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Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £300,000, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1934, for a Grant in Aid of the Forestry Fund." [Note.—R150,000 has been Voted on account.]
The general duty of promoting the production and the supply of timber in the United Kingdom is vested in the Forestry Commissioners, who possess all the necessary powers to acquire and dispose of land and to grow and to sell timber. They may also make grants to landowners and to local authorities for the planting of trees, establish forestry workers' holdings wherever necessary for carrying on the forestry service, promote research and education, and collect relevant statistics. It is laid down that one of the commissioners shall always be a Member of this House, so that we may be provided, through his agency, with such information as we may desire. For many years past my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) has filled this, office with great skill and industry. Indeed, only this afternoon he was authoritatively answering questions which had been addressed to him. My hon. and gallant Friend will reply on the Debate. It also happens that we are fortunate in having two other Forestry Commissioners as Members of this House—my right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell). The Committee, therefore, will not lack expert assistance in the course of the discussion. I am personally very glad to leave the Debate under their efficient control and supervision.
My reason for rising is that the expenses of the Commission are defrayed out of a fund known as the Forestry Fund which is replenished from two sources, firstly, from its own working receipts, and secondly, from annual grants-in-aid voted by Parliament. In order that the Commission might make its plans ahead the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed in 1931 to ask Parliament for 450,000 a year for five years. Last year for special reasons the Vote was £447,000 or £3,000 short of the agreed sum. The present Estimate is for the full stipulated amount. Adding this to its working receipts of approximately £150,000 a year, there will be at the disposal of the Commissioners nearly £600,000 during each of the five years. This sum will enable thorn to maintain a planting programme of at least 20,000 acres a year, and to acquire a similar area of plantable land each year so that the rate of planting may he evenly pursued. It will also enable them to maintain grants to landowners and local authorities on the same scale as hitherto, and to continue their assistance for re-search and education and their other ancillary activities as in the past.
The Commissioners are already in charge of roughly 850,000 acres of land distributed among 180 forests in England, Scotland, and Wales. The area is increasing, as I have already indicated to the Committee, at the rate of about 20,000 plantable acres annually. Of these 850,000 acres, 284,000 acres consist of woodlands, most of them planted by the Commissioners. Approximately, 95,000 additional acres have been planted by local authorities and private landlords with the assistance of State grants. There have been established nearly 1,200 forest workers' holdings, housing approximately 5,000 persons. It has been the policy of all Governments in the past, and it is the policy of the present Government, to allow every possible discretion to the Commissioners in the utilisation of the resources placed at their disposal by Parliament. My hon. Friends who are members of the commission, and particularly my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye will be able to tell the Committee in the course of the Debate exactly the activities in which the Commission has engaged and what are its intentions for the future. Having discharged my formal task, I am happy to leave the charge of the rest of the Debate to my hon. Friends.
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
It may appear ungracious on my part to move a reduction of the Vote. After the very kindly speech to which we have just listened and the clear and concise statement of the Financial Secretary, my task is not made any easier, but it is one of the Rules of the House that my only opportunity for questioning the Vote is by moving a formal reduction of it.
Many things are astonishing in this House. It so happens that I have to fulfil the dual role of a member of the Forestry Commission and a Member of His Majesty's Opposition. In that dual capacity I shall try to discharge my duty as efficiently as I can. I shall speak in the presence of my two senior colleagues on the Commission, who have superior technical knowledge, and, if I attempt to exaggerate or to emphasise unduly the points that I wish to make, they will be able to correct me. In moving the reduction, another anomaly presents itself. It is not really the case that I want to reduce the Vote, because I desire to ask for more. My complaint is that the Financial Secretary, with his usual kindness, offers us £450,000, and he seeks the approval of the Committee for that amount, but I want him to give us more than £450,000, and I am taking this opportunity of stating the Opposition's reasons for desiring the larger amount.
It will be remembered, if we carry our minds back to pre-War days, that there was great national concern regarding the conditions of our woodlands and the extent of the acreage occupied by woodlands as compared with European countries. In 1914 the acreage of our woodlands was just over 3,000,000, or 4 per cent. of the superficial area of the United Kingdom, compared with Germany, which had 26 per cent. of her superficial area covered with woodlands, and Belgium and France, 18 per cent. All the European countries, with the exception of Portugal, showed a larger proportionate area occupied by woodlands than did the United Kingdom. Moreover, there has been in existence for many years in many European countries a State forestry system which has been a matter of great pride and looked upon as of great national importance, particularly in Germany, France and Austria.
We were in the unhappy position in 1914 that our relative area of woodlands was very small and the annual yield of timber was very low, with the result that when the War broke out our dependence upon foreign timber became very apparent, and, with the increased demand for timber for home consumption and for use at the Front, and the difficulties of transport of timber from abroad, the position became very grave. One of the first things we did in 1915 was to set up a Timber Supply Committee, presided over by the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland). I think the present chairman of the Commission was secretary of that body. The committee ultimately delivered a report, which I would briefly summarise as follows:
(1) That the area planted and the yield of timber was unsatisfactory and called for urgent remedial measures in the interests of national economy.
(2) During the five years preceding the War the average annual importations of timber similar to that produced in the British Isles were equivalent to 550,000,000 cubic feet of standing timber, or 12 times as much as the yield of our own woodlands.
(3) The area of land capable of growing firstclass conifer timber of the same character as that imported is between 3,000,000 and 5,000,000 acres, 2,000,000 acres of which could be devoted to timber without appreciably reducing the home production of food.
(4) There is a grave risk in our dependence on imported timber in time of war.
(5) An area of 1,700,000 acres should be planted, twothirds of which should be planted in 40 years. We advise that 150,000 acres should be planted by the State and 50,000 by public bodies and private persons assisted by grants.
They referred to the need for obtaining arable land and said that:
(6) A limited area of arable land should be acquired with the present sites, in order to provide small holdings for forest workers, partly as a means for settling discharged soldiers on the land.
(7) State afforestation will begin to provide pit-wood from the fifteenth year. By the fortieth year the plantations made in the first 10 years will contain sufficient pit-wood for two years in case of emergency.
(8) A forestry authority should be set up, equipped with funds and powers to survey, purchase and plant lands.
(9) The authority should be empowered to make limited grants to public bodies or private individuals for replanting or for new afforestation for the first 10 years after the War.
The tenth recommendation was that provision should be made to invest £15,000,000 during the first 40 years and that after that the scheme should be self-supporting. That is a summary of the report of the Timber Supply Committee presided over by the right hon. Gentleman, which led to the passing of the Forestry Act and the establishment of the Forestry Commission.
The Forestry Commission came into existence in November, 1919, and has since been actively engaged on the task given to it by this House. Parliament has been informed each year of the work done in the annual report issued by the commission. The lath annual report is now due and will be in the hands of Members in a few days, but, unfortunately, it is not available for the Debate to-day. The 12 annual reports give in fair detail an account of the activities of the Forestry Commission. Of all the things done in this country under national authority nothing is more encouraging than the work done by the Forestry Commission. I have been privileged to be a member of the body for the last three or four years, and I have been exceedingly pleased with the efficiency and ease with which this new machine is doing its work. The Forestry Commission is now responsible for 180 forests, some of them in the initial stages of development, others which have been in course of development for 10 or 12 years. There are 93 forests in England and Wales and 79 in Scotland, under the control of an assistant commissioner for England and Wales and an assistant commissioner, with his own staff, for Scotland, planting and preparing these forest units for a considerable yield of timber when harvest time comes 40 years ahead. The commission also is in possession of more than 800,000 acres of land, some of it suitable for agriculture and some of it suitable only for the growing of timber.
Up to September, 1932, the acquisitions of land by lease and feu for England and Wales ran to 116,839 acres, and by purchase to 215,377 acres. In Scotland the acquisitions of land by lease and feu were 147,047 acres, and by purchase, 229,745 acres. The combined area of land for England and Wales purchased outright or leased is more than 700,000 acres, and of that total about 280,000 acres is planted. A large area of land is held in reserve and is in course of preparation for planting. The land acquired needs to be drained and fenced, and it is always necessary to hold a large reserve of land in hand in order that the planting programme may be carried through expeditiously.
The figures show that 280,000 acres have been planted and that about. 1,200 small-holdings have been acquired. The cost has been very low. The average price paid for the land is less than £2 Ws. per acre, but when regard is had to the land only and to the acquisition of certain necessary buildings, then the average cost is about' £3 7s. per acre—a very low price. The average price paid for land on lease is about 2s. 9d. per acre. These 1,200 holdings are new holdings, with an average of about 11 acres of land, and they have been acquired at a total cost of £499 per holding, a very low price indeed having regard to the remoteness of the districts and the cost of conveying the materials necessary for building purposes. The average price of the land for these smallholdings is £71, and the price of the buildings, drainage and water supply is £428. Another interesting thing to remember is that not only are these holdings occupied by 1,100 people employed in the forestry service, but that there is a growing population of wives and children reaching an aggregate of about 5,000 people, who have been settled on the land by the operations of the Forestry Commission. Further, these people possess stock, herds of cattle, sheep and goats, which in the aggregate amount to about £37,000—a very encouraging feature of this part of the work of the Commission.
It is perhaps difficult and delicate for a comparatively new member of the Commission to make these submissions to the Committee, but I think the Committee should know how much the country is indebted to men like the late Lord Lovat, who was a pioneer in this work, an enthusiast, and to Sir John Stirling-Maxwell, for years the Chairman of the Commission, whose work has been taken up by the present Chairman of the Commission. Hon. Members ought to know something of the work of the late Assistant Commissioner for England and Wales, a man devoted to his duty, efficient, with untiring energy and enthusiasm, and responsible largely for the success of the work that has been done. The right hon. Gentleman invited us to pay attention to the staff of the Commission, and to approve of the salaries, allowances, etc., set forth in the Estimates. We do so readily. I have seen the staff at work, at the desk and in the field, and I am pleased that the right hon. Member for North Cornwall and the hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) have been able to secure the services of such a fine staff. Details of the salaries, wages and travelling allowances of the staff will be found in the Civil Estimates for 1933, as will also the salaries, wages and allowances of the headquarters' staff, the Assistant Commissioners' staffs as well as the education and research staffs. Then you come to the very important nonpersonal elements in this Estimate. You find that the acquisition of land for this year is estimated to reach a figure of £43,000. The hon. Gentleman said that it was the intention of the Commission to plant 20,000 acres per annum. Only barely sufficient is the money allowed for the purchase of land, to carry on the measure of annual planting without diminishing the area of land in hand. It would be impossible under this Estimate to acquire one acre beyond the 20,000 acres, even under the most favourable conditions of purchase.
Next we come to Subhead E, "Forestry Operations." There you find references to buildings and stores and all the expenses of running this huge business of 180 separate units all over the Kingdom, employing 3,000 to 4,000 persons in the busy season. For all the enterprise of replanting and re-afforesting our country this year there is only £380,000 allowed for actual forestry operations. There have been advances, loans and grants to local authorities and private persons who desire to plant. Then we come to the last page of the Estimate, and find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is taking credit for something which is not a grant from the Treasury but which is already an income enjoyed by the Commission. That is a sum of £150,000 approximately, which falls to the Commission year by year from the use of their own property and the payments made to them for rents and sales of stock and produce. That will be found on page 116 of the Estimate.
The Financial Secretary said that he is this year making provision for a grant-in-aid of £450,000, plus £150,000 per annum, making a total of £600,000 which the Commission can spend each year for all the purposes for which it was established, the acquisition of land, the planting and cultivation of land in readiness for planting. All these operations are now enabled to go forward for the next five years, because there is financial provision, safe and assured, to the amount of £600,000. I invite hon. Members to look at the last item of the Estimate. It shows how the amount of money and the number of men employed are spread over the different classes of operations. We find in the last paragraph that:
In England and Wales adult male time-workers are paid a minimum weekly wage of 35s.; men employed on piece-work earn approximately 25 per cent. above the time-work rates. In Scotland a large percentage of the work is done by time-workers, and wages vary according to local circumstances.
The Forestry Commission cannot be accused of being bad employers. It has been the policy to pay a reasonable wage, having regard to the circumstances. It has sometimes been charged against us that we are paying higher wages than is the agricultural industry in the areas concerned. But I do not think the Committee will complain when they know that the minimum paid to time-workers stands
at 35s., and that piece-work men, who work specially hard—there are all manner of inducements to improve output—are entitled to earn more than 35s. I think the average runs to about £2 2s. for all the men engaged full time in the industry.
In the annual report last year there is a statement to which I will refer. Here is the history of what took place when the National Government was formed. Under the instigation of the May Committee and the pressing demand for economy, a changè was made in the Commission's programme for 1929, and considerable cuts and reductions were made in the programme. When Mr. Snowden, as he then was, was at the Treasury as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he requested information regarding the future of forestry and invited the Commission to make a statement to him regarding planting prospects. When assured that the Commission could usefully spend £1,000,000 per annum in afforestation, he very willingly advanced the £1,000,000, and declared that £1,000,000 would be available for the next five years if he had power as Chancellor of the Exchequer to continue the amount.
