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7. Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): What action he is taking to increase woodland cover. [151392]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley): We give grants for planting more than 5,000 hectares of new woodland in England each year and the Forestry Commission is also planting new woods in the national forest and the community forests. Those initiatives and others, such as challenge funds, are targeted to meet our priorities and programmes for forestry as set out in our England forestry strategy.

Mr. Thomas: I am grateful for that reply. Is my hon. Friend aware of announcement by the Woodland Trust that the impact of the Department's farmed woodland premium scheme over the past eight or nine years has been to create new farmed woodlands that are usually small, inaccessible to the public and not linked to other woodland in the vicinity? Given the purposes of the excellent English forestry strategy, will he consider reviewing the workings of the premium scheme to ensure that it more effectively increases woodland cover in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend makes a good point; there are strong arguments in the way in which support is targeted. Larger forests have a wider range of benefits and are much more cost-effective. That fact has been identified by the Forestry Commission and the forestry forum that has been set up as part of the English forestry strategy. I pay tribute to all the organisations that have joined the forum, which represents the private, the public and the voluntary sectors. It has had a tremendous input into forestry policy. It is committed to increasing forest cover in England, and I am glad to say that we have a budget that will increase spending on forestry by 50 per cent. in the next seven years.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): The Minister will be aware that trees take a long time to grow and so a woodland takes some years to achieve. Therefore, does he share my concern at the number of trees and the amount of woodland cover that will be lost because of the proposed line of pylons from Lakenby to Picton, Shipton and Beningbrough, which goes right through the heart of the vale of York? Will he join me to press the National

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Grid to take the route of the pylons away from the woodland in question, in particular that part of it that is in an area of special scientific interest?

Mr. Morley: I understand the hon. Lady's concern. Discussions about pylons are often controversial, as I experienced in my constituency some years ago. She will be aware that a planning issue is involved, which is the responsibility of the local authority. It is reasonable for local people to argue that pylons should be kept away from established woodland wherever possible. If it is not possible, it is not unreasonable to ask, as one of the planning conditions, for new woodland to be planted in compensation for any that is lost.

Cattle (Traceability)

9. Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): How many persons are employed on all forms of contract at the cattle traceability centre in Workington. [151394]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin): At the end of February, 618 people were employed on all forms of contract at the British cattle movement service in Workington.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: The centre is one of the great success stories of west Cumbria. Will my right hon. Friend scour the whole of MAFF to see whether any more jobs can be transferred to the area? In particular, meat product export licensing work--which will, I suspect, have to be expanded over the coming years--could be transferred, as could sheep, pig and goat movements registration work. As that work expands, will my right hon. Friend look seriously at transferring it to my constituency and also to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)? We have the workers and they are keen to take on those tasks.

Ms Quin: My hon. Friend is second to no one in his determination to look for job opportunities for his constituents in Workington and I very much applaud his work. I hope that he will feel that, as regards work that is already available in the area, we have responded to some of the representations made by him and his constituents. As he knows, following a better quality service review it was decided that the work of the BCMS should remain in the public sector and that there was certainly no case for moving that work away from his constituency.

My hon. Friend mentioned traceability, which is so important for all parts of the livestock sector at present. He identified aspects where work will have to be done in future. I assure him that building on the existing expertise in his area is an important option for us.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): While, like the Minister, I am glad that there is that traceability expertise in Workington, does she agree that traceability in this country is of precious little use unless we know precisely where imported beef comes from? Recently, there were worrying reports about beef imported with the spinal cord

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left in. Which European Union countries have traceability standards that match the excellence of those at Workington?

Ms Quin: On the point about imports, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in applauding the vigilance of the Food Standards Agency. It has rigorously checked imported meat in order to detect traces of specified risk material and any trace spinal column still attached to the meat. The agency's efforts should be applauded; they are extremely important for safeguarding consumer health in this country.

