§ 6.39 a.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the extent of the damage to trees and to the countryside caused by the gales of 16th October.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.
§ On 16th October last year God blew with his winds and they were scattered. I am not talking about the Spanish Armada but 15 million trees across the southern and eastern quarter of England. There are 4 million cubic metres of wood lying pathetically on the ground, some of them already beginning to rot. Even more trees will have to be felled to clear up this horrendous mess.
§ Sevenoaks is one, or possibly nil, oak at the moment. Wakehurst, Kew, Petworth, Emmets, Sheffield, Goodwood and Nymans have all been ravaged by nature. I know that my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, as Chairman of English Heritage, will wish to elaborate on the damage which has been done to English Heritage gardens and parks.
§ Parklands, hedgerows and individual farm trees have been uprooted and severely damaged. I have been told by Task Force Trees and the Countryside Commission that 2 per cent. to 6 per cent. of all trees in affected areas were damaged. At first sight, that is not a very large number. However, the storm went in whirlygigs and it ripped up large chunks here and there and left other areas without damage. A neighbour of mine who farms some fields on the northern slopes of the North Downs had some particularly attractive beech trees under which cattle or sheep grazed. They added considerably to the beauty of the Surrey hills. His fields are now littered with fallen beeches, which have dug holes in the fields leaving great chalk gouges in the countryside. Those trees were all happily growing on 14th October.
§ Perhaps an extreme and poignant example of the damage will be of interest to your Lordships. It involved my very popular and noble—I use that word not only in the parliamentary but also in the personal sense—friend Lord Chelwood. He has a property of 200 acres. One hundred acres are in trees which he has been planting and tending for 25 years. That was all done exactly according to the book and with the advice and consent of the Forestry Commission. He has 80 acres of trees lying on the ground. His conservatory has been lifted out of the ground and the broken glass is scattered all over his lawn. He estimates that cost of the damage is between £250,000 and £500,000. The prospect of bearing that loss and clearing it up is extremely depressing and daunting.
§ Some of us have been asked, "What about insurance? Why was the damage not insured?" I have been in touch with my insurance contacts and NFU 379 Mutual, with whom I do not deal but whom I know. They say that it is not the practice to do that in England except on rare occasions where trustees of charitable funds have done it. I know that it is done much more in Scotland since the big blow of 1968. I believe that in Scotland the costs are approximately £2 per hectare per annum after 15 years. I suspect that my noble friend Lord Stockton may want to elaborate further on the damage which has actually been done.
§ The Timber Growers of the United Kingdom, the Forestry Commission and the timber merchants got together and formed a Windblow Action Committee. I wish that people would not use words such as "windblow". Words such as "wind", "hurricane", or "gale" are perfectly adequate. That is but a minor criticism, however. The group has produced an excellent report. It was submitted this morning to the Agricultural Select Committee of another place. I know that the Minister has a copy.
§ Perhaps I may summarise the main conclusions of the report. The storm of which we are speaking was the worst storm since 1703. Twenty per cent. of the woodland in the area damaged by the hurricane—let us call it a hurricane because it was nothing short of that, in spite of what that weather forecasting gentleman said—has been affected. A large chunk of hardwood—much of it admittedly old hardwood—and much of what could be classed (especially in Surrey) as unmanaged woodland, which was extremely important from an environmental point of view, was badly affected.
§ The report calls for effective restoration and maximum salvage, both to minimise the loss and to help finance restoration work. The volume of non-durable and low-quality timber and additional clearance costs and landscape damage are major problems. As your Lordships will know, beech, pine and soft whitewoods have a low lying-in-the-field value. I believe that beech rots within six months and pine within about nine months. Needless to say, that has been helped by the wettest autumn we have had for a very long time.
§ The committee would like to increase the wood market in size and it would like help for replanting. Also, timber mercants must be attracted from outside the area. The committee recommends that that can only be done by a transport subsidy. Governments frequently say, "We cannot do that; it has never been done before". However, obligingly enough, there is a precedent for that action in the Scottish example of 1968. The committee believes that a net subsidy or grant of about £500 per hectare over and above salvageable and ordinary grant and tax relief for hardwood and £200 extra for softwood would overcome the problems caused by difficulty of access, the fact that many trees are broken off 12 or 15 feet above the ground and are lying higgledy-piggledy and the fact that bits must be cut on the outside of a wood in order to get into the wood to work there. The committee believes that the subsidy demand will be something in the region of a total of £6.5 million over five years.
§ Surrey County Council, with whom I have been in touch, believes that its costs alone are £3.6 million 380 over five years for planting. The Government, generous as ever with taxpayers' money, immediately said that they would give £2.75 million for replanting. The trouble is that that could not possibly be spent up to 31st March. I hope that, because it could not possibly be spent up to 31st March, the gremlins in the Treasury will not say, "You have not used the money by 31st March; therefore you cannot have any more for next year". To expect the Treasury to change its spots or its accounting habits because of the gale is asking too much. I hope that my noble friend, when he has had time to listen and reply to the debate, will have that point firmly in mind.
The Surrey County Council is particularly worried, in that it has 9,000 acres of primary public open space and recreational space which is managed more from that point of view than from the point of view of commercial forestry. According to its submission to the Countryside Commission on 16th November, which is a lucid and sensible document:
The biggest and most insurmountable obstacle to replanting in this or immediately subsequent years, is the large amount of damaged timber lying about. Much of this is Beech, with a short pre-decay life, and a market which has plummeted; much of it is in inaccessible places, and requiring heavy lifting machinery for safe disposal. Damage to standing trees also requires urgent surgery, again often impossible until fallen trees are removed. Another difficulty is estimating the amount of planting which can physically be completed this financial year; contractors and estate staff are busy on clearing up operations, many woodlands are too dangerous to allow work by volunteers"—
I am sure that my noble friend Lord Norrie will touch on the matter of volunteers—
and tree stock is likely to be in short supply due to damage in nurseries and the huge demand.
A further constraint upon immediate replanting is the urgent need to take stock and reconsider planting and landscaping policies. The huge amount of damage wrought by the storm has thinned out many areas of unmanaged and aged woodland and tree-stock, and the opportunity should be taken of building upon this enforced "management", rather than exactly replacing what was there before".
§ I think that those are extremely sensible paragraphs. Many of the papers that I have been given have been in the same constructive and useful vein.
