HL Deb 11 May 1981 vol 420 cc353-432

4.28 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 1.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 8, at beginning insert— ("Provided that he is satisfied that such a transaction does not conflict with the interest of rational land management, of the proper discharge by the Commissioners of any of their functions and that in all cases existing arrangements for access and amenity are safeguarded").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 2. We have had a very disappointing start in the responses from the Government to what was to my mind as reasonable an amendment as one could get on this particular Bill. It will be noticed that some of the same phrases are in this particular amendment and I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I say a word or two about that. Indeed, it might be as well to say them right away.

We are not opposing in our amendments the principle that the Government seek to lay down. We know the desperate straits that the Government are in: they must get money; they must cut down public expenditure. That is the whole reason for the Bill. I think that the concern (it is the concern of the whole Committee) is the integrity of the work that has been done by the Forestry Commission over decades and the extent to which they have moved from not only providing necessary timber and hoping to provide even more necessary timber that the country needs—and will need more and more as the years go on—but also the extent to which they have responded to appeals for public enjoyment of the forest lands. I was horrified to learn that existing "amenity" is a vague term. It is there. If the Government are under any difficulty about that and if this has been the stumbling block to accepting the amendment, the simplest thing would have been to say: …as defined in paragraph (b) below", and we could easily define it. I am perfectly sure that we could define it by reference to the Countryside Act.

Therefore, that is the weakest of all excuses that a Government can use—that it could not be done, that it would not be legal, that it would be vague and all the rest. That is just not true. Noble Lords on the other side-Scottish landowners, et cetera—will remember all those things they have been able to do, perfectly legally, by continuing restrictions of use in whole villages in some particular cases. We have not yet wiped out the feudal system; we have only wiped out feu duty. You can still feu land and put into that feu charter any restriction you like. One of the matters to which we shall come later is that the National Trust, in its confidence in the Forestry Commission and its trust in the Forestry Commission carrying on in future, did not use the restrictive covenant more, and we might have been easy in our minds today about the future under this Bill if it had done so.

Again, this is a very reasonable amendment. It adds a proviso to the disposal of the land, that the land can still be disposed of provided that it meets certain conditions; provided that the Minister is satisfied that such a transaction does not conflict with the interest of rational land management". If anyone has been pursuing these amendments with care, he will see that the same phrase arises in an amendment that has been tabled by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe. It is not that we just think alike; evidently we do not think as much alike as we used to. My noble friend knows who appointed him to the Forestry Commission, but he will also appreciate that this phrase comes straight from the actual section that we are amending. Noble Lords must remember that at present the Minister has power to dispose of land. He can dispose of any land that is not needed or which, in his opinion: ought not to be used, for the purpose of afforestation or any purpose connected with forestry". That is the limitation at present—he can dispose of land if, in his opinion, it is not needed for afforestation or it would be better used for some other purpose.

Lord Gibson-Watt

Will the noble Lord put me right and say whether he is speaking about the law in Scotland or the law in England and Wales?—because in fact it is slightly different.

Lord Ross of Marnock

The law may well be slightly different, but I am reading from subsection (2)(a) which is to be removed from the 1967 Act, which applies to both countries. When it comes to the practice of how you do it, it may well be that it will have to be administered in different ways, because the law of Scotland and the law of England as regards land are different. The noble Lord has made a very good point, to which I hope I will come in a few seconds. That is applicable to the whole lot, but when it comes to Scotland, there is subsection (b) which says: in the case of land so acquired in Scotland the Minister can sell it if he is satisfied that the sale—(i) is desirable in the interests of rational land management". That is one of the phrases that we are wiping out which means—if words mean anything-that he can sell the land even though it is not desirable so to do in the interest of land management. For we are wiping out the whole of Section 39(2) as it presently stands. So even though it is against the good sense and the rational use and management of land, the Minister can still sell it to anybody and for any purpose.

I think that many people are frightened about the power that the Minister is taking here; that is, the lack of any limitation on the purpose for which the land will be used after sale. The Minister himself has said that that is all right, that if they put some limitation on it, it can only hold good for the original purchaser and it could not be applied to the second purchaser. But that, of course, is not true in relation to Scottish land, as the noble Earl should well know, but, as I have said before, he is an English lawyer and we can excuse his difficulties there.

The Secretary of State for Scotland has already told us that the Minister could dispose of at least one-third of all the plantable land that is held in reserve, and most of that plantable reserve is, as those who have been Ministers know, in Scotland. Therefore, the idea of giving the Minister this blanket power to sell whatever he likes creates a very considerable difficulty and we certainly could not allow this clause to pass as it presently stands. It is no good suggesting, "Oh well, he will consult the Forestry Commission". He virtually told us on Second Reading that the land is not the Forestry Commission's; it is the Minister's. He is under no obligation here to consult the Forestry Commission, far less to get the agreement of the Forestry Commission. I think that later on he will order the commission to find a certain amount of money, which they will have to do. It would mean a forced sale, for in order to get the price that the Treasury demands, the Forestry Commission may have to sell land which, in their own good sense, they would never dream of selling. This is the great danger here. It is a danger that is recognised by everyone, not just by those who enjoy the youth camps, which evidently we cannot define, or the picnic sites, which we cannot define, or the ramblers' routes, which we cannot define.

Those routes can be put on the Ordnance Survey maps, so the Government must have given permission to the Ordnance Survey actually to mark out Forestry Commission land and to show the paths through that land. All that can go. It is no use the Minister saying, "But we would not dream of doing that". He himself has said that what matters is what is in the Bill. We are giving the Minister power to do it. I can assure the Minister that the Treasury will ensure that it gets the amount of money that it wants. We have already been told that it will advance by at least 10 years the wiping out of the grant-in-aid. Depite the good sense of the Forestry Commission, that is the target that is laid down.

In some way we seek to limit, not to destroy, the power. The amendment states that the Secretary of State should be satisfied that the transaction: does not conflict with the interest of rational land management, or the proper discharge by the Commissioners of any of their functions and that in all cases existing arrangements for access and amenity are safeguarded". I admit that on this last part the Committee has voted quite wrongly; and it has been misled by the Minister. But we will return to that because I shall certainly comb through the Countryside Act, and the others, and see whether or not the noble Earl was right in I saying that these things could not be done. I am perfectly sure that they can be done if there is a will to do them.

He rather gave the case away, in saying that if you put a condition into the purchase of any block of woodlands when you are selling for any purpose, of course you reduce the price. That is the concern of the Government. It is not the enjoyment of the public. It is the public that has provided the money for the creation of this, not the Government as such. But the Government are taking to themselves the power to direct the Forestry Commission, irrespective of the loss to the public, that they shall so benefit someone else. It may well be a speculator for some reason or other.

This is not something that any honest to goodness Government claiming that they are going to act in terms of the benefit of the public in the long term can justify. I wondered why the Minister had lost his temper just at the last minute after my noble friend's reasoned, inoffensive, gentle speech—something that I could not even pretend to attain. I am perfectly sure that many Back-Benchers opposite are as worried as I am about the effect of this Bill, but if they go on supporting the Government in amendment after amendment, the same will happen in this House as happened in the last. Not a single word was changed. If not a single word is changed then what do we do? We give this power to the Minister to: dispose for any purpose of land acquired by him under this section. And we wipe out all what little limitations there were before, on what land could be sold or what few conditions there were, and this is the only power through which the Ministers can handle the position of the Forestry Commission. I am sure that this is not a Forestry Bill at all. It is a Treasury Bill. It is a Treasury Bill, and there we are. A lackey of the Treasury. What Mansfield and Mansfield has come down to! I hope the Committee will not support the noble Earl in keeping this subsection as it is and indeed will support this amendment. I beg to move.

4.44 p.m.

The Earl of Mansfield

I think the less said about the last words in the amendment, the better.

Lord Ross of Marnock

You have said enough, in other words.

The Earl of Mansfield

As the noble Lord has already accused me of being what I think the Americans call a bum lawyer, and I do not want to foist my opinions, such as they are, on the Committee—

Lord Ross of Marnock

I said that the noble Earl's knowledge of English law was probably greater than his knowledge of Scottish law.

The Earl of Mansfield

Well, I am grateful for that expression of support, at any rate. Quite apart from the last part of the amendment, I am afraid, lackey or not, that the first part is wholly unacceptable, not least because of the difficulties which it would create for the commissioners in operating the disposals programme. What the noble Lord has done, as he said, is in effect to rely on the provisions of Section 39(2)(b) of the Forestry Act 1967, which applies to Scotland and the Secretary of State, and enables him to sell land acquired for forestry purposes if he is satisfied that the sale is desirable in the interests of rational land management, and if it would facilitate the discharge by the commissioners of any of their functions.

These provisions, even when taken with the other disposal powers in the Forestry Acts, have already proved too limited to be applicable to more than a few cases. They would certainly not be adequate for the rather more extensive sales which the Government intend under the powers sought in Clause 1. The effect of the noble Lord's amendment, although its wording does not slavishly follow Section 39(2), would be largely, or even precisely, the same. It would in fact put the position back to what it is already, and it would open the door to individual sales being challenged by various interests.

The noble Lord said in his opening remarks that he was not opposing the principle of the Bill. But by tabling an amendment like this, he is, if he seriously expects it either to be accepted by the Government or voted on and put into the Bill by the Committee, in effect opposing the principle of the Bill. As I have said, the effect of the amendment would be really to leave the forestry Ministers with precisely the same powers as they have at present. For those reasons, quite apart from the considerations which we have already gone into as regards arrangements for access and amenity, I hope that, on reflection, the noble Lord who, as he says, is not opposing the principle of the Bill, will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Ross of Marnock

There is only one point about this matter. The actual clause that we are amending gives powers of disposal. To the extent that I am still in favour of powers of disposal I am not opposing the principle of the Bill, but it would seem to be the implication of what the Minister says that any amendment at all is opposing the principle of the Bill. That is going a bit far in enshrining this new principle that a Minister can sell anything he likes to anybody he likes for any purpose that he likes and for any sum that he likes. If that is going to be construed as the principle of the Bill, then I am opposed to it; but I am still in favour of the power of the Commission, on instruction, on the authority of the Minister, to dispose of land that is not needed for forestry and indeed could better be used for other purposes; but not on the kind of terms given here.

In view of the fact that the Committee has made a decision about the last phrase, it would be wrong of me to divide the Committee again, although it is a matter that we shall have to come back to, because I still think that the Minister was quite wrong in his opposition, and in what he said was the basis of his opposition, to that last amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.48 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1, line 8, after ("Minister") insert ("with the agreement of the Commissioners").

The noble Lord said: This amendment will not take very much time, because I am sure that I have some supporters. I remember, I think it was, the first speech from Back-Benchers in respect of this matter. Amendment No. 3 just says "with the agreement of the commissioners". We shall be told, "We do not need to get the agreement of the commissioners, but of course we will consult them. Of course we will get their agreement". If these words are not inserted we cannot be satisfied that is what the position will be. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

This amendment raises a constitutional point which is quite novel in my experience, because apart from practical considerations what the amendment would do if it were written into the Bill would be to give the Forestry Commission a power of veto over the sale of land belonging to Ministers. As a consequence, the Forestry Commission, could defeat the Government policy. That would be quite unpredecented. I just wonder what would have happened in the days when the noble Lord, Lord Ross, held sway in New St. Andrew's House if he had wanted—and he was answerable to Parliament—to do something which was within his powers but was told that he could not do it because he did not have the agreement of what, in effect, is a Government department which is not answerable to anybody. I think that the air would have turned blue. That is what the noble Lord is asking the Committee to accept now.

The Forestry Commission is to all intents and purposes a Government department; it is answerable to Ministers who are themselves answerable to Parliament, and the Forestry Commission, as a Government department, carries out Government policy. It would be, as I said, unprecedented and quite wrong to put that Government department in a position where it could frustrate the execution of policy decisions reached by the Government, the Government of course (or their individual Members) being answerable to Parliament. For both those reasons I hope that that staunch defender of our liberties and constitution, the noble Lord, Lord Ross, will withdraw the amendment pretty quick.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I do not think I should. If it is novel but sensible, why baulk at it? As for any suggestion of what I would have done at New St. Andrew's House, I was there for only a couple of years, whereas I was at old St. Andrew's House for about six years. The true answer of course concerning what I would have done is that I would not have introduced this Bill in the first place, and I see nothing constitutionally wrong about consulting and getting the agreement of the Forestry Commission.

If it is a Government department, then there is less reason for the Minister to be worried about it, as the noble Earl said. But of course it is not a Government department, and it is wrong of the noble Earl to give that impression. If it were purely and simply a Government department, I do not think we should have set up or retained the Quango of the Forestry Commission. The noble Earl and most others call it a Quango, but as such it is not a Government department. It is the body to whom, if he thinks fit, the Minister, having bought land, hands it over— subject to the provisions of this Act…the Minister may acquire, by purchase, lease or exchange, land which in his opinion is suitable for afforestation or purposes connected therewith, together with any other land, and place this at the disposal of the Commissioners". That is not a Government department; he would hold it in the Scottish Office and govern it from the Scottish Office if it were. The noble Earl should know that only a small part of the work of the Secretary of State for Scotland is related directly to forestry; he leaves that to the Forestry Commission. To say it is Government-run is nonsense, and I therefore maintain it would be right and sensible to seek the agreement of the Forestry Commission before such disposal is proceeded with, and for that reason I will not withdraw the amendment.

The Earl of Mansfield

It is extremely important to realise throughout the Bill that the Forestry Commission is not a quasi-autonomous non-Government organisation; it is to all intents and purposes a department of state. It carries out Government policy and advises forestry Ministers in the way that any other Government department does. I hesitate to use the word "mischievious", but to describe the Forestry Commission as a Quango operating on a semi-autonomous basis is totally removed from the facts, as is evidenced by the officials who advise Ministers on these matters and indeed fill the Box when forestry matters are the subject of discussion in Parliament. I do not think I can say more, but if it is the noble Lord's point that he is by the amendment introducing some sort of control over sales which is external to a Government department, then I emphatically reject that.

The Earl of Onslow

Does not the amendment also by implication say that one forestry commissioner could frustrate the Government's will? The amendment says, "with the agreement of the commissioners", which implies that all the commissioners have to agree, so that if one said, "No", we should be like the 18th century kings of Poland and Government would come to a complete halt.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I am sure the Minister does not mean that the Government can settle their policies as they go along. The Government are guided by Acts of Parliament which go through the House. While I do not agree with the amendment, there are later amendments indicating that Parliament lays down how the Government will implement their policy. It must be right for us to consider the limits that should be on the Government in their actions. That is the whole purpose of any Act of Parliament, is it not?

The Earl of Mansfield

Obviously, in many cases the purpose of an Act is to define and lay down, and if necessary confine, the powers of the Executive as carried out by Ministers, but that is not what we are talking about here. We are here discussing an amendment which in effect is asking a Minister to go to officials of his own department to seek their consent before he does something he wants to do, and that I suggest is novel, unconstitutional and undesirable.

Lord Ross of Marnock

It would be equally interesting to learn which department it is because there are three Ministers involved—a Scottish, English and Welsh Minister. So would the noble Earl please tell me whose department it is?

The Earl of Mansfield

The Ministers concerned act rather like a troika.

Lord Ross of Marnock

The air, which I suggested earlier had been blue but had become red, has now evidently become scarlet.

Earl Waldegrave

I was for a short time chairman of the Forestry Commission, although that was 20 years ago, and during that time I may have been under a gross misapprehension; I was always told we were not a Government department. I was told that the commission did not go to a department either but went direct to its Ministers. When we asked, "Why not for tidiness call the Minister of Agriculture the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry and Food?"—putting another "F" in his title—we were told that would be quite inappropriate.

Baroness Jeger

I was emboldened to support the amendment largely because of a statement made in another place on January 26th by the Secretary of State, when he said: The Forestry Commission will be in full control of the disposal programme, the scale and location of which will be at its disposal". If the Secretary of State meant what he said, the amendment must be acceptable because it would simply put into the Bill what the Secretary of State said on that occasion.

4.58 p.m.

Lord George-Brown

The Minister must at least undertake to reconsider the matter. I was for a long time a Minister responsible for the operations of the Forestry Commission. We never assumed that it operated on the basis that it was part of any of the departments for which I then answered. It was always accepted that it was a commission for the reasons we said it was—namely, that it had the authority which the Act gave it, and that we could not, as a ministerial act, simply tell it what to do as one would tell maybe a principal assistant secretary what to do.

I think the noble Earl must have it wrong, and if he does not want to get us into difficulties he had better consult with his people again over this. He must discover whether or not he is stating as a constitutional doctrine what has never been accepted to be a constitutional doctrine. Admittedly, at my advanced age my experience at the Ministry of Agriculture goes back 40 years—I had better not overdo it; it goes back 35 years—and that number of years ago nobody accepted that the Forestry Commission was a Government department. That must be wrong; and if we acquire land for the purposes of afforestation and choose to hand it over to the Forestry Commission, we should do so in the terms that the noble Baroness has just read out and the sale or disposal of it is then handed over to them. If the Minister thinks that it should be so, he has to discuss it with them. We have already handed over the veto to them; there is nothing new in that. I do not feel that we need particularly to push the amendment; rather I should like it to be looked at again. But if the Minister persists in his present attitude, one would have to support the amendment.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

The constitutional position of the Forestry Commission arises also in an amendment in my name, Amendment No. 7, and I would resist developing at this stage the argument on that account. As a matter of interesting history I would point out that the Forestry Commission was set up before the structure of nationalised industries, before Morrison, and consequently it had no regular constitutional basis. I understand that the Government at the time sent for the constitution of the Church Commissioners and started to model the Forestry Commission on that constitution. So it remains a somewhat strange body, not—and it never has been—accepted as a department of the Government. Nevertheless, so long as the Forestry Commission is dependent on grant in aid, there will be a measure of Government oversight from the Treasury, and, as has been said previously in the debate, the Bill is all about the exercising of Treasury control over forestry.

Lord Ross of Marnock

We are certainly grateful to the noble Lord for putting the Minister right in respect of that point. It is Parliament that determines what sums will be given to the Forestry Commission; it is not the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Secretary of State for Wales, or the Minister of Agriculture in England. Neither the English Minister, nor the Secretary of State for Wales (now that we have one) is held to account for every day-to-day action of the Forestry Commission. If it were a Government department, that would be so, but it has never been so.

The suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, is right; we should give the Government time to think about this matter, because they will have to sort it out, and then with complete confidence tell your Lordships exactly what is the position. The question of the relationship of the Government to the Forestry Commission might arise in regard to other amendments; not only the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, but another amendment that I shall be putting forward. With those words I think that I shall beg leave to withdraw the amendment, so that we can return to it. I beg leave to withdraw—

The Earl of Mansfield

Before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he is aware that at least in its own mind the Forestry Commission is to all intents and purposes a Government department? There has been discussion in the past on the point, but I suggest that it is now recognised unequivocally as a Government department. The Treasury and the Treasury Solicitor agree with that point of view. The Forestry Commission does not answer to another department, which it would if it were not itself a Government department. In other words, it advises Ministers direct in its own right as a department, and it fulfils the functions of a department. That it is a department is amply borne out by the fact that it has recently been included within the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner. So for all those reasons I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, in his reminiscences of long ago. The Forestry Commission is not like other departments. Indeed it has a flavour (if I may so call it) of its own, and I see the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, nodding; he was chairman of it. Nevertheless, to all intents and purposes it is a department of state.

Lord George-Brown

This is not a question of my having reminiscences of long ago. This is a question of a quite new and rather junior Minister trying to alter a state that has existed historically for a very long time. While there may be no sanctity in having been at the Ministry of Agriculture 30 or 35 years ago, there is certainly no very great distinction in having suddenly arrived. I suggest that the Minister really ought to go and find out—as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, was saying to him—how this body grew up, why it was invested with the authority with which it was invested, and how it has exercised that authority for very many years, going back to a time when the noble Earl the Minister was still in short pants.

If the noble Earl wishes to change it, he should come along with a proper constitutional Act to change it. The Forestry Commission is not, I submit, suddenly to become a department of state by the ipse dixit of the noble Earl. He might think that it should be a department. I am not at all moved by his argument that the Treasury and the Treasury Solicitor think that it should be a department and have now declared it so to be. There is no constitutional authority in this country that has yet invested the Treasury, much less the Treasury Solicitor, with that power. The Treasury is always trying to lay claims to everything all around the place, as I well remember from my days at the Department of Economic Affairs. If the Treasury had its way, there would be no other department of state, no Quangos, no other Ministries. They would all sit in Great George Street—in the front of Great George Street, at that! But that does not happen to be so.

If your Lordships are inclined to allow my noble friend to withdraw the amendment, I for one shall accede to the request only on the understanding that at a later stage the noble Earl will come back with a considered view about the Forestry Commission and its constitutional position. If the noble Earl's word is to be regarded as the last word, and if it is just another part of the departments of state and the chairman of the Forestry Commission is answering to a principal in each of those departments of state, who in turn is advising an assistant secretary, who is advising an under secretary, who is advising a PUS at the end of the day, then we might as well wind up the whole damn thing, since there could be nothing more ridiculous on earth than to retain it.

I live near a forest, almost in one. There are great notices, but they do not state "Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food"; they state, "Forestry Commission". They cannot mean anything if they simply mean the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. There is much more to this matter. The noble Earl is sliding away with something which quite clearly he does not himself understand, relying upon a brief which has been handed down and which no doubt the Treasury would very much like to be accepted.

I should like my noble friend to press the noble Earl again before proceeding to withdraw the amendment. If the noble Earl insists that what he is now saying is the position, perhaps the amendment should not be withdrawn. On the other hand, I would suggest to the Minister that it would be more sensible to say, "OK, I shall look at it again and come back with a considered view". We cannot leave the matter as it is, because if what is stated is in fact the position, we simply must wind up the Forestry Commission; that must be so.

