HC Deb 15 May 1985 vol 79 cc309-11
3. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will advise the chairman of the Forestry Commission to establish improved arrangements for consultation with responsible organisations concerned with conservation; and what arrangements for such consultations currently exist.

Mr. John MacKay

Discussions take place between the Forestry Commission and conservation bodies and there are many close contacts at local level. My right hon. Friend has no reason to think that the commission is unaware of the views of conservation bodies or that it fails to take them into account, and he is not convinced that there is a need for the introduction of any more formal arrangements.

Mr. Hardy

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is widespread continuing concern that the Forestry Commission is reluctant to engage in meaningful consultation with responsible conservation bodies? Does he agree that there should be further examination of this matter to ensure that a sensible policy on broadleaved woodlands emerges?

Mr. MacKay

Most of the major conservation organisations will have had four opportunities to express their views to the Forestry Commission—in comments invited before the publication of the paper, in accepting the open invitation to submit written comments, by attending the seminar which was held on 8 May and by submitting written comments in a paper on that seminar. I think that every opportunity has been given to the conservation lobby to consult the Forestry Commission.

Sir Hector Monro

Is my hon. Friend concerned at the increasing trend towards undertaking afforestation without grants? Does he agree that this takes away the limited control over planning through the grant system and that, therefore, conservation and Scotland's scenic beauty are increasingly at risk?

Mr. MacKay

The case in the south of Scotland is the first major case of its kind in 10 years. The action taken by the owners of the land is to be deplored. It would be unfortunate if this incident were used to undermine confidence in the consultation procedures, which have proved highly effective over the years.

Mr. John Mark Taylor

Will my hon. Friend accept that many of us on the Conservative Benches are also concerned about the broadleaved woodlands? When my hon. Friend speaks to the chairman of the Forestry Commission, will he tell him that many of us who take pleasure in the countryside take no pleasure whatsoever in seeing the broadleaved woodlands steadily eroded, very often by alien trees?

Mr. MacKay

I did not quite catch the last part of my hon. Friend's question. The Government and the Forestry Commission are well aware of the importance of broadleaved woodlands. That is why the Forestry Commission produced the paper and is having such widespread consultation on the future of broadleaved woodlands. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State expects to make a statement on the matter before the summer recess.

Mr. Dalyell

Will Parliament have an opportunity to debate the statement before decisions are taken?

Mr. MacKay

As I have just said to my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor), my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State expects to make a statement on this matter before the summer recess. Questions of debate are for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and not for me.

Mr. Home Robertson

Will the Under-Secretary of State say something about the disturbing case at Crichness in my constituency, where a private forestry company has completely disregarded the previously accepted system of controlling afforestation through forestry grants, which are supposed to take account of environmental and social concerns? In view of the damage that blanket afforestation could cause to the economy and environment of many hill farming areas, will the hon. Gentleman intervene to prevent a precedent from being set?

Mr. MacKay

As usual, the hon. Gentleman has greatly over-reacted to something that is, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), the first major case of its kind in 10 years. I think that I have made the Government's position clear. We deplore what has happened there. It would be unfortunate if the incident were used to undermine confidence in the consultation procedures, which have proved highly effective. Obviously, we shall carefully watch this case, and any others that come behind it.

Mr. Key

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is responsible for trees in my constituency of Salisbury, will my hon. Friend give an undertaking that, in the review of broadleaved woodlands policy, a proper balance is maintained between the preservation of the environment and employment opportunities in forestry-related industries?

Mr. MacKay

I thought for a moment that my hon. Friend was going to invite me to come to Salisbury. One has to take a broad view of forestry in the countryside. It has an important part to play in conservation, but it is also an important provider of employment in the rural areas.