§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Debate on Second Reading resumed.
§ THE EARL OF BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
My Lords, I owe the noble Earl opposite an apology for not having given him notice of various points I was going to raise. Unfortunately, this was due to circumstances beyond my control. Other noble Lords have already raised some of the points that I had in mind, and no doubt we shall receive an answer to them in due course. The noble Earl who moved the Second Reading of the Bill mentioned, among other things, the quota system which is now applied. Now that the census of woodland figures is available, I understand that the Forestry Commission will in future relate allocations to the felling of standing timber in those regions. I understand that this will do much to meet the criticism of the quota system that has been made in the past, but I should like to get an assurance from His Majesty's Government, if possible, to the effect that that is going to happen.
418 It has already been said that the Bill places in the hands of the Minister and therefore, in effect, of the Forestry Commission, complete control over the felling or the restriction of felling of timber. The noble Earl, Lord Haddington, rightly said that no other country has this control, and he instanced the Scandinavian countries. I should like to refer to one of those countries which I had the pleasure of visiting in September last year on a Royal English Forestry Society outing. The country I wish to take as an example is Denmark. They have probably some of the finest woods, both beech and softwoods, in the world. There they have regional boards which arc manned by members who are private woodland owners, and I should like to support the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, in pressing for something of the nature of the county agricultural executive committees that we have in farming. Could not some sort of board on these lines be established under this Bill? What principles are the Forestry Commission going to apply when granting licences, to ensure that permanent restrictions do not affect normal forestry development, and that they are not used in an arbitrary manner? Then again, with regard to felling licences for odd lots, I hope that the Forestry Commission will interpret their duties, particularly as regards hardwoods, so as to be helpful both towards the timber shortage and to agriculture. Time and again one comes across the argument between the agriculturist and the forestry owner as to whether or not certain timber should be cut down. Surely the Forestry Commission could help with that.
Subsection (5) of Clause 4 seems to me to be very complicated. As I understand it, a short summary of it might read something like this: In the first place, an application for a licence is refused and there is no appeal. On the expiry of three years from the date of the refusal of the first application there is a right of appeal in the case of an application made after that date being refused. In the case of an application made after the expiry of five years from the date that the appeal has been refused, a further appeal is competent against any decision refusing a licence. The noble Earl who moved the Second Reading said that the reason for there being no appeal on the first occasion was the cost of conducting so many 419 appeals. Surely, there is no justification for legislation impinging on the subject's rights without a proper review of administrative decision. Apparently there is nothing to stop a land owner repeatedly making applications for a licence, but the right of appeal is limited. Cannot this be put right?
Now, a word about the compensation clause. This clause seems to be unsatisfactory, as there is no adequate provision for measuring the loss in a fair manner if a licence is refused. Surely there should be some form of arriving at that. If a licence is refused, and application is made again, some three years later, surely the timber should be measured and valued at the date of the refusal of the licence, and the same timber should be valued at the subsequent date, when a licence is obtained. That seems to me to be common sense, but there appears to be no provision for that at the moment. Finally, under Clause 10, in the event of a dispute, whether directions are carried out or not, there should be provision for referring to arbitration, or, alternatively, as I have already mentioned, would it not be better to refer the matter to a panel consisting of a member, say, of one of the forestry societies, whether in England or Scotland, one representative of each of the land owners federations, such as the Country Landowners' Association in England and the Scottish Landowners' Federation in Scotland, and the chairman of the regional committee? My Lords, I put forward these suggestions with regard to this Bill.
§ 4.24 p.m.
My Lords, may I say how warmly I agree with all that has been said by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and by the noble Earl, Lord Haddington? I think it has been made clear that there is a good deal of dissatisfaction over the fact that people who are intimately concerned with forestry have not been consulted upon this matter. The noble Earl, Lord Haddington, gave a list of names of great foresters who in the past have helped the Forestry Commission and the country. I feel that it will be most unfair to the country if in the future the full value of their experience is not made available for the benefit of the nation. The cost to the country of having that benefit will be nothing, but it will be an enormous 420 national loss if such people are not allowed to work in close co-operation with the Forestry Commission.
I should also like to say a word about the shortness of the period allowed us in which to consider this Bill; one feels that one owes an apology to the House for speaking without having been able to make proper preparation. Speaking for Scotland, I may say that it was only as recently as Friday that a small committee meeting was held in Edinburgh to discuss this matter. Clearly, it has been quite impossible for people to inform themselves as fully as they would wish upon the many aspects of the subject. Many people would like to have adequate time to study the subject, and there are a number who would have wished to be present here to-day, but who have been unable to come owing to the shortness of the notice. The result of the notice being so short is that, instead of being properly primed by others with fuller knowledge, one has had to think out for oneself what one would wish to contribute to this debate.
I should like to say a few words about Clause 5, which deals with the question of compensation for loss caused by the refusal of a licence. It seems to be generally admitted that as loss is due to the decision of the Commission to refuse a licence, the owner concerned should be compensated. Strangely enough, this compensation is limited to compensation for deterioration in quality after the refusal. In my view, however, this is one of the least likely causes of loss. You may have a loss from the fluctuation of market value; you may have losses from windblow and storms; and loss of increment. The rubric of this clause seems to be what one might reasonably expect, Compensation for loss through refusal of licence. If this compensation is limited to quality then I think the word "quality" needs definition. I do not quite agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has said in this connection. He said that if there was a loss in value it was something which the owner should be prepared to bear. I do not think that is good either for the owner or for the country.
