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Disabilities

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many of the staff employed by her Department have a declared disability. [205553]

Alun Michael: The Cabinet Office collects and publishes annually statistical information on the civil service by Department. These include data on the number of staff who have a declared disability.
 
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The latest available information at April 2004 is available in the Library and on the civil service website at: http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/management information/statistical information/statistics/publications/xls/disability apr04 4nov04.xls

Exercise Hornbeam

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the effectiveness of Exercise Hornbeam on foot and mouth control measures; and what plans she has to respond to the Royal Society's update report on those measures. [208266]

Mr. Bradshaw: Exercise Hornbeam confirmed that the Government's contingency plan for another foot and mouth disease outbreak is robust and that considerable progress has been made in emergency preparedness since 2001. The contingency plan ensures that the Government will be able to mount a more rapid, efficient and co-ordinated response to an outbreak by working closely with operational partners such as local authorities and the police.

All exercises identify issues that need clarifying and addressing and Exercise Hornbeam was no exception. The Government are not complacent and the exercise has helped to identify the areas where we need to focus efforts further to improve procedures and to fine tune policies and strategies for all stages of an outbreak.

Defra will be providing a detailed response to the Royal Society Infectious Diseases in Livestock Follow-Up Review later this month.

Fisheries

Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will (a) urge the European Commission to reduce catches permitted to EU fleets fishing in African national waters to levels which do not undermine sustainable fishing for the local fishermen and (b) request an independent study of the effect of EU fishing on the local fishermen, catches, employment and diet in the states which are leased for fishing rights by the EU. [207807]

Mr. Bradshaw: The UK consistently argues that fishing opportunities granted to the community fleet in the waters of third countries be set at sustainable levels and are coherent with development policy.
 
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The council conclusions on third country partnership agreements, adopted in July 2004, require the status of fish stocks to be assessed before fisheries agreements are concluded or renewed. They also specify that the coastal state's priorities be taken into account as part of this assessment, in the context of development co-operation and scientific and technical co-operation.

Imported Meat

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the risks of importing disease via illegally imported meat. [205980]

Mr. Bradshaw: Illegally imported meat has not been subject to the normal food safety checks associated with legally imported meat. Thus there is a risk that it may contain human pathogens, including pathogens not normally found in the UK. On 19 July, Defra published the updated report on the risk assessment undertaken by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) (the original was published on 6 March 2003). Copies of both reports have been placed in House Libraries.

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether seized meat imports are tested for disease. [205983]

Mr. Bradshaw: No. Illegal imports of meat are normally destroyed without undue delay, though if the seizure was made solely because the importer failed to comply with the pre-notification requirements of Products of Animal Origin Regulations 2004, Customs may agree, after consultation with Port Health Authorities, to the product being re-exported.

The Government have considered the feasibility of testing samples taken from seized illegally imported products of animal origin for a range of animal diseases. It concluded that the endemic nature of these diseases in many countries around the world results in a low but continuous risk of infected meat reaching the country through illegal routes. This means that all such seizures are treated as a potential animal and human health risk and destroyed, as soon as possible, by incineration. The risk of disease relates to the possibility that infectious material in illegal imports may be consumed by animals. Very small amounts of infectious material may cause disease and are likely to be only a small proportion of any illegal imports. There is thus very little chance of finding infected material by testing samples. Similar considerations apply with regard to the testing of samples for human pathogens.

Invoice Payments

Michael Fabricant: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the average length of time was between the date of invoices issued to her Department from a supplier and payment by the Department of the invoice in the last 12 months for which figures are available; what percentage of these invoices were paid within 30 days of the date of issue of the invoice; what percentage of these invoices remained unpaid after 90 days; and if she will make a statement on the Department's policy on the payment of invoices issued to it. [200619]


 
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Alun Michael: Defra's standard contractual payment terms are for goods and services payments to be made within 30 days of receipt of either goods or services, or a valid invoice, whichever is the later.

For the period 01 April 2003—31 March 2004 the total number of payments made was 104,185. Of this the number of payments paid by the due date was 97,164. The percentage of those invoices paid within 30 days of receipt of a valid invoice was 93.26 per cent. The percentage of those invoices that remained unpaid after 90 days is 0.69 per cent.

Parliamentary Questions

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what target her Department sets for the maximum acceptable time to respond in full to a parliamentary question; and what percentage of answers given by her Department failed to meet this target in each parliamentary Session from 1997–98 to 2003–04. [202562]

Alun Michael: Defra was created in June 2001 and inherited a poor performance culture in terms of responses to both parliamentary questions and correspondence.

In the parliamentary Session 2003–04, we answered 67.7 per cent. of our ordinary written PQs within five working days, and answered 17.2 per cent. of named day PQs on time. Records for earlier parliamentary Sessions were not maintained in such a way to enable the Department to extract the information requested without incurring disproportionate costs.

We aim to give Members a substantive response to any named day question on the named day and to answer ordinary written questions within a working week of them being tabled. This is not always possible, but Ministers are keen to hold the Department to these levels of performance in general.

Right to Roam

Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many successful appeals there have been against the preliminary mapping of areas for access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000; and if she will make a statement. [207853]

Alun Michael: The Planning Inspectorate in England had issued 2,442 mapping appeal decisions as of 11 January 2005. The appellant was successful either in full or in part in 1,765 of these appeals.

Scrapie

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on latest research on scrapie and possible links to BSE in sheep. [205499]

Mr. Bradshaw: Research in recent years has shown that most PrP genotypes of sheep can be experimentally infected with BSE when they are directly challenged in the brain. The results from experimental challenges of
 
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similar sheep with large doses of BSE orally indicate that the PrP genotypes that show resistance to scrapie are also resistant to BSE.

Scrapie surveillance using EU recommended tests in UK slaughter sheep and fallen stock have not shown evidence of BSE. These tests have identified forms of scrapie that were not previously recognised in a small number of sheep. Further work is being done on these newly identified forms, and the evidence to date indicates that they do not have the same signature as BSE.


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