Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is certainly true that ERM 1 moved on to the prospect of ERM 2, which is slightly more voluntary than the previous expression. I remind the noble Lord that Article 109j provides for the possibility of normal fluctuation margins on the European exchange rate mechanism but that Article 109m refers to exchange

18 Feb 1998 : Column 228

rates being a matter of common interest. I am sure that that will continue to be the case rather than existing exchange rates being fixed for all time.

Lord St. John of Bletso: My Lords, given the inevitability of the introduction of the euro, what are the Government doing to promote businesses in Britain to prepare themselves for the single currency?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Simon of Highbury is responsible within Government for these matters. He appointed a business advisory group in September 1997 which reported to the President of the Board of Trade in December 1997. It is intended that that report will be published. The EMU preparation standing committee, which includes the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the President of the Board of Trade, the Governor of the Bank of England, the CBI and the TUC, had its first meeting late in January. There is a comparable body ensuring that good preparations take place in Government itself.

Chewing Gum: Disposal

3.1 p.m.

Viscount Long asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will raise the matter of proper disposal of chewing gum with the Litter Advisory Committee.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, the Litter Advisory Group was set up specifically to review the litter provisions in the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and reported in July 1994.

We look to the Tidy Britain Group to advise us on all aspects of littering, including disposal of chewing gum. The group, which is largely funded by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, runs projects to promote the proper disposal of gum. It is also working with a leading gum manufacturer to develop effective cleansing methods and to investigate the possibility of changing the composition of gum to reduce its adhesive qualities.

Viscount Long: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her Answer. Can she go a little further? Does she agree that 300,000 pieces of chewing gum are removed from Oxford Street at any one time? Is not that a minnow compared to the rest of the country--towns, air terminals, stations and streets? Is it not the case that the situation is now so serious that Britain is beginning to look like an old English pudding called spotted dick? Furthermore, it is a far better sight to see a herd of cattle chewing the cud than to see a flock of tourists and

18 Feb 1998 : Column 229

members of the British public not only chewing gum, but spitting it out or putting it around tables in restaurants.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, I am reluctant to interrupt what I believe to be 15 years' silence on the part of the noble Viscount. However, he really ought to ask a question.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I agree that the sight of anyone, whether British or foreign, spitting out gum is not pleasant. I agree also that it is a growing and expensive problem. Surveys undertaken by the Tidy Britain Group suggest that the problem of discarded chewing gum on streets and pavements is getting worse. I cannot confirm official government figures on the number of individual pieces of gum, but I can say that Westminster City Council spends approximately £25,000 a year simply on removing chewing gum from streets and pavements. Whether the Westminster problem is specifically related to the inability sometimes suggested of politicians to walk and chew gum at the same time, I am not certain.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, would not the Government consider imposing a heavy duty on the sale of chewing gum and putting the proceeds towards paying for cleaning up the mess that chewers cause?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the House will understand that matters of taxation and duty are for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, I recognise that I respond for the Government in this House on this matter and I shall certainly pass on that suggestion to my right honourable friend.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, will the noble Baroness take on board the advice of some young friends of mine? There is a simple answer to all this. When one chews chewing gum, one should keep the wrapper. When one finishes with it, it should be put back into the wrapper and put in one's pocket until one finds a rubbish bin.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the House may be interested to know that the Tidy Britain Group provided 24,000 spring clean-up kits promoting good gum disposal and 16,000 youth packs for schools and youth groups suggesting the sort of action referred to by the noble Baroness. Those kits are being produced as part of the Tidy Britain Group's annual campaign--the National Spring Clean--which will take place in April this year.

Earl Russell: My Lords, do the Government accept the premise of the question that there is such a thing as the proper disposal of chewing gum?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, if the Government accept the premise that people chew gum and that it

18 Feb 1998 : Column 230

should not be made a criminal offence so to do, then the Government accept the premise that the proper disposal of gum is an issue that they should consider.

Lord Acton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, after 35 years of smoking, some of us managed to give up that habit by chewing, first, nicotine chewing gum and then ordinary chewing gum? Might it not be in the national interest if the noble Viscount, Lord Long, and other smokers were to contemplate the therapeutic joys of chewing gum?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am sure that it will be in the interests of public health that as many people as possible follow the example of my noble friend and give up smoking.


3.7 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe rose to call attention to the case for a policy to expand forestry in the United Kingdom, based on partnership between the public and private sectors; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, first, I declare an interest as the chairman of the All-Party Forestry Group. It may be helpful to those who are listening to this debate for me to establish one or two facts in relation to forestry. In this country only 10 per cent. of the country is covered by trees. In Germany it is 30 per cent. and in France it is 26 per cent. At the beginning of the century only 5 per cent. of the countryside was under trees; but now we have managed to increase that to 10 per cent. However, that is substantially below the woodland cover of our European friends and neighbours.

Forestry is a considerable industry. The current value of output in a year is £800 million and growing. Sixty per cent. of all woodlands are in private ownership. The Forestry Commission is responsible for only 40 per cent. of woodland ownership. Having established those facts about forestry, I should perhaps refer to an earlier debate on this subject, which took place in January 1995. As I said at that time, the Minister concerned had previously assured us that,

    "It continues to be our policy to encourage the expansion of woodland cover in Great Britain".--[Official Report, 14/4/93; col. 1143.]

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was present for that debate. He had said in a debate on forestry in 1991:

    "I have every confidence that the industry itself will increase the number of plantings".--[Official Report, 27/3/91; col. 1066.]

Those are the promises that were made in previous years. Since then investment in forestry has declined and new planting has substantially declined. The Forestry Commission, of which I was chairman some years ago, used to plant around 20,000 hectares a year. Last year, that was down to 400 hectares. In the private sector 10 years ago 19,700 hectares were planted. Today the figure is 16,000. This represents an industry in decline because of lack of concern and lack of acceptance of its importance to our economy.

18 Feb 1998 : Column 231

It is important, now three years after that debate, that we should take stock of where the industry is going. I propose to say a few words about, first, its economic importance to the country; secondly, the environmental impact of forestry; and, thirdly, the importance of forestry in giving us a reasonable quality of life in our country.

As far as concerns the economics of forestry, we import over £6 billion of wood products a year. I attended a lecture upstairs just a few weeks ago when the head of the DTI Export Department told us about how much the Government are spending on export promotion and how they hold seminars and exhibitions overseas. I pay a compliment to the DTI for its endeavours in export promotion. However, very little is said about import substitution, which is equally important to our balance of trade. We should be looking at this tremendous bill of over £6 billion per annum for the import of wood products.

