§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Report received.
§ Lord Sandford moved Amendment No. 1:
§ Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause:
§ (" Forestry Commission policies
. In section 1 of the Forestry Act 1967 at end insert—
(6) Directions under this section shall specify the policies to be pursued by the Forestry Commission in respect of local employment and the rural economy, recreation and access, conservation and amenity, the relationship of forestry to other land uses, the selection of land for disposal, and to such other matters as may be considered necessary by the Ministers.
(7) Directions given by the Ministers for the purposes of this section shall be by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.".").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I move this amendment with some regret because I had hoped that in Committee we had succeeded in persuading my noble friend to move an amendment of his own along the lines of this one and the others in my name—namely, 145 Nos. 5 and 11; and I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that my Amendment No. 5 has been rescheduled by the Table as No. 8A and will be taken then. My remarks will to some extent cover all those amendments—Nos. 1, 8A and 11—but I shall speak to the latter ones when we reach them.
§ I want to make it clear at the outset—this may disturb whichever noble Lord will speak on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger—that the amendment is intended to be helpful to Her Majesty's Government; and the Opposition may not want to do that, but we shall see. My concern in these amendments, and in this one in particular, is, first, to see that the Government's forestry policy goes forward and is properly and fully developed. I have a further considerable concern for rural policy as a whole. It is something about which I am concerned because I am president of the District Councils of England and Wales, who are very concerned about the subject; and my third concern (and in this amendment and the others standing in my name it is, I must say, my chief concern as a Member of this House) is that we see that Bills are passed with due attention to the legislative proprieties, which I think are being somewhat threatened in this case.
§ My amendment is comprehensive and it is as well at this stage, at the outset of the Bill, to remind your Lordships of the context in which we are discussing the subject. We are discussing it in the context of a report back in 1977 by the Forestry Commission relating to the future of wood production in the United Kingdom; in the context of a very significant report of 1980 from the Centre of Agricultural Strategy at Reading University, which we subsequently debated in this House, calling among other things for an extension of the area of the United Kingdom planted up with trees by nearly 2 million hectares, almost a doubling of the area planted at the moment. That was followed by the report of your Lordships' own Select Committee into the scientific and research aspects of forestry, which went into a whole number of important and interesting issues and was somewhat critical of some aspects of current policy. That report was debated in your Lordships' House; and now we are dealing with the Government's Forestry Bill.
§ It is easier to say that the area of afforestation in this country should be doubled in a generation than it is to put it into effect. There would be considerable difficulties in doing this. I am not averse to the intention expressed in the Bill that the private sector be drawn into the operation to a greater degree than hitherto. But it is most vital that this afforestation should take place. In order to appreciate that point one has only to ask oneself what succeeding generations in this country will have to say to us if, having the right climatic conditions and the right soil conditions, having the opportunity to provide a succeeding generation with a growing, renewable resource of a commodity as useful and as versatile as timber, we in our time fail in our duty to provide it for them.
§ I believe that the necessity for this great increase in afforestation is accepted by all sides of the House. The question that we must ask ourselves is: how are we to achieve it? We must certainly bring in the private sector. But there are a whole number of very complicating factors, and we need to get them right. The 146 local authorities—the county councils and the district councils—have a number of concerns to do with planning, since forestry and afforestation are outside the planning Acts. There are all the points—some of them rather critical—made by the members of our own expert Select Committee, from whom we shall hear during the afternoon. There are the views of those who speak on behalf of walkers, ramblers and visitors about the loss of access that will be involved, at least temporarily. There are those who are concerned with the effect of all of this on the landscape; and here I should like to say that the Forestry Commission has very largely repented of the approach that in the past has done so much to damage the landscape in a number of our national parks. There are those with an interest in the forest parks who would not want to see take place there any sales which restricted the use of them for recreation. There is the National Trust, which has its own anxieties.
§ On the more positive side there are those in the local authorities in particular who have a concern for the rural economy as a whole, which is not always assisted by some of the technical developments in agriculture or in forestry, which can have the effect of shedding labour from the remoter rural areas, rather than of creating jobs.
§ Lastly, and most important of all, there is the opportunity that the programme provides for integrating farming and forestry. In this particular connection, I would submit to the House that it is not appropriate, nor satisfactory, to rely on a large number of institutions to bring private finance into forestry, desirable and valuable though that might be. Nor is it wholly satisfactory that further planting should be conducted by those landowners with large estates who do not have to see an early return from their investment. Farming and forestry must in some way involve an integration carried out by the small farmers in the hills of this country. That is being done, but only on a pilot scale at the moment, and as Members of Parliament we must see that that particular aspect is pursued. This is a matter in which I know my noble friend Lord Dulverton takes a particular interest. So mere privatisation is not in itself enough, and if I may say so, I think that the Bill is rather feeble in that that is the only aspect of the matter on which it touches.
§ In dealing with the innumerable amendments covering the aspects that I have just mentioned, my noble friend Lord Mansfield previously gave a number of very valuable explanations as to how he and his colleagues in the Forestry Commission were intending to proceed, and his assurances were very useful. So, too, was the letter which he had placed in the Library, giving an indication of the procedures for governing the sales of Forestry Commission land to the private sector.
§ All of that was very welcome, but none of it is a substitute for proper legislation. These assurances are very welcome, the letter in the Library is very welcome; but we have yet to see appropriate follow-up action in the form of legislation. I put to the House during the Committee stage, and I put to it again now, the view that the kind of things that were being sought and the kind of points that my noble friend was making in response are not appropriate for primary legislation. I think that they are much more appropriate 147 for subordinate legislation, and that is why I have worded my amendment in the way that I have done. It does no more than provide the hooks in this Bill on which the subordinate legislation can be hung, and it gives an indication of the kind of matters which I believe Parliament ought to see covered in the subordinate legislation. It does no more than that.
§ I have sought the advice of those who are far more qualified than I am on the proprieties of the way on which my noble friend would have us proceed, and I must say that they confirm my own impression that at the moment they are not moving along the right lines. Therefore it is for that reason that I particularly wish to press my amendment.
§ However I should like to go on to say what I would judge to be the effect of accepting this amendment and the other similar amendments. If Amendment No. 1 were passed, it would oblige my noble friend to look at the current management objectives that are set for the Forestry Commission. Those are the ones dated 1975. They are conveniently given in paragraph 103 on page 36 of your Lordships' Select Committee report, as are the Committee's criticisms of them.
§ My noble friend would then have to decide, in the light of what has gone on since 1975, in the light of the new policies that have been developed, the reports that have been published (and to which I have referred), and the criticisms of the report that I have mentioned to what extent the directives needed revision. I should have thought that they certainly needed revision. He would then have to redraft the directives in the light of whatever decision he takes, and then lay them before Parliament in the form of a statutory instrument, which the House could debate but not change; and if my noble friend carried out his consultations satisfactorily, that would be that.
§ While I am on the subject perhaps I may refer to Amendment No. 11. All that would be necessary to meet the point made there would be for Her Majesty's Government merely to put the letter that they have already placed in the Library into a form in which it could be laid before Parliament as a statutory instrument, and then lay the instrument. To my mind that particular amendment would go a long way to allay the anxieties felt in the Forest of Dean; but we shall come to that anon.
§ The benefits that would flow from proceeding in that way are as follows. First, the substance of all the assurances that Ministers have been offering us during the passage of the Bill would then be properly on the parliamentary record; and I think that as Members of Parliament we have a duty to see that that is so. The whole barrage of amendments with which my noble friend has been faced would be dealt with. Of course some of them would not be accepted, but at least we should know what was the Government's attitude to them. Others could be accepted in the subordinate legislation that would be involved, and they would be incorporated in a parliamentary document without cluttering up the primary legislation.
§ Furthermore, if more changes were made as time went by and all this afforestation took place, and some of the effects of it were seen, further changes in the directive could be made without having to come to Parliament with a fresh Bill. Members of your 148 Lordships' House who have been Ministers know how difficult it is to get anything into the legislative programme.
§ So I commend the amendment to your Lordships chiefly because I think that it is the proper way for us to proceed in legislative terms; I commend it secondly because I feel that we must have regard to the total rural economy and the overall rural policy; and I commend it thirdly because I want to sec the Government's forestry policy succeeding and developing. I beg to move.
The Earl of Bessborough
My Lords, I do not know whether it is in order for me to speak now, but as a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, to which my noble friend referred, feel that perhaps it would be an advantage to the House if I said a word at this moment. I am very interested in the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Sandford because it covers much the same ground, as he knows, as Amendment No. 19, which was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and other members of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, including myself, and which I had the privilege to move in Committee on May 11th. For this reason, I have agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger (who was also a member of the Select Committee and whose place is taken this afternoon, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston) and, indeed, with the Opposition Front Bench as a whole, not to table a similar amendment to the old Amendment No. 19 for this Report stage, and that is why I am speaking to my noble friend's amendment, which he moved so effectively.
I would add that in the meantime I have received from my noble friend Lord Mansfield, the Minister of State, a very cogent and comprehensive letter, for which I am most grateful to him, giving the reasons why he was not able to meet the Select Committee's point on the integration of land uses, which noble Lords will remember had support from all quarters of your Lordships' Committee during the Committee stage. I circulated that letter to other members of the Select Committee and to those who spoke on 11th May, and no doubt some of them may wish to speak to it this afternoon; and I am grateful for their comments.
However, I must now admit that after some heart-searching I agree with my noble friend the Minister that the development of a harmonious relationship between land users may be the most effective way of achieving the aims of the Select Committee, and that this could be achieved without recourse to legislation. I know that one of the commissioners' recognised objectives is to foster a harmonious relationship between forestry and agriculture, and that this can be extended to other interests. I also think, on reflection, that the consultative procedures can be effective, and that they could lead to a compromise which, as my noble friend the Minister has told me, could be an expression of integration in the broadest sense of the term.
I must also agree, as I stated in Committee, that the aims of the Select Committee are already being pursued by the Forestry Commissioners, and it would be a good thing for their published objectives to take account of all other land uses. I was also a little concerned 149 when I heard that implementing the amendment might result in the Forestry Commission being obliged to increase their staff, although I had originally hoped, as I think I made clear at Committee stage, that they would not have to do so. But in view of this, and the letter from my noble friend the Minister, I do not feel, much as I fully appreciate the intentions of my noble friend Lord Sandford, that I personally could go into the Lobby with him if indeed he decides to divide the House.
On the other hand, I must say that it is of course entirely up to other members of the Select Committee, and indeed other noble Lords in different parts of the House who were not members of the committee, to make up their own minds on this matter and support my noble friend Lord Sandford if they feel they should. But, personally, I now accept the Government's explanations as to why they are inclined not to accept an amendment of this kind. I regret that, due to his absence abroad, I have not been able to consult the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, the chairman of the sub-committee which produced this report, on this matter. Therefore, I should emphasise that what I have said constitutes a purely personal view.
My Lords, I rise very briefly indeed, believing that it may be helpful to your Lordships' House if I inform your Lordships that the Council for National Parks, which represents the whole spectrum of recreational amenity and conservation interests, warmly supports this amendment, which we regard as quite essential to the defence of the purposes for which the national parks were established. I realise, of course, that this amendment covers land not within the national parks, but I think it has a particular importance in connection with the national parks. Therefore, we believe it is right that there should be a statutory obligation on the Forestry Commission to take into account all those interests which are represented by the Council for National Parks when disposing of Forestry Commission land.
My Lords, I rise for one minute only to support the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and to say that I wish his amendment were stronger. I am one of those who from the very beginning has had reservations about Clause 1 of this Bill—not reservations about selling fringe land and selling land in accordance with the normal processes of estate management, but about seeing an open-ended commitment like this in the Bill. Before I sit down I am going to ask the Minister to remember just one thing, and that is that forestry, timber and amenity interests all over the country are united, I would say—or the great majority of them are—in disliking this Clause 1. I therefore beg my noble friend to accept this amendment and to go further than just giving assurances and putting letters in the Library.
§ The Earl of Wemyss and March
My Lords, I, too, would most earnestly beg my noble friend Lord Mansfield to accept this amendment, which has been so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. Of course, it stands not only in that noble Lord's 150 name but in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, and at Committee stage she made very able representations about all the troubles and all the worries that she had—the things that were being done by the Forestry Commission (rights of access, recreation and all the rest of it) which would be lost if sales took place in the indiscriminate way which, on the face of it, this Bill as at first drafted allows.
Admittedly, it is extremely difficult—and that came out well, I think, in the debate—to put all this sort of thing in primary legislation in order to remove this fear. Therefore, it seems to me that the excellent way of putting it into regulations should be adopted instead. There are all sorts of anxieties about many kinds of details, some of which I have no doubt will be discussed when we speak on later amendments, ranging from the Forest of Dean to the National Trusts, which in many cases it is difficult to put into statutory form. I very much hope, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government, who up to now have shown considerable rigidity on this matter—but if one reads some of the amendments to be moved by the noble Earl later today it looks as though this attitude is slightly breaking down, which we all welcome—will start us off for a good, happy afternoon by accepting this useful amendment.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord Dulverton
My Lords, as another member of your Lordships' Select Committee I must briefly intervene to back up and support my noble friend Lord Bessborough in this debate which has thrown up such contrary attitudes towards this amendment. I will not repeat all that he said; he set out the reasons for his change of mind, as it were, over setting down by statute these duties of the Forestry Commissioners. But I will repeat that I personally am also persuaded, although having been a member of the Select Committee which made recommendations along these lines, that it would not be right to incorporate this amendment into the Bill. I would only say, as a corollary of that—and my noble friend said something about my interest in trying to get integration of farming and forestry among the hills, which is an interest I have been pursuing for many years—that on that particular subject there is not enough being done and not enough of a lead being given by the Government. We have paid lip service to it for years and years and it is left entirely to a few individuals in the private sector to make their own attempts at doing it. It is very important for the future.
I hope that the Government will, sometime very soon, set down and think out ways and means of progressing that combined land use of forestry and farming. Otherwise, it is a fact that the Forestry Commissioners are charged to consult deeply with almost all the other land-using interests and, I believe, they do exactly. It might be somewhat discriminatory to put this duty statutorily upon the Forestry Commission if you do not put the same duty statutorily upon people like the Countryside Commission and the National Conservative Council, and I could go on about that. I want to say that I am persuaded, as is my noble friend Lord Bessborough, that we had better not press this amendment.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, when we had the Wildlife and Countryside Bill before us, we went into considerable detail about the effect of farming upon wildlife. In so far as my noble friend Lord Sandford's amendment makes some attempt to ensure that forestry has the right effect on farming and farming the right effect on forestry, I should have thought it would be right to spell out some of the policies in the way he suggests. That is the only point of substance that I wanted to make in supporting my noble friend. But he referred to what he called the proprieties of legislation. May I say a few words briefly about that? We are accustomed to Ministers explaining their policies and giving assurances; and that is a necessary and courteous thing to do, especially when it goes one stage further of laying documents in the Library for us to see. But in a case like this, where I think the Government are really asking for a doctor's mandate for them and the Forestry Commission to do what they like in future, it is not quite enough—especially in the light of the report of the Select Committee to which reference has been made.
We cannot and should not expect the Government to spell out all the details that might arise in applying their policies, especially on this where a degree of flexibility is obviously needed. But I am sure that my noble friend Lord Sandford is right in suggesting that the Government should agree that in the legislation we should spell out the essentials; and that is what he is trying to do. He is doing it in a very flexible way because, instead of asking for the whole thing to be written out in the Bill, he is saying that directions which shall be turned into statutory instruments shall be put before Parliament from time to time and that allows flexibility to take place; because if the statutory instrument, not having been annulled by Parliament, becomes part of the law but is found to be in need of change at some future date, then another statutory instrument can be laid before Parliament so that the Government are not tied down too much.
Therefore I think my noble friend has the balance about right. He is not asking the Government to commit themselves to an unreasonable extent and, therefore, think that, subject to any points of drafting which my noble friend Lord Mansfield may have, this amendment and those which go with it should be accepted.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, I am very suspicious of these amendments. I hope the Government will not accept them. Forestry is like farming; it is farming trees. This amendment attempts to interfere, for the sake of all sorts of other reasons, with the commercial considerations of forestry, which are tight enough as it is. I think that interference with industry has always had the same effect, when politicians get together and interfere with public industry, and we have seen it with the nationalised industries. The less interference with this growing crop the better. Indeed, if it is interfered with enough, the time will come when it will make such huge losses (if it has not made them already) that public forestry will become one of the things to be cut as being too great a loss-maker.
One particular point is the selection of land for disposal. It seems to me unbelievable that the Minister should have a hand in the decision as to which land 152 should be disposed of. This is a matter for the Forestry Commission; it is the expert. If politicians interfere with that, then you can expect to have total unsuccess in the industry. It smacks of planning, and there is no earthly reason why planners should have any better ideas than the Forestry Commission as to what things will look like. In fact, there are good reasons why they should not. The whole countryside has been built up by countrymen who know what is best for the country. As soon as the planners have anything to do with it, it is usually disastrous.
If this sort of amendment were to be accepted, one might disband the Forestry Commission and make it up again as "Amenity Commission". Then we would know where we are. Having said that, I think it is true that the Forestry Commission already has careful concern for the effects of what it does. It is concerned with its labour problems and with the amenities side; so that one is not talking about a commission which does not pay regard to the very points which the noble Lord wishes to incorporate.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I rise briefly to support this amendment. I do not want to go into any of the arguments but I should like to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, that the whole of the row and the reason for this amendment is interference by politicians in the affairs of the Forestry Commission. Never have I seen a Bill which is so unpopular among knowledgeable supporters of the Government. It is extraordinary the amount of suspicion that has arisen. The reason for this amendment is that people do not believe the Government. They think that they have put up the whole Bill simply to flog off as much as they can and get some money in the kitty. That is the truth of the matter.
As to noble Lords opposite, I see noble Lords that I greatly respect and I see loyalty struggling with reason in an endeavour to get some sense into the Government. But really I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that his amendment would do something to protect the excellent work that the commission has already done, and, we hope, will do in the future, and I should like to support it.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Lord Gibson
My Lords, I should also like to support this amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, said, the Forestry Commission already pay attention to the factors mentioned in this amendment. They already have regard to these considerations. On the general grounds that Parliament should explicitly acknowledge this wider background against which the commissioners formulate their policy, this amendment should be accepted.