Lord Gisborough

Would it not set an interesting precedent if this amendment were accepted? There must be many boards which could claim the same right; and the Minister would not be able to do anything without the agreement of those many boards in various departments which might not agree with what he wanted to do. For future Governments this might be more interesting when Ministers might find themselves hemmed in from their rather hare-brained schemes. On the other hand, on this particular point, the Minister would act only on the advice of the Commissioners and would rely entirely on their advice as to which plots of land would best be sold. I wonder whether the noble Lord who is moving this amendment would consider another amendment at a later stage using the words "with the advice of the Commissioners" or some wording like that, rather than "with the agreement".

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am being pressed to ask for an assurance that the Minister will have another look at this point and go back to those who advise him to come to some suitable definition of what the Forestry Commission really is. It is very interesting. Not every Government department has a fund like the Forestry Fund. But there you are. I do not think it would be an onerous task for the Minister if I suggested that he should give us a considered version of what the Forestry Commission really is and how it differs from other departments, if it be a department. He insisted on making the speech. He would not allow me to withdraw the amendment. He has brought it on himself. I have already called him the master of the infelicitous phrase and he would have done better not to refer to reminiscences. He would have saved himself some trouble. I am not asking for much; just for him to come back at some stage in the Bill and say what is the real position of the Forestry Commission. If he does that, I will withdraw the amendment.

I am interested in the performance of the noble Lord who has just intervened. He was the first from the Back Benches to speak on any amendment. The one thing that he said was that the words which should be there were "with the agreement" of the Forestry Commission. Now he says—

Lord Gisborough

I think I said "on the advice".

Lord George-Brown

Only on the advice.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am not talking about what he said on this amendment. I am talking about Amendment No. 1. If he has forgotten it, I have not.

Baroness Jeger

I have it written down.

Lord Ross of Marnock

It has been written down by my noble friend. We were storing it for ammunition for this amendment. Dare I say that we are sure of one supporter when we come to Amendment No. 3? Now, as weak as water, he races away and says: "I did not mean to say 'agreement'. I shall be satisfied with 'advice '." I may well be, too; but we shall not get that until we get the answer from the noble Earl. Is he prepared to go back to his (shall I say?) department or to the rest of the Government and come back and give us a definition—I do not know whether it will be satisfactory or not—of what the Forestry Commission is and how it differs from any other department?

The Earl of Mansfield

Of course. If I have got it wrong I will come back and tell the Committee. I will even write to the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, although—

Lord George-Brown

What does "even" mean?

The Earl of Mansfield

The noble Lord's remarks might have been expressed in a little more friendly fashion and that would have been more in the spirit in which this Committee normally conducts its business. I will go and do my homework again; and if the position is not as I said it is, I will tell the Committee.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Nobly done! In view of that I will seek to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Jacques)

If Amendment No. 4 is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 5 and 6.

5.15 p.m.

Lord McNair moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 1, line 8, leave out from ("may") to end of line 9 and insert— ("(a) subject to the restrictions in paragraph (b) below, dispose for any purpose of land acquired by him under this section; and (b) in the case of the Forest of Dean, sell any land acquired by him under this section which in his opinion is not needed, or ought not to be used, for the purpose of afforestation or any purpose connected with forestry, or exchange any such land for other land more suitable for either of the said purposes and pay or receive money for equality of exchange.").

The noble Lord said: I rise to move Amendment No. 4. This Bill is about trees and money, but my amendment is about people, quite a large number of people, perhaps 50,000 or so, who live in or near the Royal Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. It is an extremely unimportant amendment from the point of view of the Bill or from the point of view of Government policy as we have heard it; but to the people who live in or near the forest it is of absolutely paramount importance. Perhaps I should make it clear that I have no declarable interest either in the Bill or in the amendment. I do not live in the Dean and I have never owned or am ever likely to own so much as a coppice. It is simply the coincidence of an old friendship with a man who now has become a district councillor in the Forest of Dean which brought this matter to my attention.

Although I speak for myself, as we all do, I am greatly encouraged and strengthened in moving what happens to be the first amendment I have ever moved in this Committee by the knowledge that what I have to say reflects, I honestly believe, the unanimous opinion of the people who feel that their traditional way of life is threatened by this Bill—and that seems to be all the people in the Forest of Dean. I have had a remarkable number of letters; 21 parish councils have seen fit to write to me and four councils higher than that, including Monmouth and Gloucester; I have had any number of letters from individual cottagers and householders; and letters from such organisations as the CPRE, the Wye-Dean Tourist Board, the Ramblers' Association and, most important, the Court of Verderers.

I have said that the opinion was unanimous. I think this is the last introductory point that I need to make. I want to emphasise that there is no party politics at all in this amendment. The friend who first alerted me to the danger is a Liberal; the chairman of the district council who came to London last Wednesday to plead with the Ministers to accept the amendment is a Labour councillor; and we have the wholehearted support of the Member of Parliament concerned for West Gloucestershire who is, of course, a Conservative. I am hopeful, too, that support may come from all points of the compass in this Chamber. So let us forget party politics—as we often do, I think, when we are at our best—and discuss this very important matter entirely on its merits.

I should now explain why this little Bill has aroused such universal alarm and apprehension throughout the Forest of Dean. There are two reasons. The first is the breath-taking audacity of those 15 words in Clause 1: The Minister may dispose for any purpose of land acquired by him under this section". No qualifications at all. Absolute power is to be conferred upon the Minister and upon all future Ministers, and I am sure that this Committee does not need me to remind it of what absolute power tends to do to those upon whom it is conferred.

Is it surprising that the possibility of waking up one morning in the future to find that their homeland, their native woodland and their human habitat have been sold off in the night to some unknown person or some pension fund by a Minister under no obligation to consult them or even warn them or even to come down to Parliament, has terrified the foresters and united them in the appeal which I am making on their behalf to your Lordships' Committee for protection? They have a special reason for being frightened. The legal position in the Royal Forest of Dean concerning the rights of common and access is obscure and, I think, unique. I am neither a lawyer nor a historian; but I do not think that I am over-simplifying the position if I say that in strict law there are no common rights at all within the perambulation of the Forest of Dean. That was the belief of the Forest of Dean Committee which in 1958 submitted what was called the Creed Report.

If you were able to prove that your predecessors in title enjoyed rights of common in the Forest in or before the 10th year of the reign of Charles I and that on or before that date they did in fact hold and enjoy the privilege of running sheep in the forest, then you might be able to claim commoners' rights. However, I must warn the Committee that no such claim has ever successfully been lodged.

The position was not improved by the Dean Forest (Timber) Act of 1808, which, freed and discharged of and from all rights of common, and from all manner of rights…or privileges or claims whatsoever…". However, we are not concerned with these archaic provisions of long ago but with the present and the future. The fact is that although they may have no de jure rights of access or of anything else, the foresters have traditionally enjoyed, and do enjoy at this moment, de facto rights of access and sheep-grazing which are recognised by the Forestry Commission.

In selling off some parts of the "waste of the forest", the commission has frequently insisted that the purchaser should respect some traditional right of way over the piece of land affected in spite of the fact that its legal position was shaky or even non-existent. This is as it should be and how we want it to continue.

The foresters treasure their de facto freedom to wander more or less at will through the forest. The grazing of sheep is important to them. The right of access for visitors and holday-makers is becoming more and more important both to the local economy and to employment. One of the many letters that I have had was from a leader of a scout troop—an Akela, I suspect—who likes to take her troop camping, following nature trails and so on in the forest. None of these customary privileges—let us not call them rights because they really are not rights—would be safe and none of them could be assured if sections of the forest proper were to be sold into private hands. Fences would go up and "No admittance" signs would appear.

Now a brief account of what this amendment seeks to achieve. There is nothing revolutionary, retrograde or restrictive about it. It is simply designed to preserve the status quo as under the 1967 Act as far as the Forest of Dean is concerned. The 1967 Act has worked well. An excellent relationship exists between the Forestry Commission and the people. This we all surely would wish to preserve. That is why the wording of paragraph (b) in my amendment follows exactly the wording of Section 39(2)(a) of the 1967 Act. The commission would remain free to sell off small parts of the forest "waste" and cottages, tidying up operations, just as it does today. There is no desire to stop that. That is how I claim that, outside the Forest of Dean, this amendment makes no difference to the Bill at all. If the Committee likes the Bill, then it can support this amendment and leave the Bill quite intact outside the Forest of Dean.

What is more, it in no way conflicts with ministerial policy, as we have heard it expounded in the repeated assurances from all the Government spokesmen. They have no intention of selling off all or part of the Royal forests. They have again and again made this quite clear, and I do not for one moment question their sincerity. All I ask—and all my amendment would achieve—is that they should write those assurances into the Bill and thereby make certain that all future Ministers will have to be as intelligent, public-spirited and enlightened as Her Majesty's present forestry Ministers so obviously are. We should like to see it in writing in the Bill.

I suppose that the final stage in moving an amendment is to try to anticipate the arguments which may be used against it. I can only think of two. There is what one might call the "thin-end-of-the-wedge" argument. It may be said: "If exemption is given to the Forest of Dean, then other places would say 'What about us?'" I never find this very convincing. If there are any other places with as good a case for exemption as the Forest of Dean, then surely they should have it; but I doubt very much whether any such places will be found. For the curious legal and historic reasons which I have tried to explain (which are much more complicated than anything I have said will lead the Committee to suppose) I believe that the Forest of Dean is uniquely vulnerable to this Bill.

The only other counter-argument that we have heard is that Ministers are such sensible, amiable and thoroughly reasonable chaps that all our fears are groundless. They simply would not ever do anything so dreadful. A very distinguished Back-Bencher in another place—and I describe him like that because (a) he is my own MP, (b) he is an old friend and (c) he is very distinguished—was speaking against a similar amendment to this and he said that to sell off the Forest of Dean was unthinkable. To do so, he said, would be an act of historic vandalism and of course he was right. It would indeed be an act of historic vandalism, but it would be an act of perfectly legal vandalism if this Bill went through unamended.

May I for my final minute share my private nightmare with the Committee? I am worried about the next Government but two. Who will lead it and who will be in charge of forestry? The Committee has not the faintest idea, and nor have I. However, I can imagine a Minister, perhaps not too bright—it would not be unprecedented—or perhaps all too bright and perhaps with the Treasury breathing down his neck, and he suddenly discovers this amazing power offered him on a plate in the Forestry Act 1981. He uses it and "bang" goes the Forest of Dean. We can exclude that nightmare from the realm of possibility by passing this very simple amendment. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Jeger

I am sure that the whole House will have appreciated the moderate and persuasive way in which the noble Lord, Lord McNair, proposed this amendment. I should like to emphasise that I am speaking very much in a personal capacity when I give it my strong support. I do not know by what malevolence on the part of official channels we are taking this Bill today, because had it not been for the Bill I would have been a member of a parliamentary delegation visiting the Forest of Dean. Today I would probably have been at Cinderford and tomorrow at Tintern; there is nowhere I would rather have been since that is the land of my fathers. I very much regret that parliamentary arrangements have denied me this pleasure and have denied other noble Lords such an education, because such a visit might have influenced the way in which your Lordships voted on this amendment. Nobody who has walked from Parkend to Moseley Green or from Yorkley Slade to Cinderford could possibly oppose this amendment.

It would be a hard-hearted and insensitive brute who would want to oppose a suggestion that the Forest of Dean should continue in all its glorious beauty for ever after. Let me remind your Lordships that the Forest of Dean was a Royal forest at the time of Edward the Confessor, who specifically exempted it from taxation. The noble Lord, Lord McNair, is not asking for anything so generous or as extravagant as that, but I believe the feeling among the foresters that they should have some kind of special status which would set them apart has very deep roots. We from the forest are not as other people are and we expect Parliament to appreciate that.

After all, the Forest of Dean now takes up 40 square miles and is very densely populated. It has been the scene of much coalmining; in olden days both of my grandfathers were free coalminers. I have seen the character of the Forest change very much with the introduction of a great deal of light industry and the establishment of much residential accommodation brought within its boundaries. Above all, the Forest of Dean is a place of exceptional beauty.

May I remind your noble Lordships that in 1938 the Forestry Commission formed the Forest of Dean into the very first National Park together with Tintern Forest in the Wye Valley, in the same part of the world. Like the noble Lord, I too have received many letters—not all of them from my cousins or other relatives—expressing the hope that this amendment will be accepted by your Lordships today. Many of these letters were written after the debates which took place in another place. Those debates and the statements which were made when a similar amendment was rejected have completely failed to satisfy the majority of people in the forest.

I do not understand why the Government should go out of their way to perpetuate a sense of uneasiness and anxiety among so many people. It is so little to ask of your Lordships but it is something that would mean so much to hundreds of people in this area. In a statement made in another place they were told not to worry because the Government would not, of course, allow the Forest of Dean to be sold; but still the letters came because these hard-headed people said that no Government can bind another, and they hope to live longer than the life of this Government. So let us have it in the Bill that the Forest of Dean shall be exempt. The Ramblers' Association is most anxious that this should happen, and that organisation, above all, knows about the usefulness of the Forest of Dean and the joy and pleasure it brings to people who wish to walk and camp there.

The last reason for supporting this amendment that I wish to put to your noble Lordships is that the present position is working well. The amendment does not ask for the Forest of Dean to be "frozen" so that no changes at all can take place there. It suggests, in effect, that the powers under Clause 39 of the Forestry Act 1967, which enables land to be sold which ought not to be used for the purpose of afforestation or for any purpose connected with forestry, shall stand. We are not asking your Lordships' House for anything unreasonable. So far as I know, there has been no reason since the 1967 Act for the Forestry Commission, the Government or the Foresters themselves to have any reason to complain of the present situation. I cannot understand why a state of affairs which commends itself to the people who live in the Forest of Dean, which has apparently commended itself to the Forestry Commission, and which has apparently as yet caused no problem to the Government, should be disturbed. For all these reasons I ask your Lordships to have a meeting of minds on this amendment, in particular, and to come together for the sake of this lovely place—not for the reason of perpetuating any particular party political dogma but just because we call all agree that the Forest of Dean is too good to be disturbed.

Lord Dulverton

Having connections with Gloucestershire, it is only right that I should briefly say that I, too, have been approached by at least four rural district councils in and around the Forest of Dean, as well as by Gloucestershire County Council, to put the case before your Lordships—as the noble Lord, Lord McNair, has done—and I will not attempt to better his description of the problem. I can see that feeling on the points he has described is particularly strong. But I also appreciate that the Minister is in some difficulty over this because if he exempts (if that is the right word) the Forest of Dean from this Bill, what is to prevent a number of other well-known and—some of them—old Royal forests from asking for exactly the same treatment? I can sympathise with my noble friend in respect of the problem we are putting before him, but I should not like it to be thought among my friends in Gloucestershire that I had failed to stand up and state their case, as I do by concurring with the words spoken by the noble Lord, Lord McNair.

5.38 p.m.

Viscount Bledisloe

I too wish to commend this amendment to your Lordships. I speak as one who lives on the very edge of the Forest of Dean and whose family have lived there for something more than 250 years; whose father and grandfather and more remote ancestors, I believe, have all been verderers of the forest.

This amendment fully accepts the general position that there should be powers to sell land which has been acquired for forestry purposes; that is, land which has been private before and which was acquired and planted as an investment. The Forest of Dean is wholly different. It is an historic Crown forest in which an entire community has developed, using and enjoying the land in many ways which are not protected by legal rights. It is also an area in which nowadays visitors come from all over the country, and indeed from elsewhere, to picnic, to camp, and to do other things which do not exist as legal rights. It is those privileges which can be wholly lost if this land is sold to private persons. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord McNair, I am a lawyer and it was for that reason that I felt wholly unable to support the first amendment.

It is pure accident that this Bill covers the Forest of Dean at all. This Bill deals with land which has been acquired under Section 39 of the Forestry Act 1967. Of course, the Forest of Dean was not so acquired. It was not acquired at all. It was transferred to the Forestry Commissioners under an Act of 1923, and, when the Minister commending that Bill in another place spoke to it, he said that it was being transferred merely as a matter of practical convenience and that it would make no difference at all to the Forest of Dean and what happened in it. Then some deeming provision deems that also to have been acquired under the section, and now his words look like being much belied. But it really is a wholly different position.

The Government have never sought to justify a power to sell the forest. They do not say that, in this present dire economic position, if needs be, Crown forest must be sold; if needs be, Crown jewels must be sold. They do not say that they need this power. They merely say that they do not intend to sell it and, therefore, there is nothing to worry about. But they will not exclude it. Why? one asks. I suppose it is because some draftsman or some bureaucrat would find it inconvenient to have it excluded—

Lord George-Brown

The Treasury Solicitor, I suspect.

Viscount Bledisloe

The Treasury Solicitor is suggested, but as a practising barrister it would hardly be suitable for me to make critical remarks of that from where my work might come. The Forest of Dean is a place where history combines with beauty to produce a unique national possession. That must surely not be imperilled for the convenience of parliamentary draftsmen or the Treasury Solicitor.

Your Lordships have heard—and it is undoubtedly right—that there is massive opposition and feeling in the neighbourhood; and why should this position not be written into the Bill? Your Lordships have recently spent many hours, indeed many days, on the Wildlife and Countryside Bill to enhance and protect the national heritage for the benefit of all who enjoy it. That is wholly inconsistent with what is now suggested by the Government; namely, that there should be power to sell this priceless national possession.

It is not a question of Government policy, and noble Lords on the Benches opposite are not being invited to fly in the face of any Conservative dogma. Surely, if they call themselves Conservatives, they should be keen to conserve this asset which combines both history and beauty. I invite your Lordships not to be attracted by the suggestion: "Oh! well; we would never do that". Surely it is one of the first principles of legislation that you do not grant an undesirable power, merely in the hope that it will not be used. The noble Earl sold that pass, when he said to the noble Baroness; "It is not what you say; it is what is in the Bill itself". I say to your Lordships that this exclusion of the forest should be in the Bill itself.

Also, to anticipate what may be the last resort of any Minister in difficulties, I invite your Lordships not to be attracted by any suggestion that this amendment is defective. This amendment is not, in my humble opinion, defective. It may be that if it is passed there are other national forests which ought also to be exluded, and which the Government can exclude at a later stage, but this amendment is perfectly effective to achieve the right purpose of excluding the Crown forest. That is something which no other amendment which is down to this Bill will do. I ask your Lordships very strongly to support this amendment.

Lord Dormer

May I very heartily support the two noble Lords who have just spoken; in particular, my noble friend Lord Dulverton. I also have family connections near the Forest of Dean and I can testify to the enormous feeling that there would be if power were given to the Government to sell off any part of it. I should also like, at some future time in this Committee stage, to see other Royal Forests excluded, but perhaps I may speak on them when the time comes.

Earl Bathurst

As a Member of your Lordships' House and one coming from Gloucestershire—albeit on the other side of the Severn—may I emphasise what my noble friend Lord Dulverton has said about the enormous amount of interest that has been taken in this amendment? Local councils which have never, to my knowledge, had any interest at all in forestry, let alone in the Forest of Dean, except those which are actually in it, or which consist of the Forest of Dean, have all asked us, please, to see that the Forest of Dean is excluded. I cannot understand why, as the noble Lord, Lord McNair has said, it cannot be excluded from the Bill. It will not affect the Bill; it will not affect forestry in the slightest degree. I should be very much in favour, as my noble friend Lord Dormer and my noble friend Lord Dulverton have said, of some provision for all these very special forestry areas which the Forestry Commission are administering.

As my noble kinsman Lord Bledisloe has said, it is, in any case, an accident that we are talking about the Forest of Dean. Since 1923, all and sundry in the Forest of Dean have been able to walk about on what is your Lordships' property, and the property of the rest of the people in the country. When I first heard about this amendment, I was not too sure. As a part-owner of the Forest of Dean, I am very keen on everybody in the Forest of Dean, and from elsewhere, walking about on our property. But I know only too well, as do the Forestry Commission, of the terrible damage that is done by the sheep, and now the ponies, of the noble Baroness's many friends in that area, to your Lordships' and my property, which is the small trees in the forest.

How the Forestry Commission have done it since 1923, I do not know. But they have planted masses of the most magnificent conifers—some of the finest conifers that were saved from being felled during the last war—which are the admiration of all in this country, if not the world. However, that is quite another story, but great damage can be done to our property. The Forestry Commission have earned a great reputation and are living extremely well with those in the Forest of Dean. I suspect that if this Bill goes through without something like this amendment there may be a complete change in the Forest of Dean, which would be very damaging indeed to the interests not only of the Forestry Commission, but of forestry, and of your Lordships' and the country's property; namely, the trees within that forest.

We remember Robin Hood and Maid Marian in Sherwood Forest, and it is argued whether they ever existed. But what is absolutely certain is that the bold barons who administered Sherwood Forest did so to the intense dissatisfaction of all the neighbours. Somehow the position has become reversed, and the Forestry Commission have a great working relationship, as the noble Viscount knows very well, since he lives within the forest. They have tamed the Robin Hoods in that area, and it would not occur to them to do the kind of things that, if legend is correct, happened in Sherwood. But we need something on the lines of this amendment, and I would beg the noble Earl who will reply to say how these magnificent forests in this country can be conserved, or preserved, within the Forestry Commission, under the present arrangements. It would take so little trouble and give so much benefit, and in no way would it upset the principles, in which I and many of your Lordships believe, on the modest scale in the Bill for disposing of Forestry Commission property. Whether the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McNair, is absolutely correct, as my noble colleague suggested, I do not know, but a principle of that kind I do beg the noble Earl and his colleagues to consider.

Lord Kilmarnock

This amendment has been so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord McNair, that further remarks might seem to be almost superfluous. However, there is one point of detail that I want to make. The Forestry Commission now allows the public to have access on foot to almost all the land which it owns. As part of this policy, the commission is now allowing the Ordnance Survey to mark Forestry Commission land on their maps.

