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Written Statements

Volume 485: debated on Tuesday 16 December 2008

Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Defence

Snatch Land Rover

The House will be aware of widespread public concern over the thirty-seven deaths of British servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of injuries sustained while using Snatch Land Rovers. I have recently been asked to institute a public inquiry into the use of these vehicles. After very careful consideration, I have decided that a public inquiry would not be the right way to proceed. Given the level of parliamentary and public interest in this issue, I want to explain to the House the reasons for my decision. First, however, I wish to put on record my appreciation of the bravery and dedication of each of those thirty-seven people who have so tragically died in the service of their country.

I have sought comprehensive advice on whether the continued use of Snatch is necessary, particularly given the substantial investment we have made in new protected vehicles in recent years. The clear advice to me from military operational commanders, unanimously endorsed by the chiefs of staff, is that Snatch remains essential to the success of our operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In the light of this authoritative assessment, I have decided that it would be inappropriate and unnecessary to conduct an inquiry. These are matters on which I must rely on the considered judgment of military commanders who have experience of conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan and access to specialised military engineering expertise.

It has been suggested that Snatch should be replaced by more heavily armoured vehicles, such as the Warrior or the very successful Mastiff. These are good vehicles and they have an important role to play in our operations, but they cannot be used for all purposes. Even the new Ridgback, the smaller version of Mastiff, will be three times heavier than Snatch. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the nature of the operating environment means that heavier vehicles, which are often constrained largely to main roads, are simply unable to access the places we need to be in order to deliver our objectives.

Furthermore, our tasks in Iraq and Afghanistan are largely ones of counter-insurgency. To do this, we need to win the support and confidence of local people. This can only be done by face-to-face interaction, demonstrating to the local people that we are working in their interests. Our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has proven that better armoured vehicles, which tend by definition to be larger and heavier, are viewed by the local population as aggressive and intimidating. Their size and weight mean too that they can cause serious damage to roads, buildings, irrigation channels and drainage systems. All these factors can inflame local opinion against UK troops—working in favour of our enemy and actually increasing the threat levels to our people.

It is for these reasons that military commanders require a range of vehicles, from which they can choose the one best suited to the required task—and in this context, there remains a critical requirement for a Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV), such as the Snatch Land Rover. Small, mobile and agile, it is ideal for allowing engagement with the local population, often in areas which would be inaccessible to heavier vehicles.

However, Snatch itself is not the “unarmoured” vehicle which it is sometimes claimed to be; although lightly armoured, that armour has saved many lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, the Snatch’s ballistic protection is derived from composite materials, rather than steel. This limits splintering when penetrated, and means that casualty rates are lower than in comparable vehicles.

It is also important to be clear that we cannot assume that if all those 37 servicemen and women had been in more heavily armoured vehicles they would have survived. We cannot make Snatch, or indeed any other vehicle, invulnerable; any vehicle can be overmatched if faced with an overwhelming attack. It is precisely for this reason that armour can only ever be one factor in the way we protect our people. We employ a layered approach to protection, of which armour is but one part, and the innermost layer. We seek first to avoid being seen by the enemy; then, if seen, to avoid being hit. In both cases, a low profile, coupled with speed and agility, are important factors which critically complement our well tested tactics, techniques and procedures. The recent introduction of the light-strike Jackal vehicle, which has proved very popular, demonstrates the importance we place on these factors, none of which are characteristic of more heavily armoured vehicles. Finally, if hit, we seek to prevent the vehicle from being penetrated. This is the sole reason for armouring our vehicles.

This is not by any means to say that nothing further can be done to protect those servicemen and women who need to operate LPPVs. The Snatch Land Rover has undergone a number of technical enhancements since its first deployment to Iraq in 2003. Most recently, we have modified the current variant, the Snatch 2A, to enhance significantly its power, mobility and protection. This effectively generates a new variant, the Snatch Vixen, especially configured for operations in Afghanistan. Some of these vehicles are already in service in Afghanistan and over the coming year we will be increasing the size of the fleet. This, together with the £700 million procurement of new vehicles which the Prime Minister announced in October, will enable us to continue reducing the scope of the Snatch 2A vehicle’s role until it is used only within our camps.

