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delegated legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118 (6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Northern Ireland

Question agreed to.


International Development


24 July 2006 : Column 708

Public Accounts



Post Office Card Account

10.1 pm

Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): You will know, Mr. Speaker, that the Post Office is talking about reducing the number of post offices to 4,000, and that at the moment there are 14,500. You will know that the Government refuse to tell us what, in their view, the number should be, even though they are the major shareholders. That impacts strongly on the Post Office card account, which everyone thought would continue almost ad nauseam, but which we are now told will continue only until 2010. There are over 4,000 petitioners, and I am delighted to present their petition to the House. It states:

To lie upon the Table.

Civil Service

10.2 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): On the day on which civil service staff presented their claim for this year’s increases in pay, I should like to present a petition from 50,000 civil servants. It is the largest petition presented to Parliament in the history of the civil service. I present it on behalf of the PCS parliamentary group. It states:

To lie upon the Table.

Fraser Day Hospital

10.3 pm

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): It is a pleasure to present two petitions to the House. The first concerns the possible closure of the
24 July 2006 : Column 709
Fraser Day hospital in Newport Pagnell, signed by councillor Debbie Brock and 1,067 other people. It states:

To lie upon the Table.

Mental Health Services (Milton Keynes)

10.4 pm

Mr. Lancaster: My second petition is signed by Mrs. Sarah Dewey and 367 other people, and it regards the proposed cuts to adult mental health services in Milton Keynes. It states:

To lie upon the Table.

Innocent Must Stay Campaign

10.5 pm

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I present a petition to the House of Commons for which 4,199 signatures have been collected by the “Innocent Must Stay” campaign, working in collaboration with local
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churches, community organisations and the Tameside Advertiser and Tameside Reporter in order to prevent the deportation of my constituent, Innocent Nkung, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The petitioners assert that as a member of the pro-democracy Christian Union for Renewal and Justice, which helped to organise against the DRC Government’s attempts to block elections, Innocent was imprisoned, raped and tortured by supporters of the DRC Government. The petitioners also assert that Innocent’s family have been further terrorised by the regime since Innocent fled the country in May last year, and that Innocent would be placed in serious danger if he were to return at this time.

To lie upon the Table.

Radioactive Waste Disposal (Foulness)

10.6 pm

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): I present a petition concerning the disposal of radioactive waste on Foulness island. The petition has led to a constructive dialogue between myself, the Ministry of Defence, the Atomic Weapons Establishment, the Environment Agency and Qinetiq. The petition has over 700 signatures and was completed with the support of the Southend Echo.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

24 July 2006 : Column 711

New Forest (Ministerial Mandate)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Jonathan Shaw.]

10.7 pm

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for this opportunity to hold an Adjournment debate on an issue of vital importance in the New Forest. I am indebted to Anthony Pasmore, one of the verderers of the New Forest and a monthly correspondent in the New Forest newspaper of record, the New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times.

The Minister’s mandate sets out the rules by which the Forestry Commission must administer the New Forest. It establishes

My purpose in asking the Minister to respond to the debate is to give him the opportunity to reaffirm that principle against the fears that it may be superseded.

The Forestry Commission raises revenue. That is why it calls itself Forest Enterprise. It might raise revenue through commercial forestry or through commercially exploiting the leisure opportunities afforded by the New Forest. Arguably, the latter has become a more favourable target in the existing climate.

I should like the Minister to deny categorically the rumours that are circulating that the Minister’s mandate will become a dead letter, and that the primacy of conservation will be superseded by the need to provide recreation opportunities. I have two specific concerns, with which I shall illustrate the problem. The first is to do with the campsites in the New Forest. They fill some 357 acres of the forest, not including the areas around the campsites that are inevitably affected and disrupted by their existence.

This has been a long-running sore—a battle between the Forestry Commission, which obviously wants to increase the services and the pitches available in those campsites in order to generate more revenue, and the verderers of the New Forest who represent the commoners and the rights of grazing. Currently, that battle is joined over the Roundhill and Hollands Wood campsites. But now something of a quite different order has arisen.

In May this year the Forestry Commission and the Camping and Caravanning Club announced a new joint venture partnership, Forest Holidays. Forest Holidays will lease the campsites of the New Forest, all 357 acres, and the press statement announcing this new venture stated that it

It then goes on to say that the objective of the new venture

What does that all mean? It certainly means more pitches, with electric hook-ups. Does it mean more roads and paths? Does it mean, for example, security lighting, entertainment opportunities, shops, playgrounds, perhaps a swimming pool, perhaps even a swimmers’ sub-tropical paradise, as exists at Centre Parcs, or even a “stately pleasure-dome”, such as Kubla
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Khan decreed, in “caverns measureless to man”? Remember that we speak of the New Forest, a world heritage site, our smallest national park, where the camp sites are never far from the most sensitive parts of the forest core.

All that stands between these potential developments being realised are the verderers of the New Forest, armed, of course, with the Minister’s mandate. Will they be supported by the Minister and his mandate, or will they be bullied into submission or even circumvented by a new national park authority, which as a local authority is armed with compulsory purchase powers?

Of course, I have deliberately exaggerated in order to point to the potential danger that exists for the future. I do that in order that we recognise that danger now so that we can guard against it. The Minister’s reaffirmation of the core principle of his mandate tonight will be a powerful guard against that potential future that I have just described.

I now come to a more pressing and imminent concern, and that is the disposal by the Forestry Commission of Holmsley lodge and Shrike cottage, together with 13 magnificent acres at the heart of the New Forest. I am reassured by a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner), of 4 July when he assured me that no final decision has been taken on this matter. I hope to persuade the Minister to abandon this proposal entirely, but if I fail to do that, at least to reconsider the time scale in which this is to take place. The current tenants have been told that they need to leave by January 2007. Given the business that they have and the fact that they have nowhere to go and that they have been in those properties for 40 years, I suggest that a much longer time scale would be necessary.

I find, surprisingly, that I am at odds with the verderers on this particular question. Because the verderers have backed the Forestry Commission’s proposal. I honestly believe that in this respect they have made the wrong call. It was a narrow decision made on the casting vote of the official verderer. Perhaps the verderers were influenced in that decision by the campsite issue, and not wanting to open up the possibility of war on two fronts with the Forestry Commision at any one time.

I also understand the verderers’ concern that properties be made available for commoning. I would not say for one moment that the verderers were bribed in the decision that they came to, but as the Under-Secretary put it to me, rather delicately, in his letter of 4 July:

It is, of course, right and proper that the verderers should take that into account. I understand that the offer of one property was increased to two, and the verderers reached their decision accordingly. What the Under-Secretary did not say in that letter—perhaps the Minister will throw some light on this matter, if not tonight, then in correspondence—is the proportion of the funds generated by that sale that will be reinvested in housing for commoners.

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In its letter to me of 15 May, the Forestry Commission stated that the properties concerned do not meet the criteria set out in the Illingworth report. On Holmsley lodge, it stated:

And on Shrike cottage, it stated:

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