By Tony Grew - 4th November 2010
The shadow environment secretary has accused the government of "asset-stripping" England's natural heritage.
Mary Creagh said "deeply worrying" plans to sell off national forests and "give away" 140 nature reserves were "environmental vandalism".
At Defra questions today environment secretary Caroline Spelman said there is no suggestion that nature reserves will be sold.
She said she intends local communities and charities to become more involved in their management.
Spelman told the House that just 18 per cent of forest and woodland is owned by the state and it is right to give communities the opportunity to own forests.
She argued that local people would be most likely to protect woodlands and pointed out that no trees can be felled without permission and a permit.
Creagh attacked the 30 per cent cut in the budget for national parks and accused Spelman of caving in to the chancellor and giving away too much in the spending review.
The environment secretary replied that Labour have not set out where they would have made cuts and argued that she had protected the capital budget for flood defences.
Kerry McCarthy (Lab, Bristol East) asked for an assurance that no forests would be sold to developers.
Defra minister Jim Paice said the government will consult on proposals for new ownership of woodlands.
He said it was "absurd notion" that any would be sold to developers and planning consent would be required for any new buildings.
In any case the government has "no intention" of allowing forests to be damaged, he added.
Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) asked for an assurance that there would be "legally binding" agreements with new owners of woodland.
Paice said the consultation is ongoing but guaranteed that "public assets will not be damaged" by changes in ownership.
Shadow minister William Bain accused the government of wanting "a fire sale of woodland England" that is more big business than big society.
He complained that groups such as the RSPB and Woodland Trust lack the funds to purchase woodland.
Paice said the government's plans will protect forests and increase new planting.
Shadow minister Peter Soulsby said Natural England is being "sacrificed", despite its role as a "champion of biodiversity".
Spelman said there would be no changes in its statutory functions but along with other Defra quangos it will have to make a "pro rata reduction" in its budget.
Luciana Berger (Lab, Liverpool Wavertree) asked when the government will make a decision on dangerous dogs legislation.
She said five children have been killed in the last three years as a result of attacks by dogs, one in her constituency, and 6,000 people needed hospital treatment last year after dog attacks.
Paice said there will be an announcement "very shortly" and told the House that more than 4,200 people had responded to the consultation.
Creagh asked if Defra has carried out an assessment of the impact of the spending review on rural areas.
Spelman said the department is undertaking an assessment but pointed out not just Defra impacts on rural communties.
She said the money being invested by the culture department in rural broadband is one "very positive decision" for people who live in those areas.
Shadow minister Jamie Reed asked for an assurance that cuts to Defra budgets will not affect flood defences or leave any home uninsurable due to flooding risk.
Spelman said she is working closely with insurance companies, who have welcomed the decision to protect £2.1bn capital for flood defences.
The environment secretary also praised the international agreement on biodiversity she signed in Nagoya last month.