HC Deb 05 May 1988 vol 132 cc1006-8
9. Mr. Martyn Jones

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next proposes to meet representatives of the National Farmers Union to discuss the woodland grant scheme; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. MacGregor

I have no arrangements at present to meet representatives of the National Farmers Union for the specific purpose of discussing the woodland grant scheme.

Mr. Jones

Is the Minister aware that farmers who take part in the woodland grant scheme will be at a disadvantage with the planting of conifers, because if they plant less than 50 per cent. of conifers they will not be able to claim the planting grants, while farmers outside the scheme who plant 100 per cent. of conifers will able to claim on the whole figure?

Mr. MacGregor

Some changes have been made to the woodland grant scheme to deal with conifers, which are environmentally more acceptable in some parts of the country than in others and have been welcomed by some people. However, overall, the woodland grant scheme fully compensates for the changes in the tax regime, because the support from the Exchequer, whether in tax forgone or in grants for planting, remains unchanged. The woodland grant scheme as now conceived is better than the previous one.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in Sussex and many parts of Kent, of far greater importance than a woodland grant scheme is the introduction of a clearance scheme so that people can clear the woods and go ahead with replanting?

Mr. MacGregor

If my hon. Friend is referring to the costs of storm damage clearance, he will know that we have received a full report on the matter and a report from the Select Committee. I hope, before too long, to be able to respond to those reports.

Mr. Alan W. Williams

Does the Minister agree that there should he far more emphasis on planting woodlands, both under this scheme and under the Farm Land and Rural Development Bill? As about 15 per cent. of our land is producing 50 per cent. more food than we need, there is a need for massive diversification into woodland. Does not the scheme need to be doubled, trebled or even increased tenfold over the next five years?

Mr. MacGregor

I hope the hon. Gentleman will have noticed how, under this Government, private landowners have increased their planting. As he said, that is the purpose of the Bill that will come before the House for its final stages this evening. We have been taking a number of initiatives, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give his full support to the Bill.

Mr. Ian Bruce

May we have an assurance that the excellent knowledge and expertise in the Forestry Commission will be used to advise farmers so that they do not go headlong into long-term investment and perhaps make many mistakes which the commission could prevent? Will my right hon. Friend encourage the National Farmers Union and the Forestry Commission to discuss such matters?

Mr. MacGregor

The Forestry Commission is available for both encouragement and advice. Under schemes that qualify for grants farmers must go to the Forestry Commission, and will therefore receive advice. My hon. Friend will know that we have been stepping up the advisory capability of ADAS to meet that objective.

Mr. Ron Davies

If the Minister meets representatives of the National Farmers Union, will he discuss with them the practice that has apparently been developing over the past couple of years whereby the Government approve for planting more than double the hectareage provided for within their own targets? Does that mean that expenditure on the forestry industry is not cash limited?

Mr. MacGregor

I am not aware of the problem to which the hon. Gentleman refers and I shall have to look into it, but, within our provision, we hope that there will be full take-up of these grants, although we must apply budgetary disciplines.

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