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Adam Price: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps the Government are taking to ensure that there is parity of support for arable farmers across the UK. 
Mr. Morley: Agriculture is a devolved responsibility in the United Kingdom. But support for the arable sector, like many others, is governed by the relevant Common Agriculture Policy regimes which set rates of aid and conditions applicable to all Member States.
Mr. Morley: We have taken a range of initiatives aimed at improving our ability to prevent and detect illegal imports of animal products. These initiatives have been co-ordinated by officials in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but involve other departments such as HM Customs and Excise and the Food Standards Agency, and the local authorities who are responsible for controls at ports and airports. We have concentrated on raising public awareness of our import rules through our Embassies, and strengthening intelligence gathering and sharing to improve targeting of anti-smuggling measures. We also introduced new posters which are displayed at airports and ports to ensure that travellers are aware of the restrictions on what may be
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imported. On 28 March we published an action plan which is available in the House Libraries. This plan commits Government to a range of measures including completing a risk assessment of disease risks posed by illegal imports of meat. In addition we have enquired into the use of detector dogs and aim to carry out a pilot this summer. These actions are kept under constant review.
Mr. Ruffley: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how much post-weaning multisystematic wasting syndrome has added to the production costs of pig meat in the last 12 months. 
Mr. Morley: Although no independent studies of the economic effects of this disease have been carried out, the economic consequences can be significant. When the disease is present on farm, the mortality rate for weaner pigs appears to increase from around 3 per cent.- 5 per cent. to 5 per cent.-20 per cent. At worst, a continuous 20 per cent. post-weaning mortality rate would increase costs by an estimated £11.00 per 95kg pig sold. This represents 10 per cent.-14 per cent. of the average sale price.
In addition, the Meat and Livestock Commission estimates that some 300,000 pigs that would otherwise have reached slaughter weight have been lost to the disease. Based on this estimate, the loss to the pig industry is some £21 million at the farm gate, around 2.5 per cent. of total annual farm gate value.
Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the reasons were for the delay in answering the question, Ref 288, tabled by the hon. Member for South Suffolk on 25 June 2001. 
Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what funds exist to enable the Forestry Commission to assist employees with their council tax payments; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Morley: The Forestry Commission has no funds which enable it to assist employees with their council tax payments. Forestry Commission employees can, however, apply for assistance from various benevolent funds if they are experiencing financial difficulties.
Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many Forestry Commission employees are being assisted with the payment of council tax; and if she will make a statement. 
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Mrs. Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate she has made of the total level of funding required to implement the recommendations of the Policy Commission report on the Future of Farming and Food; and when she plans to begin implementing the report's recommendations. 
Mr. Morley: The Policy Commission estimated that implementing its recommendations would cost approximately £500 million over three years. However, the cost of many of the recommendations would depend upon the precise way in which they were implemented.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on 26 March a series of early actions as a first step towards implementing the report. In the early autumn, after discussion with all of those with an interest in food, farming, the environment and rural areas, the Government will produce a Strategy for Sustainable Food and Farming in England. This will incorporate a definitive response to all of the Policy Commission's recommendations.
Mrs. Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what forms of financial assistance are available to farmers intending to grow flax; what assessment she has made of the levels of flax production in the UK; what percentage of agriculturally productive land was under flax in the last year for which figures are available; what steps her Department is taking to encourage flax production; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Morley: Flax is eligible for aid under the Arable Area Payments Scheme (AAPS). Payments rates vary in different parts of the UK. In England the rate in 2001 was £270.88 per hectare. Aid is also payable on the tonnage of flax fibre produced by an authorised primary processor, the most recent rate being £55.67 per tonne.
Flax production in the UK built up during the early 1990s before falling back again, peaking at just over 20,000 hectares in 1996. In 2001, AAPS aid was claimed for 4,847 hectares of flax in the UK out of a total AAPS claim of 4,511,374 hectares, flax representing 0.1 per cent. of arable agriculturally productive land. The Census total for all agricultural land in the UK, excluding common rough grazing, is 17,323,000 hectares. Flax therefore represents around 0.03 per cent. of all agriculturally productive land.
The Government Industry Forum on Non-Food Crops, set up to evaluate opportunities for non-food crops and provide strategic advice to Government, has commissioned a case study on the potential for UK grown fibre crops in composite materials. We expect this report to be published in the summer.
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Gareth Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the proposed date of implementation of European Directives on the Welfare of Laying Hens. 
Paul Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the impact of (a) the reopening of livestock markets and (b) other increased animal movements on the incidence of TB and other animal diseases. 
Mr. Morley: As yet we do not have enough data to enable an analysis of what part the reopening of markets and resumption of livestock movement has played in the number of incidents of bovine TB disclosed in the first quarter of this year. We will continue to monitor the position carefully with the independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB to produce an analysis when sufficient data are available. The chief veterinary officer has issued general advice to farmers on assessing disease risk when buying in animals. This is contained in the leaflets "Golden Rules for a Healthy Herd" and "Golden Rules for a Healthy Flock".
Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what contingency plan her Department has to deal with two or more separate animal disease epidemics at the same time; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Morley [holding answer 2 May 2002]: This Department has a range of both legislation and operational procedures in place in order to deal with animal disease epidemics. The Interim Foot and Mouth Contingency Plan provides an operational framework for a response to one or more concurrent outbreaks of disease. My officials are working on these contingency arrangements to ensure a co-ordinated inter-agency approach to disease outbreaks and one that fully involves stakeholders.
Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how much compensation has been (a) allotted and (b) paid for bovine TB for (i) slaughtering and (ii) restriction of movement of cattle in each year since 1980. 
Mr. Morley [holding answer 2 May 2002]: The compensation paid for cattle slaughtered to control bovine TB in each year since 1980 is set out in the table. No compensation is paid because of movement restrictions.
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