sub-committee of your Lordships' Committee on Science and Technology. I hope I can contribute. Today I proudly wear the tie of the Association of Professional Foresters, of which I have the honour to be president. Of course, I have substantial commercial interests.
The most interesting organisation with which I am involved is the industry's 873 advisory committee on the supply of timber and the demand for forests. A few words about that might help to highlight some of the problems. Originally it was set up on an ad hoc basis when a remarkable American entrepreneur came here 10 years ago and proposed to establish a huge pulp mill on the River Tyne, gained the support of many Members of another place for this pulp mill on the Tyne, and suggested that with their help he should buy the entire Keilder Forest from the Forestry Commission, the biggest man-made forest in Europe. They rather neglected the vast pollution that would be added to the River Tyne—which did not please the Northumbrians—and neglected the attitude of the Government and of the Treasury to the possible sale of the Keilder Forest. As a result of that there was a considerable battle. At that particular time, apart from being knowledgeable about and involved in the forestry industry, I was a member of the Northern Economic Planning Council. I had difficulty in persuading my colleagues that this was not possible and would be disastrous. But the attraction that this had for Tyneside was the employment that it would create. It was premature. Out of that arose the committee on supply and demand.
It is very interesting to find now that, so far as the processing industry is concerned, there has been a very remarkable resurgence, resilience or upsurge in the particle board industry, which was at a very low ebb a year ago. The pulp and board manufacturing industry are now thinking much more progressively. The noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, and I have both been involved in activities in support of that. He quoted several of their figures. May I quote one or two more that are rather sad? Imports are at an all-time high: 49.3 per cent. of all the paper and board we use is imported. About half of the 50.7 per cent. that we use at home consists of recycled waste paper, of which there is adequate supply, no shortage and is used very largely to the full.
The interesting point is that many other countries last year increased their production of paper and board at anything up to 12 per cent. over the previous year, whereas we increased our production by only 1 per cent. over the previous year. We were the bottom of the league table. At the same time the industry's journal 874 tells me that they have an exciting development to make British industry less dependent on the squeeze: a research project entitled "Small scale pulping of indigenous raw materials." This has been initiated by their technical division. A survey shows that in the United Kingdom over 30 sites exist where small scale pulp mills, 30 to 50 tons a day, could be established for bleached hardwood or bleached softwood. Total import savings from 30 small pulp mills are estimated at £90 million per annum. These things are exciting and are developments which are encouraging. At the same time, it is vitally important—as has been said before —that all the help in the world is given by Government to ensure that Wiggins Teape in the North-West of Scotland does not founder and passes into new ownership which will make newsprint economically, which they believe they can do.
The problems are now highlighted by our supply and demand committee of the saw milling industry. Important price movements are affecting that. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, has already touched on the fact that Russian timber for delivery in 1980–81 is 30 per cent. up in price on delivery in 1979–1980. I think that is over egging the omelette a little. I am sure that he will agree that is best grade Russian sawn timber. The lower grades, both from Russia and Canada, show a good deal lower rise; but it is still substantial, about 18 per cent. At the same time, what is interesting is that the Russians are offering only 80 per cent. of what they offered last year. Consequently, particularly when we take into account importers' problems of higher stock levels and the cost of financing stock levels at high interest rates, the demand for home-grown sawn timber is tremendously strong and insatiable. Nobody can meet the demand because they cannot get the logs to saw up to satisfy the demand.
How can this present situation be alleviated, my Lords? The major problem in my view is a lack of clear-cut definition of the areas of authority of the Forestry Commission and the Ministers, also the lack of integration of the Forestry Commission with agriculture. I support the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, on this line. To start with the trouble is that we have three forestry Ministers; one in Wales, one in Scotland and the Minister of 875 Agriculture in England. They answer for forestry but they expect the Forestry Commission to act as the authority to deal with all matters appertaining to forestry. Consequently, in the time that I was visiting the Minister of Agriculture in Whitehall he had only two part-time forestry advisers in the Ministry. This means that the Ministry of Agriculture as a whole has no interest in forestry. The Agricultural Development and Advisory Service is totally orientated towards forestry. Agricultural colleges are totally orientated towards forestry. If we could get more integrated thinking, if we could get more integration within the Ministry of Agriculture, within the Scottish Office and within the Welsh Office, more integrated thinking between forestry and agriculture at headquarters, then lower down the line our agricultural educational establishments could be encouraged to put a certain amount of forestry in their curricula.
I have been asked by a Member of your Lordships' House who could not he here today to mention the one and only college of agriculture and forestry in the country, the Cumbria College of Agriculture and Forestry, of which he is a governor. I am speaking of my noble friend Lord Inglewood. He asked me to say that with an expansion of the industry that is a college which has immense facilities and plenty of room for expansion. So if the industry does expand, there are adequate training facilities available.
The Commission to my mind is confused in its view about its role. It has two roles: a trading organisation, growing timber; and its role as the agent authority to Government to look after forestry. Its right hand has to act as the agent of the Government to tell its left hand, the trading authority, what to do or what not to do. This is something which in the long-term interest of the industry needs resolving. That is sense. I was very interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, suggest earlier today the idea that a committee of both Houses should look at the United Kingdom industry, in which case it ought to look at this aspect, too. If there was such a committee of both Houses, it would be the first wide-ranging look for over 60 years at the nation's forestry, apart from the more limited look 876 of the famous Watson Committee in to the private sector about 25 years ago.