I think it emerged during consideration of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill that walking in the countryside is easily the most popular of all outdoor recreations in this country. This struck me forcibly during the Committee stage debates on that Bill. The same point is relevant to this matter.

The particular case of the Forest of Dean is that, due to the long-standing legal argument to which the noble Lord, Lord McNair, referred, there is no definitive map of rights of way in the forest. The Ramblers' Association has waymarked a number of permissive paths through the forest, but if the land were to be sold off there is absolutely no guarantee that these or any other paths would remain open to the public.

Other noble Lords have referred to letters they have received from the public and from district and other councils. The Forest of Dean District Council makes the point in a letter to me: The Dean is in fact the only state forest where the local people have no rights whatsoever, and the present position under Section 39(2)(a) of the Forestry Act 1967 has worked satisfactorily for some 13 years". This point was made also by the noble Lord, Lord McNair. The chief executive officer of this district council ends his letter by saying: My council pleads with your Lordships to support Lord McNair's amendment and not to allow this acknowledged centuries-old freedom of access to the Forest of Dean to be sacrificed on grounds of short-term expediency. I refer finally to one letter from a local resident, who says: The Government objects to any restriction on disposal, saying that large parts of the forest will not be sold for commercial gain, as is feared. It is not clear, however, why the Government in that case objects to statutory protection for the Forest of Dean being incorporated in the Bill". I support the amendment.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

Everything has been said. All that I want to add is a little historical note regarding the Forest of Dean. It is almost 300 years to the day when the Speech House was opened in the Forest of Dean. The Speech House was opened in the Forest of Dean because of the fact that in the early 17th century the land, the Crown estates, had been sold to a private owner. The private owner promptly cut down most of the trees, denuded the forest, sold for profit and closed down the ironworks which were dependent upon timber. The Speech House was built as the centre of administration and activity in the Forest, with the purpose of protecting the rights of the people within the Forest of Dean. It was totally ineffective. Riots and violence continued in the Forest until subsequently a commission re-established constitutionally the rights of the people in the forest.

I hope that that passage of history will not be repeated if the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord McNair, falls. Nevertheless, it is interesting to remember that this is an area which has provided that historical example and experience.

5.56 p.m.

The Earl of Mansfield

I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McNair, upon the very moderate way in which he moved the amendment and, generally speaking, the moderation which has been adopted by all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I am fully aware of the concern which has been expressed both inside the House and outside as to the provisions of this Bill.

The Forest of Dean has a special status. The Government recognise it and, of course, the Forestry Commissioners fully recognise it as being in a category which perhaps is shared only by the New Forest. But the Forest of Dean is not inalienable, as the noble Lord said. The commissioners have in the past sold small parcels of land under the disposal powers contained in the 1967 Act. These sales are usually very small, consisting perhaps of a few square metres—up to a half hectare or so. They are not detrimental to the forest; they are frequently beneficial. And the noble Lord's amendment is so drafted that such sales could continue. I know that the Forest of Dean Council, whose representatives I met a few days ago, would also like such sales to continue.

Equally, I can tell the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, that, so far as I know and have been advised, there is nothing defective in this amendment as it stands, so there is no question of asking the Committee to reject the amendment because of any such defects.

There really is no question of the commissioners taking advantage of the wider powers of sale which would be given under Clause 1 to sell off larger tracts of the Forest of Dean, nor would the Government allow it to happen. I put this to your Lordships: is it conceivable that any Government, of whatever persuasion, at this moment would fly in the face of public opinion on an environmental and conservation and, indeed, countryside issue of the greatest sensitivity? I cannot believe that it is conceivable that any Government would so act. It would be very stupid if they even tried.

I accept that the amendment as drafted would do no more than restore the status quo so far as the Forest of Dean is concerned. In fact, it would reflect the limited nature of the disposals expected there in the future. But I have to tell the Committee that, as my noble friend Lord Dulverton said, it would be difficult not to enact similar statutory restrictions in respect of disposals in, for instance, the New Forest, where the current policy will also continue to apply. It would be equally difficult to resist special pleading for other areas such as the forest parks. It is a very real difficulty.

There is a further practical point which would militate against large-scale forest disposals in the Forest of Dean. Because of the terms under which the Forest of Dean and other Crown areas such as the New Forest were acquired, there is a contingent liability for them in the commission's accounts. This means that, in the case of any individual sale of more than two hectares, the proceeds, less expenses and the value of improvements, which include plantations, would be transferred to the Crown Estate Commissioners. If therefore the Government, or indeed the commissioners, were motivated purely by financial considerations there would be less incentive to select large areas of the Forest of Dean for disposal, even if they were inclined to do so—which they are not.

The Committee will recall that during the Second Reading debate on this Bill I mentioned the various factors which the Forestry Commission will take into account in selecting areas for disposal. The status of the Forestry Commission is of course important. Since then, forestry Ministers have considered the matter further. As a result, we have decided to issue a formal letter of guidance setting out the objectives of the disposals programme, together with the main considerations which we wish the commissioners to take into account in selecting areas for disposal. This letter I will have placed in your Lordships' Library.

I make no apology for setting out again the "guts" of the matter because I regard it, and I hope the Committee will agree, as of the greatest importance. As I have said, the letter will be addressed to the chairman of the Forestry Commission and it will set out the considerations which the commissioners are requested by the forestry Ministers to take into account in selecting areas for disposal. They are—not in any order of precedence—

  1. (a) the financial implications including the need for disposals to be fully in accordance with the principles of public accountability;
  2. (b) the maintenance and development of the wood processing industry;
  3. (c) the maintenance of employment and the viability of local communities, especially in socially fragile areas;
  4. 375
  5. (d) the use of forests for public access and recreation;
  6. (e) the interests of conservation, research and education;
  7. (f) market preference;
  8. (g) the effect on efficient management of the Commission's remaining land holding;
  9. (h) the rationalisation of the forest estate;
  10. (i) the procedures for "offer back" to former owners which are generally in force for the disposal of Government property in the case of freehold or outright sales to be extended as appropriate to areas held on lease by the forestry Ministers if any of these are selected for disposal.
In addition, the commissioners should have full regard to the following:
  1. (a) the special status of the former Crown land in the New Forest and the Forest of Dean, where disposals will, as hitherto, be on a very limited scale;
  2. (b) the undertaking given by the forestry Ministers that in the case of plantations on land originally leased from the National Trust and still owned by them, the lease will not be assigned without the Trust's consent. This will similarly apply to properties leased from the National Trust for Scotland;
  3. (c) the need to consult the forestry Ministers in the event of potentially significant aggregate sales to foreign or multi-national buyers.
I am painfully aware that by repeating the whole of the letter I may have stirred up a hornets' nest for myself in that a lot of the considerations go to future amendments, particularly, for instance one that has been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and I only wish to pray in aid the draft for this particular regard which the commissioners should have for the character of the Forest of Dean, because it is to that amendment that the Committee is now addressing itself.

I want to remind your Lordships that this is going to be a public document in the sense that everybody will know about it. It will be, as it were, a published framework within which the commissioners will be expected to carry out their duties and, bearing in mind the intense public interest which there now is in matters such as access, the enjoyment of the countryside and the preservation of all that is undoubtedly good in the countryside, I would suggest to your Lordships that in effect this will act as just as effective a fetter on sales of land in the Forest of Dean as anything else.

The noble Lord, Lord McNair, said, "Yes, but what about the next Government but two?"—I think it was. I quite agree. No Government can bind its successor and I can perfectly well appreciate that this letter can always be countermanded by something else in the same way as this Bill can either be changed or repealed by future legislation. Nothing is certain in this world, least of all the intentions of future Governments.

I have responded to this amendment at considerable length because it is a terribly important matter. Obviously it goes to the future of the Forest of Dean but equally obviously it goes to the character of this Bill and, as I have tried to say, besides the fact that there is absolutely no intention on the part of Ministers to sell off any part of the Forest of Dean, other than the small parcels which I have spoken about, I should have thought that this was a way of going about protecting the Forest of Dean—and everybody wants to do that—but at the same time compromising in respect of this Bill in a way which I hope will commend itself to your Lordships. I hope very much that in fact members of the Committee will respond to what I have proposed and let me, as the Government spokesman in this House on this matter, get the feel of the Committee.

Earl St. Aldwyn

I have listened with great interest to what the Minister has said. I think he has done a great deal to try his best to help the Committee in this very difficult problem, but with due respect to him it does not really get to the nub of the problem. The problem is that we want safeguards written into the Bill. Letters are no good. Any Minister in the second, third or fourth Parliament from this can perfectly well cancel that letter.

The noble Earl said that other places will also want to be exempted, and he quoted the New Forest. The position in the New Forest is entirely different. They have inumerable rights; they have rights of way; they have powerful verderers with very considerable powers. They can use those powers. In the poor Forest of Dean we have nothing! There is nothing whatever to stop a Government or a Commission in the future saying, "The Forest of Dean is no use to us; we will sell it as a block", whereupon somebody will buy it and turn it into a wildlife park, put a high wire fence all round it and fill it with lions and tigers, and the public will be told that they may drive through but they cannot walk through. I really do not think that the Minister has made a case, and I hope that the noble Lord will press his amendment.

Lord George-Brown

I am fascinated with the reply of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. He has just spent a long time on the previous amendment, telling us that the Forestry Commissioners are not Forestry Commissioners; they are a Government department. He has now read out to us a letter which he said he will place in our Library, which the Minister of that department will write to himself in his capacity of that department and which will bind him so long as he is the Minister for that department and he suggests that in some way that meets the purposes of this Bill. Either his defence on the previous amendment was wrong or this one is absolutely ridiculous. Ministers writing letters to themselves may occupy interestingly and amusingly a part of their time, but it cannot possibly be a substitute for giving protection to the Forest of Dean, to those who are interested in forests in general and to those who live there.

I think the noble Earl is either playing with the House or somebody is playing with him. The only way in which the purposes of this amendment can be achieved is by putting it into the Bill, because we think there is a particular reason for putting it into the Bill and that reason was spelt out in absolutely clear detail by my noble friend Lord Bledisloe. There is no other way one can protect it and with great respect to the noble Earl—and I am sure he will regard this as a reminiscence from long ago, but may I tell him that the bureaucrats of today are very similar to the bureaucrats of long ago. The argument that, "If you allow this to go through, Minister, somebody will claim it for somewhere else", is the oldest argument any bureaucrat has ever produced, and the silliest argument any Minister has ever accepted. Of course, it is true of everything that, "If you give way on this, Minister, you will be pressed to give way on something else". The answer to that damned argument is, "In that case, if I think it is wrong I will stand up and fight". It is an argument I do not happen to think is strong enough.

The Forest of Dean does have a special place. It came into the Act in 1923. The noble Earl may like to know it was longer ago than my own reminiscences. It came into the Act as a matter of convenience. If the present-day bureaucrats in the department concerned will look up the history they will see that it was nobody's intention that it should become even possibly alienable in this way. It just looked at that time as though it would be an odd contrivance to leave it outside, since we were setting up something new that nobody before had thought about. Lord Addison, who had a great deal to do with this matter and was a noble predecessor of many of us who subsequently have taken an interest in agriculture and forestry, would have been absolutely outraged if he had thought that bringing this in then as a matter of practical convenience meant that the noble Earl today could argue against our enshrining it, since we are offering powers elsewhere to do something else.

I hope the noble Earl will not persist in that argument. He clearly cannot persist in the letter argument, in view of his answers on the previous amendment, his insistence that the Forestry Commissioners are just a fantasy with no reality and the Commission is only a department of the Ministry. It simply means that any Minister at any time can tell his bureaucrats to ignore the letter which his predecessor was stupid enough to write to the previous set of bureaucrats.

As to Lord McNair's point about the next Government but two—I know the noble Earl gets fidgety with me, but will he please listen to this—it is easily within the bounds of possibility that we are not talking about the next Government but two, we could easily be talking about the very next Government. It is easily within the bounds of possibility that Mr. Foot could do what M. Mitterrand did yesterday. The immediate consequence of that: the abolition of this place. The possibilities of the then Minister being pushed very hard to find money, as M. Mitterrand's Ministers will be, to carry out the other things which will be in his manifesto, as they are in M. Mitterrand's, will be very considerable indeed. And they exist; they are already written down. If we have a Bill which does not protect the Forest of Dean—we cannot protect others apparently—there is a very great possibility of large areas being sold off in the period of the next Government—not the next Government but two.

And no judge is going to hold—I am not sure, but I believe I am right in thinking the noble Earl is a lawyer—that what the noble Earl said in this House this evening makes law. What the judge is going to hold is the statute and the purposes which the House had in mind in the passage of that statute. If this were allowed to go through unamended, simply on the grounds that this Minister says he thinks it would be stupid of the next Minister to do such a thing—the words he used—no judge is going to be impressed very much by that. He may think this Minister thought a great many other things were stupid; he may even think that some things this Minister does are not altogether sensible either; he is not going to make law and give judgment on those grounds. The fact that this Minister said he issued a letter to his bureaucrats is not going to be construed by the judge as changing the law. The fact that this Government does not want to do it and that Mr. Foot/M. Mitterrand might quite well want to do it is not going to affect it if this is the law and we pass it in this form.

I beg the noble Earl to take us seriously on this matter—even those of us who can reminisce from long ago. As a matter of fact, those of us who can reminisce from long ago happen to have seen these very things happen in our lifetime; things that Ministers had assured us they did not intend should be done have in fact subsequently been done. I lend such support as I can bring to Lord McNair's amendment, and I again say to the noble Earl, although he obviously thinks I am a rather immoderate chap in a House of worthy moderates with all the force I can summon up, that simply coming down here and reading us bureaucratic answers to serious questions, and when ultimately pushed relying on the Treasury Solicitor, is really no way to deal with arguments that are of tremendous importance.

I do not, obviously, for various reasons, share the personal emotional attachment of those who live in and around the Forest of Dean, but I have been for a long part of my life involved with the work of the Forestry Commission. Tremendous work it has done. I am very conscious of the history of my country. I do not want to see us do anything which will enable some chap a little bit later on, for purely temporary reasons, give it away, sell it away, in order to finance some other thing that he has in mind. And I repeat, we shall not be here then to resist. I beg the noble Earl to keep that in mind. I suggest very strongly that the Government should not resist this amendment.

6.27 p.m.

Lord Sandford

This is indeed a very important amendment and my noble friend does well to take care, because, unlike what happened with the first amendment, he has now got, I suspect, something like 12 Gloucestershire Peers on this side of the House ranged against him. If the noble Lord, Lord McNair, intends to press this amendment, I, too, would have to follow him into the Lobby. But with my noble friend Lord Dulverton, I do not believe, that this is the best way of dealing with these problems. I was greatly encouraged when my noble friend read out the instructions, in the form in which they are so far, which are to guide the Forestry Commission in this matter of the disposal of land.

Nevertheless, as the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, and many others have said, letters in the Library are no good when it comes to law. Parliament must have some control and scrutiny over these instructions. If my noble friend could say that those instructions, or something similar, would be re-drafted in a form which could be laid before Parliament and subsequent instructions would be laid before Parliament, or something along those lines, then I think we should all be greatly helped, because all these detailed points could then be embraced in what would then be secondary legislation and we could make progress. If he cannot say that, I do not think I have any option but to support the noble Lord, Lord McNair.

The Earl of Mansfield

If I may intervene before the noble Lord, Lord McNair, speaks, may I say that I have been very struck by my noble friend's suggestion. I have also been very struck by the reaction of the Committee, which I invited. I do not conceal from the Committee that I think that it will be a very difficult problem to resolve. Nevertheless, in view of the way in which the Committee has expressed itself this evening, I think that it would be churlish of me not to say that I shall take this back and consult with my colleagues to see whether we can do something, possibly on the lines suggested by my noble friend Lord Sandford, which will have such form as will commend itself to the House at a later stage of our deliberations on the Bill and thus effect a compromise. I hope that, with that assurance, the noble Lord, Lord McNair, might, for this stage, see fit to withdraw his amendment and let me take it away as I have been invited to do by the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, and see what I can do.

Lord George-Brown

Before the noble Lord, Lord McNair, answers that point, would it not be better, knowing the ways of Governments, Government departments and draftsmen, for us to insert the amendment leaving the Government to invite us to take it out in place of another amendment at a later stage? I hope that the noble Earl will believe me when I say that I am not seeking here churlishly to reject or to react to what he thought was an unchurlish act on his part. But if we do not put the amendment in and it then comes back later at another stage, perhaps at an inconvenient time or at an inconvenient point, we shall be left without any defence at all. I invite his reaction to that. I also invite the reaction of the noble Lord, Lord McNair. I must say that my own reaction would be to try to put the amendment in at this stage with the assurance—genuine assurance—on the part of all of us that, if the Government then come back with some other amendment which seems to meet what we want, we would not resist them replacing our amendment with theirs.

The Earl of Mansfield

I must come back to the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, on this matter. The Government came with a very pronounced view on this matter, as I hope I made clear from my remarks. I was invited to think again by a number of noble Lords including the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, who said—to paraphrase his remarks—that I should take it away and do something about it. When I say, "Yes, I shall respect, obviously, the concern of the House about this matter"—a matter of deep concern to a number of your Lordships, the noble Lord then says, "Oh, No, write it into the Bill and see what the Government can do on Report". With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, I do not think that that is responding in anything but a throughly churlish way to the offer of the Government to take something back and see, on a matter as important as this and about which there are such deeply held convictions, if we cannot come to a compromise which, after all, is the way in which your Lordships' House usually works.

Lord McNair

If I have the temperature of the Committee I think that a very short speech from me might be welcome rather than a long one. The noble Earl has put me in a difficult position. He came a long way to meet me to start with and he has now come further. My feeling is that it would be churlish on my part if I were not to accept what he offers. But clearly he knows the strength of feeling in this House about the Forest of Dean—he can be under no misapprehensions about that—and some magnificent speeches were made in support of my amendment for which I thank noble Lords. However, in view of what the noble Earl has offered, until the Report stage I shall, for now, beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Wootton of Abinger)

Is it your Lordships pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?

Lord George-Brown


The Deputy Chairman of Committees

If there is a single objector the amendment cannot be withdrawn. I shall put the Question. The Question is, That this amendment be agreed to? As many as are of that opinion will say "Content". The contrary, "Not-Content". I think that the "Not-Contents" have it. Clear the Bar.

Tellers for the Contents have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 50. A Division therefore cannot take place, and I declare that the Not-Contents have it.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Gisborough moved Amendment No. 5: Page 1, line 8, after ("any") insert ("productive").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 5. The Minister will be well aware of the figures in the Case for Forestry—imports 92 per cent.; 7 per cent. forestry in England and so on—without my going through them. Therefore he will be as aware as any of us of the importance of using an increasing amount of our land for forestry. This amendment is to try to ensure, or at least to discuss, the possibility of making certain that, when land is sold by the Forestry Commission which has been earmarked for forestry, they should make reasonable provision that it will be used either for planting by somebody else, or for a return to agriculture, or for some other productive use. Apart from anything else, if it is not to be used for a productive use, then the purchaser—and knowing something of buying from Government departments this could well happen—could argue that as he did not want to use it for forestry or for productive use, therefore the price should be less. It is quite likely, believe it or not—and I have a recent example of this—that the Government department would say: "Fine, you can have it for a much lower price".

Therefore from a price point of view, as well as for the production of the country, it is very important that the Forestry Commission should ensure that the land will be used for production; otherwise what could well happen is that the land would not be planted, or replanted as the case may be, and could be allowed to fall virtually into dereliction. Of course, in particular this would apply in Scotland. There is much too little forestry in England and Scotland and we must make sure that the maximum amount is maintained. The Commission must satisfy itself that the land is to be used properly.

The Earl of Mansfield

I entirely sympathise with my noble friend. I think that we would all wish to see land which the commission sells maintained in a productive way. I think that the vast majority of purchasers interested in the mainly commercial plantations that the commission will be offering will wish to protect their investment by sensible management. However, I do not think that the additional word proposed in the amendment will ensure that this is achieved. Although the Forestry Commission, by virtue of its felling licensing powers, will be able to require that land remains under trees where appropriate, it has no means of ensuring that a woodland will continue to be managed in a productive fashion after the sale takes place.

Then there are a number of other difficulties which spring to mind. First, what is the meaning of the word "productive"? I suppose that it could be any kind of activity which puts the land to some form of positive use; certainly forestry, certainly agriculture, and arguably sporting could all be described as productive. Whether or not it is capable of definition, I do not see how the commission could ascertain the motives of prospective purchasers. Whatever they say at the time that they entered into negotiations for the purchase, they could change their minds after the sale had gone through. I do not think that there is any means of the commission, as it were, enforcing what would be in Clause 1 of the Bill if the situation changed at a later stage. Although, as I have said, I am sympathetic to my noble friend's reasoning, I am afraid that this amendment would cause more problems than it would solve. Therefore, I hope that he will see that it is not really desirable, and I would ask him to withdraw it.

Lord Gisborough

I thank my noble friend for that explanation. I do not think that there is much point in my pressing the amendment and, therefore, I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 6: Page 1, line 8, after ("any") insert ("forestry").

The noble Lord said: More than once the Minister has taken refuge in the difficulty of definition. I hope that he will not lean heavily on that for my amendment, which is to put in, where the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, would have put in "productive", the word "forestry". It is not a wrecking amendment. It is to allow to have carried on that which is being carried on prior to the purchase.

I do not think that there is any difficulty about the definition of the word "forestry". It does not preclude the Minister from selling land which can be forested, which is one of the limitations of the subsection that we seek to remove. If the suggestion is, as the Government have put forward, that there are people who are anxious to buy land for forestry purposes, then this amendment meets that. From the point of view of most people who are concerned, I think that it will be satisfactory, provided of course that the forestry is carried on in a sensible way. There is no reason at the moment to think that it will not be.

