§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Gisborough.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD MURTON OF LINDISFARNE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [Restocking]:
§ Lord Kilbracken moved Amendment No. 1:
§ Page 2, line 2, leave out ("period, not exceeding ten years,") and insert ("such a period of not less than ten years as shall be").
§ The noble Lord said: I raised this matter on Second Reading. Clause 1 of the Bill inserts a new section in the Forestry Act 1976 under which the commissioners may serve a notice, referred to as a restocking notice, on any person who has felled trees illegally, requiring him to restock that land or other land that may be specified. The Bill at present lays down that the trees planted must be properly maintained for a period specified in the notice of not more than 10 years after planting. The amendment would make 10 years the 796 minimum rather than the maximum period, without any upward limit. The Bill at present follows the language used in Section 12(1) of the Act, where "not exceeding 10 years" is the period for which trees planted on foot of a felling licence must be maintained after they are planted.
§ In reply to my remarks at Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, gave that fact as one reason for using that same phrase here. I did not agree on Second Reading and I still do not. In the first place, I should be happier anyway if a longer minimum period were specified in the Act. Secondly, the circumstances in this case are materially different and there is no need for the same words to be used here.
§ In the Act we are considering an occupant who respects the law, as he has shown by applying for a felling licence. We may assume that he is much more likely than not to conform with the spirit as well as the letter of the law, and that has been borne out by the experience of the commissioners. In the Bill we are considering a case of a blatant law-breaker. He is someone who has contravened Section 9 of the Act by felling trees without a licence, for which certainly he would have had some very good reason. I think that it would therefore be acceptable that in this case a different, longer maintenance period should be required.
§ What danger exists in the present wording of the Bill? We know that for some reason the rascal involved believes that it would be profitable to clearfell the land. As the Bill stands, he has only to wait a maximum of 10 years (perhaps only seven or five years) until the designated maintenance period has ended. He will then normally be able to clearfell the area, unless a very large area is involved, with complete immunity up to, I reckon, about 1.2 hectares or some three statutory acres.
§ He can do that because trees with a breast-height diameter of up to 8 cm do not require a felling licence under Section 9(1) of the Act. Even if softwoods are planted, probably not more than some 10 per cent. will have reached that size in a decade and very few indeed—perhaps none—if only a period of five or six years is specified in the restocking notice, as is now possible. Any that then remain can be felled under Section 9(2) of the Forestry Act, which permits the felling without licence of trees totalling up to 5 cu. m, as now amended, which is a lower total than previously, in any quarter. Even a fast-growing species such as sitka spruce after the maximum period of 10 years will not hold more than 0.03 cubic metres on average. That would require a useful length of 2 metres with an average diameter of 15 centimetres. That is quite a tree after such a short period. At least 330 more trees could be cut without any licence within three months of the ending of the maintenance period out of the few trees left behind. It may be one in 10 of those over 8 centimetres in diameter. I calculate that 3,300 trees occupying 1.2 hectares could be removed.
§ I should prefer to see the period specified in the Bill extended to 20 years. I am not asking for that. I propose that 10 years should become the minimum instead of the maximum period, and that the commissioners should be able to extend that to 20 years or more in cases where they may have suspicions. By that time the trees will be much more 797 fully established. No one would wait that long to carry out his nefarious and illegal purposes. I beg to move.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Gisborough
I can understand the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, to ensure that an owner or tenant who has been found guilty of an illegal felling and who is served with a restocking notice should be bound to maintain the trees for at least 10 years. It is important to recognise, however, that someone who is having to replant after an illegal felling is in exactly the same position as someone having to replant as a condition of a legitimate, licensed felling.
The objective of the restocking condition or notice is the same. It is to ensure that the trees will be maintained until they are properly established. The longer term conservation or protection of the woodland is not the aim. That is covered by the general felling licence provisions. An owner may choose to remove trees before they reach licensable age. The age at which they might do so varies widely depending on the species and the conditions under which the trees are grown. That assumes that an owner would be willing to destroy what is becoming a valuable asset. In the Forestry Commission's experience that rarely happens. If a woodland is of high amenity value, the local authority has the power to place a tree preservation order on it.
