HL Deb 31 January 1983 vol 438 cc512-4

2.40 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many acres of forestry land the Forestry Commission have sold to the public since the Royal Assent was given to the Forestry Act 1981.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, between 27th July 1981 and 21st December 1982 the Forestry Commission sold 16,042 acres (which is 6,492 hectares) of forestry land and plantations. As at 21st December 1982 a further 95,600 acres (which is 38,700 hectates) of forestry land and plantations were in the process of being sold: that is, they were either on the market or had been approved for sale and reserve prices had been fixed.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that Answer. Are there further plans for selling land which belongs to the Forestry Commission but which is not yet planted at all?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the main intention is to sell forestry land which has plantations on it.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, could the noble Earl say what representations he or the Government have received from Britain's farmers who are affected by these sales, and what representations, if any, there have been from those representing the Forestry Commission?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am not aware of any particular flood of representations from farmers. Certainly there have been queries from a number of individuals, but not necessarily from farmers.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, the noble Earl's reply to his noble friend Lady Elliot's supplementary was slightly unsatisfactory, to me at any rate. Could the noble Earl tell us how much plantable land has been sold—as I understand it, there has been plantable land sold—from the Forestry Commission's reserve? As he, I hope, knows, they were given a minimum target of 10,000 hectares. Does he feel that selling off plantable land will be in any way a danger to achieving that target?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I shall certainly find the figures which the noble Lord requested and send them to him and to my noble friend. I think there is no doubt that any sales of Forestry Commission land which take place are made in order adequately to reorganise the Forestry Commission's assets, and where land is sold it is only that which is not anticipated to be required for urgent use.

Lord Hale

My Lords, could the noble Earl say whether he has had representations on this matter from the organisation representing agricultural workers?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, again, I am not aware of any specific organisation having written complaining, if that is the inference of the noble Lord, Lord Hale. Periodically people write in about sales of specific parcels of land, but not in a general way.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, would the Minister be good enough to indicate the purpose for which this land will be used?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the land, which is Forestry Commission land on which forestry stands, is sold to private purchasers, who will continue to use it for private forestry. I should make the point, though, that if people who have purchased Forestry Commission land wish to fell it they must have a licence from the Forestry Commission, who also have power to direct them, and indeed to enforce their direction, to replant that land.

Lady Saltoun

My Lords, as the Minister said that no plantable land had yet been sold by the Forestry Commission, may I ask why that has been the case? Is it just because there has been no demand?

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lady understood me slightly incorrectly, my Lords. I said the main object of the selling of the land was to sell land which had trees on it, and I said I would find out and let the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, know—and the noble Lady, if she is interested—exactly how much of that land has trees on it and how much has not.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, would the Minister agree that the use of the word "public" in the Question tabled by his noble friend is rather inappropriate in the circumstances and that it might be better to term it "private exploitation"?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do not know why the noble Lord directed that question to me. What the terms of my noble friend's Question are is a matter for my noble friend. Having said that, I would not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce.

The Duke of Atholl

My Lords, when my noble friend sends the figures to the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, and the noble Lady, may I ask him to say also how much Forestry Commission land which has been sold, although not under trees, is capable of being planted, as opposed to that which is unplantable?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords. the Question to which I am asked to give a reply appears to be getting more and more convoluted. I think the best thing for me would be to write to the noble Lord as indicated and then, if my noble friend the Duke of Atholl wants further information, if he would table a Question for Written Answer I will give him all the information that I can.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, I made it perfectly clear—I hope the Minister appreciates the point—that I was referring to plantable land.