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Plant Health (Forestry) (Amendment) Order 2012

Volume 741: debated on Wednesday 28 November 2012

Motion to Take Note

Moved By

That the Grand Committee takes note of the Plant Health (Forestry) (Amendment) Order 2012 (SI 2012/2707).

My Lords, I have taken the perhaps slightly unusual step of a Take Note debate on a negative instrument not because I oppose it—otherwise it would not be a take note debate; I want to make it extremely clear that we do not oppose this order—but because, when I read the Explanatory Memorandum to the Plant Health (Forestry) (Amendment) Order 2012, it raised a series of questions. Given the high level of public interest in the spread of ash dieback disease—Chalara fraxinea—I felt it appropriate for me to take a bit of the Committee’s time to ask some questions that arise from the Explanatory Memorandum.

Since I initiated this debate, I see that we now also have an additional instrument undergoing its passage: the Plant Health (England) (Amendment) Order 2012. I note the 16th report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which was published yesterday and reports on that order. I may link the two slightly and I hope that the Minister can deal with that. No doubt, with the number of questions that I will ask, he will want to write to me. That is perfectly fine. There are questions I want to put on the record, and in time the answers can be on the record, too. That is entirely the purpose of this debate.

The first question is about this combination, now, of two orders. As the committee says, one order is in respect of the Forestry Commission as the competent authority while the other is for the Secretary of State to act as a competent authority in respect of specific emergency measures against Chalara fraxinea. In passing, it would be interesting if the Minister could confirm why this could not have all be dealt with in one piece of legislation for the ease of scrutiny and to help people understand what is going on. However, the principal questions I have probably focus around paragraph 3.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which is headed:

“Matters of special interest to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments”.

I start with the timings that are set out there in terms of the process and the sentence that,

“evidence that ash trees infected with Chalara fraxinea were supplied from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium during 2011 and 2012”.

That leapt out at me because previously my understanding was that the first evidence of the disease in this country was in a nursery in Buckinghamshire in February 2012. The starter for 10, if you like, is: when did the evidence about 2011 first emerge? My assumption is that it emerged relatively recently but I would be interested to know the timing on that.

The countries also interest me. The suppliers were from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium during 2011 and 2012. I gather from Forest Research that the first cases of this disease happened in Germany in 2002. The rapid risk assessment was, I believe, published by Forest Research on behalf of the department on 9 August 2012, and it shows that since 2002, we have imported 2.75 million ash trees from Germany alone in that time. The impact assessment elsewhere talks about half a million trees a year over 10 years, so 5 million imported in that 10-year period.

If a significant number were, as suggested, imported from countries that already had the infection, the significant question is raised as to why, when dealing with plant disease, we in this country have not learnt from dealing with animal disease. My understanding is that as soon as we know of an animal disease outbreak in a member state of the European Union, we would ban imports straightaway from that member state, without having to go through any kind of consultation. It would certainly be a matter of great public interest if the Minister could tell us why we have not been following that process in respect of plant diseases. Belgium suffered its first outbreak in 2009, the Netherlands in 2010 and, as I have said, Germany in 2002, and yet we continue to import from those countries. It appears to be probable that the disease found its way into this country as a result of that import activity. Were the sapling nursery trees that were imported kept indoors once the investigation started in February/March when the first case of the disease was found, so that the sporelation that takes place and which causes the disease to spread, was contained?

My second area of questioning is around the consultation period. Paragraph 8.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum to the order refers to a “shortened 8-week consultation”. In the circumstances of an emergency such as this, I have absolutely no problem with a shortened period of consultation, and indeed my question is: why was not an even shorter period for consultation set, given the scale of the threat to our ash tree population? Paragraph 4.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum to the November order states that:

“Article 16.2 of the Plant Health Directive provides for a Member State to take temporarily any additional measures which it deems necessary to prevent the introduction or spread of such harmful organisms in its territory, or the EU more generally”.

