§ 2.52 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
rose to call attention to the need for a consistent Forest Policy which shall have regard to the future requirements of the United Kingdom during the Twenty-first Century and to move for Papers. The noble 1359 Earl said: My Lords, when I first put this Motion on the Order Paper it contained the words "particularly in Scotland", but some of my English friends felt this might be taken to imply that English forestry did not matter very much. I have gladly agreed to remove those words; and I am equally grateful to those of your Lordships from Scotland who have refrained from attending the Highland Agricultural Show to-day, and to those of your Lordships from England who have refrained from going to Ascot in order to attend this debate. The reason why I had made this special reference to Scotland was that the first Royal Commission on Afforestation—that is, the Guest Commission, which reported to Mr. Asquith's Government in 1909—recommended that 9 million acres of hill and marginal ground should be afforested in the United Kingdom, of which 6 million acres ought to be in Scotland, 21½ million acres in England and Wales and half a million acres in Ireland, all of which were then a part of the United Kingdom.
These figures may seem very large to some of your Lordships, and certainly there have been less ambitious planting programmes envisaged since 1909; but I think it has usually been recognised that Scotland has a far greater proportion than England of hill and marginal ground suitable for afforestation, and that there are many regions, both in the Highlands and elsewhere, in which it is particularly desirable to afforest on a large scale for the purpose of reversing the downward trend of population, making it go up again, and building a more balanced rural economy in which farming and forestry, and the various industries which are dependent on forestry, can be developed together. But in spite of this, in our twentieth century afforestation Scotland has until lately lagged a long way behind England; and if now, in 1973, the 1909 recommendations were suddenly to be accepted and applied, then England would now be only 1 million acres short of her target while Scotland would have nearly 4½ million acres still to be planted. In my view, my Lords, that is the measure of our failure to do what we ought to have done in the first three-quarters of the present century.
I think your Lordships are all aware that Britain is the worst wooded country 1360 in Europe (France, which is not a predominantly sylvan country, has 28 million acres), and Britain is a very large consumer of timber. I think some of your Lordships may be beginning to suspect that the world shortage of timber, which has been predicted for a long time by so many authorities, including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, as being likely to occur about the end of the present century, is now showing signs of arriving, 20 or 25 years earlier than was expected. In the last twelve months timber prices have increased enormously, and if the publication of Hansard is ever resumed your Lordships will see in reply to a Parliamentary Question yesterday some of the figures given about our timber imports, from which it may be deduced that if they go on as they are for this year our timber import bill in 1973 will be over £1,100 million, compared with £750 million only two or three years ago.
My Lords, in opening this debate my sole purpose is to try to persuade your Lordships that we ought now to undertake a larger programme of afforestation in Britain than we have had up till now; and that we ought to begin this soon because there is no time to be lost. I think that we may have to pay rather dearly in the years that are to come for the time that we have lost in the first 73 years of the present century. In putting this case to your Lordships, I am afraid I shall be obliged to make some adverse criticisms of the action of the present Government in suddenly terminating the forestry dedication agreement last year. I hope that I am usually a loyal supporter of the present Government, but I must say frankly that in their forest policy, or rather their forest non-policy, the present Government have slipped up very badly indeed. They have even sat down on the ice, with what I think some skaters are accustomed to call "a regular flump on the fanny."
My Lords, yesterday morning I was looking up in an old House of Commons Hansard the report of a forestry debate in another place in the summer of 1933, almost exactly 40 years ago. The noble Duke the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, whom we are all glad to see here to-day and whom we look forward to hearing, spoke in that debate. He was then the Member for Roxburgh 1361 and Selkirk in another place. I also made a speech; I was the Member for West Renfrew. At that time our planting progress was miserably small, mainly because our forest policy had been changed no fewer than five times between 1919, when the Forestry Commission was established, and 1933 when this debate took place. It was pointed out in the debate that the recent severe and sudden cut in the Forestry Commission grant in that year had resulted in the Forestry Commission being compelled to destroy no fewer than 50 million good young trees in their nurseries, a shocking waste of national
property. I wish very much indeed that I could say that in these 40 years between 1933 and 1973 the ignorance and hostility of the British Treasury towards British forestry had diminished, or even mellowed; but I am afraid that, even were I to say that, it would not be true.
However, my Lords, we had a period of 25 years, prior to this crisis in 1972, when we did have a forest policy which, although not very ambitious, was at least consistent. It was inaugurated by the Forestry Act of 1947 which was based on the White Paper of 1943. I want to say a word about that White Paper, because my correspondence last year has led me seriously to doubt whether any of the Ministers responsible for forestry, or any of the Government officials who advised them, had ever read or heard of this very important White Paper (Cmnd. 6447) upon which the whole of our post-war forest policy was based.
This White Paper was a document produced by inter-Party agreement on behalf of the three Parties in the war-time Coalition Government. Tom Johnston was Labour Secretary of State for Scotland, and Rob Hudson was Conservative Minister of Agriculture. Before the White Paper was produced the Government took the trouble to ask the advice of all those people outside government in the country who had most knowledge and experience of forestry, including in particular the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, and also Sir George Courthope, who was both a Member of Parliament and also a Forestry Commissioner. This White Paper recommended the dedication 1362 scheme for private forestry which was adopted after the war. It also recommended what it called a desirable programme of post-war planting, which consisted of 5 million acres to be planted in 50 years, less than two-thirds of the Royal Commission 1909 recommendation. Of course, this 5 million acres included woods which had been cut down in the war. But still it was something substantial to go on—5 million acres in 50 years.
The White Paper also proposed that this 50-year period should be divided into five decades, and it suggested a planting target for each decade—rather less than one-fifth of the required total in the first decade rising to rather more in the last. In these suggested decennial planting targets no distinction was made, I think very wisely, between State planting and private planting, but it was generally considered, both by the Private Foresters' Association in Scotland and in England and also by the Forestry Commission officers who administered the dedication scheme, that private forestry would probably contribute about 40 per cent. of the total and the Forestry Commission about 60 per cent. I want to stress this point because the Government's publication of last year, Forest Policy Review, makes a misstatement about this in paragraph 27 when it says that the purpose of the dedication scheme was mainly to replant the woods felled in the war. That, my Lords, was not so. Of course, if an owner possessed woodlands which had been felled in the war it might be natural for him to give their replanting priority before he proceeded to do anything more.
But the White Paper did not even recommend that. In paragraph 493 it said:The extension of the forest area should proceed simultaneously with the rehabilitation of existing woodlands.And it was hoped that many owners who had never possessed any woodlands at all, but who did possess virgin soil suitable for planting, might apply to start a dedication scheme. I do not know whether any of your Lordships were members of any of the regional forestry advisory committees which existed for quite a long time after the war, but if you were, you probably spent many hours of your time going round with the private woodland 1363 officer, as he was called then, or the district officer, as he is called now, interviewing reluctant landowners and trying to persuade them that it was their duty to plant in the national interest; pointing out to them that if they registered their woodlands during their own lifetime, under Schedule D income tax they would receive tax rebate on their expenditure which would enable a larger area of land to be planted for the same expenditure, and that although they themselves could not expect to receive any financial return of their money unless they happened to be very young, this might eventually be a good investment for their grandchildren or great grandchildren in 50, 60, 70 or 80 years' time.
For the first 15 years or so of this 50-year period, beginning in 1947, progress was very slow and disappointing, but in the last seven or eight years, and particularly in the last four or five years, it improved until it not only became extremely good but even surpassed the expectations of most of us. In the forestry year ended March, 1971, for which I have the figures, the total planting in Scotland and England combined amounted to 126,000 acres. Some 87,000 of these were in Scotland and the remaining 39,000 were in England. By this time the balance had altered in favour of Scotland; and if you break this down between Forestry Commission planting and private planting in Scotland, you find that the Forestry Commission planted just on 49,000 acres while private planting amounted to 38,000 acres. That was an extremely good result.
The last year for which figures are available is the year ended March, 1972. Of course, this would be the year in which the Forestry Commission switched its figures from acres to hectares. I am not at all good at rapidly converting five or six tables of figures, each of which has five or six different columns, from hectares to acres; so I cannot promise your Lordships that I have done the sum rightly, but if I have done it rightly then the result is even slightly better than in March, 1971. I make out that very nearly 130,000 acres were planted; in Scotland over 90,000 were planted of which 50,000 were by the Commission and 40,000 by private planters.
There is a point here which I think may be of interest to noble Lords on the 1364 Benches opposite. Your Lordships may remember that when the late Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Wilson, went to Scotland in 1967, he went about in public proposing a number of steps to help unemployment and economic progress. He asked the Forestry Commission to aim at an annual rate of 50,000 acres a year in Scotland. This was supposed to begin in 1975. A great many people said that this was only one of Harold Wilson's gimmicks— although there are no votes to be got out of forestry: the average voter there does not care all that much about his unborn great-grandchildren. But many people said that Mr. Harold Wilson was just showing off and that he ought to have known that it was not practicable to reach such a large figure. If my hectare-acre sums are right, the Forestry Commission in fact reached this total of 50,000 acres a year at the end of March, 1972; and even if I am not right, which I must warn your Lordships is not at all unlikely, there is no doubt whatever about the previous year, 1971, in which the Forestry Commission planted a total in Scotland of precisely 48,804 acres—which is pretty near 50,000. I think that the present Leader of the Labour Party is entitled to draw a little satisfaction from the fact that his directive of six years ago to the Forestry Commission in Scotland has been virtually achieved four years ahead of the deadline that he gave.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, would the noble Earl give way? I am grateful to him for passing those remarks, but may I say, as somebody who at the time, after leaving the Ministry, was working with the Prime Minister, that there was no gimmick. It was due to a real love of the restoration of the woodlands to this country. As a statistician, his estimate was fairly good.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I do not think that I suggesed that there was any gimmick about it. I am always glad to give way; but there are a number of noble Lords who wish to speak and I do not want to give way too much.
This achievement in 1971 and 1972 was excellent. I am usually hard to please in these matters, but I should call it very good indeed. If it could go on —or if it could have gone on—we should have reached our five million acre target under the desirable programme 1365 not in 1997 but in 1988—nine years sooner than scheduled. Even if you allow for the unfortunate likelihood that the monstrous rise in land prices, which includes mountain and hill land, may begin to slow down the programme in the next five to six years, we should have comfortably finished our programme by the end of the century.
Now, at the moment when the dedication scheme was halfway through its young life—it had reached 25 years and had 25 years to run under the proposed programme—just when it was beginning to do so brilliantly, the present Government, for reasons that I have never been able to understand, chose, suddenly and silently, to assassinate the scheme—for all the world like a homicidal maniac or an I.R.A. bomb planter who kills without any rational motive. I find it very hard to understand the reasons which prompted this entirely needless destruction of our existing forestry policy.
The Government sought to justify their action by means of two publications. One was the small paper Forestry Policy Review, to which I have already referred, which having announced what had been done—for all the foresters awoke on the morning of June 28 to find the dedication scheme was already abolished and that no further applications would be accepted—asked the foresters for their views on the subject. To help them, the addresses were put in: in England, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Scottish address and the Welsh Office in Wales—almost as if the homicidal maniac had said to his victim: "I should like to have your views on this. Would you rather I shoved the knife in your throat or in your stomach?" The paper goes on to point out that this review was greatly assisted by a detailed cost/benefit analysis undertaken by a group of economists serving in Government Departments andthe report of this group is being published separately and will, we hope, serve to illuminate the many major issues which underlie the conclusions of this review.I have here the cost/benefit study produced by this group of economists serving in Government Departments which is said to illuminate "many of the major issues which underlie the conclusions of this review". I have studied both these documents as well as I can, but I have not yet succeeded in finding even 1366 one sentence in either of them which is not either quite irrelevant to the subject, or fatuous, or simply untrue. The best comment which I think I have seen on the cost/benefit study which I have here was written by a friend of mine who is a Member of the other place and who has a far greater experience of forestry and forest finance than I have. He says:Heaven help us from economists! The economic arguments against forestry are as they always have been, except that they are now dressed up in more sophisticated cost/benefit jargon with 'methodology' designed to make fiction appear stronger than fact. I do not deny that a great deal of trouble has been taken in this Cost/Benefit Study to produce the conclusions they wanted before they even began, together with the cloak of conviction required to sell them. Beneath the surface the same old guesses and dubious assumptions arc clearly visible as the foundation of them all. The trouble is that a false assumption will not produce a more correct conclusion simply because it has been processed by a million pound computer.I do not know how many of your Lordships have looked through this study. Obviously it is not the sort of thing one could go through in a debate, but there is one passage that I should like to quote to your Lordships, on pages 38 and 39, where it deals with future prices of timber products. The authors say:Demand for sawn softwood (which forms 75 per cent. to 80 per cent. of world sawn-wood production) is likely to slacken and indeed fall.Then they say:Paper products will become increasingly vulnerable to competition from oil based plastics. In plastic packaging the competition is already intense.They conclude:The thesis proposed is therefore that there appears to he no reason to suppose that the prices of wood products will in the aggregate continue of rise.My Lords, that was written 12 months ago. What has happened since then? Our timber import bill has risen apparently by 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. already, and we do not know how much more it is going to rise.
I got some figures from the Scottish Woodland Owners Association, who are engaged in selling timber all over Scotland, to give me the prices of different classes of timber last June and this June, and the answer is: for small wood—that is, the smallest stuff used for pulpwood or chipwood—last June £6.15, this June £7.40, an increase of 25 per cent. on 1367 the price; mining timber £6.50 in June, 1972, £10 in June, 1973, an increase of 55 per cent.; and millwood £7.00 to £8.50 according to quality in June, 1972 (this of course constitutes the larger bulk of our timber), and in June, 1973, £12.00 to £15.00, an increase of 75 per cent. in 12 months. I cannot help thinking, my Lords, that it might be a rather interesting historical study if Her Majesty's Treasury would examine their records, say for the last 200 years, to see whether they can find any previous instance in which so misleading a financial calculation as this has been so abundantly discredited in so short a time.
There is just one more observation in this cost/benefit study which I must read to your Lordships about timber supplies in the future. On page 49 they say:The vast areas of virgin forest in the Northern Hemisphere could more than meet the world's need for decades, if not for centuries to come.This is rather as if the Government Whips were to say to the Opposition Whips: "I think we have enough speakers for to-morrow to keep the debate going for twenty minutes or even four hours". Your Lordships might perhaps feel that they could have been a little more precise in their estimate, but I wonder whether this group of economists working in Government Departments realise that if they really mean it is going to last only four decades, it is time we started planting now on a very large scale, because the trees we plant now, the fastest growing conifers, are not going to be ready to cut for 5 decades, and the slow growing hardwoods not for 12 or 15 decades. Perhaps the vagueness of the Treasury on this point may be due to the fact that they stated in evidence not long ago, in 1965, to the Estimates Committee of the House of Commons that they never look more than five years ahead in forestry matters. I should like your Lordships to read that if you have time, because you might not believe it unless you actually saw it. In 1965 the House of Commons Estimates Committee rather concentrated on forestry expense and the Treasury witness in that examination stated that the Treasury never looked more than five years ahead in forestry matters. If you do not look 1368 more than five years ahead in forestry affairs it is not surprising if your conclusions are such as to make people doubt whether you understand the difference between a tree and a turnip.
Now, my Lords, I also wonder about oil plastics, and how long this group of economists working in Government Departments think the oil plastics are going to last. I wonder whether any of them have heard of what is called the energy crisis which is supposed to be approaching; whether they have heard any complaints of people in the United States of America who say that by the end of the century the entire American oil supplies will be exhausted and they will then need the whole output of the Middle East to supply the needs of America. How long that will last is not quite certain. What is going to happen after the Middle East supplies are exhausted too?
Another thing which does not seem to have been appreciated is that timber is one of the very few industrial raw materials, one of the very few sources of energy which can go on reproducing itself for ever. If you put a lot of money into plant to extract oil out of the ground, or iron ore or any other kind of mineral, you have to get back your money in a not very long time; but if you put your money into building up a huge forest, then you establish something which can go on yielding fruit for ever. Lord Polwarth's special assignation by the Prime Minister to look after our oil supplies has been greeted with exceptionally warm and widespread approval, and we are all delighted by it. He cannot put back new oil into the North Sea Shelf after he has taken out the oil that is there now, but he can plant new woods on his own property from the seed of the trees which he has cut down. That is the great difference which I think the Treasury failed to perceive in this Cost/Benefit Study between timber and other kinds of products.
My Lords, I have concentrated entirely on the need to produce more timber in Britain, and I shall not talk about anything else, although there are many other important aspects of this subject, more particularly amenity. My noble friend Lord Arbuthnott will speak on this subject. My views are in agreement with his, but he can speak about it with far greater 1369 authority than I can, because not only is he a member of the Countryside Commission in Scotland but before he became that he worked for some years as estate manager to the Scottish Nature Conservancy. I shall look forward very much to hearing my noble friend. The only remark I would make about amenity is rather a Philistine one: I think that sometimes the public does not know what it wants until after it gets it.
I am old enough to remember a wood that was planted in the South-West Highlands in the 1920s. It was a very bare, beautiful looking hill, and when the Forestry Commission decided to plant it there was a considerable outcry from the local inhabitants. "Oh!", they cried, "that beautiful hill. How can you be so unperceptive and so destructive as to destroy the lovely, barren majesty of this wonderful hillside? And we are told you are going to plant it with sitka spruce, which we believe to be a very ugly tree." Sitka spruce is a tree which grows very fast in the south-west of Scotland, and by 1968 this had become fully matured and ready for felling, and as a few trees had been blown down in a gale the Commission decided to fell it. Immediately there arose from the inhabitants another outcry: "Oh!", they cried, "the beautiful wood. How can you destroy and take away this lovely wood?" This, my Lords, is one of the advantages of old age: if one is old enough to remember two precisely contrary protests, made within fifty years of each other, one is then in a position to tell those who make one or the other that their grandchildren will almost certainly make precisely the opposite complaint in fifty years' time.
I have concentrated only on the need for growing more timber both by the Forestry Commission and by the private planter. As for the Forestry Commission, the great difficulty for them at the moment in maintaining their programme is this enormous and monstrous inflationary increase in land prices which I have already mentioned and which was dealt with, I think very sensibly, by the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, in opening your Lordships' debate on agriculture at the beginning of May. In forestry, the effect is that it is extremely difficult and expensive to buy land to plant, and, of course, according to the calculations of the Treasury, much less economic. I 1370 think in the national interest it is necessary to have a bigger programme than the 55,000 acres which the Government now suggest in their Forestry Review. I think we should stick to the 70,000 acres a year which the Forestry Commission have been achieving in 1971 and 1972, and that the Government should instruct the Commission that they should go into the market for land and, if necessary, pay these inflationary prices. If your Lordships think that that is a prodigal thing to do, may I give you one figure that is perhaps relevant? In the last Forestry Commission Report your Lordships will find that during the whole of the 54 years of the life of the Forestry Commission the total net sum expended on them by the Treasury is £280 million: that is exactly one quarter of what the cost of our timber imports from abroad will be this year. When it is looked at in that light, and when one considers the danger of timber prices going up, not only now but still more in the next century, I think it would probably be a good thing in the national interest to pay these high prices for land.
I have seen seven Prime Ministers fighting against inflation, with more failure than success. I feel that the present Prime Minister is fighting much better than any of his predecessors have done, and I devoutly hope that he will win. But even if he does win, for several years after he has won people will not believe that inflation has really been conquered, and I think we shall still get these high prices going on for a while, with what is called their inflationary expectation value. Until people understand that inflation really has been conquered, I think we shall have to endure paying higher prices for our planting land.
