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Andrew Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether it is part of the European Union Acquis that countries are required to have an environmental protection agency or similar organisation separate or at arm's length from Government; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Bone: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent assessment she has made of the impact of regulations on farm businesses; and if she will make a statement. 
Jim Knight: Defra is developing a new approach to farming regulation and will be publishing more details on this at the end of November. This will be supported by an economic analysis of the impact of the major regulatory proposals on the horizon between now and 2015.
We are also taking part in a major exercise across Whitehall, led by the Better Regulation Executive, to develop a database of our current regulations. This is the starting point for measuring administrative burdens and identifying areas for change.
In its Five Year Strategy published in December 2004, Defra made a commitment to reduce the administrative burdens imposed by its regulations on business, including farming, by at least 25 per cent. by the end of 2009.
Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent assessment she has made of the speed with which awards under the Single Farm payments scheme are made. 
Ministers regularly assess the likely timing of Single Payment Scheme awards with officials at the Rural Payments Agency, which is responsible for the administration of the scheme in England. RPA
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remains on course to commence payments in February 2006 and complete 96 per cent. of payments by the end of March, in line with announcements made at the start of the year.
Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent discussions she has had with the National Farmers' Union about the impact of fuel prices on the farming industry; and if she will make a statement. 
Jim Knight: In addition to the Minister for Sustainable Farming and Food's regular meetings with the NFU, the Secretary of State and other DEFRA Ministers meet the NFU to discuss a wide range of issues of relevance to rural communities and food producers.
Figures from the June Agricultural and Horticultural Survey indicate the number of holdings in England by farm type in June each year. These figures show the net change in the number of holdings but it is difficult to infer specific information from the figures in terms of new entrants. Please see the following table.
A recent source of information about new entrants to farming is the report into Entry to and Exit from Farming in the UK that was commissioned by DEFRA in 2003. This is available on the DEFRA website at http://statistics.defra.gov.uk/esg/reports/entrvexit/default.asp. Among the more significant findings from this research were that the rate of entry into farming was lower than the rate of exit and that both the rate of entry and the rate of exit were lower than in other sectors. The research found that some 2 per cent. of farmers had entered the industry in the five years up to and including 2003, while up to 18 per cent. of farmers had retired over the same period.
Although the study did not look at rates of entry by farm type, there were indications from the research that the proportion of decision makers who have been farming for 20 years or less was highest in the poultry, horticulture and dairy sectors and lowest in the pig and cereals sectors.
Broader information about new UK businesses in the agricultural sector registering for VAT is given in table 2. VAT registrations do not capture all start-up activity. Businesses are unlikely to be registered if they fall below the compulsory VAT threshold, which has risen in each year since 1997. Only 1.8 million out of 4.3 million enterprises were registered for VAT at the start of 2004. Therefore, although the figures show an overall decline in the numbers of businesses registering for VAT in the agricultural sector between 1997 and 2004, this does not necessarily mean that there was a decline in the numbers of new entrants over the same period.
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|Pigs and Poultry||5,347||5,463||5,461||6,122||6,791||6,991||6,950|||
|Specialist Pigs (From 2004)||||||||||||||||2,160|
|Specialist Poultry (From 2004||||||||||||||||5,536|
|Cattle and Sheep (LFA)||9,645||10,555||10,647||10,097||10,705||11,763||11,577|||
|Cattle and Sheep (Lowland)||30,878||29,893||31,269||32,816||31,306||33,778||34,787|||
|LFAGrazing Livestock (From 2004)||||||||||||||||11,366|
|Lowland Grazing Livestock (From 2004)||||||||||||||||36013|
|Growing of crops; market gardening; horticulture||440||385||320||300||300||245||295||270|
|Farming of animals||1,130||985||780||765||705||860||910||990|
Mr. Hollobone: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many (a) dairy, (b) arable and (c) mixed farms there are in Northamptonshire; and how many there were in each category in (i) 1975, (ii) 1980, (iii) 1990 and (iv) 2000. 
|(a) Dairy||(b) Cereals||General cropping||(c) Mixed|
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will list communities recorded by the Environment Agency as being subject to flooding in 2000, giving in each case the number of (a) commercial and (b) residential properties flooded; and for how many and what percentage of properties in each community (i) flood defences have been improved, (ii) flood defence improvements have been approved but not yet implemented and (iii) flood defences improvements have been approved. 
The Environment Agency has provided as much information as possible, subject to disproportionate cost limitations, and a copy will be made available in the Library of the House.
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As I explained in my answer to a similar previous question from the hon. Member on 10 February 2005, Official Report, column 1662W, I regret it has not been possible, without incurring disproportionate cost, to categorise the properties flooded in 2000 by commercial and residential use, or to provide other exact details in response to these questions.
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