However, this amendment will at least limit the power of the Minister in these disposals; in other words, he can dispose provided that the land will be used for forestry purposes. He says that he cannot be assured of that. With all due respect, I think that he can; certainly as regards Scotland he could, and I am perfectly sure that a conditional lease or a conditional sale could be effected. That would certainly allay some of the fears that are presently being expressed by those most concerned about the disposal of Forestry Commission land and, of course, land which was not originally in some cases Forestry Commission land, but land which passed into the keeping of the Forestry Commission when people thought that the commission was pretty safe from exploitation of the land for purposes for which the land would probably not be suited. This is the danger. The disposal of any land "for any purpose" is a serious concern of people. Of course, we could all sit here and think of exactly what purposes some strange person would put land to. Admittedly, there is the planning permission procedure, et cetera. But if we are told that the Forestry Commission is just a department of the Government, then in relation to a change of use for what would be forestry or agricultural land that matter would go back to that department. That department would not oppose itself.

I hope that the Minister appreciates the kind of net that he has woven for himself in his declaration that for all practical purposes the Forestry Commission is a department. I think that I am right in saying that if there is to be a change of use from agricultural land, it is the Department of Agriculture, certainly in Scotland, that has to give the say-so. Therefore, the noble Earl will probably find himself in trouble over this phrase "for any purpose". He would be on far safer ground and certainly allay the fears of many people if he said yes to, "for forestry".

I would go so far with the noble Lord whose amendment has, I think, rightly been turned down because of the difficulty of the word "productive". If asked to, I would gladly have this amendment extended at a later stage to "forestry and agricultural purposes". I think that that limitation of the future use of the land to forestry and agriculture would also meet some of the fears that have been expressed. However, in the meantime I rest on the word "agriculture" being arid. I beg to move.

Lord Gisborough

I should just like to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has said inasmuch as one could well get the situation where a previous owner had sold land adjacent to his own interests to the Forestry Commission on the clear and obvious understanding that it would be put into forestry. What happens when it is sold for some purpose about which he had never dreamt and he finds on his doorstep, instead of forestry, some other enterprise which clashes with his own interests? I think that that could well happen.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

While I sympathise with the points made on both these amendments, it appears to me that it might have a bad practical effect on the Forestry Commission in that if they bought a whole estate and parts of it were not suitable for forestry, then they would not be able to realise realisable assets. I wonder whether that is not a snag to this.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Under the present Section 39(2) they can do that at the moment. They can dispose of such land.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

The point I was making was that it appears to me that if this is inserted in the Bill then they would not be able to dispose of such land.

Lord Ross of Marnock

No, quite wrong.

The Earl of Mansfield

I can deal with my noble friend's point shortly by saying that if somebody wants to develop land in a way which is different from the use to which it is presently put, he has to seek outline planning permission. Therefore, all the various checks and balances would come into play which habitually do. But that really is not the point of this amendment. Again, I have a certain sympathy for the amendment in the same way as I did for my noble friend's amendment.

The difficulty is that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, seeks to put in a restriction which is in fact totally sweeping. I respectfully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. If, for instance, whether or not it buys an estate, it possesses agricultural land which is not to be used for planting, if this amendment were accepted and written into the Bill then the commission would be unable to dispose of that agricultural land as agricultural land. Nor could it dispose of residential properties, for instances. Nor could it dispose of land which in the general interest should be used for other purposes. It would not be able to cater for developments which have taken place in the past. For instance, the Forestry Commission would not be able to sell land for road widening, the construction of a reservoir, the making of a new town, and so on. In fact, the position would be such that the Forestry Commission would be restrained from disposing of a great deal of land which it is probably right and proper that it should dispose of.

As I said to my noble friend, I should have thought that the vast majority of purchasers will wish to manage their new estate for purposes of forestry, and that they will do so with the intent of maximising their investment, and therefore they will do so along the lines of sound forestry management and practice. If the land is under trees, the Forestry Commission will be able, by virtue of felling licences, to require that the land remains under trees after felling if such is considered appropriate. The amendment which the noble Lord seeks to write into the Bill in fact would be more restrictive than the powers are at the moment, as I think he himself acknowledged. As such, I am afeard that it is not acceptable.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I think that the noble Earl is right. One of the troubles is that the Minister under the present Section 39(2) has a limited power enabling him to dispose of land. He is now seeking to take a power which is far too sweeping. It is unlimited. It is open-ended. What we have been trying to do on this side of the Committee and in other parts of the Committee as well is in some way to limit this. The trouble is—and I do not know whether noble Lords have appreciated this—that they start by wiping out what is already there in Section 39(2), which gives the Minister power to sell land which in his opinion is not needed, or ought not to be used for forestry again. Of course, forestry Ministers and the Forestry Commission have been doing this for years.

Certainly it was not from the Forestry Commission that the demand came for greater powers of sale. They have been doing the kind of thing that the noble Earl says. It is rather strange that he should come along and say, "Here, you are amending it in such a way that they will not be able to do that". I admit that with this wording. I can think of other ways of doing it, of course. I thank the noble Earl for his answer. He has drawn attention to what was certainly wrong in my amendment, but I can think of one or two ways in which we can put that amendment right.

The Earl of Mansfield

If the noble Lord can, perhaps he would like to tell me what he has in mind, because I am conscious that noble Lords wish to improve the Bill. If the noble Lord has any ideas by all means let us debate them and then possibly they could come in the form of a Government amendment, or an agreed amendment, at a later stage of the Bill. I am by no means adamant about anything in the sense that I refuse to look at the other person's point of view.

If the noble Lord, as he says he has, has something up his sleeve to try to ensure that forestry land remains forestry land but yet, if it is desirable, should, as it were, go out of forestry without causing too much bother either to the Forestry Commission or to the purchaser, then I should like to hear it. The noble Lord says that in Scotland the Forestry Commission can write into the instrument of disposal a power, which of course it would not in England. If it did, it would not have any effect against a later purchaser. No doubt the noble Lord will bear this in mind. If he is going to come up with something it would certainly be desirable that it should obtain in each country, because obviously we want to try to have the same powers in each country. Perhaps the noble Lord can tell us if he has thought of anything.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Well, I have not, but it is not beyond the wit of a place with the experience and knowledge of your Lordships' House to look at the problem and see a way around it. It is not a case of having any cards up my sleeve. If I had cards up my sleeve I would have played them a long time ago. But I am not given to that kind of attitude. We have a problem. We have to find a solution. I think it can be done. I think it could be done quite easily, and I am not so despondent of the ability of even lawyers to draw up some kind of form of contract.

But the noble Earl cannot have it every way. They cannot always be to the advantage of the public and at the same time the advantage of the seller. The noble Earl keeps bringing this in, and this is where we come to the big difficulty. If we want to retain the wider public interest beyond just purely the interests of finance and the Forestry Commission, then it may well be that the restriction placed into any covenant on sale would be such that you will produce less money. But I appreciate the weakness of this particular amendment, and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.50 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe moved Amendment No. 7: Page 1, line 9, at end insert ("where, after consultation with the commissioners, it may seem expedient for him to do so, and if he is satisfied—

  1. (i) that the sale would facilitate the discharge by the commissioners of any of their functions; and
  2. (ii) that the total receipt from such sales in any financial year will not exceed the grant in aid to the commission estimated for that year unless it is for the purpose of rational land management that further disposals are necessary.").

The noble Lord said: This is a fundamental amendment and I am pleased to see the names of the noble Lords, Lord Dulverton and Lord Sherfield, attached to it also. I hope it will commend itself to the Government so that we may restore in forestry a consensus view. If there is one thing the Bill has done, it has disturbed the basic consensus on forestry policy which has existed for 50 or 60 years, and that is unfortunate. Perhaps the amendment, in so far as it acknowledges the Government's wish but limits it, will find acceptance generally.

It would achieve two things. First, it would establish the place of the Forestry Commission as the manager of and authority over the forest enterprise, and, secondly, it would place some limitation on disposal. My noble friend Lord Ross has rightly said several times that the real difficulty about this piece of legislation is that it places no limitation on the present or future Minister. The Times had an editorial the other day on this subject. Headed "Too much Forest at Risk", it said: The Government disclaim any thought of wholesale auctions of national park woodland, or of letting Royal forests pass under the plough. But in legislation it is always the letter of the Bill that counts, rather than the ministerial assurances. If limited sales are all that is envisaged, means of limiting them should be written into the Bill. That is precisely the case that has been argued this afternoon, and we are trying by this amendment to place some limitation on the Bill, at the same time accepting the Government's intentions.

The amendment says initially that the Minister, after consultation with the commissioners, may think it expedient to dispose of land: if he is satisfied…that the sale would facilitate the discharge by the Commissioners of any of their functions. We have had a long constitutional argument already today about whether the Forestry Commission is part of the Government machine or Civil Service or whatever, but the commissioners as such have certain statutory obligations, and they are laid down in the 1967 Act. That states: The Commissioners shall be charged with the general duty of promoting the interests of forestry, the development of afforestation and the production and supply of timber and other forest products in Great Britain, and in that behalf shall have the powers and duties conferred or imposed upon them by this Act.

It goes on: The Commissioners' general duty includes that of promoting the establishment and maintenance in Great Britain of adequate reserves of growing trees". That is the statutory responsibility of the commission and the amendment says that the Minister may dispose of land provided that is consistent with those statutory obligations, for unless those statutory obligations are recognised there will be no limit on the disposal. If a constitutional difficulty arose in which the Minister sought to impose a policy of disposal which was not consistent with those statutory obligations, there would be an interesting legal case and, I presume, as was the case with the National Enterprise Board, the board might resign. At least the amendment would lay down and confirm that obligation.

I have always assumed that it was basic to Conservative philosophy, in dealing with nationalised industries or government-supported industries, to give management powers to manage, and assess management on their performance. I suggest that the amendment would do that precisely, for it says that the commissioners have responsibility for carrying out their function and should be judged accordingly. Thus, there is no difficulty about defining the Minister's powers and the Forestry Commission's responsibilities.

Secondly, the amendment would place a maximum on the disposal of land in any one year. It says that the disposal of land must not exeed the grant-in-aid, and to that extent it meets one of the Government's objectives, namely, to move towards a situation when the Forestry Commission will be free from Government support and aid, and I hope therefore free from Treasury control. That is what the two parts of the amendment seek to achieve.

We have been all tied up today discussing the mechanics of the Forestry Commission, its relationship with government and so on, but the main objective of any forestry policy is not only to provide for the amenity and recreation of the public, a subject which we have already discussed, but also to increase the total amount of timber produced from home sources. It has not been argued by the Government today that the powers for the general disposal of land will make any sizeable contribution towards that economic objective.

The Forestry Commission does not crowd out (to use the modern expression) investment in private forestry. There is no state monopoly about the Forestry Commission; it buys land in the market, in exactly the same way as E, F, G or any other private investor buys land in the market, so the mere fact that one proceeds to dispose of a Forestry Commission asset does not necessarily mean there are immediate takers in the private market for it. Indeed, at present the private market is rather sluggish and private owners would not need to buy Forestry Commission land unless it was at very low and deflated prices. If that were to happen it would be a very serious matter indeed; it would be asset stripping on a massive scale. We must therefore recognise that what is proposed by the amendment would at least help the Government to realise their objectives, but at the same time would place certain limitations on their activities.

Lord Dulverton

Although my name appears with that of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to the amendment, I have been preceded by such an explicit speech, making the argument so clear, that I need not delay the Committee. I agreed with every word the noble Lord said. I must at the outset apologise on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, whose name also appears to the amendment. He has informed me that other urgent business has prevented him from being here; had he been here he certainly would have spoken to the amendment.

As I have pointed out when discussing the Bill on other occasions, there is a widespread feeling about what is described as the open-endedness of the ability of Ministers to sell off bits of the Forestry Commission, and that worries everybody, even the private sector of forestry. One reason is that private foresters have always had a high regard for the Forestry Commission as its partner, not in crime but in the beneficent work it has done for forestry. Furthermore, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, made the point just now that the argument over the Bill has—only momentarily, let us hope—destroyed and broken up the all-party approach to forestry, which has been so notable and so good a feature of the forestry subject over many years. I hope that this very moderately phrased amendment will in this case commend itself to my noble friend on the Front Bench, and I am sure that it will have support from all sides of the Committee.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

We from these Benches should very much like to support the amendment. What the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, said just now is very true—that the Government should be extraordinarily worried about the reaction of the private sector to the Bill. The open-ended, nay sweeping, powers that we have already discussed at some length are the really worrying factor. Another point, which has not been mentioned today, but which is of desperate importance, is that of the confidence of the commission itself. If the Minister, and the Treasury in particular, have these sweeping powers, then no commission can feel that it really being trusted to carry out this very important part of Government policy. At any time in bad financial circumstances its work might be swept away and the fruits of that work might be enjoyed by some other person, not by the nation for whom all the work has been done.

Furthermore, the amendment answers the arguments put forward by the Minister when he said that a Minister must be responsible and cannot be tied completely by the commission that he might have appointed. This proposal answers that point completely, in that the Minister is required only to consult and to be satisfied that the sale would facilitate the discharge by the commissioners of…their functions…". In other words, he has guidance, but he has responsibility, and if he makes a bad decision, he must carry the brunt of parliamentary and other criticism, and perhaps have to face legal action. So the amendment does not take away the Minister's responsibility. It safeguards the commission. It safeguards the ultimate objective, and I believe that it answers in a very large part the arguments that have been put forward in that it allows the sale of land up to the amount of the annual grant of Forestry Commission property which could save the Treasury money in grant, but it limits it to a reasonable proportion. It is a very moderate amendment. It is sensible, and it is put forward by people who know the business, who know about forestry from both the public and the private sectors, and I think that the Government would do well to accept it.

Lord Gibson-Watt

In speaking to the amendment I wish to declare an interest as a part-time Forestry Commissioner. Looking at the Companion to the Standing Orders I see that I am not debarred from speaking on forestry matters, but naturally there are certain things to which I am not allowed to refer. The matter under discussion is certainly of fundamental importance to the forestry industry as a whole, both public and private, but I wish to make my personal opinion on it very clear to your Lordships' Committee. I do not speak for my other colleagues on the Forestry Commission.

Those who have tabled the amendment are men of long experience and knowledge of the industry and they have voiced the apprehension which has been shown here, and in another place, and generally throughout the forestry industry. It is I believe only upon the open-endedness of Clause 1 that the fears are centred. The theory is that there could be no limit to the proportion of the Forestry Commission enterprise that could be sold off. Everyone is agreed that it is necessary to give the Forestry Commission greater powers to sell off uneconomic and ill-fitting parts of the forestry property—I referred to that earlier. Many people, including myself, believe it to be right that the taxpayer should no longer be asked to find large sums of money—about £34 million last year—for a state enterprise that has been growing and growing since 1919 and which, as other noble Lords have said, has been such a success in so very many ways.

What the amendment seeks to do is to limit the amount that the commissioners may sell in any one year; although I do not happen to agree with the details of the amendment, I shall not argue that now. What I say is that the size of future sales could be a matter of very great concern to us all. I agree that the figure at present suggested by Ministers of £40 million in three years is not unattainable or unreasonable. Ministers have repeatedly said that the Forestry Commissioners will decide what is to be sold; and that is the crux of the matter that has been touched on this afternoon. To me this is the crucial factor. The commissioners have a duty to carry out the policies of forestry Ministers and to administer the forest enterprise. What happens if a pension fund comes up with an offer of £500 million? I am not saying that it will. But when one considers the total value of the commission today—just over £1,000 million—this is a matter of some concern.

If forestry Ministers should be pressurised by Treasury Ministers, and in turn instruct the commissioners to sell off in any one year a very large proportion of the enterprise, I would consider that to be emasculation, not disposal. Let nobody say that that is a totally impossible situation. I have been a forestry Minister in the past, though not perhaps quite as long ago as the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, who is not in this place at the moment, though he referred to this earlier. I know that there are pressures from other Ministries upon forestry Ministers when difficult decisions have to be taken. If disposal of the size to which I have referred was requested, I would consider it unacceptable, and it would certainly put part-time commissioners in a very difficult position. There are five of them, as the commission is now set up, and it is suggested that after the Bill is passed there should be one more; but as I say, the position would be very difficult.

I would certainly support the Government, but I would ask the Minister to repeat that the Forestry Commissioners will decide what is sold. I would ask him, too, to pass on to his colleagues the reason for my fears, based on a very long experience of forestry as a practical forester, a commissioner, and a former forestry Minister. I shall live in hope that what Ministers have said in assurance will be honoured in the event.

Lord Gisborough

I should like to oppose the amendment. I can see no reason why the particular maximum proposed should be fixed. I see no harm in selling forestry. Obviously I would make the firm proviso that the Forestry Commission must have a minimum acreage for all its requirements regarding experimentation and so on. That might amount to 500,000 or a million acres. But subject to that minimum, I can see no harm in any amount of forestry going under certain conditions.

First, to argue that the fruits of the nation's investment are being given away is absolute nonsense. There is the cost of planting and maintenance and the growth compared with the value, which is considerably greater, and the value is what should be paid for that forestry. The country having gained the sale, the money could then he invested in the country at 15 per cent. bank rate (or whatever it is) instead of at 3 per cent. in forestry. Therefore, the country would be very much better—

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

Will the noble Lord accept that if large amounts of forestry land were unloaded on the market, the inevitable consequence would be that the taxpayer would not gain the benefit of his investment?

Lord Gisborough

I was going to come to that. I agree. I was talking about the investment. It would be 15 per cent. investment for the country instead of 3 per cent., and therefore the country is better off.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I am sorry to interrupt, but that argument does not hold water. Inflation takes care of the lower interest rate, and the inflation-rate effect on money is what trees overcome.

Lord Gisborough

You can argue that backwards and forwards. I do not think that anybody would argue that there is a high return from forestry, and everybody would agree that the bank rate is high. You can end up by arguing all night. The timber, having been sold, remains growing and to the benefit of British timber production. What is being said by this amendment is that £30 million or £40 million should be the limit annually. As regards the noble Lord's point, that sum might be far too high or it might be too little. It depends on the demand. If there is a strong demand you could sell £200 million worth. If there is no demand, you might sell nothing. The important thing is that the price should not be depressed. I believe that this amendment should stipulate something to the effect that forestry should not be sold below a certain price, or a certain yardstick could be used so that the price is maintained. If that price can be maintained, related to demand, that might dictate that either £1 million worth is sold of £500 million worth is sold. To set £40 million or £38 million or whatever it is, is pointless; it bears no relation to demand. One must guard against the flooding of the market. Finally, if forestry which is growing is sold, then what could happen and one hopes will happen is that the extra funds should enable twice as many new acres of young forestry to be planted.

The Earl of Wemyss and March

I think that this is a reasonable amendment and deserving of support. Although it is right that the Forestry Commission land should be sold off with greater freedom than in the past, I think we are all worried at the extreme open-endedness of Clause 1. It is not reasonable in this very long-term situation (which is the intrinsic character of forestry) to rely on the statements of Ministers, mortal Ministers, however sincere they may be. If Parliament intends some limitation of this nature it should say so. I see no reason why my noble friend Lord Mansfield should not accept this amendment. I sincerely hope that he will do so. Reading the report of the Second Reading debate, I notice that the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, said that the nation's forest estate as a whole should be made inalienable, like the National Trust estates. Especially and above all, I think this might apply to the ancient royal forests that remain—and we have heard much mention of the Forest of Dean and the New Forest.

Being deeply concerned, as I am, with both the National Trusts, I was glad to find that this invaluable characteristic of inalienability so impressed the noble Baroness. Although I do not think that one could go so far as to say that all Forestry Commission land should be inalienable, the fact remains that some of us and many of our predecessors, in selling or leasing land to the Forestry Commission not only were thinking of the money we should be getting by the transaction but were also under the general impression that the land would be in safe hands forever, or, at least, for a very long time, in hands just as stable and just as reliable as the state itself. There used to be a phrase: "As reliable as the Bank of England". Therefore, there should be some brake, some sort of control, on the uncontrolled impulses of future Ministers and future Treasury officials, to oppose excessive selling off of this priceless asset. I hope my noble friend the Minister will accept this amendment, even if he accepts no other.

The Earl of Mansfield

For reasons which I have already touched on, the first part of the subsection—that is, subsection (1)—is by no means acceptable to the Government. I have already touched on the reason but I had better do so again. I think that the noble Lord has borrowed, if that is the word, the words in Section 39(2)(b) of the Forestry Act 1967. I have already said that if the clause is worded in that particular way, we shall be right back to the position that we should be in if we did not have a Bill at all. In other words, the commissioners would not find it possible to sell off much, if any, forest land at all; and any powers that this Bill gave them would be so limited in scope that they would be totally inadequate for the more extensive sales which the Government intend and which we discussed on Second Reading. From that point of view, and from that point of view alone, this amendment does not commend itself to the Government. I want to say that right away.

I concede that the whole idea of selling off land in this manner does not commend itself to noble Lords opposite. They, if anything, want to advance the state and the state sector. They certainly do not want to restrict the state in any way; nor do they want the frontiers of the state to be rolled back. But we think, as my noble friend Lord Gisborough has said, that there is no reason why, both for the good of forestry and for the good of the taxpayer, these sales should not take place which, as I have said repeatedly and I say again, will be under the control of the Forestry Commission and indeed part of their function. They will make the Forestry Commission less dependent on the taxpayers' money and, in the end, will give back to the taxpayer a little of what has been taken from him over years and years.

As far as rational land management is concerned, this is a factor which the commissioners will take into account when they are selecting areas for sale. If they had to confine themselves to the rigid statutory obligation which the first part of this amendment would impose on them, they would be, as I have said, unable to carry out their function of sales and they would be open to constant challenge that in selecting a particular area they were not advancing a particular function.

