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7 Apr 2005 : Column 1666W—continued

Pet Markets

Mr. Gale: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the scientific basis is of her decision to permit within the terms of the
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proposed Animal Welfare Bill the reintroduction of the pet markets prohibited under the 1983 amendments to the Pet Animals Act 1951. [224832]

Mr. Bradshaw: The scope of the prohibition on pet markets and similar events in public places under the Pet Animals Act 1951 (as amended 1983) is in our view in need of clarification. That is one of the aims of the proposed secondary regulation under the Animal Welfare Bill. We will be conducting a public consultation on the proposed regulation in due course.

Mr. Gale: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when she expects to make a decision on whether to make available the relevant background information derived from consultations relating to her decision to legalise the selling of pet animals, birds and reptiles in markets and other public places in response to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. [224833]

Mr. Bradshaw: We have received a number of requests on the issue of pet fairs under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) and the Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs). Defra endeavours to answer all these enquiries within the statutory 20 working day time limit. Where cases are more complex the enquirer is informed that the time limit is being extended for an additional 20 working days. In rare circumstances raising particularly complex issues, some responses may be delayed beyond this, although Defra will respond as quickly as possible. A response to one particularly complex case under the Freedom of Information Act has just been released. We regret that the complexity of this case led to a delay in responding.

Sewers and Drains

Andy King: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will require that all sewers and drains are laid by suitably qualified persons. [224849]

Mr. Morley: A protocol for the construction of new sewers was established in 2002. Its aim is to put into practice a common approach for the design and construction for new development, to enable wider adoption of sewers in England and Wales.

A review of the effectiveness of the protocol was recently undertaken on the Department's behalf. Its findings indicate that developers are not always adhering to the protocol. The Government are now considering the results of this review and its possible implications for the current arrangements for the construction of sewers.

I understand that Energy and Utility Skills Ltd., the Sector Skills Council whose purpose is to identify the skill needs of employers and provide effective training solutions in the electricity, gas, waste management and water industries, offers a 13 week ambition energy programme. This has been designed for operators who are involved in the maintenance of the sewerage infrastructure.

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the Government's proposals to transfer ownership of private sewers and lateral drains from property owners to local water companies. [224858]

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Mr. Morley: The Government published a response to their consultation—Review of Existing Private Sewers and Drains in England and Wales—in October 2004. 81 per cent. of respondents favoured a change of ownership, and of these, 90 per cent. held the view that sewerage undertakers should take over responsibility. The Government acknowledged the strength of support for this solution and undertook to look into it in more depth.

My Department also recently held a seminar with stakeholders to look at sustainable options for a potential transfer. Further information on the seminar is available on the Department's website at:

The Government intend to publish a decision paper this summer, but do not rule out the need to consult further on the scope and form of a potential transfer.

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what research her Department has conducted into the state of the sewers that it will be transferring to water companies; and what representations from water companies have been received on the proposed changes. [224860]

Mr. Morley: Defra's consultants, WS Atkins, conducted an extensive research project looking at the extent and condition of private sewers in England and Wales prior to the publication of the consultation paper in 2003. UKWIR, the water industry research body, also undertook their own research. I must emphasise that a final decision on whether private sewers should be transferred to water companies has not yet been made. A number of issues and practicalities need to be resolved including the scope of any transfer and the form it might take.

The Department chairs a Steering Group, of which Water UK are members, which is currently considering sustainable options for the way forward on private sewers.

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment her Department has made of whether average household water bills will increase to take account of the costs to water companies consequent on obtaining ownership of sewers and lateral drains. [224861]

Mr. Morley: The Department acknowledges the importance of cost implications for customers. Defra is working with Ofwat in order to further examine the potential impacts on customers bills, and some modelling work is currently under way.

Funding of any possible transfer is an important issue that needs to be considered very carefully. Phasing or a gradual approach is among the approaches to implementation of options that might be considered in order to mitigate the impact of any increases.

Single Farm Payment

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many cases of incorrect maps being used for the purposes of the single farm payment have occurred; and if she will make a statement. [224803]

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Alun Michael: There have been no cases of the wrong maps being used for the purposes of the single payment scheme (SPS). Where the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has sent maps to potential claimants or they have advised RPA of changes and problems have arisen, RPA is resolving them with the farmers before any processing is done for SPS.


Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for how many sites of special scientific interest (SSSI) in England conservation objectives have been prepared in accordance with the requirements set out in guidance issued by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee in 2003 on Common Standards Monitoring for SSSIs; and when she expects conservation objectives to be completed for all SSSIs in England. [224076]

Mr. Bradshaw: There are a total of 4,117 sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) in England and conservation objectives have been completed by English Nature for 1,436 of these sites. English Nature's corporate target is for conservation objectives to be in place on all remaining SSSIs by March 2009 and a structured programme is in place to achieve this.


Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions she has had with the Department for Trade and Industry on the recent Office of Fair Trading findings on supermarkets. [224807]

Alun Michael: Officials from the Department discussed the Office of Fair Trading's paper on the audit of the supermarket Code of Practice and related competition issues with colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry at the time of its publication.

The paper gives the Office of Fair Trading's preliminary views on the audit and on wider concerns that have been raised about competition in the grocery market and invites comments and evidence on both. We encourage all those who have views on these issues to respond to this invitation.

The paper also welcomes the National Farmers Union's proposal for a voluntary Buyer's Charter that would cover all key aspects of trading relationships between suppliers and their customers throughout the food chain. We support this initiative and have encouraged all sections of the food chain, whether they be retailers, processors or manufacturers, to work positively with the National Farmers Union to develop the proposal.

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