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Departmental Staff (Home Working)

Mr. Challen: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps her Department is taking to encourage staff to work from home; and how many staff do so on a regular basis. [21825]

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Mr. Morley: The Department is committed to the work-life balance of its staff. A range of flexible working patterns including part-time working, job sharing and home working is available to staff by agreement with their management.

DEFRA publicises its policy on flexible working and encourages managers to respond positively to requests as part of their commitment to the diversity agenda.

Information on the number of staff undertaking home working on a regular basis is not kept centrally and a complete list of those using working from home arrangements could be provided only at disproportionate cost. However, IT dial-in facilities which enable staff to work remotely are widely used, with around 1,400 having access to this facility. A regular element of home working is normal practice for certain groups of staff. It is estimated that around 10 per cent. of staff make use of informal arrangements to work from home occasionally.


Mr. Clapham: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will seek the support of her European colleagues to press the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for a worldwide ban on all forms of asbestos; and if she will make a statement. [21857]

Mr. Meacher: The WTO applies the rules of the multilateral trading system. It does not itself impose restrictions on the import or export of particular goods or services. It is a matter for individual members of the WTO to decide whether such trade restrictions are appropriate.

With respect to chrysotile asbestos, the WTO's Appellate Body reached a decision in March 2001 which upheld the French ban on imports of chrysotile asbestos, which had been challenged within the WTO's Dispute Settlement Mechanism by Canada. The Appellate Body found that in view of the toxicity of chrysotile asbestos, the French import ban was justified under Article XX of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which allows measures necessary for a range of purposes, including the protection of human, animal or plant life or health.

The Declaration adopted at the 4th Ministerial Conference of the WTO, held in Doha on 9–14 November 2001, reaffirms that:

The United Kingdom has in place a body of regulations to prevent and control exposure to asbestos. These cover the prohibition of its importation, supply and new use, the control of work where employees may be exposed to asbestos, and the licensing of removal contractors. Forthcoming proposed legislation will additionally require those in control of non-domestic premises to manage any asbestos in their buildings in order to prevent accidental exposure.

On 26 July 1999 the European Community adopted further restrictions on the supply and use of asbestos, through the Marketing and Use Directive, that must be in force in all member states by 1 January 2005. The United

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Kingdom legislation which implements this Directive (with a small number of time limited derogations) came into force on 24 November 1999.

Wild Mammals

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans she has to improve the monitoring of the wild mammal population. [21422R]

Mr. Meacher [holding answer 10 December 2001]: At present there is no comprehensive, standardised national monitoring of British mammals that embraces the full range of important species. While a range of organisations undertake monitoring, not all mammals are included, surveys are often sporadic and the results distributed to only a limited extent.

A GB-wide research contract "Design and pilot a multi-species terrestrial mammal monitoring project" was let in June 2001 to the British Trust for Ornithology and the Mammal Society. The overall aim will be to design and pilot, using a volunteer network, a winter monitoring project involving both visual recording of mammals and the recording of their signs, and is intended to form a building block for an integrated mammal-monitoring system.

The work will include an analysis of the results and consider aspects such as accuracy, repeatability and the utility of the results for monitoring mammal abundance and distribution and for the potential to assess long-term trends.

Water Leakage

Andrew Bennett: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how far each United Kingdom water provider has reduced water leakage from the supply system; and which companies have met the targets set by the Deputy Prime Minister in 1997. [22165]

Mr. Meacher: At the Water summit in 1997, the Deputy Prime Minister asked the Office of Water Services to set leakage targets for water companies in England and Wales. The objective was for companies to reach their economic level of leakage by 2002–03 and all companies, with the exception of Thames Water, are on target to reach that level. To date, this amounts to a reduction in leakage of about 30 per cent. Thames Water has been required to take the necessary corrective action by 2003–04. Details of the action required of Thames and other companies' performance are contained in the Ofwat report 'Leakage and the efficient use of water 2000–01', a copy of which is in the Library of the House.

The Water summit did not involve the water authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Scottish Executive published their most recent leakage information in 'Public Water Supplies in Scotland 1999–2000 Water Resources Survey'. The Northern Ireland Water Service does not currently publish any information on leakage.

Farm-based Horse Enterprises

Mr. Todd: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent steps she has taken to assist farmers diversifying into

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farm-based horse enterprises; what representations she has received on this issue since June; and if she will make a statement. [22461]

Alun Michael: Farmers wishing to diversify their farm business, including diversification into farm-based horse enterprises, can apply for funding under the Rural Enterprise Scheme (RES), part of the England Rural Development Programme which was launched in September 2000. There are equivalent measures in Objective 1 areas.

DEFRA also offers assistance in the form of free planning consultancy advice to farmers who intend to pursue an eligible RES diversification project.

Other funding for farm diversification projects which utilise existing farm buildings is available from regional development agencies in the form of redundant building grant.

The Government have also taken other practical measures to encourage farm diversification generally which will assist farmers diversifying into equine businesses. The Rating (Former Agricultural Premises and Rural Shops) Act 2001 provides for rate relief on buildings and land used for all non-agricultural enterprises on what had previously been agricultural premises. An amendment to guidance in Planning Police Guidance note 7 (PPG7), "The Countryside—Environmental Quality and Economic and Social Development", on farm diversification makes clear the importance that the Government attach to diversification. It encourages local planning authorities to support well-conceived schemes that are consistent in their scale with their rural location.

Since June I have had representations on this issue from the British Equestrian Federation and the British Horse Industry Confederation. Abandoned Vehicles

Dr. Murrison: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on changes in the numbers of abandoned vehicles in England over the last three years. [22470]

Mr. Meacher: Local authorities are responsible for dealing with abandoned vehicles. Although the Department currently holds no central records of the number of vehicles abandoned each year we estimate that some 350,000 are abandoned in the United Kingdom each year. We know anecdotally that the numbers of abandoned vehicles are increasing year on year.

More up to date information on the number of abandoned vehicles removed by local authorities is being collected in the Department's 2000–01 Municipal Waste Management Survey which should be published in July 2002. Flooding (North Yorkshire)

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what allowance has been made in the Revenue Support Grant for 2002–03 for the November 2000 floods in North Yorkshire. [22662]

Mr. Morley: The provisional increases in flood defence standard spending assessments (SSAs) for councils in the north of Yorkshire are shown in the table. SSAs are reflected in the distribution to councils of revenue support grant and national non-domestic rates.

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£ million

North Yorkshire2.4232.5776
East Riding of Yorkshire2.0012.26613
Kingston upon Hull0.7680.8095

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