My Lords, I said a little while ago that the Government had acted with complete secrecy, which they did in respect of private forestry, but there were a few Members of Parliament who, in confidence, were told about this, one of whom I think was the noble Earl, Lord Lonsdale, who is on the list of speakers. As the conversations were confidential, one cannot know what was said, but I have no doubt in my own mind that the noble Earl and his associates did a great service to forestry, because I feel that if it had not been for these conversations the Government's action in 1972 would have been 1371 even more disastrous than it was. Now wider consultations are going on between all the forestry representatives, on the one side, and the Government, on the other. I would say to all those who are taking part in those negotiations with the Government: "Try to arrange for a scheme, if possible, better than the dedication scheme, which will ensure that the present rate of private planting is not reduced. Remember, and make the people with whom you are negotiating continually remember and be continually conscious of the fact that you are not negotiating on behalf of a few landowners who want help with their tree planting, but for an agreement which will be of economic benefit for the future needs of this country. That point must be kept in mind. If you get a good agreement, that will bring economic benefit to Britain in the 21st century: but if you get a bad agrement, then British economy in the 21st century will suffer." I would say, in addition, to all those taking part, including my noble friend Lord Lonsdale: "Be firm; stick to your point; and be of good courage." I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, it is appropriate that this debate should have been initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, because we have known over the years that in forestry matters he is not one who preaches one thing and practises another. He has been a very devoted exponent of forestry in Scotland. His speech has been perhaps a little longer than we are accustomed to in your Lordships' House, but I do not think it is necessarily any the worse for that because it enables the rest of us to diminish what we might have said.
He has covered the field very widely and I can adopt practically everything he said. The only statement that I could not have made myself is, "I am a loyal supporter of this Government normally". Normally, of course, I am not a loyal supporter of this Government. But almost everything else he said I could easily have said myself except that, not being a loyal supporter of the Government, it would not have been necessary for me to use quite such strong language as that used by the noble Earl from time to time. He referred to the visit made by the former 1372 Prime Minister (not, if I may say so the "late" Prime Minister) to Scotland. I believe it was in the Highlands that he made that speech in 1967 on forestry policy. The first job I had with the last Government involved responsibility for agriculture, fisheries and forestry in Scotland. The then Minister of State was my right honourable friend Mr. George Willis, who was, like the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, an enthusiast for forestry. He concentrated a very great deal of his time at the Scottish Office on seeking to achieve a change in this country's forestry policy, and I should like to say that it was very largely due to the efforts of Mr. Willis during the years 1965 and 1966 that decisions were taken to change that forestry policy, and I think most of those taking part in this debate would regard the change as being for the better. As my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek has said, there was indeed no gimmick about this at all. It was a statement—deliberately made at the time when it was possible to make it and in the area where it could most appropriately be said—of a decided change in Government policy.
I found myself immediately in agreement with the noble Earl in his references to the attitude of the Treasury in matters of forestry policy. I believe he used the words "the consistent hostility of the British Treasury to forestry." My Lords, I do not think that is too strong a statement. This was entirely the impression I had in the years 1965 and 1966. We had to overcome a definite hostility on the part of the Treasury to these matters; and this is amply borne out in this document, written in 1972 by economists under the chairmanship of a Treasury official. There is hostility to forestry throughout this document, and if it had been deliberately written by someone whose bias against the matter was obvious to all concerned—and I do not say that the writers of this document were in that position—it would not have been very different from its present form.
The noble Earl referred to the fact that in the last four or five years planting had gone ahead in a very much better fashion than in any of the preceding years. This is a direct result of what Ministers were then able to persuade the Government should be done. The one thing which is necessary in forestry matters is that the Minister of Agriculture 1373 who is concerned with forestry in England, the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is the forestry Minister in Scotland, and the Secretary of State for Wales, who is the forestry Minister in Wales, must be prepared at all times to fight vigorously against the opposition of the purely financial interests on these matters. I was not previously aware of the quotation that was given to us by the noble Earl referring to what the Treasury said in 1965—that in matters of forestry they normally look five years ahead. Yet in this document we have their statement on the resources of the Northern Hemisphere, where they blithely talk about the ability to provide for all our needs for decades, if not for centuries. It is that sort of statement which can only come from people who in their ordinary day-to-day activtities say, "We do not normally look more than five years ahead."
In another quotation from this document, the noble Earl referred to the ability of the Northern Hemisphere to provide for all our timber needs, and he quoted a passage about the Treasury's belief that in certain directions usage would fall. Having regard to a remark towards the end of his speech relating to energy needs in the United States, I would say this is another item which is completely out of date, because here they talked about the possibility of oil-based plastics supplanting wood in the foreseeable future. Already we are in a situation where we are having to gear our thinking to the fact that we are not going to have oil available in any quantities after the end of this century—and perhaps even before then. Therefore the estimate about price given in this document is not the only thing which has become almost immediately out of date. On this question of price—I myself find it extraordinary that they should have said this and I should like to repeat the quotation given by the noble Earl—The thesis proposed is, therefore, that, with currently available technologies, there appears to be no reason to suppose that prices of 'final' wood products will in aggregate continue to rise.The noble Earl quoted differences in prices between June last year and June this year. I happen to be engaged in the building industry, and just before coming away from the North I looked at two price lists which I receive from one of the biggest 1374 firms of timber merchants in Scotland. The firm produces month by month a printed list of all their products, with prices. The one issued in October was the last for some months, being followed by the "freeze" because all they did was to issue from time to time some stencilled amendments to the printed document. Their next list was issued in April, at the end of the "freeze", and on some of the items most regularly used in house building—for example, 5X2s or, for the benefit of the English, 2X5s, and I shall not attempt to translate that into centimetres—the price increase between October and April was 60 per cent. Yet this document talks blithely about a possible 3 per cent. or so increase per year over the years. On the basis of a year's statistics we already have increases for the next 20 years in the last five months.
In another part of the document balance-of-payments considerations are mentioned and discounted. They say that for the purpose of this study they do not regard import saving as being a factor which has to be taken into account. I do not remember exactly on which page that appears, but the fact is—and this, for those who are taking part in this debate, many of whom are as interested in agriculture as in forestry, is perhaps not to be ignored—that in references to the value of import saving they lump agriculture and forestry together. If the next ploy of the Treasury in this matter is to discount values of import saving in agriculture, does this indicate the same sort of sudden change of thinking in relation to agricultural support as we are getting in relation to forestry support? I doubt it; but on the basis of what they say on forestry, it would be as logical to do exactly the same in agriculture.
I became firmly convinced in 1965 that it was sound policy for this country to expand its forestry resources just as much as it was sound policy to expand agricultural resources. I was persuaded, and nothing that has happened in the interval has made me change my mind, that there were large parts of the country where forestry could be pursued without fear of damage to agricultural interests. Some of the types of tree in which the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, has been a pioneer have enabled planting to be undertaken in parts of the country which hitherto 1375 had been regarded as being above the tree line, where no forestry tree planting could be carried out. Obviously the same land was not land which was going to be of high value for agricultural purposes.
We must resist any temptation to have a hunger and a burst in forestry policies. The review—and this is the point on which I shall conclude—says:If more cost-effective methods of job creation and maintenance in the areas involved can be found, this would point to a reallocation of resources from forestry, but unless and until concrete alternatives are available any drastic curtailment of new planting by the Commission would have serious consequences for employment.Up to that point the statement is excellent. But it then goes on:On the other hand, the target put forward in 1967, which implied a total of new planting for Great Britain of 60,000 acres by 1976, compared with 50,000 acres in 1970 to 1971, no longer remains either desirable or realistic. The Government regard it as too high in the light of the results of the review, and in any case the difficulty of acquiring suitable land would make it difficult to achieve.The statistics from the review were quoted by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and those to which I have referred persuade me that this review is a very poor basis on which to make the statement that the target put forward in 1967 is no longer "either desirable or realistic". Having regard to the changes which have taken place, not merely over the decades but particularly over recent years, it would be the height of folly for us to continue to plan our forestry on the basis that we shall always—balance-of-payments problems notwithstanding—be able to afford to pay for all the timber that we need as an import item. Nor would it be wise, having regard to world circumstances, to assume that the resources of the Northern hemisphere will always be at our disposal, provided that we are willing and able to pay for them. We ought to be planning on the basis that this is something which we can do in this country for ourselves. We ought not to work on the basis that 60,000 acres is too much and is neither realistic nor desirable. But if we were to be realistic, we should be going on the basis that it is something which can and ought to be expanded still further in the future. If we do not do this I 1376 predict—and I am certain that my estimate will be much more realistic than any of the Treasury estimates on this matter—that in a year or two, or three, five or ten years from now, some bright lad in the Treasury will say, "We need a lot of timber. Can anybody tell us in the Treasury where we can lay our hands on some 50-year-old forests?"
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ LORD TANLAW
My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the noble Earl for raising this important subject this afternoon. I hope that his remarks on the need for us to grow more timber did not fall on deaf ears with his colleagues. I also share with the noble Earl the need to find out this afternoon what is the present attitude of the Government towards forestry policy in general. I have, as some noble Lords know, asked the Government before about their energy policy and have had a singular lack of response. Forestry policy it is an equally long-term matter, and I should like to think that the question might be much easier to answer as there are many more statistics available, some of which have been quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, already.
I should like to declare my interest as a private forester, and congratulate the Forestry Commission on the assistance, help, advice and wisdom that their men in the field give to private foresters. I feel that this will be said by a number of other noble Lords during the course of this afternoon. There is a clear distinction between the Forestry Commission in practice and the Forestry Commission as accounted for. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, put his finger on this in the Report, Forestry in Great Britain, compiled by a team of economists from the Treasury. The Report is clear to me in some parts, but in others it is totally incomprehensible. Economists, clearly, do not have an interest in trees, and have in fact a negative attitude towards forestry in general. It is the same when you look at the accounts in the 52nd Annual Report of the Forestry Commission. There is an apparently different attitude towards forestry from the author of the Report and auditors of the accounts.
I should like to look at this aspect as a shareholder. As taxpayers, we are all shareholders in the Forestry Commission. This Report and Accounts should in 1377 many ways be exactly similar to any published public company report and accounts that appear in the hand of a shareholder at an annual general meeting. If that is accepted, there is one point which stands out a mile. The main asset of the Forestry Commission is their land and their trees. And so I looked to see how much the Government's investment in the Forestry Commission was worth. Although there were many tables of immense detail on what I like to call the revenue account, on the capital account there is a net book cost of only £12.2 million for the land belonging to the Forestry Commission. I hope noble Lords will not mind but I have converted this to acres, and a total of approximately 3 million acres of land are owned by the Commission. It is shown in their accounts at a book value of only £4 per acre.
When the noble Earl opened this debate he mentioned the problem of buying land for expansion of forestry. I believe that to-day to buy land in Scotland suitable for forestry costs up to, and perhaps even more than, £100 an acre. Therefore I find it difficult to accept these figures. I am sure they are correct, but they are not practical. What company to-day shows its assets in land at book cost? No shareholder would allow it, and I do not think that we should do so. I hope to hear from the noble Lord the Minister a true valuation of, first of all, the land—that is, 3 million acres—shown in the books, and also whether or not the average purchase cost of £10 an acre shown is practical when in fact the Forestry Commission is paying up to, I would say, £100 an acre for new planting to-day.
I feel that when looked at in this way the Forestry Commission is one of the nation's most valuable assets; and again looking at it from the capital account, it has been a very fine investment for British taxpayers' money. This is why I share with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, the slightly incredulous view that the Treasury, who are, after all, very interested in conserving the nation's coffers, are taking this apparently hostile view to the efforts made by the Forestry Commission. I should like to think that this will be clearly discredited in the debate which is about to take place this afternoon; that this attitude will be 1378 thrown out of the window once and for all, and that the Government will reassess their forestry policy.
Finally, on this point, paragraph 11 of Forestry Policy, dated June, 1972, says:The result is that the current forestry estate is now worth much less, even with the effect of inflation of values, than the net cost including interest charges of creating it.I would ask the noble Lord the Minister to confirm that he believes this: that the 3 million acres owned by the Forestry Commission at current values to-day are worth less than at the time of purchase. I just do not believe that this can be true. Nevertheless, I think there is an explanation for this a little further on at the bottom of the paragraph, where the accounts are described as "notional". I have never in any of my company dealings met with any accounts that could be described as "notional" and be allowed to be got away with by anybody who claimed to be an accountant. Either these are accounts. or they are merely a notional dream dreamt up by perhaps the Treasury, the Auditor General—or I do not know who. But I should like clarification from the noble Lord the Minister, who is after all an accountant, to define what a "notional account" is. Are these accounts notional, and should we pay any attention to them whatever?
I should like now to go back to the Chairman's Report. This is the side that I find more reasonable and agreeable be? cause this is the side that deals with landscaping, the problems of integration of hill farms and forestry units. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I run a hill farm and a hill forest as an integrated unit, and I am glad to see there is a small paragraph about the joint experiment that has taken place under the auspices of the Forestry Commission. But I would commend to the noble Lord the Minister the view that various experiments of this kind—and my own property is one—concerning the integration of forestry and hill farming can prove to be of more than academic benefit. I think the placing and siting of the forest areas can be of immense benefit to a hill farm. Those of us who live near Eskdalemuir will know that our main problem is the wind and the rain; wind forces of up to 70 or 80 miles an hour are quite common. The proper siting 1379 of a forestry area is essential and immensely beneficial to the stock you are trying to rear in this rather hostile part of the world.
Secondly, the road system is often forgotten in regard to forestry. The placing of roads can open up these rather barren hills and provide access to the hill farmer, to feed stock in places which otherwise would have been quite inaccessible. There are many other benefits which I will not go into now, but I should like the noble Lord the Minister to confirm three major points on the question of landscaping. I think he will have no difficulty in confirming them. As we all know, there are no right angles or rectangles in a natural landscape. I believe it is forestry policy that this principle will be implemented, in the sense that no further new plantings of a rectangular nature will be undertaken.
I was a little disturbed when I looked at the page of the Report dealing with new plantings that have been carried out. The picture on page 19 shows the planting of tubed seedlings at Farigaig Forest. From this picture it would appear that the planting is going right up to the march fence. It looks like a good old rectangle, and the straight lines are running up and down the photograph. I am happy to say (because I telephoned the Forestry Commission at Inverness just before the debate) that this is not the case. This was a trial plot. They have roughed up the edges; they have taken away the seedlings from the march fence and planted them up with hardwoods, and the shape is not a rectangle. But I should like to feel that this procedure is being carried out everywhere, especially in Scotland.
There are two other points which are not mentioned in the Report; they are small but other noble Lords may like to pick them up. There is no mention of rides and fire breaks. I should like to think that it is the Forestry Commission's policy, when planting a forest, that the rides and the fire breaks are shaped to the contours of the hill, because more often than not, they are not. They might well be fuzzing the edges of a plantation, but are they siting the rides straight down or straight across the hill? I should like to have confirmation from the noble 1380 Lord that a sensible policy in this respect is being carried out.
There is a new thought here and one that I should like to put into debate. There has been no mention of open spaces. This may sound a little absurd because as a forester, as I am, one does not like to see vacancies in any forest. But I ask noble Lords, and the Forestry Commission especially, to consider that when laying out a forest they allow for open spaces inside the forest itself, because without them it is no good talking about wildlife. Wildlife can hardly exist at all in the very tightly knit conditions of serried ranks of Sitka spruce. The only wildlife that will be seen in a forest must be in a clearing. This is not allowed for, or does not appear to be allowed for, in the Report. I mention it in passing, and should like the noble Lord to confirm that this is part of forestry policy.
I have just one other small point, which is vermin control. One of the biggest rows that I have as a forester and farmer, wearing both hats at once, is on this problem of foxes in my particular area. I believe that much of the bad blood that may exist between the forester and the hill farmer lies in vermin control or, as it is in most cases, inadequate vermin control. I should like to put a suggestion to the Minister. I should like to see every forester, private and public, put in a return to his local national farmers' union of vermin killed in his area. I should also like to see 10p per acre as a guideline to be put aside for vermin control of a forest. At the same time. it is important that where it applies, the local hunt should also put in how many foxes it has killed. If these ascertainable facts are put before the national farmers' union in each area, then all this "Who blames whom?" will be mostly eradicated. It will be quite easily seen who is not keeping un with his vermin control if these returns are adquately put forward. I would think that the National Farmers' Union is more than capable of administering something as simple as this.
Finally, the noble Earl said in the words of the Motion that we were looking towards the Twenty-first Century. Here is a final thought which may perhaps apply more in England than in Scotland. It is that as conurbations, as I believe they are called, grow steadily in size, and as our population increases and as housing problems increase, there 1381 will be fewer and fewer places for citizens to go. We shall all be urban citizens, I would imagine, in the Twenty-first Century. There will be very few places for us to go in order to get away from the noise, the dirt and the general stress factors that will make our life totally intolerable if it goes on in its present way, and I think a forest may be the one place where we shall be able to find some kind of solitude. I should like to feel that when we talk about wildlife and recreation in our forests, we are talking about something much more when we come to the turn of the Twenty-first Century, for by then our forests may be the only real havens of rest left in a disturbed and mad world.
§ 4.11 p.m.
My Lords, your Lordships, and indeed many people outside your Lordships' House, will, I am sure, be grateful to my noble friend Lord Dundee for having initiated this full-scale debate on forestry this afternoon. In a curious way, despite the three previous speakers, so am I grateful. Looking through the list of speakers one cannot fail to detect a virtual barrage of my noble friends from behind me, and more specifically from North of the Border, who wish to take part in this debate and whose knowledge of, and interest in, forestry is well known and, if I might say so, greatly respected. I am bound to say that I have a curious inkling that I shall be looking for evidence during this debate of their "friendship". But modesty compels me to hope, rather than to believe, that I shall have more friends at the end of the debate than one might think at the outset.
My noble friend Lord Dundee referred to two specific documents—the Government Consultative Document entitled Forestry Policy and the cost/benefit analysis. There is of course, I would suggest, also a third document—the Wolfe Report which was commissioned by the Forestry Committee of Great Britain. I would suggest that it is these three documents which are at the core of this debate, and indeed at the core of the debate which has been continuing in forestry and allied circles over the last 12 months. It is almost exactly a year since the Government published their Consultative Document entitled Forestry Policy. It is not 1382 quite plain, and I would wish to make it abundantly plain, that the Paper is, and was, and was always meant to be a consultative document, and my right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council, in his previous capacity as Minister of Agriculture, last year made that clear beyond peradventure to a delegation which included in its membership some Members of your Lordships' House. The Paper has stimulated discussion. We wanted it to stimulate discussion and the very debate which we are having this afternoon, which I know will be informed and I have no doubt whatsoever will be forthright, is the very type of discussion which we wish to have. I can assure your Lordships that what is said this afternoon will be listened to by the Government with great care. The document is not a thesis of the Government's doctrinaire and inflexible views. This Government have, more than any Government before them, adopted the "open government" approach to national problems, to an extent which is quite unprecedented in our history—and that this approach most certainly applies to forestry is demonstrated by the number of organisations which have asked to see one or other of the forestry Ministers, and have been welcomed by them.
It is some 30 years since we last had a thorough review of both private and State forestry and, although my noble friend's Motion calls for a consistent forestry policy, I feel sure he will concede that, after such a length of time, it is not imprudent of Government to say: What are we doing? What are our objectives? And is what we are doing, and have been doing, the right and the best thing to be doing for the future, both from the point of view of forestry and from the point of view of the much wider context of national interest, with all the cross-flow of conflicting and diverse interests which that involves?
This was the main reason why the review was undertaken and included the cost benefit analysis. I am hound to say this seems to have attracted—even for a Government publication—a quite unique and almost unanimous degree of castigation from all those who are interested in forestry as a productive enterprise. I would only say this about it. It is the first time—and I accept that many noble Lords may hope that it will be the last 1383 time—that a serious effort has been made to quantify the returns from forestry, both those which are readily ascertainable and those which are not so easily determined. Any series of calculations which relates to a period of years such as is covered by the growth of forests—of half a century or more—by its very nature must be loaded with a host of unknowns and uncertainties. The Government have always recognised this and have never considered that forestry policy should be governed solely by readily quantified, or by readily quantifiable, economics. This has merely been an attempt—and I accept that for some it has been a disagreeable one—to throw some light on to what were previously grey areas.
