HC Deb 30 April 1998 vol 311 cc447-8
7. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the co-ordination between his Ministry and other relevant Departments on tree-planting initiatives. [39114]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley)

The Forestry Commission is the department for forestry in Great Britain. I am satisfied that it co-ordinates effectively with other relevant departments on tree-planting initiatives.

Sir Sydney Chapman

Does the Minister agree that a good way in which to celebrate the millennium would be to encourage people, families and organisations to plant trees in co-ordination with local authorities and community forest projects? Does he also agree that now would be an opportune time to start planting? This year marks the 25th anniversary of the "Plant a Tree in '73" campaign, in which some of us played a modest part. Will he give a special message of encouragement to the Tree Council, which was established to maintain the impetus for tree planting given by the 1973 campaign?

Mr. Morley

I am happy to support the Tree Council. I agree that planting trees would be an appropriate way in which to mark the millennium. In my home village of Winterton, a millennium wood has been planted by the local community. MAFF has asked for an English forestry initiative to expand forestry in England.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

Will my hon. Friend encourage more tree planting in derelict mine areas, which contain contaminated land? If those vast areas of dereliction could sustain tree planting, it would do the communities a power of good. They lost so much when the Tory Government devastated the mining industry.

Mr. Morley

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I can give him the assurance that we are having discussions with the Forestry Commission to establish how we can plant on those very areas.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)

When the Minister is considering co-ordination, will he look at the co-ordination between his Ministry and its regional offices? Farmers wishing to submit applications for aid schemes—including tree planting—sometimes approach a regional office and, if they have made a mistake, are given informal advice. They are sometimes invited to fill in a new form. On occasion, however, when the forms come to the central department and are checked, the advice is repudiated, and the farmer is not given what he was led to believe he could have.

Will the Minister consider issuing a code of guidance for regional offices, so that they react similarly to similar circumstances, and so that farmers know that, if they make an informal approach, what they are told—in good faith and with the best of intentions—will stick? This is a small but persistently irritating point.

Mr. Morley

I was in the Nottingham regional office yesterday, talking to staff. I am confident that the advice farmers receive—they very much appreciate the devolved system of regional advice centres—is accurate and generally works. If the right hon. Gentleman can give examples of apparent failure, and wishes to write to me, I shall be only too pleased to look into the matter.