I beg to move that the Forestry Bill be read a second time. In my opinion this Bill is, if anything, overdue. I remember that in February, 1924, a conference was held at the office of the Department of Agriculture, and that conference was concerned with the question of the afforestation of this country. Proposals somewhat in the nature of what are now embodied in the Bill were discussed that day by officials of the Department of Agriculture, and by representatives of such organisations and institutions as the Surveyors' Institute, the Irish Saw Millers' Association, the Irish Farmers' Union, and such bodies. The proposals that were then put forward are practically the basis of the Bill we are now considering, so that we have had a delay of four and a half years in the presentation of the Bill. I think I am justified in saying this Bill is somewhat overdue. I hope on that account the attitude will not be taken up in this House, as it was by members of the other House, that because the Bill is late it should be opposed. The statement was made that it was a question of locking the stable door after the horse was gone. If there is any legislation of a special kind required in this country it is never too late to introduce that legislation. I am inclined to think, from what I know of the Minister on this matter, that the factors which made for delay in introducing this Bill were outside his control. I am satisfied he would have introduced the Bill earlier if it had been in his competence to do so.
The position is that during the War, and the years succeeding it, our wood area was simply devastated of trees. We cut them down wholesale and there was an absolute massacre of trees in this country. Men did it, of course, for a purpose, and that purpose was to make a profit. For the individuals who made the profit it was all right, but for the nation it was nothing short of sheer vandalism, and where you had once, as the poet said, waving forests, you have now nothing but bare patches of clay, sickly bits of shrub, and the gaunt white stems of trees. You find these all over the countryside, while together with these you find broken walls and fences, and animals straying through the few trees that remain standing, an unhappy picture, and one we ought to change. This Bill has for its purpose bringing about a change in that. Those responsible for cutting down the trees during the War and post-War days did not, I suppose, sin against any moral law or legislative code, but there is no doubt if this Bill had been retrospective they would have been punished. They have been able to get away with it. They have been the gainers and somebody else has to put things right. I hope we will contribute to put the position right. In Ireland there are 220,000 acres of forests, a wretchedly small amount when we take the percentage of forest areas in other countries. The unhappy prospect is that at the present rate of cutting down the country will be absolutely denuded of trees within fifty years. That is a sad prospect when you consider that at present we have organisations or public bodies which are concerning themselves with the development of tourist traffic.
If there was anything to which we should give more attention, if we had it in our power to do so, it would be towards making our climate more amiable. One of the methods that is conducive to that end is an extension of the forest area. Trees are an advantage in any country. To begin with, they make the country more beautiful and also more healthy and attractive. They protect the surface soil from erosion, and as well they form areas of forest floor which absorb large quantities of water, preventing floods and acting as catchment areas for reservoirs and springs. Trees supply employment for a portion of the rural population, and they supply the necessary timber for which huge sums are paid out every year to foreign countries. Trees form a shelter for farm stock, prevent extreme heat and cold, and provide the raw material for industries which follow in their train. These are some of the advantages to be gained by the extension of the area under trees. I think these objects should commend themselves to the House.
Certain opposition is being taken to this Bill. Reading the reports of the debates in the other House, I noticed that considerable opposition was taken to it because it was not an Afforestation Bill, because the Minister for Lands and Agriculture did not enunciate any scheme for preserving the forest areas and for extending them. This is not, after all, a Bill that you might call of a constructive nature; it is more or less a preventive measure, acting in one direction to allow constructive measures to be carried out in another. It is a rather peculiar type of measure in that respect, and it should be considered in that respect, and in that respect only. The Minister for Lands and Agriculture and his Department have all the powers that they need under the Forestry Act of 1919, and their work is limited only in one respect, that is in respect of the amount of money which they have available for their purposes. The Forestry Vote last year was £156,000, and the Forestry section of the Department was responsible last year for planting 3,200 acres. If the grant were doubled, there is no doubt about it but that more than double the area could be planted. The Forestry section of the Department has, accordingly, all the powers it requires, subject to the one limitation of finance. and subject to that only. This Bill has nothing to do with that; it has nothing at all to do with what I might call the constructive side of Forestry development.
