HL Deb 20 May 1993 vol 545 cc1853-4

3.26 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will state the planned planting programme for the Forestry Commission for the next three years.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie)

My Lords, the Forestry Commission's planned planting programme for the next three years is 10,100 hectares in 1993–94, 9,600 hectares in 1994–95 and 9,500 hectares in 1995–96. Those figures include both new planting and restocking.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the corporate plan of the Forestry Commission to which he has referred states specifically that there will be a run down in planting from the 5,000 hectares last year to 1,000 hectares, which is not the figure he quoted? Will he take into account that 20 years ago, which is a relatively short time in forestry terms, this country planted 42,000 hectares of which the Forestry Commission planted 22,000 hectares? Is that a process of running down in the Forestry Commission—privatisation by stealth—to reduce planting from the 22,000 hectares now in the corporate plan to 1,000 hectares? How is that consistent with the Government's policy promising a steady expansion of forestry?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, I do not believe that there is any contradiction between the figures that I gave and those given by the noble Lord. He is correct; he indicated what is in the Forestry Commission's plan showing the new planting. I accept that what is proposed for the next three years is that the figures should be down to 1,000 hectares. I believe the noble Lord appreciates that government policy is that most of the new planting should be carried out by the private sector. I am pleased to say that during the next three years new planting by that sector is expected to increase to some 18,500 hectares.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will my noble and learned friend give the House an idea of the proportion of hardwoods and conifers that will be planted under the new planting scheme?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, my noble friend will appreciate that the trend, which is agreed on all sides of the House, is that there should be a progressive move away from the blanket planting of conifers and towards more broadleaf trees. That is very much reflected in the change in policy which we have adopted. I can give my noble friend detailed figures if he so wishes.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, how is the decision on the area of planting arrived at? Is it a commercial decision freely made by the Forestry Commission or is there a government political hand behind it?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, I believe that I have clearly indicated that government policy is that most of the new planting should be carried out by the private sector. If the Forestry Commission were to increase its planting programme there would necessarily be a significant degree of public expenditure which, it is considered, we cannot contemplate at the present time. The lower income from timber sales as a result of the slow recovery of timber prices has affected the level of planting by the Forestry Commission.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, is my noble and learned friend able to say whether the replanting carried out by the Forestry Commission on Mottistone Down on the Isle of Wight, which I have asked it to uproot because it is destroying the beautiful scenery, is making progress as an uprooting programme?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, there is a degree of precision about my noble friend's question that means that I must write to him to provide a detailed answer.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his figure of 18,500—if that is the figure for private planting—plus 1,000 comes to 19,500 hectares? That is 10,000 hectares short of the Government's declared target. Will the noble and learned Lord take the advice given to him from all quarters of the House—in particular from noble Lords on his own side—that it would be better to build up the Forestry Commission rather than to run it down?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, no. I consider that if you take the two together —that is, the amount of restocking on Forestry Commission land and replanting by both the Forestry Commission and the private sector—the total figure will average what has been planted annually over the past 20 years.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, we suspect that there is a great deal of pressure on the Government by the Treasury to sell off as much Forestry Commission land as possible. Does the noble and learned Lord agree that some experts believe that although the Treasury may think that it will realise £1.7 billion, if there is a necessity to include in the sale an obligation to replant and allow public access that figure will in fact be far less? Therefore, the position may be that the Treasury does not realise that sum of money or that there is very little planting. Is that what the future holds if we follow that route?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, no. I wish to emphasise, because it is of concern to the noble Lord and some of his noble friends, that under access arrangements introduced in October 1991 the commission gives advance notice to local authorities of its intended sales and offers to enter into legal agreements which will provide continued public access. I repeat that it is intended that the majority of new planting should be done by the private sector.

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