'the Coast Protection Act 1949

Part of Orders of the Day — Scotland Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st February 1978.

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Photo of Sir John Gilmour Sir John Gilmour , Fife East 12:00 am, 1st February 1978

I have made a few short contributions to this debate. There is no justification for that allegation.

I want to underline what my hon. Friends have said about the importance of forestry. What sticks out a mile, apart from our dependence on timber imports, which is one of our biggest burdens now that we have our own oil resources, is the fact that the timber we import comes mostly from the Communist world. We put ourselves at very great risk. We could find ourselves in the same situation as we were in during the oil crisis. If the Communist bloc decides not to fell any more trees and to hold up supplies because it will get more money in five, 10 or 15 years' time, this will increase considerably the amount of money that we have to spend.

We need to know the workings of forestry under devolution. Paragraph 20(2) of Schedule 16 says that any power of the Forestry Commissioners to make regulations includes power to make separate provisions for Scotland. Does this mean that with the devolved power of forestry, it will be possible to have different levels of maintenance and plant ing grants in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom? Or is it just a form of words which says that the forestry powers devolved will apply to felling licences and amenity rather than the nitty gritty of actual financial work?

Most hon. Members will agree that the thing that makes the difference between whether people plant trees this year, next year or the year after is the impact of taxes. I understand that tax-paying powers will not be devolved. Therefore, it is presumably true that the whole financial aspect of forestry is still controlled by this House. I hope that the Minister of State, when he replies will tell us that the Secretary of State will still be the forestry Minister for Scotland and that we shall be able to put questions to him.

It is easy enough to devolve forestry, but it is not clear what the powers will be. I imagine that because neither agriculture nor fishing is to be devolved to the Assembly, having already been devolved to the EEC, if the EEC produces a forestry regime which this country accepts and adopts, we would have to claw back from the Scottish Assembly anything to do with forestry because we would be devolving it to the EEC.

10.15 p.m.

I hope that the Minister will be able to answer this point. It relates to the set-back that we have experienced in forest-planting in past years. This has been due entirely to fiscal measures taken by the Labour Government. I am glad to see that the Government have seen the error of their ways. They have set up a committee which we hope will alleviate the difficulties. I believe that confidence is returning to those who are engaged in planting and that we can look forward with some confidence to the future. However, the matter still resides with the House of Commons.

I should like to have an explanation from the Minister of State on how the responsibilities for forestry are to be split between this House and the Assembly. Will he say which powers will be granted to the Assembly and which will remain with this House? I hope that the Minister will be able to give an explanation because the action we shall take on this amendment will depend upon his reply.