In the past 10 years the pulp and paper industries have expanded considerably. In that time over £1 billion has been invested in new plant and equipment. That investment is undertaken on the assumption that there will be supplies of timber from domestic sources in order to keep the pulp and paper industries going. However, the record of the past few years has shown that there is no possibility of the industries being sustained by domestic supplies.

The industries were based on the assumption that the quality and supply of British timber would enable them to be competitive in the world markets of paper production. There is nothing wrong with the quality of British timber. However, there is something wrong with the record of the planting programme. The industries depend on spruce, largely sitka spruce, as the material for paper and pulp production, but nowadays more than 50 per cent. of new planting is in broad-leaves, which have a rotation of 90 to 100 years. They contribute something to the environment but contribute little or nothing to maintaining the kind of industrial investment that has taken place. I therefore suggest that we have to look at forestry as an important industry and as an important contributor to national wealth.

I want to say a few words about quality of life. The Government spend a lot of time talking about sport and making people more healthy. I do not believe it is particularly healthy for 60,000 people to go to Old Trafford on a Saturday. I prefer to walk in the woods. I prefer the quiet. I prefer to escape from the trashiness of television. We should give people the opportunity to get out into the woodlands to walk. They would thereby become more healthy, physically and mentally.

Fifty million day visitors walked in the Forestry Commission estate last year. I am referring to the Forestry Commission estate, although the private sector has been similarly active. Chalets in the Forestry Commission woodlands were occupied for 1.2 million bed nights last year. The Forestry Commission is responsible for the management of 17 forest parks. All of these make an important contribution to good and healthy living. These factors have to be taken into

18 Feb 1998 : Column 232

account when the Government talk about making us a healthier nation but spend a lot more on the glamorous aspects of sport and recreation. The Forestry Commission works closely with NGOs, English Nature and Scottish Heritage in maintaining the standards of our environment. The Forestry Commission is responsible for 70,000 hectares of SSSIs, which are important to our national heritage. Forestry, therefore, is not only economically important but is a national asset in terms of our quality of life.

When I was chairman of the Forestry Commission, the private sector and the state sector worked in partnership together. We shared research and training facilities. We were not competitors. We did our best to create a healthy forestry estate. I regret to say that under the previous government there was an upsetting of those partnership arrangements. The Forestry Commission has been run down, no money has become available for planting or acquisition, and substantial investment and grants have been made, rightly, to the private sector to encourage it to grow trees. I hope that as a result of this debate the Government will be encouraged to make a new start in this relationship and revive the old partnership concept. Instead of selling off the Forestry Commission estate and denying it the funds necessary for planting and acquisitions, I hope there will be the re-establishment of the relationship which existed formerly.

I was delighted to see the other day that forestry has featured on the Prime Minister's agenda. However, I believe that he overdid it a little when he made a statement on forestry. It was headed by his Press Office,

    "Prime Minister Tony Blair has launched the most significant forestry document in the past decade".

That is encouraging, but I believe that it is going a little too far. Nevertheless, the fact that the Prime Minister is now taking an interest in forestry is a very good thing.

I hope that the Minister will pay attention to the party manifesto in connection with forestry. It says,

    "We favour a moratorium on the sale of Forestry Commission land. The countryside is a great national asset and calls for careful stewardship".

I hope that that is a message that the Minister takes on board.

Perhaps I may make one further aside as regards the devolution debate which we shall have in due course. The fact that the Government will now devolve forestry and will make it a Scottish concern in Scotland, a Welsh concern in Wales and an English one in England will contribute nothing to improving the management and expansion of the forestry estate. I hope that the Minister will also take that on board in anticipation of the Scottish devolution debate.

I am delighted that a number of noble Lords are participating in this debate and I hope that their encouragement and voices will be heard. I beg to move for Papers.

3.21 p.m.

Lord Nickson: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for introducing this debate and somewhat flattered that, in responding to him, I find

18 Feb 1998 : Column 233

myself first wicket down--which, in the West Indies (which we are not)--is not normally a healthy position to be in. I put my name down to speak to the debate this morning not because I wish to disagree with him about the importance of forestry, but because I wish to emphasise, as he has done, the recent document published by the Government entitled, The UK Forestry Standards, and the need for a balance between the environment and production.

To my great benefit, I live in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, which I hope will shortly become part of one of the first Scottish national parks to be created in Scotland. The Government have made that announcement. I already enjoy the huge benefits, to which the noble Lord has referred, of being able to walk out of my front door and straight to the top of Ben Lomond, some 15 miles away. I totally appreciate all that.

The noble Lord did not comment on the proportion of land in Scotland under trees, which I now believe is about 13 per cent. I agree with the noble Lord about the decline in forestry planting in recent years. There is a very simple reason for that. There has been very little increase in net planting by the public sector, the Forestry Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby--who was present a short while ago, but who is not now in his place--had the simple answer as to why the private sector stopped planting; namely, the removal of the tax incentives. The noble Lord also removed much of the incentive to invest in the forestry industry which many people, including myself, thought was highly undesirable. It was a tax break to encourage forestry production. However, I believe that that had a very undesirable effect on the type of forestry planted throughout the United Kingdom. I for one was extremely glad that that tax break disappeared. I was equally well aware that many people whom I know in the private sector used their forestry account because of that to carry out a great many activities that were not strictly forestry because of the advantages that the tax gave them. So I plead with the Government to be fiscally neutral and to try to achieve their objectives economically by way of planting and grant.

I was involved in the promotion of Scottish economic development and I do not argue at all about export substitution; nor do I argue about the need to try to encourage forestry planting on a productive scale.

In any government review I urge them to seek to bring forestry down the hill. The reason that it has not come down is because of land prices. Why are land prices higher? Because of the subsidies on farming, and particularly sheep. I see the Minister nodding and smiling at me, as he so often does. We need to encourage forestry to come down the hill. There better trees will grow. The land will produce more and environmentally it will be infinitely preferable to the terrible problems that have been created by a mass sitka mono-culture in the uplands.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, will understand that I do not seek to disagree with him on the purpose of this this debate. I do not seek in any way to criticise his highly distinguished period of office as

18 Feb 1998 : Column 234

chairman of the Forestry Commission. I do not seek to criticise the forestry authority. I believe that great strides have been made in understanding the effect on the environment of forestry as so much was planted before the war and shortly afterwards.

