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Travellers

Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on how many occasions police have been involved in preventing travellers from using the St. Christopher's Park site; what information is available to the police concerning alternative accommodation; and what is the policy of the police concerning movement of travellers who wish to enter and use the site closest to the Quays shopping centre in Newry. [142331]

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Mr. Ingram: Police do not become involved in preventing travellers using the St. Christopher's Park site although they do retain a key to the height restriction barrier installed at the site. Information concerning alternative accommodation is not made available to the police nor is there any police policy covering the movement of travellers wishing to enter and use the site closest to the Quays Shopping Centre in Newry.

Ministerial Travel

Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many flights including helicopter flights were taken by Ministers within his Department for UK and overseas visits in each year since 1995; on how many occasions (a) charter flights were used and (b) first and club class tickets obtained; and who accompanied the Ministers on each trip. [143859]

Mr. Ingram: Ministers are under a duty to make efficient and cost-effective travel arrangements. This Government have given a commitment to publish an annual list of visits by Cabinet Ministers costing more than £500 as well as an annual figure on spend by all Ministers on overseas visits. The list for 1999-2000 was published on 28 July 2000, Official Report, column 969W.

Detailed information in the form requested is not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD

Waterways (Brentwood and Ongar)

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what programme of maintenance of waterways exists in the parliamentary constituency of Brentwood and Ongar. [143664]

Mr. Morley: The flood defence operating authorities--the Environment Agency, local authorities and, where they exist, internal drainage boards--have permissive powers to undertake flood defence works on watercourses. However, the primary responsibility for maintenance rests with the relevant riparian owners.

Under High Level Targets that the Government established in 1999, the operating authorities are preparing programmes for inspecting and, where appropriate, maintaining flood defences, main rivers and critical ordinary watercourses. We also require the authorities to produce publicly available policy statements, from 1 April 2001, which set out their approach to flood defence.

The Environment Agency has a programme of regular inspection and maintenance of designated main rivers in the constituency of Brentwood and Ongar. This varies according to the nature of the watercourse but generally includes trimming of banks, overhanging vegetation and aquatic weeds, debris clearance and tree work as necessary. More details are available from the local office of the Agency.

The Agency is working with local authorities in determining an appropriate regime of inspection and maintenance of ordinary watercourses in the area.

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Artificial Lake (Shrewsbury)

Mr. Paul Marsden: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will estimate the cost of creating an artificial lake north of Shrewsbury to reduce the impact of flooding on the town; and if he will make a statement. [144035]

Mr. Morley: The Ministry has policy responsibility for flood and coastal defence. Operational responsibility, including decisions on which projects to promote, rests with local operating authorities, such as the Environment Agency. I understand that the Agency will be undertaking a strategic review of possible options, and their costs for flood alleviation for the River Severn as part of the response to recent flooding events. The creation of additional flood storage will be considered as part of that review.

Early Retirement

Mr. Curry: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many male senior civil servants in his Department have been offered financial incentives to take early retirement in order to enable the promotion of officials who are female. [144306]

Ms Quin [holding answer 8 January 2001]: None. We have run one early retirement exercise recently. This was open to men and women, and both men and women have been offered early retirement as a result.

Hake

Mr. Andrew George: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent assessment he has made of the impact of current minimum (a) mesh size and (b) landing size on EU hake stocks. [144269]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 8 January 2001]: There has been no recent assessment of the impact of the current minimum mesh size and minimum landing size on EU hake stocks. However, as part of the present hake recovery programme CEFAS scientists will participate in an international workshop to review the current stock assessment for Northern hake. In addition, CEFAS will be involved in the preparation of a report on the effects of potential management options for the stock, including changes in the level of exploitation and technical measures aimed at protecting juveniles. This report is expected to be evaluated by the Commission's Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) in April 2001.