I assume that these are similar powers to those used in terms of animal health. They suggest that the UK had the powers, if it wanted to use them, to enforce an immediate ban on imports of ash trees if there was a fear that the disease would spread. Could the UK have imposed a ban straightaway, perhaps when the rapid risk assessment was published by Forest Research in August, and then consulted on how the ban was operating and what questions needed to be asked? Could we have had a four-week consultation, or perhaps even one for two weeks, after which the ban could have been put in place?

Paragraph 3.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum states that:

“Evidence from 2010 was that over 200,000 trees had been exported to the UK from other Member States during the 21 day period from 29 October to 19 November”.

What the department is arguing in the memorandum is that it did not need an earlier ban because a substantial amount of import activity takes place in the autumn. Does the Minister have any statistics on how many trees were imported during the preceding 21-day period in 2010 so that we can make a comparison? If the consultation had been shorter—of, say, four weeks’ duration—a similar amount of importation could have been stopped and perhaps some of the infection avoided.

My next series of questions are around surveillance. The process set out in paragraph 3 of the memorandum talks about,

“the investigation into the scale of the import trade … investigation into the level of infection in the nursery trade in Great Britain … investigation into the presence of the organism in the wider environment”

and a pest risk assessment, to which I have referred. So surveillance activity took place as part of the investigations and is continuing to take place. Is the Minister able to update us on whether there remain any clear, pest-free areas? Which are those pest-free areas? What is being done in terms of controls on those pest-free areas to try to prevent any further spread? It would be helpful to know that. To have some understanding of how many are sited at nurseries as opposed to trees infected in the wild would equally be helpful.

Any latest information he can give us on sporelation would also help us understand how this disease is spreading and how it arrived in this country. The rapid risk assessment from Forest Research states, in the second paragraph of section 8, that the best understanding it had in August was of,

“a potential dispersal rate of 20 to 30 km per year”.

Is that still the Government’s understanding as to the sort of distance spores will travel year by year? That would in turn give us an understanding as to how rapidly the disease will spread in this country. If it is understood that spores travel 20 to 30 kilometres per annum, is it still the Government’s view that they may have travelled over the Channel? The distance from Dover to Calais—about the shortest route—is 41 kilometres, which is clearly in excess of the 20 to 30 kilometres set out in the rapid risk assessment.

That risk assessment is mentioned in paragraph 3.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum. The risk assessment states at the end of section 5 that there is a high risk of infection. I also point noble Lords to section 16: the summary and conclusion. It says:

“This rapid assessment shows … Potential for entry is: Very high”—

those last two words are underlined—

“especially in association with plants for planting, with a moderate risk associated with movement of soil and timber … Potential for establishment is: Very high … Economic, environmental and social impacts are expected to be: Medium to large … Endangered area: All of the UK”.

This was known on 9 August this year. We therefore have to ask whether we acted quickly enough once we had that risk assessment to put the ban in place.

I note than in Section 3.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum the argument is made that if we had introduced legislation sooner, it would,

“have been based on poor technical evidence (in the absence of a risk assessment and surveillance data)”.

My Lords, there is a Division in the Chamber. I do not know how quickly the noble Lord can finish his remarks.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

Thank you. When the Division Bell rang I had read out the end of the rapid risk assessment published by Forestry Research on 9 August 2012 and referred to paragraph 3.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which says,

“Such legislation would have been based on poor technical evidence (in the absence of a risk assessment and surveillance data) if introduced earlier and would have had little practical impact because there is little movement of ash for planting during spring and summer”.

The question clearly then arises: given the nature of the risk assessment that had been done in early August, what if there had been a rapid consultation through August, let us say, until mid-September, and a ban introduced then? We are always a little vague in Government and elsewhere about when these seasons begin and end, especially when we are asked to make decisions, but I would define autumn as starting in September or possibly October. We could have had a ban in place at the beginning of October, and would that not have been a good idea?

