To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the effect of his announcement after the 1988 Budget that approval for large-scale conifer planting in the uplands of England would not normally be given; and if he will make a statement.
It is too early to say. However, in the four years before the announcement, less than 650 hectares of land was planted with conifers in the whole of England. Some two thirds of that planting was in upland areas.
May I join in congratulating my right hon. Friend on his return to the Dispatch box at an appropriately elevated level. May I point out to him that the Council for the Protection of Rural England and I, as somebody who walks in the beautiful uplands of Britain, welcome the Government's decision? Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the proposal of the Countryside Commission to plant large areas of forest in urban fringe areas? That will provide amenities and an environmentally sensitive mix of trees for those who live in towns and inner villages.
I agree that the Countryside Commission's action is to be welcomed. It began to discuss this about a year ago. It has developed the proposal, arid the first forest will begin to be planted soon. This is a major innovation which shows that Britain is leading the world in many areas of conservation. The scheme will bring back to parts of the country that have missed out on the countryside for a long time some of the amenities that many of us are lucky enough to experience near at hand where we live.
I welcome the new appointments to the Agriculture Front Bench, but I shall judge Ministers on their actions before I comment on their countryside policy. I hope that they will make changes. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Forestry Commission on its new landscape design proposals, which are a response to criticism levelled at forestry in the uplands for some years? Does the Minister agree that an area such as the flow country is important not only because of the rare birds who live there—it contains some of the most important species in Europe—but because it is a habitat that is unique in western Europe? Planting trees on that land destroys the peat layer for ever. There is no going back once land has been ploughed up and planted on. Does the Minister agree that steps need to be taken to protect precious areas which are of international importance?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to tempt me into areas looked after by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am happy to support what he said about the Forestry Commission's decisions on landscape, although I do not think that they were a response to criticism, as the hon. Gentleman rather negatively suggested. Those decisions show how much the Forestry Commission has been doing to develop its plans, and we should welcome not only the new plans but the new chairman who will take over at the end of September.