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Written Answers to Questions

Monday 20 May 2002

ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS

US Farm Subsidies

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what representations she has made to the US Government concerning proposals to increase subsidies to US farmers; and if she will make a statement. [56622]

Margaret Beckett [holding answer 15 May 2002]: I have taken several opportunities, most recently during my visit to Washington in April this year, to express my concern at the increase in subsidies for which the new US Farm Bill provides. I have made clear that the Bill runs counter to our shared goal of reducing worldwide subsidies in the World Trade Organisation.

Fishery Limits

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what measures she is taking to ensure the continuation of the six and 12 mile fishing limits after 31 December. [55485]

Margaret Beckett [holding answer 10 May 2002]: A decision on the six and 12 mile limits is part of the forthcoming CFP review. Previous discussions in the Council of Ministers have revealed a very strong consensus among member states in favour of renewing the present provisions; the Commission is also known to support them. My Department will be making every effort to get the limits made permanent.

Waste

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what proportion of household waste in the last 12 months, comprised plastic bags. [55484]

Margaret Beckett [holding answer 10 May 2002]: My Department has no data on the proportion by volume of plastic bags within household waste. "Waste Strategy 2000" (Part 2, p191) shows estimates of around 6 per cent. dense plastic and 5 per cent. film plastic by weight in household waste. A further national survey to update these figures is planned by the Environment Agency.

The Municipal Waste Management Survey shows that recycling of household waste plastics increased to 13,000 tonnes in 1999–2000, compared to 8,000 tonnes for the previous year.

Correspondence

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many letters from hon. Members are awaiting a response from her Department; and how many responses are due to

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letters dated more than (a) two weeks, (b) one month, (c) two months, (d) three months and (e) more than three months ago. [42963]

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what her most recent estimate is of how many letters have yet to be sent a substantive response by her Department that were received (a) under four weeks ago, (b) between four to six weeks ago, (c) between six weeks and two months ago and (d) over two months ago; and if she will make a statement. [51474]

Margaret Beckett [holding answers 13 March and 22 April 2002]: The total number of letters from hon. and right hon. Members awaiting a response as at 15 May 2002 stood at 2,125. Of these, 1,699 responses are due to letters dated more than two calendar weeks, 1,295 to letters dated more than one calendar month, 886 to letters dated more than two calendar months and 612 to letters dated more than three calendar months.

On average, DEFRA receives around 1,160 letters from hon. and right hon. Members each month. The Department's service target is 15 working days from date of receipt. Performance was severely affected last year by the impact of foot and mouth disease, and by IT and other convergence issues following the creation of DEFRA. However, the median response time for all letters is now 15 working days, with 53 per cent. of letters meeting the target. Measures are in place to secure further improvements in the weeks ahead.

Scrapie

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what practical difficulties have been encountered by her Department's officials in administering boluses to Shetland sheep during testing for scrapie; and if she will make a statement. [56040]

Margaret Beckett [holding answer 13 May 2002]: A total of 1,315 Shetland sheep have been electronically tagged using a ruminal bolus as part of the genotype testing programme under the National Scrapie Plan. Occasional difficulties have arisen in administering these boluses, and five casualties have arisen in three separate flocks of Shetland sheep. Full compensation is paid to the flock owner for any casualty arising as a result of this procedure.

Timber

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions she has had with the Department for International Development regarding the procurement of sustainable timber for Government premises; and if she will make a statement. [56043]

Margaret Beckett [holding answer 13 May 2002]: My Department works closely with the Department for International Development on all matters of common interest to do with forest management and illegal logging including the Government's efforts to purchase its timber and timber products from sustainable sources. Officials from both Departments are members of the Whitehall Forestry Group that addresses international issues and of the Interdepartmental Working Group on Timber

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Procurement that is monitoring implementation of the timber procurement policy. These same officials are part of the steering group that has commissioned research into the Government's timber purchasing activities and will help supervise the action to be taken following publication of the consultant's report later this summer.

