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31 Jan 2005 : Column 572W—continued


Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development (1) what his strategy is for assisting the Zimbabwean veterans who served in the Second World War for pre-Zimbabwe organisations and their widows; and if he will make a statement; [210983]

(2) what recent meetings he has held with (a) ZANE and (b) others concerning service veterans, and their widows, living in Zimbabwe. [210984]

Mr. Mullin: I have been asked to reply.

Our Consul in Harare provides advice and assistance to British citizens in Zimbabwe including veterans and their widows. He recently met representatives of Zimbabwe A National Emergency (ZANE) to discuss the situation facing veterans in Zimbabwe. We sympathise with the suffering of veterans and widows who are Zimbabwean citizens. But it is incumbent on the Government of Zimbabwe to provide for their welfare. We continue to press the Government of Zimbabwe to provide for the welfare of its citizens.


Agricultural Mid-term Review

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when she will make an announcement on the conclusions of the mid-term review with reference to (a) permanent pasture, (b) the 10-month rule, (c) entry and higher level agri-environment schemes and (d) three metre margins. [211077]

Alun Michael: All the main policy decisions on the single payment scheme have now been announced. In support of this, six scheme brochures containing details about the scheme have been published. Furthermore, a detailed explanatory booklet of all the relevant scheme rules is currently being prepared and will be discussed with stakeholders during its development.

Following Commission approval of proposals on a new Environmental Stewardship Scheme, officials are currently preparing a statutory instrument to lay before the House. The intention is to distribute an information leaflet to all farmers with holdings of over 10 hectares during February with a view to launching the scheme in March.

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

Mr. Connarty: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the outcome was of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 24 January; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if she will make a statement. [211477]

Margaret Beckett: I represented the United Kingdom at a meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 24 January 2005.

It being the first Council of their Presidency, Luxembourg presented their work programme for the next six months. Among their top priorities would be to reach agreement on the new Rural Development Regulation and to progress work on reform of the sugar
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regime. They also hoped to take forward work on rice, wine, tobacco, bananas, potato starch, organic farming, risk management for agriculture, international forestry and timber imports, avian influenza, aquatic animal diseases, chicken welfare, control of TSEs, potato nematode disease, Mediterranean fisheries and the EU Fisheries Fund.

The Commission set out its plans for assisting the reconstruction of the fisheries industry in those countries affected by the tsunami and for the co-ordination of EU and member state initiatives in this sector. This would include Council legislation enabling decommissioned EU fishing vessels to be sent to the affected countries. I expressed support for the Commission approach, explained what action Britain had been taking and urged the Commission to speed up the adoption of the new Generalised System of Preferences scheme and to improve the rules of origin to help the affected countries export to the EU more effectively.

Under any other business, Latvia and Sweden requested Community financial support following storms at the beginning of the month which had caused extensive damage to the forestry and agriculture sectors. Estonia, Lithuania and Denmark said they might also seek funding. The Commission would examine actions to help through EU programmes.

Austria and Greece, supported by a number of other member states, called for assistance in exporting cereal and maize surpluses where bumper crops had led to storage problems and low prices. The Commission drew attention to action already taken on exports but would consider further intervention action.

In response to a request from Poland, the Commission said it would keep up the pressure on Russia to speed up its inspection of EU export establishments for animal products in order to enable trade to re-start. It would also address problems created by Russia's insistence that export certification for plant and animal products be done at EU not member state level.

After the Council, I attended a presentation by ministers from African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and Least Developed Countries on the impacts of EU sugar reform for their economies. The meeting was attended by the three Commissioners with responsibility for agriculture, trade and development who drew attention to their work on an action plan to address the potential negative impact of reform on those developing countries which currently enjoyed preferential access to the EU market. None of the member states intervened.

Agriculture, Environment and Biotechnology Commission

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when the Agriculture, Environment and Biotechnology Commission will be disbanded; and what regulatory and other powers will be moved to which other organisations. [211046]

Mr. Morley: The recommendations made in the report on the Organisational and Performance Review of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC) are currently being considered by Defra, the Office of Science and Technology, the Scottish Executive, the National Assembly for Wales
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and, in Northern Ireland, the Department of Environment and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. No final decisions have yet been made, although the Commission has agreed to complete its current work programme in April 2005.

The AEBC has no regulatory or other powers. Its remit has been to provide the UK Government and Devolved Administrations with independent strategic advice on developments in biotechnology and their implications for agriculture and the environment.


Mr. Salmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether she has given consideration to banning imports of bees to the UK (a) generally and (b) from countries with an identified problem with small hive beetle; and if she will make a statement. [210627]

Alun Michael: A total ban on imports of bees wouldbe inconsistent with our obligations under the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. Imports of bees into the European Union are not permitted unless the exporting country's authorities can certify that their bee health controls are equivalent to those of the EU and that the consignment has been checked for pests and diseases including small hive beetle.

Mr. Salmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions she has had with the beekeepers' associations regarding the threat posed to native bee colonies by the small hive beetle. [210628]

Alun Michael: Defra officials met representatives of the national beekeeping associations in the UK on 26 November. The discussions included consideration of the threat posed by the small hive beetle.

Mr. Salmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps she has taken to safeguard UK bee colonies from infestation by the small hive beetle. [210629]

Alun Michael: Defra officials and the National Bee Unit have worked closely with the European Commission to extend EU import controls to cover the small hive beetle. The unit has been providing advice to beekeepers as part of its extension programme and is developing contingency measures to manage any future outbreak.

Arrangements for bee health matters in Scotland are the responsibility of the Scottish Executive.

Mr. Salmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions she has had with other EU members regarding the outbreak of small hive beetle in Portugal. [210630]

Alun Michael: Defra officials have maintained regular contact with the European Commission following the finding last October of small hive beetle larvae in a consignment of bees imported into Portugal. The issue was discussed by the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health on 11–12 October and 11 November, and at a Commission meeting of bee experts from the UK, Germany and Italy on
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9 November in the context of developing a bee disease Chapter about the pest for the World Organisation for Animal Health.

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