In 1931, when the programme was larger, the planting was to be on an expanding scale, beginning at 25,000 acres in 1929 and rising to 44,000 acres in 1938. The holdings programme was to be at the rate of 350 holdings yearly for the first five years, and 250 holdings yearly for the next five years. In order to carry out this programme it would be necessary to acquire each year 60,000 acres of planted land and 2,500 acres of agricultural land. It was estimated that the total cost of the main scheme and ancillary operations such as assistance to private forestry, education and so on, would amount to £11,275,000 for the decade 1929 to 1938 inclusive. Working receipts were estimated at £2,160,000, and the net contribution from the Exchequer was consequently expected to be £9,115,000. In consequence of the May Committee's recommendation the Forestry Commission was induced to accept a smaller grant for that year. That reduction of the programme was made with the idea that it would be only temporary, and that at the first possible opportunity the earlier programme would be resumed.
We have now come to the point at which we abandon our 10 years plan and are limited to a five year plan. It is strange how National Governments copy Soviet Russia and work in these quinquennial periods, with estimates and expenditure for five years in advance. That kind of thing is contagious, but one does not expect a National Government here to take its example from Soviet Russia. We have now a more modest five year plan. Instead of spending £11,000,000 in 10 years, we are limited to the expenditure of £6,000,000 in the same 10 years. It is £600,000 per annum which the Commission can now spend. The Economy Acts are responsible. That has removed the handicap and the difficulty placed in the way of the Commission by uncertainty regarding the amount of money to be spent and the programme to he carried out. When the Geddes Committee made its recommendation there was considerable dislocation of the work of the Commission. Again, when the compulsory economy, after the report of the May Committee, was imposed, there were some losses which I do not need to stress. They were inevitable losses due to the curtailment of the earlier programme and the preparation which had to be made years in advance if the planting programme was to be carried through.
The Committee must recognise that if there is to be a change and a variation in the amount of money year by year at the disposal of the Commission, there must be dislocation of work which entails expense. The Commission should decide in advance to spend so much money each year, and that money should be the largest possible sum, because there are always the overhead charges of the various offices, the headquarters and the divisional offices and staffs. All these overhead charges cost a higher percentage when the sum is small than when it is large. If, therefore, one wants real economy, the money spent in planting should be as large as possible to the total cost. With regard to the case for restriction, based mainly on grounds of economy but largely on grounds of national necessity, one finds woodlands in various stages of cultivation, some very well kept and others very badly managed. Even an amateur can see examples of what one might be permitted to call neglect. The 3,000,000 acres of woodland is not representative of ideal conditions.
Every forester knows that even that limited area is not in the condition it might be.
There are only 280,000 acres belonging to the State, these being less than 15 years of age and growing in various parts of the country. They are generally well looked after and protected from the depredations of vermin, from damage by fire, and against all the dangers of growing timber. These plantations of 280,000 acres of land will not yield timber for some time to come. Those who are interested and know the risks which this country underwent from 1914 to 1918 will wish to place the country at the earliest possible moment beyond the danger of similar risk. Those who know something about forestry are very keen to see this planting and the cultivation of woodlands expedited, and a higher standard of independence in the matter of timber supplies maintained for this country. There is the question of employment, and perhaps the Committee will be glad to know that expenditure in forestry provides the largest volume of employment for each £1,000,000 spent in this country. There is no industry, there is no relief work and there is no public enterprise of any kind which could give as much employment for £1,000,000 as does this industry. Time after time I have been told in this House that relief work costing £1,000,000 gives direct employment to 2,000 people, and indirect employment to an additional 2,000, making a total of 4,000 people. In the forestry service we can find employment, on the wages to which I have referred, for 7,400 people at a cost of £1,000,000. From that standpoint alone it is a very great inducement to the Government to find additional sums for the purpose of afforestation.
Then comes the question of return on capital. I am not as expert in this subject as I would like, and I would not venture to trespass upon the kindness of the Committee in giving in detail the information I possess, but it has been very fully gone into, and when Mr. Snowden made his inquiry in 1929, the Forestry Commission submitted an estimate to show that over a term of years—not less than 40—investment on afforestation would yield at the rate of 3.7 per cent. compound interest when the harvest of the forest was being gathered, and when forests became self-maintaining.
Commencing in 1919 afforestation carried forward at the rate recommended by the right hon. Member for North Cornwall, and since carried through by the Commission at that rate, will be self-supporting in 40 years, and, spread over the ensuing period, will show from the commencement of operations an average yield of 3.7 per cent. That is on the authority of the Commission, and not on any statement I make.
I referred to the question of steadiness of progress. It is vital to the success of forestry operations that the Forestry Commission and the officers in the field, those responsible for the planting and carrying out of the operations, should know what measure of work they have to do year by year. Our party has laid very great stress in this House for many years past for upon the conservation of our national resources. Mr. Keir Hardie always insisted upon the benefits of afforestation as a good thing for the whole of the people in this country. On this industry there should be erected a superstructure of forestry industries by the utilisation of timber so as to provide a. steady, secure livelihood for a large number of our people.
On the ground that we are really seeking the national interests, I stand here to-day as a Member of His Majesty's Opposition and as a Member of the Commission, a position which I hold with equal pride, to urge the stabilisation of the programme of afforestation, not at the present level of £450,000 per annum. I would again ask the Financial Secretary to consider and consult with his chief and the officials of his Department to see whether, as a means of obtaining direct employment for a large number of people now unemployed, as a means of resettling the largest possible number of our people on the countryside, and as a means of regenerating the woodlands of this country and providing us with an ample supply of timber for all possible future needs, he will bring forward an Estimate which will enable the Commission to resume the programme for 1929–38 as originally intended.
If the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) had moved to reduce this Vote by £250,000, I think I should have voted for it, and if he had moved to reduce it rather more, I most certainly would have voted for it, not because I have any hostility to afforestation—indeed very much the reverse—but because of the point of view he himself expressed. He told us quite clearly the reason for the present condition of a good many of our woodlands, namely, the excessive burden of taxation, and I very strongly object to a system which, first of all, strips all the rural industries bare of capital, and, when you have killed them, you are forced, as in the case of forestry, sugar beet and many other things, to subsidise them to keep your people at work. That is why I object to these sums being spent on forestry, and also why I object very strongly to the hon. Member coming here to-day, and with a modesty, a tact and all those other great qualities which endear him to us—although we may disapprove of him occasionally—asking the Financial Secretary, who, in these matters, is young and innocent, to take £100 away from this grant in the hope that he will give double the amount of grant for another year or for 10 years to come.
May I give one or two illustrations of what I have seen in going about the country in an ordinary way, and why 1 think it would be far better if this money were spent naturally, rather than by a set of people called Forestry Commissioners? Although some of the ablest people in this country have dealt and are dealing with forestry—everyone respected and admired the late Lord Lovat—directly you take them away from private landowning and make them State Commissioners, they seem to be far less efficient than they would be in their ordinary everyday work. I spend part of my time near Glenshiel in Rossshire, where for eight or nine years I have been watching the planting there. They have been planting on ground which anyone who knew the district would know would not bear trees, and anyone who knew the district could tell them quite simply why it would not bear trees. I very often go, sometimes in a car, sometimes riding and sometimes walking, along the road and have watched them for at least seven or eight years, and the bulk of those trees at the present time are not as high as an umbrella. There is at least one crop which has flourished in that particular district, but I am not going to bring up that case. Here is a direct illustration where no one who knows the locality could say that it was land likely to grow trees. As a preliminary one would expect that it would have been. ascertained what means of transport there were to get the timber away easily. It is conceivable that you might get it down to the sea or away by at least 25 miles of road. This is one illustration that I have come across where they have offended against the cardinal factors, as I understand them, in connection with timber growing.
If you go to Garve and along the Garve-Ullapool road in Rossshire, to take another example, you leave the natural timber country and go on to the higher ground which is not likely to be forest-producing. It is a very cold country and when you come to it you have left behind the natural Scotch fir country. You come to a most beautiful natural birch wood but it is mostly bare ground. I do not say that in different circumstances it might not be possible to do something with it but the Forestry Commission are proceeding to plant there in spite of the fact that the prospects are not hopeful and that such plantations as have taken place in the past under similar conditions have mainly failed. There have been very expensive operations there including the building of a bridge, and various difficulties have had to be overcome. That is another illustration of where a beautiful natural bit of woodland is being destroyed in order to grow other timber under very expensive conditions, and in a most exposed position with a great barren waste in front up to the top of Wyvis. You cannot possibly expect to grow timber profitably there and to get it away to be sold.
There is yet another illustration which I came across near Swaffham, in Norfolk. There I saw a large plantation and I asked the local people what chance the trees had of growing. I was told that some of the trees would grow quickly at the beginning, but that it was impossible that they would grow to any considerable height. In the course of two or three days in that neighbourhood I looked around and I saw where some of the trees were growing on the edge of a gravel pit. The reason why Scotch firs would not flourish in that soil was there for anyone to see who took the trouble to go into the matter. The roots of the trees would not go down into the soil in the normal way at all. There were other trees growing there but one could not help seeing that the soil was quite unsuitable for firs. In all these cases the people who live in these localities know that what is being done is wrong, and I am convinced that until the Forestry Commission get out of doing this kind of thing, the results of their efforts will be more harmful to forestry than beneficial.
Having given those illustrations I wish to give a case on the opposite side. That is the plantation which one finds at Invergarry, and all along the banks of the Fort William and Inverness Canal. There you have natural slopes suited to the purpose, close to the canal and the railway, so that it is possible to get the timber away easily and it is profitable when it is cut or at least it may be profitable, if any profit is being made out of timber when it is sold. Furthermore, the timber will probably grow quickly on that site. The development of that area is worth doing, but I wish the Commissioners would try to avoid those places where they are obviously offending against all the laws of timber planting, which, as I understand them, require first that the timber should have a reasonable chance to grow, and secondly, that when it is grown means of transport are available so that it can be made saleable. There are places in the Highlands and elsewhere in which timber was plentiful during the War but it was quite unsaleable, even with the artificially high prices then obtaining, because it was so far away from any means of transport.
Another point which I would make on this Estimate is that it would be better to leave this money in the pockets of the taxpayers than to use it in the way I have described. Supposing that it was the policy of the Government to encourage the growth and use of British timber, and that this Department was engaged in carrying out a Government policy of that kind, that would be a different matter. But there is no policy of that kind. Instead we find two or three curious things in this connection. The Post Office is one of the greatest buyers of timber and yet we find telegraph poles made from imported foreign timber along the roads in the midst of British timber which is unsaleable. Is that practical or economical? We subsidise timber heavily in this respect, and at the same time one hears a great deal from the Secretary of State for the Dominions about iron sleepers for railways and things of that kind. It seems to me to be almost a contradiction in terms.
I realise the value of forestry, but we must ask ourselves: is timber really a thing which is going to be much used in the future? Our ancestors in the time of Queen Elizabeth had to grow oak trees, but that was for a, very practical purpose. It was for the building of our fleet of that time. To-day, the taxpayer is compelled to pay for the growing of so many fir trees and other trees of that kind, at a time when steel and iron are coming into use more and more in the building trade. We must ask ourselves: are we expending our money usefully in that direction rather than in the development of our iron and steel industry? There is one exception to the general rule in that respect and. as this is not a matter on which parties are divided, I would like hon. Members to consider this aspect of the question. I think that in mining areas where the face of the countryside has been disfigured by mining operations in the past and where there are great numbers of people out of work, there is a good case for afforestation schemes, in many instances, even though they might not be profitable. People could be given temporary work in such plantations and some of them might even get permanent work in keeping the schemes going in those areas. You would be making those districts better to look at and also helping people who are at present unemployed. If the Government put forward some scheme of that kind I think that probably the lam. Member for Gower and I would be more in agreement upon it than on other matters. But I would not go in for afforestation schemes of the kind which I have described in far distant areas where there is no special problem to be dealt with as there is in the mining areas.
I would also direct the attention of the Committee to the fact that we spend a considerable proportion of this money on officials. There is always a wastage as between the pound which goes out of the taxpayer's pocket and the pound which goes in wages in schemes of this kind.
Why should not the Government, instead of spending the money in this way, consider giving some form of direct encouragement? We had the coal subsidy at one time and other industries have been subsidised, but would it not be better if instead of subsidising you said to people who were planting locally, "You can expend the money which you would otherwise give in taxation over a period of years on something which is productive in your locality." That would be much better than merely collecting the money and spending it in this way, especially when we consider that taxation, such as Estate Duty is one of the most effective ways of drying up the resources of people in the various localities.