Whereas since the inception of the Forestry Commission some fifty years ago, all effort in both the State and the private side of forestry has been steered, with Government support, towards the rehabilitation of the depleted and sometimes neglected resources of national timber after the ravages of two world wars, it is right to consider whether this, on its own, should justify Government support for forestry in the future, or whether other factors, such as rural depopulation or amenity considerations. should replace it or should have equal recognition with it, or just part recognition with it. Apart from the taxation arrangements. the main channel of Government support to private forestry has been via the dedication scheme, and there was much general concern, as my noble friend Lord Dundee pointed out, when the Government Consultative Document announced that no new applications for dedications would be considered after June 28 last year.
My noble friend likened my right honourable friends to homicidal maniacs, asking their victims how they would best like to be destroyed. I concede that that was a graphic description, if a trifle unfair. I accept that the suspension of the dedication scheme has been considered by many as evidence of the Government's backing out of its support for forestry and as an indication of the Government's lack of interest in forestry. If there are noble Lords who still fear this, I should like to reassure them. It was done for one basic reason. As the Government were concerned that a new scheme should be drawn up, one which would take account of the more involved interests of a 1384 modern society, and as the Government had in the Consultative Document specifically instructed the Forestry Commission to consult with the interests concerned in formulating such a new scheme, it was considered only prudent to suspend new applications for dedication simply to allow the Government and the industry together to work out a fresh approach. It did not signify the end of all dedication, because land already dedicated (and there are a million acres of it and owners have had some 26 years in which to take advantage of the scheme) is still to retain the advantages of dedication.
Nor did it necessarily sound the end of support for new planting for all time. This has been running at some 50,000 acres a year. It merely suspended new dedications until the new arrangements could be worked out. There have been, and there will continue to be, extensive consultations throughout the whole of the forestry industry (as many noble Lords who are involved in them will know) on the preparation of a new scheme. These discussions are still in progress and when all the views have been considered the Government will announce their intentions. Meanwhile, my honourable friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as an earnest of the Government's concern for the importance of continuity to forestry, announced an interim scheme which will enable planting grants to be paid of the same size as those which have been previously available under the dedication scheme.
My Lords, the subject of increased timber production is a theme which is central to most of the views which are expressed by the private forestry interests. The maximum possible increase in home timber production is seen by many people as a desirable objective in that it would enable the United Kingdom to achieve both a greater inbuilt natural resource and a greater degree of self-sufficiency in timber. A number of arguments have been put forward in support of this, such as the need to reduce the high level of timber imports in order to benefit the balance of payments; the vulnerability of the United Kingdom in the face of possible world shortages of timber; and the steeply rising cost of imported timber (to which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, referred) such as we have experienced over the last year or so. I recognise that 1385 these are vitally important issues. Less than 10 per cent. of the demand for timber in Britain is currently being met from home produced supplies. Any increase in home production of timber will, of course, reduce the level of imports of timber and, on this count, it will relieve the balance of payments. But I would suggest that it is important to bear in mind that producing domestic timber absorbs resources which may be better employed in other industries, and increasing the country's self-sufficiency in timber may mean reducing it in other sectors. What the policy proposals in the Consultative Document have sought to do, therefore, is to suggest that the forestry programme should be at a level which will enable home timber production to make an increasing contribution to the total timber supplies without, at the same time, making a disproportionate call upon resources which may have an even greater call from elsewhere.
Here I wish to stress the importance of land, in this densely populated island, being put to the use which suits it best. I need hardly remind your Lordships of the 50,000 acres which are relentlessly being taken out of production every year in order to meet the demands for motorways and houses which was described so graphically once as, "the march of bricks and mortar over the fair plains of England". We cannot afford not to use land properly, and we must no longer think in terms of forestry or farming. Each can benefit the other as the Forestry Commission have demonstrated so effectively at Glenlivet, and as others have, too. Everyone knows how anxious we are to stimulate meat production, and we should welcome the fact that cattle, sheep and trees all grow well on the hills and uplands, and that trees planted with thought and foresight can enable more stock to be carried as a result of the shelter which they give. My honourable friend the Minister of State for Agriculture Fisheries and Food has been conducting most of the discussions with interested bodies, and I can assure noble Lords that the proper use of land is a thread which has linked them all. It is a matter which is featuring prominently in the Government's thinking. Your Lordships will wish to know that the ways and means of achieving further integration is a subject which the Forestry Commission and the Forestry Committee of Great Britain have 1386 been asked to include, together with considerations of amenity and depopulation, in their consultations over future grant-aid arrangements for private forestry.
One aspect of forestry which has caused concern to a large number of organisations and individuals outside the forestry industry is the effect which forestry has on the appearance of the countryside—and the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw referred to that aspect. The Government believe that greater attention—and I will put it no higher than that—will have to be given to the part which woodlands play in the landscape. Since 1964 the Forestry Commission, for its part, has employed an eminent landscape consultant, Dame Sylvia Crowe, to advise it on more effective ways of merging its plantations naturally with the local topography. It has also instituted a new hardwood policy to ensure that only hardwood species are planted in traditionally hardwood areas where the soil is suitable. The private sector has also shown a growing willingness to modify its commercial aims in the interests of amenity, and this will no doubt be reinforced if we can devise a system whereby grants can be paid for amenity planting as proposed in the Consultative Document. It has to be recognised, however, that the environmental impact of forestry is something on which other interests, particularly local planning authorities with responsibilities in areas of high amenity, will wish to make their views known.
With the growing awareness of people to amenity, with the growth of leisure, and with the interminable spread of the ubiquitous motor car, we should be burying our heads in the sand if we did not recognise that there is, and there is bound to be an increasing public concern as to the effects of afforestation on the environment in general on the one hand, and on amenity in particular on the other hand. That does not mean that the one is antagonistic to the other, but merely that the one recognises the existence and the impact of the other. That makes one wonder: what is amenity? It is not a readily identifiable object like Big Ben. Nor do those who speak on behalf of amenity necessarily speak with the same voice—or even the same intentions. And I agree with my noble friend Lord Dundee when he said that the planting of bare areas of land can cause as much 1387 of an outcry as can the making of bare areas of land by the felling of mature afforested areas. It is the change from what has been known and accepted by the community to something different which is where society at large feels that it has a right, not to make its views necessarily prevail, but merely to allow them to be heard.
I cannot emphasise too strongly that the Government have no intention of abandoning forestry development. In fact, as will be clear from the Consultative Document, we are proposing to continue to finance out of national funds a planting programme for the Forestry Commission which, while it will incorporate an increasing share of replanting, will continue the extension of the national forestry estate until well into the next century. The programme is aimed at keeping planting within 55,000 acres per year inclusive of restocking. With the Commission's replanting expected to run at a level of about 10,000 acres a year for the next decade or two, this will mean, in effect, an initial level of new planting of about 45,000 acres per year but with a gradual decrease later on as restocking of felled woodlands increases. I know that there are those who would wish to see a higher output and target, but that would be impossible to achieve just now, so great is the difficulty of obtaining suitable land for planting. In 1971-72 the Commission managed to buy some 40,000 acres. Last year they could get only 16,000 acres—and the private sector is finding similar difficulties. However, every additional acre planted will eventually result in something like three tons of extra timber being produced each year.
So far as the private sector is concerned, we propose to institute a new system of grants, as well as retaining the old grant schemes for land which is already covered by them. Far from abandoning forestry development, therefore, we expect to see a continuing steady expansion of the area of land under trees, to be followed in due course by increased output of timber for processing. By the end of the century we shall probably be producing from our woods nearly three times as much timber as we are at present. It is, of course, always difficult to gauge what the demand for wood will be in the long term, but 1388 the general consensus of opinion seems to be that there will be a continuing increase in the demand at any rate until the end of the century.
My Lords, I think I can forecast that many of your Lordships will be emphasising that forestry has an important role to play in building up our national resources, as indeed it has in the recycling and regeneration of our national resources, as my noble friend Lord Dundee mentioned; that it provides supplies of raw material for industry; that it creates employment, both in the forests and in the processing industries; that it can run complementary with agriculture; that it enhances the amenities; and that it provides much-needed recreational facilities in a relaxed and rural setting to which the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, referred. These are very varying roles. Sometimes the roles conflict and are not easy to reconcile. This is why we want discussion. This is why we are continuing to discuss. The Government look forward to hearing the views which your Lordships will express to-day. We are confident that ways and means will be found of striking a balance that will enable forestry to prosper in a manner which will satisfy the many and varied interests concerned.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, before the noble Earl finally resumes his seat, after a speech which included many conciliatory remarks on this subject, could he expand just a little on one point? He emphasised the fact that the document to which we have been referring, Forestry Policy, was not a White Paper but was a consultative document, and that the Government were taking account of the views which had been expressed and which will be expressed in the course of this debate. What will the next step be? Will the Government, when they have decided what they are going to do, issue a White Paper, or shall we be presented with an Order or Orders, or a Bill? I hope that the Minister will be able to say that the next stage will be the issue of a White Paper.
My Lords, as I explained to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, the Government are discussing these points at the moment. What the results of the discussion will be I cannot say; nor can I say what the method will be by which the Government 1389 announce their conclusion. Clearly it is right for the Government to take a decision, but the method by which that decision will be taken, whether by White Paper or otherwise, I cannot tell the noble Lord at present.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, would the Minister convey to his right honourable friends the possibility that the best way of conveying these decisions would be in a White Paper?
My Lords, I will certainly convey that suggestion, together with every other word noble Lords are going to say this afternoon, to my right honourable friends.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, could the noble Earl give any indication as to when the decision will be made?
§ 4.34 p.m.
THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH AND QUEENSBERRY
My Lords, I declare a personal interest in forestry and a keen national interest in its success. When Parliament has so much business and legislation, and when Members of Parliament are involved with so many vast issues of such complexity, very little attention is given to a small industry like timber production, and people seem to be annoyed if it tries to grow and to prove itself. We are indebted, therefore, to my noble friend Lord Dundee for his Motion to-day. I feel sure that all of us will be very much encouraged by the two speeches from the representatives of both Front Benches to which we have just listened, by their friendliness to forestry, by the great enthusiasm expressed once again by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and by the reassurance of my noble friend Lord Ferrers as to the Government's views about forestry. I feel that it will be very helpful to those persons who are negotiating for private forestry to-day to know that the Government have these good intentions towards it for the future.
With so many well qualified speakers on the list, I will try to refer only to a few of the many important aspects. There is clear evidence of the urgent need for much more timber. Prices of imported timber have risen fast. The shortage of timber is worsening in Europe and in 1390 other parts of the world. The demand here and elsewhere, is bigger every year. Wood producing industries, especially in Scotland, are under pressure to produce more, and are very short of timber already; and yet there is suitable land, soil and climate. Much land is under-productive and can be available with little disadvantage to farming. Whatever justification the committee of economists may have, or think they have, about the amount of money in timber production, that there is a long wait for any return and that this eventually is too little, when you compare the annual expenditure on imports of timber, increasing annually, and last year at a record figure of nearly £920 million, with the modest expenditure towards forestry and towards private forestry during the last 100 years, or even the last 50 years, and when you also compare capital grants and assistance for other industries, including farming, I submit that the value of the capital assets in timber, and the contribution which they will go on making continuously, is a full justification for a policy of forestry expansion, with necessary incentives.
With favourable currencies and a better trade balance, imports would presumably cost less and matter less. But there is no guarantee or sign of this, the opposite is more true. With such an acute shortage of timber this country will need to rely more on its own efforts. To meet the initial costs of growing good timber and attractive woods, in 1947 all political Parties accepted the need for financial incentives. The economic justification is greater now, with higher costs and greater consumption. Proposals last year by the Government were based mainly on the economists' report. They caused disappointment to everyone concerned with the promotion of forestry and timber production. But the Minister, fortunately, stated that the proposals were open to discussion, and the opportunity has been taken by all forestry organisations to assist with constructive suggestions. These all favour the continuity of forestry expanson and the improvement of existing woods, both in quality and in amenity. I urge support for their opinions and recommendations.
I think we should remember the felling of so many plantations during the last war and the mess that was left in them afterwards. The 1947 policy for their re-establishment and for the creation of 1391 a much larger and stronger forestry industry resulted from a long and thorough investigation by Ministers of all Parties in Parliament, by the Forestry Commission, private forestry, Chancellors of the Exchequer, and the Treasury, and was agreed in Parliament by all political Parties, who demanded a maximum response from forestry. If anyone may politically dislike in principle one or the other, I would emphasise that the best is needed both from the Forestry Commission and from private forestry. Before the Statement last year we were disappointed that there was no consultation, but this debate is helpful now, and I hope that after the statements this afternoon confidence will rapidly be restored.
Forestry and timber production are unlike any other industry, and different treatment is required for them. The extent to which woodland owners, timber merchants and the Forestry Commission had to begin again from scratch after the war will scarcely be remembered; but in contrast to the position then, I submit that remarkable progress has been made in the last 25 years, which is not a long period for timber production. The benefit of this to the nation will be immense; I do not think that that is sufficiently recognised. I predict now that there will be a need for the full use of all available land for food and timber production. If there is a continued effort for the next 25 years the situation will be much more favourable, and there will be a much more economic and helpful industry.
May I turn to hardwoods for a few minutes, because it is well known that there is a widespread public demand for the growing of more oak and other hardwoods, and that this is more costly than growing conifers on hillsides. I hope that attention is being given to this matter at a high level. The planning of landscape improvement and amenity is a customary objective of private woodland owners as well as the growing of good quality timber. The growing of hardwoods, especially oak, requires continuous attention and personal care, which can only be given by the owners of the woods. I am sure that in localities more suitable for hardwoods, encouragement from the Government will 1392 be welcome, and the response will be keen.
I feel that it is difficult to speak about hardwoods without saying a few words about the widespread destruction of hardwood trees such as beech, oak, and sycamore by grey squirrels in the southern half of England, and in a few parts of Scotland. I hope that persons with small, non-planting estates and families living in or near towns and villages who find grey squirrels attractive will become increasingly aware of this destruction of hardwoods, which is even worse than elm disease, and will not be resentful but will wish to co-operate with those who try to grow hardwoods in effecting a reduction of the grey squirrel population. If the forestry authority and the Government can face up to this delicate problem and can secure a willing support from many more people and organisations, the loss of hardwood trees will be much less and the growing of them will be more economic and successful.
Before concluding, I should like to say a word or two about the dedication agreement, which is partly the cause of this debate and which was intended to be permanent. It is understood by everyone in forestry. Amendments so far do not seem to be an improvement. It was a necessary part of a long-term post-war forestry policy designed primarily to make it possible financially for felled woodlands to be re-established, to secure better management with continuity and permanence, and to help in establishing a much larger and stronger forest industry. The dedication agreement is understood by everyone in forestry, and if amendments may possibly spoil rather than improve it, the Government could do well to confirm the policy previously agreed by all parties with a minimum of changes.
Finally, speaking as a farmer and forester with responsibility for good land use, I realise the value of a balanced policy and of integration for food and timber production, and the need to choose more carefully for forestry the land which is the least productive and the least economic for farming and the more suitable for timber. Farmers will be increasingly aware of the acute shortage of timber and its effects, and co-operation between the two industries, which is so 1393 much to be desired, could more readily become a reality. The increase of food production by farmers has been immense and is being bettered all the time, and equally foresters wish to do their share. Whatever mistakes may have been made in the use of land for forestry and in the choice of trees, I am sure they are few compared to the vast achievement of State and private forestry; and with more experience now, and also more knowledge of public demand, an improvement in every respect can be anticipated. Now that Her Majesty's Government have had this review of the forestry situation, I very much hope that they will take a good opportunity to put us all on the best course for the foreseeable future.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT YOUNGER OF LECKIE
My Lords, I too must admit to an interest as an owner of a very small area of woodlands, for which I have taken full advantage of the dedication scheme. But, much as I should like to talk about that, I feel that it is going to be very adequately covered by subsequent speakers, and therefore I want to devote my remarks more to the question of forestry policy, which was referred to both by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in their remarks, in which, as your Lordships will remember, they were not at all kindly disposed to the cost/benefit analysis.
I should like to say to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who gave us a very conciliatory speech and spoke of a consultative document—and I think that he may find this somewhat disturbing—that it is one thing to consult on ways and means, and quite another to consult on principle and policy; and I am afraid the Government will find that it is on principle and policy that they will have to think again, and not on ways and means. Much was said about this cost/benefit analysis. I have no idea whether the explanation offered by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and also by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for its form is a fair one, but the fact is that any operation of that sort has to proceed on terms of reference, and it is Ministers' responsibility to see that the terms of reference are correct. In this instance, I am sorry to say that I do not think they have taken that precaution. The result is the appalling muddle into which their argument has got, which 1394 makes the cost/benefit analysis not only largely irrelevant but, to a considerable extent, inconsistent with itself.
Great stress is laid from place to place in the documents on the long-term nature of forestry—something which of course we all know to be true. But it seems to me that the implications of that have not been properly followed up, either by the Government or by the cost/benefit analysis. In the case of an industry like this one, where there is a rotation of anything from 50 to 100 years, who on earth would think of taking a criterion for it in the form of a test discount rate of whatever amount? Who has any idea what will be an appropriate rate 50 years from now? That part of the inquiry could have been answered immediately by anybody who knew about forestry. All the Government had to do was to ask, "Do you think we shall get a 10 per cent. return on our money from investment in forestry?", and the answer would have been, "No". But, instead, this elaborate procedure has been gone through. The result of putting this emphasis on a test discount rate is that the real object of forestry has never been properly defined in these documents, although it was defined clearly enough in 1948.
Incidentally, it is not a particular mark for the documents that they made the specific statement that the main object of the dedication scheme was to make good the losses of timber in World War II. I think that was a mis-statement. It was not true, and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, gave us some evidence of that. But I think one can also get some evidence by looking at the facts. The position at that time was that there had been neglect of forestry, not only in World War II but in World War I, and many woodlands had not been re-stocked. There was neglect of forestry all through the 'thirties, for very good economic reasons; and the problem went very much wider than the World War II problem. There is some evidence, too, from the dedication scheme itself. Surely no one, either Government in proposing it or the owners in accepting it, would put their names to a dedication in perpetuity to remedy a situation which could certainly have been remedied in 15 years. Obviously, that was a mis-statement of fact, and the intention must have been at that time to establish, at least for existing 1395 woodland areas that they would be kept under timber not for 15 years but from generation to generation; and no owner would have willingly signed that without being confident that that policy anyway would be continued. So I think that the argument about the discount rate can be largely left out of account.
The other extraordinary factor in the cost benefit analysis is the treatment of import saving. I should not have thought that any body of economists, Treasury or otherwise, could suggest that an industry which is supplying only 10 per cent. of the country's requirements of timber was not going to try to do better than that, but there is no suggestion in this document that they are going to try any such thing. It seems to me that a little common sense would have answered that point, without many elaborate investigations. It is not fair to say that all the proposed policy is objectionable to those of us who are interested in forestry. There is a wide area of agreement. I think we are all agreed that from the financial return point of view it is not a wonderfully remunerative investment on past and present statistics. A point which is not dealt with in the Paper is what is to happen in the future, and one of the criticisms of it must be that quite inadequate attention was given to the assessment of the future timber market, both in this country and elsewhere—to supplies of timber in the United Kingdom, to supplies of timber in Europe and on a world basis. Of course, that has now been overtaken by events, although none of us knows to what extent the present extreme shortage of timber will be permanent and to what extent it will be temporary.
