Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is a great pleasure to be back, and I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) for the fantastic work he did.
Last year, we were listening to hon. Members and the industry, which is why we changed the criteria for the woodland carbon fund and the woodland creation planning grant to make them more attractive to applicants. I am pleased to say that countryside stewardship applications have increased; we have established a large-scale woodland creation unit; we are providing funding to kick-start the northern forest; and we have appointed the national tree champion, Sir William Worsley, to help drive the growth in forestry.
May I, too, say how wonderful it is to see the Minister back in her place? But while back in her place, can she reassure me that a pilot forestry investment zone will be launched this summer and that its sole focus will be on delivering the productive softwood planting that the forestry industry, including sawmills in my constituency, so desperately needs?
My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield did announce that the first forestry investment zone will be in Cumbria. I cannot give my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Chris Davies) an assurance that it will solely focus on softwood planting, but we are recruiting the person to lead that zone and I am confident they will be in place before the end of year.
I welcome the Minister back, but will she give that Secretary of State of hers a good thump in the direction of taking trees seriously? There is a close relationship between trees and the quality of air that we breathe in our country, and this Government only plan to sort out clean air by 2040. Can we not have more trees, as under the northern forest initiative and the white rose initiative? Will she get that man next to her to do something and do it now?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is exceptionally passionate about trees; I think the hon. Gentleman will find that the Secretary of State’s constituency has the highest concentration of trees in the country. This issue is not always straightforward. I was at the planting of the first Lowther park estate, where 230,000 trees are due to be planted, and there is more happening up on Doddington moor. Through things such as the woodland creation grant and the creation unit, we will continue to work to get more parts of the country planting quickly.
Mr Speaker, I am sure that in your constituency and mine there will be a lot of tree planting to replace the trees that have to be felled for the construction of High Speed 2. I welcome the Minister back to her role. Will she give serious consideration to the proposal for a new national park at the heart of the west midlands conurbation, so that the biodiversity lost can be offset at scale?
The Department for Transport has already issued a grant so that tree planting can start, so that is already under way. Julian Glover is undertaking a review of national parks and we want to understand the future perspective. I am sure that my right hon. Friend’s application will be considered carefully.
The right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) may not know this, because she does not have eyes in the back of her head, but I can advise her that she has now thoroughly wound up the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan).
Pursuant to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), I remind the Minister that HS2 will go through Buckinghamshire and the Chiltern hills. Is she aware that we are contemplating applying for national park status for the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty? That would help to protect what ancient woodland and trees are left after HS2 has gone through the middle of Buckinghamshire.
I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister back to her place. On the proper stewardship of trees, is she satisfied that the existing arrangements between the Forest Holidays group and the Forestry Commission fully accord with the commission’s statutory objectives?
We are not happy about the arrangement that the Forestry Commission has entered into with Forest Holidays, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has asked Colin Day—the Department’s non-executive director and chair of its audit and risk committee—to undertake a review. He will be investigating the matter carefully.[Official Report, 16 July 2018, Vol. 645, c. 2MC.]