§ LORD LOVAT had given Notice to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the importance of the question of timber at the Ottawa Conference, and to ask what steps are being taken to see that His Majesty's representatives are adequately informed on technical matters connected with the timber trade; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I raise the Question which stands in my name because I dare say it will be admitted that forestry in this country is not dealt with by any Minister but by a Department under the Treasury, and it is quite possible that the importance of the subject has not been fully appreciated. The importance of the timber question at the Ottawa Conference can, I think, roughly speaking, be spoken of in this way. In the first place, timber production is one of the important functions of the Government. They are already the owners of some 200,000 acres of timber land, they are planting timber at the rate of between 25,000 and 30,000 acres a year, and in addition, they have in mind the creation of State forests to the extent of 1,500,000 acres, which eventually will undoubtedly have a value which may be reckoned possibly up to £100,000,000.
§ At the present time I think it would be no exaggeration to say that the value of the timber, including the land and other things in the Crown woods, must amount to several million pounds, possibly ten million pounds. Some years ago the gross revenue of the forestry Department was over £100,000. Probably it is more to-day. Therefore a conference which is to deal with timber supply, with tariffs and matters of that nature, must be of real importance to His Majesty's Government. I hope I make this point quite clear. Already the Government is by far the largest timber owner in Great Britain and probably it will become equal to the whole of all the other owners, municipal and private, of timber in this country.
§ There is another reason why timber is of such importance and that is from the point of view of employment. It has always been very difficult to get the exact number of people employed, either in the creation of plantations or in the conversion of the trees into timber, but I think 915 I shall not be far wrong in saying that between 35,000 and 36,000 men are so employed at the present day. Given adequate marketing of timber, which of course means increased care for woodlands, that number could probably be doubled or more than doubled. Then there is the employment given by saw milling to be taken into account, and as home timber is comparatively a small proportion the number of men employed in the saw-milling of foreign timber must be very high. Owing to the fact that there is little or no differentiation between tariffs levied on converted and partly converted timber no fewer than 13,500 saw millers were out of employment, according to an answer given in the House of Commons, in the month of February. I believe the number is higher to-day, but I have not checked the figures since. It is, however, undoubtedly the fact that never in recent years has the saw-milling trade of the country been in a worse condition than it is to-day. The question of timber imports and the question of what tariff should be levied and of what preference should be given will be discussed at Ottawa. Therefore from the point of view of employment, of timber ownership by the State, of the returns from State-owned woods, this question is very important.
§ Its importance will be seen if we take the actual volume of trade. Imports are something between £40,000,000 and £50,000,000 per annum. Both in quantity and in value imports of timber have been increasing steadily during the last fifty years. I am aware that at the present time, partly because of the inundation of markets by timber produced in Russia with no regard to economics, prices are lower to-day than they were last year or in 1929. Notwithstanding the introduction of substitutes it is the universal experience that the higher the civilisation the higher is the amount of timber used per head of the population. Certainly Canada regards this question of timber as second only in importance to wheat, and the Colonies—which, of course, are less articulate in the sense that they have not the opportunity of stating their position—are even more interested because timber is their principal production and the principal source to which they can look for increase of trade. While soft wood requirements can only be met in part from the 916 Dominions practically the whole of hardwood requirements can be met, and the hardwood used in this country represents something between £5,000,000 and £7,000,000 per annum.
§ From another point of view also this will be a matter of importance at the Conference because when you come to the final reckoning it will not merely be a question of sentiment but a question of bargaining. It is a question which will differ from the question of food imports. In the one case you will deal with a matter in which price is of absolutely vital interest whereas in the other case the question of food prices can be met by loss on the part of the consumer or On the part of the already over-burdened farmers in this country. One would imagine when there is such a clear direct Government interest—I say "direct" because the Government in the near future may be a producer of timber of anything between £50,000,000 and £100,000,000 and to-day is interested to the extent of £10,000,000—that the Government would have acted as any ordinary trading body would do and sent somebody with full knowledge of the subject to represent their interests. I can understand in the case of agriculture and the manufacturing industries that they might be asked to send their own representatives, but in this matter the State has a very direct show of its own to look after.
§ We all know the hundreds of individuals who go out to Geneva and Locarno and other Conferences. Surely when they are sent out in such numbers and treated with such munificence it is not too much to ask that an important industry in which the Government itself has such a big stake should be properly represented at Ottawa. What has been done? In agriculture you had an advisory committee, and though I do not compare the importance of forestry with that of agriculture the State has no great farms like it has great woodlands. All that has been done is that some sort of general invitation common to all industries has been issued to the Timber Trades Federation and I understand that up to yesterday the business advisers had not yet seen the committee of that federation. Time is going on, and this is a most technical question that, in my submission, has been grossly underrated in value. May I make a suggestion? The 917 matter is important from a bargaining point of view and it is important in relation to employment, and my suggestion is that you should here and now appoint an Advisory Committee on exactly the same lines as you have appointed an Agricultural Committee. Probably you have the facts, and those you appoint should have them. You ought to have represented on that Committee your own interests as represented by the Forestry Commission, you should have also the sylvicultural interest, the scientific and research interests and, more than anything else, you should have the trade interests, the saw-millers of this country and the importers from abroad.