I want to come to the matter of quantum. I was very appreciative of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt and I confirm that for the first year (and this figure appeared in the Supply Estimates for 1981–82) the total value of sales of land and plantations other than surplus property are estimated at £10 million; and we do not expect the total to exceed more than £40 million in the first three years.

I appreciate that there is concern about the open-endedness of the powers in Clause 1. I accept that there are no restrictions on sales of the kind contemplated by this amendment. We do not consider that a restriction is called for. After all, the powers of acquisition are not constrained; the commission, which is responsible for acquisitions and disposals, buys whatever is necessary and wherever it can be found in order to carry out its responsibilities. Naturally, however, other interests are taken into account in making decisions about what land to buy. This is not a statutory requirement, but merely part of the accepted and well understood arrangements for ensuring that forestry finds its proper place in the management of the countryside.

I suggest that there are no differences in principle between these arrangements which effectively constrain acquisitions and work perfectly well without the need for legislation and various limitations which by virtue of administrative means will be placed in the operation of Clause 1. The objective has been spelled out frequently and consistently in both Houses. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, if nobody else, will not accept this; I have made it abundantly clear—and I shall do so again—there is no ulterior motive, this is not a Treasury Bill, there is no intention to engage in wholesale and indiscriminate disposals. The commissioners will be in full charge of the operation. They will decide which areas are to be sold and also such matters as the size of the parcels and the terms of the sale.

The commissioners will decide whether they want an outright sale or whether they want a sale and leaseback for management, and they will take into account all the factors which I have already related to the Committee in the draft letter and they will have consideration for all the matters which are placed before them by virtue of that letter. They will have full regard for any assurances which may be made in relation to particular parts such as the New Forest or indeed, bearing in mind the particular interests of my noble friend Lord Wemyss, the properties leased from the National Trust.

The second part of the amendment would limit Government action and flexibility. That, I suggest, is required if we are to have regard to market forces in a disposals programme because, if for no other reason, the amount of land which may be sold per year is limited by the second paragraph in the amendment.

The Government have taken powers which are similar to if not strictly identical with these. For instance, the Civil Aviation Act of 1980 places no limitation on the number of shares which may be sold in British Airways. The Government have made it clear that at the time of the initial flotation a substantial minority of the shares will be offered for sale. The Transport Bill, currently being considered by the House, confers on the Railways Board broad powers of disposal in respect of their subsidiaries and the powers of direction being accorded to the Secretary of State are very wide. There is no statutory fetter of the kind proposed in this amendment on either the Secretary of State or the Railways Board. I would remind the Committee—and I do not want to get into the old argument of what the precise legal position of the Forestry Commission is again—that the Railways Board is an organisation at one remove from the Government and is unlike the Forestry Commission.

So I say that Governments are responsible and, as I have said in a previous debate, Governments are accountable, and the Government think that they should be given freedom to act. Although one realises the concern, one asks: Why should forestry be singled out in this way? I have been conscious of what the Committee have said and I have replied at fairly considerable length because I wanted noble Lords, both those who have contributed to your Lordships' deliberations this evening and also others who may well be interested, to know full well what the Government's position is.

I have said to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, that his amendment is so drafted that it would place a restriction upon the freedom of action of the Commissioners which really the Government cannot accept. Having said that, without giving a commitment—which at the moment I cannot give for obvious reasons—I shall be prepared, without this commitment, to take the matter away and to discuss with certain noble Lords a possible amendment or avenues which might be explored with a view to seeing how we get on at a later stage of the Bill.

I hope that the Committee will treat this commitment on my part with the same generosity as it did my last one after what I might describe as a hiccup. It is of course up to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, but this is the course which for the moment I commend to the Committee.

Lord Gisborough

Could my noble friend say a little more about price and flooding the market? I am not sure whether he is covering this point. This is one of the real points; how the prices are going to be maintained so that the sales of private forestry do not drop through the flooding of the market by the Forestry Commission.

The Earl of Mansfield

With respect, I do not think that a sales programme estimated at £10 million in the first year is going to flood the market exactly. May I just repeat what I have said at various moments and try to encapsulate it? The commission will be in charge of sales. I anticipate that the vast majority of these sales will take place by open tender and it would be a matter of the commission accepting or not the bid which most commended itself to them at the time when they had to make up their minds.

If the market is depressed, I anticipate that sales would be very low in that particular year or possibly non-existent. On a previous occasion I illustrated—and I did not tonight because we have been considering a whole lot of other things—one of the purposes of this power, besides making the Forestry Commission less dependent on the taxpayer, is that if the sales go very well and prices keep up then of course by agreement with the Treasury we would be able to increase the grant-in-aid for the Forestry Commission to increase its planting in later years if such a course was thought desirable.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I understood his commitment to my noble friend on the Forest of Dean was a definite one that he would go away and try to meet the wishes of the House. I got the feeling that his commitment here was rather more qualified. Is that the case or not?

The Earl of Mansfield

It would be honest of me to say that it is more qualified. However, an undertaking is an undertaking. Some undertakings are given more wholeheartedly than others. I hope that most members of the Committee know that when I say I am going to do something I do it.

7.29 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock

We are grateful for any undertaking, be it qualified or unqualified. As I understand it, the noble Lord the Minister was going to speak to certain Members. We are not all anxious to be in this privileged committee, but I thought this was the point: that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, was going to ask the Minister about this. I think we are entitled to know.

Secondly, there is something else I should like to ask the Minister. I applaud the efforts made by Lord Taylor of Gryfe to limit in some way the amount of land that is disposed of in any one year. In four or five years—in fact, I think the Government aim at 10 years—we could easily see the grant in aid wiped out altogether, without any guarantee at all that there is going to be any further extended plantings by the Forestry Commission. As I read it, unless we get land that is disposed of producing timber, then in the long run—unless the grant in aid is to be increased—it will mean a reduction in the timber potential of this country. If land passes out of timber, then obviously no timber is going to be produced on that land. If land passes out in a way that justifies the Treasury in not financing further each year a greater planting programme—and I am here meeting the point about the country's replanting needs—then obviously it will work against the whole national aspect of timber development.

I was interested to see that although the noble Earl, Lord Wemyss and March, supported this amendment and "coshed" the Government, he was not included among the land nationalisers; only noble Lords on this side of the House were included. I bow to the noble Earl because he is the President of the National Trust in Scotland and I am only his lackey, the Deputy Chairman. However, I feel that it should be appreciated that we on this side of the Committee are equally concerned for the national good and about the proper use of the land of the country. Indeed, the first nationalisers were from the opposite side of the House. Is it thought that all the people who established or who worked for the national good and the Forestry Commission should be called "land nationalisers"? I have said before that the Minister is the master of the infelicitous phrase; if there is anyone guaranteed to get peoples' backs up, he is there. We are always hoping that he will learn.

I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, is going to do. He has been given some kind of promise and I will bow to his decision as to the future of the amendment.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

I must make clear my lack of enthusiasm for the concession that was made by the Minister a few moments ago. It is extremely difficult for me to consider dropping this amendment because if the Minister is prepared to look at some form of limitation against the open-ended commitment of this Bill, then I—and those of my noble friends who have supported this amendment—would be happy to accept such an olive branch. I hope that the combined wisdom of the noble Lords who will look at this again will produce some formula.

The noble Lord the Minister does seem to presume that the argument involved in this amendment has something to do with pushing the frontiers of the state further and further against the disposal and sale of assets. If one thing has justified the presence of these Benches it is the belief that British politics have become sterile because of the dogmatic arguments of the nationalisers, on the one hand, and the de-nationalisers, on the other. We look at politics in terms of what is the best solution for the nation and for the industry. Ours is a purely pragmatic approach.

Insofar as this amendment was designed to restore this sense of purpose in the forestry industry, it has our support. I would hope that the Minister would depart from the dogmatic and ideological arguments in this connection because ideological argument have never really affected the general consensus view of the forestry industry. The mere presence of the noble Earl, Lord Wemyss and March, of the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, and the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, in support of this amendment is some indication of the view we hold that the problems of the Forestry Commission, the expansion of timber production, the provision of amenities and recreation, and the safeguarding of assets and National Trust land can all be done by agreement but not by arguing ideological cases one against the other.

May I make one further economic point? The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, said that if the market is difficult then sales will be low. I cannot really understand that because if he is establishing certain objectives for the sale of the land—he mentioned up to £10 million this year and £40 million in three years' time—then he has to meet those objectives. If he offers land to meet that objective of 10 million, that will not be a market assessment and the price of land will fall. He will be compelled to sell more land in order to realise the £40 million in three years. This case is not to be compared with the British Railways Board, the Civil Aviation Authority or British Airways, where we sell shares. This is a different kind of animal. This is not a state monopoly. The private sector and the state are one together in this industry and are not in opposition to one another. There is no ideological difference. Do not let us divide this and say that it is like selling off shares in British aerospace or in the British Railways Board.

I must confess that I am in some difficulty. If the noble Lord the Minister said he would look at this again and would try to get advice and guidance from other noble Lords who have a special interest and concern in these matters, then I would be prepared to accept that and withdraw the amendment. But if no progress is made in this direction then we shall be compelled to introduce some kind of amendment at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Mansfield

This might be a convenient moment to adjourn the deliberations of the Committee, and the Chief Whip suggests that we reconvene at 10 minutes past eight o'clock. I beg to move.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.38 until 8.10 p.m.]

[Amendments Nos. 8 to 10 not moved.]

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 1, line 9, at end insert— ("(c) The power of disposal referred to above shall not apply to land in an area designated as a Forest Park nor to Crown woods transferred to the Crown Commissioners (Transfer of Woods) Act 1923)").

The noble Lord said: We have a slight change of subject here. This is a fairly serious amendment. It goes much wider than the Forest of Dean and takes us into forest park areas and so on. I do not think it would be good enough for the Minister to say, "We do not mean to dispose of anything here". I certainly would be one of the strongest objectors if, by any chance, the circumstances were such that the Forestry Commission, in order to meet an annual claim for a certain amount of money, were forced to sell off part of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, to which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, referred earlier.

We cannot get away from the fact that what we are left with, at the end of the day, are the naked words of that exceedingly extensive power which we are giving to Ministers: The Minister may dispose for any purpose of land". It could quite well be, as the Bill stands at the moment, that the persons who are purchasing have no obligation to tell the Forestry Commission of the purpose to which they are going to put the land. Then all that will stand before the beauty of the forest park is probably just the planning commission. As I said earlier, if land is construed as agricultural, the first consent must be given by the agriculture Minister in the country concerned. In Scotland, it would be the Agriculture Department of the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is not good enough that we should risk what could well be the desecration of forest parks or Crown woods, by leaving the Bill unamended.

I certainly would not be satisfied with the kind of explanation which we have so far had from the Government, that this would never happen. It is not right that this noble House, especially, should accept such a position. In this House, we probably have more experience of private forestry and of the Forestry Commission, and have ties with it that extend as long as the life of the commission itself. That being so, it is particularly incumbent upon us to do something that it was not possible to do in another place: that is, to put some limitation on the powers of Ministers in respect of the disposal of land.

This is a fairly simple amendment. I do not think there is anything that requires much definition, on which the Minister can ride away. He certainly knows what we mean. If he says, "This is what we are going to do anyway, and we shall ensure that there is no encroachment here", then I must plead with him again. He must put it into the Bill. Otherwise we shall be entirely dependent on what will happen to Ministers and Governments in future. At least, we shall be able to ensure that, if this is to be set aside, Ministers will need to come back to both Houses with a piece of legislation, which we can argue about all over again. So I say to the Minister: Please do not say "We are not going to do it". That is no safeguard for the future and for things as important as forest parks or Crown woods transferred to the Crown Commissioners. I beg to move.

8.17 p.m.

The Earl of Mansfield

I well understand the desire of the noble Lord to ensure that the special features of the forest parks designated by the Forestry Commission are maintained for the enjoyment of the public and I share that desire. The first forest parks were designated before the Second World War and could well be regarded as having set a precedent for the introduction of national parks in later years. I know that the commissioners would not lightly dispose of land in the parks, if there was any possibility that this would detract from the special features which have made them so popular.

I have to return to the matters on which I have already touched in a number of debates, that a comprehensive set of factors and criteria have been drawn up which the commissioners will take into account when they select areas for disposal. One of these concerns the use of the forests for public access and recreation. These criteria will be applied to sales in forest parks, as in any other area. The recreational and amenity value will be taken fully into account in assessing whether, and in what manner, any disposal should take place. But I have to say that it would be wrong to prevent the sale of any land in a forest park, even, for instance, for the purpose of a road improvement, or something like that, which is what the noble Lord seeks to do by his amendment.

I have to say to him that the Crown Commissioners (Transfer of Woods) Act 1923 does not exist, so a bit of redrafting would have to be done if the noble Lord was so minded. I have no doubt that the noble Lord was concerned with, for instance, the New Forest and the Forest of Dean which we have talked about. But I recognise that these woods, in their different ways, have a special status and that is fully recognised by the Forestry Commissioners. I do not think I can add very much to what I said in relation to the Forest of Dean debate. There are other smaller Crown woodlands scattered around the country which were transferred under the 1923 Act. There is no reason why these should not be regarded as part of the normal forest estate and disposed of if it is considered appropriate, but having regard to the criteria which the commissioners have developed for the selection of areas for sale. It is on that basis that I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Jeger

I apologise that I was not here to hear the Minister refer earlier to the Forestry (Transfer of Woods) Act 1923. I am very puzzled about this matter, because I have here a copy of that Act from the Library. There is therefore a certain amount of confusion in my mind. In supporting the amendment, I had in mind the fact that in the United Kingdom there are seven forest parks with a total area of 450,000 acres. It seems to me that we ought to be able to ensure that at least that land remains free from any sales under the Bill.

I do not always agree with what is said in leading articles in The Times, but on 24th April 1981 a leading article in that newspaper said: The Government disclaim any thought of wholesale auctions of national park woodland, or of letting Royal forests pass under the plough. But in legislation it is always the letter of the Bill that counts, rather than the ministerial assurances. If limited sales are all that is envisaged, means of limiting them should be written into the Bill". While I was thinking about the amendment I re-read the proceedings of the Standing Committee in another place and was very disturbed to see that on 17th February the Minister said, at col. 42: The same criteria will be applied to sales in forest parks as in any other area. That means that the special recreational and amenity value will be taken into account fully in assessing whether or in what manner disposal shall take place. If words mean anything, these must mean that the same criteria will govern decisions as would govern decisions about selling any scrubby old rough patch anywhere.

It was the Minister who said that the same criteria will be applied. We are thinking about Crown woodlands like the New Forest, Alice Holt, the Isle of Wight, Beddgelert, Tintern, Chopwell in Tyneside, and Delamere in Cheshire. As I understand it—I am humble about this, in view of the possibility of my having been misled earlier—the Act of 1923, which the Minister says does not exist, seemed to provide that if such lands were sold the original owners (that is, the Crown) would have to be reimbursed. Therefore the Consolidated Fund for once would not benefit. So why do we not leave everything as it is? Surely this would be just a bookkeeping transaction.

If I am wrong in thinking that the Act of 1923 exists, perhaps I may quote with more confidence from the Forestry Act 1967. It appears from Section 43 that if land is sold which has been transferred from the Crown Commissioners under the Forestry (Transfer of Woods) Act 1923—this non-existent Act—then the net proceeds of sale shall be paid by the Minister to the Crown Estate Commissioners. This leaves me, as I have already said, in a state of great confusion. I hope your Lordships will understand the argument of my noble friends and myself about the need to exclude from the Bill these forest parks and similar areas. At col. 44 on 13th February the Minister said: At no time did I say the Forestry Commission would not sell forest parks or parts of forest parks. Under the Bill, it will have the right to sell anything". That is rather depressing. I am wondering whether there is any way in which the provisions regarding National Trust land which is inalienable could apply in the same way to some of these Crown woodlands and forest parks. It does not seem to be a lot to ask and it would put many people's minds at rest, people who feel that the very wide powers which are given under the Bill will enable some of the really precious and long appreciated areas which the public have enjoyed to be subject to sale under the Bill. That is why in putting down the amendment I hoped that at least I should meet some of the difficulties advanced by the Minister when, during earlier debate about the Forest of Dean, he said that this would arouse difficulties because other places would want to be treated similarly. The amendment makes it possible for the Minister to look after all 24 forest parks. It would be a very happy moment if, for once, he were to say tonight, "Yes, let us leave the forest parks alone".

Lord Ross of Marnock

Could I put the record straight? There is a Transfer of Woods Act 1923.

The Earl of Mansfield

I agree.

Lord Ross of Marnock

The error is in the wording of the amendment, in which there is a reference to the Crown Commissioners. This is fairly obviously a reference to the Forestry Commission.

The Earl of Mansfield

The noble Lord is quite right. There is no mystery about this; he has just got it wrong in his amendment. It is what when I was a pupil at the Bar was called idle drafting. I do not make any further point than that.

Turning to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, I would point out that if the criteria are to be comprehensive, objective and logical they must apply to all woods, whatever their character and status. In other words, the commissioners apply these criteria when making up their minds about whether to put a particular parcel of land on the market, whether they are to have a sale and lease back or whether they are not to sell it at all. If they did not apply the same criteria to every parcel of woodland, then there would be no point in having the criteria. So my honourable friend in the other place was perfectly consistent when he said that this is the way in which the commissioners would go about their duties.

We have already covered the second matter in the Forest of Dean debate. May I say to the noble Baroness that in the case of these Crown forests there is in the commission's accounts a contingent liability. If, therefore, there is an individual sale of more than two hectares in a parcel, the proceeds, less expenses and valuable improvements, would be transferred to the Crown Estate Commissioners. I said that there will therefore be that much less inducement to the Forestry Commissioners to sell because the proceeds, less expenses and the value of improvements, would go to the Crown Estate Commissioners and not into the Forestry Fund. There is even less inducement therefore to the commissioners to sell in any particular instance than there would be in the case of an ordinary parcel of woodland.

May I also remind the noble Baroness that if one were to have such blanket protection for the forest parks as she would like, then, as I have said, it would prevent the commissioners from selling off a small portion for such beneficial improvements as a road, or the upgrading of a road, or any small portions of the parks which are of no amenity value and which should be sold if the criteria meant just the same as any other parcel of forestry land. That is, briefly, the sum of my objections to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness.

Baroness Jeger

May I just take a moment to explain that some of the confusion has arisen as a result of my bad writing. I have the original manuscript of my amendment which quite clearly says (to me) "from" the Crown Commissioners and not "to" the Crown Commissioners, as appears in the Marshalled List. I am blaming nobody and I take responsibility for my bad writing and I am sorry for any confusion which it has caused.

The Earl of Wemyss and March

Before the noble Baroness decides whether to press or to withdraw the amendment, I should like to make one point. Earlier, in her absence, I was referring to the inalienability of the National Trust, which I was glad to see she had referred to on Second Reading. I should like to reassure the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, that the inalienability which affects both the National Trusts does not, if properly used, prevent the selling off, as necessary, under safeguard of the small pieces of land which he is anxious not to have sterilised. That is perfectly easily done.

The Earl of Mansfield

I do not think I can help the Committee further. I have tried to say that this amendment—I appreciate the thought behind it—is badly conceived and is already catered for in the arrangements.

Lord Ross of Marnock

Here we have this reference to a letter, part of which has been read out and the promise in respect of which is that it should be placed within your Lordships' Library. I do not think any assembly is prepared to accept this kind of thing. In the first place we have not seen it; we have only heard part of it and we are relying entirely on what we could comprehend from that. In any case, I have never heard that it was acceptable in respect of Bills with which I have been concerned, where the Opposition always insisted that they should see these things in full and very often demand—and have been granted their demand—that it should be included in a schedule.

Until we get that, I do not think we should go farther down this road of surrender to the Government. It is far from satisfactory to rest on the position of the roads, and so on. We could quite easily cover that in a letter, too; that this will not apply to areas of ground required for something beneficial to the Forestry Commission and to the public at large. I wonder how many new streets and new roads that have not been made by the Forestry Commission are driven through the forest parks. I am perfectly sure that that is already covered at the present time, and there will be no difficulty in dealing with that particular point, as I said in respect of an earlier amendment.

We should remember that what the Government are doing is creating their own protections in respect of getting these amendments through, by referring to powers which are being abolished, which are already there in Section 39(2) of the 1967 Act as it stands. If they wanted to get some greater flexibility out of that subsection, this is not the way to do it. This is the way in which we get justified fears arising on the part of the National Trust and the National Trust of Scotland, and those interested in the Crown woods and forest parks. I do not think the Government have done nearly enough to meet the fears that have been expressed from both sides of the Committee.

8.35 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 11) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 26; Not-Contents, 64.

Adrian, L. Loudoun, C.
Birk, B. Milner of Leeds, L.
Blease, L. [Teller]. Oram, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Peart, L.
Brockway, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Collison, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Davies of Leek, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Glenamara, L. Stone, L.
Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Strabolgi, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Tweeddale, M.
Jeger, B. Underhill, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.] Wemyss and March, E.
Abinger, L. Long, V.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Lyell, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Auckland, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Avon, E. Mansfield, E.
Bathurst, E. Margadale, L.
Bellwin, L. Marley, L.
Belstead, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Bessborough, E. Norfolk, D.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Northchurch, B.
Bridgeman, V. Portland, D.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Radnor, E.
Cathcart, E. Rankeillour, L.
Cockfield, L. Redesdale, L.
Craigavon, V. Reigate, L.
Craigmyle, L. Romney, E.
Crathorne, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Sandford, L.
De La Warr, E. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Denham, L. [Teller.] Savile, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Sharples, B.
Dundee, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Elles, B. Stradbroke, E.
Ferrers, E. Stuart of Findhorn, V.
Fortescue, E. Trefgarne, L.
Gainford, L. Trenchard, V.
Gisborough, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Gowrie, E. Vickers, B.
Gridley, L. Vivian, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Waldegrave, E.
Windlesham, L.
Inglewood, L. Young, B.
Killearn, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

8.43 p.m.

