§ Mr. Stephen
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what progress has been made on the Government's response to last year's consultation on proposed nitrate vulnerable zones under the EC nitrate directive; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Atkins
My right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Secretary of State for Wales and I issued today our response to last year's consultation. As with the original consultation document, the response document is being sent to farmers in parishes and communities containing a proposed nitrate vulnerable zone, and to other interested groups.
A major purpose of the consultation was to confirm the accuracy of the proposed zones, using farmers' local knowledge, before their formal designation. Over 500 sets of written comments were received, in the main from farmers in the proposed zones, and in each case an individual response has been sent out. In addition many points have been addressed directly at a local level by the National Rivers Authority and the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service.
The response document indicates how the Government propose to proceed with designations in the light of comments received. In all, the proposed boundaries for 31 of the 72 zones have been altered and it is proposed that two small groundwater zones should be deferred for further consideration. Maps of the revised zones are available free from MAFF regional services centres and WOAD divisional offices.
As foreshadowed in last year's consultation document, we have set up an independent review panel, chaired by Mr. Terence Etherton QC and assisted by Dr. Richard Downing and Mr. Alastair Allcock. The panel will assess whether the Government's published methodology has been correctly and consistently applied in drawing up the boundaries in those cases where consultees are dissatisfied with the amended boundaries as set out in the response document. In addition, because of the uniqueness of the proposed surface water zone at Nayland, we have asked the independent review panel to consider the case for and against its designation.
I am placing copies of the response document in the Library.