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Adam Afriyie: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent representations the Environment Agency has received about Jubilee River in Berkshire; and what recent assessment he has made of the appropriateness of the design adopted by the Jubilee River designers. 
A great deal of work has been carried out to assess the current standard of protection offered by the Jubilee River, as well as the Maidenhead, Windsor and Eton Flood Alleviation Scheme (MWEFAS) as a whole, which the Agency accepts is below that expected when the scheme was designed.
Currently MWEFAS offers protection up to a flow of 420 m(3)/s (82 per cent. of the original scheme design capacity). Final works are being carried out this summer, which will further increase the capacity of the scheme (to 450 m(3)/s (87 per cent. of the original scheme design capacity).
Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will list those occasions when the recommendations of a report from the parliamentary ombudsman were (a) rejected and (b) partly rejected by his Department since 1997. 
Barry Gardiner: Neither the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) nor its predecessors have collated figures on the number of occasions where they have refused or omitted to give effect to the recommendations of the parliamentary ombudsman. While a definitive reply could be provided only at disproportionate cost, there is no immediate evidence available that suggests that we have rejected any recommendation from the parliamentary ombudsman since 2001 when Defra was established.
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what quality control checks are in place for the administration of
the single payment scheme; and what steps he has taken to satisfy himself that these are (a) sufficiently sound to ensure the proper disbursement of public funds and (b) sufficiently robust to meet EU scrutiny standards. 
Barry Gardiner: The Rural Payments Agency is responsible for the administration of the single payment scheme. There is a framework of quality checks in place and they are undertaken at various stages during the processing cycle. For the 2005 scheme year checks were undertaken on data capture, primary and detailed validation processes. There were also authorisation checks following completion of validation. In addition the computer system was designed with internal quality checks to ensure both the proper disbursement of public funds and to meet the EU scrutiny standards.
Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the (a) highest and (b) lowest single payment scheme individual payment has been made to date; and whether these payments were correct. 
The £0.01 payments are at the extreme end of where penalties apply on a sliding scale if, for example, people over-claim on their land entitlements. A number of calculations are made to the entitlement value of a claim, for example 95 per cent. on entitlement value, 5 per cent. for modulation and the final payable figure, at a low value in instances of high penalties, is subject to rounding.
Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether, under single payment scheme arrangements, farmers with common grazing rights are being notified of their individual share of commons allocation to enable them to check (a) the methodology and accuracy of the apportionment between the various right-holders and (b) the validity of the single payments made to them. 
Barry Gardiner: Farmers are being notified of the hectarage of the common land which has been allocated to them based on the rights which they hold for the common. The calculation method is detailed on pages 14 and 15 of the 2005 SPS handbook and guidance. The vast majority of claimants making use of common land in support of their claim have now received a payment.
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when the Department will reply to the letters of (a) 22 March and (b) 21 April 2006 from the hon. Member for West Derbyshire on representations from the National
Farmers Union in respect of the single farm payment scheme. 
Barry Gardiner: The problems facing the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) in getting payments out to farmers have resulted in Ministers receiving over 350 letters from MPs relating to their constituents' problems caused by non-receipt of SPS payments.
Changing policy developments, including most notably the change from 15 to 31 May in respect of the date for penalties for late 2006 applications and the introduction of partial payments, have led to regrettable delays in responding.
Mr. Paice: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment he has made of the impact of delays in the single payment scheme on levels of stress among farmers. 
Barry Gardiner [holding answer 22 June 2006]: There has been no specific assessment of stress among farmers arising out of the timing of payments under the single payment scheme. However, the Government do recognise that some farmers will have faced cash-flow problems and other hardships due to the timing of these payments. As such, an extra £115,000 in funding was made available to a number of key rural support organisations who deal with such issues.
Barry Gardiner: There is no regulatory deadline for the despatch of application forms to the single payment scheme. However, the Rural Payments Agency will aim to issue application forms to all known customers at least one month before the 15 May deadline in 2007.
Mr. Spring: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many farms in the east of England have qualified for subsidies from the EU common agricultural policy fund, broken down by county. 
Barry Gardiner: The single payment scheme is not administered on a regional basis so the Rural Payments Agency is not able to estimate how many applications were submitted by farmers living in the east of England.
John Mann: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what was the largest single farmer subsidy, including EU subsidy, paid to a farmer in Bassetlaw constituency in (a) 2004 and (b) 2005. 
John Mann: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what changes there have been in the number of (a) subsidies farmers may claim for and (b) forms farmers have to submit to his Department in each of the last three years. 
Barry Gardiner [holding answer 15 June 2006]: The most significant change has been the introduction of the single payment scheme which was introduced on 1 January 2005 and replaced at least 11 direct payment schemes, which had previously existed under the European Common Agricultural Policy. It has brought the benefit of a single annual application form instead of a series of claim forms with different rules, deadlines and, in some cases, claiming frequencies.
