Around two hours ago, Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, announced three reversals of policy. She ended the consultation over a government proposition to grant long leases for large extents of the publicly-owned forest estate. She stopped the outright sale of 40k ha. of woodland, enabled under existing legislation (which Labour had also used to make a net sale, without consultation). More significantly for the democratic process, in my opinion, she confirmed that the forestry clauses of the Public Bodies Bill would be withdrawn, presumably in the Lords through which the Bill is currently passing.
Ms Spelman is not as effective at the dispatch box as most, and she has come under attack for potential conflict of interest, but one had to sympathise with her for her treatment in the House of Commons. Not so much for today's gibes from the political ruffians opposite, but by the way she had been undercut by the Prime Minister at question time yesterday, and by the No. 10 spin machine. In a generally emollient performance, Ms Spelman pointedly stressed that she had not been within a hundred yards of a TV studio in the last 24 hours, but had spent her time concentrating on Departmental matters.
Much of the criticism - from all sides of the House of Commons - of the "sell-off" focused on public access to forest land. Rigg Wood, sold under the Labour government, was a case in point. For that reason, DEFRA proposed 150-year leases, upon which it would be possible to place conditions regarding access. One hopes that the withdrawal of the consultation document is not a prelude to a more permissive sales regime.