I would be interested to know in what period the investigation into the wider environment and the presence of the organism in Great Britain took place. The perception we now have is that as a result of the surveillance activity that is now taking place, and which has taken place since the ban, we have discovered the widespread infection of the disease across the wild trees of this country—widespread, that is, not necessarily in terms of volume but in terms of various locations. I would like to know during what period those investigations prior to the ban took place, and why we did not discover more infections at that point.

The penultimate question relates to paragraph 8 of the Explanatory Memorandum. Paragraph 8.2 says:

“There were three policy options proposed in the consultation which were conditional on the outcome of official surveillance”.

I am interested to know which of the three the Minister thinks we are now in, in terms of the situation. The first says that,

“if the disease was not found to be widely established then maintain Great Britain free of chalara through an eradication strategy, supported by legal restrictions on ash imports and movements”.

That would suggest, because we are discussing these orders, that we think we are probably in option 1 of these policy options, although some of the other facts would put that into question. The second says that,

“if established with limited distribution then a suppression strategy was proposed without the burden of legal restrictions on ash imports and movements”.

It seems that there is certainly limited distribution of the disease, in which case, why are we not pursuing that option, of a suppression strategy without the import ban, which I support? The third says that,

“in the event of widespread distribution no official measures would be taken”.

Are we close to that point of widespread distribution, in which case we just have to let nature take its course? I would be very interested to hear the Minister’s comments on those three policy options.

Finally, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised a question in its 16th report, published yesterday. Its final paragraph—paragraph 5—discussing the Plant Health (England) (Amendment) Order 2012, concluded with the sentence:

“We have been told by the Department that an updated estimate of the financial impact should be published in December, and is likely to be higher”.

December starts on Saturday. Has the Minister any kind of updated estimate, beyond the £0.25 million, of the financial impact of these measures? With that, and with gratitude to the Committee, I take my seat.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, for raising this topic, which is very pertinent and of much interest in the country as a whole. I declare my interest as an owner of sundry ash trees and bits of woodland in Scotland.

I have two questions in my mind. First, in the aftermath of the Phytophthora ramorum outbreak, an undertaking was given that phytosanitary measures for plants would be tightened. Is this the first time that there has been any change in the legislation since then? If not, how many changes have been made in terms of tightening up our regulations on looking after plant health?

Secondly, there is obviously a premium on the planting of native British trees. I gather that one of the practices that have been going on is that foresters in the UK collect seed from native British trees, send it to Holland, have it grown into small plants and then bring them back. If plants are to qualify as native trees, should they not have spent the whole of their lifetime in the UK and not been subject to export to other countries?

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Knight, for raising this issue. Given his extensive questions, I will limit mine to one and a half. Many of us in this Room did of course have the opportunity three weeks ago to debate the important issue of the future of the British ash tree and the impact of this disease, in the very timely debate initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne.

My first question follows on from the final question from the noble Lord, Lord Knight, in relation to the final point made by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, and the issue of the costs for this order. It highlighted, as he rightly said, that we are imminently expecting new figures, which are to be much higher. Can the Minister confirm who will undertake that work? It was the Forestry Commission in the first instance, and since the initial measures were laid out in October, where they referred principally to forestry trees, it has now moved to cover all trees, including those for amenity use and in garden centres. Therefore the remit covers a much broader field and I would like to be reassured. Although I have the highest regard for the Forestry Commission, if we are going to get a realistic figure on those costs, it has to be undertaken by an agency that has the competence to do so. As a supplementary to that question, what areas is it looking at? The Minister will know that I have previously raised with the Secretary of State my concern that we get an understanding as soon as possible of the full costs on the rural economy of the impacts of this disease. It strikes me that the outline in the Explanatory Memorandum that we have before us is quite a narrow definition of what those costs might be.

