Labour tabled an Opposition Day Debate:
Future of the Public Forest Estate in England
That this house believes that the Government’s intention in the Public Bodies Bill to sell off up to 100% of England’s public forestry estate is fundamentally unsound; notes that over 225,000 people have signed a petition againsy such a sell off; recognises the valuable role of 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% of income in 2003-04 to 14% 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 sale of England’s public forest estate in order to protect it for future generations.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, tabled an Amendment to this proposed motion. The amended motion reads:
That this house deplores the actions of the previous administration in selling off 25,000 acres of public forestry estate with wholly inadequate provisions; notes that the previous administration sought to go even further in finding ways to exploit the forestry estate for commercial gain as recently as 2009; welcomes the consultation proposals to guarantee the future protection of heritage forests by offering them charitable trust status; supports the consultation proposals for robust access and public benefit conditions that will be put in place through lease conditions, including access rights for cyclists and horse-riders; believes the leasehold conditions regarding biodiversity and wildlife conservation will safeguard significant important environmental benefits; sees these proposals as important in resolving the conflict of interest whereby the Forestry Commission is the regulator of the timber sector whilst being the largest operator in the England timber market; considers that debate on the future of the forest sestate ought to be conducted on the basis of the facts of the governments proposals; and believes that under theses proposals people will be able to continue enjoying the access and benefits they currently have from the woodlands of England.
Other members attached to this amended motion are: Nick Clegg, George Osbourne, Caroline Spelman, Jim Paice, Patrick McLoughlin
The debate lasted for over 3 hours, was expected to finish at 7pm and became quite heated in parts. Indeed Jim Paice was ordered at one point to sit down by the Deputy Speaker.
Just before the vote Conservative MPs flooded the House of Commons in order to gain the upperhand. David Cameron arrived at about 6.55pm.
The vote at the end of the debate was divided and as such this means further voting occured behind locked doors. Any member not inside rooms when the doors were locked means they didn’t get to vote.
The result of that vote went in favour of David Cameron’s wording of the motion.
THIS DOES NOT MEAN THE FORESTS HAVEN’T BEEN SAVED.
This means it’s the start of the fight and the Government are quite clearly on the run. We were informed by an MP that a number of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs either abstained or voted against the government.
Labour’s motion for debate was tabled to show the government this is a big issue and the opposition wanted to highlight that fact. It made the government debate this issue that is important to us all and clearly showed the pressure we’ve put on them is making a difference.
Conservatives during the debate spoke of their concern at the amount of emails and letters they were receiving from constituents and how they are finding it hard to hold the Coalition’s line on this issue. Some MPs have received literally hundereds of letters and this pressure must continue.
This is not the end of the road. This is just the beginning. Every action through the 38 Degrees website has been noted by the government, every letter and email to your MP has made this debate happen and shown just how much England’s public, love our publicly owned forests.
We will be publishing further articles from our own personal perspectives about the Save Our Woods campaign journey to the House of Lords and the House of Commons within the next few days.