I do not know what the original authorities who dealt with these forms of taxation would have to say on the present position. I cannot conceive that it was ever imagined that we would reach the present position, and the financiers of the 'eighties or 'nineties would indeed be astonished at grants of the kind which we are considering to-day. I urge on the Government not to encourage more expenditure in this direction. I ask them not to assent to the wish of the hon. Member for Gower that they should go on increasing these amounts, but rather to turn their minds to the direct cause of our present troubles which is that they are denuding the countryside of capital and consequently of men.
I ask them to consider whether, instead of dealing with this matter through departments and officials and commissions —no doubt composed of excellent people—they would not do better to refrain from imposing burdens of taxation and encourage people to spend their money in developing their own countryside. In that way I suggest you will get the best results and get them in the cheapest way. We have heard to-day about the 3,000,000 acres of woodland and about the condition in which much of it is at present. Would it not be better if we took steps to restore these woodlands to their natural state of forest production instead of going outside them to all kinds of new places where we have to undertake vast expenditure and where as far as I can see we are not likely to get any return? I hope that the Government will be grim and determined on this matter. I would not mind it if they were going to set up an inquiry into this matter, but at all events I hope they do not intend to give any more money to the Forestry Commission.
I am not surprised at the line taken by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). There are very few Members so capable as he of destructive criticism but it is rarely in a Debate of this kind that we have from him any suggestion of any value either to the House of Commons or to a Committee of the House, or to any Government Department. I am certain that most hon. Members regret that the Government did not see their way to give the grants which were at one time contemplated in connection with afforestation. The situation with regard to the timber supply not only of this country but of the Empire has been deplored on more than one occasion in the House of Commons. About three years ago on a Private Members' Motion moved from the Conservative Benches, attention was drawn to the serious shortage of timber in the Empire, and the importance of doing something to develop the resources of this country and of the Empire in that respect. That Motion received support from all parts of the House. I believe that the situation to-day does not show any improvement. I hesitate to express any opinion with regard to this matter because I have no technical knowledge, but from all the authorities that I have been able to consult I gather that within a comparatively short time we shall have to face the possibility of a serious timber famine. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) expressed a conviction which most of us share that it will not be possible in future to get the private individual to deal with this matter, as was done in the past. Attention is drawn to this aspect of the question in the 12th Annual Report of the Commission. On page 7 of the report the Commissioners state:
In the long run, therefore, the State might have to relieve the private owner of his responsibility in maintaining the woodlands of Great Britain and to take such work in hand before the woodland condition have been dissipated, thus avoiding irreparable devastation. It would be in the national interest for the Commissioners to take over woodland areas on fair terms in
cases where, after every possible encouragement and State co-operation had been offered, the owner was unable to replant.
That is from the report of the Commissioners after, I suppose, the economy policy of the Government in the autumn of 1931 had been embarked upon, and I should like to know whether any steps have been taken by the Commissioners on the lines suggested in this report. There is no necessity for me to emphasise the importance of this matter. In the Debate which took place in this House about three years ago frequent references were made, from both sides of the House, to the importance of the matter. A statement was made by one hon. Member to the effect that in 1909 it was stated by a Parliamentary Committee that there were 9,000,000 acres suitable for afforestation. If that estimate be regarded as rather large, I think, without any exaggeration. 4,000,000 acres might be given as a more reliable figure.
One knows, if one compares the situation in this country with that in some of the Continental countries, that we are very far behindhand. There is only a little over 4 per cent. of our land in this country afforested, whereas you have over 18 per cent. in France and 23 per cent. in Germany. We depend to a very large extent upon imported timber. I do not know whether any recent figures are available, but I believe that immediately before the War this country had to rely on getting 97 per cent. of its timber supplies from abroad.
Yes. Here is a Government pledged to do what it can to develop our own national resources, and here is an opportunity which has been missed. I am certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Gower, if he were not speaking in his dual capacity of a Member of the Opposition and of the Forestry Commission, would have given us a very different type of speech. Had he been speaking merely as a Member of the Opposition, he would have spoken, as he usually does, in no very moderate terms, and demanded that the Government should have done something to restore the programme of afforestation which was contemplated before 1931. I trust that something will be done at no distant date in that direction.
I rise, however, in order to deal with the situation so far as my own constituency is concerned, because my county in North Wales is peculiarly adapted for A programme of afforestation. Two years ago I got into touch with the Commissioners, and I saw the Assistant Commissioner, who has now, unfortunately, passed away, with regard to the desirability of making inquiries as to what could be done. There is 'a large area of land there which is not very much good for ordinary agricultural work, but which could be utilised for afforestation and which undoubtedly at one time was afforested. As a result of my visit to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Assistant Commissioner, Arrangements were made for one of the officials of the Ministry to visit the county. One of their most capable officials came down, and I spent a very long day with him, travelling through various parts of the county. He inspected areas where the consensus of opinion was that something might be done in the direction of planting trees, and I do not think I giving away any confidence when I say that, without expressing himself definitely, he thought there was a. good deal of the land which might suitably be developed for afforestation. He went further, and at his private request I got into touch with a number of owners of land to see whether they would be disposed to negotiate for the letting or sale of land to the Commissioners. I found that there was a readiness to negotiate, but so far I have failed to find that anything whatever has been done in the direction of acquiring land for the purpose of afforestation.
The hon. Member for Torquay qualified his remarks in one respect. He said that although generally he disapproved of the policy of the Commissioners, there was one case in which he was prepared to approve of it, and that was in areas, such as coal mining areas, where there was a great amount of unemployment and where much of this labour might be utilised for the purpose of tree planting. I am certain that if the hon. Member will come to my county he will see that there, at any rate, are the very circumstances which he contemplated when he was making that point to the Committee, and I presume, therefore, that I can secure his support in urging upon the Government and the Commission to reconsider the question of acquiring land in this part of North Wales. I trust that the restrictions upon the activities of the Forestry Commission are not going to last much longer.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gower has already informed the Committee that here we have at any rate a national expenditure which, though perhaps not in the very near future, is bound in the remote future to yield a very good return. To take it also from the human point of view, it is obvious that if you begin to develop afforestation and settle upon the land a large number of families, as time goes on they may make use of the land for ordinary agricultural purposes, and you are by that means not only providing for the future of this country in the way of timber, but you are also enabling a fairly large number of people to settle down upon the land. I hope there may be some indication from the Government that the position, so far as the county which I represent is concerned, will be reconsidered with a view to something being done there at the earliest possible date.
I very seldom address the House, and I hope the Committee will bear with me for a few moments this afternoon. I find myself very much in agreement with the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell), though I do not ask for a reduction of the Vote, as I should certainly like to see a larger sum provided. The hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) and the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) are, I believe, considered very good landlords in their own country, and I believe I shall be voicing the opinions of the Committee when I say that the hon. Member for Gower is always a champion for people less fortunately situated than himself and is very sincere at that. I rise to ask whether these hon. Members cannot introduce some of that virtue which they undoubtedly possess into their capacities as Commissioners. From time to time I have sought to help some of my constituents in the Forest of Dean and have done so with more or less success, but sometimes I have very signally failed. I have been surprised and pained at the remorselessness of the machine which those hon. and benevolent Members represent in this House, and I would like to give a few examples and thus incline Members of the Committee to support me in expressing a wish that there may be some little change of heart on the part of the Commissioners.
I would like first to draw attention to one instance into which I think I can hope with confidence to persuade those hon. Members to look. I refer to the piece of ground acquired for a children's playground at St. John's, Cinderford. I saw it yesterday, and it is of very little value indeed. It was considered by the Assistant Commissioner—and I wish to make no attack on him, because I believe he is carrying out the policy of his board very efficiently—in the light of a building site, and I think it could possibly be considered as such only by an official of the Forestry Commission. That land has been subsequently purchased, and it has been put into condition and made a fairly good playground for the children, by voluntary labour. My contention is that the land should not have been sold, as it was, at £70 or thereabouts, but that it should have been given for the purpose. I know that I shall meet with an objection to the giving of this land, but, after all, that is what any reasonable landlord would do, and it is what the Commissioners should do if it is in any way within their power.
There is another case, that of a piece of ground which is required for an extension of a burial ground at St. John's, Cinderford. Again, I saw that land. It is fit for no other purpose, and the price is £120 an acre. It seems it is as expensive to die as to live under the Forestry Commission. There is a further case to which I should like to draw the attention of the Committee. A land drainage scheme was required near Cinderford. An attempt was made to get the Forestry Commission to do certain work, but it was held up owing to the exacting requirements of the Commission. A private owner of land would have been compelled to carry out the work. Another case was brought to my notice in a letter which I received from a Mr. Joe Harris, who is living in a place called Pokes Hill, which is a curious backwater such as one finds in the Forest of Dean. Years ago certain poor people squatted there and the access to the land is so bad that in the winter the people have to crawl on their hands and knees to get to their homes. Mr. Harris writes to me to say that many large holes have been formed by a watercourse destroying the path and that it is dangerous to the children to go down there. I saw that place also yesterday. There are 25 persons in the district and they are all very poor. I should think that to repair that path and to make it serviceable would cost a very few pounds. I am told by the Forestry Commission, however, that because the land was squatted on and because a very low price was paid for it it is not considered advisable to spend any money on the repair of the path.
I do not wish to bring any more instances before the Committee, but I have many others which I could bring forward. The price for land which is asked for by the Forestry Commission is very often high not because of the work of the Commission, but because of what has been done by the rural district council. That high price makes housing problems more difficult in a district which is very distressed, and where, as the hon. Member for Gower knows, the people are exceedingly poor. I beg the Commissioners seriously to consider their policy and no longer to hide behind a stonyhearted Treasury, but to adopt a more generous policy in future. If they will do that, they will increase their own prestige, they will certainly make the Government more popular, and, far more, they will remove a sense of grievance from poor people some of whom think that they have no one to look after their rights.
I rise to support the Amendment. I should like to make clear, however, how much many of us appreciate the past work of the hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) and the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) on the Commission which has been dealing with afforestation ever since the report of the Committee presided over by the right hon. Member for North Cornwall saw the light of day in 1916. We find in that report the reasons why the Commission was set up in 1919 to deal with this important matter, and in order to get a true per- spective of the position we must go back to that report. I cannot understand the statement made by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) if he views the situation that now confronts the Commission and the country from the point of view of the future of industry so far as the supply of timber is concerned. We must not forget that this is the greatest timber-importing country in the world, and we have grave recollections of our tremendous difficulty in furnishing our industries, and particularly the collieries, with timber during the War. During that time many of our forests were stripped nearly naked in an endeavour to provide the essential timber for our various industries. If we had allowed the position after that to remain in the hands of the hon. Member for Torquay, we should have been in a worse position to-day than we are.
The Forestry Commission have done a lot of good work since they took charge of the position in 1919. What was the object they set out to achieve4 It was the maintenance of the existing woodland area, 3,000,000 acres, in a state of productivity; the afforestation with conifers of 1,750,000 acres at the rate of 1,180,000 acres in the first 40 years, including 150,000 acres in the first decade; and the establishment of a Forestry Fund with financial provision for the first decade, 1919 to 1929, of £3,500,000 plus working receipts. There was an interference with that programme by the Geddes Committee, and the Commission had to deplete its programme and its work. This was at a time when we were seriously concerned, not only with afforestation, but with finding work for the vast number of the unemployed. In the northern counties of the country there is a great amount of room yet for afforestation. The hon. Members who represent the Commission may have to face a little criticism similar to that made by the hon. Member for Torquay with regard to the suitability of the land that they have purchased, but their programme has been so interfered with that they have not been able to go forward with a planned idea of afforestation and to buy land in large quantities that were suitable; but they have been obliged to buy bits of land here and there as they came into the market and to carry on their programme as economically as they could.
After the interference of the Geddes Committee had reduced the Commission's activities, there came the further interference caused by the economies which the present Government are endeavouring to exercise. The present provision of £450,000 is inadequate to enable the Forestry Commissioners to go forward with a, full-fledged programme which will meet our shortage of timber and employ the number of men that we should like to see on this type of work. We must not forget that the Commission, in setting men on to the work of afforestation, have the duty of housing them on small-holdings where the men can cultivate for themselves a fair amount of food, and keep poultry and, in some cases, pigs and cattle in their spare time. What has been the result of the Commission's work for 1919 to 1931? We are not altogether satisfied with the number of holdings provided. They number only 1,140. The average cost of establishing them has been £537 per holding. That amount finds a man employment, puts him on a smallholding, and assures him work in afforestation near his home. That work ought to be intensified, and we claim that the Government's policy in providing such a small sum of money for the Commission will not allow it to develop its work in some parts of the country where it is essential that men should be taken from the list of unemployed and found what is suitable, healthy and important work.