My second question relates to paragraph 12 of the Explanatory Memorandum on monitoring and review, which of course will be extremely important. It leads to the priority that the Government give to plant health. I would like to raise the point that yesterday, at the launch of the Nature Check report by the Wildlife and Countryside Link, which analysed the Government’s environmental commitments over the last 18 months, the Secretary of State referred to a radical reprioritisation within his department, which included a major new focus on animal and plant health. I believe that we would all welcome that, given the significant number of challenges that plants are facing, which we have recently seen and debated in this House.

Will the Minister give us any information about when there might be further clarity on what those plans might be, and when they will come forward? Will we get a chance to look at this radical reprioritisation of budgets within Defra to ensure that the focus on plant health is given the priority that this House believes it is due?

My Lords, I would like to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that I was not here for the first few minutes of his opening remarks. I also declare an interest in that I am yet another woodland owner from Scotland. I would like to ask two questions. First, what is the advice likely to be about the use of infected and possibly infected timber, and what is to happen to the 80 million ash trees in Great Britain? I am certain that noble Lords will be familiar with the fact that ash is used in furniture, framing, in coach building, and by Morgan cars, among others. It certainly bends well in the steam box, and it is, of course, premium firewood. As a supplier of firewood, that is probably my real interest. Have the Government come up with advice on what we are to do with all these trees?

My second point is, with my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, to wonder why British tree nurseries have not been growing saplings. Why has it been uneconomic to do so, and why has it been economic to take them to Europe, to grow them further and then export them back? Finally, before we get too suicidal about this; I understand that there were 20 million elms. We do not have many elms in Scotland, but I noticed that I seem to have a lot of elm coppice, which seems to be working very well.

I thank my noble friend for initiating a debate on this order. He has made an expansive analysis of the situation. I also praise the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on its very interesting exposition yesterday in the other place about the disease. Two points came out of that which I thought would be worth bringing to the attention of the Minister. The first is that it seems as if there is not yet a properly thought through control plan, which I would have thought was one of the first things we need to be on top of. Following on from that, we need a comprehensive communication plan of what the control plan means, including making clear the dos and don’ts to people up and down the land.

I should declare my interest as a farmer in Cheshire, and I want to add to the excellent exposition by my noble friend only a word on his first point, which concerned what I perceive to be the striking difference between the handling of animal disease threat and plant disease threat. I would not wish the point to be lost among all the other excellent points he made. It appears that we have not applied the lessons learnt from animal diseases to plant diseases. I think I am right in saying that when a dangerous animal disease is present or breaks out overseas, the importation of animals from the region in question is immediately banned. For example, we still ban imports from South America because of foot and mouth disease, imports from Canada out of the dormant fly season and so on. Imports have not been allowed to continue up to the point when disease is recognised as being present in the UK.

In regard to plant health issues, it seems that the same regime does not apply. Perhaps the Minister can say whether the import of ash trees has already been banned from countries such as Denmark, where the impact of Chalara fraxinea has been devastating. I ask this because the order before us seems to be the first reaction to the disease, which has only been to ban the importation after its presence in the UK has been detected. Had a regime similar to that which applies to animals been followed from the outset, not only could it have delayed the presence of Chalara fraxinea in the UK, it would have allowed this country to exploit its position as a disease-free area, in which cases exports could well have been made from this country back into Europe. However, there now seems to be no possibility of this sort of trade being undertaken.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. Like others, I should declare an interest as a grower of ash trees. On 15 November, I had the opportunity to see for myself the effects of Chalara fraxinea in Wayland Wood in Norfolk and to meet Forestry Commission staff working on the ground there to identify the disease. I am enormously grateful to those in the plant health authorities, the industry more widely and, indeed, the public, who have all contributed to the response to this harmful disease, including the many volunteers who have given of their time to help.

