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The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley):
Traditional orchards form an attractive and important habitat for a wide
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range of species including wild flowers, lichens, insects and birds, and the Government fund their conservation through the countryside stewardship scheme.
Mr. Heath: It is hard to imagine a more benign agricultural practice than orchards, particularly the cider orchards in my county. The Minister will be aware of the concerns of many fruit growers at the implications of the single farm payment scheme and the intention of many of them to grub up old and unproductive orchards before the end of the year. I know that the Department is working on that and that it is making progress. He could make a big difference to the future of traditional cider orchards, in particular, if he could clarify the position for dual-use orchards that are grazed by livestock. Is any thought being given to a density limit for application of the single farm payment scheme for traditional orchards?
Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman is right that we are discussing with the European Commission the definition of grazed or grazeable land in relation to orchards, which may have an implication. It is worth bearing it in mind that orchards were not included in the previous subsidy regime and the regime that has been proposed is the same for the whole of Europe. There is not an incentive to grub up orchards because, in the initial stages of the new payment, those who did so would be eligible for only £20 per hectare. In contrast, older orchards, which are important for biodiversity, can go into stewardship schemes, which involve payment of hundreds of pounds per hectare. On top of that, in the hon. Gentleman's area, some orchards have gone into the organic scheme. Bulmers has been active in promoting that and I saw some of the work that it was doing, for which it deserves great credit. He will also be aware of measures to support that side of industry, which have been welcomed in his part of the world.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend realise that not only has there been great discontent, even in Yorkshire, about the threat to orchards, the grubbing up of orchards and the impact on biodiversity, but that, if it has been covered extensively on "You and Yours", perhaps it must be true? Will he now scotch the rumours that have been going round and which have been carried on the BBC? Are orchards in this country under threat or not?
Mr. Morley: This is a hypothetical threat, because it assumes that there are people in this country who would bulldoze ancient orchards simply to get access to funds under the revised common agricultural policy. I do not believe that many people will fall into that category. Some of the allegations have been exaggerated. At this moment, we do not have much evidence that that is happening. I repeat that a range of other support mechanisms are available, not least stewardship, under which considerable financial support can be provided in recognition of the range of environmental benefits that older orchards provide.
Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster)
(Con): What the Minister has not mentioned is that the stewardship
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scheme is closed for this year. Will he confirm that all traditional orchards will be eligible to join whatever the new scheme is when it reopens next year?
Mr. Morley: The rules will be more or less the same as those that apply now, in the sense that applications were made in relation to the old stewardship scheme, and we are now moving into the entry-level scheme. That scheme will have a higher tier, which depends on point-scoring, the range of options, eligibility criteria and what people can offer in terms of meeting the demands of the scheme. Many orchards will fall within that scheme and, when it opens, people will have that option. In addition, with the changes in the mid-term reviewmy right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had a considerable success in getting that agreementincreased resources will go into our agri-environment programmes, which will mean a wider range of options and more flexibility.
8. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): How many of the reductions in the numbers of civil servants announced in the spending review will take place in the Veterinary Laboratories Agency; and if she will make a statement. 
The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): Work is in progress to identify the scale of reduction in staff numbers at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency. It is too early to give specific figures.
Alun Michael: The efficiencies coming from each of the non-Rural Payments Agency executive agencies involve the VLA, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, the Pesticides Safety Directorate and the Central Science Laboratory. The figures are being worked out to deliver the efficiencies that DEFRA has to achieve.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Fallen stock must be disposed of in accordance with the EU animal by-products regulation. An industry-led fallen stock collection scheme, backed by Government funding, is expected to be introduced this autumn.
: Given that carcases now cannot be buried on farms and that the new scheme has not come in yet, what would the Minister say to farmers in my
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constituency who are quite reasonably concerned that they cannot find an outlet for disposal at reasonable cost?
Mr. Bradshaw: If the hon. Gentleman would care to write to me with details of where farmers are having that sort of difficulty, I will happily look into them. Farmers should be complying with the regulations, but the Government made it clear when we initially signalled our intention to set up the fallen stock scheme that, until the scheme was up and running, we would expect the local authorities, which are the enforcers in this matter, to act with a light touch.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Since we last met at oral questions, the Minister has answered a series of written questions on the statistics relating to disposal of carcases. He made it plain that DEFRA does not collect statistics on whether carcases are disposed of in hunt kennels, knackers' yards or elsewhere and does not know how carcases are disposed of. How does he account for his answer at a previous DEFRA oral question time, that
"hunt kennels play a role, but it is small in terms of the amount of stock they collect."[Official Report, 20 May 2004; Vol. 421, c. 1079.]
As he does not collect the figures and does not know who disposes of carcases at the moment, how can he, or for that matter the chairman of the National Fallen Stock Company, know what effect the abolition of hunting would have on the disposal of dead stock?
Mr. Bradshaw: We do not have the exact figures, but the "small" role to which I referred in my previous answer was based on estimates and the agreed view of the National Farmers Union, the renderers and the knackers. They have made it clear on many occasions that, while hunts play a role in some parts of the country, they collect a relatively small quantity of fallen stock and the renderers and knackers have ample capacity to fulfil the role 100 per cent. should the hunts not be interested in doing it any more.
The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): I announced our consultation plans last Friday. We will first hold a number of workshops with stakeholders over the summer and early autumn. Then we will publish our specific proposals and options, on which everyone will be able to comment.
: My hon. Friend is aware that our constituents do not wish to see the contamination of non-GM crops with GM crops, yet he told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that the UK was legally obliged to ensure that co-existence measures did not go beyond those necessary to meet the 0.9 per cent. labelling threshold. Is my hon. Friend
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aware that Germany's co-existence plans go substantially beyond those thresholds? Is he really telling us that the UK cannot establish stronger co-existence measures designed to ensure that contamination is at a lower level than the EU labelling threshold or to avoid it?
Mr. Morley: We have already said that in our consultation we will look into the option, for organic crops, of a threshold lower than 0.9 per cent., but I repeat that 0.9 per cent. is the legal threshold set by the EU and we are obliged to take that into account in our calculations. I am not aware that Germany is doing anything different. In fact, I understand that, unlike the UK, Germany is applying a 0.9 per cent. threshold to the organic sector, so we are going a bit beyond what the Germans propose.
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that the new co-existence and liability regime will be in place and on the statute books before any further commercial planting of GM crops or any further trial planting?
Mr. Morley: Trial plantings are a different proposition. We do not have any applications at present, but the idea of trials is to examine the real concerns that people have about environmental impact, and we make no apology for that. We have led the way in ascertaining the biodiversity impact of various GM crops, and no one else internationally has done that on the scale that we have.
We are consulting on the timing of the regime. The original timetable was designed to bring the scheme in at the beginning of 2005, but we are unlikely to see commercial plantings in this country before 200708, so there will be no difficulty having the scheme in place, up and running and agreed before commercial planting takes place.
Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): The letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about consultation mentions co-existence, and I have no doubt that it will address issues relating to thresholds and separation distances. However, I am concerned that the letter makes no mention of liability. Given the biotechnology industry's central concern about not being held liable, can my hon. Friend the Minister give the House an assurance that liability will be at the centre of the discussions and that we will not end up with proposals that show that the greatest separation distance in our policy is that between contamination and those who should be held liable for it?
We have made it clear that we are responding to the recommendations of the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission on both co-existence and liability. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outlined that in a statement that she made to the House. In parallel with the consultation on co-existence, we are also consulting on the basis of the liability scheme, how it should work and who should be responsible.
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