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Meat Imports

Adam Price: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the estimated tonnage of illegal meat imported into the UK was in each of the last three years. [118023]

Mr. Morley: The Veterinary Laboratories Agency published a risk assessment report on 25 March 2003. This estimated the amount of illegal meat imported annually, on average, to be 7,500 tonnes, with 90 per cent. certainty that the amount of illegal meat imported will range from 2,800 tonnes to 17,500 tonnes per year.

Copies of the report have been placed in the House Libraries.

Local Food Chains

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what help is available to those organisations which wish to develop local food chains. [116439]

Mr. Morley: We recognise the benefits that local food can bring and are keen to encourage the development of sustainable local food chains. Funding under the England Rural Development Programme has been used to support a range of local food chain related initiatives, including the establishment of farmers' markets and other direct sales outlets, the development of local branding initiatives and the formation of collaborative groups to market produce. We will continue to deploy our various funding schemes to encourage a flourishing local food sector. This activity will complement the measures at a regional level which the Regional Development Agencies will be implementing as part of their wider food and drink strategies.

Local Produce

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will introduce (a) rate relief and (b) other incentives to stores supplying local produce. [116349]

Mr. Morley: The information is as follows:

(a) There are reasons of both principle and of practical effect which argue against this recommendation. Non-domestic rates are designed to raise revenue for the Exchequer. Ratepayers pay rates that reflect the rental value of the property regardless of

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the activity that takes place within that property. Rates are not there to encourage or discourage particular types of behaviour or investment. There are innumerable worthy causes that the rates system could support by granting relief and this would introduce complexity to a system that aims to be fair and equitable. There are, however, other options, which may be more effective. The Local Government Bill will introduce a new scheme of rate relief for small businesses. Many small retailers supplying local produce could benefit under this scheme.

(b) There is growing consumer interest in local food. Many retailers have responded to this and have adopted local sourcing policies. We welcome this and want to encourage more local sourcing. We have recently financed a series of workshops organised by the Institute of Grocery Distribution, designed to bring together supermarkets and small local producers to explore how barriers to local sourcing may be overcome. In addition to this, we have just announced an extra £3 million over the next three years for Food from Britain to undertake a series of measures encouraging retailers to source more quality regional food and consumers to buy it.

Marine Resources

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether she was consulted by (a) the EU constitutional convention and (b) the UK representative on the convention about the provision in the draft constitution giving EU exclusive competence over the marine resources of the sea; and what representations she (i) has made and (ii) will be making on this issue. [117723]

Mr. Morley: The line taken on this matter by the United Kingdom reflects this Department's views.

Milk Quotas

Mr. Cameron: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans have been put in place to ensure that unused UK milk quota is redistributed to UK farmers after 31 March 2004; and if she will make a statement. [117147]

Mr. Morley: As a result of the Thomsen European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgment, quota holders who are no longer in active milk production will, by 31 March 2004, have to sell their milk quota, resume production, or otherwise have their quota confiscated. We anticipate that the vast majority will either sell their quota or resume production. Where quota is confiscated, under the current UK legislation the quota holder has six years in which to resume production (and thus have the quota restored to him or her) before the quota is definitively taken into the national reserve of quota, and therefore potentially available for redistribution. Under the current CAP reform proposals, this period would be reduced to two years. We would propose to consult relevant trade organisations on the basis for redistributing quota confiscated as a result of the Thomsen ECJ case, if significant amounts of quota were confiscated, and thus potentially available for redistribution.

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Shellhaven Scheme

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the impact of the Shellhaven Pact proposals in the Thames Estuary on (a) ground water levels in the Castle Point constituency and (b) the fishing industry in that area. [117994]

Mr. Morley: The Environment Agency has a duty to secure the proper use of water resources in England and Wales. The Agency advises me that the main water bearing aquifer in the area is chalk which, because it is hydraulically isolated from the surface by being deeply buried beneath London clay, will not be affected by the Shellhaven proposal.

The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), an Executive Agency of Defra, provides expert scientific advice on marine and freshwater issues. It has contributed to the current public inquiry into the Shellhaven scheme given the international importance of the Thames Estuary as an area for sole spawning and juvenile sole. CEFAS has recommended that further survey work be carried out and assessment made of whether seasonal restrictions on dredging may be necessary to mitigate any adverse impact.

OSPAR Commission

Mr. McGrady: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what action will be taken to ensure that the Government meet the commitments of the OSPAR Commission proposals of July 1998 in advance of the meeting in Bremen in June 2003. [116119]

Mr. Meacher: In 1998, OSPAR agreed strategies on hazardous substances, eutrophication, radioactive substances, biodiversity, and assessment and monitoring. A strategy for offshore oil and gas was agreed the following year. These strategies set long term goals—in some cases, looking a generation ahead (i.e. 2020).

The strategy with regard to hazardous substances sets the objective of preventing pollution of the maritime area by continuously reducing discharges, emissions and losses of hazardous substances, with the ultimate aim of achieving concentrations in the marine environment near background values for naturally occurring substances and close to zero for man-made synthetic substances. The UK has worked with other OSPAR contracting parties, including the European Commission, to update and prioritise a list of substances that cause concern for the marine environment and to identify the most appropriate additional action to achieve the objective.

The objective of the strategy to combat eutrophication is to seek to achieve and maintain a healthy marine environment where eutrophication does not occur by the year 2010. A key milestone to this is the assessment of the current eutrophication status of the various parts of the OSPAR maritime area. In this assessment the UK identified 16 marine areas of concern. These are being addressed by action under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and the Nitrates Directive.

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The strategy with regard to radioactive substances requires the OSPAR Commission, by the year 2020, to ensure that discharges of radioactive substances are reduced to levels where the additional concentrations in the marine environment above historic levels, resulting from such discharges, are close to zero. In July 2002, the Government published a strategy showing how the United Kingdom will contribute to the achievement of the 2020 target.

OSPAR's biodiversity strategy aims to protect and conserve ecosystems and marine biological diversity. Annex V was brought into force on 30 August 2000. Since then, the UK has prepared for the forthcoming meeting in Bremen by helping to develop a criteria for identifying threatened and declining species, developing guidelines on the identification and management of marine protected areas, developing guidance on the construction and operation of offshore wind farms, developing an agreement on sand and gravel extraction, and the development of proposed ecological quality objectives which will be piloted in the North sea.

The strategy for oil and gas addresses the effects of offshore activity through the setting of environmental goals and the establishment of management mechanisms to achieve them. Good progress has been made, in particular with controls on chemicals being agreed and an ambitious goal being set to reduce discharges of produced water. A goal of all operators having internationally recognised environmental management systems in place by the end of 2005 has also been developed and is expected to be adopted at the meeting later this month.

In respect of assessment and monitoring, the forthcoming meeting will invite Ministers to endorse a new OSPAR strategy known as the Joint Assessment and Monitoring Programme (JAMP). This provides the framework for OSPAR's work in this area, both in support of other OSPAR strategies and to facilitate the production in 2010 of a Quality Status Report for the OSPAR maritime area.

Overall the UK has been implementing the plans and measures set out above in accordance with these strategies, and the milestones contained within them, and has met its commitments to date.

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