Forestry

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th October 1996.

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Photo of Mrs Helen Jackson Mrs Helen Jackson , Sheffield, Hillsborough 12:00 am, 15th October 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent representations he has received regarding the environmental benefits of forestry. [38364]

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Environment

Representations have been very large—both in number and in variety.

Photo of Mrs Helen Jackson Mrs Helen Jackson , Sheffield, Hillsborough

Is the Secretary of State not aware of the huge concerns in community forests, especially those in urban regions such as South Yorkshire, about the huge threat that the landfill tax poses to forests because of the increase in illegal dumping? Is he aware that that, added to the fact that only 7 per cent. of forest sold since 1991 has had public access agreements—which is disgraceful—means that the public will be denied the proper enjoyment of public access woodland?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Environment

The landfill tax has been welcomed by almost every environmental organisation in Britain and has set an example for the rest of Europe and the world. The hon. Lady shows again that the Labour party does not care two hoots about the environment, and will use every method to attack the Government's progressive environmental policies.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, at 7 per cent., forest cover in England is the lowest in Europe, and that forest plantings have halved since the late 1980s? I suggest that that is not consistent with the rural White Paper, where the Government's intention was to double the rate of forestry cover within the next 50 years. Are there further measures which my right hon. Friend can take to encourage the planting rate, which will have an economic and environmental impact?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Environment

This is the first Government to make a commitment to double the area of forest cover. I am determined to achieve that, but we need to do so in a way that does not cause a financial ramp, which was a feature of the previous system. We must find a sensible way to increase forest cover.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock , Lewisham, Deptford

Has the Secretary of State no shame? Is it not an indictment of his so-called green credentials that, in the past five years, only 7 per cent. of the forestry land that has been sold off has had public access guaranteed? Is it not a fact that, in raising millions of pounds, he has colluded with his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to promise relief on inheritance tax for the few while denying the many their natural inheritance of access to our beautiful countryside?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Secretary of State for Environment

The hon. Lady is wrong as usual, but it is nice to hear her talk about the environment, as no one on the Opposition Benches does so at any time. The Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), has made only one speech on the environment in two and a half years, so little does he care about it.

The hon. Lady is wrong, because woods that are used by the public are not sold off. Arrangements are always made for continued public access to areas where such access has been important; so she should not only talk about the environment more frequently but get her facts right.