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Social Exclusion

Andrew Selous: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) if she will place in the Library a copy of the application form for each of the competitive grant schemes administered by his Department and its agencies open in each year since 1997 to organisations in the voluntary and community sector for the purposes of tackling social exclusion; [22413]

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Alun Michael [holding answer 12 December 2001]: The information is not available in the form requested, and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost, having regard in particular to the recent creation of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. However, I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by the Under- Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) on 19 December 2001, Official Report, column 482W. The website http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office. cm011219/text/11219w47. htm#11219w47.htm–spnew5 contains references to the available information on Government grants to voluntary organisations.

North Sea Conference

Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the dates are for the forthcoming second North Sea Conference; where the conference will be held; what intergovernmental preparatory meetings have been held; what non- governmental organisations have been consulted in preparation; and if she will place in the Library copies of papers and documents that (a) will be submitted to the North Sea Ministerial Conference, and (b) constitute background material for the conference. [28494]

Mr. Meacher: The fifth conference of Ministers responsible for the protection of the environment of the North sea will be held in Bergen, Norway on 20 and 21 March. The Committee of North Sea Senior Officials has met a number of times to prepare for the conference, most recently in September 2001 and January 2002. A further meeting will be held next month. The meetings are attended by Government representatives, intergovernmental organisations and non-governmental organisations with observer status.

22 NGOs have observer status: the Baltic and Maritime Council, Birdlife International, Committee of Agricultural Organisations in the EU, European Anglers Alliance, European Bureau of Conservation and Development, European Chemical Industries Council, European Community Sea Ports Organisation, European Waste Water Group, European Water Association, Europeche, Greenpeace International, High North Alliance, International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, International Chamber of Shipping, International Fishmeal and Oil Manufacturers Association, International Transport Workers' Federation, Local Authorities International

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Environmental Organisation, Nordic Fishermen's Council, Seas at Risk, Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe, World Nuclear Association, and World Wide Fund for Nature.

The substantive background document which will be presented to the conference is a comprehensive progress report, reviewing action taken and progress achieved since the last conference. This is currently being finalised by the Secretariat in Oslo. I will place copies in the Library when it is published. The conference is likely to adopt a declaration, defining action for the future. I will place a copy in the Library.

Organophosphate Pesticides

Mr. Tyler: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, pursuant to the answer of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of 27 April 1998, Official Report, column 30W, on organophosphate pesticides, what report has been received on the research study by CBD Porton Down into the dose effect profiles for OP sheep dips on brain electrical activity and sensitive behaviour indices in non-human primates; and if she will make a statement on her Department's response to that study. [29063]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 21 January 2002]: The project was delayed in starting and as a result the completion was rescheduled for late summer 2002.

Countryside Stewardship Scheme

Mrs. Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the effect of reduced Countryside Stewardship scheme payment levels on the take-up of the scheme by farmers and landowners; and (a) how many participants there are and (b) what are the payments made by her Department in each of the years in which the Countryside Stewardship Scheme has been in operation. [29083]

Mr. Morley: Changes to Countryside Stewardship scheme payment rates were last implemented in 2001. Following a payment review, only five payments were reduced while the remaining 134 were either maintained or slightly increased. Overall, the net effect was estimated to be an increase of about 2 per cent. in total payments.

The continuing demand for the scheme, with nearly 3,000 applications last year, indicates that the current level of payment is generally acceptable.

By the end of the 2001–02 scheme year, there will be around 14,000 Stewardship agreement holders and we are looking for a further 3,000 applications for the 2002–03 scheme year.

The total payments made to farmers in each of years since 1991, when the scheme was introduced by the then Countryside Commission, are as follows:

£ million

Annual expenditure
Total expenditure 1992–2002182.0

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Mrs. Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the operation of the Countryside Stewardship scheme; and whether it is her Department's policy to reduce Countryside Stewardship scheme payment levels directly in line with declining farm incomes. [29082]

Mr. Morley: Countryside Stewardship payment rates are reviewed regularly. In line with EU rules, the rates take account of any income lost in undertaking Stewardship options, together with any additional costs incurred, such as specialised management or extra capital works and, where necessary, a small incentive element of up to 20 per cent.

When we carried out our latest review of payment rates we found that, because of the severe decline in farm incomes since the previous review, a few of the current rates exceeded the actual loss of income involved in participating in the scheme. Although a small number of rates were adjusted downwards to reflect this, the great majority of payment rates were either maintained or increased and overall the net effect was estimated to be an increase of about 2 per cent. in total payments. This shows the efforts that we have made to protect payment rates from external economic circumstances.

Nitrate Pollution

Mrs. Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on (a) the environmental harm caused by nitrate levels in the land phase of the hydrological cycle and (b) the source of the research upon which the theory is based. [29091]

Mr. Meacher: Nitrates in soil can leach into water. High nitrate levels in water contribute to eutrophication and reduce biodiversity. A risk assessment of such environmental harm is contained in a Regulatory Impact Assessment annexed to the Department's current consultation document "How should England implement the 1991 Nitrates Directive?" published on 20 December 2001.

A report by WRc to DETR in 1999 entitled "Diffuse pollution: sources of N and P" explains the scientific processes and extent of environmental harm and contains an extensive reference list. Copies of this report are available from the Foundation for Water Research.

Mrs. Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of research evidence showing that (a) the process of denitrification includes the addition of phosphate and (b) phosphate is the cause of eutrophication in saline water. [29085]

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Mr. Meacher: The research evidence suggests phosphate is not a significant influence on denitrification, though there are circumstances where phosphate limited plant growth can influence the capacity for denitrification to occur or where the anaerobic conditions required for denitrification also lead to the mobilisation of phosphorus from sediments.

The research evidence shows that for marine waters generally the growth of algae is limited by the amount of nitrogen available (rather than the amount of phosphorus), so eutrophication can result if there is an increase in nitrogen. The position in estuaries or transitional waters may be more complex, and in a few places the availability of phosphorus may be the limiting factor.

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