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Woodland Management

Mr. Martyn Jones: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to review the Forestry Commission's support for the management of existing woodland. [159531]

Mr. Morley: Woodland makes an important contribution to the rural economy and is essential to the character of the English countryside. However, many of our woods are under-managed and are not delivering the potential range of benefits to their owners or to society as a whole. The Forestry Commission plays a key role in ensuring the sustainable management of our woodland.

I have therefore asked the Commission to review its support for the sustainable management of existing woodland in accordance with the priorities of the Government's Forestry Strategy for England and in the light of the UK Forestry Standard.

The review will help focus the Commission's work on finding ways to engage woodland owners effectively in implementing the England Forestry Strategy. This will help owners sustain their own plans while supporting the rural economy and improving the environment for the benefit of all. While the review will consider the effectiveness of existing Forestry Commission grant schemes, I am keen to see ideas emerging on the whole range of support measures through partnerships, advice, training and market development.

The review will be managed by a steering group including woodland owners and managers and representatives from appropriate Government Departments and agencies, as well as from Wildlife and Countryside Link. Anthony Bosanquet, president of the CLA and a non-executive Forestry Commissioner, will chair the steering group. There will be widespread public consultation, including a series of regional seminars later this year.

I have asked the Commission to submit its recommendations to me within 12 months.

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Appointments (Age Limit)

Tony Wright: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what age limit is placed on appointments to public bodies in his Department; if this limit is mentioned in advertisements for such posts; and what the basis for this limit is. [158129]

Ms Quin: This Government are committed to equality of opportunity and to increasing the diversity of those appointed to public bodies. In support of this, the Department has drawn up an action plan for increasing the numbers of public appointees from under-represented groups. The latest plans, together with the Government's overall plan, were published on 24 May 2000 in "Quangos: Opening up Public Appointments 2000-03", copies of which are in the Libraries of the House.

No MAFF public appointments falling within the remit of the Commissioner for Public Appointments have age limits applied. The Dairy Produce Quota Tribunal, dormant since 1994, also has no age limits.

In addition, there are seven MAFF Agricultural Land Tribunals, which must abide by the statutory provisions set out in section 73 of the Agriculture Act 1947. The chairmen and deputy chairmen, appointed by the Lord Chancellor, must be barristers or solicitors of at least seven years standing. The statutory age limit is 72 for chairmen. Serving panel members retire at 70, but those appointed after 12 May 2000 must retire at 65. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor also appoints the Plant Varieties and Seeds Tribunal chairman, who similarly must be a barrister or solicitor of at least seven years standing. The retirement age for the chairman and lay members of this tribunal is 70. The Plant Varieties and Seeds Tribunal has not been convened since 1984. The age limit for these posts is advertised. Appointments are initially for 12 months, with renewal thereafter at the Lord Chancellor's discretion.

Fisheries Council

Mr. Hood: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what the outcome was of the Fisheries Council held in Brussels on 24 and 25 April; what the Government's voting record was at the Council; and if he will make a statement. [159573]

Mr. Morley: I represented the UK at the Fisheries Council on 25 April together with Ms Rhona Brankin, the Deputy Minister for Rural Affairs in the Scottish Executive.

Commissioner Fischler made a first presentation of the Commission's Green Paper on the 2002 Review of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) underlining the need for significant revision of the CFP in particular to achieve a better balance between catching capacity and stock availability. The Council gave a general welcome to the Green Paper, with a number of member states endorsing the Commission's concern to increase stakeholder involvement in fisheries management and to strengthen the regional dimension. There will be a full discussion of the Green Paper at the June Council.

Commissioner Fischler reported on the current state of play on the stock recovery plans for cod and hake. General support for recovery plans for close industry involvement in their development was expressed together

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with concerns about individual aspects of the plans. I made clear the need for effective and workable technical conservation measures in the North Sea to take account of the realities of the UK mixed fisheries.

The Council adopted conclusions on the integration of environmental concerns into the CFP, which will contribute to the forthcoming report to the Gothenburg European Council on environmental integration, as required under the Cardiff Process. Commissioner Fischler presented the Commission report on a bio-diversity action plan for fisheries which will now be considered in detail and the Council adopted conclusions on a move towards multi- annual management strategies for setting Total Allowable Catches within a precautionary framework.

We took note of the failure to conclude a further fisheries agreement between the EU and Morocco and of the Commission's intention to bring forward measures for the necessary re-structuring of the Spanish and Portuguese fleets as a result of the lack of fishing opportunities in Moroccan waters. All member states confirmed that they would be ready to ratify the UN Agreement on straddling and migratory stocks by the end of this year. The Council agreed a common position on the criteria that the EU wants to see applied in the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) in the future allocation of catching opportunities. These take account both of the needs of EU fishermen and of developing countries.


Equal Pay

14. Mr. Fitzpatrick: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what steps he is taking to promote the policy of equal pay for equal work. [157921]

Ms Jowell: The pay gap between men and women's full-time hourly earnings has halved since the introduction of the Equal Pay Act. But women still earn only 82p for £1 a man earns. This is because of discrimination and the fact that most women are still concentrated in low paid, important but unskilled jobs.

We are acting on a number of fronts to make equality law work better for women, and to tackle the culture of low expectation, low pay and no pay. Denise Kingsmill is leading the women's employment and pay review. We have appointed fair pay champions from business, public sector and trade unions. We have introduced the Castle Awards for exemplary employers. We are funding the EOC to develop pay reviews.

The Government will set a lead and will be the first to audit equal pay of men and women.

FE Colleges

15. Mr. Derek Twigg: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will make a statement on the contribution of colleges of further education to bridging the skills gap. [157922]

Mr. Wicks: Colleges of further education make a very substantial contribution to raising the country's skill levels. FE students achieve some 2.5 million qualifications each year including around a quarter of a

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million students achieving NVQ level 3 or equivalent. We are also establishing Centres of Vocational Excellence to enable colleges to be more sharply focused on meeting the skills employers need.

Rural Sixth Forms

16. Mr. Greenway: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what estimate he has made of the implications for small rural school sixth forms of his Department's new funding arrangements. [157923]

Mr. Wicks: This Government are committed to school sixth forms and there is nothing in the new arrangements that will undermine that. Every school sixth form, small or large, will be protected by our real terms funding guarantee.

School Buildings and Repairs

17. Mr. Pike: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment how much money has been allocated for (a) new school building and (b) major building repairs and improvement in the north-west since May 1997. [157924]

Jacqui Smith: £839.6 million in total has been allocated for investment in school buildings in the north-west in the years since 1997. Of this, £199.5 million has been allocated through the New Deal for Schools programme, which is targeted at major repairs and improvements. Over the next three years we have so far allocated a further £501.3 million in funding for schools in the north-west, as part of the biggest school building and repair programme in over half a century.

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