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Flood Defences (Gloucestershire)

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, pursuant to his answer of 15 January 2001, Official Report, column 60W, what plans he is making to improve flood defences in Gloucestershire; and if he will make a statement. [146608]

Mr. Morley: The responsibility for deciding which flood defence projects to promote and their timing rests with local operating authorities (the Environment Agency, Local Authorities and Internal Drainage Boards). The operating authorities have submitted bids for funds to accelerate river flood defences over the next three years, as part of the package of an additional £51 million announced following the recent flooding. The bids are being considered and decisions on allocations will be announced shortly.

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Fishing Vessels

Mr. Gill: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many fishing vessels were registered in the UK in (a) 1971 and (b) 2000. [146640]

Mr. Morley: At 31 December 2000 there were 7,243 registered fishing vessels in the UK fleet (excluding Channel Islands and Isle of Man).

The available figures for the end of 1971 show there were 6,071 fishing vessels in the UK fleet.

These figures are not directly comparable because the 1971 data covered only UK vessels known to be fishing commercially. Also the coverage of the inshore fleet was likely to have been incomplete.

Farmers (Early Retirement)

Mr. Breed: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will introduce an early retirement scheme for tenant farmers after 55 years of age; and if he will make a statement. [146149]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 22 January 2001]: After wide consultation we decided that the limited funds available for implementing the EU Rural Development Regulation would be better directed towards other measures to assist the industry, because the type of early retirement scheme available under the Regulation could not be targeted effectively towards those who should benefit.


Mr. Gill: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many agricultural holdings were registered as at 1 January; and of that number how many were classified as smallholdings. [146641]

Ms Quin: The number of agricultural holdings in England registered at 1 January 2001 is:

Land (Productive Use)

Mr. Gill: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many acres were in productive use in (a) 1971 and (b) 2000. [146637]

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Ms Quin: The information is as follows:

Total area on agricultural holdings in England (including common rough grazing



June agricultural and horticultural census.

Depleted Uranium (Irish Sea)

Mr. Simon Thomas: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what monitoring his Department undertakes of the levels of depleted uranium in fish and shellfish caught in the Irish Sea. [144984]

Ms Stuart: I have been asked to reply.

Monitoring the radioactive contamination of fish and shellfish caught in the Irish Sea is the responsibility of the Food Standards Agency. It does not undertake monitoring for depleted uranium contamination specifically but does monitor levels of total uranium contamination arising from discharges from Sellafield and other sources. This monitoring indicates that levels of uranium in fish and shellfish are only slightly enhanced above that expected from natural background. Detailed results of such monitoring are given in the annual Radioactivity in Food and the Environment report published jointly by the Food Standards Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.


Millennium Bug

Mr. Baker: To ask the President of the Council if she will make a statement on the (a) cost to Her Majesty's Government and (b) impact on the UK of the millennium bug. [146698]

Mrs. Beckett: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the oral statement on the millennium bug, which I made on 20 January 2000, Official Report, columns 975-83, and the update, which I provided on 28 February 2000, Official Report, columns 135-36W, and 20 April 2000, Official Report, column 596W. No significant problems have been reported since then.

The estimated cost of the millennium bug to central Government was £380 million. The Government's preparations were an outstanding success, with the UK almost untouched by the bug. However, things did not go right by accident. The bug was shown to have the capacity to wreak havoc among essential services. The Government's objective was to ensure that the bug did not cause material disruption to these services. That objective was achieved.

The work has wide-reaching benefits which were drawn out in a command paper, "Modernising Government in Action: Realising the benefits of Y2K", which I placed in the Libraries of the House on 18 April 2000, as stated on 18 April 2000, Official Report, column 425W.

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Liaison Committee

Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the President of the Council when the Government will implement proposals set out in the First report from the Liaison Committee, Session 1999-2000, HC 300; and if she will make a statement. [145535]

Mrs. Beckett: I have nothing to add to the Government response to the Liaison Committee Report, which was set out in Cm 4737.


Flood Damage (Roads)

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1) what steps he is taking to ensure cooperation between the public and private sectors in reacting to flood damage to major roads; [144842]

Mr. Hill [holding answer 11 January 2001]: The A22 at Whyteleafe is a local road for which Surrey county council is the highway authority. As the highway authority, the county council are responsible for the maintenance of the road, including dealing with any flooding problem. The Secretary of State does not have powers under the Highways Act 1980 to direct a local highway authority in the discharge of its maintenance duties under the Act.

The flooding of the A22 at Whyteleafe was caused by a periodic flow of the Bourne due to the rising groundwater levels in the chalk aquifer as a result of the heavy autumn rainfall. The Bourne is normally a dry watercourse and records show it has flowed on only three occasions in the past 20 years. On this occasion the water was prevented from draining away as a result of blockages downstream of the A22. The water backed up to form a lake that covered the road which was closed for safety reasons on police advice. Alternative diversion routes were set up by Surrey county council and the London borough of Croydon.

To deal with the A22 flooding the Surrey county council and Tandridge district council set up a pumping arrangement to bypass the blockages and take away the excess Bourne water. This was not a straightforward operation and factors such as the need to protect the Kenley water works had to be considered. The pumping operation was successful and the road re-opened to traffic on 8 January.

A hydrogeologist from the Environment Agency visited the site of the flooding on 20 December and has liaised with officials of Tandridge district council. The Bourne watercourse is not a "Main River" and is therefore the

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responsibility of the riparian landowners. Tandridge district council and Surrey county council staff have been working to remove the blockages from the course of the Bourne and Tandridge district council have taken the lead in bringing together key organisations to minimise the risk of a repetition of the local flooding. The Environment Agency have provided advice to some individuals who contacted them about the flooding of their properties.

In response to the countrywide flooding problems experienced as a result of the heavy autumn rainfall the Government have established a Floods Task Force, chaired by the MAFF Minister for Fisheries and the Countryside, which draws together all relevant departments and aims to ensure effective co-ordination of central Government's support for communities recovering from the effects of flooding. The Task Force will share examples of good practice.

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