I would like noble Lords to understand the appalling damage that that ignorance has created in the environment and the countryside. The damage to watercourses and to biodiversity is irreparable. We also suffer from the huge problem of acidity due, as we all know, to global warming. I am no scientist, but I believe it to be an established fact that two things have happened. Vast forestry and upland drainage, and the use of the Cuthbertson plough have meant that, whereas the uplands acted as a sponge for our watercourses, held water and fed it off gradually to the great benefit of the environment, we now have the rapid pulling of a plug and water flows straight out, giving rise to flash floods with huge effect. Forestry in the mass acts as a sieve in collecting and depositing the acid rain--something we can do little about. That is lethal to fish stocks and many other forms of wildlife.

I also believe that great strides have been made in understanding the effects of forestry on wildlife. But there is no doubt that intensive planting in the uplands has had great effect on the biodiversity of species that live on heather moorlands. It has vastly encouraged that rapacious predator, the fox, which has removed so many of our upland birds and has a sanctuary in upland forestry.

So in a sense I am saying, "Let us increase our planting, but let us be extremely careful". That is why I so much welcome the document published by the Government and launched by the Prime Minister on 19th January called The UK Forestry Standards. I regret to say that I had not read it or looked at it--there is a copy in the Library--until shortly before this debate. I have read it quickly. I commend it to anybody who, unlike me, has been ill-informed and not looked at it.

I would like to quote the Prime Minister's words in his introduction, to which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor has referred:

    "The Government recognises the need to monitor UK forests and to take steps to correct anything found to be going wrong".

That is what I am pleading for. That is inconsistent with the Earth Summits in Rio and in Helsinki in 1992 and 1993.

In our future forestry policy we need a balance and equilibrium, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has so wisely said, between the public and the private sector. We need a partnership on which all the best bases are founded. We need to see that re-established and enhanced. We also need equilibrium between atmosphere, climate and forestry production. I welcome this debate and the attention given to forestry. I very much welcome the UK Standards document and the guidelines being issued by forestry managers. I believe that there is now a far greater understanding of what needs to be done in terms of the rest of the environment and forestry planting.

I plead that in any new steps that the Government take there is no financial incentive to take short cuts and to bypass, for reasons of financial gain, so many of the

18 Feb 1998 : Column 235

wise limitations that have been set. It is a great temptation. It is easy to write documents and to say that guidelines should be monitored; it is far less easy to ensure that they are being enforced and it is far harder to tell the long-term effects of some of the actions that we may take in the short term.

I shall sit down in a moment, not having used all of my allocated time, but I must make one more point. The Forestry Commission and the forestry industry have not been subsidised to anything like the extent of agriculture. It may be true that the upland subsidies to agriculture, which have been based on food production, have done more environmental damage than forestry because of the over-grazing. That may well be so, but as the guidelines are enforced it is essential that we become far more aware of the environmental effects.

We also need greater awareness of the downstream economic effects of forestry production. Local authorities and highway authorities tell of the high costs of forestry extraction day after day. It is carried out mostly by contractors, not full-time employees. Such work has to be undertaken on bridges, culverts, narrow and country roads. Those who live on or by such roads will testify that the work and the cost of it is considerably greater than people imagine. By all means let us try to increase that 10 per cent. figure--it is 13 per cent. in Scotland--but in doing so, let us be extremely aware of the environmental consequences.

3.31 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, the question of the allocation of land use in an overpopulated country like the United Kingdom lies at the root of a number of the problems we find ourselves discussing in this House. Last week we were discussing competing claims by rural interests and housing; today the debate is on the need to expand forestry, but it cannot be about forestry only since more land devoted to forestry is less land devoted to agriculture or housing or wilderness, or one of a number of other objectives. So, this is merely one part of an important ongoing debate and we must be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, for bringing before your Lordships' House not merely the whole subject, but also his unparalleled expertise in this area.

I did not put my name down for this debate until very late because I have no particular knowledge of forestry as a specialised subject and I had, and have, every confidence in my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie who was, and is, down to speak and to whose speech I eagerly look forward.

However, I was stimulated to add my name to the list of speakers when I received a briefing paper from the Council for the Protection of Rural England, a body with which I am in broad sympathy although I by no means always agree with its policies. I am all the more pleased that I am to speak largely to its briefing paper because I note that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is not speaking in this debate. The CPRE's brief was most helpful in underlining the basic problem of land allocation, on which subject I am, if not an expert, at least an enthusiastic pupil.

18 Feb 1998 : Column 236

Well managed woodland can be a great benefit to the country and, indeed, the world in a number of ways. My noble friend Lord Redesdale was telling me recently of the big recovery of diversity of wildlife in some woodland which he had started managing both sensitively and aggressively--that is my description, not his.

In addition to diversity, woodlands also add, in the words of the CPRE,

    "beauty and character to the landscape. They improve air quality and help temper local climates".

It is because those objectives are both acknowledged goods and not easily quantifiable in pounds and pence that I welcome the CPRE's insistence that the Government's target needs to be driven not by economic criteria alone, as the discussion paper (Woodland Creation: needs and opportunities in the English Countryside) suggests, but should be based primarily on environmental and recreational criteria which it will be easier to justify, implement and monitor.

This is not to say, as we might be caricatured as saying, that we want to decide what we would like to see and then throw money at it. Value for money must be taken into account at every stage of the planning. But it is to say that the objective and the result is not to be solely measured in GNP. It is to be measured in human satisfaction and welfare and also in the holistic good of God's creation (or nature or Gaia or whatever other name one likes to give to that overarching responsibility).

If we are to pursue those ends, we must proceed delicately and with circumspection. It is no use announcing plonking targets and then planting huge areas insensitively. Let us proceed little by little where the area calls for it, and do not let us designate large areas for single-species cultivation. Let us encourage diversity. Nor should we enslave ourselves to political shibboleths. There should not be a reliance on private enterprise for its own sake or public ownership for its own sake. Both have their part to play and we must organise our policies to encourage both.

We all know that one of the major problems in land allocation in the UK is the CAP. It is not only a massive problem; it is a complex one, but we should welcome the European Commission's expressed desire,

    "to develop a more integrated rural policy for Europe in which agricultural, social and economic objectives are drawn together".

At the same time, in responding to a situation in which Europe tends to produce too much agricultural produce at too high a price for current markets, we must not lose track of the near virtual certainties; first, that more food will have to be produced to feed the world; secondly that, as this becomes more obvious, food prices will go up, and, thirdly, that the world must, and therefore will, move towards spreading its undoubted wealth better, so that fewer people will starve in the midst of plenty.