I have a particular ground for supporting this amendment. I ask your Lordships to bear with me a moment. It concerns the National Trust, of which I am chairman. It may be convenient to refer to it here since it provides me with a powerful reason for supporting the amendment. The trust is referred to in subsequent amendments, but if I deal with this now I need not trouble your Lordships later.
There are two matters of concern to the trust in this Bill. One concerns the present power of the Forestry Commissioners to acquire compulsorily our inalienable 153 land; and the other is the Forestry Commission's power to dispose of leases of land held by them where the freehold interest is held inalienably by the National Trust. Regarding the first of these two concerns, a Government Amendment (No. 14) will set this matter right if it is carried. I am extremely grateful to the Government for putting it down. As regards the second, concerning the disposal of leases of National Trust land held by the Forestry Commission, I should like to explain the trust's position.
The trust has received assurances from the Government to the effect that in their directions to the Forestry Commission they will require that inalienable land leased from the trust which has been afforested by the Commission shall not be assigned to others without the trust's consent. In the case of land leased from the trust but not planted, the trust must be given first refusal to buy back the lease before it is assigned to others. We believe that this is fair and reasonable. I have therefore refrained from doing what I would otherwise have done: namely, put down an amendment in the terms contained in Amendment No. 12 which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ross. However, I am aware that assurances are not a substitute for legislation, and while I am happy that they will bind this Administration, they cannot bind later ones. That is a point which many of your Lordships have already made.
The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, by requiring parliamentary scrutiny and approval of the directions given to the Forestry Commission by Ministers, would afford the National Trust the protection of Parliament against any Administration tempted not to honour the present Government's assurances. So that is a special interest which I have in urging your Lordships to accept this amendment. I believe that it gives us the protection we need without imposing specific and unreasonable limitations on the freedom of the Forestry Commissioners to dispose of their interests in land which they do not require for forestry. I entirely take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, that with particular decisions about disposals of land it would be ridiculous for Ministers to interfere on a regular basis. This is a point of principle about which they are going to instruct the Forestry Commission, and I personally should like to see it protected in the way that this amendment would do.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
My Lords, I had some reservations about this amendment which were not dispelled by the speeches which have so far been made. I understand Lord Sandford's objectives very well as he described them. It is a comprehensive amendment to try to achieve a balanced rural economy to see that the best argicultural land is used for farming and, by and large, the worst land is used for forestry. That is entirely admirable. However, when he says in his amendment that directions under this clause shall specify the policies, I cannot see how one can do more than specialise in general—in other words, to appoint where the clause is really meaningless.
For example, let me take the words which refer to local employment. You can specify, if this amendment is carried, that in principle the Forestry Commission should employ local people. But all of us know that 154 that is totally impossible. So this is a general instruction which I think on the ground will be meaningless. Again, if I may take the broad question, how can one lay down a direction in abstract as to which land is best for farming and which is best for forestry? It is simply not possible to do it. With all respect, this amendment specified generalities which on the ground will be found to be meaningless. I never like cluttering up an Act of Parliament with language of this sort.
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, may I begin by apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, as I was not present to hear the beginning of his speech. I went upstairs to get my papers and was trapped on the telephone. In the bulk of his speech which I heard he explained the amendment so clearly that there is no need for me to add anything to it. On the question of the legislative propriety of the procedure that he suggests, I am certainly not qualified to express an opinion except that if it satisfies the noble Lord, Lord Renton, it satisfies me.
May I say a private word, so to speak, to those who are particularly concerned with and interested in the Forest of Dean? We did at one stage hope that we could achieve all our aims through the mechanism of Lord Sandford's amendment. We asked him if he could make a very small addition to it which would meet the remaining misgivings in the forest. As he was perfectly entitled to do, he declined to make the addition. Therefore, I want to make it clear that I shall be persisting along the lines of Amendment No. 6, when we reach it, because we do not feel that this goes far enough for the particular problems of the Dean. That is certainly no reason for not supporting this amendment, which I personally do.
§ Lord Gibson-Watt
My Lords, may I speak shortly. Everything that is said in this amendment is on the side of virtue. It is saying that virtue is a good thing and sin is a bad thing. It does not get us anywhere. With respect to my noble friend, all the things which are mentioned in this amendment are already being done to the best abilities of the commissioners. If you take them point by point—local employment, for instance—look at the amount of local employment that has come from the forestry industry, in particular the Forestry Commission. Look at the addition to the rural economy. Look at the vast sums of public money that the commissioners have been administering in the cause of recreation and access. I think the figure was £3¼ million last year.
Then, conservation and amenity. I cannot stress enough to your Lordships that the liaison at top level and indeed at all levels today between the commissioners and those who carry out their duties in the Countryside Commission and in the Nature Conservancy is of the highest order. It is no coincidence that the chairman of the Forestry Commission was on the Nature Conservancy and that the present chairman of the Nature Conservancy was once a forestry commissioner. All these people are working in the closest harmony in order to achieve what I believe we ourselves and people outside would wish. I therefore quite shortly say that, however, well intentioned this amendment is, I do not believe it will help the commissioners in the job they are doing.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down I wonder whether he would take it from me that I know of a case of a Forestry Commission forest in South-West Scotland where, instead of employing local labour for thinning, they got contractors up from Hampshire. I should have thought that was a quite unjustifiable situation.
§ Lord Gibson-Watt
My Lords, to my noble friend I would only say this: even people in Hampshire need work!
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Lord Bishopston
My Lords, may I first apologise for the unavoidable absence of my noble friend, Lady Jeger who, as noble Lords will know, has been concerned with this matter during earlier stages of the Bill. Secondly, I feel I should declare an interest as a member of the Church Commissioners who have some interest in the measure, and also as a member of the Council of the National Trust. I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, has already made some observations. I suppose my other local interest is that I live in Nottinghamshire, and therefore Sherwood Forest, which is perhaps one of the best-known forests in the world, is situated in the area where I live. Now being a country park, it is one of the many amenities controlled by various authorities and which we appreciate, and which is a cause of concern regarding this and other measure before the House.
The importance of the amendment has been shown by the fact that many noble Lords, especially those opposite, who have supported the Bill in general have shown the gravest misgivings about the kind of assurances they have been seeking. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, made a very strong contribution on this matter. The amendment is directed to Section 1 of the 1967 Act, and when one talks about the present Act, which is tied to this Bill, one is aware of the fact that the Forestry Commissioners under the 1967 Act have responsibilities laid on them. To quote Section 1(2):The Commissioners shall be charged with the general duty of promoting the interests of forestry, the development of afforestation, the production and supply of timber and other forest products …".Section 3 refers to the maintenance in Great Britain of adequate reserves of growing trees. The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, a few moments ago was rather critical of the fact that the Forestry Commission might become an amenity society. Indeed, the Forestry Commission, like many other bodies who are responsible for the custodianship of great national assets like our forests, is very much aware of the present-day needs in the direction of this amendment.
It may well have been that when the 1967 Act was framed the Forestry Commission, and indeed the House and the country, accepted that the promotion of forestry, the development of afforestation, and so on, was all that they required to bother themselves with. But in the period which has elapsed since, we all know there are many other commendable aspects which we expect them, together with local authorities, the Countryside Commission, the Nature Conservancy Council and many other bodies, to have in mind. 156 They include the requirements mentioned in this amendment, which says that:(6) Directions under this section shall specify the policies to be pursued by the Forestry Commission in respect of local employment and the rural economy, recreation and access, conservation and amenity …and all the rest.
It is no good saying that the Forestry Commission is aware of all this because although that may be so, and indeed it acts very commendably in those directions, we are now at the stage where the Forestry Commission is likely to be overruled by a future Minister. Clause 1 is really the whole Bill, and what matters is that the Minister shall have power to dispose. Nothing is laid down in the Bill so far which indicates that those who buy the land from the Minister when he disposes either with or without the advice, approval or consent of the Forestry Commission, shall use it for any particular purpose. If the land is to be sold, one anticipates that those interested in buying it will have as their main concern the financial aspect. That is of course very natural in those circumstances.
So although Her Majesty's Government say that the purpose of the Bill is to facilitate the achievement of part of the Government's policy of forestry outlined in the Statement of 10th December last, it is quite clear that that is the subsidiary purpose. Indeed, on Second Reading on 15th April the noble Earl said that the purpose of Clause 1 was to enable the Forestry Commission to generate funds for progressively reducing its dependence on the Exchequer. This may, of course, militate against some of the concerns which noble Lords in the House and indeed in the country have shown since the publication of the Bill.
He followed this assertion with the claim that this would enable the commission to operate more flexibly in the commercial world, Of course, that is a very nice way of hiding to some extent the real intention; but the cat is let out of the bag by Clause 2, which says:(4A) There shall be paid out of the Forestry Fund into the Consolidated Fund such sums as the Ministers may from time to time with the approval of the Treasury direct".So it seems that the interests of forestry, those of amenity, local employment, conservation and also the interests of getting more timber and producing our own pulp and helping the balance of payments are secondary to the financial considerations.
I would refer to the Second Reading debate, when the Minister made some observations which I think have caused the grave concerns expressed in this House, even by those people who sit behind him. He said at col. 993 on 15th April:In selecting areas for sale, and the method of disposal in each case, the Commission will be taking into account a number of key factors. I mentioned these during our debate on 23rd February, but they are of such importance that I feel justified in bringing them again to your Lordships' attention, since they demonstrate the care and attention which will be given to the disposals programme. They are"—and this is the important point—financial considerations".I am sorry: he did not say that. To quote him, he said:They are: financial considerations; the maintenance and development of the wood processing industry; the maintenance of 157 employment and the viability of local communities, especially in the socially fragile areas; the use of forests for public access and recreation; the interests of conservation, research and education; the effects on management; the market preferences having regard to other criteria; and, lastly, the rationalisation of the forestry estate".So the Minister and the Government are very much holding in mind some of the anxieties and considerations which have led the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, to table this amendment, to its support by my noble friends and the misgivings which have been expressed by noble Lords during the debate.
The Bill therefore seems to be directed more to the Treasury getting its fingers into the Forestry Commission till than to the proper pursuit of a rational forestry policy and the considerations which we have in mind. In fact, the real thrust of the Bill, as with many other Government Bills, is not the best interests of forestry despite the points made when the Minister spoke earlier with his Statement, but is directed towards a reduction of public involvement in matters which many of us would feel are rightly of public concern.
Therefore, we feel that the points made in this amendment are commendable. They are certainly not at variance with the expressions of Government policy which were outlined by the noble Earl in the earlier stages of this Bill, in the Government's Statement of December last or in February this year, when they outlined their policy. I am trying to help the Government here. That is not usual, I must say, but we are trying to ensure that what the Government say they stand for is put into this legislation.
The other point that I want to make is that the House has been told of various assurances to certain people. I understand that the National Trust has had certain assurances in a letter and, doubtless, other people, who have had misgivings about Clause 1—which is the substance of the entire Bill—have had assurances. One is inclined to accept the assurances of the Government, if they write to people and say, "Your misgivings are unfounded, because we are prepared to bear in mind the points on which you have expressed concern But, as a former Minister—and there are plenty of other former Ministers here—I know very well that the letters we write to people giving assurances cannot last indefinitely. There are also enough lawyers here, and others with a legal background, who will say that on matters such as forestry, amenities and the way in which land that is sold will be used in future, this Bill is all that matters.
Clause 1 is very stark. It states:(2) The Minister may dispose for any purpose of land acquired by him under this section".That means that it can go to anyone. Land which is held on lease from various bodies—and the National Trust is one of them—can apparently be disposed of with no safeguards, except what has been said in the letter. Very few of us know what assurances have been given. The National Trust now has nearly 1 million members, and I do not know how they will be assured about some of the misgivings which might have been offset by this letter. So assurances, no matter how sincere, count for little when they are not in the Bill for future Ministers to act upon.
158 We feel that there is merit in this amendment. The other point about it is that it states:Directions given by the Ministers for the purposes of this section shall be by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.".That means that the element of accountability comes into it, because a statutory instrument is something which is tabled. It may or may not be debated, though I understand that many are not debated at all. But the fact is that it gives people and organisations who are concerned a chance to have the matter debated by both Houses, and an opportunity for the Minister to answer with a spirit of accountability—as I am sure he would—for what he intends to do.
If the Forestry Commission is to be held responsible only for matters of forestry, afforestation, timber and all the rest, no matter how important the subject is, although taking into account the items mentioned in this amendment—and amenities are increasingly important in this day and age—we want to make sure that those who want to purchase land will also hear in mind the importance of other aspects.
There have been references by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, to the number of reports which have been laid before Parliament, or which have been issued in the last few years, concerning science and technology and many other commendable matters. One would not wish on this occasion to mention some of them, but we feel that, at this stage, the amendment contains the very minimum requirements which should be laid upon the Forestry Commission, and which should also be borne in mind by those who purchase land which is eventually disposed of by this Minister, or by his successors, in years to come.
My Lords, I spoke briefly when this point was discussed in Committee, and, having listened very carefully to this debate this evening, I feel that we should be unwise to support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Sandford. It has often been said that the pathway to Hell is paved with good intentions. I do not think that this is a particularly good Bill. I had hoped very much that it might be possible for Ministers to come back to the House and slightly to ameliorate the severity of Clause 1. This is a very short Bill and I think that it is too short.
I do not think we ought to have a Bill which simply states:The Minister may dispose for any purpose of land acquired by him under this section",and shall then hand the money over to the Treasury. That is all it says. There is another clause which says that you had better have another forestry commissioner. It is too short a Bill and I had hoped that Clause 1 would be slightly hedged around with some safeguards. But that is not to be. I fear, as my noble friend Lord Home has said, that the amendment of my noble friend Lord Sandford would make what is now a bad Bill—he did not say this, but I say it—into a confused Bill, because the amendment would not take us very much further.
Under the Forestry Act 1967, as well as under the original Forestry Acts, Ministers have powers to give directions and, for the first time, we would be saying that Ministers have to give specific directions on certain 159 things which are set out in the amendment. It is very difficult to give clear and precise directions that can be put into a statutory instrument and laid before Parliament. I think that we had better leave as they are those powers that the Minister has to give directions. He will give them when he sees fit, and the Forestry Commission will loyally carry them out.
The Forestry Commission has a very good record. It has been acting under existing Acts of Parliament since 1919 and has done an extremely good job, which it is still doing. It has looked after the private sector as well as its own public sector, and long may it continue to do so. I wish that we did not have this severe clause unhedged around with safeguards, which could be used by this Government or any other Government once the Bill is on the statute book. I do not think that the Bill would be improved by this statutory instrument device, which, with the best of intentions, my noble friend Lord Sandford puts forward to try to ameliorate Clause 1, which I do not think it does and which merely confuses it.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, may I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Sandford most warmly and, indeed, sincerely for his very sustained and ingenious way of trying to reconcile a number of doubts which noble Lords have had about this Bill, and I shall come back to that. Secondly, may I say to the noble Lord, Lord McNair, that I shall not follow him down the byways of the Forest of Dean. I have written to him twice within the last few days. I hope that he has received both of those letters—I see that he nods—and that both, in their different ways, will have brought joy to him as well as to those whose cause he has espoused.
Equally, may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, and to my noble friend Lord Wemyss, that I do not think, in the context of this debate, that it is very fruitful to go into the affairs of the two National Trusts. We shall debate those matters on different amendments and I hope that I shall then have an opportunity of telling the House about the arrangements to which we have come and which seem, on the face of them, at any rate, to have fairly satisfactory features. Furthermore, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, down what I might call the paths which have led from the original forestry statement, and through the various stages of this Bill, to the position in which we find ourselves now.
My noble friend's first amendment as distinct from his third amendment, Amendment No. 11, seeks to amend Section 1 of the Forestry Act 1967. I say that because to a degree both amendments are separate and distinct but they overlap in one material part, because they both cover a selection of land for disposal, and both lay down the parliamentary procedure to be followed in either instance. Otherwise, Amendment No. 1 would put into statutory instrument form the various matters which would be embodied in directions under Section 1.
I have to say to the House that I believe it would be unprecedented for directions of this kind to be given in a statutory instrument, and I say that because the matters in the new clause are essentially matters of 160 policy, and I suggest it would be inappropriate that they should be given legislative form. I am reinforced in that view by the attitude taken by my noble friends, Lord Home of the Hirsel and Lord Hawke, who pointed out only too graphically the dangers and pitfalls inherent in trying to write legislative procedures and considerations into matters of policy.
Within the policies laid down by successive Governments the commissioners have developed their own objectives, and I say that in relation to both the forestry enterprise and the commissioners' role as the forestry authority, which is so important to the private interest. These objectives have been published in the Commissioners' Policy and Procedure Paper No. 1. There are other papers, which deal specifically and in more detail with other aspects of those objectives, and copies of all these papers are available in the Library. I should like to quote from the Policy and Procedure Paper No. 1 those policy objectives adopted by the commissioners and which have been endorsed quite happily by the Government. They are: to protect and enhance the environment; to provide recreational facilities; to stimulate and support the local economy in areas of depopulation by the development of forests including the establishment of new plantations and wood-using industry; to foster a harmonious relationship between forestry and agriculture. Here, in a slightly restricted form, the paper deals with the matters which have been raised by my noble friend Lord Bessborough and more especially by the Select Committee. I say that because this last objective can and will be widened by the commission to include other land users, some of which were mentioned in the amendment suggested by your Lordships' Select Committee at a previous stage.
In the case of the forestry enterprise, the commission's notes on its objectives end:In pursuit of the foregoing objectives, to manage the estate economically and efficiently, and to account for its activities to Ministers and Parliament".Those are the objectives which the Commissioners have set themselves. They are kept under review and can be modified as the need arises. I suggest that there is no need to have recourse to legislation by way of ministerial direction in order to achieve what my noble friend has in mind. But my noble friend will know—as your Lordships will know—that the commission is already statutorily required by the Countryside Acts to have regard, in exercising its function relating to land, to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside. This covers the conservation of flora, fauna, geological features and so on.