May I take three very common trees, and follow up what happens owing to the refusal of a licence? Take first of all a beech tree. If a beech tree at a 421 certain time of its life has white timber it can be used for making such things as baskets for strawberries—punnets, they are called. The timber for making such baskets must be white. Beech trees can be sold at from 5s. to 6s. a cubic foot at the present time if those trees are white. If they begin to get dark in colour the value goes down. It is very difficult to determine, but they do pass through a period of change, as I have frequently seen. Their white colour goes; they become dark, and they lose their value. They may then be worth only half what they were when they were white. One cannot say that there is any deterioration in the quality, but there has been a great loss to the owner, owing to the deterioration in value.
Next, take what we call in Scotland a plane tree—better known as a sycamore. In our part of the country, and indeed elsewhere, there is a great demand for this timber for making rollers for jute mills in Dundee and Calcutta. One can cut trees of about the age of forty-five years which are valuable for this purpose. They have only a 9½ inch to 7½ inch quarter girth, and they can be disposed of at a good price, as there is a big demand for them, and they are sold by the running foot. If a felling licence for those trees is refused when they have reached that size there will be no further demand at a special price for another ninety or hundred years, when the quarter girth is about 23 inches: the trees can then be used in the big cotton mills for printing. From the point of view of value, the passing of ninety or a hundred years is a serious matter. The owner cannot say that the quality of the limber has deteriorated, although its special price has gone. I remember that in the 1914 war there was a great demand for ash trees for building aeroplanes. It was essential to have a quickly grown ash, a young tree with no heart wood. There was a big demand at a good price. If a licence were refused for that, the young ash would never again be of any value for building aeroplanes, because when the heart wood is formed it becomes tough, and loses its resiliency and pliability. The quality of the timber has not deteriorated, but its special value has gone.
I think it is true that the intention of the Bill is to avoid a loss. Is there any 422 way, then, that the Government would consider by which this loss could be met? I suggest that the simple and essential way to meet this difficulty is for the timber to be measured and valued at the date of the refusal of a licence, and for the same timber to be revalued when a licence is subsequently obtained. If the value of the timber at the date of the original refusal of a licence exceeds its value at the date when the licence is subsequently granted, the owner should be paid the difference between these two values as compensation, plus simple interest for the period on the amount of the first valuation. The interest is important, because that would cover the natural increment value of the trees. At present, so far as I can see, there is no allowance made for any increment value. If a system of valuation were admitted, that would meet many of the other difficulties that are bound to arise in discussing the quality of timber.
Over and above increment, the other main way in which loss may be experienced is through windblow. In Scotland, more than in England, the question of windblow is of real importance. Throughout my lifetime, from the Tay Bridge disaster onwards, every few years we have a really serious storm, and a vast number of trees are blown down. Is it fair that an owner who is prevented from realising the value of the crop of trees should be entirely at a loss if they are destroyed by storm? The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said that he thought it was not unreasonable for the owner to face that loss. I find it a little difficult to think it is reasonable not to compensate an owner in such a case, which is a very real one in Scotland. Your Lordships will know that trees which have been blown down cannot be sold at the same price as standing timber, owing to the cost of cutting and clearing. But if some principle of valuation could be brought in, that would be of great value.
There are one or two other points which I should like to mention. The noble Earl. Lord Haddington, brought up the question of policy woods. I think that is an important point, which might be accepted under Clause 2. I know that my noble friend Lord Robinson is very sympathetic to the preservation of woodlands inside policies, and I hope that that matter will receive further consideration. The question of Clause 4 has been dealt 423 with fully. There is one point in Clause 11 which I hope will receive further consideration. If it is made an offence to break the rules, I think it is unfortunate to provide for the imposition of large fines, because good will is of great importance. The people who are responsible for the management of estates have shown that they are very willing to co-operate with the Government and the Forestry Commission, and to hold out penalties of this sort seems to me to be unfortunate and unnecessary. I suggest that the fines should be considerably reduced. The amounts of £50 and £100 are excesive. I apologise for the somewhat rambling nature of my remarks, but the short time we have had to study this Bill is partly responsible.
§ 4.37 p.m.
My Lords, many of us are bitterly disappointed at some of the provisions in this Bill. Surely the facts ought to speak for themselves. The target for the forests of this country is placed by the Forestry Commission at 5,000,000 acres. Of those, 2,000,000 acres are to be private woodlands and 3,000,000 acres are to be planted and maintained by the Forestry Commission. The proportion is two to three; yet in the provisions of the Bill the private woodland owners and managers are given no say whatever, in either an advisory or an executive capacity. They are completely ignored; and they are ignored by the same Minister who for many years past has been setting up all over the country joint committees, consultative committees, tribunals and commissions for agriculture. What is the difference? If the Minister considers it necessary to have these bodies for agriculture, why does he make a difference as regards forestry? Forestry is just as much a rural occupation as agriculture and just as important to the country.