§ From that Advisory Committee I submit that you would get your facts presented with a knowledge that would equal the information of those whom they are going to meet. The casual invitation which has been issued is not at all sufficient. An answer was given in another place to Mr. Ramsay the other day which was most offhand and bore no relation at all to the great stake which the Government has in this matter. High as is the opinion I have of the Timber Trades Federation I am not at all satisfied that they are the group who should necessarily give advice on either the interests of the State or the interest of producers here and abroad. I need not go into the whole question of imports at the present time, but it is common knowledge that our soft wood supplies come in the main, and always must come, from the Baltic States. It is also certain that for a considerable time—and in my opinion for ever—we shall necessarily have to import from Russia several hundred thousand standards. Their terms of sale are attractive to buyers here and the average importer finds it more simple to get delivery from them than to go to a new country. It is obvious that these gentlemen of the timber trade may not necessarily be the best advisers at Ottawa and yet, so far as one can see from the action the Government has taken, they are likely to be our only advisers. In asking His Majesty's Government what steps they have taken I would point out that the steps taken up to date are remarkably small. I submit that there is still time for a Committee on the lines I have suggested to be formed, and if it is formed you could get valuable advice. Surely in 918 the ordinary course of business in view of the interests involved it is worth while sending someone to Ottawa well able to represent our industry. You would not be criticised if you took what would be regarded by the country as a whole as an ordinary trading precaution for safeguarding our interests.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
My Lords, I am very pleased that Lord Lovat has emphasised the point brought forward in his Motion. I happened to be in Ottawa only a short time ago and had the opportunity of discussing with the Prime Minister and other Ministers various questions of trade and in particular the question of timber. One point that was emphasised was that whatever may be arranged at the Ottawa Conference it will take a long time before trade can actually experience any material benefit, and whatever the time, long or short, may be, it will be very much longer unless those who attend the Conference have at their back all the technical information they require for them to deal with all the points that may arise. I can say that so far as Canada is concerned they will welcome wholeheartedly any technical information that may be available to those dealing wit h timber questions.
I happened to be the president of a trade mission and some were good enough to say that from the point of view of immediate employment and benefit of industry, a trade mission such as ours would have more immediate effect than perhaps even a Conference. That may or may not be so, but I know this. We were only there seven days, but before we cast off from the wharf at Montreal there were orders leaving our shores here in response to cables, as a result of our mission. There were nearly ninety merchants and manufacturers in the mission, representing 148 different lines of industry, and not one single man on the ship was disappointed with the business achieved. What was the secret of our success? It was that every single man was a technical expert, who knew his business from A to Z. It shows the importance of those who attend a Conference being supported by all the technical information and knowledge available.
I am sorry to say that the Forestry Department in this country is rather under a cloud over there. It is a small matter, 919 and I only mention it because I think it could be put right. It seems that a little time ago we asked the Canadian Forestry Department to collect large quantities of seed. They went to much trouble and expense to collect it, and then, because we had cut down our own forestry operations in this country for reasons of national economy, we told them that the seed, or a very large proportion of it, was not wanted, and we left them to foot the bill. It was indicated that if anything more was to be done between our Department and theirs, there would require to be some guarantee that there should be no repetition of this. If I may do so, I would suggest that perhaps some steps should be taken to square this matter before the Conference. A little oil now would lubricate business in the future.
There was one other point of interest to trade, and that was the question of the importation of paper and wood pulp. It was pointed out that by reason of the tariff imposed by America it was very difficult indeed for Canada to hold her position in the United States market, and especially against a country like Scandinavia, where wages and transportation charges were lower. It is possible that perhaps we could help Canada by giving a preference to Scandinavia, so as to draw her pulp from the American market. Whatever arrangement is made it will have to be an arrangement for dovetailing the British and Canadian interests, and if we can help Canada, directly or indirectly, we should do so. Whatever arrangement is made we must go into the Conference with all the knowledge and information available.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL DE LA WARR)
My Lords, the two speeches to which we have just listened will have convinced all of us who needed any convincing on this subject, of the tremendous importance of the point which Lord Lovat has raised. What the noble Lord wants, I think, and I hope I shall be able to give him, is some reassurance that the Government are making adequate preparation for dealing with this subject satisfactorily at Ottawa. Perhaps that point can best be dealt with if I put before the noble Lord the exact preparations that are being made. The Government have appointed seven indus- 920 trial advisers to form part of the United Kingdom delegation:—three trade advisers, Sir Gilbert Vyle, Lord Weir and Sir Alan Anderson; two advisers appointed by the Trades Union Congress, Mr. Citrine and Mr. Bromley; Sir Edward Davson, to advise on Colonial trade matters; and Sir Douglas Newton, to advise on matters of particular agricultural importance.
