ASH DIEBACK TREE DISEASE – 12 November 2012

Dr Julian Lewis: In the two minutes remaining to me I would like to say that, despite the rancour between the Front Benchers at the beginning of the debate about whether the disease was blown in on the wind or imported, in the letter the Secretary of State sent to colleagues, he took quite a balanced view. He said:

“The infections in the nurseries were caused by imported plants; those in the wider environment have no identifiable links to the nurseries and are likely to have been carried on the wind over the Channel.”

I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not here today to develop remarks that were apparently attributed to him by The Times. It stated on Saturday that he proposed to “take on the EU”, and that:

“He warned that the free movement of trees and plants within the single market was putting the British countryside at risk, and pledged to challenge European laws to prevent more diseases from entering the country.”

That shows at least an acknowledgement of the significance of the element of the problem that has been imported.

It is right that I should get the tail-end Charlie slot in this debate, because fortunately, the wonderful New Forest does not have many ash trees. However, we could be next in line, and this is where the argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) is so important. There is a vast array of pestilences and diseases just waiting to hit us.

According to yesterday’s edition of the Sunday Telegraph, the Woodland Trust now says that for the Jubilee Woodland Project, it will use species such as oak and birch instead of ash. Well, if something were to hit oak and birch, the effect on the New Forest would be devastating. Therefore, I make one simple point: it is one thing to try retrospectively to address the problem with ash, but what we have to do is proactively to put measures in place – this is what all the experts are telling me – to prevent the importation of other diseases in the future.