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Volume 127: debated on Thursday 11 February 1988

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To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what representations he has received over the present taxation status of forestry development.

As is customary at this time of the year, my right hon. Friend has received a number of representations on a wide range of subjects.

I thank the Minister for such a full and helpful answer. Does he accept that there has been widespread criticism of that relief from the Nature Conservancy Council, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Council for the Protection of Rural England and many others? It is rumoured that Prince Charles is to make a speech in the other place that will be critical of that relief— —

Many others have argued strongly that we should not destroy the natural environment of Britain by the indiscriminate planting of trees. If the Government are not prepared to take away that tax relief and use the money more usefully in the Health Service, will they consider using it for the planting of hedgerows, which would be much more useful environmentally?

The points that the hon. Gentleman has made have been among the representations that we have received. However, the encouragement of forestry is extremely important to the rural economy and it has been Government policy for many years.

I commend the Government for encouraging tree-planting schemes, not least because I am president of the Arboricultural Association. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that it is not the tax regime that needs changing to promote forestry development? It is necessary to ensure that trees are planted in the right places, and not in environmentally sensitive areas.

I have noted my hon. Friend's suggestion. There has been some recent criticism along those lines.

Does the Minister accept that the tax regime on trees has not led to any significant increase in planting? Instead, it has provided a tax haven for pop stars and film stars. Does the Minister accept that he has allowed the taxpayer to be ripped off?

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. I cannot accept that there has been no increase in planting. Indeed, the environmental concern is that there has been too much planting of conifers.