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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene briefly. Do the Government regard the chaos into which local government has been thrown —with the amount of money and man hours spent—as a considerable problem?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I do not. However, with the leave of the House, I shall not expand in detail on that because we are running short of time.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, spoke about Westminster City Council. That is a matter for the council, its auditors and its electors, not for the Government. It would be wrong to comment on any specific case until the legal processes are completed.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, perhaps I may ask one question on that. At a suitable time will the Government consider having a judicial review of the matter? It is one of great importance and deserves treatment at that level. Of necessity the Government are involved. I suggest to the noble Earl that it is possible for the Government to consider the matter as suitable for judicial review.

Earl Howe: My Lords, we must wait for the judicial process now in train to be completed before any such decision is taken.

I should like to say how much I agree with my noble friend Lord Selborne in what he said on sustainable agriculture. The agricultural chapter of the Government's sustainable development strategy—it was launched by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in January—sets out the aims of sustainable agriculture as follows: to provide an adequate supply of good quality food and other products in an efficient manner; to minimise consumption of non-renewable and other resources including by recycling; to safeguard the quality of soil, water and air; to preserve and, where feasible, enhance biodiversity and the appearance of the landscape. The chapter recognises that prior to reform, the CAP often ran counter to some of those aims. It also recognises that a continuing process of reform will be needed in order to meet the aims more fully.

My noble friend Lord Clanwilliam bemoaned what he regards as inadequate support for organic farming. We agree that there is a need to increase organic production. That is why we are encouraging the sector with support for organic standards, research and development and direct aid for conversion. Let us not forget that that is on top of the general assistance which is available to all farmers. The recent CAP reforms have also improved the relative position of organic farmers by switching resources from output to area support. It is true that there has been a modest response with regard to the uptake of the organic aid scheme. However, it is too

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early to draw any firm conclusions on how things may progress. There is no closing date as there is with other schemes. We shall keep the matter under review.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, joined my noble friend in criticising the rates of aid in the organic aid scheme. The key requirement at present is to encourage more farmers to convert to organic systems so that production is expanded. Those already farming organically can receive aid for converting new land. However, resources are not unlimited and therefore aid has to be targeted to where it will achieve most benefit. The targeted threefold increase in the organic area as well as the rates of aid will be kept under review.

The noble Lords, Lord Geraint and Lord Carter, expressed their concerns about the welfare of animals in transit. As both noble Lords will be aware, we are currently pressing for strict and enforceable EC measures to help restore public confidence. In particular we are pressing in negotiations for the concept of journey limits to be recognised at Community level. We are also introducing tighter national laws to make it easier to prosecute the UK traders who break the welfare rules during journeys abroad. The consultation period for our proposals has now ended and we are working to finalise the new legislation. Meanwhile we realise that UK traders are suffering hardship because of the ferry company ban. That is why we are checking all proposals for new routes as fast as humanly possible so that those which are satisfactory can proceed. A number have already opened.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, spoke about the effects of the GATT on animal welfare. It is an important subject. The Government believe that the Uruguay round agreement will, over time, result in more countries adopting animal welfare measures which reach the higher standards prevailing in the European Union. Moreover, the technical barriers to trade agreement establish the right of each signatory country to implement domestic legislation to protect animal life and health in a non-discriminatory manner.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred to the milk quota disallowance suffered by Italy and Spain. He has misread the situation. It was a good agreement for the United Kingdom. We have secured substantially increased fines on Italy and Spain for not implementing milk quotas. The increase of 1.1 billion ecus was entirely due to action taken by the Government in bringing ECJ cases against the Commission. Italy and Spain will be paying 1.5 billion ecu more than they received from the CAP milk budget. We have served a clear warning to others of the consequences of a failure to implement CAP rules, and justice, I feel, has been done.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, drew attention to forestry consultation procedures. The Forestry Commission has written to interested organisations with proposals to review consultation procedures with the aim of streamlining them. That follows a recommendation by the Select Committee on environment in another place. I hope that it may lead to making consultation procedures less burdensome for the noble Earl and others.

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The noble Lords, Lord Geraint and Lord Carter, referred to CAP fraud. The Government have been at the forefront in getting the Community to tackle fraud. Specific areas of action are through reform of the CAP itself, direct payments being subject to tight control, administrative penalties and strict levels of controls specified in EC schemes. Member states must also improve their reporting procedures. All those improvements are fully supported by the Government. However, we are not complacent and we continue to press both for further reforms of the CAP and for adequate controls in all member states.

I shall conclude and apologise to the House for having overrun my time. We all wish to see a healthy rural economy. Agriculture and its associated industries play a key role in rural communities. They are fundamental to the maintenance of a beautiful and thriving countryside. The Government are determined to ensure that our rural areas continue to thrive. That is one reason why my right honourable friends the Minister

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and the Secretary of State for the Environment announced last month that they will be producing a White Paper on rural affairs. We expect that to be issued in the middle of next year. There is a need to have a coherent overall strategy for the future of the countryside in all its aspects—economic, social and environmental. The part to be played by farming will be central to our approach. Ensuring that the interests of farmers, the rural economy and the rural environment are given the recognition and support that they deserve will be one of the Government's guiding themes.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Ferrers, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.—(Lord Inglewood.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.

        House adjourned at two minutes before eight o'clock.

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