§ 5.28 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what, in their view, are the respective functions of the private and public sectors within the National Forestry Programme over the next 50 years. The noble Earl said: My Lords, may I at the outset thank those noble Lords who have put down their names to take part in this debate. Among them one sees some very distinguished foresters with considerable experience. I am grateful for what I am sure will be their enrichment of this short debate. In raising this Question on Her Majesty's Government's forestry policy over the next 50 years I have gone perhaps a little beyond what would appear even to the most faithful supporters to be the expected life of the present Administration. I mention this because, as every noble Lord who follows the welfare of forestry will know, each new Administration tends to show a wish to examine, to review and to state early on in its life its policy towards forestry and to confirm (as one hopes it will continue to confirm) its continued support for the industry. This stated policy tends on average to be examined and reviewed every five or ten years with the obvious possibility occurring at each review of a fundamental change of emphasis or support. Yet these relatively frequent statements of policy are in respect of an industry unique in its long-term requirements and very dependent upon confidence and stability for its success.66
§ I appreciate that in raising this Question tonight I do so at a time when yet another forestry review is under consideration by my right honourable friend. And as the latest Forestry Commission Annual Report has stated, this review was set up in December, 1970, some 14 months ago. I hope very much that my noble friend will be able to inform us how soon the outcome of that review will be announced and whether it will be in the form of a White Paper rather than just a Statement. I believe that would be appreciated by the industry. I am sure it would be welcomed if my noble friend would endorse the Government's general support of and faith in this long-term industry.
§ My noble friend will know that surrounding the present review the forestry programme faces a number of criticisms, and I believe that to-night he could usefully comment on some of them without prejudicing the outcome of the review. Most of these criticisms, perhaps rather naturally, concern the role of the Commission, the Government agency, who, besides administering the grants and controls over the private sector, own in their own right some 3 million acres of woodlands, representing some 50 per cent. of the nation's timber-producing forests and woods. In fact they are the, largest landowner in the country, the largest State-owned forestry in Western Europe. On present form they are increasing their boundaries by over 50,000 acres a year.
§ The work of the Commission since 1919, when they were formed, has been commendable, both in national terms and also in forestry generally. I believe that they have fulfilled their original terms of reference with distinction. I wish to pay my tribute to what they have achieved in the past and for all that they are achieving at present in promoting the general interests of forestry, particularly in respect of research, nature conservation and, more recently, the increasing demand for public recreation. But I believe that no one would disagree with the view that since the formation of the Commission some 53 years ago, the conditions, priorities and objectives have changed. No longer may it be argued that the Forestry Commission's job is to develop afforestation for strategic reasons, as was the case in 1919. The 67 Commission's present terms of reference are to be found in three Acts, the 1967 Forestry Consolidation Act and the two Countryside Acts of 1968, one for England and Wales and a separate Act for Scotland. As the House will recall, the terms were, first, a general duty to promote the interests of forestry, including the development of afforestation for home production and the supply of timber, and to build up an adequate reserve of growing trees. Secondly, the Corn-mission have a duty to promote forestry research, and indeed they have done very valuable work in this connection. Thirdly, they are to promote nature conservation, and fourthly, to promote facilities for public recreation.
§ My Lords, I will turn briefly to the first duty laid on the Commission, to promote generally the interests of forestry and, more specifically, to build up adequate reserves of growing timber. There are. I believe, a number of informed people in industry who question how much further the Forestry Commission, as a Government agency, should go in the acquisition of further land and the extension of their existing estates. To date the Commission have, as I have said, built up an acreage of some 3 million acres of forest. So far the taxpayer has paid out, I have assessed, £220 million of capital to the Commission over 50 years. With accrued interest of £216 million, the round total appears to be £440 million of taxpayers' investment. The present annual payment to the Commission is running at £13 million, with an additional £2 million being paid out through the Commission by way of grants to the private sector. This is all sizeable public investment, and I believe that the Government should make absolutely clear what are their objectives and the return on that investment.
§ To pause there for a moment, if one looks at the last year's annual report and the harvesting trading account it is, I think, a little confusing, and perhaps unfair on the Commission, to see that the income from the sale of produce and so on came to £6.8 million and the cost of these sales came to £5 million, leaving a balance of £1.7 million. Yet there is then put in a deduction for cost of plantings, plantations and thinnings up to the time of sale of £4 million, leaving a deficit of £2.3 million. The questions 68 that arise from this are, first, do the Government see the Commission continuing to expand alongside the private sector at the present rate of 50,000 acres a year? Or would the nation's resources be better used in encouraging the private sector to take on the major role of the expansion of forestry? It seems to me at the moment to be about 50 per cent. in the private sector and 50 per cent. in the Commission. Is it better to encourage more expansion in the private sector with private investment? What is the nation's adequate reserve of growing trees, measured in acres, as stated in the 1967 Act? Will there really be a world shortage of timber by the year 2000, as forecast by various prophets, or will the thousands of acres of timber from the developing countries be released on to the world markets by then?
§ How confident are the Government that by the turn of the century the synthetics industry will largely have replaced the timber industry in the use of materials for building? What role do the Government wish home forestry to play in reducing the £750 million worth of imported timber and thereby relieving the strain on the balance of payments? These are the fundamental questions which are being asked, and I hope my noble friend will touch upon them in his reply. I believe that the future role of the Commission is changing rapidly. In saying that, I do not advocate for a moment that this fine body should be dismantled. But I believe that they have now reached the stage where they have built up a large estate of forestry by astute and commendable management. In my view, that landholding is now large enough, when taken together with the private sector, to meet adequately the nation's need for a reserve of growing trees. I believe that the role of the Commission in the next decade, and perhaps in the next 50 years, should be more to encourage the growth of the private sector; to examine and tackle the problems facing the marketing of home produced timber; to deal with nature conservation and the special problems of amenities in forests, and, obviously, the increasing demand for public recreation as well as the other vital jobs which are being handled in connection with research, education, training, advisory work and encouragement of private forestry. I think that 69 there should be less emphasis on the expansion of their own estates.