I do not think any hon. Member would venture to complain of the cost of the holdings. I think that the Commissioners in this respect. have done fairly well. The only thing about which we complain is that the money which Parliament has provided has not been sufficient. With the Vote this year they will not be able to go on even at the existing rate of progress, and the programme which was promised in 1921 will fall far short in the number of men employed and in the reafforestation that was contemplated. The Commissioners cannot possibly be blamed for it. Only the Treasury and Parliament can be blamed for not providing the necessary funds. In September, 1931, there were 1,042 forest workers resident in the homes. That means that we have employed only 1,042 men on this work since 1921, and yet we have more unemployed now. We consider that this is a direction in which the Treasury might have encouraged the Forestry Commission to develop. We feel the importance of this matter very deeply, and it is not because we are dissatisfied with the activity of the Commission, but because we are dissatisfied with the financial provision in the Estimates, that we are moving the reduction of this Vote.
We trust that the Treasury will take note of this objection, because we feel certain that there is a large amount of work to be done—useful work of national importance which will give employment to a large number of men, particularly in the northern counties. One would imagine that after the discussions on unemployment that we have had in the House, the Government would have tried to encourage the Commission to develop a long-term plan. I support the Amendment which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower, who has had experience on the Commission and knows the usefulness of the work and the promise it opens out of employment in an industry which the nation certainly requires. I appeal to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to do his best to get this Estimate increased and to allow the Commission to develop this most useful work, which is of an economical nature, and to bring back into employment hundreds of our men who would gladly take up this occupation, which is healthy and which offers them prospects for the future.
Earl of DALKEITH:
I am sure that all engaged in forestry are grateful to those who arranged for this Debate to-day, because it is rarely that we have the opportunity of discussing the important industry of forestry, and it gives us a chance of emphasising the great difficulties under which it has been carried on and the magnificent opportunities which exist for its expansion if rather more sympathy be shown towards it. I agree with the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) that it is disappointing that the programme of the Forestry Commission has had to be curtailed for reasons of economy. A steady, continuous programme is essential, because one has to plant some time ahead if the work is to be carried out successfully. I believe a previous Socialist Government increased the amount to be spent rather too suddenly, with the result that the operations of the Commission were thrown out, and it may be that it was for that reason that one or two mistakes occurred in planting areas such as have been referred to by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). It is not at all easy at short notice to increase staff or to find the necessary young trees for planting, and difficulties were perhaps created when this extra grant was made. I feel the time has now come when we can steadily and continuously expand the programme of the Commission. Very few of those engaged in forestry would agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Torquay. Among my friends in Scotland the feeling is that the Commission have made wonderful progress. They have excellent and enthusiastic officers, and we feel confident that if Parliament will increase the programme gradually they will take every advantage of the opportunities presented.
I have been asked to bring forward one or two points which directly concern the Forestry Commission. One is that the Commission should be enabled to acquire growing woods as well as lands for planting. I rather think this is the case, but it is not widely known. Some timber merchants and landowners possess growing woodlands which are not mature for marketing but which they cannot afford to keep any longer, and unless they can be taken over they may be cut down prematurely. Another point concerns marketing. I do not suppose that, so far, the Commission have to worry so much about trying to sell their timber as have private landowners, but there is some anxiety among timber merchants on the score that the Commission are not co-operating, or are not likely to co-operate, with the timber trade as fully as they might do when selling their trees. If they are able to co-operate successfully, the relations between the timber trade and the Commission are likely to be very good.
As an enthusiastic grower of timber I would like to take the opportunity of drawing the attention of the Government to one or two points and making one or two suggestions. The Opposition believe principally in State forestry, but I hope it is agreed that there is room for private forestry as well. Certainly there is ample need for both. The State, through the Forestry Commission, are now the largest landowners, and I hope the Opposition are satisfied that in this respect they have achieved one of their purposes. Private landowners, especially those with the largest areas, have a great responsibility in the matter of afforestation. They can do a very great deal in a time of depression such as this to help employment if conditions make it possible for them to sell their timber and to replant and to plant new areas. I would appeal not only to the Government but to all sections in Parliament to take a sympathetic attitude towards private forestry and forestry under the Commission. We could have a wonderful combination between the Forestry Commission and the private growers. The Commission have become a strong body, and they are able to promote forestry and to advise the Government on all the possibilities of the situation, and of how to take advantage of every opportunity that arises. I understand that they are really the only advisers the Government have on this subject, and if that be so they can do much to help, and all interested in forestry look to them more and more to help the industry.
I do not think enough attention has been paid in this House, or outside, to the very great disadvantages under, which British forestry is trying to carry on. One often hears the opinion expressed that we produce only such a very small proportion of the timber requirements of the country that it really is not worth while bothering much about British forestry. I think that is an unfortunate attitude to take. There is actually growing in this country, and ready to be cut, a really substantial quantity of timber. In Scotland, which I know more about, there are very large quantities of timber, mainly soft woods and pit-wood timber, which ought to be cut and which are available for consumers in this country. If conditions could be improved so that home-grown timber could compete with foreign there would be a much larger sale, and people might then say that the industry was one worth supporting; but I urge the Government to realise that there are opportunities, even under the existing difficulties, of extending forestry operations here. It is well worth while to help all those who are anxious to grow timber.
The two main difficulties against which the private grower is contending are foreign competition and high transport costs. The industry is very little assisted by protective tariffs such as have been brought in to help so many other industries, and, in addition, the trade agreements which are being made are, in the opinion of those in the industry, likely to be of disadvantage to the home-grown timber trade. in most countries it is the custom to use up the home-grown timber before they will allow any foreign timber to be imported, and though that might not be possible in this country I think we might see what could be done in that direction. Recently there has been an embargo upon the admission to this country of timber grown in Russia. That embargo has not lasted very long, but the results so far go to show that this country could get on quite well without a very large proportion of the Russian timber which has been coming here in the last few years. It does seem worth consideration whether, in any new trade agreement, the allowance of Russian timber could not be considerably reduced, and only those types of timber and those quantities allowed in which are really necessary. The experience of timber traders in this country shows that, without a very large amount of Russian timber, British timber, Canadian timber and timber from the Scandinavian countries with which we have made trade agreements, can very soon replace a very large proportion at any gap that would be created.
Scotland's problem is mainly concerned with softwoods and pit-wood timber, and the very high railway costs, which naturally put growers at a great disadvantage in a country where the distances which the timber has to be hauled are so great. There are large areas in the North of Scotland from which timber cannot be transported at a price which enables it to compete with foreign supplies to the pits and other consumers. If we are unable to secure assistance against foreign competition, surely that is all the more reason why the Government should urge the railway companies to reduce their quotations. It is unfortunate, too, that the new taxation on motor vehicles should come in just at a time when the situation in the home timber industry is so critical. Only an improvement in the price of timber and in trade generally, could offset the serious disadvantages of the additional taxation, which will fall heavily on small timber merchants, who are already struggling, and who, unless they are able to employ their transport vehicles full time, will be obliged to offer even lower prices to growers of timber. Whereas no import duties were allowed by the Government on foreign pit wood, that being a raw material for the mines, we do not hesitate to put a fresh burden on home-grown pit wood by this increased taxation on the motor vehicles used to carry the timber from where it is grown to the place of consumption. In addition, the excessive railway costs put a heavy burden upon home-grown timber. I suggest that the Government and the Forestry Commission should do all they can tactfully to urge the railways to meet the demands of growers and timber merchants.
There is one matter in connection with pit wood under which the home growers suffer great disadvantage. Since the Derating Act the rebate of 25 per cent. for pit wood carried by the railways is all taken by the mine owners and none of it goes to the growers or the trade in Scotland. If that is the intention of the Act, and it has to be carried out, it is only fair that the mine owners should do all they can to meet the home timber trade and make some allowance for this rebate, which goes to them, and which puts the home grower at a disadvantage by comparison with the foreigner.
I urge that steps should be taken to encourage greater co-operation between the growers of timber and the timber merchants and consumers. I find, as a result of recent experience, especially among mineowners and other consumers, that they are all willing to take British-grown timber in preference to foreign-grown, in order to help the "Buy British" spirit and the balance of trade, if they can do so; but in most cases we come back to the same difficulty of transport costs. There has, until recently, been a definite suspicion among those working in the mines that British timber was not strong and sound for pit-props and other purposes as foreign timber, but I am glad to find that in Scotland, Durham and Northumberland, where we have been sending pit-wood for some months, and have taken great trouble to ensure that the wood was properly prepared and seasoned, there have been no complaints and, as a result of experience, that satisfaction has been expressed with the quality of the home material.
I understand, as a result of experiments at Princes Risborough, that, provided proper seasoning arrangements are made, home-grown timber is, beyond any doubt, just as good as the foreign. I hope, in those circumstances, that it may be possible for the mineowners in this country in the coming years to consume larger quantities of home-grown timber than has been the case up to the present. It is extremely difficult, where distances are so great, to arrange this, and any assistance that the Forestry Commission can give in the utilisation of our timber will be welcome. Growers of timber should express their appreciation to the Forestry Commission for the steps they have been taking during the last few months to try to improve the utilisation of home-grown timber as against foreign timber. It may be that our want of organisation in the past has been partly responsible for the difficulty of getting a market for home-grown timber. It will be agreed that the selling of home-grown timber is most difficult to organise. It should give confidence to consumers to know that considerable progress has been made in the last few months towards better organisation.
We may require in this country some strong body, such as some council of forestry, which will put forward the case for the industry, and which will obtain fair play for the home-grown product. I would ask the Government—this is the first opportunity that we have had for many years to do so—to take a more sympathetic interest in forestry. Members of recent Governments have, I suppose, been far too busy to take an active, personal interest in one of the branches of agriculture, but it is in these auxiliary branches of agriculture that attention is well rewarded, and that healthy employment can be very greatly increased, at little cost to the country. Very much more can be done if conditions can be made a little better. There are many individuals who would take immense trouble in their own areas in order to increase their private afforestation And greatly to increase the number employed.
The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) has moved a reduction in this Vote for the purpose of having it increased. Although I shall be obliged to vote against his Motion for the reduction, I am entirely in sympathy with his object. in moving it. I should place the first emphasis, and so, I think, would he, not so much upon the amount of the grant as upon its permanence and its stability. The industry of forestry is essentially a long-term business. It takes a rotation of 80 years to run a softwood forest, and even to prepare for one year's planting needs five years of preliminary work. You have to obtain the seeds and in the nursery you have to wait for five years before the trees are large enough to plant. We cannot expect the Forestry Commission to carry out the work which we have imposed upon them if their annual grants and their decennial programmes are to be continually chopped and changed by the caprice of successive Parliaments. That is what has happened on five occasions in 14 years, during the very short life of the Forestry Commission.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, when he introduced this Estate, said, with an irony of which I am sure he was quite unconscious, that in 1931 the Commission had been provided with a Vote for the next five years of £450,000, in order that they might know where they were and be, certain of their future. What has happened since the Commission was established I It was provided in 1919 with a definite 10 years' programme. Then, in 1922, the Geddes Axe, which might surely have spared the Forestry Commission, considering the number of accretions that it left untouched, cut down and entirely upset their programme, in a way which was highly inconvenient and, in the long run, not at all economical. In 1924, the programme of the Forestry Commission was slightly increased; in 1927 it was again cut down. Then, in 1929, when the Labour Government took office, they set up, with the most laudable intentions, a Ministry of Employment, under the sanguine control of the Dominion Secretary. That Ministry of Employment invited the Forestry Commission to submit the largest programme they possibly could. The Ministry asked them how many men they could employ and how much money they could get rid of. I do not agree with my Noble Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Earl of Dalkeith) when he said that on that occasion the programme of the Commission was extended to an unwise or excessive extent.
Not even to a sudden extent. The Forestry Commission might have put forward an extravagant programme, but they replied, as I think wisely and prudently, by making very modest proposals. They limited their programme to what they were confident they could carry out with the maximum of economy and efficiency. Their grant was to be very gradually increased to £1,000,000 a year, and their annual planting was to be increased very gradually, year by year, until it reached 44,000 acres in 1938.
My noble Friend said that the extension in that year was rather too sudden and excessive. It is to the credit of the Forestry Commission that, when asked to produce a very much larger programme, they were careful to make their demands as gradual and modest as they could. The hon. Member for Gower has already described the details of that programme as a result of which 44,000 acres were to be reached by 1938, and he also gave the figures of employment which would have been realised if the grant had not been cut down. In return for the State grant of £1,000,000, 7,000 men would have been employed. The Committee will see at once, from those figures, that our expenditure on the Forestry Commission is in an entirely different category from the expenditure on unemployment relief work, which has rightly been abandoned by the present Government. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us last February, the amount expended upon unemployment relief works, in the seven years from 1924 to 1931, amounted to £700,000,000, and the number of men employed was at the rate—I am speaking of direct employment—of about one man to every £1,000 spent. The expenditure of the Forestry Commission gives direct employment to one man to about every £140 spent, a rate of direct employment which will compare very favourably with any other expenditure in this country whether public or private.