The launch of Environmental Stewardship in March 2005 took forward two of Defra's flagship schemes, countryside stewardship and environmentally sensitive areas. Environmental Stewardship has three strands: entry level stewardship is open to all in farming, organic entry level stewardship is available to those wishing to farm organically, and higher level stewardship provides more resource in return for more specific environmental benefits in high priority situations.
In addition, Defra has made a commitment to reduce administrative burdens on farm businesses by 25 per cent. and we are undertaking a number of projects to look at the scope to consolidate and reduce the number of forms that farmers have to complete.
For example, the whole farm approach is expected to significantly reduce the bureaucracy farmers currently face. By streamlining regulation and offering a range of innovative online services the whole process of dealing with Government will become more efficient and user friendlyultimately providing a range of benefits that will help to support a sustainable food and farming industry.
Barry Gardiner: Officials within the Department have discussed various aspects of the implementation of the single payment scheme with the National Audit Office, including in relation to the NAO's current value for money study.
Mr. Jeremy Browne: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether his Department intends to make interim payments of the hill farm allowance to farmers whose claims have not been received in full by the end of May. 
Barry Gardiner: Where hill farm allowance payments will not have been made in full by the end of June, The Rural Payments Agency intends to make part payments based on those land areas that have been validated for payment. In many cases, this should represent the majority of the area claimed.
Barry Gardiner: In recent months the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has been prioritising the payment of Single Payment Scheme (SPS) claims. This has resulted in reduced processing resources being available for other schemes administered by RPA, including hill farm allowance, and consequently claims are being paid later than in previous years.
Barry Gardiner: Hill farm allowance payments have now been made in full to 35 per cent. of eligible claimants. The Rural Payment Agency intends to make the remaining payments (or to make part payments where full payments are not possible) by the end of June.
Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what job objectives were set for the former Chief Executive of the Rural Payments Agency for (a) 2003-04, (b) 2004-05 and (c) 2005-06; and to what extent they were achieved. 
Barry Gardiner: The job objectives set for the former Chief Executive of the RPA in 2003-04, 2004-05 and 2005-06 mirrored the targets set for the Agency in the business plans for each of those years and reported on for 2003-04 and 2004-05 in the published annual report with accounts. The Library of the House possesses copies of all these documents.
Each year the performance against targets of each of the Defra executive agencies is audited by Defra Internal Audit Division and the annual accounts are signed off by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Assessment of chief executives' performance takes place once these checks have been carried out.
In the light of these checks, the assessment for 2003-04 was that the RPA CE had achieved 91.6 per cent. of his objectives and the assessment for 2004-05 was that the RPA CE had achieved 100 per cent. of his objectives. The checks for 2005-06 have not yet been completed.
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent discussions his Department has had with (a) Anglian
Water and (b) Rutland county council on expanding water supply from Rutland Water. 
Ian Pearson: No recent discussions have been held between my Department and Anglian Water on this issue, although I understand that discussions were held between the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and officials from this company during 2005.
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what support the Department is making available to allow farmers to launch initiatives to supply school canteens direct. 
Barry Gardiner: My Department, under the Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative (PSFPI), is continuing to help the nine English Government offices for the regions to fund workshops for buyers and suppliers and projects to develop the supply side. This is increasing opportunities for small local farmers and growers to tender to supply food to schools and other public bodies, either directly or through primary suppliers such as contract caterers, wholesalers and other intermediaries.
My Department is also seeking to work with the School Food Trust which is supporting schools, local authorities, school cooks and catering providers to ensure that food in schools meets the Government's new standards. My Department will also shortly be publishing a guide to help farmers and growers understand how to supply the public sectora market worth £2 billion a year. This will supplement the advice currently on the PSFPI website, which includes case studies and reports on some of the regional projects already undertaken (http://www.defra.gov.uk/farm/sustain/procurement/index.htm).
Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether a regulatory impact assessment will be published in relation to mitigation guidance for special protection areas. 
Barry Gardiner: There are no plans to issue UK guidance on mitigation in relation to special protection areas. However, the European Commission is currently preparing guidance on the payment of compensation for all Natura 2000 sites, including special protection areas. Although this will not directly address the question of mitigation, it will make clear what kind of mitigation measures must have been attempted before compensation can become payable.
It is not normally necessary to publish a regulatory impact assessment when preparing guidance on existing legislation. However, we would certainly do so should it be necessary to amend the legislation on special protection areas for any reason.
Danny Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many working days have been lost to the Department and its executive agencies in each year since 1997 due to staff absenteeism, expressed as the average annual number of absent days per employee; and what the estimated cost to the Department and its agencies of absenteeism was in each year. 
The most significant cause of staff absence is sickness. The average number of working days lost per employee due to sickness absence in full calendar years since the creation of Defra is shown in the following table.
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