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Plaice

Mrs. Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if the present minimum landing size for plaice in all sea areas will continue during 2002. [23272]

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Mr. Morley: Yes. The EU minimum landing size of 27 cm which had been extended by derogation (from the original 22 cm) from 1 January 2000 was made permanent in May 2001.

Forests

Adam Price: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the change in the level of forest cover has been in the UK since May 1997. [23958]

Mr. Morley: The level of forest cover in the UK is estimated to have increased by approximately 70,000 hectares since May 1997.

Abattoirs

Adam Price: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans she has to promote the use of small local abattoirs. [23964]

Mr. Morley: Despite the reduction in abattoir numbers over recent years there remains considerable over- capacity in the slaughtering sector and a reasonable spread of abattoirs across the country. As we announced in the Rural White Paper last year, Agriculture Departments in England, Scotland and Wales have agreed to transfer £8.7 million to the Food Standards Agency for the three financial years 2001–02 to 2003–04; this has enabled the FSA significantly to reduce inspection charges levied on many small and medium-sized meat plants. This will have positive benefits for small and medium-sized abattoirs. It is, however, too early to assess how the revised charging system will affect their profitability or future operation. The Policy Commission for Food and Farming will no doubt be considering the number and spread of abattoirs and we will consider carefully any recommendations in this area that it might make.

Mr. Prosser: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what proposals she has to encourage the provision of local abattoirs. [23934]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 18 December 2001]: Despite the reduction in abattoir numbers over recent years there remains considerable over-capacity in the slaughtering sector and a reasonable spread of abattoirs across the country. As we announced in the Rural White Paper last year, Agriculture Departments in England, Scotland and Wales have agreed to transfer £8.7 million to the Food Standards Agency for the three financial years 2001–02 to 2003–04; this has enabled the FSA significantly to reduce inspection charges levied on many small and medium-sized meat plants. This will have positive benefits for small and medium-sized abattoirs. It is, however, too early to assess how the revised charging system will affect their profitability or future operation. The Policy Commission for Food and Farming will no doubt be considering the number and spread of abattoirs and we will consider carefully any recommendations in this area that it might make.

Bovine Respiratory Disease

Adam Price: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what measures she is taking to ensure effective protection against bovine respiratory disease, and its most commonly involved bacteria, pasteurella haemolytica. [24015]

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Mr. Morley: In the UK, two bovine respiratory diseases are notifiable. These are contagious bovine pleuropneumonia and bovine tuberculosis. Regulations require that the incidence of these diseases is reported so that investigation and action can be implemented. Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia is not present in the UK and cattle imports are subject to international regulations designed to reduce the risk of importing this condition. Bovine tuberculosis is present in the UK and subject to regulation. Measures are in place to protect human health and to control the disease in cattle. These include requirements for notification, surveillance, slaughter with compensation, pasteurisation of milk and meat inspection. Other forms of bovine respiratory disease, including that caused by pasteurella haemolytica, are dealt with on a case-by-case basis and the appropriate control is a matter for the cattle owner and his or her veterinary surgeon.

Animal Movements

Adam Price: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on lifting animal movement restrictions in Wales. [24017]

Mr. Morley: Animal movement restrictions in England and Wales were introduced to help combat the spread of disease. They are developed on the basis of scientific and veterinary advice and have been applied in accordance with the designation of each county. All of Wales is now designated 'free' and benefits from the least restrictive animal movement regulations.

We have announced that around mid-February these movement restrictions are to be further relaxed and that final details of these changes will be published in the new year.

Mr. Prosser: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps she plans to take to encourage the export of sheepmeat rather than live sheep and lambs; and if she will make a statement. [23931]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 18 December 2001]: We regularly confirm our view that trade in meat is preferable to the long distance movement of live animals. We are pleased to see the efforts the meat industry is making to develop meat exports after the FMD outbreak and we are convinced that this is the best way forward.

Mr. Prosser: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans she has to discourage the long distance transport of live animals between farms, markets and abattoirs. [23932]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 18 December 2001]: The Government would prefer a trade in meat rather than in the long distance transport of animals for slaughter. This is a matter that will be considered when the European Commission produces its proposals to update and improve the present EU rules on the protection of animals during transport.

Mr. Prosser: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what measures she proposes to reduce the number of journeys undertaken by live animals between farms, markets and abattoirs. [23933]

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Mr. Morley [holding answer 18 December 2001]: Markets have been closed during the foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak and are expected to open progressively through the interim animal movement regime in 2002. To reduce the risk of spreading disease through the frequent movement of livestock a general 20 day standstill on moving animals currently applies; and will continue as part of the interim regime. The longer term animal movement regime, including the question of any more permanent movement standstill arrangements, will take account of the outcome of the inquiries announced in August and developments in EU controls in the light of FMD. Individual livestock movements are also subject to strict controls on grounds of animal welfare.

Badger Baiting

Adam Price: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps she is taking to eliminate badger baiting. [23970]

Mr. Morley: This Government deplore the illegal killing of badgers. The principal legislation protecting the welfare of badgers is the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. Under the 1992 Act it is an offence to kill, take or dig for a badger, or attempt to do so, except under licence or in certain particular circumstances, or to injure one or attempt to do so. The maximum penalty for an offence under the 1992 Act is a fine of £5,000 and/or six months' imprisonment.

The level of protection for badgers is unique for an unendangered animal and reflects the concern which is felt by Parliament about the gratuitous acts of cruelty to which badgers have been subjected all too often in the past.

Cockle Gatherers (Carmarthenshire)

Adam Price: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions she has had with the Secretary for Rural Affairs at the National Assembly for Wales on compensation for cockle gatherers in Carmarthenshire. [23980]

Mr. Morley: None. This is entirely a matter for the National Assembly for Wales.

Environmental Impact Assessments (Wales)

Adam Price: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions she has had with the National Assembly for Wales regarding (a) the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive and (b) the implementation of its guidelines. [23983]

Mr. Meacher: The Environmental Impact Assessment Directive must be implemented UK wide. Officials have worked very closely with the National Assembly for Wales Agriculture Department and other Agriculture Departments in the devolved Administrations to determine key factors of the new regime which is being introduced to implement the uncultivated land provisions. This will ensure consistency of implementation and decision making across the UK, while allowing for any appropriate regional variations.

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