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8 Oct 2003 : Column WA55

Written Answers

Wednesday, 8th October 2003.

[The first Written Answer should have been printed in the Official Report of Thursday, 18th September.]British Waterways

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How the new powers granted to British Waterways will be affected by proposals in the Water Bill to create licensed water suppliers only for supply to the largest 2,000 sites.[HL4445]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): The competition provisions in the Water Bill will further open undertakers' public water distribution networks to competition. The canal network under British Waterways is not part of this system. Anyone may apply for access to the canal network and this will not change.

British Waterways' proposals for expanding the use of the canal network for the supply of water are not directly affected by our proposals. Watergrid, the joint venture company, will be able to offer direct supply to users from canals and could also seek to become a licensee in order to obtain access to the statutory undertakers' distribution networks.

Rural Stress

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What support they have given in the financial year 2002–03 to each of the voluntary bodies dealing with rural stress; how much is budgeted for 2003–04; and how much is planned for 2004–05. [HL4394]

Lord Whitty: The Government allocated £300,000 to fund the Rural Stress Action Plan to relieve the incidence of stress in rural areas in 2002–03. A similar sum was allocated in 2003–04. Defra, working in partnership with voluntary organisations dealing with rural stress, in turn allocated the money to the following organisations:

Breakdown of moneys allocated from Defra to Rural Stress Action Plan 2002–03

ProjectVol Org£k
Rural Support Initiative Fund Grant Scheme (to help fund small projects in rural areas)RSIN100
Rural Demonstration ProjectRSIN5
Partner InitiativesRABI76
Samaritans45
Tenant Support InitiativeRSIN5
PublicityRSIN50
TrainingRSIN10
RSIN ManagementRSIN15
Total306

8 Oct 2003 : Column WA56

Breakdown of moneys allocated from Defra to Rural Stress Action Plan 2003–04

ProjectVol Org£k
Farming HelpRSIN35
Joint partner complimentary supportRABI/FCN90
(FCN)[60]
(RABI)[30]
Stress proofing and rural recovery toolkitsRSIN37.3
Research to gather evidenceRSIN14.98
Understanding and relieving stress amongst Norfolk intensive arable farmersRSIN/CA (CA
providing
co-funding)20
Rural Support Initiative Fund Grant Scheme (to help fund small projects in rural areas)RSIN100
Farm Help publicityRSIN35
Rural publicityRSIN22
Total319.28

Note:

Rural Stress Information Network (RSIN); Rural Agricultural Benevolent Institute (RABI); Farm Crisis Network (FCN); Countryside Agency (CA).

These figures are in addition to the £15 million we provided to the voluntary sector in England during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease to help relieve distress in rural areas. We are in the process of planning for 2004–05.


Foot and Mouth Disease

Lord Plumb asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps have been taken towards meeting the requirements in the European Union foot and mouth disease directive to create "a permanently operational expert group to maintain expertise and assist the relevant authority in qualitative disease preparation"; whether the composition will include international expertise in foot and mouth disease diagnosis, vaccination and relevant new technologies; and whether appointments will be undertaken in an open and transparent manner.[HL4398]

Lord Whitty: The Government already have in place arrangements to call on expertise on disease control in the event of an outbreak and this is covered in the foot and mouth contingency plan which has been laid before the House. In October 2002, Defra's chief scientific adviser also established the Science Advisory Group to provide independent advice to the department, including the Animal Disease Policy Group and the Civil Contingencies Committee; and to challenge strategic assumptions.

A new EU directive on measures to control foot and mouth disease has been agreed in principle and is expected to be adopted later this month. It is required to be transposed into domestic legislation by 30 June 2004. We shall consider what further steps may be required to implement the directive in full over the coming months.

8 Oct 2003 : Column WA57

National Animal Disease Information Service

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have agreed to the proposals submitted to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by the National Animal Disease Information Service for expanding the network; and, if so, what is the forward plan.[HL4443]

Lord Whitty: The National Animal Disease Information Service (NADIS) is one of a number of organisations that submitted proposals seeking funding for projects as part of the veterinary training and research initiative. This initiative is sponsored jointly by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council and Defra. An independent selection panel reviewed the proposals and adjudged NADIS's application unsuccessful. Applicants were notified in writing of the panel's decisions in June.

The Government have initiated a pilot study to explore whether NADIS could provide robust, representative clinical data to the Government for veterinary surveillance purposes. Conclusions drawn from the study are due to be reported to the Government in July 2004.

