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Environment and Climate Change (European Union Referendum)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 27th October 2016.

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Photo of Alexander Burnett Alexander Burnett Conservative

We will get more control over what we will be able to do for planting, which I will come to. The powers covering forestry will come to Holyrood.

The Scottish Conservative MEP, Dr Ian Duncan, held a consultation that asked Scottish stakeholders—including wildlife charities, government agencies and private sector companies—how EU environment legislation could be amended or altered for the benefit of Scotland. The conclusion was that EU legislation has become cumbersome and confusing.

One of the main problems with the directives is that they have to take into account the needs of 28 other nations. In forestry, that means 28 nations finding a single solution to fit all forests from the mountain birch trees in Abisko in the Arctic circle to the stone pine forests of Donana national park just north of Africa. For a party that wants independence, I find it strange that the SNP would be willing to give that legislation back to Brussels instead of deciding it here.

However, perhaps we know the real reason why the SNP does not want future forestry powers discussed here. A quick look at its track record on planting reveals that not once in the past six years has the SNP Government hit its target of 10,000 hectares. Without the planting needed for our basic needs, let alone the areas required to hit our climate change targets, the forestry sector is continually let down by the SNP Government.

Planting figures were one of the main discussion points when I recently met the Confederation of Forest Industries, the industry body. It recognised the need to establish a fully devolved arrangement that can make a success of Scottish forestry. It has pushed for a well-resourced effective forest and management service that works with the private sector for the benefit of Scotland.

Confor seems to have put more thought than the Scottish Government has into how we can make a success of Brexit for forestry. It has outlined five key aspects that need to be fixed in order to create a thriving forestry and timber sector. I encourage the cabinet secretary to take on board those and many other stakeholders’ suggestions.

Confor states that Brexit offers a unique opportunity to integrate forestry and timber production as a major driver of the rural economy. Is it not the case that the Scottish Government should get behind the ideas of the industry instead of perusing political point scoring?

However, it should have been clear from the outset that the First Minister and her colleagues have never had any intention of delivering on Brexit opportunities. Not one member of Nicola Sturgeon’s expert panel has been involved in the forestry sector. That is simply not good enough when nearly 20 per cent of Scotland is covered by forest and the industry, which is worth £1 billion, employs more than 25,000 people.

To conclude, we have a Government that is hell-bent on a single policy and which is willing to use any legislation to promote its ultimate goal. It is now more important than ever for the SNP to quit its grievance politics and get behind the opportunities that Brexit will bring our forestry sector.