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Departmental Sickness Absence

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will commission and publish an independent report on the reasons for the level of sickness absence in her Department. [26972]

Mr. Morley: The Department does not intend to commission and publish an independent report on the reasons for the level of its sickness absence, but it is planning to carry out its own analysis.

A comprehensive analysis of sickness absence in the civil service is produced annually by Cabinet Office. Copies of such reports are placed in the Library of the House.

Responsibility for attendance matters within the Central Science Laboratory, the Veterinary Laboratories Agency and the Centre for Environmental Fisheries and

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Aquaculture Agency—all former MAFF agencies—has been delegated to the agency chief executives and I have asked them to reply direct. The Pesticides Safety Directorate, the Rural Payments Agency and the veterinary medicines directorate agencies are covered by the departmental response.

Illegal Meat Imports

Mr. Martyn Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the steps that have been taken to control illegal meat imports arriving in the UK via Heathrow airport. [27269]

Mr. Morley: Since April last year we have taken a range of initiatives aimed at improving our ability to prevent and detect illegal imports of animal products. These initiatives have been co-ordinated by officials in the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but involve other Departments such as HM Customs and Excise and the Food Standards Agency, and the local authorities who are responsible for controls at ports and airports.

Checks on imports of animal products at Heathrow airport are primarily the responsibility of Hillingdon borough council. We have regular discussions with council officers about import controls. In addition customs officers and immigration officers are alert to the need to be vigilant to illegal imports of animal products carried in passenger baggage. Local authority officers, customs officers and state veterinary service officers at the airport liaise in organising checks of passenger baggage for illegal animal products.

Posters have been placed at Heathrow and other airports alerting individuals to what products they may bring in. These are now being improved in the light of experience and discussion has taken place with the airport authority to ensure that posters are sited as effectively as possible.

Tenant Farmers

Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans she has to meet the Tenant Farmers Association; and if she will make a statement. [27619]

Mr. Morley: My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister for Rural Affairs, and my noble Friend Lord Whitty, have all met representatives of the Tenant Farmers Association over the last six months. I can assure the hon. Member that the close contact DEFRA has established with the tenanted sector will be maintained. Further, my noble Friend Lord Whitty has agreed to meet with the Tenant Farmers Association when the outcome of the review of the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995 is known.

Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make an assessment of the issues facing tenant farmers; and what action she will take to improve their situation. [27620]

Mr. Morley: The Policy Commission on Food and Farming has been established to look at all aspects of the farming industry. DEFRA has been sent a copy of the detailed submission the Tenant Farmers Association

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(TFA) has made to the commission and departmental officials have met with the TFA to discuss the issues raised. DEFRA has also commissioned a review of the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995. This is being conducted by Plymouth university and their draft report should be available to the Department by the end of January.

It is not possible to say what if any specific action will be taken in relation to tenant farming issues before the results of this study and the Policy Commission's recommendations are known. However the Government are committed to the establishment of a sustainable, diverse, modern and adaptable farming industry.

Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what representations she has received from the Tenant Farmers Association concerning (a) an early retirement and young entrant scheme into the farming industry, (b) her Department's free business advice to all farmers, (c) farm diversification through best practice guides and (d) 50 per cent. rate relief for five years for new non-agricultural enterprises on farms. [27618]

Mr. Morley: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met representatives of the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) on 30 October, as did my noble Friend Lord Whitty on 16 July and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs on 21 November. The key topics discussed at these meetings were an early retirement scheme, access by tenant farmers to agri- environment and other schemes under the second pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy, and the scope for diversification by tenant farmers under existing tenancy legislation. There has, in addition, been correspondence between my officials and the TFA on the free business advice service provided to farmers.

Fur Farming

Mr. Jack: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) for what reasons the Fur Farming (Compensation Scheme) (England) Order 2001 (SI 2001, No 3853) does not make provision for (a) the value of male animals and (b) the differential value of different breed of mink; [27755]

Mr. Morley: Under section 5(1) of the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000, fur farmers are able to close down at any time between enactment on 23 November 2000 and the coming into force of the ban on 1 January 2003, without affecting their eligibility for compensation. This winding-down period of more than two years allows each fur farmer to choose the best time when to close in order to mitigate any losses, including on breeding and young stock.

Those fur farmers who choose to close at a later date will derive greater returns for each breeding animal from the market, thus reducing the residual breeding value, and hence the level of compensation. Any differential in the

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value of different breeds of mink will be reflected in the profitability of the enterprise for which compensation is being provided.

Mr. Jack: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for what reasons the Fur Farming (Compensation Scheme) (England) Order 2001 (SI 2001, No. 3853) specifies (a) a fixed sum for the value of breeding stock, and (b) a fixed multiplier to determine qualifying income losses; and for what reason there is no appeal under the terms of the order to (a) arbitration and (b) to the Lands Tribunal. [27751]

Mr. Morley: Under Section 5(1) of the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is required to make a compensation scheme. Due consideration was given to all relevant factors in producing such a scheme. It was not considered appropriate for the Government to leave the determination of the value of breeding stock and the income multiplier to an arbitrator or the Lands Tribunal, if they were to meet their obligation to make a scheme that is fair and reasonable. The calculation of average net trading profits could, however, be referred to an arbitrator or the Lands Tribunal.

Air Pollution

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many days of (a) moderate, (b) high and (c) very high air pollution there were (i) in the United Kingdom and (ii) in Buckinghamshire in each year since 1997; and if she will indicate the suspected causes of high and very high readings. [27790]

Mr. Meacher: DEFRA operate a National Automatic Urban and Rural Network that currently includes about 120 sites throughout the UK. Data are produced continuously on an hourly basis. Ratified data are available up to 30 September 2001. After this date care must be taken in interpretation of the pollution levels recorded since high measurements may be the result of instrument error that is still to be identified.

An analysis of moderate, high or very high pollution during 1997–2001 has been undertaken to identify the number and severity of such incidents. Pollution at each site is defined according to the pollutant that is in the highest band during the day. The numbers of days in each band for each pollutant in the United Kingdom since 1997 are given in the table.

There are no National Automatic Urban and Rural Network monitoring sites in Buckinghamshire.

Number of days of moderate, high and very high air pollution in the United Kingdom (at one or more sites) in each year since 1997

ModerateHighVery high
19972697014
19982594912
19992695115
2000240387
20012506919

High air pollution episodes due to ozone are only recorded in the summer months. The pollution is linked to hot sunny weather when industrial and motor vehicle

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emissions react under these conditions to form ground- level ozone. Light easterly winds sometimes bring this pollution across to the UK from central Europe. If conditions are very still for several days then high pollution can be generated by pollution emissions from the UK only.

High air pollution episodes due to sulphur dioxide are either due to emissions from domestic heating systems (coal or oil), or from industrial processes. The former episodes are measured during the winter in urban areas with significant use of these fuel types. Industrial related incidents can be many miles away from the source of the pollution when the plume from the process comes to ground.

High air pollution episodes due to nitrogen dioxide are related to motor vehicle emissions and, although infrequent, are usually during very cold, still conditions in the winter months.

High or very high particulate matter (PM 1 0 ) can be from a variety of industrial, motor vehicle, construction or "natural" sources such as Saharan dust, volcanic eruptions, agricultural dust or fireworks.

There are no high or very high CO episodes.


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