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Potato Harvest

Mr. Beith: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what representations (a) she and (b) her predecessor received about extending the date limit on harvesting potatoes on set-aside land in Northumberland following exceptionally wet weather; and if extensions have been granted. [1173]

Alun Michael [holding answer 28 June 2001]: The date limit for harvesting potatoes, or other crops, from set-aside land is designed to ensure that farmers cannot receive both an EU payment for taking land out of production and revenue from agricultural operations during the set-aside period. In a normal year any previously planted crops must be harvested by 15 January at the latest in order to comply with this condition, which is laid down in implementing legislation for the EU's Arable Area Payments Scheme. In view of a number of representations from the industry at the time, the UK twice successfully applied to the European Commission to have the date postponed, initially to 31 March and subsequently to 30 April, in order to allow sufficient time for harvesting to be completed where field conditions resulting from exceptionally wet weather had earlier made this impossible. We also secured a derogation allowing failed crops to be ploughed in at any time before the 15 May claim deadline, without prejudicing eligibility for set-aside payment.

Notwithstanding these changes, my predecessor did receive some subsequent representations asking for a further postponement of the harvesting date limit beyond 30 April. The European Commission were not prepared to agree to this, pointing both to the practical difficulties of ensuring that crops harvested so late had genuinely

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been planted with a view to harvest by 15 January, as normally required, and to the likely condition of such crops after so long in unworkable ground.

Fuel Poverty

Mr. Don Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many submissions were made to the consultation on the UK Fuel Poverty Strategy; how many of these responses recommended that the definition of fuel poverty should use a form of disposable income; and if she will make a statement on the Government's plans for assessing and responding to the consultation. [1319]

Mr. Meacher: Over 240 responses have been received on the draft UK Fuel Poverty Strategy. Since the consultation only ended every recently these are now being analysed before decisions are taken on the best way forward.

Departmental Responsibilities

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when preparations began (1) for the transfer of responsibility for environmental sustainability to the new Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; [276]

Margaret Beckett: [holding answer 25 June 2001]: In keeping with normal practice, contingency work was undertaken within the civil service during the election campaign, on the basis of proposals published in party manifestos.

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if the role of rural advocate will change because of the creation of her Department. [267]

Margaret Beckett [holding answer 25 June 2001]: No. The role of the rural advocate, as the Government's statutory adviser on the countryside, is to argue the case on countryside issues and for rural people at the highest levels across Government and outside. That task will be assisted by bringing together rural policy responsibilities in my Department but many other Departments have responsibility for policy areas with a major impact on rural communities.

Quangos

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if the number of quangos previously overseen by the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions will reduce following the establishment of her Department. [291]

Margaret Beckett [holding answer 25 June 2001]: There are no current plans to do so, but the need for each non-departmental public body is regularly reviewed.

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Tractors

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what limit was agreed by the EU Employment and Social Policy Council on tractor use and the length of the transition period. [738]

Margaret Beckett [holding answer 25 June 2001]: The EU Employment and Social Policy Council is not seeking to impose a specific limit on tractor use. However, it has been discussing the proposed Physical Agents (Vibration) Directive which would, among other provisions, set a mandatory limit for exposure to whole body vibration. Limiting whole body vibration would affect tractor driving time but the impact will depend on the magnitude of the vibration in individual cases. The Council agreed on a maximum dose of 1.15 metres per second squared (a measure of acceleration) averaged over an 8-hour period for whole body vibration exposure. In the case of tractor use, the impact would vary, depending on factors such as seating and cab design. Under the transition arrangements proposed agriculture would not be required to comply with the whole body vibration limits until 2013.

The Directive has not been agreed and is due to be considered by the European Parliament in September.

Tourism

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the division of responsibility for tourism between her Department and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. [277]

Margaret Beckett [holding answer 25 June 2001]: Tourism is an increasingly important industry for many rural communities and my Department will be keen to work closely with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, our regional and local partners, and the Countryside Agency and other stakeholders in promoting the contribution it can make to the rural economy.

There has been no change to the responsibilities of DCMS in relation to rural tourism.

Food Safety

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the division of responsibility for food and food safety between her Department, other Government Departments and the Food Standards Agency. [278]

Margaret Beckett [holding answer 25 June 2001]: This Department retains the responsibilities for food of the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which embrace all elements of the food chain from primary agricultural production to retailing and the protection of public health in relation to farm produce and to animal diseases transmissible to humans. The Department will work closely with other Departments to promote sustainable and diverse farming and food industries that work together to meet the needs of consumers. Food safety remains the responsibility of the Food Standards Agency.

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Agriculture Council

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which Minister in her Department will in normal circumstances attend meetings of the Agriculture Council. [204]

Margaret Beckett [holding answer 25 June 2001]: I will.

Fishmeal

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the restrictions in the use of fishmeal in animal feed. [210]

Margaret Beckett [holding answer 25 June 2001]: A proposal to extend the restriction on the use of fishmeal in ruminant feed failed to secure a qualified majority in the Agriculture Council of 19 June. In the absence of a qualified majority against the proposal, the Commission are now free to extend the ban under their own competence, and they have expressed their intention to do so. However, they have undertaken to review the ban once a diagnostic test to differentiate between animal and fish protein is validated.

South African Meat Exports

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the (a) value and (b) volume of meat products exported from South Africa to the United Kingdom was in each (i) year and (ii) month since 1997. [397]

Margaret Beckett [holding answer 25 June 2001]: Official Overseas Trade statistics show that the value and volume of meat products exported from South Africa to the United Kingdom since 1997 was as follows:

UK imports of beef from South Africa: January 1997 to April 2001

Carcase meat Meat and offal preparations Total
YearTonnes£000Tonnes£000Tonnes£000
1997
May13401340
September52975297
December59217357093287
1998
March17321732
April52945294
July8923689236
September15391539
October166455166455
1999
May20955767165276722
June15371537
2000
January17231723
February15121512
April5816158161
May416416
June17491749
October56143175972203
December34513451
2001
January34513451
February34513451
March152934514980
April51765176


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UK imports of pigmeat from South Africa: January 1997 to April 2001

Pork
Tonnes£000
1997
February913
1998
March2010

No imports were recorded for other meat products.

Only months for which trade was reported are shown in the tables.


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