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7. Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): What measures are being taken to prevent flooding in Somerset. [29237]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jim Knight): The Environment Agency will invest more than £14 million in Somerset in the current financial year on flood risk management, for example, on the Rivers Parrett and Tone and at Oath and Greylake sluices.

Mr. Browne: Great progress has been made in tackling the risk of flooding in Somerset and the Government deserve a share of the credit for that. [Hon. Members: "What?"] They do. However, Curry Moor in my constituency bears a disproportionate amount of flood water when there has been high rainfall. Will the Under-Secretary investigate that and ascertain whether the flood water in the flood plains of the two rivers to which he referred—the Parrett and the Tone—could be better distributed in future to relieve the burden on Curry Moor?

Jim Knight: I am happy to discuss the matter further with the hon. Gentleman but I understand that the increased water storage at Curry Moor in recent years is due to rainfall patterns, not flood defence works. Clearly, if a reasonable plan fulfilled a cost-benefit analysis, we would consider it. However, it is important to understand the reason for a problem before undertaking such a plan.

Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Unless the flood plains of Somerset extend as far as Northampton, I cannot call the hon. Gentleman.

Waste Disposal (Essex)

8. Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): When officials from her Department last discussed with Essex county council its waste disposal strategy and the establishment of incinerators. [29238]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Officials last met officers from Essex county council on 31 October 2005 to discuss their long-term waste policy. I understand that the council has ruled out mass burn incineration, but will look to several technologies that lead to further recycling and composting as part of their future waste management.

Bob Russell: I am grateful to the Minister for that response. In view of the mixed messages from Essex about whether incinerators will be built, has he had that assurance from Essex county council in writing?
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Mr. Bradshaw: I am not responsible for mixed messages from Essex county council or from any other local authority in Essex, including the hon. Gentleman's, or from Members of Parliament. Certainly, I have been given that assurance verbally by my officials, who spoke to representatives of Essex county council as recently as last night.

Transport (Environmental Impact)

9. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): What recent discussions she has had with the Department for Transport on the environmental impacts of transport. [29239]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): My departmental colleagues and I have regular discussions with the ministerial team in the Department for Transport on many matters, including the environmental impacts of transport.

Tom Brake: The Secretary of State will undoubtedly have discussed with the DFT the Highways Agency's road building programme. Does she have a view on the DFT's projection that traffic on those roads will increase by a quarter, and on the fact that, for half of those schemes, no calculation has been made of the increases in emissions?

Margaret Beckett: We work closely with the Department for Transport on assessing the environmental impact of any proposals. I am slightly surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman's observation that a calculation of emissions is not always made, but that is less easy in some circumstances than in others, depending on the size and scale of the road scheme. Certainly, the Department for Transport takes its responsibilities seriously in this matter, as the House will be aware from the number of decisions that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has announced over recent months that clearly reflect environmental as well as other concerns.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the simplest and cheapest form of road charging is fuel duty?

Margaret Beckett: Clearly, that is a statement of fact. Of course, fuel duty is a matter of concern, and my hon. Friend will know that many representations are made in terms of both an increase and a decrease in fuel duty, and that those are matters for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Mindful as I am of the right hon. Lady's previous responses, what representations has she made to the Department for Transport about the reintroduction of the freight facilities grant to the railways?

Margaret Beckett: Of late, I have made none.
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Fish Stocks

11. Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): If she will make a statement on fish stocks in the North sea. [29241]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Recent advice paints a rather bleak picture of the state of most key commercial stocks in the North sea, particularly cod, but some stocks, notably monkfish and prawns, are doing well.

Mr. Randall: I thank the Minister for his reply. Given the current state of the sand eel fishery, which has led the European Commission to close it for the rest of this year, will the Government support advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea to maintain its closure next year?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, we certainly will.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): In the past couple of years, I have visited the successful, sustainable fisheries of Norway, the Faroes and New England. Indeed, America has seen 20 species come off the over-fished list, because its fish management system works with nature. In Exeter, I gave the Minister our green paper, published in January, that contains a list of suggested measures that have been taken from sustainable fisheries, including a ban on industrial fishing. Our clearly stated policy is to return to national control of our marine environment. The Minister disagrees, but he has jurisdiction up to six miles from the coast. Will he not bring those measures into force up to that six miles?

Mr. Bradshaw: No, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has been off on his travels again.

Single Farm Payments

12. Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): What assessment she has made of the impact of the timing of single farm payments on farmers in receipt of those payments. [29242]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jim Knight): The EU regulatory window for payments under the 2005 single payment scheme is 1 December 2005 to 30 June 2006. The Rural Payments Agency remains committed and on target to commence payments well within that window in February 2006. The impact on farmers of payments being made at any particular date will obviously depend very much on their individual circumstances.

Sandra Gidley: Many farmers have expressed disappointment at having applied in May for that payment and having to wait until February for it. I am glad to hear that the agency is still on target, but if the date slips further, will the Minister commit to making an interim payment, such as up to 75 per cent. of the payment, as has happened in Scotland?
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Jim Knight: We have been successful in persuading the European Commission that we should be able to make interim payments if we have to, but as we are on target for February, that is not something on which we have dwelt unduly—but it is in our back pocket if we need it.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I draw the House's attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests. Under the existing IACS—integrated administration and control scheme—arrangements, payments are normally made in December. The Minister has just told us that payments could be made as late as June for some farmers, but given that many small farmers are living on bank overdrafts, that will cause real hardship. Will the Minister commit to making payments on a certain date—say, March—and thereafter pay interest on any outstanding payments after that date?

Jim Knight: No, we are committed to making payments in February. That is what we said back in January this year, so that farmers could make plans accordingly. My noble Friend Lord Bach is meeting the banks to follow up conversations between the Secretary of State and leading figures in the banking world to ensure that farmers experiencing cash-flow difficulties are treated sympathetically by their lenders.

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