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Diversification

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the progress being made in the farming industry on diversification. [23135]

Jim Knight: DEFRA's 2003–04 Farm Business Survey reported that 48 per cent. of farmers in England had diversified, with a further 24 per cent. undertaking off farm employment. Turnover from diversification rose from £425 million in 2002–03 to £550 million in 2003–04. Total income from farm diversification activities in England in 2003–04 was almost £300 million.

DEFRA's Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food identifies the opportunities that farm diversification can offer to farmers looking for new markets and new sources of income. Diversification activities can not only improve the economic viability of the farming enterprise, but can also bring benefits to the wider rural population and economy. The Strategy particularly identifies the assistance available through DEFRA's England Rural Development Programme (ERDP) to help farmers with their diversification plans.
 
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Funding is available for farmers diversifying into a wide range of alternative agricultural and non-agricultural activities.

Dog Trainers

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who has won the bid to conduct research into electric aids used for dog training; and whether the research will be conducted independently of the manufacturers of such devices. [23176]

Mr. Bradshaw: An open competition call inviting bids for research into specific types of electronic training aids was published in DEFRA's annual Research Requirements Document on 1 August 2005.

The closing date for receipt of proposals was 30 September 2005. A single proposal was received in response to the call and this is currently undergoing both external and internal peer review. It is hoped that a decision will be made by the end of December on whether or not DEFRA will proceed with the commissioning of this proposal, in line with the timetable outlined in the Research Requirements Document.

It is important that the research is independent, robust and rigorous. Peer review at both the outset and during the life of the project will help ensure this process.

Energy Efficiency

Anne Snelgrove: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what resources are available from public sources to promote energy efficiency locally. [22682]

Mr. Morley: The Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 (HECA) requires all UK local authorities with housing responsibilities to prepare and publish an energy conservation report identifying practicable and cost-effective measures likely to result in significant improvement in the energy efficiency of all residential accommodation in their area; and to report on progress in implementing the measures.

The Government-funded Energy Saving Trust (EST) assists local authorities to deliver their HECA and other energy responsibilities through initiatives such as the Local Energy Support Programme. The EST also runs the Practical Help service to provide assistance and advice on implementing environmental policies including sustainable energy policy to local authorities and housing associations. The Home Energy Conservation Association (UK HECA) currently receives funding from the EST to run a network which helps local authorities share their expertise and resources in order to deliver their HECA strategies more effectively.

Mr. Holloway: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps the Government are taking to encourage local authorities to improve energy efficiency in their housing stock, with particular reference to Gravesham. [22731]

Mr. Morley: The Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 (HECA) requires all UK local authorities with housing responsibilities to prepare and publish an energy conservation report identifying practicable and
 
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cost-effective measures likely to result in significant improvement in the energy efficiency of all residential accommodation in their area; and to report on progress in implementing the measures.

Under the Government's Decent Homes standard all social housing in England is required to have efficient heating and effective insulation by 2010. My understanding is that Gravesham borough council are currently considering transferring their housing stock under Large Scale Voluntary Transfer (LSVT) in order to help deliver this. They are receiving support from the Government-funded Energy Saving Trust (EST) Local Support" initiative. This is an enhanced energy efficiency advice service that delivers bespoke support to local authorities to tackle climate change, including energy efficiency under LSVT of social housing.

Environment Council

Peter Law: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how climate change mitigation policies developed by the National Assembly for Wales were represented in the deliberation of European Union environment ministers at the EU Environment Council on 17 to 18 October. [20977]

Mr. Morley: I represented UK at the recent EU Environment Council; Margaret Beckett chaired the meeting for the UK presidency. The Council focused on the EU's negotiating strategy for the upcoming Montreal climate change conference.

The EU agreed that its priority for the Montreal conference should be to operationalise the Kyoto Protocol. The Council confirmed its determination to meet its commitments under the UN Framework Convention and Protocol, including on funding to assist developing countries. The EU also set an objective to launch discussions on a process to determine further action after the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period.

