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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): The UK signed its Instrument of Ratification on 1st May, and it was deposited with the Secretary General of the United Nations in New York today.
Whether, in formulating their policy on roads and road planning outside urban areas, they have taken into account the differences which exist between requirements in Scotland and requirements in England.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): The Government's transport policy takes full account of distinctive Scottish circumstances. The Green Paper Transport: The Way Forward deals with road, rail and water-borne transport in England, and draws together the threads of the debate on transport policy there. A separate consultation process is under way in Scotland, after which my right honourable friend expects to make a separate statement.
The Earl of Lindsay: In our response to the Environment Select Committee's report on Forestry and the Environment, we said that we would ask the Forestry Commission to review its procedures for consulting on planting and felling proposals. The Forestry Commission has now completed this review, following consultation with the relevant statutory bodies and a wide range of environmental, land use and forestry organisations.
Since the present arrangements were introduced in 1984 the background against which grant and felling applications are considered has changed considerably. We now have a grant scheme designed to deliver multiple purpose forestry and a series of detailed environmental guidelines. We operate a general presumption against the felling and conversion of woodland to other land uses. Large or very sensitive new planting proposals are subject to statutory environmental assessment. In addition, indicative forestry strategies give local authorities the opportunity to indicate in broad terms those areas which they regard as environmentally sensitive and those where they would like to see forestry positively encouraged. We have also introduced a public register of new planting proposals which enables interested parties to know what is proposed and to submit comments. As we announced in the 1996 Sustainable Development White Paper (This Common Inheritance: 1996 UK Annual Report, Cm 3188), the Forestry Commission is preparing a set of forestry standards that we will use as a basis for monitoring and reporting on environmental standards in managed woodland.
We believe that the public should be given a greater opportunity to comment on new planting and felling and restocking proposals. We have therefore decided to include felling proposals in the Forestry Commission's public register of applications and to make the register more readily accessible. As well as making the register available for inspection by the public in local authority planning offices, the Commission will, in due course, arrange for the register to be accessed via the Internet. The Commission will also send copies of the register to the relevant statutory bodies. Anyone with an interest in a woodland planting or felling and restocking proposal will be able to comment to the Forestry Commission, which will take account of all the comments it receives in determining an application.
Whereas new planting involves a change of land use, felling is part of the ongoing business of woodland management and we believe it should be handled with a lighter touch. The Forestry Commission will consult local authorities and the relevant statutory bodies on felling proposals in the following circumstances:
Concern was expressed during the review that the 1984 Ministerial Direction does not give the Forestry Commission sufficient powers to require new planting and felling proposals to comply with its environmental guidelines prior to consultation. This has resulted in the Forestry Commission consulting on proposals that do not meet the necessary standard. This wastes time and reduces confidence in the procedures. We have therefore decided that the Commission should be able to reject an application at any stage if it does not meet the environmental guidelines or if in the opinion of the Commission it would be likely to cause significant harm to the environment.
The arrangements that we have announced today will remove unnecessary and unproductive consultation which is wasteful of everyone's time and off-putting to those wishing to plant or manage woodlands. The greater openness we are introducing, together with the Forestry Commission's existing environmental guidelines, statutory environmental assessment for large or very sensitive woodland planting proposals and the forestry standards which the Commission is currently preparing, will allow consultation to be focused on genuinely sensitive cases.
I am confident that the new arrangements will eliminate much of the unnecessary bureaucracy inherent in the present system while, at the same time, maintaining the present high standards of environmental protection. The arrangements will come into effect on 1st August 1996.
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