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Fisheries

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the reliability of catch landing figures obtained by her Department is in determining fish stocks in British fishing waters; what her estimate is of the margin of error in estimations based on this information; what other information her Department uses to determine fish stocks; and what the estimated margins of error are using this information. [150305]

Mr. Bradshaw: Fish stock assessments are undertaken by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and are linked to the sea areas in which individual fish stocks are mainly found. They will often embrace the waters of more than one country as well as the high seas. Account is taken of data contributed by all of the main countries exploiting each stock and

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comprises officially recorded information on landings and fishing effort, plus scientific data on size and age structure, growth rate, maturity, and discard rates (when available). Most assessments also use the year to year trend in relative abundance estimated as catch per effort from independent national and international research vessel surveys. The absolute accuracy of assessments is difficult to estimate at the present time but judgments on the robustness of the underlying data will be reflected in the scientific advice provided regarding future levels of stock exploitation.

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the effect is of the removal of large cod from a fishery on the overall levels of recruitment to a fishery. [150480]

Mr. Bradshaw: Removing adult cod is expected to have relatively little effect on the survival or growth rates of juvenile cod, but could significantly affect the production of eggs.

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when the EU (a) Necessity and (b) Recovery research programme on selective gear is scheduled to start; what the cost of each project is; and what the United Kingdom contribution to each project is. [152170]

Mr. Bradshaw: The Necessity project begins on 1 March 2004 and is budgeted to cost Euro 2,806,946. The UK contribution is Euro 443,420. The Recovery project began on 1 November 2002 and was budgeted to cost Euro 7,725,285. The UK contribution is Euro 378,325.

Flooding

Mr. Michael Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will estimate how many properties have benefited from flood defence funding since 1997 broken down by constituency. [155087]

Mr. Morley: Defra grant aids capital projects and related studies that meet specified economic, technical and environmental criteria and achieve the threshold priority score for the year in which they start. Decisions regarding which flood and coastal defence projects to promote, their timing and appropriate solutions are matters for the operating authorities—the Environment Agency (EA), local authorities and (in areas with special drainage needs) internal drainage boards.

The Department estimates that 290,000 houses have benefited from flood defence projects (excluding those for flood warning or primarily to protect against coastal erosion) approved between 1 April 1997 and 31 March 2003. The programme is a rolling one and other houses will have benefited from projects approved prior to 1997 which will have been funded in the period. There is likely to be an element of double-counting in these figures where different projects (for example for annual beach recharge) have benefited the same houses. Such double-counting could not be removed, and neither could the total be broken down by constituency, without incurring disproportionate cost. The Department has agreed Service Delivery Agreement (SDA) Target 27 with HM Treasury to reduce flood risk to a further 80,000 houses (with no double-counting) during the

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Spending Review 2002 period—2003–04 to 2005–06. Because of the measurement method used for the SDA target (counting houses at project completion rather than approval) this figure will include some of the houses included in the 290,000 figure above.

Mr. Michael Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what flood defences were funded by her Department, broken down by constituency, since 1997. [155089]

Mr. Morley: Defra grant aids capital projects and related studies that meet specified economic, technical and environmental criteria and achieve the threshold priority score for the year in which they start. Decisions regarding which flood and coastal defence projects to promote, their timing and appropriate solutions are matters for the operating authorities—the Environment Agency (EA), local authorities and (in areas with special drainage needs) internal drainage boards.

The list which has been placed in the Libraries of the House, shows capital flood defence works projects (excluding those for flood warning or primarily to protect against coastal erosion) approved for grant since 1 April 1997. Of course the programme as a whole is a rolling one and some projects approved prior to 1997 will also have received funding in the period. I regret that I am unable to break the list down by constituency without incurring disproportionate cost.

Mr. Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps she is taking to protect houses that have been built on flood plains. [150380]

Mr. Morley: We recognise that there are around 1.9 million properties in England in flood risk areas that are at some risk of flooding.

Defra provides grant aid to the flood and coastal defence operating authorities to support their capital schemes to reduce flood risk, including through the improvement of flood warnings. These projects must meet specified criteria and an appropriate priority score to attract Defra funding but decisions regarding which projects to promote and their timing rest with these authorities. The principal operating authority for flood risk is the Environment Agency (EA) but local authorities (LAs) and, in areas with special drainage needs, internal drainage boards (IDBs) also carry out works on a much smaller scale overall.

The effective management of flood and coastal erosion risk is a priority for Government. This is demonstrated by the substantial increase in funding in recent years and for the SR2002 period. For example, total Government expenditure on flood and coastal defence was £310 million in 1996–97, £439 million estimated in 2003–04 and is planned to be £564 million in 2005–06.

Defra has two relevant SDA targets under SR 2002. One relates to the delivery of the enhanced flood and coastal defence capital programme over the SR2002 period, reducing the risk to life, to major infrastructure, environment assets and to some 80,000 houses. The other is to implement the outcomes of the flood and coastal defence funding review, including funding the Environment Agency's flood defence service through a

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single stream of Defra grant in aid and transferring to the Agency responsibility for all rivers creating the greatest flood risk.

In addition, Defra has initiated work on a major new Government strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk management, including consideration of possible new funding streams.

Fuel Poverty

Mr. Kidney: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the recommendations of the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group in its second annual report to increase resources for energy efficiency programmes by 50 per cent. [155873]

Mr. Morley: I am grateful to the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group for their report.

We are considering their report as we prepare our Fuel Poverty Implementation Plan and will respond to their recommendations in the Government's annual progress report on fuel poverty. We plan to publish both documents after the Easter recess.

Gangmasters

Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps she is taking to encourage employees to be proactive in preventing illegal working, as stated in paragraph 24 of her Department's response to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee's Fourteenth Report of Session 2002–03, HC 691, on gangmasters; and what data protection requirements inhibit her response to requests for assistance. [154662]

Alun Michael: Paragraph 24 of the Government's reply to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee's report on gangmasters actually refers to the role of employers, not employees. My reply assumes that this is the meaning intended in your question.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs is unlikely to be in a position to provide direct assistance to employers seeking advice on illegal working. However, My hon. Friend, the Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Counter Terrorism, chairs the Illegal Working Steering Group which comprises representatives of the commercial sectors where illegal work is most prevalent. The steering group has examined ways in which employers can be encouraged and supported in carrying out checks under section 8 of the Asylum and immigration Act 1996. Following discussions with the steering group the Government have consulted on measures to strengthen the document checks of prospective employees that employers must make under section 8. The Government are now planning to bring forward revised measures.

The Government are not aware of any circumstances where the Data Protection Act would inhibit the disclosure of data held by a Government Department or employers necessary for the prevention of illegal working or the apprehension of offenders.

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