The risk of the young woodland being destroyed is therefore small. That apart, I return to the point that restocking conditions under the felling licensing regulations are aimed at the re-establishment of woodland not at its longer term protection.
I have been assured by the Forestry Commission that it has experienced no problems with a maximum period of 10 years as laid down in the Forestry Act. It does not anticipate any problems arising simply because a restocking requirement arose from an illegal felling. The noble Lord can also be reassured by the fact that where broadleaves are concerned the Forestry Commission's practice is to specify maintenance for a full 10 years.
The effect of the noble Lord's amendment would be to introduce an inconsistency. In the great majority of cases where restocking is taking place following a legitimate felling, the trees would have to be maintained only for the period that the Forestry Commission thought necessary to see the woodland properly established. That is a matter of professional judgment. In a tiny minority of cases following illegal felling trees would have to be maintained for at least 10 years even when the faster-growing conifers were involved. The commission's felling licensing regulations work well. This clause simply seeks to extend them to cover an illegal felling. It is closing a loophole, but no more than that.
The noble Lord should also consider that if trees in their 11th year were still under 8 centimetres, which would be poor growth, the cost of grubbing would have to be taken into account, and the high value of the asset. There is a limit to the bureaucratic controls which should be imposed. If trees were that small, one would wonder whether the site were suitable for growing trees. It would be unfortunate and confusing 798 for those who have to administer the felling licensing regulations if we were to end up with two slightly different sets of restocking conditions especially when, as I have explained, all restocking requirements are for the same purpose. I am afraid, therefore, that I cannot give my support to the amendment.
§ Lord John-Mackie
We cannot but agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, who has very carefully put the Forestry Commission's point of view as to what the situation would be. We must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, who has looked at this matter in a slightly different way. Somebody who had disregarded the law comes under the same conditions as the law-abiding citizen. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, wanted something a little harder for someone who had broken the law.
The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, said that the conditions would make it almost impossible to grub up trees. He said that the amendment would create more bureaucratic controls. I do not know how many areas are involved. There must be quite a number to make the Forestry Commission want to bring in the Bill. Although we are disappointing the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, we sympathise with his point of view.
§ Viscount Davidson
I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, for giving the Committee an opportunity to discuss his amendment. I do not have a great deal to add to what my, noble friend Lord Gisborough said in his cogent speech. He brought out the point very well that the whole purpose of the restocking requirement following felling is the proper re-establishment of the woodland. The number of years for which the trees have to be maintained to achieve that end is very much a matter for the professional judgment of the Forestry Commission.
I can confirm that the commission has found a maximum maintenance period of 10 years to be wholly adequate. I should emphasise the point made by my noble friend that the maximum 10-year maintenance period is now always applied in the case of broadleaves. If young trees of high amenity value are thought to be at risk, there is always the fall-back protection that a local authority can provide by means of a tree preservation order.
I agree with my noble friend that it would be unfortunate if in extending the scope of the felling licensing regulations to cover the aftermath of an illegal felling, we should end up with two different conditions for the maintenance of trees planted under a restocking requirement, especially when there is no obvious need for that.
The Government's view is that a maximum period of 10 years during which the trees have to be maintained in accordance with the rules and practice of good forestry covers all reasonable circumstances. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will not press his amendment.
§ Lord Kilbracken
I am grateful to the noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and for some words of comfort from my noble friend on the Front Bench and the noble Viscount the Minister. Even the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, seemed to agree with some 799 aspects of what I was saying. I do not intend to press the amendment because if it were carried it would cause a great deal of difficulty in getting the Bill through another place. I always think that it is unfortunate when this occurs. One feels under some inhibition about letting through an amendment that might otherwise find acceptance, because if it is accepted, we shall not get the Bill.
I should like to make one or two comments on remarks that have been made. The noble Viscount, speaking for the Government, said that a 10-year period has been found to be absolutely adequate. I agree that a 10-year period is absolutely adequate if one wants to make sure that the planting is fully established. Some sitka spruce trees that I planted six years ago have now formed a canopy in two metre square spacings. These have done exceptionally well. I do not have to go near them again until I start taking thinnings out of them. But that is not really what I am talking about. I am talking about whether this is long enough to prevent someone cutting down trees in order to clear an area where for some reason he does not want trees.
