§ Mr. Bayley
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether the Government are seeking to change the EU regulations which prevent the development of forestry on agricultural set-aside land.
§ Mr. Jack
The Government believe that use of set-aside land for woodland should be further encouraged. The United Kingdom has taken the lead in pressing for the EC rules to be changed to allow arable land withdrawn from production under EC forestry schemes to count as set-aside under the arable area payments scheme. My right hon. Friend the Minister achieved significant progress at the Agriculture Council last month, when the Commission was asked by the Council to carry out a study of the relationship between set-aside and arable land taken out of production for forestry or environmental purposes. We are pleased that the matter is at last to be given serious attention, and we shall continue to press for a satisfactory outcome.
Woodland planting on set-aside land is not entirely ruled out under the present rules of the arable area payments scheme, provided that the trees are not used for commercial purposes and that no EC-funded grant, other than set-aside, is paid.
§ Mr. Jack
The United Kingdom has taken the lead in the EC in seeking to enable set-aside to be used for longer term environmental purposes, by pressing for arable land taken out of production under forestry or agri-environment schemes to count as set-aside under the arable area payments scheme; the Commission has now been asked by the Council to study this. We will also be encouraging farmers to put their set-aside land to recreational use through the proposed countryside access scheme which we hope to launch later this year.52W
Set-aside land may also be used to grow crops for non-food use, such as oilseed rape, linseed, and short rotation coppice.
We are keen to encourage crops which have the potential for commercial viability. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and, in some cases, other Government Departments are funding research into industrial oilseeds, energy crops, fibre crops and an assessment of novel crops. MAFF, with other Government Departments, also funds joint research projects with industry through the LINK—crops for industrial use—programme.