§ On the subject of amenity, the Commission have come under considerable criticism in recent years and one must say immediately that they have defended themselves stoutly regarding the preponderance of conifers planted on their estates. One sees from the latest annual report that the total planting by the Commission last year amounted to some 70,488 acres and only 427 acres were broad leaf trees; that is, under 1 per cent. In the private sector the percentage was a little better at 6 per cent. Besides the obvious commercial reasons for planting conifers, which are difficult to counter, there are two aspects which I believe to be worthy of consideration, and which I hope my noble friend may refer to tonight. The first is that at present there is no disparity in the planting grants between broad leaf and conifer plantations. It seems to me that with an agreed objective of providing more broad leaf plantations to assist in amenity there should be an inducement to increase grants for broad leaf plantations. The second aspect in encouraging the broad leaf plantations is the control of the grey squirrel. I understand that this problem is increasing to worrying proportions, and when one considers that whole plantations of broad leaf trees can be ruined by squirrels in one night, the presence of the grey squirrel in any numbers cannot encourage forestry consultants to advocate the planting of plantations. I believe that the reintroduction of the assistance for the control of grey squirrels by the Commission would be generally welcomed.
§ Another isolated feature concerning amenity is the control and management of our hedgerows. I believe that the Commission could play a big part in preventing, as so often happens, large areas of hedgerows being destroyed. It is not often realised or appreciated that not only is there a visual loss of amenity, but also that damage to wild life, the loss of birds' nests and other homes of wild life is very considerable. Some form of control of the widespread destruction of hedgerows would, I believe, add much to amenity and the conservation of the countryside.
§ Turning briefly to the Common Market, I should like to ask my noble friend what effect, if any, the Common 70 Market may have on forestry. Will there be any change in the financial structure or support to bring us in line with other European partners? And is there a Common Market forestry policy which in time we should have to accept? I should like to ask one other question on the Common Market that specifically involves the plywood industry. As my noble friend will know, we import some 97 per cent. of our plywood, mainly from Commonwealth countries. At the present time no tax is paid on this imported material. Could my noble friend advise us whether these arrangements will remain, or whether there will be a common external tariff which could raise the cost of plywood coming into this country?
§ Turning briefly now to the private sector, I believe that it is generally agreed that with the grant payments and the tax allowance the private sector over the years has been very fairly treated and has no cause to grumble at the support that it receives. The Commission play a vital role in its welfare, and the rapport, one understands, between the two sectors is very good. But there is a cloud in the sky which from time to time must cause unease in the private sector. It is the very thought that the support received, which is essential if the private sector is to expand and attract long-term investment, could be withdrawn at the proverbial stroke of a pen. It is particularly for this reason that I believe that at time of national forestry reviews there is concern that policies may change which could make a nonsense of the long-term planning of the industry. Therefore, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be able to spell out, both to-night in the words of my noble friend, and in a few weeks' time in the expected review, their continued support for the industry, in general, and the increasing role that the private sector should play, in particular.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH AND QUEENSBERRY
My Lords, I should like to add a few words. I must declare an interest in forestry, and I may say that I feel happier practising it than I do in addressing your Lordships. I have worked closely in forestry with the Forestry Commission and with private forestry for many years. I feel that great achievements have been made by the Commission, and I hope it will be agreed 71 that private forestry has made its contribution. I think it is fair to say that State forestry organisations are more suited to the larger forests and woods; but wherever they can undertake growing and management of the smaller woods also, so much the better. It is more up to the owners on the spot, who can more suitably look after the smaller woodlands on their lands. The two tasks are in no ways antagonistic; they are complementary and I think both very necessary.
It so happens that the owners of smaller woodlands are proportionately more concerned with hardwoods, and I find that the population in the countryside is always asking for a larger percentage of hardwoods and mixed woods, and not to go in too much for the darker conifers. We are probably more concerned with the amenity and the landscape. We know that the Forestry Commission have been doing a great deal in the last few years in those respects, and there is also a responsibility upon us. If the work is to be well done, and if the men are to be well housed and looked after, the growing of hardwoods in small woods in inevitably a more costly business. In forestry we are all embarked primarily on timber production, but it is becoming more and more required of us to pay full attention to conservation and amenity. I think this is where encouragement from Parliament will be more necessary, and will be variable, as well as in making it financially possible to grow good commercial timber.
A viable and productive forestry cannot come suddenly in a few years' time, and I submit that great progress has been made since 1945. I would urge that this be allowed to continue progressively, and anticipate that in another 25 years' time we shall have a viable forestry industry which will have gone much further towards paying for itself and will not require the financial support which it now receives from Parliament. I think all in forestry welcome the closer co-operation with Parliament and with Government to ensure that both the Forestry Commission and private forestry can continue during the next 25 years to establish a sound and economic industry immensely to the benefit of Britain.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ LORD DULVERTON
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord 72 Kinnoull for giving us the opportunity of having a brief debate about forestry this evening. Like my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch, I must declare an interest, having been engaged for the last 25 years or so—not quite so long as he has—as a keenly interested forester both in the Midlands and in the Highlands of Scotland. I too am aware that the Government have been thinking hard in recent months about the future pattern of forestry, and to some extent one will be in a better position to discuss this subject if and when we know the results of their thinking. I hope that there will be an opportunity for a debate on whatever Paper materialises when the Government are in a position to produce their thoughts and the results of their deliberations. It is clearly good and timely that the Government are doing this, for as my noble friend has pointed out the role of forestry is changing and has changed. But I think that so many new considerations have come to the forefront in the forestry field during the last year or two that it is timely for us now to sit back and think, as Her Majesty's Government are doing.
Since the days when the Forestry Commission were charged with establishing first and foremost, if not solely, a wartime reserve of timber, the facts attaching to timber growing have changed. Not only has the importance of this original role dwindled and diminished, but forestry in its own right has become an industry—a small one by contrast with Continental standards but still an important one, particularly for the depopulated rural areas. Furthermore it has become the basis of a growing industry in wood processing. Log mills, sawmills, chipboard mills and other processing plants are steadily increasing in numbers and are employing a not inconsiderable number of people, thus contributing some useful savings to our import bill to the extent of £700 million worth of timber. But besides producing timber the foresters and forest planners are having more and more to consider other factors and other uses for the forests, for which there is an increasing public demand. The amenity of the countryside and the way in which this is affected by the nature and composition of the forests is something that arouses an emotion akin to passion in some quarters. As an aside, here I should like to refer again to the point made 73 by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull concerning the pressure for planting hardwoods, a point with which few foresters would disagree. It is impossibly difficult to attempt it—and indeed it is virtually a write-off—unless we can do more about controlling the grey squirrel. I believe that in their vast forests the Forestry Commission themselves may have felt the impact of this problem less than have some parts of the private sector, partly because the private sector has planted a higher proportion of hardwoods in recent years and partly because private woodlands tend to be so scattered that it is more difficult to deal with this pest.
