HC Deb 13 February 1985 vol 73 cc330-1
5. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what action he is taking to safeguard Britain's remaining natural woodland.

8. Mr. Ron Davies

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends meeting representatives of the Forestry Commission to discuss the consultative document, "Broadleaves in Britain".

Mr. John MacKay

The Forestry Commission makes a presumption against the clearance of woodland for conversion to agriculture or, in the case of broadleaves, to coniferous woodland.

The commission is considering the responses to its consultative paper "Broadleaves in Britain," and my right hon. Friend hopes to make a statement on broadleaved woodland policy before the summer recess.

Mr. Hardy

Will the Minister accept that the decline in Britain's natural woodlands is now so serious as to deserve urgent consideration and greater attention to management agreements and planning control? While I am reluctant to intervene in Scottish Questions, may I ask the Minister whether, as an alternative, he will soon convene a meeting of farming, forestry and conservation interests so that they can reach agreement on sensible policies upon which British woodland policy can be based?

Mr. MacKay

As the hon. Member perhaps realises, the Forestry Commission is engaged upon discussions with many of the bodies mentioned by him and with other bodies. A seminar is to be held later in the year. Once these consultations are over, the Forestry Commission will come to my right hon. Friend, who will look carefully into these matters.

Mr. Ron Davies

Does the Minister accept that there has to be a consensus between all the parties that are interested in conservation? If that is the case, will he seek a meeting with the Forestry Commission to explain to it that, having met representatives of the landowning community and of the agriculture and timber-producing industries, it would now be proper for it to have discussions with those bodies which represent conservation interests before the seminar to which he has referred is held? Does he accept that it would be quite inappropriate for him merely to present those conservation bodies with a fait accompli?

Mr. MacKay

In addition to all the bodies that are directly interested in timber planting and timber growing, the Forestry Commission, as the forestry authority for Great Britain, is in close contact with the various conservation groups, foremost among which is the Nature Conservancy Council, on this important matter of preserving ancient broadleaved woodlands and attempting to increase the acreage of broadleaved woodland in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Soames

Knowing my hon. Friend's interest in the matter, when he next meets the Forestry Commission may I ask him to ensure that it is aware of the serious river pollution that is occurring as a result of the drainage from newly planted forestry? Will he press the Forestry Commission to continue its researches?

Mr. MacKay

I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says and I shall certainly draw that to the attention of the Forestry Commission.

Mr. Kirkwood

In anticipation of the seminar and statement that the Minister has announced this afternoon, will he give us an assurance that in the interim there will be no clearing of ancient forests for agricultural purposes? In the course of his consideration of the issue, will he review the important practice of the Forestry Commission of selling off prime tracts of forest in Scotland to anonymous owners for undisclosed prices?

Mr. MacKay

The hon. Gentleman will know that, as I said in my original answer, the Forestry Commission looks carefully at any proposal to fell broadleaved woodland either for planting coniferous trees or for agriculture) purposes. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the possibility of tightening up the regulations is being considered by the Forestry Commission in the context of its current review.