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Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the dangers of a civil emergency arising out of nuclear contamination consequent upon a nuclear accident in France; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Meacher: No specific assessment of the risk of nuclear contamination as a result of an accident in France has been made. However, the UK has arrangements in place for co-ordinating the response to any overseas nuclear accident that may occur. These arrangements include a bilateral agreement with France and were fully tested in May 2001 as part of a joint international exercise based upon a nuclear accident at Gravelines nuclear power station, situated on the French coast. Further tests and exercises are conducted on a regular basis throughout the year to consider various nuclear accident conditions.
Linda Gilroy: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pursuant to her answer of 26 October 2001, Official Report, column 409W, on energy efficiency, (1) what analysis of overall percentage improvements in domestic energy efficiency is required before figures for those overall percentage improvements can be published; and when she intends to publish the figures; 
Mr. Meacher: Energy conservation authorities were asked to submit their fifth annual progress reports to 31 March 2001 to their region's Government office, by 31 August this year. While many met the deadline, a large number did not.
Before publishing the overall reported percentage improvement, we check that each report has been completed fully and accurately, going back to the authority with questions if necessary. Until we have done this for all authoritiesaround 350and provided written feedback to each on this year's performance, we are not in a position to publish the reported percentage improvement.
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Mr. Meacher [holding answer 27 November 2001]: The Department is responsible for energy efficiency. The latest complete figures available relate to the predecessor Department (DETR) in the financial year 200001. The funding made available to support and promote energy efficiency in 200001 totalled about £163.5 million, 6 per cent. of that Department's programme expenditure.
The regulations require businesses who deal with packaging to recover and recycle specified tonnages of packaging waste, calculated by the amount of packaging handled by the business. Businesses can reduce their obligation by using less and reusing packaging whenever possible. By increasing the amount reused producers are able to reduce the tonnages of packaging waste they are required to recover and so lessen their costs of compliance.
The recovery and recycling targets for 2001 under the packaging regulations are 56 per cent. for recovery and 18 per cent. for material-specific recycling of packaging waste. Data received to date suggest that, if businesses meet their obligations, these targets should be met.
Dr. Kumar: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the timetable to publish the implementation of European Commission packaging directives. 
Mr. Meacher: The EC Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste94/62/ECcame into force in 1994. The Directive was implemented in Great Britain by the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997.
Mr. Kidney: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when she will publish the report of the freight study group on the potential usage of the waterway system for the carriage of freight. 
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Mr. Kidney: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what arrangements her Department has for co-ordinating policy relating to canals with the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. 
Mr. Meacher: We recognise the need for close liaison between DEFRA and DTLR on issues of common interest relating to canals. As a consequence the Freight Study Group will report to both Departments, and respective Ministers received a joint briefing recently from the chairman of the Freight Study Group.
Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, pursuant to her answer of 23 November 2001, Official Report, column 517W, on river quality, what chemical levels of (a) biochemical oxygen demand and (b) concentrations of dissolved (i) oxygen and (ii) ammonia are deemed to be (A) good, (B) fair, (C) poor and (D) bad in the Environment Agency's general quality assessment scheme for rivers. 
Mr. Meacher [holding answer 30 November 2001]: The Environment Agency's General Quality Assessment (GQA) scheme assigns stretches of rivers and canals to one of six quality grades (ranging from A for water of very good quality to F for water which is of bad quality) based on the monitoring results for biochemical oxygen demand and concentrations of dissolved oxygen and ammonia. The overall grade is that of the poorest of the three determinants. The grade classes are expressed as percentiles as set out in the table.
|GQA grade||Dissolved oxygen (% saturation) 10-percentile||Biochemical oxygen demand (mg/l) 90-percentile||Ammonia (mgN/l) 90-percentile|
|A (very good)||80||2.5||0.25|
|C (fairly good)||60||6||1.3|
|F (bad)||less than 20|||||
Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many and what proportion of letters received by her Department between 20 June and 20 July were replied to (a) in under 15, (b) in under 20, (c) in under 30, (d) in under 40 and (e) in over 40 working days. 
Mr. Morley: Information on the volume of correspondence from Members of Parliament received by ministerial agency chief executives, and departments and agencies and performance in handling them is published annually by the Cabinet Office. The most recent report covering 2000, was announced by the then Minister for the Cabinet Office on 6 April 2001, Official Report,
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column 325W. Between 20 June and 20 July 2001, the volume of correspondence and percentage of replies within the set target was:
8 per cent. received replies within 15 working days;
7 per cent. received replies within 20 working days;
13 per cent. received replies within 30 working days;
3 per cent. received replies within 40 working days;
17 per cent. received replies over 40 working days.
We are working hard to ensure the Department's record is improved and the targets met. The Department has suffered severe disruption due to allocating top priority to defeating the foot and mouth epidemic. I accept this is not an adequate excuse for not giving hon. Members good service and now that normality is returning to the Department one of our urgent priorities is to rectify any weakness in our service delivery.
Mr. Morley: Information on the volume of correspondence from Members of Parliament received by ministerial agency chief executives, and Departments and agencies and performance in handling them is published annually by the Cabinet Office. The most recent report covering 2000, was announced by the then Minister for the Cabinet Office on 6 April 2001, Official Report, column 325W. Between 20 June and 20 July 2001, the number of letters received was 718. The Department keeps a central log of ministerial cases only and so this figures does not include letters received in this period that was dealt with by officials.
Mr. Peter Atkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when she will reply to the letter of 12 September from the hon. Member for Hexham regarding assistance to Tyredale council to promote tourism. 
Mrs. Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent assessment she has made of the efficiency and promptness of her Department's staff in responding to correspondence received from hon. Members; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Morley: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to all Members on 14 November setting out her assessment of the current problems faced by the correspondence section. The Department suffered severe disruption due to allocating top priority to defeating the foot and mouth epidemic. On top of this the sheer volume of correspondence received since the creation of DEFRA has had a severe impact on the section. I accept this is not an adequate excuse for not giving hon. Members good service, and now that normality is returning to the Department one of our urgent priorities is to rectify any weakness in our service delivery.
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The size of the section has increased threefold and the management strengthened; our IT systems are in the process of being improved, and new guidance and training is being rolled out throughout the Department. We hope that this will bear fruit in the very near future.
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