The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, said that a tree that had only reached eight centimetres breast height diameter after 10 years was not much of a tree and perhaps the land should not be in trees at all. I know that my trees grow remarkably quickly. They often put on over a metre a year in height. If all trees reached a breast height diameter of eight centimetres after a decade, one would not have anything to complain about.
The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, said that he thought my amendment was closing a loophole. That was, I believe, the phrase that he used. I will check it in Hansard. If there is a loophole, it should be closed. My noble friend Lord John-Mackie has already referred to the point that I made that there is no reason for the words to be identical or for the conditions to be the same as those used when a felling licence is granted. Here, we are dealing with a blatant law-breaker. I am grateful to my noble friend for his support. It is, I believe, certainly the case.
It is my intention to withdraw the amendment. While not looking for any undertaking from the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, I would express the hope that between now and the Report stage—I shall not put down the amendment again—he may think the matter over with his friends and officials and perhaps let me know what conclusions he reaches. With those words, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Dulverton moved Amendment No. 2:
§ After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Increase in maximum number of members of regional advisory committees.
§ . In subsection (3) of section 38 of the said Act of 1967 (which provides, inter alia, that the maximum number of members of a regional advisory committee shall be nine) for the word "nine" there shall be substituted the word "twelve".")
§ The noble Lord said: I gave an indication on Second Reading that I felt moved to ask your Lordships to consider the subject of this amendment. It is my strong 800 belief that the amendment could commend itself to the Committee, other things being equal. However, they are not because of our colleagues in another place. I tried briefly at Second Reading to explain that the Forestry Commission, as forestry authority, has given its mind to criticisms of certain environmental lobbies that its regional advisory committees—generally known as RACs—were too sympathetic to new forestry applicants for planting grants. The Forestry Commission has suggested in a paper I hold here, entitled The Composition and Procedures of the Forestry Commission's Regional Advisory Committees the addition of three members to its RACs from people representing interests other than that of forestry itself.
§ I need hardly tell the Committee that the role of the RACs is to examine applications for planting grants or indeed felling licences of any scale that give cause for concern to other interests such as farming, nature conservation, amenity and recreation. They are asked to advise the forestry authority of their findings. Where any party is dissatisfied at the end of the day, there remains an appeal to the Minister concerned. I would remind the Committee, as I said the other day, that where the decision goes against the applicant for a planting grant, Timber Growers United Kingdom, a body to which I belong that represents the private sector of foresters—it is the recognised body—strongly advises its members not to go ahead with their proposals as they might in some circumstances do without the planting grant. In other words, they are asked to respect the decision of the forestry authority as advised by the RAC.
§ When applications of any substance reach the forestry authority, it informs the agriculture ministries, the two Countryside Commissions, the Nature Conservancy Council, in certain cases the local authorities and in Scotland the Red Deer Commission, in addition to one or two perhaps illogically chosen voluntary agencies. If any of these bodies objects, the appropriate RAC is called into action to examine each case on the ground. That has not happened very often. When it has, there have been very few cases over which the RACs have failed to arrive at decisions acceptable to all. "The system may indeed claim to have worked well and with a great degree of responsibility. Now it is being suggested that the membership of the RACs should include more voices from land use interests outside forestry. At present, there is a chairman, four forestry representatives, one representative from trade unions, one from environmental interests, one from farming interests and one from planning interests. It is suggested that there should be added one from nature conservation, one from amenity/recreation interests and one from farming interests. This would give, apart from the chairman (who is chosen for a wide spectrum of experience), a ratio of four forestry-orientated members to seven representing other interests.
§ Should we not applaud and welcome this broadening of the consultative base offered by the forestry authority rather than throwing it away as happened in another place? It really must be a move in the right direction. The objections to this simple and laudable move were made on the motivation of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Council 801 for the Preservation of Rural England and the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, to all of whose main objectives I have long subscribed. I deplore, however, their present line of action. I believe that others of their members would do so if they knew about it. To be outspoken, they seem to me to be acting quite irresponsibly and/or with ulterior motives at a time when foresters are genuinely trying to meet the interests of conservation in its widest sense.
