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Regional Office (Exeter)

Mrs. Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) on what date she was informed of (a) missing equipment and (b) the suspension of personnel at her Department's regional office at Exeter; and on what date the equipment was first found to be missing; [12828]

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Mr. Morley: 18 members of staff who had been based at Exeter are suspended from duty while the Department carries out its own internal criminal investigation concerning expenses claims. An investigation into missing equipment is also being carried out. The police have not been advised as my staff have the power to deal with criminal matters.

As the investigations are on-going it would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this time.

Farm Diversification

Paul Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans she has to encourage more diversification of farmed land into (a) fuel growing, (b) aqua culture, (c) coppicing, (d) organic and biomass farming and (e) leisure uses in the next five years; and what changes she expects in the levels of employment as a result. [13717]

Alun Michael: All the activities listed by my hon. Friend are potentially eligible for support under the England Rural Development Programme (ERDP), either as farm diversification projects or under specific schemes, such as the Organic Farming or Energy Crops Schemes. Encouragement of uptake under the ERDP is being promoted through a variety of routes, including in national and regional media, through the Department's presence at agricultural and similar shows providing the opportunity for direct contact with potential grant recipients, through revised specialist literature, and through the work of partner organisations and others providing business advice to farmers. Some crops grown for energy purposes may alternatively receive support under the Arable Area Payments Scheme.

As far as changes in employment levels are concerned, the ERDP was developed as a significant tool for the long- term regeneration of rural areas and the encouragement of an environmentally sustainable and economically diverse countryside. While the programme does include targets for numbers of jobs sustained or created under some of the measures, the impact of the programme on the rural economy and environment overall is potentially of greater significance than the single indicator of levels of employment.

Live Animals (Export)

Mr. Rendel: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps she is taking to ensure that all livestock vehicles transporting animals for over eight hours are required to install a forced ventilation system. [13549]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 9 November 2001]: Correct ventilation, control and monitoring of the conditions in livestock vehicles is important to maintain animal welfare. Discussions are continuing in the context

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of the European Commission's proposal for a revision of the EU regulation which sets standards for over eight hour livestock vehicle ventilation.

Flood Risk

Mr. Sayeed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what representations the Government have received on the level of insurance premiums being demanded of homeowners whose property lies in an area classified as a high flood risk; and if she will make a statement. [13911]

Mr. Morley: The Government maintain close links with the insurance industry to help ensure continued availability of affordable flood cover. Together with the flood defence operating authorities, we are reducing the risk of flooding and are communicating this to the industry. However, it must be recognised that insurance companies need to take a commercial decision as to what risk they will cover and on what terms.

The agreement among ABI members is that they will continue to provide flood cover, except in exceptional circumstances, for domestic properties and small businesses which they currently insure, during 2001 and 2002. My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and I met the Association of British Insurers on 5 September to discuss our mutual aim of ensuring that affordable flood insurance cover continues to be generally available after December 2002. Further discussions between officials have taken place.

In relation to the concerns expressed by the ABI, the Government are acting to reduce flood risk, through substantial increases in investment in flood and coastal defence (which now totals over £400 million a year). Flood defences are being repaired, renewed, maintained and improved. Flood warning arrangements are continually being improved. The Government have issued strengthened guidance to local planning authorities on control of development in flood risk areas, and are reviewing the financial and institutional arrangements under which the flood defence service is delivered.

Mr. Sayeed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the efficacy of the flood risk area analysis, conducted by the Environment Agency; and if she will make a statement. [13890]

Mr. Morley: No formal assessment has been made by my Department. The Environment Agency flood plain maps are completed on the basis of the best information available. They are indicative only. A party seeking a more specific site related flood risk analysis should seek further, more detailed, local information from the Environment Agency, and/or carry out further investigations to determine the nature and extent of flood risk within a particular area. The maps are continuously improved and updated on an annual basis as better information is gained.

The agency is currently in the process of extending the scope of this mapping to provide an indication of an extreme flood outline for the whole of England and Wales which will give a better indication of the range of potential flood risk in many areas. It is expected that these maps will be published before the end of 2002.

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Departmental Properties

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will list the number, value and location of properties newly leased in each of the last five years by his Department, broken down by those leases by the Department itself, its next step agencies and its non-departmental public bodies, differentiating between purchases made as a result of the creation of new bodies and those purchases made by established bodies. [7822]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: Tables of information have been placed in the Library. The tables include details of both the freehold and leasehold accommodation that has been acquired by the former Employment Service (ES) in the last five years. Information about "PRIME leases" taken on by the former Department of Social Security (DSS) is provided from 1 April 1998, as details are currently available only from when the PRIME contract commenced. The PRIME PFI contract transferred the ownership of the former DSS freehold properties and all obligations for leasehold accommodation to our private sector partners Land Securities Trillium.

As modern leases have no intrinsic value as such, the rental cost of the former ES accommodation is given together with the market value of the freehold accommodation where appropriate. For the former DSS, details of the Facilities Price that we pay to Land Securities Trillium for the additional serviced office accommodation that has been taken on is provided. The Facilities Price covers not only the space we occupy but also a large number of building related services such as building management and maintenance, internal and external cleaning, and security.

The only additional accommodation that has been taken on as a result of the creation of a new body is for the Pension Service.

While we have taken on new accommodation in recent years, the flexibility in the PRIME contract has allowed us to reduce overall office space on the former DSS part of the estate from 1,488,701 sq m to approximately 1,300,000 sq m, as at October 2001. Taking the average 2001–02 Facility Price of £182 per square metre, this equates to a saving of approximately £34.34 m per annum.

National Insurance Numbers

Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many surplus national insurance numbers have been removed from his Department's Central Index since 1997; and what plans he has to tackle the problem of bogus and surplus numbers. [7477]

Malcolm Wicks: The Departmental Central Index (DCI) Data Cleaning Project removed 100,000 surplus duplicate National Insurance numbers (NINOs) from the DCI between April 1997 and March 2001.

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To prevent the creation of further bogus and duplicate NINOs, the Enhanced NINO allocation process was introduced nationally from April 2001.

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