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Small Farms Produce

25. Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on her action to improve opportunities for small farmers to market their produce. [55144]

Alun Michael: The Policy Commission Report on Farming and Food made a number of recommendations relating to local and regional foods, which will help support and develop the opportunities for small farmers to market their produce. We have invited views on these recommendations, in order to inform our action plan for the farming and food sectors. This action plan will be launched in the autumn.

The Government are already involved in a number of initiatives aimed at encouraging local food production and marketing. The England Rural Development Programme provides grant aid for a range of activities that may be of benefit to farmers seeking to sell produce locally. We have also assisted various local projects under the Agricultural Development Scheme, as well as supporting

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the National Association of Farmers' Market's training and accreditation programmes and the development of the South-West Food and Drink Organisation.

Through Food from Britain we contribute to the funding of a network of regional food groups which provide trade development services to regional and speciality food producers, some of whom are farmers.

We have actively encouraged the development of farmers' markets, as has the Countryside Agency which receives its grant aid from DEFRA. Farmers may also derive benefit from the Countryside Agency's "Eat the View" programme which seeks to promote local products that support sustainable land management.


26. Mr. Carmichael: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the role to be played in improved biosecurity measures by the state veterinary service. [55145]

Mr. Morley: The state veterinary service played a vital role in promoting biosecurity during the foot and mouth disease outbreak and it will continue to be a key link in the promotion of the biosecurity message.

Local veterinary staff are providing advice relating to on-farm biosecurity when requested and this advice is particularly important when farms are restocking following the outbreak. The biosecurity message is being promoted at local meetings dealing with disease control with farmers and other stakeholders.

The Department is planning to issue a biosecurity code of practice later in the year and will be considering a further biosecurity campaign. The state veterinary service will again play a key role in the delivery of that message.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the financial impact of movement and biosecurity regulations on agricultural shows; and if she will make a statement. [54347]

Margaret Beckett [holding answer 7 May 2002]: The licence conditions for biosecurity at livestock shows, and the movement of animals to and from them, have been developed in close association with the shows organisers and those stakeholders who will be taking livestock to shows this year. No costings have been provided by these interests during the discussions and none have been drawn up by my Department.

The need for strict biosecurity is keenly appreciated by the majority of show organisers. I am pleased that they are taking a responsible attitude to biosecurity to protect livestock farmers and the wider rural community from another devastating outbreak of animal disease. The rules have been drawn up on the advice of the Department's vets to minimise the risk of disease associated with the re-opening of livestock shows and they will be kept under review to ensure that they remain proportionate to the disease risk.

Agriculture (West Country)

27. Mr. Heath: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she plans to visit this year's Royal Bath and West show to discuss the state of agriculture in the west country. [55146]

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Mr. Morley: My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State is unable to attend this year's Royal Bath and West show due to prior engagements, but my noble Friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary Lords, (The Lord Whitty of Camberwell), will be visiting on 31 May.

Dairy Industry

28. Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the prospects for the dairy industry. [55147]

Mr. Morley: The current low price of milk has undoubtedly reduced the income of many dairy farmers to levels that appear unsustainable in the long term. However, this low price has largely been caused by factors that are temporary in nature, most notably, oversupply of raw milk in the UK and the weakness of EU and world markets for dairy products.

For the longer term, it is likely that the next round of WTO agriculture negotiations will further restrict the use of export subsidies and the increasing exposure of EU markets to world markets. In addition, enlargement of the EU is likely to lead to pressure on the Community budget, if the CAP is not reformed.

In order to produce a sustainable dairy industry that can compete successfully on the growing world market for dairy products, the industry must be given the opportunity to trade free of artificial constraints imposed by the WTO, as well as by the EU dairy regime. The EU price support system is focused on butter and skimmed milk powder, both in clear surplus, hampering the development of the most efficient farmers and represent significant financial burden to most farmers.

The Government therefore favour the orderly phasing out of milk quotas in combination with a reduction in EU support prices to world prices, and direct but degressive aid to help farmers adjust to the new regime. During the forthcoming review of the milk quota system, due to start in June, the UK will be pressing to achieve confirmation that quotas will not continue after they lapse on 31 March 2008. These changes are intended to provide longer-term direction within the framework of the dairy regime, which farmers need in order to plan their businesses effectively.

Agrimonetary Compensation

29. Mr. Bacon: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on her Department's policy on agrimonetary compensation. [55148]

Mr. Morley: We have considered the case for payment of optional agrimonetary compensation to the livestock sector. While we acknowledge the difficulties that the sector is facing and are working with them on the recommendations of the Policy Commission on Farming and Food, we have decided not to pay this subsidy given the many competing demands on the Exchequer at present.

GM Crops

30. Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when her Department will analyse the data from the farm-scale evaluations of GM crops. [55149]

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Mr. Meacher: The Department will analyse data from the farm-scale evaluation of GM crops once we have received the advice of the Scientific Steering Committee overseeing the progress and publication of the ecological studies and the results are published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. This is anticipated to be in the summer of 2003 form spring-sown crops (spring-sown oil seed rape, maize and beet) and in summer 2004 for winter- sown oil seed rape.

Abandoned Vehicles

31. Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps her Government are taking to support local authorities in dealing with abandoned vehicles. [55150]

Mr. Meacher: We have supported pilot schemes in the London boroughs of Newham and Lewisham in which the local authority was given DVLA's powers to wheelclamp and remove unlicensed vehicles after 24 hours. We announced the extension of the scheme nationally on 10 April. The London borough of Wandsworth joined the scheme on 23 April.

In October 2001 we published a consultation document on measures to remove abandoned and untaxed vehicles from the streets more quickly and, for the longer term, bring forward changes to vehicle registration and licensing procedures to ensure greater accuracy of DVLA's vehicle record.

Primary powers have now been included in the Finance Bill for changes to the vehicle registration and licensing system, which will place a clear obligation on the last registered keeper to tax and licence a vehicle, and establish an automatic penalty for those who do not relicense on time. the full details of the scheme—including the levels of the automatic penalties and their operation—and the implementation date have yet to be decided.

Regulations to reduce the statutory notice periods after which local authorities can remove abandoned vehicles and the storage periods for unlicensed vehicles were laid before the House on 19 March and came into force on 9 April.

Kent Police piloted a "blitz" approach (Operation Cubit) on abandoned vehicles in the Medway area in co-operation with Kent county council, Medway council, DVLA and the Kent fire brigade for eight weeks in early 2001 and the Home Office has commissioned a detailed evaluation of the pilot which has been academically assessed and circulated to other stockholders for comments, including the Kent police and Kent county council. We hope to publish it in the near future.

Since the original pilot, similar operations have taken place and are shown in the table:

SwanleyJune 2001
DartfordOctober 2001
GravesendOctober 2001
MaidstoneJanuary 2002
SwaleJanuary 2002
HastingsFebruary 2002
BrightonFebruary 2002
LiverpoolMarch 2002

To date the operations have removed almost 3,000 abandoned unlicensed vehicles from the streets of Kent and Hastings.

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