We do not believe that there is a better vehicle than Snatch Vixen currently available anywhere in the world to fulfil the LPPV requirement. But we are also looking to the future and anticipating new threats, and we have begun a programme to develop the next generation of LPPV which will in due course take the place of Snatch Vixen.

Afghanistan Roulement

In his statement to the House on 12 December 2007, Official Report, column 304, the Prime Minister said we shall continue to maintain a strong military force in Afghanistan. In his statement to the House yesterday, the Prime Minister recognised the hard and dangerous work being undertaken by our armed forces, and reiterated the United Kingdom’s objectives in Afghanistan. The next roulement of UK forces in Afghanistan will take place in April 2009. The force package that we plan to deploy will see the current lead formation, 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, replaced by 19 (Light) Brigade which will command the majority of the units serving in Afghanistan. The forces deploying include:

19 Light Brigade Headquarters and Signal Squadron (209)

Elements of 845 Naval Air Squadron

Elements of 846 Naval Air Squadron

Elements of 847 Naval Air Squadron

The Light Dragoons

40th Regiment Royal Artillery

38 Engineer Regiment

1st Battalion The Welsh Guards

The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland

2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters)

2nd Battalion The Rifles

19 Combat Service Support Battalion

29 Postal Courier and Movement Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps

2 Medical Regiment

4 Close Support Battalion, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

173 Provost Company Royal Military Police

Elements of 2nd Royal Tank Regiment

Elements of 5th Regiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 12th Regiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 19th Regiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 39th Regiment Royal Artillery

Elements of 26 Engineer Regiment

Elements of 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal)

Elements of 42 Engineer Regiment (Geographical)

Elements of 170 (Infrastructure Support) Engineer Group

Elements of 15 Field Support Squadron

Elements of 7th Signal Regiment

Elements of 10th Signal Regiment

Elements of 14th Signals Regiment (Electronic Warfare)

Elements of 21st Signal Regiment (Air Support)

Elements of 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh

Elements of 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles

Elements of 1 Regiment, Army Air Corps

Elements of 3 Regiment, Army Air Corps

Elements of 4 Regiment, Army Air Corps

Elements of 4 Logistic Support Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 6 Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 7 Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 9 Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 17 Port and Maritime Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 23 Pioneer Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 24 Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 27 Regiment The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps Support Battalion

Elements of 7 Air Assault Battalion Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers

Elements of 104 Force Support Battalion Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers

Elements of 101 Military Working Dog Support Unit

Elements of 1 Military Intelligence Brigade

Elements of the Joint Civil Military Co-operation Group (CIMIC)

Elements of 148 Expeditionary Force Institute Squadron (Volunteers) The Royal Logistic Corps

Elements of 51st Highland, 7th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland

Elements of 4th Battalion The Mercian Regiment

Elements of Joint Medical Command

Elements of 2 Medical Regiment

Elements of 4 Medical Regiment

Elements of 202 Field Hospital (Volunteers)

Elements of 225 Medical Regiment (Volunteers)

Elements to man 904 Expeditionary Air Wing, Royal Air Force

6 Force Protection Wing Headquarters, Royal Air Force Regiment

63 Queen's Colour Squadron, Royal Air Force Regiment

Elements of 12 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of 18 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of 24 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of 27 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of 30 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of the Tactical Supply Wing, Royal Air Force

Elements to man the Joint Helicopter Support Unit

Elements of 1 Air Movements Wing, Royal Air Force

Elements of 1 Air Control Centre, Royal Air Force

Elements of 90 Signals Unit, Royal Air Force

Elements of 2 Motor Transport Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of 5001 Squadron, Royal Air Force

