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Broadband Services

Mrs. Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when she intends to introduce legislation on improving access to broadband telecommunications networks in rural and semi-rural areas; and if she will make a statement. [24742]

Mr. Alexander: The Government's strategy was outlined in a written answer to the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) on 11 December 2001, Official Report, column 757W, and I refer the hon. Member to that response.

Mrs. Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment she has made of the (a) availability and (b) take-up of broadband services by (i) individuals and (ii) businesses in the constituency of Congleton. [24741]

Mr. Alexander: A map showing availability of broadband services in the UK was contained in "UK Online: the Broadband Future" and has been placed in the Libraries of the House, though there have not been any assessments made of coverage by constituency.


Food Imports

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the roles of (a) her Department, (b) the Food Standards Agency, (c) local authorities, (d) port health authorities and (e) other relevant public agencies, in the control of food imports. [18362]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 23 November 2001]: The Department is the central competent authority for animal health policy as it affects veterinary checks on the import of products of animal origin from third countries. The

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Food Standards Agency is responsible for public health policy and food enforcement activity by all local authorities including port health authorities. Local authorities and port health authorities (where one exists) are responsible for the enforcement of controls at point of import. Local authorities also have responsibility for health controls at all subsequent points in the human food chain. Her Majesty's Customs and Excise Department are responsible for ensuring that any product of animal origin presented for import is not released until the health controls at point of import have been completed satisfactorily.

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions she has had with the Treasury on how to improve co-ordination of controls on food imports. [20813]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 6 December 2001]: Departmental officials are leading an inter-departmental review aimed at co-ordinating action across government to ensure that rules on imports of products of animal origin are enforced effectively and efficiently. In carrying out this task they meet regularly with colleagues in the Treasury, other Government Departments and responsible enforcement authorities.

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what controls the Government have to prevent (a) unsafe and (b) inferior food imports; and what plans she has to tighten those controls. [20812]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 6 December 2001]: All consignments of products of animal origin imported into the UK from other EU member states must have been produced in accordance with the harmonised Community rules laid down in various Council directives. Imports from third countries must have been produced to standards at least equivalent to those in this legislation. Among other things, this legislation sets out the licensing, structural and veterinary supervision requirements to be applied in meat, fish and milk processing plants.

All products of animal origin imported into the UK from third countries must enter at designated UK Border Inspection Posts (BIPs). All consignments are subject to documentary and identity checks and a proportion are subject to physical checks. The level of physical checks is laid down in Community legislation and depends on a number of risk factors. These ensure import conditions are met and that the products remain in satisfactory condition during transport. In line with Community rules, random spot checks at destination may be carried out on consignments of animal products imported from other EU member states.

The Government take very seriously the need to have effective controls on imports of animal products and we in DEFRA are co-ordinating action across government to ensure that the rules are enforced as effectively as possible.

Controls on the importation of food products for human use which are not of animal origin, such as fruit, vegetables and cereals, from countries outside the EU are not harmonised at EU level. Imports of such food must meet the food hygiene requirements in Great Britain's Imported Food Regulations 1997 and their equivalent in Northern Ireland for which the Food Standards Agency is

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responsible. These Regulations require that imported food meets the same food safety standards as apply to food produced in the UK. The UK's local food authorities, who undertake day-to-day enforcement at air and sea ports, can refuse entry to or arrange destruction of foods that do not meet the UK's requirements. Such food imported from both third countries and other EU member states may be inspected at retail level to ensure that it satisfies requirements under the Food Safety Act 1990.

Animal Health Bill

Mr. Tynan: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when the Government will consult on the exercise of slaughter powers and other provisions of the Animal Health Bill. [27347]

Mr. Morley: I am pleased to announce that the Government are today issuing a paper for public consultation. This proposes criteria that will govern the use in England and Wales of the new slaughter powers contained in the Animal Health Bill, together with arrangements for operating the adjusted compensation scheme for infected premises.

This document has been sent to around 200 organisations, although any interested parties are welcome to access it on DEFRA's website http:// and respond. Copies have also been placed in the Libraries of the House.

Farms, Buckingham

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many organic farmers are registered in the constituency of Buckingham. [23741]

Mr. Morley: This information is currently unavailable but a database is currently being developed which will allow interrogation of statistics to county level.

Parish and Town Councils

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what strategy her Department is adopting to provide support and encouragement to parish and town councils to maximise their effectiveness. [26487]

Alun Michael: The Government believe strongly in the role and potential of town and parish councils to act as community leaders in their area.

Our strategy to help parish and town councils develop a new role and give communities the opportunity to shape their future is set out in the Rural White Paper, published in November 2000. We have made considerable progress in putting in place measures to help local councils develop their potential to lead and invigorate their communities, including (over three years): £15 million for Community Service Grants to help projects to maintain or introduce services which are local priorities; £15 million for Parish Transport Grants scheme for small scale projects to meet local needs; a further £5 million to help up to 1,000 parishes draw up their own town or village plans to set out local needs and aspirations. The Countryside Agency and the National Association of Local Councils have

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published a national training and support strategy for parish and town councils, towards which we have allocated £2 million. In November we published a consultation paper on putting the Quality Parish and Town Council concept into practice. This sets out our detailed proposals for enhancing the role of local councils, giving their communities a better deal on local services and a stronger voice in the decisions that affect peoples lives.

The National Association of Local Councils is now represented on the Rural Affairs Forum for England, which I chair, and which met for the first time on Wednesday 9 January.

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the recent Countryside Agency publication which denoted parish and town councils according to their level of activity. [26486]

Alun Michael: The publication to which my hon. Friend refers is a Countryside Agency working document made available in the Library of the House pursuant to my answer of 28 November 2001, Official Report, column 1018W, on rural parishes. It is part of the agency's work to monitor over time the state of the countryside and was the source of summary figures on "community vibrancy" that the agency published last April to form a baseline for reporting in future years. "Community vibrancy" is one of 15 Headline Rural Indicators identified to monitor progress in achieving the objectives we set in the Rural White Paper. Our aim is to see the indicator move in the right direction over time.

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