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AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD

Hill Farmers

14. Mr. David Nicholson: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on financial support for hill farmers since 1992. [17559]

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Mr. Boswell: Expressed in real terms at 1992 prices, total direct livestock subsides to the less favoured areas, including hill livestock compensatory allowances, have gone up from £460 million in 1992 to an estimated £575 million this year, an increase of 25 per cent. This confirms the Government's on-going commitment to help farmers in the hills and uplands.

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Fish Breeding Areas

15. Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his policy towards the creation of non-fishing areas of sea where fish can breed. [17560]

Mr. Baldry: Off our coast, there are already a number of no-fishing areas to protect spawning herring. The Government are always ready to consider proposals for further such areas.

Food Imports

16. Mr. Simpson: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proportion of United Kingdom food imports are of products also grown within the United Kingdom; and what action he has taken to increase the proportion of home-produced food consumed. [17561]

Mrs. Browning: Provisional figures for 1995 show that 57 per cent. of our food imports were classified as indigenous food products or materials. Our farmers and growers already produce world-class products and we are working with the industry to help develop a similar level of excellence in marketing.

Fish Quotas

17. Mr. Bernard Jenkin: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on North sea fish quotas. [17562]

Mr. Baldry: The North sea fish quotas agreed for 1997 represent the best possible deal for British fishermen consistent with scientific advice and the conservation of stocks for the future.

Small Food Producers (European Directives)

18. Mr. Booth: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make it his policy to ensure that the supply of food and produce from small-scale producers, with special reference to garden, allotment and small market garden growers, is not eliminated as a result of European directives. [17563]

Mr. Boswell: Yes. This is already Government policy, but I am not aware of any moves by the European Union which would affect gardeners, allotment holders and market gardeners.

Battery Hens

19. Mr. Martlew: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to improve the welfare of egg-laying hens kept in battery cages. [17654]

Mrs. Browning: We have pressed the European Commission to complete the overdue review of the EU directive. The scientific veterinary committee's updated report was published in October last year. The Commission has said that its proposals for revised Community standards will soon follow.

Arable Area Payments Scheme

20. Mr. Tipping: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the total amount of funds distributed under the arable area payments scheme in 1996. [17565]

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Mr. Baldry: Total payments under the arable area payments scheme by MAFF in the 1996-97 financial year are forecast at just over £1.1 billion.

British Food

21. Mr. Mark Robinson: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent initiatives his Department has taken to promote British food. [17566]

Mrs. Browning: At the recent international food and drink exhibition held at Earls court, the Department co-sponsored the British speciality food section with Food From Britain to help raise the profile of this important sector of the food and drink industry. This initiative received universal praise from exhibitors and buyers, and the exhibition received a record number of trade visits.

Hedgerows

22. Mr. Viggers: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he has taken to encourage farmers to preserve hedges and hedgerows. [17567]

Mr. Boswell: Regulations to protect important hedgerows were laid before Parliament on 3 March 1997.

Enhanced incentives for the restoration and planting of hedges, which form an important part of the countryside stewardship scheme, were announced on 17 February. Grants are also available under the environmentally sensitive areas scheme, and the Department funds ADAS and the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group to provide free initial conservation advice. Farmers are also required not to damage, destroy or remove hedges on or adjacent to set-aside land.

Chocolate Manufacturers

23. Mr. Fabricant: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to protect the interests of United Kingdom chocolate manufacturers; and if he will make a statement. [17568]

Mrs. Browning: When negotiations begin on the proposal to amend the 1973 EC chocolate directive, the Government will seek to protect the right of British consumers to continue to choose established British products under their traditional names.

In the meantime, we have ensured that other member states are fully aware of the UK position on the proposal and have drawn the attention of hon. Members and Members of the European Parliament to the important issues for United Kingdom chocolate manufacturers in the proposed amendments to the chocolate directive.

Milk Marque

14. Mr. Luff: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of the functioning of the milk market since the establishment of Milk Marque. [17569]

Mr. Baldry: I am very pleased with the results of the Government's deregulation of the milk market. In its recent report on the UK dairy industry and the common agricultural policy regime, the Agriculture Committee concluded that deregulation has been highly successful.

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British Beef Ban

25. Mr. Connarty: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on recent discussions at the Council of Ministers on the lifting of the ban on British beef sales. [17570]

Mr. Douglas Hogg: The procedures envisaged for lifting the export ban involve the Standing Veterinary Committee and other advisory Commission committees, not the Council Nevertheless, I have kept the Council informed on the UK's progress in fulfilling the preconditions laid down under the Florence agreement. Now that we have fulfilled all the preconditions and I have sent Commissioners Fischler and Bonino our proposals for a UK export certified herds scheme, I will be telling the next Agriculture Council what we have achieved and pressing for early progress.

Fish Conservation

26. Dr. Spink: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received from non-sector fisherman regarding sea fish conservation. [17571]

Mr. Baldry: I am in frequent contact with non-sector fishermen about sea fish conservation and related issues. Most recently, I met non-sector fishermen from Kent and Essex, accompanied by my hon. Friends the Members for Castle Point and for Basildon (Mr. Amess), on 27 January to discuss a range of issues including the closure of the North sea sole fishery to vessels of 10 m and under until 21 April.

Set-aside

27. Mr. Corbyn: To ask the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what actions are being taken by his Department to ensure preservation of natural habitats in set-aside land. [17572]

Mr. Boswell: The UK's management rules for set-aside were drawn up in consultation with farming and environmental organisations and are designed to protect wildlife and the environment while allowing farmers to carry out their normal agricultural operations. For example, environmental features such as hedgerows, streams and ponds on or adjacent to set-aside land may not be damaged, destroyed or removed. The rules are regularly reviewed and from 1997 have been further modified to help protect groundnesting birds.

BSE

28. Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many confirmed cases of BSE have been recorded so far this year; and if he will make a statement on trends in the number of cases.[17573]

Mr. Baldry: As at 21 February 1997, of the 891 cases placed under restriction in Great Britain in 1997, 72 had been confirmed. Throughout the epidemic there has been a delay between slaughter and eventual confirmation due to the requirement to permit fixation of brain tissue prior to its examination. The BSE epidemic has continued to decline markedly during the last year and is now at its lowest level for eight years.

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Dr. Strang: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list the methods of disposal that are (a) permitted and (b) currently in operation for (i) specified bovine material and (ii) non-specified bovine material from cattle with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, including the condensate and washwater produced from rendering of such material. [18696]

Mr. Douglas Hogg: The carcases of virtually all BSE-suspect animals are incinerated: in 1996, 9,643 carcases were incinerated and three buried. No material from BSE suspects is allowed to go for rendering.

Dr. Strang: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate of the number of carcases of cattle with bovine spongiform encephalopathy that was buried in each site for each year from 1986. [18697]

Mr. Hogg: It is not possible to provide details of the number of BSE-suspect carcases disposed of at specific landfill site, as a complete set of records is not held centrally. A complete record could be provided only at disproportionate cost. It is however known that the total number of BSE-suspect cases disposed of by landfill is approximately 6,120. This figure represents approximately 3 per cent. of the total number of BSE suspects slaughtered.


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