When we look at the Bill, we find that the Forestry Commission are placed in a position of overwhelming dictatorship, without there being any appeal except to some imaginary individual appointed by the Minister and who reports to the Minister if anyone feels aggrieved. That cannot be right. Your Lordships know well the uproar that has been caused because there is no proper appeal under the Town and Country Planning Act. 424 This Bill will lead to the same uproar. I do not believe that the people of this country wish to be treated in this way by Government Departments, because it is entirely contrary to all that has gone before. It is this Government who have introduced these new undemocratic principles.
The reason why the Minister of Agriculture has made the provisions in all these agricultural Acts is because he considers that it helps to increase production. That is exactly what this Bill is supposed to do. It is supposed to increase the production of young plantations, while at the same time preventing the felling of immature timber and, in the national interests, in some cases refusing licences when timber is mature. The primary object is not to maintain mature timber, but to increase production and plant the unproductive or felled areas. The Minister cannot have it both ways: he cannot be right in agriculture and wrong in forestry. The proof of the fact that he is right in agriculture is that agriculture has increased its production enormously in the last ten years, and is the only industry which has reached its production targets. If the Minister wishes forestry to reach its targets of replanting, then surely he must take those who plant and manage trees into co-operation and co-partnership with the Forestry Commission. I am sure that no private owners of woodlands wish to be placed in a position above that of the Forestry Commission; we wish to be treated as equal partners. That has already been mentioned, and it is the crux of the objection to this Bill as drafted. I hope that the noble Earl in charge of the Bill will take the Bill back and give it second thoughts.
There are hundreds of reasons why such co-operation is necessary, but one of the most valid and important is this. More than thirty years ago—that is to say, before the Forestry Commission was born—every tree in a wood in this country, except those growing on Crown lands, had been planted by private wood-land owners. The Government have conveniently ignored the fact that the whole of the ripe timber in this year 1951 was planted by private woodland owners: those owners are entirely placed on one side in favour of that admirable and most efficient body the Forestry Commission. We do not think that is good enough, or 425 that it is wise from the point of view of the Government. If they really want to get planting done, they should consult the people who plant. A good deal of play has been made about the felled areas and what the noble Earl who introduced the Bill described as "the indiscriminate exploitation of woods between the two wars." I do not think that phrase will bear looking into; I very much doubt if there was indiscriminate exploitation. If the noble Earl will read the Report of the Forestry Commission of 1943, and their Report for 1944, he will find that they go out of their way to compliment the owners of private woodlands for the efforts they have made to clear and replant. The two statements do not agree. I hope the noble Earl will be able to take back some, at least, of the aspersion;; he has cast on the owners of private woodlands.
Most of the clauses of the Bill have already been covered by previous speakers, but I should like to refer once more to Clause 12. I was somewhat surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley—who, noble Lords will remember, was in charge of the Town and Country Planning Bill when it went through your Lordships' House—was unable to understand the clause, or the noble Earl's explanation of it—the noble Lord is no longer in the Chamber, or perhaps he could explain it. I followed the noble Earl some distance in his explanation, and I believe it to be this. The planning authority, of course, makes the order. Subsequently the Forestry Commissioners, on an application made to them, can issue a felling licence regarding trees that are under a preservation order, subject to their consulting the planning authority and, of course, having regard to the purposes of the tree preservation order. That may be all right, but I cannot think that it will lead to anything but great confusion of mind and considerable friction between the three parties concerned—namely, the owners of the timber, the planning authority and the Forestry Commissioners.
But what will really complicate the matter is when action under subsection (3) comes into force; that is to say, thatThe Commissioners may, instead of refusing or granting a licence … refer the application to the authority …426 Then the provisions of this Bill, apparently, will not apply. If it is so difficult for members of your Lordships' House, including the noble Lord who was in charge of the Town and Country Planning Act, to understand, how much more so will it be for the ordinary citizen? How is the ordinary man in the street, who is confused beyond measure by the present Town and Country Planning Act, to understand the terribly involved provisions of what is really amending legislation to the tree preservation orders, which is contained in Clause 12? I hope the noble Earl will simplify that matter, because it is capable of simplification if a determined effort is made. The people who have to deal with these subjects, the local government officials, and so on, cannot keep pace with the complexity of legislation that is now coming forward. I meet instances of that every day. I showed this clause yester-day to the senior solicitor of a local planning authority, and his first reaction to it was that it meant that no further tree preservation orders would be made. That may or may not be a good thing, but that was his reaction. I notice that the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, is smiling, but the noble Lord, Lord Chorley would not smile —he would not think that at all a good result of this legislation. I am afraid I have detained your Lordships for rather a long time. In the opinion of many noble Lords on this side of the House, the Bill as it stands is not a good Bill, and I hope that sufficient time will be given between this stage and the Committee stage in order that a determined effort may be made to improve it.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I should like to echo the last words of my noble friend who has just addressed this House. It seems to me most important that adequate time should be given before the Committee stage is taken, in view of the nature of the Bill and in view of the manner in which it has been brought forward. It is not too much to say that this Bill reeks of bureaucracy. It was prepared in secret it has been brought forward at very short notice; none of the recognised mouthpieces of private forestry has been consulted; and it vests dictatorial powers in the Forestry Commission. Perhaps we can be told what is the difference under this Bill 427 between woodland which has not been dedicated and land which has been dedicated. It seems to me that everybody's woodlands are treated as if they were dedicated land without any of the compensating features of dedication, and without any of the permanent guarantee that an agreed plan affords a land owner. Henceforth, nobody is to be allowed to manage his own woods without the Forestry Commission having the right to come down and prescribe how he is to conduct the management, and doing all this without in any proper sense shouldering the financial responsibility which rests on the owner of the woods.
