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Trees (Replanting And Replacement) Bill H L

Volume 416: debated on Thursday 29 January 1981

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

5.34 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. With the exception of a few details, this is very much the same measure as that which I introduced towards the end of last Session and which was passed by your Lordships but too late for it to reach the House of Commons. I am introducing it again with a few minor changes, and it is those changes about which I wish to speak. I have reinserted the words at the end of Clause 1:

"of the same genus and of the same or a similar species".
I will explain why I have done that. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, was kind enough to write to me explaining his opinion on this, so I know he is opposed to it. I must point out that the whole reason originally for introducing the Bill was that I wished to stem the gradual decline in the number of hardwood trees—

I apologise for interrupting, my Lords, but did I hear the noble Lord refer to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran? I think he meant to refer to the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken.

Yes, my Lords, and I beg the noble Lord's pardon; I was of course referring to the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken. The whole purpose of introducing the Bill was to stem the gradual decline in the number of hardwood trees which in normal circumstances would not be replanted by local authorities because they are so slow growing, and naturally they wish to see a fairly rapid return on their work. As a result, it is practically impossible for the average person to get hardwood—I expect it is more available for professional users—and of course trees such as the oak, ash and beech are such a typical feature of the English countryside that they should be preserved. I have reinserted words so that if a tree of that variety is destroyed, a tree of similar species will appear in due course. The only other alteration to the Bill is the insertion of Clause 4, which I think is the nearest one can get to a penal clause. I have had legal advice on this and I believe that as it stands it will prove strong enough. It is not absolute, but it should prove strong enough to make the average local authority respect it. There is little else to say, except that I hope your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading and that it will not be too mutilated in Committee. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( Lord Somers).

5.38 p.m.

My Lords, I do not have a great deal to say about the Bill, except to say a cheerful hallo, to give a welcome return to an old friend and to wish the noble Lord, Lord Somers, success with it. He has pointed out the alterations he has made since a similar Bill was before us last Session and how he has retained certain amendments that were made on its first appearance. The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, and I had a hand in tabling some amendments, some of which were successful and some were not from our point of view, and as the Bill stands now I feel quite happy with it.

I sometimes wonder a little whether the noble Lord is in fact attacking the right enemy. I entirely applaud his intention. I think that the noble Lord. Lord Kilbracken, feels a little more strongly on this than I do, but I do not know whether local authorities are at fault to any great extent in not replanting trees. On the whole, in many cases to my knowledge they do exceedingly well. I am quite prepared to believe that there are some local authorities, possibly many, which do not; but I simply do not know about that. However, local authorities are probably not the greatest culprits in this area.

I suspect that the private developer, who cannot be caught by this Bill, nor probably by any other, is a greater culprit. He is able to cut down large numbers of trees in order to build something, whatever it may be, and he escapes; he is not compelled to replant. Perhaps the greatest culprit of all (if no one takes exception to that particular noun, as applied to it) is the Forestry Commission, which is constantly planting conifers, which I personally do not care for very much, the soft woods, all over the place, and the hard woods disappear, as the noble Lord so justly complained. However, there it is, and to say that a more worthwhile target might have been selected is not to complain about the one that the noble Lord has selected—that is to say, the local authorities. For that reason I hope that your Lordships will agree to give the Bill a Second Reading.

5.41 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Somers, should be congratulated—even if he got my name slightly wrong—upon persevering with this Bill, which had a somewhat protracted passage through your Lordships' House last year, in the course of which it was changed, and I hope improved, as a result of amendments put down by the noble Earl who has just spoken and myself. One of those amendments left it free to the local authority to decide what species, or indeed what genus, of trees were to be planted as replacements, and now the noble Lord has returned the Bill to its previous form. I hope that he will think about it again, first, because I think that the local authority should not be hampered in its choice of trees, but in particular, because, as I have often found, one can plant a particular species and then find that for some reason or other it is quite unsuitable for that piece of ground. That is obviously often the case with poplars, which need rather wet ground. If a number of poplars—to give only one example—have to be felled because they are failing, it would be ridiculous to plant more poplars. Perhaps those words cannot be left out of the Bill altogether, but I feel that the wording has to be changed. There are also one or two other minor points which I should like to raise at the Committee stage, with the sole hope that when the Bill goes to another place, as I hope it will, it will be even better than it is now.

