Stingy MPs snub forest appeal

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The Independent Online
A SPECIAL "Westminster Woodland", Parliament's tribute to the new National Forest, may have to be chopped back because all but a handful of MPs have refused to contribute.

Despite fundraising efforts masterminded by former Prime Minister John Major, it has emerged that Members of Parliament have only coughed up around pounds 1.50 a head.

As a result, the project could be scaled down and bailed out with public money.

Late last week - the officially-designated National Tree Week - officials of the National Forest admitted the scale of the fiasco to the Independent on Sunday.

The tight-fisted Commoners have been put to shame by the Lords, including the hereditary peers they have just abolished, who have produced more than their half of the money needed to get the project started.

While the Lords have contributed pounds 13,000 of the pounds 25,000 needed, MPs have managed no more than pounds 1,000. Fewer than 25 of the 659 members of the House of Commons have put their hands in their pockets.

This was despite each receiving a personal letter from Mr Major, the chairman of the fundraising appeal.

Plans for the Westminster Woodland were launched two years ago to considerable fanfare under the patronage of Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, and Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Funded by voluntary contributions from members of both houses, it was to be planted in the shape of a portcullis - the symbol of Parliament - on a five acre site near Ashby-de-la-Zouche in Leicestershire. Located next to the special Discovery Centre of the 200 square mile New National Forest it was to have walks and features with parliamentary names.

But last week Susan Bell, chief executive of the National Forest, admitted that the response from the Commons had been "disappointing". She added: "I don't think that there is any antipathy towards the woodland among MPs: they just haven't replied yet. They get tons of letters in their post and they may have overlooked it."

She said "there was enough money in the kitty," from the Lords, to start planting the Woodland at the end of next year but "we are rather dependent on how much money comes in for what goes in the woodland". Public money might have to be put into it to make up for the shortfall from MPs.

Baroness Nicol, a vice-chairman of the Westminster Woodland Steering Group, said that the project might have to be scaled down because of the lack of money from the Commons. She said that she had written to Mr Major about the crisis in July, but had yet to receive a reply.

She said: "I am furious. If you set out to create a parliamentary woodland, and half of parliament appears to show little interest, it's not a very satisfactory situation."

She added that hereditary peers had given generously even though they were about to be excluded from Parliament.

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