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Hill Farming

11. Mrs. Betty Williams: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he has taken to ensure that aid to hill farmers encourages the adoption of environmentally beneficial farming practices. [142347]

Mr. Morley: The upland environment depends on viable hill farm enterprises. Less favoured area support payments include environmental objectives and are tied to good farming practice. The taskforce my right hon. Friend the Minister announced on 23 November is examining how to strengthen hill farming in England using the whole range of ERDP and other measures.

15. Charlotte Atkins: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assistance the Government have given to hill farmers to help them diversify. [142351]

Mr. Nick Brown: The Rural Enterprise Scheme provides new grants for all types of farmers, including hill farmers, seeking to pursue good diversification projects. Other measures, such as the vocational training scheme and the farm business advice service, also offer relevant support.

Livestock Sales

16. Mr. Tredinnick: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what meetings he has held with farmers' representatives in the last month to discuss the sale of livestock. [142352]

Ms Quin: I and my colleagues meet with farmers' representatives on a regular basis, during which we often discuss issues relating to the livestock industry. Most recently, my right hon. Friend the Minister attended the Smithfield Show on 26 November and livestock industry representatives attended the agricultural strategy industry forum meeting hosted by my right hon. Friend the Minister on 23 November.

Common Fisheries Policy

12. Mr. Michael Jabez Foster: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what his priorities are for the 2002 review of the common fisheries policy. [142348]

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Mr. Morley: The Government wish to see the maintenance of key features of the present arrangements, such as national quotas, based on relative stability and access restrictions within national 6/12 mile limits. At the same time, we want to secure improvements to make the CFP a more effective instrument for conserving fish stocks, including enhancing the regional dimension, integrating environmental considerations more fully and reducing discards.

19. Mrs. Gilroy: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he is taking to secure a greater regional dimension to the common fisheries policy. [142356]

Mr. Morley: I have been actively supporting the strengthening of the regional dimension of the common fisheries policy. At my initiative, the Irish sea cod recovery programme has been developed through regional consultations involving fishermen, scientists and managers from the member states concerned. A similar model will now be used for the North sea cod and hake recovery programmes. This is very much the direction in which I want to see the common fisheries policy develop.

Horticulture

13. Mr. Brake: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assistance he plans to provide to horticulture; and if he will make a statement. [142349]

Ms Quin: We assist the horticulture sector through a programme of strategic research and development, costing about £10.3 million in the current year. In addition, we have recently launched new schemes under the England rural development programme, including the rural enterprise scheme and the processing and marketing grant scheme, both of which will provide opportunities for the horticulture industry to improve its competitiveness.

17. Mr. Miller: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of the impact of the agricultural wages board arrangements on rates of pay in the horticulture sector. [142353]

Ms Quin: My Department conducts an annual survey of earnings and hours of agricultural and horticultural workers.

18. Mr. Clappison: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received from the UK horticulture industry about the climate change levy. [142355]

Ms Quin: We have received several representations.

24. Mr. Brady: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what meetings he held with horticulturalists representatives in the last month. [142361]

Ms Quin: We maintain regular contact with representatives from across the horticultural industry. Last month I attended and addressed the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers Dinner. I have accepted an invitation to the Fresh Produce Consortium Convention in the new year.

Ear Tagging

14. Mr. Loughton: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received about the effect on the welfare of livestock of ear tagging. [142350]

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Mr. Morley: Many representations have been received voicing concerns about distance readable cattle eartags. It is, of course, an EU requirement for all cattle born after 1 January 1998 to be identified with at least one distance readable eartag. Such tags, although still relatively new for the UK, have been in use for some time in other European countries and no welfare problems have been reported.

The identification of sheep and goats by eartag or tattoo will also be legally required in Great Britain from 1 January 2001. We have already issued guidance to farmers on best tagging and tattooing practice.

Pesticides

20. Ms Bridget Prentice: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to reduce pesticide use. [142357]

Mr. Morley: We strictly regulate pesticides use, on the basis of independent scientific advice. We encourage farmers and growers to use pesticides responsibly and the pesticides forum promotes minimisation of use.

Farm Incomes

21. Mr. Ruffley: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what his estimate is of average farm income in the financial years (a) 1996-97 and (b) 1999-2000. [142358]

Ms Quin: Total income from farming is the preferred measure of aggregate farming income. It consists of business profits plus income to workers with an entrepreneurial interest. Figures are calculated on a calendar-year basis.

In 1996, the average total income from farming per person (full-time equivalent) was £22,400; in 1997 it was £12,800; and in 1999 it was £10,100. The first estimates of this year's total income from farming per person, published on 30 November, indicate an average of £7,500.

Pig Industry

22. Mr. Bercow: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what meetings he has held with pig farmers' representatives in the last month to discuss the state of the industry. [142359]

Mr. Nick Brown: My ministerial team and I have between us held or attended seven meetings involving pig farmers or their representatives since the beginning of November. Principal among the topics discussed have been: the pig industry restructuring scheme, which has now received full EU Commission approval and is open to both outgoers and ongoers; and the recent outbreak of classical swine fever in East Anglia, where I am pleased to say the final area movement restrictions affecting commercial pig operations were lifted this week. Producers will also have been heartened by the ending of the export ban on live pigs from Norfolk and Suffolk at midnight last night. I am sure the House will want to join with me in paying tribute to Jim Scudamore, the chief veterinary officer, his staff and the state veterinary service and their administrative colleagues for their sterling efforts in controlling the disease, for representing the

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national interest so effectively at EU and wider international level, and for responding so swiftly to the many practical problems which the outbreak created.

Flood Risk (Dredging)

23. Mr. Luff: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent advice he has received from the Environment Agency about the contribution that dredging can make to the alleviation of local flood risk; and if he will make a statement. [142360]

Mr. Morley: While for many rivers dredging is an important part of the maintenance regime, there can be a limit to the amount of dredging that may sensibly be performed. On some rivers, for example, too much dredging could cause the river banks or walls to collapse; larger watercourses often do not need dredging as they tend to be self cleaning; while deepening a tidal river will not create any additional capacity in the river as the level will be governed by the tide.

On some rivers with a very large catchment, such as the Severn, the volume of water is such that any increase in channel capacity would have to be extremely large to have even a noticeable effect on flood levels. This would go far beyond simple dredging and would create a channel which would be unsustainable during normal flows. The Environment Agency consider that they cannot justify carrying out dredging work for flood defence purposes on such rivers because benefits are so limited.


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