Lord Gisborough moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 1, line 9, at end insert— ("( ) There shall be inserted at the end of section 39 of the Forestry Act 1967 the following subsection— (7) In any sale of land made under this section it shall be a condition of sale that vermin-proof fencing shall be maintained by the purchaser."").

The noble Lord said: During the period of time in which the Forestry Commission have either owned land or rented land from owners they have built up in so many cases a working arrangement, sometimes going back to the original agreement and sometimes simply by arrangement. This very often covers fencing and sporting and other aspects. When new owners come on to the scene it would be only reasonable if the Forestry Commission passed on to the new owners the same duty as they have had or been prepared to undertake to protect their adjacent owners. This amendment is designed to ensure that the successor should take on, in this particular case, fencing, where the Forestry Commission have done it in the past. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

This amendment would really impose an unreasonable, and, dare I say, in many cases unnecessary, burden on the purchasers of forestry land. Foresters often erect vermin-proof fencing, but they do so to keep the vermin out, not to keep them in, and when the trees grow out of the vulnerable stage they allow the vermin proof fence to fall into disuse, since it is no longer needed. I really do not think any purchaser would accept a burden of this kind, and I do not think it is appropriate to impose one by statute. I have to come back, I fear, to the same difficulties as we spoke of in previous amendments, the difficulties of imposing a covenant and enforcing it on subsequent purchasers, at least in England and Wales.

In England and Wales, following a ministerial policy statement in 1956, the Commission agreed to maintain stock fences erected round its plantations in hill farming and upland grazing areas even when they are no longer needed for forestry purposes. This undertaking only covers the maintenance of existing stock fencing. It does not apply in Scotland or in the English and Welsh lowlands. It is not a legal obligation, and the agreement does not oblige the Commission to maintain any vermin proofing which may have been erected as part of the fencing process.

It is not the commission's intention to require purchasers to maintain fences of any kind, unless there is an existing legal obligation, which will, of course, be passed on. To do otherwise would, I feel, be an unwelcome precedent for other land transactions elsewhere, particularly for woodland owners.

In therefore declining to accept my noble friend's amendment, I end on what is possibly a somewhat frivolous note. There is no definition in the 1967 Act of vermin, and indeed that refers to "rabbits, hares and other vermin". I suppose, therefore, it might be argued, if this amendment was written into the Bill, that purchasers would have to maintain some kind of fence which would keep out grey squirrel. With that Parthian shot I invite my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Gisborough

I thank my noble friend for that answer. Before I withdraw the amendment, can he say whether the condition that the purchaser should continue to maintain the stockproof fencing, which it may be the duty of the Forestry Commission to maintain, would be framed in such a way that it would have to be passed on again to a subsequent purchaser should the forestry be resold?

The Earl of Mansfield

Not in England and Wales. No covenants of this nature can bind subsequent purchasers.

Lord Gisborough

I thank my noble friend. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Gisborough moved Amendment No. 13:

Page 1, line 9, at end insert— ("( ) There shall be inserted at the end of section 39 of the Forestry Act 1967 the following subsection— (8) The Minister shall have power, in the case of land disposed of by him under this section, to impose such conditions as he may think fit for the purpose of securing that the land will be used for forestry; and such conditions may include provisions relating to management of the land, the planting of trees or the continuity of forestry use."")

The noble Lord said: Most of these forestry sales, I believe, will probably be made to oil companies, pension funds and that sort of enterprise. I believe there is every indication that the management will be first class; it will be undertaken by management companies and will probably be just as good as the Foresty Commission. Many sales will be to private owners, and again many private estates are extremely well looked after, and there will be no problem. But it is also true that some private estates are not well looked after; in fact, there are under-thinned woods, and woods one sees in the countryside sometimes leave a gret deal to be desired. Furthermore, there are some sales which will take place to people who do not want them for forestry at all but for game cover and that sort of thing. There are many cases—again, I have experience of them myself—where woods have been totally neglected; I think we can all think of cases

One gets a situation of lack of adequate thinning, lack of maintenance, the drains not kept up, disease allowed to come in, the fire risk allowed to increase by inadequate cleaning; possibly replanting and felling is done at the wrong time or inadequately. Access may be a problem. There is also, of course, the problem of road sharing; it may have been the custom to share the cost of a shared road. This may be a problem.

The object of this amendment is to allow the commission to lay down such conditions as they may think fit in order to ensure that woods which they have taken a great deal of trouble to plant and to look after are not allowed to fall into disrepair, and to enable them to go and inspect them to ensure to the best of their ability that the full potential is met. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

Again, I appreciate the motivation behind my noble friend's tabling of this amendment. But we come back to the same considerations as we have had in previous amendments, and particularly the last one. The clause is quite impracticable from the point of view of its legal effect. While conditions of the kind could be attached to any sale of commission land, they could not be passed on, at least in England and Wales, to any successor in title to the original purchaser. If one were trying to impose a restrictive covenant preventing the use of the land other than for forestry, this would only run with the land if the Forestry Commission held adjoining land which would benefit from the restrictive covenant and in most cases, of course, this would not apply.

So the only way in which the restrictive covenant could be made to run in those circumstances would be for special statutory provision to be made under which the commissioners would be deemed to possess land adjacent to the land subject to the covenant, and the covenant would also have to be expressed as being for the benefit of that adjacent land. In other words, one would have to create some sort of a legal fiction which would require special statutory provision.

The more positive provisions in my noble friend's amendment to do with the management of the land, the planting of trees and so on, would need to be expressed as positive covenants and there really is no precedent for such covenants to run with the land. They could, I suppose, be done as part of the contract of sale, but they would not run with the land and it would be far-reaching indeed to start writing them into this kind of land transaction.

I should imagine that, so far as the future use of land for forestry is concerned—as I have said on previous amendments—in the ordinary case the Forestry Commission before issuing a felling licence would require reinstatement of the wood after the felling had taken place. But a felling licence can always be made subject to replanting conditions. If there was a change of land use contemplated which seemed to be beneficial, then in those circumstances I do not suppose that the commission would insist on such an undertaking as a prerequisite of the felling licence. In other instances I would imagine—in fact, believe—that the people who buy these woodlands will be, to a large extent, people who want to maximise their investment. The best way of doing that will be to manage the land as well as it possibly can be managed to give the highest yield on the investment in due course. So for all those reasons which go to the practicalities as well as to the legalities and conveyancing difficulties, I am unable to accept the amendment.

Lord Gisborough

I thank my noble friend for that explanation. I think that there would be no reason why, in the sale of a plot of forestry, discussions could not take place with the purchaser regarding the plan of operations and what was expected to be done and that that plan of operations could perhaps be included in the contract of sale with conditions. It may be that the Forestry Commission could not follow it up if they were ignored, but I believe that if that plan and those conditions were included and discussed with the purchaser thoroughly, then in a great number of cases it would be very helpful for the purchaser, and indeed might make the difference between those woods being well looked after and neglected. I do not know whether the Minister would like to take up that suggestion?

The Earl of Mansfield

I really cannot agree with a proposal which is apparently unenforceable and in any event only cosmetic in its intent. If one is to have a power which is written into a contract of sale, then it must be such a power that it can be enforced and—my noble friend touched obliquely on this—the resource implications for the Forestry Commission in seeking to carry out the work of monitoring what happens after the sale has taken place would be very severe. I just do not think that the commission would be in a position to undertake that.

Lord Gisborough

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Sandford moved Amendment No. 13A:

Page 1, line 9, at end insert— ("( ) In section 40 of the Forestry Act 1967, for subsection (4) (which enables the Minister to purchase compulsorily land belonging to the National Trust notwithstanding that it is held inalienably by the Trust) there shall be substituted— (4) The purchase of land held inalienably by the National Trust shall be subject to the special provisions of Part III of the First Schedule to the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946.",").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 13A on behalf of my noble friend Lord Dulverton who has just had to leave us to catch a train to Scotland and has asked me to present his apologies. If he had been here he would have offered the Committee the apologies of the noble Lord, Lord Gibson—Chairman of the National Trust—who had intended to move this amendment himself. However, I am glad to do it for them.

If I may say so, I think that the amendment as it has come out—and it is a new amendment—is not quite right. I ought to make it clear that this is not an amendment to be tacked on to Clause 1, but an amendment to stand in its own right as a new clause. Therefore, strictly speaking I suppose that we should be debating it after the debate on the Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill. However, I have taken this over at a late stage and all that I can do is to apologise. It should also include the rubric, "Compulsory purchase of land" because it is that to which Section 40 refers rather than "Disposal of land" which is Section 39 of the Forestry Act, and the "Forestry fund" which is Section 41. I apologise to your Lordships for, in a sense, being out of order.

Having made that clear, I wish to get to the heart of the matter which is that the National Trust—and I am referring to the National Trust of England; it does not affect the National Trust of Scotland—has realised that Section 40(4) of the 1967 Act incredibly reads as follows: Land belonging to the National Trust may be compulsorily purchased under this Act notwithstanding that it is held inalienably by the Trust". If any such thing were attempted today there would be a prodigious public outcry quite transcending any of the outcry there has already been this afternoon. The point that my noble friends were certainly going to make was that, in fact, the Forestry Commission have not exercised this power in the whole of their 60-year life. That itself seems to be a good reason for taking this opportunity, with a Bill which amends the Forestry Act, to delete it altogether.

It is well within the general thrust of the Bill, that which is to get the Forestry Commission to dispose of land. A step which prevents the Forestry Commission from acquiring land has much the same effect and, therefore, I think should commend itself to my noble friend. But for some reasons which are not clear to me the National Trust has been advised not to seek the deletion of subsection (4), but the substitution incorporated in the amendment. Because the amendment has come in rather late and because we are somewhat out of order, I would not want to do more than to seek from my noble friend an undertaking to look at this matter again and see whether the general intentions of my two noble friends can be met. I beg to move.

Earl Waldegrave

I should like to support this amendment very strongly. As the amendment, as it now stands, is defective—as has been said—and as the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, is not here to move it because of the lateness of the hour and his having to catch a train, I would simply like to back up everything that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has said. It is only quite recently that I read Section 40(4) of the 1967 Forestry Act and it is quite astonishing that that clause was ever passed. However, there it is; it is the law of the land.

It did get passed and it says that: Land belonging to the National Trust may be compulsorily purchased"— as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, told us— under this Act notwithstanding that it is held inalienably by the Trust". Of course, this, if I may use the word, offending clause has never been used; but if it had been invoked it surely would have created an outcry because it would have undermined the whole principle of the National Trust's power, granted by Parliament, to hold land inalienably for permanent preservation. Therefore, when this point came to the attention of the National Trust that is why it's chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, sought to come to this House to move an amendment that if that clause could not, in some way or other, be removed, then it should be "rendered harmless"—to use his own words.

I understand that the amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, was to move, has been drafted with the aid of parliamentary draftsmen. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that it could be called defective as it now stands, but it is a most serious point. I hope that when he comes to reply to us and perhaps to others who may speak, the noble Earl will say that this gives us an opportunity to remove an anomaly which was serious in its inception and which is more serious now that, if the Bill passes, the Forestry Commission will not only have powers but will often be under direction from its Forestry Minister to sell land. If it can sell National Trust land, without any strings attached having first compulsorily acquired a National Trust lease, as we have heard so often on this side, we are in a very anomalous and difficult position.

Therefore I am quite sure that the Minister will consider this matter sympathetically; and owing to the fact that the noble Lords who were to move this amendment and who are deeply concerned about it—the noble Lords, Lord Gibson and Lord Dulverton—cannot be here, I hope that he will take this matter away, consider it, and that we shall not have to press it to a Division.

Lord Davies of Leek

From this side of the Committee I should like to support this amendment. Although I was present in the other place in 1946, I do not know how this provision could have slipped through that House; it makes an ass of the law. If I understand the English language, one minute we talk about inalienable rights and the next minute we are told that a Minister has the power to smash or destroy those inalienable rights. In other words, the very verbiage contradicts itself. I do not want to force a Division, but I want the Committee to agree that here there has been a complete lack of common sense. I am not qualified in law, but I know something of semantics. The whole thing does not mean anything. I think that the judge would have to do judicial acrobatics and be an intellectual gymnast to interpret this. Surely, this at least can be looked at again and straightened out so that the public know that the House of Lords is not ruled by a lot of asses. Let common sense prevail!

The Earl of Mansfield

I rather hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, would have said what the Labour Government were up to when they gave the Forestry Commission power compulsorily to acquire land belonging to the National Trust. But apparently his memory fails him on that particular point. Curiously enough, this amendment is not so much defective as pointless. If I correct my noble friend, it is only for the sake of accuracy. Shortly after the Labour Government did their stuff, I am told that, in fact, there was one case where land was acquired compulsorily under these powers.

Lord Peart


The Earl of Mansfield

I do not know, and I hope that it is not Scotland.

Lord Peart

Where was it?

The Earl of Mansfield

I do not think that even then the noble Lord, Lord Ross, was in that "Gaumont British" building, Old St. Andrew's House, so we need not worry ourselves too much. The curious thing is that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Dulverton does not seek to abolish the power. What it does is to replace one rather cumbersome parliamentary procedure with another. That is why I say that the amendment is pointless. The powers are obsolete; they are not used. The commissioners regard them as obsolete, and at an appropriate occasion the commissioners will be happy to surrender them. Whether or not that happy occasion will be on Report I am not quite sure, but I will certainly take this matter away and think about it.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I am very glad indeed that the Minister has taken up this position. So far as I know, powers of compulsory purchase by the Forestry Commission have not been exercised in Scotland. I asked about that a long time ago, but it may well be that the noble Earl is better informed, although he cannot tell us at the moment where it was exercised.

However, I am interested in the statement that this is all academic. The President of the National Trust for Scotland will remember a very celebrated case when the Government—and, at that, a Tory Government—sought to get their hands on a piece of land in the North-East of Scotland at a place called Drumbuie. The noble Lord will remember what a row was caused there because they were taking one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland, which was held inalienably by the National Trust, where they wanted to erect a place for building platforms and rigs for the North Sea. That did not endear the Tory party to the people of Scotland at that time, and it was very obvious that someone was stepping over and successfully objecting to the attitude that was then taken up, probably by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am sorry that he is not in his place, for he could have given us some inside information about what happened on that attempt. So it is not all so academic as the Minister would suggest. Admittedly, that was not Forestry Commission land, but it was National Trust land, which is one of the subjects with which we are concerned in this particular amendment. That happened in Scot- land, where land holdings are very different indeed. I hope that we shall get another explanation from the Minister as to why he does not do it in this Bill.

The noble Lord who introduced this went out of his way in moving his amendment to tell us that it was defective; that it should have been a new clause; that it was out of order. It could be done without it being a new clause. It is quite right; you can make it a new section. As a matter of fact, look at what the Government are doing, in that they make changes in respect of Section 39, and then they make changes in respect of Section 41, to which we shall be coming.

I do not think that it is all that much out of order. I was interested in the reply that it was all academic. They do not use the powers. They are no good. If that is the case, why are they not got rid of here and now? They must be very sure of the parliamentary timetable and that the Government are going to give them time for another Bill fairly soon. We should get rid of these things if they are useless as quickly as possible, and Report stage is obviously the right time. If what he says is true, we should ask the Minister to promise us that he will introduce amending legislation at Report stage. There is nothing out of order in doing it in this Bill.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

I apologise to the Committee, and to the Minister in particular, for not being in my place on the occasion of the amendment which covered the National Trust for Scotland. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Wemyss, had travelled especially from Scotland to deal with that amendment. Since Amendment No. 13A by the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, covers the National Trust situation in England, I wondered whether the Minister felt it right to comment on the position as it affected the National Trust of Scotland in similar circumstances.

The Earl of Mansfield

Having had a moment to reconsider the position, to the best of my knowledge it does not apply to Scotland at all, so that this debate concerns only England and Wales.

The Earl of Wemyss and March

I am sure that that is correct, that the whole matter of this unfortunate contradiction of the law does not apply to the National Trust of Scotland. Therefore, I suppose that it is not in order to bring up the matter of the amendment that was not moved at this stage.

Lord Sandford

I am glad to hear that Scotland is all right so far as this goes.

Lord Ross of Marnock

No, the amendment does not apply to Scotland.

Lord Sandford

Yes. Well, may I just stick to this amendment. I suppose, having taken it on board for the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, I am now responsible for it and all its defects. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Mansfield for his assurance. I thought that he gave us a satisfactory assurance to the effect that he would consider the matter. It seems pretty clear that we can deal with it by just repealing subsection (4) of Section 40 of the Forestry Act 1967, and that would be much better than doing what is proposed in the amendment. I think I can give an assurance that if the noble Lord does not seek that change, the House will do it for him. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

9.13 p.m.

Baroness Jeger moved Amendment No. 14: After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:

("Right to repurchase.

. The Forestry Commission shall have the right to repurchase any land disposed of under section 1 of this Act if and when the owner decides to resell it.").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move the amendment on the Marshalled List standing in my name and the names of my noble friends. The purpose of this amendment is to enable the Forestry Commission to have the right of buying back land which has been sold and which then comes on the market again. I am quite prepared to have the Minister nit-pick about the wording again, but I hope that he will see that the idea behind this amendment is to try to deal with the possibility of land speculation which will arise out of forestry land being put on the market.

I am encouraged in moving this amendment by certain remarks that the Minister made at an earlier stage in this debate. When it was suggested that the Forestry Commission might put some conditions of sale on to transactions, one of the noble Minister's objections was that those conditions could not be passed on to the next buyer. This seems to me to be a more than adequate reason for ensuring that the next buyer should possibly be the Forestry Commission, who should get the land back.

It seems that the letter which the Minister has placed in the Library—the one he has or has not written to himself but which is supposed to be the law of the Medes and Persians in this matter—would not apply to second buyers. In other words, all the talk about the conditions which he is suggesting the Forestry Commission should observe is meaningless. If within a couple of months of purchase the chap who has promised the Forestry Commission that he will do everything he has been asked to do—permit the public in, not shoot birds, not pick the bluebells and so on—sells that land to somebody else, every condition in the Ministers fiat, that letter, will be meaningless. I may be wrong, in which case I will listen humbly, as I always do, to the Minister's reply. However, from what he said earlier, my impression is that no conditions or restrictions will apply to the second buyer.

I fear that we are opening up a can of worms of land speculation by the Bill. After all, once we lose control over the resale of land, anything can happen to that land. It is all very well to say that people must apply for felling licences and so on. The trouble is that they may be so disinterested in forestry that they will have no need for a felling licence, being so disinterested that it would not worry them even if the trees fell down. It is therefore essential to ensure that there is some continuity of control over our precious land, because we in this country do not have much of it to spare.

The amendment would not compel land that has been sold automatically to revert to the Forestry Commission; just that the commission should have the right to decide whether to buy it. There could be many reasons why land acquired from the Forestry Commission will be resold. I am old enough to be suspicious that the resale might be a matter of profit on the part of the original purchaser. On the other hand, it might be because of death or even boredom. It may be said that the commissioners already have this right under their general aquisition powers. We simply want the right written into the Bill to make it more difficult for forestry Ministers to refuse the Forestry Commission if they wish under certain conditions to purchase back land which has been sold. We want that right to be automatic and incontrovertible.

We are not playing a game of Monopoly but are dealing with one of the nation's most precious assets. We are also dealing with the possibility of Forestry Commission land being bought and sold time and again, to and from people with no interest whatever in forestry and with no interest in amenity and public welfare. Such a state of affairs is totally unacceptable to us and I am encouraged in this view by the trade union side of the Forestry Commission Whitley Council, who said: To prevent land speculation with what is a national asset, the Forestry Commission should be given first refusal of all land offered for resale". That is a modest request. The same request appeared in a leader in The Times on 24th April of this year, and if one finds the trade union side of the Whitley Council and a leader in The Times agreeing—not to mention myself and my noble friends agreeing—on what seems a modest request, the Minister should have some good news for us.

Lord Davies of Leek

I, too, have no doubt that there should be a restriction on the resale of this land. It would help to prevent what I can forsee and what most of us know will go on; namely, land speculation with a great national asset. The Forestry Commission should be given first refusal—at a proper valuation, of course—on any offer for resale within a given number of years.

An important fact has, I feel, been overlooked; we are now in the European Community and there will be nothing to stop Greeks, Spaniards or anybody else coming here and buying these valuable tracts of land. Indeed, we are gradually losing the right to run our own country. That rag, tag and bobtail parliament is already passing laws about ginger beer, mustard and all sorts of other things. They will soon be moving into forestry.

I am not "anti" any nationals, really. But I say to noble Lords on the other side of the Committee, for heaven's sake please realise what you are doing when you rush through these Bills, because you are over-obsessed about public borrowing. We are selling our birthright, we are giving it away. No one in the Chamber can deny that if it is left to the free market, it would be very difficult for us to refuse any member of the European Community, any national, to come and buy land in any area of this country, if they so wished. What guarantees would we have that they would not cut down the timber right away? So I beg the Minister to look again at this matter and at least accept that the first refusal should be given to the Forestry Commission.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I must say that members of the party near me are making fairly heavy weather of this question. I do not know who they imagine will go rushing into the parts of Scotland that I know to purchase land as a speculation at the present time and throw it about the market. So I think that they were juggling with a Disneyland somewhere. I should have thought that we must make quite certain that the Forestry Commission has the power to choose the land sensibly and then sell it at the best possible price. The commission should also have the power to avoid making a fool of itself. If the commission sells land to someone who the following week resells it at a profit, it will look extremely stupid.

