HL Deb 30 November 1982 vol 436 cc1133-5
The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the current value of timber and timber products imported to the United Kingdom.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, in the first nine months of this year, imports of wood and manufactures of wood, excluding furniture, were valued at £826 million c.i.f.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that most interesting Answer. Would he agree that the greatest cost of imports lies in newsprint, pulp, paper and board? Would he further agree that there is need to increase the supply of domestic timber and positively to encourage the expansion of forestry in Britain? Is he in a position to say whether the Government are prepared to provide aid for suitable timber processing plant in this country?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, the answer to the first part of that supplementary is, yes. The answer to the second part is that the policy for the expansion of forestry announced by this Government in December 1980 is designed to achieve just such a strengthening of home supply. We said in that Statement that there is scope for new planting to continue in the immediate future at broadly the rate of the last 25 years. The answer to the third part is that there are proposals to erect a new mill in the Shotton area. A Finnish company announced in June of this year that it was investigating the possibility of investment in a new integrated pulp and newsprint plant mill. That would, if it came to fruition, provide 280 jobs at the mill and would secure another 850 or more jobs in United Kingdom forestry operations which would be needed to supply it. The project would be eligible for regional development grants and loans from the European Coal and Steel Community. The mill's projected output would be in the region of 180,000 tonnes per year.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

My Lords, would my noble friend venture an opinion as to whether the timber which used to go from my farm to the pulp mill at Fort William but which now goes to Grangemouth, is exported to Scandinavia and is then returned to Britain as pulp, is regarded as an import, as a finished product, or as homegrown?

Lord Lyell

I think my noble friend has kindly provided the answer for me, my Lords; probably it would fall into both categories.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, do the recent planting and replanting figures show that we are reaching the target set by the Government?

Lord Lyell

Yes, so far as I am aware, my Lords, but if I am in error I shall write to the noble Lord.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, is my noble friend able to say whether the Government agree with the estimate that the world will be in a position of 10 per cent. overall shortage of timber by the year 2027? If so, and if therefore it is necessary, as it is, to plant now, is this not a great opportunity to create jobs in the labour-intensive activity of planting?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, my noble friend, among many of your Lordships, will know that forestry is a great and growing source of employment, particularly in the area to which my noble friend brings such distinction. But I am afraid he is projecting a little further into the 21st century than is likely to be the span of many of us, and I will look into his question and write to him.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, relating to the original Question, may I ask the Minister to say whether, in view of the devastating attack of modern man on the forests of the earth, any research is now being undertaken to find a substitute which could be used instead of timber in producing so many of the cheap magazines and other pulp products used today? Is any encouragement being given to research in that direction?

Lord Lyell

That is a little wide of the Question, my Lords, but I can assure the noble Lord that we are giving financial, technical and research support for various plantation purposes overseas on a global scale.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, does my noble friend's first Answer mean that the Government share the growing concern of many owners of large and small woodlands who have the utmost difficulty selling timber at any price at all for pulping, so that some of them have to give it away, only to see it going to Scandinavia to be brought back again as pulp? Is that not quite mad?

Lord Lyell

I hope it is merely sad, my Lords, not mad. As my noble friend will be aware, we have in both England and Scotland lost two major pulping mills—or, at least, the main bulk of them—in the last few years. We hope that the phenomenon to which he draws the attention of the House is merely temporary.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the target which the Government gave in the Forestry Bill last year was the average for the last 25 years before 1981, and that if he looks up the figures he will have to write to my noble friend Lord Ross and change his mind?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I will look up the figures to which the noble Lord draws my attention. I am grateful to him for doing that and I am sure that I shall benefit greatly from my researches.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, will the Government pay most careful attention to supporting suitable mills for treating timber—without which of course the noble Lord's timber has to be exported, treated, and reimported? Without these extremely important and key mills, the British trade really must come to an end, or suffer serious disabilities.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, the Government indeed share the concern of the noble Viscount, but most of all we share a concern in relation to his term "suitable mills", and this is the major problem that affects the timber and timber processing trade. I am sure that the noble Viscount will be aware of this, and that those of your Lordships who are specialists in the field will also agree.

Lady Saltoun

My Lords, what plans, if any, do the Government have to provide incentives to people to establish suitable processing mills—particularly in view of the fact that their encouragement of afforestation is already leading to an increased yield?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lady will agree that the policy for the Government's forestry expansion programme is set out fairly clearly—at least, we hope that it is—in the paper that was presented by my right honourable friend in December 1980. We believe that the present incentives are working, and, as I pointed out in answer to the first supplementary question of the noble Countess, we believe that the scope for new planting which will continue in the immediate future will be broadly at the rate of the last 25 years. I am sure that the noble Lady will be pleased to know that, under present grants, output from existing forests is expected to double by the end of the century. We believe that that is very encouraging news.

The Earl of Bessborough

My Lords, can my noble friend tell me whether the Government are proposing to implement any of the recommendations of the Select Committee of your Lordships' House on the scientific and other aspects of forestry?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give my noble friend an answer without notice, but I, and I hope many others of your Lordships, will carefully glean the information from the committee, and I am sure that we shall be suitably uplifted in our knowledge.

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