What I have just said may sound as if I am almost opposed to the spread of forestry--not at all; I am very much in favour of it. It is merely that I believe that we must proceed sensitively and step by step, a conclusion with which I hope that few of your Lordships will disagree.

18 Feb 1998 : Column 237

3.37 p.m.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe correctly pointed out that the expansion of woodland in this country does not necessarily mean the expansion of forestry. We have seen a considerable effort to expand woodland in the United Kingdom over the past 10 years. That is appropriate because we are one of the least heavily wooded countries in the European Union.

Previous speakers have pointed out the benefits of woodland in terms of access and recreation, and for wildlife. Woodlands also make a modest contribution to the process of carbon sequestration to mitigate emissions of carbon dioxide and their impact on climate. They are important too in terms of landscape although I must confess to being mystified by the then Department of Transport and its belief that one could somehow mitigate the effects of building motorways by the salutary effort of planting a few trees alongside.

We have some excellent examples in this country of commitment to the expansion of woodland by private landowners and the public and voluntary sectors. I refer to the new national forest that is now growing in the Midlands and to my local community forest at Marston Vale which is revitalising and greening an area previously ravaged by brick clay extraction and landfill. Private landowners, often helped by the farm woodland scheme, have helped to create small woodlands across the country. Non-governmental organisations, such as the Woodland Trust and, dare I say it, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds--here I declare an interest--have done their bit in terms of creating woodland.

However, I do not believe that that is what my noble friend Lord Taylor was talking about; he was referring to the expansion of forestry, which is different. The expansion of forestry will provide all of those benefits but also the economic benefit of timber production and, perhaps even more important, employment in rural communities. I well recognise the noble Lord's concerns about the future mismatch between the availability of commercial timber for processing and the processing facilities that we are developing in this country. Therefore, a significant expansion of forestry is called for as opposed to simply an expansion of woodland. But we need to find the solution to a number of issues, some of which have already been identified.

First, we must define how much forestry is wanted so that the targets are realistic. We must clearly define the types and location of the forestry required and how it will be delivered. In the past the targeting of forestry increase has been a problem. We must resolve the issues of land ownership that have already been pointed out. I refer to the current debate about the Forest Enterprise estate and whether it will continue at its present size or reduce dramatically. We must also consider the availability of new planting sites on agricultural land. The whole process of bringing forestry down the hill has so far been singularly unsuccessful on a commercial scale because of land prices. We must tackle the difficult issue of investment in public and voluntary sector planting.

18 Feb 1998 : Column 238

I wish to put up a few markers on the environmental front. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Nickson, make a strong case for environmental protection as part of forestry expansion. Forestry expansion must be part of a vision for multi-purpose forestry delivering not only economic but environmental and social objectives, particularly taking forward some of the biodiversity objectives of the UK biodiversity action plan. I give an excellent example of how that occurred in a highly commercial forest. In Thetford, East Anglia, there is one of the most productive forests in the United Kingdom; yet there has also been a huge increase in numbers of woodlark and the return of the nightjar in proportions that are the envy of many areas of the country. It is also a delightful area in which to walk.

The expansion of forestry must take place in the context of a UK strategy that can be interpreted at regional and local level. It must deliver national biodiversity targets related to the overall strategy for forestry expansion. An excellent example of expansion under the biodiversity action plan that has already begun is the planting by Forest Enterprise of native Caledonian pinewood in Scotland.

One word of warning. We know from past experience that forest expansion can result in inappropriate trees in inappropriate places with inappropriate forest design. At the moment many NGOs and statutory bodies are spending extremely large sums of European Union money taking trees off heathland in the south of England which were inappropriately planted 20 or 25 years ago. Heathland is a fast diminishing habitat in this country. The only way to get it back is to return it to what it should be rather than afforest in inappropriate places. The most prominent example is what happened in the flow country. Many noble Lords may have seen the recent publicity about it. Not only are the inappropriately planted trees in the flow country not growing very well--it is a rather wet place--but they must be removed to put that internationally important habitat back into the condition in which it should have been. It does not seem to me to be a sensible way forward or an efficient use of resources to subsidise planting and then subsidise tree removal before it ever becomes a harvestable crop.

The incentive and regulation system that we now have in this country has developed dramatically over the past 10 to 15 years and is pretty good compared with previous practice. I praise the work of the Forestry Commission, the Forest Authority and Forest Enterprise in implementing some of these conditions and ensuring that we no longer have the inappropriate planting that occurred on a huge scale in the past. But the odd one still slips through. Inappropriate planting submissions still arise. I commend the Minister for his excellent decision recently to require substantial amendment to a planting proposal in Scotland which would have jeopardised the home hunting range of one of the last few pairs of golden eagles in that part of Scotland.

I conclude by asking the Minister to build on his excellent start and assure your Lordships' House that in the promotion of forestry expansion in the United

18 Feb 1998 : Column 239

Kingdom the Government will ensure that the economy, including the rural economy, and the environment all benefit from the right trees in the right places.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, timber supply will increase with demand up to the year 2025. After that if no new planting is undertaken supply will fall while demand will rise. Yet a continuous level of supply of softwood is essential to satisfy the domestic wood processing industry. At present the peak of production will be reached in 2022 at 16 million cubic metres and thereafter drop to some 12 million in 2042. It is already too late to affect that trough, but the planting of conifers should be increased by some 275,000 hectares over the next 25 years to achieve a return to 16 million cubic metres. Meanwhile, the town environmentalist has more influence over forestry than the forester with the expert knowledge and thousands of hectares are being wasted in the name of environment. One example of this is the insistence on large proportions of hardwood in every new planting. How nice that sounds for the countryside. But private owners have been planting hardwood for generations and have created the hardwoods that the townies have discovered and wish to protect by bureaucracy. But the opposite is being achieved.

A mature hardwood tree covers some 100 square yards: that is to say, a diameter of some 30 feet. Planted in rows 30 feet apart and only in such numbers that can be economically pruned and looked after one ends up with a wood with nearly 100 per cent. high quality and valuable hardwood. Planted in between the hardwood rows to pull them up will be softwood thinned out during the first 40 years to help satisfy the demands of the mills. The present incentives insist on a very much higher percentage of hardwood to be planted per hectare. There is no softwood to pull them up. Most of the hardwood will be thinned out at little value, and there are too many for the final crop to be identified and to be economically pruned. The result is likely to be stands of firewood quality timber with no contribution to softwood demand.