Another point that has to be considered in this economic problem is that you cannot consider the viability of a forestry industry, except by taking it as a whole. You cannot, for instance, consider only the afforestation of new land in isolation. Since this Paper was written, there have been major developments in the economic situation. It is only within the last few months that one has been able to see signs that at long last some reasonable money will be available for the thinnings, which will completely alter the picture of forestry in the future if it succeeds. Much of that is the result of new timber-using industry starting up, 1396 We have had the pulp mill, which had a value in a limited area. We now have chipboard industries starting, and there is acute anxiety in case we do not have sufficient timber to supply them. Indeed, at the moment there is such a famine of timber that many sawmills in Scotland are not even able to obtain it. Whether or not they are unwilling to pay the price I do not know, but that is the present situation.
So one really has to consider the subject in this way: that if we are to have a timber industry which will even keep the existing woodlands under timber from generation to generation, and, if possible, do so on a viable basis—that is to say, without subsidy—then we have to make sure that we can produce sufficient timber to satisfy the timber-using industries. Otherwise, if they fail—for instance, if the chipboard industry does not come up to its expectations—we shall be back to the position where there is no cash flow at all in the forest until it is well over 25 years old. So it works both ways. You have to make sure that you have sufficient reserves of timber to keep the industries going, and you also have to see that they will have sufficient growth and capacity to take the timber that you are supplying. It is by no means certain what will be needed in the future, but there is one reason why one should tend to over-estimate rather than underestimate the amount of timber which has to be grown.
As has been said, we are at the moment half-way through a timber rotation for most of the post-war plantings; that is to say, the first of the post-war plantings are now about 25 years old. At that stage, there is remarkably little elasticity in what you can do about producing timber suddenly for the market, because it has not reached the necessary stage. But when you reach 50 years (taking that as a round figure) and you begin the process of felling your fifty-year timber and restocking, then you have a situation in which you have a certain amount of elasticity, because in fact you do not require to cut all your timber in year 50, and you have quite a wide spread of years in which you can bring it on the market. Therefore, on that ground alone, I think this is entirely the wrong moment to fiddle about with the timber industry and to put it out of the stride which it has only just got into.
1397 I really have not time to deal with the other main item in this policy document—that is to say, the regional employment figure—except to say that I do not think you need to be an economist to know that of course if you have a production of timber well spread over the rather more backward areas of the country, then obviously it has a good effect on regional employment. Again, the full effect of that will be difficult to assess until we get on a full rotation basis, which is not until another 25 years' time.
Finally, may I say one word about the amenity question, which is, I admit, very important. I am not going to go into it in detail because it is clearly going to be dealt with by subsequent speakers. All of us in the forestry industry recognise the importance of amenity, but I think here again that the cost/benefit study made a complete mess of its account of amenity factors, and the reason was this. It made an attempt—I think an abortive one—to quantify in money terms the value of recreational amenity, but when it came to scenic amenity it decided (quite rightly, I think) that it could not even try because it was too difficult. The result was that far too much emphasis, in my opinion, was put on recreational amenity, which is very limited. It is limited both by supply of suitable places and by the demand for particular kinds of recreational amenity. But scenic amenity is quite a different thing. It affects everybody in the country, it affects all our foreign visitors, and it is of the utmost importance. In fact, it was not given nearly sufficient importance in the Papers we are now discussing. My Lords, that is all I have to say, and I shall listen with very great interest to subsequent speakers.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ LORD LOVAT
My Lords, the first six speakers have taken two hours to contribute their most interesting speeches to this important debate, for which we are all extremely grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. Private forestry, as it seems to me, stands at the crossroads in this debate, so we are extremely grateful that the matter should be thrown open to discussion and the future of forestry given a fair ventilation in this House on one of those rare occasions when we can talk about this vastly important industry of the United Kingdom. If I may say so, apart from the importance and length of 1398 the speeches they have been unanimous I think, both on the Opposition and on the Liberal Benches, and the only point of disagreement that I can see, with respect, is on the Front Bench of the Government. My noble friend Lord Ferrers still seems to reiterate the points in the White Paper which has filled us all with alarm and which, I think, is now wholly out of date, apart from being extremely inaccurate.
My Lords, there is a world shortage of timber; I think everybody knows that. but it is a curious thing about raw materials that the shortage of these materials is never fully realised until the event is upon you. I can instance many cases. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, mentioned oil in the United States. They have only just discovered that there is a great shortage of that vital commodity in the country. The same could be said about the Argentine, which had all the meat in the world and now has two meatless days a week. Then, when the harvest failed in Russia, although Russian wheat was said to be unlimited, they put up the price of our timber; and, of course, we have not enough timber here. We are soon going to have no herrings in this country, although the Herring Board will not tell you that until there are no herrings left in the North Sea and the Minch. But that is the background to the timber shortage in Europe to-day.
Many speakers have told us that we can grow only 8 per cent. of our national timber requirements, and that is a hopelessly small and inadequate figure, Surely the Government should makeevery effort to try to rectify this state of affairs. Those of your Lordships who have attended the F.A.O. conferences in Geneva will have foreseen for the last ten years that this was going to happen. We cannot really blame the Treasury, who have taken the brunt of the hostile critics who have already spoken and who are going to come after me. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe, whose hands are tied by the Forestry Commission, cannot defend himself, because I know he is a good friend of this side of the House who is leading without troops for most of the time. He must know that the Forestry Commission have fallen behind the clock in failing to appreciate that we must grow more trees, 1399 and the Government must appreciate that it takes sixty years to grow a tree. This seems to be one of the main weaknesses in the present White Paper, and I hope the thing will be torn up and that the Government will think again after the next 15 speakers have had their say in this matter.
I will not say more about the homegrown timber deficit, but I should like to mention that from the year 1975 there will be a falling short of 250,000 tons per annum of timber. No person has yet mentioned the fact that people are going to be out of jobs and that the confidence of the industry has fallen to zero. I am talking about the man who germinates the seed in the nursery garden right up to the man in the pulp mill at Fort William, which is working 20 per cent. below capacity. We have been very considerably shaken, and I hope that the Government have been shaken, too. With the balance of payments all awry, we are now paying up to nearly £100 million a year for imported timber; so surely we must think in terms of expansion.
Now we have missed the boat in many ways. Land use, as many speakers have already emphasised, is a vastly complicated affair. The noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, and my noble friend Lord Dundee mentioned a debate forty years ago in the House of Commons, when forestry was in the doldrums and the Government thought that something should be done about it. I remember making my maiden speech, which must have been a complementary one to that same, more important affair in another place. My father had just died, I had not come of age, and I got up in a very timid way and suggested that the Forestry Commission might consider paying more than ten shillings an acre for land, because a deer forest made fifteen shillings at that time. If your Lordships read the Financial Times of ten days ago, you will have seen that the market value of a deer forest is now £10,000 a stag; the price of a salmon is £1,000; and the price of a brace of grouse, more extraordinary still, is £800. These are market values, and they are fantastic and pulpably absurd, but they show how far the Forestry Commission and the policy of afforestation have lagged behind.
1400 You will have to put up your sights to buy more land—I am now speaking to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and the Forestry Commission. The Government must appreciate that they must give Lord Taylor sufficient funds to go about acquiring land. One speaker has already said that you cannot get land for planting trees at less than £100 an acre. I do not think the Forestry Commission, whose valuations in different parts of Scotland, at any rate, are very different, would contemplate that figure; but they must be given the wherewithall to do so, just as one must get increased planting grants to meet the rising cost of production. All these matters must be looked at in a new light. The way the price of timber, the price of land and the price of different forms of country valuations have rocketed in the last six months came as quite a surprise to me, and I am sure it did to all your Lordships, and I do not think they are likely to go down.
I now come to deal quickly with certain points in the White Paper, having discussed the wider interprepation of forestry in this country. There are certain considerations which I think could help the Government in their appraisal of forestry. First, if land is so expensive, why do not the Forestry Commission buy smaller woodlands? This is something which does not appeal to them, but it might be considered. I do not think that in the White Paper it is necessarily a good thing to insist on private access to woodlands at all times. This matter might be considered in a different light. It is not a case of denying access at all times but of denying access at certain times. This seems to be commonsense for obvious reasons. There is something I think wrong in the management grant, something which has struck me forcefully over the years. I am concerned with property and the one I know best plants 200 to 300 acres a year. You cannot keep up with dedication; and the Forestry Commission expect you to comply. One always does so; but they pay out the grant before the bare areas on the map are actually planted. This to me seems to be a burden on the Treasury. I see no reason why this system should not be improved so that the grant is payable only after the land has been planted.
1401 I now come to sport which has its importance in the integration of hillside or farm or woodland areas. The noble Viscount, Lord Arbuthnott, is to speak later. He is the chairman of the Deer Commission. I feel that the private woodlands and the Forestry Commissioners might consider opening their woodlands to the red deer when the trees have thinned out and the danger of their destruction by the deer is unlikely. You cannot let red deer into young plants. In our bigger woodlands we have different age groups of timber; some young, some old. We do not mind the deer among the old timber, but they could damage the young. This brings me back to the point I made about smaller woodlands. They are much more attractive anyway than vast areas of different growths all inside a ring fence.
My Lords, to sum up, this White Paper is a year out of date. It is a severe blow to confidence in the private sector of forestry. If the Government wish to nationalise forestry then they had better say so. Some people think it is a way of stopping private planting going any further. In the meantime, on advice that appears to stem from the Treasury, the Government have abandoned the purposeful build-up of timber resources in this country. If the Government can spell out a hold policy—we have the land, we have the climate, we have the soil and we have the expertise—we could step up national production from 8 per cent. to 25 per cent. by the year 2025, and meet our requirement of 50 years' hence. In view of the trade deficit and the present state of the pound this seems to me a national necessity.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ LORD DONALDSON OF KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, I begin with two apologies. First, I have an unbreakable engagement, and in view of the state of travel at the moment I doubt whether I shall be able to remain to hear the end of the debate. I hope I shall. Secondly, I am not going to follow the main line of the debate. There are many reasons for this. In the first place, my noble friend Lord Hughes and I are probably the only two speakers without vested interest in this matter. Therefore I think it is up to us to bring out some of the marginal aspects which people who are deeply concerned with their own affairs are apt 1402 to miss. The noble Earl provoked me a little in his opening by, as it seemed to me, slightly overstating his case. But this is to be expected when one is deeply interested and involved in something; it is almost impossible not to do so. I have done exactly the same often enough when speaking against Treasury critics on behalf of agriculture. "Treasury-bashing" is a favourite sport, here and elsewhere—and rightly so; for they are nearly always wrong. My noble friend, Lord Hughes suggested that they were especially hostile to forestry. I can assure him that this is not the case; they have been especially hostile to every cause I have ever supported. I do not think that one wants to overdo this suggestion about their picking on forestry.
With my noble friend Lord Hughes, I thing it is a pity to start reducing targets when the price of land is almost certain to reduce them anyway. I level some criticism at the White Paper and Government policy on those grounds. But primarily I want to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that, whatever you may think of cost/benefit analysis, there is a case for trying to have a cost/benefit analysis of the cost of producing anything against the cost of producing something else.
The "Grey Paper" that we have all been discussing contains a fair degree of non sequiturs. But it was probably right to attempt to do it. It took—and the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, wondered what this meant—a figure of 10 per cent. as the test discount rate. I, too, have not the slightest idea what that means but I take it that it means the rate at which money could reasonably be invested. What is interesting about this Treasury doctrine is that it says that 3 per cent. of the 10 per cent. can be covered by the true economic results of forestry and the other 7 per cent. must be covered by intangibles. Most of us believe this to be true. The employment question is vital. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, who said that there was no reason to put an economist on to tell us so. The amenities are vital. Strategy is important.
I want to talk about two parts of this Paper only: shortly about one, and at slightly greater length about the other. First, the integration of agriculture with 1403 forestry; and, secondly, recreation. As regards the first, this has been a constant disappointment to people who study agriculture—one of whom to some extent I claim to be—and the Report of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, Land Resources Use in Scotland, an interesting document, has a few sharp things to say about this. They say:A highly unsatisfactory situation … positive steps should be taken to promote integration".So I should hope. This suggests that such steps have not been taken. But this is 16 years after the Zuckerman Report, which was entirely devoted to this end, and it is eight years after the Labour Government's Paper, The Development of Agriculture, both of which insisted strongly on the importance of integration. My information is not very up to date, but I feel that this is not happening as it should, particularly in Wales, though probably the position is better in Scotland than in Wales.
I take the view that farmers and foresters are not natural collaborators. Some overall reference is required to made them work together. I thought the last Government got it about right when they set up the Northern Pennines Rural Development Board which was supposed to supervise the integration of agriculture, forestry, amenity and recreation in what is a difficult area. This Board was just beginning to show its worth when it was savagely dismembered, in those far-off brutal days before the Government changed their spots. But there is no use in looking back now. Let us hope that the Government will accept what the Select Committee has recommended, which could be almost as good as, and is not significantly different from, the Board—that is, the Land Use Council. This would be a central forum for discussion of rural land use affairs; its bite would be in its direct access to the Secretary of State. This, in my opinion, is the way that any increase in planting should be justified. It should not be justified basically by economic argument alone, but by showing that in certain areas there are places that would be best used for planting. We shall not get that until we have some kind of overall body looking at it, and this is what I hope we shall do. There has been some talk of amenity of access. 1404 I criticised the Forestry Commission very much in the old days for its straight lines and right angles, but since Dame Sylvia Crowe has been there I think we must say that things are quite different and really rather good.
Now, my Lords, let me turn to recreation, which I think has the greatest potential of all the intangibles and is probably the least understood. The White Paper lays down specifically (the Government have not been given credit for this and I wish to give them credit; perhaps it is the first credit that they have received to-day) that the Forestry Commission is to provide greater access to the countryside for recreational purposes. The Commission's current Report shows that it spent something over £500.000 on amenity and recreation. As I understand it, there is no guide as to how much the Commission should spend; it is left to the judgment of the Commission and 1 am happy to leave it in the hands of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe. Incidentally, / am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, referred to the absurdity of the Addison Rules, by which we are not allowed to hear the noble Lord, who has more to tell us than anybody in the House. I think that £500,000 is a modest sum and that we could look for a good deal more. Here I agree with all noble Lords who have criticised the Treasury attempt at cost/benefit analysis of the unanalysable. It seems to me that to try to quantify the recreational benefits is too silly for words. The Treasury calculated a figure of £14 million for 1968, rising to £6 million by 1980. In my opinion this is simply a random guess. I do not believe that calculations of this sort are useful at all. Without going so far as Wittgenstein, who startled philosophers while I was at Cambridge by suggesting that all value judgments were meaningless, I would assert absolutely firmly that accountants' attempts to put cash values on pleasures and pains are absolutely meaningless. I think this is an instance of a great deal of totally wasted work for a result which, while not actually misleading, because they give quite a lot of weight to it, they could have got it without this calculation. I think the story of the widow's mite ought to convince us that sums are not equal to values. In any case, after Roskill, I should have thought that we had got 1405 over that by now. It seems that we have not. But if the problem is not subject to quantification, it is subject to common sense, and on this basis certain conclusions which are quite encouraging may be drawn.
In the first place, there has been a steady increase in the use of forests by campers. There were over one million camp-nights in 1972, which is up nearly 20 per cent. over the last two years. Over the same period the Commission has added 60 new picnic sites, making nearly 200; doubled the number of forest trails; increased car parks by 20 per cent. and doubled the number of information centres. So the Commission has not been backward in responding to the Government's invitation. But we want to see a good deal more done. This whole exercise is taking place against the most extraordinary explosion of tourism both native and foreign. The total demand for all forms of over-night accommodation in Great Britain is expected to grow by 40 per cent. to 740 million bed-nights by 1980. This includes an expected rise of 120 per cent. in the number of foreign visitors. One could not bet on these figures. They are not certainties, but they are an intelligent guess and they show a trend. The Nino Report, Hotel Prospects to 1980. predicts a demand over and above existing availability for beds in the lower price range—that means under £5 a night at to-day's prices—and of no fewer than 120,000 at peak. This is described by the trade rather quaintly as "unsatisfied bed-nights". It is true that most overseas visitors begin with determined sight-seeing—London. Stratford, Edinburgh—but most of them want to get away from it all, at least for some part of their holiday. And the natives certainly want to get out of their urban prisons. The more people we can persuade to take a forest holiday, the better for our balance of payments. Continental prices are rising, and there is no time to be lost. The 3 million acres of Commission forest, with 600,000 acres of forest park and over 10,000 miles of road where not a car can be seen, is ideal for getting away from it all. You can obtain isolation; you can lose 100 people in an acre of forest who in an acre of open space would make it look like Margate.
Where are all these visitors—the great potential in those unsatisfied bed-nights— 1406 going to sleep? The Commission has made a start. It has built 12 family cabins, each with five beds, in Strathyre Forest in Perthshire. These have now been fully let for more than a month and so far everything is all right. There is access to the shores of the loch, to boating and swimming, to mountain walks and forest walks, to nature trails and to marvellous scenery. It seems to me that this is the sort of initiative we want to see, forest by forest and district by district, not only throughout Scotland but also throughout the British Isles. There will have to be heavy capital expenditure, but it should bring good returns and meet a real need. I do not know how easily the Commission can raise money and I do not think it ought to go into the hotel business in a big way. I should have thought that carefully contrived concessions, keeping overall control in the hands of the Commission but leaving the specialist provision of beds and food to specialists, would be the right sort of approach; and I hope that bodies like British Rail, which have shown great expertise in this business, would not be precluded from tendering for this in order to produce something for another Government perhaps to hive off at a later stage. This, I think, is the line that we should work on.
What is true for the public sector is also true for the private sector. Every encouragement should be given to private landlords to develop in the same direction. But I wish the White Paper had been a little more specific about questions of access to private forests and recreation. In paragraph 42, it says that grant aid to private forestry should have to meet one of two conditions; the first relating to providing employment and the second to an environmental gain, such as creating or preserving amenity. I should like to add a third, the provision of access to recreational facilities.
My Lords, this is not the occasion to debate the very strongly worded new paragraph which was proposed and turned down in the Select Committee's deliberations, and which is recorded in full at the end of volume 1 of the Report. I think it would be a waste of time to try to persuade a Tory Government—even this one with their new look—to enter into wholesale nationalisation. My Party is not committed to expropriating 1407 landlords who do their job well. However, I am not averse to putting pressure on them to use their assets to make some contribution to the public weal. Here I would use the carrot rather than the stick. I would tempt rather than threaten. I think that people with adequate resources are more susceptible to the pleasures of profit than to the pain of loss. Generally speaking, it is the poor who miss the quick profit because they cannot afford the catastrophe of loss. I would assist landlords generously to make proper and effective arrangements for access and recreation, as the Forestry Commission is already doing, but I would not give them a penny if they did not. So I should like to see access and provision for recreation as a necessary condition for grant aid. I certainly do not mean that there should be no private woods at all, but that a reasonable readiness to provide access, with car parks, picnic sites and the rest on some parts of their estates, should be expected of landlords before they qualify for State assistance. Of course, many are doing this already, as noble Lords opposite know, and some in a most imaginative way. But this does not affect the principle.
My Lords, I believe that the prospects for growth in the provision of forest reclamation is not only great but also greatly in the national interest. I repeat that I applaud the Government's inclusion of recreation and amenity as planks in their forestry policy and I am grateful to the noble Earl for having given us this opportunity to discuss it.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF BRADFORD
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Dundee has once again earned your Lordships' thanks for introducing another Motion on forestry to this House, and with such a powerful speech. The noble Earl has called for a consistent forestry policy, and in support of this I would say that in an operation so long term, consistency in policy is the first essential for planning. And in adding my thanks to the noble Earl I would also thank him for slightly amending the terms of his Motion—not because I disagree with them in the first place, but because, seeing my place on the list of speakers as a somewhat lonely Englishman between two batches of noble 1408 Lords from North of the Border, I was fearful that I might see a flash of claymores or possibly of axes or chain saws if I said something exclusively Sassenach.
