HC Deb 17 April 1980 vol 982 cc1457-9
14. Mr. Farr

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the level of forestry planting in the private sector.

Mr. Wiggin

The latest figures available show a welcome increase in the level of planting.

Mr. Farr

Is my hon. Friend aware that in 1979 we imported £2,754 million worth of timber and, in the same year expended, through Forestry Commission grants and Forestry Commission planting, only £29 million? In view of the terrible distortion between these two figures, will he urge his right hon. Friend to make a mass attack and try to bring them more into balance?

Mr. Wiggin

My hon. Friend must accept that money is not the only constraint. The economics of growing trees in this climate are very different from growing trees elsewhere. I do not suggest, for one second, that the importance of this flatter should be ignored. As my hon. Friend knows, we are looking closely at the Forestry Commission. If my hon. Friend would care to look up the Adjournment debate held just before the Easter Recess he will see a fuller statement of the Government's intentions.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

Does not the Minister appreciate that the contribution made by the Forestry Commission and by private landowners is unique, because of the nature of this industry? Does he realise that there would be overwhelming support from all parts of the House for an expansion of this industry, both public and private, because of its contribution to jobs in rural areas and to the balance of payments when oil runs out?

Mr. Wiggin

There are constraints other than sheer money, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. Not the least of these is the availability of land for planting and the economics of forestry.

Mr. Cockeram

While the Minister accepts the limiting constraints of land availability, will he also accept the constraints of finance? Does he agree that the consequence is that if land is planted privately, there is less cost to the taxpayer and the same timber is grown in the end?

Mr. Wiggin

I accept that extremely important point.

Mr. W. Benyon

Is it not essential that the Government decide on a target acreage for the next two decades as speedily as possible?

Mr. Wiggin

The problem about setting a target acreage is demonstrated by the fact that in the past eight years the targets set have almost never been met. I believe that we should deal, first, with financial targets and secondly, with the availability of land to plant. That is the approach that we intend to take.