§ Having been in touch with the Association of County Councils, I learn that it, too, welcomes the expansion of interests on the RACs, although it is critical of certain aspects of their modus operandi. Perhaps it would not have been quite so critical had it really studied this paper from the forestry authority that I have already waved at the Committee. It seems to me to contain a well reasoned line of thinking. In any case, that latter question is not one directly related to the matter now before us. I have a hope that, whatever we may do now, indications may be given from all sides of this Chamber of support for the simple measure of providing stronger representation of the interests of farming, nature conservation, amenity and recreation on the RACs, from which my amendment is motivated.
§ Some Members of the Committee know that I have a deep and abiding interest in nature conservation. I am all the more sorry to see the organisations which I have named, and which I have supported over the years sometimes in substantial degree, taking such a regrettable and confrontational stand. I beg to move.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, not only on the content of his amendment but also on the very persuasive and succinct manner in which he has moved it. No one is better qualified than the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, because of his abiding interest not only in forestry but also in the broader field of wildlife conservation and nature conservation in general. Whatever respect the conservation lobby has for the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, here in this country, he has been recognised internationally for his interest in wildlife conservation.
The noble Lord has pointed out that the objectives of his amendment are to provide a wider consultation framework. This is in line with the Forestry Commission recommendations. The Forestry Commission is extremely anxious to respond to the pressures of conservationists and others who feel that they are inadequately represented in the constitution of the RACs. The Forestry Commission would certainly welcome the adoption of the amendment that is before the Committee.
As the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, has pointed out, the present statutory framework for RACs provides a reasonable balance between the requirements of good land use, amenity, recreation and nature conservation, and the individuals who act on the RACs are concious of the responsibilities in all these fields. It should be recognised that there is no call for any dramatic change other than an extension of the representation because this conciliation machinery works very well. It would be a retrograde and unacceptable 802 proposition—as is threatened from some of the amenity and conservation lobbies—to have this scrapped and replaced by planning procedures. Planning procedures governing forestry would be bureaucratic and probably delaying and frustrating. The people concerned in looking at planning applications for forestry are not necessarily qualified in this field. The RACs and the local forestry conservators and their staff are intimately concerned with the land over which they have stewardship.
I hope, therefore, that by supporting this amendment we shall be giving an indication to some of the conservation lobbyists that Members of the Committee believe that the RAC principle should be observed and that the principle of conciliation and consultation which has served us so well in this field should not be scrapped in favour of some kind of bureaucratic control.
Let us look at the cases that have been referred to the RACs. In the past 10 years 9,000 applications have been made for planting grants; 18,000 applications have been made for felling licences. In the case of the planting grants 0.6 per cent. of these have been referred since they were not approved by the usual conciliation machinery. In the case of the 18,000 felling licences 0.1 per cent.—that is, 18—have been referred. This indicates that the machinery for consultation has been working effectively and that there is no cause for the introduction of any other framework.
I must say that as a former chairman of the Forestry Commission I joined it without any forestry background. If I had any interest in forestry it was in the excellent facilities for recreation in the forest. But I grew to respect the judgment and the deep concern of foresters for the land over which they had responsibility. These foresters are not vandals in the countryside. They are people who live in the countryside, enjoy living in the countryside, enjoy working in a rural environment, and certainly accept all the responsibilities that go with that.
Let me say one final word because the case has been so well represented by the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton. Let me quote for a moment from the excellent booklet published by the Timber Growers United Kingdom called The Forestry and Woodland Code, in which they lay down for their members the code of behaviour that should be observed in forestry development. It starts in the foreword:The countryside is a community of interests. Forestry is an important and established part of that community, and like the other members, it has a responsibility to co-operate with and respect the legitimate interests of its neighbours".That has certainly been the practice with the Forestry Commission. As most people who have practised forestry in this country recognise, the Forestry Commission has been a good neighbour; and similarly the private sector is now laying down that forestry in the private sector should be equally responsible.
A letter has been sent in connection with the regional advisory committee by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. This letter was sent to the Forestry Commission. I regard it as one of the most offensive and arrogant letters that I have ever read in any business or any other connection. The secretary of the RSPB writes: 803To be frank we consider the RACs to be partial, overly secretive, and offering nothing more than a cosmetic gloss to the FC's activities. It would have been simple for us to propose that the RACs be scrapped and contend that they are beyond redemption … I should caution you"—he says, writing to the Forestry Commission—that unless a more realistic approach to the membership of the RACs"—and so on. I want to say to this gentleman: "I should caution you" that there are people in this country who have a respect for the countryside and for the preservation and the protection of birdlife who will lose sympathy with your organisation, with consequent effect on their finances, if you go around threatening and cautioning in such terms as this letter. I hope that that will be noted.
Let me look for a moment at the case about forestry threatening birdlife. The Institute for Terrestrial Ecology have had a number of studies on this subject, one with the Professor of Terrestrial Ecology at Edinburgh, who is a specialist in birdlife. He concluded in his recent interesting essay that,It must be said that the effects of upland afforestation on birdlife have so far been mainly beneficial. No species has yet been seriously threatened on a national scale from the effects of commercial forestry, but some have markedly declined on a regional scale".That is fairly authoritative and I would recommend the study of that essay to the Secretary of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I have very great pleasure in seconding the amendment which was so well moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Baroness White
I had not intended to speak in this debate. I simply came out of respect for the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, and to listen to what he had to say. However, having listened not only to the noble Lord, but also to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, I feel moved to intervene very briefly because there is another point of view.
I entirely appreciate the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, but he is living somewhat in the past. Those of us who are worried about the future have some reservations about a slight improvement in the representation on the regional advisory committee, which would give those committees what some of us may consider to be a not altogether reliable breadth of view, although such a change may appear to be making matters rather better than they may otherwise be.
We are looking towards the future. Already in Scotland, and it is apprehended also in Wales, we may have a very dramatic increase in areas devoted to forestry because of changes in the current situation of agriculture. For that reason I believe—although I have not consulted the bodies mentioned and I am not directly concerned with any representations that they may have made—that to rely upon the RACs of the Forestry Commission may not be adequate protection for certain areas of land. If one listens to the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Jopling (as I do fairly regularly on the radio), one understands that those areas of land are likely to be diverted from the present pattern of agriculture, because of the changes in the CAP and so on, and be devoted to forestry on a scale and over an area which some of us would prefer not to—
§ Lord Dulverton
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, but information which I have received quite recently is that the new planting in Wales last year was no more than 200 hectares. That will not alter the face of Wales very much.
§ Baroness White
But we have not yet, by any means, experienced the full effects of the changes in agricultural practice which we apprehend may be about to develop in the less favoured areas in the Principality over the next decade or so. It is for that reason that simply to add three members, one of whom will be representing farming interests, another representing recreational interests and one representing conservation interests, may not be sufficient protection. I do not wish to prolong the debate, but I felt, particularly in the light of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, that I ought to indicate that there are people who hold slightly different views.
§ Lord John-Mackie
The noble Baroness is perfectly correct: there are people who hold different views. Like the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, who was my predecessor in the Forestry Commission, I have tremendous respect for the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, and for all that he has done for forestry, conservation and the environment not only in this country but also abroad. I have seen a great deal of his work. He is the right person to put forward this proposal because nobody could possibly criticise what he has done. He put the case very clearly and I cannot but support him.
There are two sections of forestry in this country. First, there is public forestry which is covered by the Forestry Commission and, secondly, there is private forestry. Both work very well together. During my time as chairman of the commission one fact which was obvious was how well private forestry and the commission worked togther. When situations arose, as they did from time to time, the way in which the RACs solved the problems and held consultations and so on was a sign that those bodies did a first-class job. I attended quite a few of their consultations and was most impressed by the way in which they got on.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, I very much deprecate the letter which he read out and which was sent to the commission. I should like to give two instances of the type of situation that arises. The first example arose in Wales, which has already been mentioned, and in particular in North-East Wales. There was quite a large planting programme and the argument was that the kites would be pushed out of their habitat. I felt it was my duty to go and see the situation. I went there and naturally I discussed the matter with the ranger in that area. He had been in that area since planting had started and he said, "All I can tell you, Mr. Mackie, is that over the last eight or 10 years since planting started on a big scale there are more kites now than there were before". That is the type of situation that can arise.
