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Farming (Shropshire)

Mr. Paul Marsden: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how much Government funding was given to farmers in Shropshire in (a) 1998 and (b) 1999; and if he will make a statement. [107167]

Ms Quin: Total subsidies paid to farmers in Shropshire by MAFF during 1998 amounted to £43,588,045. These include national and EU funding. Farmers also benefit from expenditure on market support measures, although this is not paid directly to them.

Figures for 1999 are not yet available.

Pigmeat

Dr. Kumar: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what checks are introduced on imported pigmeat which is processed and sold in pre-packed form. [107107]

Ms Quin: All meat and meat products, including processed and pre-packed pigmeat, imported from third countries are subject to veterinary inspection at designated Border Inspection Posts. All consignments are subject to documentary and identity checks and at least 20 per cent. of consignments are subject to physical checks. These checks are to ensure that conditions of import have been complied with and that the products have remained in a satisfactory condition during transport.

Meat and meat products originating in all EU member states, including the UK, are subject to strict hygiene rules laid down in EU law. Among other things, this sets out the licensing, structural and supervision requirements to be applied in all meat plants before they can be approved for trade with other member states. Member states to which meat and meat products may be dispatched are permitted to carry out random checks at destination but these are limited by virtue of the fact that there are no certification or pre-notification requirements for most consignments.

Ensuring that all member states comply with their Community obligations in properly implementing and applying EU hygiene rules is the responsibility of the European Commission, whose Food and Veterinary Office carries out regular programmes of inspection visits to all member states. Their reports are considered by the Standing Veterinary Committee in Brussels, and, if necessary, the Commission will take infraction proceedings against member states whose arrangements are considered inadequate.

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Forestry

Mr. Cox: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what acreage of forestry land is under cultivation in the United Kingdom. [107292]

Mr. Morley: There are 2.66 million hectares of woodland in the United Kingdom.

Welsh Assembly

Mr. Wigley: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to review the way in which his Department communicates with the Agricultural Section of the National Assembly for Wales, with regard to information emanating from the European Union; and if he will make a statement. [107230]

Ms Quin [holding answer 27 January 2000]: This Department is committed to providing all the devolved administrations with full and comprehensive details, as early as possible, of all developments and initiatives within the framework of the European Union which may be relevant to them. The devolved administrations are also committed to informing this Department of any direct approaches they receive from the Commission on new policy initiatives. These arrangements are reflected in the draft bilateral Concordat between MAFF and the Cabinet of the National Assembly for Wales. Similar working arrangements were in place between officials in MAFF and the Welsh Office Agriculture Department before devolution. If a need to revise the practices is identified and agreed, the Concordat can be amended at any time.

Fishing Quotas

Mr. Gill: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimate he has made of the effect on stocks of cod of the cut in the North Sea quota. [107476]

Mr. Morley: The total allowable catch (TAC) of 81,000 tonnes agreed for 2,000 takes account of scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) that the stock is currently outside safe biological limits and that fishing mortality should be reduced to prevent further decline in the Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB) in the short term. The ICES advice indicates that the maximum catch limit agreed provides a high probability that the SSB will increase to above the precautionary reference level of 150,000 tonnes over the next few years.

Mr. Gill: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimate he has made of the effect on stocks of coley of the quota cuts of the last five years. [107475]

Mr. Morley: The table shows the total allowable catches (TACs) for North Sea and West of Scotland saithe (coley) over the last five years.

Tonnes

North SeaWest of Scotland
1996111,00013,000
1997115,00012,000
199897,00010,900
1999110,0007,500
200085,0007,000

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It can be seen that the North Sea TAC has moved up and down, while the West of Scotland TAC has steadily declined, reflecting scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea on the state of the stock. The reductions agreed for 2000 take account of advice from ICES that the combined saithe stock is outside safe biological limits and that fishing mortality should be reduced to prevent further decline in the Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB) in the short term. The reduced TACs will help ensure that the SSB increases to more sustainable levels over the medium term.

Fisheries Aid

Mr. Soames: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of the impact the cut in fisheries grant-in-aid in West Sussex will have on sea trout runs in the Western Rother, Arun and Adur rivers. [107873]

Mr. Morley: It is for the Environment Agency to determine its spending priorities for 2001-02 in the light of the planned £1.5 million reduction in Grant-in-Aid in England. It is not possible for me to predict how the cut is likely to affect sea trout runs in the West Sussex area.

TREASURY

Official Visits

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if his visit to Rome in October 1997 was an official visit; and what consequent declaration he made relating to gifts and hospitality to his Permanent Secretary. [107637]

Mr. Gordon Brown [holding answer 31 January 2000]: I travelled to Rome in October 1997--at no cost to public funds--both for a private visit and to meet the Italian Finance Minister, Mr. Carlo Ciampi. In line with the requirements of the Ministerial Code no declaration to the Permanent Secretary was necessary.

Child Benefit

Mr. Webb: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will estimate the yield from tapering away child benefit in the hands of the highest earner in a couple according to the thresholds and tapering mechanism envisaged for child tax credits. [103146]

Dawn Primarolo: The Government have introduced child tax credits in the WFTC and will introduce a separate children's tax credit from April 2001. The two credits have very different withdrawal mechanisms and without a clearer guide as to which should be applied it is not possible to answer the question.

VAT (Labour-intensive Industry)

Mr. Gray: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on his plans to apply the EU proposal to offer VAT relief to labour intensive industries in the UK with special reference to the equestrian industry. [107389]

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Dawn Primarolo: The EC Directive which provides for an optional, experimental, reduced rate of VAT applies only to a narrow range of labour intensive services. The Chancellor has no plans for its application to the equestrian industry.

Working Families Tax Credit

Ms Kelly: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of the cost of lowering the working-hours requirement for receipt of the working families tax credit from 16 hours to 10 hours for parents who have at least one child aged under five years for (a) both parents and (b) one parent. [107404]

Dawn Primarolo: Reliable estimates for the cost of lowering the working hours requirement for receipt of the Working Families' Tax Credit from 16 hours to 10 hours for parents with at least one child aged under five years are not available.

Tobacco Smuggling

Mr. Maclean: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what recent discussions he has had with other EU countries on the problem of tobacco smuggling in Europe. [107497]

Dawn Primarolo: The problems of tax fraud and international criminality, including tobacco smuggling, are matters regularly included in discussions which I and other members of the Government have with counterparts in other EU member states. These are underpinned by frequent operational and other contacts between officials in both the UK and other member states, together with the Anti-Fraud Unit of the European Commission.

Mr. Maclean: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what recent reports he has received on the extent of (a) Mafia and (b) other criminal organisations' involvement in tobacco smuggling in Europe and on the centres of control and operation. [107499]

Dawn Primarolo: Treasury Ministers receive regular reports on tax fraud activity affecting a variety of sectors including tobacco. Some of this information is in the form of confidential and operationally sensitive advice, some is contained in published documents. A recent document in the latter category is the 1998 European Commission "Annual Report on the Fight Against Fraud" published on 19 November 1999, a copy of which is available in the House of Commons Library.


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