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Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the 2001 report of the Countryside Agency on the quality of parish councils; if she will estimate how many parish councils were classed as (a) sleeping and (b) barely active; and if she will make a statement. 
Alun Michael: The Countryside Agency has not produced a report on the quality of parish councils, but it has undertaken to produce an indicator of community vibrancy. I refer the hon. Member to answers given on 24 January 2002 to the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), Official Report, columns 103334W, for information on this issue.
Mr. Oaten: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what percentage of the current financial year's integrated administration and control system payments have been received by farmers. 
Mr. Todd: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what representations she has received concerning delays in paying farmers for claims within the integrated administration and control system; and if she will make a statement. 
The industrial action which commenced on 20 August 2001 and which has severely impacted on claims processing was suspended for two weeks, beginning 11 January 2002. This is good news and has enabled the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to put more resources into
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processing through overtime working. Additionally those offices with the largest backlogs are being reinforced by transferring in staff from other sites. The staff are keen to make up the lost ground and are working enthusiastically. That said there is no chance of RPA being able to recover before 31 January 2002 the several thousand man days of claims processing that has been lost. Arable Area Payments (AAPS) has been most seriously affected because this is a complex scheme on which it is not easy to deploy inexperienced staff.
By the end of the payment window on 31 January 2002 RPA expect to have paid around 90 per cent. of claims and providing the industrial action remains suspended, AAPS payments should be completed by around mid-February 2002.
Livestock scheme payments are also being affected but, although software has had to be upgraded to reflect regulatory changes on the bovine schemes and to carry out cross-checks on claims where holdings were affected by foot and mouth disease, RPA expect to make all the payments within the regulatory timescales.
My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, also had a meeting with the British Banking Association (BBA), including representatives of all the main clearing banks, on 22 November 2001. It is hoped that as a result of that meeting the BBA will be sympathetic to the effect that the industrial dispute is having on the cash flow of farmers who have received their payments later than normal.
Mr. Morley: In response to their "Crops on Trial" report, we have asked the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC) to provide further advice by the end of April on how and when to promote an effective public debate on the possible commercialisation of the crops in the Farm Scale Evaluations. The full Government response to the AEBC report is available at www.defra.gov.uk.
Mr. David Stewart: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps her Department has taken to deal with domestic refrigerator decommissioning following the recent European directive. 
Mr. Meacher: EC Regulation No. 2037/2000 requires the removal of controlled ozone depleting substances from domestic refrigeration units prior to scrapping. The Department has worked closely with stakeholders to ensure that adequate disposal routes exist for domestic fridges. Waste fridges may be refurbished and re-used, disposed of via incineration, exported to other member states for recycling, or stored in the UK pending treatment. In early December the Department issued guidance on the storage of fridges pending treatment, along with draft standards for the removal of ODS from fridges, which are now being finalised by the Environment Agency. The Department also announced £6 million funding for English local authorities for
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Mr. Todd: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many responses were received to her Department's consultation on the distribution of aggregates levy sustainability fund; and when she will publish a response. 
Promoting environmentally friendly extraction and transport
Reducing the effect of local aggregate extraction.
|Number of respondents||Percentage|
|Waste management companies||2||1.7|
|Countryside and rural bodies||8||6.7|
|Minerals trade associations and operators||10||8.3|
|Other interested parties||22||18.3|
Mr. Todd: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will publish the scientific advice she has received concerning the designation of nitrate vulnerable zones; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Meacher: The Environment Agency has provided science-based advice on the methodology used to identify areas for designation. This is included as an annex in the consultation document "How should England implement the 1991 Nitrates Directive" published on 20 December 2001.
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For surface waters, monitoring data for nitrates collected over recent years are analysed statistically to identify monitoring points exceeding the level of 50 mg per litre referred to in the directive. In addition, trend analysis methods will be used to identify any additional monitoring points that can be expected to exceed 50 mg per litre in the future.
For ground waters, monitoring data from existing boreholes are processed using mathematical modelling to predict where ground water can be expected to exceed the level of 50 mg per litre, either now or in the future, as a result of nitrate leaching from land.
For inland, coastal and estuarine waters the Environment Agency consider a variety of criteria to assess whether waters are eutrophic or may become eutrophic if no action is taken. These criteria include: nutrient concentrations; occurrence and duration of algal blooms; low dissolved oxygen concentrations; changes in fauna, plant growth and algal growth; and occurrence and magnitude of paralytic shellfish poisoning. Only those waters where nitrate is considered to be a factor causing eutrophication are included for the purposes of designating nitrate vulnerable zones.
Mr. Meacher: The Government strongly support the Aarhus convention and signed the treaty when it opened for signature in 1998. The three underlying principles of transparency, participation and access to justice are central to achieving sustainable development.
The majority of the convention is already implemented in the UK although some legislative amendments will be necessary, in particular to the public access to environmental information regime. The Government intend to ratify the convention as soon as all of the necessary provisions are in place. The exact date by which this will be done is dependent on the legislative timetables of the devolved Administrations.
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