Elements of Mobile Catering Support Unit

Elements of Tactical Medical Wing

Elements of Tactical Armament Squadron

Elements of Tactical Imagery Intelligence Wing

These units represent direct replacements for previously announced deployments to Afghanistan. In addition, commanders on the ground need to retain tactical flexibility to call forward reserves on a temporary basis to meet short term operational needs. Elements of 2nd Battalion, The Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, the Theatre Reserve Battalion, are deployed or are about to be deployed in this capacity. In his statement yesterday the Prime Minister announced the approval until August, including for the period of preparation for the elections, of an increase in the number of British troops deployed to Afghanistan from just over 8,000 to around 8,300. These additional troops will come from 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and will replace equivalent forces deployed from 2nd Battalion, the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment. These forces will be building on recent security gains in central Helmand.

Volunteer and regular members of the reserve forces will continue to deploy to Afghanistan as part of this integrated force package, and we expect to issue around 600 call-out notices to fill some 575 posts. On completion of their mobilization procedures, the reservists will undertake a period of training and, where applicable, integration with their respective receiving units. The majority will serve on operations for six or so months, although some may have shorter tours. As part of this commitment, we expect up to 15 members of the sponsored reserves to be in theatre at any one time.

The House will also wish to be aware that 19 Light Brigade’s deployment will last until October 2009. On current plans, the brigade will then be replaced by 11 Light Brigade. I shall make a further statement on the units we expect to commit from next October in due course.

Energy and Climate Change

UNFCCC Climate Change Negotiations

The Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham and Deptford (Joan Ruddock), and I attended the 14th conference of the parties (COP14) to the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) and the fourth meeting of the parties to the Kyoto protocol (CMP4) in Poznan, Poland last week.

The conference reached agreement to accelerate the pace of negotiations next year in order to conclude a new global climate change agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Other key outcomes from the conference included:

A decision to make operational the adaptation fund, which will help developing countries to integrate climate resilience into their development strategies. The UK is providing further financial support to help the fund with its planning and procedures so that it can begin to receive project proposals in 2009.

Agreement among key developing and developed forestry countries, brokered by the UK, to a framework for countering deforestation, with the UK announcing a contribution of up to £100 million from the environmental transformation fund for capacity-building to help people in forest countries.

In relation to carbon markets some progress was made on discussions, including carbon capture and storage and forestry within the Kyoto protocol’s clean development mechanism (CDM), with parties agreeing that the CDM executive board should assess the implications of the possible inclusion of CCS and forestry in the CDM.

Useful discussions were also held under the article 9 review of the Kyoto protocol. Parties considered proposals to extend the current CDM 2 per cent. levy, which is used to provide adaptation funding, to the joint implementation and international emissions trading mechanisms. Although no decisions were made, the discussion provided a useful opportunity to discuss aspects of the future financial architecture which will be critical to a Copenhagen deal.

The Poznan conference represents an important staging post on the way to Copenhagen. The UK and EU played a leading role in the conference, further strengthened by the European Council’s agreement to the 2020 climate and energy package. The Government will be working actively over the next 12 months to secure an ambitious global agreement in Copenhagen, consistent with the UK and EU objective of limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Environment Council

My noble Friend Lord Hunt, the Minister for Sustainable Development and Energy Innovation, and I represented the UK at the Environment Council in Brussels on 4 December.

At this Council, member states set out their views on the Integrated Pollution Prevention Control (IPPC) Directive. Several member states raised concerns about the large combustion plant provision with most asking to postpone these provisions until 2020. The UK intervened to welcome the proposal but also to stress some concerns about the large combustion provisions.

Member states also discussed the action plan for Sustainable Consumption and Production and a Sustainable Industrial Policy (SCP-SIP). The UK intervened to welcome the action plan, in particular the proposal to extend the scope of the eco-design directive but highlighted concerns about the energy labelling directive. Council conclusions were adopted without amendment.

Council conclusions on the preparation for the 25th session of the UNEP Governing Council were adopted unanimously.

On genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the UK expressed its support for evidence based, case-by-case decision making and argued strongly against setting seed labelling thresholds at the lowest possible level. Instead these levels should be science based, proportionate and workable in practice. In response to the interventions made by many member states the presidency proposed some changes to the conclusions, including a satisfactory formulation on seed thresholds. These were agreed unanimously.

Over lunch member states discussed the climate and energy package and preparations for the December European Council.

There was a discussion of the Council conclusions on deforestation and forest degradation to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss. The UK argued in favour of maintaining the flexibility to recognise afforestation and reforestation credits in order to maintain the confidence of both rainforest countries and potential investors. Following negotiation facilitated by the presidency, a compromise was achieved which both retains the flexibility around recognition of forestry credits for Government compliance and expresses openness to considering their recognition for ETS compliance in the medium to long term and subject to thorough review/experience.

The proposal for a regulation setting emission performance standards for new passenger cars as part of the community’s integrated approach to reduce CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles (CO2 from cars regulation) originally scheduled as a main agenda item—was not formally discussed at the Council as good progress was being made at discussions at COREPER.

Under ‘any other business’, the European Commission presented communications on: the dismantling of ships; the EU strategy on invasive alien species; the EU and the Arctic region; and the implementation of European Community environmental law. Additionally, the European Commission presented a Green Paper on biowaste management in the European Union, the preparations of the EUROMED conference and the EU-Africa Climate Change summit. Finally, the Irish delegation discussed the fall in demand for recycled materials. All AOB items were noted by member states without substantial discussion.

Health

Independent Mental Health Advocate

As a result of the Government’s Mental Health Act 2007, from 1 April 2009 statutory access to an Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA) will be available to qualifying patients in England under the Mental Health Act 1983. IMHAs will help patients to understand the way the Mental Health Act applies to them, and what can and cannot be done as a result. They will also help patients to understand their rights under the Act, and to support them in exercising those rights.

At the end of last year, the Department consulted on draft regulations in relation to IMHA services. In doing so, we specifically sought views on who should commission IMHA services locally. It was clear from responses to the public consultation exercise that there were conflicting views on who should commission and provide advocacy services.

Having carefully considered these responses, the Government have decided that primary care trusts (PCTs) will be responsible for commissioning IMHA services, although to ensure local flexibility, we intend to allow them to exercise their duty with other PCTs and to include commissioning of IMHA services within the scope of partnership arrangements with local social services authorities under section 75 of the National Health Service Act 2006.

I have laid regulations today to direct PCTs to commission IMHA services and set appointment requirements for IMHAs. Comprehensive commissioning guidance will be published shortly, to assist PCTs in meeting their statutory duty. PCTs’ new duty has been reflected in PCT baseline allocations for 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Home Department

Independent Complaints Audit Committee (UK Border Agency)

I am pleased to announce that the independent Complaints Audit Committee (CAC) annual report for the year 2007 to 2008 has been published today. The UK Border Agency’s response to this report will be published in two day’s time, on 18 December. Copies of both reports will be placed in the House Library and on the Home Office website from the respective dates of publication.

This is the CAC’s fourteenth and final report. Their role has been to monitor the effectiveness of the Agency’s procedures for handling complaints and this report provides details of their findings. The Agency response provides full details of the positive action taken on the recommendations made by the CAC and highlights the significant improvements which have been made to the complaints system over the past year, as well as continuing work to further improve performance.

Justice

Correction of Statement

On 28 October 2008, Official Report, column 720, in answer to an oral supplementary question from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) about voting systems I said that

“My hon. Friend will remember that the closed list system was a manifesto commitment in 1997”.

This was incorrect. The 1997 Labour party manifesto commitment was for the introduction of proportional representation for European elections, and did not detail that a closed list system should be used. It was agreed subsequent to the 1997 election that a closed list system should be used.

Freedom of Information Quarterly

Today I have deposited copies of “The Freedom of Information Act 2000 - Statistics on implementation in Central Government: Q3 - July - September 2008” in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

This is the quarterly monitoring statistics report analysing the performance of central Government in the fourth full year of freedom of information.