I am horrified to hear that imports have now reached £2,800 million a year. Five years ago, in my day, they were £1,800 million a year. Soon, in some 10 years they will be double. To relieve this, many of us in the industry feel that the Commission does not manage its existing stock as intensively as it might do. I was delighted that my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt, (a part-time member of the Commission) was able to make his maiden speech today. I hope that he will not take what I am going to say amiss—or the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, with his vast experience of the Commission—when I suggest that perhaps the Commission could help the processing industries by managing its woodlands somewhat more intensively, and also help create more employment by doing so.
if we look at the Forestry Commission's report, we will see that it sold produce amounting to just over £25 million. A lot of that had value added on to it. Even so, when you look at its acreage, which is about 870,000 hectares, and work out even a moderate annual increment, it cannot he harvesting or producing much more than a fifth or a sixth of its annual increment. A lot of its plantations are very young; but even so, those of us who see a lot of its plantations see these vast, dense, underthinned—non-thinned—jungles, impenetrable to human beings, birds and animals. A lot of foresters think in that way: they believe that with more intensive management a great deal more timber could be brought out. It would help the existing plantations to increase their increment; and would be beneficial in the long run as well as in the short run.
The Commission has a devoted staff and there are permanent commissioners—devoted civil servants, most of whom have had to learn about forestry as they have gone along—who have done a tremendous job for the industry as a whole, private and public, and we all rely on them very much for their extensive R and D activities. As the Forestry Commission's report will tell us, it has 8,323 staff. The Commission has a glorious house magazine called the Slasher—perhaps a slightly unfortunate name for a house magazine for the Forestry Commission; it might be more 877 appropriate for 10 Downing Street! The staff are just as interested in the future of forestry as are your Lordships. There is a headline in one of the magazines:World timber shortage in 20 years: double our forests".That was said by Professor Bowman. There are also other articles. I quote now from page 2 of the summer lasher:How an attractive holiday-maker fell in love with one of our production workers".I trust this magazine is available to your Lordships' House, because it gives a very good idea of the thoughts of the 8,323 members of the staff. I would say that with a bit more slashing there would be more employment, and I should like to see the Commission opening more of its woodlands to make them more accessible and to produce greater utilisation of the national resource in its hands, and so reduce imports.
I may say that a gentleman from the United States Forestry Service was sent to see me not long ago. I was astonished to learn from him that in a country where they have 750 million acres of closed forest they are so concerned about the shortage of timber in the next century that they have embarked upon a State-motivated afforestation programme of 600 million acres a year, with 75 per cent. grants to do so. Admittedly, they have three acres of forestry for every inhabitant while we have one acre for every 10 inhabitants: one has to get this into scale—and 600 million acres a year is not that much, in their scale.
I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said about investment. There is strong interest and there is money available for investment. For example, over the last few years the electricity supply pension fund has acquired 13,000 acres of land and has planted a great deal. I was approached quite recently for advice by a merchant bank who said that an oil company client who was operating in the North Sea with substantial earnings wished to invest for the next century. I was asked whether I could provide some advice as to how they might best invest £15 million in forestry in the United Kingdom for the next century.
I should like to say, in conclusion, that I support and endorse the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton. I 878 hope that the Government will give a statement of acceptance of the Reading and other reports, and will set a target for the achievement of self-sufficiency in timber products to be achieved nationally and for the rate of new planting needed to be undertaken.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord HYLTON
My Lords, I have a suspicion that we ought to have these debates more often, as we all seem to have so much to say of very great importance. As this is the first time that I have spoken in a forestry debate, I feel I ought to declare my own interest in a medium-small woodland area in Somerset, between 400 and 600 foot contours. I am extremely keen on the multiple use of land, and in my woods I have orienteering going on, with no damage problems at all. I have a nature trail under construction which I hope will be ready next month, and this is in addition to the more traditional forms of shooting. I hope that my noble friend Lord Caithness will be pleased when I tell him that I am a convert to the idea of small felling areas and to the enrichment of existing woodlands.
I had hoped to say something original on the subject of bracken land and its suitability for planting. However, my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt, whom I would congratulate warmly on his admirable maiden speech, the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, and the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, have already emphasised that point. I hope that perhaps they might have been stimulated in what they said by having read my letter published in The Times a few weeks ago on that subject.
References have been made to this White Book from the University of Reading, and I should like to touch on just one matter arising from that which, to my astonishment, nobody has yet mentioned: that is the importance of forestry in regard to regional policy and regional development. The excellent map in the back of the Reading book shows that most of the existing and the future forestry land lies outside the notorious "coffin"—by that term I mean the overpopulated and over-developed areas of the Midlands and South Central England.
Much of the forestry land is in existing development areas, and I should like to 879 ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are really doing their utmost to extract funds from the EEC Regional Fund for forestry. I know that a small start has already been made in the Western Highlands of Scotland and I hope that can be very much increased and improved. There is also the European Investment Bank. May I ask whether the Government will publicise the low-interest loans that are available from this bank? I feel they could be of great use not only to foresters but to the timber-using industries.
