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House of Commons
Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates

Fourth Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

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Fourth Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:


Mr. Mike Hancock

Atkinson, Mr. Peter (Hexham) (Con)
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing, West) (Con)
†Breed, Mr. Colin (South-East Cornwall) (LD)
†Clark, Ms Katy (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab)
†Dobson, Frank (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab)
†Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) (Lab)
†Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
Herbert, Nick (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)
†Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)
†Knight, Jim (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
†Prentice, Mr. Gordon (Pendle) (Lab)
†Rogerson, Mr. Dan (North Cornwall) (LD)
†Tami, Mark (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
Wallace, Mr. Ben (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con)
†Watson, Mr. Tom (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)
†Wiggin, Bill (Leominster) (Con)
†Wright, Mr. Iain (Hartlepool) (Lab)
Frank Cranmer, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):

Greening, Justine (Putney) (Con)

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Thursday 1 December 2005

[Mr. Mike Hancock in the Chair]

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

2.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jim Knight): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Farm Woodland Premium Schemes (Amendment) (England) Scheme 2005.

It is a pleasure, Mr. Hancock, to serve under your stewardship today.

Since 1992, the farm woodland premium schemes—FWPS—have encouraged woodland creation by providing annual payments for up to 15 years to help to 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 FWPS 1992 was closed to new applicants in 1997 when it was replaced by the FWPS 1997. However, payments continue to be made to agreement holders under the 1992 scheme and both schemes thus remain in force.

The statutory instrument makes two principal amendments. First, it sets out the adjustment that will be made to payments made under the FWPS 1992 and 1997 in the case of scheme land that is used as set-aside in England following the most recent reforms of the CAP. 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, which came into effect on 1 January 2005, farmers can use FWPS 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 FWPS land used in that way.

Therefore, when farmers choose to use all or part of their FWPS land to meet their set-aside obligations, we propose to reduce their FWPS payment by an amount equivalent to the set-aside payment being received in respect of the land concerned. That is necessary to prevent the same measure being double funded under the different European Community provisions.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way so early. As I understand it, anyone who plants woodland on agricultural land will lose their set-aside payment but will receive a payment under the single payment scheme in compensation. I understand that grassland will also be eligible for set-aside. How will his Department know which set-aside
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is grassland and which is woodland? If there is any conflict, surely he would seek to reduce the payment first.

Jim Knight: Part of the process of applying for the single payment scheme would involve clarifying how the land was being used. That is how we would know whether it was grassland or woodland. A farmer would not lose the whole of his SPS, but an equivalent amount so that it would not be double counted by the FWPS. He would not lose it completely; he would lose only a proportion so that it would not be double counted. He would end up with the same amount of money. I hope that that clarifies matters.

The statutory instrument is necessary to prevent the same measure being double funded under the different European Community provisions, as the set-aside payment is partially restoring the income lost as a result of afforestation—“partially” being the crucial word in regard to the explanation that I have just tried to give the hon. Gentleman—for which the payment is intended to compensate.

The second amendment closes the FWPS 1997 to new applicants in England. Entry into the FWPS has always been conditional on 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-forgone payments comparable to those previously available under the FWPS.

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

The Chairman: The Minister’s brevity has taken us all by surprise.

2.35 pm

Bill Wiggin: Thank you, Mr. Hancock. May I echo the Minister’s opening comment that it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship? I had prepared a rather long and difficult speech, but I shall restrict myself to asking the Minister a series of questions to which I hope he can respond. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I can see that that is popular with the Committee.

One of the reasons for the statutory instrument is the changes in CAP and the single payment scheme. What will happen to FWPS recipients, who are now more dependent than ever on direct funding, if the CAP is further reformed? What assurances did the EU give us, when negotiating CAP and SPS reform, that funding would continue to be provided to help us preserve and
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expand our woodlands? Was the closing of the FWPS to new applicants primarily down to changes in the CAP, or to changes in the Forestry Commission’s woodland grant scheme? Did the changes in the CAP lead to the changes in the woodland grant scheme? I rather suspect that they did.

