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Organic Farming

Mr. Letwin: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of whether the additional sum he has allocated for organic conversion will provide for all those farmers who have already begun the investments required for certification. [100792]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 30 November 1999]: Information provided by the organic sector bodies shows that the additional funding will be sufficient to provide for all farmers in England who had applied to them for registration by 4 October when the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) was suspended. Registration with an organic sector body is a condition of entry to the OFS. A number of farmers who applied for registration after 4 October will also have been able to submit applications for aid.

Animal Welfare

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to promote meat products produced from animals raised to high standards of animal welfare. [100761]

Ms Quin: For species such as pigs, where animals produced in the UK are subject to higher statutory welfare standards, we have been encouraging retailers, caterers and public procurement authorities to source their supplies to British standards. These high welfare standards offer the domestic pig industry a strong marketing advantage. This is recognised by the Meat and Livestock Commission, the body responsible for promoting meat and meat products, which has made welfare an important part of its British Quality Standard for pigmeat scheme.

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the enforcement regime for animal welfare legislation for farm animals. [100762]

Mr. Morley: Our approach to enforcement of the law on farm animal welfare is kept under regular review. The recent report on this subject from the Farm Animal Welfare Council and the secondment to MAFF of local authority enforcement officers contribute to this process.

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received in the last six months suggesting changes in the legislation on animal welfare for farm animals. [100763]

Mr. Morley: I have received a number of representations in respect of farm animal welfare legislation, in particular in response to consultations on the draft Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations and on the Welfare of Animals (Transport) Order 1997.

Fishing Sectors

Mr. Gill: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his policy on vessels from the Republic of Ireland fishing in the British sector of area VIIa and south west of the Isle of Man. [100728]

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Mr. Morley: The rights of vessels from the Republic of Ireland to fish within UK six to twelve mile territorial waters are set out in Annex I of EU Regulation 3760/92.

Mr. Gill: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in respect of vessels from the Republic of Ireland fishing in area VIIa and South West of the Isle of Man, what (i) surveillance and (ii) boardings have been carried out in the last 12 months; what conservation measures must they comply with; to what extent they are obliged to comply with conservation measures introduced by the UK; how many vessels from the Republic of Ireland have licences to fish these waters; and how these licences were acquired. [100729]

Mr. Morley: From January to November 1999, the total number of Republic of Ireland (ROI) vessels sighted in Area Vlla (which includes the water South West of the Isle of Man) was 87. Five boardings were made. These vessels must comply with the relevant EU Technical conservation measures for the area, including, for example, minimum landing sizes. They are not obliged to comply with additional conservation requirements laid down in our domestic legislation. Details of the number of ROI vessels licensed to fish in Area Vlla and the terms on which these licenses were granted are held by the authorities in Dublin.

Floods (Bye Report)

Mr. Tony Clarke: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made by the Environment Agency in respect of its action plan following the Easter 1997 floods and the subsequent report of Sir Peter Bye. [100784]

Mr. Morley: The Environment Agency produced an Action Plan for implementing the recommendations in the Independent Report on the Easter 1998 Floods, chaired by Sir Peter Bye.

The Chairman of the Environment Agency has provided me with a report of progress up to the end of September 1999. Copies have been placed in the House Libraries.

I am pleased to note that the Agency remains on course for completing the substantial work programme set out in the Action Plan to the agreed timetable.

Key developments since the Agency's last report, which covered the period to end of June 1999, are as follows.

Indicative flood plain maps for all watercourses with a catchment greater than 10 square kilometres in England and Wales have been delivered to over 450 local authorities.

Pilot work on flood warning awareness has been analysed and brought together to form the basis of the 1999 public awareness campaign which commenced on 18 October and to which I was pleased to lend my support. The first phase of the campaign focused on raising awareness of flood risk and self help measures to reduce flood damage. Future elements will repeat and reinforce these basic messages and introduce new and additional information to improve public understanding.

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The head of the Agency's National Flood Warning Centre has been recruited and the programme is in place for the centre to be operational by the end of the year.

The results of a review of the Agency's internal management have been translated into a project plan which will see the core flood defence roles and responsibilities harmonised across the Agency by the end of December 1999, with full implementation by April 2000.

Work continues in other important areas such as the project to implement the operational changes to the colour coded flood warning messages by September 2000.

The Agency continues to work with local authorities in inspecting and recording the condition of all flood defences. Details of defences owned and/or operated by the Agency and local authorities are being collated. However, one area of uncertainty is the inspection of flood defences owned and/or operated by third parties. The question of how to identify such defences, and the scale of the inspection exercise that will be required, is currently being considered by the Agency in partnership with other operating authorities.

The Agency continues to make good progress in implementing the Easter Floods Report and I will ensure that the House is updated on future progress.

Farmers (Diversification)

Mr. Paice: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what measures he is taking to assist farmers to diversify their businesses. [100275]

Mr. Morley: Funding to encourage a wide range of agricultural activities, including farm diversification, is available in the six areas designated under the English Objective 5b Structural Fund Programmes which are due to close on 31 December 1999. The European Council Rural Development Regulation (1257/1999), which applies from 2000, enables member states to support projects to encourage diversification of agricultural activities, among other things. A decision on the implementation of the Regulation will be made shortly.

Climate Change Levy

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions he has had with (a) the Treasury and (b) the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions about securing an 80 per cent. discount from climate change levy rates for protected horticulture. [100459]

Ms Quin: We have discussed the potential impact of the levy on protected horticulture with both Departments.

Animal Feed

Mr. Alan Simpson: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what evidence he has

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received as to whether transgenic plant DNA is broken down in commercial processing and treatments in animal feed. [100167]

Ms Quin: Ministry-funded work has confirmed that DNA is degraded during the processing of most animal feed materials. For example, extracting oil from oilseeds caused complete degradation of the DNA in the by-products. This work, and a further current study, has concerned commercially available feed ingredients as an indicator of what would happen to transgenic plant material.

Post Offices

Mr. Webb: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list the principal activities of his Department and its agencies which provide business for (a) Crown post offices and (b) other post offices; if he will assess whether the level of business generated in each case is likely to increase or decrease over the next five years; and which new areas of business for post offices are likely to be developed by his Department and its agencies over the same period. [99559]

Mr. Morley: My Department and its agencies do not have activities or services which provide business for post offices, and currently no specific areas of business are foreseen, but the targets for electronic delivery of services (50 per cent. by 2005 and 100 per cent. by 2008) set out in the Modernising Government White Paper represent a real opportunity for additional business for the Post Office network across all public services delivered by central Government.

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