However, perhaps I can reassure your Lordships, in declaring an interest, by saying that my forestry operations are not confined exclusively to South of the Border but extend to the wilds of Inverness-shire and include the integration of a hill farm with forestry operations. In declaring this interest, too, I must say that I have taken advantage of grants under the Dedication Scheme and have therefore been helped by public money. But I can also say that I have put far more by way of my own resources into these operations, and in the course of them have derived far more aesthetic pleasure than I have been able to derive financial advantage, though I hope that the latter may be the lot of my successors in time if they are permitted to enjoy the woodlands which have been created over the last generation.
My Lords, I have participated, I think, in most of the debates on forestry that have taken place in your Lordships' House since I became a Member. I think I have been consistent in advocating a forward-looking national policy and assessing the opportunities and advantages of a dynamic approach to the subject. I have also stressed the potential gain to our balance of payments, the great asset of our oceanic climate for tree-growing and the vital qualities of timber as the most important self-renewable raw material that we possess, especially now in the light of the growing energy crisis. I have also stressed the strategic value of those timber resources, in the light of approaching world shortages and the vulnerable position in which we find ourselves as the largest importer, particularly in view of the growing needs and the policies of developing countries, many of which are among our principal suppliers. We have already been told that our imports of timber products are rapidly approaching the 1,000 million mark in one year and amount to many times more than the total spending on the development of forestry resources over the last 50 years. I am not aware that any remarks which I may have made have caused any ripple on the surface of that sea of serenity and complacency in which the Treasury seem to engulf themselves 1409 when forestry matters come up before them. If this is Treasury batting, I am delighted to hear that there are many other opportunities given.
In June last year we had the latest review of forestry policy in the form of the White Paper intended for discussion. This, as we have heard, caused considerable alarm and despondency within the industry and was challenged by the forestry societies and also by the timber trade. The economic arguments which it advanced, if applied to other Government supported enterprises, would I think bring most of them to a standstill. They were applied in the case of forestry to unrepresentative areas in an era of immaturity and imbalance of age and classes and therefore of low productivity. Their conclusions therefore must be highly misleading and, as we have heard, have been largely vitiated by subsequent events.
The White Paper, too, brought the Dedication Scheme to a halt and, as we have already heard, showed considerable misunderstanding of the purpose of that scheme. It was not just for the rehabilitation of war-time damage and destruction but was intended as a framework of orderly long-term management and control, with financial assistance to the owner in return for considerable sacrifices by him. There is the greatest need for continuity, either in the present form or in some similar form. The White Paper, too, introduced a degree of respectability for forestry through provision for employment in development areas, and also for amenity. Though highly desirable aims in themselves, these can hardly be said to be the main ends of policy. The basis of any successful policy of forestry must be a prosperous industry right through, from the growers and the processers to the users; and here I would say that forestry production does not end, as is sometimes thought. when a tree is felled. The industry includes processors and users, as well as growers and the total production of the industry is far higher than that shown in the cost/benefit study which shows only raw material values and not overall output values.
Since publication of the White Paper, as we have heard, discussions between interested parties have been taking place, and one can only hope that a sensible agreed policy will emerge; but in the same period other very important events 1410 have occurred. There has been a very steep rise in timber prices, making the economic arguments of the cost/benefit study sound even less valid. Secondly, the countries of the European Economic Community, already much more heavily forested than we are, have called for a vastly increased forestry programme; and in the light of fast approaching world shortages almost all other countries in Europe are stepping up their forestry efforts. They all seem apparently blissfully unaware of the economic arguments against forestry advanced by Her Majesty's Government.
Thirdly, there has been a much greater realisation of the finite nature of most of the natural resources of the world—for example, coal and oil—and therefore of the increasing need for timber, the most important self-renewable resource. Fourthly, there has been published a most interesting paper, entitled Forestry in Britain: the Pattern of Industry, by Kenneth Rankin, Director of the Economic Forestry Group. This paper shows that if we were able to count on the sustained yield of 4 million acres of fully productive forest, with the supporting industries well integrated, we could count on an imports saving of around £500 million. I would point out, too, that if the recommendations of the Royal Commission of 1909 had been accepted our productive forests would be very much larger still.
My Lords, the mistakes of foresters, though long lasting, are perhaps not so serious as those of doctors, and are perhaps comparable to those of architects in their effect on the environment. The effects of grey squirrels and their depredations are even more obvious in their effect on the environment. I should like to support the plea of the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch. for even more energetic action against this pest. Much more serious, however, are the mistakes of central policy, especially if the architects of that policy fail to enable full use to be made of our unique natural resources and our climatic advantages. It is still not too late to make up some of the lost ground, and I very much hope, with other noble Lords, that on this occasion the chance will not again be missed.
§ 5.41 p.m.
THE VISCOUNT OF ARBUTHNOTT
My Lords, I should like to join others of your Lordships in offering thanks to my 1411 noble kinsman Lord Dundee for introducing this Motion this afternoon, which of course has centred round the White Paper, or, as we should now call it, the Consultative Document, which required some pretty far-ranging decisions without consultation before it was produced. I think we ought also to realise that in some quarters that document was welcomed, and it is about some of the criticisms of forestry that come from those quarters that I should like to speak this afternoon. I have to admit an interest, like others of your Lordships, in that I am the owner of 360 acres of dedicated woodland. But my interest in forestry is even greater as a former employee of the Nature Conservancy, as my noble friend Lord Dundee has already mentioned, and as a former member of the Countryside Commission for Scotland. Presently, my interest is almost entirely confined to that of a farmer with a main interest in sheep and cattle farming in upland conditions.
In 1973 I planted my tree along with all the members of my family, the members of the village school and the members of our youth club. I have also felled some mature woodland in order to replant it. I have taken some bare upland grazing out of agriculture and put it into forestry. I have tried to improve amenity and some of the conscience of the young people towards the environment and forestry in particular. I have also destroyed amenity and wildlife habitat. So, at the same time, I have committed all the sins that are held against foresters and tried to carry out some of the virtues that they extol for themselves. But, in fact, this is the normal pattern of integrated management on many, if not the majority, of the landed estates that I know: an integration of farming, forestry and amenity, with a consideration always for wildlife. It` is a matter of finding the right balance; of preparing a plan, sticking to it and trying to see it through. What throws one is if the outside factors are subject to drastic change; and Government policy is about the most crucial of these. Then your plans are almost certain to go awry. This was the situation that faced most of us in private forestry in June, 1972, when we contemplated the future as a result of what was apparently Government policy at that time. But 1412 many others of your Lordships have dealt with this matter much better than I can (and no doubt others will, too) and I should like to confine my few remarks to the other phase of forestry that so often comes in for criticism: its compatability or otherwise with conservation; its relationship to amenity and the opportunity for recreation; and, perhaps most important, the degree to which it can fit into the plans of the farmers.
On conservation, I should like to make just these few remarks. Recently I had the good fortune to read of an exercise that was carried out by a group of foresters, farmers and conservationists in upland Wales, where a large area of farming country was taken and it was demonstrated what the three different groups would do if they had a free hand. I am glad to say that the outcome was a compromise plan. But I think it is worth noting that the naturalists found in this upland area some 700 species of plant. It will not surprise the foresters among us that nearly 70 per cent. of those could be found in the hard woodland, but perhaps it might be a surprise to know that nearly 50 per cent. could be found in the coniferous forest; that the percentage increased as the forest grew older, and that that percentage was higher than what was to be found of those species on the open moorland and grassland outside. This was true not only of plants, but of birds, and I think probably should lay the lie that afforestation, and even coniferous afforestation, can be harmful to the interests of wildlife.
There is another point about wildlife to which I should like to draw the attention of your Lordships, and it concerns the size of the blocks that are being planted. It is generally true to say that the larger amount of a particular habitat you have the more opportunity there is for a variety of animals and wildlife to be found within it. Roughly, you will get a greater variety in one 100-acre wood than you would get in four 25-acre blocks. This, again, I think lays the lie that stresses the fact that large blocks of woodland are less desirable for wildlife: in fact, the larger the block, the more opportunity there is for the open space to which the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, was referring—and I entirely agree with him.
1413 My Lords, I have spoken of the advantages of hardwood for wildlife. Equally, there can be no doubt of the attractiveness of hardwood trees from the landscaping point of view. Here I think one ought to recognise the part that has been played by the private sector, which even the White Paper admits has nearly 45 per cent. of its woodland area under hardwood trees. The trouble, as other speakers have pointed out, is whether this percentage can be maintained unless genuine recognition of the difficulty of planting and maintaining hardwood trees is recognised in future.
I am sure it is what you seek to enjoy which creates the amenity point of view. The landscape to which you are attracted does so much to increase your enjoyment of your day in the country or your country holiday. This fact has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, and by my noble friend Lord Ferrers. The White Paper in this respect—and I rather felt that this was, to some exent, being echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson—makes derogatory reference to the opportunity for public access to private sector woodlands. I should like to comment on this aspect in two ways. First, the majority of Forestry Commission woodlands have only recently reached an age in which access is safe and practical. Certainly they can now, and should, take advantage of that situation, which many private woodland owners have done for years, and I stress again, particularly in their hardwoods.
The other charge, that the private sector is dragging its feet, just will not stick on such evidence as I can ascertain. From a sample of some 83 land holdings in Scotland (I take Scotland alone at this point), all of which cater for a wide range of recreational opportunities. the vast majority of those who provide 1,000 touring caravan and tent pitches, 700 static caravan sites and over 200 holiday cottages or chalets rely on a woodland setting. It is increasingly becoming a fact that a private forestry owner is taking advantage of his woodlands, which he has planned and developed in the past, to make use of the recreational opportunity they afford. That is not fully recognised in the White Paper, and I think the Record should be put straight.
1414 It is not surprising that the Countryside Commission for Scotland in their last Annual Report criticised the Forestry White Paper for not giving more strength to the arm of both private and public forestry, when so many countryside planners can see woodland, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has mentioned, catering for so many of the recreational needs of the public, and conveniently absorbing so many people without them getting in the way of each other. Quite apart from any long-term role that forestry might play, there is also the fact the Countryside Commission mentioned— that it can and should form a sound basis for many rural communities. That did not seem to be fully recognised.
This leads me to my final and perhaps most contentious point on the subject of forestry and its effect on the major alternative land use of the uplands: that of agriculture. I think the greatest disservice the White Paper does—
My Lords, I wonder whether I might interrupt my noble friend for one moment? This is just for clarification—my noble friend made a slip of the tongue, and a number of other speakers have made the same slip, in referring to the document as "the White Paper". Of course, it is not a White Paper: it is only a Consultative Document. I think it is right that we should remember that.
THE VISCOUNT OF ARBUTHNOTT
My Lords, I accept that, and perhaps we might hope for a White Paper to come in the future. This document does not say enough to remedy the sad situation which I think it must be admitted does exist; namely, that so many farmers, and in particular upland farmers, have a strong antipathy to forestry. There are a number of reasons for that, including an erroneous belief that the forester is better treated than his farming neighbour in respect of Government aid and on fiscal grounds. But one has only to look at the portion of any hill farmer's income that is applicable to subsidy—and perfectly correctly in my view—to see that there is a pretty fair balance in this respect. Nevertheless, I feel there is a case that can be made for the average upland farmer who may well think of planting 1,000 trees to the acre where one-third of a sheep 1415 "grew" before, who may feel inhibited in doing this by the fact that his return on sheep is relatively quick and tangible and his return on his planting is so far ahead. I am convinced that, as agriculturalists, we must become more tree-minded, and that this happy state of affairs would be helped if some form of funding arrangement could be devised whereby a farmer could get an earlier return on his capital invested in forestry. I am sure this would help many upland owner-occupiers, if it were possible to work on these lines. I hope that any new forestry authority will be given every encouragement to take up this point within whatever terms it may be given for the purpose of conducting a sound and long-term forestry policy in the future.
§ LORD DONALDSON OF KINGSBRIDGE
My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, may I clear up one point? He suggested earlier that I had made charges against the private sector. But I did not: I simply said that behaviour of a certain kind should be a necessary condition for the granting of aid. I never suggested that most people would not fulfil that condition.
THE VISCOUNT OF ARBUTHNOTT
My Lords, the point I wanted to make was that there has been so much done in earlier years which has not been fully recognised.
§ 5.53 p.m.
My Lords, I should like first to thank my noble friend Lord Dundee for bringing this Motion before us and thus enabling us to discuss forestry fully. The noble Viscount who preceded me has given us a graphic description of his sins and also of his merits. The only part I took in the situation he described was to supply him with the posts necessary for fencing his new plantations. But I am thoroughly committed to forestry and farming and therefore must declare that as an interest.
There seems to be a growing shortage of timber, and perhaps one thing we are apt to forget is that paper is made from timber: in fact, it is one of its biggest uses. One could quote a lot of boring statistics about this, but it is a fact that you can, if you are clever enough, work 1416 out the state of "civilisation" of a country by the weight of paper used per head of population—I believe the American figure is something over one ton of paper per head per year. We are getting fairly "civilised" ourselves in this respect. I have just been on a month's holiday, from which I returned yesterday. It took me four hours—I cannot afford a secretary—to open the mountain of accumulated mail that I found awaiting me. I weighed it, as a matter or interest, and it weighed 1 cwt. That, very roughly, works out at a rate of 12 cwt. of paper a year, and if you translate that into terms of trees it represents something like nine or ten average-sized twenty or twenty-five year-old trees—just to go into my wastepaper basket. That shows how "civilised" we are. Nevertheless, joking apart, if one follows that up one finds that it represents a vast amount of timber which is used and which, in very many cases, is wasted.
A forestry policy cannot really be worked on a stop and go basis, because these nine or ten trees that I shall be putting into my wastepaper basket had to be planted about twenty years ago. Certainly if someone had not planted them at that time I should not have been receiving that amount of paper—which might, of course, have well been an advantage. Nevertheless you must keep on planting to sustain your yield. In developing countries, which we are all pleased to see are developing very rapidly, people are being taught to read and write; but what is the point of teaching people to read and write if you cannot give them the paper to read from and write on? It is clear that the use of timber is going to grow, and to keep on growing. Someone has to plant those trees in order to produce the paper that will be needed. A food shortage can be caused by a drought or by a pest in one year; but often the damage can be put right the following year, if one is lucky. Forestry is quite different. A forest crop may take something like seventy years to mature: at least that is so in Europe.
I recall that a few years ago in Scotland we were desperate to find a market for our timber. Pitwood was being used less and less, wagon bottoms had disappeared, fish boxes were being made from plastic and nobody was interested in buying wood. To-day they are queuing 1417 up, trying to get timber from us. But at the same time that we could find no encouragement to grow more timber, the O.E.C.D., from the statistics they had available, were predicting a world shortage of timber, and it seems to me that perhaps for once they were right, because we are getting a bit short of wood. I maintain that this is no time for Her Majesty's Government to get cold feet and pull out of forestry, or to become uninterested in it. We have invested, rightly in my opinion, a very large sum in forestry. We have enormous capital assets and we are just beginning to reap the benefits. I hope we shall go on. Forestry I am sure, should be planned from the point of view of supplying raw material to the forestry industry, and not the other way round. If we consider forestry as an industry, we ought to be allowed to consider a 5 per cent. growth rate, a concept we are always getting rammed down our throats for every other industry.
I was privileged to see an enterprise in Finland a month ago where the paper works dealt with the whole product. It started with the seed orchard and the growing of the trees. Everything was in one co-operative private enterprise ownership. There was not a middleman in the whole system. They dealt with the whole process and successfully sold paper to us here because they could compete. Their wages are higher than ours and their cost of living is high, so far as one can compare these things. They told me that there would be no question of selling pulp or wood to the United Kingdom if they could sell paper, and I do not blame them.
Finland is a country which is 70 to 75 per cent. forest, but they say they are running into a shortage of timber. Their rotation is similar to ours: 70 years for pulp wood and 100 years for saw logs. If a country which is 70 to 75 per cent. timber is looking ahead, reckoning that it is going to be short of timber and designing its policies thereby, we should take note of that. Finland is full of small farms; they are all tiny, but they have not only a small acreage of land with two or three cows, but also a reasonable area of timber. They work this on a co-operative basis. It occurs to me that with the cost of viable farms rocketing and the size of farms increasing all 1418 the time, we might well look at the possibility of integrating forestry with smaller farms in certain cases and getting over the problem as people have done in Europe. Whether that is possible or not I do not know, but it is well worth looking at it.
I do not think that enough emphasis has been put on the imponderables, the amenity values, shelter and improved environment for wild life. I think a lot of encouragement should be given for planting up reasonably sized clumps of hardwoods on the edges of plantations. We have some very pretty native hardwoods. In Scotland, for example, we have the rowan, the birch, the gean, and if you mix those in with a few Scots pine you can get a very pleasing effect indeed. This type of tree on the edge of plantations make a good rise for pheasants as well. That should be encouraged. Grey squirrels were mentioned. I have done some work in the past on grey squirrels. They are controllable by the use of Warfarin. The use of Warfarin has always been legal in Scotland, and I believe it is now legal to use it in England, so I mention that for what it is worth.
Her Majesty's Government should take pride in what has been accomplished to date. They should look at the shining example of the Forestry Commission and private enterprise working together hand in hand with mutual respect one for the other, as these things should be. It is right to take stock of how much has been accomplished and have a look at the future. But you do not want to throw spanners into the works too much; you do not want too many economists. All the timber growing interests, the timber using industries, the farmers, the farming communities, the amenity people, and everybody concerned should come together. Consultative documents are usually green, and if instead of a white document we could have the right people consulted and keep the wrong people out of meddling with these matters I am sure Her Majesty's Government would get on very much better.
§ 6.5 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Viscount will not think that in speaking about amenity I am meddling too much in commercial forestry. The future requirement to which 1419 I should like the forest policy to have regard is visual amenity. A number of noble Lords have touched upon this in passing. I welcome the change of emphasis, not only in the Forestry Commission itself but among private woodland owners, from commercial to amenity planting. I do not feel there need be any hard distinction between amenity and commercial planting: the two things should be able to go hand in hand together. I believe that in the future we may be able to do that. Reference has been made to Dame Sylvia Crowe. This is an indication of the way the Forestry Commission are thinking: to try to improve the square and rectangular blocks which we have already mentioned this afternoon from the point of view of large-scale commercial planting. But the Consultative Document makes no mention of the small woodlands, the hedgerow trees, farm trees and amenity planting which makes up the landscape of England. As has already been said this afternoon, we are not a country of great forests; we are a country of small-scale woodland, of scattered tree cover, of clumps and spinneys, most of which were planted for shelter or ornament or sport. Most of them were planted in the early part of the 19th century, and are mature or over-mature and have suffered from the devastation of two wars.
Staffordshire is one of the few counties that has made a survey of its trees. The result of that survey reveals the state of affairs which exists not only in that county but over the whole of England. The survey found that there were some 33,000 acres of private woodland, and that nearly half of that area—a big area—was derelict; it was either felled, scrub, or in a state which would be difficult to replant. They also found that the average size of ownership of these private woodlands and small spinneys on farms and on owner-occupier properties was something like four acres. The cost of rehabilitating those small woodlands, which are often of awkward shape and rather scattered, is astronomic. You can make a calculation of what it is going to cost you to plant bare land; you can make a calculation of what it is going to cost you to plant a big area. But when you try to find out what it is going to cost to replant a small area, where there may be all sorts of factors concerned, 1420 it is almost impossible to get any answer. When you have done it you find that the cost is out of proportion to anything you thought possible. We have to do something about this; we have to take some positive action. First of all, a good deal of doubt has been thrown on the questionable economic value of commercial forestry to the nation. I do not want to enter into that argument because I am not equipped to do so; but if the cost/benefit analysis has validity, I suggest that one of the first things we should do is switch our emphasis from large-scale planting towards the making good of these small amenity woodlands.
