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Milk Task Force

Mr. Heath: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether the Milk Task Force has resumed its considerations; and when it is expected to report. [7892]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 15 October 2001]: The Milk Task Force has now resumed its work and on 12 October it held its first meeting since its activities were suspended in April. The Milk Task Force hopes that it will be able to report quickly, but no specific deadlines have been set for it to complete its work.

Peat Extraction

Mr. Sayeed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what steps the Government are taking to protect UK peatlands; and if she will make a statement on the practice of peat extraction in the UK; [7776]

Mr. Meacher: The best examples of peatland habitats in the UK are notified by the country nature conservation agencies as sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), or areas of special scientific interest in (ASSIs) in Northern Ireland. In England, peatland SSSIs are protected from damage through the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, strengthened recently by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. In 1999 the UK Government endorsed the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for lowland raised bogs in which targets for restoration of damaged peatlands are set out. The BAP also contains targets for the replacement of peat in the UK horticultural industry, including supplies for amateur use—a reduction of 40 per cent. by 2005 and to 90 per cent. by 2010.

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The EU Habitats Directive provides for the creation of a network of protected wildlife sites across the European Union. The UK has identified and forwarded to the European Commission 565 sites suitable for selection as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), thirty-eight of which feature a peatland habitat type. Sites in England receive the full protection offered by the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc) Regulations 1994, implementing the directive's provisions. Minerals Planning Authorities (MPAs) have statutory responsibility to determine applications for permission to extract peat.

Applications for new permissions, and extant permissions, must be assessed with regard to any potential effect peat extraction will have on the conservation status of candidate SACs, or Special Protection Areas (SPAs) under the Birds Directive. New permissions may be refused and extant permissions amended or revoked if an adverse effect is determined. Guidance to MPAs on criteria for selection and identification of acceptable sites for peat extraction is contained in Mineral Planning Guidance 13 'Guidelines for Peat Provision in England Including the Place for Alternative Materials'. Additional guidance on designated sites to MPAs is also given in Planning Policy Guidance 9 'Nature Conservation'.

Food and Farming Policy Commission

Mr. Sayeed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when the Policy Commission on Food and Farming is expected to make its recommendations. [7766]

Mr. Morley: As set out in the announcement of 9 August, the Prime Minister has asked the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food to report by the end of this year.

Rural White Paper

Mr. Djanogly: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what representations she has received from Cambridgeshire in respect of the Rural White Paper. [6175]

Alun Michael: During the preparation of the Rural White Paper 16 of the 799 responses to the Discussion Document "Rural England" came from individuals and organisations in Cambridgeshire, including a number of district, town and parish councils and other public, private and voluntary sector bodies. Ministers and officials also received a number of other representations from individuals and organisations in Cambridgeshire in written and other forms both during and after publication of the White Paper.

Civil Servants (Retirement Age)

Mr. Brady: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will list the compulsory retirement ages which apply to employees of her Department and of executive agencies and other public sector bodies for which it is responsible, broken down by grade or job title. [7238]

Mr. Morley: The creation of DEFRA has brought together staff from the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions: terms and conditions of employment for the new Department will need to be

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negotiated. This will take account of a planned review of departmental policy on retirement age. Staff meanwhile retain their existing terms and conditions including retirement arrangements as described.

For ex-MAFF staff including executive agencies, the age of retirement may vary according to grade and reckonable service. Staff in grades at Administrative Officer level and below may generally, subject to efficiency, remain in service until age 65. Staff in higher grades are required to retire at age 60, but a short service concession is available for staff who have then served less than 20 years. Staff may also be retained past their retirement age for limited periods if, exceptionally, the Department's business needs justify it. Compulsory retirement before the normal age may exceptionally apply in circumstances of redundancy, restructuring or limited efficiency.

DEFRA staff who were formerly attached to DETR retain their retirement arrangements. These are broadly similar to those for ex-MAFF staff, and for details I refer the hon. Member to the reply given by the Under- Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), on 15 October 2001, Official Report, column 872W.

Staff in the Intervention Board/Rural Payments Agency normally retire at age 60 but may be retained for an extended period (up to a maximum age of 65) dependent upon meeting standards of efficiency and upon the Agency's needs.

The Department sponsors a considerable number of other public sector bodies, including 20 executive NDPBs. Information is not held centrally on their retirement arrangements and could be obtained only in the form requested at disproportionate cost.

Livestock Movement Licences (Somerset)

Mr. Heath: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many applications for livestock movement licences were made in Somerset in the period 24 September to 4 October; and how many licences were issued in the same period. [7890]

Mr. Morley: Local authorities are responsible for issuing most animal movement licences. We understand from Somerset district council that during the period from 24 September to 4 October, 1,821 application forms (for farm to farm movements of livestock) were issued to Somerset farmers. Of these 780 were returned and 425 licences were issued. 92 applications were rejected by the Animal Movement Licensing System, 188 farmers withdrew their applications and 75 applications are awaiting approval.

In addition, 1,227 licences for moving livestock for slaughter have been processed by Somerset local authorities/Trading Standards own system.

Animal Movement Licences

Mr. Sayeed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many applications for animal movement licences are outstanding. [7775]

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Mr. Morley: Local authorities are responsible for issuing animal movement licences. But we understand that the backlog of outstanding applications varies between 0 and five days' workload, with the average being one day.

Tenant Farmers

Mrs. Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when she last met representatives of tenant farmers. [7724]

Mr. Morley: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has not met tenant farmers' representatives since her appointment. However, the Department does maintain close contact with the tenanted sector. My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State Lord Whitty met representatives from the Tenant Farmers Association on 16 July 2001 and my right hon. Friend is planning to meet them in the next few weeks.

Overhead Powerlines

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent representations she has received on the environmental implications of overhead powerlines; and if she will make a statement. [3847]

Mr. Wilson: I have been asked to reply.

The Department has received representations on the possible health effects of overhead lines. Overhead lines, however, remain a cost-effective and acceptable means for transferring power from producers to the consumer.


Civil Service Fast Stream

Brian White: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister when he will publish the next report on recruitment to the fast stream of the civil service. [8269]

Mr. Leslie: In September I placed in the Library of the House the sixth annual report on recruitment to the fast stream of the civil service. It covers the results of competitions completed between 1 April 2000 and 31 March 2001.

The report shows that the civil service is increasingly successful in attracting the best graduates, despite the highly competitive nature of the market, and is doing so while maintaining the high standard required of entrants. For the first time in several years, for instance, the service has filled all its vacancies for scientists and engineers. The proportion of graduates recruited to the fast stream from minority ethnic groups has risen from 3 per cent. in 1998–99 to 7 per cent. in 2000–01. The service's commitment to improving the diversity of the fast stream will continue.

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