I was particularly reminded on my visit to Norfolk of the long-term nature of forestry. The foresters were already planning their felling for 2071, hoping that they had selected the right trees that will thrive over the coming 60 years, whatever those years might bring in terms of climate, pestilence and environmental change. In recognition of the scientific advice that it will not be possible to eradicate Chalara fraxinea and on the basis of the experience in Europe that there is no effective treatment, we are now focusing our efforts on minimising the impact of the disease on our economy, our environment and our society. The next step will be the publication of a control plan which will set out our approach to four key objectives. Those are: slowing the rate of spread; developing resistance in the United Kingdom ash population; encouraging citizen, landowner and industry engagement; and building resilience in UK woodland and associated industries. At the same time, the independent expert task force, convened by Defra’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, will examine further ways to prevent pests and pathogens from entering the country and will publish an interim report. The work of the task force has been to look at the similarities and differences in dealing with animal and plant disease outbreaks and what each can learn from the other. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, referred to this, and I think he made a very important point.

What is the situation on the ground now? As your Lordships know, we carried out an unprecedented, rapid survey of ash trees across the country during the first week in November. More than 500 Forestry Commission staff worked with Fera and other organisations, including the CLA, the Woodland Trust, Natural England, the National Trust, and a number of others. In passing, I should say how grateful I am to all those who carried out this important work. More than 10,000 sites were visited. As of today, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Knight, there are 257 cases of ash dieback caused by Chalara confirmed across Great Britain; 17 of these are in nursery stock, 105 are in recently planted sites and 135 are in the wider environment. Further suspect cases remain under investigation and we will continue to provide updates on confirmed cases through the maps on the Forestry Commission website.

To take a quick reminder of the history, ash dieback caused by the fungal pathogen Chalara fraxinea has been present in Europe since 1992, and since then it has spread to much of central and northern Europe. Before 2010, the European scientific evidence indicated that the organism responsible for ash dieback was native and not causing harm in Great Britain. This belief meant that it would not have been appropriate to use import restrictions to control the organism responsible for the disease. The Forestry Commission explained this in a response to the Horticultural Trade Association in 2009, and also recommended that the industry should take care in sourcing stock and check for ill health in ash plants and trees.

In 2010, new scientific evidence correctly identified the pathogen that caused the disease, which was not known to be present in the UK. This meant that it was identified as a potential threat, alongside many other potentially harmful organisms. In the light of that evidence, the Forestry Commission inspected more than 15,000 ash trees located in 8,310 groups across Great Britain under the National Forest Inventory. Only 103 cases of dieback were identified, and none of these was identified as caused by Chalara. On the basis of the NFI inspections, the ash appeared to be one of the healthiest broadleaf trees in the country. However, our plant health authorities first discovered Chalara in the United Kingdom during a routine check at a nursery in Buckinghamshire in February 2012. This finding was confirmed by laboratory testing on 7 March. There followed an extensive tracing operation of ash trees known to have been supplied from infected nurseries and, over the summer, 100,000 young ash trees were traced and destroyed.

In parallel to the extensive tracing operation over the summer, plant health authorities developed a pest risk analysis which formed the basis of a fast-track consultation to strengthen the evidence and seek views on options for action. This consultation strongly supported protective measures against the disease and, as a result, we enacted the Plant Health (Forestry) (Amendment) Order 2012 on 29 October. That order prohibits the introduction and spread of Chalara in Great Britain by requiring that imports and movement of ash-planting material must be from designated pest-free areas. Official confirmation of compliance with these requirements must be provided if ash planting material is to be moved, which for imports from outside the EU would be through a phytosanitary certificate, while for movements from within the EU would be through a plant passport. There are no pest-free areas in place at present and they could only be established by plant health authorities in accordance with the relevant standard of the International Plant Protection Convention. So the order acts as a complete ban on movement and import. The order also permits the licensing of scientific work on organisms such as Chalara which are not listed in European plant health legislation.

In light of the consultation outcome, it was important to introduce these requirements quickly before the main planting season for ash, with measures applying across the country as a whole. This has been achieved. The HTA had also asked members to observe a voluntary moratorium on imports of ash-planting material prior to the order coming into effect, which was well observed.