In 1931, the May Committee economies were proposed, as a result of which the grant to the Commission was reduced to £450,000. What has been the result of that? A great deal of the money which had begun to be laid out in anticipation of a larger programme has been entirely wasted. The Committee are not allowed—because they are under an obligation not to ruin the British nurseryman—to throw their surplus stocks on to the market. Even if they had been able to do so, it would have been impossible for them to find purchasers for so large a quantity of trees. I have no official figures on the subject, but I am told by those associated with the Forestry Commission that the young trees which have already been destroyed amount in value to £50,000, which means that as many as 50,000,000 good young trees have been burnt—entirely wasted, at a time when there are 3,000,000 men out of work, and when it is imperative in the national interest that we should plant now, in order to provide against that shortage in the world's supply of softwood timber which is expected to begin within the next two generations.
That is a melancholy illustration of what may be the result of a contractionist policy in finance. It is an entirely false economy, which was thoroughly ill-judged and unfortunate. I am conscious that anyone who supports the policy of economy in public finance, but who makes an exception in favour of one particular item, lays himself open to the criticism of being perfectly willing to support economy in principle but of refusing to have it when it comes to the practical application of it. I recognise that I am laying myself open to that criticism, and I do not offer the excuse that the sum involved is an exceedingly small fraction of our national Budget, because I believe that no part of the public expenditure is too small to be carefully scrutinised; hut I do not feel particularly vulnerable. When Parliament has definitely authorised the undertaking of a 10 years' programme; when Parliament has allowed large sums of money to be spent in anticipation of that programme, which will be wasted if it is curtailed; and when we know that every penny that is spent will bring back full value, not only in employment, and in saving unemployment benefit, but ultimately in revenue to the Exchequer, the wrecking of that programme—for it has been wrecked—is not economy, but waste, and it is a waste which can only be excused by the extreme difficulty which everybody must have had, at a time of national crisis, in distinguishing between true and false economy.
I am not one of those who have been urging the Government in one way or another to reverse the financial policy of 1931, but I think that, when we find one item of expenditure on which we believe economy has been a mistake, and the amount spent is too low, it is all the more necessary that we should say so. Before I leave that point, may I say that I think we ought to pay a tribute to the Forestry Commission themselves for the accommodating way in which they have co-operated with the Treasury, and the success with which they have adapted themselves to their reduced circumstances with the least possible disadvantage to everybody concerned? Two years ago, before the cut was made, the Commission were employing about 2,800 men in the summer and about 3.500 in the winter. Those figures would have been steadily increased until a total of 7,000 was reached, but when the cut was made it was inevitable, not only that the increase should be checked, but that some considerable reduction should take place. As the Committee will see from the Appendix to this Vote, on page 116 of the Estimates, the numbers now employed are about 2,400 in the summer, and 3,100 in the winter—a reduction of about 400 men. But I think that this reduction is very much less than we might have expected in the circumstances. There have been no reductions in wages, and I understand that none of those who have been permanently taken on by the Commission have lost their employment; and I think we may congratulate the Commission upon having rearranged their plans with the minimum of injury to those whom they were already employing.
In deciding upon our policy of afforestation, we have to contend against misrepresentation from two opposite extremes. On the one hand, there is the political agitator, who tells the people that, if only the deer forests are taken away from the wicked deer stalkers, and lots of trees are planted all over the place, employment will be found for thousands of men who are now out of work. That is an idea which can only lead to disappointment, and it ought to be severely discountenanced. I am extremely glad to have heard this afternoon the exceedingly moderate tone in which the case has been put, as I think without any exaggeration whatever, by the hon. Member for Gower, and also by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Price). But we also have to contend, at the opposite extreme, against the blind perversity of my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), whose misguided observations have already entertained the Committee, and who believes that the grant should be abolished altogether. I shall not follow him in his peregrinations through the county of Ross, except to say that I hope he was more fortunate in hitting his stag than in his efforts to admire the view.
Of course, if we are to have a national forestry programme, a great many experiments must be made. Some of those experiments will fail, but there have been others which have been successful, particularly in country where there are a great many sand dunes, and in many areas which had hitherto been deemed unplantable owing to peat. Experiments have been successful there with trees which the local cronies of my hon. Friend, who know so much about the local conditions, would probably have said could not be planted at all. Moreover, even if they have been a failure, these experiments have shown us what cannot be planted, not only for the benefit of the Commission themselves, but for private planters who may be very glad to profit by the experience of the Commission. My hon. Friend must remember that, although we are now experiencing a glut in timber production and a slump in timber prices; we are nevertheless within measurable distance of a serious world shortage in the supplies of softwood timbers, which is expected to begin within the next 40 years. The trees which we are planting now will not reach maturity until long after that shortage has begun to be acute.
My hon. Friend states that there is going to be a shortage of timber. May I ask him whether there is any more reason to suppose that than there was' in the case of wheat in 1911, when it was prophesied that there would be a world shortage in 1932? The two things appear to me to be precisely similar.
There is this excellent reason, that, while it takes only 12 months to produce a crop of wheat, it takes 80 years to produce a crop of timber. I have here a paper prepared for the British Empire Forestry Conference of 1928, which anticipates that, although there might not be an actual timber famine within the next 40 years,
the available statistics lead one to believe that the difficulty of obtaining adequate supplies of softwoods 40 years hence will be considerable.
And it concludes by saying:
There appears to be a real danger of a gap of many years intervening between the time of serious shortage and the time when regenerative and planting measures begin to yield results.
It is based on a survey of the existing cubic content of the timber forests of the world, taken together with the rate, which is increasing every year, at which timber is being consumed. We are at this moment the worst wooded country in Europe, with the exception of Portugal. What is going to be the position of this country in 70 or 80 years' time, when the shortage is at its height, and what will be the position of those industries which depend upon a regular supply of timber at a reasonable price, if we are then only able to produce, as we produce now, no more than about 6 per cent. of our own timber consumption? Surely, our responsibility for providing against that emergency is not diminished by its distance. Now is the time, when the amount of idle capital seeking investment at a low rate of interest is unprecedented, and when even the Treasury is beginning to look with more favour upon really productive schemes of public expenditure—now is the time to expand, and not to contract, our afforestation programme. If it had been in order, I would perhaps have argued that we might be justified in meeting this expenditure by borrowing on capital account, but, as we are confined to a discussion on the Vote, I shall content myself with saying that this sum of £450,000 which we are now asked to
provide is nearly all capital expenditure, and it is capital expenditure of a type which will bring in to succeeding generations, both in revenue and in social value, an ample return.
It is a rare and refreshing pleasure for those of us who sit on this side of the House to find our views expressed so admirably by members of the Labour party. I found myself completely in agreement with the speech of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell), and I was particularly interested by the sound constitutional case that he put forward. I notice with much pleasure that he has now become a defender of the landlord system in this country, and puts forward excuses, quite rightly, for those landlords who own forest land but are experiencing great difficulties, and are often finding it impossible properly and adequately to look after their forests. The hon. Member pointed out the shortage of capital and the low prices that are being obtained, and in that way he made an admirable case. I was interested to hear him say, and it is worth while recording it, that the Forestry Commission were excellent employers of labour—which is true—because they were paying a sum of 35s. a week to their men. I think that that is a fair proposition, but I shall look forward with some interest to the next election, to see if the hon. Member and his colleagues are prepared to repeat that statement then.
As it happens, in my constituency there is a minimum, but in very many cases, indeed in the majority of cases, the wage paid is a good deal higher than that minimum. The hon. Member took credit, and rightly, for the stand made by one of his late leaders, Mr. Keir Hardie, in advancing the cause of afforestation. He was entitled to do that, but I am equally entitled to say that, while Mr. Keir Hardie spoke much for afforestation, it remained for a Liberal, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), to be the first to do something for afforestation. If I remember rightly, it was he who in 1909 introduced certain measures to relieve owners of forests, and in 1916 he appointed my right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) to go into the whole problem, while in 1919 he appointed the Forestry Commission itself, which the hon. Member for Gower adorns at the present time.
We have listened to various speeches this afternoon, but I think the Government must be impressed by the fact that all those speeches were unanimous in demanding an expansion of the forestry programme. In all quarters of the Committee the view is taken that this kind of economy is wrong economy from the national point of view, and I hope very much that the strength of that opinion may induce the Government to make some real advance in dealing with this very serious problem.
Hon. Members have urged the need for afforestation, and have recalled the circumstances in which the afforestation programme was prepared. I should like to address myself to the actual results of the work of the Commission. When my right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall issued his recommendations they were most seriously considered, and it was the deliberate decision of Parliament that a, programme based upon those recommendations should be carried through. That programme aimed at maintaining the 3,000,000 acres of private forest land of 1914, and at the State itself planting a further 1,750,000 acres in the next 80 years. That is to say, the House of Commons determined upon a forestry programme which would result in 5,000,000 acres of forests within the next 80 years. The reason for that was of the highest importance. It was to make the United Kingdom independent of imported timber for three years in a time of emergency. We experienced a shortage of timber during the War. We had enormous imports, and those responsible for transport were tremendously concerned to see that the imports continued to come in. Mountain sides were laid bare and country roads were rutted with timber carts moving to the railheads. There was a vast depletion of our resources, and we realised in those War years the special danger in which the country was placed through its shortage of timber. It was in these circumstances that we deliberately decided upon this programme.
What has been the result? The 3,000,000 acres that we thought existed in 1914 have been examined, at any rate in Scotland. Perhaps my hon. Friend will tell us the position in England, but in Scotland more than 50 per cent. of that private forest land is entirely uneconomic and practically useless. If that proportion applies to the whole country, we are short of 1,500,000 acres of our programme. The Noble Lord the Member for Roxburgh (Earl of Dalkeith) made a case for the private owners and urged that they, too, should have their opportunity to plant a very reasonable case to make, but do not let us shut our eyes to the fact that these private owners are in such serious difficulties that they are not able to perform their proper function. In the report of the Forestry Commission last year there is a statement issued by the Consultative Committees of Scotland, England and Wales, upon which landowners are very fully represented. They say:
Private forestry is not receiving the same attention as in prewar days, in spite of the spread of technical knowledge and State encouragement.
They go further, these owners of forest land in England, Scotland and Wales, and say:
In the long run, therefore, the State might have to relieve the private owner of his responsibility in maintaining tale woodlands of Great Britain and to take such work in hand before the woodland conditions have been dissipated, thus avoiding irreparable devastation.
That is not my view. It is not even the view of the Forestry Commission, nor even of hon. Members of the Labour party. That is the view of owners of forest land. Therefore, while leaving the opportunity to private owners to develop, let us face the fact that their contributions must necessarily be limited.
Take the second part of the Commission's programme. They set out to plant another 1,750,000 acres. It could not be done at once so they arranged a programme. Altogether about 280,000 acres have been planted, and, if you add to that the additional plantations of private owners, you reach a total of 300,000 acres of additional land. I look back upon the work of the Forestry Commission in the last two years. I remember that they began their second decade with a programme which was to start with 25,000 acres a year, rising to 44,000, and I see now that they are reduced to 20,000. I make a small calculation and I find that at this rate, instead of taking 80 years to give you 5,000,000 acres of forest land, it will take nearly 180 years to have made the country safe for three years in an emergency. I have gone into this rather carefully, and I find that, unless we make a big advance now, we shall be left at the end of 80 years with nearly 2,000,000 acres short of our 5,000,000. Is this Parliament ready to reverse the considered decision of the Parliament of 1910? It may conceive it to be its duty to do so, but I beg the Committee to realise that that is the issue that we are facing to-day. Unless a great advance is made, with a big programme and with assistance from the Exchequer, we shall have failed in our duty not only to our predecessors, but to those who are to follow after and who are to be responsible for the country's welfare.
I had intended to deal with the Scottish case, because there it is an extremely important matter. Considerably over half of the land that has been planted has been planted in Scotland. It, therefore, represents a much greater problem there proportionately, and we are confronted with many difficulties. There are examples of land having been taken there for forestry which one would imagine ought to have been left in its natural condition. In the Highlands particularly there is constant discussion and dispute over the question whether the land is best suited for sheep or for forests. I have the greatest possible admiration and respect for the Commissioner of Forestry in Edinburgh. I know of no man with wider knowledge and deeper understanding of the forestry problem, and I have spent many an informative hour in his company. But there is a deep feeling of dissatisfaction among the Scottish sheep farmers with regard to the operations of the Commission. I am not here to say that the sheep farmers are right in their complaint, but, it is said that the Commission come in and take the low-lying ground and that for every acre that they take there they put three acres on the hill out of employment. They point out cases without number in Perthshire and thereabouts of good sheep land which is now rendered useless and is put to less profitable employment because it is taken over for afforestation, and they say we are digging into the productivity of the country. On the other hand, it is said that this is poor sheep land and that it is more profitably employed in forestry. Might I suggest to the Forestry Commission that it would be worth while in their own interests if they could have some sort of inquiry into the problem in Scotland, so as to give satisfaction and confidence to the sheep farmers that the best is being done for them and for forestry and for the country as a whole. But while a Committee of that kind will clear up that difficulty, the real trouble is that you do not know exactly what land is available and what is best suited for forestry. We need, what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has often urged, a survey of the land of the country, because we are working in the dark. In Scotland it is essential. The Committee has here to consider many serious problems in recent years. Hon. Members have been confronted with issues of grave concern to the nation. But no problem that we have examined for a long time is more important than this, because we are safeguarding here the economic life, aye, and the defence of the country in years to come.
