Farm Woodland Premium Schemes (Amendment)(England) Scheme 2005

– in the House of Lords at 8:06 pm on 22 November 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip 8:06, 22 November 2005

rose to move, That the draft Farm Woodland Premium Schemes (Amendment) (England) Scheme 2005 laid before the House on 2 November be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, since 1992, farm woodland premium schemes have encouraged woodland creation by providing annual payments for up to 15 years to help compensate farmers for loss of income as a result of converting agricultural land to woodland. They form part of the England Rural Development Programme and so come under Pillar 2 of the common agricultural policy.

The Farm Woodland Premium Scheme 1992 was closed to new applicants in 1997 when it was replaced by the Farm Woodland Premium Scheme 1997. However, payments continue to be made to agreement holders under the 1992 scheme, and both schemes thus remain in force.

This short draft statutory instrument before your Lordships makes two principal amendments. First, it sets out the adjustment that will be made to payments made under the Farm Woodland Premium Schemes 1992 and 1997, in the case of scheme land that is used as set aside in England, following the most recent reforms of the common agricultural policy.

Most farmers are required to set aside from production a certain proportion of their arable land in order to claim support payments under Pillar 1 of the CAP. Under the new CAP single payment scheme that was introduced with effect from 1 January 2005, farmers can use farm woodland premium scheme land to meet their set-aside obligations in certain circumstances. In England they will receive a set-aside payment under the single payment scheme for farm woodland premium scheme land used in this way. Therefore, where farmers choose to use all or part of their farm woodland premium scheme payment, we propose to reduce their farm woodland premium scheme payment by an amount equivalent to the set-aside payment being received in respect of the land concerned. This is necessary to prevent the same measure being doubled funded under different European Community provisions, since the set-aside payment is partially restoring the income lost as a result of afforestation, for which the FWPS payment is intended to compensate.

The second amendment closes the Farm Woodland Premium Scheme 1997 to new applicants in England. Entry into the farm woodland premium scheme has always been conditional upon the woodland concerned being planted with support under the Forestry Commission's woodland grant scheme.

The woodland grant scheme has been replaced in England with effect from July 2005 by a new Forestry Commission scheme, the English woodland grant scheme. The English woodland grant scheme comprises a range of incentives to encourage the creation of new woodland and the stewardship of existing woodland, including income for payments comparable to those previously available under the farm woodland premium scheme.

Closure of the original woodland grant scheme and its replacement by the English woodland grant scheme means that the farm woodland premium scheme is already, to all intents and purposes, closed to new applicants in England. The order formalises that closure. Some minor additional amendments are also included in the draft instrument to update the interpretation of provisions with the two farm woodland schemes. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Farm Woodland Premium Schemes (Amendment) (England) Scheme 2005 laid before the House on 2 November be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Spokespersons In the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, who I think has been troubled with what I have been troubled by all weekend—a terrible cold. Perhaps neither of us should have been debating on Friday when I suspect that neither of us were feeling very well. I thank the Minister for explaining the statutory instrument. Obviously, in principle, we support it. However, I should like to ask a couple of questions about it.

The Minister rightly said that the payment will be made from money allocated under Pillar 2. If, for any reason, the Government find themselves having to renegotiate the common agricultural policy payments under the reform to which we have already agreed, it is suggested that some money under Pillar 2 may well be squeezed. What guarantee can the Minister give the House tonight that those payments will not be jeopardised?

Secondly, the Minister spoke about the obligation for payments to be made for such land, that can or has been used for set-aside. She also referred to double funding. I understand double funding, but, if a farmer already has set-aside land and is not in the scheme, how much per acre—or hectare, I do not mind which—does he get for that before the new scheme comes into being?

My last question is very short. The Minister told us tonight that the scheme will be run by the Forestry Commission. I presume that it will continue to be run by the Forestry Commission, even though Natural England will be established. The noble Baroness will remember that on Second Reading of that Bill, there was quite a discussion about what payments would be made by Natural England and about the close working relationship between Natural England and the Forestry Commission, which is not being included in Natural England. I am still not positive whether the Forestry Commission will continue to be the payers, rather than the organisers of it. I would be grateful for clarification of those three points and I hope that the noble Baroness will soon be feeling much better.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the scheme and sympathise with her that she had to go through so many different sorts of woodland scheme. I should like to take up where the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, left off. Although we are talking about trees, it seems curious that the Forestry Commission will be the administrator of the scheme when, presumably, the point of the scheme is to encourage more biodiversity. I welcome the continuation of the idea that set-aside will be used for something more constructive, such as the growing of woodland.

However, in pursuing Natural England's objective, which is to encourage biodiversity and ensure that various species have what is increasingly understood to be necessary—not only wildlife corridors but large areas in which they can survive and breed—that approach is important. So, as the noble Baroness said, including the Forestry Commission here may be an impediment, unless the relationship is very close.

We understand that the money is now to come from Pillar 2. The scheme will eventually be in competition with all the other rural development schemes. As I see it, there is no guarantee that the scheme will continue beyond 2013. However, at present, we welcome the scheme and the fact that farm woodland will be supported, at least in the near future, and look forward to Natural England strongly supporting the further establishment of this essential habitat.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. I start with the issue that they both raised. We have a statutory obligation under the Farmland and Rural Development Act 1988 to review payment rates under the farm woodland premium schemes and their predecessor, the farm woodland scheme, at least every five years, and to lay a report before Parliament. The most recent such report was laid in July 2001. The introduction of the single payment scheme will be one of the factors that we will take into account in the new review that has just started.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked about financial disadvantages as a result of the scheme. Farmers will not be disadvantaged. The reduction to the farm woodland scheme payment will be offset by the set-aside payment but, in any event, any decision to use FWPS land as set-aside is entirely voluntary.

I was asked about the role of the Forestry Commission. The Forestry Commission will continue to run English woodland grant schemes even following the creation of Natural England. Ministerial responsibility will remain with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as the agreements will continue to be governed by the provisions of the farm woodland premium scheme and the farm woodland scheme statutory instruments.

Current plans are that day-to-day administration of the existing farm woodland premium scheme agreements and ongoing agreements under the predecessor scheme, the farm woodland scheme, will transfer to the Forestry Commission in 2006. However, that is subject to all the operational issues associated with such a transfer being satisfactorily resolved. I am conscious that I have not given the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, an answer on the average value of the scheme. I do not have that figure to hand. I will write to her and send a copy of the letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Spokespersons In the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, I also failed to ask whether the Government are confident that the new arrangement will work as well as the encouragement given in the past to farmers to promote woodland areas—the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, also raised that. I think that the noble Baroness has covered it but, if not, she might do so in her letter. Will any of the new money be ring fenced longer term, because that is a very important aspect? I apologise for coming back; I should have thought of that at the time.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, I will endeavour to give the great detail available on that to both noble Baronesses.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.18 to 8.30 pm.]