On 15th July 2014, the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, spoke in support of amendments to the Government’s Infrastructure Bill, during its Committee Stage. The amendments, the the Bishop’s intervention, focused on forestry and the place of the public forest estate. The amendments were withdrawn at the end of the debate.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, an interest in forestry has brought me along today. I am hugely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for what she said; indeed, she made many of the points that I wanted to make. I will therefore say just one or two things. In starting, I have come hotfoot from the General Synod, where we had a debate last night on Magna Carta, which I had to read. I discovered that three of the clauses there are about bishops and barons bringing the Executive to account on the forests—in those days King John wanted to make them bigger so that he could take more land. I now find myself here as a Bishop among Barons and Baronesses, reflecting on that.
I have had a number of representations on this area. It is an important issue for us, for the many reasons that the noble Baroness laid out. It is akin to our green belt; we still have it but there are many incursions into it. This is about how we protect it and how we protect forestry. It is true that work was done by my colleague James Jones, the former Bishop of Liverpool, on this important area. However, we are still waiting—I have asked questions on this as well and engaged in discussions—for the Government to move and set up the new body that Owen Paterson promised us some time ago.
I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s assurances, but what is involved here is the nature of this surplus land. However, if that accords with what we have been promised, surely this is belt and braces and makes a lot of sense. In particular, I am attracted to Amendment 89, which gives the assurance that that comprises the whole, as well as any part of, the public forest estate. As stated in proposed new subsection (9), that,
“comprises all the land, property, rights and liabilities”.
That is surely in line with what we were promised and what the Government have agreed to. If that forestry body is to be set up, that is fine—this is all in agreement with that. However, in the mean time, I should certainly like to receive some assurances from the Government in line with the amendments before us.