HC Deb 10 April 1986 vol 95 cc329-31
4. Dr. Marek

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much acreage the Forestry Commission currently owns in England and in Wales.

Mr. Jopling

The Forestry Commission does not own any land in England and Wales. Ownership of such land is vested in the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Wales respectively, and the land is formally placed at the disposal of forestry commissioners to manage in accordance with their statutory duties. As at 31 March 1985, the Forestry Commission managed approximately 439,000 hectares of land in England and Wales.

Dr. Marek

In view of the thwarting of the right hon. Gentleman's plans to sell off the family silver, will he accept his defeat by the Secretary of State for Scotland with good grace?

Mr. Jopling

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply given on 21 February by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to a question tabled by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood).

Mr. Adley

Will my right hon. Friend please ensure that sale of any land managed on his behalf by the Forestry Commission is carried out in circumstances that are, and are seen to be, open, honest and above board? Will he give the House an assurance that the Forestry Commission will do no secret deals with developers, and that all land that is sold will be sold on open tender?

Mr. Jopling

The Forestry Commission aims to ensure that all potential purchasers are given proper opportunity to express an interest, and that the maximum price is obtained by using the most appropriate method of sale, whether by formal or informal tender, private treaty or auction.

Mr. Skinner

What is this mania for privatisation? Water, trees. A bloke in Bolsover said to me not so long ago, "Don't go down to the woods today. They've flogged off the forest."

Mr. Jopling

The hon. Member is full of surprises. He continually surprises us with his new moods. I suppose that this is his whimsical mood. I must say that if I were going down to the woods I would not go with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Cash

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that far too much timber is imported at the moment, that the Forestry Commission does not give enough emphasis to hardwoods and that we should encourage more private enterprise in the hardwood sector and move towards a sytem of auction?

Mr. Jopling

A broadleaves policy was announced last year and is already having a noticeable effect. The Forestry Commission's broadleaved woodland grant scheme has got off to a good start and will mean that many more broadleaves will be planted in future by private owners and that the Commission itself will plant more.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The largest consumer of timber in the United Kingdom, and the Forestry Commission's largest customer, is Thames Board Mills in my constituency, which produces board. Will the Minister assure us that if privatisation is again placed before Ministers for consideration, that industry, and that company in particular, will be consulted before any Green Paper is published? They would have a statement to make.

Mr. Jopling

I know very well that the hon. Gentleman's constituency contains an important business in this sector. As he will know from the reply of 21 February to which I referred, Government policy on these matters, as in all other areas, is kept under regular review.

Mr. Marland

Under the recent Forestry Act, the Royal Forest of Dean was exempted from any sale. May I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that if there are any sales of Forestry Commission assets in future, the position of the Royal Forest of Dean will remain inviolate?

Mr. Jopling

I shall bear in mind very carefully everything that my hon. Friend tells me, as I have done on almost all subjects over the past three years.

Mr. John

Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that his first non-answer will strengthen the unworthy suspicion among forestry people that, despite his defeat by his ministerial colleagues, he still hankers after a massive disposition of forestry land? Will the Minister assure us that there will be no major disposition of land managed by the Forestry Commission before the next general election?

Mr. Jopling

The hon. Gentleman must not put words into my mouth.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Answer the question.

Mr. Jopling

I have no more to say than what I said in my earlier answer, part of which I repeated a few seconds ago. Like all other areas of Government activity, the matter is kept under regular review.

Mr. Greenway

Ramblers, walkers and horse riders from urban and rural areas fear that they will lose their rights of access to Forestry Commission land if they are privatised. Will my right hon. Friend undertake that such rights will not be lost if Forestry Commission land is privatised?

Mr. Jopling

Under the existing disposal arrangements, of which the House is aware and to which it has agreed, such matters are kept under careful review all the time.