Perhaps I may now set out very briefly the constitutional position, and in the presence of my noble friend Lord Renton I must gang warily, as we say in Scotland, but could I just say to him in parenthesis that so far as the employees from Hampshire are concerned, if the commission sells timber or land under trees it cannot, in the case of a timber merchant, control the timber merchant's employees. Obviously different considerations apply when the commission is working with its own employees. In the case mentioned by my noble friend, as I understand it, the particular firm employed to harbour the trees chose their employees from a different part of the country.
161 The statutory duties of the Forestry Commissioners are set out in Section 1 of the Forestry Act 1967, which is a consolidation Act, and they stem from the Forestry Act 1919 under which the commission was originally set up. Section 1 provides that in exercising their functions under the Act the commissioners shall comply with such directions as are given to them by forestry Ministers acting jointly or severally if they should so decide. In fact, during the past 60 or more years that the commission has been in existence, formal powers of direction have rarely been used and I understand that only two occasions spring to mind. The last of these was in 1975, when it was decided to give the commissioners formal directions in relation to the implementation of policies for private forestry announced in another place on 5th July 1974. The direction was merely a formal device to put on record certain arrangements for inter-departmental and other consultations on applications made to the commissioners for grant aid in respect of afforestation schemes and for felling licences. In the event of disagreement these arrangements provide for cases to be referred to Ministers for consideration, and I know from personal experience that they work well.
It is against this background that I have to say to my noble friend that it would be out of order to give the commissioners formal directions under Section 1 on the selection of areas for sale. The land at the disposal of the commissioners is vested in the forestry Ministers. It is they who have the power of disposal; disposal of land is not part of the commissioners' statutory duties which may be subject to direction. In practice the commissioners will exercise these powers as they exercise the limited disposal powers currently available, but I want to emphasise that they do so in the names of Ministers under delegated authority. For that reason I suggest that the amendment as it stands is defective in its aims, and it is also for that reason that we have chosen to give the Commissioners guidelines, or a code of practice, rather than a statutory direction. To that extent the commissioners will be acting under the instructions of forestry Ministers.
In Committee I mentioned that the Forestry Commission is now recognised, for all practical purposes, as a department of state and I subsequently wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, and the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown (who I see is not in his place), to confirm this. There are, of course, special circumstances which make the commission a unique organisation, and I believe it would be a mistake to disturb what has been, and is, a most successful constitutional relationship with Ministers. The fact of the matter is that the Commission is the medium through which Governments of either complexion exercise their forestry policies, whether those policies be directed towards afforestation and associated activities by the state or by the private sector, or a combination of both. The execution of those policies is a matter for the commissioners, who seek guidance and instructions from Ministers as they consider necessary. To this extent the commissioners are no different from any other department of state.
Finally, may I suggest to my noble friend, and indeed to the House, what might happen if this amendment to Section 1 were written into the Bill. An opening would be created for any interested body— 162 indeed, for anybody with an axe to grind—to challenge by legal proceedings the individual acts of the commissioners carried out in furtherance of the policies laid down, on the grounds that this or that requirement of the regulations had not been properly taken into account. The result would be that considerable, I would go so far as to say great, uncertainty would hang over the detailed actions of the commissioners in the areas governed by the regulations. I think they could be severely inhibited in their implementation of the policies required of them. This would be because they would be under the continuous fear, to use no other word, of legal challenge.
Although I am very grateful to my noble friend for the way in which he has approached his amendment—he has certainly caused us to consider very carefully what we are doing—in the light of all that has been said in this debate I would ask him to withdraw it.
§ Lord Sandford
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his very detailed and thoughtful response to my amendment. I was particularly relieved that he said nothing to indicate that what is proposed is contrary to the forestry policy of Her Majesty's Government. That was certainly not the intention. What I am offering the House is an opportunity to consider whether the way in which we are legislating here—this particularly bare clause, as my noble friend Lord Waldegrave put it—is all that can be said as a background to all that is about to happen in the general field of forestry. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that unless something is done, suspicions among a number of bodies will be aroused as to what the Government are up to, and those suspicions can easily be allayed.
My noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel and one or two others said that this amendment of mine does not get us very far. I agree absolutely with that. The amendment on its own certainly does not get us very far. I described it as a hook on which to hang something more substantial. If your Lordships were to look at the letter which was laid in the Library I think you would see that although it relates to my Amendment No. 11, given this sort of hook it is possible to say something more which is useful by way of guidance, advice, guidelines to Ministers or to the Forestry Commission as to how they should proceed. They have issued directives which the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, read out more or less complete. So there is no difficulty over issuing these directives. I think that they ought to be amended and improved, and the Select Committee said so in terms.
My amendment provides a parliamentary hook upon which to hang that and thus to give to the public and to Parliament, which is more important, proper insight, formally and regularly, into what is going on. It can be done, and I have to say that it has been done. My noble friend Lord Renton who does not have the right to reply, whereas I have, reminds me that in the case of the Home Office their immigration officers operate under directives in the same way as I am suggesting the Forestry Commission should operate. They are prescribed by statutory instrument, and that statutory instrument has to be laid before Parliament and approved by both Houses of Parliament. So there is a precedent for doing this and my own feeling, 163 and that of quite a number of your Lordships who have spoken, is that it ought to be done.
The amendment does not in itself do anything to disturb the excellent consultative procedures which the Forestry Commission and their Ministers have built up. All it does is to provide a proper framework, laid before Parliament, under which one can see what these consultative procedures amount to. It also provides the Government with a convenient opportunity—much more convenient than introducing further legislation—to modify that framework if they see fit.
It is always difficult to decide what to do when your own Government resist one of your own amendments. The House has expressed itself in a number of different ways and the balance of opinion is very even. I think that I owe it to those who have supported me to let the House decide what it thinks about the amendment.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 70; Not-Contents, 109.164
|Alport, L.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Kintore, E.|
|Baker, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Birk, B.||Lee of Newton, L.|
|Bishopston, L. [Teller.]||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Blease, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Blyton, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Brockway, L.||McNair, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Maelor, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Chelmsford, Bp.||Oram, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Collison, L.||Renton, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Sandford, L. [Teller.]|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Seear, B.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Segal, L.|
|Fulton, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Simon, V.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Spens, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Gibson, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Glenamara, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Hale, L.||Stone, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Thurso, V.|
|Hughes, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Inglewood, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Janner, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Wemyss and March, E.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||White, B.|
|Kennet, L.||Willis, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Campbell of Croy, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Carrington, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Cathcart, E.|
|Avon, E.||Chelwood, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Cockfield, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Colville of Culross, V.|
|Bessborough, E.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Bledisloe, V.||Craigavon, V.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Craigmyle, L.|
|Caccia, L.||Crathorne, L.|
|Cairns, E.||Crawford and Balcarres, E.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Malmesbury, E.|
|Davidson, V.||Mancroft, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Mansfield, E.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Mar, C.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Marley, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Dulverton, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Milverton, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Elles, B.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Ferrier, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Feversham, L.||Newall, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Norfolk, D.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Gainford, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Gisborough, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Gowrie, E.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Reay, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Salisbury, M.|
|Halsbury, E.||Selkirk, E.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Hatherton, L.||Skelmersdale, L. [Teller.]|
|Hives, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Terrington, L.|
|Kilmany, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Kinnaird, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Kinross, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Vivian, L.|
|Long, V.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Loudoun, C.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Lyell, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|McAlpine of Moffat, L.||Westbury, L.|
|MacAndrew, L.||Wigram, L.|
|McFadzean, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 1 [Disposal of land]:
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Alport)
My Lords, I am advised that Amendment No. 2 has been marshalled wrongly and therefore I call Amendment No. 3.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 3:
§ Page 1, line 5, leave out ("for") and insert ("after").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in order to make sense of Amendment No. 3 we must read also Amendment No. 4. Attention has already been drawn to the fact of how difficult it is to amend this—
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord about Amendment No. 2? Is he taking that now or later?
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, a mistake was made by those who were marshalling these matters. If the noble Earl will look he will see that the word "for" on line 5 comes before insert ("a") at the end of line 5, so the one that relates takes precedence in relation to the actual mention in the line. So we take Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 together and then we come back to Amendment No. 2. I have not neglected 165 No. 2 because I think it is a very important amendment, although I may say that the Public Bill Office could not understand it.
Amendment No. 3 reads:
Page 1, line 5, leave out ("for") and insert ("after"),
and Amendment No. 4:
Page 1, line 7, leave out from ("be") to end of line 9 and insert ("added—
( ) In the case of any other land so acquired dispose of it for any forestry purpose which does not conflict with rational management provided he is satisfied that existing arrangements for access and amenity shall be continued.",").
§ One of the difficulties of the present Bill is that it leaves out the whole of subsection (2) of Section 39 of the 1967 Act; that is, all the existing powers in relation to the sale of land where you are allowed freely to dispose of land which, having been bought for forestry, was found not to be needed for forestry or not suitable for forestry. If you leave that out then you are left with the sole power of disposing of any land as the Minister thinks fit; and if, as we tried to do at Committee stage, time and again, we tried to restrict that in some way, we then find that by restricting in that way the Forestry Commission or the Minister cannot dispose of land which at present is possible, for useful purposes—it may be for widening a road or for footpaths or something like that. We find that because of the way he has extended his powers by getting rid of the existing powers and replacing them by this blanket power, if we only seek to amend that blanket power we shall get into difficulties about his being able to dispose of land for particular purposes.
So, instead of substituting something for the existing subsection (2) of Section 39, what I am doing is adding to the existing Section 39. Thus, we start by leaving the existing powers, so that he cannot use the argument, "Ah, but these are some reasonable things that the Forestry Commission is expected to do; to give land for this, that and the next thing. It can do it now, but by your seeking to restrict the power in the new amending Bill, then it would not be able to do that". So I add to it. So the existing power remains and we add, and within the addition we still retain the phrase "dispose of any land" in any way that the Minister likes, but,
In the case of any other land so acquired dispose of it for any forestry purpose".
He has got to dispose of the land for forestry purposes. Apart from his existing powers he can still dispose of land, but we say only for forestry purposes, and it must not conflict with rational management
provided he is satisfied that existing arrangements for access and amenity shall be continued".
§ I think this is a solution to one of the difficulties I found in seeking to amend the Bill earlier. We do want to safeguard all that has been done. The Forestry Commission is second to none in its regard for opening up the countryside and making available to people healthy recreation, picnic areas—all the other things it has done under its existing powers, and under the powers it gained under the Countryside Act and the Countryside (Scotland) Act. The Minister had some difficulty about knowing what "amenity" meant. I suggested to him that he should have a look at the Countryside Acts. It is there mentioned 166 more than once, and if it is understandable there it should be understandable here. It is always better for the draftsmen to use a word already in an Act of Parliament.
§ One of our main concerns on this side of the House is that we should never give a Minister what is virtually an unfettered power to do whatever he likes best, or he thinks is best. Bear in mind the importance of forestry; bear in mind the dedicated work that has been done. I have listened to Forestry Commissioners today and former chairmen of the Forestry Commission with whom, as Minister of State and Secretary of State, I worked. There was never a cross word; there was never any doubt about where we stood in relation to the co-operation that was required between the Minister and the commission. As the Minister said in reply to the last debate, there was only the one occasion to my knowledge when a direction had to be used, and then it was used to clarify matters and really to satisfy both the public and the Forestry Commission itself. There has never been anything other than that.
§ The land that we are going to sell now is land that was bought for and is suitable for forestry. That is the extension I make. It was bought for forestry and if we are really concerned about the extension of forestry in this country, and the forestry is not going to be carried on by the Forestry Commission, surely we should limit the disposal for that purpose, in other words for private forestry. The main thing is for the forestry interest to be maintained; and in maintaining that continued forestry interest we should continue the concern for rational management and for the existing arrangements for access and amenity. These things are very important from the point of view of the public. I think the public today probably knows more than ever about the Forestry Commission, about the work of the Forestry Commission, since the Forestry Commission opened up its whole areas to the public. Having built that up, surely we are not going to sell off land which is used for forestry, which was bought for forestry, and risk it being used for something other than forestry.
§ I can think of areas where there is wonderful forest country in Scotland. I do not know the Forest of Dean; I do not know whether the Forest of Dean knows anything about the Forestry Commission's work at Glen Trool. It should be familiar to the Minister of State; the Murrays came from down there.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
I can tell the noble Earl that the Murray that gave him his first title, the first Mansfield in his title, came from down there.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
Yes, I know it is; but when 167 you take a territorial title, it does not mean to say that the Duke of Edinburgh comes from Edinburgh. Indeed, that applies to many other territorial titles that are held in this House at the present time. It is very surprising what the noble Earl says about that. I took the trouble some time ago to read the history of the first Earl of Mansfield who was, of course, a luminary at the Bar here.
Let us get back to Glen Trool. If the Minister of State does not know that area, he should; he should see the number of people who go there at week-ends from all over the country. This has been opened up. It is a very historic part of Scotland. There are many people who would dearly like to develop it for speculative purposes, not just for forestry but for other purposes. We should not even risk that; and that is why we put in, first of all, forestry, and, secondly, that when we do sell it for forestry purposes we should try to maintain, and ensure within the sale, that existing arrangements for access and amenity shall be continued. From the point of view of our already retaining the existing powers of sale, we allow further disposals but limit the purposes for which these disposals are made, and it can be done in terms of the sale. We might not get as much money for it if we are going to limit it, but we have to accept that.
We are talking about the heritage of the whole country and we should not take a risk on that kind of thing. So I sincerely hope that this amendment will prove acceptable to the House. The Government must realise how offensive it is to come along with a Bill which says purely and simply that the Minister may dispose for any purpose any land acquired under the section; that is offensive to anybody who has any interest in or concern for forestry, to the whole history since 1919 of the Forestry Commission and all who have served in it.
It is not good enough to say, "We are going to do it by guidelines; I sent a letter" to somebody or other. We are all interested in these letters. I got one handed to me as I sat down today. With all due respect, that was just an accident; I suppose they suddenly decided that I might be interested and should get that letter as well. But that is not good enough. The only guarantee of what is right, and what the Government feel now should be done, is to have it in the Bill, and if the Government want to do so they have got to come to the House to change something as important as that. I therefore beg leave to move Amendment No. 3, taking with it Amendment No. 4.
§ Lord Drumalbyn
My Lords, may I put to my noble friend a point arising out of what the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock has said? It is some time ago now, but I seem to remember in my constituency at least one case, I think two cases, where the Forestry Commission acquired land for mixed use, forestry and agriculture. If I remember rightly, in one case they disposed of the agricultural part of the land; I do not know what happened in the other case. I only say this because some doubt is therefore raised as to the proposition of Lord Ross of Marnock, that land which has been acquired for forestry should be used for forestry. In some cases it has been mixed use, both forestry and agriculture.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, the noble Lord has said that they were able to dispose of the part that was not used for forestry. I am continuing within my amendment that power so that they could still do what he thinks it is right to do.
§ Lord Drumalbyn
Yes, my Lords, but the point is that the noble Lord is trying, as I understand it, to insist that forestry land should be disposed of only for forestry. Is that not so?
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, I am retaining the power. I shall read the words that are being retained. It says:The Minister may … sell any land acquired by him under this section which in his opinion is not needed, or ought not to be used, for the purpose of afforestation or any other purpose connected with forestry".That is being retained. Under the Government's suggestion, that is being wiped out and it is one of his objections, when we come to the restrictive amendments, that one could not do the kind of thing that one can do now and which the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, says has been done, quite rightly, in Dumfriesshire. The fact that they have been able to do it previously, the fact that I am retaining the powers that they have and am adding to their powers in a restrictive way, does not mean to say that what the noble Lord seeks to have done will be stopped by my amendment.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, whatever the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, may claim, the purpose of these amendments is to constrain the disposal powers in the Bill. He begins by excluding totally the open-ended power in Clause 1. The amendment leaves in being the whole of the existing disposal powers in Section 39(2) of the Forestry Act 1967 and then he goes on to add a new subsection. The amendment looks to the provisions of Section 39(2)(b) of the 1967 Act, which permits the sale of land in Scotland if the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is desirable in the interests of rational land management and would facilitate the discharge by the Commissioners of any of their functions.
The existing provision has proved too inhibiting to allow sales of forestry land on any scale, and the general application of that part relating to rational land management would certainly not permit an expanded disposals programme of the kind which the Government have in mind, even more so when it is linked with the provision restricting disposals to land to be used for forestry purpose. So what in fact the noble Lord is doing is to draw into England and Wales the present restrictions which already exist in Scotland.
There are a number of difficulties and I know that they are now familiar to your Lordships. In the first place, although the great majority of land to be sold will be forestry land and it will be purchased for a forestry purpose, there are problems about ensuring that it is always used for that purpose and that is particularly the case in England and Wales, where a covenant of this nature cannot be enforced against successive purchasers. But, of course, I should remind the House that in the ordinary course of events, 169 the felling licensing provisions will ensure that normally plantations may not be felled without the Forestry Commission's consent, and that where appropriate replanting conditions are imposed. In case any of your Lordships were minded to think that this was some sort of vague and unenforceable condition, I should say that a person who is in breach of the condition can end up in the dock of the appropriate court. It is a criminal offence.
Secondly, the noble Lord's amendment does not indicate who is to decide whether or not the transaction conflicts with rational land management. Presumably it is intended to be the Minister, but it does not say so and as it stands it would be open to anyone, either a party to the transaction, or perhaps even somebody with an interest in opposing the bargain, as it were, to claim that the necessary conditions of sale were not being complied with.
The next point is that the noble Lord, of course, is anxious to ensure that existing access and amenity provisions will be continued if the sale proceeds. A very high proportion of the commission's forests are normally open to access on foot, even if they do not attract many visitors or no special amenities are provided. It follows, therefore, that all these forests would be caught by this provision and unless public access and amenity after sale could be assured by some means, the scope for disposal would be very limited.