Catchment Flood Management Plans

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In relation to Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food, whether the five pilot catchment flood management plans are in place; and, if so, when the first progress report is due.[HL4446]

Lord Whitty: Due to technical difficulties with the availability of appropriate ground elevation models, there has been a delay in the catchment flood management plan (CFMP) programme. So far only one of the five pilots has published a plan (for the River Parrett in Somerset) and Defra officials have been discussing with the Environment Agency the extent to which this meets the agreed guidelines.

At least one further CFMP pilot is nearing completion and we hope that a further draft plan will be published before the end of the year. In the meantime the Environment Agency is progressing a number of catchment inception studies in preparation for the start of the main CFMP programme which will be initiated as soon as the results of the pilots have been consolidated into final guidance.

Rural Payments Agency: Late Payments

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Whitty on 3 June (WA 147–148), how many of the "significant discrepancies which had to be resolved before payment" (under bovine schemes) were traced to errors in the cattle tracing system; and what steps have been taken to prevent this happening again.[HL4447]

8 Oct 2003 : Column WA58

Lord Whitty: The enclosed table shows the number of animals claimed in 2001 under the Beef Special Premium Scheme (BSPS), the Suckler Cow Premium Scheme (SCPS) and the Slaughter Premium Scheme/Veal Calf Slaughter Premium Scheme (SPS/VCSPS) and the number of claims submitted under the Extensification Payment Scheme (EPS).

All animal and claim details were cross-checked against the cattle tracing system in accordance with the European regulations that govern these schemes. The table shows the initial number of discrepancies identified between the information declared by producers on their subsidy claim forms and the data held on the cattle tracing system. All discrepancies were examined by RPA and where necessary by the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS). Where the discrepancy could not be resolved and the data held on the cattle tracing system meant that the animal claimed was ineligible under the rules governing the subsidy schemes the animal was removed from the claim with penalties. The table shows the penalties applied under each of the schemes.

Many of the errors that could be put right did relate to discrepancies between what the cattle tracing system and the information given to other parts of the department had been told about animals by keepers. The most common errors were differences in animals' eartag numbers between notifications, the failure to report the movement of cattle or the reporting of incomplete or conflicting information. Some 91 per cent of all the discrepancies found were able to be resolved and all queries cleared. The remaining 9 per cent could not be cleared because of the severity in the nature of the error.

A number of measures have taken place to try to minimise the number of discrepancies between the data declared on subsidy claims and the cattle tracing system for future scheme years, including the following:


    We have worked closely with industry representatives to ensure producers understand that their claims will be cross-checked and to promote the need to keep CTS up to date and regularly check their records held on the database.


    RPA has also issued further guidance in the cattle schemes explanatory booklet, which is mailed to all bovine subsidy claimants.


    The format of claim forms has been changed and since the 2002 schemes producers have been asked to submit movement cards (torn from the CTS-issued cattle passports) in support of their


    SCPS and SPS/VCSPS claims (cattle passport documents themselves have always been required with BSPS claims). The movement cards allow RPA to scan in the identifying number of the animal using a pre-printed barcode. This ensures a direct match with the animal record held on CTS and prevents problems with transposition errors and formatting differences.

8 Oct 2003 : Column WA59


    BCMS has stationed experienced staff at RPA claim processing sites and now provides regular training updates on the use of the CTS database.


    The introduction of statements containing a record of all transactions reported will aid the process of continuous improvement.


    The management structure of the existing crosschecks team at BCMS has been strengthened and additional staff have been recruited. An enhanced training programme has been successfully carried out.


    BCMS provides keepers with access to printed and electronic information on their holdings records so that problems may be identified and corrected in advance of subsidy deadlines. BCMS also actively promotes electronic notifications to the database through the CTS website at www.bcms.gov.uk.


    The BCMS has also now supplied all cattle keepers with envelopes to return batches of movement cards in to reduce the number that are lost in the post. They have also introduced an additional counting and reconciliation step in their handling of these movement cards to ensure that all cards received at the site are scanned into the system and their contents recorded.

    SchemeTotal number of animals claimed and cross-checkedNumber of discrepancies identified following the cross-checkNumber of penalties appliedNumber of discrepancies resolved
    BSPS1,242,374117,7658,033109,732
    SCPS673,012264,4216,619257,802
    SPS/VCSPS1,484,304189,53430,928158,606
    EPS(1)28,4592,4495291,920
    Total3,428,149574,16946,109528,060

    (1) EPS figures shown are for claims not animals



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