The demand to plant high densities of hardwood is totally counterproductive and a waste of private and public money. These stands are planted without thought of future management and cropping. According to a paper prepared by Dr. Claire Ozanne, it is a myth that conifers are poor for the environment. For example, she claims that Corsican pine would double the density of anthropods (whatever they might be) compared with oak wood. Another drag to efficiency is the total and unwarranted distrust in the motivation of the private forester. One example of this is the inheritor of an arboretum that had been laid down by his grandfather. It had been allowed to deteriorate, and the new owner lavished care and expense on it to bring it back to its former glory. Having done so, it was immediately put under a conservation order so that he could no longer do anything with it without the permission of the planning officer. Small thanks for his efforts. Perhaps the local council thought that the owner, having done all the improvements, would suddenly try to fell the whole lot.

18 Feb 1998 : Column 240

My own experience is somewhat similar. I should first have declared an interest. I am a forester. Having won a national hardwood prize, the compartment was immediately conserved. I can no longer go out and prune it without committing an offence punishable by, from memory, a £2,000 fine. As a result I no longer plant hardwood for fear that the local authority will conserve it and remove my ability to manage it properly.

Surely it would be better to identify blocks of unmanaged or ill-managed woodland and bring pressure to improve them than to harry and discourage success. Interference by bureaucracy and by the townie and the unrealistic antipathy to softwood is inviting long term stagnation of the industry and doing far more harm than good. There does not appear to be any realisation by critics that forests have to be managed over a very large number of years to become high value timber. It is not just a matter of planting and waiting for a huge profit.

There is far too much unnecessary red tape. Foresters used to have to deal only with the Forestry Commission when they wanted to take some action and this was bad enough. Now the Forestry Authority has to consult with every "which way" organisation and local authority before it can consent itself; and the better the forestry the more control is exercised. There is little incentive to grow quality.

The standard of amenity of privately owned woodlands is far higher than that of the public woods for the good reason among many others that the Forest Enterprise has largely to confine its input to production, while the private owner is prepared to spend resources on amenity and landscape. I know of one person that bought back some commission forestry and it was in such a ragged state that he just felled it, and replanted to bring it back to the standard of the rest of his estate.

All the arboretums and parks have been created by the private sector not the public, and they are mostly open to the public such as Westonbirt, Thorpe Perrow, and many parks. Capability Brown would have had a lean time without the private owners. Why should their descendants not be trusted and allowed to maintain and make their own creations for posterity to enjoy without the direction and interference of the bureaucrats? Far more of the Caledonian forest was destroyed by public forestry and turned into black hills of Sitka than by private interests.

There is then the whole question of sale to the public, and the cry that the woodland will be closed to the public. That is nonsense. If a commission wood is open to the public, its sale deed can stipulate that the wood remain open. If the site is an SSSI, then the new owner is subject to the same rules as a public body. The only difference is that the private owner is not free to ignore the restrictions, as is the public body in, for example, the trampling of an SSSI by a motorway.

Forestry gives a very low return but private owners have been prepared to accept this for the amenity value it provides and for the roll-over capital inheritance effect that allows value to be passed on to future generations. There is every reason to encourage private capital to take over from public in the industry wherever possible, either by private planting, or by sale of Forest Enterprise

18 Feb 1998 : Column 241

land. Existing access can be assured by covenant, and the private interest will care for the trees better than the public sector. Alternatively Forest Enterprise could be turned into a company and as many shares as possible sold to the public.

The Forestry Commission was not formed to be a trading or profitable enterprise. It was formed to establish a strategic reserve in timber. Low yield public capital tied up in trees could be far better used on national services, leaving the private sector to maintain that reserve.

3.53 p.m.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, I join those noble Lords who have congratulated my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe on introducing this debate on the expansion of forestry based on co-operation between the public and private sectors. The relationship between the public and private sectors, which has existed since 1919 when the commission was first established, could be neutrally described as ambivalent. Private landowners have always been represented on the Forestry Commission. That was made clear from the start, but the Acland Report which set up the Forestry Commission was not greeted with universal approval. It is now suggested that Forest Enterprise should be turned into a private company.

Over the years the Forestry Commission has come in for a great deal of criticism. Many of the things it has done have been controversial. There have been arguments about the merits of sitka spruce versus other varieties and so forth. However, no objective observer of the scene could come to any conclusion other than that the FC has served the country well during the almost 80 years of its existence.

It is not often said, but the FC should be congratulated on its experiments in relation to where it grows timber. It has experimented with growing timber at higher altitudes than normally might be expected, in difficult terrain, and sometimes in boggy country in Caithness. Some experiments have been unsuccessful but some have been successful. The commission should be congratulated on the way it has carried out those experiments.

Experimenting in the growing of trees, in circumstances not otherwise thought to be viable, is a better approach than using up good agricultural land for planting trees. This debate may have to be taken further. I am sure that many noble Lords have seen the briefing from the Woodland Trust. It argues, for example, that changes in land ownership, along with the expansion of the state sector and investment in public and voluntary sector planning, will undoubtedly be required to deliver any meaningful expansion. The trust states:

    "Imaginative ways of encouraging land out of agricultural production and into woodland must be identified since under the Common Agricultural Policy farmers have not found forestry a financially attractive land use".

I do not want to go too far into the controversy about the CAP. It is clear that there is a great deal of thinking going on about the purpose of forestry. Over the years the FC has undergone a great deal of change. I would

18 Feb 1998 : Column 242

not say that it is the only industry which has been reviewed more than once. There have been umpteen reports into the FC. There has been a number of investigations by Select Committees. All along there has been a drift away from the importance of the FC as a public service body supplying timber towards the private sector.

The new company, Forest Enterprise, is a Next Steps agency. It has just completed its first year. We use such terms now without thinking about what they mean. The Next Steps agency was designed to take publicly owned companies, not just the FC, which have been wholly in the public sector into an agency. The next step was meant to be privatisation, as advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough. I hope that that idea has run up against the buffers, and that that route will not be followed.

The importance of forestry is well illustrated by the figures. According to the latest figures, timber imports last year cost £8.1 billion. Neither the FC nor private landowners will be able to make significant inroads into that £8.1 billion in the foreseeable future. I do not know how much of the land would have to be covered to produce that import substitution. I suspect that there would not be much land left for anything else.

It is interesting to look at what is happening: 75 per cent. of the forestry estate is comprised of coniferous plantations which were laid down between 1945 and the 1980s. It is a comparatively recent planting. Forest Enterprise's latest accounts show a profit on timber sales of £8.11 million. Significantly, in 1994, some 14,950 hectares were sold for £18.6 million; in 1995, 10,808 hectares were sold for £12.7 million; in 1996, almost 10,000 hectares were sold for £15.2 million; and last year, 10,842 hectares were sold for £19.8 million.

