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19 Jan 2004 : Column 1011W—continued

US Ships (Decommissioning)

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport pursuant to his answer of 5 January 2004, Official Report, column 56W on US Ships (Decommissioning), who carried out the routing plans and initial risk assessment for the return of the US ships under tow; what the earliest date the risk assessment determined the ships could safely make a return journey was; and if he will place the (a) risk assessment and (b) routing plans in the Library. [148618]

Mr. Jamieson: The UK took the view that it could be unsafe to return the ships to the US immediately, given the likely winter weather in the Atlantic and the need for a high degree of confidence of fair weather for the duration of the tow. It concluded that a return passage could not be contemplated before the spring. Passages both to the north and south of the United Kingdom have been considered in relation to notional routes which respect

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mandatory maritime traffic schemes and advising guidance. As weather windows become available in the spring, routing options will be subject to more detailed assessment, once application is made, and copies of such assessments will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS

International Trade

Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pursuant to her answer of 9 December, Official Report, column 449W, on international trade, if she will make a statement on the impact of the Commons Agricultural Policy on the competitiveness of products from developing countries. [144808]

Mr. Bradshaw: The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) supports farmers' incomes via a number of methods—direct payments, export subsidies, intervention buying and tariffs—which ensure that EU farmers receive higher prices for their goods. These measures increase the level of production and therefore result in lower imports and / or higher exports than would otherwise be the case. This can have the effect of depressing world prices for certain commodities. Developing country producers who would otherwise be competitive on world markets may find themselves unable to compete. This could distort the allocation of resources in a particular country away from those in which it has a comparative advantage towards less competitive sectors.

The CAP reforms agreed in June 2003 will help to break the link between income support and production in the EU and will reconnect farmers to their markets. Production occurring as a result of loss-making activities should cease as farmers decisions are increasingly determined by market forces rather than subsidies. This production response will reduce EU production and net exports and, where this results in a higher world price, it should have a beneficial impact on developing country producers.

Further reform of the domestic support regime is necessary and the Commission have recently produced proposals for reform covering the cotton, tobacco, olive oil and hops sectors and proposals for reform of the sugar regime are expected next year.

Beef Imports

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what restrictions she has placed on imports of beef into the UK from the USA following the recent BSE case there; and what discussions she has had with her EU counterparts on achieving a common approach to policy. [148306]

Mr. Bradshaw [holding answer 15 January 2004]: Animal and public health in the UK are protected from BSE from third countries by existing EU import rules. These rules require any third country exporting meat or live animals into the Community to have in place controls equivalent to those in the EU. These controls are supported by a requirement for veterinary certification in relation to individual meat consignments.

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Imports of beef and beef products are permitted only if EU rules requiring the removal of specified risk material (SRM—eg skull, tonsils, spinal cord, intestine) and methods of slaughter are met.

A recent meeting of the EU's Chief Veterinary Officers was informed that the European Commission were following up the implications of the recent BSE case with the US authorities. The Chief Veterinary Officers supported the Commission in taking this approach. An EU technical visit to the US is being arranged to evaluate the position.

Dairy Farming

Sir Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many dairy farms were in operation in each of the last 20 years for which figures are available. [148695]

Alun Michael: The following figures show holdings in England where dairy is the predominant activity.

Dairy holdings
198330,361
198429,912
198528,300
198627,583
198726,138
198824,767
198923,849
199022,793
199122,701
199221,712
199318,771
199420,579
199519,632
199618,904
199718,007
199817,014
199916,313
200015,219
200114,106
200214,342

Note:

Figures prior to 2000 show main holdings only. From 2000 onwards minor holdings are included.

Source:

June Agricultural Census


Departmental Lawyers

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many lawyers her Department employs. [148921]

Alun Michael: Defra currently employs 89 lawyers, plus 2 legal trainees.

EU Regulations (Fruit)

Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for what reasons the Department initiated proceedings against the Asda company in respect of the EU horticultural regulations relating to the size and shape of items of fruit; and what the costs involved were. [147012]

Alun Michael [holding answer 13 January 2004]: The Department instituted proceedings against Asda at South Hampshire Magistrates Court in respect of 14

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breaches of EU marketing standards identified during an inspection at the company's Fareham store on 1 November 2000. None of the alleged breaches relate to the size or shape of produce. The allegations relate to the retail of poor quality produce and failure to label with the correct quality class or country of origin.

The defendant argued in the courts that the offences with which it was charged were not known to law because the UK legislation establishing them was defective. These arguments were rejected by the House of Lords, which awarded Defra the costs of its appeals in the Divisional Court and the House of Lords. The quantum of these costs has not yet been determined.

The matters have been remitted to the magistrates court for trial. The costs of the case in the magistrates court will be decided at its conclusion as is usual practice.

Fisheries

Dr. Jack Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the impact of the decisions of the December 2003 EU Fisheries Council on (a) fishing in the Irish Sea, (b) fish landings in Whitehaven and (c) policy on designated ports; and if she will make a statement. [147448]

Mr. Bradshaw [holding answer 15 January 2004]: We agreed a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for Irish Sea cod of 2,150 tonnes (a 10 per cent. increase on the 2003 TAC that in fact represents a reduction in fishing effort). We agreed 20 per cent. cuts in the associated plaice and sole TACs, as opposed to the 47 per cent. and 34 per cent. cuts proposed by the Commission. A threefold increase in the haddock TAC will help to balance cuts, and a minimal cut in the nephrops TAC allows current catch levels to be maintained.

Landings in Whitehaven, mainly demersal species and shellfish from both UK and Irish vessels, are likely to reflect the above TAC changes.

The designated port arrangements for the United Kingdom will not be affected except that landings of North Sea haddock taken under the special conditions set out in Annex IV of Council Regulation 2287/2003 will be restricted to designated ports in Scotland and on the east coast of England.

Food Exporters

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the announcement by the Rural Payments Agency that it is to end export refunds immediately to exporters of processed foods to the new EU entrant states. [147050]

Alun Michael: The Rural Payments Agency recently issued advice to traders on the transitional arrangements for the payment of refunds on goods exported to the new European Union (EU) entrant states.

From 1 May 2004, when the ten acceding states become full members of the EU, refund payments will cease. Among the accessionary arrangements designed to minimise the impact of these changes, some entrant states and the EU entered into a number of 'double

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benefit' agreements. Under these arrangements, export refunds are not paid in return for a reciprocal waiving of import duty in the importing country for certain exports of agricultural products. A number of these arrangements affect processed foods exports. In addition the Commission has identified possible problems in relation to speculation in the sugar sector and potential stock piling of community exports in acceding member states. To counter this sugar export refunds have been withdrawn with effect from 28 November 2003.


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