As I said, this is, more than anything else, a preventive measure, and it is a preventive measure which has its uses. We might as well admit at the very beginning that this Bill will inflict little hardships, as I consider them, in some cases, and in my opinion it may inflict a large hardship in one particular case to which I will call attention. But really the hardships which may be inflicted, could, practically speaking, only result if the Minister chose deliberately to misinterpret the spirit of the Bill. If he did not chose deliberately to misinterpret the spirit of the Bill, I do not see how any great hardships could be inflicted. It is possible that a farmer who wanted to cut trees would be put to the tremendous hardship of having to send in a written felling notice once a year to the Civic Guard station. Possibly he would growl about it, but I would be inclined to let him suffer on in that respect; he would not be much worse. But I would call attention to one matter, and I hope that the Minister will give due regard to it. Might I state a case? Supposing a man planted trees for commercial purposes twenty years ago, and in twenty years' time, let us say, the trees in that plantation had matured. The son, or the successor in title to that man, might wish to make sale of these trees—quite a legitimate object—and the Minister, for reasons which to him appeared fit, might refuse to grant a licence. The cause for the refusal might be something of this nature perhaps, that the forestry area might be situated close to one of our beauty spots which are frequented by tourists, and perhaps a local committee of the Tourist Association might make representations to him that the absence of these trees would be detrimental to the attractions of the locality.
Such representations as that might be quite legitimately made to the Minister, and the Minister, rather legitimately too, might be rather slow to give a licence for the cutting of such trees. These trees would have been planted for quite a legitimate purpose —a commercial one. The owner only wants to make sale of them; the trees are matured; they will make more money if sold at that stage than at a later stage when they are past maturity. After all, it does seem a little like confiscation of property, if the owner of these trees undertakes to replant the area, that the Minister should have power to refuse him permission to cut the trees. I think that in such a case as that, where an individual is made to suffer for the good of the greater number, and where his own private interests are subordinated in the common good, the very least the owner should be entitled to would be reasonable compensation. I should be very interested in having the opinion of the Minister as to whether he has said the last word in such a case.
There is another matter in respect of this Bill on which I am not too clear. As I interpret it, certain classes of trees are exempted. You have trees that are lifted for the purpose of transplantation, trees which are growing in a county borough or in an urban district, trees standing within a hundred feet of a house used for domestic purposes, trees the timber of which may be required for construction or repair of buildings, fences, or for such purposes, trees which may be required for domestic fuel, and trees dead or irredeemably damaged or decayed. In such cases as that, I take it, you have exemption. The procedure is that a felling notice is deposited with the local Civic Guards, and immediately after the felling notice has been submitted to them the owner can proceed to fell the trees. But where the trees are not exempted I am not quite sure as to the position. Notice is served at the local Civic Guard station in the case of trees which it is required to fell. If during twenty-one days afterwards the Department does not issue a prohibition order, the owner can proceed to cut the trees. That is in a sense what I might call permission by default, but what I do not understand is this: Is a licence issued only where a prohibition order has been given? I see from the Minister that that is so. There is no general scheme of licences, then; the licence only comes in where a prohibition order has been issued. Therefore it is permission by default, and I am glad to have the Minister's assurance in that respect.
Another objection taken to the Bill was of this nature. It is stated that this will be rather a difficult form of legislation and it will simply mean in carrying it out that the Civic Guard force, for instance, might have to be doubled in number, that you will have members of the Civic Guard running hither and thither, examining every tree which is to be felled in the ordinary way, and examining, after it is felled, every tree which is exempt. I think that is rather a ridiculous criticism, and at once there comes to my mind certain parallels. It is quite likely that trees will be cut which should not be cut, notwithstanding the Bill. The Bill will not prevent wrong-doing in respect of the felling of trees. It will not simply secure the maximum good in this respect, and it does not mean that every tree is to be inspected and that Civic Guards are to be running hither and thither. You might take as a parallel case the case of a man who secures a licence to fish for salmon. Does that mean that the Civic Guards go round watching that man when he is fishing, watching him in the close season as well as in the open season, watching every salmon he kills and examining it? It is nothing at all like that, and the Civic Guards will be quite competent to look after the law—this law as well as any other. This Bill is more than anything else a deterrent. All thieves are not caught; all drunks are not apprehended. Some are caught and some are punished, and the punishment inflicted on these serves as a deterrent. Some people will be caught and will be punished under this Bill, and that punishment will act as a deterrent to those who may be inclined to do wrong in this respect also. A few hardships will be inflicted. But we have to admit that the present condition of things cannot continue and cannot be allowed to continue.
The individual cannot go very far in this respect, because the call on his capital would be too much and he would have to wait too long for a return. The State has to step in and take a hand. In this Bill the State is bringing to its aid a rather powerful weapon. If the Minister had gone to the other House and asked that the grant-in-aid of afforestation be doubled, I do not think he would have rendered such a service to the object which he has in mind as he has rendered by the introduction of this Bill, which is by no means a popular Bill. It is because this is the business-like way of getting things done, going straight to his object, that I think he is to be commended. A few hardships will be inflicted but, after all, we must be prepared to bear these sometimes if we are to gain our ends. We must change the present condition of things, and I think the House should have no hesitation in passing the Second Reading of the Bill.