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20 Nov 2007 : Column 751W—continued

Beaches: Facilities

Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what the statutory obligations of local authorities are on the management and provision of facilities on beaches; [165352]

(2) what guidance is available to local authorities on the development of management plans for beaches. [165353]

Mr. Woolas [holding answer 19 November 2007]: My Department does not have responsibility for statutory obligations on local authorities for facilities on beaches, nor does it produce guidance on the development of management plans for beaches. DEFRA has however recently updated guidance on Shoreline Management Plans and is currently funding a review of all such plans around the coast. Shoreline Management Plans provide a large-scale assessment of the flood and erosion risks associated with coastal processes and present a long-term policy framework to reduce these risks to people and the developed, historic and natural environment in a sustainable manner. Guidance may also be provided by other organisations.

Under section 89 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 local authorities have a duty to keep their relevant land clear of litter and refuse, which includes parts of the beach above the high water mark. There are other controls in place to deal with litter and waste in marine environments below the high water mark, but local authorities are advised to monitor and clean these areas as appropriate.

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In addition, there are a number of voluntary schemes in the UK including the Blue Flag Scheme, the Seaside Awards and the Good Beach Guide. The Blue Flag Scheme is administered by ENCAMS in the UK and its criteria for 2008 includes standards for environmental education and information, water quality, environmental management, and safety and services.

Bluetongue Disease

Mr. Paice: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what advice he has received on the likelihood of uninfected midges becoming infected in 2008 from biting ruminants which have recovered from bluetongue disease. [163461]

Jonathan Shaw: Advice on the scientific aspects of the disease is provided by DEFRA’s Expert Group on Bluetongue. Current advice is that over a winter period large numbers of midges are killed at low temperatures. However, some of the northern species of midges do survive, and may potentially breed. Although the virus is present in midges for only a limited time, animals, particularly infected cattle, may retain the virus in their body for 60 days or more. This means that the bluetongue virus can be sustained over the winter period.

Last year, Europe had a mild winter. This supported midge activity, and low levels of disease circulation were possible throughout the winter. A similar situation is possible in the UK this winter. DEFRA (in conjunction with scientists from the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright, the European Union, and the World Community Reference Laboratory for Bluetongue), will continue to monitor and review the situation in light of the latest information and research from affected countries.

Mr. Paice: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans he has for blood-testing of ruminants outside the bluetongue protection zone to establish the spread of disease. [163462]

Jonathan Shaw: DEFRA has put in place measures to minimise the risks of disease spread, in line with EU legislation and the UK Bluetongue Control Strategy.

Surveillance is ongoing in the Protection and Surveillance zones and includes clinical inspections and testing of susceptible animals. At the present time, blood testing of ruminants outside the Protection Zone (originally termed the Control Zone) is concentrated on animals that had been moved out of the Protection Zone into the Surveillance Zone and the Free Area outside of the zones during the period of infection risk before movement controls were applied. In addition, animals exhibiting clinical signs associated with bluetongue which are reported to Animal Health are being tested. It remains vitally important that farmers maintain their vigilance in checking their animals and report any suspect cases of disease, particularly as clinical signs may be similar to foot and mouth disease.

Bluetongue Disease: Disease Control

Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what mechanisms are in place to provide him with interim assessments of the (a) effectiveness and (b) proportionality of restrictions
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on farmers' commercial operations introduced as part of initiatives to control bluetongue; and if he will make a statement. [161900]

Jonathan Shaw: We work closely with a Core Group of industry stakeholders to help formulate proposals, seek solutions and hear views on the effectiveness and proportionality of bluetongue control measures. Members of the Group include senior individuals from the following organisations, attending in a personal capacity: National Beef Association, British Veterinary Association, Livestock Auctioneers Association, National Farmers Union, National Sheep Association and British Meat Processors Association.

With this Core Group, we are reviewing the disease situation and control strategy in order to ensure it is proportionate to the disease risks. In doing so, full account is taken of the latest epidemiological and veterinary assessments, and analysis of costs and benefits of disease control measures and their likely economic impacts. In addition, Animal Health is undertaking a comprehensive disease surveillance programme, which enables us to monitor the disease situation.

We are keeping the control measures under review as the bluetongue disease situation develops. We are very conscious that we must balance the need to reduce the pressure on the industry with the overriding objective of controlling the spread of this disease.

Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps he is taking to ensure that farmers and their representative organisations have the most up-to-date information available on the (a) details, (b) implications and (c) likely timetable of measures to control the bluetongue outbreak. [161901]

Jonathan Shaw: It is a priority for DEFRA Ministers and officials to work closely with, and listen to, farmers and the leaders of industry during the bluetongue outbreak. DEFRA works closely with a wide range of farming industry stakeholders on a daily basis to ensure effective communication with farmers. Stakeholders have been kept in touch with the latest developments by email updates and regular telephone conferences. One of the major issues currently being discussed is the scope of the future control measures that we need, including the question of whether to extend the existing zones to cover a wider area. This will depend on the epidemiological situation and an assessment of the implications of our current measures.

All registered keepers of livestock within the bluetongue protection and surveillance zones were contacted within 24 hours of the zones being declared. Since the start of the bluetongue outbreak on 28 September, approximately 200,000 information messages have been sent to livestock keepers subject to movement restrictions. These include approximately 140,000 voicemail messages, text messages, e-mails and facsimiles. In addition, approximately 50,000 information packs have been sent to registered livestock keepers. Animal Health has also launched a public voice-recorded information line, which is intended to serve an audience who are unable to access the DEFRA website. Currently, the DEFRA Helpline is also available seven days a week for all queries relating to bluetongue.

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DEFRA officials are keen to receive any specific proposals from stakeholders and livestock keepers about how communication methods could be further improved in the event of a disease outbreak.

Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will introduce measures for the testing and moving of continent bulls under special licence alongside measures to control the bluetongue outbreak. [161902]

Jonathan Shaw: We assume the hon. Gentleman is referring to the movement of domestic breeding stock.

All ruminants are subject to current bluetongue control measures, as outlined in EU and domestic legislation and the UK Bluetongue Control Strategy.

We are considering whether it is possible to introduce practical measures that can mitigate the risk of disease spread if susceptible animals are moved out of the restricted zone to live. The conditions set out in the new Commission Regulation to allow such movements are very stringent and not easy to implement. They include the testing of animals and the protection of animals from disease vectors.

Through close partnership with industry stakeholders, we are keeping all movement controls under review as the disease situation develops. We are very conscious that we must balance the need to reduce the pressure on the industry with the overriding objective of controlling bluetongue.

Bluetongue Disease: Shropshire

Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment he has made of the effect on the farming industry of measures put in place to control bluetongue with particular reference to the movement and sale of pedigree (a) sheep and (b) cattle in (i) Shropshire and (ii) Montford Bridge, Shrewsbury; and if he will make a statement. [162223]

Jonathan Shaw: Assessments have been made, on the livestock industry as a whole, of the impact of current disease control measures. These assessments are informing DEFRA's cost/benefit analysis of those measures. Separate assessments of the effect on the pedigree sheep and cattle markets in Shropshire or Montford Bridge have not been made as these would be subject to considerable margins of error.

In agreement with a core group of industry stakeholders, DEFRA remains committed to a disease control approach which aims to contain disease within the current control and protection zones, in line with ‘Phase 1’ of the UK Bluetongue Control Strategy. This takes into account the epidemiological situation, the time of year (coming towards the end of the vector season), and the cost benefit analysis of disease control measures and their likely economic impacts.

This assessment remains under constant review, and recognises that efforts to contain disease may become disproportionate to the costs to industry, and therefore the strategy may have to change. However, using the above assessment, this point has not yet been reached.

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Bluetongue Disease: Vaccination

Mr. Paice: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what estimate he has made of the cost of tendering for bluetongue vaccine; [163456]

(2) when he expects to issue a formal tender for a bluetongue vaccine bank; [163458]

(3) what estimate he has made of the number of doses of bluetongue vaccine which will be necessary to eradicate the disease from the UK; [163459]

(4) what plans he has for a vaccination strategy for bluetongue disease when a vaccine becomes available. [163460]

Jonathan Shaw: On 1 November, my Department issued a tender to supply between 10 and 20 million doses of bluetongue vaccine for a vaccine bank. We also announced that this decision had been taken on the same day. The tender closes on 15 November and an order will be placed as soon as possible after that date, once we have assessed the bids submitted.

This step has been taken on the advice of the Acting Chief Veterinary Officer and the core group of bluetongue stakeholders, in light of the potential benefits that vaccination could provide in managing disease should it re-appear next year. Further work is also being carried out by the farming industry on the likely take-up of that vaccine if a scheme were to be voluntary, although that decision has not yet been taken. This work will inform our final decision on the numbers of doses required.

The cost of establishing the vaccine bank will be dependent on the size of the order placed and the outcome of the tendering process. No assessment has been made of the cost of the tender process itself.

We are developing a detailed vaccination plan with bluetongue scientific experts, representatives of the farming industry and others setting out how a vaccination programme would work. This plan will be needed to seek the approval of the European Commission to vaccinate. Discussions are also taking place with the European Commission and other member states.