However, to continue with the changes in the pattern and the demands upon forestry, one demand which has once more been referred to this evening—and again it is a growing one—is for country recreations in which the forests may have a useful role to play. Their capacity for absorbing numbers of people who are in search of peace, quiet and fresh air and, equally important, for absorbing them unobtrusively is in fact immense. This recreational use of forests must be and is being recognised as of growing importance. I know that the Forestry Commission themselves would regard it as a proper role to play and they have already made a good start towards making provision for this demand. The private sector also, I must confess, in a smaller way, is making a beginning; and I am sure that landowners as a whole are taking note of the trend and are not unsympathetic towards playing their part. But the question must be raised, particularly in the case of the Forestry Commission, that some special component of their vote from Parliament should be earmarked for the development of recreational accommodation, such as car parks, picnic sites, lavatories and so on, which are far from inexpensive to install.
The ecology of the forests and their relationship to the environment as a whole is another subject that is again rightly engaging more and more attention, and this attention is not invariably attended by complete understanding. I hope that the Forestry Commission themselves may be able to do even more than they are doing at the moment in educating the public about the environmental factors by means of which the forest 74 brings many people to the countryside. Such matters are far too little known about. The past history and the derivation of our forests over the centuries is hardly known about, so that people regard the bare hills and the uplands as being our native and natural state, whereas very largely they were covered by various sorts of forest and are bare to-day only as a result of human interference and indifference. Competition of forestry land use with other land uses is another subject which is arousing great interest, and this too is often impassioned. So we look forward to the production of the Government's thoughts and we welcome the fact that they are taking a comprehensive look at these things.
Yet there is one matter connected with the review that is a matter for regret; that is the fact that as a result of these extended deliberations the review of the grants to private forestry has been somewhat delayed. Perhaps I might explain a little. Your Lordships will know of the general gist of the dedication agreements which were introduced soon after the war and the covenants by which the private landowner or trustees for land could enter into an agreement with the State and the Forestry Commission to dedicate certain areas of land to forestry, which would remain managed as productive woodland—I think the expression is "in perpetuity", but at any rate until the arrangements were terminated by mutual consent. This is a solemn binding contract between the two parties, and written into it is the fact that grants from the Government to the private sector will be reviewed every three years. The last of the three years was up on October 1, 1970–18 months or so ago—but so far the Government have not been able to produce or publicise their review of the private forestry grants, which is now 18 months in arrears. That is almost a breach of contract, and I hope that it may be regulated before very much longer and that we can look forward to the production of the whole of the Government's thoughts.
It is perhaps late in the day to make any suggestions to Her Majesty's Government for consideration for incorporating in their thinking about forestry. Nevertheless, I would venture to point out one particular matter of which I have long been conscious. It is not a direct forestry matter, but I hope that my noble friends 75 on the Front Bench will bear with me if I spend a moment or two—and I will try to be brief—on a matter which is very closely connected and tied up with forestry. For years now we have heard about the integration of land uses. We have paid lip service to the integration of farming, forestry and all the other things. We have done something, but only very little, about it. The private sector is in a much better position to integrate than the State sector. Whoever may be responsible for management and planning of a private estate has, perforce, to fit together his picture of plantations, farming, perhaps caravan parks, and cottages. All the land uses have to be fitted together, considered and understood. In the public sector the Forestry Commission are charged with planting a forest, not with developing farms. I want to concentrate on the farming point.
My Lords, forestry has been criticised in recent years for ousting the hill sheep farmer. A large amount of land has been bought up from the hill sheep farmers and put down to forestry. But do not let us forget that many of those hill farms were really not viable, and economically were reaching a point of standstill. However, the criticism obtains that you can eat sheep but you cannot eat trees—and of course that is true. I believe that we shall one day be able to eat trees, because the chemists will find a way of breaking down the fibres into some palatable form of substance—though I would rather not partake of it myself. The point I am leading up to is that in the light of the developments which have gone on at the Hill Farming Research Institute, and in other similar organisations, it will be perfectly feasible to produce as many sheep or cattle on a fraction of the acreage they now occupy under the free-range system, provided that capital is put into the land to improve it, to grow grass and clover where sedges and heather grow to-day. It will not be possible to do this everywhere, but there are many hill areas where it would be possible to improve a few hundred acres and to provide the necessary fencing and access roads which will be required if you go in for forestry. So there is a fine opportunity of sharing the high capital cost of providing access roads and fencing and then improving certain hill areas with a 76 view to more intensive stock management and higher production.
In the West Highlands of Scotland, with which I am familiar, sheep were introduced on a free-range system about 200 years ago. They have caused a deterioration both in the herbage and in the land itself, which is very thin and infertile land in any event. So the cumulative effect of these 200 years of sheep farming has resulted in the production of a hill flock of ewes sinking to the level of 50 or 60 lambs per hundred ewes—and they are not very good lambs, either. A well-managed stock farm, with better grazing and better stock management, can easily produce 150 lambs of far better quality than the hill land from a hundred ewes—in fact 150 per cent. of lambs against 60 per cent. This is off a fraction of the acreage now used for free-range grazing which, incidentally, employs only a man or a man and a half per 2,000 acre hirsels. I believe that if grants on a scale similar to those given for forestry were given for the improvement of certain areas of the hills, sheep and cattle farming and forestry could get along well together. My earnest plea to Her Majesty's Government is that they should look into the matter more closely than I believe has occurred in the past, either on their part or the part of any Government, because it could be of importance to the hill lands. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give me some encouragement that this point will be looked into. I shall be happy and willing to supply him with better facts, figures and details than I have troubled your Lordships with this evening.
§ 6.7 p.m.
My Lords, I intervene in your Lordships' debate only briefly this evening to welcome my noble friend Lord Kinnoull's Question and to support all that he has said on behalf of private forestry. Like my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch, I must declare an interest as a forestry owner and as one who is on the executive committee and council of the Timber Growers' Organisation. Much of the wide-ranging speech that my noble friend Lord Kinnoull has made has probably been taken from the recent case for forestry which was submitted by the Timber Growers' Organisation, the contents of which I am 77 certain are well known to my noble friend on the Front Bench who will be replying to the debate, and to many others in the forestry trade.