There is not much more to say, except to mention that I await with interest the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Avon, and I very much hope that this time the Government will see fit to give the Bill something of a fair wind in its journey towards the statute book. Last year the earlier version of the Bill reached another place, despite the Government who seemed to think, as the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, has suggested might be the case, that it is unnecessary. I wish I thought that it were unnecessary.

Of course, there are many local authorities which are very scrupulous in this matter, which mind about trees and plant as many as they should in places where trees have to be cut down. But it is not for them that one is legislating. I think it is a very great mistake to say merely that most local authorities are pretty good about this, and therefore we need not bother about it, because I believe that there are a great many local authorities, just as there are a great many individuals, who do not care about trees, who cut them down in a most deplorable way, and do not replace them. Therefore, I feel that this is not an unimportant nor an unnecessary Bill, and I very much hope that the noble Earl will be able to indicate some degree of Governmental support. With those words I wish the Bill a fair passage.

5.45 p.m.

I am afraid that I cannot give the Bill in its new form any warmer welcome than I gave it last time. I am well aware of the deep concern for the landscape of this country which motivates the noble Lord, Lord Somers, in introducing the Bill, and I cannot believe that there is one of your Lordships here today who does not share his concern. Yet I cannot believe that the Bill will do the cause any good. I should explain that I work for a local authority, the Greater London Council. Indeed I am the council's director of recreation and arts, and therefore I have within my sphere of influence what used to be the old parks department. So I have a great deal to do with a very large amount of open space in London. I should also explain that I do not in any way this evening speak for the Greater London Council, but only for myself.

I say that I cannot welcome the Bill because, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, I believe that it is unnecessary. I believe that, by and large, local authorities do very well without enforcing legislation. They certainly do very well without being compelled to keep additional records. I feel that that clause of the Bill in particular is especially unwelcome at a time when most authorities are struggling to maintain their open spaces with ever decreasing manpower numbers, and that an additional bureaucratic burden of this kind is particularly uncalled for at this time.

I should also like to echo the objection of the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, to the inserted phrase about trees being of the same genus and preferably of the same species. I recently had an experience of exactly the kind that he described. It was on the North border of Wormwood Scrubs, where we are trying to plant a large tree screen. We tried a number of hard -wood trees in the slightly pathetic hope that they might take, although the soil is extremely unsympathetic. Not entirely to our surprise, we found that they did not take, and we have now resorted to other forms of trees which have a better chance. Had this Bill been an Act and been in force, I would have been compelled for ever to repeat my mistake, and I do not think that that is a tolerable situation.

I am also slightly alarmed by the very nature of the mathematics involved. I can see basically the reason for replanting two trees where one is felled. Indeed, in many cases we plant more. But as I explained on the previous appearance of the Bill, there are times when this is simply illogical. For example, it is often the case that in planting an avenue, one double plants it early in its life because one knows that the mature spacing of large trees will perhaps be 20 feet; but until they are mature a 20-feet spacing will look particularly "mini". The avenue will be rather a sad spectacle in its early life, so one double plants it, and at some point, depending on the growth of the trees, every other one is chopped down. If the Bill were passed, every time that process took place one would have to plant another avenue and quite soon one would run out of places in which to plant trees. So I cannot believe that that proposal is even remotely logical.

I cannot believe in even the period of one year as proposed in the Bill. If one cuts down, let us imagine, a large area of trees because it is a desert, it is one of those neglected areas which requires total reclamation, re-landscaping and replanting. If that is done in September, then according to the Bill, one is obliged by the following September to have replanted two for one all over. But that effectively gives one not until the following September, but until the end of March, because lifting and planting for anything except container-grown trees—and by and large in this sort of quantity we are talking of nursery-grown trees—has to be carried out within the planting season. It may well be that the land needs not merely much more work on it before replanting, but also fallow time. It might need chemical treatment and the clearance of all kinds of undesirable weeds and undergrowths before replanting starts. In many cases a year simply will not be enough; it will not be possible to comply with it.

Finally, it seems to me quite illogical to say that even if trees are felled because they are a danger or a possible source of danger to traffic or pedestrians, they must nevertheless be replaced. I understand quite well that there are certain circumstances in which the danger arises merely from the condition of a tree. It becomes old, it becomes dangerous, and you have to cut it down to prevent damage. But if the very siting of the tree is the cause of danger, if indeed it is a danger because you cannot see traffic round it, or the very place in which it is set is automatically a danger, then it is clearly absurd to be obliged to replant it.

