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Huw Irranca-Davies: First, I cannot guarantee anything at this moment. The Government are committed to bringing forward proposals on a discretionary scheme at the first available legislative opportunity, and that has been widely welcomed. I would not want to go into detail but I am glad that we have support for this right across the House. We will need to go into detail about who is and is not included, but it is important to acknowledge that this is a cost-neutral issue and, as such, the cost must fall on someone, somewhere-whether that is businesses, individual households or others.
T2.  Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): Pursuant to the Secretary of State's opening comments, the National Audit Office has issued a second damning report into the Rural Payments Agency, which it said had scant regard for protecting public money and had too high a cost base. When will someone at ministerial and senior official level take responsibility for this shambolic organisation, get to grips with it and publish a report about what its future holds?
Hilary Benn: I take responsibility; that is my job. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the history of the RPA is not a happy one. Since I took up this position, the one thing I have made clear to the Department and to the RPA is that the agency must maintain the improvement it has achieved-we should acknowledge that-in getting payments to farmers more speedily, given the unhappy past. I am not prepared to do anything that gets in the way of doing that, because what farmers want is to get the payments as quickly as possible. There have been previous occasions on which the House has invited me to do things in relation to the RPA, but I am not prepared to put in jeopardy that progress from what was a mess.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Should there not be a virement of farm subsidies from farmers whose income has increased to those whose income has not, especially as the income of grain farmers doubled between 2006 and 2008?
Hilary Benn: There is no mechanism I can think of that would enable that to take place. Different parts of the farming industry are in different positions, and the latest information on farm business income will be published shortly.
T3.  Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): A constituent of mine is a breeder of alpacas. Have the Government looked into the spreading of bovine TB to alpacas? Is there an appropriate test to ascertain whether that is happening and, if so, is there an appropriate compensation scheme?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The question of alpacas and TB is investigated by the Department. There are arrangements and tests in place, and I am happy to write in detail to the hon. Gentleman about the procedures.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op):
Has the Secretary of State seen the League Against Cruel Sports large-scale survey indicating that 62 per cent. of Conservative voters, 77 per cent. of Liberal Democrat voters and 83 per cent. of Labour voters
strongly support the existing legislative ban on hunting with dogs? Does he intend to review the legislation in light of the survey?
Hilary Benn: I have indeed seen the information to which my hon. Friend refers, and it shows where public sentiment and opinion lie. In the light of that, I find it very hard to understand why Opposition Members want to change the law so that foxes can once again be ripped to pieces by hounds, because that is the change in the law they appear to be seeking.
T6.  Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): May I press the Secretary of State on the Rural Payments Agency? He will know that it has taken far too long to resolve a number of late payments under the single payment scheme. Many farmers throughout the country are suffering as a result, including my constituent Mr. Peter Philpot. I urge the Secretary of State to press forward with the reforms and get these payments sorted out now, for the sake not only of my constituent but of farmers throughout the country.
Hilary Benn: I would be very happy if the hon. Gentleman gave me the details of his constituent, in order to pursue that case. It is precisely for this reason that we announced in September a review of the RPA, so we can learn the lessons and improve the service to the level that farmers have a right to expect.
Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): Could the Secretary of State give the House an update on the implementation of the ban on hunting with dogs, and particularly on the impact on rural employment?
Hilary Benn: I am not aware of a study having been done on that. We should be aware, however, that when the ban was voted on a lot of predictions were made about the consequences that would flow, but they have not flowed, which is why I do not agree with those who say the legislation is flawed. The onus is on those who want to revisit it to explain why they want to return to a practice that most people do not approve of, as is shown by the evidence that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) has just drawn to the House's attention.
T7.  David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): I want to know about the impact of swine flu on farmers in my community. Does the Secretary of State have any evidence that there has been a disproportionate impact on those who work on the land?
Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Sixty years have passed since the introduction of national parks by a Labour Government. What more is the Secretary of State going to do to promote access to the countryside?
Indeed, and in this 60th year it is right that we look to the future of the national parks. That is why we are working very hard with the national parks authorities and other agencies to look forward and shape a vision for the future. I suspect that that vision will be concerned with access, sustainable ways of
living, living and breathing communities and climate change. The national parks have a critical role to play in the future of this country, and re-imagining what the next 60 years will be like is part of the current review.
T8.  Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Is the Minister aware of the risk, if changes are made to the United Kingdom pet travel scheme-it might be extended in 2011-of introducing from the European Union to the United Kingdom a parasite called echinococcosis? An EU-wide risk assessment, followed by a prevention, reduction and control strategy, should be introduced before risking both animal and human health in the United Kingdom.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Lady rightly raises this concern about any reduction in the protection and safeguards against infection from other countries. That is uppermost in the Government's mind. As she has outlined, we are in discussions with the Commission about extending our derogation for an extra 12 months, and these matters are under very close scrutiny.