Whether or not the timing for this debate is correct, I am sure that all in the forestry industry will welcome what my noble friend Lord Kinnoull has said: that we appreciate that far-reaching discussions are taking place between Her-Majesty's Government and the Forestry Commission. We welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe who had to leave his place a moment or two ago, has been present. We are always pleased when the captains of great nationalised industries come to your Lordships' House to listen to the debates. On the other hand, perhaps it is sad from our point of view that they cannot take their seat on the Cross-Benches and give us the benefit of their expertise as private individuals; but that is a different matter. I am sure that on behalf of the Timber Growers' Organisation I may wish the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, all success and happiness in the great undertaking of which he has been in charge this year, and I hope he will be in that position for many years in the future.
It is a difficult time, no doubt, for the noble Lord who will reply, but, along with noble Lords who have spoken, we welcome the fact that the Government are taking part in this review; but we hope that the matter can be brought to fruition a little more speedily than would appear to be the case, as my noble friend Lord Dulverton has suggested. Nevertheless, when the case is put forward no doubt there will be Papers and that will be the time for a much more detailed debate in your Lordships' House. I know that noble Lords on both sides of the House will welcome those Papers when they arrive.
We have heard that the Forestry Commission are the largest nationalised forest owner in Europe, holding forests to an extent of some 3 million acres. They are, of course, the major competitor to private forestry growers. The private forestry industry consists of something in the region of 1.6 million acres, against the nearly 3 million acres of the Forestry Commission, as the up-to-date acreage now is. Of this 1.6 million acres some 60 per cent. is under the dedicated scheme 78 or under a managed woodland scheme, as has been described by noble Lords this evening. Those dedicated and approved woodland owners could well be called owners of forestry businesses; and it is on behalf of the serious forestry businesses that the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has addressed his remarks to the noble Lord who will be replying. Of those private owners it is inconceivable, but apparently true, that in the whole of the United Kingdom there are only 12,000 owners of woodland whose woodlands extend to more than 10 acres. The average size o0f a private woodland is about 140 acres. That shows the kind of fragmentend ownership with causes the industry many problems, to which we very much hope that the noble Lord and the Department, along with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and the Forestry Commission, will be devoting their talks.
There has recently been a report, called the E.R.U. Report, from a body set up by both the Forestry Commission and private growers to examine the problems both of the Commission and of private woodlands. The report was financed with generous help from the Forestry Commission. At least now we do know more facts more clearly than before. It has made private woodland owners and all in the timber and forestry business think extremely carefully. Whether or not the conclusions of this report are the right conclusions, we hope that light will be given by the noble Lord and by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, after they have had their consultations and when Papers are presented.
My noble friend Lord Kinnoull said that £750 million worth of forestry produce is imported into this country. Of course, out of that only £230 million—still a formidable figure—is in fact timber or timber-like produce—90 per cent. of our softwood and 75 per cent. of our hardwood requirements. There is therefore a very large make-up which private forestry and State forestry can give to the saving of imports of timber and timber-like commodities. As we have heard, as Forestry Commission plantations come to fruition, and plantations such as those belonging to the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, in Scotland, and the noble 79 Lord, Lord Dulverton, come into fruition more and more valuable timber will be available to the industries which we have heard are starting and which indeed will make great progress in a very few years towards the closing of this import gap. Except for the rain forests of the United States of America this country is perhaps the most favourable country for growing timber in the temperate zones of all the world. Timber merchants will probably say that it is too favourable, with the result that quality deteriorates. Nevertheless, the bulk will be there, and it is bulk that these industries about which we have heard require. It is still said that in the very near future Europe will become a not timber importing area even when European Russia is taken into consideration. Surely, this makes it still more important that even in this country, with our small timber resources, we should make every contribution we possibly can to the requirements that Europe will need as a whole in the near future.
As has been said this evening, we are quite certain and say with confidence that both State forests and private forests will be able to contribute in a very much greater proportion than they are able to to-day, as soon as plantations resulting from over a quarter of a century of the dedication covenant begin to bear fruit. We therefore hope that in the very near future it will be possible to make a restatement of the principles of the dedication covenant, nearly a quarter of a century old, brought up to date to suit modern conditions. We hope that there will be a restatement of what Her Majesty's Government consider is the role of the Forestry Commission; and, speaking as a private grower, I hope that it will be possible for the Forestry Commission to receive every support from the Government to enable them to carry on the great work that they are undertaking in the interests of forestry in this country. Not only have we heard that they are the greatest timber land owners in Europe; they are also acknowledged to be the source of the greatest expertise on temperate forestry throughout the world. It is most interesting to hear foreign timber owners and those connected with foreign Governments in timber owning pay tribute generously not only to the Forestry Commission of the last 80 quarter of a century, but to the days when forestry by man-made principles started after the First World War.
My Lords, speaking again as a private individual, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be able to enable forestry to continue for the next fifty years under one Ministry, rather than three Ministers and a good many other Departments with a finger in the pie. I appreciate of course that this is a very different question from that which is asked by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, this evening, but it is one which I hope will be receiving consideration in due course from Her Majesty's Government. There is obviously urgency. As we have heard from speakers this evening, we welcome the review that is being made. We hope that there will be just a little more speed to bring a result from that review, and that Papers will be placed before your Lordships' House for a more wide-ranging and informed debate, with due notice. My Lords, we look forward to fifty years of continued prosperity for the industry, which we believe will be the case.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ LORD TANLAW
My Lords, I too welcome, like some other noble Lords, the opportunity to discuss forestry, thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I also must declare an interest as a private forester in that I run a mixed forest and hill farm in Scotland. I should like to repeat what other noble Lords have said; and that is that in all my dealings with both the public and private side of forestry I have found those involved to be a most dedicated band of men with identical objectives. I believe that this, in one form or another, is what most of us have been saying in this debate.
The role and function of the Forestry Commission has proved itself already over the years since the war in rebuilding the country's natural forests, which became seriously depleted between 1939 and 1945. Private forestry, as the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, has said, has made a very large contribution and continues to do so. In Scotland, including the depopulated areas of the country, the forestry-based industries and the large forests that have been created by the Forestry Commission and private forestry are providing long-term employment in places 81 where there is no hope and no chance of employment, and are preventing for the first time the drift away from the countryside. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord when he is giving his considerations to this matter in the White Paper, will bear in mind the role of employment in regard to the forestry industry in parts of Scotland where there is at present serious unemployment.
The noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, mentioned some of the most important and troublesome things for a forester. These are the difficulties, and the antagonism involved with the hill farming community. I am both a hill farmer and a forester. I think a great deal of misunderstanding has been created. This is due partially to unfortunate things said in the wrong places, and partially to not explaining the functions or objectives of foresters to hill farmers. The noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, has touched on another of the main troubles of the hill farming industry to-day; namely, that the hill farms have had to be abandoned through lack of capital, lack of care over the years and lack of capital investment. These are among the reasons why land has become available for foresters and the table issued by the Scottish Hill Farming Research Institute confirms that over a 50-year period the output per acre is better from a forest than from a hill farm.
I hope that both in the role of forestry and of hill farming the noble Lord will reconsider the basis of the system of grants given to hill farmers. At the moment the present production grants are not enough to maintain the future of a hill farm, and I believe that the same kind of capital grants available to a forester should be reapplied to those in the hill farming industry, because a hill farm is a capital-intensive business in much the same way as a forest. I also believe that a mixed hill farm and forest can be operated with benefit to both and with a saving in costs. Various tables that I have been able to obtain from the Scottish Hill Farming Research Institute show this to be so.
I would like to think that the Government are going to be forward-looking enough to take into consideration the future livelihood and hopes of people living in the countryside in Scotland. They can see little hope at the moment 82 because of lack of capital and lack of understanding by the Government agencies which are trying to assist them, perhaps with the right intentions, but in the wrong way.
I wish to end on almost a frivolous note concerning the amenity side of forestry. All forests have come under heavy criticism for despoiling the countryside with large blocks of green. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Denham, to consider whether it is at all possible to prevent the Forestry Commission from planting in straight lines. No natural forest grows in a straight line. One thing that makes the Forestry Commission blocks, and indeed some private forestry, stand out as eyesores, is simply and basically a planting policy based on rectangular blocks, presumably in order to make it simpler to count the number of trees. I cannot see any other reason why these square blocks are allowed. If it is a question of simple arithmetic and nothing more, then I feel that the people who design these blocks should be foresters, not accountants. The Government would be doing a great service if somehow they managed to deter the creators of these right-angled lines which make the forests so obviously artificial and therefore open to criticism as spoiling rather than adding to the environment. This is such a simple matter that I hope the noble Lord will be able to do something about it. Perhaps he will let me know. I think we can only wait with great interest for more Papers; and from what a number of noble Lords have said there appear to be a number of questions to be asked and a lot more details to be discussed.
I should like to make one final point. I think that the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, was having the same difficulty with the figures presented by the Forestry Commission as I have experienced. They are presented at the moment in a way that makes it difficult for me to comprehend the exact output per acre of a forest; and if somehow, as we are now learning in the hill farming business, output per acre rather than profitability in this country should be used to assess the effectiveness of our investment it would be an advantage. I believe that forestry as well as farming should come under this criterion when it comes to figures. The figures quoted in Government papers are 83 far too manifold and they are usually incomprehensible in determining the output per acre, and I would like the noble Lord to consider some way of simplifying the forestry figures produced, so that they are in some ways comparable to those for other forms of farming and other ways of making a living off the land.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down as I understand that he is a private forester may I ask how he tackles the problem of forestry in relation to scenery? I have had my home in Argyll for a number of years, during which time a number of beautiful panoramas have been ruined by the growth of trees.
§ LORD TANLAW
My Lords, I am pleased that the noble Lord has asked that question. It is basically a matter of contour planning. One of the objectives is to put large blocks of trees over the contours so that they are not necessarily visible either from the roadside or from where the view can be seen. Secondly, one considers how one plans the rides. Again one should get away from straight lines and right angles and merge the forest naturally in with the contours of the hill. The other thing is to incorporate—which I have not yet done—broadleaved trees. The Forestry Commission have attempted to do this in some cases by putting the broad-leaved or hardwood trees on the surrounds of a forest. Regrettably this is not effective. It is rather like a badly framed picture. I think one has to plant separate hardwood blocks and also mix the species of softwoods. A valley has to be landscaped in the same way as a garden. So I cannot answer the question specifically without knowing the particular view the noble Lord has in mind but I should be pleased to have a discussion with him later.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT INGLEBY
My Lords, I apologise to the whole House and in particular to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and to the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, that owing to difficulty in getting a taxi I was not here for their speeches.
My qualifications, such as they are, for speaking to-night are that I look after some 600 acres of woods in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park and that I am Vice-Chairman of the Yorkshire 84 Division of the Forestry Society. I also have a very versatile machine called a "Gnat" which will go into almost any part of my woods. But these woods are in a remote hill area where the population has been dwindling for a long time, and this tendency has been accentuated recently by amalgamations. Our farms were fairly small, being about 60 or 70 acres, and when one becomes vacant we add it to the farm next door to make a more viable unit of some 150 acres. Of course this means that there is a spare farmhouse.
I am sure that forestry has a vital part to play in stemming the depopulation of the hills. One of the difficulties in the matter of the drift from the hills is that the Forestry Commission themselves have been reducing their labour force considerably over the last few years. For example, in Wales it was reduced from 3,091 manual workers in 1950 to 1,846 in 1970, and according to the experts, Messrs. Johnston Grayson and Bradley, the authors of Forest Planning, if the present increase in productivity per worker of about 2 per cent. per year continues, in thirty-five years' time half the labour force will be able to do what the existing labour force does now. So if forestry is to continue to play the same part in stemming rural depopulation as now, it will be necessary to plant twice a year.
As the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, said, what we should all like to see now is really integrated forestry, woods integrated with farms to provide shelter, woods with properly organised access to provide the recreation we all need for our tired spirits, and woods properly integrated into the landscape. I think all noble Lords would agree that some amenity planting in national parks, and indeed outside national parks too, would be a joy to everybody. But who is to carry it out? The landowners, certainly, the farmers, yes, the Forestry Commission, I should very much hope so, although not all their efforts in the past have been quite what they might have been. There is a very nice avenue of chestnut trees which they planted in Compton Forest on either side of the road, but unfortunately the conifers were left on their own and they completely grew over the chestnuts. I wonder whether national parks committees could not undertake some amenity planting. I 85 believe the Peak Park Planning Board is already doing some of this, and I would suggest that one answer might be for the Forestry Commission to do it as agents for the national parks committees.
What about shelter belts? I am sure everybody here and a great many people—farmers, landowners—outside have often thought, when driving through the hills, that it would make all the difference to a farm if it had a shelter belt. Yet in spite of very generous grants from the Government, up to 70 per cent., one sees few of these actually being planted, and I wonder where the fault is here. Perhaps it is that the farmer has always regarded trees as belonging to the landowner rather than to him, if he is a tenant farmer, and maybe what is needed is a real drive by the Agricultural Advisory Service to convince farmers that a shelter belt in the long term would be of tremendous benefit to them.
