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Volume 130: debated on Thursday 31 March 1988

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what consultations were held concerning the proposed new grant arrangements for forestry; and if he will make a statement.

The forestry grant scheme and broadleaved woodland grant scheme were closed to new applications from 15 March. In order to maintain the confidence of the forestry industry, it was essential to announce details of the replacement grant scheme as quickly as possible. The Forestry Commission therefore had to consider and finalise the details of the new scheme very quickly, which precluded prior consultations on them as such with outside bodies.

In retrospect, does the Minister think that it would have been better if he had consulted the forestry industry, farmers and environmental interests? Does he accept that the result of no consultation is two forestry policies—one for England and one for Scotland and Wales? Does he recognise that the environmental safeguards that apply to Scotland and Wales are lower than those for England? As MAFF is the lead Department with responsibility for the Forestry Commission, does he propose to take any initiative to even out the application of his policy to Scotland, Wales and England?

The policy, in most of its broad details, is applied uniformly throughout the United Kingdom. The difference to which the hon. Gentleman refers arises because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and I said that we would be unlikely to accept proposals for conifer planting in the English uplands. That is an English environmental matter. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, on environmental grounds and for forestry reasons that affect those two countries, took a different view on that aspect of the policy alone.

Overall, the policy is the same for all countries. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will approve of the emphasis in the farm woodland scheme on broadleaves rather than on conifers. There is only a marginal difference in the conditions for English upland areas, and that is for environmental reasons.