§ There is one other minor point, about which I speak from personal experience. In front of a house which is now National Trust property but whose land belongs to me, there is—or there was—a beech avenue which was planted to celebrate the birth of my grandfather (I did not get an avenue; I just got one tree). Half that avenue was blown down. In the part that we wanted to clear-fell so that the trees could be replanted approximately 10 trees remained. The Forestry Commission came down; the local authority came down; the National Trust came down; and I went down. We all agreed on exactly what should be done. It has taken two months, but I understand from my noble friend Lord Caithness that a felling licence is on its way. This is bureaucracy run riot. I know that planning authorities have many things to do. One of my neighbours in Surrey told me that he wanted to alter the planning application for his agreed five-year designated plan. Again, the borough council was slow in clearing the application. There was no question of a disagreement; it was a question of bits of paper not arriving so that things which were ready to be done and should have been done were not done.381
§ The NFU has produced evidence of the damage to their members' interests. I hope that my noble friend has been in close touch with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I must admit that I have heard from several sources that co-operation between the various arms of Government has been excellent, which is a nice thing to hear. There has been no squabbling between permanent secretaries over who will be the first to get a knighthood. The NFU's main points relate to general damage to light and historic farm buildings; damage done to vehicles, walls, fences and stored crops by fallen trees; certain cropping areas which have not been able to be used because of fallen trees; glasshouse damage to protected crops; damaged top fruits, soft fruit, and much more. I appreciate that help for fruit growers has been forthcoming for orchard replanting and in the shape of conservation grants. I give credit where credit is due. In the case of used farm buildings—and by "used" I mean farm buildings which are in use, not those which are finished with—insurance should have been in place. According to the NFU some 200 old decent farm buildings which could be classed as uneconomic were destroyed in the storm. That is a heritage loss and I hope that something can be done about it.
§ The wages of chainsaw operatives are now up to £12 per hour and the price of timber has fallen, which was inevitable. When there is a labour shortage the price goes up and when there is a glut the price goes down. There is a labour shortage for clearing up and a glut of timber. The iron law of economics has applied. There is not enough trained manpower and there is an imbalance—admittedly temporary—in our saw-milling capacity. All of those to whom I have spoken have asked for help in clearance, which represents the great extra cost.
§ I have been inundated with tautly written submissions on the storm, varying from a paper from the NFU to a note from my noble friend Lord Cottesloe, who explained to me that 738 trees were destroyed on Hampstead Heath. Because of lack of time I have had to omit quite a lot of facts and information, but I hope that I have been able to outline something of what is known. I know that others will add to and elaborate on what I have said. However, we must regard this tragedy as an opportunity to plan and think long-term. We ask that the Government give a long and continuous commitment to that aim. I do not think that it is a question of spending lots of money now; it is a question of needing lots of thought now, and funding at a moderate level over a long period to enable us to repair, alter where necessary and improve if possible a very beautiful countryside.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be enormously grateful to my noble friend for raising this very timely question this evening. At Beaulieu we were very much in the eye of the storm and considerable damage was done. However I speak tonight not as a victim of the storm but as the chairman of English Heritage, which is one of the government agencies that is trying to do what 382 it can to help in this situation. I also speak with the encouragement of my noble friend Lord Caithness and am in no way trying to presume on his answer at the end of the debate.
The great storm did more than bring tragic destruction to trees across a wide swathe of South-East England; it also revealed the disturbing extent to which the great historic parks and gardens, which form such a characteristic part of the landscape, have been allowed to fall into decay. Historic gardens and parks, like historic buildings, have always depended for their upkeep on a number of traditional, superimposed cycles of maintenance, from the very regular cutting of grass to the very infrequent replacement of mature trees. The great storm and the extensive subsequent survey work by English Heritage have shown that in many well-known gardens major cycles of maintenance and replanting have been neglected over a long period. That is not to criticise the majority of owners. Understanding and advice on the maintenance requirements of historic parks and gardens have been limited, and the cost of their upkeep is very high.
Although powers have existed for the Government and more recently English Heritage to make grants toward the upkeep of gardens and land of outstanding historic interest, this nettle was never grasped, mainly because there were more urgent demands on funds. As a result, English Heritage operates no garden grant schemes analogous to those operated over the past 35 years for outstanding listed buildings, although we and others have pressed hard for resources for this purpose.
Cumulative neglect and the great storm have precipitated in our historic parks and gardens a crisis of epic proportions, to which my fellow commissioners and I decided that we had to react immediately. Therefore, on 21st October—the very same day when the Secretary of State so commendably and quickly granted money to the Countryside Commission℄I announced a scheme of grant aid toward the cost of clearance and replanting. Within days English Heritage and the Countryside Commission had met to assess the damage. The sum that we felt able to divert from our other grant schemes for that purpose was about £250,000, which is very little in relation to the scale of demand for help. So far we have had to limit the scope of our scheme to the immediate pleasure grounds of the house or, as we say, within the ha-ha.
Since the end of October we have made very considerable progress with this emergency programme of grant aid. The recently completed English Heritage register of historic parks and gardens—wisely legislated for in 1983 but not, I may say, universally welcomed by some Members of this House—has proved an invaluable and essential tool, enabling us to have written within 10 days to nearly 300 owners of historic parks and gardens in the storm damaged areas. We have received in return 241 requests for assistance, some from gardens not even on our register. Using consultants, co-ordinated by our own staff, we have surveyed almost all of these gardens and will finish the task by the end of this month. At the same time, we have begun the work of identifying those gardens which are of outstanding 383 national importance and thus eligible for our grants. We shall therefore be very shortly in a position to start making firm offers of grants. In the meantime we have made it clear to owners that the essential work of clearance need not be delayed while grant applications are being processed.
Much of the work of reconstruction and replanting will take a considerable time to put into effect. In order to see that the historic interest of the gardens is enhanced and not jeopardised by replanting we are calling for proper replanting and management shemes to be submitted as a condition of grant offer.
I have referred to our reluctant confinement of grants to storm damage within the ha-ha. With regard to those which are nationally outstanding, I ask the Government to consider that from an administrative point of view, and certainly from the owner's point of view, it would be far better to deal with the land without the ha-ha together with that within it. By necessity this would mean that extra resources would have to be given to English Heritage to cover this responsibility. I understand that the Countryside Commission would support such a decision.