The next thing is to look at the grant structure for small-scale tree planting. The shelter belt grant has been withdrawn; so has the small woods planting grant. The grants it is now suggested we should have for small woods are to be channelled through the Countryside Commission. I think the Countryside Commission would prefer to see them dealt with through local authorities as part of a comprehensive scheme. The criterion for obtaining a grant is to be environmental gain. It is difficult to say exactly what environmental gain is. We all know what it is—it is what I am speaking about: it is all these small clumps, spinneys and woodlands, which make up the beauty of the English countryside. Then the planting has to be something which significantly enhances the landscape. What exactly does that mean? If a man is going to apply for a grant, for something which significantly enhances the landscape, does that mean it has to be in a prominent position, or part of a comprehensive scheme entered into with all your neighbours and possibly through local authority?
Again, if a local authority is going to enter into a scheme of this kind, or indeed if any body is giving money to somebody to do something, it may want some return. That is the question which has been raised already by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Arbuthnott—public access. I can quite see that if you give money from public sources for rehabilitating these very small woodlands you may want public access; but public access is a difficult matter when it comes to these small, scattered woodlands. Landowners 1421 and the Forestry Commission have been very good about opening larger woodlands at certain stages of growth and at certain times of the year to the public, but would it be practicable to open every little, under-four-acre clump of trees to the public? My Lords, I think not.
There is another difficulty with regard to the local authority's operating a comprehensive scheme, which is: How do you supervise the competence with which the planting of these tiny areas has been undertaken? It is almost impossible—perhaps it cannot be done. You can only accept that it will be done in good faith and hope for the best. But who is going to do that? I do not think many authorities will. And what this is going to mean is that 90 per cent. of the woodlands which I am suggesting it is so important to try to rehabilitate will not be rehabilitated because the means will not really be open to a landowner, particularly a small landowner—and I am talking mainly about the small landowner—because he will not be able to enter into access agreement here, or he will not be willing to entertain the possibility of access, and the local authority will not be able to supervise what he has done. That is fair enough, but it means that 90 per cent. of these areas are not going to be replanted.
The amount of money that has been put forward, or that has been suggested by certain local authorities to pay for these grants, which are up to 75 per cent., is derisory. One of the best counties, which is taking this matter more seriously than most, has suggested a figure which I calculate would pay for something like 1 per cent. of the rehabilitation of these woods. So I do not myself feel that the suggested grants are going to get us anywhere at all. I want to make that point quite clear because it has been said to me: "Oh, you needn't worry about these small woodlands now. They are taken care of in the Government's new suggestions as to grants." That is not so. These grants are not going to rehabilitate these small woodlands. All right. What are we going to do instead? We might try to get back to the Dedication Scheme. This is a Consultative Document and, although we are told the Dedication Scheme is dead, if there is any virtue in the suggestion which has been put forward from the Front Bench that this is a 1422 Consultative Document, perhaps they will look at this matter again.
I believe that the Government want to escape from the idea of a continuing commitment; they would like to have a once-and-for-all payment and leave it at that. But one of the great difficulties about small woodlands is not just the planting of them—and that is difficult enough: it is their maintenance. Therefore, I think you must have some kind of scheme which will encourage an owner to do it; which will pay him to do it, and which will ensure that if this is channelled through the Countryside Commission and the local authority some kind of supervision is possible.
Next, we must also use tax assessment. It ought to be possible for a woodland owner to opt for being basically commercial or primarily amenity. I do not believe that it is impossible to devise a scheme by which that could be done. That brings me to a suggestion which the Consultative Document puts forward, which is that the Forestry Commission should have two wings. One could make an extension of this idea: the White Paper two wings are for forestry enterprise on the one hand, and forestry authority functions on the other. If you extend that suggestion you have the forestry authority functions, in their relation to private woodlands, dealing with the two aspects I suggest; that is to say, the basically private commercial woodland and the kind of woodlands I am speaking about which cannot be commercial, must be on a very small scale and could be regarded as primarily amenity.
Lastly, I think we want to look at the whole problem of tree preservation orders. We want to get away from the idea of trying to preserve what is not preservable. As I have said before, a great many of these old woodlands are mature or over-mature, and the question is not whether to keep them standing—because they will fall down themselves if we leave it at that—but to try to devise means, through, if you like, a different kind of tree preservation order, which ensures that one is replacing rather than merely preserving. In trying to do all this, it seems to me there is room for some kind of Tree Council. There seems to be a lack of liaison between all the bodies which are going to be involved. There is the trade itself, the nursery trade which produces the trees; there are 1423 the local authorities who inevitably are going to be much concerned. There are the arboricultural societies; the amenity bodies and the Forestry Commission itself; the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association, the Timber Growers' Association and the Home-Grown Timber Merchants.
All these have a part to play in doing what I am trying to find the means to do. None of these bodies are co-ordinated in any way. To give one example, we have "Plant a Tree in 1973", which is a very good, gimmicky idea to get something "off the ground", but it runs into difficulties because the trade was unready for it, has not the trees available and does not quite know what trees are wanted, and so on. This situation runs right through all the other organisations I have mentioned, and most of all that of the small owner-occupier. One must convince the small owner-occupier that it is worth his while spending a great deal of trouble and a great deal of money, however much we manage to give him by way of grants and tax concessions, in preserving and enhancing and maintaining these small clump woodlands all over the country.
When the old, bigger estates broke up they were often bought by smaller men who were pushed for cash, who had to make the last £5 note they could, cut the trees, and were left with small patches of derelict woodland. Again we get the difference of approach: in the old days the trees on a tenant's land and around it were looked after by his landlord and very often the tenant looked upon them as a nuisance: they got in the way of cropping, they got in the way of grazing, they got in the way of hedgecutting. So When one got a change of land tenure one got running through it the idea that trees are nasty, untidy things, however much you might like them. I think there is now a change of attitude but we have to try a great deal of persuasion in order to persuade a man who is making his living by agriculture and on a not very large holding, that it is worth his while. There are many ways in which I try to do it: by looking at it purely from the point of view of money, saying, "Now the capital value of your land is enhanced because it will look nicer—and your sport will perhaps be improved". There 1424 is the job of enhancement for those who work on the land, including yourself, because it is so much more pleasant. There are the agronomics of wind-blow and micro-climate—little animals and little insects. They are all better. Lastly, of course, there are vastly improved timber values.
Co-ordination of these people with amenity bodies and with local authorities, with arboricultural and forestry societies, needs to be brought about. I have a feeling that there is a gap here and that something might well be devised, possibly through the amenity societies, to try to make things better. As I have said, it is an extremely difficult problem to know how to set about saving these small woodlands. I do not begin to know the answer, but these are just some of my thoughts.
I want now to end on a note which has nothing to do with forestry although it has something to do with the Chairman of the Forestry Commission, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. who is sitting behind me. The two noble Lords have said in terms they are so sorry he cannot speak because the Addison Rules prevent him from doing so. I do not believe this to be the case. It seems to me that a proper interpretation of the Addison Rules would allow the noble Lord perfectly properly to give your Lordships the benefit of what he has to say about all the problems under discussion to-day. I agree that there are certain dangers. One of those dangers is that the chairman of such a body must not allow himself to get into a position in which he is subject to cross-examination in Parliament about the day-to-day running of his Board or Commission, or whatever it may be. The other danger is because of a certain difference between your Lordships' House and another place. The noble Lord is a Member of Parliament and the Chairman of the Forestry Commission. He could not be that and sit in the Commons. Therefore there is here a slight area where one might get into difficulties because one must not try to obtain advantage from having such a man in our House when that advantage is not available at the other end of the building. But I do not believe that in this particular debate there is any danger whatsover of that sort. I am not quite sure when we last 1425 debated forestry, but it was a very long time ago, and I see no danger whatever of there being any possibility of jealousy here or of the noble Lord being cross-examined.
It is not only in connection with forestry that I have felt this. I have felt it half a dozen times when Members of your Lordships' House have said that they did not like to speak because of the Addison Rules. I have always felt, when I have looked at them, that this was a misinterpretation of the Addison Rules. I do not imagine for one moment that this will bring the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, to his feet because I am quite certain that he would want to go back and look at the Addison Rules or get advice on them; but at any rate I put this idea before him because I think it would have been valuable to have heard what he has to say about forestry policy in general, and indeed about the small aspect of it on which I have spoken to your Lordships.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONSDALE
My Lords, we are most indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for speaking particularly about the countryside because his work with the Council for the Protection of Rural England gives him great knowledge of these matters. Until his speech, no mention had been made of the problem of the small hardwood areas scattered about England as a whole, and Southern England in particular, which create the appearance of the countryside. To-day is the first debate on forestry that I can remember for a very long time and it has left us all, and me particularly, deeply indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for introducing his Motion. I know that many of my colleagues in the forestry world will be very pleased with this debate. I see present to-day no less than five of the nine members of the Forestry Commission and no less than seven members of the Forestry Committee for Great Britain. In other words, 50 per cent. of the "top brass" of the entire forestry industry is to be found here to-day.
We have also several members of the Home-Grown Timber Advisory Committee who are appointed by Her Majesty's Government and several members of the Regional Conservancy Advisory Committee, again appointed by Her Majesty's Government. I think it is fair to say 1426 that all these organisations have at one time or another advised Her Majesty's Government and, in the somewhat unparliamentary language of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, apropos of using skaters' language, have "taken a toss on their fanny" over this Consultative Document. At one time or another, all the organisations have said that the Government ought to think again and start these consultations about forestry all over again. My noble friend Lord Ferrers has helped us: he has added a third criterion to the Consultative Document. He has added the criterion of proper land use and integration with agriculture to the criterion of employment (whatever that may mean, particularly in the present state of the economy of Scotland) and the other criteria of the enhancement of the environment, with which nobody would disagree.
I support this Motion but I must state, like so many others, that I am a timber grower and have an interest. My more particular interest is as chairman of a medium-sized company which converts home grown softwood and, therefore, a particular interest in the health and viability of the home grown industry. But perhaps more relevant to to-day's debate is the fact that as President of the Timber-Growers' Organisation, which is the representative organisation for growers in England and Wales, and as a member of the Forestry Committee of Great Britain, I have been, and am, engaged in negotiations arising from the Consultative Document of June 28 last. I feel that I should say little or nohing about these negotiations, particularly as my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe, with whom I have many discussions, cannot join in this debate, and particularly since we are due to meet Ministers for formal discussions next week.
I shall avoid speaking about leisure and recreation, although I have a particular interest again in the value of forests for leisure and recreation and believe they have a very great part to play. I have a particular interest as a member of the English Tourist Board and also as a member of the Sports Council. So one way and another it is somewhat difficult for me to speak. But I want to speak about three or four general points which I think are relevant to all the discussions which are going on—general points which in 1427 some senses have already been mentioned.
The current review is, after all, the first time that a comprehensive look has been taken at the aims and objects of the industry since the White Paper of 1943 and since the subsequent Forestry Act of 1947. Several new factors have also obtruded themselves into the scene since the Consultative Document was published in June, 1972. First, the availability of timber for the consuming industries in this country and the world shortage that has appeared to develop is mentioned many times—a world shortage which has long been forecast by the F.A.O. Why it has developed now I do not know and it is difficult to say. Perhaps it may not be of a permanent nature, but I believe that an investigation into the current shortage situation is called for.
As I understand it, softwood from North America is not readily available, particularly from the Western States of North America, because of the enormous demand that has grown up in the last year or two from Japan and Australia. That means that that softwood from Western North America is not now so easily available to us. Furthermore, such softwood as was shipped from one side of the United States to the other is suffering from transport difficulties because of the congestion caused by the shipping of wheat to Russia. There was also a bad winter in Canada last winter when it was impossible to extract timber. Those factors may be only temporary, but the fact of the matter is that it has given a field day to the other major supplier of timber to this country, which is Russia.
Added value is another factor in many countries. More and more countries, on the advice of the United Nations, instead of exporting their raw materials are moving towards processing them themselves. That is beginning to happen in the ease of timber. For instance, Portugal has long been a source of packaging timber. But it is thought that they are now going to turn that timber into pulp. Again, for a long time we have made most of our newsprint at home from imported pulp, but now many countries are turning their timber into pulp and the pulp into newsprint, adding value in sending it to this country. That is creating a different situation all the time. At 1428 the same time we are in a danger here with our own hardwoods, because the prices are so good that there is great pressure to ensure that they shall not all disappear too quickly. There is great pressure from France, Germany and Czechoslovakia, in particular, for our oak and beech. That again is a new feature. We were importers of beech, but now to some extent we are exporters of beech because there is a dearth of tropical hardwoods throughout Western Europe. That has created a much greater demand for United Kingdom grown timber from the various industries that consume it. The building industry has already been mentioned. I myself have an interest in the building industry, and it is almost impossible to get imported nine by fours. But the timber trade journal, none the less, is worth looking at. The opinions and the statistics of the import picture are available but there appears to be too little known about it among the home-grown side of the industry and among many of the consuming industries. The statistics and information are available and I think that a much wider look at the overseas supply position needs to be taken.
Secondly, of course, there is the question of price. I do not want to say too much about that because it has been mentioned so often and time is getting on, but due to the dearth of North American supplies the Russian trading organisation has had a field day. The system adopted by importers or by the exporting countries is for the negotiation of contracts for the year ahead to take place betwixt about October and April of each year for the subsequent year. The third series of Russian contracts of April this year were negotiated at a price of 102 per cent. above the Russian contracts negotiated at the same time last year. It is reasonable to assume that the impact of these contracts on our import bill will not be felt until later in these 12 months, because we are only three months through the current 12 months. Yet at the same time, with a balance of trade deficit of £209 million, one wonders to what extent these much higher timber prices are already having an effect.
The result of this, as has been said, is the demand for home-grown timber. At the same time, the Forestry Commission auction sales of February, March and April were reflecting this 102 per 1429 cent. increase in the price of Russian timber. The prices at those Forestry Commission auction sales were up to 100 per cent. above the prices of the same period last year. I think therefore—and here I am trying to get the answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Dundee, yesterday—that there appears to be some confusion over the figures. But if the imports are now running at the rate of £1,100 million, and if in 1971 they were £790 million, I believe that we are not yet feeling the full weight of the increases in the overseas prices and that the turnout for this full year through to next March 31, might be much worse—it might be £1,300 million or £1,400 million for the timber import bill. Surely that is as good a reason as any for expanding our United Kingdom forestry industry.
The great demand for timber is having au effect on the processing industries due to the diversion of supplies from the forests to industries which have not normally taken home-grown timber, such as the softwood furniture manufacturers, the wood wool industry, the packaging industry and so on. The normal processors—the sawmillers, the chip-board manufacturers, the pulp manufacturers—are finding themselves in supply difficulties. The Scottish sawmilling industry is operating at only about 80 per cent. of capacity. Admittedly much of their excess capacity was put down in response to an urgent demand for more capacity at the time of the Scottish windblow, hut none the less it looks as if this over-capacity will persist well through towards 1980. Wiggins Teape at Fort William is operating to only about 75 per cent. capacity, or is likely to in this 12 months. It seems a strange anomaly that all these processing industries which, because of the location of the forests, are established in development areas, are obtaining very large grants and tax relief to establish themselves in development areas. They get large assistance from the taxpayer to do so and yet the taxpayer who owns most of the source of the timber cannot supply it to keep them going. The net effect on the import bill may be £1,300 million or £l,400 million in the year.
I suggest that there is a need for a wide-ranging investigation into the availability and sources of timber and of estimates 1430 of consumption over the next twenty or thirty years. The cost benefit analysis did little except to make sweeping statements which have already been referred to and a professional industrial or D.T.I. investigation should take place. Also, that investigation should include the availability of possible alternative sources of supply. Sub-tropical areas have been suggested where, as many of us know, timber of certain species which cannot be grown in this country grows very fast indeed and one gets enormous quantities of timber in a very short space of time. I myself have seen what has been done by the Colonial Development Corporation in Swaziland for instance. This might well be looked at. I think that before we arrive at a firm forestry policy to hold water for the next twenty or thirty years we ought to study the demands, the availability and the requirements, and the possible alternatives that may exist.
Another factor which has obtruded itself since June last year is the publication by the Brussels authorities of an E.E.C. directive on forestry. It is only a draft directive at the moment, and it may be that it will not be discussed fully and, if agreed to, come into effect before the next two or three years. It is a draft directive concerned with the conversion of devastated woodlands into productive woodlands, and concerned also with the conversion of marginal land to forestry land. This could have a great effect on our upland areas. It arises from the Mansholt Report of two or three years ago. That has not been studied yet. It has appeared on the scene only in the last three or four months. Again, I believe before we arrive at any long-term policy for the next twenty or thirty years this E.E.C. draft directive must be taken into account.
Lastly, while some progress in arriving at a long-term policy must be made soon, it must be made with caution and with much deeper study. I think it must be made fairly soon to clear up the planning and land-use muddle so far as forestry is concerned; it must be made soon to relieve the current uncertainty in the industry. But it should be achieved, I believe, as a result of a large measure of political agreement. In an industry where, because of the long cycle between planning and harvesting, short-term 1431 changes of policy or of emphasis are undesirable, disruptive or disastrous, a strategy and a policy which will hold water for twenty or thirty years must be arrived at, one which will be believed in and will be adhered to by all parties, if it is to give confidence to growers and processors and to the very large number of people employed in the industry and its ramifications.
§ 6.42 p.m.
My Lords, I am sorry that this most interesting and timely debate on forestry should be taking place under the shadow of two Government publications which would appear to anticipate a check in the development of forestry rather than to give it encouragement. My noble friend Lord Ferrers in his speech gave a spirited defence of those two documents and he was using his voice with skill and conviction, but he said nothing very new, and I fear that foresters throughout the country will remain dismayed. Personally I have been interested in forestry for rather over forty years, and I should say that there has never been a time during those forty years when forestry in this country has been in better shape. I think it hard that that confidence should have been dealt this blow. It is worth repeating, even in a speech as short as I hope this will be, that only a very small percentage of our land surface is carrying a crop of trees, compared with that of our Continental neighbours.
I believe that there is every commonsense reason for further steady expansion. And when considering this matter we must take care not to get lost—which is all too easy to do—among figures: how many acres are being planted in this decade or the next decade by the private sector or by the syndicates or by the Forestry Commission. What I find really important is that we should keep moving in the right direction, and that means better woodland management as well as increased acreage, and not least ensuring, as the noble Earl, Lord Lonsdale, has just said, that the supply of raw material for the industries now being set up in this country is not interrupted.
A wooded countryside is a much more pleasant place to live in than a bare one, and I think it is becoming much more widely appreciated in this country. 1432 Therein lies a large part of what is now called the amenity interest. But I submit that we shall not get very far in furthering the amenity and recreational interests, which are of increasing importance (I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, is not in his place), if we neglect the main objective of all forestry operations, which is timber production. Few private owners could plant and maintain woods for amenity or recreation alone with any financial support such as one could imagine. It is nonsense to suppose that woods which are naturally beautiful—trees are naturally beautiful—should be divided in the minds of the more ignorant into commercial woodlands and others, as they all too often are, as though they were two quite different things.
I have spoken of my long interest in forestry, and that has included two terms of service in the Ministry of Agriculture. What I saw there leads me to support what my noble friend Lord Dundee said and what the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, also said, and that is that Treasury influence lies behind the publication of the Cost/Benefits Study and some of the sentences in what I am told I may no longer call a White Paper but would call an off-White Paper, because even though it may be technically a Consultative Document it also reports a number of decisions about which no consultation is accepted. We know that the Treasury dislike dedication and that the word "perpetuity" is a bad word, but this does not commit any Government to any particular sums. In fact the sums of money involved have been relatively small compared with those which are accepted so easily and willingly for support of other industries. Again, in the field of taxation the Treasury refuse to see that the very long-term nature of the industry in fact requires different treatment. In my time in one House of Parliament or the other I have seen three attempts to upset these concessions, words put into the mouths of Chancellors of the Exchequer in their Budget speeches. Three times they have been defeated after there has been not only debate in this House but indignation in the country.
