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Forestry (Private Sector)

Volume 928: debated on Thursday 17 March 1977

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the level of plantings in the private sector of the forestry industry.

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

The level of planting in the private sector follows from decisions of many woodland owners who are influenced by their own individual appreciation of all the factors. The Government have acknowledged the concern expressed by the private sector over falling planting levels in recent years, through the setting up of the interdepartmental review of forestry taxation and grants, announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Treasury last July. Ministers are at present considering the review body's report and hope to make an announcement shortly.

My Question was whether the Minister was satisfied with the level of plantings in the private sector. I expected him to answer "Yes" or "No". Does he realise the importance to the timber trade of plantings in this country? Is he aware that there has been a 64 per cent. increase in imports and only 34 per cent. increase in plantings? What is he going to do about it?

We shall be announcing our decisions in the light of the review. I can assure the hon. Member that we value the private industry and that we would like to see it making a full contribution to our forestry industry.

Will the Government be announcing a policy on this matter? When do they expect the review to be published?

Does the Minister agree that it would be advantageous for farmers living in less favoured areas to plant more trees in order to expand production from the land? Will he consider giving the industry further financial aid to plant more trees in those areas?

I am aware of the interesting studies that show how tree planting can increase not only forestry productivity but agricultural productivity where there is a proper integration. The new Chairman of the Forestry Commission is keen on that.

The Minister has still not answered the Question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). Is the Minister satisfied with the situation or does he share the view of everyone else who knows anything about the private forestry industry that it is most unsatisfactory and that the situation is caused by the inability of his Department to do anything about it. Does he accept that the intransigence of the Treasury has crippled the industry?

It is preposterous to suggest that the Treasury has crippled the industry. The hon. Member must appreciate that the main tax advantage to the industry—not to mention the Government grants that the private forestry sector obtains—is through the income tax schedule provisions. The Government specifically modified capital transfer tax in the 1975 Finance Act to include a special provision for the forestry industry.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply I beg to give notice that I shall seek an early opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.