The Forestry Commission were never appointed for this sort of purpose. The Commission were appointed many years ago in order to plant and conduct large State forests. They have not planted anything like the land that they have acquired; they have always been behind in their scheduled programme, and although they have done some excellent work in providing the State with forests, I submit that their composition does not warrant their being given powers of this sort. They were never intended to exercise powers of this sort. They were intended for a certain limited purpose— the purpose of acquiring land, planting it and managing it. That they have done with a very considerable measure of success, although, as I said before, they have not planted anything like the land they have acquired, and they have been behind in their programme nearly every year of their existence. Yet this is the body which is given the most dictatorial powers over other people's property.
I would call the attention of your Lordships to Clause 2(2)(g), which prohibits anybody from cutting in one calendar month more than 275 cubic feet without the permission of the Forestry Commission. That figure is put into the Bill without any reference to the size of the estate in question. If you own twenty acres of woodland you can cut your 275 cubic feet in a month, but if, like some of our leading foresters, you own several thousand acres of woodlands, you are still limited to the same figure. Could anything be more ridiculous than that? If an owner of large forests cuts one more tree after his woodmen have cut the permitted figure in any one month, in the ordinary course of forestry operations or 428 in the carrying out of some improvement to the property, he is liable to be fined £100. Perhaps I am wrong in saying that, because if the tree measures 3 inches in diameter, then he is not liable to a fine of £100, but if the tree measures 3½ inches in diameter, then he is liable to a fine of £100, and that with a very inadequate measure of appeal.
I should also like to draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 8 (4), which says:If any person to whom directions are given under this Act claims that compliance with those directions would involve him in a net loss,then he can call upon the appropriate Minister—whoever that may mean—to acquire his interest in the land affected by the directions.But that has nothing to do with the ownership of the land. It is no adequate compensation to an owner of a property, on whom loss is inflicted by Act of Parliament, to say: "Then I will buy your land." It would be possible to wreck the amenities of a property by buying a bit of land in the middle of it. If a loss is inflicted upon any of His Majesty's subjects, I submit that that loss should be fully compensated in cash. I therefore support the plea of my noble friend Lord De La Warr, and other noble Lords, that the sort of powers which are sought by the Government in this Bill should not be exercised by the Forestry Commission, but should be exercised by local committees set up after the manner of the county agricultural committees. Let the Forestry Commission carry on with the job for which they were created, but if the State, maybe for good reasons—for reasons of national safety or for reasons of amenity—says that a land owner must not be allowed to do what he thinks right with his woods, then the question at issue should be decided by local committees, having local knowledge and looking at the question at issue from the widest point of view. The Forestry Commission are experts in forestry—they do not profess to be anything else. God save this country from ever being governed by experts in anything! On questions of what we should do with our woods, it is not merely questions of forestry which arise. As the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has pointed out, there is the question of amenity. I certainly would not trust 429 questions of amenity to the Forestry Commission. It is hardly possible to open the papers any day without seeing some protest at some act of vandalism committed by the Forestry Commission.
Then there are questions of agriculture. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, who said that he hoped it would be made compulsory for every wood felled to be replanted. I can conceive that generally that may be the proper course to adopt, but I submit that it is not necessarily always the case. The land on which that wood once stood may be much too good for forestry: it may be better employed for growing wheat or some other valuable crop. I myself have cut down and reclaimed over 100 acres of woodland, and have devoted that land to other crops, and I maintain that that was in the interests of the country. It is not to be assumed that every portion of land that is covered by woods should always be covered by woods. Noble Lords are aware that in fruit-growing districts frost can inflict great damage on the fruit trees—especially in May. Frosts are caused by stagnant cold air, and it is possible to eliminate frosts by improving the air drainage so that the cold air drains away into the valleys and the higher ground is left frost-free. That is a very common practice in fruit-growing areas. In order to do that it might be necessary to cut down a wood—and it might be right to do so. In that case it would obviously be foolish to replant the wood; that land ought to remain permanently devoted to agriculture or to some crop that does not interfere with the more valuable crop.
I suggest that the Forestry Commission would be very bad judges of questions of that sort. The question is a wider one than of that forestry. I am reminded of a report by a forestry enthusiast which I happened to read on operations of my own. The report said:Forestry on this estate seems to have been sacrificed to fruit growing.It was written as if he had discovered something very reprehensible. It is simply a question of what is the most suitable crop for the land in question and that, as I have suggested, should be decided by a committee conversant with local factors, who will look at the problem as a whole, and not merely from the point of view of scientific forestry. The wider point of view and, above all, the 430 amenities of the countryside, must be kept in sight. I hold that the people who live in the country are the best guardians of the amenities of the country, and they do not want people sitting in London dictating to them what amenities they are to have and of what amenities they are to be deprived.