805 Secondly, I went to another forest in Wales; namely, Newborough Forest in Anglesey. A tremendous job had been done of planting almost in pure sand. A tremendous forest had been built up in that area covering coal mines and almost reaching the shore. The forester there, a Mr. Griffiths, who was a very nice Welshman—all Welshmen are nice, but he was particularly nice—showed me around with great pride because he had been there at the planting. He said, "Of course we had to put up with all these people who came along with placards objecting to the planting. We are now at the stage when we shall be cutting shortly, and I am looking forward to seeing them come back with their placards to stop us cutting it down".
In my view the pressure which is being put on MPs in another place to object to this amendment puts our parliamentary system into a lower key, and I do not like it at all. Apart from anything else, the conservationists in this country have been reorganised on a much bigger regional scale. There were nine people on those bodies previously. Surely to add an extra three and thus increase the size for a bigger area is sensible. As has been pointed out by the noble Lord, one of those people will represent recreation, another will represent the environment and the third will represent agriculture. I cannot for the life of me see why that should be objected to. Such a course would do nothing to stop any further consultation between environmenal and conservation bodies and the Forestry Commission. It would not stop it at all, but that seems to be the argument.
In supporting the amendment I feel that it should be given a chance. However, I know the feeling about the matter and I am aware of what can happen in another place. I shall look forward to hearing what the Government have to say and to seeing what the noble Lord, Lord Dulverton, does after he has heard the Government's comments.
The Earl of Bessborough
Like the noble Baroness, Lady White, I had not intended to take part in the debate. However, I was most interested to hear the arguments on both sides on this particular matter of increasing the number of members of the RACs. I rise because I sponsored in this House a complementary Bill last year called the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill, which assured that any protected woodland tree destroyed in contravention of a tree preservation order would have to be replaced, etc. I am glad to support this present Forestry Bill, which has been so ably introduced in your Lordships' House by my noble friend Lord Gisborough.
The arguments are well balanced on both sides. Like the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, I have the highest possible opinion of my noble friend Lord Dulverton, who is no doubt the greatest authority on these matters in your Lordships' House. I am glad that he has spoken. He has argued the Forestry Commission proposals cogently in so far as you can make a case for increasing the number of members of the RACs. I see the point about broadening their base.
However, I should like to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe—and this is one of the reasons why I have risen this evening—on the incredibly 806 offensive letter by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I cannot believe that my noble friend Lord Blakenham, their chairman, can have approved it himself. This seems to me quite extraordinary, and I shall be interested to hear what comes out of that. While I appreciate the arguments on both sides, I should like above all to hear what my noble friend Lord Gisborough has to say on this amendment before making up my mind, and also what my noble friend Lord Davidson on the front Bench has to say.
There is one important point that was made in regard to the previous amendment, and that is that we do not want to lose this Bill. It is a most valuable Bill, which I strongly support. By the adoption of this amendment by my noble and highly respected friend Lord Dulverton, I feel there might be a chance of losing the Bill, and that I do not wish to do.
§ Lord Gisborough
I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Dulverton upon the succinct and persuasive manner in which he has presented the case for the reintroduction of the clause which was removed from the Bill in another place. The noble Lords, Lord Taylor of Gryfe and Lord John-Mackie, also spoke to good effect on this amendment.
I am on the horns of a dilemma in this matter. I should like to accept this amendment, since I wholeheartedly agree with its aim. But this is a case where my head must rule my heart and I must, for reasons which I shall shortly explain, and which have been anticipated to some extent by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, argue against it. The amendment seeks to increase by three the maximum number of members of each of the Forestry Commission's regional advisory committees. Such a change would enable the commissioners to appoint additional members to broaden the representation of farming and environmental interests on these committees. This would meet present criticisms that, because of statutory limitations on membership, they are overweighted in favour of forestry.
An improved balance in the committees' membership would be of particular value in the important role they play in seeking to reconcile conflicting views in disputed grant and felling licence applications, and in giving advice to the commissioners when no reconciliation is possible. Indeed the commissioners themselves favour a change in the balance of membership of the regional advisory committees and have sought views on how the extra places might be allocated. This amendment would therefore seem to be a sensible and welcome measure.