I should like to deal with the question how far private producers of timber can contribute towards the 5,000,000 acres that the Forestry Commission are striving to get. Landowners are in a very difficult position. Death Duties have done more to break up large estates than anything else, and owners hesitate to cut the trees. Large woodland estates have got so small that they are no longer an economic unit. The Forestry Commission is a big unit which can expend its capital in saw mills and other things and keep them busy the whole year round, but with a small woodland unit it is not worth while to put up sawmills. There are only four estates now with more than 5,000 acres of woodland, there are nine between 3,000 and 5,000 acres, and 174 from 1,000 to 3,000 acres. There are a great many smaller estates, like my own, of about 1,000 acres. An estate of 800 acres, which is just big enough to keep two or three men, is not an economic unit.
The whole object of landowners who grow timber in England and Wales is to start some better organisation for the marketing of their timber. We hope, by uniting into economic units, to be able to make our transport charges less, and to use the same sawmills and keep them going all the year round, and also to do what the Agricultural Marketing Act has taught us to do for agriculture, namely, to grade our timber in quantity and quality in order to compete with foreign timber. We know that in our scheme we have the blessing of the Forestry Commissioners; we have their confidence and support. What has struck us forcibly in trying to work out schemes is that they have not the statistics to help us in trying to find out the actual amount of timber in the various counties in England. Information is not available of private owners who may be planting 10, 20 or 30 acres every year, as they are probably not registered by the Forestry Commissioners in regard to the provision of particulars of the timber planted every year. They would find it worth while to obtain a census of the whole of the timber in England and Wales, and in Scotland. We should then know exactly where we stood. The total annual consumption of timber in this country, according to our figures, is estimated to be 1,100 million cubic feet, of which 90 per cent. are softwoods and 10 per cent. hardwoods. Only 3 per cent. of the softwoods and 25 per cent. of the hardwoods consumed are home-grown, so that there is ample scope for the extension of the home-grown timber trade if well organised, and under fair competitive conditions.
We should like an assurance from the Government that if we can organise our private timber industry on those lines they will then consider protecting us against the imports of cheaper foreign timber. The Forestry Commission have to market their timber, and they must be in the same difficulty with regard to the price which they may get for their timber. The private owners are only too anxious to help the Forestry Commission and to fill the gap which the Forestry Commission have not been able to fill owing to financial stringency. We are willing to help with our organised schemes if given an assurance that we shall be able to obtain a proper price for our timber. This organisation is not only confined to the Central Landowners' Association, but also includes the Royal English Forestry Association, the Chartered Surveyors' Institution and the Land Agents' Society, all of which are in touch with those who grow timber in every part of the country. I feel sure that, although landowners are unable now to grow the amount of timber and to give employment as they used to do, they are fully sensible of the great value to this country of a successful and flourishing forestry industry, not merely from the point of view of employment alone, and will be willing to do all they possibly can to help the Forestry Commission and the country to produce a more adequate amount of timber.
I do not want in any way to reply to the Debate, as this will be carried out later by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), but, first of all, to deal with the subject which was rightly touched upon by one or two hon. Members opposite and developed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newbury (Brigadier General Brown), namely, the very good work which can be done in the interests not only of private owners, but really of the whole body politic by the formation of a cooperative organisation of the owners of timber. Such an organisation ought to be capable of working in conjunction with the timber merchants. Very often a timber merchant has a demand for a special parcel of timber, and has to send his representative round the country to find it, whereas if proper surveys were made he would be able simply to write a note to the secretary of the society and say, "Where can I get my parcel, at what price, how quickly cut and where delivered? "It could all be done without the waste of time for which the private owner has now to pay. Similarly, it would be very much easier if that sort of organisation existed to avoid what many people not unnaturally fear, namely, that when the timber of the Forestry Commission comes on to the market in considerable quantities there may be unfair competition between the Commission and private owners. If there were some sort of working arrangement among owners as to the classification and prices of timber, which perhaps, after a time, would be accepted by the timber merchant, it would be easy to conform to that general standard, whereas if everything were left in a chaotic state there might be the appearance, at any rate, of undercutting in certain cases.
I want to deal with the general question of programme which was raised in very moderate language and in extraordinary good taste by the hon. Member for the Gower Division (Mr. D. Grenfell), who moved the reduction of the Vote. I am, perhaps, to some extent qualified to do that, because I have seen the whole thing. I remember the changes and vicissitudes through which the Commission has had to go. It was very nearly strangled before it came to birth because there was disagreement, as was inevitable, between English and Scottish Members of the Cabinet. It had been our duty to point out that Scotland had been extraordinarily supine in having done nothing which was of any use in regard to timber. The Scottish Board of Agriculture, because we were proposing to take away their responsibility for forestry, and although they have done nothing at it, thought that we were depriving them of an opportunity of continuing to do nothing, which they valued very highly.
Therefore there were disagreements between the Secretary of State for Scotland and other Members of the Government from which we were only saved by the wonderful industry and perseverance of the late Lord Curzon, who was appointed by the Government to go into the matter very fully and consider whether the report, like so many other reports, should be pigeonholed and come to nothing, or whether something should be done and the Forestry Coramission be set up. Without Lord Curzon's work the Commission probably would never have started. We got rather a flying start and seemed to be getting on very well until the Geddes axe came down. The Geddes Committee recommended that we should be abolished altogether. I remember going to see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), in whose power it then was to say whether that should be done or not, and he said that he had repealed so many Acts which he himself had passed—the Corn Production Act and other Acts—that he was not going to repeal any more, particularly on the subject which he found so useful in his perorations, and from which he hoped for so much in the way of development in the county in Wales which he has so near to his heart. So we survived. It was owing simply to the action of the Prime Minister at that time. If the country had followed the Geddes Report, we should have been killed.
We gradually recovered. We had a very severe cut in a superior staff which did us harm and prevented the supervision which might have avoided some of the mistakes which we made in those days. However, we survived and went on, and next came the May Report. I have to do justice to the present Government by saying that here again, like the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, they did not accept the Report which was put before them. The Report wanted to reduce us merely to the position of caretakers who would not be allowed to plant a single extra acre, but it was turned down. We owe a good deal to the Lord President of the Council and to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer for their intervention, and for putting a different aspect of the matter before the Government and getting a decision. At any rate, we were saved from simply being policemen over what we had done, and we were given, after a good deal of negotiation, the present programme of 20,000 acres of planting over the next few years. Credit is due to the Government that, at a time when very serious measures of national economy were called for, they allowed the work to continue at the present rate as shown by the Estimate which is before us to-day. Though I accept the reasonableness of my hon. Friend and fellow-Commissioner the hon. Member for Gower in the action which he has taken—I do not in the least think that it was unfair or unreasonable to act to-day in a dual capacity—from my point of view I am bound to hold that a bargain is a bargain. We have made an arrangement with the Government to have a planting programme of 20,000 for the next three or four years, and I must be content with that. We can do good work in consolidating and reviewing, and not going ahead too fast for, at any rate, a few years.
The question is, what ought to happen after that time? Let us examine the figures. We have 20,000 acres of extra planting a year. Under a proposal made to Lord Snowden, we were to go to more than double that number, and under the proposals of my Committee we were to have reached 33,000 acres a year, and to have stayed pretty steady from the 10th to the 30th year on that basis. If we go on the total of 20,000 instead of 33,000 acres, that alone will cause a shortage of 400,000 acres in 40 years. That is a, very serious matter. Its seriousness is accentuated by two changes which were not known to my committee at the time we did our work, namely, first that the position of the woodlands in this country was found by our census to be very much worse than anybody had anticipated at the time we considered and reported; and, secondly, by, what is common knowledge, the inability in the present circumstances of the private owner to do his share of extra afforestation which we anticipated he would be Able to do with the help of Government grants at the time we made our report. Therefore, if it was right to say that 33,000 acres a year was the planting that we considered best at the time that we fixed that figure, the figure ought now to be put higher because of those two elements.
What do I consider to be the reasonable definite action to be taken by the Government, having regard to the present figure? We should be told as soon as possible that when the period of years covered by the present arrangement had been reached we shall be allowed to go forward, not at the pace set by the House of Commons, but at the pace best suited to the methods of gradual advance, consistent with real economy, and by that means to expand from the 20,000 to something like the figure of my old survey, 30,000 to 33,000 a year, without any attempt to rush it because of any policy of national employment or because of any special stringency of employment, or anything of that kind. You cannot use forestry like any other system for putting people into and taking them out of work. To quote one of the picturesque sentences of my report, it is just as bad for the programme of the Forestry Commission to be pulled up every few years as it would be for the trees which they plant to be pulled up to see what their roots are like every few years. You must give us a very considerable amount of stability. We must know for a considerable number of years in advance where we are going to be if we are to do the work with the greatest possible degree of efficiency and economy. It is a disaster, as has been pointed out, when we have to burn 20,000,000 trees, and it is equally disastrous if we have suddenly to increase our work, to do it in a hurry and to plant unsuitable land, which we should have known more about if we had been able to go a bit slower.
I am certain that this is work which settles people on the land permanently and cheaply compared with any other method which has been actually worked out in practice, and it ought to be gradually expanded. Some hon. Members may disagree that it is the right course for us to regard the bargain made with the Government as one which the Forestry Commission should adhere to. I think the Government would be well advised if two or three years before the end of the period during which the bargain exists they were to say:" The period of special stringency imposed is drawing to a close. Will you prepare, by surveying the land, by getting options on seed supplies and so on, for a steady and gradual expansion in a few years time?" I should like to say how pleased and impressed I have been with the Debate and how very pleasant it is to find that in doing a thing which has been new to Government Departments in this country there has been, on the whole, a good opinion created with regard to what we have succeeded in doing.
In our view the agreement that was made between the Treasury and the Commissioners as to the reduction of their programme is not something that cannot be altered. The original programme was changed, and the reduced programme can be altered whenever the Government make up their mind to do so, and the evidence we have had this afternoon seems to me to demonstrate that it ought to be changed now, and that there is every reason why it should be so changed. There is money available. At Question Time to-day we had a series of questions about the danger of investing money abroad. The Treasury might welcome money for invest- ment in this way. Everyone has proved in the Debate that this is an excellent investment, that it is the cheapest method of dealing with unemployment by putting people to work, that it is just the sort of thing the Government are waiting for, and that it, is a profitable method of employing what is usually described as unskilled labour.
I am at a loss to understand anyone who can give any solid reason why we should not go back to the Labour Government's proposition, the best proposal yet made for dealing with this question. I understand the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. H. Stewart) said that we on these benches are good talkers, but that we never do anything. He forgets that we were turned out of office because we tried to do something. We spent too much money. We did everything that people are now urging the present Government to do. The chickens have come home to roost. It has been discovered that the policy of cutting down wise and useful expenditure is nonsensical. In listening to the hon. Member's speech it seemed to me that the purpose of it was to support more expenditure rather than any curtailment of it. I hope, therefore, that he will go into the Lobby with us and vote for the reduction as a means of getting more money spent.
When I occupied the same seat that is now occupied by the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland), I remember making a speech about agriculture and afforestation, although I knew little or nothing about the subjects, and pointing out how essential it was to develop the land of this country, and that afforestation was one of the things crying aloud for Government action. That was a long while ago, and everything that has happened since, especially since the War, has made that suggestion even more important. There is one question which I should like to ask very seriously. I have had to do with hardwood for furniture—walnut, sycamore, chestnut and oak. Some friends of mine use a very considerable quantity of English oak. I should think that the supply of these hardwoods must be getting down, and I should like to know what we are doing in that respect. For some purposes English oak beats any other oak for furniture and purposes connected therewith. As regards walnut, I speak of what I know when I say that English walnut, when it reaches a proper size, is in some respects much better than the French walnut that we import in very large quantities. Chestnut and sycamore are also woods that are used considerably. I have often wondered —perhaps I ought to have inquired earlier —whether in our planting efforts are made to replace the very large numbers of these trees that come down for various reasons, some being cut down in order to raise money. It was either a Canadian or an American timber-grower who said that whenever one tree was cut down another ought to be planted in its place. That is a counsel of perfection in our country, but if we are to deal with this question properly, we ought to have in view all kinds of timber, and try to replace it and get more where possible.
