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Joan Ruddock: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will ensure, in relation to hearings to be held in respect of the proposed decision to add the genetically modified maize variety Chardon LL to the UK National List, that (a) original trial data are made available in a full and timely manner to those requesting such a hearing and (b) officials will appear at the hearings, give evidence and be available for cross-examination. 
Ms Quin: The data on which proposed National List decisions are based are made available on request. The consolidated data on which the Chardon LL proposed decision was based have already been made available to a number of individuals and organisations.
The Seeds (National Lists of Varieties) Regulations 1982 (as amended) provide for written representations to be made to Ministers by persons affected by a proposed decision to add a plant variety to the National List and for oral evidence to be given by them to a person appointed by the Ministers. There is no provision for the giving of evidence to the appointed person by Ministry officials, and the appointed person's role is to marshall the views put rather than to make recommendations. Were there to be an appeal to the Plant Variety and Seeds Tribunal after this hearing, the legislation provides both for officials to give evidence and to be available for cross examination.
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Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimate he has made of the savings which would result if testing for tuberculosis in cattle by the veterinary profession were put out to general tender. [R] 
Ms Quin: The Ministry is carrying out a pilot project in North West England to assess whether competitive tendering for the provision of TB testing and brucellosis work carried out by local veterinary inspectors would improve the value for money and the quality of the services provided. Contracts under the pilot project will be awarded shortly and will run for one year from 1 July. The service provided under contract in the pilot area will be compared with that provided under present arrangements before decisions are made on whether to extend competitive tendering for local veterinary inspection work. At this stage no estimate can be made of the savings which might result from the introduction of competitive tendering.
Dr. David Clark: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many applications for information he received under the Open Government: Code of Practice on Access to Government Information in the last parliamentary session; and how many were granted. 
Mr. Nick Brown: The first statutory review of the British Potato Council (BPC) has been carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Industrial Organisation and Development Act 1947. I have considered the report of the review and the outcome of the BPC poll, together with the Minister for Rural Affairs at the Scottish Executive and the National Assembly for Wales Secretary for Agriculture and Rural Development. We agreed that the Council carries out a necessary function that could not be so efficiently carried out by other means. We have therefore decided that the BPC should continue for a further term while taking forward the recommendations of the report, in particular about ways of improving the Council's service to levy payers.
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Mr. Morley: The Government's policy is to reduce the risks to people and the developed and natural environment from flooding and coastal erosion by encouraging the provision of technically, environmentally and economically sound and sustainable defence measures. The flood and coastal defence operating authorities (the internal drainage boards Environmental Agency, and local authorities) undertake these measures. In April 2000 the Government put in place a series of High Level Targets to help achieve a more certain delivery of its policies by the operating authorities. The Government have also set out a priority for the Environment Agency to work with other bodies, including local authorities and the emergency services, in achieving a seamless and integrated service of flood forecasting, warning and response.
The two main sources of funding for flood and coastal defence are (a) Ministry contributions towards approved capital schemes undertaken by the operating authorities and (b) that delivered to local authorities through the local government finance mechanisms. The latter is used to fund the levies that local authorities pay to the Environment Agency and internal drainage boards, as well as their own spend on flood and coastal defence. A review of the current funding mechanisms is currently being conducted.
Following the Comprehensive Spending Review, the Government increased the funding available from the Ministry by £23 million over three years from 1999-2000, to a total of £230 million. The Government have also increased flood defence Standard Spending Assessments beyond inflation. Future funding levels depend on decisions to be taken in the Spending Review later this year.
Mr. Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what estimate his Department has made of the average difference between bank and building society mortgage interest rates over the past 12 months. 
Mr. Bayley: A review of interest rates provided in the Office for National Statistics' financial table 7.1L over the period January to December 1999 shows that a combined building society/bank rate is on average just under 0.28 per cent. higher than the weighted average of the main building societies interest rates. Building Societies continue to provide a comprehensive range of products in a very competitive market. Recent figures show that they continue to outlend the mortgage banks.
Mr. Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment his Department has made of the arrears that have accrued in mortgages taken out by income support and income-based jobseekers allowance recipients in the most recent year for which information is available. 
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Mr. Bayley: No information is collected by my Department about the accrual of arrears in mortgages taken out by income support and income based jobseekers allowance recipients. Benefit help for homeowners with housing costs is intended to provide reasonable protection to help secure the home. The mortgage lenders have agreed, under The Mortgage Code, to consider all cases of financial difficulty and mortgage arrears sympathetically and positively.
|Quarter||Income Support||Income Support for the unemployed/ income-based JSA||All Income Support/ income-based JSA|
(1) Provisional figures
1. Customers who are in receipt of Income Support and income-based Jobseeker's Allowance are entitled to assistance with mortgage interest payments.
2. Figures are based on a 5 per cent. sample; as such they are subject to a degree of sampling error.
3. Figures are rounded to the nearest thousand.
4. Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance replaced Income Support for the unemployed from November 1996.
1. Income Support Statistics Quarterly Enquiries, February 1995-November 1999.
2. Jobseeker's Allowance Statistics Quarterly Enquiries, November 1996-November 1999.
Mr. Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to revise the index for calculating the ISMI rate to make it more representative of the mortgage lending market. 
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Mr. Bayley: We have no plans to revise the index. The standard interest rate used to calculate ISMI entitlement is based on the weighted average of the main building society rates. The building societies continue to provide a broad range of products in a very competitive market. Recent figures produced by the Building Societies Association show that building societies continue to outlend the mortgage banks.
Mr. Bayley: There is no delay in the ISMI mechanism. As soon as the Department is informed by the Office for National Statistics of a change in interest rates, procedures are set in motion to amend regulations. Regulations are required to be laid 21 days before coming into force to allow for proper parliamentary scrutiny.
Mr. Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what estimate his Department has made of the average time between changes in the ISMI rate being triggered and higher payments being made to those in receipt of ISMI, in the most recent year for which figures are available. 
Mr. Bayley: It normally takes five to six weeks from receipt of the official notification from the Office for National Statistics to implementation of a change in interest rates. This allows for the Department to reprogramme its computer systems and for new regulations to be laid and made available for proper parliamentary scrutiny.
Mr. Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what proportion of those entitled to ISMI have had their homes repossessed within nine months of starting to receive (a) income support and (b) income-based jobseeker's allowance in each of the last five years for which figures are available; 
Mr. Bayley: This Department does not keep any figures relating to home repossessions. The benefit system is designed to provide homeowners with reasonable protection and we encourage everyone, particularly those taking out new loans, to consider how they would meet their mortgage repayments if they lost their income. The Council of Mortgage Lenders and the Association of British Insurers have recently announced a new minimum standard for mortgage protection insurance. Most repossessions are caused by wider, more serious difficulties than any shortfall in benefit. Recent figures produced by the Lord Chancellors Department show that in England and Wales repossession activity is declining.
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Mr. Bayley: We have received a number of letters and Parliamentary Questions about the ISMI scheme. In addition, the Department is in close contact with the Council of Mortgage Lenders and are active members of a lending industry/Government partnership group. The remit of this partnership group includes ISMI and at various times discussions have taken place as to its current design and how it will operate in the future.
Mr. Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions on inclusion of reform of ISMI in the Urban White Paper. 
Mr. Bayley: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had no discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions on inclusion of reform of ISMI in the Urban White Paper. Options for reform of ISMI are included in the recently published Housing Green Paper.
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