If we impose a hedge like this we prevent the sale of any parcel of land which it might be very much in the interests of the Forestry Commission to sell. So I think that the Labour Party is tackling this question from the wrong end. I should much rather see us support very firmly a requirement for the Minister to consult the Forestry Commission and the commission to lay down the proper conditions for the sale of land.

Lord Ross of Marnock

If that were so, and if I understand correctly what the noble Lord feels, he really should have voted against clause stand part, because if you vote against clause stand part you go back to the position as it is at present. That gives the Ministers power to tell the Forestry Commission to dispose of land which is not suitable for forestry, or which could be better used in another way. What is done here is to give them overriding powers over anything at all, without any limit. The noble Lord asks, Are we seeking red revolution, are we terrified by nightmares? I can tell him that the document that I have was sent to me by the National Trust for Scotland. Is the trust's fears justified in relation to Balmacara, Inverewe, Kintail, or Brodick?

I was in Brodick last Friday, and I was shown the forestry land which has been taken over, part of which is not covered by a condition of pre-emption. The trust would like to have it over the lands that are at risk. I do not know whether the noble Lord knows Brodick—his education has been neglected. It is a virtual microcosm of Scotland, with the mountains, the glens, lush tracts of agriculture, and delightful shores and bays. The fact is that the Forestry Commission received part of the area there by way of gift. It received another part from the Treasury in the usual way. It is all inalienable. Some is in danger. They have feued out twice. I think that it was in 1970 that part of Brodick was last feued out; and they are concerned very much indeed. This is an area where it would be delightful to get rid of, to forget all about, the forestry application, and have maybe some Butlin's rural holiday camp and all that that might well mean. They are concerned about it. "All the areas in these properties are very much part of the estates concerned, and some other party than the Forestry Commission as feua who might not be sympathetic to the amenity"—whatever that means; a word which the Minister found great danger in defining—"and wild life in the area could be disastrous". Is the noble Lord telling us that they are suffering from nightmares; that this thing will never arise? Anything could arise in a Bill like this.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

The noble Lord asked me about something I did not say. The section which unfortunately was missed dealt with the fears of the National Trust in Scotland; and I presume it will come up again later. The amendment the noble Lord is talking about says: The Forestry Commission shall have the right to re-purchase any land disposed of under section 1 of this Act if and when the owner decides to resell it".

Lord Ross of Marnock

It is the right of pre-emption. They have that right. It may be that what the Government have done turned out well from the point of view of the Forestry Commission and those who have an interest indirectly through having sold to the Forestry Commission. I am sure that if that right were there and was exercised in respect of those areas, so far as the National Trust are concerned they would be delighted. It would be the Forestry Commission who would pay and not the National Trust or the National Trust for Scotland. I think this is very sensible. They cannot do it without the "say so" of the Treasury. I do not know whether people realise the extent to which the Treasury already confines every activity of the Forestry Commission through the Forestry Fund. We shall come to that in my next amendment. I am far from satisfied with the answer that the Minister has given. I do not know how my noble friend feels about this amendment, whether we should press it to a Division.

The Earl of Mansfield

May I interrupt? The noble Lord does not pay much attention to me, but I have not yet had the opportunity of answering.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I was talking about the general reaction we have had from the Minister to everything else. We have let him off with so much and got so little from him. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, was so disgusted that he did not even move his amendment.

The Earl of Mansfield

I have some sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, but I do not see what this amendment is going to do to prevnt what she calls speculation. If a purchaser subsequently puts the parcel back on to the market there is nothing to stop the Forestry Commission from making a bid, so to speak, now if it wants to; and one would imagine that this kind of property would be advertised on the open market in order to maximise the price to be realised. If, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, was hinting, there should be some sort of fetter on that subsequent sale, so that the Forestry Commission could buy back the land at the price it sold it for, I would say that that was totally unacceptable; but, at least, it would be a point of view—

Lord Davies of Leek

I did not say that.

The Earl of Mansfield

The noble Lord did not, but he hinted at it. But the amendment does not. I do not see that a right of pre-emption written into the Bill will go in any way to cure the mischief—if it exists (which I doubt)—which the noble Baroness is frightened of. At the moment, there is nothing to stop the Forestry Commission from writing a right of preemption into any sale if it wants to. I have no doubt if the Commissioners thought that that was desirable they would do so.

Then I turn to the more chauvinist point of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, about the Greeks. If the right of pre-emption exists, what is to happen? The original purchaser puts it on the market and has to notify the Forestry Commission. The Commission then says: "What is the nationality of your would-be purchaser?". The reply is: "It is Greek". "We will buy it ourselves", it then presumably says. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, seriously intends this this kind of procedure should be written into the Bill.

Lord Davies of Leek

I am enjoying the joke. The noble Earl knows, seriously, that there is nothing to prevent any member of the Common Market or others to come in and buy. All we are asking for is first refusal at proper valuation. That is the phrase I used: that proper valuation be given. I know the joke about it. The Government can joke as much as they like but already they are coming in and buying.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

May I—

The Earl of Mansfield

I was interrupted. If there is a joke it is a pretty sour one. I do not think that the Forestry Commission should go about its business on the basis purely apparently of the nationality of would-be purchasers. Whether the purchaser is British or of some other nationality, if he is able to pay the price, look after the wood properly, preserve the access and do all the things one would like such people to do, then that is as much as one could want. I hope that I have shown that while the Forestry Commission can impose a right of pre-emption, there is no practical need for it and there is no equitable need for it. If the noble Lord, Lord Ross—now he has heard my explanation—is still dissatisfied, I ask the Committee to reject it.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

I do not want to enter extensively into this argument; but I want to say a word to my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek. Forestry is a free market. I am the chairman of a company which recently acquired on behalf of British investors 10 million dollars' worth of woodlands in Georgia, USA. By the same token, members of the EEC can buy land in this country. If they manage the land sensibly with proper respect for amenity and recreation, and proper woodland management—and they would only qualify under the dedicated scheme; they would not be permitted to clear, fell and sell—they would presumably want to attract the maximum tax advantage by the dedication scheme. To that extent they would be controlled in their management policies by the Forestry Commission. I would not pursue too far the point of Lord Davies, that a man, if he is a Greek, is necessarily evil and necessarily a bad manager of the forest estate. I believe in the Economic Community; the noble Lord, Lord Davies, does not. I do not believe that there should be—

Lord Davies of Leek

I do not know why I am getting shot at from behind. The point I made was a realistic one. I have knocked around the world, and just see the Devil's Dust Bowl in the United States or what is happening in Amazon with the speculation in the great forests of the world. All I am putting forward is a caveat that these are our treasures and we ought to be careful to whom we sell them. If they want to sell to a Greek, all well and good as long as the Greek or anybody else manages it properly. It was not put forward as a racial point. It was bringing the reality of our membership of the Community where we have no control sometimes over our own property. You can make a joke about it if you like, but you will rue the day.

Baroness Jeger

I thank the noble Earl for his reply but I must ask him another question. He says that the right of pre-emption can be written in when the Forestry Commission sells land; but I want to know whether that is to the next one or the one after that? Does that right of pre-emption get written into every sale and every subsequent sale until the third, fourth or fifth generations? I think the noble Minister is shaking his head. I do not know what he is doing with his head but I shall give way if he explains at this point.

The Earl of Mansfield

We now come to the inner mysteries of conveyancing. The answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, is, no, except possibly in Scotland. In the old days, in Scotland, a right of pre-emption did exist down through successive purchasers, but to all intents and purposes that has now all gone.

Baroness Jeger

I thank the noble Lord the Minister, because that is very helpful; it does make it absolutely clear that this amendment is essential if we are not to see the loss of forestry land arising after second sales. In moving this amendment I went out of my way to say that I accepted that theoretically the Forestry. Commission already had the right to buy this land, but I am concerned—and so are my noble friends—because of the Treasury restrictions on Forestry Commission purchases, and also because we felt that if we write this into the Bill it would make it absolutely clear beyond peradventure that the Forestry Commission was to be available at first hand.

I know that the hour is late by the standard of your Lordships' House, although to some of us veterans the night is still young. I will only say that we shall have to come back to this again. This is not a party point, but one of very genuine concern to a lot of people who love our countryside and want to see the maximum use being made of our forest land. I will beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I cannot regard the subject as closed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.37 p.m.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 15: Page 1, line 13, leave out from ("such") to end of line 14 and insert ("annual amount (if any) as Parliament may determine.").

The noble Lord said: Now we have a slight change, of course.

Lord Inglewood

Did we not have a debate on clause stand part?

Lord Ross of Marnock

Yes, a long time ago. There is more than one person agreed about the shortness of the dinner hour, and I am not talking about myself. I managed to get to the Bar of the House to save my amendments affer two very important amendments were swept aside. This amendment reads: Page 1, line 13, leave out from ("such") to end of line 14 and insert ("annual amount (if any) as Parliament may determine")". At the present time in Section 41 of the Forestry Act we have about six subsections. The section that is to be put in states that: that there shall be paid out of the Forestry fund into the Consolidated fund such sums as the Ministers may determine with the approval of the Treasury direct". I wondered why they bothered putting in "Ministers"? In fact, I wonder why they bothered making this amendment at all. I have said from the beginning this is not a Forestry Act—it is a Treasury Act. I say that because if one looks at the actual 1967 Act, one finds that it says this in Clause 41(2): There shall be paid into the Forestry Fund out of monies provided by Parliament such amounts as Parliament may determine. Not a word there about Ministers. Surely it is right if Parliament is going to determine what the grant-in-aid shall be—because this is virtually what this means—then surely Parliament should determine what sums should be paid out of the Forestry Fund in respect of this disposal of land? I am sure the Minister could give us the up-to-date figures but the figures for last year showed expenditure by the Forestry Commission to be around £96 million whereas the actual grant-in-aid was £43 million.

So, at the moment, more than half of the expenses of the Forestry Commission are met by the revenues of the Forestry Commission; and I ask your Lordships to remember that what they pay out includes also grants to private forestry. It would be very tempting, indeed, for a Government who are determined to save money to make some considerable cuts there.

This is purely and simply a Treasury Bill. Why do I say that? For the first time, we are bringing the Ministers into this clause in respect of money, and I seek to leave them out. If we look at Section 41, which is entitled the Forestry Fund, subsection (6) states—and we look at what is already there and at what is going to stay there— Payments out of and into the Forestry Fund, and all other matters relating to the Fund and money standing to the credit of the Fund, shall be made and regulated in such manner as the Treasury"— nothing to do with Ministers— may, by minute to be laid before Parliament, direct". It is just reporting to Parliament; not asking for Parliament's approval. The grant-in-aid must be approved by Parliament and I suggest that the payments out of the Forestry Fund, too, should be subject to Parliament's approval. Then, at the beginning of a year, even as they know what their grant-in-aid is to be, they will know what they are expected to provide out of the Forestry Fund to the Consolidated Fund for the disposal of land.

But what a confusion there is. Here in Clause 2, and the new subsection (4A) of Section 41, we have this fiction, such sums as the Ministers may from time to time with the approval of the Treasury direct", when we also have it that everything going out of the Fund and into the Fund is controlled by the Treasury, and has nothing to do with the Ministers. The Government will need to change one or the other.

The Minister will note that I have down two amendments, one to change the new subsection to leave out such sums as the Ministers may from time to time with the approval of the Treasury direct and another to leave out subsection (6). So the Minister can make his choice. I certainly feel that, if he were honest about the origins of this Bill, he would choose to retain subsection (6) and forget all about the other one, because it is already there. All monies going into and out of the fund are controlled by the Treasury. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

It may help if I first explain the reasoning behind Clause 2 of the Bill. All revenues received by the commission, including those from the disposal of assets, are paid into the Forestry Fund from which the commissioners' expenditure is met. Until such time as the commission become self-financing, these revenues have to be topped up through the grant-in-aid voted by Parliament, which is transferred into the Forestry Fund as the need arises. However, once money has been paid into the Forestry Fund, there is no means by which it can be withdrawn or transferred, except to meet expenditure authorised by the Forestry Acts.

The changes which are proposed in Clause 2 will enable receipts from the disposals programme and surplus estate to be transferred to the Consolidated Fund as extra receipts. This means that the commission's expenditure programmes and cash limits will not be affected by fluctuations in receipts from disposals caused by an unpredictable market. The new power will also enable the transfer of income from the commission's trading activities to the Consolidated Fund when past public investment in the forestry enterprise begins to yield a dividend. It will be seen that this provision will be in the interests both of the Forestry Commission and eventually the public purse. It is in no way an attempt to draw off money from forestry since the revenues generated by disposals will in effect be recycled into the Forestry Fund through the grant-in-aid.

The transfer of funds in the manner proposed in Clause 2 is a perfectly normal procedure in Government accounting. This in no way implies that funds will be transferred without the knowledge or endorsement of Parliament. The extra receipts payable to the Consolidated Fund arising from the disposals programme and the sale of surplus assets will be shown as separate entries in the Expenditure White Papers and the Supply Estimates, as was done for the first time this year. This will make the position quite clear and allow Parliament to oversee the surrenders to the Consolidated Fund that are proposed.

I hope I have shown that in fact there is nothing sinister about the new provision and that there will be perfectly adequate Parliamentary control.

On Question, amendment negatived.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 1, line 14, at end insert— ("Provided that the duty of the Commissioners as in section 1 (3) above is not limited by such direction.").

The noble Lord said: At this late hour I do not propose to argue once more the issue that the financial constraints which are involved will limit the statutory duties of the commissioners. I simply move the amendment standing in my name.

The Earl of Mansfield

The Forestry Act 1967 lays down the Forestry Commissioners' general duties, and Section 1(3) provides that those duties shall include promoting the establishment and maintenance in Great Britain of adequate reserves of growing trees. That duty was conceived during the First World War and included in the Forestry Act 1919, in order to ensure that in another emergency there were sufficient reserves of growing timber to meet immediate needs.

I would remind the Committee that in fact section 1(3) does not affect the general functions and duties of the commissioners under the rest of the section. At any rate, the concept embodied in section 1(3) has receded in importance, but I recognise that it is necessary to grow as much as wood we can at home against increasingly expensive and scarce overseas resources. So to that extent the commissioners' duty as set out in section 1(3) has lost none of its importance even if the reasons for it have changed.

But Clause 2 as drafted does not prejudice the Commissioner's duty in any way. The scope for new planting in the immediate future in terms of land use and the environment was indicated in a statement which I made to your Lordships' House on 10th December last. The commission will have a share of that planting, and adequate funds for the purpose will be made available through the usual channels in accordance with the sums authorised by Parliament. The transfer from the Forestry Fund to the Consolidated Fund of sums raised from the sale of land and plantations will not affect the scale of the commission's planting, since the whole object of clause 2 is to divorce the commission's operational activities from vagaries in the disposals programme.

With respect to the noble Lord, therefore, I hope he will see that the amendment is superfluous.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

With the assurances which have been given by the Minister that these provisions will not affect the planting programme of the Forestry Commission and that these provisions have lost none of their statutory obligations and importance, assurances which I am delighted to have and which I am prepared to accept, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

Amendment No. 17. As the noble Lord has already indicated, if Amendment No. 17 is accepted, I cannot call Amendment No. 18.

Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 17: Page 1, leave out lines 15 and 16.

The noble Lord said: In regard to this amendment, all I want is to be enlightened. I have tabled this amendment purely and simply to find out why and what will be the result of this proposal by the Government. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mansfield

This is a piece of tidying up, that is to say the removal of subsection (7). The powers have never been used, at least not for a considerable time and certainly not since 1967. Subsection (7) which derives from the Forestry Act 1919 was designed for quite different circumstances to those now pertaining. It was intended to cater for a situation in which the commissioners had significant funds standing to their credit for which they had no immediate need. The commissioners' present dependence on grant-in-aid voted annually by Parliament, which is drawn into the Forestry Fund as required to top up the commission's revenues from other sources, means however that the sums standing to the credit of the Forestry Fund at any given time are not large; as a measure of this, the working capital that the commission is permitted to carry over to the Forestry Fund from one financial year to another is limited to £750,000. This is not to imply that the commission will be able to keep any excess funds when it reaches a state of self-sufficiency. I am sure your Lordships will agree that, when that time comes, any excess of revenue over expenditure in the commission's amounts will, after allowing for a reasonable working balance, need to be paid into the Exchequer in the form of a dividend for the large investment of public funds in Forestry over the past 60 years or more. Clause 2 of the Bill will permit this to be done.

The powers of investment contained in Section 41(7) of the Forestry Act are therefore obsolete. This apart, they are also very restricted in that they would only permit the commissioners to make investments which, to quote the Act, trustees are for the time being authorised by law to make in the case of a trust fund". They would not, for instance, allow the commission to invest sums in the wood-processing industries, even if that were considered to be desirable as a matter of policy. So, as I said at the beginning, the opportunity has been taken to tidy up this small part of the 1967 Act.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I think we are grateful for small mercies in tidying up, but it prompts the question as to why the tidying up did not go further, because I am perfectly sure that a full reading of this clause would show that there is a little more tidying up to be done, and included in that tidying up I think would be something to do with subsection (6), with which I should deal in the next amendment if I proposed to move it.

I am not terribly happy about the way in which the whole thing is being done. I believe many people would have felt justified in supporting this Bill if they felt that the monies which come from disposal would have been available to do what many people want to see done, namely, an extension of the forestry planting programme. There is no guarantee in that. I think it sticks out clearly that what the Treasury would be concerned to be doing is to take as much money as it possibly can from the Forestry Fund.

Anyone who has been in the position of a Minister going to the Treasury and arguing for an increased planting programme knows this. Anybody who knows how the Treasury works in relation to the Forestry Commission or any other kind of business that the Government have tried to run, knows that it is impossible to do full justice to it unless one gives a greater measure of freedom—in this particular case to the Forestry Commission—to get on and do the job that they were set up to do.

The Minister should tell us quite frankly, as he has hinted in his replies to other amendments, that every department must take its share in reducing public expenditure, and if we apply that to the Forestry Commission (whether I agree with it or not) automatically it means that less forestry will be done in this country than otherwise would be done.

You would only get an equivalent amount of forestry done if you could guarantee that in regard to all the disposals of land, which could well be plantable land or more mature timber which would come to fruition and be felled, it would then be replanted as it would be by the Forestry Commission. There are no guarantees about that. So the actual result of this Bill will be a reduction, not an increase, in the planting programme, both private and public, compared to what would be the case if we allowed the Forestry Commission to use these additional sums of money for the purpose.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I think that the answer the Minister has given is slightly sinister. He has promised to look again at the situation which the amendment put down originally provided, limiting the sales to the annual grant. The situation might well arise, if substantial and sensible sales are made, that the Commission might have a lot of money on its hands, or a certain amount of money on its hands. It would be fairly sensible, I should have thought, to leave the powers of investment so that they can get the interest that is going, instead of putting it into the Consolidated Fund and then getting it back at a later date in the form of the annual grant. Therefore I am not altogether sure that the Minister's reply was very satisfactory on this matter, unless he assures me that this is not the intention.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

I should like to support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. Earlier in this debate the Minister was good enough to quote the experience of other nationalised industries in respect of sales of assets. If he will examine the Transport Bill currently before the House, he will read that the disposal of British Rail Board assets are to be reinvested in British Rail and do not become the property of the Treasury when hotels and Sealink and other assets are sold off. All that is suggested here is that if you are selling off Forestry Commission land and assets, at least the results of those disposals should be reinvested in the development of forestry. That is what we are asking.

Could I simply make the point that inevitably in the disposal of land it will be the unplanted land, I suppose, that will be offered on the market, although mature and semi-mature woodlands would be more attractive to pension funds because of the immediate return that would come to them. But if you do this, you are eating into the reserves of planting land and into the land bank, and you are diminishing the prospects of employment for people at a time when the Manpower Services Commission and others are offering bribes to create employment for young people. At this stage what we are talking about is diminishing the prospect of healthy rural employment for people. Therefore I would suggest that if you are going to raid the Forestry Commission land bank, and realise cash as a result, you should invest that money in provision of healthy employment in the development of forestry.

The Earl of Mansfield

I think that the points which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has raised really go very wide of this amendment. This is not a question of tilt eventual use which is made of the money which comes from realisation of sales, whether it is planted land or bare land or whatever. This little used power in subsection (7), as I have said, has not been used since 1967, and if in the future the Forestry Commission is in a position where money comes into the Forestry Fund it will, under this Bill, then be, as it were, taken back into the Consolidated Fund and the position will go on as before. The planting rate will have nothing to do with this.

The Forestry Commission will receive its grant-in-aid, and one hopes that sales will go well and then, in fact, the amount of grant-in-aid will increase and its planting will increase and that will have all the beneficial effects which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, wants and which the Government are also keen to support. It is really a matter of accountancy. As I have said, it is merely tidying up a power which has not been used for many years and which is now regarded as being obsolete. That, and no more and no less, is what the clause is about.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I presume that it has not been used for many years because the grant-in-aid has always been paid out in reasonable quantities as required. It is only now that a policy of selling is going to start. This is the very time when it might be most useful to the commission to have the interest instead of the Consolidated Fund.

Lord Ross of Marnock

We are very grateful to the Minister for giving us at least something we can watch in the future to see whether he was right or wrong. He said that as disposals increase the grant-in-aid will increase. We shall watch it.

Lord Davies of Leek

I should like to ask one question. I may be completely wrong—I am often wrong, some might say, but I do not think so. Are there any restrictions on the annual amount offered for sale either by area or by value? Are there any restrictions?—not that this would happen with the [...] Government we have now! Somebody could not go mad and offer vast amounts for sale without any restrictions. What restrictions are there, if any, on area or value of sales?

The Earl of Mansfield

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, moved an amendment on precisely this point. We debated it for, I think, about an hour.

Lord Davies of Leek

But I was not clear at the end.

The Earl of Mansfield

The thrust of the argument as it went to and fro across the Chamber seems to have passed by the noble Lord, Lord Davies.