As my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe made plain, the Labour Party manifesto made it clear that there would be no more large-scale disposals of forests. I join with him in asking my noble friend the Minister to make it clear that there will be no more sales of forest land.

I believe that the situation ought to be reversed. The Forest Commission should be given the power and authority to start buying land again. Restocking is down and there is a great deal of concern about replanting. Indeed, the Forestry Commission states that its programme makes a small contribution to the national planning objective. We cannot take that lightly. Until now, the Forestry Commission has been a supplier of raw timber.

My late father-in-law, John McEwen of Blairgowrie, a distinguished forester, had the odd tussle with my noble friend from time to time. He was a vigorous exponent of public ownership and, although at times a severe critic of the Forestry Commission, he certainly believed that its role should be expanded. If we are to have a private sector-public sector partnership I do not see why it should not be expanded into added-on value.

I do not know the price of finished timber compared with the price when it leaves the forest, but it must be considerable. I believe that the Forestry Commission should share in that. It is looking at ways of expanding

18 Feb 1998 : Column 243

its role and it is considering leisure facilities. It is worth while taking a brief look at Forest Holidays. The companies, which have subsidiaries, are getting more like private enterprise every day. The business of Forest Enterprise is expanding. It is about to refurbish its cabin sites, which will be carried out under the private finance initiative. That business does not generate a huge amount of money. The company spent £1.1 million on the cabins and cottages and received an income of £1.3 million. It spent £2.3 million on camping and caravan sites and received an income of £2.9 million. That represents a gross profit of just under £900,000 and a return on capital of 9.6 per cent. That is higher than the return on timber production, but I do not suggest that the scheme should be proceeded with only on that basis.

More can be done by the Forestry Commission to look at new ways in which it can serve the public. The Forestry Commission does not exist simply because someone decreed that there should be a Forestry Commission; nor is public enterprise necessarily better than private enterprise. The whole ethos of public enterprise should be to serve people in the communities. The Forestry Commission is now doing a great deal of that with its forestry programme. It is an example of how people can work together.

Some of my noble friends jib at the private finance initiative. Many of my friends, especially those in the other place and outside Parliament, believe that it is diluting the pure milk and water of socialism. However, it is curious that most public companies, and, I suspect, the Forestry Commission, raise money by borrowing from private sources. Therefore, it would be far better if the two worked together in order to produce a better result.

I ask my noble friend the Minister to say that, looking to the future and to expanding forestry, there will be a real attempt to reverse the decline of the Forestry Commission's planting programme. It is essential to our future well being. I hope that the Government, in the spirit of opening the horizons of government, will look at ways in which the Forestry Commission can play a more vigorous and expansionist, even aggressive, role in a joint enterprise in the finished products of timber as well as the timber which we take off the land.

4.4 p.m.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, the noble Lord spoke in support of the Forestry Commission. As one who had the privilege to represent the constituency in which its headquarters is situated, I believe that it carries out its duties with great professionalism and dedication.

Perhaps I may mention a family interest in agriculture and forestry. There is a general community interest in the best use of forestry to enhance the environment. In Scotland, tourism is the largest single employer and many tourists greatly appreciate the opportunity to have access to appropriate forest walks. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, mentioned some 50 million visits. It is to his credit, and to his success as chairman, that the infrastructure has been developed by the Forestry Commission for those walks to be greatly enjoyed. I also

18 Feb 1998 : Column 244

pay tribute to Scottish Natural Heritage and Magnus Magnusson who has helped to obtain access and management agreements of many environmentally sensitive sites in an acceptable way.

One initiative with concern for the environment at its heart, not only to develop woodlands in Scotland, but also to do it in an environmentally acceptable way, has been the Central Scotland Countryside Trust which has received a great deal of support from the Government. I should be grateful if the Minister could say what progress has been made, as many of the sites scarred by the Industrial Revolution were intended to be renovated.

The word "partnership" represents the key to what is required. I wish to raise three issues with the Minister. First, on the subject of a devolved Scottish Parliament, how is the funding to be arranged as regards the Forestry Commission? Will the Scottish executive be able to determine how much is spent in Scotland? How will the running costs of the headquarters of the Forestry Commission in Edinburgh be apportioned? Furthermore, will there be scope for different planning policies north and south of the Border?

It would help if the Minister could give a picture of what is envisaged and how the administration of the commission will be carried out in Scotland, England and Wales. Can he, for example, give a commitment that an environmentally friendly forestry policy will be followed in all parts of Britain, bearing in mind that loss of habitats can put surviving species at risk? I am thinking in particular of the red squirrel, the European otter and the capercaillie, to mention but a few.

Secondly, it is within my knowledge that Scotland has in the past been considered for inward investment in connection with wood processing and paper. But a number of issues have been raised relating to the following questions. Did the Forestry Commission have sufficient mechanisation? I was, for example, shown a machine in Finland which cut up a pine tree into measured poles, taking off all its branches, after cutting it down, and all within a few seconds. Such high-powered mechanical assistance, with an operator, could do the work of perhaps 16 men all working flat out with mechanical saws. More importantly, I was asked whether the forestry concerns in Scotland could guarantee a sufficiency and continuity of supply in the years to come. Those concerns were passed on to the Forestry Commission and it will help if the Minister could reassure the House that mechanisation and modernisation have taken place. Can he also confirm that there will be a steady supply of timber in the years to come?

Thirdly, can the Government give a strong message of support to the concept of a 67 per cent. increase in timber production by 2025, backed up by a pledge to review the funding arrangements under the woodland grant scheme? It may be that the scheme will need recasting so as to deliver an adequate cover for new planting and support for good, workable stewardship. Forestry is a long-term crop and should be so regarded. We have a relatively low coverage of forestry in Britain compared to other European countries. One of the obvious reasons for strongly supporting forestry is that

18 Feb 1998 : Column 245

a healthy, thriving domestic industry will reduce this country's dependence on timber imports, thus assisting the balance of payments.

Our wood processing industry is one of the most advanced in the world. Many of our saw mills, panel and paper manufacturing plants can well be described as state of the art. I believe that the reason for that is that many of the processing companies have recognised that British forestry can, over a prolonged period of time, deliver the finest products of sufficiently high quality to justify the enormous investment that has taken place.

It was the present Prime Minister who wrote, in relation to new standards for managing forests, in a preface:

    "What is at stake is a high proportion of the Earth's species, the equilibrium of the atmosphere and climate, and the lives of millions of people who depend on forests for food and shelter".

