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Pet Pigs

Mr. Steen: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on licences for walking pet pigs; and what plans she has to bring forward legislation on such licences. [143223]

Mr. Bradshaw: Pigs spread pig diseases rapidly. In order to track movements and reduce the potential for disease, pet pig walking licenses were introduced in 1995. The first legislation to require these licenses was the Pigs (Records, Identification and Movement) Order 1995. The Pigs (Records, Identification and Movement) Order 2003 continues to require these licences to be issued by the local Divisional Veterinary Manager.

Mr. Steen: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate she has made of the number of pet pig walking licences issued; what the cost has been of issuing licences; and what plans she has to require the issue of licences for walking pet sheep. [143224]

Mr. Bradshaw: Pet pig walking licences are issued as routine work by Defra Local Animal Health Divisional Offices. They allow Defra to minimise the risk of disease spreading from pet pigs to commercial herds. No central record is maintained. To obtain details of the licences issued would result in disproportionate costs.

There are no plans to introduce legislation to require pet sheep walking licences.

Pharmaceutical Crops

Gregory Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what representations she has received about proposals to test pharmaceutical crops in the UK. [138806]

Mr. Morley: We have received no such representations. Commercial testing of crops for pharmaceutical use is a matter for the industry. The relevant statutory safeguards would need to be complied with, for example in the cultivation of hemp and other similar crops for authorised purposes. There have been no proposals to release GM crops modified for the production of pharmaceutically active components.

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Regulations (Consultation)

Brian Cotter: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what proportion of regulations introduced by the Department have been subject to a consultation period of less than 12 weeks since the introduction of the Code of Practice on Consultations. [142490]

Alun Michael: The Cabinet Office Code of Practice on Written Consultation came into effect on 1 January 2001. In the period 1 January 2001 to 31 December 2002 Defra has published 141 consultations under the Code, of which 87 lasted for less than 12 weeks.

Wood for Good Campaign

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether she plans to continue with funding of the Wood for Good campaign beyond the end of 2003; and if she will make a statement. [142228]

Mr. Bradshaw: The Forestry Commission is planning to continue to support the wood for good campaign in 2004 through its funding partnership with UK and Nordic producers.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Big Conversation

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what visits (a) he and (b) Ministers in his Department (i) have made and (ii) plan to make using public funds in connection with the Big Conversation; how many civil servants accompanied each Minister in respect of such visits; what the cost to public funds was of visits by (A) each Minister and (B) civil servants in connection with the Big Conversation; and if he will make a statement. [143155]

Mr. Paul Murphy: I refer the hon. Member to the answer provided by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on 9 December 2003, Official Report, Vol. 415, column 355W.

Human Rights

Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (1) if he will list the amendments made to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Action Plan as a result of proposals made by his staff; [141856]

Mr. Paul Murphy: My officials met the Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission on 6 October and offered some general suggestions, in line with the Commission's independence, about ways in which the Commission might wish to consider strengthening the Action Plan in relation to

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communications, strategy and organisation. No particular amendments were requested either in discussion or by e-mail, since it was understood that the Action Plan would be the Commission's alone.

Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what provisions of the Paris Principles govern relations between his officials and members of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. [141858]

Mr. Paul Murphy: The Northern Ireland Act 1998 governs relations between the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. Nonetheless the Government believes relations between the two organisations are in line with the provisions of the Paris Principles.

Prison Officers

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what meetings he has had with the Northern Ireland Prison Officers Association in relation to recent strike action by prison officers in Northern Ireland. [142669]

Mr. Paul Murphy: The lead in the matter of the strike action had been taken by the Minister of State, who had several meetings with the Prison Officers Association. I have been kept fully informed of events but have not been directly involved in meetings with the union representatives.

Saintfield Yarns

Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assistance is being given to the former employees of Saintfield Yarns by government agencies to access (a) re-training and employment opportunities and (b) redundancy and benefits payments before the Christmas period. [142697]

Mr. Pearson: Following notification of closure at Saintfield Yarns, the Department for Employment and Learning's Ballynahinch JobCentre offered to the company its job brokerage service and a full range of advisory services relating to training opportunities, redundancy payments and benefit entitlement. This took place over two days on the employer's premises and approximately 100 employees availed of the service. Representatives of the Social Security Agency, Invest NI, Enterprise Ulster, and local training organisations were also involved.

In addition, representatives from Marks and Spencer and Antrim Carpets were available to discuss job opportunities and to distribute application forms.

The Department has received 168 applications for Redundancy and Insolvency payments from former employees. These claims are being verified and processed and all eligible applicants are likely to receive a redundancy payment before Christmas. It is also anticipated that all claims for benefit will be processed within the same timescale.

JobCentre staff are providing continuing support to all who require it.