Even while we wait for the public consultation on the sale of the public forest estate to be published, the Public Bodies Bill is moving through Parliament. However, this far-reaching Bill is attracting fierce opposition. Today a powerful delegation from the Forest of Dean, led by Baroness Royall and supported by the HOOF campaign, visited the House of Lords to lobby for an exemption for the Forest of Dean.
Public Bodies Bill
The Public Bodies Bill, currently in the House of Lords, has the potential to transform Government’s powers relating to forests and the natural environment. The sections relating to forestry are Clauses 17 and 18; the former being of perhaps greatest interest to the public. The main purposes of the Bill are:
To make provision for conferring powers on Ministers of the Crown in relation to certain public bodies and offices; to confer powers on Welsh Ministers in relation to environmental public bodies; to make provision in relation to forestry; to make provision about amendment of Schedule 1 to the Superannuation Act 1972; and for connected purposes.
The Public Bodies Bill will create legislative powers for ministers to abolish or merge public bodies, and to potentially sell-off the public forest estate, without consulting parliament in the future. There are also implications for Wales in that Welsh ministers will have the power to merge the functions of environmental bodies. The Bill will provide the Secretary of State with the power to amend the Forestry Act 1967.
The amendment was tabled today by Baroness Royall, Baroness Fritchie, Lord Clark of Windermere and the Bishop of Gloucester, in readiness for the debate that will take place in a few weeks (date yet to be confirmed).
The Bill is of particular concern to those with an interest in the Forest of Dean because Clause 17 , if enacted, would remove the Forest of Dean’s unique protection against sale, which it won in the 1981 amendment of the Forestry Act 1967 after a sustained campaign against the Thatcher Government’s proposals.
Quotes from today’s delegation
“If the [Public Bodies] Bill is enacted this vulnerable forest community and its customs and traditions, which have survived for a thousand years, will be put in jeopardy. Whatever the White Paper says it is the Bill, once enacted, that will determine the future of the Forest of Dean. The Government itself can change its policy; the White Paper is not binding on any future government. In these circumstances is it little wonder that our fears for our customs and traditions and the future prosperity of our community engender vehement opposition to the Bill.”
Baroness Jan Royall, Shadow Leader in the House of Lords
“…No matter what the White Paper may say, the Public Bodies Bill means the Forest of Dean along with all the other forests may be sold – it’s there in black and white. I don’t want to be part of a social or community enterprise owning the Forest, because you and I already own it. I want to thank the 49 employees of the Forestry Commission in Coleford and say we want them to keep their jobs.”
Jonathon Porritt, Environmentalist
“Do not be seduced by the siren words of Mark Harper, the forestry minister, or anyone else in this Government when they tell you everything will be alright once you get to see the White Paper. That is just a whole farrago of lies, lies and lies. We know what the intention of this Government is – they’ve made it very clear. They would like to see as much of the public forests estate as possible sold off into private hands as fast as possible, with as speedy a receipt coming back to the Treasury as fast as possible.”
Bishop of Guildford
“At least twice in the past 400 years the Forest has almost been destroyed because of individualistic, uncontrolled economic forces. The likelihood of individual parcels of the Forest being sold off is very high if the Public Bodies Bill goes through unamended. We need to support this campaign so the Forest can go on for another 400 years and more.”
Andrew Taylor, Novelist
“The Forest belongs to us – to you, to me and to everyone under a benign system of public ownership. That’s the reason we moved here for good nearly 30 years ago. That’s why we’re staying.”