Sustainable Technologies

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what consultation has been undertaken, and with whom, over the content of Statutory Instrument 843 on TSEs. [56039]

Margaret Beckett [holding answer 13 May 2002]: My Department consulted more than 700 key stakeholders on draft proposals for the TSE (England) Regulations 2002, representing renderers, slaughterhouses, farmers, knackers, hunt kennels, veterinary, consumer and medical interests and enforcement authorities. That is, the people who are actually affected or need to know. The consultation package was distributed in February 2002. It was posted on the Department's website and a copy placed in the Library of the House. It included a Regulatory Impact Assessment. Parallel legislation is being introduced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with additional and broadly equivalent consultation there.

These Regulations implement current Community legislation on TSEs as set out in Council Regulation (EC) No. 999/2001. My Department twice consulted on the Community measures, giving fair warning of likely new arrangements. First, in January 1999 and again in November 2000. Community measures in relation to animal feeding were implemented under the Processed Animal Protein (England) Regulations 2001, introduced last August; there was a separate consultation exercise specifically for this legislation.

Ozone Depletion

Mr. Brady: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment her Department had made of the viability of non-ozone depleting drop-in refrigerants. [48075]

Mr. Meacher [holding answer 10 April 2002]: I am aware that in certain applications there are drop-in replacements for CFCs and HCFCs. One example is in mobile air-conditioning where HFC-134a is a drop-in replacement for CFC-12, although it should be noted that HFC-134a is also a powerful greenhouse gas with a 100-year Global Warming Potential 1,300 times the warming potential of Carbon Dioxide. There are, however, many other applications where a drop-in replacement is not feasible and the only alternative would either involve costly technical alternations to the refrigeration equipment or replacement of the equipment.

Rio Earth Summit

Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps her Department (a) has taken and (b) plans to take to strengthen the implementation of (i) the Rio Declaration, (ii) Agenda 21 and (iii) other commitments made at (A) Rio in 1992 and (B) the United Nations General Assembly Special Section in 1997. [44350]

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Mr. Meacher: On question (a), the UK's sustainable development strategy, "A Better Quality of Life" (1999), sets out the many steps that DEFRA and its predecessors have taken to implement the various Rio agreements and the outcome of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session in 1997. The Department has led the world on the elaboration of sustainable development indicators to assess progress. The Government's first annual review of progress towards sustainable development, "Achieving a Better Quality of Life", was published in January 2001. This is available at www.sustainable-development.gov.uk. We have ratified the conventions on Biodiversity, Climate Change and Desertification, which were products of the Rio process, and we have made particular efforts in the promotion of Local Agenda 21.

Our future plans, (b), include the publication of a DEFRA sustainable development strategy and implementation of the recently published fuel poverty strategy and waste strategy. We are also implementing the outcomes on fisheries quotas from the December 2001 Fisheries Council, and the recommendations of the Independent Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food. DEFRA's formation itself underlines the Government's commitment to delivering a more sustainable development focused agenda on food, farming and rural communities. "Working for the Essentials of Life", published in March, sets out DEFRA's plans for the future.

Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what her Department's priorities are for the Rio+10 Summit in Johannesburg towards the objectives of (a) poverty eradication and (b) sustainable production and consumption for the UK; and what the priorities of the European Group are. [44426]

Mr. Meacher: Poverty eradication through sustainable development will be a top priority for the UK at the summit. We are keen to ensure that WSSD outcomes should assist progress towards achieving the millennium development goals (MDGs). Actions on poverty and effective management of natural resources are often mutually reinforcing.

De-coupling economic growth from environmental degradation will be central to achieving sustainable production and consumption patterns in both the north and the south, though developed countries have to take the lead. Resource productivity is a concept which underpins actions in particular sectors, such as switching from heavily polluting fossil fuels to cleaner fossil fuels and other low carbon fuel sources, changing demand patterns in favour of environmentally sustainable products and production processes by, for example, raising consumer awareness and promoting certification initiatives and supporting innovation to develop more sustainable technologies.

The priorities of the European Union are currently under discussion and will develop as the agenda becomes more firm.


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