As has been mentioned already, some 38,000 to 40,000 jobs, directly or indirectly, arise in connection with forestry. There is great scope for increasing that number. As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, mentioned, an increase in the growth of forestry has very important repercussions at the village level. Recently some prominence has been given in regard to villages and to what has been described as "the five P's"—the primary school, the pub, the parson, the post office and the petrol station. These things reinforce one another and make possible the continuance and survival of village life; and an active and prosperous forestry sector will be of particular importance in the more remote areas.
I am perhaps getting a slight reputation for dragging the question of Northern Ireland into debates on other subjects. Today I make no apology for doing that, because the Reading study gives a whole subsection to the Province of Ulster, and quite rightly so, because it is an excellent area for tree growth. When I was in Belfast last September I went to a meeting which was addressed by a representative of the party called the Republican Clubs: the workers' party. To my astonishment —because one would hardly have expected it from this party—the speaker called for greater investment in forestry in Northern Ireland. I hope that not only he but others will be heeded there. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, gave us a fascinating insight into what has happened in Israel. Perhaps there are lessons there for Northern Ireland, and, indeed, also for Southern Ireland. Could not a peace forest be planted to straddle both sides of the border?
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and other speakers emphasised that timber 880 is a renewable resource. I regard it as an excellent candidate for the investment of Government revenues from oil when these revenues begin to flow in a major large-scale way in a year or two. Such investment, however, in my view will be unwise unless we can be assured of long-term stability for the industry. Above all, we need a long-term continuity of Government policy. In recent years, there has been too much starting up and closing down of timber-using plants and mills; too many rescue operations have been necessary. As the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, and others have done, I urge the Government to end the uncertainty, so that we may build the confidence that will endure for the next 50 years.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Lord SKELMERSDALE
My Lords, I wish to apologise to the House and to my noble friend Lord Dulverton for not having included my name in the list of speakers for this debate. I did not intend to be in the House this afternoon: it was only by the merest accident that I managed to turn up at all. I regret that I missed the opening speeches, but I managed to come in at the beginning of the excellent maiden speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Devonport, in which he mentioned particularly the integration of forestry with other interests in the countryside. I understood him to be thinking particularly of conservation interests. To my mind, conservation means the balancing of man's interference with the animals, plants and minerals of this planet to the ultimate benefit of all the earth's inhabitants—mankind, animals, plants, the whole spectrum. I do not see why, in the context of forestry, all these interests should not be reconciled.
I lend my meagre weight to the suggestion put forward by many noble Lords, but possibly best expressed by my noble friend Lord Caithness, for mixed-age, mixed-species woodlands. In common with almost every other contributor to this debate, I hope that we shall be able to adopt an all-party agreed policy to manage these woodlands, which will extend—if they really are "mixed", and certainly the timescale is mixed—not only into the next century but possibly into the century after that. If I may chide my noble friend slightly, I suggest that perhaps the next century is not quite 881 long enough as a time span. We should be thinking of the century after that.
My noble friend Lord Dulverton is a staunch supporter of an organisation of which I am proud to be vice-chairman, COENCO, the Council for Environmental Conservation. I promised one of our members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds that I would put to your Lordships a view that is held by that body. I shall put that view briefly, and if I say anything which has already been mentioned I hope that your Lordships will not be too courteous but will just shut me up. I shall take no offence if that happens, because I appreciate that this has been a very long debate.
§ Lord SKELMERSDALE
My Lords, the point of view of the society follows the conservation theme which I mentioned earlier. The most important areas for nature conservation have been and are in the process of being identified by surveys carried out by the Nature Conservancy Council and the voluntry nature conservation bodies. Once identified, the prime areas will be notified by the NCC as sites of special scientific interest, or possibly as something else. Indeed, I understand that there is a Government series of SSSIs—super sites of scientific interest. In order to maintain this scientific interest, whether it be botanical, ornithological, or mineral, it may well be necessary to think twice about afforestation or re-afforestation, of whatever form, of serried ranks of cypress spruce marching across the uplands or whatever it may be. I have a daughter who is at primary school who is very much at the stage of bedtime stories and who loves the stories of Hans Christian Andersen and others. However, that is not the reason why I do not particularly like these serried ranks. I think that there are other reasons.
While forests undoubtedly bring about benefits to wildlife, afforestation, by its very nature, must be to the detriment of rarer species which can live only on open moorland. The RSPB, while not opposing forestry in the uplands outright—and quite rightly so, in my opinion—would like forestry interests to pursue an integrated policy with other land uses, including nature conservation.
882 Within the sites of special scientific interest, it is felt that there should be a presumption against afforestation, unless a pressing national need dictates otherwise. The uplands of Britain can accommodate all interests, but careful planning, and where necessary controls, should be introduced. Therefore, we wish to suggest a green cross code for forestry planning, and that is "Stop, look and listen before you do anything". Having said that, I still firmly believe that forestry must continue to the benefit of all of us.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (The Earl of Mansfield)
My Lords, this is not an easy debate to sum up. Such has been the quality of the speeches, the experience of contributors and the wide spectrum of their interests that a great many issues have been ventilated before us, and it is by no means easy for me to answer them. I intend to state one or two points in general on behalf of the Government, and thereafter I shall seek to touch on some of the points which have been made in this debate. I say "some" partly for the reason that, if I were to try to answer them all, it would mean that I should give vent to a speech of inordinate length at this time of night, and more especially because some of the points are of such technical complexity that I could not do justice to them in replying to the debate. Therefore, I shall carefully examine the speeches of your Lordships as set out in the Official Report and thereafter perhaps will write to the noble Lord in question.