My Lords, if I might interrupt the noble Lord, the tree does not have to be replanted in the same place as the other one was felled. That is under Clause 2, I suppose.

My Lords, I appreciate the point that the noble Lord is making, and that is quite true, of course, but there are plenty of circumstances in which the only planting area one is talking about is the same planting area. Obviously, one could go and plant two more trees quite elsewhere, if that were the case; but it still seems to me an illogical provision. Therefore, I must say that I believe the Bill is unnecessary in general and, in detail, is restrictive, and I cannot honestly hope that it will receive a Second Reading.

5.52 p.m.

My Lords, I apologise that I did not put my name down to speak, but I wonder whether I may be permitted to say a few words. Having had a considerable interest in forestry for most of my working life, this Bill interests me. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill, and to his intentions behind it, I am afraid I could not support it. I agree, in the main, with the views expressed by the last speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Birkett. I do not think that the local authorities are in any way largely to be blamed for the lack of trees in the urban areas which they own. I think that to a great extent local authorities are very good at replanting trees wherever it is possible to do so.

The loss of trees in general in the British countryside is not due to the work of local authorities, or even to the work of developers who build factory sites, houses and so on, because very often trees are planted on those sites, generally by order of the planning authority when giving their planning permission. They say that certain trees have to be preserved, and that other trees have to be planted. I think that, in the main, the loss of our trees—and I am talking about arbori cultural trees, and not silvi cultural trees—is due to two things. One is disease. In my area we have suffered an enormous loss of trees in the last two to three years from Dutch elm disease. They were stupid enough, in years gone by, to have Dutch elm trees planted—I am sorry; to have elm trees planted. I am sorry I said "Dutch elms", because there are 32 different varieties of elm, I believe. Their loss has caused a great loss of shade and appearance.

The other loss of trees in the countryside is due to the disappearance of hedgerows and the cutting of hedgerows by mechanical means, which has made quite sure that young trees which grow up to replace the old dead ones in the hedgerows cannot survive, because they are cut off by these machines. Of course, farmers do not want trees, generally, in their hedgerows because they take up space and cause shade, and land is intensely valuable now; and you cannot always regard them as being of use for shelter belts, such as you have to have in more windy areas further north and in our upland areas. So, on those general lines, and with the greatest respect to the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill, I am afraid I cannot support it because I do not think it is necessary, nor do I think that it covers the problem.

My Lords, before taking part in this debate, may I first of all declare an interest? I am a member of the Economic Forestry Group. Coming to the Bill, I applaud the Bill and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Somers, has brought it back again. It has been amended, and it will be changed even now, probably, in Committee; but I believe it is basically a good Bill. It will help considerably in the countryside. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, has strongly criticised it, but when I think of my own area of Cumberland in the North, and the rural authorities which are affected very much by forestry, I think of Bassenthwaite, in particular, near where I live.

This Bill will, I think, make people realise that our forestry heritage is important. That is why I thought that, in his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Somers, hit the nail on the head. He said that we have to think of reversing the decline in hard wood trees, and he went on to talk about the difficulties of oak, ash and the beech, and our typical countryside. What ever arguments we may have, and whatever pre-judices, I still believe that this is a good, positive Private Member's Bill. I am not going to take up any more time; I wish it well.

5.57 p.m.

My Lords, it is a welcome addition to the Wildlife and Countryside Bill to be talking today on the Trees (Replanting and Replacement) Bill instead. Having earlier today talked about the sites for burial grounds being unused, I felt that this Bill might be rather applicable to that Motion as well. While the Government are very keen that a great many trees should be planted both in urban areas and in the countryside, we do not believe that this Bill is the right way of achieving this objective. The Bill is similar to the one introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, in the previous Session. Certain changes have been made which are an improvement on the original Bill, but I would remind your Lordships of what was said by my noble friend who was standing at this Dispatch Box on that occasion, my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton, in the Committee stage last May. He said that we in the Government do not see much point in trying to turn this measure into one which we can support, because at the end of the day we shall probably not be supporting it.

