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Written Answers to Questions

Thursday 19 April 1990

AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD

Land Tenure

13. Mr. Knapman : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the discussions within the industry concerning land tenure.

Mr. Maclean : We welcome the debate within the industry on ways of revitalising the tenanted sector. Whilst consensus would be desirable we recognise that complete agreement may not be possible. Any proposals must genuinely address the problem and increase the availability of land for letting, including for new tenants. We hope the industry will pursue the debate vigorously with the need for effective measures uppermost in their minds.

Marine Environment

14. Mr. Fishburn : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action his Department is taking to improve the quality of the marine environment.

Mr. Curry : We have set a date to end all dumping of liquid industrial waste, flyash and sewage sludge, and we will cease incineration at sea at the end of this year.

Scotch Whisky

15. Mr. Canavan : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what subjects he expects to discuss at his next meeting with representatives of the Scotch whisky industry ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Curry : I will discuss any issues of current commercial interest to the industry should a meeting be requested.

Farms (Pollution)

16. Mr. Ward : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what schemes his Department has to help farmers deal with on-farm pollution and waste disposal.

Mr. Maclean : All farmers are entitled to initial free technical advice and we also make 50 per cent. grants available for the handling, storing and treatment of agricultural effluent and waste. In nitrate- sensitive areas further payments will be made for substantial restrictions to cut nitrate leaching.

Cereals

17. Mr. Nellist : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list the total United Kingdom hectarage of cereals for each of the last five years.

22. Mr. Hinchliffe : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list the total United Kingdom hectarage of cereals for each of the last five years.


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35. Mr. Rogers : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list the total United Kingdom hectarage of cereals for each of the last five years.

Mr. Curry : Total United Kingdom hectarage of cereals in million hectares over the last five years is :


Year      |Million            

          | hectares          

------------------------------

1985      |4.015              

1986      |4.024              

1987      |3.935              

1988      |3.896              

1989      |<1>3.894           

<1>Latest estimate            

Agricultural Subsidy

18. Mr. Grocott : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the total current level of subsidy to agriculture.

Mr. Curry : Expenditure on agricultural support in the United Kingdom in 1989-90, under the EC's common agricultural policy and on national grants and subsidies, is forecast to be £1,255.5 million.

Green Pound

19. Mr. John Greenway : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many European Community countries are in favour of devaluation of the green pound.

Mr. Curry : In the negotiations on the 1990 agricultural price proposals no member state has opposed the principle of a green pound devaluation.

Animal Welfare

20. Mr. O'Brien : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met the director of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ; and what was discussed.

Mr. Maclean : I met the chief executive and other officers from the society on 27 March when many current issues on farm animal welfare were discussed.

23. Mr. John P. Smith : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what reports he is expecting from the Farm Animal Welfare Council.

Mr. Maclean : I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave earlier to the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells).

25. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he plans to bring forward any primary legislation on farm animal welfare.

57. Mr. Alan W. Williams : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he plans to bring forward any primary legislation on farm animal welfare.

Mr. Maclean : My right hon. Friend the Minister recently announced a major new initiative by the Government to tighten up farm animal welfare standards throughout the European Community. We intend to seek the fullest degree of harmonisation so that all countries of


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the Community operate to the same high standards. We shall seek to ensure that welfare measures which we consider to be desirable to introduce are, so far as possible, adopted throughout the European Community.

The Government have already announced that primary legislation is required to implement a number of recommendations by the Farm Animal Welfare Council relating to the welfare of animals at slaughter. It remains our intention to introduce the legislation as soon as the parliamentary timetable permits to make provision for those measures which may not be covered by Community law.

38. Mr. Patrick Thompson : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on policy towards animal welfare within the United Kingdom and the European Community.

42. Mr. Gwilym Jones : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to ensure that the welfare of farm animals is given priority throughout the European Community.

Mr. Maclean : As explained in the reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) on 7 February, Official Report, column 712, we are pressing for a comprehensive package of measures on farm animal welfare to be adopted in the Community in order to achieve the widest possible safeguards.