Bass

Mr. Andrew George: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent assessment he has made of the (a) age profile and (b) health of the stock of bass in (i) Area VII and (ii) all fishing zones applicable to the UK fishing industry. [144270]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 8 January 2001]: There has been no recent assessment of the age profile and health of the stocks of bass in Area VII or in other fishing zones applicable to the UK fishing industry. However, in the current year, CEFAS scientists will be contributing to the work of a new ICES Study Group on Seabass, under the chairmanship of Dr. Mike Pawson. In accordance with the terms of reference for this group, data from all

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countries which catch bass in Area VII and in the Bay of Biscay and the North Sea, will be compiled in order to construct the age profile of bass stocks in these areas and, if possible, to carry out an assessment of their status in relation to safe biological limits. The first task will be to compile and inventory of the available data, which will be reviewed by the ICES Advisory Committee for Fisheries Management in May 2001.

Mr. Andrew George: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what the total UK sea bass landings were for each of the last five years. [144268]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 8 January 2001]: Fisheries Departments' statistics record landings of bass by the UK commercial fleet as follows:

YearTonnes
1995671
1996579
1997572
1998501
1999678

In addition, data from the CEFAS fishermen's voluntary logbook scheme, including some catches taken by angling charter vessels and private angling boats, but excluding catches taken by recreational anglers fishing from the shore, indicate the following further tonnages were landed.

YearTonnes
1995721
1996918
1997738
1998576
19991,179

Comparable figures for 2000 are not yet available.

Leigh Barrier

Ms Kingham: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what quantity of water was released as a result of the opening of the Leigh barrier on the Medway on (a) 12 and (b) 13 October and over what period of time; what estimates were made by the responsible staff at the time of the opening of the barrier as to the effect on the village of Yalding and its surrounding area; what assessment he has made of the level of flooding in the Yalding area had the barrier not been opened; and what evidence he uses to support his assessment. [144450]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 8 January 2001]: The Leigh Barrier provides relief from flooding in the Upper Medway valley, by allowing floodwaters to be stored in 6km of river valley. This reduces the risk to life and property downstream which would otherwise be exposed to an uncontrolled natural event. The benefit is to all communities downstream of the barrier, including Yalding and its surrounding area, although the degree of flood mitigation reduces downstream due to inflow from unrestricted lengths of the Medway and its tributaries. The Barrier is operated by dedicated and qualified staff of the Environment Agency.

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The release of water from the Barrier is a normal function in a flood event as the operation of the Barrier is not to stop outflow but to throttle the flood to an extent which is appropriate to its size, available storage and the capacity of the downstream channel. In extreme events the discharge may exceed the capacity of the downstream channel, and hence flooding occurs, but the extent of this flooding will be reduced by virtue of the stored volume of floodwater.

The flood event of mid-October produced the highest flood peak since the scheme was constructed with peak inflows between 250 and 300 cubic metres per second. The Leigh Barrier was operated from 10.30 on 12 October until 16.00 on 14 October. During this time nearly 5 million cubic metres of floodwater were stored. In the 16 hours from the onset of the flood on 12 October the throttled flow leaving the Barrier varied between 55 and 160 cubic metres per second, a total of 5.76 million cubic metres. On 13 October the throttled flow varied between 155 and 80 cubic metres per second, a total of 8 million cubic metres in 24 hours.

The Environment Agency staff recognised that while the Leigh Barrier could give some relief to downstream communities from the floodwaters in the Upper Medway, floodwaters from the rivers Beult and Teise and the Middle Medway catchment would severely affect Yalding. The peak flood from the River Teise reached Yalding first, followed by the flood peak from the Beult causing extensive flooding through the early hours of 13 October. The floodwaters from the Upper Medway, which had been moderated by the Leigh Barrier, would not have reached Yalding until late evening on 13 October.

The Environment Agency is to produce a full report on the Autumn flooding, in co-operation with local authorities and the emergency services. This will include the way that flood defence control structures, such as the Leigh Barrier, were operated and will identify any lessons to be learned.


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