Public Bodies Bill amendment tabled

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

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

Viscount Bledisloe

“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.”

Read more posts about the public sell-off
Read more posts about the public sell-off

Gabriel Hemery

6 thoughts on “Public Bodies Bill amendment tabled

  1. It is important for everyone to realise that the public bodies bill on the Forestry Commission and all its woodlands is likely to be an impact on all of the forests. Those concerned about this are campaigning to fight off the threat to all of the Public Forest Estate across England (with potential knock-on effects in Scotland and Wales). As Baroness Jan Royall recognises, all forests might be sold, as quoted in your article:

    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.”

    The debate on clause 17 of the bill in a few weeks time will be very interesting, and I look forward to members of the House of Lords putting across the many very strong arguments on why forests across England should not be sold off

  2. What I want to know is what can we do about it as ordinary members of the public. It seems that unless your rich and famous you don’t get to have personal audiences with the powers that be.
    Also why is there only concern for the Forest of Dene? What about Sherwood Forest or for that the remains of Rockingham Forest? After all the sell off affects all the forests of England and despite my view that they should not be sold at all they will be.
    This is against the will of the people who have protested this sale from the beginning for the benefit of the future generations. I see no reason to sell off these forests so they end up being cut down (all be it with permissions) for bio-fuel use in power stations. It will happen. There is no surer fact. This government is about commercial interests and not about our inheritance. It is just another bullying act of thuggery by the legalised criminals that masquerade as leaders whilst telling us that we are ‘all in this together’. Really? Well why are they not taking massive wage cuts like the rest of us? Why are they still claiming massive expense accounts while the rest of us face even more erosion’s to our basic health and welfare systems, our children’s education and of course our natural environment?
    The truth is they don’t care, as long as we believe they care, and that will suffice for their plans. They will erode our terms and conditions whilst continuing to line their own and their friends pockets.
    Its jobs for their buddies as will be the building of HS2 which is another scam on the part of this same disingenuous government. The fact that this rail link will only be usable by those who can afford to use it who actually live at either end of the route whilst we in the middle have to suffer the destruction and noise and costs completely escapes their notice. We are being unreasonable. Just like we are being unreasonable with the sale of the forests I suppose?

    Well I would like an answer to what more I can do short of tying myself to a tree to stop them cutting them down but you see there are millions of tree’s and only one of me. Any suggestions?

    1. Kev – write a letter or email to a crossbencher or Liberal Democrat Lord (see http://www.parliament.uk for their names and addresses) and ask them to vote on Clauses 17 and 18 being withdrawn from the Public Bodies Bill. Get to as many as you can – the Labour peers will vote against it anyway so no point contacting them, but all the others (even some Tories) should be lobbied. Crossbenchers only turn up if they can be bothered, that’s why they need persuading.

  3. I’m really disappointed that the opposition to the sell off of our forests is so disjointed. When it comes down to the nitty gritty people seem to be settling for exemption amendments for their individual local forests, instead of aiming to destroy the whole bill, haven’t they read the thing? This isn’t about localism or party politics, it’s more important!

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