Thursday, 17 February 2011

Spelman admits she got Forest sell-off wrong in humiliating statement to Commons

Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman has given an emergency oral statement to the House of Commons in which she said:

"I am sorry...we got this wrong".

She should be respected for having been frank in admitting her errors and showing humility.  But as Labour MP David Winnick said, any sympathy for her is for the fact that she was "humiliated by the Prime Minister and Chancellor".

Spelman told a baying Commons that:

"we wants to move forward in step with the public" 

and that she "wants to do the right thing by our forests".

Labour's Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, Mary Creagh, gave a bravura performance, showing just why she has risen to the front bench.  Some of her killer lines included:

"the air is filled with the sound of chickens coming home to roost".

Forest of Dean

She also warned Conservative MPs who hitherto supported the policy of selling-off the forests, such as Mark Harper, the Forest of Dean MP, that her apology will not be a panacea.  She said:

"the public may extract a hefty price from them at the next election".

We must make sure that people up-and-down the country are indeed reminded that Tory and Lib Dem MPs supported the selling-off of this most precious national resource - our forests.  The people of the Forest of Dean, where I grew up and where I cut my political teeth, volunteering and latterly working for Diana Organ, will not quickly forget the position taken by Mark Harper, a Minister who felt unable to oppose publicly a policy which went against the interests of the people of the Forest.

The superb campaigning of Foresters was mentioned by Mary Creagh, when she said that the Government's U-turn was "a victory" for people like "Alan Robertson of the Hands Off Our Forest campaign in the Forest of Dean.

Creagh went on to issue a clarion call:

"This land is our land"!

She announced the setting up of an Independent Panel to investigate the issues.  She then pointed out that one of the members of the Panel will be the woodland owners (??), one of the only groups which had supported the sell-off.  She then went on to make the important point that it is groups like Hands Off Our Forest should be on the panel.  She urged the Government to ensure that the Panel "tours the country" and listens to the concerns of these groups.  In a display of insensitivity, one Tory MP described the campaigners in the chamber as "push-button campaigners".

Mary Creagh's final flourish was inspirational.  She declared:

"the Secretary of State is the only Cabinet Minister in living memory to unite the Socialist Workers Party and the National Trust!"

"If she won't stand up for the countryside, we on this side most certainly will".

In my view, we must be forensic in holding the Government to their word.  They showed their true colours when they embarked on this ludicrous and callous policy.  Humility in admitting error is a good thing.  But it must be genuine and Caroline Spelman's apology must not become a mere staging post in a long-term move by the Government to continue its drive to reduce spending through selling-off public assets such as our Forests.  We must keep up the pressure on Spelman and the Government to ensure that this misguided policy is banished from our forests forever.

We must not forget that the Public Bodies Bill contains many measures which are as equally corrosive of our democratic and civil life in this country.  The Bill must be opposed and this is a small but significant victory on a long road to opposing this Government.


  1. Hello John. It's Nick from Q here! I found you via Larry's twitter page!!! Nice like a young Dennis Skinner...

  2. I'll take that as a compliment Nick! I worked hard with photoshop to achieve that look!


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