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Flood and Coastal Defence

Mr. Hopkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when she will publish reports received under her Department's high level targets for flood and coastal defence; and if she will make a statement. [60263]

Mr. Morley: I am today publishing four reports and placing copies in the House Libraries. These reports relate to:

Target 1—Policy statements; Target 2—Provision of flood warnings; Target 3—Emergency exercises and emergency plans; and Target 9—Biodiversity.

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I am grateful to the Environment Agency for providing these reports and to the other operating authorities who have contributed to the work which is being reported upon. The severe floods of Autumn 2000 created inevitable delays in producing these reports. Some other reports will be produced later this year, covering a two year period.

The high level targets initiative is designed to secure a more certain delivery of the Government's policy aim and objectives for flood and coastal defence. In the difficult circumstances of the past year or so the results being reported today are encouraging though they do point to the need for further work to be done, including by some operating authorities, to offer a more consistent approach to service delivery.

On target 1, I am pleased that the great majority of operating authorities have produced a suitable statement of their policy towards flood and coastal defence. While there is a significant minority of local authorities who have not produced statements, many of them are understood to have little or no flood and coastal defence responsibilities. Nevertheless there are some local authorities who have more significant responsibilities and we will be working with the Environment Agency and Local Government Association in encouraging them to produce statements.

On target 2, I note that overall some two-thirds of the Environment Agency's severe flood warnings were issued in accordance with their service standards. This is encouraging especially in the face of the severe demands of the 2000 floods. The Agency nevertheless recognise that there is room for improvement and are working on a new investment strategy. It is also worth recording that since Autumn 2000 a further 322,000 properties are covered by the Agency's flood warning arrangements.

On target 3, programmes of emergency exercises were disrupted by the 2000 floods, foot and mouth disease and, to some extent, the events of September 11. Nevertheless 22 emergency exercises were carried out in 2001 and lessons learned from them are identified in the report. 27 local or regional exercises are planned for this year and a national exercise is planned for 2003. I am also pleased to note that good progress has been made in ensuring that local emergency plans cover flooding and that there are arrangements in hand for these to be reviewed, particularly to cover the local sources of flooding and provision of sandbags.

On target 9, the report shows that flood and coastal defence works have resulted in net gains in a number of habitats covered by Biodiversity Action Plans. This work is often alleged to be damaging to the environment but the report provides evidence to the contrary. While this is very encouraging, work is in hand to ensure more rigorous collection of this information for future reports.

I expect to publish further reports later this year. We will also be working with the operating authorities in reviewing the operation of high level targets with a view to refining and extending the initiative.

Institute for Animal Health

Ian Stewart: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether the Department Accounting Officer has decided that he will

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take steps to recover the public money committed to the Institute for Animal Health study into sheep TSEs. [60378]

Margaret Beckett: In his capacity as the Departmental Accounting Officer, the Permanent Secretary for DEFRA has secured the assurance of the BBSRC, IAH's sponsoring organisation, that the sum of £100,000 has been invested to examine and improve quality control procedures for the specialist work that IAH carries out on behalf of DEFRA. This investment equates to the value of the work which IAH undertook into the TSE experiments. There were unique features surrounding this particular experiment and we recognise the outstanding contribution that IAH has made in this field of research. I believe that this outcome satisfactorily resolves the issues for both the Department and the Institute.

A404 (Bisham)

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what advice she has received from the Government Office for the South East on the use of her powers to create an order for a footpath under the flood arch on the A404 at Bisham, Berkshire, as a diversion of footpath Bisham. [58825]

Alun Michael [holding answer 23 May 2002]: The question refers to a footpath (Bisham 9) which crosses the A404 near Maidenhead, a busy dual carriageway which links the M4 and M40. Although the path is well used and traffic speeds are typically 60–70 mph, no crossing facilities are provided. Accidents have occurred and the situation is recognised as being dangerous. It was suggested by the Ramblers Association that a culvert under the road a short distance away could be used by walkers. The Highways agency has no objection to this, but it would require the diversion of the path to the culvert crossing point. The Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, as highway authority, made a diversion order under S119 of the Highways Act, but when the landowner objected they withdrew the order, rather than sending to the Secretary of State for confirmation. Instead, they proposed a new route taking the path some half a kilometre along the road to another culvert, which is already to be used as a crossing for another path. The Ramblers say that the alternative path is circuitous, inconvenient and inferior to their proposed route in many ways. It would also leave the present dangerous crossing point open. From the information that we gathered from the parties concerned, there appears to be some justification in these criticisms, I have asked lawyers for advice on these issues in order to come to a conclusion on the way forward as quickly as possible.


Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many (a) submissions the Minister for Rural Affairs has received and (b) meetings he has attended with outside organisations concerning the current consultation on hunting with dogs. [57257]

Alun Michael: Following my statement to the House on 21 March, in which I announced a process of consultation on the practical issues of detail with a wide variety of interested parties, I then wrote to every member of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. At

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the same time, I also wrote to a wide range of interested organisation and members of the public. I have received over 7,000 letters and submissions in response.

Since my statement to the House on the 21 March, I have met the Countryside Alliance and its Campaign for Hunting; the Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals, comprising the RSPCA, the League Against Cruel Sports and the International Fund for Animal Welfare; and the Middle Way Group. I have promised to continue to engage with all three of these main groups. I have also met the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, the National Coursing Club and Protect our Wild Animals. I plan to hold meetings with various other organisations, including further meetings with the three main interest groups, over the coming weeks. In addition to these meetings, I have met delegations from the Countryside Alliance on a variety of occasions at various locations around the country, including the North of England, the East Midlands, the South West, Yorkshire and North Wales.

Many of those responding to my letter of 10 April simply expressed strongly held and passionate views either for or against hunting with dogs. Others addressed the principles on which the legislation will be based—the principles of cruelty and utility—and included some very interesting comments from organisations and individuals with relevant experience. I shall continue to engage on the issues with the main representative groups and with other organisations with a particular interest in hunting with dogs.

While the volume of responses has put pressure on the team within DEFRA, the work of analysing the responses is almost complete. I shall write again shortly to all MPs, Peers, Assembly Members and a wide range of interested organisations, providing a further opportunity to submit facts and evidence on what have emerged as the specific topics and key issues that need to be addressed on how the principles which will underpin the legislation should be applied to practical situations.


Digital Television

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if she will list the number of subscriptions to (a) digital terrestrial, (b) digital satellite and (c) digital cable television held by her Department for services in any departmental building from which Ministers work, stating for each subscription its (i) cost and (ii) purpose. [48335]

Dr. Howells [holding answer 10 April 2002]: The DCMS' provider of additional television channels cannot currently offer digital television to the Westminster area. Therefore DCMS receives all its additional television services through analogue cable television.

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