A section on climate change policies by the National Assembly for Wales will appear in the revised UK Climate Change Programme which we are aiming to publish before the end of the year. This will contribute to the 2010 carbon dioxide goal and longer term goals. The UK has also worked closely with all the Devolved Administrations to ensure implementation of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme in a consistent and appropriate manner.

Environmental Schemes (Farmers)

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the progress made on the introduction of environmental schemes for farmers. [23165]

Jim Knight: Since the launch of Environmental Stewardship in March this year, steady progress has been made. The first Entry Level and Organic Entry Level Stewardship agreements started on 1 August and now over 7,500 of them are in place, covering over 830,000 hectares of English countryside. Another 500,000 hectares are in the pipeline. Although there have been initial difficulties with IT and registration of
 
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land, contingency arrangements in place ensured that we could meet our commitment to a 1 August start date for agreements.

Continuing IT difficulties have meant that progress with Higher Level Stewardship has been slower than planned. However, new Higher Level Stewardship agreements are expected to be available early in 2006. In recognition of this delay, agri-environment customers whose existing agreements are coming to an end are being offered an extension to their agreement subject to entry into Environmental Stewardship, thereby protecting previously funded environmental benefits.

EU Sugar Regime

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent representations she has received from food manufacturers about the proposed changes to the EU sugar regime. [19064]

Jim Knight: Meetings to discuss the proposed reforms to the EU sugar regime have taken place at both ministerial and official level with several individual companies and with the following trade associations: the Food and Drink Federation, the Biscuit Cake Chocolate and Confectionary Association, the UK Industrial Sugar Users Group and the British Soft Drink Association. In general terms those using sugar as an ingredient favour a market-based approach to reform, with early and substantial price cuts and increased competition.

Defra ministers have also received letters on this subject from a range of individual food and drink manufacturers in recent months, both before and as part of our recently concluded consultation exercise. A summary of that consultation will be published shortly.

Exotic Wild Birds

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the level of black market trading of exotic wild birds in the European Union; and if she will make a statement. [22289]

Jim Knight: The global wildlife trade is huge, with an annual turnover estimated at billions of dollars and involving hundreds of millions of individual plants and animals. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulates international trade through a system of certificates and permits.

A great deal of wildlife trade is legal and likely to be conducted at sustainable levels that do not adversely affect the conservation status of the species in the wild. But some of the trade is illegal or unsustainable. Birds are subject to high levels of crime, especially birds of prey and parrots. In recent years an increasing number of parrots have been seized in new member states to the EU, including some rare and strictly protected species.

A growing number of laws and regulations are now in place in order to control the trade to ensure its sustainability, to protect endangered species and to tackle the illegal trade.
 
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However, both legal and illegal traders also adapt quickly to changing laws and markets—targeting new species when others become depleted, shifting to new markets or, in the case of illegal trade, developing new smuggling methods and routes to avoid detection.

I recently attended an EU-wide workshop, hosted by the Department which brought together police, customs, environmental inspectors and CITES officials to enhance co-ordination, co-operation and information exchange between member states on the enforcement of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulation.

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions she has had with other EU member states on tackling the illegal trade in exotic wild birds. [22290]

Jim Knight: The Department hosted a three-day EU Wildlife Trade Enforcement Co-ordination Workshop at Chesham in Buckinghamshire from 25–27 October 2005. This initiative, held as part of the UK's presidency of the EU, brought together police, customs, environmental inspectors and other officials representing all 25 member states to improve wildlife law enforcement co-ordination and information exchange.

The workshop participants agreed a set of recommendations and an outline action plan intended to enhance co-operation between EU member states on the enforcement of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulation, which implements the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) within the EU. The UK also called for extra vigilance for signs of any illegal trade or movement of birds.

I shall be sending the workshop outcomes to my counterparts in all EU member states, and I have asked for the recommendations to be discussed at the next meeting of the EC CITES Enforcement Working Group on 10 November 2005 in Brussels.


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