MP urges cross-party support in responding to ash dieback disease

Neil Parish calls for a positive approach to dealing with ash dieback disease and urges the Government to develop similar biosecurity measures as Australia and New Zealand.Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is very sad that the House of Commons cannot come together today to tackle this disease. The Opposition’s attempt to land a blow on the Government in this regard is absolute nonsense. There is no doubt that, as the relevant map shows, a lot of the disease comes across from the continent. No Government, irrespective of their political persuasion, can stop what blows on the wind. Therefore, we must concentrate on how we are going to deal with this disease. We must look for ash trees that will be immune in future, so that we can take the seeds from them and grow them. As the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) said, we do not want to see the decimation that we experienced with Dutch elm disease. Indeed, I saw that on my own farm: the decimation of massive trees that were hundreds of years old. We have never really recovered from that: every time a tree grows, it catches the disease again perhaps 10 or 15 years later. We want to ensure that the ash tree is there for the future.We must also be certain that the single market, the great wonder of the European Union, is not abused. The trouble is that no Government can stop the import of ash trees until they have proved that they have the disease, and by that time it is too late. That really has to be put right. We are surrounded by water—let us hope that not every disease can be blown across the channel—and Britain could develop the same methods that Australia and New Zealand have developed in trying to keep disease out of the country. We must ensure that we breed ash trees in this country—that we do not export the seed to Holland, where the trees are then grown, and then import the trees back again. The industry itself must take some responsibility here. When the disease is on the continent, it is absolute nonsense to keep this trade going backwards and forwards. Given the existence of the single market, it is very difficult to stop it, but we need to change things.I want Britain to have beautiful trees into the future. As Members have pointed out, there are many diseases out there that we need to tackle, so let us adopt a positive approach. I praise what Ministers and the Secretary of State are doing to analyse where all the diseased trees are located, so that we can act quickly. We cannot simply stop the disease by chopping down all the ash trees that have it—the saplings, yes; but the mature trees, we cannot. Let us hope that some of those trees survive and that from those, we can grow the great ash trees that we want to see.The lesson in all this is that we cannot keep exporting and importing trees, bringing disease with them. I look forward to a positive message from Ministers on research and maintaining “fortress Britain” so far as growing trees and keeping out disease is concerned, and then perhaps repopulating trees across Europe. I repeat my first point: I am very sad that the Opposition have made such a thing of this. I respect what the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) did while he was Secretary of State; he has taken a much more responsible attitude.| Hansard