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Written Answers to Questions

Wednesday 8 December 2004


Agriculture and Fisheries Council

Mr. Hood: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the outcome was of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 22 and 23 November; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if she will make a statement. [199752]

Margaret Beckett: My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I represented the United Kingdom at a meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 22 and 23 November 2004. The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Ministers with responsibility for agriculture and fisheries were also present.

The Council opened on the first day in office of the new Commission. The Council welcomed Commissioners Mariann Fischer-Boel, Markos Kyprianou and Joe Borg to their new posts.

The Presidency secured qualified majority support for a political agreement on a compromise text updating the current rules on the welfare of animals during transport. I supported the proposal, which contains significant improvements to the current rules, including a strengthening of the enforcement rules in Europe, stricter rules for journeys of more than eight hours and new rules for the transport of horses. The proposal also sets out a clear timetable for the review of the new rules together with a commitment to address the issue of journey times, space allowances and rest periods no later than four years after they have come into effect.

The Council had a lengthy exchange of views on reform in the sugar sector, based on the Commission's communication of July 2004. The Commission indicated that it would not make formal proposals until May or June next year when the result of the EU's appeal against a WTO panel ruling on the sugar regime had been received. The Commission would press for political agreement before the WTO Ministerial scheduled for Hong Kong in December 2005. A majority of member states were critical of the Commission's approach thus far and argued for minimal change, principally aimed at maintaining production in all those areas of the EU where it is currently found. I argued that the current regime was unsustainable and that reform was inescapable. The EU needed to honour its external obligations and I welcomed the Commission's commitment to bringing forward a draft action plan for assistance to the ACP countries by the end of the year.

In a brief discussion of the rural development and CAP financing proposals, there was general support for the rural development measures, although concerns were expressed on a number of specific issues such as the
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proposed structure for the new regulation and the treatment of less favoured areas. I stressed the importance of further transfers to Pillar 2 measures, the case for a more objective allocation of funds and the need for equitable treatment of the non-euro member states. Discussion will continue at official level.

The Presidency drew attention to its initiative for member states to co-operate on agricultural research in order to avoid duplication and to maximise value for money. I supported this initiative and expressed our readiness to co-operate with Luxembourg in taking it forward next year.

Under Other Business, Estonia described its problems relating to a Russian ban on imports of plant material, Spain called for collaboration with Morocco in the field of animal health, Germany asked the Commission to bring forward legislation on the marketing of seeds of plant varieties of conservation importance, and Slovakia requested funding under the natural disasters heading following gales in the High Tatras national park.

The Commission reported progress in the bilateral negotiations on a 2005 fisheries agreement with Norway. Good progress had been made in a first round of negotiations on 15–19 November, including provisional agreement on some of the more contentious issues. My hon. Friend and other member states congratulated the Commission on progress so far while underlining the importance of concluding the negotiations rapidly so that EU fishermen are able to fish in Norway waters from 1 January.

The Council had a first debate on the Commission's proposals for a European Fisheries Fund (to replace the existing fund for structural improvements in the fisheries sector from 2007). My hon. Friend made clear that the proposal from certain other member states that this should provide for subsidies for fleet renewal would mean going back on a key plank of the 2002 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and was not acceptable. Discussions will continue next year.

The Council reached agreement by qualified majority on a proposal to allocate quotas to deep sea species to certain new member states, based on a presidency compromise tabled at the meeting. Although the compromise went some way towards requests from the United Kingdom and others that new allocations should be on the same basis as allocation to the EU15, the UK abstained in the vote because the proposal had not cleared Parliamentary Scrutiny and because the Government have concerns about the management regime for deep sea species.

The Council held a discussion on management measures for fisheries in the Baltic Sea.

Countryside Access (Consultation)

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when she intends to publish the results of her consultation on four-wheel drive vehicles and access to the countryside on by-ways open to all traffic. [202061]

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Alun Michael: I intend to publish the response to the consultation on the "Use of mechanically propelled vehicles on rights of way" in January.

Departmental Expenditure

Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what budget has been set by her Department for (a) consumption of resources and (b) capital spending for (i) environmental protection, (ii) animal health and welfare, (iii) food, farming and fisheries, (iv) land use and rural affairs, (v) departmental operations, (vi) the Rural Payments Agency and (vii) other executive agencies for (A) 2005–06, (B) 2006–07 and (C) 2007–08. [202039]

Alun Michael: The 2004 departmental report (Cm 6219) shows financial breakdowns for departmental spending up to 2005–06. The information includes how budgets are allocated to deliver the department's functions and objectives. At present, final internal management decisions on budgets for 2006–07 and 2007–08 (plus revisions to 2005–06) are still being made. The next departmental report due to be published in spring 2005, will set out information on budgets up to 2007–08 and reflect any organisational changes which have been made over the last year.


Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 is expected to come fully into force. [199441]

Alun Michael: Since the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act received Royal Assent in July 2004, a Commencement Order has been laid before Parliament bringing into effect from 1 December 2004 those provisions in the Act which relate to the establishment of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. Consultation on the draft Gangmaster Licensing Authority Regulations has been completed and it is anticipated that the regulations will be presented to the House for consideration immediately after Christmas. If the House is content, it should be possible to legally establish the Licensing Authority by 1 April 2005.

Once established, the authority will need to develop and put in place licensing arrangements. This will include work to develop the conditions to be attached to a licence and the associated audit and compliance arrangements. We are working with stakeholders to ensure that the authority will be in a position to make early progress on these issues. We hope that the authority can start dealing with the first round of licence applications in 2005 with a view to completing the process of issuing first licences by mid 2006.

In the mean time, the Code of Practice launched recently by the Ethical Trading Initiative Temporary Labour Working Group, provides an important opportunity for the whole food chain to show its commitment to a reduction in worker exploitation while work on the introduction of the statutory licensing arrangements proceeds in parallel.
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Once the first round of licence applications have been dealt with we will bring the offence of operating as a gangmaster without a licence into effect. At this stage all gangmasters will need to be licensed.

Land Reform

Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans she has for reform of land ownership in England. [202060]

Alun Michael: None.

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