Before I go any further, I wish to congratulate both maiden speakers, my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt and the noble Viscount, Lord Devonport, on two excellent contributions. Both speeches in their different ways were delivered by speakers with great and diverse experience. Both enriched the quality of our debate and we look forward—and I am sure that I speak for all noble Lords—to hearing them give tongue, if I may use that expression, in other debates in this House.
I wish to thank my noble friend Lord Dulverton for giving us the benefit of his great experience of forestry and for providing us with an opportunity to discuss the industry today. My noble 883 friend speaks with special authority as the immediate past Chairman of the Forestry Committee of Great Britain which represents the interests of all private woodland owners, and as a result of his initiative we have had a wide-ranging and, to me, instructive debate. It has demonstrated the vast depth of knowledge of forestry which is to be found in your Lordships' House.
Along with agriculture, forestry is one of the keystones of our rural economy. It has much to offer in terms of employment, particularly in the remoter areas where even a few jobs can make the difference between the life and death of a community, and it has a valuable multiplier effect by way of diversifying the local economy and generating other work in the locality. It also provides a valuable and renewable raw material for our wood processing industries—thus providing further jobs and reducing our overseas payments and dependence on overseas suppliers; and it contributes in a positive way to recreation and to nature conservation.
There is a wide measure of agreement, which has been borne out by this debate, on the importance of forestry and on the need for stability and continuity, to provide the conditions which will encourage investment in what is essentially an act of faith in the future. Forestry policy has had to be modified over the years to meet changing conditions, but it has not always been done with regard to the long-term nature of the industry. This has, in the past, contributed to a reduction in confidence among private growers, for whom, in particular, my noble friend speaks today.
At first, policy was based on the need for a strategic reserve of growing timber for use in time of war; in the 1950s this became regarded as less important than economic considerations; and at the beginning of the 1970s the benefits of forestry as a means of creating useful work in rural areas exposed to depopulation, and of providing opportunities for public recreation, were given greater emphasis. These remain important objectives, but they are secondary to the most important objective of all. This is the production of wood, which, as has been said by a number of speakers, is 884 one of the world's most successful and versatile materials.
The parlous state of forestry in Britain was recognised by our predecessors during the first world war, and their foresight led to the creation of the Forestry Commission, which celebrated its diamond jubilee last year. Since then, considerable progress has been made. The area of productive forests in Britain has doubled to over 1.7 million hectares, the greater part of this expansion having taken place since the Second World War. This has been achieved in a spirit of co-operation and partnership between the Forestry Commission and private woodland owners which, I am glad to say, continues to flourish.
But, as previous speakers have emphasised, in spite of this progress we produce at present only about 8 per cent. of our requirements of wood and wood products, the import bill for which is now running in the region of £2,700 million a year. We are devoting only some 81/2 per cent. of our land to forestry, the second lowest in the European Community which, as a whole, produces 40 per cent. of its wood requirements. If we carry on planting in Britain at about the present levels, it has been estimated that by the year 2025 we shall be producing about 15 per cent. of our needs—other noble Lords had a different percentage, but this is my information—and although this is an improvement on the present level, it does not significantly alter the imbalance which we shall have to face.
As your Lordships' House clearly recognises, forestry is an industry with a long time span between investment and return. It takes half a century or more for newly created plantations to come to fruition. There is also a greater awareness than ever before of the finite nature of the world's natural resources, and a recognition of the value of wood as a renewable and versatile material. It is not surprising, therefore, that much effort is now being directed to long-term forecasting of the trends and prospects for forestry and forest products. This is taking place in a number of countries throughout the world and by international bodies such as the FAO and EEC. We have not been left behind. We have had several references during the course of this debate to the report prepared by the Reading Centre, and mention has also been 885 made of the Forestry Commission's consultative document the Blue Book.
The Reading Report advocates a maximum feasible planting rate, which would add some 2 million hectares of forests by the year 2030, but even this ambitious programme is not thought capable of achieving more than about half the present level of consumption in this country. The report very properly acknowledges that forestry cannot proceed in isolation, but is an integral part of rural life. Indeed, it stresses the importance of integrating rural activities in order to make the best use of our precious land resource. Few of us would argue with that. The Forestry Commission's consultative document was widely circulated two years ago to some 200 Government departments and organisations with an interest in agriculture, forestry, wood production and the environment. It generated a great deal of interest, and although some environmental interests registered their reservations, most commentators agreed about the basic conclusions.
The Commission's report assesses the implications of three levels of planting in terms of wood production, the provision of jobs in both rural areas and wood processing industry, and the reduction in our dependence on imported timber. It also suggests that low grade land can be utilised for forestry in a manner consistent with the needs of agriculture, although it is careful to acknowledge that the impact of any major expansion of forestry on agriculture and the environment requires further study. The highest rate of planting suggested in this report is slightly below that of the Reading Report, but even this would entail a major increase in the amount of land becoming available for forestry.