Of course the Countryside Commission, in consultation with English Heritage, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and others, have put to the Government a plea for additional funding for trees over several years, which include all trees within historic parks and gardens which are not outstanding. My commission hopes that the Government will give the Countryside Commisssion the means to deal with such parks and gardens.
The scale of the financial problem facing owners must not be underestimated. The response from the first 100 gardens which we have investigated suggests a total cost with respect to planting alone of the order of £5 million. This ignores the massive damage to park walls, as well as the loss of future visitor income and increased maintenance costs until the new planting has reached maturity. The great storm of 16th October demonstrated in the most dramatic way the need for realistic funding if historic parks and gardens—such a crucial component of our heritage—are not to be allowed to fall into decay.
The scale of the recent devastation has precipitated English Heritage into realising its long-standing ambition of introducing gardens' grants, albeit on an ad hoc basis. But what the great storm has revealed is that our landscape, and in particular our historic parks and gardens, needs constant upkeep and renewal which is often beyond the means of individual owners. It is therefore our belief that a permanent grant scheme is essential. We and the Countryside Commission will monitor the progress of this emergency grant scheme with care so that, provided we receive the necessary resources in the future, we have the experience and expertise to introduce a permanent grant scheme covering the whole country.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord Moore of Wolvercote
My Lords, I am not a landowner and I have no personal stake in the 384 destruction caused by the October hurricane. However, I feel that the special nature of this disaster justifies some degree of government assistance. I have attempted to penetrate some of the devastated woodland. I can only say that no photograph can give a full picture of the state of the worst affected woods. Much of the woodland is impenetrable. It was an eerie experience trying to climb in over the fallen trees and to find oneself 15 to 20 feet above the ground with nowhere further to go. Even my dog could not find a way through.
I understand that the Government's policy is to concentrate on restoring tree cover, and I am sure that that is right. The problem is that replanting cannot take place until the sites have been cleared of fallen trees. Landowners will be prevented from doing this by the high cost of clearance. Machines with skilled operators are required and these cost a great deal of money.
The immediate problem is the softwood, which will deteriorate fast. Much of it is conifers planted 35 to 40 years ago as a result of post-war planting encouraged by the government of the day. These were just beginning to produce timber. But all this promising material has had to be sold for pulpwood as the timber mills are flooded with larger sized trees. Prices paid by the mills for pulpwood are half what they were before the hurricane. In addition therefore to losing the growth potential, woodland owners are faced with losing £4 a tonne for removing their fallen softwood and transporting it to the pulp mills. The problem is accentuated by the pulp mills being situated mainly in Wales, the North of England and Scotland, so that the transport costs are prohibitive.
I should like to ask therefore whether transport grants could be given to the timber growers to get the wood to the mills. As the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said, transport grants were made to help private woodland owners after the last big wind blow in Scotland, so there is a precedent.
My second suggestion concerns replanting grants. The aim is to restore tree cover, but this will not be done if the timber growers cannot afford to clear the sites. The replanting grants already cover stump clearance and site preparation. Could their scope be extended to include an element for site clearance? This could be done for only a limited period to cover clearance of trees brought down by the October hurricane. The woods of Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Suffolk are such a wonderful part of our countryside and I hope very much that the Government will be able to provide special help for their restoration.
§ 7.6 p.m.
The Earl of Stockton
My Lords, the expression "the wind of change" is one that may not be unfamiliar to noble Lords, In the case of my property, the home for all his life of the originator of that phrase, it took on a terrible new significance in the early hours of that dreadful day. When the hurricane abated we started to try to evaluate the problem and found that the damage was not only outside our experience in the South-East but outside that of the whole country. Even the great wind blow 385 of 1972 in Scotland pales by comparison. It is the estimate of the Forestry Commission that there is more mature timber on the ground in the South-East than would normally be harvested throughout the United Kingdom in five years.
I do not want to get into a ghoulish statistical competition with noble friends on both sides of the House whose homes have also suffered. We have lost 60 per cent. of the timber on the 900 acres of woodland on the Birch Grove estate. This means that 60,000 trees have been smashed, blown down or shattered by falling trunks. A further 10,000 have received damage that may imperil their long-term survival either through snow, further wind or disease.
A forestry contractor gave me an estimate that to clear up in order to replant, using contract labour, would cost me between £1.2 million and £ 1.5 million. With my own labour force we have estimated that it will take 10 years and the cost, in terms of depressed values of mature and salvageable timber, of lost value of immature timber, loss of incidental income such as shooting and fishing and of increased equipment costs and overtime, will be between £400,000 and £500,000. Clearly this is way beyond the scope of any private individual.
We have started work and we are shifting and burning at the rate of about four trees a day. We have therefore a lot of work ahead of us. The woods, which looked like Passchendaele after the bombardment, now have muddy tracks through them that would have been familair to my grandfather in the trenches.
But this sad story can be heard and told by my noble friends Lord Cowdray, Lord De La Warr, Lord Egremont and Lord Limerick. We are all in the same position. I am aware that the Government have made some grants, but very few to help the private landowner with the clearance of fallen timber. I am afraid that to replant we must clear, and it is a race against time. The softwoods will be useless in a year, the beech in two and with the spring coming the brambles and the rabbits are on the way.
If the roof of this mighty Palace had been blown off there would have been money forthcoming from the Government. We have beech trees that were as high as the roof of this Palace which are now lying on the ground, and oaks, which were mighty trees before this building was even a gleam in Pugin's eye. I was told by my noble friend Lord Bruce-Gardyne that he thought the Secretary of State in another place was right not to, "spend taxpayers' money to help you rebuild your shoot". I wonder whether the Secretary of State's elder brother, my noble friend Lord Ridley, would agree with such sentiments.
In the end it is not my shoot that is the question; it is not even my property that is the question. We have to decide whether we mind enough about those parts of southern England's green and pleasant land that have so far escaped the bulldozer and the developer, to prevent them falling foul of the hurricane and the Secretary of State.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, I should like to bring to the attention of the House the role and response of the voluntary sector. The voluntary sector has 386 already contributed a great deal of help to the storm-affected counties. Its contribution cannot and should not be under-estimated. One criticism which is wholly unjustified is that an unnecessarily long-term view is being taken and that the public have been confused by too many appeals. This is definitely not the case.
