asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received concerning the consultation paper, "The Composition and Procedures of the Forestry Commission's Regional Advisory Committees".
My right hon. and learned Friend has received no representations.
Will the Minister confirm that representations should have been received by last Friday if individuals or organisations wished to make representations to him? As he has received no representations, will he now consider opening regional advisory committee meetings to the press and public? The Government have committed themselves to freedom of information. They have supported legislation requiring local authorities to open their proceedings to the press and public. In view of the increasing sensitivity of the public to the operations of the Forestry Commission, does he accept that if the press and public were guaranteed access to the meetings and deliberations of the RACs that would provide greater safeguards for the public interest?
Comments were asked for by the Forestry Commission, and the deadline was the end of May. I understand that the commission has received written comments from 28 organisations, and they are being analysed. The commission has decided to extend the period to allow for further written comments. There is no deadline, but the commission and the Government wish the comments to arrive as quickly as possible. The commission would be willing to meet any reasonable requests for meetings to discuss openness.
Does my hon. Friend accept that a most effective way of ensuring the future operation of the regional advisory committees would be for the Government to make clear their continuing commitment to the Forestry Commission as a whole, remembering that it commands wide public respect and support throughout Scotland?
I have drawn the attention of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mr. Pollock), to the statement made by the former Secretary of State for Scotland—my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger)—on the Forestry Commission. That remains Government policy.