HC Deb 24 October 1973 vol 861 cc517-9W
Mr. Ramsden

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will now announce the general lines of future Government policy for forestry.

Mr. Anthony Stodart

Yes. I am now able to give the Government's conclusions on the general framework. Consultations will continue on more detailed aspects.

Within our limited land surface and the increasing pressures upon it the Government are concerned that forestry should form part of a really effective pattern of rural land use, in which it is harmonised to the best possible advantage with agriculture and the environment. Accordingly the Forestry Commission, in administering grant aid to private forestry, will consult with the Agriculture Departments and local planning authorities on land use and amenity aspects of woodland owners' proposals.

The commission's regional advisory committees will be reconstituted to include representatives of agricultural and of local planning and amenity interests as well as members representing the forestry industry and will have the function of advising both on broad area strategy and on individual cases of doubt arising in the administration of grants. There will thus be much improved arrangements for ensuring that proper weight is given to amenity considerations.

Additionally, my right hon. Friends and I have asked the Chairman of the Forestry Commission specially to ensure that, in carrying out the commission's own operations as well as in the exercise of its functions as forestry authority, every possible opportunity is taken to encourage and secure effective integration between agriculture and forestry.

Such is the importance which the Government and all those with whom they have consulted attach to land being properly used, and thus being well managed over the long term, that we propose to introduce a new dedication scheme more directly linked with these objectives. This single scheme will succeed the previous Dedication, Approved Woodlands, and Small Woods Planting Grant Schemes, and its terms will differ from those for woodlands that are already dedicated. Thus in future a dedication covenant will normally terminate when approved felling takes place, but with provision for rededication. Owners entering the scheme will receive an outright acreage payment as and when approved planting or replanting takes place, in return for accepting a continuing obligation to manage the woodland concerned in accordance with plans of operations designed to secure sound forestry practice, effective integration with agriculture and environmental safeguards, together with such opportunities for recreation as may be appropriate. Departures from the plans of operations could involve recovery of grant wholly or in part. An appreciably higher rate of grant will be available for planting or replanting where a significant proportion of hardwoods is involved.

Those having rights and obligations under the previous schemes will have the option of retaining them or of transferring to the new terms. It is the Government's intention that in any year the total of continuing payments under the old schemes and of payments under the new arrangements should be broadly the same as would have obtained if the old schemes had remained open to new entrants and planting had been at more or less the same rate.

My right hon. Friends and I hope that the remaining consultations will be concluded before the end of the year and further details, including rates of grant, will then be announced. In the meantime the Forestry Commission will model its own planting and management policies upon the principles I have described, will give still further emphasis to providing recreational facilities and will develop a planting and replanting programme on the lines and at the level set out in the consultative document and with special regard paid to the contribution which the commission's operations can make towards stemming depopulation in rural areas.

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