It is worth noting that many of the organisations involved such as the National Trust, the Woodland Trust and the County Trusts, are major landowners. Naturally, their immediate priority has been to concentrate on storm clearance and safety of access. The scale of the problem is highlighted by the Woodland Trust, an organisation committed to the purchase and protection of woodlands. Imagine the enormousness of the task before them when suddenly a total of 41 woods in 12 counties were devastated by the storm of 16th October last year.
One organisation with which I have a very close association as their president is the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV). Its particular role is to involve people in practical conservation. In recent months the people of this country have demonstrated conclusively just how aware and how caring they have become about their environment. It was the ability to direct this irrepressible enthusiasm and harness it to their professional expertise in woodland management which led the Countryside Commission to invite the BTCV to join its emergency task-force trees team.
The purpose of the team is to set up and allocate the Department of Environment special grant of £2.75 million to local authorities and the voluntary sector and devise a long-term plan for clearance and replanting. Everywhere the response by individuals has been swift and immediate. People were prompted by the many articles in newspapers and radio and television to want to help either by giving money or actually lending a hand. Thank goodness they did! The full-time professional bodies could not possibly have coped with the scale of damage caused by last year's storm without the help of so many volunteers.
Such a willing commitment demands our wholehearted encouragement rather than the opposite. Even national television has highlighted the BTCV as the major organisation for practical conservation work. Some 10,000 people have now received the emergency information pack which allows each volunteer to use his or her energies in the most effective way. Since October some 4,000 people have worked on over 330 sites in the storm-ravaged areas.
An example of the way in which landowners and those of us who appreciate their land can work together on a voluntary basis is the co-operation nationally from March this year of the BTCV and the Woodland Trust. Even in the voluntary sector such work costs a great deal of money. It runs into millions. The appeal targets set by each organisation have effected considerable private and individual support to date. But this will change as the emotion and memory of the damage caused on 16th October last year begins to fade.
Parhaps I may therefore seek from the Minister an assurance that the Government will agree a long-term financial commitment to the voluntary sector to 387 secure for the future a legacy worthy of our children and all that the English countryside means to people everywhere.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I appear to have temporarily mislaid my glasses. I shall not be able to read the notes I have written down. I should like first to thank my noble friend Lord Onslow very much for putting down this Question. I am surprised that it was not put down before, because the situation is so very serious.
I also have an interest to declare; but my interest is a very great financial loss, as I am sure is the case with the other noble Lords who have spoken on this subject. It has been appalling in the Stour Valley. There are three estates where the valley gets narrower: Olantigh, Godmersham—where Jane Austen wrote her books— and Chilham. In my park, it has been absolutely devastating. In the gardens we have lost 148 big trees, many of them exotics like paulownia, catalpa and tulip trees. The park is about 400 acres and includes about 100 acres of woodland. We have lost about 2,000 really big deciduous trees. I am not counting the softwoods I have planted, like douglas fir. I established a plantation of douglas fir over 30 years ago. They were doing extremely well and they have just come down like a pack of cards. The larch have held up a bit better.
The avenue from the main gates on the village square to my front door is only a short straight run of 300 yards and has a double row of limes on each side, planted in 1820. They have come down to a man. I suppose trees are female too, but anyway they have all come down. They fell in about two or three minutes. It was apparently an appalling gust of over 100 miles an hour—some people say 130 miles an hour—which brought them down.
I think that the Government have made a great mistake in putting the cart before the horse. It is true to say that they have promised grants but, as we all know, one gets grants from the Forestry Commission in any case if one plants. But how can you plant if you cannot clear the land? To clear my park will certainly take 18 months and probably two years. How am I to clear it? I have tractors, trailers and chainsaws, but I only wish we had what we had in the old days (before my time, naturally). In the 18th and early 19th centuries they used to work the timber with elephants. Where can I get elephants? Where can I get trained elephants? I do not know what the solution is. I do not have the enormous machines with great grabs to lift the trees. They cost about £80,000. I am told you can hire cranes for £500 a day, but who can afford that? So how am I going to clear the ground? One cannot do it.
I am concentrating on the gardens because we have the public coming to see the gardens. It will be shaming. As my noble friend Lord Stockton said, the scene was like the battlefields of Ypres or the Somme and all the ground was churned up. We are gradually taking away the enormous roots, but that is difficult because they are terribly heavy. However, I hope that we shall be able to clear the gardens.
388 I must not continue for too long or I shall bore your Lordships—perhaps I have already. I was saddened by the fact that in the park was the oldest recorded heronry in Britain. It is about 860 years old and is recorded in the Doomsday Book. Some of the herons return on St. Valentine's Day and I am worried that if they do not return then some terrible fate will befall me. I do not know what to do about that because every tree has gone. Beech trees of a great height have all come down. I shall try to erect artificial nesting sites but I do not know if the herons will use them.
My noble friend Lord Stockton also spoke of what transpired at the conference at Wye College, London University. People from the three counties in the South East of England attended. There were many expert speakers. They told us that the number of trees that had fallen, which was said to be 3 million, was more like 20 million. As my noble friend Lord Stockton said, about five years' supply of felled timber is lying on the ground.
I should like to ask the Government to provide a grant for the clearing that we have had to do. People have been very helpful and various societies have offered to help, but they do not appear to have any money. My noble friend Lord Onslow spoke about £2 million, but that will be a drop in the ocean. It has been suggested that the area inside and outside the ha-ha of my park should be treated as one, and I think that that idea is fair. However, I should like to see the Government giving a clearing grant of so much per hectare; even one-third or one-quarter of the cost of clearing would be a great help. I hope that something like that can be achieved. So far, I have not been able to sell any timber apart from black walnut. I should think that every other noble Lord present is in the same position.
I have spoken for long enough and I ask my noble friend on the Front Bench to approach the Prime Minister. I am sure that if the Prime Minister knew of the extent of the tragedy she would make the bureaucracy act and we should all be much happier.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Lord Dulverton
My Lords, I should like to express gratitude to my noble friend Lord Onslow for initiating this important debate. I have a personal interest in the subject which I shall declare later. In my home in the north Cotswolds we were jolly lucky to have escaped the worst effects of the terrible hurricane which hit us in October. I do not wish to dwell upon the severity of the damage because other noble Lords have spoken about it. It has been well-publicised in newspapers and elsewhere.
The bare statistics are horrifying. Four million tonnes of timber of different species, sizes and shapes much of it broken and tangled on the ground, is five times the normal output in the worst affected areas of devastation. Seventy per cent. of the area is in the private sector of forestry, with consequent crippling losses for owners who have expended long decades of care necessary for the production of good quality timber. All that has gone overboard.