Not many years ago, too, we saw the results in the Midlands of England of another form of Treasury appreciation of forestry finance. The Forestry Commission were encouraged to destroy 4,000 1433 acres—or the area may have been larger; perhaps when the Minister comes to reply he will give the right figure—of flourishing young oakwoods in the Midlands and to replant them with other species, because it was supposed to be economically preferable that that should be done. It is very sad that the Forestry Commission gave in on an issue of that sort. So one cannot blame the Treasury only.
Rarely have I seen a document such as this so-called Cost/Benefit Study which has received such universal criticism in an industry. I would ask the Government to put it quietly on one side and let us all forget about it. We are told that it commits us to nothing because it is a Consultative Document. We need not consult. They can quietly leave it on one side and restore the dedication scheme which has been of such very great service to the industry. It would seem clearly an advantage to have one scheme of grant-aid rather than two, which the noble Earl's speech led us to believe might be the future plan. There could well be an advantage in the dedication scheme if the rates of grant were varied to take into account such things as access agreements. If so, I would commend the suggestions in the document submitted by the Royal Forestry Society of England and Wales and Northern Ireland, which I think cover nearly all the points raised in the course of this debate and offer simple and clear, and, I am sure, universally acceptable, solutions.
§ 6.49 p.m.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, like many other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, I, too, must declare an interest in that I am a woodland owner. Other noble Lords, I am pleased to say, have covered many of the points I wished to touch on, and far better than I could; so your Lordships will be very relieved to hear that I am cutting my speech down considerably.
The trouble with the Consultative Document was probably not so much what it said, although that was bad enough, but the crisis of confidence which it caused among woodland growers, I do not think one can say this too often. I fully appreciate that other people have said it, but I should like my voice to be joined with theirs in saying it once again, because this is the basic trouble behind 1434 the whole of this debate. The Government may not have intended to diminish the effort put by private owners into woodlands, but the Consultative Document has had this effect. This was largely due to the shock of waking up one morning and finding that no new dedication schemes would be accepted—they had to be in before that day.
We know that alternative schemes have been mooted, and that the Government say that they are looking at other ideas and that they are consulting with people now, but I still do not understand why they could not have done this before they published this Consultative Document. That would seem to me to have been the logical way to have set about it. I will now leave that point, because I wish to be constructive in what I have to say.
The two criteria which they suggest in their Consultative Document should act as considerations for planting and management grants, or some such scheme in the future, are the employment that the woodlands are likely to give and the amenity. For an industry with a cycle of 60 to 70 years, three-yearly reviews based on employment are hardly going to make it easy to run the industry efficiently. We must plant our woods on the most suitable land having regard to the other uses to which the land can be put. We simply cannot afford to put forests on land that could be far better used for agriculture, or on land that is too far from the existing markets. The transport costs of timber are very considerable; therefore it is essential that the bulk of it is grown within easy reach of the markets that it is designed to serve. Employment is obviously important, but in my submission it cannot be the major consideration about where our forests are situated.
The second consideration was amenity. I think we are all agreed that this is of extreme importance. However, it seems that the Government do not consider that private forests contribute anything at all, or hardly anything at all, to amenity. In paragraph 30 of their Consultative Document they say:In terms of economic costs and benefits, state and private forestry can therefore reasonably be regarded as roughly on a par. There is, however, an important difference so far as recreational considerations are concerned. Private forests are in general much less readily accessible to the general public.In paragraph 40 they go on to say: 1435The costs and benefits of new planting in private forestry appear in resource terms to be generally comparable with those in State forestry—with the reservation, already noted, that there is a major difference in the recreational opportunities provided for the general public.It seems to me that in this document they make no attempt to justify either of those statements. It is not the first half of those statements with which I disagree; I strongly suspect that it is perfectly true that in economic terms State and private forestry are much the same. It is the second half with which I disagree. I do not believe that private forests contribute much less from the recreational and amenity point of view than the State forests do. I admit that the Forestry Commission—and I am delighted to say this—have introduced some very useful recreational facilities into their forests. I know of three or four locally, including the log cabins at Strathyre, which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, has already mentioned. They have also opened up a very useful information centre at Queens View, and started a picnic site and nature trail at Fascally, all in the county of Perthshire, I am pleased to say. I mention them because I happen to know what they have done in that particular county. These are of great help towards the enjoyment of the public, but I think that private forestry has done just as much. There are many nature trails in private forests. There are in Scotland very few forest owners, so far as I know, who are not prepared to have the public in their woods, provided that the woods are at a suitable stage of development and that the fire risk is not too great—and one has always to remember that at certain times of year the fire risk in woods can be quite considerable—and provided that the members of the public behave themselves and act according to the countryside code.
I should like to know from my noble friend Lord Polwarth, when he replies to this debate, on what was based the sentence—Private forests are in general much less readily accessible to the general public"—at any rate so far as Scotland is concerned. I suspect that it may have something to do with the fact that in this document it seems to be assumed that 1436 "amenity" equals "access", which of course it does not. Amenity is also the visual beauty of the countryside, and I think that until the last few years it was certainly true to say that private forestry was visually more attractive than State forestry. I admit that since Miss Sylvia Crowe has become the adviser to the Forestry Commission on those matters there has been an enormous improvement, and I think that it is only right that we should recognise this. But I still think that private forestry is very often better visually, because it is in smaller blocks and it is often more integrated with the farming, and it possibly has a greater variety of species. In fact, it might interest your Lordships to know that in Scotland 94 per cent. of the broadleaved woods are in private hands, and only 6 per cent. in those of the Forestry Commission, and yet the Forestry Commission own approximately three-fifths of the woodlands of Scotland. I think that the variety that these broadleaved woods give to the countryside is one of the greatest considerations from the amenity point of view that the Government should take into account when they are thinking about their new scheme.
I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, that we try as much as possible to integrate forestry and agriculture. I agree with him that this is a very important subject, and I think that it could very well be the subject of a debate in itself. I think that it is easier to integrate where the farm and the woods are in the same ownership, and therefore that it is much easier for a private forester to do this than the Forestry Commission. I am sorry that, thanks to the Addison Rules, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, cannot tell us what plans the Forestry Commission have for this aspect—because I am fairly sure that they have some. I think that this is one of the ways in which the private woodland owner can, and should be, in the van.
I was going to say, "Let us tear up the cost benefit analysis". Even were it correct when it was published last year, since then the price of imported softwoods has doubled, and much of the analysis has been disproved, or at any rate had doubt cast upon it by Professor Wolfe's study. Let us rethink the Consultative Document. The Government 1437 should produce their ideas as soon as that is practicable, given the need for full discussion with all interests, so that new land which is both suitable and available—and I am afraid that very little is—can be brought into forestry as quickly as possible.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ LORD DULVERTON
My Lords, like my noble friend the Duke of Atholl, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Dundee for initiating this debate. Like him, too, I feel that it is incumbent upon me to try to be brief at this time of the evening, but I must confess that I, also, have an absorbing longstanding interest in this subject in which I have indulged for over a quarter-of-a-century. A quarter-of-a-century is a very short period for a forest and may embrace only the conception of a new forest enterprise, the gestation, the birth and the infant's care, and little else. But during the last quarter-of-a-century there has been a change in attitude towards forestry in a number of important respects.
Just after the war, our forests had been depleted by the war-time fellings, the Forestry Commission was itself just emerging from infancy, which had been delayed or retarded by the war itself, and the private sector, which bore the brunt of the war-time fellings, was exhorted to restock and expand. There was no doubt in anybody's mind in 1947, when the Forestry Act came into operation, embodying the dedication scheme, about the need to expand our national forests. But it was not until the 1960s, as I think my noble friend Lord Dundee said, that, after a slow start, we saw a growing confidence in forestry which was largely owing to the pioneering which the Forestry Commission has done in acquiring the knowledge and technique for establishing trees on difficult ground. It was owing, also, to the growth of a new timber processing industry in the country, and pulp mills and modern sawmills began to find their way into the British scene. I daresay, too, that that confidence was to some extent influenced by the F.A.O.'s prediction of a world shortage of wood and a growing demand for it.
We now come to June, 1972, and the Consultative Document, backed as it was by the Cost/Benefit Study. I think we have heard enough about both of those papers this afternoon for me not to make 1438 some of the points which I intended making, which were very similar to those made by my noble friend Lord Dundee. Suffice it to say that men who have made a long study of forestry matters, foresters themselves and forestry advisers, university professors, eminent ecologists, learned scientists and consultants and even economists themselves have, jointly or severally, expressed a flood of opinion that the data and the arguments on which the Government have been advised are superficial and sometimes uninstructed, and on many broad issues are impracticable or simply erroneous.
That is not to say that all is bright and beautiful in British forestry to-day, and perhaps one of the most important matters to which other noble Lords have referred, is the apparent conflict between forestry and farming, particularly hill farming. It is more than an apparent conflict, because it is real in places, and it has grown largely because of the fact that forestry in recent years has followed the pattern originally developed by the Forestry Commission. It is not the fault of the Forestry Commission that it was established with the one objective of planting trees. Only gradually in recent years has it widened its viewpoint, and, in fact, the Government have exhorted it to do so, but I feel quite sure that it will be seen to grow apace under the wise leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, who I also regret will not be addressing us here to-day.
I should like to detain your Lordships for a moment on the conflict between hill farming and forestry, because I believe that much more can be done to make the two go together. There are many instances, particularly in the private sector, of the two going together. As my noble friend the Duke of Atholl has just said it is much easier on a private estate to integrate all the aspects of rural land use. In fact, that is good estate management and it has to be done on a private estate. I know that the noble Duke and his ancestors have set a fine and beautiful pattern of mixed forestry, farming and other land use up at Blair Atholl. I have been fortunate to see what the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, is doing, to which he himself referred earlier, in putting forestry and farming together. I was also fortunate to be invited to go to Wales a short time ago to look at the Ministry's 1439 hill-farming station at Pwllpeiran. A conscious effort is being made there by the Forestry Commission, who own woods around this hilly area, and by the Welsh Agricultural Department to fit their two enterprises together and to collaborate in the provision of roads, the fitting together of fences and the improving of shelters, with foresters using the wet bogland which is of no use to the hill farmer, with the farming unit developing the pastures on the drier land by using reseeding techniques, and so on. That is a pattern which we must make a conscious effort to strive for on a far wider scale than has happened so far. Otherwise, because of the rate at which forestry ought to be expanding, we may almost be too late.
I should like to refer to my own experience, because on an estate in West Inverness-shire for which I am responsible we have made a conscious effort, in addition to doing a lot of forestry, to carry out an intensified form of hill farming, using the principles which have been demonstrated by the hill farming research organisation. We have succeeded in keeping up with, and even raising, the previous level of stock production—lambs and calves—on the whole of this little hill estate. But we are doing that on only one-tenth of the estate, and most of the rest of it is under productive growing forest. You can vary the proportions. You can put one-tenth of any given land area to intensified farming, or a half or three-quarters; but the point is that forestry and farming can go together and can even help one another by sharing certain fixed equipment and expenses.
My Lords, I turn from there to a very brief reference to the environment in general, because environment and ecology and the place of forestry therein have not really been touched upon by either the Cost/Benefit Study or, hardly, by the Consultative Document. Yet there is plenty of evidence and scientific argument available to show the important and beneficial place of forestry in our sparselywooded islands. Quite recently the Government published the conclusions of Mr. Ralph Verney's report on this very subject to the then Minister of the Environment, and this is ignored by the two Papers referred to. Likewise, the
1440 work and published writings of ecologists of world eminence, such as Sir Frank Fraser-Darling, are completely ignored. Both he and Professor Fullerton of Glasgow University described with great clarity the long-term deterioration of Britain's upland soils due to the removal of the once extensive forest cover, and with equal cogency argued the need for its replacement. All this is apparently a closed book to the writers of the Cost/Benefit Study; and, as I say, it is given scant attention in the Consultative Document.
The arguments on financial and economic grounds have been so well dealt with by other noble Lords that I will not touch upon them except to refer to the figure which has been mentioned already, and that is that the total expenditure by the Treasury since 1920 on the establishment of forestry now amounts to less than one-third of the value of the annual timber imports, which are going up. I also refer briefly to the fact, as I know to be true, that the new timber industries which are growing up are already short of wood, and they are going to be shorter still unless we continue to expand our forests rapidly. They are an infant industry, in a way: they must either be nourished or they will be in danger of dying. What a time to rock the boat, as the Consultative Document, with its threatened abandonment of postwar Government policy, has done; and what an unfortunate point of time for the confidence of all concerned, including Government, to be shaken by the dubious, albeit officially sanctified, arguments of the Cost/Benefit Study! Forestry is a growing art in this country; and investment is going into it, not only for the present but for the future crops. But the words in which my noble friend has set down his Motion today are wise, as one would expect from him. With his long experience of the country's affairs and as a forester himself, I hope, and I dare to believe, that Her Majesty's Government will take note of their wisdom.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT INGLEBY
My Lords, I speak from the Cross-Benches. I think this is quite a good place from which to speak in a forestry debate because surely forestry, above all things, ought not 1441 to be discussed on Party lines, nor indeed has it been discussed on Party lines to-day. I have the honour to be the chairman of the Forestry Society in Yorkshire, and my home is on the North Yorkshire Moors. This is a very sparsely-populated area; indeed, the population of our own parish has gone down from 260 twenty years ago to 130 to-day. I look after some 600 acres, mostly of young plantations. There are some thousands of sheep which graze on our moors, and we have thousands of visitors during the summer, too.
I was very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, touched on the point of soil deterioration. Perhaps some Members of your Lordships' House may not be aware that the rolling moors which we all enjoy so much were once covered in forest, and the trees were almost all hardwoods, except for Scots pine. It is only the continual burning and grazing over the centuries that have reduced the moors to their present tree-less state. The burning is carried out in order to produce a lush growth of young heather for the benefit of the sheep and the grouse, and although it may be beneficial in the short-term I am sure there are places whore it is in fact harmful in the long-term. We are taking minerals out and they are not being put back again. It would not be so bad if the ash stayed On the ground where it fell, but most of our moorlands are so exposed, and are areas of fairly high rainfall that a great deal of the ash in fact gets carried away. I know a little about this myself because I have carried out quite a number of soil tests on areas of adjacent moorland, comparing those which are still open moorland with other adjacent areas which have been under trees for the last 50 or 100 years. The contrast between them in the soil is striking. I am quite sure that the right sort of forestry is a very good way of restoring the fertility of the soil. I think mixed plantations are probably best from this point of view, even pure hardwoods in some cases, because the leaf-fall adds more to the fertility of the soil than the needles of the fir trees.
I was delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, talked about the right use of land. The right use of a particular piece of land is, I think, something which we all ought to be trying to follow. Certainly 1442 in our part of the world there are large expanses of hillside covered in bracken and it is difficult to think of a better use for these than forestry. I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, touched on the point of public access to private woodland. As a private woodland owner I feel that I ought to be doing more than I am in this way. I have not put up any "Keep Out" notices and I have not put up any barbed wire, but when one compares what we do in this country with what is done in other countries, I think that perhaps we are a little backward. I understand that in Sweden there is full public access to all woods; in Denmark, in woods of over five hectares—which, if Lord Dundee's arithmetic is right, works out at about 12 acres—there is free access; and certainly in Holland you get considerable tax relief if you allow public access to your woods.
I understand that where public access has been allowed there has in fact been very little complaint. Of course, there are things for which we have to watch out. So far as we are concerned, we have to make sure that gates are shut, otherwise sheep get in and all the young trees get eaten. It may be necessary to have somebody going round collecting litter. It may be necessary, too, if you open your woods, or a particular wood, to make hard standing for cars. This involves extra expense, and I would suggest that where this occurs there is a good case for a Government grant. So far as looking after the people who come to the woods is concerned, this could be a useful form of employment for retired farmers or retired foresters. I feel that the right kind of forest in the uplands deserves Government support, both from the point of view of maintaining the population and of preventing deterioration of the soil—in fact, for restoring fertility to it.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ LORD BURTON
My Lords, I hasten to add my thanks to my noble friend for initiating this debate. I should like to declare an interest. I have been responsible since the war for planting 600 or 700 acres, or 10 million trees. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, as is the wont of the Opposition Front Bench, gave undue credit to the forestry policy of the late Government. The speech by Mr. Wilson 1443 in lnversness, to which he and my noble friend referred, only confirmed continuation of a trend which already existed at that time. Alas! the current Government were sadly ill-advised on forestry; but the Ministers concerned were English farmers. There is little doubt, if one heeds the words of my noble friend Lord Ferrers, that they have been duly enlightened, and surely it is significant that this debate is being wound up by our Scottish Minister—and I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment. We are grateful that this should have happened. He is a very busy person with his new job as "Sheikh" of Scotland. However, in spite of the already stated comment in the Government's Consultative Document that it was consultative, the Paper certainly created no small flutter in the private forestry dovecote.
The key to all successful forestry operations is the labour force, and the shortage of labour is, I believe, part of the reason for the current shortage of timber. There is timber there which cannot be got out. I understand that the Forestry Commission has difficulty in fulfilling its contracts to the pulp mills not because the timber is not there but that there is no labour to take it out. It is specially hard to get good men to work in the woods in this day and age, and it is even harder to get a foreman, for no one appears to be willing to accept responsibility. It is to be hoped that this state of affairs will soon change, for with the rise in the value of forest products it should be possible to pay far better wages which should encourage workers into what is otherwise a most attractive job.
Perhaps on a note of how attractive is this work, I might digress on a little story for a minute. My head forester recently went to visit one old boy whom we have employed for some years in our woods. The old man was having lunch and the forester called out to try to find him in the wood. The old man appeared, complaining that by shouting for him the forester had frightened his pets away. It seems that he has now got into the habit of giving the crusts of his sandwiches to three deer which now feed from his hand.
I believe that our main labour troubles stem from our educational system and it is to be hoped that the Education Department 1444 will consider this and the quality of life available in forestry and agriculture rather than producing more and more planners and non-productive workers from our schools. To whatever price timber rises it will be necessary to keep the amount of labour to the minimum. Constant research and development of mechanisation will be vital. There is now talk of giant combine harvesters which will chew whole trees into chips. But we shall have to be careful, if such machines are to be developed, that we do not make it uneconomic transporting of timber. Huge slopes with trees. We must also plan our forestry infrastructure well ahead. To date there has been little planning and such items as the siting of saw mills have been almost haphazard. There is much uneconomic transporting of timber. Hugh and heavy loads are running all over the country and, apart from the obstruction ou our roads, they are doing considerable damage; for many of our side roads were not built for this type of load. There was a time when the Government were giving our Highland county councils a special grant for the strengthening of some of these roads. This, however, was stopped, but I hope that our present Government may consider re-instituting some such scheme. However, with ever-shortening working hours for the drivers of these lorries, they are travelling all the faster. Another unsatisfactory situation which is developing is for a driver to unhitch the trailer portion of his articulated lorry and leave it loaded in a layby while he runs home in the cab portion. Apart from blocking the lay-bys it is also damaging them, for when the time comes to re-hitch the trailer it gets wriggled around and the jacks dig into the tar surface.
It is obviously necessary for vast factories like pulp mills to draw their supplies from wider areas, but the conversion of timber to chips is not such a mammoth operation. Soon after the pulp mill opened in Fort William I suggested that perhaps, since much of the timber came from the East of Scotland, there should be a chipper situated at the North end of Loch Ness and the chips blown into barges from which they could be sucked out at the Fort William end, thereby relieving our roads of much of the heavy timber transport down the "high amenity" Loch Ness side. At that time, apparently, such an operation was not 1445 economic for the pulp mill, but since then there have been many changes and a particularly significant one will be the shortening of drivers' hours and the increasing volumes of timber coming on the market so that it may well be that such a project is now a viable proposition.