Intestate Succession

On 28 August 2008, the Ministry of Justice published its response to its consultation paper, “Administration of Estates - Review of the Statutory Legacy” (CP(R) 11/05) and announced that the levels of the statutory legacy would be increased from £125,000 to £250,000 where the deceased leaves a surviving spouse or civil partner and children and from £200,000 to £450,000 in other cases. The Department also announced that the actuarial tables for converting a surviving spouse’s or civil partner’s life interest on intestacy into a capital sum were to be updated.

Subject to parliamentary approval, these changes will come into force on 1 February 2009. They will be effected by two statutory instruments. The first, the Family Provision (Intestate Succession) Order 2008 will increase the statutory legacy. It was laid in draft on Wednesday 12 November. The second, the Intestate Succession (Interest and Capitalisation) (Amendment) Order 2008 will update the actuarial tables. It was laid on Thursday 11 December 2089.

The statutory legacy is the fixed net sum payable to a surviving spouse or civil partner from the estate of a person dying intestate—without leaving a valid will. If the estate is of sufficient value, the surviving spouse or civil partner is entitled to a life interest in one half of the balance of the remainder once the statutory legacy has been settled. The surviving spouse or civil partner will receive any income generated from the life interest for the rest of his or her life or can choose to convert it into capital. The conversion is calculated by reference to the actuarial tables.

Duchy of Lancaster

Guaranteed Minimum Pension Calculations

My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Health, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the Secretary of State for Defence, the Secretary of State for Justice and I wish to alert the House to new checks which have uncovered a problem with payments to an estimated 5 per cent. of public service pensioners paid, by successive administrations dating back as much as 30 years, by the NHS, Teachers, Armed Forces, Judicial and Civil Service pension schemes, as a result of the incorrect indexation of an element known as the Guaranteed Minimum Pension or GMP.

The problem dates back to 1978 when public service occupational pension schemes contracted out of the State Earnings Related Pensions Scheme (SERPS). As a condition of contracting out members had a guarantee of a minimum amount of occupational pension. This GMP applied to those who were members of a contracted out scheme between 1978 and 1997 and who would otherwise have been entitled to SERPS.

Public service pensions are uprated in April each year in line with the retail price index. The occupational pension scheme pays for all the uprating before state pension is claimed, but thereafter part of the uprating is paid with the state pension, depending on the GMP entitlement.

To enable the correct pension increases to be applied, pension scheme administrators need accurate GMP information derived from the individual’s National Insurance contribution record. Our investigations have revealed that in 95 per cent. of cases this information is correctly recorded. But, in some cases it is not. In those cases schemes have paid the annual increase on the full pension each year instead of on an amount adjusted to reflect the GMP entitlement.

The five schemes mentioned are administered by central Government departments. Scheme administrators and HMRC have now checked more than 2 million pension records.

An estimated 95,000 people are currently affected across the five schemes. This represents around 5 per cent. of the total number of pensioners in those schemes. The total amount of overpayments made by successive administrations over the 30 years since 1978 to these pensioners is estimated at £126 million. There are separate NHS and teachers schemes in Scotland and Northern Ireland and a separate civil service scheme in Northern Ireland. Separate statements are being made in respect of these schemes by the Scottish and Northern Ireland executives today.

The advice of the accounting officers of the five schemes is that it is unlikely to be cost-effective to attempt recovery of these monies from individuals. Correct pension payments will be ordered immediately from April 2009. This means that some pensioners will have their payments reduced and others will see increases in their payments in 2009 which are less than the annual inflation uprating.

Scheme administrators for the five schemes mentioned have written to all those pensioners affected and will write again with full details in the new year. Helplines to respond to their questions and concerns have been set up and advice and guidance has been placed on scheme websites. Support will include advising people to enquire what additional state benefits they may be entitled to.

The causes of the overpayments have been investigated by the pension scheme administrators, HMRC and DWP. There is no single cause. I have asked the National Audit Office to carry out a review of the end to end process to pinpoint accountabilities, and the House will be updated further.

