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Agriculture Council

Mr. Hood: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what the outcome was of the Agriculture Council held in Brussels on 24 to 25 April; what the Government's voting record was at the Council; and if he will make a statement. [159572]

Mr. Nick Brown: I represented the UK at the meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers in Luxembourg on 24 April. The Minister for Rural Development in the Scottish Executive, Ross Finnie, was also present.

As I reported to the House on 26 April, I brought the Agriculture Council up to date on our efforts to combat foot and mouth disease and the fact that our measures are bringing about a decline in the number of new cases. The Council also heard reports on FMD from the Commission and from the Dutch Agriculture Minister, and in response

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to a UK/Dutch initiative there was collective agreement to hold a conference later in the year to discuss the lessons to be learned from these outbreaks.

The Council also heard a report from the Commission on the results of the EU-wide testing programme for BSE, and in particular agreed conclusions inviting the Standing Veterinary Committee to extend the temporary ban on meat and bone meal beyond the end of June. With the support of several other member states, I secured agreement from the Commission that they would re-examine the use of fishmeal in ruminant feed in the light of their current evaluation of cross-contamination risks.

Turning to market-related measures, the Council considered a compromise text from the Presidency and Commission on reform of the EU sugar regime, extending the duration of the quota system for a further four years but with a review before end-2002. Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark and the UK were able to support this compromise, but others were strongly opposed. The issue will be re-examined in May.

The Council reached unanimous agreement on measures to reform the cotton regime, within strict budgetary limits. The Council also adopted by qualified majority a proposal to permit organic producers to grow fodder legumes on set aside land; only France abstained in the vote on this small but worthwhile measure.

The Council agreed conclusions on the integration of environmental concerns into the common agricultural policy; these will form part of a report on environmental sustainability going to EU Heads of Government in June. The Commission also reported to the Council progress with the setting up of the proposed European Food Authority.

Organic Farming

Mr. Gray: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if the use of slug pellets prevents the designation of a lettuce farm as organic. [159261]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 27 April 2001]: EU standards for organic production contained in Regulation (EEC) 2092/91 permit the use of slug pellets based on metaldehyde. But they may be used only in traps and the formulation must contain a repellent to prevent them from being taken by higher animal species. Subject to review, authorisation for the use of this material expires on 31 March 2002.

However, the private sector bodies that certify individual organic farmers may apply standards stricter than the EU standards if they wish and at least one does not permit the use of slug pellets.

Flood Defence

Mr. Todd: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will review the benefit cost factors allowable in analyses of flood defence projects. [159361]

Mr. Morley: The Ministry keeps its guidance on the economic appraisal of flood and coastal defence projects under review, inter alia, in the light of developing methodology. Revised guidance was published in 1999.

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The Environment Agency's "Lessons Learned" Report on the 2000 floods raises questions about the process of making investment decisions. I have asked the Agency to provide me with supporting evidence by September 2001 and the Ministry will then consider with them, and the other operating authorities, whether changes are required.

Mr. Todd: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will assess the need for catchment flood planning; and if he will make a statement. [159352]

Mr. Morley: The MAFF Strategy for Flood and Coastal Defence, published in 1993, emphasised the importance of a strategic approach to the delivery of flood and coastal defences. At the time priority was given to coastal defences and, in partnership with operating authorities, MAFF developed guidance on the provision of Shoreline Management Plans.

The floods of autumn 2000 re-emphasised the need for a strategic approach to inland floods and as a result the Government initiated catchment area studies leading to Catchment Flood Management Plans. These plans will provide a large scale strategic planning framework for the integrated management of flood risks. The Government have made provision for the payment of £2 million in both this year and the next to the Environment Agency on this initiative. Initially five pilot studies are being undertaken.

Ministerial Visits

Sir Brian Mawhinney: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) if he will list the Ministers in his Department who visited any of the constituencies which are in the Peterborough unitary authority area between 1 January 2000 and 14 February 2001, indicating in each case (a) the date of the visit, (b) the constituencies included in the visit and (c) if the local hon. Member met the Minister; [151020]

Mr. Nick Brown [holding answers 26 February and 20 March 2001]: On 23 October 2000, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary visited the North-West Cambridgeshire constituency and did not meet the local hon. Member. On 23 January 2001, I visited the North- East Cambridgeshire constituency and did not meet the local hon. Member.

Less Favoured Areas

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many producers within less favoured areas submitted integrated administration and control system (IACS) forms for the first time in 2000. [156111]

Mr. Nick Brown: This information could be supplied only at disproportionate cost.

Farm Aid Package

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will indicate for each component item of the farm aid package announced on 30 March 2000 whether the funding provided is ring-fenced on an annual basis. [147850]

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Mr. Nick Brown [holding answer 30 January 2001]: Each component item of the £203.5 million farm aid package announced on 30 March 2000 was allocated for a particular purpose and time scale. The Regional Development Agencies have provision to carry over their share of this funding from one year to the next. It has also been agreed that the following underspends in 2000-01 can be carried over into 2001-02: £4.4 million on the Farm Business Advice Service, £3.9 million on the Pig Industry Restructuring Scheme, £0.6 million on the Agricultural Development Scheme and £0.3 million on the Rural Portal.

Vets

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many vets were employed by the State Veterinary Service in each year since 1997. [153242]

Mr. Nick Brown: In the State Veterinary Service there are 304 currently employed Veterinary Surgeons, which comprises 286 full-time posts.

YearFull-time equivalent posts
2000284
1999283
1998302
1997289

Anne M. Veneman

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what (a) meetings and (b) telephone conversations he has had with Anne M. Veneman since her appointment as US Secretary of Agriculture. [153367]

Mr. Nick Brown: So far I have not had any meetings or conversations with Anne M. Veneman since her appointment as US Secretary of Agriculture. We had hoped to meet at the Agra Europe event on 29 March but unfortunately neither Ms Veneman nor I were able to attend. I hope that a meeting can be arranged at the earliest opportunity.

Parliamentary Question

Mr. Gill: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will provide a substantive answer to the question tabled for answer on 30 March (Ref. 156200). [159530]

Ms Quin: I refer the hon. Member to the reply given to him on 26 April 2001, Official Report, column 349W.

Land Use

Mr. Baker: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what percentage of land in England was (a) under cultivation for crops and (b) used for animal rearing purposes in (i) 1980, (ii) 1990 and (iii) the most recent year for which figures are available. [159595]

Ms Quin: The answer is in the table.

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Total area of England (Hectares)Crops (Percentage)Animal rearing (Percentage)
198013,042,20031.937.8
199013,042,20032.735.4
200013,042,20030.531.2

Notes:

1. Crops include all arable crops some of which are grown for stockfeeding.

2. Animal rearing is all grassland and rough grazing.

3. Common land has not been included in the figures for animal rearing. There are 427,889 hectares of common land in England.

Sources:

Crops and Animal Rearing--June Agricultural Census 1980, 1990 and 2000 (main holdings only).

Total Area of England--Office for National Statistics (2001 data).



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