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House of Lords

Tuesday, 16th March 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Forestry: Government Policy

Lord Taylor of Gryfe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are committed to expanding forestry in the United Kingdom, and whether this policy will be pursued by the new separate authorities in England, Scotland and Wales.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, we are indeed committed to expanding forestry and this is a key element of the England Forestry Strategy which we published last year. The Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly in Wales will, of course, develop their own policies on expanding forestry in Scotland and Wales.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is an annual deficit in wood and wood products of over £6 billion per annum? Bearing that in mind will he explain his right honourable friend's statement as regards English forestry strategy that only hardwoods will be planted in England? Does he not realise that hardwoods have a rotation of 80 to 100 years and will make no contribution whatever to the balance of payments situation? Conifers are also trees and the appropriate sprinkling of species in conifer forests can be effective.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, first, I must say that I am aware of my noble friend's expertise in this area over many years. I am also aware of the deficit to which he drew my attention. The forestry strategy for England has four key programme areas where it aims to maximise the benefits that forests and woodlands can provide. The four areas are rural development and economic regeneration--that takes into account what my noble friend said about employment--the environment and nature conservation and, of course, very importantly, recreation and tourism. While this may be the strategy for England, I have no doubt that the Scottish Parliament will develop its own strategy for Scotland.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that what he has said about the advantages of hardwoods for the preservation of the environment and of wildlife is well worth supporting? Is the Forestry Commission, of which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, used to be chairman, to remain one unit, or must it be split up?

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, it will remain one unit with its headquarters in Scotland. However, the policy for England will be developed in England and the policy for Scotland will be developed in Scotland. Of course

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the policy for Wales will be developed in Wales. In the latter two cases the policies will be developed through the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly respectively.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, following what my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe said as regards planting hardwoods that will not mature for 80 to 100 years, is my noble friend aware that that is exactly the right kind of long-term policy that will enable this country at the end of the next century to revel in a century of Labour government?

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, what can I say to that except that I agree with my noble friend that I am sure we shall have Labour governments for a long time? We shall certainly look after forestry policy. Indeed we have stopped the sale of forestry land and none will be sold except for small areas and pockets of surplus land.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, does the Minister agree that an essential element for expanding forestry in the United Kingdom involves having markets? Does not the Minister also agree that it is necessary in the world into which we are moving for woodlands to be certificated to reach the maximum market? What plans do the Government have to ensure that private forestry owners can achieve certification on a simple, cost effective, user friendly basis?

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, we are encouraging timber certification. The present regulatory framework delivers a high standard of forestry. We want to build on that framework. There is also a place for independent certification. We hope that this will be facilitated by the UK woodland assurance scheme. Timber certification will, of course, be voluntary under the scheme, but we believe it will be advantageous to those who adopt it.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, due to the long-term nature of forestry and the possibility of a changing climate with the greenhouse effect can the Minister assure the House that planting policies comprise the right species that can tolerate an increase in general temperature and rainfall?

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, that will be taken into account as part of our policies. We are concerned about what will happen in the future, particularly in relation to the matters the noble Lord mentioned. As I said in outlining what we are doing in England, we are taking all those matters into account, particularly the environment and the care of the environment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, does the Minister wish to answer the question of his noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe? Is it true that the Government's forestry policy in England is that no more conifers will be planted? If that is true, how will the Government ensure that the wood-using industries in England will be

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supplied with conifers in future? Does the Minister realise that conifers are the trees that supply the jobs in the timber industry?

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, of course I realise that conifers provide the jobs in the timber industry. We believe that the existing forest can meet demand in the future. I hear what the noble Lord says; he is pointing. We believe that replanting the existing forests will meet the demands of the timber industry in this country.

Lord Glenamara: My Lords, would it not help to reduce the deficit if the national newspapers could be persuaded to stop producing such an indigestible mass of junk every Sunday, which we do not read because we have not finished the Saturday papers?

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, that is a little wide of the Question, but my noble friend has the support of the House in what he said.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that, while the Government's strategy for English forestry is perfectly acceptable, we should not lose sight of the fact that England is the least wooded country in Europe? Does he further accept that resources should continue to be made available to ensure that the new community forests in England are capable of making an increased contribution in the next century?

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. We hope to increase the amount of woodland in England. At the moment the programme is going quite well. Over the past 12 months we have budgeted for £40 million for woodland generally, which is the highest total there has been so far. Our intention is to increase woodland in England and to try to achieve the target that my noble friend has pointed out.

Nigeria: Aid

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assistance they are providing to the Government of Nigeria to help them in returning to civilian rule based on democratic institutions.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we are actively supporting the current transition programme to civilian rule in Nigeria. We aim to help Nigerians secure for themselves a stable, democratic and prosperous future. Help from the FCO has included projects in support of democracy and direct assistance to the election process. The Department for International Development is funding a good governance programme to support and strengthen the work of civil society and non-governmental organisations.

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Discussion takes place at all levels, including most recently my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs who visited Nigeria from 8th to 10th March for constructive talks with the outgoing head of state, General Abubakar and with President-Elect Obasanjo.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Is she aware of how strongly many of us in this House and the country feel about the satisfactory return of Nigeria to democratic institutions? Is it correct that the BBC has just been able to reach a co-operation agreement with Nigeria enabling programmes in both English and Hausa to spread throughout the entire country? Finally, can the Minister say whether the new, but welcome, Anglo-French initiative might be brought to bear on the economic problems of West Africa? She will be aware that anglophone and francophone countries literally interleave across the whole of that part of Africa in ways which suggest that closer economic co-operation might be very helpful to both sides of the Anglo-French groupings.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am aware that many people draw considerable satisfaction from what has happened in Nigeria. Of course, we must all do our best to maintain the way in which Nigeria is moving. The noble Baroness raised specific points about the BBC. She may be interested to know that the FCO funded the BBC World Service project on responsible journalism and on voter education. I am not entirely sure about the point she raised on Hausa, but I will certainly do my best to get some information on that matter for her. As to economic questions, we have been very pleased with the budget announced on the 1st January which we believe is based on prudent assumptions, tight monetary policy and significant fiscal adjustments. We are also pleased to see that some structural reforms have been introduced which have been advocated by the IMF. I am sure we all agree that these kinds of economic programmes and co-operation between those who wish Nigeria well--this country, France and others--will in due course bear significant fruit.

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