T9.  Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall) (LD): The Secretary of State will be aware that the new grocery suppliers code will cover the relationships between suppliers and the supermarkets and first-tier suppliers. What conversations has he had with his counterparts in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that the ombudsman's remit and the code can be extended so that farmers will not be subjected to excessive cost and risk?
Jim Fitzpatrick: As I outlined in one of my earlier answers, the Department convenes a number of forums to allow farmers to engage directly with DEFRA and others to discuss these very issues. As I have also said, the Government are considering the question of the ombudsman, and discussions between Departments should reach a conclusion shortly.
T10.  Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con):
As a farmer, I have dealings with the Rural Payments Agency, and I am well aware of its difficulties. May I take the Secretary of State back to the loss of data? He has honourably and quite properly accepted responsibility, yet he was not told about this matter-my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde
(Mr. Jack) was told two days ago. What is the Secretary of State going to do to ensure that he is told about things for which he is responsible, given the seriousness of this matter?
Hilary Benn: Any potential loss of data is of course a very serious matter, which is why I wished to report to the House at the very earliest opportunity. As I have indicated, I will provide further information, including a copy of the report on the investigation that took place. I hope that that will offer some reassurance, because I say to the House-I do take this seriously-that when one looks at the form in which the data would be seen by someone who does not have technical knowledge and special equipment, one finds that they would be unreadable. That is why it is important to take this opportunity to reassure farmers about the steps we have taken and the low risk of any data getting out.
Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): Is the Secretary of State aware of the Campaign to Protect Rural England's "Mapping local food webs" project, which is operating in about 20 locations, including Otley, and is linking local producers, shops and markets? As his constituency is nearby, will he visit those local producers, shops and markets in Otley to see this fantastic scheme working?
Hilary Benn: I am always happy to receive an invitation from the hon. Gentleman, who is my constituency neighbour. This is an excellent project, because we need to link people to opportunities to grow their own food and to supply it to others locally-it is good for our health and good for the climate.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware that, four years after the Buncefield explosions in my constituency, the environment and agriculture around the site remain heavily contaminated, particularly with perfluorooctane sulfonate-PFOS? Will he meet me and a delegation of my constituents to discuss their concerns about PFOS contamination?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I remember when the events at Buncefield happened. The hon. Gentleman and I had a number of meetings about tackling the fire, as we are both ex-firemen and I was the Minister with responsibility for dealing with fire. As Minister of State in DEFRA, I will be very happy to meet him and whomever he wishes to bring with him to discuss this important issue.
Tuesday 10 November-If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Health Bill [ Lords], followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Sir George Young: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for next week's business. Will she tell us whether the Prime Minister will be making a statement to the House on Monday after this weekend's meeting of European leaders? Will he be using it to report progress on his preferred candidate for a proposed European president?
"will form the basis of a statement to the House"-[ Official Report, 28 October 2009; Vol. 498, c. 285.]
next Wednesday? Will she confirm that there will be an oral statement on the Kelly report and will she tell us whether she or the Prime Minister will be making it? It is a matter of great regret that whole sections of the report were leaked to the newspapers yesterday-[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Will she reassure us that when it comes to the real Kelly report, the House will be the first to know and not the last to find out? Will she clarify the confusion caused by the Justice Secretary's statement last June that any recommendations would be
"subject to approval by this House"-[ Official Report, 29 June 2009; Vol. 495, c. 51.]
Last week, the right hon. and learned Lady was unable to give me the date of the spring recess. As if there was not already enough mystery surrounding Easter, the Government are now intensifying it. When can she give us the date of the Easter recess and when can she give us the date of the crucial pre-Budget report?
May we have an urgent update from the business Minister on Royal Mail? We are now in week two of crippling strikes, with small businesses being hit particularly hard, but there is no sign of anyone in the Government showing any leadership. The Prime Minister appears to have given up and the normally ubiquitous Lord Mandelson has disappeared.
May we have a statement from the right hon. and learned Lady on the Government's consistent sidelining of Parliament? Yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) raised on a point of order the fact that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government had failed to make a written statement that was directly relevant to the debate that was scheduled for that very afternoon. The week before, the Defence Secretary published 300 pages of the Gray report within two hours of a debate on procurement. As you made clear on both occasions, Mr. Speaker, that was a discourteous way to treat the House. What is the right hon. and learned Lady doing to convey that message to her colleagues?
Next week, my colleagues might wish to pursue the issue that we have just discovered, namely the serious loss of data by the Rural Payments Agency earlier this year, which only became known in the public domain a few moments ago.
Finally, we learned today the disturbing news that an Iranian national working as a political analyst in the British embassy in Tehran has been jailed for patently political purposes. May we have an urgent statement from the Foreign Secretary on what is being done to safeguard employees of British embassies around the world?
Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the Prime Minister will make a statement following the European Council meeting. It is usual for the Prime Minister to make a statement following major European conferences and summits.
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