What about those neglected woodlands that one sees as one drives about the country? I am sure all noble Lords have seen woods most carefully planted, and then unfortunately nothing done, and they turn into a kind of woodland slum, with serious overcrowding rather like back-to-back houses: trees which have never had a chance at all. These are presumably in private ownership, but they are a potential national asset, and surely we should not just stand by and see these things getting worse and the trees falling down as time goes on. Ought it not to be possible for some sort of warning to be given by the Forestry Commission, with a due interval of time allowed, and then if the necessary management was not undertaken perhaps the Forestry Commission could undertake it themselves and charge the cost to the owner, less the receipts from any sales. In our small island we cannot just allow these valuable national assets to fall down through lack of management. I should like to come back to my main point, which is that I believe that forestry has a very important part to play in stemming the drift from our hills.
§ 6.34 p.m.
My Lords, I must apologise for not putting my name down to speak. I want to make one or two very short remarks, entirely on private forestry. Although I admire 86 the Forestry Commission enormously and I am good friends with them, other people have spoken about them and I do not wish to do so. I would not claim to be a forester, but I am an interested party. In my part of the world I am the kind of chap, they say, who plants a "puckle o' trees" every year. I do it every year and now I have 500 acres. I do it on the estate on the bits of ground that are too rough, too steep or too bad to make use of in any other way. It costs money, but as I do it on a small scale every year I enjoy it and the pain is not really very great. Costed out as the Forestry Commission have to do, one loses a great deal of money by planting in that way, but costed out as I have done it, which is not proper costing, it is different.
I planted one particular two-acre plot of sitke spruce 20 years ago and I got a grant which I think was £14–£7 an acre in those days. The planting was done by estate foresters, and so on. The cost was minimal, really. I thinned it for the first time after 20 years, and the income was £400 and the cash wages £200—I am not going into dead accuracy, but near enough. Therefore, I have not lost a great deal of money. But of course the Forestry Commission are not allowed to work in that way. They have to pay compound interest on their investment, compound interest on the land; so should I, by rights. Nevertheless, the landowner who has bad land should make use of it and should go and plant trees as I am doing. They are softwoods, but if you have small blocks of softwoods as opposed to vast areas of them they do not look anything like so bad.
The other great point is that you have to plant economically in straight lines and you have to thin paying attention to the lines; and after you have had your second or third thinning your amenity value increases. So I would say, do not be too impatient. The forester cannot be impatient. If anybody wants to know how to contour ground and make a forest look good, read Capability Brown's book called The Forester. I manage a piece of land that he laid out where unfortunately the 1953 winds blew down all the trees, but it looked superb as a forest. The point is that the trees were planted in straight lines, because of the cost of weeding and the cost of thinning otherwise. So one has to harden one's heart.
87 I would say one thing about the grey squirrel. The grey squirrel is a rodent, and a rodent can be controlled by Warfarin. I cannot imagine why people are allowed to use Warfarin to control rats in England but not to control grey squirrel, as we can in Scotland. We have had one or two fairly successful experiments using Warfarin. I am not sure what has happened about it now, since I took an interest in it, but it is a possibility; and as the two animals are rats, one outside and one inside the building, I do not see why Warfarin should be allowed in one case and not in the other.
With regard to shelter, the exposure tables which are used by the mountain rescue and survival people show—I cannot quote accurately, but this is the gist—that if you have two degrees of frost and a 30 miles an hour wind your exposure is equivalent to something like minus 25 degress of frost. Figures of this kind are not publicised enough. One could do a sum showing how much food can be saved by planting shelter belts, because of the food the animal does not have to eat to keep warm. None of these things are done. I have had the experience of three of my tenants—I have only six—asking me to plant shelter belts for them on their ground. To say that farmers cannot see "a good bet" when they see it happening around them is a mistake: they can. I think that we do not "plug" that point as hard as we should do.
There is one great point, though I do not think it has been made to-day. What are you going to do with the trees after you have grown them? What must be considered now, when forests are growing up, is filling in so that the timber is concentrated in areas near some processing factory. A modern chipboard mill requires something like 1.000 to 1,500 tons of thinnings a day. That means 50 20-ton lorries. If the thinnings have to be transported 100 miles, that costs, on the ton-mile basis, something of the order of £2 10s. a ton; and the lorries are basically carrying a good deal—60 per cent. or so—of water. Therefore the transport angle, and the processing part of the business, really must be looked at. I do not know who has been remiss, but the forestry industry seems to have grown without any planning of the use of the final product. This is unfortunate, and it is high time that we started to try to 88 put this matter right. Not all roads and bridges will carry a 20-ton lorry. If a grower has to use a small lorry and send his stuff 100 miles to be processed, the price he can be given by the processor is not attractive. It is debatable whether assistance to forestry would not be better given in assistance to either transport or processing, rather than to the forester himself. I do not grumble too much at the level of the grants now; I think they are not too bad.
§ 6.42 p.m.
My Lords, I apologise for not putting my name down to speak, but after this afternoon's debate I should like to dispute one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton; that sheep have caused a deterioration of hill grazing. This is not my experience. Has the noble Lord never heard of the golden effect of sheep's feet? I agree with him that the hill grazer should receive help from the Government. How is this help to he achieved if we join the Common Market? Can any sum paid in subsidy be deducted from the contribution to the Common Market? The Government can help the cause of spreading fertiliser, even if there is no road, by the use of the air. In addition, a fertiliser subsidy for hill farmers should be essential. Can the noble Lord, Lord Denham, enlighten us on these points?
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I very much regret that I have no interest to declare in this matter. I would very much like to have one, but unfortunately I have not except the interest of one who has always taken some interest in this whole subject and looks upon afforestation as something of tremendous value to the country. I am bound to say that the noble Earl's Question has evoked some well-informed and worth while speeches, and I have been glad to sit and listen to them. I am also glad that the noble Earl has explained why he is asking his Question, because I must admit to being a little puzzled by the timing of it in view of the fact that in December, 1970, the Government announced that the responsible Ministers wereto review various aspects of forestry policy, including the return on the public money invested in forestry",89 and that the review wouldinclude cost-benefit studies which would relate to both the public and private sectors".My puzzlement really stemmed from the fact that the Government have indicated, by replies to Questions in the other place, that they are about to announce the result. The most recent answer given said that the review is nearing completion, and that the Government hope to make an announcement soon. I know that when Governments say "soon" it does not mean to-morrow or in the very near future, but I imagine that the review must be just about reaching its conclusion.