My noble friend Lord Onslow referred to the fact that immediately after the hurricane a Forestry Wind 389 Blow Action Committee was set up, though he objected to the two words, "wind blow". My secretary typed it as one word and I believe that she was right. The committee was immediately set up and was a consortium of the Forestry Commission, Timber Growers of the United Kingdom, who are the official representatives of the private sector of forestry, the timber merchants and the wood processing industries. It has done excellent work in assessing the damage and weighing up the consequent problems.
The Timber Growers have produced a report in advance of anything that has been forthcoming from the Government or the Forestry Commission. That report provides an excellent assessment of the situation and I am proud of it. Here I must declare an interest because I am its honorary president. I have ensured that the report has been made available both in the Library of this House and in the Printed Paper Office for any noble Lord who would like to peruse it. I think that it is a good, factual assessment of the problem.
Two major issues are involved to which other noble Lords have referred. One is the clearance, removal and, where possible, utilisation of the fallen and damaged trees. Many trees that have not fallen have been damaged by those that have, and something must be done about them. They are often lying in a tangled mess on the ground. They are frightfully difficult to work among and the handling of them far exceeds the capacity of local foresters, local contractors and local timber industries. We have by no means dealt with the clearance, but the second issue is the replanting of both forest and amenity trees when the ground has eventually been cleared and tidied. Fifteen million trees have fallen and many more must be planted and cared for over many decades before they, having been thinned, contribute to the landscape.
There are no short cuts in forestry. Unless the clearance and disposal problem is expedited far beyond the capacity of local resources, more than half of the fallen timber will have deteriorated into uselessness. About the only species that will survive several years of lying on the ground is the oak. The beech (which has been referred to) and many other soft woods and species will be unsaleable. Much of it is only good for firewood anyway. Even so, it is worth bearing in mind that the loss value of 2.5 million tonnes which will not have been cleared unless something drastic is done will amount to about £75 million in lost revenue; and that is loss to the nation as well as the owners. If distant timbermills with the capacity to use the timber can be enlisted to make use of the many kinds of trees with their varying properties there will be a good chance of greatly expediting operations. However, the expense of long distance haulage thus involved would leave nothing, or even a deficit, in the hands of contractors even if they could be attracted from outside the area to deal with this mess.
It is desperately necessary to contract an army of such contractors into the areas of disaster and I hope that the Minister might persuade his colleagues in another place to provide an emergency subsidizing 390 fund towards the transport costs required, estimated at £2.5 million. That will enable an expedition of operations to take place along those lines.
As to the replanting phase which it is to be hoped will succeed the clearance, and will take several years to achieve, private owners will need help and persuasion to do all that is desirable. That again will cause a substantial increment in the present scale of planting grants; otherwise, there is every possibility that owners will be far too disheartened and out of pocket to restore their devastated countryside.
Your Lordships should bear in mind in this connection that many of the lost woodlands were of amenity or sporting value rather than commercially managed. Once again, I hope that my noble friend can and will persuade his colleagues in another place to help with this matter. It has been estimated that another £4 million will be required.
I have said little or nothing about all the lovely amenity trees and the arboreta that have suffered; but, cherishing as I do our arboreta at Batsford which escaped the hurricane, that is not due to any lack of concern but because of the need for brevity.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ The Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry
My Lords, I hope I may be forgiven for making a brief intervention. Although I live a long way from the areas devastated by the October hurricane, nevertheless I offer sympathy to those who have been affected. I have seen many examples of gale damage in my time, in Scotland in particular, and what I saw around Sevenoaks really took my breath away. Violent storms strike different parts of the country periodically and Scotland suffered badly in 1968, which helps me to appreciate the consequential problems. One of those problems is the orderly marketing of blown trees which is, of course, a crucial prelude to orderly recovery programmes, though we have to accept the sad fact that the landscape, as we have come to know and love it, can never be the same again in our lifetime.
However, there is one matter for which we can be thankful. There is now in existence a body called the Forestry Industry Committee of Great Britain which grew only recently out of the Timber Growers organisation and the timber trade. This has the capability of making a significant impact upon sensible and orderly marketing. I was glad that my noble friend Lord Onslow referred to its specially formed action group, and I believe it is probably doing a very good job.
Of course, this is a matter of great importance to all tree growers throughout the land, partly because of the ripple effect of glut in one area knocking prices in another, and partly because no one knows where the next disaster will strike with a corresponding need for action by that same Forestry Industry Committee. That means that wherever we live all those with an interest in trees and the landscape should do their utmost to support the Forestry Industry Committee by providing it with the financial muscle that it badly needs to ensure that it can do its job efficiently.
391 There is one other aspect which I believe merits consideration. The tragic loss of landscape is a salutory though cruel reminder that in nature nothing stands still and that however much one might wish to freeze the landscape just as it is, trees, like everything else, grow up, grow old and die. That suggests that landscape replacement and rejuvenation must be a continuing process and not left to the next hurricane. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Montagu emphasised this very clearly in his speech. This is especially relevant in the context of trees subject to tree preservation orders as these are likely to be the most vulnerable in a storm and may constitute a high risk to life and limb. It may be a good idea for the Government to remind those who impose TPOs of the risks involved and the need for appropriate precautions, including regular reviews of the condition of such trees if they are to fulfil their proper responsibility for public safety.
My last point is to mention that the replanting of wind blown areas will require a large number of broadleaved plants, and if shortages are to be avoided it may be as well to relax the proportion of broadleaved species to be planted with conifers on hill country where they will, in any case, face a precarious struggle for survival. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to the many constructive points made this evening.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, has intervened in this debate without putting his name down, may I crave your Lordships' pardon for doing the same thing. I am certain that my noble friend Lady Nicol will deal most adequately with the subject of this debate but I should not like it to be thought that because there are not many of us present on this side of the House we are not deeply concerned about the matter.
I think that virtually every noble Lord who has spoken has declared some personal, direct or indirect interest. As the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, knows, on occasions I have been critical of forestry policy in this country, not least of the taxation arrangements which, in certain circumstances, make it possible for film stars and broadcasting people and such like to make large fortunes Jut of forestry. Such criticism as one may have made leaves one completely dumb when one has to follow the tragic consequences of what was, after all, as one used to say in the olden days, an act of God.