It follows that some of the proposals in the Reading Report would require an even more dramatic reversal of the trend of the past few years, when a diminishing area of land has been transferred to forestry use. The question of land availability, and the price of land in relation to the financial return that forestry can offer, are crucial factors governing the extent to which the industry can expand. Our aim must be to strike a balance between the needs of agriculture, the environment and other land uses, and the proportion of our resources that can be devoted to the expansion of wood production.
886 The implications for all of us of gaps between the supply and demand of natural resources have been forcefully brought home recently by the oil crisis. As many noble Lords have pointed out, oil is a finite resource and mankind must learn, within the lifetime of many of us alive today, to replace it as an energy source. On the other hand, forests are renewable. They can be managed so as to provide a continuous supply of wood; and unlike oil and other finite resources, their extent, and therefore the amount of wood produced, lies within our discretion.
The Government need no persuasion on these points. We are in favour of the continuing expansion of forestry in this country: we welcome the contribution which further planting would make towards easing some of the problems that have already been mentioned. A number of threads will have to be drawn together, however, before we shall be in a position to say exactly what we shall be doing to ensure the continuance and development of a healthy, productive forest industry, and of assured supplies for our home-based wood using industries.
Contrary to the impression which I think my noble friend Lord Bradford gave, we are aware of the importance of forestry in all its aspects. But the further expansion of forestry raises a number of fundamental questions, the answers to which have long-term implications beyond the confines of forestry and cannot be reached hastily. From the time when we took office, we have been actively engaged, with the aid of the Forestry Commission, in a searching and fundamental study of these questions. Although we are pursuing this with vigour, it is something that we cannot skimp, as we want to be certain that the quality which emerges is positive and constructive, and provides and acceptable balance, given the limited land and other resources available to us.
This debate will have provided a valuable background against which the various options can be examined. Among the questions which the Government have to consider is how much we can afford to invest now, so that the benefits will be reaped half-a-century or more ahead. And how far can we go, even given the need for long-term stability, in committing our successors as would be inherent in aiming for specific targets of the kind suggested in the Reading Report? 887 Another important question is where we find the land for a significant increase in planting. The Reading Report and the Forestry Commission's consultative document help to point the way, and your Lordships have also erected a number of signposts this afternoon, but the fact is that planting on the scale that some commentators envisage could have serious implications for hill farming which, despite the efforts of the Centre for Agricultural Strategy and others, need further evaluation before we decide how far we could embark on such a programme. That is not to say that there is no scope for improved productivity on our hill farms which could lead to the release of more land for planting without seriously affecting agricultural production. Indeed, forestry can provide the injection of capital for the farm improvements needed to stimulate increased stocking on the better land.
A number of ideas have also been suggested, such as leasing or partnership schemes, which would enable the farmer to obtain something from the land during the long gestation period between planting and harvesting. Farmers in Britain are not traditionally interested in forestry, but I understand that some success has been achieved by the companies offering such schemes. However, it is questionable whether they will make a substantial contribution to the overall woodland area, although all such initiatives are to be welcomed.
To what extent is an increased afforestation programme compatible with the environment in terms of the effect it would have on the landscape and on nature conservation? A balance must of course be struck between the many legitimate interests in the use and care of our countryside. There is, however, no easy answer to the achievement of this. We certainly cannot revert to the free-for-all of the past, nor on the other hand do we wish to slide into an over-bureaucratic approach to land use allocation. Forestry must not be unduly constrained, but foresters must in turn try to understand the very real fears that agricultural and environmental interests have when faced with calls for the planting of a further 2 million hectares of commercial forests. These are very large figures, even when spread over the next 50 years.
888 Other questions have been posed in this context. Can opportunities be made for more planting on the commons of England and Wales, and on the crofters' common grazings in Scotland? What scope is there for planting in the deer forests and on the grouse moors, and would this represent a better, or worse, use of the land? If the former, how do we persuade the owners of its validity? How, in short, can forestry be properly integrated into the management of the countryside in a way which will ensure a satisfactory balance with agriculture, the environment, the interests of wildlife and recreation? The answers to all these questions have a bearing on the shape of future policy towards forestry in Britain.
If I may turn to some of the points raised by noble Lords, I think that the first matter which was raised by my noble friend Lord Dulverton and by a good many other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, was a cry, if I may so call it, for a long-term forestry policy across party lines. The Government fully accept that long-term aims are needed in an industry with such a long investment cycle as forestry, and I have already said that the Government wish to see the private sector play its full part. We welcome the present indications of a return of confidence among private woodland interests.
If it were possible, it would, of course, be the Government's wish to follow a forestry policy which gained acceptance across party lines. This has been achieved to a fair degree in the past, although by no means consistently. But—and this is the important point—it has to be recognised that a genuine bipartisan policy could well be difficult because of the parties' differing attitudes to capital taxation, land tenure and public investment. Unless there is common ground between the parties on all these questions, it is difficult to see how there could be an agreed long-term forestry policy.
The next matter which many noble Lords touched upon was the question of conservation, particularly the consultation which has to go on and the various procedures which have to be followed, in particular in relation to other land use. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, expressed, if I may so call it, 889 mild irritation; I do not wish to be more contentious than that, but I think that would sum up his attitude on the point. It is a point which many other noble Lords have also touched upon. I admit readily that any controls are irksome, but the present informal consultation procedures which stemmed from the forestry policy review of the last Conservative Government and which were adopted by the succeeding Labour Administration have, I suggest, shown that mutually acceptable suggestions as to land use problems can be found by a relatively informal approach.