During the consultation period, on 24 October Chalara was confirmed in the wider environment in East Anglia, in trees with no apparent connection to nurseries. Consequently, the Government undertook a rapid survey which has given us an initial picture of the distribution and extent of ash dieback caused by Chalara. The vast majority of cases of Chalara currently confirmed in mature trees in the wider environment are clustered in the east and south-east of England, in Norfolk, Suffolk and Kent, with a few cases further west and extending north up the east coast.

Defra’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, has examined different hypotheses and concluded that the likelihood is that Chalara infected mature, native ash trees in Britain through spores blown on the wind from continental Europe and that it has been here for some time—at least two years. These conclusions are based on known sources of infection in France and Belgium, existing knowledge of how the spores are dispersed by wind, the distribution of the wider environment findings and modelling evidence which suggests that weather conditions in 2010 were appropriate for spores to have been transported by air to England. As we know, Chalara has also been imported on young ash trees. Professor Boyd’s expert science group has reviewed the evidence about Chalara to help us understand how it is spread, its impact on our ash trees and how we might tackle it. A summary of the group’s conclusions was published on 9 November. We have continued to build on this evidence and have adopted a risk-based approach to predict the spread of Chalara within the UK.

The Secretary of State set out in a Written Ministerial Statement on 9 November that the advice from the scientists is that it will not be possible to eradicate Chalara. However, that does not mean we should abandon hope for the British ash. While young trees usually succumb to the disease fairly quickly, mature trees with the infection can live for many years and are valuable to wildlife. We also know that the genetic diversity of ash offers good prospects of resistance being developed, with some evidence of this being seen in Denmark and elsewhere.

So what can be done? In recognition that government alone cannot tackle this threat, we convened a summit on 7 November which brought together over 100 representatives of the forestry and horticulture industries and environmental groups to advise us. There was broad consensus around the evidence and the nature of the action that should go into the control plan. The overarching message was that we should not panic or take drastic action which would be futile or counterproductive. The winter is a window of opportunity to develop the right approaches as the main pathways for the disease are not in operation. The fruiting spores are only produced in the summer and we have banned movement of ash plants.

Based on the advice of the summit and the endorsement of key organisations such as the Woodland Trust and National Trust, the Secretary of State set in train an immediate plan of action which is being taken now, while the longer-term control plan is developed and implemented. Newly planted diseased trees and diseased trees in nurseries are being traced and destroyed. Mature trees are not currently being removed, which can help us learn more about genetic strains that might be resistant to the disease. The search for the disease includes trees in towns and cities as well as the countryside, building partnerships with a range of organisations beyond government. Advice is provided to foresters, land managers, environmental groups and the public about how to identify diseased trees and those likely to be resistant to the disease, and what to do with that information. That is on the Forestry Commission website. There is no restriction on access to the countryside, so that rural businesses can continue to operate and the public are able to enjoy rural amenities.

The noble Lord, Lord Knight, asked a number of questions. Let me see how many of those I can answer. He asked, essentially, why there were two orders. The Forestry Commission legislation allowed the GB-wide measures to be introduced quickly and consistently across all territories. The amendment to the Plant Health (England) Order is a tidying-up exercise. Fera inspectors have been using general plant health powers but specific powers were considered helpful in response to the ongoing activity. The noble Lord asked about the reference in the Explanatory Memorandum to 2011. The import took place late in 2011 but the interception was made during a routine national inspection in February 2012.

In answer to another question—I cannot remember what the question was but will tell the noble Lord the answer—the international scientific advice before 2010 was clear. There was no indication then that any action was appropriate or justified. This was viewed as a largely technical issue. The noble Lord may remember the sequence of events rather better than me. Scientists in the plant health authorities did not seek a policy decision from Ministers. However, the Forestry Commission advised the horticultural industry at that time that they should consider the risk of Chalara when importing planting materials.