44. Mr. Cox : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the Farm Animal Welfare Council.

Mr. Maclean : The Government value the Farm Animal Welfare Council's independent and authoritative advice very highly. The council has provided the impetus for many new welfare measures and will, I am sure, continue to lead the way in its future work.

White Fish (North Sea)

21. Mr. Wallace : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent discussions he has had with his European Community counterparts regarding further conservation measures for the fishing of North sea white fish stocks.

Mr. Curry : High-level discussions are now taking place in Brussels on conservation and I expect the report on this to be discussed at the next Fisheries Council. The United Kingdom has submitted proposals, following discussion with the industry.

Agriculture (Capital Investment)

24. Mr. Cran : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the figure for the amount of fixed capital investment in the agricultural industry over the last five years for which figures are available.

Mr. Curry : The figures requested are as follows :


Annual fixed capital          

investment in the United      

Kingdom agricultural          

industry                      

          |£ million          

          |(current           

          | price)            

------------------------------

1985      |1,226              

1986      |1,057              

1987      |941                

1988      |1,010              

<1>1989   |1,004              

<1> Provisional.              

Extensification

26. Mr. Morgan : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the European Community proposals for extensification.

36. Mrs. Clwyd : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the European Community proposals for extensification.

Mr. Curry : We shall shortly be announcing decisions on pilot schemes for extensification of beef and sheep following consultations with interested organisations and with the Commission.

We are also intending to issue a consultation document outlining a possible extensification scheme under which grant aid would be available to farmers wishing to convert from conventional to organic production.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy

27. Mr. Sean Hughes : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the cost to date of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy slaughter and compensation schemes.

56. Mr. Tony Lloyd : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the cost to date of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy slaughter and compensation scheme.

Mr. Maclean : From the introduction of the compulsory slaughter policy on 8 August 1988 to the end of February 1990, the total cost was £6,436,167.

34. Mr. Matthew Taylor : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further action he proposes to reduce the risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Maclean : The Government have introduced a comprehensive package of measures to tackle BSE in cattle and to eliminate the remote risk to public health.

52. Mr. George Howarth : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the estimate of the Southwood committee of the level of reporting of bovine spongiform encephalopathy ; what is the current level of reporting ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Maclean : The Southwood working party did not predict the level of reporting of suspect BSE cases. It did, however, make certain estimating assumptions about the development of the disease and concluded that there might be some 350 to 400 cases of BSE per month. Since the beginning of this year, the number of suspect BSE cases notified to the Ministry has risen and at present around 350 to 400 are being reported each week.

Milk Marketing Board

28. Mr. Ian Taylor : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the factors that will affect the operation of the Milk Marketing Board in 1992.


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Mr. Curry : 1992 will not, of itself, affect the operation of the Milk Marketing Board. But the single market will reduce barriers to trade and there is now more milk available as a result of the recent increase in quotas. It is important that our dairy industry should be in a position to compete vigorously at home and in other member states in order to exploit these new opportunities. That is why I am encouraging the board and the Dairy Trade Federation to pursue discussions with a view to devising milk marketing arrangements suited to the 1990s.

Fishing Industry

29. Mr. Kennedy : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will assess the prospects for the United Kingdom fishing industry ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Curry : While fishing opportunities in 1990 for certain stocks, in particular North sea cod and haddock, have had to be reduced to safeguard the stocks, the value of landings in the early part of the year has been similar to that at the same time last year. We are, however, working hard on improvements to measures aimed at the conservation of fish on a Communitywide basis to achieve improved fishing prospects in the future.

Fishing Industry (Northumberland)

30. Mr. Beith : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of the effect of recent restrictions on the viability of the fishing industry in the Northumberland fishing ports.

Mr. Curry : The measures I announced on 8 March were necessary to conserve North sea haddock, in the light of the current state of that stock. For this reason, they are essential to ensure the long-term viability of all sections of the haddock industry.

Food Safety Bill

31. Mr. McAvoy : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to lay the first orders under the Food Safety Bill.

Mr. Maclean : The Food Safety Bill is very much an enabling framework and many orders and regulations will be required. I hope to issue the first of these for consultation soon after Royal Assent.

46. Mr. Michael Brown : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether the regulations under the Food Safety Bill will cover diet products.