As the Forestry Commission's report for 1978–79, published recently, says, the basic principle underlying the consultative process is the reconciliation of views aimed at producing, in a spirit of give and take, a solution acceptable to all the interested parties, with as little resort to cumbersome bureaucracy as possible. The commissioners concluded that so far this approach had been achieving a good measure of success. On a personal basis, on the basis of the number of disputed cases which have had to be referred to Ministers since we came to power, I would agree that this is a correct conclusion. There must be a balance between the many legitimate interests in the use and care of our countryside. There is no question of our reverting to the free-for-all of the past, nor do I think that there is any evidence of a problem requiring the imposition of an elaborate and expensive planning machinery. Given a spirit of co-operation, the present approach is the right and balanced one. I should like at this moment to pay a tribute to the part which the Departments of Agriculture, particularly the Department of Agriculture for Scotland which comes directly under me, play in this.
§ Lord TAYLOR of GRYFE
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl but twice he has made reference to the "free-for-all of the past". I am wondering what past he is referring to, because for so long as I can remember the Forestry Commission had to clear all land with the Department of Agriculture in Scotland and the Ministry in England before agreeing that land could be devoted to forestry. There never has been a free-for-all, and for at least the past 10 or 15 years the Forsetry Commission has instituted local regional advisory councils, 890 in which amenity and environmental interests were involved, to clear these things before they proceeded with forestry. There has not really been a free-for-all for so long as I can remember.
§ The EARL of MANSFIELD
My Lords, it may be that the term "free-for-all" is putting the matter too strongly. What I mean is that the likes of the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, can make his thoughts and advice felt now in a way that he could not so very long ago. I agree that in the end the authority, if that is the right word, which has the sanction so far as these matters are concerned are the Departments of Agriculture. That must be right. However, what I am trying to say is that I consider, and the Government consider, having reviewed the matter, that the processes at the moment are reasonably satisfactory, although, as I quite admit, they can be irksome at moments to the would-be developer.
The next matter with which I want to deal is the subject of recreation. This again was touched on by my noble friend Lord Dulverton, by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and others. We are all very aware of the advantages to be gained by the mass of the population from our forests. One of the more satisfactory aspects of forestry is that it lends itself to a variety of activities which fall broadly under the heading of public recreation. These range from horseriding and orienteering, as we have heard, to picnicking, walking, camping, or simply savouring the peace and quiet, although as I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, talking about the peace and quiet I wondered whether he had ever been present on a Forestry Commission road when a motor rally is taking place. Then the noise certainly drowns the twittering of the birds and the murmuring of the loving couples. That is another activity which I think is perfectly wholesome in itself.
Nevertheless, the recreational part of the forest is a major contribution towards providing better access to the countryside, and it pays the commission a dividend in terms of goodwill. My only real reason for mentioning it at this stage is, if I may say so, that I think the example of the commission is one which an increasing number of private woodland owners, one hopes, will follow in the future. As we 891 have heard tonight, a number of them do—and all power to their elbow—but not all private owners are so enlightened.
The next matter which I should deal with is that of capital grants. Noble Lords will appreciate that I am, I am afraid, going from subject to subject, but that is as noble Lords have raised the matters in their speeches. The matter of grants for scrub clearing and machinery was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. He referred, in effect, to the possibility of some form of grant aid for the purchase of specialised machinery by timber harvesting companies and contractors. The case for aid of this kind has already been raised with forestry Ministers by the Homegrown Timber Advisory Committee. The Government recognise that major increases in production can be expected over the next decade and naturally wish the private sector to play a full part in harvesting this; but I have to say that we are not convinced of the need for Government aid and we believe that market forces will ensure that harvesting machinery is available to enable supplies to be marketed.
I turn now to the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, who made a number of points, but two especially I singled out. I think that he was unsure of the role of the Forestry Commission and in fact of its constitution and powers, and he suggested in effect that a department ought to be set up. The Forestry Commission is to all intents and purposes a Government department. It is not a Quango in any sense of the word; it is directly accountable to Ministers, to Parliament and to the Public Accounts Committee. Legally the Forestry Commission is a Government department and, for instance, it is afforded Crown exemption in legislation. It has its own accounting officer in the Director General and he is equivalent to the Permanent Secretary of one of the main departments.
§ Lord TANLAW
My Lords, that was not the point I was making. I was merely asking for liaison between the Forestry Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture. I was not questioning its constitution.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I am obliged. The question of liaison 892 was also touched on by my noble friend Lord Lonsdale who, I think, had no great opinion of the present set-up. May I say that, although there are three forestry Ministers and they vary from a Secretary of State through a Minister of State to a Parliamentary Secretary in rank, in fact whatever happened in the past the liaison between them now is of a very close nature. There are regular meetings at which policy is worked out and there are also frequent consultations with the officials of the Forestry Commission. At the same time, in our review of how we set about the organisation of forestry matters in this country I think it is proper for me to say that we are keeping an eye on the various agricultural departments to see that the liaison between, as it were, the various arms of Government is as close and as harmonious as it can be in the interests both of the private forester and of the nation as a whole. I reject, therefore, the suggestion that in some way the present set-up is unsatisfactory or leads to muddle and confusion, if that is the allegation which is made.