I may be stamped as quite ignorant in saying what I am going to say, but I am not sure that the research students in regard to afforestation and the growing of trees generally are all quite correct in their opinions. I remember that, when we took some men to Suffolk we were told that to plant certain trees there was sheer lunacy. The committee of which I was chairman, and who knew much more about the subject than I did, carried through their determination and planted trees there although every expert told us it was sheer midsummer madness. Anyone who goes to see those plantations now will see that they produce some of the best fruit in the country. Therefore, when we hear that certain areas are unsuitable for the planting of certain trees, I am not sure that the experts are quite right about it. I listened to the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) and, of course, I am bound to give way to his opinion, because he lives in the districts about which he spoke, but I could not help wondering whether he was right in his analysis of things, and whether by different methods the plantations about which he complained might not be more successful.
It would be out of order to argue whether the economies were or were not necessary two years ago, but most people have come to the conclusion that we ought at this time to do everything we can to develop expenditure in our own country. I read a speech that was made, I think on Saturday, by a big commercial man, a, friend of mine, with whom I had furious arguments about the spending of money just before and during the crisis. I was astonished to find that he now takes the view that it is rubbish to keep on with the economy ramp. He asked why we did not spend more money in developing our own country. It is only a small thing for which we are asking this afternoon. Opinion has swung round in favour of a development policy, and that opinion is held not merely by people like myself, but by men who are engaged in finance and industry. There is a chance, on this relatively small Vote, for the Committee to say to tell the Government to go forward with this very useful work, and restore the grant to the amount proposed before the May Committee's Report.
I have had as much experience as any Member of the Committee of men being taken from the East End of London and other parts and put to work on the land at different kinds of jobs, planting trees and fruit bushes, and I have seen miners from the training centres which have been established, and what has always amazed me has been the adaptability of the socalled unskilled man. If men under conditions which are not good, because it is not nice to be put into a sort of compound, where you have to be in at a certain hour of the night, where your movements are restricted and your food provided in bulk, where there is no chance practically of any wages—if men under these conditions respond and give their best and show how adaptable they are, surely, if we can get more of them on this work of afforestation, as I hope we shall and redevelop the whole of British agriculture, we ought to do it. I hope the Financial Secretary will tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer of this Debate, ask him to read this discussion, reconsider this relatively speaking small sum of money and give the Commissioners the opportunity of carrying through their full programme by restoring to them the grant which was given before the cut. I join with everyone else in congratulating the Commissioners on the manner in which they have dealt with a very difficult situation, and I am sure that they will be with us in asking the Government to reconsider the matter and give them the extra money.
I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) on a most interesting speech, full of practical suggestions. As a member of the timber trade, may I say that there is one other point beside that of the grading of timber which should receive attention, and that is the drying of the timber. As far as the timber trade is concerned, it will be only too ready to give the fullest co-operation. The only other hon. Member who, in my opinion, has made commonsense observations has been the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). This £500,000 that is being spent is the biggest waste of money that is going on at the present time. Let us examine the facts. Take the price of timber to-day, £10 per standard or ls. 3d. per cubic foot. The trees which you are growing will be worth less than nothing at that price. It is all very well for hon. Members to say that there is going to be a timber famine 30, 40, 60 or 80 years ahead. The same thing was said when I first entered the timber trade, and I, for one, do not believe it. The reports which have been prepared in Blue Books have not taken into account the fact that there is in the world many hard woods which can be utilised for much of the work for which soft wood is now used.
This country is not adapted for the growing of soft woods, and the main reason for that is that there are no big rivers which can take the timber, whereas in the United States, in Russia and in Canada, timber can be taken many hundreds of miles down big rivers. In England the cost of transport by rail is far in excess of the value of the timber itself. The hon. Member for Roxburgh (Earl of Dalkeith) has told us about trees in Scotland. To bring trees from the north of Scotland into the industrial areas of the north and midlands would coat about three times the value of the timber. What is the good of growing timber in these circumstances? It is pure waste of money. No one knows the timber lands of Flintshire better than I do. Some of the finest ash and oak in the whole country are grown in North Wales and command profitable prices, but to talk about growing soft woods, as the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Llewellyn-Jones) did—where are you going to find a market where the cost of transport does not exceed the value of the timber? The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Worthington) spoke about the operations in that part of Gloucestershire. Everyone who knows that beautiful county knows that the trees there are not conifer trees; they are all oak. A great mistake in policy has been made by the Forestry Commission. Instead of concentrating on conifer trees, they should have concentrated upon the ash and oak, the natural tree of this country which can be grown at a, profit.
I should like to say a, great deal about the cost of transport. That is the real curse of the timber trade. It is far too high. My own firm is importing timber from the middle of Rumania and it has to come 2,000 miles to Danzig, and I do not know how many thousand miles from Danzig to Liverpool by sea,. The timber is brought for the whole of that distance for less cost than I could take it from Liverpool to Birmingham. It is obvious that the timber rates are the real curse of the trade, and until something is done in that direction it is futile for the Commission to go on as they are. This is a matter, I agree, of the greatest importance but the economic way to do it is by grants-in-aid to owners of existing timber lands to enable them to improve timber in those places where it is now being grown. The commissioners have done their work excellently in the circumstances, but they are starting in the wrong way, and with the wrong woods. It is money thrown into the gutter. You might as well dig a hole and fill it up again. I regret that the Government did not accept the recommendations of the May Report and put this policy into cold storage, and thus do away with this gross waste of public money.
Sir ALAN McLLEAN:
I am grateful for the opportunity that has been given this afternoon to discuss this important subject. In my own constituency there is situate the Thetford Chase area, one of the largest planting areas in England. The difficulties of the Forestry Commission, and of private owners of woodlands, have been discussed this afternoon, and, of course, owing to the long-term operation of forestry, one of the main difficulties is in getting a steady, consistent programme, carried out over a. long term of years. I am not going to discuss that problem, but there is one difficulty which the commission have to face to which reference has not been made up to the moment. On the one hand, it is often said, and has been said this afternoon by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), that the commission are planting on land which is unsuitable for the growing of timber. On the other hand, it is said that the commission are taking land which is too good for afforestation and ought to be used for agricultural purposes. The hon. Member for Torquay, in giving instances of land which was really too poor for timber production, mentioned one or two in Scotland, and then selected my constituency as providing the kind of land which is not good enough for timber growing. He is a false prophet. The land will grow good timber, and I am willing to take him there and show him examples of excellent timber growing in the neighbourhood.
The other difficulty is the suggsetion that the Commission have been using land which is too good, and which ought to be devoted to agricultural purposes. Speaking generally, I believe that the Commissioners are almost bound, for economic reasons, to buy land which is not suitable for agricultural purposes, and I think it is also the fact that in every case of doubt they consult with the Ministry of Agriculture on the subject. But while the whole aspect and character of the country in South-West Norfolk are being changed by this planting programme, it is most important that the Commission should carry with them the local people in these matters and, therefore, if it could be arranged that the Commission, before devoting land of a doubtful character to afforestation purposes, should get into touch with the local authority or the people in the district and explain their programme to them, it would get rid of a good deal of the hard words which are sometimes used about the Commission. At the present time, owing to the depressed condition of agriculture, it might be possible, of course, to buy land at a very low figure and to use it for afforestation purposes, but if that land is likely, in the near future at any rate, to be capable of use for agricultural purposes, I hope and believe that the Commission will not use it for afforestation.
There is one other matter of local importance which is worthy of consideration by the Commission. Where we are taking a large area of land and changing the character of the neighbourhood, if the Forestry Commission would, as far as possible, use all local labour in carrying on their operations, they would do a good deal to soften the blow that some people feel is being dealt at a district. It would be a great mistake to use labour that comes into such districts from the outside, for whatever reason it comes, if local labour is available for the purpose.
I pass from that to another matter that has been mentioned to-day, and that is the difficulties of the private planter. The hon. Member who opened the Debate referred to the woodlands which in many cases are deteriorating because the owner, for one reason or another, is allowing them to deteriorate. Is it not possible for the Forestry Commission, who at present give very valuable assistance in the planting of timber on privately-owned land, to carry their assistance a bit further by giving, possibly, financial assistance, and taking a survey of the woodlands which they think are being neglected? Could they not assist the private landowner to make these woodlands what they ought to be, an asset of real national value. I do not know whether the Forestry Commission can do anything of that kind. I know that they are very good in giving advice, but in some of these cases I think it might be in the national interest for the Commission to take the first step and view the woodlands that are deteriorating, to call the proprietor's attention to them, and to give him advice or possibly assistance.
The hon. Member who opened the Debate asked us to support a reduction of this Vote. I cannot accept the advice. There were many parts of the hon. Member's speech with which I entirely agreed, and no part with which the Committee as a whole more heartily agreed than the tribute he paid to the Forestry Commissioners of the past, and especially to those Commissioners who are no longer with us. I can assure the hon. Member and other Forestry Commissioners who are Members of this House, as well as their colleagues outside the House, that the help which the Commission is giving to the country generally is very greatly appreciated by many.
I too wish to congratulate the members of the Forestry Commission on the excellent work they are doing in my constituency. I have risen to call attention to one matter which affects all tenants of sheep farms bought by the Commission. In nearly every case in North Wales the farms bought are in the main sheep farms. The tenant going into one of these sheep farms is nearly always prepared to give for the sheep 10s. a head at least more than their market value. The reason for that is, of course, that they are being depastured on the open mountains; they have been born and bred on these open spaces and they, by reason of this, keep to the part of the open sheep walk which belongs to the farm. What do the Commission do? I ought to say that when letting a farm the landlord scarcely ever undertakes to buy the sheep but he binds the tenant to offer these sheep at a certain price, or to arbitrate; he never binds himself to take these sheep over, and for obvious reasons. To the landlord the farm would be of no value whatever without the sheep. If the sitting tenant sold the sheep away that farm would never let at its normal rent. Therefore the landlord is always prepared to take the sheep at a valuation and that valuation is always about 10s. more than the market value of sheep sold in the ordinary way.
But what does the Forestry Commission do? It buys a farm and when the landlord has not undertaken in the agreement to take the sheep at a valuation, the Commission says, "We do not want the sheep." The consequence is that tenants who, in going into the farm, took the sheep at a valuation, lose 10s. a head on them.
My appeal to the Forestry Commissioners is that they should deal with the tenant in exactly the same way as a landlord or incoming tenant would do. Agriculture is in a very sorry plight in my part of the world, and the loss of 10s. a head on sheep is a tremendous loss to a tenant. In buying the farms the Commissioners should remember that they have an obligation to the tenant and should treat him as the tenant has treated a. preceding tenant.
But that is not all. The Commissioners do not always refuse to buy the sheep. When there is an agreement specifying that the landlord has the option of buying the sheep at a very low figure, the Commissioners buy the sheep. Let me give an instance. A farm was bought by the Commission. Under an agreement the tenant had bought the sheep at 12s. a head, and if he left he had to sell at 12s. a head. The Commission immediately took the sheep over at 12s. a head. They saw that they could sell the sheep to better advantage later. They therefore took possession of the sheep at that low figure. But when it comes to taking them at market value, plus the 10s. a head which they would command if sold by arbitration as stock sheep, invariably do they decline to take them. The Commission should deal with tenants in exactly the same way as an incoming tenant or landlord would do. Surely a Government Department ought to set an example to everyone in the country.
I wish to reply to some of the points raised in the Debate and I ask the indulgence of the Committee while I make the attempt, for although I am one of the oldest Members of the House I am completely a "new boy" in the task of attempting to reply to a Debate in Committee of Supply. It has been a very friendly and encouraging Debate, and I would like, if I may without impertinence, to thank those Members from all parts of the House who have spoken to-day. The friendliness of the speeches has been typical of the friendliness with which we carry on our work in the Forestry Commission. I am the third Commissioner to take part in the Debate to-day. My two colleagues and I belong to three different parties, but it would be very difficult for anyone to find out that fact in the work that we do together. I could wish for no two better colleagues than the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) and the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland). I sometimes wonder whether the hon. Member for Gower suspects me of being a good Socialist as often as I credit him with sound Conservative principles. Whether that be so or not, I do not ask for an answer. In any case we work together in admirable co-operation and friendliness.
In moving a reduction of the Vote the hon. Member for Gower made a speech with almost every word of which I found myself in complete agreement. Let me deal with some of his points. It is not for us Commissioners to question the decision of His Majesty's Government in imposing a drastic reduction of programme upon us. We can only carry out the programme with loyalty and we have attempted to do so. I think we have succeeded in doing so. I may claim for the Commission that when we were asked in the first period, before the new scale came into force, to try to find economies of £150,000, we succeeded in finding economies of approximately £180,000. We were able immediately to cut away a good deal of expenditure which was preparatory to the expanding programme which we had been instructed to draw up. I do not think that that expansion was too rapid. Here I find myself in slight disagreement with my Noble Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Earl of Dalkeith). I hope it may be possible before long for the Government and this House to hold out the prospect to us of getting back to an expanding programme somewhat on those lines. I am referring to that matter now, because I want to remind the Committee, and particularly the Treasury, that it would take a very long time to work up to an expanding programme of any substance. The preparation is slow and the work must be very gradual. If it were desired that we should get back to a substantially larger programme in five years, we should start at once.