It is with those standards in mind that the excellent working relationship between the Forestry Commission and the private sector is in the country's national interest. That relationship is built on trust and co-operation, accompanied by a desire to expand and develop Britain's forests. It is a genuine partnership and I hope that the Minister will be able to strengthen that partnership with his words today.

4.10 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I join previous speakers in offering commendation and gratitude to my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe on securing this debate. I join with them in paying tribute to the long and dedicated service he has given to the cause of forestry, a dedication which was amply fulfilled today.

It is appropriate that there is an English Member from this side of the House to speak in the debate and much of what I say will be with specific reference to England. However, I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, that I was delighted that, like my noble friend Lady Young, he touched upon the ecological importance of forestry. That is why I became interested in forestry myself. The first time I became really concerned about it as a politician was soon after I entered the House of Commons when the Treasury produced a cost-benefit analysis, which I described in an earlier speech in your Lordships' House as an example of utter imprudence. The analysis, issued in July 1972, demonstrated that it was not worth planting a single tree in Britain for commercial reasons. Three weeks later, the Russians trebled their timber prices and other timber producers followed suit. The analysis was knocked very hard on the head but unfortunately the Treasury did not react. I understand that your Lordships' House debated the matter some weeks later and that a large number of noble Lords criticised the then government, fortunately not of my political persuasion, for their inertia against that reality.

However, my main interest in forestry remains an ecological one. I spent a fair amount of time in the 1960s studying badgers and sharing the joys of being quietly within a wood rather than watching soap operas on the television, as my noble friend Lord Taylor said

18 Feb 1998 : Column 246

in his fine speech. Unfortunately, the last government privatised the forests where I watched those badgers and the right of public access was removed. I could go into those woods only as a trespasser, and noble Lords would expect me to be obedient to the law.

I have an anxiety about access. I am not in any way suggesting that people should be prevented from enjoying woodlands and the countryside. However, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 rather excessively and slavishly ignores all considerations except human demand. One of the Private Member's Bills which I took through the Commons, and which your Lordships passed largely without amendment in 1978, provided for the conservation of wild creatures and plants. Under the terms of the 1981 Act, as recently interpreted, we see an absolute requirement to provide public access without any regard to the conservationist interest.

I quoted an example a few weeks ago at a meeting with Ministers, which some noble Lords attended, and it is worth repeating. One of the plants protected under the 1975 Act was the lady's slipper orchid. At that point, as far as we could tell, there remained one single plant in these islands and it was protected. As the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, otherwise a perfectly splendid piece of legislation, is being interpreted, if a group of people, including perhaps some of the more extreme members of the Ramblers' Association who believe they have the right to walk anywhere and everywhere, claim--such claims not always proving to be as accurate as they might be--that once upon a time people had walked through a field or a wood then that right should always exist even if it means trampling on the last lady's slipper orchid. The last findings and decisions that I have seen in relation to footpath inquiries give cause for some anxiety about preserving important environmental and ecological features. I hope that the situation can be re-examined.

Another area of interest was in relation to my work on the Council of Europe. I cannot remember whether the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, was a member of the Council of Europe at the time. I know, however, that he gave much dedicated service to the agricultural committee. I acted as rapporteur and presented a report on forestry in the late 1970s which recognised the international as well as the national need in that regard. Unfortunately, the world has not seen forestry develop as the Council of Europe recommended, and that may be because it lacks power. We have not planted enough trees. One of the main reasons for that is the pursuit of privatisation and dogma. I do not like dogma in the British countryside. It can take things to extremes, damage relationships and so on.

Moreover, money may well have been used for the purchase of existing woodland which could have been devoted to the planting of new woodland. That diversion of resources has been extremely damaging and this country will regret it. Nevertheless, the Forestry Commission survived. Some of us were worried about whether it would be allowed to do so given the dogmatic approach adopted in the 1980s. In my view, it can make a very powerful contribution and needs to do so.

18 Feb 1998 : Column 247

One area about which I feel some anxiety, although the Minister went a long way towards assuaging my fears in answer to a question the other day, is in relation to the community forest. About 15 years ago--my noble friend Lord Taylor will perhaps recall it more clearly than I do--there was a presentation in the Grand Committee Room to Members of both Houses concerning the proposed establishment of the Heart of England community forest, a splendid project. I recall saying at the meeting that we should not merely have that forest but a ladder of community forests from that initial forest through to Kielder, the great forest of Northumberland.

There were huge ravaged areas of north Nottinghamshire, north Derbyshire and south Yorkshire comprising far more land than was needed to be reclaimed for housing or economic development

I had accompanied my parliamentary neighbour, Stanley Crowther, on a canal visit from Leeds to Ferrybridge. It was an astonishing experience. Along the side of the canal were hundreds and hundreds of acres of opencast mining sites, areas which had been affected by industrial devastation in the early 1980s, and closed collieries. There was a great deal of land. I suggested that the area could very easily accommodate a community forest. As has already been explained, a community forest does not mean absolute 100 per cent. comprehensive tree cover; indeed, we must also have open spaces.

The same could be true in Durham. There we could most usefully see a community forest develop. I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister a question. If he does not think that a community forest could loom very largely in the planning activities of the regional development agencies, does he agree that the relationship between the regions and localities is most important?

I turn to my final point; namely, the arrangements after devolution. As my noble friend Lord Taylor said, many of us should, and do, walk in the countryside. At weekends my wife and I walk to the highest point of what was my constituency. It is surmounted by a pyramidical folly built by the Marquess of Rockingham to commemorate the quelling of the most unnatural rebellion of 1745. The Marquess was a Prime Minister who hated coming to London; indeed, he preferred racing horses at York and Doncaster, but was otherwise a perfectly splendid man. He planted many trees in my area which still remain. That pyramidical structure also marked the establishment of a just and balanced peace in Europe. It is interesting to note that Mr. William Hague was brought up just under the shadow of that particular folly.

I am concerned about the future of England under the forestry administrative arrangements following devolution. I trust that we will not find ourselves in the position which applied in the House of Commons for a time when those of us who wished to ask questions on English forestry had to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland and incur the wrath of my honourable friends from Scotland who did not like Englishmen trespassing

18 Feb 1998 : Column 248

too much on Scottish preserves. The fact remains that there must be increasing interest in forestry in England and there must be increased planting in England. I hope that Members of this and another place will not have to go to Edinburgh when seeking answers to such questions.

4.21 p.m.

