Opposition MSPs have defeated the SNP’s plans to abolish the Forestry Commission’s role in Scotland by bringing woodland management under control of a Scottish Government department.
Critics of the Scottish Government’s proposal argued that it would see the loss of decades of forestry management experience built over the 100-year existence of the Commission.
The amendments were tabled by Labour’s environment spokeswoman Claudia Beamish. Her amendments advocated setting up a “single agency” to maintain a similar model to the existing Forestry Commission rather than the organisation being taken under direct government control.
Ms Beamish’s amendments were designed to maintain the existing structure but to devolve it to the Scottish Parliament. They were passed by a majority of two votes.
Ms Beamish described her proposal as a “lift and shift” which would move the Forestry Commission into a new agency thereby “preserving valuable knowledge and expertise”.
She argued that becoming a government department would leave forestry to “operate under the shadow of the changeable whim” of the ruling administration.
The Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill was duly amended and then passed by 120 votes to zero as the legislation passed his final parliamentary hurdle.
Ms Beamish said: “Scottish Labour fully supports the devolution of forestry but we need to get the new structures right.
“Labour’s amendments maintain the Forestry Commission but within a devolved settlement and adds a vital layer of parliamentary scrutiny.
“We don’t agree that turning the Forestry Commission into a department of the Scottish Government would have been the best way forward for forestry in Scotland.
“After 100 years of success by the Forestry Commission, forestry’s long term vision must be free from ministerial whim.”
Lib Dem MSP Mike Rumbles said: “The move to absorb decision making powers on forestry into the civil service shouldn’t have come as a surprise as it follows the SNP’s usual ill-thought through impulses to centralise power. Opposition parties have united today to curb the power ambitions of SNP ministers.”
The Scottish Government’s rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said: “I am extremely proud to have been the Cabinet Secretary to lead this landmark legislation – the first ever bill on forestry in the devolved era – and crucially, the legislation fully devolves forestry to Scotland.
“It is disappointing that we will now not be able to forge ahead with our planned arrangements but I will absolutely respect and deliver the will of Parliament.”