The hon. Member for Gower and one or two other speakers have quite rightly laid great stress upon the importance of stability of programme. I agree with that entirely. Nothing could be more wasteful than a sudden drop either from a fixed programme or an expanding programme. It is quite true that the economy which was imposed upon the Commission two years ago involved the destruction of young plants which had cost approximately £50,000 to grow. There were nearly 50,000,000 of them. There was no alternative before the Commission. I mention this because people have said to me, and Members of the House have said to me, "Why did you not give them away?" If we had given away the plants which we had, or attempted to do so, we should have put the whole of the nursery trade into bankruptcy. We were not justified in doing that. What we did was to arrange with one or two large local authorities that a programme of planting should be undertaken by them—it would not have been undertaken otherwise—and we supplied them with the plants. It would have been improper for us in order to secure the planting of our plants to have thrown the whole nursery trade into insolvency and to have compelled them to destroy their plants.
The hon. Member for Gower and other hon. Members have given many interesting figures on the subject of the employment given the Commission. I am not going over these figures again. I only want to remind the Committee of one point which has not been stressed, and I do not think has been mentioned in the course of this afternoon's discussion. The point is that, while in the early days of a forest, a comparatively small number of men may be employed, that number is continually increasing as the forest gets older. We only feel justified in recommending the setting up of five forest workers' holdings per thousand acres of plantable land. When, however, that thousand acres has grown up, it will employ not five men permanently, plus seasonable employment, but 25 at the least. The Forest of Dean gives permanent employment to one man per 39 acres. This, I think, is a reinforcement of the argument that afforestation is sound for employment. It will go on creating growing employment as the forest approaches maturity.
Several references have been made, not only by the hon. Member for Gower but by other hon. Members, to the fact that in some cases our plantations have not been successful, that we have planted on poor types of land and that we have grown conifers where we might have grown hard woods. The whole underlying idea of our forest policy in this country has been to attempt to make commercial forests where no substantial amount of food is produced. The better land, upon which we could get much better timber, is ruled out, both by the economic factor and the consideration that we must not displace food production to any appreciable extent. That is the reason why a great deal of relatively poor land has been planted. I may say here that it is astonishing how many units promise to be quite successful.
Let me turn to the second speaker in the Debate, the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). I wonder whether he intended me, or any other hon. Member of the Committee, to take him seriously? I found it very difficult to do so. He is in a position of splendid isolation so far as his attitude to forestry is concerned. He mentioned one or two specific points which I do not want to ignore. He criticised the Glenshiel plantation, and one or two plantations in other districts. My hon. Friend has dealt with one of the cases he raised. I would like to tell him that there is a good deal of difference of opinion about the success or failure of the Glenshiel plantation. I am not going to accept his condemnation at its face value.
I quite agree that there are differences of opinion, but surely where trees have died wholesale, which they have done in this case, there can be no difference of opinion.
There may have been some element of failure. I do not deny that, but it is quite impossible for us to experiment, to the extent we have to experiment, without some failures. I am not at all sure Glenshiel is one of them. We have to try a great many experiments, and, as I mid before, it is astonishing how many of them promise to be successful. The results derived from these successful experiments are likely to be very important. For instance, we have found a means of growing trees successfully on types of land which 15 years ago would have been condemned as unproductive of anything of value. That has been well worth doing because it has brought into the range of economic forestry a large area of land. I may give an instance of a great stretch of the Border country—Kïelder Castle, Kershope and New Castleton. There is a very promising forest started there where, as I said, 15 years ago the most optimistic person would have hesitated to embark on anything of the kind.
Another experiment, promising great success, has reference to settling the moving sands at Culbin. It is true that there is French experience, but so far as Great Britain is concerned it is new, and it promises to be not only successful but of great value to a district threatened by these moving sands. The hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. Llewellyn-Jones) surprised me by the points he raised. I have always been brought up to look upon him as one of the most rigid of Free Traders. So far as I can gather, he was criticising the Government, and the Forestry Commission, for not being sufficiently drastic in their protection methods, so far as timber is concerned. Before I sit down I shall have something to say about foreign supplies, and perhaps I can do that better than in answer to the hon. Member. He further made complaint that we had not done any planting is his constituency. It is not for lack of trying. As the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) said, some of the land in Flintshire is very valuable, and is outside our economic range at present. We entered into very considerable negotiations for suitable land, within the range of economic possibility, in Flintshire. In one case we came quite close to the end of the negotiations, but the owner sold it at the last moment to somebody else. In another case, negotiations had to be interrupted when the policy associated with the May Report was brought forward. We are perfectly willing, when the opportunity offers and there is suitable land at a suitable price, to plant in Flintshire as in any other part of Great Britain.
The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Dr. Worthington) raised a number of local points. He wishes us to give, instead of sell, land for children's playgrounds, for the extension of cemeteries, for drainage schemes, and for the making of footpaths to inaccessible houses occupied by squatters, etc. I would be the last to agree with him that the heart of the Treasury is stoney. I do not think it is, but even so, I must remind him that if the Forestry Commission, without the consent of the Treasury, started to give away property of the Crown, for however worthy a purpose, we should hear more of it, not only from the Treasury but from this House. We try in this matter to act as good servants of the Crown, good landlords, good neighbours and good employers. More than that we cannot do. I think, if he considers the matter a little more deeply, that he will feel we could not have made these gifts that his constituents would have liked. He would not have been so keen about our making gifts to the constituency of some other Member.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Price), in an interesting speech, asked for an increase of forest workers' holdings. I wish we could increase the forest workers' holdings, because I believe they are likely to play a very important part in creating a healthy type of peasantry in the forest areas, who will be of value, not only to the Commission, but to the nation at large. When our funds are cut down to the minimum we must, however, not allow ourselves to forget that our main purpose is to create woodlands, and we would not be justified in diverting part of the funds we want so badly for planting, to the creation of holdings we can do without.
Sir G. COURTHOP:
It is a matter for the Treasury rather than for ourselves. We have 1,179 forest workers' holdings and we have 16 more in progress at the present time. Of these 1,179 holdings, 108 are occupied by ex-miners from distressed areas. The average rent of a holding is £14 per annum, and the average area is between 10 and 11 acres. These holders, most of whom, if not all, came to the holdings with very empty pockets, now own livestock which, on a conservative basis, is valued at over £37,000. They are establishing themselves as holders, and as producers of food. We guarantee a minimum of 160 days' paid work to these holders. In the majority of cases they get a good deal more, but that is the guaranteed position, and the scheme is working admirably, The Noble Lord the Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Earl of Dalkeith) advocated increased acquisition of growing woods. We have the power to do so, but there, again, cost comes in. We would like to acquire growing woods, but our principal job is to make the money go as far as possible by increasing the acreage of our own forests. If we diverted the money to purchasing growing timber, we would reduce thereby our power to plant new plantations. I agree with him that a great deal more should be done if possible to organise the marketing of timber and to cheapen transport. I think it is not improper of me to draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to this matter, because it is a point which the Treasury ought to consider very carefully in the next two or three years.
The fact that we have a large quantity of thoroughly good, sound pit timber in Scotland which in present circumstances cannot be brought to market because of the cost of transport, makes a study of the subject desirable but, apart from that consideration, we must remember that in a few years' time the annual output will be increasing enormously. When the young plantations reach a certain age large areas will have to be thinned, and if forestry is to be an economic success it is imperative that means should be found of getting these thinnings, the first product of the forests, to market as economically as possible. Experience as well as the scientific tests carried out at Princes Risborough have proved beyond a doubt that our pit timber is as serviceable as the competing foreign pit timber for use in the mines—and for other purposes as well, though I am dealing now more particularly with pit props. If the economic difficulty of transport could be overcome, we could put 1,000,000 tons a year of good pit timber into the mines of Great Britain without any difficulty, and that quantity would increase as the young plantations of the Forestry Commission advanced towards maturity.
The hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn) in a very delightful and well-informed speech properly laid stress upon the need for permanence in policy. I make no excuse for returning to this subject because it is of the utmost importance, if the maximum of employment with the minimum of expenditure is to be achieved, that we should work on a, regular, organised graduated programme. Any sudden jerks, upwards or downwards, can only be wasteful and may lead to ultimate failure. I do not know whether I can follow the hon. Member into a discussion on the point which he raised regarding capital expenditure, and perhaps I had better leave that question unanswered. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) was very anxious to claim credit on behalf of his own party for various matters in connection with forestry. I will give his party the credit of producing my right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall, who is the author of the document well-known as the Acland Report upon which our forest policy and the Forestry Commission are based. But I hope he will not ask me to go any further, because, as I have said already, we work together as a happy family, and I do not want to start giving this credit here or that credit there.
The hon. Member went on to talk about sheep stocks. I assure the hon. Member that no land is taken without the approval of the Ministry of Agriculture in England and Wales and the Board of Agriculture in Scotland. That is in order to ensure that we do not inadvertently take land contrary to the general policy which is not to interfere with the production of foodstuffs. In the Acland Report there is a paragraph which states that if 2,000,000 acres of land were put under trees the production of meat in this country would be reduced by less than 1 per cent. and as far as I can ascertain there is no case in which there has been anything like substantial interference with food production. The land which has been taken has been land carrying the minimum of livestock. As I am on the question of sheep stocks, I should like to refer to the point made by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Haydn Jones), who seemed to suggest that the Commission were not quite playing the game with regard to this question of sheep stocks.
The question of acclimatisation values, to which the hon. Member referred, is a very difficult one, but we avoid taking acclimatised stocks wherever we can. We have had to take them in certain particular instances, and, incidentally, they involved us in a loss of £14,000, but we always arrange, if we can, that acclimatised sheep stock will be disposed of either before we take over the land or in the process of taking over the land, and it very often happens that we are able to arrange with farmers with a big range of land to plant 200 acres or 300 acres of a large farm each year allowing eight years or 10 years before the final transfer, and where that arrangement has been possible it has worked amicably and well. I can assure the hon. Member that, although we try to make good bargains in these cases, it may be found in some cases that the cost of acclimatised sheep stock makes the whole transaction uneconomic for us, and we have to turn down the scheme, but we have always, as far as I am aware, acted up to the letter and the spirit of the bargains which we have made.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Clifton Brown) mentioned one of our great difficulties, namely, that of encouraging private forestry. Estates generally are steadily being reduced in size and private forestry is much easier to encourage on a large estate than on a small estate. There are still many private estates which set a striking example in this respect, but as estates are broken up, it passes beyond the power of the new owners with smaller areas to manage their woodlands under sound forest conditions. I do not think it a remedy to suggest that the Forestry Commission might take over these little woodlands. It would be uneconomic and wasteful to try to manage a number of scattered woodlands and it is better that our efforts should be concentrated for a great many years on the economic handling of large blocks such as we are handling to-day.
The right bon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked me a very interesting question, and I should like to thank him both for the kindness with which he put his question and the praise which he gave to the Commissioners. He asked about the hardwoods. I have already explained that the limitation on the cost of land does not make it easy for us to get very much good land but, wherever we can, we maintain and increase plantations of hardwood. I have here a report of last year—just one year's plantings—and I find that in the year ending 30th September, 1932, we planted over 1,000,000 oaks, 855,000 ash, 1,500,000 beech, and 3,000,000 of other varieties. This includes a certain amount of walnut, which we have planted at the request of the War Office as well as for other reasons. The hon. Member for Macclesfield suggested that this country was unsuitable for the growth of soft wood timber. I do not agree, and the experience of the Commission during the last few years does not bear out that theory.
I disagree still more with the hon. Member on that point. We are now supplying successfully considerable and increasing quantities of telegraph poles to the Post Office. Everyone knows how exacting are the specifications of the Post Office, and if we can satisfy the Post Office as to telegraph poles hon. Members may rest assured that we are producing very fine stuff. As to the general question, we are at present importing 95 per cent. of our soft wood requirements from foreign countries and 86 per cent. of our hard wood requirements—the soft wood is much greater both in bulk and in proportion—and I would draw attention to two sentences from recent official publications. In 1926, the forestry subcommittee of the Imperial Conference reported that there was every likelihood of a serious shortage of soft woods in less than 30 years. This is the seventh year of those 30 years.
In 1932, the Economic Committee of the League of Nations published a report on the timber problem which stated that the world consumption of soft wood timber was 50 per cent. greater than the annual growth and that, put in other words, meant that the forest resources of the world were being exhausted to the extent of 17,000 million cubit feet a year. That cannot go on long, and we have to face that situation. For those reasons, as well as for all the social reasons involved, I think the forest policy of this country is fully justified, and if this Government or future Governments see their way to say to us: "Let the policy expand," we shall be very glad to expand it.