Mr. Maclean : At present foods marketed as diet products are subject to the general provisions of the Food Act 1984 and to regulations made under it. In particular, schedule 6, part II, item 6 of the Food Labelling Regulations 1984 lays down the conditions under which slimming claims may be made. Some slimming aids for consumption are marketed as medicines and are licensed under medicines legislation. It is intended that these arrangements should be continued under the Food Safety Bill, but my hon. Friend may wish to be aware that the definition of food is being extended in the Bill to include

"articles and substances of no nutritional value".

This is to make it entirely clear that all diet products fall within the scope of legislation.


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Consumer Needs

32. Mr. Batiste : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action his Department is taking to encourage farmers to meet the needs of the consumer.

Mr. Curry : Recent changes to the common agricultural policy, which the Government have supported, are intended to increase the role of market forces in agriculture and so encourage farmers to respond more effectively to demand from consumers. The Government have also taken a number of specific measures, including continued funding of Food from Britain, to help farmers respond rapidly to market signals.

Bovine Offal

33. Dr. Marek : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will reconsider his decision on the bovine offal ban so as to include calves of under six months of age.

37. Mr. Martyn Jones : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will reconsider his decision on the bovine offal ban so as to include calves of under six months of age.

50. Mr. Gareth Wardell : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will reconsider his decision on the bovine offal ban so as to include calves of under six months of age.

Mr. Maclean : No. These animals were born after the ban on ruminant feedstuffs was introduced and even if BSE is transmitted from dam to calf, the agent would be undetectable in such young animals.

Dairy Sector

39. Mr. Knox : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he next intends to meet the president of the National Farmers Union to discuss the dairy sector.

Mr. Curry : I have nothing to add to the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend on 8 March, Official Report, column 847.

National Farmers Union

40. Mr. Tredinnick : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met representatives of the National Farmers Union ; and what was discussed.

Mr. Curry : The Minister and I meet representatives of the National Farmers Union frequently to discuss agricultural matters.

Less-favoured Areas

41. Mr. Amos : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assistance has been given to help farmers in the less-favoured areas ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Curry : Farmers in the less-favoured areas benefit from the payment of hill livestock compensatory allowances and from higher rates of grant for investments under the farm and conservation grant scheme. They are also eligible for a wider range of grants than other farmers


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under the farm diversification grant scheme and for special aid to encourage co-operative forage production. All told, these extra payments amount to over £140 million a year for the United Kingdom. This is a considerable package of extra help over and above our general agricultural support policies which benefit hill farmers as well as other farmers.

Access to the Countryside

43. Mr. Jim Marshall : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on his Department's policy on access to the countryside.

Mr. Maclean : Under section 17 of the Agriculture Act 1986 we have to balance the interests of promoting an efficient agricultural industry, the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside and its enjoyment by the public. It is generally recognised that there is a delicate balance between the increasing demand for public access and its impact upon the countryside and farming. My Department's policies are designed to encourage farmers wherever practicable to provide for countryside recreation. To this end, grants are available under the farm diversification grant scheme for farm walks and nature trails and this Department, jointly with the Countryside Commission, has published a ploughing code which reminds farmers of their responsibilities in relation to rights of way. Furthermore, we support the Rights of Way (Agricultural Land) Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), which seeks to clarify the existing law on rights of way over agricultural land.

Food Labelling

45. Mr. Malcolm Bruce : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further action he proposes to improve the labelling of foodstuffs ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Maclean : On 15 November 1989 I announced that I had asked the Food Advisory Committee to carry out an independent assessment of our current food labelling legislation and practices to see how these can best be developed to give consumers what they need and want to know. I look forward to receiving the committee's recommendations. In the meantime proposals relating to datemarking and nutrition labelling, resulting from recently agreed Community legislation, are already in preparation.

North Sea Dumping

47. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received from North sea fishermen about the dumping of industrial waste ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Curry : We have received representations from fishermen's organisations and individuals concerned about the dumping of industrial waste in the North sea. I am able to reassure them that licensed dumping is strictly controlled and has no adverse effects on fish stocks.