We have stated that the importance of public access is one of the factors the Commission will be required to take into account in deciding whether a particular area should be sold. This is laid down in the guidelines and, where access is of major importance, as your Lordships will recall from previous debates, either the commission will not sell the area at all, but will retain it in its ownership, or else it will make use of the sale and leaseback arrangements. Therefore, I cannot accept that no area should be disposed of if public access has been allowed and I cannot agree, for the reasons which I have given, that maintenance of these types of facilities should be a condition of sale. If there are rights of way, they will not be affected, but to try to bind private purchasers to maintain public access and amenity would be difficult to enforce, particularly in England and Wales.
It goes a good deal beyond mere law. It would be inappropriate to require a purchaser to allow the public on his land as a legal right without any form of control. I suggest that it would be unreasonable to expect him to maintain the facilities originally provided by the commission. I have said previously that, in times, for instance, when there may be a particularly hazardous fire risk, the Forestry Commission reserves the right to exclude the public if, in its opinion, day-to-day management makes that necessary, and it can control such exercises of its discretion through its by-laws. A purchaser, of course, would have no such rights.
I do not agree, as I have said previously, that a sale to a private purchaser will automatically lead to the exclusion of the public. Most private owners now have an enlightened attitude towards public access and again as I have said previously, and I reiterate it now, certainly in my experience major purchasers such as the institutions and pension funds, in particular, would go a long way not to prejudice public goodwill by shutting the door to access on a reasonable and 170 regular basis. But local authorities, even so, can, of course, negotiate access agreements with the new owners if they think it appropriate.
For all those reasons, but particularly for the first reason that I gave, that I think this is in another form a potential unacceptable feter on the power of disposal, I ask your Lordships to reject the amendment.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, I do not accept most of what the noble Earl has said. The Minister says that there are certain doubts about who will determine whether or not certain aspects of this amendment will be carried out in relation to rational management and so on. The situation is exactly the same because I am leaving in subsection (2) the words, "the Minister may". It is "the Minister may" that must be satisfied, as in the present statute. So if there are difficulties in my amendment, there are difficulties in the present statute.
The Minister came back to the old argument about access and the amenity provisions already made. First of all, it limits any restriction on the freedom to where there is access, and to where there are amenities. Of course, as I said, it may affect the price you will get for the land if you are to fetter in some way. But perhaps I could suggest to the Minister that just occasionally he should think beyond forestry to the national heritage in the countryside, where provision has been made, where the Forestry Commission has done something and where the Countryside Commission has done something. But he says "Oh, no. We must have the right to be able to sell that and forget that amenity provision has been made." I think that that is disgraceful.
We must look a little beyond the desire of the Treasury. This is a Treasury Bill; it is not an agricultural Minister's Bill or a forestry Minister's Bill. This is a Treasury Bill. The word has gone forth "You will save so much each year for the next five years by disposing of land. Go ahead and do it". Of course, the more you restrict in the guidelines—quite apart from the Bill—the disposal powers of the Forestry Commission in relation to the kind of land that they will sell or where they will sell, does not mean to say that they still do not have to sell land. They will have to sell more elsewhere. This is one of the troubles about the Bill. The extent to which we proceed with this year after year, the more we shall undermine the whole position of the Forestry Commission at present.
No, I cannot accept what the Government say about this. These are just excuses. The Minister has said that at present there is difficulty as regards Scotland. Many of us are quite pleased that there is difficulty; that they have forestry in Scotland which they cannot sell. Long may it continue. But why does not the noble Earl be honest about this whole business? He has been told that he must not accept any restrictions at all—which means any amendments—because the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be very annoyed. It means that once again I shall be in their black books. I cannot accept it and certainly I hope that, as regards this amendment, I shall be joined in the Lobby by many other people in the House.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 50; Not-Contents, 97.172
|Ardwick, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Birk, B.||McNair, L.|
|Bishopston, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Blease, L.||Oram, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Peart, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.|
|Collison, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Seear, B.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Segal, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Shinwell, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Simon, V.|
|Glenamara, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Hale, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Hampton, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Stone, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Thurso, V.|
|Hughes, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Janner, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||White, B.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]|
|Abinger, L.||Grimthorpe, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Halsbury, E.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Hatherton, L.|
|Alport, L.||Hives, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Holderness, L.|
|Avon, E.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Baker, L.||Inglewood, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Kilmany, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Kinross, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Kintore, E.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Long, V. [Teller.]|
|Cairns, E.||Loudoun, C.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Lyell, L. [Teller.]|
|Cathcart, E.||MacAndrew, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||McFadzean, L.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Mansfield, E.|
|Colwyn, L.||Marley, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Craigton, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Davidson, V.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Newall, L.|
|Dulverton, L.||Norfolk, D.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Evans of Hungershall, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Falkland, V.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Onslow, E.|
|Ferrier, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Fortescue, E.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Rawlinson of Ewell, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Reay, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Renton, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Gowrie, E.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Gridley, L.||Saltoun, Ly.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Selkirk, E.||Vivian, L.|
|Shannon, E.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Skelmersdale, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Stamp, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Swinfen, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Tranmire, L.||Wigram, L.|
|Trefgarne, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6.52 p.m.
Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 1, line 5, at end insert ("(a)").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this probably is the most important amendment in the whole Bill, because what is the point of writing very elaborate and complex amendments when you can use the Bill that is there? It know it caused the Public Bill Office a little trouble, but if we go to the original clause that we are amending your Lordships will notice: "In Section 39 of the Forestry Act 1967, for subsection (2)"—something shall be substituted. So I just put an "(a)" at the end, so that "(2)(a)" shall be left out and something substituted.
Therefore, we have all the power that the Minister wants in relation to (2)(a), but I have retained (2)(b). Subsection (2)(b) of course says that the Minister may,
in the case of land so acquired, in Scotland, sell it if he is satisfied that the sale—
So Scots only in this one to vote, and the English can rest assured that they are giving full power to the Minister to do as he likes. That is really the substance of the amendment. We leave out subsection (2)(a), and we give him the power to
dispose for any purpose of land acquired by him under this section".
But, when it comes to Scotland, he has to be satisfied that the sale is desirable in the interests of good land management—I do not think anyone should object to that; in Scotland anyway—and that it,
would facilitate the discharge by the Commissioners of any of their functions".
§ I know that the Minister says, "Oh, we have found this a bit difficult". This Government would find anything difficult that was sensible. When he suggests that rational land management should come into it, well it really is anathema that anything should be rational in relation to land as against the full freedom to dispose of it as you like to hotel developers, holiday home developers, chalets in the woods, or anything else. If you want that in England you can have it, but so far as Scotland is concerned we do not.
§ I think that most of the Forestry Commission land under forestry in the whole country is in Scotland. It is certainly true that most of the plantable lands that have been acquired, and the land reserves, are in Scotland. So there is fairly good sense from a forestry point of view, as well as anything else, in respect of 173 this particular amendment. That is why I thought that I should test the Scottishness of the minister in charge. Let him forget Nottingham, or wherever else it is that he comes from, or say he comes from.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
He did not, my Lords. Let him remember something about the forestry developments in the Highlands; the forestry developments in the Borders; and the forestry developments in Ayrshire, Dumfriesshire and Galloway, and what we have achieved there, and let us retain that as much as we can. For that reason, and for that reason alone, I am moving this amendment.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, as one who does not come from the Forest of Dean, nor, proceeding in a northerly direction, from Middlesex, nor Nottinghamshire, nor even from Morayshire, but originally from Moravia, a descendant of a pirate who is alleged to have raped Macbeth's daughter, I think I can take a view on this somewhat chauvinist amendment in the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Ross. We are happily still in the United Kingdom, and this is a United Kingdom Bill. It says, and makes provision for, what the Government are to do through their forestry ministers, of whom there are three in different parts of the United Kingdom.
The noble Lord has not produced one single reason why Scotland should be singled out for different treatment from England or Wales. It is different of course geographically, and speaking in the forestry sense, 80 per cent. of private planting goes on in Scotland, and of course it has a very large part of the forestry resource within its borders. I do not know whether the noble Lord is serious in moving this matter. I do not know whether he intends to press it. We had down in Committee an amendment excluding Scotland totally from the Bill, and I do not know whether this is the moment when the noble Lord, Lord Ross, wants to press the matter, but I can only treat his amendment seriously and say that I very much hope that your Lordships will reject it.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, the noble Earl asks me why we should treat Scotland differently. Why did we treat Scotland differently in the last Bill we were discussing today? Why did we not treat it the same as England? It concerned local government, and dealt with the same kind of services as obtain in England and Wales, but the treatment in respect of Scotland was far more harsh. Why did we treat Scotland differently in the Forestry Act 1967, which I have just quoted? Section 39(2) indicates how a Minister can dispose of land at the present time. They are not going to be bothered about subsection (2)(a) or (2)(b) because they are wiping them both out, but (2)(b), as I am sure the Minister is aware, says:in the case of land so acquired in Scotland, sell it if he is satisfied that the sale—et cetera. That does not apply in England, so the countries are already different. If he knows his forestry he will know that what is done in this clause, 174 and in the amended clause, the new power, is without prejudice to the general powers of the forestry Ministers in England and Wales—there are now two of them—under the Agriculture Act 1947. Scotland is treated differently again.
- (i) is desirable in the interests of rational land management",
The noble Earl shows his ignorance of the subject when he comes along and says, "We are all in the United Kingdom, and we are all treated the same". With all due respect, we are not; and we are not the same in forestry. Therefore, there is no reason why we should not limit the powers of easy-handed disposal of forestry land that was bought for agricultural purposes. Whatever is done in England, we could do something different in Scotland. It is treated differently, but what the Government are now doing is treating them both exactly the same.
Will the Minister say an additional word to justify his feeling that we are all, to quote his words, "Thank God, in the United Kingdom", implying that we are all treated the same? We are not. We shall have another Bill before us from another place on education as soon as we have got rid of this one. In education we are very different from England and Wales. Will the Minister then tell us that we shall amend the Scottish education Acts to make them exactly the same as the English ones? It is quite nonsensical. I had not intended to press this amendment, but, after the Ministers' reply, I feel that I must.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 32; Not-Contents, 78.175
|Ardwick, L.||Maelor, L.|
|Birk, B.||Molloy, L.|
|Bishopston, L.||Peart, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Seear, B.|
|Galpern, L.||Segal, L.|
|Glenamara, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Jacques, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Stone, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Lee of Newton, L.||White, B.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]|
|Abinger, L.||Colwyn, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Craigmyle, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Crathorne, L.|
|Avon, E.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Dacre of Glanton, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Davidson, V.|
|Belstead, L.||de Clifford, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Drumalbyn, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Dulverton, L.|
|Cairns, E.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Falkland, V.|
|Chelwood, L.||Ferrers, E.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Ferrier, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Fortescue, E.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Newall, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Gowrie, E.||Onslow, E.|
|Gridley, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Hatherton, L.||Renton, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Inglewood, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Kilmany, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Kinross, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Kintore, E.||Stamp, L.|
|Long, V. [Teller.]||Swinfen, L.|
|Loudoun, C.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Lyell, L. [Teller.]||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Mancroft, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Mansfield, E.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Marley, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Middleton, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Monk Bretton, L.||Wigram, L.|
|Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ [Amendment No. 4 not moved.]
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, I understand it has been agreed through the usual channels that we should take a dinner break now. I therefore beg to move that further consideration of the Bill on Report be adjourned until 7.50 p.m.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 7.10 until 7.50 p.m.]
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Drumalbyn)
My Lords, I have to inform your Lordships that Amendment No. 5, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, is incorrect in form. I shall call it in correct form after Amendment No. 8. It is in fact the amendment numbered 8A on the separate sheet.
§ Lord McNair moved Amendment No. 6:
§ Page 1, line 8, leave out from ("may") to end of line 9 and insert—
- ("(a) subject to the restrictions in paragraph (b) below, dispose for any purpose of land acquired by him under this section; and
- (b) in the case of the Forest of Dean, sell any land acquired by him under this section which in his opinion is not needed, or ought not to be used, for the purpose of afforestation or any purpose connected with forestry, or exchange any such land for other land more suitable for either of the said purposes and pay or receive money for equality of exchange.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 6. This amendment is exactly the same as the amendment that I moved at the Committee stage. On that occasion I made a long speech, which I shall not again inflict upon your Lordships—
The Deputy Speaker
My Lords, I should have stated 176 that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 8A.
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, as I was saying, I shall not again inflict my speech on the House, but I think that for the record it is desirable that we recapitulate, very briefly, the reasons why we believe that the Forest of Dean is a special case. We believe that the people who live in the Forest of Dean are uniquely disadvantaged and therefore uniquely endangered by the Bill as it stands, because for various historical reasons they have no legal rights of common or of access. Instead they have customary privileges, which are fully recognised by the Forestry Commission, and it is difficult to see how these de facto privileges could possibly be safeguarded if any part of the Forest of Dean were to pass into private hands.
That, in very brief outline, is the reason why the Bill provoked such a remarkable and spontaneous outbreak of concern and protest in the Forest of Dean. I should like to assure the House that there was nothing engineered about it; it was a spontaneous outburst of worry, and it was I think channelled towards this House with great skill by the people in the Forest of Dean.
When I moved the amendment at Committee stage it received widespread support from all quarters of the Chamber, and noble Lords who were then present will remember that at the conclusion of the debate the noble Earl undertook to consult his fellow forestry Ministers and to come forward at a later stage with a fresh proposal. Following that I resubmitted my amendment, informing the noble Earl that I was doing so. I did that partly to show that we were in earnest, but chiefly in the expectation that some new proposal from the Government would mean that I would not have to move the amendment at this point. At one stage we thought that we could proceed via the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, but that did not prove possible. No fresh proposal emerged from the Government, and so we continued with the amendment as at the Committee stage.
Then I received two letters from the noble Earl. He seemed surprised that I had not acknowledged them, but where I live there are no weekend posts, and it was quite impossible to acknowledge them. But I do so now, and I can say only that they brought me—to use his words—great joy. The first letter contains these words:we accept that the Forest of Dean is a special case and we are prepared to exclude the former Crown woodlands in the Forest from the provisions of Clause 1 of the Bill, except for the kinds of sale which have been traditionally carried out under the existing powers".Nobody wants to stop those.
There was at that stage some worry in the Government's mind about the precise definition of the Forest of Dean, and it was thought that perhaps a plan or map would be needed. However, on further consideration, the noble Earl wrote me a second letter, and I should like to read the concluding words of it. It had been decided that a plan was not needed, and the letter went on:We nevertheless still wish to put down our own amendment at Third Reading because of some minor drafting changes that counsel has advised should be made to the one you have tabled. These will in no way change the substance of your amendment …177 My Lords, how could I read those letters with anything but joy? I thank the noble Earl very much for the thought that has gone into this matter.
I do not wish to prevent any other noble Lords who wish to speak from doing so, and so I shall postpone for a few minutes my formal withdrawal of the amendment. I should like to say to the noble Earl that just after we adjourned I was asked by the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, to thank the Government on his behalf; he was unable to stay. He suggested to me—and I accept the suggestion—that we ask the Government whether their Third Reading amendment can reach us in sufficient time for us to consult fully the people in the forest. I have little doubt that the noble Earl the Minister will be able to accede to that request. I have previously complained in the House that we are so polite that when one really wants to thank someone it is difficult to find words to do so, but I assure the noble Earl that 50,000 foresters would wish to thank him most warmly for the consideration which the Government have given to their case. I beg to move.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Lord Sandford
My Lords, I should like to take advantage of the postponement of the withdrawal of the amendment to say how glad I am that the people of the Forest of Dean have had the assurances and will have the amendment that they were seeking. I was sorely tempted when the noble Lord, Lord McNair, suggested that I should incorporate something for the Forest of Dean in my Amendment No. 1, because looking back I feel confident that with the peerage of Gloucestershire behind me I should have carried Amendment No. 1 quite easily. However, I do not think that it would have been consistent to have included the amendment. Nevertheless I am most gratified that the people of the Forest of Dean have received the protection that they were seeking.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, your Lordships will recollect that we had a good and, indeed, full debate on this amendment in Committee. I agreed to consider what we might do to reflect the mood of your Lordships at a later stage of the Bill. The noble Lord put his amendment down again, and I wrote to him. I hasten to say that there was no criticism in my remarks that he had not acknowledged my letters. I was merely concerned because I particularly wanted him to get the first letter in order to save trouble and expense to those of his supporters, who in one connection or another might want to attend the House.
As I promised, we discussed the Forest of Dean—that is to say, the forestry Ministers, my colleagues and I—and we accept that there are unique circumstances. We might have hoped that the assurances which I gave your Lordships on a previous occasion would have been enough to satisfy your Lordships, but, in the circumstances, what I did was to advise the noble Lord that we are prepared to exclude the former Crown woodlands and the Forest of Dean from the provisions of Clause 1, except for those types of sale which have been traditionally carried out in the forest under the existing powers; and such sales 178 are, I know, acceptable to the noble Lord and to the local authority. I will, of course, send the noble Lord a copy of the proposed amendment as soon as it has been drafted. I explained to the noble Lord in my letter that there are some drafting changes which need to be made to his amendment, and we await final advice.
I think that on the previous occasion the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said in ringing tones that he saw nothing wrong with the drafting of Lord McNair's amendment. My noble friend Lord Colville—I do not know whether he is in his place—who for some weary years sat with me on the Opposition Benches, and I, know to our cost how what seems to be perfect drafting somehow becomes unacceptable to the parliamentary draftsman; and it is in those circumstances that we await the final advice. We shall have to move an alternative amendment on Third Reading, but I give the undertaking to the House now that the amendment which I shall table and move will meet the wishes of the House; and, as I say, I have undertaken to send a copy of it to the noble Lord, Lord McNair, as soon as I am in a position to do so. On that basis I hope the noble Lord will now withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl. Of course, I fully accept his offer and his assurances, and beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 6.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 7 not moved.]
Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 1, line 8, after ("purpose") insert ("which does not conflict with rational land management").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, very briefly I should like to move Amendment No. 8. I do not think it is much of a restriction, bearing in mind the purpose and the whole reason for the Forestry Commission, that when it disposes of land it should do so in a way that does not conflict with rational land management. I do not think it is too much to ask that these words should be included. After all, from the point of view of the Forestry Commission itself it is very difficult to understand why on earth it should sell land and place itself and its own work at risk by ignoring rational land management.
