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Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what role recycling credits have in ensuring businesses meet recycling targets; what assessment her Department has made of their impact on local authorities, businesses and charitable organisations; and if she will make a statement; [56562]

Mr. Meacher: Under section 52 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 waste disposal authorities are required to pay waste collection authorities recycling credits for all waste which the latter recycle. The value of the recycling credit should be equal to the saving the disposal authority makes through not having to dispose of the recycled material.

Local authorities have the option (but not a duty) to pay recycling credits to third parties (businesses, charities and community groups) collecting waste for recycling. Practice among local authorities varies, but I am aware that a number have a policy of not paying recycling credits to businesses.

I have had no specific representations from, or discussions with, the groups mentioned on the issue of recycling credits, nor has my Department carried out an assessment of their impact on them. However, "Waste Strategy 2000" recognised that the current scheme in England and Wales might in some cases work against the closer working relationships between collection and disposal authorities and other interested parties which the national strategy advocates. The Government are committed to reviewing the recycling credits scheme to see whether incentives for the promotion of recycling can be improved. In so doing we will consult fully with relevant parties, including those listed.

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Water Industry

Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what changes she proposes to the regulation of the water industry; if her preparatory work included consideration of their effect on sustainable development; and if she will make a statement. [56549]

Mr. Meacher: The main changes proposed to the regulation of the water industry are contained in the draft Water Bill, which has sustainability as a central theme. The Government response to the consultation was published on 2 May and the Bill will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows.

The Water Bill contains changes to the water abstraction authorisation system to ensure that water is used sustainably. It also aims to put consumers at the heart of regulation of the water industry, through mechanisms such as the creation of an independent Consumer Council for Water and requiring companies to make clear any links between directors' pay and company performance. The Bill also includes proposals to give the Director General of Water Services a specific sustainable development duty.

Any future regulatory measures that are needed to ensure compliance with obligations in new European Community water quality legislation will be fully consulted on with the water industry and other stakeholders.

Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what consultations (a) have been undertaken and (b) are planned by her Department relating to the water industry; and if she will make a statement. [56550]

Mr. Meacher: Since May 2001 there have been the following formal consultations relating specifically to the water industry:

The Department also intends over the coming months to undertake further formal consultations on the following subjects:

Aside from formal consultations, Ministers and officials from DEFRA have frequent contact and discussions with a wide range of stakeholders in the water industry.

Sick Leave

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many days of sick leave were taken in her Department last year; how

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many related to employees suffering (a) stress and (b) other mental health problems; and what the cost was to her Department. [56486]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 14 May 2002]: Records are not yet available for the number of days sickness absence in 2001. In 2000, the latest year for which records are available, an average of 9 days per staff year were taken by employees in what was then the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, including its agencies. These figures are published in the Cabinet Office annual report "Analysis of Sickness Absence in the Civil Service", copies of which are placed in House Libraries.

The report does not separately identify stress and other mental health related absences, and the Department is able to obtain these figures and put a cost to these cases only at disproportionate cost.

The Department is committed to meeting its targets for reducing the number of working days lost due to sickness absence, which are contained in the published Service Delivery Agreement. The Department is also committed to reducing the number of working days lost from work-related injury and ill health arising from the Government's Revitalising Health and Safety initiative.

EU Meetings

Mr. Weir: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on how many occasions in the last six months (a) she and (b) her officials have met their Italian counterparts; and what subjects were discussed. [56886]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 16 May 2002]: My ministerial colleagues and I regularly meet with our Italian counterparts at meetings of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment Councils. Similarly, my officials have regular contacts with their Italian counterparts at meetings in Brussels. Two of my senior officials travelled to Rome earlier this month for a meeting to discuss CAP reform and the forthcoming mid-term review of Agenda 2000.

Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans she has to discuss reform of the Common Agricultural Policy with her French counterpart; and if she will make a statement. [56972]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 16 May 2002]: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to her new French counterpart congratulating him on his appointment and suggesting an early meeting to discuss this and other key issues. She also looks forward to meeting him in the Agriculture Council on 27 May.

Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions she has had with the Spanish presidency regarding the agenda for her meeting with her EU counterparts in Mallorca; and if she will make a statement. [56975]

Mr. Meacher [holding answer 16 May 2002]: No DEFRA Ministers, including myself, have had discussions or meetings with the presidency regarding the informal meeting of Environment Ministers on 24–26 May in Mallorca. The presidency decides the topic for informal ministerial meetings and has chosen soil protection. Its paper "Policy for the integrated protection of soil quality" will steer the discussion, but this has yet to emerge.

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Although my officials have not had a meeting with the presidency to discuss the agenda for the informal meeting of Ministers, they met on 4 April to discuss the Thematic Strategy for Soil. This will be an output of the sixth Environmental Action Programme, which is expected to be adopted shortly.

Temporary Staff

Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the cost to her Department was of employing staff in (a) London and (b) the south-east from employment agencies in each year since 1997. [56508]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 16 May 2002]: The Department has only been in existence since June 2001, so does not have such historical information. Constructing it retrospectively would involve disproportionate cost.

Imported Meat

Mr. Barnes: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what imports of meat there were in the last 12 months into the United Kingdom from nations which have not adopted equivalent legislative controls to those banning the use of certain growth promoters within the European Union; and what controls are in place to prevent the importation of such meat. [56597]

Mr. Morley [holding answer 16 May 2002]: In accordance with harmonised Community legislation, the importation into the EU of fresh meat derived from animals which have been treated with certain substances, including hormonal growth promoters, is not permitted.

All meat imported into the UK from third countries must enter at designated UK Border Inspection Posts (BIPs) where it is subject to veterinary inspections. All consignments are subject to documentary and identity checks and at least 20 per cent. of consignments undergo physical checks, which may include sampling. These ensure import conditions are met and that the products remain in a satisfactory condition during transport.

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