I regret the fact that this measure has not been welcomed in all quarters, as has been mentioned on all sides.
A number of conservation bodies are opposed to it. I understand that their opposition stems from their wish to see more comprehensive changes introduced following the consultation exercise currently being undertaken by the Forestry Commissioners into the composition and procedures of the regional advisory committees.
I believe that the bodies opposing this measure would really like to see forestry come under planning control. This is not a subject which I wish to debate 807 today. I merely mentioned this to illustrate the ultimate and far-reaching change which these bodies may have in mind. However, such a fundamental change could not be introduced without a great deal of thought, and could only be justified if the evidence pointed to an irreparable breakdown in the present consultative system. There is no such evidence. Indeed, the present arrangements, as the Forestry Commissioners have made clear in their consultation paper, have a truly excellent record. Over more than a decade, there have been only two significant areas afforested without clearance from the commission out of more than 9,000 cases dealt with satisfactorily through the present consultative procedures.
The Forestry Commissioners recognise that the balance of membership of the regional advisory committees, which have a vital role to play in these procedures, could be improved. This is what the Bill originally sought to do by increasing the membership from nine to twelve. It is astonishing that interests which would have benefited from the change have rejected what was clearly a bird in the hand in the hope of getting more. To have accepted the proposal would not have prejudiced further changes being introduced at a later stage if the case were made out for them. As it is, we shall be left with the present balance of membership on the committees.
It is plain that the bodies which brought pressure to bear to have the clause removed from the Bill have not had any change of heart. I must regretfully advise your Lordships therefore, that, if the clause is restored as a result of my noble friends amendment, the Bill as a whole will be placed in jeopardy when it is returned to another place. This is not because of any general lack of support, but because just one objection would mean the loss of the Bill as a result of absence of time for debate. This is what bedevilled the Bill in its earlier stages and led to the present position.
It gives me no pleasure to oppose a measure which I am sure the Committee would welcome, but I do so with the interests of the remainder of the Bill in mind. I hope that with this explanation my noble friend will agree to withdraw his amendment.
§ Viscount Davidson
I can be brief. It is clear that most of your Lordships agree that the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Dulverton makes a great deal of sense. It made sense when the same provision was in the Bill when it was introduced in another place. However, for reasons which my noble friend Lord Gisborough has made clear, it was subsequently removed from the Bill in response to pressure from certain conservation bodies.
It is unfortunate that this had to be done in respect of a proposal which clearly has a wide measure of support in both Houses. However, the procedures under which the Bill was introduced in another place made it particularly vulnerable to any objection. It is not a Government Bill, although we wish it well. It is, however, vulnerable to outside pressure and we must accept that fact.
In short, if we amend the Bill is it almost certain to be lost when it is returned to another place. No matter what our individual or collective wishes may be about this amendment, I am sure that your Lordships would 808 not wish the sound measure contained in Clause 1 of the Bill to fall by the wayside. I hope therefore that in those circumstances my noble friend will not press his amendment.
§ Lord Dulverton
I should like to say a heartfelt thank you to those noble Lords and the noble Baroness who have spoken to this amendment. I am flattered that I was followed by two ex-chairman of the Forestry Commission, and my noble friend Lord Bessborough, the president of the Men of the Trees.
§ Lord Dulverton
I am very grateful for the kind remarks which all noble Lords have made as well as for those of the noble Baroness, Lady White, whose love of rural Wales I know full well. I could wish that she was as keen as I might be to see some of the vast prairies of bracken replaced by beautiful growing trees. But we will leave that aside. My noble friend Lord Gisborough moved this Bill very ably and of course I entirely respect the thoughts he has just given us. I regret that this should be the case, as he has explained and my noble friend the Minister also has explained it. I know this to be the case, but I hope that some people outside this House may somehow get to know of the support. I led off on this matter by saying I hoped the support would be coming from all sides of the House; it has done so and I hope some people will take note of it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported without amendment: Report received.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until twenty-five minutes past eight o'clock.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 8.23 until 8.25 p.m.]