Forestry can lend itself well to parttime work, and forestry workers could well do other work in the summer, such as fishing, ghillieing and work with the tourists and in agriculture. But I gather that Civil Service rules do not cater for this type of part-time employment and therefore the Forestry Commission frowns upon part-time employment, in particular because it creates difficulties with the pension schemes. This surely, should not be difficult to put right and I would ask that the matter be looked into.
There is much to be said for private forestry and it is gratifying to know that during this past year in the Highland area there has been the biggest ever acreage planted by private woodland owners. However, I should like to see the grant system for private forestry altered. Here some noble Lords may disagree with me. To me it has always seemed wrong that investment companies can come along, pay very high prices for open hill ground, so inflating land values, plant vast acreages, possibly without consideration of good land use on neighbouring areas, and get the same Government grant as someone who has been clearing up patches of scrub and rough ground, and planting patches which are good for amenity and general land use.
On land prices may I give just one instance. In 1958, I bought forest ground at 15s. an acre. To-day adjacent ground is offered for by woodland companies at £117 per acre. The price has risen from 15s. to £117 since 1958. This is terrifying. I do not think it is a healthy position. Grant could well go from this open hill planting and be replaced by capital grants for roads, fences and scrub clearance. Grants for roads can open up areas now not accessible for planting and amenity. I think this is most essential. My noble friend Lord Ferrers spoke of the difficulty of finding planting ground. Where fences are mutual to forestry and agriculture they should most certainly be assisted by the Government—unlike the present arrangement. Finally, there is reputed to be a timber shortage. 1446 Timber is necessary for paper production. I regret that the amount of paper which comes on to our desks is not diminishing.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ LORD LYELL
My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity to thank the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for giving us a chance to discuss this Green Paper, or Forestry Statement or Consultative Document—whichever is the correct term. I think it is of major importance to many parts of Scotland. I should also like to declare an interest as a farmer and an operator of a limited amount of forestry operations in East Scotland. Turning to the content of this Consultative Document, I was most interested to note that on present estimates timber consumption in the United Kingdom should rise from approximately 1,500 million cubic feet in 1971 to approximately 2,000 million cubic feet at the turn of the century and that the home produced timber content will, it is hoped, rise by about 250 per cent. That means that the percentage of our timber needs grown in the United Kingdom will rise from 7½ per cent. of the total to about 13½ per cent. If that total is reached it will be a spendid achievement.
Next, my Lords, I should like to comment on what I regard as eminently clear thinking when the financial position is discussed. The accounts of the Forestry Commission are being recast so as to show the target rate of return on the notional capital employed together with the actual rate achieved. Many of us will see every day in our newspapers that accounts can be made to present various facets of the performance of any business. But in this case there is a yardstick, so that Government money may be seen to be effectively employed and different reasons for a lower rate of return can be identified. I consider that the accounts of the Forestry Commission and all the other concerns should not seek to hide the financial truth, however unpalatable this may be. The document attached to the main Paper, Forestry Policy, is concerned with the costs and benefits of all kinds of forest policy. I think that its complexity and detail are admirable, but nevertheless several major questions arise.
1447 First, will there ever be a time when the return on the Forestry Commission's capital will rise beyond 3 per cent. or even 4 per cent.? Sadly, I must doubt it. Thus we have to justify the gap between our figure of 4 per cent. and the minimum rate accepted by the Treasury when talking of public sector investment. The usual pitfall arises when speaking about the social and political and demographic factors arising from the continuance of forestry operations in remote areas and on poor land. As ever, the danger of pouring balm on to troubled consciences can be seen when we mention social problems and environment. Nevertheless, it is right that the public should be able to see what is spent on forests in its name. The second question arises on the cost of creating and maintaining employment in areas where forestry is carried on. The Report brings out the problem that there is definitely a higher cost to public funds of a forest job compared with a similar job in hill farming in the same area. I consider that such costs should be borne so as to prevent large areas of the United Kingdom becoming a barren desert, producing nothing and giving no pleasure or benefit from sporting or forestry operations.
I would now turn to the great efforts made by private individuals and firms in sylviculture and other allied timber operations. There are nearly two million acres of productive woodlands owned privately, in addition to 800,000 acres of scrub and unproductive wood. To help with the redevelopment and replanting of these acres various tax concessions are aimed at encouraging private owners to invest in forestry. But even with a reduction in these tax incentives it is doubtful whether there would be a corresponding fall in planting, since so much sylviculture goes to assist the ecology, soil drainage, shelter, prevention of soil erosion and other factors which are not directly related to forestry. Nevertheless, private woodland owners are to a large extent dependent on grants and various other incentives to make the cost of planting, replanting and maintenance less harsh.
Private planting has shot up over seven years from 17,000 acres in 1965 to nearly 50,000 acres in 1972, as we heard from the noble Earl. But at the same time there is still a sizeable financial deficit at the end 1448 of each year. We are told that in 1968-69 expenditure on private timber operations was £10.8 million and income arose of £6.1 million. The large deficit of £4.7 million, which was only partly covered by grants, left over £3 million to be found by the owners. There can be no doubt in any of our minds that these large sums could not be found without the incentives available to private owners. We must all be grateful for the comment in the Paper that these incentives should remain unaltered for the moment.
So far as future policy is concerned I should like to take issue with the planting programme, in common I think with several other speakers. Surely it would benefit the balance of payments to maximise planting, as land and seedlings are available, rather than to scale down the present superb rate of planting achievement to an arbitrarily fixed limit. I am wholeheartedly in support of the noble Earl on this point. Further on in the document we come to a point that has been discussed, and which becomes ever more important as we get nearer to the turn of the century—the importance to the public of recreation in forests and our Forestry Commission land. Already, we are told, sportsmen, campers, tourists and walkers are warmly welcomed in forest lands, in caravan parks and in forest parks run and administered by the Commission. I should perhaps also add that there are admirable operations run privately.
The Report brings out the projection that time spent in recreation in forests will quadruple within the next 10 years, which is astonishing. Within the last fortnight I have been able to enjoy one particular form of recreation in Commission woodlands. For four days nearly 200 cars took part in the Royal Scottish Automobile Club's Scottish Rally. Thanks to the generosity of the Commission and several private woodland owners, the competitors were able to test their own skill and the durability of their vehicles in almost complete safety over approximately 60 special stages. All of these consisted of forest roads, owned either privately or by the Commission which had been built to various specifications and were of varying lengths, according to the size of the plantation.
My Lords, lest it be thought that this sport of motor rallying means the spoliation of forests, roads and trees, together 1449 with the accompanying noise and danger, I would point to the very genuine enthusiasm of the forestry staff, together with their wide knowledge and their willingness to see that all concerned, competitors and spectators, were able to obtain the greatest benefit from their visits to forest lands. I understand that there is a great deal of co-operation between the R.A.C. and the Commission and private owners. Apart from the specialist forms of recreation which apparently brought in between £30,000 and £40,000 to the Forestry Commission during this year, it seems that the Commission wishes to encourage members of the public to enjoy the peace and solitude and the beauty of the woodlands and the countryside, wherever that is possible.
Nevertheless the main theme of this Paper is to ask the Government to continue with a consistent policy, and as at present laid out, the Consultative Document seems to show some indecision on the part of the Government as to whether the bipartisan policy of the last 30 years should be carried on. I should like to add my support to that of other noble Lords in asking that as far as possible timber production should be increased. Two factors which must be taken into account are first that useless plantations, regardless of cost, should not obscure the immense long-term benefits to those parts of the United Kingdom which will follow from a consistent expansion of all reasonable timber planting. Many arguments may be raised against public investment which does not show a reasonable target rate of return, but the policy document contains enough to show that such criteria should, in this case, not take a dominant position.
The second factor that I think is relevant to a consistant policy is one of land usage. There is still room for further cooperation and removal of mistrust between hill farming and forestry interests. Even in the main agricultural area of Scotland there is still a large amount of sylviculture carried out to provide shelter and drainage as main benefits rather than as forestry itself. In conclusion, I should like to say how glad I am to have been able to support the noble Earl and all the other noble Lords who share our great interest and concern in forestry policy right on into the 21st century.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (LORD POLWARTH)
My Lords, it is a somewhat daunting task at the end of a debate with twenty speakers of such distinction and experience to endeavour to sum up all that has taken place, but one thing on which we are all agreed is our deep debt of gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for giving us the opportunity of discussing this fascinating and in many ways unique subject this afternoon. Those of us who have known him for some time, as I have, will realise that his faith in forestry and its future in this country is only equalled by his experience and knowledge, as witness his reference to his participation in the debate in another place forty years ago; and those of us who have visited his property in Scotland will have seen what he has done to put his theories into practice. I would say that on those grounds what he has said in moving this Motion calling attention to the need for a consistent forestry policy, and what he has said in support of this Motion, deserve the greatest respect from your Lordships' House.
I doubt whether there was ever any question of the response which this subject would evoke among your Lordships, and we have certainly had a remarkable round of speeches from people with knowledge and experience of different aspects of the industry. It has been a striking fact that such a substantial number of speakers—well over two-thirds, on my reckoning, if not three-quarters—have experience of forestry or are established in Scotland. Taking into account those North of the Mersey/Humber line, I think we were left with only two other noble Lords. This is a remarkable indication of the centre of gravity of the forestry industry in this country. I hasten to say that the contribution of those South of that line was none the less quite outstanding. I have only one regret over this debate and that is that the interests of Wales were not voiced by anyone in the course of the afternoon. That does not diminish the importance of Wales in the country's forestry industry, which is a very considerable one.
My Lords, I must, like many other noble Lords, declare an interest. It has 1451 always in fact, particularly recently, struck me as somewhat peculiar that the ownership of certain shareholdings with extremely remote interests in particular industries should be considered more reprehensible than owning land and woodlands and then participating in debates—or, indeed, as others do, to hold offices connected with those subjects—but that appears to be a political convention. I do declare my interest as an owner of woodlands, albeit small, and a member of the Scottish Woodland Owners Association. In the debate many of your Lordships have quite rightly stressed the very important part which forestry has played, should continue to play, and I am sure will continue to play, not only in the life of the rural community but in that of the country as a whole. I should like to start by assuring them that the Government fully recognise the need to ensure that future forestry policy should preserve and build up on the undoubted achievements of the forestry industry in the years since the war.
It is only right and proper that the policy proposals which have been put forward should be subject to the very detailed kind of scrutiny which they have had to-day at the hands of your Lordships. I think it would be fair to say that there has been a remarkable consensus of opinion against the content of these documents that are before your Lordships to-day. I do not think that I can recollect an occasion on which such a consensus was held from both sides of your Lordships' House. As to that poor creature, the Cost/Benefit Study, I have a great deal of sympathy. as an accountant, with the experts who had to endeavour to put together that information, because forestry woodland accounting has its own very peculiar problems on account of the time scale, and when combined with the conventions of Government accounting I, as a purely commercial accountant long ago, find that my mind boggles at the problems involved. I am afraid that that poor creature, that document, had only one friend or sign of a friend in the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, who has explained to me why he cannot be with us now.
Nevertheless, I think this exercise is very worth while because surely, while a 1452 policy that may have been right twenty years ago is still in many respects doubtless right, it is only reasonable that we should from time to time, and at fairly long intervals, take a look again to see whether we are going in the right direction. I am not suggesting for a moment that we should pull up the tree by the roots to see how it is growing—far from it. That is not what we are putting forward as a proposition, and I would emphasise again most strongly, as my noble friend Lord Ferrers did earlier, that this is not only a knotty White Paper but a Consultative Document, and while on account of a technicality I understand that it could not be given the green covers, which would have been very appropriate to a document on forestry, it really has to a great extent that status as a Consultative Document. I should like to say that the time taken already in talks on the content of that document since publication is, I think, an earnest of the Government's intention that there should be the fullest possible consultation and, what is more, this debate is taking place in time for the views of your Lordships expressed so fully and forcibly to-day to be taken fully into account before final decisions are reached on the Government's policy. Everything that has been said to-day will be available—I will be bringing it home to those Ministers and others who will be engaged in the final discussions before the proposals are put forward. As to the exact form of that final putting forward, I do not think I can give a promise to-day that it will be in the form of a White Paper. Much will depend on the trends of the discussion.
My Lords, we are dealing with a remarkable subject here because there are few other subjects where we are discussing policies, the proof of whose rightness, or otherwise, will only be available probably to our grandchildren. This outlines the difficulty of prognostication. There must be a great element of faith over forestry. That, I suggest, is the first point. This applies to all the different aspects. I should like to say one word in particular on the situation in Scotland. I emphasised earlier the extent of the Scottish interest, and I think that nowhere have these achievements of the forestry industry had greater impact than in Scotland. The Commission, starting at the end of the war with only 176,000 acres of forest in Scotland and double 1453 that amount in England and Wales, is now approaching the 1 million acre mark in Scotland, having overtaken the combined English and Welsh total. That is a great achievement. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, has had to leave us, because I think it is an interesting illustration of the time span of this great operation that the timber supplies for the new sawmilling industry being set up in the Great Glen near Fort William are coming from the felling of mature forests, the planning surveys for which were made by the noble Lord's forebear prior to the First World War, before the establishment of the Forestry Commission of which he was later to become a distinguished chairman.
I do not think your Lordships expect me to go into great detail on the many points raised to-night, because I should be keeping you here a great deal longer than would be convenient. I will undertake on specific points that I am unable to deal with to-night to see that they are answered in correspondence later. On the major question raised by my noble friend Lord Dundee and other noble Lords, of increasing our self-sufficiency in the production of timber, there are considerable problems. I think that perhaps a number of noble Lords have tended to panic somewhat. and to form the opinion that what we are proposing or putting forward for discussion is a great clamp down on timber production in this country. That is not the case, because even with the existing woodlands in Britain, which are young and are nowhere near full production, the output from them at the turn of the century is expected to be three times as much as it is from our woodlands at present. Even with a vast increase in new planting it would be difficult to make a very large increase in the proportion of our probable requirements in the next century. Nevertheless, that does not rule out the possibility of increasing our planting programme.
I would suggest to your Lordships that, whatever we decide on ultimately as a programme, it must be a flexible one and liable to adaptation as we move ahead, because so much is unpredictable to-day. Take the problem of the scarcity of timber, and the price. There has been this vast increase in the last year, as I know only too well, having had a 1454 thorough thinning of my own young woodlands approximately 18 months ago, when I realised that the proceeds only just about paid for the cost of carrying out the thinning: if only it had been a year later! I do not think we should be panicked by what has happened. Prices have soared, and the supply has become very difficult, but it could be that this is a conjunction of circumstances at the present time. I think we should be rash to base our assumptions for the future on what has happened in this short time. We must watch the situation closely over the next year or so, and see whether in fact, as I believe could be so, it will stabilise itself and we shall not be so disturbed.
There is then the problem of the price of land, and here again the trend has been rather alarming. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, asked what was the market value to-day of land in the hands of the Forestry Commission. I think this is a virtually impossible question to answer, because you say: "Market value for what purpose? Land if you were buying it to-day to plant anew in to-day's conditions of scarcity? Anyway, can you value land separately from the timber growing on it?" It poses considerable problems trying to place a market value on the land comprising the Forestry Commission's estates to-day. The noble Lord also referred to the term "notional" in the accounts. I have never liked that term, but I am informed that the only figure that is notional is the rate of interest applied to the total expenditure; that the actual items of expenditure are far from notional and are, indeed, factual. I understand, also, that the Government intend to revise the shape of the Forestry Commission's accounts, and possibly this may bring us all some more enlightenment in a difficult situation.
The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, raised also questions of landscaping, rides, firebreaks and open spaces, and this takes us into the whole field of amenity which was so important in the minds of many noble Lords, and rightly so. I realise what concern there is in my own part of the South of Scotland at the extensive planting of many of these so far bare hills. But again we come back to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and the fact that, as he said, 1455 equally when you clear a hillside that has been wooded for many years you have loud cries of protest from those who have got used to it.
We must face that fact that what people do not like is change; but they usually get used to it quickly. I understand that the Forestry Commission employ a very eminent landscape consultant, advising on the design of their planting, and nowadays the policy is to make rides follow the natural contours of the land and to allow more at the present time for open spaces, particularly from the point of view of wild life, as well as amenity.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who raised the point of the Commission having cleared away and destroyed a large area of young oakwoods in the Midlands in order to replant with conifers. I understand that this took place in the 'sixties. It was done at a time when economies in timber production were considered to be a dominant consideration, and I am assured by the Commission that under its present hardwood policy this kind of thing would not be allowed to take place: and I am delighted to hear it.
Moving on, my Lords—and there is so much one can move on to in this field, because so many points have been raised—the future of the dedication scheme was very much before your Lordships. I will undertake to pass on the strong views expressed on this front. I would only point out that one must wonder whether the present scheme in its present form may have served its purpose, because I notice that in the last few years the area of planting has increased annually in the private sector, but the area of new dedication has been actually declining. Could it be that a large amount of the suitable area has been dedicated already? I leave that thought with your Lordships.
We have had a number of thoughtful speeches on the problem of integration of forestry and farming, and this is an enormously important subject. It was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Donaldson, Lord Lyell, and others. There is clearly great scope in this field. I think the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, is known for the remarkable work he has done in 1456 developing this kind of operation in the West Highlands, as some of us will have seen.
My noble friend Lord Stonehaven told us about the substantial quantity of timber that finds its way in its ultimate form into his wastepaper basket month by month. I can only say that I shudder to think what the equivalent used by the Government for these purposes must be: it must amount to many acres of forest per annum, and be a great support to the timber prices, too.
My Lords, I think I should be wise simply to bring this debate to a conclusion by saying that we have had the benefit to-day of a remarkable amount of experience of people who have given a great deal of their lives to forestry in all its aspects. There is no doubt that the private sector of forestry has done a quite remarkable job. There are many people who have inherited woodlands; they have kept them up, replanted them, and are handing them on to the next generation as a heritage. At the same time, I should like to pay tribute to the remarkable work of the Forestry Commission. It was suggested by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, as Chairman of the Forestry Commission, might have spoken in this debate despite the Addison Rules. The noble Lord has informed me why he cannot be with us until the end, but your Lordships will have observed that he sat through the greater part of this debate. Whatever the niceties of those Rules, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, was well advised to sit and absorb the contents of the speeches, as he did, without participating at this moment in discussion or consultation, because I am sure that he was thus better able to take in fully the views of your Lordships.
I am glad that several speakers referred to the work of co-operation by the Forestry Commission in helping the private sector. I have personal experience of their work, and should like to add my tribute to the part they have played, not merely as forestry estate owners but as a helping hand to the private sector; and I should also like to add my tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, as the Commission's Chairman.
1457 We have had this debate. The discussions are still open: the Paper is one for consultation. I would simply assure your Lordships that everything you have said to-day will be brought to the attention of the Ministers and others concerned. I believe this debate will have played a most valuable part in the shaping of our forestry policy. I believe that the future of our forestry is a bright one: whatever changes may occur in the arrangements, it has a great future ahead of it. Unfortunately, I suspect that none of us present will be here to judge the final outcome: that will be something for our children and our grandchildren.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, all I have to do is to thank those of your Lordships who have contributed such a great wealth of interesting things to this debate, and particularly my two noble friends on the Front Bench who have helped so much with all the criticisms, but without giving anything away. I thought it was rather a shame that the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, should be dragged down from Edinburgh, where he is so heavily engaged. He has been sitting here most devotedly throughout the debate, and it was rather a pity that at the one moment when he was out of the Chamber he missed the reference to himself as "the Sheikh of Scotland". I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for agreeing so thoroughly with almost everything I said, because the noble Lord is the kind of man who, when he agrees with you, makes you feel that everything must be all right with the world.
Finally, may I again express my good wishes to my noble friend Lord Lonsdale, who is meeting the Government representatives next week with his colleagues from S.W.O.A. and other representatives of private woodlands. He has a very heavy and responsible task. I know he realises, and I hope he will be able to help the Government representatives to realise also, that he is speaking not for ourselves of this generation but for the next two generations. I wish him most warmly the best of luck for next week and afterwards. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.