§ 5.5 p.m.
My Lords, two or three points have been made in this debate which I wish to underline. On the whole. I think the Bill ought to be welcomed by your Lordships, although it needs amendment and I hope it will receive amendment on the Committee stage. There seem to me to be two main faults in this Bill. First, I entirely agree with those who have said that there is too much centralisation in it and that there should be set up, probably in the counties throughout the country. some organisation similar to the county agricultural executive committees. I have urged this before but I would go a little further than any speaker has: gone this afternoon. I have always thought that there should be a closer marriage between forestry and agriculture, and the only way of achieving that is not merely to have a committee similar to the agricultural committee but to put forestry and agriculture under the same committee; and that that joint committee should have representatives of both farming and forestry round its table, sitting together and working together. I think the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, is sufficient proof of the necessity of some such committee. Then, the misunderstandings as to whether land should be used for fruit growing or forestry could be settled by one committee, who would have nobody but themselves with whom to argue. That, to my mind, is the only way in which land throughout the country can be utilised to the best advantage.
The second criticism I have—and this is only a minor one—is that on the whole this Bill does not sufficiently protect the amenities. A good deal has been said about this matter. I think that what Lord Chorley said deserves the attention of His Majesty's Government, and there should certainly be some Amendments made to this Bill in order to safeguard amenities. I do not suggest for a moment that the Forestry Commission will ignore this matter. I believe that the Forestry 431 Commission really has a soul and that these things do not entirely escape this body which is so often criticised as being cold, calculating and bureaucratic. But the fact that its offices are not in White-hall but in Savile Row does not altogether exempt it from the criticisms which used to be applied to the former thoroughfare.
I wish to say a few words about tree preservation orders. These orders have caused a great deal of trouble and difficulty. I have always said that they were necessary, unpleasant though some people think they are. They were necessary because, whatever may be said about land owners and their organisations and how well they have done—and I agree that they have done very well—let us remember that there are in the countryside some thoroughly bad land owners. They may be only few; but there are people who do not join the land owners' societies, who do not pay subscriptions to the forestry societies, and who do not, in fact, pay anything to anybody. These are the people who have necessitated tree preservation orders. On the other hand, I have equally no doubt that tree preservation orders have been abused. I know instances in which they have been carried to absurd lengths—where, for instance, rows of dead trees have been included in a preservation order. I believe that on the whole this Bill gets somewhere near to the right answer to the problem. No doubt Clause 12 does need looking at very carefully and probably amending; but I am satisfied that, as a whole, the Bill comes somewhere near the right answer as regards tree preservation orders.
On the subject of amenities, may I refer to what the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said about the vandalism of the Forestry Commission? It is true that there is a great deal of criticism, in the Press and elsewhere of what is called the vandalism of the Forestry Commission. But may I respectfully say that a vast amount of nonsense has been written and talked about this particular subject? Whenever the Forestry Commission at long last find a bit of land which they think is suitable for planting, in almost every case there is widespread opposition. I believe it to be a fact that, if once the trees get planted and survive and grow and are subsequently felled, there will be an almost equal amount of opposition 432 when they are felled, and a great deal of the opposition will come from the same people who opposed the planting of them. That sounds a little farfetched, but in certain cases I am satisfied that that is so. It only illustrates the fact that this agitation is really due to pure conservatism, a preference for having everything as it is and an objection to having things altered.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, criticised the noble Earl who introduced this Bill for what he said about the "exploitation between the wars." He did not like the word "exploitation." I am bound to say that there was a certain amount of exploitation. The majority of good land owners, I agree, are not to blame for that, but a small minority most certainly are. What I want to tackle in seeing this Bill passed are the small isolated areas of land which are absolutely wasting. I am allergic to waste of land. If it is said: "Why does not the owner plant it?" and the reply is given, "Well, he cannot afford to plant it," then, in my view, the owner should cease to be the owner of it, and he should let someone else try. I think that is reasonable. In most cases the piece of land which is being wasted is an eyesore. It ought not to be allowed to go on. I do not want to be misunderstood, and I do not want it to be thought that I am making any sort of attack on the great majority of land owners. I am not. I myself am a member of their organisations. I know full well that the bad owner of whom I am speaking is a rarity, but if this Bill succeeds in curing this evil it will have done a great deal of good.
