HC Deb 07 June 1989 vol 154 cc212-3
3. Mr. Key

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what encouragement is given to conservation groups in the United Kingdom, including the Wiltshire Trust for Nature Conservation, to undertake projects in Forestry Commission woodlands.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

The Forestry Commission actively encourages local conservation groups to undertake projects in its woodlands. The Wiltshire Trust for Nature Conservation is represented on Forestry Commission conservation committees and advises the commission on the management of three sites, managing part of one of them on a leasehold basis.

Mr. Key

We are fortunate that the Wiltshire trust has been blazing a trail in that respect, but does my hon. Friend agree that the Forestry Commission has been a bit slow to establish joint projects and joint funding involving local environmental groups, and that where that is achieved it gives tremendous new access and recreation not just for tourists but for local people?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I agree that it is important for tourism that we should strongly support environmental measures and I am glad that Somerford common was given much prominence in the leaflet that the Forestry Commission helped to produce. We give considerable funds—£200,000—to environmental groups. Scottish Office funds do not stretch as far as Wiltshire, but I will draw my hon. Friend's point to the attention of the Forestry Commission's chairman and that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. This year we are contributing £250,000 to setting up the Scottish Woodland Company and we may commit anything up to £50 million over the next 20 years in order greatly to improve environmental standards in the central lowlands of Scotland.

Mr. Kirkwood

Has the Minister seen press reports circulating in the Borders region that statements were made by Scottish Office Ministers to Conservative candidates suggesting that £500,000 might be available for the Borders road authority to engage in environmental and forestry projects in that region? Does the hon. Gentleman approve of that method of making announcements? Will he now make an official announcement and get round to making real funding available so that the roads authorities in areas such as the Borders can repair and maintain the links to trunk roads being destroyed by the forestry industry?

Lord James Douglas Hamilton

I met deputations from the Borders region and from Dumfries and Galloway region to discuss roads affected by forestry extraction. We responded after the public expenditure survey round last autumn when we were able to take their points on board. I shall look into the hon. Gentleman's point about the reports, which I have not seen, but we are very much in favour of improving environmental standards everywhere in Scotland.

Dr. Moonie

With due regard to the Minister's concern for the environmental impact on forests, what research has his Department commissioned in the past two years into the effects on Scottish woodlands of English pests?

Lord James Douglas Hamilton

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the exact figure, but I can tell him that we are spending about £6 million on looking into the problems of acidification, which are substantial.

Mr. Adley

I hope that neither the Opposition nor my hon. Friend will regard me as an English pest. Is my hon. Friend aware that we are entirely happy that the Forestry Commission has its headquarters in Edinburgh and that his Department answers our questions on forestry matters, but that it would be helpful if we could occasionally have answers on the problems in England for which he is ministerially responsible? He has now written referring me to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on a matter that I raised with him at a previous Scottish Question Time. Is it still Government policy to encourage the Forestry Commission to sell off land for the highest possible price?

Lord James Douglas Hamilton

Certainly as far as disposals are concerned, 140,000 hectares have been sold and receipts exceeded £120 million. Obviously certain areas that are surplus to requirements should be sold. It is important that the Forestry Commission should continue to supply timber mills on a steady basis, as that is important for their prosperity and for those whom they employ. I gave a full answer to my hon. Friend's point, which he raised on a previous occasion, in writing last night.

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