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Written Statements

Volume 460: debated on Wednesday 23 May 2007

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 23 May 2007

Culture, Media and Sport

Education, Youth and Culture Council

The Education, Youth and Culture Council will be held on 24-25 May in Brussels. I will be representing the UK on 24 May when Culture and Audiovisual issues will be taken. Education and Youth issues will be taken on 25 May.

The first item on the agenda concerns the Council Conclusions on the contribution of the cultural and creative sectors to the achievement of the Lisbon objectives. Following the publication of a study on the Economy of Culture in Europe prepared for the European Commission last year, there has been an impetus within the Culture Council to ensure that the importance of the cultural and creative sectors (particularly in employment terms) remains on the political agenda of the EU. At the beginning of this year the German presidency proposed a set of draft Council Conclusions for negotiation by the Commission and member states based on that report's recommendations. These have been finalised at official level and the Council is now expected to adopt the Conclusions at this meeting. I intend to support the adoption of these Conclusions.

The presidency will then seek to reach political agreement on proposals to amend the Television Without Frontiers Directive. The proposals before the Council are a significant improvement on those which the European Commission originally published in December 2005. In particular, their scope is considerably narrower. Instead of applying potentially damaging regulation to a very wide range of iternet and other new media services as the December 2005 proposals would have done, the amended proposals will apply only to television and television-like on demand services, in particular video-on-demand. They will also meet the Government's requirements in other respects, in particular by preserving the “Country of Origin” principle for assigning jurisdiction over cross-border services and by cutting down detailed EU regulation of television advertising. I therefore intend to endorse these proposals in the Council.

Under Any Other Business, the Council is invited to adopt a decision on the selection of two member states with a view to the nomination by the Council of two experts in the selection panel for the European Capital of Culture Community Action. The presidency will provide information regarding the ongoing work on the Third Work Plan for Culture. The presidency will also provide feedback on expert conferences in the field of culture and the “More trust in content” expert conference organised by the German presidency. The Commission will do a presentation on a European agenda for culture in a globalising world. I do not expect to intervene on any of these items.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Marine Fisheries Agency

I have set the Marine Fisheries Agency (MFA) the following performance targets for 2007-08.

Fishing Vessel Licensing

Issue 100 per cent. of over 10-metre licences biennially by 23 March and 100 per cent. of under 10-metre licences biennially by 30 June.

Quota Management

No overfishing of quota stocks by vessels or groups for which MFA has management responsibilities and which results in EU deduction or infraction proceedings against the UK.

Enforcement on Land

Deploy enforcement resources in line with risk weightings on land and risk and intelligence based tasking plans at sea.

Grants

Process 90 per cent. of claims within eight weeks of receipt of all necessary information.

Fisheries Data

Enter 90 per cent. of information on catches and fishing activity onto the fisheries database within five working days of receipt of all necessary information.

Marine Environment

Deploy inspection resources in line with risk weightings.

Issue 65 per cent. of FEPA licences in 12 weeks and 80 per cent. in 15 weeks (excluding offshore renewable licences).

Further details are given in the MFA business plan for 2007-08, copies of which will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

Health

Part IX of the Drug Tariff

The Department has been reviewing the arrangements under Part IX of the Drug Tariff for the provision of stoma and incontinence appliances and related services in primary care since October 2005.

The current arrangements under Part IX have not been reviewed in any detail for over 20 years. Nor is there any transparency between what is paid for an item and the cost of services. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that the underlying cost structures have changed quite significantly; for instance, manufacturing processes have become more efficient and low-cost.

In addition, there are no uniform standards of care provided by dispensers in relation to these items. Nor are the key dispensing contractors—pharmacy contractors and dispensing appliance contractors—reimbursed and remunerated in the same way.

Therefore, in conducting this review, the Department’s key objectives have been to:

maintain and, where applicable, improve the quality of patient care;

ensure that the national health service, and the taxpayer, is receiving value for money; and

ensure fair remuneration of valued services provided by the pharmacy and appliance contractors.

The most recent consultations closed on 2 April 2007. There were three consultation papers in all:

Arrangements for the reimbursement pricing of stoma and incontinence appliances under Part IX of the Drug Tariff.

Arrangements for the remuneration of services relating to appliances within Part IX of the Drug Tariff.

Proposed amendments to the regulatory terms of service of pharmacy and appliance contractors in relation to dispensing items listed in Part X of the Drug Tariff.