I was rather surprised to hear the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, telling us they were still in negotiation with the Government, in view of the statement which I had read arising out of the Question. I must admit that I thought the whole thing was now pretty well settled within the Ministry by the responsible officers concerned. It seemed to me that the Question was ill-timed, because I thought it was too late to influence the Government's thinking on this matter and too early to examine and comment on the published result of the review. Nevertheless, the noble Earl has certainly started a debate that is well worth while, and I am sure that when the review does come and the result of it is published either in a White Paper or in some other way, the debate today will be of help to us in understanding it. This industry has been under constant review, and certainly there were critical examinations of the objectives of the Commission in 1958, again in 1963, and certainly before the Act of 1967. I have little fault to find with that, for I am strongly of the opinion that in a rapidly changing world no industry, be it public or private, can regard objectives, whenever fixed, as fixed for ever. In the case of the Commission, the broad objectives were fixed as long ago as 1919, even if slightly modified by the post-1939/1945 Acts.
I regard the objectives as being sound in 1919, and I certainly think that the objectives are sound to-day. But that is the question we should be asking: are the objectives sound to-day? If we decide that they are sound to-day, are the actions of the Commission designed and carried out in a way which will achieve the best results for the nation both in the near future and as far distant 90 as the year 2,000 and beyond? This is not an industry where we can decide and take action thinking only of tomorrow. The growing of timber is a long-term process even with softwoods, and a longer-term process if you are growing hardwoods.
I am very much of the opinion that the actions of the Commission, carrying out the objectives given to them, have led to desirable results and will continue to do so. The broad objectives of the Commission I take as being the creation of a strategic reserve of timber to provide a valuable import saving, and to provide employment in areas subject otherwise to great depopulation, and in striving towards these objectives to provide for the sort of countryside conditions that enhance the quality of life and the quality of living in this country of ours. I regard the latter as of very great importance in an age when increased and increasing leisure is with us.
The Commission have told us in their most recently published Report what they are doing in this field. There have been nearby one million "camper nights", as they put it. I must admit that I found the term a little difficult and had to think what they meant but I think I understand now. Those camper nights were of course spent at camp sites provided by the Commission. Furthermore, something like 15 million day visits have been made to picnic sites, forest trails, and so on. That enjoyment of amenity is considerable, especially when added to the fact that the Commission have some 10,000 miles of road from which—Oh the joy of it!—the motor car is completely banned.
From the amenity aspect, I have seen considerable criticism of the Commission's policy of planting soft, dark-leaved timber. We heard a little about it to-day, but not very much. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, made reference to it, as did other noble Lords. I do not go along with that criticism. Perhaps my æsthetic susceptibilities are not sufficiently well developed. But in many areas that I know in Wales I am strongly of the opinion that softwoods add considerably to the beauty of the area in which they are planted, especially if, wherever possible, they are offset to some extent by adjacent broad-leaved deciduous varieties of hardwoods. As I have seen for myself, 91 that is being increasingly done. But even where that is not possible, I prefer softwoods to miles of bracken on sour lands, some of which are at present growing only cotton grass. Good timber on those lands is of value to the nation as a whole, and I certainly support it. There is always a fuss when one does something. When one plants dark-leaved timber or softwood timber there are objections at the outset. It is rather like making a new reservoir. Initially there is tremendous opposition to it but eventually people say that there has been a tremendous improvement to the landscape. I believe that the same thing applies in the case of timber. It is true, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, that if you can fit it into the contours of the land you should do so. But do not be afraid of planting softwood simply because some people do not like its dark foliage.
Turning to the economic aspect, I am delighted with the nation's investment in land. There has been a tremendous investment in land by the Commission. Land which was bought at very low prices has appreciated considerably, and there are now some 3 million acres of such land which have been bought as the result of the nation's forestry policy. The employment factor, too, is of great importance to a rural economy faced, as it would be, were it not for the forestry, with total depopulation; for employed in the forests there are some 24,000 people and in the wood industry some 12,000 people. I recognise the point which the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, made, that increased productivity inevitably leads to a reduced employment of people. This is something which we cannot deplore, except for its effect upon the rural populations in those areas which are tending to be more and more depopulated. In this country we dare not stem the tide of increased productivity. What we must do—and this is something that we ought to consider in relation to employment as a whole—is to use to better purpose the additional time that is made available as a result of better machinery and so on. I believe that we can do this when we learn how to employ leisure and how to give people leisure in proper circumstances.
Considerable numbers in vast country areas of hill and mountain land are em- 92 ployed, for in addition to the men actually employed there is the benefit to the countryside of the people who have to serve them. So, despite the fact that we have lost people, there are villages that have been created with people there to serve them, and the countryside is helping to keep those people alive and to serve them with what they require. I ask your Lordships to look at the example of the pulpmill at Fort William. There are 900 people employed there, and £1,750,000 is paid out in wages every year. What a difference that has made to the Fort William area! Almost all of your Lordships know it. I happen only to have passed through it a few times, but as a result I know something of the area.
The import saving, too, is considerable and will be increasingly important as stands of timber reach maturity. I understand that we import annually some £700 million worth of wood and wood products. If we can save only 20 per cent. of that—which we look like achieving towards the end of the century—it will be well worth while in the circumstances of this country's relationship with the rest of the world. I shall not say anything about private forestry, which has been so well covered by those who really know the subject. The noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, and others who have spoken, know this aspect so well. But I was glad to hear the noble Duke pay tribute to the Commission. It is right that he should do so, because I believe that the Commission and the private forester have worked very well together. The noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, who knows the subject so well, also paid them tribute and made an extraordinarily good speech, as did so many others. I ought to refer to them all individually.