Lord Lyell: My Lords, as noble Lords will be aware, the original batting list of today's speakers indicated that my noble friend Lord Nickson was to be first wicket down, but I was not mentioned in it. However, I understand that there is now a revised list and, once again, I shall be Tail-end Charlie. Nevertheless, I am very pleased to be able to speak and I shall be quick.

I should like first to thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for giving us the opportunity this afternoon to discuss forestry. I should also like to thank him for his very carefully worded Motion in which he mentions the partnership between public and private forestry operations. At the outset, I must, like all good Scots and Angus boys, declare an interest. At the last count this morning, I was advised that Kinnordy estates are involved in 320 hectares--or, as we say, "thereby"--of commercial forestry operations. That is disregarding what are known in Scotland as policies regarding rhododendrons, other arboretums and ornamental shrubs.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and other speakers like Lord Hardy, who has just spoken, have the entire forestry programme right in that it involves an enormous and very valuable partnership. It does not matter who does the planting or who carries out the forestry operations, so long as they are accomplished.

Trees and forestry have always been part of my life. I have seen pictures of the events surrounding my birth well before the war when a bonfire was lit. That was not necessarily a "Bonfire of Vanities", nor of furniture from the house, but of spare firewood from clear felling on top of one of the hills which I think is visible from the new home of my new neighbour the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, let alone from his old abode.

During the war, I well recall enormous felling taking place. There was one event which marked my schooldays. There is a reference to it in Westminster Hall of all places. Just about the time of the death of the late Queen Mary, 31st January 1953, there was a wind storm which devastated--and that is putting it lightly--the forestry operations in east and north-east Scotland. That was also accompanied by floods which devastated Canvey Island, as well as causing enormous damage in Holland. The events of that day left an enormous scar on the woodlands and forestry in our area, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, will well remember. I remember the plantations during my school days. I refer not just to our plantations but also to commercial woodlands, which were severely damaged by the events of that day.

The silviculture (which I believe to be a rather grand name for the operations outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor) also cover land use. That was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Silviculture operations, such as I see around my home at present,

18 Feb 1998 : Column 249

with felling and clear felling, leave an enormous mess. That leads me on to the thought that if silviculture is carried out on bare or open land, what does one do with it afterwards? Perhaps our forebears, the Founding Fathers in the United States, let alone the people who are carrying out operations in the Amazon rain forest, may be able to give us some advice as to what one does after one has planted and felled.

In other words, does one go back to forestry or does one go in for other land usage? My neighbour, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and my noble friend Lord Hemphill will certainly know that my homeland--the glens of Angus and the area around Kirriemuir in Scotland--is the start of what I call "the forest country". I say that because there is an enormous amount of land in that area which is not really adequate for CAP purposes or for agriculture. That is of particular relevance and importance, as my noble friend Lord Nickson pointed out, regarding employment.

As noble Lords are aware, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said that silviculture and forestry require an extremely long financial time-scale. Even the most experienced and aged noble Lords might get perhaps two, and if they are very lucky three, "crops" of softwood in one generation. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, pointed out that for hardwood one would be very lucky if one got a 100-year rotation, which I believe to be beyond the scale of most of us in this House.

I should like to express my gratitude to the Minister for the grants that are available. Any grant is most helpful to private woodland owners in their planting operations. But in typical upland land that I have described in and around the braes of Angus, if one starts planting it is something like an advertisement in the informal nature news, as it almost puts out a little notice saying, "Opening immediately at Kinnordy". Every red deer, roe dear, vole and rabbit will rush in for what I can only describe as a feeding frenzy. Therefore, major fencing and other operations, should not be carried out otherwise time, effort and finance will be pretty well wasted.

Therefore, proper silviculture--proper planting--in the uplands, requires a fair amount of fencing, and that means extra costs. That is why the fairly generous grants, for which we are most grateful, are in no small way dissipated by the costs of fencing. The Minister, being one of the many speakers appearing on today's list whom I could call a woodlander in that he lives in a fairly rural area, although he may not immediately say so, and although he was a white rose of Yorkshire originally--but is wearing a dark blue jersey today when he speaks for Scotland and for forestry--will know that red deer are pretty athletic. Fairly tough fences have to be erected to stop them getting in, let alone the roe deers and rabbits who can get underneath the fence. Therefore, there are considerable costs involved when carrying out proper and professional silvicultural operations.

I should stress to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, who pointed out the

18 Feb 1998 : Column 250

various uses of forest land once trees are planted, that much discussion has taken place in this House about access. My noble neighbour the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, will certainly know about the woodlands around Kirriemuir. I will invite the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to visit the area in summer. He will find all sorts of things going on in the woodlands which perhaps the young people will tell him about.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, may be a little startled to hear that one of the more popular events that take place in the woodlands in Strath Ardle around Perth and around our area of Scotland is motor rallying. Kindroggan Forest in Strath Ardle is not too far from the area that the noble Baroness knows. Some 25 years ago one of the forest wardens there said to me while we were watching the cars go by, "Yon will be nay *** use if he takes longer than 24 seconds between these two areas". Such was the enthusiasm of the forest warden for all kinds of uses of the forest. That was a somewhat unorthodox use of forest land in summer. I was astonished that it was taking place but it did not damage the roads too much. I do not think that the Forestry Commission was entirely charitable; I suspect that it obtained a fair rent and a fair sum in compensation for that activity.

In my own area in Glen Isla in the Forestry Commission plantation there is the most marvellous cross-country ski area. When the snow conditions permit, there is dog racing with huskies. I understand this also takes place in the Cairngorms. All kinds of activities take place on forest land which are far removed from those in the imagination of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and I thank the Minister, in anticipation, for taking on board the desperate need for the partnership that we are discussing. That partnership is of immense significance and it is a great success. I hope that this partnership will ensure that planting continues where it is needed. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has given us the relevant figures. I believe he said that the planting covered 25 to 30 per cent. of the available territory. I seem to remember that the figure for the Federal Republic of Germany was 25 per cent., and for France it was 26 per cent. I am delighted to hear that the figure for Scotland is 13 per cent. I hope that that will increase, and I hope that the Minister will give us encouragement that figure will rise.

4.31 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, this has been an interesting debate and I wish to add a few words. However, before I do so, I refer to the famous woods of the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, Caddam Woods, about which a good fiddle tune has been written. Those woods are the walking place for every dog in Kirriemuir. For some reason those trees seem to grow and grow. The fertiliser must be excellent!

18 Feb 1998 : Column 251

Good landlords in Scotland have opened their woods to the public. On the whole the public have used those woods properly. I cannot understand why the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, introduced this debate on forestry. It must be a new interest on his part!

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page