Forestry Commission

Part of Civil Estimates, 1943 – in the House of Commons on 6th July 1943.

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Photo of Major Sir Duncan McCallum Major Sir Duncan McCallum , Argyll

Time is short, and there are many other hon. Members who wish to speak, and therefore I will cut down my remarks and make one or two points only upon forestry as it concerns Scotland. An hon. Member opposite maintained that there is a controversy between the forestry interests and the hill sheep farming interests in regard to the future planting policy of the Forestry Commission. I think that is presenting the position in a very depressing light. The point is that we in Scotland—and I think I am speaking for the majority of people in Scotland—would welcome. planting-up by the Forestry Commission in post-war years. There is a great future for forestry in many parts of Scotland, in particular in the Highlands. What we do feel about the matter is that there has not been sufficient discussion of or attention paid to the more technical aspects of the hill sheep industry, and we also think that the figures presented by the Commission in this most interesting Report are not as correct as they might be. For instance, the comparison between the return to be got from an acre planted with trees and the return from it if it carried sheep is not quite fair, because the Report refers only to the plantable acreage and does not refer to the thousands, indeed, I might say tens of thousands, of acres of derelict hill land above the woods which at present carry or in the past have carried quite a number of sheep. I agree most sincerely with the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) that a great deal could be done on these hill grazings by way of improving the grass, so making them still more valuable to the hill sheep farmer; in other words, the same development has to be carried out in regard to the hill sheep farming industry as by the Forestry Commission; but we admit and welcome the fact that there are vast areas, particularly in the remoter parts of Scotland, where planting could be most effectively carried out. We find, or we suspect, that those are not the areas which the Forestry Commission propose to plant, because they are difficult of access and because there are difficulties of transport, housing and the other ancillary services in connection with forestry. I would therefore ask Members to put it out of their heads that there is any controversy or dislike by the hill sheep farming industry of afforestation as such.

A word or two should be said regarding the slur that seems to be cast upon the part played by the privately owned woods. I would recall to the minds of the Committee the fact that 80 per cent. of the timber supplied in this country for war needs is supplied by private owners and that very little has been supplied by the Forestry Commission. It is necessary to encourage private woodlands. I have heard on one or two occasions the astounding statement that forestry is divorced from agriculture. I must confess that I simply cannot understand such a statement. Surely most owners of woodlands are also farmers or they have farms on their estates, and all those whom I know have to balance their forestry planning and their agricultural planning. I cannot see how those two subjects can possibly be divorced one from the other.

As regards the activities of the Forestry Commission, there are a few points to which I would like to draw the attention of the Committee. I speak from personal experience as I happen to represent a constituency in which there are 210,000 acres owned by the Forestry Commission, including the first and original national park, so I do know something about what is going on. I was astonished one day not very long ago to find the Forestry Commission planting trees in standing oats. That seemed to be a complete disregard for the agricultural value of the land. How it came about I do not know. I reported the matter, and I was assured that I must have been mistaken as it could not have been so. As a matter of fact, I had witnesses, who saw the oats standing there and the foresters planting tree by tree in the middle. Again we question very much the ability of the Forestry Commission to keep down vermin in the areas they have planted. The vermin in Argyllshire which emanates from the Forestry Commission's area is something in the nature of a plague. I have been assured by members of the Forestry Com- mission that they offer rewards for the killing of vermin, but the trouble is that keepers, the vermin trappers if you like to call them such, employed by the Forestry Commission are almost always men in the neighbourhood of 80 years of age. I hope that may be only a war-time situation. Close to my home there is a forestry plantation, where one elderly keeper cannot get up to the top of the hill or the top of the plantation. On one occasion we solicited the aid of Forestry Commission workers to help us in a fox drive, owing to the serious depredations on our lands by foxes coming out of the plantations. We could not get the assistance. There are all kinds of complaints of that nature which show that there is not sufficient co-operation between the Forestry Commission, with their activities, and our hill sheep farming industry in Scotland.

I would now like to tell the Committee how I view the future control of forestry in Scotland. I speak advisedly for Scotland only. I have heard hon. Members give their opinions as to what should be done in England and Wales. I feel most seriously that as forestry is a matter of long-term planning carrying with it such matters as housing, education, health, drainage and the like, it ought to be carried out from now onwards, or at the end of the war, as part of the post-war planning of our country. I cannot see how that can be carried out by a separate organisation from our own Minister of Planning for Scotland, who is the Secretary of State for Scotland. Many of us feel that while forestry is an industry which requires a very long-term policy, so also is agriculture. Nobody can say that agriculture has not played its part in the national crisis up to now, and I do not see any reason why forestry, which must march with agriculture, should not be brought under the same control as agriculture in Scotland. At St. Andrew's House in Edinburgh I would like to see a Department of Forestry established, not under the Board of Agriculture for Scotland, but both under the Secretary of State for Scotland. He should decide what land should be handed over for afforestation and what land is required for agriculture. Machinery might be arranged so as to have a united forestry service, in so far as it is concerned with the promotions of experienced personnel, between England, Wales and Scotland. As regards education and research, I feel that these should be combined for the two countries, but the actual carrying out and planning of post-war policy in afforestation in Scotland should be a matter over which the Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible and to whom we can apply when we are not satisfied with the conditions. A moment ago an hon. Member opposite said that we were being too nationalistic and not national enough. In Scotland we feel it is rather curious that on the Forestry Commission all the Members of this House sit for English constituencies and not one for Scottish, while the greater part of the forestry area is in Scotland and not in England. We feel also that it would be much better—I am not saying this wishing to be personal in any way to hon. Members who have done good work on the Forestry Commission—if the Commission were composed either entirely of Members of this House or of none at all. The responsibility for the Commission in this House should be on the Secretary of State for Scotland.