It is quite obvious, if we consider for a moment the numbers of trades and industries which exist in this country and which are bound to come up for discussion at Ottawa, that it is impossible to have one representative for every trade, and I am sure that the noble Lord would be the very first to admit that. On the other hand we have appointed these three special trade advisers and Sir Douglas Newton for dealing with agriculture, and the position is that it is open to all trades and industries to approach these advisers and put the whole of their case before them. The noble Lord complains that until a very late date there has not been consultation with the Timber Trades Federation, or any other body interested in the timber trade of this country. That is the responsibility of the trade itself, and from inquiries I have made—
You cannot expect the trade to look after your interest. You, the State, are directly interested in this matter, because you are the biggest timber producers here.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I was not dealing with the particular discussions which may take place between the Forestry Commission and the Government. I was disussing for a moment the private side of the trade, and I was saying that so, far as the inquiries I have made have been answered I gather that in no case have the trade advisers approached any trade. It has been up to the trade or industry to approach the trade advisers, and put their case before them, and the reason why there has not been prior discussion with the Timber Trades Federation or any other body, is that up to a very few days ago they had not made any application. The noble Lord raised another point, which is that he feels the Timber Trades Federation are not likely to be entirely representative of all the interests in the home producing timber trade.
May I again interrupt? That is exactly my point. To-day the importers can buy all the timber they want in the easiest possible way, and moreover he heavily remunerated. Why should they go unless you ask for their assistance?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
That is exactly the point I was coming to in my speech. If it be said that the producers of this country are not satisfied with the representation of the Timber Trades Federation—and the noble Lord has given us very strong reasons why they should not be so satisfied—then there is no reason why the producers in this country themselves should not also state their case to the trade advisers. It is entirely up to them to make use of the machinery that exists, and what I would put to your Lordships is that this lack of contact—and that there has been a lack of contact must be admitted—is not the fault of the machinery, but is due to the regrettable fact that the machinery which does exist, and which, if used, will turn out to be fully satisfactory, has not been used either by the timber trade or (if we are going to make this distinction) by the home producers of timber. There is nothing that the Government would welcome more than the opportunity of getting hold of the full opinion of all the various interests in the different sections of the timber trade. I hope that they will be put into the position of being able to do so in the near future.
I particularly stress the point that if the Timber Trades Federation are not regarded as satisfactory representation, then it is up to those who feel that they are not being represented by that federation to put up their own representation through the machinery provided by the Government. I think then that I can assure the noble Lord that he and those with him—and I know that there are many who are anxious on this point; the noble Lord is not speaking for himself alone—will find that the interests of the home producers, particularly of timber in this country, will be adequately represented at the Conference at Ottawa. There is one further point—namely, that there is nothing to prevent a trade sending its own representatives to Canada in 922 order that they may be available on the spot for consultation with the industrial advisers, should the need arise. I understand that a number of trades are doing that, and there is nothing to prevent this trade doing so also.
My Lords, I cannot say I am satisfied with the noble Earl's answer, which does not deal with a great many of the points that I raised. He has not told us in any way how the State forestry industry is going to be represented at Ottawa. Are the Timber Trades Federation going to represent the interests of the Forestry Commission at Ottawa? After all, we are far the biggest people who are interested. I would ask the noble Earl carefully to consider my suggestion that just as the Government have done with agriculture appointing men representing every branch of agriculture—I happen to be one myself, we have met with the greatest harmony, we have had very few meetings, but we knew our subject and quickly got through our work, and I do not think it is breaking any confidence to say that our report is nearly ready—it would be quite easy to appoint a committee, and you could then choose as your representative someone who knows something about forestry to be chairman of that committee. Then you could go forward and say you had really dealt with the subject. There is very grave dissatisfaction among those who have the misfortune to grow forests or to be interested in the State forestry development, but still greater dissatisfaction among those who know something about the Empire and who know by direct evidence that at Ottawa they do not think they are going to have a square deal before they start. I think it would remove a great deal of this anxiety, which undoubtedly exists in the non-self-governing Colonies to-day, if you had quite a small committee appointed, covering those branches that I have mentioned, with Sir Douglas Newton as your representative, who could then say that at all events you would study the matter properly and that your own State industry was going to be represented as well as one particular section.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.