§ Mr. Hendry
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what was the538W average length of time taken for her Department to provide substantive replies to letters from hon. Members in the last year for which figures are available. 
§ Mr. Morley
Since June 2001 the average length of time taken for the Department to provide replies to letters from hon. Members was 29 working days. Although this is longer than the departmental target of 15 working days we are working hard to ensure that this record is improved and the target met. The Department has suffered severe disruption due to allocating priority to defeating the foot and mouth epidemic. I accept this is not an excuse for not giving hon. Members good service, and now that normality is returning to the Department one of our urgent priorities is to rectify any weakness in our service delivery.