HC Deb 21 November 1972 vol 846 cc1072-4
4 and 54. Mr. Sydney Chapman

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) if he will make grants available to help owners remove trees with Dutch elm disease who have been given notice by local authorities to fell and remove the timber;

(2) if he will make a statement on his Department's progress in containing the outbreak of Dutch elm disease.

16. Mr. Robert Cooke

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made towards the production of an effective fungicide to protect healthy elm trees from the Dutch elm disease.

41. Mr. Mather

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is yet in a position to make a statement about Dutch elm disease following the Forestry Commission annual survey.

61. Mr. David James

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will seek powers to make a percentage grant to landowners and/or farmers for felling elm trees affected by Dutch elm disease.

62. Mr. John Wells

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will now reconsider the policy on Dutch elm disease.

66. Mr. Moate

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make grants available to help owners remove trees affected by elm disease.

Mr. Anthony Stodart

With permission I will answer this Question and Nos. 16, 41, 54, 61, 62 and 66 together.

We are having urgent consultations with all the organisations concerned within the next few days in the light of a report which my right hon. Friend has received from the Forestry Commission. An announcement will be made as soon as possible, but I cannot anticipate this.

Mr. Chapman

May I bluntly ask my hon. Friend whether he believes that Dutch elm disease is completely out of control? If it is, does not he think that it is best to let it run its course, remembering that perhaps two varieties are immune to it? If not, would not it be economic in the long term to pay whatever grants are necessary for people to fell the trees, because whatever the cost it will be infinitesimal compared to the amenity values of the trees, particularly in towns and cities?

Mr. Stodart

Such considerations are among the reasons why my right hon. Friend has asked representatives of numerous organisations to see him to discuss this and other matters.

Mr. Cooke

My Question concerned the possibility of inoculating healthy elm trees with a suitable fungicide. I believe that my hon. Friend has already written to me saying that that is a possibility. Perhaps he could say a little more about that, because it might be possible to rescue healthy trees in significant positions, particularly in towns. where they are badly needed.

Mr. Stodart

I am informed that that remedy is of an extremely limited nature.

Mr. Mackie

Has the Minister any evidence that a hard winter checks the disease?

Mr. Stodart

Yes, Sir. Frosty winters help.

Mr. James

I am encouraged by my hon. Friend's reply, but is he aware that if the disease is not taken by the throat the entire character of the English countryside will be changed?

Mr. Stodart

There is no doubt that the disease is causing vast devastation. It is of the most virulent type. But I ask my hon. Friend to wait for the outcome of the meeting.

Mr. Wells

Is not my hon. Friend aware that elms are extremely dangerous ordinarily, and were introduced to this country by the Romans only quite recently? Therefore, might not it be a good thing to let the disease run its course, because the present policy is out of proportion to the economic needs, and we should plant some good, honest English trees in the place of elms.

Mr. Stodart

I note my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Moate

Does my hon. Friend remember the figure given for Kent alone, where about 100,000 trees are supposed to be affected and only about 1,000 have so far been cleared under the clearance orders? As the cost of clearance of the remainder could be about £1 million, will he bear in mind the possibility of giving more help to domestic owners to meet the cost of clearance?

Mr. Stodart

All these points will be borne in mind.

Mr. William Hamilton

On a point of order. I give notice that I will raise the matter of these Questions at 3.30 p.m.

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