HL Deb 16 March 1981 vol 418 cc582-5

7.21 p.m.

Lord Somers

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Somers.)

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, before the vote is taken I should like to say a few words on this old favourite as it completes its second passage through your Lordships' House. I think that someone—and I take that duty—should congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Somers, on the great perseverance he has shown in piloting it through your Lordships' House on two different occasions. There is only one criticism that I want to make. I spoke on all stages when it was first before your Lordships, and in its present career I spoke at Second Reading but was unable to be present at Committee stage or at Report stage. I therefore was rather surprised when I received my Hansard to find that the schedule, which had been deleted from the Bill on an amendment of mine at Committee stage when it was before your Lordships before, had now been reintroduced as an amendment by the noble Lord himself and was now forming part of the Bill, as it does today.

I think this is a great pity. I have studied the species on the schedule with care and it seems to me almost as though the species included have been chosen on a capricious basis. There are common species and rare species; conifers and hardwoods; the sweet chestnut is included but the horse chestnut is not. The wild cherry is there but not the ornamental cherry, nor the almond, nor any other of the flowering trees which are so often used by local authorities in avenues in towns and cities. I very much preferred the Bill as it was when it finished its first passage through your Lordships' House when all species were covered. No matter what species was cut down by a local authority it had to be replanted, although as it then was the local authority could plant any species it liked whereas now it must plant any of the species on this list.

As I understand it, a walnut can be cut down and replaced with an ash, but it may not be replaced by some tree not on this list. I should have preferred to have left that to the local authority, but to insist that any tree, no matter of what species, had to be replaced by two others. It is too late to do anything about it now even if that was the wish of your Lordships' House, and my purpose in speaking these few words tonight is in the hope that possibly they may fall to the attention of a Member of another place who may think about what I have said and propose some action along these lines. Be that as it may, I hope that it finds time in another place; that it has a successful passage through that House, and eventually reaches the statute book.

Viscount Ridley

My Lords, I should apologise because I have been unable to take part in any of the debates on this Bill. As one who is very interested in trees—and indeed this very morning I was planting trees on behalf of my own local authority at home, in a snowstorm I might add—and who has taken a keen interest in the progress of this Bill, I regret that I have not been able to join in the detail of it. As your Lordships probably know, I am concerned in the affairs of the Association of County Councils who, I am afraid I have to say, do not really like this Bill. Although they would not feel that it is of major importance, it makes the assumption that local authorities do not like planting trees and therefore have to be compelled to do so by Parliament, which is a wrong assumption because they plant a great many trees—far more than ever they would need to do under this little Bill. They do not feel that it is right that Parliament should interfere in this.

Secondly, this is not the moment when we should be adding more duties to local authorities and more bureaucracy in rendering returns, and all those other matters. It should be safely, and can be safely left in my opinion, to the local authorities and the locally elected members. They have a very good reputation indeed for planting trees, and I think more trees are planted by local authorities than by anybody else at the moment. The other thing I find difficult to understand—and I was not at the other stages—and the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, has already mentioned it, is this schedule. It includes a lot of alien species, some of which would have been an offence under Clause 13 of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill had we not removed it last week. But then every local authority might have been guilty of an offence by planting a cupressus tree, for instance, which is not native to Britain.

What is worse in my opinion is that it leaves out quite a lot of species and trees which are familiar in the British landscape and which are planted very widely indeed, and some of which are our own native species, of which we have already 34 in this country. Some of them are not particularly valuable, but what we have should not in any way be restricted by the use of this schedule. I hope very much, as the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, has said, that in another place the schedule can be sufficiently amended to include other species if it is to go forward.

I only quote thorns, maples, sycamores, horse chestnuts, our only native conifer the Scots pine, willows of all species, poplars other than the aspen, of which there are a great many valuable ornamental species—I could go on all night about this—as well as a lot more introduced species commonly planted like, for example, nothofagus, the South American beech, which is widely thought of as being a very good town tree and valuable for planting in hedgerows, et cetera. I hope I have said enough to persuade the House that, while the Bill may be laudable in intent, it should not go too far, although I realise that the noble Lord, Lord Somers, has spent a lot of time on it. Although I do not oppose it, I cannot wish it a very fair wind.

Lord Somers

My Lords, I feel I must say a few words in reply. The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, was kind enough to tell me he was going to make the remarks he did. As for the presence of the schedule, I reinserted it on official advice. The noble Lord must realise that it narrows the application of the measure; without it, the regulations contained in the Bill would apply to every tree in a local authority's area. As it is, they are not forced to do anything about trees except those contained in the schedule. As for the nature of the schedule, the main object of the Bill in the first place was to preserve hardwood, slow growing, trees, of which local authorities would not be likely to plant many; because they are so slow growing they would never see the result. They are much more likely to plant trees which will reach a reasonable maturity within a few years. Further, hardwood is practically impossible to obtain in this country today, so it is high time we saw to it that the supply of hardwood does not shrink any further. Those were the two main objects of the Bill and I must tell the noble Lord that the wild cherry, in which I have recently been working, is very hard.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, most of the species in the schedule are hardwoods. In view of what the noble Lord, Lord Somers, has said, it is rather strange that nearly half the species on the list are not hardwoods but softwoods. Two of the others, the aspen and silver birch in particular, are extremely fast-growing species. In other words, they are neither all hardwoods nor all slow-growing trees. As I said, it seems to be a capricious choice.

Lord Somers

My Lords, the silver birch is a much faster growing tree but its wood is widely used and I should have thought it was not one that was likely to be replanted by a council. Be that as it may, I have explained the reason for the schedule and I hope it will be accepted. Having seen the number of Private Members' Bills that have been accepted and become law, I do not think your Lordships need have any fear of this one ever reaching the statute book. On the other hand, I suggest it would be a good thing to get the subject an airing in the other place.

On Question, Bill read 3a.

Lord Somers

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. I wish at this stage to record my grateful thanks to all those who have advised and given me help with the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Somers.)

Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

Lord Sandys

My Lords, I beg to move that this House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.10 p.m., and reassemble at that time for further consideration on Report of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill.

Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.35 until 8.10 p.m.].