There is another point to be considered. When the Forestry Commission take land for planting—that is, agricultural land and not former woodland—they are always criticised, in some cases rightly, because they have not taken former woodland. It comes back to the same thing. It is the former woodland, the derelict wood-land, that we want to get at. Somehow or other, we want to see that brought back into productive use, either as forest land or, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said, as agricultural land. There is no reason why it should not go back to agricultural land. But there is some land which can never be used as agricultural land. It may toe too steep or the soil may be utterly unsuitable; but a great deal of it, though not perhaps all, can be used for forest land and for growing trees. That is 433 why I plead that we shall under this Bill arrange the machinery and get it working. I need not detain the House any longer. I think this Bill will do good to the country—that is the test of it—but it needs amendment. I echo the hope which has been expressed, that ample time will be given before the Committee stage. I should like to join in complaining about the shortage of time that has been given between the announcement of this Bill and the Second Reading.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VIS-COUNT JOWITT)
My Lords, in my view we are here discussing a very important measure. I believe it is difficult to exaggerate its importance. There has been a good deal of misunderstanding about this: Bill—a good deal of misunderstanding of what its real underlying purpose and motive is. I do not regard this Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, as designed to increase the productivity of umber. It may incidentally have that result. All good legislation about forestry probably does have that result, but that is not the object of the Bill. We have to face this fact: that we have now experienced two world wars, and in both of those world wars we have learnt how perilous is the situation of a country which has not available to it reserves of timber. I am old enough to remember very well, as do many of your Lordships, what Mr. Lloyd George said about this matter at the time of the First World War. Many of your Lordships who were associated with the Coalition Government during the last war will remember the extreme anxiety we felt in bringing timber from far distances, as we had to do on that war.
I am not in the least an alarmist, and I do not want to be, but I am bound to point out to your Lordships what would happen if, by any unhappy chance, this country found itself again at war. We have not the reserves of timber which we had in the First World War. We have not the reserves of timber which we had in the Second World War. We should be in a very difficult position indeed, bound to carry on so far as we could be utilisation of whatever timber we had available in this country, little though it is. so that this country would become bare. That is the prospect. Therefore, the primary purpose of this 434 Bill is to see that we conserve wisely and prudently, so far as we can, what reserves of timber we have in this country. Because do not let us; forget that at the present time, with the high prices obtainable for timber, there is a great temptation to people—for most people nowadays need some ready cash—to make inroads into the stocks; of timber we have to-day. Therefore, I start with this theme: whatever our Party political differences may be—aid I must say that they have emerged in this debate—do let us all try to sink them, to discover some workable and fair policy to preserve for this nation against a contingency stocks of timber which we may sorely need. I appeal to all sections of the House, and I do not think that I appeal in vain, to let everything be subservient to that end. Believe me, that end is important enough. Do not let our internal differences or quarrels interfere more than is necessary with that ideal.
Let me now go on to say that some criticism has been made of the absence; of previous consultation. My political life started, and I certainly always thought it would finish, in another place, and several of your Lordships who havespoken to-day have had the experience which I had there. Those of us who were in the other place will agree that there was nothing about which that House was more insistent than that disclosures of policy should be made to the House, and not outside the House. So that if you are going to have consultations about broad issues of general policy you must discuss them with great discretion, and you must not get right down to particulars. You must probe to try to ascertain what is the feeling about certain broad principles. It is absolutely wrong that proposals should be revealed to outside bodies before they are revealed to Parliament. I am perfectly certain that anybody who has been in another place will agree on that proposition. I have no doubt the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, knows the facts about this matter, because he would not have made the observations he did unless he had troubled to acquaint himself with the facts. I am not going to say more than this—I choose my words with some care—that, if he will forgive me for saying so, I thought his observations were disingenuous on 435 this point. In the nature of things I cannot go further than that, but that is what I feel bound to say.
But now that we have got this matter revealed to Parliament, by all means let us have ample time between now and the Committee stage to consider these proposals. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House tells me that I may say that there will be an interval of at least three weeks. If, during that time, either the noble Earl who opened the debate on this Bill and who is directly concerned with it, or, indeed, if there are any legal questions involved, I myself can be of the smallest assistance to any of your Lordships—as I think we were, to our great mutual advantage, in many of the great Bills we introduced—I am sure that he, and I know that I, will be entirely at the disposal of your Lordships to see how far we can solve some of the difficulties.
There is one other question which I want to mention at this stage and which I think is fundamental. It is said: Why cannot you set up something in the nature of a regional body like a county agricultural committee, or something of that sort, or have something corresponding to it, to deal with forestry? Several of your Lordships have made that point. I put this to your Lordships so that you may consider it, and we can discuss it if necessary. I believe that course to be absolutely impossible, and for this simple reason: that the principle upon which we are working in this case, and have been working for many weeks past (because this all originated from 1939, and the necessity for getting licences is there to-day) is that we work on a national quota. Speaking from recollection, I would say that the national quota is something of the order of 16,000,000 cubic feet for hardwood and about 5,000,000 cubic feel for softwood; therefore it is something of the order of 21,000,000 cubic feet. That, as it were, is the year's allowance, which is all we can afford. If that is right, and if that is the right way of doing it at all—and that may be arguable—it is, to my mind, impossible to give any authority to numerous committees (applying the agricultural analogy up and down the country) to decide what is to be done in their area. It must be done on a national basis, and that is why this scheme is essentially administrative. You must 436 go back to the Minister of Agriculture, or the Secretary of State for Scotland, as the case may be (that, of course, is the meaning of the phrase, "the appropriate Minister"), in order that the appeal may lie to them. Thus they can square the granting or withholding of appeals with that national consideration. I do not see how you can apply the analogy of the county agricultural committees to this matter at all. After all, those committees are concerned to see that as much food as may be possible is grown in a county. The object here is a very different one it is to see that a certain amount of timber is conserved in this country, and that the cuttings in this country in any one year do not exceed that specified amount.