§ That is the simplicity of this amendment. It is not all that restrictive, but where it does restrict it does so in favour of the Commission and in favour of local agriculture as well. It is one of the things that we have been concerned about over the years, that there should be this correlation of the interests of agriculture and of forestry. Here, where we have the chance to do something about it or, indeed, of destroying rational land management, we should take this step and ensure that that is not done, and that disposals of land are such that they do not conflict with rational land management. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I should like to support this amendment because I think it means exactly what it says. The suspicion in people's minds is, of course, that the land will be sold irrationally, and 179 that instead of disposing of forests or land in a way which would not conflict with the long-term interests of the Forestry Commission and the general good of forestry, land will be sold simply in order to raise money, and that that will be the first consideration. I think that the interests of rational land management means a lot more. It also means the interests of the members of the commission and their devotion to their job. If the Minister is going to dispose of land as he wishes for the reasons of raising money, without consideration of the ultimate good of forestry and the ultimate good of the country, then he is going to upset the commission and he is not going to get good people to serve on it. The Minister has given assurances that this will be the case; that written into the practice of the Forestry Commission and into its remit is exactly this sort of thing; and I do not see why the Minister should object to putting this simple phrase into the Bill that we have before us. I hope that he will look at and accept this simple and, if I may say so, very rational amendment.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, once more the noble Lord, Lord Ross, is going back to Section 39(2)(b) of the 1967 Act, which permits the sale of land in Scotland if the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is desirable in the interests of rational land management and would facilitate the discharge by the commissioners of any of their functions. He has changed the wording a little. But this provision has proved too inhibiting to allow sales of forestry land on any scale, and the general application of that part relating to rational land management would not permit an expanded disposals programme of the kind the Government have in mind.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, apparently thinks that the amendment is comprehensible and means what it says. But it suffers from the defect that it does not specify whose opinion is to govern whether or not any disposal is in accord with rational land management. I suppose it would be for the Minister to decide; but in the absence of any indication the door would be left open for any individual or organisation to challenge a sale, possibly for vexatious reasons.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has said at moments that he does not continue to oppose the principle of the Bill, but in fact this amendment goes a long way to do just that. It is another way to saying what the noble Lord has said before on a number of occasions, and I hope he will not press it.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, it is distressing to find that the Government are not prepared to accept this. The noble Earl asks, "Who is going to decide whether it is rational land management?" We can easily get rid of that. If he will accept it I will put down a simple amendment, and the simple amendment will be of the kind that the Government are very fond of—saying, "that in the opinion of the Minister". That will save him from any vexatious customer who comes along seeking to frustrate the beneficial and generous desires of the Government in relation to the disposal of land. Unfortuntaely, the Minister is not himself taking notes but I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, is doing it for him. We have been 180 told already that we are going to have an amendment at Third Reading. Why not have two?
I am sure that everyone agrees with this principle. It is sensible; and there will be a certain measure of restriction. But is it not a desirable restriction that when the Government are proposing to dispose of land by selling it, in the selection of land they are going to dispose of and the way they are going to dispose of it, they should bear in mind the principles of rational land use. I thought we had all agreed about that when we discussed forestry before coming to this "bring and buy" sale that we are going to have every year in relation to forestry. Everyone agreed with it. Why not now?
I repeat the offer. If the Government will accept this amendment or say that they accept its principle, that it is right, then I will put down an amendment. I have a reasonable amount of experience in drafting and of the kind of phrases that Secretaries of State and Ministers like so that they cannot be taken to court about it—simple phrases like "in the opinion of the Minister". They are easy to put in. I could draft it now if the House would be prepared to accept the addition as a manuscript amendment. The noble Earl may want more time to think about it—I know that he has plenty of time to do it; he has to earn his increased salary that we gave him today and I am here to see that he earns it—that both the noble Lords earn it.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
I know, my Lords. It is not until July. But let us see whether he is worth it; otherwise we might remove him before July. This is the way in which he could endear himself to the House—to say that what Ross is saying is sensible and that he agrees with it. I will put down an amendment protecting the Minister, dearly as I love him. On that understanding, I am prepared to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Segal)
My Lords, I have to call Amendment No. 8A, a manuscript amendment, to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford.
§ 8.12 p.m.
Lord Sandford moved Amendment No. 8A:
Page 1, line 9, at end insert ("in accordance with regulations made under this section.").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 8A and at the same time to speak to Amendment No. 11. It was my original intention—and to some extent I carried it into effect—to speak to these two amendments at the same time as I spoke to Amendment No. 1. My noble friend asked me to separate them, so I will move this one in case he has anything further to say.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, I think I may have done my noble friend a disservice to the extent that when I came to prepare for this stage of the Bill it seemed to me that my noble friend's amendments overlapped rather less than has subsequently transpired, 181 and in the way in which the debate went noble Lords in fact spoke to both amendments pretty freely. Many of the objections which I, and other noble Lords, made about my noble friend's amendments at that stage apply equally to the amendment that he now moves. With the leave of the House, I could go into the full matters which we have already discussed, but I do not want to do so unless I must. I still say that the inclusion of these guidelines (because that is what it would be) in a statutory instrument would be a unique way for Ministers to instruct a department for which they are responsible on the execution of the Ministers' own powers. I say that and I hope that I distinguish this case from the example which my noble friend took from our mutual noble friend Lord Renton and the Home Office.
I am confident that the guidelines that forestry Ministers have given the commissioners, in the form in which they have been provided, coupled with the lease-back alternative and the relatively limited nature of the disposal programme, should provide all the safeguards necessary to ensure that the programme is carried out sensibly and with the minimum affect on the various aspects which concern noble Lords on both sides of the House. Copies of these guidelines are now in the Library. The document is a public document and it can be used by anyone as a source of reference to gauge whether the disposal programme as it has developed is being conducted in a way that we have laid down, and it will provide ample opportunity for inquiries and complaint if it is not.
There are legal and technical objections to my noble friend's amendment with which I do not propose to regale the House unless asked to do so. In the circumstances, and bearing in mind that we are going to discuss amendments which my noble friend Lord Dulverton and I have put down which, broadly speaking, seek to achieve the same ends, in the particular circumstances of this amendment, I hope my noble friend will withdraw.
§ Lord Sandford
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for that. In fact, I think the arguments that could be adduced in favour of Amendments Nos. 8A and 11 are even more cogent than those I adduced for Amendment No. 1. I think I know what the result of pressing this amendment would be, and I do not see any particular purpose in doing that. It is true that copies of the guidelines (which I think ought to be in subordinate legislation) are in the Library, we have all seen them and are enlightened to that extent as to what will happen. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 8A.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.19 p.m.
Lord McNair moved Amendment No. 9:
Page 1, line 9, at end insert ("; but he will first consult with the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission or, in the case of land in Scotland the Countryside Commission for Scotland.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Winstanley, I beg to move Amendment No. 9. I apologise for being on my feet again 182 so soon but a concatenation of misfortunes has prevented all the signatories from being here tonight and so, at very short notice, I have been asked to move it. The shortness of the notice will be reflected in the shortness of my speech. This is a very gentle, sensible and undemanding amendment which I hope the Government will accept. I may say that if my noble friend had listened to the many voluntary bodies which are concerned with these affairs the amendment would have been more far-reaching. It is a minimal amendment.
§ It deals with the point that a great deal of the Forestry Commission land contains within it many of the most important habitats of some of our rarer fauna and flora. It also contains some of the most precious and delightful areas of recreation, whether one's preference be for camping, walking, birdwatching or any other lawful pursuit.
§ In these two fields of conservation and recreation the Government have three statutory advisory bodies: the Nature Conservancy Council, the Countryside Commission and the Countryside Commission for Scotland. Since we have the statutory advisory bodies, why should we not use them? If it is answered that of course Ministers when in doubt would always seek the advice of all these bodies, I would argue that Ministers do not necessarily know. They may simply be unaware about some local factor which would be known to the relevant advisory body. It is their job to know where there is a particular habitat or a particularly sensitive recreational requirement. Should we not use these advisory bodies, and should we not ensure that future Ministers will also use them by writing this very modest requirement into this Bill? I beg to move.
§ Lord Bishopston
My Lords, may I add my concern to that already expressed? The requirements of this moderate amendment are of great importance because the House has spent time looking at amendments—and I heard the figure of 600 or 800 mentioned—to the Wildlife and Countryside Bill. There is enormous interest in the country, as noble Lords will know, about the preservation of wildlife, whether animals or plants.
Also most important is the habitat. Without the right habitat, many of these species will not survive. In a Bill where Clause 1 has been often mentioned, it gives the Minister the right to dispose of land for any purpose whatsoever, maybe to any commercial concern whose interests—mainly financial as they would apparently have to be under the measure—would have scant regard to conservation, ecology and wildlife. Indeed, their aims and objectives in using the land when disposed of might conflict sharply with the wishes of Parliament, especially with regard to the Wildlife and Countryside Bill. I should have thought it a minimum requirement that consultation should take place with the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission and other bodies which have shown concern on these matters in the past few months in particular.
Even if the Minister is not able to accept this amendment, I hope that he may give the House some assurances which I am sure many here and outside in the country would wish if the provisions of the measure to which I have made reference are to be observed. This is a most important matter and the Minister 183 would be well advised to give the assurances which I am sure we all want.
§ Lord Dulverton
My Lords, having recently retired from the Scottish Advisory Committee of the Nature Conservancy and also being a keen nature conservationist, I have sympathy with Lord McNair's amendment and also this applies to the Countryside Commission aspects. While not trying to anticipate the thoughts of the Minister, is it not a fact that the Forestry Commission are already very well aware of the need to give consideration to these factors and are, as we have heard earlier, in very close touch with those two bodies? I cannot believe they would sell any important areas without consultation. The Wildlife and Countryside Bill reinforces the powers in these respects, and this amendment is required.
It is not always the Forestry Commission who have consideration for the factors which the noble Lord, Lord McNair, wishes to safeguard. Up and down the country I would suggest that private owners—whether small landowners or bigger landowners—have given a great deal of consideration to the factors which the noble Lord is intent on protecting.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I briefly support this amendment. I do so in a peculiar way. Nobody dislikes more than I do the hold-up to agricultural practice through the activities of many of the conservation bodies. The conservation bodies have run away with themselves in many cases and many of their desires seem wholly impractical to the country people who have to make their living by the land and to the people who have to make their living from the trees. Nevertheless, consultation by the Minister is probably a good thing, in that while the Forestry Commission may be wholly sympathetic and wholly in touch (as the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, has said) in this case, as I keep reiterating, this is really, to quote the noble Lord, Lord Ross, a Treasury Bill, and they are looking for money. Therefore the Minister should consult these bodies often, as I do not sympathise with the state bodies.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, I was going to say before the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, spoke, that my noble friend Lord Dulverton had shot my fox; but in fact the creature limped out of its burrow.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
But I, as a Scot, can thank him for apparently doing it for me. That is the point. However, my Lords, the creature has limped on its way through the mouth (if that is right) of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. I am not going to go back to the old saw about this being a Treasury Bill. The short point is that the disposals programme is going to be chosen and carried out by the Forestry Commission. Ministers will only come into it in a way which Ministers do come into these things, at a somewhat advanced stage.
One thing is perfectly obvious as this Bill has wound its way through your Lordships' House: the Forestry 184 Commission enjoys a very large measure of support and confidence from all sides of the House. I believe that we can leave it to exercise its good judgment and sense over the admittedly rather difficult matters of conservation. I remind your Lordships that, like other Government departments, the Forestry Commission is required under the Countryside Act to have regard in exercising its functions relating to land to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty of the countryside. This is enjoined upon it by Section 66 of the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967 and Section 11 of the Countryside Act 1968.
The term "natural beauty" is construed under the Acts as including the conservation of flora, fauna, geological and physiographical features. There is no evidence that the Forestry Commission is failing to comply with this statutory requirement. If this amendment were written into the Bill there would be an additional statutory obligation on the part of the commission to consult the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission on any disposals. This would include all such disposals, such as various schemes which happen from time to time, like boundary adjustments and road widening schemes. It would give rise to time-consuming and, as I suggest, totally unnecessary bureaucracy. The guidelines which have been referred to so often in this House have been published and are in the Library. In planning its disposals programme, the Forestry Commission will be taking special care obviously to avoid jeopardising the scientific interest when it makes up its mind, first, whether there is to be a sale at all and, secondly, if there is, whether there is to be a sale and leaseback.
I suggest that it is these factors to which the commission will address itself when it comes to select areas for sale. It will have very much in mind the interests of conservation and the use of the forest for public access, recreation and that sort of thing. So although I fully appreciate the sincerity of the noble Lord, Lord McNair, who moved this amendment in the place of his noble friend, I believe that the guidelines offer very real safeguards and that these new fetters, which would be written into the Bill if this amendment were accepted, are unnecessary, time-consuming and, in the event, are such that the Commission's labours would be made more difficult and the cause of conservation, which is in fact dear to all our hearts, would not be advanced one whit. It is in that light that I ask the noble Lord to reflect and to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his very comprehensive answer. As I moved this on behalf of a noble friend, I hope he will not think I am being difficult if I reserve the right for my noble friend to reintroduce this amendment, should he wish to do so, at Third Reading. By that time he will, of course, have had a chance to read the noble Earl's speech. For the moment, on that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Lord Bishopston moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 1, line 9, at end insert—
("(3) The power of disposal in subsection (2) of this section shall not apply to Forest Parks nor to Crown Woods.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, it seems that we are not making very much progress in trying to have some safeguards in this measure, which is summed up in Clause 1, which is really the essence of the Bill. In the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, paragraph 1 refers to Clause 1 which is a substitution for a provision
enabling Forestry Ministers to dispose, without restriction or qualification, of land acquired for forestry purposes".
Here in this amendment we want the power of disposal in subsection (2) not to apply to forest parks or Crown woods. Forest parks make a significant contribution to the countryside, apart from timber and other aspects with which they are concerned; and of course so do the Crown estates. In the last annual report of the Crown Estates Commissioners we read that, in all, the Crown estates have 13,000 acres under timber and another 4,300 let to the Forestry Commission; so that is a very significant area of land used for forestry purposes.
The Minister a few moments ago referred to the care of the Forestry Commission. One accepts, of course, that they are very careful custodians of the land under their care, both in preserving and extending the range of timber for pulp and similar purposes and of course in the preservation of wildlife, amenity care, conservation and other things. But it is not the Forestry Commission which is going to dispose of this land; it is the Minister, and the Minister will not be guided by such considerations as I have mentioned but by the consideration of Clause 2, which tells us very clearly that—
There shall be paid out of the Forestry Fund into the Consolidated Fund such sums as the Ministers may from time to time with the approval of the Treasury direct".
So this is really a Treasury Bill, even though the Minister does not like to hear that claim made. It is the Minister who will dispose of the land and not the Forestry Commission. He may well be advised by the Commission on what is rational in forestry management. He may be advised about not selling land which should be considered as having a special importance, but if he has got to find money at the request of the Chancellor of the Exchequer from the Forestry Commission's coffers year after year, then some of the more delicate considerations which have motivated noble Lords here today on a range of things will take second place.
§ We are here concerned in this amendment with forest parks and with the Crown woods to which I, have made reference, and also, without infringing the debate on another amendment which will follow later, the National Trust and the Church Commissioners. Some of those bodies—indeed all of them—have special responsibilities. The Church Commissioners have land which is leased to the Forestry Commission. The Crown Estates Commissioners are in the same position, as is the National Trust, and so on. Duties are laid on them to use the land in a certain way, but if it is leased to the Forestry Commission and the Minister wants to override all the considerations which apply to those who are custodians of the land, such as these various bodies—and there are undoubtedly others as well—then there is no protection if the land is disposed of, regardless of the 186 views of the bodies I have mentioned and of others, because the protection disappears and the land can be sold for other purposes.
§ With regard to the National Trust, if the land is planted there may be some safeguards but if it is not planted the land can be used for other purposes which of course may be held to be a priority rather than the proper use to which the land was originally dedicated. I think there is a very strong case, where land is held by the Forestry Commission on behalf of other people or organisations with special responsibilities, for safeguards so that the land is returned to those bodies or, better still, the land which was leased to the Forestry Commission should not be disposed of in the same way as other land which may be held by the Forestry Commission. If the Minister is not able to accept this amendment, I hope he will give assurances to the bodies I have mentioned that at least the land which the Forestry Commission has acquired from them, under lease or otherwise, will not be disposed of at all, or, if it is, at least the purposes after disposal shall be in keeping with the original intention held by those bodies.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, we had a good debate in Committee on this subject. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, I think, moved a very similar amendment. This amendment is rather less specific than the last. It does not, for instance, define "Crown woods", but I do not complain about it for that reason. The Crown woods in question are of course those that were transferred to the custody of the Forestry Commission under the Forestry (Transfer of Woods) Act 1923 and orders which have been made under the Act. There are a large number of these areas up and down the country, but the two most famous and most significant areas are the Forest of Dean and the New Forest.
We have discussed the Forest of Dean at length and I have given to the noble Lord, Lord McNair, the undertaking that I have: that I would table an amendment which would in effect exclude the Forest of Dean in the way in which he would like—except, of course, for those sales which are traditional to the forest. The Forest of Dean is a special case and it has a unique history. But, rather more importantly than that, it has an absence of established common rights which means that, to an extent, the inhabitants are, so to speak, rather vulnerable. The same cannot be said for the New Forest. There are well established legal rights and, although it has a special status, it is not quite on the same plane as the Forest of Dean. We have made it abundantly clear that there are to be no wholesale disposals of the New Forest; in fact, any disposals will be limited to the type which has been disposed of under the existing powers.
If I may just stop there for a moment, may I say that if any Government tried to go beyond that there would be an outcry, and nothing is further from our minds. Nevertheless, to make doubly sure, special reference has been made to the New Forest and, indeed, to others in the guidelines which are available in the Library. The rest of the old Crown woodlands are not of any particular significance as such, but the various factors set out in the guidelines will, of course, apply to them. So that, if there are any factors which 187 would make the Forestry Commission come to the view either that it should not sell such an area at all, or that such a sale should be by way of sale and leaseback, then that is the policy which the commission will pursue.