Transport

Bus Service Operators Group

The Chancellor’s pre-Budget report on 24 November announced that, following consultation earlier this year, the Government will be introducing changes to the Department for Transport’s Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) to incentivise the use of low-carbon buses and buses with smartcard and global positioning systems and that we would also be challenging the industry to improve its fuel efficiency. I am now announcing further details of these, and a number of other, measures and the steps we are taking to implement them in consultation with the industry and other stakeholders. A summary of the responses to our consultation document “Local Bus Service Support—Options for Reform” is today being placed on the Department’s website and in the Libraries of both Houses.

An important element of the measures is a change to the present arrangement under which changes in the rate of fuel duty are matched by changes in BSOG rates. Given the challenge of the Climate Change Act to reduce UK carbon emissions, automatic uprating of BSOG is no longer appropriate. It is important, however, to give bus operators time to adjust to this change and to put in place action to improve fuel efficiency.

Accordingly, I have decided that BSOG rates in England should be increased to match the 2p increase in fuel duty which was implemented on 1 December. There will then be no further increases in BSOG rates which will apply automatically to all claimants of the grant. Instead, in April 2010, BSOG rates will be uprated for those operators who have achieved an improvement in fuel efficiency equivalent to 3 per cent. per annum for each of the two previous years; we will be reviewing the figure annually to consider the scope for increasing the efficiency requirements. This is an achievable target as has been shown by studies into the improvements in fuel efficiency that can be brought about by improved driving techniques. Final arrangements on this—and on the measures below—will follow detailed discussions between officials and the bus industry.

The other measures we will be taking forward in discussion with stakeholders will be:

introduction of incentives in the form of differential BSOG rates, or a distance based subsidy, for use of low-carbon buses; we would aim to bring these in as soon as possible, ideally in 2009, but final decisions would need to take account of detailed discussions with stakeholders;

a review by 2011 with the intent of using a fuel efficiency cap or differential rates of BSOG in the future to further incentivise a switch to lower emission vehicles delivering at least Euro V emission standards, especially as the challenge of meeting air quality targets in the future may have a carbon penalty;

introduction from April 2010 of incentives in the form of differential BSOG rates for buses equipped with smartcard readers and GPS systems; we will discuss how these requirements can best be certified or audited with stakeholders, and will also want to explore the provision of resulting data to help in compiling national statistics;

replacement of BSOG for operators in the Transport for London (TfL) contracted network by payment of an equivalent sum passed direct to TfL; officials have been discussing the details of this with TfL and I intend to introduce this change as soon as practical;

as with London, BSOG funding would be devolved where a Quality Contract (franchising) is in place outside London;

funding of a SAFED (Safe and Fuel Efficient Driving) demonstration project to encourage fuel efficient driving in the bus and coach sector; and,

establishment of a working group with stakeholders to discuss details of the implementation of these measures and also to take forward consideration, as envisaged in the consultation document, of these and longer term options for changes to bus subsidies, including a possible change to a per passenger basis and further consideration of the scope for an emissions-based tiered approach to payments; we will be working closely with the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs in taking these measures forward.

I have decided, given the potential impact on the industry’s cash flow, not to take forward the proposal in the consultation document that BSOG should be changed to a payment in arrears basis.

Further announcements on the details of changes will be made as our discussions with stakeholders and other Departments progress.

EU Transport Council

I attended the EU Transport Council in Brussels on 9 December.

The Council discussed the regulation amending the four regulations adopted in 2004 which established the Single European Sky (SES). The amending regulation consolidates and strengthens the earlier regulations, with the aim of improving the performance and sustainability of the European aviation system: Ministers were in agreement on the technical elements of the new proposal. I joined several other Ministers in expressing strong support for the package. It was not however possible for member states to reach a general approach, as an issue regarding applicability of the new legislation to Gibraltar was raised just before the Council. I and the Spanish Minister undertook to resolve this issue bilaterally, so that Council agreement on this important proposal can be achieved soon.

