Read the full statement from Bishop James here.
I very much appreciate having had sight of the Government’s response to the Report of the Independent Panel on Forestry. The Panel which was disbanded in July with the conclusion of its work will be meeting again to consider in detail its own response to the Government’s response. However, I would like to offer some personal reactions.
Firstly I would like to pay tribute to Caroline Spelman a) for setting up the Panel in the first place and b) for respecting the independence of the Panel throughout its work.
The Government’s response seems to me to be an unequivocal endorsement of the Panel’s work and recommendations. The Panel’s report was itself a product of reflecting on thousands of submissions from across the range of interests in forestry and from ordinary members of the public and took into account meetings with stakeholders around the country. The Government’s response provides an excellent basis for forestry stakeholders to continue to work in partnership for the future of forestry.
In particular I welcome the unequivocal commitment of the Government to retain the forests in public ownership. The Panel were unanimous in their conclusion that the forests should be held in trust for the nation, not least because of the range of public benefits that the forests provide. I welcome the rescinding of the policy for disposal of 15% of the estate. This is a recognition that the public benefits that flow from forests and woodlands have a legitimate claim on the public purse. I welcome too the setting up of a new body that will have continuity with the Forestry Commission but will be free from Government interference and free to be entrepreneurial. This body will have its own guardians and will be accountable to Parliament. It will also engage with local communities and with the commercial sector. I further welcome the recognition that developing the woodland economy is also good for nature and for people. Although I know there will be debate among my colleagues about the degree of expansion proposed by the Government (their response proposes 12% cover of England by 2060 whereas the Panel proposes 15%) I welcome the direction of travel for English forestry policy expressed in the Government’s response.
Clearly there are I's to be dotted and T's to be crossed but this response gets the principle that trees are for life in every sense of that phrase.
The response is properly conservative in that it conserves, preserves a vital natural asset and develops it sustainably for a low carbon economy; it is properly liberal in that it liberates the public body to be entrepreneurial and it is socially responsible in that it recognises the right that Government should pay for the public goods which proceed from forests and which are enjoyed by the community.
I look forward to discussing this with my colleagues and to initiating a debate in the House of Lords at the end of February.