My Lords, I believe that this has been a well worth while debate. I still regard the balance that has been struck between the public and the private sectors as a reasonable one, and I believe that events have proved this to be so. It has worked well in the past and I see no reason why the balance should be changed now, although some small aspects have been mentioned to-night. But very little should be changed, because the policy has worked well and I am enough of a Conservative to say, "If something works 93 well, don't mess about with it." Altogether, I hope that the review will not seek to change the broad objectives, or interfere unduly in the work of the Commission. I am still of the opinion that we should work towards the 5-million acre mark. I hope that this debate to-day will have a good effect on the remaining questions to be settled—if there are any. But if not, I am sure that it has done us all good to listen and to take part in the debate.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Kinnoull for having prompted a most stimulating discussion on a subject in which I know many of your Lordships have a strong and sympathetic interest, although opportunities to debate this in depth arise only rarely. My right honourable friend and his right honourable friends, the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales, recognise the need for an up-to-date assessment of the role of forestry in the economy of the countryside and, indeed, in the economy as a whole.
Your Lordships have heard much of the Statements in another place about the review of forestry policy which has been taking place. This review has been comprehensive and wide-ranging. It has covered future policy for both the Forestry Commission and the private sector, and has had regard to the balance between the two, and it is the first review of forestry policy to have been supported by a detailed cost/benefit analysis. My right honourable friends cannot yet say when it will be possible to announce the Government's conclusions from this review, but they are considering what form of announcement will be most suitable. To this extent, as the noble Lord, Lord Champion, said, to-day's debate has therefore been slightly premature. Your Lordships will not expect me to anticipate the Government's conclusions, and I am sure my noble friend understands that at this point in time I can only assure him that the views which he and other noble Lords have expressed will be carefully noted and taken into account by Her Majesty's Government. Although this debate has come a little too soon in one sense, it has been of particular value in that it has given us an opportunity for a preview, as it were, of the diverse fac- 94 tors which arise in the formulation of future policy for the forestry industry. While we may not agree with everything that has been said, we will weigh all these views carefully in the balance of our consideration of what is best both for the Commission and for the private sector.
Several noble Lords have raised individual points, and I will try to answer some of them as shortly as possible. My noble friend Lord Kinnoull asked how the Common Market would affect forestry policy. There is no common forestry policy within the Community. There are aspects of the Mansholt plan which might have long-term implications for afforestation, but I understand that these have not yet been fully or formally endorsed by the Community. Meanwhile, we do not see any effects on the existing grants for forestry as a result of entry into the Common Market, whose members all in some form or another subsidise forestry in both the State and private sectors. My noble friend also talked about the future uses of timber and the possibility of a world shortage of timber, with competition from synthetics. I am assured that all these factors and many others like them have been taken fully into account in the Government's review.
My noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch particularly referred to the amenity aspect of forestry. The importance which is attached to amenity tree planting has been demonstrated by the announcement made last week in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. He has decided to make 1973 a tree planting year. The planning of the campaign will be undertaken by a committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Sandford. There is greater awareness than ever before of the need to safeguard our environment, and tree planting can do much to enhance the amenity of the countryside and to improve the urban scene. With the losses of trees which we are suffering as a result of Dutch elm disease, it is opportune at this point to encourage more amenity tree planting. This is something in which everybody can help, and full participation by private individuals and bodies should ensure the success of the tree planting year.
My Lords, we must also in this context bear in mind the contributions which both 95 the Commission and private woodland owners have made towards the perpetuation of existing woodland landscapes and the creation of new ones. The Commission are often criticised for not planting hardwoods widely. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Champion, that this criticism is ill-directed, because the Commission's expansion has been very largely in the Highlands and the uplands—and, I should say, Wales—where generally it would be vain to expect them to plant hardwoods with any prospect of success. At the same time, the Commission recognise that the maintenance of hardwoods where they can thrive is essential to the conservation of the landscape. Noble Lords will have welcomed the recent public assurance by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, that an objective of the Commission is to perpetuate by active management the living character of the woodland landscape for future generations to enjoy. Private woodland owners, for their part, have a long tradition of planting for both amenity and timber. Without this, the landscape we know to-day would have been infinitely poorer. Amenity and the production of timber are not inevitably and intrinsically opposed, as is sometimes implied. There is clear evidence that they are joining closer together in the concept of woodland management which is accepted today by everyone who has the widest interests of forestry at heart.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Dulverton raised the point about a review of grants for private forestry. This is still under consideration by my right honourable friends. I cannot anticipate their conclusions this evening, but they are fully conscious of the private sector's anxiety for an early decision. If any increase were to be agreed in the rate of the grants—and I cannot, of course, promise anything at all in this direction—it would be backdated to October 1, 1970. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, in a speech with which I very much sympathised, asked that straight lines and rectangular blocks should be avoided as much as possible. The Forestry Commission now employ an eminent landscape consultant for both general and specific advice in the landscaping of plantations. The noble Lord can, I think, rest assured that so far as the Commission are concerned rectangles are a thing of the past in the 96 planting of new plantations. The Commission are in fact most concerned with improving both the shape and the visual texture of their forests.
The noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, raised the question of shelter belts. Integration between hill farming and forestry in practical ways, such as planning where possible the layout of plantations for shelter and the provision of sheep passes through plantations, is constantly taking place, and I am sure that the Commission will continue to keep it in mind wherever it is a practical and sensible proposition. The noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, also mentioned the reduction in the Commission's labour force. This has been brought about as a result of technological change and improvements in management practices. None the less, the Commission continue to make a significant contribution to employment in the rural areas.
My noble friend Lord Stonehaven was concerned, as others of your Lordships have been, with the problem of the grey squirrel. He raised the question that was also raised by my noble friend Lord Dulverton on another occasion, as to whether Warfarin could he used for the control of the grey squirrel. I should like to remind him of what I said during the course of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. My noble friend Lord Dulverton put down an Amendment at Committee stage in order to make the use of Warfarin legal. I could not accept the Amendment, but I gave an undertaking that Her Majesty's Government would consult with wild life and other interests with a view to introducing an Amendment in another place that would make it possible for an Order for Affirmative Resolution to allow the use of Warfarin for this purpose. I think the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, on sheep was a little wide of the Question we are discussing this evening, and perhaps it would be stretching the patience of your Lordships if I dealt with it now; but I will write to him about this point.
My Lords, I think this debate has been extremely useful. I regret that I have not been able to be more specific on the main general future policy, about which my noble friend was asking. I can however assure him that before very long he will have his Question answered 97 and perhaps at that stage your Lordships will wish to return to the subject in more detail. My noble friend Lord Bathurst hoped that when this occasion arose we would have a wide-ranging and expert debate. This debate has shown the wide-ranging expertise available in your Lordships' House. Meanwhile, I should like again to express my thanks to my noble friend for raising this Question today in a manner which cannot fail to be helpful.
§ Reported, with Amendments.