Both he and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked essentially whether one should treat this like an animal disease. They had a good point. That is why the Secretary of State asked Professor Ian Boyd to convene an expert, independent taskforce to review our strategic approach to plant health. This group met on 13 and 14 November and will publish its interim report shortly. Therefore, we are treating this with the same urgency as we would an animal disease outbreak.

There is another answer where I cannot remember what the question was. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Knight, as the previous planting season was over and the risk was therefore low, we wanted to get views on the best measures and ways to implement them. This led to a well observed, voluntary and industry-led moratorium prior to the introduction of a statutory ban, which was widely implemented. It is important that industry is consulted on any decisions that will have implications for it.

The noble Lord asked if there are any pest-free areas. The answer is no. Essentially, the ban is a ban. He asked, given that he had read that the disease moves at about 20 to 30 kilometres per year, how it could have come across the channel. The 20 to 30 kilometres is an illustrative figure, based on the movement of a broad front. Scientific modelling suggests that individual spores can travel a great deal further than that.

He asked why a ban could not be put in place earlier. The consultation was launched to establish the scale of the problem and to ensure that we sought the views of and information from those in the forestry and horticultural industries before we took any final decisions. This was done outside the planting season and finished well before the planting season would have got under way. The consultation closed on 26 October but the Government acted immediately once it became clear that a ban on ash imports was necessary. We simply could not have imposed a ban without speaking to those involved and assessing the current situation. However, as I said, they put in place a voluntary moratorium prior to that.

He asked about the impacts referred to in the Explanatory Memorandum. These were based on an initial assessment by the Forestry Commission of the costs of authorising nurseries to issue plant passports. There are £100,000 of inspection costs and £50,000 of administration costs, with an estimate of the loss of trade of £100,000. Ongoing general surveillance of the environment will also be needed at an estimated cost of about £40,000. These costs were very much based on a provisional assessment at the time and do not account for all activities such as ongoing tracing of diseased plants or wider socioeconomic impacts. They also need to be revised to take account of subsequent developments as regards the disease situation. More detailed work is being carried out in this area as a contribution to the control strategy to be finalised shortly.

My noble friend the Duke of Montrose said that a couple of years ago Defra undertook to tighten up on plant pathology regulations and asked whether this is the first time since then that legislation has been amended. Plant health legislation is reviewed constantly in response to new and emerging threats. The legislation is updated on a regular basis where new risks are identified and many of these changes are introduced in the context of EU plant health legislation. We are actively pursuing improvements to that regime.

My noble friend Lady Parminter asked about the assessing of costs. Defra will calculate costs incurred by all government agencies and is looking at impacts including on rural growth.

My noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie asked why we are sending ash seedlings to the Continent to be grown then bringing them back again. That is indeed a good question. That was not a prohibited practice while ash was unregulated but all movements have now been banned unless they come from a pest-free area. As I said, there is no such designated pest-free area at the moment. He also asked about firewood. My advice is that the burning of ash firewood is safe. However, it will not be possible to move logs from affected areas in the United Kingdom where a notice has been served.

As we prepare our control plan and consider future approaches to tree health and plant biosecurity, informed by the work of the expert taskforce, I am reminded of the foresters in Wayland Wood. I am sure that noble Lords will join me in expressing the hope that in the near future they will once again plant ash that will prove resistant to Chalara and other pests, and live long for successive generations to enjoy.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for contributing to a useful debate. I join the Minister in showing gratitude to those who are working, including volunteers, to battle this disease. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for his updates, which I am sure will be examined carefully. He was, as ever, assiduous in trying to answer my many questions. I know that he is equally assiduous in reviewing the debate and writing with answers to questions that he was not able to cover; I am grateful to him, in advance, for that.

I see noble Lords queuing up for the interesting debate being introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn. We are all looking forward to that.

Motion agreed.