If the noble and learned Viscount will allow me to say so, I would point out that when the Board of Trade was the issuing authority for felling licences for timber, all the felling licences were issued from the regional offices. Of course there was a national quota of so many million feet, but each regional office had its sub-quota. Why should that not be done in the way we suggested?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
If I may say so, I should have thought that to be a thoroughly bad idea, on the face of it. You give to division A a sub-quota and to division B another sub-quota. The facts might be that in division B there is a quantity of mature timber which could and should be cut, far above the quota; while if division A cuts up to its quota it must mean cutting immature timber. Therefore, it seems to me quite fanciful to say that you can deal with this matter by sub-quotas. Unless you ascertain that the conditions in all these areas are the same, I should have thought that, on the face of it, that was a bad system. I mention these things now because I am perfectly willing that all these points should be discussed and considered.
The next broad question was that of compensation. I hope your Lordships will consider this matter again, and will see that we have tried to do the fair thing. Let me tell you this fact. If you divide the number of licences by the total area quantity which is licensed to be felled, you will find that the size of the average licence is of the order of about 3,000 cubic feet. That is surprisingly small. Very often the application is for, 437 not a whole wood, but a particular section of a particular wood. There is one school of thought that would say: "If you apply for a licence and it is refused, let the Government take over the timber, or let the Forestry Commission take over the timber." They would then have small panels of timber up and down the country, tucked in the centre of woods, and so on, and it would be absolutely impossible to manage growing trees. Therefore, if you look at it, I think you will come to the conclusion that that is a misconception.
Then it is said: "If you apply for a licence, and that application is refused, at once the Government should make themselves responsible for compensation." Let us see what that means. If every land owner wanted to do the clever thing, he would at once apply for a licence to fell every tree, with the result that the unhappy Chancellor of the Exchequer would thereafter find himself responsible for the consequences of the market on every tree in the country. That is impracticable. That is why—and here I come to Lord Kinnaird's point—we have tried to make it plain that the owner must certainly take the consequences, if we refuse a licence, of a fall in the market. Let us by all means see whether we can meet the noble Lord. He may have some practical suggestions to make, and perhaps it will be possible to define "quality" rather better. But let us not accept the principle that, supposing there is a fall in the market, or a difference in the market, the Government therefore become responsible for guaranteeing every owner against a drop in world market prices—without.be in observed, the corollary that if world market prices go up the owner is to compensate the Government in respect of that. That is what they used to call in Roman law societas leonina, the benefit all being on one side. I am sure that all your Lordships who come to consider this matter will agree that that is not a practical proposition. You would not, I am sure, ask for that. It would not be right.
My Lords, may I be allowed to say this to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor? In my speech, I put forward three points, but on my notes I also had a fourth. That was to the effect that if there was any rise above the price ruling on the date of the refusal of a licence, the bene- 438 fit of the rise should go to the Government. In my stupidity I did not say it, but I have put it down. I think that makes the matter clear. We would not seek to get the best of both worlds.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I am glad that that was put down by the noble Lord in his notes. The noble Lord is always so essentially fair, and it would have been quite impossible to maintain the other proposition. Whether the land owners would greatly like what he has just mentioned I do not know; I suppose that it depends upon their appreciation of what is likely to happen to the price of timber. If we go on as we are doing, I think it is quite possible that it will go up still further. Possibly, when the Committee stage is reached, the noble Lord will make some proposition which I shall be able readily to accept. But that is the position.
So far as the amenity propositions are concerned, your Lordships are pushing at an absolutely open door. I am glad to hear from Lord Merthyr that the Forestry Commission get rather a good mark on this matter; I like to hear of them getting a good mark for something sometimes. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, referred not to vandalism, be it observed, but to complaints of vandalism made about the Commission. I never judge a man on the grounds of complaints made against him unless I have some reason for believing that some, at any rate, of the complaints are true. The noble Earl did not seem to have satisfied himself about them. In so far as I have investigated these matters—as I have, because for a short time during the war I was, as nearly as there was such a person, Minister in charge of forestry—I think that people speak and write a lot of silly things about most subjects in the world; and forestry is certainly no exception to that general rule.
No doubt there are differences of view about aæthetic questions. We know that, traditionally, there are such differences. I have no doubt that the Forestry Commission, like most of us, have made a good many mistakes, but I was glad to hear Lord Merthyr say that on matters of amenity they can be trusted. I know that they are very anxious to meet the wishes of everyone concerned. And, after all, why should they not be? How foolish they would be to incur a lot of 439 unnecessary hostility about something when they can avoid it by being careful!