I very much hope that the Minister, when he comes to reply, will recognise that while a great deal was done instantly—or more or less instantly— it is clear from the speeches made that a great deal still has to be done, particularly on this matter of clearance. Unless some imaginative and substantial help is given—and I am thinking in particular of Birch Grove, which I used to know fairly well—tragedies of that kind call for extraordinary measures which are not contemplated in normal circumstances. I hope that when we hear the Minister's reply it will be clear that the situation faced in this part of the country is recognised as being extraordinary and merits extraordinary solutions.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Lord Monk Bretton
My Lords, there is one other aspect that I should like to mention. It is very important that we manage to clear up this disaster as well as we possibly can, not only for the environment and the landscape, which is important and which has been spoken about. I should not wish to detract at all from what has been said about that.
There is another aspect. The Government want more trees to be planted. In view of that, I believe it is important to emphasise the enormous degree to which forestry owners in the devastated areas have been disheartened by what has happened. It is the scale of the disaster which is so frightening. Timber growers suspect that if nothing is done it is highly likely that 50 per cent. of the woodland which has gone will never be replanted. I am sure that the smaller the owner, the more disheartening is the situation.
There are long memories regarding the business of forestry, and there have been some disagreeable experiences in the past which should not be entirely forgotten. The years of the slump were bad enough and a great many people despaired at that time. The last war should have been better because it was a time when timber was definitely wanted. We had been planting timber for that for some years. What happened was not really so good so far as concerns the timber grower. During the war there was a desperate urgency and there was no time for sophisticated operations like thinning plantations. Very often young plantations were simply butchered —clear-felled—in order to get pitprops as soon as possible. I remember good oak being cut up in order to make railway sleepers.
I also recollect at the time that prices were pretty miserable and they were controlled. During the war there was no possibility of replanting and there were no sprays to kill the brambles as there are today. The undergrowth grew to about 10 feet or more and became a devastated area which had to be dealt with long afterwards and at very great expense. It was a terrible mess.
I have heard it said that the government of the day, in the haste of the war, virtually handed over timber growing to the trade to despoil. That is a hard thing to say but there may be a grain of truth in it. There is a certain disillusion about what can happen when timber is wanted.
Much of that slow and expensive replanting since the war has been wrecked again in the South-East. Here I must declare an interest because I did some replanting. I suppose about half of what I replanted has gone. I believe that I only suffered the loss of about half and that is quite good luck. It is going to take a great deal of effort to restore confidence if we are to establish a viable forestry industry. Something more is wanted than just another bout of enthusiasm for grants for planting. The matter needs thinking through much more thoroughly than that, and there perhaps I am edging onto another story.
Meanwhile, I trust that my noble friend and the Government will react favourably to what has been said tonight and provide further help. That was really 393 the one point I wished to make. I should like to say how well timed and welcome I found the Question tabled by my noble friend.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, I too wish to thank the noble Earl for this very timely Question. The value of it is obvious from the speeches that we have heard tonight and some of them were very moving speeches.
The events of 16th October were a national disaster which affected us all. Because it affected all of us and it was a national disaster it is the responsibility of everyone to see that restoration is carried out so far as possible. I shall not go into the details of damage because that has been covered very well by other speakers and I know your Lordships have heard it all before.
But disasters can provide opportunities. We are all aware, as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, said, that woodland management in this country has not been universally good. Like our human population, our tree population had too many in the upper age bracket. That and the lack of good husbandry in some cases—but only a few cases—added to the losses.
Now we must look to the future. To replace tree for tree is not a very imaginative solution. The National Trust is to be commended for its constructive approach in its storm disaster appeal. Where possible, it is to use the fallen timber to repair its own buildings. I quote briefly from a letter I have received from the trust:We are also planning carefully for the future, because at some properties we should not simply be trying to re-plant what was there before, but should be thinking creatively about new opportunities".That is a lesson which I think we should apply wherever restoration is to be carried out. I am not talking particularly about commercial forestry but amenity forestry, woodlands and the smaller scale operations.
Some areas should be allowed to regenerate naturally to provide a range of age and height of tree stands. Gaps or glades should be left clear to provide for grazing and for flora. Noble Lords would expect me to put the conservation point of view. Those open areas are valuable for certain bird species. Some deadwood also should be left to provide insect habitat.
Clearance has to be done before anything else can start and I was particularly interested in the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Moore, about transport grants. I hope the Minister will be able to provide an answer to that. I am aware that the terms of the Question are rather narrow, but I am convinced that from the Minister tonight we shall not hear just an assessment of the damage but also of the Government's solution to the problem.
We should seek safeguards against woodlands which have been cleared by the storm from being ploughed for other uses. Perhaps it is unnecessary to say this at a time when we are seeking to persuade farmers to increase their woodland and to plant land which has been used for arable purposes. That should be discouraged where it might happen. It is essential that the efforts of the voluntary bodies about which 394 the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, spoke so convincingly, should be supported and the statutory bodies and local authorities should have their work coordinated.
The Royal Society for Nature Conservation suggests that the best unit size for co-ordination is that of the county, which seems to make sense. The 12 nature conservation trusts most affected by the storm are county trusts and they are already working closely with the county councils. For example, in Kent the trust's officer has been accommodated in the county council offices and that must be to their mutual benefit.
The World Wildlife Fund and the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, with the backing of the Countryside Commission and the Task Force Trees unit, have all made good progress. Public response to appeals for money is going well; but as time goes on, the public will forget, as they do, the problems that we have before us. This is a long-term task. Planning must be at least five years ahead. Obviously it has to be longer than that if we are to replace in the way that I feel we should our broadleaved woodlands, but it must be at least five years initially. Tree nurseries, for example, must be assured that when public interest has died down there will still be customers for their trees—that money will be forthcoming—if they are to take longer-term decisions on the growing of stock.
Here perhaps I could put in a word for using native species wherever possible. We have seen recently what happens in London, where the plane trees, which were all imported clones, are suffering from a disease common to all of them and are changing the landscape in London quite considerably. It is also necessary for the retention of expert staff that at least five years should be assured. Only government can give the backing and the assurances that are needed, especially in the case of local authorities, which need to know that this important conservation work is not vulnerable to unexpected cuts. Here I should like to reinforce the theme of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, about waiving bureaucracy wherever possible, because it really needs to be waived in the case of local authorities. Flexibility must be introduced.
