Forestry sales to be voted on in Parliament.
This Wednesday, 2nd February, the House of Commons will debate a motion on the Public Forest Estate tabled by the Labour Party. Known in Parliament as an Opposition Day Debate, the outcome of the vote on the motion will not decide whether the sale of England’s Public Forest Estate (PFE) goes ahead, but instead affords the Opposition the parliamentary time to voice their concerns. The motion, tabled by the Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband, Mary Creagh the Shadow Environment Secretary and other prominent Labour frontbenchers, declares that:
This House believes that the Government’s intention in the Public Bodies Bill to sell off up to 100 per cent of England’s public forestry estate is fundamentally unsound; notes that over 225,000 people have signed a petition against such a sell-off; recognises the valuable role that the Forestry Commission and England’s forests have made to increasing woodland biodiversity and public access with 40 million visits a year; further recognises that the total subsidy to the Forestry Commission has reduced from 35 per cent of income in 2003-04 to 14 per cent of income in 2010-11; further notes that the value of the ecosystems services provided by England’s public forest estate is estimated to be £680 million a year; notes that the value of such services could increase substantially in the future through the transition to a low carbon economy as a carbon market emerges; notes that the public forest estate has been retained in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and calls on the Government to rethink its decision on the sales of England’s public forest estate in order to protect it for future generations.
What might this motion mean for the Public Forest Estate?
In the event that motion is passed – and it needs to be noted that Opposition Day motions are seldom successful – the Coalition government would have to ‘rethink’ the decision to press ahead with selling off large swathes of England’s PFE. In practice this would mean revisiting those clauses in the Public Bodies Bill that furnish the government with the legal power to sell more than 15% of the PFE.
Should the motion be defeated – or amended to commend government policy – there will nevertheless be further opportunities to press the case to save England’s ancient forests. The consultation on the future of the PFE is critical, as is Public Bodies Bill which the Trust believes needs amending to reflect the need to protect and restore ancient woodlands – notably the government have committed to revisit the forestry clauses in the legislation. The debate on Wednesday is also an opportunity for the public to encourage their MPs to support the Trust’s call to increase protection for our wooded heritage.
How can you help?
It is likely that your MP will be part of this debate, so you might want to get in touch and share your thoughts on how you believe the PFE, and in particular valuable ancient woodland, should be protected and enhanced for future generations. Find your MP here: http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/
You can also sign our petition! Whatever happens on Wednesday, the Public Bodies Bill will continue to progress through Parliament and crucially you can input into the public consultation on the PFE that runs until the end of April. The Trust is collecting a body of support under our petition (link to petition) – currently at an incredible 75,000 signatures – in order to demonstrate support for our belief that ancient woodland should be protected, all ancient woods degraded with conifers restored to their former glory and public access to our woodlands guaranteed.
Lee Bruce – Government Affairs Officer