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Volume 228: debated on Thursday 8 July 1993

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions she has had about introducing long-term non-rotational set-aside relating to woodland.

I have received many representations about the importance of allowing woodland planting on non-rotational set-aside. As recently as last week, I raised the matter at the informal agriculture council in Denmark, and I shall continue to press for it to be allowed.

Does the Minister appreciate that a higher rate of set-aside may be necessary to establish environmentally friendly schemes, such as the Greenwood community forest in north Nottinghamshire? Will she continue to press the EC to have such a scheme established quickly?

The European Commission at the moment is rather negative. It feels that such a scheme might allow marginal land to count against set-aside. We do not agree. The way forward is to make a link with the community forestry measures and arrangements for set-aside to allow farmers to enter the land in the farm woodland premium scheme. The farmers would not receive set-aside payments as well, but they would have a long-term guarantee. I shall continue to press that case.

My right hon. Friend will know that the new national forest in the midlands is centred on my constituency of Leicestershire, North-West. Additional incentives are required if farmers are to set aside land to encourage the creation of the wondrous new forest. Will my right hon. Friend impress on those in Brussels that the forest is of national and European significance?

There is a link between those proposals and the proposals for non-rotational set-aside on which we expect the Commission to introduce proposals by the end of July. My hon. Friend may rest assured that I will continue to press that case, not only for woodland but for rules on set-aside that our farmers need now.