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Departmental Restructuring

Mr. Drew: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress is being made regarding the restructuring of his Department's regional activities; and if he will make a statement. [132559]

Mr. Nick Brown: I have decided to make a number of important changes to the way MAFF operates in the regions, in order to improve the services we offer to farmers and to strengthen the contribution we make to the wider rural economy. We will participate fully in the Government Offices for the Regions, strengthening MAFF's regional policy capability; we will set up new organisational structures to enhance the delivery of rural

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development policies; and we will invest up to £130 million over the next spending period to modernise the way we administer CAP schemes, taking full advantage of the benefits of electronic services delivery.

I have given careful consideration to the findings of a detailed study of methods of delivering CAP payments, submitted at the beginning of this year by PricewaterhouseCoopers. I have concluded that the interests of farmers, traders and taxpayers would best be served by the creation of a new CAP Payments Agency, merging the paying agency functions of MAFF's nine Regional Service Centres and the Intervention Board to provide top quality customer service using modern electronic systems. Farmers and traders will benefit from a reduction in "red tape" and more efficient and rapid processing of payments, with the achievement of 95 per cent. electronic service delivery capability by March 2004. There will be significant benefits for taxpayers, with a 10 per cent. cut by March 2004 in unit costs of administering payments and further savings in subsequent years after the new Agency is fully established.

I have written today to the main organisations representing farmers and traders to explain how the Agency will work, and to seek their views on the best ways of ensuring a smooth transition to the new arrangements. We will work very closely with our customers to help them reap the benefits which electronic service delivery offers. However we recognise that many farmers are apprehensive about changes in the way their claims are handled and will maintain arrangements for face-to-face local contacts with farmers, at least until the new IT systems are fully operational and everyone has easy local access to the internet.

The Agency will be constituted as an executive agency of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and will therefore be answerable to me. It will continue to administer the schemes currently operated by the Intervention Board in all parts of the UK and the devolved administrations will therefore be represented on its Ownership Board. It will operate from five sites, with its headquarters at Reading and other sites at Carlisle, Exeter, Newcastle and Northallerton. The work that will transfer to the new Agency currently accounts for some 80 per cent. of the 2,000 staff in the Regional Service Centres and nearly all the Intervention Board's 1,350 staff. By the time the new systems are fully operational (2004) we estimate that the total number of staff required will fall to around 1,950. We will make every effort to find suitable alternative employment for staff who are no longer required as a result of the modernisation programme.

I have also been reviewing other aspects of MAFF's organisation in the regions in the light of the Modernising Government initiative and the recent PIU reports "Rural Economies" and "Reaching Out". It is now right to establish greater integration of MAFF's strategic and policy activities in the regions with Government Offices. I am therefore preparing to provide a senior member of MAFF staff, with appropriate support, to join each Government Office. This will help strengthen the rural capability of the Government Offices and improve their links with my Department. And it will foster closer relationships with regional stakeholders, including the agriculture, fisheries and food industries, and their

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representatives, regional institutions such as the Regional Development Agencies, and representatives of rural and environmental interests.

Parallel to the integration with Government Offices, I have decided to restructure the work currently carried out in the Farming and Rural Conservation Agency (FRCA) and the non-CAP payment functions of the Regional Service Centres. We will create a single, nationally managed but largely regionally based service to carry out this work. The service will be set up so that it relates effectively to Government Offices. Its staff will be located throughout England and will continue to provide a local service on the ERDP schemes.

We will build on the considerable skills of staff in FRCA and the Regional Service Centres to create the new service as a centre of excellence for the delivery of rural development polices and programmes, particularly one of MAFF's flagship policies--the England Rural Development Programme (ERDP). It will provide continuing employment opportunities for some of the staff at the RSCs which are not in CAPPA locations (Bristol, Cambridge, Crewe, Nottingham and Worcester) as well as for FRCA staff.

I would expect to review these organisational arrangements in 2003 at the end of the mid-term evaluation of the ERDP, and to consider at that stage whether full integration with the Government Offices would be sensible.

The decision to implement this comprehensive programme of changes is a further element in my Department's commitment to delivering efficient and responsive modern public services. The new CAP Payments Agency will ensure that service standards to farmers and traders are second to none. And agriculture and the wider rural economy will benefit through the strengthening of MAFF's regional policy presence.

I recognise that these decisions will create considerable uncertainty for staff in my Department's Regional Service Centres and at the Intervention board who have worked hard to provide good services to their customers. I have met the Trade Unions to discuss the position, and to assure them that I am committed to ensuring that everyone is treated fairly and sensitively as we take the change programme forward.


Angela Smith: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what research his Department has (a) undertaken and (b) evaluated into the health risks associated with lindane. [127816]

Ms Quin: Under both UK and EU pesticides legislation the responsibility for undertaking research into the health risks lies with the companies who market the pesticides. Lindane is presently under review in both the UK and EU programmes. Both reviews have required the submission of data and research studies by companies wishing to support the compound.

In the EU review, 562 studies were submitted on, among other things, the compound's identity; physical and chemical properties; classification; methods of

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analysis; toxicology and metabolism; and residues data. I have arranged for a copy of the EU's list of tests and studies to be placed in the House Libraries.

Much of the data submitted for the EU review of lindane have also been submitted under the UK review along with a further 30 studies relating to operator exposure to lindane when treating seed. These are listed in our evaluation on the review of lindane which I have also placed in the Libraries.

Until recently the UK and EU reviews of lindane have been running in tandem. Under the UK review the Government have moved swiftly to ban those uses of lindane in this country which posed an unacceptable risk. At EU level the Commission has just produced a proposal to withdraw the agricultural uses of lindane as insufficient data have been submitted to support its continued use for these purposes. The Government have supported and welcome this development.

Rockall Fishery

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment his Department has made of the possibility of unregulated fishing by new vessels in deciding policy on relinquishing sovereignty over Rockall waters; and if he will make a statement. [130784]

Mr. Morley: The Rockall fisheries zone (RFZ) was relinquished in 1997 as a result of the previous UK Government acceding to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Article 121(3) of UNCLOS prevents

It was recognised that third countries would have access to the new area of international waters, which falls within the regulatory area of the North East Atlantic Fisheries commission (NEAFC). I would refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave him on 3 July 2000, Official Report, column 9W, which explains the action being taken by the Government to secure specific NEAFC management measures to regulate fishing in the Rockall area.

Labelling Directive

Mr. Gill: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make it his policy within the Council of Ministers to support the resolution of the European Parliament to debate the reference to animal category in the proposed labelling directive. [131248]

Ms Quin: On 17 July the Agriculture Council, with the strong support of the UK, decided unanimously to accept the amendments to the new rules on beef labelling proposed by the European Parliament. This means that beef will not have to be labelled with the category of animal from which it is derived.

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