Our main objection, as previously, is that it runs counter to our policy of reducing the statutory duties of local authorities. We believe that authorities should have as much discretion and flexibility as possible in matters such as these, and I should like to take the new Clause 4 as particularly running counter to this policy. I agree with many of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, said from the Cross-Benches, and I wonder, perhaps, whether he would not like to move behind me to support us on this particular measure.

We believe that this Bill is unnecessary because most local authorities already plant a substantial number of trees each year. Here I think we agree with my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery. Although it is the Government's policy that local authority expenditure should be kept down, we have seen no evidence to indicate that authorities are cutting back drastically on their planting programmes, and I hope and believe that they will take a long-term view and continue to provide a reasonable level of resources for this work. Perhaps if the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, has some examples to the contrary, he might like to give them to your Lordships when we come to Committee stage.

However, what the Bill would do is to cause local authorities to spend resources on the unproductive work of recording all the details about trees felled and planted in accordance with Clause 3—a point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Birkett; and the Bill now has an enforcement provision which would involve central Government in monitoring the local authorities' work, and in taking action in cases of apparent non-compliance. As I said just a minute ago, it is our policy to reduce bureaucracy, not to increase it—as this Bill does.

Another objection that we have to the Bill's provisions is that, by specifying that replacements have to be of the same genus and of the same or a similar species, it unnecessarily restricts local authorities in their choice of replacement trees. If the Bill gets to a Committee stage, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, will put down an amendment. I have some examples here in that many authorities may have too high a proportion of trees of a particular genus or species or types of trees involving a heavy maintenance responsibility in urban areas, and when they fell these trees they may well want to replace them with other genera. The subject of elms has already been brought up. As my noble friend Lord Bellwin said in the Second Reading debate on 16th April (at col. 395 of Hansard):
"We want to encourage the planting of as wide a range of species as possible, in order to give greater variety to our environment and to lessen the chances of diseases spreading".
For these reasons we cannot support the Bill.

However, I should like to take this opportunity of reiterating our support for the extensive planting of trees and for our support for the national tree campaign launched last year by the Tree Council; a campaign which aims to have planted one tree per head of population by 1983. Last November, on the occasion of National Tree Week, there was a very interesting debate on tree planting in another place. I am sure that many of your Lordships have read the report of this debate. My colleague in the department, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Hector Monro, and the originator of the National Tree Planting Year in 1973, the honourable Member, Mr. Sidney Chapman, who has done so much to arouse interest in trees, referred then to the valuable part being played by public bodies. But, as they indicated, tree planting needs the active involvement of the whole community. Much valuable work is already being done—and I should like to encourage even greater effort in the future—by civic societies, school-children, naturalist trusts, other voluntary groups, and by families and individuals. The private sector can be most effective when working in co-operation with, and using the advice of, local authorities with their conservation branches and parks departments.

While I have sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Somers, is trying to do, I believe that an extensive tree planting programme can best be achieved by the sort of community effort and co-operation to which I have referred, and not by imposing statutory requirements on local authorities, as in this Bill.

6.3 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to thank all those who have taken part in this debate. I must confess that some noble Lords do not seem to have read the Bill thoroughly. The noble Lord, Lord Birkett, raised the point that if you plant an avenue and had to plant the trees close together, once they had grown the trees in between would have to be chopped down. But what about Clause 7? It says:

"This Act shall not apply where, in wooded areas, thinning of the trees is necessary ".
I should have thought that that applied to that.

I think that is making it over-difficult. It could be so defined that any wooded area is an area which has more than one tree, presumably. Regarding Lord Kilbracken's objection to the same species, without that this Bill would be completely pointless. That is the whole reason why I introduced it, as I said in my opening speech. It is these hard wood trees which are not being replanted.

The noble Lord should imagine himself on a local council, having to replant trees. Would he advise the tree planter to plant trees that he was not going to see during his life? If so, he is a great deal more farsighted than many local councils, I am afraid. Without that provision, the Bill is a normal tree provision Bill. There is no need for that. Local governments have their own perfectly good tree protection provisions and I would not think of trespassing on them. There are some which are not quite so responsible, certainly; but the vast majority of them have excellent tree protection provisions. I cannot say that I think the objections to the Bill are very valid, but I must leave it to your Lordships to say whether you wish to have the Bill read a second time.

On Question, Bill read 2a , and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.