Bovine Tuberculosis: Disease Control

Mr. Roger Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when a decision will be made on the proposed policy of badger culling. [166161]

Jonathan Shaw: The question of whether badger culling has a role to play in controlling bovine TB in cattle is complex.

The Secretary of State has been clear that the next step is for the DEFRA ministerial team to have discussions with interested parties, including Professor John Bourne, former Chair of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, and the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King. We also wish to take into account the views from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee following its inquiry into badgers and bovine TB.

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While we are keen to make progress on reaching a decision, there is no specific timetable for doing so.

Committee on Climate Change

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who the members are of the Committee on Climate Change; and when he expects it to meet. [164784]

Mr. Woolas: The Chair and Members of the Committee on Climate Change have not yet been appointed. The Committee is being established in ‘shadow’ form ahead of Royal Assent of the Climate Change Bill, to ensure that it is able to fully consider its advice on the level of the first three carbon budgets before 1 September 2008 (as required by the Bill).

The positions available on the ‘shadow’ Committee have been advertised and the recruitment process is ongoing. A date for appointments has not yet been decided, but we anticipate that the ‘shadow’ Committee will wish to hold its first meeting shortly after appointment.

Dairy Farming: Nitrate Vulnerable Zones

Mr. Dunne: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment he has made of the likely impact on the small scale intensive dairy farming in England of the 230 kg nitrogen limit in relation to grassland. [164609]

Jonathan Shaw: The partial regulatory impact assessment (RIA) and supporting paper “G4 - Assistance in the partial RIA including extended Nitrate Vulnerable Zones” provides details of my Department’s assessment of the likely impact on farming in England of the proposed Nitrates Action Programme measures. These documents are available on the DEFRA website.

The assessments estimate the likely cost to the dairy sector of implementing the 170 kg N/ha/yr (nitrogen/hectares/year) whole farm limit for livestock manures as approximately £16.5 - £21.5 million each year.

These costs would be reduced if my Department was successful in obtaining a derogation from this limit.

Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

Justine Greening: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when he expects to complete his review of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991; when he expects to announce the outcome of that review; and if he will make a statement. [164829]

Jonathan Shaw [holding answer 15 November 2007]: Following recent tragic incidents involving dog attacks on children this year, we have undertaken a review of the dangerous dogs legislation. Officials consulted all chief police officers in England and Wales to find out their views on how effective the dangerous dogs legislation is, what could be done to improve enforcement and whether any parts of the law need to be changed. Officials discussed the results of this consultation with the Association of Chief Constables (ACPO).

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In the light of this consultation, we believe that the priority is for existing law to be more effectively enforced rather than introducing new legislation. Officials will work closely with the police service, local authorities and animal welfare organisations to achieve this.

All dogs, not just those types banned under the dangerous dogs legislation, may present a risk to the public if they are not properly looked after. There is already robust law in place to deal with the problem of dogs that are out of control in public places. But there is a limit to how far laws, however well written they may be, can tackle the small minority of dog owners who are either irresponsible or, for other reasons, find it difficult to look after their animals properly. I therefore welcome the work being done by those animal welfare organisations that go out and offer practical advice and help to those who are having difficulties. I believe this is the best way of effectively fostering a more responsible attitude to dog ownership in this country.

I know that some feel that the law relating to dog attacks in the home should be strengthened. I am not convinced that changing the existing law would help those who enforce the law or administer justice, or reduce the number of attacks that take place in domestic places. This is an area that we will keep under close review and, if necessary, we will make changes to the law if we think that this will reduce these very distressing incidents that occur within a family context.

Departmental Alcoholic Drinks

Mike Penning: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will take steps to ensure that English wine is served exclusively or at the request of guests at meals, parties and receptions hosted by his Department; and if he will make a statement. [164301]

Jonathan Shaw: All public procurement procedures must comply with the EC treaty. The key principles of the treaty, from a public procurement point of view, are the free movement of goods and services, and non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality. This legislation is designed to ensure that all public procurement across the European Union is fair, transparent and non-discriminatory.

This means that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs cannot specify that it will only buy goods (e.g. wine) from a particular country or locality, as that would discriminate against producers from other EU member states.

However, the Government are committed to increasing opportunities for small and local suppliers to tender for contracts, thus increasing competition and securing better value for money. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does this by requesting catering service providers to demonstrate their policy on the development of small to medium enterprises.

The hon. Member may wish to refer to the joint DEFRA/OGC guidance on incorporating environmental considerations into purchasing in the “Joint Note on Environmental Issues in Purchasing” at:

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