What guarantees can the Minister give us that those who would have been new FWPS applicants will receive the same benefits when applying for the English woodland grant scheme? Why do applicants for the Forestry Commission’s scheme have to wait until April 2006 to be able to apply for the woodland creation grant? How many new applicants and new areas of woodland does the Minister expect to be created under the English woodland grant scheme? According to the Forestry Commission, overall woodland cover in England in 1947 was 5.8 per cent. In 1998, it stood at 8.4 per cent.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): An improvement.

Bill Wiggin: An improvement indeed. Does the Minister agree that that demonstrates the success of the FWPS?

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has asked a number of rapid questions. May I ask him whether the new grant scheme applies to coniferous forests or deciduous forests? When public money is used for afforestation, we would prefer to see deciduous trees, which are natural to this country, rather than serried ranks of coniferous trees.

Bill Wiggin: The order does not specify the type of tree. I absolutely share the hon. Gentleman’s desire, but I would not specify deciduous trees rather than coniferous. I would prefer native species—those that would be here naturally, particularly in the Caledonian forest.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Further to that point, I understand that most of the European funding schemes require a woodland management plan. Such plans are drawn up with the idea of keeping native species.

Bill Wiggin: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. It is unusual to receive so much help and agreement in one brief moment.

The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) asked about deciduous trees, but the scheme certainly does not apply to apple trees, particularly the bush type of tree. It is a shame that some of our most famous native species are not included.

Mr. Prentice: Name them.

Bill Wiggin: What about excellent cider species such as Bulmer’s Norman? I shall not continue, but I could if the hon. Gentleman challenged me again.

I had reached the seventh of my rapid-fire questions. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website, between the start of the European rural development programme and June this year, 27,767 hectares of new woodland were planted in England under the woodland grant scheme,
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and 19,985 hectares under the FWPS. Those statistics do not correspond with those found elsewhere on the DEFRA website, which claim that 43,068 hectares were approved for planting in England until the end of the 2004-05 financial year. Will the Minister tell us which figure is correct?

The DEFRA website comments on the benefits of the FWPS. It says that the Government are committed to increasing woodland cover and that the FWPS has been particularly successful in encouraging farmers to convert their agricultural land to woodland. The website also says that research shows that although sites established under the farm woodland scheme were still young—no more than 10 years old—there were signs that declining farmland birds such as the linnet, yellowhammer, skylark and song thrush were making use of the woodlands surveyed.

An article in BTO News—the newspaper of the British Trust for Ornithology—said how encouraging it was that the early phase of woodland growth was beneficial to many species, including several with worrying population trends. Well-designed woodland enhances the landscape and provides a useful habitat for a number of species. We understand why the Government are closing the FWPS, but can the Minister guarantee that there will be no change that will affect that success?

How does our percentage of woodland cover compare with that of the rest of the EU and the world; and are the powers to fund income forgone already devolved, or do the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish equivalents of this statutory instrument devolve further powers?

2.41 pm

Jim Knight: I will answer those questions as best I can; the in-flight refuelling will continue as we run through them. What will happen on further reform of the CAP? That is an interesting question; given that we do not know what is to happen with regard to further reform of the CAP, it is difficult to answer.

Nia Griffith: It is, indeed, pure conjecture, but one suggestion has been that CAP reform might take the form of some sort of match-funding scheme. The type of programme that we are discussing would dovetail perfectly with such a scheme, so I foresee no difficulty in coping with it in the context of CAP reform.

Jim Knight: That is a very helpful comment. All that I can add by way of reassurance is that commitments made to existing agreement holders will be honoured. However, until we know the amount of funding available under pillar 2 of the CAP it will be difficult for me to make any commitment on new woodland agreements.

The hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) asked whether the replacement of the English woodland grant scheme with the Forestry Commission scheme was due to a change in the CAP. No, it is not down to that; it is being introduced because we want to streamline arrangements within the Forestry Commission and make them simpler, in that people will have to deal with a single body and a
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single scheme. The environment and landholders will enjoy the same benefits that they have under the existing schemes.

The hon. Gentleman also asked me about statistics. I can clarify the issue in writing if the Committee would like me to do so, but the answer is that matters will be much simpler because the Forestry Commission will handle matters such as statistics and will manage the biodiversity benefits that he mentioned. I can reassure him on that; the Forestry Commission’s record on managing forest and woodland is good. As to whether this will ensure that biodiversity benefits are achieved, I have only to mention what is being done on the preservation of red squirrels in Cumbria—

Mr. Prentice: Indeed.

Jim Knight: I know that some of my hon. Friends are watching that with interest.

The hon. Member for Leominster asked why applicants should have to wait until April 2006? The English woodland grant scheme is already open to new applicants for woodland creation, so in many ways the question is invalid. I hope that I have answered to the satisfaction of the Committee the many questions that the hon. Gentleman put to me.

2.44 pm

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall) (LD):We would all accept that it is neither realistic nor proper to double-fund land with public money. Therefore, the broad thrust of the legislation is uncontroversial. However, it has already been pointed out that unintended consequences occur—not least the coniferisation of huge chunks of land for tax and grant purposes—that deny us biodiversity, so it is pertinent to explore a few areas.

First, the measure applies only to England. It would be remiss of me if I did not point out to the Minister that Welsh farmers have today received 80 per cent. of their single farm payments, while their counterparts in England have to wait until next February or March. It is sad that we can get it right for one part of the United Kingdom but not for another. That also raises the issue of the Forestry Commission. The Minister will know of the deliberations in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill Committee and the DEFRA Select Committee on the role of the Forestry Commission in respect of Natural England. When one is looking at the totality of grant systems, Natural England will take over many of the responsibilities for biodiversity and for the grants that will be payable. Why do we have to have something that is administered separately? The more logical approach, with less complication and duplication, would be to have them all in one place, rather than one lot of grants being payable and administered by one organisation and the rest by another.

Perhaps it is axiomatic, but I hope that the Government will support the general principle, that we need to retain and increase woodland cover. As has
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been demonstrated, woodland cover has increased. It may not be the great biodiversity that we would all want, but I hope that proper management schemes will ensure that that happens. In general, we need to ensure that that is continued in the long term. Obviously, the sort of trees that we want to be grown are long-term trees that will not mature for some time. We want to ensure that there is an enduring sense of support for that sort of woodland.

Indeed, perhaps even going a stage further, the Minister will recognise the great advantage and benefit of ancient woodland. Some are small, but require a lot of management if they are to continue to be healthy and provide the biodiversity that we all want. Therefore it is necessary to ensure that they receive special grants and are not subsumed into a single farm payment. Finally, may I ask him about biofuels or the short-rotation coppice? Is short-rotation coppice considered to be part of woodland schemes? If so, and we want to encourage short-rotation coppice as a means of biofuels, will it be caught up in the whole regulatory mish-mash which will ultimately discourage that sort of agriculture?

Jim Knight rose—

The Chairman: Order. Before the Minister replies, does any other hon. Member want to take part in the debate? I looked around after the hon. Member for Leominster spoke and nobody attempted to stand or even to trip over themselves. The hon. Member for Pendle looked eager at one stage, but then did not speak. Can I assume that no one else wants to take part so that the Minister has an opportunity to wind up for a second time?

2.48 pm

Jim Knight: Thank you, Mr. Hancock. I am grateful for the contribution from the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) because he gave me time to write down what he had to say.

There can occasionally be unintended consequences, but I think that the statutory instrument is straightforward in trying to avoid double counting. I am certainly assured that it is sound and worthy of the Committee’s approval.