A few moments ago I was handed a letter from a Mr. Talbot in Kent, who makes a moving plea for help in the High Weald. I can do no better than end with the last two paragraphs of his letter. He says:The farmers, small landowners and those directly involved cannot begin to afford the cost of clearance. Only the Government can save what Kipling describes as 'belt upon belt the wooded, dim, blue goodness of the Weald'.England has suffered a great disaster. Like many disasters, it affords a great opportunity. If the Government acts with speed and determination it will earn the thanks of posterity".
§ 7.52 p.m.
The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Caithness)
My Lords, the great storm which occurred in the early hours of 16th October was a natural catastrophe unknown since the early 18th century. It wrecked property, destroyed gardens on which many years of care had been lavished and laid bare landscapes with which local people had been familiar since childhood. I am 395 grateful to my noble friend Lord Onslow for giving us the opportunity to discuss that fateful event in the House.
Faced with this emergency, local authorities and others responded with great speed and efficiency. The Government too played their part: my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment swiftly announced special aid under the "Bellwin Rules" for local authorities to carry out emergency work. He also explained that £3 million would be made available in 1987–d the replacement of trees. Out of this £250,000 was allocated to the Royal Parks. Most of the extra funds however have been used in the form of grants paid through the Countryside Commission, which quickly set up a special unit, Task Force Trees, to administer the programme.
The Countryside Commission's responsibility is for trees as a feature of the landscape, in small woods or in the countryside generally; and for this special programme it has extended its activities to urban areas as well. The mild weather so far this winter has been a tremendous boost for the progress of this work on the ground. I understand that a good deal of planting has already taken place, and this is enormously encouraging. Therefore, I can say to my noble friend Lord Onslow that we expect a high proportion of the money to be spent this year unless there is a sustained period of hard frost now. In fact bids from local authorities mean that the amount available is three times oversubscribed.
Other government departments and public bodies also took action in the wake of the storm. The Forestry Commission, which is responsible for woodlands of a quarter of a hectare or more, where one of the purposes is timber production, joined forces with other relevant bodies to set up the Forest Windblow Action Committee, aimed at coordinating the timber industry's response; a statement by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced the introduction of special storm damage compensation arrangements for farmers, which covered orchards and shelter belts; and English Heritage, the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, announced (as my noble friend Lord Montagu has just described) a programme of assistance to owners with the clearing and replanting of outstanding historic gardens.
However as this timely Question from my noble friend reminds us, it is essential as a basis for longer-term planning that we have a comprehensive assessment of the damage to tree cover caused by the storm. The results of one survey have already been widely publicised. In November the Forest Windblow Action Committee announced its conclusion that some 4 million cubic metres of timber had been blown down in the storm, representing an estimated 15 million trees. Some idea of the scale of this loss can be gauged from the fact that in 1986 the annual domestic production of timber in the United Kingdom was 5.6 million cubic metres; and 80 per cent. of this output was softwood. About 50 per cent. of the timber lost was broadleaves. Therefore, let us be clear that the total quantity of timber blown down 396 is just under one year's timber consumption over the whole country.
The committee estimated that 70 per cent. of the total loss was in private woodlands, 25 per cent. in woodlands managed by the Forestry Commission and a further 5 per cent. was in hedgerows, parks and gardens. The worst affected counties were West Sussex, East Sussex, Suffolk and Kent. The committee's estimate was that 20 per cent. of all timber in those counties had been brought down. It also reported that significant volumes of wind blown timber lay in Essex, Hampshire and Surrey, while Berkshire, Dorset, the Isle of Wight, Greater London, Hertfordshire and Norfolk had also been affected but had less timber on the ground.
As my noble friend Lord Dulverton knows, generally the good quality timber is finding a market. However, some of the timber is over-mature and of poor quality. In this there is a message for the future, that we must ensure that we manage trees properly and not regard them as things which can be preserved indefinitely. That was a point so well made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, who also mentioned the risk of tree preservation orders preserving trees beyond a safe age. At this stage let me just pay tribute to the noble Duke, because it was indeed his father who employed me many years ago when I did my year's mud studenting before going to Cirencester, where I learnt about trees and developed the interest in them that I have been able to maintain.
This survey was carried out with commendable speed and has been of great value in gauging the overall position, particularly the implications for the timber market. I should perhaps say a few words on the physical problems of undertaking such surveys. Many woods are still largely inaccessible as a result of the damage sustained. Forestry Commission surveyors drafted in from as far away as Scotland have done sterling work. Aerial photography has a role to play in extensive surveys, but obtaining such photography is always subject to weather conditions. The process of quantifying damage by interpretation of aerial photographs is a task which demands particular skills.
The responsibilty of my department is trees in open countryside and in built-up areas, for which it is even more difficult to produce accurate figures, especially given the localised nature of some of the damage. This was again a point that my noble friend Lord Onslow made. However, to guide the long-term programme of restoration it is essential that we have a more precise assessment. We have therefore commissioned a survey of damage to non-woodland trees. The contractor has been asked to take aerial photographs of a sample series of strips in the 10 worst affected counties to establish the extent of loss. Of the 235 sample strips involved well over half have been flown, mainly in Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Essex, Dorset and Hampshire. Preliminary figures for' Suffolk, Hertfordshire and Essex suggest that 44,000 trees outside woods have fallen or been badly damaged as a result of the storm. Separately my department is also funding work by the Arboricultural Advisory and Information Service to try to learn as many lessons as possible from the storm damage.
397 Work by others is also helping to build up the picture. English Heritage has carried out an appraisal of the damage to historic parks and gardens. Of 336 gardens in the affected counties on its national register, 161 have suffered significant losses of trees. In 46 the historically important tree planting has been virtually flattened. The Nature Conservancy Council has also carried out an important study of damage to ancient woodlands in statutorily protected areas; and through Task Force Trees information is becoming available on local authority estimates of damage to amenity trees in their areas.
The Nature Conservancy Council has also been assessing the effects of the storm on wildlife, such as the heron mentioned by my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard. I have to say that its initial conclusions have been reassuring. If anything, the council would prefer from the wildlife point of view that fallen trees should be left where they lie rather than be cleared, a point mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to say to my noble friend that, as he knows better than I do, the Forestry Commission's headquarters is opposite Edinburgh Zoo. I shall ask it to look into the question of elephants, but I think that the opportunities might be a little limited in present circumstances.