The other matter which the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, dealt with—and I am very conscious of the fact that I have already been on my feet for 28 minutes and I have only got to the third speaker, but I really do not know what to do about it, except to sit down and that might not he too popular; the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, mentioned forestry policy in the European Community and he will know that forestry is not mentioned in the Treaty of Rome. Although over the years the Community has made some tentative moves towards a common forestry policy, or at least a co-ordination of national policies, nothing finite has ever appeared. There has recently been a communication from the European Commission to the Council of Ministers which is currently under discussion by officials. That communication was considered by your Lordships' European Communities Committee last year. The Government have yet to take a view pending clarification at official level. To that extent, I hope that I can also answer my noble friend Lord Hylton, who apparently envisaged some sort of aid from the Community, which was of a type something akin to the scheme which has been proposed as an integrated development plan for the Western Isles. I do not intend to get side-tracked into the 893 integrated development plan for the Western Isles, if only because there are certain features of that plan which the Government do not regard as wholly satisfactory. What I can say to my noble friend is that I do not think that a plan on that basis would be very satisfactory to the private forestry industry in this country, either.
The next matter which I think I should deal with is one that was brought up by the noble Viscount, Lord Devonport, who I think I have already congratulated on a thoughtful and provocative speech—provocative in its nicest sense because it has provoked both me and I am sure the Forestry Commission to thought. In effect, the noble Lord suggested that there should be a forum to discuss and advise on forestry questions. In fact, the Forestry Commission's chief statutory advisory committee—the Homegrown Timber Advisory Committee—already fulfils such a role, consisting as it does of representatives of timber growers among whom my noble friend Lord Dulverton and my noble friend Lord Lonsdale, I believe, are members. There are also representatives of timber merchants, wood consuming industries, trade unions and, of course, agriculture, conservation and environmental interests. So I think the matter with which he showed concern is already catered for.
I think I have dealt with the point of my noble friend Lord Bradford, that the Government are indeed extremely concerned over forestry policy and forestry generally. He asked me specifically whether research into mixtures of trees was being undertaken by the Forestry Commission or indeed any other body at the present time. The answer to his question is, Yes. Of course, mixtures, so to speak, have obvious advantages so far as landscape is concerned and indeed the wildlife and problems of the environment. However, I am told—and indeed it must be obvious—that mixed woodlands are expensive to manage, so that research is being undertaken by the Forestry Commission to examine the possibility that mixtures can be produced in a better way than using single species alone, but at the same time developing cheaper systems of encouraging mixtures. I hope that is something which will satisfy him.
The noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, and my noble friend Lord Gisborough 894 in effect asked that consideration be given to a thinning grant in order to encourage the production of small roundwood. Well, I am sorry, but I am sure noble Lords will understand that in the present economic climate the Government would need to be presented with a very strong case before they could agree an extension of grant aid into this new area. If the market is there for the wood, the incentive, I suggest, will exist, harvested at competitive prices. Last year the Forestry Commission initiated a consultancy study by Jaakko Pöyry Limited to recommend a marketing strategy for smaller diameter roundwood and this report has now been received. It is a detailed technical report and will be the subject of wide consultations before any conclusions are reached. These consultations are to begin immediately and I am hopeful that they will lead to the outlet for small roundwoods that the forestry industry has been seeking for the last few years.
The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, is no longer in his place, but I think I heard him aright; he inferred the possibility that the Forestry Commission might withdraw financial support to the private sector, at least in some directions. I hasten to reassure him, at least through the Official Report, that there is no question of the commission abdicating from what it, and indeed the Government perhaps more importantly, regards as an essential part of its functions. There was an intervention at that point by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and the two noble Lords had a slight discussion as to land use consultation procedures, but I do not intend to say any more about that than I have, to the effect that I think the present arrangements are fairly satisfactory. In view of the attitudes taken by the two noble Lords at what I might call the opposite ends of the spectrum, I am reinforced in this view.
My noble friend Lord Gisborough made a number of fairly telling and technical points most of which go to what I might call high financial policy. First, he asks, why does the Forestry Commission after 60 years continue to draw grant in aid of some £30 million a year; and in effect he asked, Is it never going to show a profit? The answer I think is this, Yes, it will show a profit, but for some years yet it will continue to show a deficit for two reasons; first, over 895 60 per cent. of its estate is still too young to produce wood, but there will be supplies for thinning coming in the future; secondly, it must be remembered that the Commission continues to make payments to support grants for private forestry; and, thirdly, the commission is also responsible financially for research and plant health services. Then my noble friend puts the question, which is a pertinent one: Why does the Forestry Commission not sell off large areas of existing forest and thereby inject money into the Exchequer? This raises a fundamental point of policy concerning the management of the whole forestry enterprise and the principles of public investment in this sector. I only want to answer it because under the terms of the Forestry Act 1967 there is no statutory power for the commission to divest itself of its forests in this way. If it were considered desirable—and I say nothing about the desirability or lack of it—there would have to be legislation.
Then my noble friend produced a suggestion about long-term forestry leases at low rents. They would, I suppose, be entered into between landowners and the Forestry Commission, allegedly, I think he thought, under the threat of compulsory purchase. What leases there are have been entered into as a bargain freely between the parties concerned. So far as compulsory purchase is concerned—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, will bear me out—only one case has arisen in the 60 years the commission has existed. This does not suggest that it has had any bearing on the acquisition policies of the Commission. For practical purposes, the commission regards its compulsory powers as moribund.
