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Column 814from agriculture. The third option is a combination of the first and second. That reflects the current situation in the United Kingdom.
We broadly welcome the Commission's proposal in the directive to reduce nitrate pollution from agriculture. The directive was published in 1989, which was slightly before my time. It was in line with the Government's policies on protecting the quality of our water resources. However, several aspects of the proposal caused concern. During negotiations, many of those aspects were addressed and amended. The final text incorporated many of the amendments, as we would have wished.
The Government signed up to the nitrates directive when we were content that it represented what we wanted in terms of providing a balance between maintaining a viable and efficient agriculture and protecting and improving our environment. Within its overall objective and deadlines, the directive offers discretion on how to achieve the requirements, and we have taken advantage of that where appropriate.
Mr. William Cash (Stafford): Is my hon. Friend aware that the Hatton groundwater scheme is the basis on which the prototype Government decision was taken? Yet the Staffordshire farmers examined the matter extremely carefully and came to the conclusion that, having regard to the realities of what the Hatton scheme has demonstrated over the past 90 to 100 years, the European directive was completely out of order.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) said, that question has been considered over a period without any satisfactory result, so I do not expect my hon. Friend the Minister to answer it directly now. But will he be good enough to take the matter back for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to reconsider?
Sir Paul Beresford: I should certainly be happy to take that question forward and to ask for a response from MAFF. But as my hon. Friend understands, as it is predominantly a MAFF question, I could not be expected to be able to answer it this evening.
Our approach has resulted in proposed vulnerable zones covering 650,000 hectares, compared with the 2 million hectares initially estimated in the negotiations. For example, there are far fewer surface water vulnerable zones than was originally expected. My hon. Friends will know that we have set up a consultation process to seek the views of those likely to be affected by the proposed vulnerable zones. It is worth regarding tonight's debate as part of that package. The intention is to confirm the accuracy of zone boundaries before their formal designation, using farmers' local knowledge.
The Government's response to the consultation document published last year will address the main issues raised by farmers and other consultees. We shall do that either in our response document, which we expect to issue soon, or in the individual responses being sent out to all the letters received.
Column 815we are stuck with it, as it was agreed by unanimity and that is that, because of the way in which the European Community works?
Sir Paul Beresford: Neither, in effect. I am saying that there are elements involving good agricultural techniques which in a few areas-- considerably fewer than originally expected--may have to be statutory.
A key part of the Government's response will be our decisions on the boundaries and locations of the proposed zones--I emphasise the word "proposed"--and those will be made known in the form of amended maps of the NVZs.
Mr. Jenkin: Where there is clearly no logical provable explanation involving connections between the levels of nitrates in the river and agricultural activity, as in Nayland--the implementation of the Nayland nitrate-vulnerable zone will result in no change whatever in agricultural practice--will my hon. Friend ask for those nitrate-vulnerable zones to be reviewed and dropped? If not, the directive is proving a complete farce.
Column 816Farmers who are dissatisfied with the Government's decisions on the boundaries and locations of the proposed NVZs as set out in the response document, in individual responses or in the amended maps will have the opportunity to present their case in writing to the independent review panel to be jointly commissioned by the Department of the Environment, MAFF and Welsh Office Ministers. The independent review procedure will ensure that our vulnerable zone proposals will have been objectively assessed prior to designation.
Following our initial consultation, we shall undertake another public consultation on the measures that might be introduced in the zones before their formal establishment. The resulting reductions in nitrate leaching in vulnerable zones will add to the reductions already taking place because of recent changes in agriculture and voluntary applications of the code of good agricultural practice for the protection of water issued by MAFF and the Welsh Office Agriculture Department.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes past Twelve midnight.
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