The results from all this work will need to be brought together to produce a comprehensive picture. My department is taking the lead in a specially convened interdepartmental committee to do just that. The group contains representatives of the Forestry Commission, Task Force Trees, the Nature Conservancy Council, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Transport, and English Heritage. It has already held two meetings and I hope to receive its interim findings shortly. The final report will be prepared as soon as sufficient information is available.
I believe that all noble Lords will welcome this programme of assessment and agree with me that it forms the essential foundation stone for considering the need for longer-term programmes of action. Replacement of trees lost in the storm will be the task of years, not months. It is our children and their children who will see the results of planting which takes place now. We must ensure that it is carefully and responsibly done. This is a challenge to all of us: to government, owners and gardeners alike. Included in this challenge, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said, is the opportunity to think creatively. We have a unique opportunity to encourage the natural regeneration of woodlands.
I wish to emphasise the key role which voluntary initiative can play. Although government can provide a guiding framework for replacement planting, it is a spread of effort on the ground which counts. After all, planting by private owners on a small scale has determined much of the traditional landscape of England. I am therefore glad to have this opportunity of applauding publicly the launching of a number of appeals to help fund replacement planting by bodies such as the National Trust, Woodland Trust, Men of the Trees and also the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, whose 398 plans my noble friend Lord Norrie has outlined tonight and which I am sure the House will wish to commend.
Local authorities also have an important role to play. They will now be drawing up their budgets for the coming financial year and, in contrast to the position in the immediate aftermath of the storm, which was an entirely unexpected catastrophe, they will be able to weigh up the various calls on resources and decide what priority they wish to give to tree planting.
A number of your Lordships have pressed the case for continuing government assistance with this massive task. In the case of woodlands of a quarter of a hectare or more, the normal Forestry Commission planting grants are available for restocking, and higher rates of grant are given for broadleaved trees. In the case of other trees, we are discussing with the Countryside Commission the need for a continuation of the special programme of grants operated by Task Force Trees and assessing how that will fit in with the efforts of local authorities, of other bodies and of individual owners. I shall return to the Countryside Commission's programme in a moment. We shall also examine whether there is a case for additional resources for English Heritage, as my noble friend Lord Montagu urged, and I look forward to receiving the detailed assessment of which he spoke. I can tell my noble friend Lord Massereene that I am sympathetic to the point of my noble friend Lord Montagu that English Heritage ought to be responsible for assistance to outstanding historic parks, as well as outstanding historic gardens. I should like to consider this further.
Many noble Lords have urged that government assistance should be available not only for replanting but to meet the costs of clearance. My noble friend Lord Stockton gave an example of the scale of those costs and said that in present circumstances they are unlikely to be offset completely, or even in the worst cases offset to any significant extent by the value of the timber extracted. In some cases practical assistance either has been or may in the future be forthcoming from volunteers co-ordinated by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, from the community programme of the Manpower Services Commission or from the Farming and Countryside Initiative.
The general principle, however, must be that clearance is the responsibility of the individual owner. That applies at all levels, from the individual householder who had a tree blown down in his garden and who perhaps has not been mentioned to the full tonight, right up to the Forestry Commission. That is why the grants the Government make available are specifically for planting and are paid only as and when planting is known to have taken place. There cannot be any question of advance payment.
We have received a number of representations urging assistance to private householders for clearance of trees. This is a difficult area. The Government's approach has been to alleviate the costs to ratepayers generally of dealing with the storm by making available special financial assistance 399 to local authorities. We are sympathetic to the position of householders who face costs for clearance but we do not believe it would be either practicable or appropriate for us to accept that these costs should fall on taxpayers nationally rather than the private householder.
As concerns aid under the schemes for both the Countryside Commission and English Heritage, exceptionally they have been prepared to consider helping with the cost of clearance, but only in the case of parks and gardens where there is a particularly strong public interest. However, Countryside Commission grants may include a limited amount of assistance for site preparation, for instance if a stump has to be removed.
We also accept that there are extra costs falling on the owners of large woodlands when they have to replant after a windblow. The Forest Windblow Action Committee set up by the Forestry Commission has discussed this issue and also the commercial prospects for owners trying to sell their fallen timber. The committee has very recently made certain recommendations to the Government, as my noble friend Lord Onslow mentioned.
The noble Lord, Lord Moore of Wolvercote, and my noble friend Lord Dulverton also mentioned the possibility of a subsidy towards the cost of taking timber to mills in other parts of the country and certain precedents in that respect. This is another aspect discussed by the committee. I am sure that the House will not expect me to enter into discussion on the merits of these proposals this evening but I shall ensure that my right honourable friends are fully aware of the views that have been advanced by noble Lords tonight.
I take the point made by noble friend Lord Onslow about some delay in the processing of felling licence applications which have been made in respect of remaining trees following the storm. I willingly support the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, that delay from any party in the processing of applications should not be condoned.
400 Both in the public and the private sector the target is to reach considered views of prospects and plans for the start of the next planting season later this year. For their part the Government will make a statement of their intentions in good time for the start of that season. In the meantime we shall be taking note of any further representations which may be made on this matter. I can however make two announcements now about additional funds for the Countryside Commission.
First, in the current financial year we are increasing the commission's grant-in-aid by a further £500,000, of which £250,000 will be available for tree planting. Secondly, we are making available a further sum of almost £800,000 to supplement the commission's planting programme in 1988–e that your Lordships will accept this as a clear sign of the Government's desire to see restoration of the damage wrought by the storm and of our wish to facilitate such planting as far as practicable. However, to reflect the essential partnership role of local authorities in longer-term efforts of recovery, the maximum rate of grant aid available for planting by local authorities next season will revert to the former rate of 50 per cent. of the cost to the authority.
The storm affected many people, farmers, forresters, owners of parks and gardens, and individual householders. Even those who are not directly involved are moved by a profound sense of personal loss when they see the extensive damage to the treescape of the countryside, which is our national heritage. Because the effects of the storm were wide-ranging, so is involvement in tackling its aftermath. The Forestry Commission in respect of commercial timber, the Ministry of Agriculture with regard to farms and my department in respect of amenity trees are all concerned in this matter. I can assure the House that we shall continue to liaise closely within government and with professional, environmental and other bodies in the task ahead for all of us.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes past eight o'clock.