In view of progress in the development of safe alternative land-based disposal methods I have recently


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announced termination dates for the sea dumping of industrial waste and sewage sludge, and marine incineration.

54. Mr. Hind : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what research his Department is pursuing into ways of reducing North sea dumping of industrial and other wastes.

Mr. Curry : In the light of progress in the development of environmentally acceptable methods of disposal of waste on land we have now set deadlines for the termination of the sea dumping of industrial waste and sewage sludge, and marine incineration.

Coastal Flood Defences

48. Mr. Adley : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when his Department last reviewed coastal flood defences.

Mr. Maclean : The state of the country's flood defences, both inland and on the coast, is kept under continual review through close contact between my officials and drainage bodies, in particular the National Rivers Authority. The increases in grant provision from £36 million to £54 million for the period 1989-90 to 1992-93 announced following the public expenditure surveys in 1988 and 1989, resulted from our most recent reviews of current and future flood defence needs.

We are currently considering with the National Rivers Authority and local authorities the need for adjustments to current programmes as a result of recent storm events.

Anti-pollution Measures

49. Mr. Gill : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received about the cost to the agricultural industry of complying with anti-pollution measures.

Mr. Maclean : We have received representations on the proposed regulations setting minimum standards for silage, slurry and agricultural fuel oil installations issued for consultation by the Department of the Environment, the proposal to ban, in time for the 1993 harvest, the burning of crop residues, and the proposed pilot nitrate sensitive areas scheme.

Sheep

51. Mr. Geraint Howells : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the present state of the sheep industry.

Mr. Curry : Prices and exports of lamb are well above the levels of the corresponding period in 1989. The increase in exports suggests that the industry is already taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the new sheepmeat regime.

Agricultural Intervention Board

53. Mr. Cousins : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to announce the name of the site chosen for the relocation of the agricultural intervention board.

Mr. Curry : As soon as my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Wales, and for Northern Ireland,


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my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister have concluded their consideration of the advice received from the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce.

Pesticides

55. Mr. Carrington : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last reviewed the arrangements for pesticide approval.

Mr. Maclean : I refer my hon. Friend to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) on 3 April, Official Report, column 86.

Badgers

Mr. Ron Davies : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) how many badgers were killed by or on behalf of his Department during 1989 ; and whether all those were killed under the bovine tuberculosis control scheme ;

(2) how many of the badgers killed by his Department during 1989 were (a) uninfected with tuberculosis, (b) showing signs of tuberculosis and (c) capable of infecting other animals ; (3) if he will make a statement on the progress made to date in developing (a) a vaccine against tuberculosis in badgers and (b) a live trap side test for tuberculosis ;

(4) what extensions have recently taken place to the scope of the badger destruction element of his bovine tuberculosis clearance scheme ; and if he will make a statement ;

(5) what was the total cost during 1989 of the tuberculosis eradication scheme ; and of this sum how much was earmarked for badger control.

Mr. Maclean : A total of 727 badgers were killed by Ministry Officers in 1989, all in connection with the eradication programme for bovine tuberculosis. Tuberculosis was not identified in 605 badgers. Tuberculosis was confirmed in 122 animals and those animals were considered capable of transmitting the disease to other animals.

Collaborative research on the development of a vaccine has been carried out by workers at the Middlesex hospital and the Ministry's central veterinary laboratory. Workers from the Middlesex hospital have completed a study in the Republic of Ireland on the acceptance of the vaccine by wild badgers. A field trial of efficacy is in progress, again in the Republic of Ireland. A pilot study at the central veterinary laboratory of the possibility that the vaccine could sensitise cattle to tuberculin, and a larger study in Ireland, have suggested that this would not be a problem. An experiment at the central veterinary laboratory to investigate possible desensitisation of cattle infected with tuberculosis has been approved in principle, and is likely to start this year ; it will take at least 15 months to complete.

A diagnostic test for use in badgers has been developed at the central veterinary laboratory and shows some promise. It has reached a stage where a field trial is necessary to study its effectiveness and the logistics of its use. It is hoped that a trial will begin in September 1990.

There have been no modifications to the policy of badger control adopted following the Dunnet review.


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