The same will apply to forest parks. They are not specifically mentioned in the guidelines, but the use of forests for public access and recreation is one of the factors which will be taken into account in selecting areas for sale. These parks have been specially designated by the commissioners because of their special features, and because of the scope for access and recreation, and obviously this will weigh very heavily with the commissioners when they are selecting areas for sale. But, again, it would be wrong, in our view, to impose a statutory constraint of the kind which is explicit in the amendment, because then no disposals could take place even for such minor objectives as road improvements or something like that. So very much the same arguments apply as to several of the other amendments. I trust your Lordships will see that the guidelines will, in fact, take care of these forests, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, will see fit to withdraw his amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 11 not moved.]
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock moved Amendment No. 12:
Page 1, line 9, at end insert—
("( ) Where an interest in land is held inalienably by the National Trust or the National Trust for Scotland it shall not be disposed of without the consent of the holder of that interest.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not think there is any doubt about what this amendment means. When I heard the noble Lord, Lord McNair, say on an earlier amendment that it was a gentle amendment, and a sensible amendment, I knew, as soon as he said that, that it was doomed. When I suggested that this amendment is one that could not possibly be misunderstood, I wondered whether I should have said that at all.
§ We have heard talk about letters, we have heard talk about guidelines, and we have heard talk about understandings. But there is no substitute for words in an Act of Parliament. I think I read in a letter somewhere that it is all very well to have vague phrases, or even definite promises, from Ministers who are there in 1981. But parliamentary careers tend to be cut short, Governments tend to change, circumstances change according to Governments, guidelines change and it is easy to get rid of guidelines. It is less easy to get rid of something that is in a statute.
§ I am very glad that something is being done for the Forest of Dean, but what about the claims of the National Trust for England and the National Trust for Scotland? I have a connection with the National Trust for Scotland. I did not know before, but my noble friend beside me is a member of the council of the National Trust for England. It may be a bit of effrontery for me to be speaking about the National Trust for England in the presence of the chairman, and 188 about the National Trust for Scotland in the presence of the president. They may be wondering why on earth Ross took it upon himself to put down this amendment.
§ I can tell them that I was waiting and waiting, phoning up and being phoned and receiving letters about questions that had been put to the Secretary of State for Scotland and to the Minister of State himself. There were acknowledgements, but, as I understand it, no substantial replies. But there is someone who may well be speaking, who will give us a little more information about this. But I saw one letter which, I think, referred to something that had been said or written by Mr. Wiggin, the Minister for Agriculture. I think it was in a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Gibson. We could not get hold of that letter in Scotland either. But it seemed to give an assurance that, in relation to National Trust land that had been leased, there would be no sale without the consent of the National Trust. As a great concession, the Secretary of State for Scotland said, "And we will do the same for Scotland." But we do not lease land in Scotland; we feu land in Scotland. The National Trust for Scotland have, or have taken over, land that was feud; land that they themselves feud, or that was feud by someone who passed the superior on to them. But the superiority of that land, the interest in that land, remains.
§ There are two pieces of land that I have particularly in mind, though what I am saying is not limited to pieces of land. In Brodick, the castle and the land surrounding are in the ownership of the Trust, and extending beyond is a piece of land that has been feud to the Forestry Commission. It is the most wonderful sight in the world on the slopes of Goat Fell, looking over the whole bay of Brodick and across to Ayrshire. The mind boggles at the very idea that anybody could think of disposing of that land for any purpose, or would take the power to do it. So we have been concerned that the promise that was given, or that seemed to be given, to the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, did not affect us in any way at all.
§ I think it was only today that a letter was handed to me as I sat there on the Front Bench in reply to correspondence that started way back on 12th May, to say that the Secretary of State for Scotland was prepared to give a pledge in relation to feud land in Scotland. But that is just a letter. It does not tie any future Minister. May I say to the Minister of State that it is not good enough, in relation to the fact that this land is held inalienably; it is a matter of trust for the National Trust for Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Gibson, may speak about being satisfied with phrases or something written in a letter, but I am speaking for myself and I take this matter very seriously indeed.
§ It should be remembered that one has to get permission to get the land feud in the first place. To a certain extent, even that is passing over the ownership of the land to somebody else, and one retains one's interest through the continuing land superiority. One can write into the feu charter certain conditions, although there is a limit to those now, because the charter can be broken by the land code. In the past, Governments have tried to ensure that the trust will not alienate the land. In 1970 the then Secretary of State for Scotland, in order to feu that land for the Forestry 189 Commission, had to obtain the permission of the Lord Advocate. The Lord Advocate would not have given his permission had the present proposal been the law of the land at that time. It is as simple and as clear as that.
§ I see also that a change is going to be made in relation to compulsory purchase. So far as I know, compulsory purchase has never been exercised, but one nearly was. This concerned one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland, Drumbuie, where it was the intention to erect oil rigs. That land was inalienable and a special parliamentary procedure would have been needed in order for the Government to have secured that land. Fortunately, there was a change of Government and with it a change of Secretary of State; in fact I was the new Secretary of State, and so the whole thing went by the board.
§ This is a very important and sensitive point for the National Trust for Scotland, with its experience of the past. The Government say that they are going to advise the Forestry Commission, because it is the Minister who disposes of the land. The Government do not need to instruct the Forestry Commission because it tells itself. As to leaving the disposal in subsection (2) to the Forestry Commission, this amendment to the Bill really ought to be made. This makes sense from the point of view of both National Trusts and I urge the Government to cut short the debate, to say: "Yes, it is sensible, and this is what we want to do. We will put it in the Bill". I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Wemyss and March
My Lords, if the Minister is not going to reply immediately to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, I should like to back him up by thanking him most sincerely for the eloquent way in which he has stated the case for both National Trusts. The inalienability to which the noble Lord opposite has referred is a vital characteristic of both National Trusts. It is the vital principle on which they both work and on which is founded the confidence of their supporting public. Inalienability means that once the Council of the National Trust has declared land to be inalienable, that land can never thereafter be compulsorily acquired without the consent of Parliament itself. The procedure is in Part III of Schedule 1 to the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) (Scotland) Act 1947.
Both trusts can and frequently do dispose of small or unimportant pieces of inalienable land without trouble; for example, in road widening or when tidying up boundaries. An important point of debate has arisen not only in your Lordships' House but also in correspondence about the feuing we practise in Scotland. In Scotland the inalienable interest (and we have recently sought legal opinion to confirm this) definitely does include the superiority interest which we call the dominium directum, which is different from the dominium utile of the actual owner. The superiority interest of land which was or is inalienable remains inalienable. We have feud land in the National Trust for Scotland not only for forestry but also for other purposes. In two important cases and in some less important cases we have feud to the Forestry Commission who, in legal language, thus becomes the feuar. In common parlance it becomes the "owner", which differentiates 190 the situation from that in England and Wales. In more historical language, the commission becomes our "vassals".
Feuing to the Secretary of State for Scotland by the Forestry Commission was done not without great thought. It was done in the confidence that the state forestry enterprise was the best instrument for using the land for what appeared to be its best possible use—namely, forestry; and moreover, that it was safe, permanent and trustworthy. We used to use a phrase, "As safe as the Bank of England". It ought to have been rechristened the Bank of Great Britain 250 years ago, but noble Lords will know what I mean.
§ The Earl of Wemyss and March
Was our confidence misplaced? Our confidence has been badly shaken by the proposed all-embracing powers of disposal which are to be given to Ministers by the few brief words in lines 8 and 9 on page 1 of this Bill. The same applies in respect of the National Trust in England and Wales, where the method of handing over land to the Forestry Commission—customarily and for the same general reasons, and with the same confidence—has been by leasing. Owing to differences in English law, this has been done by a different method and in most cases "ownership", in common speech, remains with the trust. We believe as a matter of principle that, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has said, only something in the Act itself will be sufficiently good enough to allay our very real fears.
On a much lower level, I am exceedingly grateful for the assurances which the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has given in letters to both trusts. He has assured us that land leased or feud by these trusts to the Forestry Commission will not be sold without their consent. There is a different situation in respect of planted land, but that does not worry us very much. However, this is only fine and good in relation to the present Government, who are not here forever. It may therefore only be a stay of execution. It is only partial comfort to a prisoner under sentence that the present holder of the office of Lord High Executioner has promised never to fulfil it.
The two National Trusts are in a unique position with regard to inalienable land. This position has been recognised by Parliament in a general way and in some particular ways. For example, in the Crofters Act in Scotland the general right given to crofters to purchase their crofts is not removed but mitigated if the croft happens to be part of National Trust for Scotland inalienable land. We have heard also about the unique position in respect of the Forest of Dean. At the beginning of this Session I asked the noble Lord the Minister to give us some happiness, and he has given great happiness to 50,000 foresters as the noble Lord, Lord McNair, has said, by conceding in principle an amendment. May I ask the noble Lord to go somewhat further and give the same joy, which is something he can easily do, to more than 100,000 members of the National Trust for Scotland and to more than 1 million members of the National Trust?
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, this is an important amendment. On the question whether land could be 191 used for other purposes, obviously one would have to ask for planning permission, which would almost certainly be refused. On the other hand, there is the possibility of the oil rig syndrome which the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, mentioned. It is also a fact that there are certain politicians who put the building of factories, or whatever they may be, well before any amenity value. This has been seen to happen and could happen again. If you sail up the magnificent Norwegian fjords, you find, as you round a corner, a huge factory belching out smoke, the smoke going for 30 miles along the fjord. It would be tragic if that should happen here, but it is very unlikely because any development is subject to planning permission. On the other hand, it is an important amendment and I shall listen very carefully to what the Minister has to say.
§ Lord Gibson
My Lords, I gave my views and those of the National Trust for England, Wales and Northern Ireland—there is a distinction; I cannot speak for the National Trust for Scotland—about this on Amendment No. 1 and was chided, I thought a little harshly, by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, for what he referred to as an unfruitful intervention, because the National Trust was going to be discussed later. While we have received these very welcome assurances, which I would point out are an improvement on our present position and therefore we have to be grateful for them, I should have been happier if Amendment No. 1 had been acceptable to the Government, because it would have brought under parliamentary scrutiny the directions about which I received these satisfactory assurances.
I very much dislike not being able to go along with the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, because his heart and mine are in exactly the same place. However, speaking personally, I do not think it is reasonable to bar the Forestry Commissioners from disposing of land not wanted for forestry for value. The assurance we have been given by the Minister is that if the commissioners wish to dispose of unplanted land they will give the National Trust the chance to buy back the lease. We are talking about leases, not about freehold land. There is no question of the disposal of freehold land. We are talking about land which has been leased to the Forestry Commission. Where it has been planted, it will not be allowed to be disposed of, if these assurances are honoured. Where it has been unplanted, it can be disposed of but we shall get the chance of buying it and we shall be given six months within which to do so, which would give us a chance to raise the money.
To me, this is fair and reasonable and an improvement on the present position. We do not necessarily get that first refusal now, so I do not feel so dissatisfied as does the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. Because I think that it would be an unreasonable limitation on the Forestry Commission, I find the wording of this amendment hard to go along with and I hope it is not pressed. It may be that at Third Reading our interest could be protected even more satisfactorily than it is by the Minister's assurances. However, I do not feel that this amendment does that, and I should have great difficulty—with reluctance because I appreciate that the sense of it is in the 192 direction of the National Trust, which I wish to protect—in going along with it.
My Lords, would it not also be true to say from the point of view of the National Trust for England and Wales that, if they did not like the would-be purchaser of the Forestry Commission lease, they could refuse it to him? How it would work in Scotland is very different. The feu question is probably outside the terms of the Bill. However, in England and in Wales, so far as the National Trust and any private person are concerned they would be secure, provided that forestry was going to be carried on by the purchaser. Would that be true?
§ Lord Gibson
My Lords, I do not think that is quite right. Perhaps the Minister would like to speak to this himself, but his assurance was that planted land leased by the National Trust to the Forestry Commission would not be assigned without the agreement of the National Trust. I think the present situation is that it could be leased without the agreement of the National Trust.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, before I go into the merits, or the lack of them, of this amendment, I must say on behalf of the Government that, if the noble Earl, Lord Wemyss and March, has been shown any discourtesy or slowness on the part of anybody in answering his letters, I take full responsibility for that and apologise to him. One of the difficulties was that we were all waiting to see what happened in Committee to the amendment which Lord Taylor of Gryfe tabled but was unfortunately not here to move. I do not suppose the fact that the Bill moved in its passage from the other place to this House from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Scottish Office has helped communications all that much. But I am bound to say that I tried very hard to contact the noble Earl, even considering at one moment approaching him at his dentist. Perhaps he will be relieved that I desisted.
May I set out the situation as it is at the moment? There has been a good deal of correspondence between different Ministers and the two National Trusts over the question of land held inalienably by them. I had hoped that by correspondence we had come to a satisfactory arrangement. Indeed, I received a letter from Mr. Sterling, the Deputy Director-General of the National Trust for England, if I may shorten it, saying that in effect they thought that the arrangements were satisfactory. What the agreement in essence means is that in the case of plantations of land originally leased from the National Trust—I am talking about the National Trust for England—and still owned by them, the lease will not be assigned without their consent. The trust has accepted that the commission should be free to dispose of open land—that is, land which because of its character is unsuitable for planting trees—if it wishes, as indeed it can readily do under existing power. But the trust, as the noble Lord, Lord Gibson has said, will be given six months' notice of any such sales, and first refusal.
So far as Scotland is concerned, acquisition has been by feu charter, which is of course a quite different form of land tenure from a lease. However, what we have agreed to extend are similar arrangements to areas feued from the National Trust for Scotland, and the effect of this is that, given the differences in the 193 forms of land tenure, the position in each country will be the same.
I anticipate that this will be acceptable to my noble friend Lord Wemyss, except that he says that a future Government could upset these arrangements—and indeed of course they could and any future Government with a majority in the House of Commons could upset any future arrangements. But if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Ross, of course nobody could possibly envisage any Government—and he said so himself—selling off land round Brodick and, if anybody —and here I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Gisborough—were to try to sell off land for the purposes of putting up oil rigs or any other excrescence, then of course the normal planning arrangements would apply and I have no doubt that such activities would be stopped or indeed would never be started.
Therefore, I hope and think that the agreement to which we have come with the two National Trusts is one which is fair and equitable and which looks after the interests which they in their turn look after so faithfully—interests that are very close to all our hearts.
In those circumstances, therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ross, will see fit to withdraw his amendment. Perhaps I may just say to him finally that his amendment in fact would introduce restrictions which do not already exist. In other words, at the moment surplus non-forestry land or houses can be disposed of under existing powers without consent. However, that is by the way. If his amendment was written into the Bill, it would make the position, even in relation to these forms of property, more onerous than it is at the moment.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, can the noble Earl enlighten me, please? If this proposal which he has agreed by correspondence only is so admirable and so equitable and so practical and all the other pleasant adjectives one can think of, why is it not possible for it to be included in the legislation, not necessarily of course in the forms that are now before the House?
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, I think exactly the same considerations apply as have applied to our debates all along. I do not know whether the noble Baroness has been in her place for some number of hours now—
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, a fresh mind and, I will not say an untutored mind, for that would be very rude, but an uninformed mind in the context of this debate.
I do not think that I can help the House further. I had thought that by working extremely hard, as we all have done, we had got, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, has acknowledged, a measure of agreement.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, on past occasions I have called the Minister of State a master of the infelicitous phrase and I am perfectly sure that my noble friend Lady White will appreciate from her own present experience that maybe I have had some justification for saying that to him. Now he tells us that this would be too restrictive, and indeed so did the noble Lord, 194 Lord Gibson. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, read the amendment? It does not stop the trusts doing anything. What it says is,without the consent of the holder of that interest".In other words, before they do it, they have to go and see the National Trust for Scotland or the National Trust for England. Now that is a very onerous restriction, is it not? If it is sensible, they will be given the consent.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Lord Gibson
My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord a question. My difficulty with this amendment is that I cannot understand what the word "it" means in the second line. The amendment reads:Where an interest in land is held inalienably by the National Trust or the National Trust for Scotland it shall not be disposed of without the consent of the holder of that interest".Does that refer to the inalienable freehold interest of the National Trust or to the leasehold interest held by the Forestry Commission? That alone is not clear.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, the provision refers to the land, the last noun before the word "it"—the land shall not be disposed of. I used to teach English, but it may well be that the fact that I did so in Scotland—
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
It could mean all sorts of things. The Minister is an English lawyer and he had no difficulty about it, but if we want to nit pick we shall always be able to find something like that.
May I say this regarding oil rigs and the contention that nobody would ever dream of certain action. The noble Earl's memory is very short. There was a Minister of Energy who was able to trample all over tile Secretary of State for Scotland. The noble Earl spoke about the ordinary planning procedures. The ordinary planning procedures do not apply, and cannot apply, when one is dealing with compulsory purchase of inalienable land. For the planning procedure to be gone through properly, special parliamentary procedure has to be followed in order to enable that land to be taken.
It was the noble Earl's right honourable friend who called it in, in 1973, I think it was. The inquiry was held. The Secretary of State for Scotland was the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy; the Minister of Energy, who was anxious to get on with the oil rigs to meet a particular date, was, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. So it is from the point of view of experience of the Government's past in relation to inalienable land that we are concerned about this. I am sure it is the one thing that satisfied people about the later amendment that the noble Earl himself is going to move. I am sure this may have been in the mind of Lord Sandford in respect of an amendment he has down. All these things are related to experience of the trust.
If the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, as chairman of the trust, is going to be as easily satisfied as that, who am I to do it? If that was all there was concern about it would be easy to withdraw the amendment and let the English stew in their own satisfactory juice. But we are not so easily satisfied in Scotland. It was in 195 Scotland that we had the experience in relation to the land at Drumbuie, the inalienable land. It is in Scotland we are concerned about Brodick and the rest. If the noble Earl, Lord Wemyss, feels it would be wrong to divide the House, I am prepared to divide the House, but if he thinks it is not worth while I would think it is not worth while, because the hordes will come in who have not heard even a word of what the argument is about and we shall be duly defeated by about 30 votes. That is not worth while either.