Lord Davies of Leek

Yes, indeed.

The Earl of Mansfield

As at present there is no fetter on the right of the Forestry Commission to sell its assets in the way which commends itself to the Forestry Commission. Noble Lords have said at considerable length this afternoon what they consider the proposals might be in relation to that situation.

Lord Davies of Leek

I am grateful, because I was only pretending. I knew the entire Parliament had let this go forward—all of us, the other place and this place—with no restrictions on area and no restrictions on value.

Lord Ross of Marnock

For reasons that escape me, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 18 not moved.]

10.3 p.m.

The Earl of Bessborough moved Amendment No. 19: After Clause 2, insert the following new clause:

("Duty of Forestry Commissioners.

. In section 1(3) of the Forestry Act 1967 (which concerns the general duty of the Forestry Commissioners) at end insert "and that of promoting the understanding and practice of integration between forestry and other land uses".").

The noble Earl said: I beg to move Amendment No. 19. I am sorry, but I must spend just a few minutes explaining this very important amendment despite the late hour, because I have the support of the whole of your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology for this amendment and I notice that some of my noble friends—and, indeed, some noble Lords on the Opposite Benches—are present. As your Lordships will see, the purpose of the amendment—a new clause—is to extend the general duty of the Forestry Commissioners so that they have to promote the understanding and practice of integration between forestry and other uses of rural land. Compared with previous discussions this afternoon, this is not, I think, really a contentious matter. Indeed, as your Lordships will see, it is supported by noble Lords from every corner of the Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, had intended to move the amendment himself as he was chairman of our sub-committee, but unfortunately he is abroad and cannot be here this evening. Therefore, I have the pleasure of moving it, and, as I say, this was a unanimous view of our committee. The amendment gives effect to a recommendation of this committee, and, as your Lordships may remember, the committee reported last December on the scientific aspects of forestry and we had an interesting debate in February.

The recommendation in paragraph 146 of our report says that: Some aspects of the Forestry Commission's management objectives and statutory terms of reference are becoming out of date in the context of present decisions and the way in which forestry practice is evolving in the Forestry Commission and elsewhere. The commission's terms of reference in the 1967 Act focused, in our view, entirely on the interests of forestry, subject to the issue, of course, of directions by Ministers. Several directions have now been issued and they change the emphasis of forestry policy so that the Forestry Commission may take account of other land use interests. In our view, it may be time formally to recognise this shift of emphasis. Therefore, the committee recommended that Ministers should consider amending both the Forestry Commission's management objectives and its terms of reference so that these reflected more explicitly the conditions under which the Forestry Commission now operates.

Today, we are not concerned with the management objectives. We are concerned only with the commission's terms of reference, and the present Bill—the purpose of which is to amend the 1967 Act—provides us with a golden opportunity. My noble friend Lord Mansfield suggested on Second Reading that this amendment might be outside the terms of the Bill. But on second thoughts I hope that he may have changed his mind. It is totally relevant to the Title of the Bill. Indeed, I greatly look forward to hearing my noble friend's reply, which will give us the first signs of the Government's attitude to the Select Committee's report.

It is now five months since the report was made—a unanimous report—and Members of the Select Committee are, therefore, beginning to wonder when the Government's reactions will see the light of day. I hope for a favourable response to this amendment and a sign of perhaps a favourable response to come. It is not a difficult amendment to accept. In fact, it does not seek to change either the Forestry Commission's method of operation or its policy. It merely makes its duty reflect its current practices. But it is an important amendment. Forestry simply must integrate with other land uses and there is no better place for this integration to start than in the Forestry Commission. We had considerable discussions in committee and in taking copious evidence on the matter on whether it would not be desirable to create a separate agency or a co-ordinating centre to give advice on land use in view of the fact that the Forestry Commission would tend to take the view of the foresters and the Ministry of Agriculture that of the farmers. But, on reflection, I must say that I thought there was no point in creating a new agency and that this could best be done by the Forestry Commission.

There is nothing new in the concept of integration and the report gave a number of examples of it in practice. I must say that it is more often praised in theory than put into practice. Integration is necessary; it is necessary partly for common sense reasons and for good planning reasons. It is necessary also if the forest area is going to expand, as I gather forestry Ministers hope it will. In a country which is as fully used as ours, any expansion of forestry is certain to interfere with, and probably displace, some pre-existing use of land. Through integration, therefore, we can derive the maximum benefit from our limited stock of land, and we can also prevent the build up of hostility to afforestation: hostility from public opinion representing other land users.

Perhaps I can refer towards the end to just one further short passage from our report. At paragraph 142 the committee said: The main development of the post-war period has been a recognition that forestry is an important land use and that its expansion increases the need to accommodate other land-use interests. The more land it absorbs the greater are the dangers of pursuing forestry without regard to those interests. If afforestation is to continue, accommodation will be a prerequisite of public agreement. The emphasis of policy, therefore, has already shifted to promote the integration of forestry first with countryside amenity and recreation and more recently with agriculture, water uses, and conservation. Integration with the last three is still in its infancy and must grow further.

I am quite certain that the green clock has gone a little wrong, and that I have not been speaking for 21 minutes. I have got only another two minutes. I think noble Lords will appreciate that I have not gone more than eight or nine minutes. I recognise that integration is a two-way traffic. We cannot expect the Forestry Commission to be alone [...] co-operating. The other land users must follow; whether they be farmers, anglers, water users, water authorities, or conservationists. I suggest that this is not going to put too great a burden on the Forestry Commission since they would maintain that integration is their policy anyway, and better an existing body should do this rather than creating another.

There have been these shifts which have taken place under ministerial directives as provided for in the Forestry Act, but the Act itself concentrates exclusively on the interests of forestry. I suggest that we should recognise the changed emphasis and ensure that in developing and managing our forests, the interests of other land users, such as agriculture and water gathering and conservation, should be properly taken into account. I beg to move.

10.13 p.m.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

I have waited until this late hour in order to add briefly my support for this amendment so ably moved by the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough. I, also, have the privilege of being a member of the House of Lords' Select Committee on Science and Technology to which the noble Earl referred. This amendment is well worth putting into the Bill. It would be of great advantage to the Forestry Commission that this kind of practice, which in many areas the Forestry Commission are undertaking, should be incorporated as one of their general duties.

I should declare an interest because in the Lake District I have the privilege of looking after an area of 250 acres which is bounded on three sides by the Forestry Commission and on the other side by three-quarters of a mile of Lake Coniston. This is an area which is devoted as a memorial to John Ruskin. It is open to the public. We are the only private enterprise in a large area of the Lake District which keeps open to the public an estate with nature trails through the land.

My managers in Brantwood on Lake Coniston have always endeavoured to co-operate with the forestry commissioners in that area. Unfortunately, things go wrong from time to time, for a variety of reasons, and when the Forestry Commission decided to have a large car-park in an area alongside our land, we thought that they should have consulted us as other land users, partly forest and partly farming, next door to them. Unhappily, that co-operation did not exist, but I make no complaint about that now. It is, in the words of the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, essential to build up good public opinion in relation to forestry, and this aspect of integration between forestry and local land usage would be a useful provision to insert in the 1967 Act.

Baroness Jeger

The brevity of my remarks is no real measure of the sincerity and seriousness of my support for the amendment. I too had the honour to serve on the Select Committee. All of us agreed on the need for the change that has been ably proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough. We had much evidence before us, especially from Edinburgh, of the practicality of forestry and agriculture working more closely together, and it would be to the advantage of forestry, agriculture, water conservation and leisure facilities if such closer integration were to take place.

We on the Select Committee, on which many people worked hard and long, have been very modest; this is the first time we have asked for any specific legislative acknowledgement for any of our recommendations. I hope that at the end of the day the Minister will find himself able to be nice about something and accept the new clause. The noble Earl referred to the question of making the amendment in this part of the Bill. In my view it is a perfectly proper place to make this change, because the Long Title of the Bill is: An Act to amend the Forestry Act 1967", so it seems completely in order for us to be discussing this aspect at this stage, and I hope that there will be a happy outcome to the amendment.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

I support the amendment strongly. In the south of Scotland and the Borders, where I live, the Forestry Commission practically surrounds every farm. It is vast and we farm almost in the trees, as it were, so close are they. This state of affairs would never have existed had there been real co-operation many years ago when the Forestry Commission began, and there would never have been this vast area of forest taking up so much agricultural land, but that is done and finished with and there is no point in dwelling on that. My noble friend Lord Mansfield knows well the real problem for farming that exists and that we must have co-operation. I beg him to accept the amendment because it would do a tremendous amount of good.

Earl Waldegrave

I will delay the Committee briefly in commenting in support of the amendment. I was glad to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, quote the Long Title of the Bill— An Act to amend the Forestry Act 1967, and for connected purposes", but that Long Title does not let the cat out of the bag, in that in reality it is a Bill to get a little more money for the Treasury. There can, therefore, be nothing inappropriate in amending it in a totally uncontroversial and uncommercial way, and the Minister can have no reason to resist the amendment.

I did not serve on the Select Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, who is unable to be here tonight, did, as did my noble friend Lord Bessborough, the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, and the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran. It is clear therefore that I am not speaking merely on behalf of the committee. It would seem admirable to accept the new clause because it confirms what for many years has been forestry practice, namely, to try to work toward integration with other land users—amenity, agriculture, water and every other use including sport and nature conservation. Having been connected with a number of those things, I hope that it might be possible for the Minister to say that he will give very sympathetic consideration to the amendment.

Earl Bathurst

I would ask the noble Earl to bear in mind what the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, has said, in particular in conjunction with the Forest of Dean. The most interesting debate that we had earlier on the Forest of Dean arose entirely from land integration carried out by the Forestry Commission. I rather suspect that there was absolutely no co-operation in the Forest of Dean—I think that the noble Baroness and her many friends there will bear me out—and therefore the Forestry Commission had to take very special measures in order to get the co-operation of the people in the Forest of Dean. Land integration, farming, opencast coal mining perhaps, and all the things that go on in the Forest of Dean are done in conjunction with magnificent forestry.

It would seem to me that my noble friend's amendment asks the Forestry Commission to look into how integration of land use should be carried out. What has gone on in the Forest of Dean could be taken as a very good example and written into the arrangements that would be incorporated in the Bill. I hope that the noble Earl will be so kind as to consider what is happening in the Forest of Dean. He has said that he will look into the amendment relating to that. If he can do so, there should be no reason why land integration, too, should not be incorporated in the Bill with my noble friend's amendment.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

If I may delay the Committee for only two second, I would say that, though I am not a landowner or forestry owner, unless my noble friend has very good reasons for not wanting the amendment, then, judging from what I have heard this evening, if my noble friend Lord Bessborough presses it, I shall vote for it.

Lord Drumalbyn

I wish to contribute one or two sentences merely because many years ago I was the junior Minister who dealt with agriculture in Scotland and I spent much of my time seeking to promote the need for understanding and the practice of integration between forestry and other land uses; and I have no doubt whatsoever that it is most important. My sole doubt is as to whether it is right to place the duty of promoting this only on the Forestry Commissioners. I hope that my noble friend will find a way to introduce this idea, but I hope, too, that at the next stage of the Bill he will adjust the wording.

10.22 p.m.

The Earl of Mansfield

I am very conscious of the fact that the amendment reflects the views of your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology, which was so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Bessborough for moving the amendment in an attractive way. It is essential that forestry finds its proper place in the countryside, and indeed the wider consultative arrangements introduced in 1974 are designed to ensure that full regard is paid to the requirements of agriculture, the environment, and nature conservation when forestry proposals are being considered. These entail consultations with the agricultural departments, local authorities, and other bodies concerned with the management of the countryside, and the opportunity is frequently taken during this process to modify the original proposal in order to secure better overall land use. This usually calls for some compromise on the part of the various interests concerned.

I have had direct experience of these consultative arrangements in that a number of cases in which differences of view have not been resolved locally have come to me. As a result, I am of the opinion that the procedures which involve a large measure of give and take are working satisfactorily and I am not wholly happy, for reasons to which I shall come, to see them overlaid with a more formal statutory provision which would or could interfere with the present spirit of compromise and co-operation. There is the further point that my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn put his finger on, that is, that an amendment of this kind would create a statutory imbalance. A similar duty would not be imposed on other land use interests. There is also the question of what is meant by integration. This point has been debated in considerable detail and at great length in the context of the so-called integration of forestry and agriculture without a real consensus of view emerging. The interpretation of this term in the wider land-use context embraces such things as conservation and amenity and is fraught with even greater difficulties.

Having said that and having voiced my misgivings about the amendment, I have no reason, and still less a desire, to appear to pour cold water on this recommendation of the Select Committee. What I propose to do is to go away and think about it to see whether we could get an amendment which might overcome the difficulties which I have set out to your Lordships; or, alternatively, on reflection perhaps the difficulties may not seem as overwhelming (if that is the right word) or perhaps as cogent as they are at the moment. I hope that my noble friend will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

The Earl of Bessborough

I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for what he has said. Before I say what I propose to do, I should like to add that I have a note from the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, telling me how much he regrets he had to catch a train back to Cambridge. Otherwise, he was going to speak on this subject from the Cross-Benches and I know he was going to do so most effectively, as well as anyone in this little debate. But I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Mansfield for his assurance. I was going to say that I hoped he could give us the assurance that he was prepared to think again and that perhaps between now and Report stage we might be able to agree to some reference to integration in the Bill. I am grateful to him for what he said about this Select Committee report and, particularly, about this particular recommendation. In those circumstances, and at this stage, I would withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 [Number of Forestry Commissioners]:

Lord Taylor of Gryfe moved Amendment No. 20: Page 1, line 20, leave out (""ten"") and insert (""eleven"")

The noble Lord said: This amendment concerns the constitution of the Forestry Commission. It is not often that we amend the Act, but this gives us an opportunity of making what I believe to be a sensible and, I hope, non-controversial amendment. There was a discussion earlier in the debate as to what kind of animal was the Forestry Commission. It was not a nationalised industry; it was not the Civil Service. What was it? By a strange accident, the members of the commission, the commissioners of the Forestry Commission, unlike members of the boards of nationalised industries and Government departments, happen to be Royal appointments. This was a fortunate accident in many ways for the commissioners.

They consist at the moment (or will, if the Bill is accepted) of a chairman and nine others. One of the great problems that I had as chairman of the Forestry Commission was to distribute these nine others. Obviously, you have the four full-time members of the commission, which leaves five others to be distributed. But these five others to be distributed had to cover a very wide field. Obviously, being a national organisation, we at least had to have one Welshman, probably two Englishmen and two Scotsmen, otherwise one of the nations would feel neglected. We had to build into that permutation of five people someone who was probably a trade unionist or had some connection with trade unionism. There would have to be on the commission three with special knowledge and experience of forestry, one with scientific knowledge in the field of forestry, science and research, and a representative of the timber trade.

So here you have to balance not only the national interests of the three countries involved in forestry but also the special interests of the timber trade, the scientist-research people and the specialists in forestry. Then you would also try to get a trade unionist into that picture too. It will be realised that it was extremely difficult and often caused a good deal of offence when one juggled around with these commitments within the limited numbers that were available.

The intention of the Bill which adds one other person to the commission does not resolve the situation because I understand it is the intention that the additional member shall be a businessman who will presumably be skilled in some way in the disposal of assets or in lease and lease-back arrangements. All that is being done is introducing another commissioner to take over these new and special responsibilities without dealing with the problem that I have outlined. All I would say about a businessman is that I hope the businessman appointed as a member of the Forestry Commission is going to accept the full statutory commitments of the Forestry Commission for the development and maintenance of forestry in this country—both as to state forestry and the forest authority—and will not see his prime role as being the prime agent in the disposal of the assets of the Forestry Commission. That would be quite wrong.

What we end up with after doing all these permutations is, so far as the non-executive directors are concerned, four landlords. The commission have been extremely fortunate in the people that they have attracted to the Forestry Commission and who have given their time to the service of the Forestry Commission: the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, is a member of the Forestry Commission; Captain Bowser, up in Scotland, is a member; and Sir Ralph Verney was recently a member of the Forestry Commission. With the present chairman they all have substantial interests in land owning. This does not disqualify them from membership; indeed, it enhances their ability to discharge their duties.

There is a trade unionist on the commission who happens to be the representative of the Educational Institute of Scotland, the teaching profession, which is not strictly forestry in this activity. He is a very good man. Before that, we had the noble Lord, Lord Donnet, of the General and Municipal Workers. If there is one element missing, it is that one does not have a chap in the field, a working forester. I know that the director-general would regard himself as a working forester in many ways; but I should like to see in the Forestry Commission a measure of worker participation on that board.

I should like to see on the board someone who is in the day-to-day practice of planting or thinning, or what-have-you in the field, because whether you like it or not, with four landlord interests on the commission, it tends to get that kind of image. I do not believe that it is good for labour relations in the commission, and I do not believe that it is good for the image of the commission if you do not have a working, day-to-day practising forester on the board. Such an appointment would do immense good in the whole area of labour relations and the general image of the commission.

We should make it possible to do this by, instead of having a chairman and nine others, as proposed in the Bill, having a chairman and 10 others. That would make 11 in all. The total cost would be £3,500 per annum, and I do not think that is a high price to pay for this gesture of participation in these days when we regard worker participation as a rather important element in good relations. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Leek

I am without a speech because of this rather late hour. I support the views which have been put forward—the wounds in my back having healed!

Earl Bathurst

Can the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, say whether the proposed trade union member would have to be a member of the Forestry Commission's staff, or could he be a member of any department' of the forestry industry?

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

The trade union representative is not written into the Act as a specific commitment but is included by tradition. As chairman of the Forestry Commission, I tried not to have a specific trade union nominee as such. I remember talking to the general secretary of the TUC and he said, "Tom, you need a bloody good trade unionist", and so we got a bloody good trade unionist! But that would not meet the case that I have in mind; I want a bloody good forester instead!

10.35 p.m.

The Earl of Mansfield

As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, has said, the Forestry Act provides that at least one commissioner shall have special knowledge or experience of forestry. At least one must have scientific attainments and a technical knowledge of forestry. At least one must have special knowledge and experience of the timber trade. No specific requirements are laid down in the statute, but since the Eighth Report of the Estimates Committee in 1965 the commissioners have consisted of a part-time chairman, four full-time executive members and five part-time members chosen for their knowledge and experience in specific fields.

Three of the four full-time commissioners are professionally qualified foresters who have spent their careers at different levels across a broad spectrum of industrial experience. They are particularly well-qualified by virtue of that experience to manage large-scale forestry projects in a way which few outside the commission can match. Moreover, as the noble Lord knows very well, senior specialists in various fields are in regular attendance at board meetings or are available to advise as required. So although I understand the cosmetic element of the noble Lord's amendment it is difficult to see what additional professional advice another professional forester could offer.

As the noble Lord has said, for many years the board has included a respected member of the trade union movement, although none has been directly involved in forestry. This may be a very good thing, because there are advantages in having someone not too closely associated with the industry, since he can then offer impartial guidance on trade union matters, but his position as such avoids the difficulties which might be encountered if he were too closely connected with one of the unions representing workers employed by the commission. The views of the industrial workers can be and are made well known. They are fully represented through their unions on the commission's Industrial and Trade Council. The unions provide members of the commission's chief statutory advisory body, the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee, and of the 11 regional advisory committees whose deliberations are reported to the board. These offer effective and wide-ranging scope for communication between the staff and their representatives and the commissioners.

Equally, it is a possibility—and I certainly do not rule it out—that, at an appropriate time, a worker with direct practical experience of forestry inside the gate, as it were, might represent the trade union interests. But at the moment, at any rate, we do not consider it necessary to add further to the number of commissioners to bring that into effect. It is right that we propose to make one additional commissioner; somebody who has commercial experience of a rather different type than has been available before. But the Government were reluctant to increase the number by even one, and would be very reluctant to increase it by any more.

Earl Waldegrave

I should just like to add that I hope that the Committee will take note of what the noble Earl has said. It is a pity to make these commissions too big. It is also, perhaps, a pity to lay down what qualifications each person must have. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, will remember that when he and I were both commissioners together we had an absolutely first-class trade unionist on the commission, who was neither a forester nor an agricultural worker. I cannot remember whether Gwyn Davies was a steel worker or a coal worker, but he certainly came from South Wales and no one could have asked for a better representative of the trade union movement there. I think that is better than laying down that you must have a statutory trade unionist, a statutory woman, a statutory Common Market man and so on.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

The Act does not say that you should have a statutory trade unionist, and I have not said that we ought to have a statutory trade unionist. I have said that we ought to increase the number by two instead of one, for the reasons I have indicated, without writing into the Bill that it must be a statutory trade unionist. But it gives the opportunity for the Minister to do what I have sought. If you do not amend it now, you are stuck with the number that is in the Bill. In fact, you are adding one business man.

I looked for some support from the Liberal Benches, in view of their substantial commitment to participation. I had hoped that there would be a balancing of the one business man who is skilled in the disposal of assets and so on, with a workers' representative—not that he would give technical advice to the commission. There is a mass of technical advice at the top of the commission. There is no doubt that there is a difference between technical advice at the top and workers' participation from below and it would be a healthy element.

They have had this experience in other nationalised industries, some with success; some with less success. But it is in keeping with the times. We will not be amending the Forestry Act for some time ahead and 11 members, in addition to the chairman, would enable the Minister to have scope to do this kind of experiment. I hope that this will be regarded as non-controversial and acceptable.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Short title, repeals and extent]:

Lord Ross of Marnock had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 21: Page 1, line 24, after ("to") insert ("Scotland or").

The noble Lord said: It would be quite wrong at this very late hour to take advantage of the waning support of the Government and to go ahead with this most important amendment, for which I have piles of papers ready. I will save it for another occasion. I do not intend to move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.