The Council was given a presidency progress report on an amending regulation extending the responsibilities of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The Council reached a partial general approach—on extension of EASA’s scope to air traffic management and air navigation services. The progress report also covered the provisions on extension of scope to aerodrome safety matters. The presidency underlined the Agency’s important work of inspection and certification in these areas, as an integral part of the Single European Sky package.

The Council adopted two decisions authorising the Commission to open negotiations towards comprehensive aviation agreements with Tunisia and Algeria. The UK supports these mandates.

The presidency and the Commission reported on the successful outcome of negotiations on an EU-Canada aviation agreement. I thanked the Commission for its work on this good agreement, which may be signed during the Czech presidency.

The presidency tabled a report on progress to date in consideration of a proposed Directive to amend Directive 1999-62 on charging of heavy goods vehicles for the use of certain infrastructure—the “Eurovignette” Directive. The proposal aims to provide member states with the flexibility to introduce charges for lorries, to internalise the costs of congestion, noise and air pollution. The presidency noted that considerable progress had been made towards agreement on a number of issues, but further discussion would be needed on questions such as the inclusion of congestion charging, the methodology for calculating the level of external cost charges and the question of hypothecation—earmarking—of income from charges. The UK supports the principles underlying the proposal but opposes mandatory hypothecation of revenues. The Czech Republic will aim to reach agreement on this proposal in Council during its presidency.

The presidency gave a progress report on the proposed directive on cross-border enforcement in the field of road safety, noting that there had been a wide consensus on the need to take action in this area and hoping that further progress will be made during the Czech presidency.

The Council adopted conclusions on the greening of transport, the Commission’s strategy for the internalisation of external costs in transport and the reduction of rail noise on existing rolling stock. The UK supported the conclusions.

The Council adopted a resolution on the establishment of a European regional data centre for the Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) of ships. This is the implementation in Europe of a Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulation adopted by the IMO in 2006. The resolution is acceptable to the UK.

Adopted by the Council without debate—as “A points”—were common positions on proposals on flag state requirements and the civil liability of shipowners, both of which are part of the third maritime legislative package. The other six proposals in the package had already been adopted by the Council, and the presidency announced agreement on those between the Council and the European Parliament in the Conciliation Committee the previous day.

Freight Discussion Document

Today the Department for Transport is publishing “Delivering a Sustainable Transport System - The Logistics Perspective”.

In the UK we are fortunate to have a world-leading logistics industry. However, with many businesses relying on just-in-time methods, the success of our economy depends on the effective and predictable movement of goods.

The logistics perspective publication provides the Government’s first detailed analysis of the movement of major freight commodities on the strategic national corridors, while setting out our understanding of the issues affecting each freight mode. It also considers how we can work with industry to facilitate effective freight movement while mitigating its environmental and social impact.

As part of this consideration, the document commits to a study into the potential effects of an increase of up to 2 metres in the length of articulated vehicle trailers. The study will consider whether there are clear benefits in changing the permitted length to reduce the numbers of lorries on roads, taking into account freight demand and the interaction between road, rail and water transport.

The logistics perspective marks the next milestone in the Government’s transport strategy following our November 2008 “Delivering a Sustainable Transport System” document, which identified the UK’s strategic national corridors.

A copy of “Delivering a Sustainable Transport System - The Logistics Perspective” has been placed in the Library of the House.

Work and Pensions

Autumn Performance Report

I am announcing my intention to publish the Autumn Performance Report of the Department for Work and Pensions on Thursday 18 December. The report is intended to supplement the Department’s annual report published in May 2008.

The report is the Department’s first report under CSR 2007 on its cross-governmental public service agreements, its departmental strategic objectives and its value for money delivery agreement.

This publication has been specifically designed to be accessed online, on the grounds of sustainability and potential financial savings, and will be available on the Department’s website from 18 December. For the convenience of Members, copies will be placed in the Library of the House.