I want to say this to the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, and to the Minister. Why have I put the amendment down at all? I put down the amendment because I was waiting; I had heard that the National Trust was waiting for word from the Government, that Lord Gibson was going to put down some amendment or other along the lines of that of Lord Taylor of Gryfe—who is in the West Indies, and is very helpful to us there, I am sure. I have responsibilities, too, to myself and my own beliefs.
It was last Tuesday that we had the Committee stage. It took the Government some time to pass things backwards and forwards in reply to letters. What about the ordinary Member of the House who has a responsibility to write amendments. A Member for Scotland usually goes back to Scotland on Thursday night. So I had to get my amendments down by the 4th. I phoned up; I tried to find out what the National Trust were doing. They were hung up, they were waiting for ministerial meetings that were promised although the National Trust for Scotland were not even invited to that meeting. We got a reply to letters. I think it was posted on 5th June; it was dated then. I do not know when it was received. If I had waited until these letters had been received there would have been no amendment down at all. That is why the amendment was put down.
The reply, to my mind, is not satisfactory. However, we have heard from both of the National Trusts and if they are prepared to accept it, then I am prepared to accept it. But, quite frankly, from a Scottish point of view it is absolutely not good enough and I personally would be prepared to divide the House on the subject. It cannot possibly do the National Trust for England and Wales any harm and it is no onerous thing to ask the Government to allow the Trust to give their consent. It is not a lot of work. All they have to do is phone up and get the answer. It is as simple as that. If it were something really important you would want to be consulted about it and you would want possibly to withhold your consent. But if you are only relying on the word of a Minister in a letter, not even in guidelines in the Library, then all that I can say is that the English are very easily satisfied.
§ The Earl of Wemyss and March
My Lords, by leave I should like to make a few remarks about the implications which have been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. I certainly have no accusation against the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, for discourtesy or anything like that. Indeed, if he tried to get me at the dentist yesterday afternoon I would not have been in a position to say anything—so it is just as well that he did not do so. However, honestly, it has been a 196 very long time since the Committee stage on, I think it was, 11th May. It was only yesterday, Monday morning, that I received the noble Earl's first letter and it was only today in this building that I received his second letter, although I am aware that the National Trust received a letter at an earlier date than that.
Another small point is that we, in the person of one of our deputy directors, did have a conference at the Forestry Commission headquarters in Edinburgh last Thursday. Therefore, we are not saying that the noble Earl or those who help him are in any way guilty of discourtesy—only perhaps a little slowness. I should like further to make clear that, although I think, as does the noble Lord, Lord Ross, that inalienability is extremely important, it is in the context of the present moment only a matter of principle. I do not think that there is much practical substance in the point at the moment. We have the assurances in the Government letter which cover all that matters. We can hope that some future Government will perhaps, given time, put those assurances in a more solid form.
However, I cannot agree that this inalienability is a sufficiently light thing to be dealt with by letters from Ministers, transitory Ministers, of Her Majesty's present Government, however much we respect them, however much we like them and respect their integrity. It is not good enough. If the noble Lord opposite thinks that the House should divide, I shall certainly follow him into the Lobby.
§ Lord Sandford
My Lords, personally I do not think that there would be any point in dividing the House, but I am more convinced than ever that we are not legislating in the proper way.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sandford: we are not legislating in the proper way. I am sure that Members who have just come into the House, who have not been here during our discussions because they have been detained elsewhere, will be mystified about the letters. This is not how we should legislate. We have heard about the letters. How many people have seen them? I have not even had time to read properly the last one which I received, because I was involved in a piece of legislation which came before us for consideration prior to this legislation.
No, I would not be true or fair to myself in respect of the importance which I place upon this matter if I did not press the amendment. I have spent so much time trying to find out what people were doing and finding out that they were being held up because they were waiting on this and that, that I put down this amendment. It is a fairly simple and straightforward amendment. It is what the Government should be putting into the Bill. If they are not satisfied with the actual wording of the amendment, they can do as they did in relation to the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord McNair, and ask me to withdraw this amendment, giving the assurance that they will find suitable words. If the noble Earl gives me that promise, I shall not proceed to a Division.
§ Lord Gibson
My Lords, by leave, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross, has referred to me, may I make one point? It is just that we are not talking about inalien 197 ability; we are talking about leases. I want it to be quite clear that I am as keen on the concept of inalienability as anyone. I regard it as fundamental and vital to the Trust that there is nothing inalienable about a lease.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 12) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 40; Not-Contents, 46.
|Ardwick, L.||Loudoun, C.|
|Bathurst, E.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Birk, B.||McNair, L.|
|Bishopston, L.||Melchett, L.|
|Blease, L. [Teller.]||Molloy, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Collison, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Fulton, L.||Seebohm, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Glenamara, L.||Simon, V.|
|Hooson, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|John-Mackie, L.||Stone, L.|
|Kinross, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Wemyss, E.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]||White, B.|
|Abercorn, D.||Gridley, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Hatherton, L.|
|Avon, E.||Hives, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Kintore, E.|
|Boardman, L.||Long, V. [Teller.]|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Lyell, L. [Teller.]|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Mansfield, E.|
|Cockfield, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Marley, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Orkney, E.|
|Ferrers, E.||Rochdale, V.|
|Ferrier, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Vaux of Harrowden,|
|Gray, L.||Vivian, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ [Amendment No. 13 not moved.]
§ 9.33 p.m.
The Earl of Mansfield moved Amendment No. 14:
After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Compulsory purchase of land
. In section 40 of the Forestry Act 1967, for subsection (4) there shall be substituted—
(4) The power of compulsory purchase under this Act shall not be exercisable in relation to land held inalienably by the National Trust or by the National Trust for Scotland.".").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment fulfils the undertaking I gave in Committee to review the powers in Section 40(4) of the Forestry Act 1967, which permits the compulsory purchase for forestry purposes of land held inalienably by the National Trust. We accept that we should remove both the National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland from the theoretical threat of compulsory purchase under the Act but, as I indicated to your Lordships when we discussed the amendment put down by my noble friend Lord Sandford, a simple repeal of subsection (4) is not enough. It is therefore necessary to make specific provision for the exclusion of land held by the National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland from the provisions of Section 40, and this is the purpose of the new clause. The noble Lord, Lord Gibson, was good enough to tell me that he has unfortunately had to leave for Birmingham but that otherwise he would have welcomed the amendment.
§ Lord Bishopston
My Lords, we welcome the amendment in that the present provision in the 1967 Act says that land belonging to the National Trust may be compulsorily purchased notwithstanding that it is held inalienably by the trust. Now, of course, the Minister is giving protection to the trust so that its land will not be compulsorily purchased. However, may I ask him to say how this makes for any consistency when he is allowing National Trust land leased to the Forestry Commission, or at least the unplanted part of it, to be disposed of? It seems that in one case he is giving some protection—and is saying, "What a good boy I am for so doing"—yet he will not protect the land which can be disposed of by the Minister "as he thinks fit".
§ The Earl of Mansfield
This is sensible, my Lords. The clause removes from Section 40 of the Forestry Act 1967 the power compulsorily to purchase land held inalienably by the National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland. What we have done in respect of the last amendment, which was pressed to a Division, was not to write into the Bill a badly drafted and technically inadequate amendment which would not have done what the noble Lord, Lord Gibson—and, dare I say it, the noble Earl, Lord Wymess and March?—would have wanted. This is, as I understand it, precisely what the National Trust wants, and therefore there is that distinction.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, the National Trust certainly want it, and it is by no means academic. How many times has this compulsory purchase power been used?
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
I am obliged for that information, my Lords; it has never been used, which means they are removing a power which has never been used. Nevertheless, its use was once threatened and that was by the noble Lord's own Government. That happened in 1973 in relation to something that occurred in the north of Scotland. Thus it is not academic, and probably the National Trust would not have asked for it but for the behaviour of the then Tory Government in 1973 when they threatened compulsorily to purchase a piece of land that was held inalienably.
§ The Earl of Wemyss and March
My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, the compulsory purchase power which now exists refers only to land for the Forestry Commission, and then only to England and Wales; therefore, both the compulsory purchase for another purpose of land in Scotland was nothing to do with the provision which is now in effect being repealed.
While on my feet, I would on behalf of my noble friend Lord Gibson, who has had to leave, say, "Thank you very much" to the noble Earl for the most notable concession among the very few concessions he has made during the whole passage of the Bill. Frankly, we in Scotland did not ask for this; we do not want it and do not believe we need it. But we have no objection whatever to being lumped with our big sister and told that land cannot be compulsorily purchased from us for the purposes of the Forestry Act. It never could, and we believe that under the Parliamentary safeguards, to which I have already referred, it could not be now, even without the amendment. Nevertheless, we say, "Thank you" for it.
§ Lord Sandford
My Lords, may I, as the noble Lord who moved an amendment in this connection in Committee, thank my noble friend for bringing the amendment forward and say that if it is accepted I shall not need to move Amendment No. 15.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 15 not moved.]
§ 9.40 p.m.
Lord Bishopston moved Amendment No. 16:
After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Right to Repurchase
§ Where any land which has been disposed of under section 1 of this Act is offered for sale the Forestry Commission shall have the prior right of purchase.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I move this amendment. It seems that throughout this evening and through the Committee stage there have been very few concessions indeed from the Government. The amendment would provide a new clause which would state that,
Where any land which has been disposed of under section 1 of this Act is offered for sale the Forestry Commission shall have the prior right of purchase".
This is aimed at looking after the interests of those authorities which have let land to the Forestry Commission—land which is held in trust by them and is transferred to the Forestry Commission. I should have thought it very reasonable that those whose land was being disposed of should have the protection which they thought they had when they leased the land to the commission in the first place. I should also have thought it very reasonable that when land is offered for sale the Forestry Commission should have the prior right of purchase.
§ If land has been sold by the Forestry Commission—land which is unplanted, but inalienably held in trust by the National Trust, or the National Trust for Scotland, or perhaps by the Church Commissioners, or the Crown Estate Commissioners—and the Forestry Commission feels that the best interests of the land use are not being safeguarded, then the Forestry 200 Commission ought to have the prior right of purchase in those cases.
§ It seems that there is no protection whatsoever. Some of the bodies that I have mentioned, such as the Church Commissioners, the National Trust, and the Crown Estates Commissioners are all acting under Acts of Parliament. They have been given very specific terms of their trusteeship, and I do not know what they would have thought some time ago when leases were granted to the Forestry Commission if they had known that this Bill was coming along. They might have hesitated to arrange leases with the Forestry Commission because they could not have been assured that the terms of their trusteeship would be complied with.
§ So if the Forestry Commission, or rather the Minister, sells land, he can ignore the advise of the Forestry Commission, which might have some hesitation about letting land go when it has been held in trust by it on behalf of other public bodies. The Minister can override the Forestry Commission, and so far, with the exception of the Forest of Dean, no provision relating to control has been accepted by the Minister—or only very little in respect of the National Trust. He has not accepted any provision for accountability, for coming back to either House of Parliament with statutory instruments to explain, or to justify, why he wants to dispose of land. There is no accountability at all to Parliament. There is no need for the Minister to come back and say that he wants to sell National Trust unplanted land for speculative purposes, development, or other uses other than forestry. This might involve land on lease from other public bodies. There is no accountability at all in that way.
§ Of course, as my noble friend has said, it can be left to the planning committees of the local authorities to safeguard these great national assets, but surely that is not good enough. I believe that there is justification for hoping that the Minister will agree to the amendment which provides that when land is offered for sale the Forestry Commission shall have the prior right of purchase. This would give the Forestry Commission the chance to redeem itself if it sees that land that it has sold is not being used in the way which it considers appropriate in the national interest. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, I appreciate the noble Lord's concern in this matter, and if I thought that the dangers were real I should feel differently about his amendment than in fact I do feel about it. A right of pre-emption of the type which the noble Lord suggests is, I think, quite unnecessary. If properties which have been sold under the provisions of Clause 1 of the Bill are subsequently offered for resale, it is reasonable to assume that they will be advertised on the open market.
The commission keeps in touch with the market for this sort of property, and if for its own purposes it wanted to acquire the land—in other words, if it wanted to make a bid—then it could do so in exactly the same was as any other potential purchaser, because what the noble Lord is not seeking in his amendment is to give it any particular rights so far as the purchase price is concerned. I believe, and I think your Lordships will agree with me, that once the commission has disposed 201 of its interest there is no reason why it should have any special claim on the land.
I think that that really disposes of the amendment, but there are two further considerations. If the noble Lord's concern is that the land would be sold by the Forestry Commission and thereafter the trees felled, and that after that stage the land might be devoted to some different purpose, then, as I say, there are two safeguards. First, there is the felling licence procedure, which I have already set out to your Lordships and which I think is a real safeguard; and, of course, if uses are to be made of the land other than growing trees, the ordinary rules of planning will apply.
The second matter which I think makes one hesitate before accepting an amendment of this kind—in fact, more than hesitate; it is something which would in fact stop one accepting such an amendment—is that, certainly in England and Wales, once the property has been resold once, there is really no way of keeping track of it to a subsequent purchaser. In other words, if the first customer sold the land and the Forestry Commission did not avail itself of its right to repurchase, there would then be no binding obligation on any subsequent owners of the land, if they wanted to sell, in turn to offer it to the Forestry Commission. For all these reasons, although, as I say, I appreciate the noble Lord's concern, I believe that this new clause is quite unnecessary, and I would ask him to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Bishopston
My Lords, if I may refer to the letter sent to the National Trust, a lot of discussion has gone on about it but, of course, the country does not know what we are talking about because we have not got the terms of the letter on record. The letter of 29th May to the National Trust regarding the assignment of leases from the National Trust goes on to refer to Mr. Wiggin's letter of 14th April, and says that that,gave the basis on which we consider it would be right for the Commission to operate in relation to National Trust properties. During the Committee stage I referred"—this is a letter from the Minister— 202to guidelines which we shall be sending to the Chairman of the Forestry Commission setting out the considerations which he and his colleagues should have regard to in selecting areas for sale. These include 'the undertaking given by the forestry Ministers that in the case of plantations on land originally leased from the National Trust and still owned by them, the lease will not be assigned without the Trust's consent'. The guidelines go on to say that similar arrangements will apply to properties leased from the National Trust for Scotland, although of course acquisition by feu charter is the more usual course north of the Border".Then, on the aspect of open land, the letter goes on to say:We deliberately excluded open land, because such land is usually surplus to the Commission's forestry needs unless it is awaiting planting. There is no statutory bar to the disposal of surplus property under existing provisions, so the Bill is not a new factor in that sense. That is not to say that such areas will be an automatic target for disposal, but to place an embargo on disposal would mean that the Commission would have to retain these areas permanently whether they wanted to or not, and I think that would be an unreasonable imposition. However, if and when such land does become available for disposal the Trust would of course be given first refusal".If that can apply to the trust, even if only in a letter—and, of course, my noble friends feel that it is such an important pledge that it should be in the Bill in writing, although my reading has put it on record now—then surely the same kind of promise or first refusal can also be applied to other land which the Forestry Commission wishes to sell, or which it sells and which is again put on the market. In that way, the responsibilities of trustees whose land was leased to the Forestry Commission in the confident expectation that the commission would be able to ensure its future use in terms with its obligations, would be assured.
Obviously, I cannot expect the Minister to agree to the amendment at this stage but in the light of his reply, which I thought was as encouraging as anything we have heard tonight, except for the Forest of Dean, I should like the Government to look at this again and on Third Reading to come some way, if they can, towards the kind of protection we want in the safeguarding of these important national assets. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.203
§ 9.51 p.m.
Lord Dulverton moved Amendment No. 17:
Page 1, line 14, leave out ("with the approval of the Treasury direct") and insert ("direct, with the approval of the Treasury and having regard for the need to support the expansion and development of the national forestry effort and to maintain the viability of the forestry enterprise administered by the Commissioners").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel that I must almost apologise at this time of night for bringing your Lordships' attention back to more purely forestry matters. We have been talking for a long time about other matters ancillary to our subject. The object of this amendment is to try to direct the proceeds of any sales of this land—and that is what the Bill is about—into the interests of the national forestry effort. My concern is based on these factors. First, I believe that this Bill is not necessarily a Treasury measure, as such. I think it may be caused by the attitudes of Treasury who have always been reluctant to back up the national forestry effort with subventions to the Forestry Commission and, through the Forestry Commission, to the private sector. We all remember that now-discredited document of (what was it?) nine years ago, the cost benefit study of the Treasury.
§ The Treasury are never really confident in putting investment now into such a long-term thing as forestry which can yield such results over a long period of decades. That being so, and in view of their reluctance, I can see great merit in the Bill. I have been very critical of the Bill in certain places and at certain stages in this House and elsewhere, but I can see great merit in it if the object were to raise funds from within the forestry industry itself to continue to generate an expansion of the national forestry effort.
§ I have been worried, as have other noble Lords, over what are called the open-ended terms of Clause 1 of the Bill, where it says that the Minister may sell off for any purpose bits of the Forestry Commission. We have had reassuring statements from my noble friend on the Front Bench and from Ministers in another place, that they did not intend to go in for their sales in any degree that would be drastic or harmful to the Forestry Commission. Personally, I should be much more reassured if it were spelt out in the Bill that the reason behind the selling off of bits of the Forestry Commission was to provide support for the health and expansion of the future of forestry.
§ We spent a great deal of time this afternoon and this evening talking about things ancillary to the main subject, if I may make bold to suggest so. This point is the nub of the question which concerns people who are interested in forestry and concerned about forestry, as I have confessed to your Lordships to be on a number of occasions. That is what generates my concern: for any purpose, there is no limit on it. It has to go into the Consolidated Fund and it can come out of the Consolidated Fund again. What my amendment seeks as best I can devise amidst the constraints and pitfalls of proper parliamentary drafting, is to get some assurance that until the national forest is large enough in the view of experts—and, as you know, there have been suggestions in various reports that we ought to go on expanding it well into the next century—forestry 204 will be the beneficiaries of the proceeds of sales of parts of the Forestry Commission. That is a splendid idea, because the Treasury do not want to "cough it up" out of the national budget and a self-generating activity like this seems to commend itself. That is one part of the hoped-for results of my amendment.
