HC Deb 14 March 1973 vol 852 cc1268-9
4. Mr. Strang

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will encourage the Forestry Commission to make Highland land available to the local community for housing.

The Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

The Forestry Commission already disposes of any surplus land suitable for building which from time to time may become available.

Mr. Strang

Is it not intolerable that in a sparsely populated area like the Highlands landlords should extract artificially high prices for land for housing and other developments? Will the hon. Gentleman at least use his influence with the Forestry Commission to try to alleviate this serious problem?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I understand that the Question applies to the Forestry Commission and not to other landlords. If the Forestry Commission has surplus land it makes it available to local authorities, and the local authorities have a chance to buy it when the Forestry Commission disposes of it.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

Has my hon. Friend had any suggestions from the hon. Member about how to nationalise the Forestry Commission more effectively?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

No. I was interested to see over the weekend that certain interests in the Highlands, notably the Crofters' Union, are against further nationalisation.

Mr. Maclennan

When will the Government publish their proposals on forestry? Can the hon. Gentleman say what thinking the Government are giving to the fact that in the Highland areas there are increasing numbers of jobs in oil-related industries which are very much better paid than jobs in forestry? If this tendency continues, some of the social arguments which carry weight with the Government for the maintenance of forestry will disappear. Will the hon. Gentleman therefore look at the importance of forestry in itself as a contribution to solving our balance of payments?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we have published a consultative document on forestry policy. This is still subject to consultations with forestry interests and with the Forestry Commission. We shall take into account the very important social factors and the economic factors in relation to the balance of payments which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned.