Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
Most hon. Members would have expected the Minister of State to refuse to help in this way, and might have anticipated at least some of his arguments, had they had the misfortune to read the Official Report of the proceedings of the other place. To my mind, however, it is rather tragic that at a moment like this the Minister can come to the House and say that he has decided to give no help to an industry because, in his view, it is not sufficiently important and that the economic state of the country is such that no help should be given.
This highlights once again the Government's determination to try to scramble through, if, perhaps, only for the length of the Recess, without ever looking at the problems which are bound to face this industry and many other industries where there is a long-term serious problem and to say that they will look at them again in a year's time or yearly and see whether anything needs to be done.
The tragedy—and it is, in a way, a tragedy, and Government for many years have been involved in it—is that we have neglected forestry to a quite appalling extent. I do not think, as the Minister of State thinks, that the Forestry Commission are the people who should be doing all the planting. I do not regret any curtailment in that sphere if we can get the people who look after the land to use trees as a sensible crop and one that should be grown.
It is anomalous, to put it no higher, that at a time when the balance of payments is one of the critical problems, the Minister can admit that we are importing 90 per cent. of our timber—our import figure is, I think, about £450 million a year—and that this is not important. Of course it is important. If we are to get the situation right, although the growing of trees is a long-term programme, if the Minister would come up to my part of the world and look around he would see many thousands of acres of trees planted in the 1920's and 1930's which, are now ready for cutting and need to be extracted. That being so it is surely right—and the Minister has admitted there is not much money involved—to say now that this sort of help, which is quite small in quantity, should be given to the people who ought to be thinking out new methods of extracting the timber which is ready to be extracted.
I have said before in debates here that probably the biggest mistake the Forestry Commission has made in the 40 years of its existence is that it has never looked beyond its immediate nose—rather as the Minister is trying to do with the economic situation today. When I was young the Commission planted thousands of acres of trees but with no idea at all how it was going to get them out of those areas in which it wanted them. Then after the war this problem hit the Commission rather hard and it proceeded to build enormously expensive roads all through its forests in order to get the timber out. Hon. Members who have been to other parts of Europe and seen the way the timber comes out, in Sweden, in the Alps, for instance, will have seen that there are not these great and very expensive forest roads built all over the place. In those countries they have other, better, much more efficient methods of extraction. Then the Commission had no idea till the paper mill came along, where it should sell the material. This was planning gone mad.
I believe the other place, in putting this Amendment before us, has done a real service in trying to concentrate our minds on more efficient methods of extraction which will make our own industry cheaper and more efficient, and a protection against having to import timber. I believe that we should support the Amendment, and I shall certainly ask my hon. and right hon. Friends to do so.