My noble friend Lord Caithness raised two contentious points, if I may so call them; in fact he raised a number, but I am going to deal with two. First of all, the effect on land of continuous cropping with softwoods, particularly pine and spruce. I think his question implies that the conifers such as I have described will cause damage to the soil. So far as the Forestry Commission is concerned, there is no evidence that any significant deterioration of soil has taken place as yet. On the contrary, proper management of the ground in order to grow good tree crops in fact is likely to lead to such matters as 896 drainage, fertilisation and so on, which in fact produces a lasting improvement rather than a deterioration of the site.
My noble friend then asked me a tax point which I will endeavour to answer. In giving support for uneven aged mixed species woodlands, he says the capital taxation policy of successive Governments, particularly in relation to capital transfer tax, militates against such. In fact under the Basis III Dedication Scheme, the planting of broadleaved trees, where the intention is to create woodland of predominantly broadleaved appearance, attracts a higher grant; that is, £225 per hectare as opposed to £100 for conifers. As regards the effect of capital transfer tax on mixed species woodlands, where the option is taken under the rules to defer the tax payment until the trees are sold, the fact that the woodlands are unevenly aged and not clear felled should in no way increase capital transfer tax liability.
The only other matter to which I think I should respond, because I think it is an important one, is the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Lonsdale, that the Forestry Commission should in effect be split into two; in other words, that the authority side should be divested from the enterprise side. The present organisation of the Commission corresponds to the concept of a strong Government body independent of agriculture which originated in the Acland Report, which was endorsed by the 1945 Forestry Act. It has, I think, been generally accepted ever since as being the right way of going about the duties that the Forestry Commission undertake. A separate forestry authority of equivalent strength could not effectively perform its functions and would still have to rely on the enterprise for professional advice and as its executive arm in the field. The advantages and economies of combining the roles in the field of wood marketing would be lost, and a reinforced and more costly authority would be required for this task.
The main theoretical areas of competition with the private sector are in the acquisition of land, the provision of public funds and the sale of timber. In each of these the Commission's present direct involvement with Government policy requires it to serve the public interest and effectively limits any competition, particularly in the interests of stability in the land and 897 timber markets and of economy in the use of public funds. I hope, from what have said, my noble friend would accept that the Commission at the moment is able to serve Government policy in the national interest and private forestry at the same time. Separation would make the service more costly and less effective.
I am very conscious that my remarks have taken a long time. However, I shall conclude by thanking my noble friend Lord Dulverton again for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important topic. It does not get ventilated in either House of Parliament very frequently. Many questions have been raised to which the Government will be addressing themselves in the course of the current policy review, and the views which your Lordships have expressed during the debate will provide a valuable backcloth to our deliberations.
§ Lord TAYLOR of GRYFE
My Lords, I am extremely conscious that the noble Earl has given a very comprehensive reply to almost all the points raised. However, there is one specific point as regards which I wonder whether he would give me an assurance. The matter was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough and it is a rather urgent matter in forestry affairs. In so far as the Forestry Commission has recently advertised nursery stock, presumably to meet its cash limits or for some other purpose, and put that on the market pretty extensively to the detriment of the nursery owners and growers of this country, I wondered whether that was in fact the declared policy of the Forestry Commission and whether it was approved.
§ The EARL of MANSFIELD
My Lords, it is certainly not the policy of the Commission to enter into competition, especially unfair competition, with the private sector. By reason of the cash limits which have been imposed upon it, the Commission is, perforce, having to reduce fairly drastically its own planting programme for next year. I imagine—and I hope that this will not be used in evidence against me, if I may quote the time honoured phrase—that its efforts in disposing of surplus plants is a way of minimising the loss which would otherwise occur.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Lord DULVERTON
My Lords, at this late hour I shall be careful not to detain your Lordships. However, I should like to say how grateful I am to those who have taken part in this debate and especially to the Minister who has taken, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, has just said, such infinite trouble to answer the enormous number of points that were raised during the course of the debate. I very much enjoyed, like other noble Lords, the maiden speeches of my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt and the noble Viscount, Lord Devonport, who I see has had to leave the Chamber. I was glad to hear my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt inveighing against the bracken and commons of Wales and I was interested to hear the views of the noble Viscount, Lord Devonport, as a landscape architect and one who has studied the integration of hill-farming and forestry so carefully.
I still feel a little disappointed that we have not really had a firmer commitment by my noble friend the Minister on what will happen to the Reading Report and any other reports. My noble friend said that studies would be made, and I just wonder by whom. I know that if my noble friend himself were able to conduct the study in depth he would come to some very sensible answer. However, I know full well that he is extremely busy and so I come back to the thought that perhaps the subject is of sufficient importance at this moment to warrant the setting up of some sort of committee of both Houses to assist the Government in dissecting, analysing and weighing up the arguments put forward by the Reading study and others. I should like to leave that thought in the mind of the Minister.
Before withdrawing the Motion, I should like to mention—and I am sure that the House would like to know—that Professor John Bowman, who was in charge of the Reading Study, has been sitting with us this afternoon and evening. I am sure that we would all like to offer him our congratulations on such painstaking work in preparing the report. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.