In the old days of which I am speaking, the Forestry Commission were not under the Ministry of Agriculture. As your Lordships now know, the supreme authority in England is the Minister of Agriculture; in Scotland, it is the Secretary of State for Scotland. When the noble Lord gave his interesting illustration about fruit trees—and I know it to be correct— he asked: What do the Forestry Commission know about agriculture? Well, after all, the Forestry Commission are under the control of the Minister of Agriculture. Some of those interested in forestry used to think that forestry would get rather the rough end of the stick, because it would be the Cinderella of the party— if I may be allowed to mix my metaphors —while agriculture, of course, is the big thing. I think it has been shown clearly that we can safely leave it to the Minister of Agriculture to decide between the claims of forestry and the claims of agriculture, and as to which should give way to the other, in so far as there is conflict. And may 1 say here that I do not believe this conflict exists to such an extent as people pretend? Some land quite obviously should be under agriculture, and some quite obviously under forestry. I must say that I wish the amount of forestry land could be increased. In all these matters, I have tried to put fairly before your Lordships the sort of considerations which the Government have had before them. We shall discuss this Bill further on the Committee stage, and I regard it as so important to try to get some satisfactory measure through to conserve our timber that I shall do the best I can, with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, to see whether we cannot go half way to meet noble Lords on these various points.
There is one further matter with which I will briefly deal—I am not going to discuss all the points which have been raised, because every point will, of course, be considered. 1 wish to speak particularly of Clause 12. I must say that I am surprised at the objection raised to Clause 12. That clause arises in these circumstances. Let us suppose that a tree preservation order is made. Sometimes, as your Lordships know, such an order is made in respect of a particular tree, sometimes in respect of a group of trees, and some- 440 times in respect of a wood. The owner of this tree, or this group of trees, or this wood, wants to fell it or them. What is the position? If we did not have Clause 12 he would first have to go to the Forestry Commission, and would then possibly have to appeal to the Minister of Agriculture to get that side all right. When he had done that, he would have to go to the local authority and, perhaps, appeal from them to the Minister of Town and Country Planning (as he used to be), to get that side all right. When the owner had done all these things, if he was still available and reasonably hearty he could perhaps proceed to cut down his tree or trees.
What we are trying to do in this clause —and I should have thought the noble Lord who objected to it would have blessed us for it—is to say, in effect, "Make your application to one Department only; make your application to the Forestry Commission. Behind the scenes we have an arrangement whereby the Forestry Commission will consult with the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, or whatever you call it now, and they will come to a conclusion between themselves and give you one answer. "The whole object is to simplify this complicated machinery from the point of view of the person who puts it in motion. I cannot for the life of me see what there is to object to in Clause 12. If the noble Lord is really anxious that these two applications should be made—the owner would have to go first to one Ministry and then to the other—that also is a matter which we will gladly consider. But we considered that in Clause 12 we were doing something which the owner of the tree or trees would like. It seems to me that this is not a very difficult clause to understand. However, I have the authority of Lord Hylton for saying that he would rather make two applications, and as there is nothing very unreasonable about that I see no reason why we should not oblige him, if that is the general view. But, if your Lordships will allow me to say so, I think it is very unwise. I cannot understand what that anonymous solicitor whom the noble Lord consulted meant by saying that there would be no further tree preservation orders. I cannot conceive what he had in his mind, because this machinery of ours has been worked out between the two Departments and everyone is perfectly happy about it. But 441 if the noble Lord says he wants the double application, then he can perhaps have it, but he is unique.
That deals with the substance of my reply. We shall have plenty of time to consider this Bill. All the points that your Lordships have raised will be considered. We will go as far as we can to meet your Lordships on these various points, because the issue which is here involved is an issue which affects us all and affects the defence of this country.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, before the Bill is given a Second Reading, perhaps I may say a word. I know that it is unusual to reply after the Government spokesman has had his say, but the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has made an appeal to us to look at this Bill in a constructive manner and I want to say a word in response to that appeal. I am certain that he will find us reasonable on this and, I hope, on every other question. He stressed the great importance of forestry, especially in time of war, and I entirely agree with him. I do not think there is any difference in any part of the House on that point. The only real question is: What is the best machinery to carry out the purpose of the Bill? That is a matter which must be threshed out by Parliament.
When I first read the Bill I must confess that I formed the impression, although the noble and learned Viscount seems to prove me wrong, that it might be called a Forestry Commission Bill, and that the Government had adopted paternity at a later date. That may or may not be. At any rate, it seems that the Forestry Commission had a great deal more to do with the Bill than the United Kingdom Forestry Committee. There is nothing wrong in that, of course. The Forestry Commission are a very distinguished body and, as we know, have done admirable work. I do not want to go into details about the points raised by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor. There will be plenty of time for that when the Committee stage comes along. But I hope that he and the Government will realise that, if we have offered criticism of some of the provisions of this Bill, we are conscious. perhaps more conscious than some other sections of the British people, of the very real problems with which not only the owners but also the 442 developers of land are faced at the present time.
We should not like to feel that anybody, however distinguished—the Forestry Commission or anyone else—was the sole judge between two views on a matter of this kind. The noble and learned Viscount said just now, if I understood him correctly, that it would not be one Commission or another, but that the final arbiter would be the Minister of Agriculture. Some of these problems, problems with which we are all faced as the result of very heavy taxation and other aspects of our lives, into which I need not go at the present time, would be very difficult even for the Minister of Agriculture. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor and the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, at any rate, appreciate these very real problems. The noble and learned Viscount has suggested that there should be some consultation between us before the Committee stage with a view to obtaining agreed solutions to some of our problems, and I most warmly welcome that suggestion.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.