|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Hooson: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Is he not arguing against devolution of any control of forestry to the Welsh assembly or to the Scottish parliament? He simply makes a Second Reading speech.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am sorry that the noble Lord is so disinterested in the forestry industry that he does not consider these detailed points deserve an answer. This speech is a good deal more detailed than a Second Reading speech. I suspect that I would be chided if I had such detail in a Second Reading speech and that the noble Lord would say that such speeches are broad brush. I seek to go into detail.
The noble Lord's conclusion may be right. I am extremely concerned about the Forestry Commission being split up. I do not deny that. I am prepared now to sign up to devolution. However, I have a few continuing worries; the Forestry Commission is one. I am quite relaxed now about health, education or local authorities going to the devolved parliaments. But we must explore the problems on one or two issues. The very fact that the Forestry Commission has almost four pages and a whole schedule to itself in the Bill underlines the difficulty of splitting up the Forestry Commission.
I have a number of detailed amendments that could have been put down. However, I wish to explore how the Government will implement a devolved Forestry Commission. I do not say that I shall not come back to the subject. However, previously we have had assurances of the best in the best of all possible worlds. That may be so. But I know a little about government. Whether it is the UK Government for England, the Scottish government for Scotland or the Welsh assembly for Wales, they will not part with their bawbees too readily. They will try to part with as little money as possible. That could be bad for the administrative budget of the commission.
The more important issue is the grant system. I understand that it will have to be paid by the Welsh assembly so far as concerns Wales. I do not worry so much for the Welsh growing industry; I suspect that a Welsh assembly will understand the importance of planting conifers. I am more concerned about an English Government, where the pressures--as I know from being a forestry Minister at one time--are on the hardwoods. The supply of sitka spruce may not be as readily available over the Border in 20 or 30 years as it is now. Places such as Shotton may be in severe trouble.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister will say. It might have been better had the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, had this debate the first time round, as the current Minister responsible for forestry in the UK. However, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has been well briefed. He has been told the difference between hardwoods and softwoods, sitka and other species. I hope that he will give me some assurance that my fears about the division of the Forestry Commission are ill founded and that I can rest comfortably in my bed while the trees grow.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I hope that the Committee will forgive my addressing the Government of Wales Bill rather than a government of Scotland Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, says that it might have been appropriate for the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, to make the response. That would be so on the Scotland Bill.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: What I am pointing out, I hope reasonably politely, is that this is the Government of Wales Bill. The noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Conwy and Lord Elis-Thomas, rightly, I suggest, focused on
It is important on these occasions not to be alarmist, not to worry people who live and work in Shotton. It is an area which historically has been deprived of heavy industry, with the run down of other alternatives. It is important not to raise alarmist fears. If there is a market for a product which is wanted for Shotton, it will be supplied either by Scotland, Wales or England. I do not believe--I am surprised that an advocate of the free market system suggests--that growers in England controlled by the Forestry Commission would be reluctant to try to sell their product to Shotton. That is not the world I recognise.
Perhaps I may focus on the point. In the context of the Government of Wales Bill, should Clause 107 and Schedule 6 be deleted? Perhaps I may focus on Wales. I entirely agree with what the noble Lords, Lords Roberts and Lord Elis-Thomas, said. Forestry is important to Wales. Over 4,700 people are employed; 1,270 are employed by the Forestry Commission. So it is important. The forest area in Wales is not limited to the land owned by the commission. In March 1997 the forest area of Wales was 247,000 hectares. Of those, 120,000 hectares were owned by the commission at that date. As the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said, forestry allows farmers to diversify in difficult times. They can plant woodlands instead of agricultural production. A well-planted forest is attractive to tourists and provides excellent habitat for wildlife. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, we are not proposing a separate forestry commission for Wales. I hope that is the categoric assurance of the kind the noble Lord wanted. There is no question of dismemberment. If one troubles to cast one's eye over Schedule 6, paragraph 1(1) states:
In the context of devolution--which, to echo the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, is one that I thought the Committee had accepted--it is right that the assembly should have responsibility for settling the commission's policies and funding activities in Wales. Following devolution--here, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish--there are bound to be matters that affect Great Britain generally. One would be looking for agreement between the Ministry of Agriculture, a representative of the Welsh assembly and the appropriate Minister in the Scottish executive.
In view of some comments, I must say plainly that there is no prospect that under Clause 107 of and Schedule 6 to the Government of Wales Bill, employment of the present workforce in Wales will be prejudiced in the slightest way. It is very important that one does not say things that alarm people in an area
In Wales, there will be no separate forestry commission. Not all planting is the same. Not all local conditions are the same. One wants decent flexibility in Wales, which will be subject to discussions between the Welsh assembly and the Forestry Commission officials who have to deal with Wales. That seems a step of practical utility, not the end of the world as we know it. It is an aspect of devolution that has been thought through. Bearing in mind my assurance to the Committee, I hope that the noble Lords, Lord Roberts of Conwy and Lord Elis-Thomas, will be content and that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, will withdraw his resistance to Clause 107 and Schedule 6.
I recognise and welcome the tone in which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, put his arguments--as an inquiry about what will happen in Wales. I do not myself believe that a market in Wales will not be fulfilled by Scottish, English or Welsh producers. Similarly, if there is a market in Scotland, I do not think that producers in Wales will be chary of travelling over the border simply because there are new constitutional arrangements. That is not realistic. If the noble Lord has specific concerns, I will be perfectly happy to convey them to my noble friend Lord Sewel, who will deal with them in the appropriate context. Whether or not there are worries in filling up time sheets in Edinburgh does not strike me as enormously helpful in considering Clause 107 and Schedule 6.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: It is not difficult to understand how concerns about the operations of the Forestry Commissioners spread outside the devolution proposals for both Scotland and Wales. Schedule 6 makes clear, at paragraph 1(3), that the functions of the forestry commissioners
We have been accustomed to a unified Forestry Commission that pursues policy in England, Scotland and Wales that is complementary in the sense that such industry as uses forestry products in the UK draws them from different parts of the kingdom and abroad. The whole industry is run on a national basis and governmental control of forestry has been exercised for some considerable time through the Scottish Office. Therefore, it was natural for my noble friend, who had responsibility for forestry in the United Kingdom when a Minister at the Scottish Office, to express his concerns about the future and the way in which the forestry commissioners will operate in England, Scotland and
Having received assurances from the Minister that the arrangements will not allow for such separation as is required in England, Scotland and Wales for the purposes of the assembly in Wales and the parliament in Scotland, I am content that we should withdraw our objection to the Question that Schedule 6 is agreed to.