The hon. Gentleman rightly reminded the Committee that the scheme applies to England only. He got a little sidetracked into discussing the single payment scheme in Wales. I simply remind him that both Wales and Scotland chose to apply the single payment scheme only to existing landholdings that were qualifying for CAP money. In England we chose to offer the opportunity to land managers to extend the amount of land for which they could claim. That is why there has been a difference in the time taken to process claims, but we are still on target for February.

The hon. Gentleman also, to some extent, rehearsed some of the arguments that we had in the Standing Committee on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill in terms of the relationship between the Forestry Commission and Natural England. As he will remember, the Forestry Commission’s remit covers the whole of Great Britain, whereas Natural
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England, as the name suggests, covers only England. We decided it would be a little awkward to unpick that relationship and so we chose not to. We have made sure that there are delegated powers within the Bill for DEFRA-related functions to be delegated between DEFRA bodies so that we can align the Forestry Commission and Natural England well and, as far as possible, allow individual land managers a single relationship with those bodies.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the retention and increase of woodland cover. We will shortly be reviewing our overall forestry policy, but he will be aware of the keepers of time policy that I launched in July, which is intended to protect and enhance our native and ancient woodland. It will shift Forestry Commission policy towards broad-leafed woodlands and it suggests linking some of the smaller pieces of ancient woodland into larger, more sustainable areas. Woodlands give us social benefits, but large woods can in addition offer biodiversity benefits.

The hon. Gentleman is right that existing woodland needs active management. The keepers of time document mentions the need to allow more light into our woodlands in order to allow biodiversity to flourish beneath the tree cover. That, in turn, means that we need to develop a demand for wood. A key way of developing that demand is through biomass, and I am pleased that he mentioned it. If I am wrong, I shall correct myself by letter, but I believe that non-food crops can be claimed for and that there is a relationship with set-aside. Again, I can clarify that.

What remains is the substance of the statutory instrument. We will not allow the double counting of money. We need to prevent it for the sake of the taxpayer and to ensure that we comply with European Union regulations. I hope that the Committee will be happy to agree to the statutory instrument.

2.51 pm

Bill Wiggin: I shall take up one or two points from the Minister’s response. He touched on the question of bio-fields, but I understood that there was a question over land set-aside being used for growing energy crops. Will the change brought about under the scheme mean that less woodland is grown if set-aside land can be used for growing energy crops? Will miscanthus count as a permanent crop? Probably not.
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The definition of woodland will be relatively contentious if woodland has to compete with energy crops. That is especially so for coppicing, which is essentially woodland that is cut and harvested.

I believe that the Forestry Commission ran out of money early last year. Will the Minister ensure proper funding for all the extra work and administration that the commission will need to do?

Finally, will the Minister confirm that that wonderful Forestry Commission asset in my constituency, the Wyre forest, will be unaffected?

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Wiggin. Before I call the Minister, and for the third time of asking, is anyone else tempted to engage in the debate? I call Mr. Knight.

2.52 pm

Jim Knight: I shall attempt to wind up for the third time. The hon. Member for Leominster asked about biomass. As far as I am aware, we would not define miscanthus and other short-rotation coppicing as woodland, but if I am wrong I will clarify the matter in writing. By biomass, I mean things such as wood-chippings and pelleting, which are used in boilers. That is a potential market for wood products, and it would benefit everyone if we could expand it.

The Forestry Commission’s finances depend to some extent—some would say that it is over-dependent—on the domestic price of wood and wood products. However, prices can be highly variable in a semi-globalised market. The Forestry Commission’s finances have suffered as a result in the recent past. It is a non-ministerial body, although I have responsibility for forestry, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to ask detailed questions on the subject, I suggest that he asks Lord Clark of Windermere, the chairman of the Forestry Commission.

Finally, I enjoyed visiting the Wyre forest earlier this year and seeing some of the excellent work that the staff of the Forestry Commission do there. I look forward to seeing it prosper.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Farm Woodland Premium Schemes (Amendment) (England) Scheme 2005.

Committee rose at four minutes to Three o’clock.


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