A number of EU countries already have well-advanced traceability systems. The reason for that is that we are required to have such systems according to EU regulations and requirements. Indeed, recent events on the continent and in all our countries reinforce the case for that increased traceability. We want to be at the forefront--along with the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours)--and ensure that we play our part in that process.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the work of the Ministry's civil servants is very much valued? She knows that in my constituency we are most anxious that none of the jobs should be lost. When she is considering the employment and the extension of MAFF services, I am sure that she will understand that any attempt to move the work of the Ministry into the private sector without extremely wide consultation--or worse, any attempt to concentrate such jobs outside the existing regional offices--will be met if not with vigorous responses, certainly with a lack of amusement.

Ms Quin: I know that my hon. Friend has had meetings with my right hon. Friend the Minister to express her concerns, quite rightly, about the future of employment in MAFF in her constituency. I also know that a good amount of work has been done on identifying the services that will be retained in her area. It is important that the Ministry plays its full part in the regionalised system of government that we have in the United Kingdom. It is also important that, especially through the England rural development programme, we deliver many services effectively at regional level, and that allows us to identify employment opportunities.


The Solicitor-General was asked--

CPS (Berkshire)

28. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): What his assessment is of the performance of the Crown Prosecution Service in Berkshire. [151415]

The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston): The Crown Prosecution Service has been working with the police and the East Berkshire magistrates court to introduce the Narey proposals. All defendants charged with a criminal offence in East Berkshire should now

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make their first appearance before Slough magistrates court within 72 hours of arrest. The agencies have also been working together to speed up youth justice.

The CPS, as a member of the Thames valley area criminal justice strategy committee, is determined to improve the way in which racially aggravated cases are handled. The CPS has played an active role in promoting the work undertaken by the committee's sub-group on race. Other initiatives in the area include the introduction of the Glidewell proposals to ensure that greater emphasis at Reading Crown court is placed on more serious crime.

Fiona Mactaggart: I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his reply. I am glad to hear about those initiatives, but I want to draw his attention to my concern about basic inefficiency in the CPS in Berkshire. I shall cite just one of a number of examples involving constituents who have come to me about crimes that have not been properly prosecuted, not because of a decision not to prosecute, but because witnesses or the police were not informed of the date of the prosecution.

The case that I am most concerned about involves a victim of domestic violence, whose attacker was not prosecuted because she and the police were misinformed about the date of the case. She wrote to me:

Will my hon. and learned Friend take action to ensure that the CPS in my area delivers on our pledge to be tough on crime, rather than failing to do so through inefficiency?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend is second to none in tenaciously pursuing cases raised by her constituents. There is no doubt that something went horribly wrong in that case, and the CPS has apologised to her and, in particular, to the victim. I understand that assistance has been given so that she might be able to bring a civil injunction in that case. Things did go wrong, but given the substantial increase in the budget for the CPS, there will be more lawyers and caseworkers in the Thames valley. The increase for next year's budget in my hon. Friend's area is about 11 per cent.

There is a problem in the Thames valley, and also in London, in attracting and retaining staff, simply because lawyers can be paid substantial sums elsewhere. The chief Crown prosecutor in that area is trying part-time and term-time working, and so on, which is having some success.

There was a problem in the case cited by my hon. Friend, and she has raised other cases that give rise to concern. I can assure her that I am taking a personal interest in the matter. The inspectorate will be involved later this year, and I will be keeping an eye on the area.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): If there was an outbreak in Berkshire of a virulently contagious animal disease, the CPS presumably would have a role in assisting the trading standards officers and the Meat Hygiene Service. Is the Solicitor-General satisfied that

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there is sufficient preparation and liaison between the CPS and those agencies to enable the activities of rogue traders and operators to be closed down without delay?

The Solicitor-General: There is no doubt that, as a result of the measures that we have taken over the last couple of years, the CPS is working much more closely with other agencies. That has been one of the great benefits of the youth justice pledge. Now, the CPS meets regularly with the police, social services and others. In the hypothetical case that the hon. Gentleman raised, the CPS would liaise with other agencies. I should emphasise, however, that the CPS only gets cases that are brought to it by other agencies. It can and does give advice to the police and other agencies when that is asked for, but it is up to agencies to initiate cases and for the CPS then to take them forward.

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