The Department received 137 formal responses. These came from patient groups, the NHS, trade bodies representing industry and dispensing appliance contractors, pharmacy contractors, dispensing doctors and individual providers—both manufacturers and dispensers. The Department also received a large number of letters from patients and MPs who had been alerted to the consultation by the dispensing contractors.

The volume and complexity of the responses are such that the Department has decided that it needs more time to analyse the information provided. This analysis needs to take account of comments made about the Department’s proposals regarding reimbursement for items and on the proposed levels of remuneration for particular services—such as home delivery and product customisation.

Consequently, no changes will be implemented in July 2007 as proposed in the consultation documents. Moreover, we do not expect that the review will be completed before the end of the year.

Critically, throughout the review, the needs of patients continue to be paramount and the Department is committed to ensuring that their care is maintained and improved. The Department also seeks to ensure that the NHS is receiving value for money and that the services provided by all dispensing contractors are to the same standard no matter where in England a user of appliances may live.

Justice

Tribunals Service

The following list of key performance indicators has been set for the Tribunals Service for 2007-08.

1. Seventy five per cent. of tribunal applications will be dealt with, within each individual tribunal’s target time.

2. Measure the percentage of customers who are satisfied with the service they receive against a target to be set during 2007-08.

3. To reduce annually the operating costs of the Tribunals Service in real terms from those in 2006-07 with a target of 1.10 per cent. set for 2007-08.

Copies of the Tribunals Service strategy and business plan for 2007-08 have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Copies are also available on the internet at: http://www.tribunals.gov.uk/publications.htm

Transport

Utility Diversion Work (Tottenham Court Road)

The Department for Transport has received a request from Cross-London Rail Links Ltd (CLRL) for additional funding of £6,525,000 to contribute towards the cost of utility diversion work at Tottenham Court Road station, one of the planned interchange stations for Crossrail.

The funding is required to enable CLRL to contribute an agreed 50 per cent. share of the costs of utility diversion work at Tottenham Court Road station: this preparatory work is part of a London Underground Ltd (LUL) project to relieve congestion by constructing a new ticket hall plaza. The plaza project has been designed to accommodate the planned future Crossrail interchange, the powers for which are contained in the Crossrail Bill. LUL intends to start main construction works on the plaza as soon as possible after the Crossrail Bill gains Royal Assent, expected in the next session. In order to do this, LUL have had to commence work on the diversion of utilities, for which they possess the necessary planning permission.

The Department supports CLRL's request on value for money grounds—the additional cost of doing the Crossrail-specific utility diversion work in a second phase would be more than £3 million—and to avoid a second round of costly disruption for local businesses and residents.

Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £6,525,000 will be sought in a Supplementary Estimate for the Department of Transport once the Crossrail Bill has been approved by Parliament. Pending that approval, this urgent expenditure will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.

Road Pricing Demonstrations Project

Today I am informing the House that I am placing in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) two notices inviting interested companies to bid to be part of framework agreements to run different elements of a road pricing Demonstrations Project “Demonstrations”. Copies of the accompanying context document are available in both Libraries of the House.

I announced last May that the Government intend to run some Demonstrations to help us understand how time, distance and place road pricing could function so that it safeguards people's privacy, and operates reliably and accurately. We recognise that people are concerned about the possible impact road pricing might have on their privacy, and they want to be reassured that any road pricing schemes would be fair. The OJEU notices published today are simply the next stage in the procurement process to enable us to take the Demonstrations forward and address these issues in practice.

The Demonstrations will inform the work that 10 local areas are doing to develop proposals for local road pricing schemes. Alongside the draft Local Transport Bill, which I published yesterday, the Demonstrations will help local areas to develop local road pricing schemes as part of packages of local measures to tackle local congestion problems. These packages of measures will be eligible for funding from the Transport Innovation Fund, which will provide up to £200 million per year from 2008. We expect local authorities to submit their proposals in the summer, with the first road pricing schemes going live in local areas in four to five years time.

The Demonstrations will also build our understanding of the components that would need to be commonly specified across all potential future time, distance and place road pricing schemes to ensure road users could move easily between one scheme and another. It is important that any future road pricing schemes are easy for people to use, and consistent with one another.

No decisions have been taken on whether to move towards a national road pricing scheme. It is only on the evidence from local schemes that any such decision could be taken, and the Government have made clear that there would need to be a full public debate. The Demonstrations will help to inform that debate by building our understanding of how road pricing systems and technologies might be designed and operated to address people's legitimate concerns about privacy, reliability and accuracy.

We expect the Demonstrations to begin in the Spring of 2008.