§ The second point is keeping the forest enterprise which is the Forestry Commission's own enterprise—as opposed to their national forestry authority activities, research and development, and so on—undamaged as a component of importance in the partnership of effort, each with its own merits and constraints between the private and public sectors in the national forestry effort.
§ I am aware and grateful for the fact that the amendment which follows mine is to be moved by my noble friend the Minister. That goes a long way to try to reassure us that that is the way that things will work out. It is widely phrased. One might even drive a horse and cart through it; it depends on what future Ministers' regard for forestry is. I want to say how grateful I am to the Minister because I know very well that it has been as a result of a great deal of deliberations between himself and his colleagues in Government that this very important move towards what we have been asking for is being proposed by the Minister.
§ I have referred to aid to the national forest expansion and also to keeping the forest enterprise viable. My noble friend's amendment does not seem to deal with that explicitly. Although I am sad that my noble friend could not have gone further in the way that I am suggesting, I think that it is only fair that I should move this amendment for the purpose of discussion but leave it to my noble friend to deal with this matter. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I should very much like to back Lord Dulverton's own amendment on this. I think he said you can drive a horse and cart through the next amendment, and that is true. He also said that Ministers had laboured long before they produced it. I think that the labour may have had as much regard to making it inoccuous as it had to getting the approval of the forestry industry. I must say that when you say,having regard to the national interest in maintaining",that is where the horse, cart and the buggy can go through; whereas the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, says:… having regard for the need to support the expansion and development of the national forestry effort …".That is a need which has been recognised in every quarter of this country and certainly in every quarter of this House. The fears that have been expressed by so many people on so many sides of this House I think are really highlighted by the response of the Government to the noble Lord's amendment in Committee. I much prefer Amendment No. 17. It does mean something, and also it leaves some leeway for the Government. I had hoped that, in the light of the poverty of the one following, the noble Lord would not withdraw his amendment.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, noble Lords will recollect that during the Committee stage I undertook to consider an amendment which was moved and withdrawn. I think my words were that I undertook to,consult and talk with certain noble Lords to see if we could write something into the Bill which would not conflict with the principles of the Bill and yet which would prove reassuring and meaningful to persons such as my noble friend Lord Dulverton, who genuinely feel worried".Those consultations have gone on, as I have no doubt my noble friend will agree, and there is much in his amendment with which I can myself agree. For instance, I agree with its reference to the need for support for the expansion and development of the national forestry effort. Indeed, the expansion of forestry is a feature of the policy underlying the provision of this Bill. I also agree that it is important to maintain the viability of the Forestry Commission's commercial activities; in other words, its forestry enterprise. As my noble friend may be aware, this expression, although well understood, is nowhere defined in any legislation.
But the real difficulty of my noble friend's amendment is that it seeks to amend Clause 2 of the Bill and, having considered the matter very carefully, I have come to the conclusion that his amendment seeks to deal with this matter on too narrow a front. Clause 2 deals only with the Forestry Fund, and that is not the point of the Bill at which I think we should seek to give effect to his ideas regarding the maintenance of the viability of the forestry enterprise.
When I introduced this Bill on Second Reading I outlined the purpose of Clause 2 and I explained that the Forestry Commission is presently funded through the grant-in-aid on a net basis; that is to say, the grant-in-aid represents the difference between the commission's income and expenditure. All sums received by the commissioners, including capital sums from the sale of assets, are paid into the Forestry Fund. However, under existing arrangements sums which are credited to the Forestry Fund cannot be withdrawn and paid to the Exchequer even if the fund runs into surplus. We propose to vary these arrangements so as to insulate the commission's expenditure and cash limits from fluctuations in the disposal of land and plantations and the sale of surplus property, by transferring the proceeds from such disposals to the Consolidated Fund by what are called extra receipts. Notes on Supply Estimates and the Public Expenditure Survey will show the effect of those receipts on the commission's net call on Exchequer funds.
While it is our intention that the proceeds of the sale of land will be transferred into the Consolidated Fund, we will take the level of disposals into account in considering proposals by the commissioners for expenditure on these various functions, including their forestry enterprise. The proceeds from disposal of forestry land will influence the level of the commission forestry activities, in the sense that a successful programme of disposals would enable proposals for additional planting by the commissioners to be entertained. It does not follow that Clause 2 is the appropriate place for the kind of amendment that my noble friend has in mind.
206 I now turn to the question of "the expansion and development of the national forestry effort", to which the amendment also refers. I again suggest to my noble friend that it would be inappropriate to try to cover that aspect in the clause in the Bill dealing with the transfer of moneys from the Forestry Fund to the Consolidated Fund. Such expansion and development, as I have said, is an objective on which my noble friend and I agree. The Government's policy declared is for an expansion of forestry. This was indicated in the forestry policy Statement which I made in your Lordships' House on 10th December last year. The achievement of this objective involves more than the power to transfer monies from the Forestry Fund, as proposed in Clause 2. In fact, it requires to be related to the exercise of all the functions of Ministers and the commissioners under the 1967 Act. I trust that, on reflection, my noble friend will agree that Clause 2 of the Bill is not really the appropriate point to cover these aspects of the development of national forestry policy. I hope that in the light of what is provided in the new clause which I have drafted, he will take comfort and will agree that this is the right amendment and the right place in which to put it.
I turn to the new clause. It is, of course, safe to say that anything which the Government propose the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, will immediately oppose. But I hope that I can show him that, in fact, this is the right place to put this kind of clause and not in Clause 2. The Government have taken very careful note of what was said in your Lordships' House and in another place during the passage of this Bill. At various times my right honourable and honourable friends and I have given a number of assurances about the Government's intentions about the operation of the powers being sought in the Bill. The purpose of this new clause is to give statutory backing to those assurances and to our commitment to a long-term forestry policy of a positive nature and of the kind envisaged in the Statement which I made to your Lordships' House on 10th December last.
So our approach differs from my noble friend's, in that we have decided to so this in the form of a new clause governing the whole spectrum of forestry Ministers' statutory functions. This underlines the fact that the exercise of all those functions will be directed towards our primary policy objective, which is to maintain and expand Britain's forestry resources. Ministers have, of course, a number of functions under the Act, but perhaps the most relevant from the point of view of the Bill are those relating to the purchase and sale of land, and, even more importantly in the context of the expansion of forestry, Ministers' powers of direction over the manner in which the Forestry Commissioners exercise their functions and powers. May I remind the House that the commissioners are charged under Section 1 of the 1967 Act,with the general duty of promoting the interests of forestry, the development of afforestation and the production and supply of timber and other forest products in Great Britain".We have given continual assurances that the Bill is in no way designed to impair or diminish the responsibilities of the commissioners, and this new clause reinforces those assurances by making it clear that in 207 all their acts Ministers, too, shall have regard to the basic philosophy underlying the commissioners' duties.
There has never been any question that the Bill should be used by this Government to weaken the status or the effectiveness, and still less, the viability, of the commission. On the contrary, we have made it plain that we envisage a greater participation by private forestry in the national forestry effort, but that we intend at the same time to maintain the successful partnership between the private sector and the commission, for which we see a continuing role both as the forestry authority and as the forestry enterprise. I know that some critics have dubbed this a Treasury Bill and nothing that I can say will deflect the noble Lords, Lord Ross of Marnock or Lord Bishopston, from that view. They hold the mistaken view that this Bill is concerned exclusively with raising funds for the Exchequer without any reference to the interests of forestry. I believe their view to be based on a misunderstanding of the intentions behind the provisions in Clause 2, but I have frequently tried to explain that the arrangement will in fact ensure that the commission's programme, and its cash limits, are separated from and not adversely affected by fluctuations in what may well be an unpredictable market. This would allow the commission's programme to be sustained, thus contributing to the maintenance and expansion of the overall forestry resource.
I should also like to repeat that so far as disposals are concerned the aim is progressively to reduce the commission's net call on Exchequer funds for its forestry enterprise activities. This will be done in accordance with the principles and objectives of the guidelines to which I have already referred. These guidelines will not only set limits to the extent of the disposals, thereby protecting the viability of the forestry enterprise and its contribution to the national forestry effort, but will also safeguard the many important environmental, social and industrial interests that have to be taken into account on changes of ownership. Any carry forward of disposals receipts in excess of the programme for the purposes of further forestry enterprise activities would be incompatible with public expenditure procedures. It is proposed that the disposals and planting programmes should be reviewed at each Public Expenditure Survey to assess past performance against programmes and future prospects. If the review shows—and I cannot over-emphasise the importance of this—that the disposals programme is progressing satisfactorily, it will be open to the forestry Minister to propose additional bids for forestry enterprise programmes.
I have taken a little time to say all this because, like my noble friend Lord Dulverton, I regard this matter as being of supreme importance. I hope that, from what I have said, your Lordships will see that the Government's intention behind this Bill is to ensure the continued health and growth of the forestry industry. This is what we said in our first statement last September, and I regard this new clause as rounding off that aim, by giving tangible statutory expression to the assurance and professions of intent we have made during the passage of the Bill over the past few weeks. 208 I believe this new clause gives clarity and perspective to those intentions. Moreover, by being written into the 1967 Act, it will do that in the right place.
§ Lord Dulverton
In view of the assurances which my noble friend has just given, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 10.14 p.m.
The Earl of Mansfield moved Amendment No. 18:
After Clause 2, insert the following new clause:
§ ("General duty of Ministers
. After section 8 of the Forestry Act 1967 there shall be inserted—
General duty of Ministers.
8A. In performing their functions under this Act the Ministers shall have regard to the national interest in maintaining and expanding the forestry resources of Great Britain.".").
§ The noble Earl said: I have already spoken to this, and I beg to move the amendment.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
I wondered what new clause was being talked about when the noble Earl spoke to Amendment No. 17, and, when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, withdraw the new clause, I was even more mystified. Now we have received an adequate explanation. It is a 1967 Forestry Act which we are amending. The Forestry Act 1967 has antecedents which go way back to 1920. We are now in 1981, and in the proposed new clause, 8A, we see:In performing their functions under this Act the Ministers shall have regard to the national interest in maintaining and expanding the forestry resources of Great Britain".What does all that mean? It is just words. We have been told that there is an identity between the Forestry Commissioners and the Minister. The Minister is the head of a department. The first section of the 1967 Act lays down the general duties of the commissioners. The commission is the Minister. It is appointed by the Minister to do as he tells it. It is part of his department. The commissioners would never dream of there being any difference between them. And what does the Act say: it says in subsection (2) that the commissioners have the general dutyof promoting the interests of forestry, the development of afforestation and the production and supply of timber",and so on.The commissioners' general duty includes that of promoting the establishment and maintenance in Great Britain of adequate reserves of growing trees".That is subsection (3) of Section 1 of the 1967 Act. That is where it should be—in the first clause. Then, after eight clauses we are going to be given in 1981 the general duties of the Minister. What is this going to add to anything? It shows the measure of discontent created by the Bill that the Minister has put this in now as a reassurance for some people.
I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, is now reassured and that he will be able to sleep at night, because the only thing that Ministers are thinking of are these new general duties, a restatement of general duties which always were there. I do not think that 209 this adds anything at all to the Bill either in relation to the Forestry Commission or to anybody else. It only shows the measure of despair at the mess which the Government have got themselves into, that in 1981 they have to spell out the general duty of Ministers which everybody thought they knew decades ago. I would not dream of opposing it. This is a lovely piece of pious declamation. When it goes to another place I hope they will have a good laugh about it.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, I hope your Lordships' House will bear with me for just a moment. I want to explain why I have risen at this time of night to comment on this clause. I have been very closely involved with men who, almost since the creation of the commission, have devoted their lives to building the forests of Great Britain. They have no particular desire to own any one tree for themselves. They have devoted their lives, many of them for as many as 25 or 30 years, to building up our forests, not to building up any particular firm, foreign or British, or a mixture of both. They have devoted their lives to building up the forests of Great Britain, and there is a Ministry responsible for the administration, once again, not of any particular firm or multinational.
I hope your Lordships' House will not believe that it is offensive to look after, nurture and culture the forests of Great Britain in the interests of the British people. Is that a heinous and disgraceful thing to do? I believe that their views have got to be taken into consideration. The only reason, even at this late hour, why I believe their voices should be heard by the Minister who might be responsible is because he could charge them, the foresters of Great Britain, with being pro-British.
I understand that the new clause outlines to a degree precisely and succinctly the views of these men who have devoted their lives to the Forestry Commission of Great Britain. As I have said, they do this not for any particular multinational, not for any destructive purpose, not for any greedy view, not for the desire to own one leaf for themselves, but to work and to devote their lives to the Forestry Commission of Great Britain. I hope that if there is going to be a reply to this new clause the Minister who is likely to be responsible will say quite clearly whether or not this Government are opposed to the foresters of Great Britain because they happen to believe that the trees of this island belong to the British people. That is what your Lordships' House might be challenged to do—to decide whether you are to say to these foresters, "You have no right to be interested in the forests of Great Britain on behalf of the British people. This Government, duly elected, have decided that they are going to flog them—to sell them—for a variety of reasons". I find that highly distasteful.
I should like to conclude with this: if we really believe that we are going to appeal to people in the difficult times in which we live, there are all sorts of things said about trade unions and trade unionists, but most of the foresters—indeed probably all of them—belong to the Civil Service Union. They have been attending your Lordships' House to listen to these debates, not for a 6 per cent. increase in their salary, not arguing that they have been offered 6 per cent. on their salary and they want 10 per cent. They are 210 not asking for 1 per cent. on their salaries; their claim is—and I ask your Lordships' House to note this—that, as Welshmen, Irishmen, Scotsmen and Englishmen, they believe that the intent of this Bill is to sell part of the birthright of this island to entrepreneurs, not all of them British. That is the challenge to the conscience of every noble Lord in this House tonight and of those who may read what I have to say later on. Therefore I ask that, before we proceed much further, those who have responsibility on the Bench opposite should convey these views to the Minister responsible. Now I challenge him, even at this late stage—it is no good the noble Lord grimacing; I know it is very difficult when one talks about the British people; it irritates and annoys people as it is annoying the noble Lord at the moment, but I hope that in your Lordships' House it will never become an offensive thing to be British.
This is a very serious challenge and therefore I say to the Front Bench opposite that I believe that these men—the older men who have devoted their lives, the young men who are coming along—have only one desire. They have pride in their job, pride in the work which they do on behalf of this nation, and perhaps even at this late hour we should take full cognisance of the views that they hold and of their belief that they can carry on in the way they have been doing and can prove beyond a scintilla of doubt their massive contribution over the past three or four decades to developing the forests of Great Britain. I believe that we must take full cognisance of what they have to say and it will be not merely for the benefit of the status of your Lordships' House that we listen to them. Ultimately what is said in this new clause can, I believe, be made a reality—namely, that in the performance of the functions of this Act Ministers shall have regard to the national interest in maintaining and expanding the forestry resources of Great Britain. That is the ideal of those foresters who are represented by the Civil Service Union. That is precisely what they want to do. They have an experienced point of view and it will be to the advantage of the Minister and of the people of this country that he represents if full cognisance is taken of the views of the foresters of Great Britain, represented through the Civil Service Union.
§ Lord Bishopston
My Lords, perhaps I may make a brief intervention. It will of course be manifest that many of us have shown concern about the nature of this Bill and rather late in the day the Minister has said that he feels this amendment should be made whereby Ministers shall have regard to the national interest in maintaining and expanding the forestry resources of Great Britain. One welcomes that assurance, after the impression we had about the nature of the measure. Of course, these provisions are indeed welcome, although we feel they do not go far enough.
I thought I might make a personal intervention to say that, although a church commissioner, my interventions have been of a personal nature. I have been seeking safeguards and at least clarification so that they, and such bodies as the Crown Estates Commissioners, the National Trust, local authorities, and indeed all who have responsibilities for forestry, may better know Government thinking on this measure. 211 I need hardly say, of course, that I have sought to ensure that all the public trustees of forest land should have the maximum freedom to exercise their responsibilities as they see fit.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, it is not altogether easy at this stage of the Bill to know how to reply politely and constructively to the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, who I think made his maiden speech about a week ago. How far he has followed the proceedings of this Bill, I know not. What I can tell him is that it has had full consideration in both Houses of Parliament, and Ministers—and I have responsibility in this particular direction under the Secretary of State for Scotland—have given very full consideration to a great number of different matters which have been brought to our attention both within and without the Palace of Westminster. That, I think, has been particularly reflected in the guidelines which are now in the Library.
I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, has read them and understood them, but if he has, he will have seen referred to very many of the matters which, quite properly, occupy the attention and indeed the anxieties of those who are engaged in earning their daily bread in our various forestry enterprises, and particularly those employees of the Forestry Commission. I think they will see that the guidelines laid down and the thinking that goes behind this Bill fully take into account their interests and their future.
Having said that, I do not think I can say any more in the context of this particular amendment. What this amendment seeks to do is to carry out the undertaking which I gave at a previous stage in the consideration of this Bill, to consult with my colleagues, the other forestry Ministers, to have consultations with certain noble Lords, and to see if we can put a statutory duty upon Ministers which would, as it were, be over and above the form of the words of the Bill. That we have done, and I am glad to say that my noble friend Lord Dulverton has, I think, welcomed it. Whether or not he would have preferred to go down his road in Section 2 or to go down my road in the principal Act, if I may so call it, the 1967 Act, I do not know. I hope he has accepted my argument.
This new clause, which has perhaps understandably attracted the scathing denunciation of the noble Lord, Lord Ross, is a genuine and sustained effort on the part of the Government to give effect to and to provide a statutory answer to the many worries which have been voiced by noble Lords at various stages of this Bill through your Lordships' House. I ask that it is in that way that it should be accepted, and it is in that way that I ask it should now be written into the Bill.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 19 not moved.]