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Volume 497: debated on Monday 12 October 2009


Monday 12 October 2009


Business, Innovation and Skills

Post Office Closure (Kent)

Petition presented on 15 July 2009.

Declares that Sheerness main Post Office is providing an inadequate service.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to instruct Post Office Limited to re-open Queensway Post Office.

And the Petitioners remain etc,


Observations from the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, received 8 September 2009:

The Government recognises the important social and economic role of post offices, particularly in rural and deprived urban communities. That is why we are determined to maintain a national post office network allowing people to have reasonable access across the whole country and has put in place a new policy and financial framework to achieve this.

Under the Government’s postal sector reforms introduced in 2001, Royal Mail (which includes Post Office Ltd) has been given greater commercial freedom, as the management and unions themselves requested, and Government have assumed an arm’s length role as a shareholder in a public limited company. Subject to agreeing its strategic plan with us, the Board can structure the business as it decides best to meet the challenges of market development and changing customer needs.

The Government has introduced clearly defined national access criteria to maintain a national network and guarantee a reasonable level of access to post office services for all. Within the access criteria framework, however, the precise location of post office branches is an operational matter for Post Office Ltd.

Post Office Ltd has advised that the Queensway post office was closed in 2004 as part of the company’s urban reinvention programme and that they are not aware of any ongoing serious service issues at the main Sheerness post office.

Steel Industry (Yorkshire)

The Petition of residents of Rotherham, and others,

Declares that the Petitioners are concerned about the decline of the steel industry in South Yorkshire.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to make time for a full debate on the state of the steel industry, and to bring forward recommendations, to be considered by the House, to ensure its survival.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Denis MacShane, Official Report,16 July 2009 Vol. 496, c. 554 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, received 8 September 2009:

The Government are deeply conscious of the importance of the steel industry to the people of Rotherham and the South Yorkshire region. Employees particularly at Corus sites in the area are worried about their jobs and the impact on their families and their communities; and suppliers are concerned about the future of their businesses.

We are fully engaged with Corus to try to secure the future for as many workers as possible. The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills have spoken to Kirby Adams, Corus CEO about the matter on several occasions.

The current downturn has hit steel production across the globe and whilst job losses are always extremely regrettable, the UK steel industry is taking action to ensure that it is fit for the future.

Along with its partners in local government and the regions, the Government are bringing forward billions of pounds worth of infrastructure spending across the UK to help keep people and firms in work while private demand falls.

There will also be opportunities in the low carbon arena that will present significant market opportunities to UK steel makers and processors in the medium to longer term.

The Government accept these initiatives to stimulate demand will take time to feed through and have a real impact. That is why we are continuing to help the steel industry and why our focus is on training to help the industry get ready for the upturn in the economy when it comes.

The Government have offered up to £5million of training support to secure jobs across Corus sites. Through Train to Gain the Government are already making a significant investment to up-skill and re-skill Corus employees, including support for apprenticeships at the Corus Rotherham site. This reflects the high priority this Government place on continued investment in individuals and their skills during the downturn. Train to Gain is the Government’s flagship service offering support to employers in England to invest in the future productivity and profitability of their businesses by investing in the skills of their employees and support has been provided to other companies in the steel and metals industries.

The Government note that these matters were discussed in the House on 7 July during a Westminster Hall debate on the Future of the Steel industry secured by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Denis MacShane). There was also a Westminster Hall debate on Support for the Steel Industry secured by the Hon Member for Brigg and Goole (Ian Cawsey) on 24 March.

In addition the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills took part in a Steel Summit hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Steel and Metal Related Industry Group on 14 May. There was a follow-up meeting of the All Party Group on 20 July which was attended by the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills. At all these discussions, stimulating demand was seen as critical to the future of the steel industry and remains the key area that we will continue to address.

Children, Schools and Families

Planning and Development (Essex)

The Petition of John Hogarth, parents of Jotmans Hall School, local residents and others,

Declares that the proposed development of a SureStart Centre at Jotmans Hall School in Benfleet should be rejected because building the centre at that school would bring unacceptable problems including; compromising security for young children and the school buildings, including late at night and at weekends; destroying valuable greenbelt land and playing fields; wasting a vast amount of public money; increasing parking problems for school users and residents; and imposing highway safety dangers; further declares that the councils are pushing ahead with this plan because if they switch to other much more appropriate sites, they could lose their £500,000 budget for the project and that this demonstrates a cavalier approach by the councils to the management of public funds.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to encourage Essex County Council and the Castle Point Borough Council to consider this objection and Petition and to reject the Jotmans Hall site and to co-operate together in investigating more suitable sites and to now do this with public transparency and to undertake fully public consultation on any sites which are thought may be suitable.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Bob Spink, Official Report, 13 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 129 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, received 3 September 2009:

The Government are committed to providing a Sure Start Children’s Centre for every community by March 2010 and through the Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Bill the Government are introducing a statutory duty on local authorities to ensure sufficient provision of Sure Start Children’s Centres—making them a universal service. Across the country, Sure Start Children's Centres are already providing access to high quality integrated services for young children under five years old and their families. This is particularly important in the current economic climate, where families face additional worries. All local authorities, working with their Children’s Trust partners, are responsible for planning and delivering Sure Start Children’s Centres.

The Government would expect the local authority, in this case Essex County Council, to think strategically about the location of children’s centre provision in order to ensure universal coverage for all families with children aged zero to five, and to consider what provision would best deliver improved outcomes for children across the county. We would expect the local authority to consult widely on its proposals.

It is for Essex County Council to determine the precise nature of the communications and consultation with its partners. They must consult and inform all interested partners and allow adequate time and provide sufficient information for this process. Our advice to all local authorities is to start consulting early.

I understand that public consultation was carried out at pre-planning stage following Essex County Council’s own guidance and processes. The Council has concluded the public consultation stage on the proposal to develop a Sure Start Children’s Centre at Jotmans Hall School. The Council’s Executive has considered the comments made during the consultation and has made some amendments to the plans for the children's centre at Jotmans Primary School in response to these concerns.

The centre to be located on the Jotmans Primary School site will provide easy access to early childhood services for around 835 local children under five, and their families, who live in the neighbourhood. Sure Start Children’s Centres are a key part of our universal mainstream children's services and as such will contribute greatly to improving outcomes for all children wherever they live. They also have an important role to play in narrowing the gap in outcomes for the poorest children and the rest and we are committed to ensuring there is a centre for every community by 2010.

Primary Education (Cheshire)

The Petition of residents in Farndon and its surrounding district in the Eddisbury Parliamentary Constituency in the County of Cheshire and those interested in the maintenance of primary education in Farndon,

Declares that the maintenance of primary education at Farndon School is vital for the interests of current and future pupils and is of crucial importance and benefit to the wider communities which it serves as an essential component of education in Cheshire; that the state of the buildings, classrooms and common facilities is wholly inadequate; that provision of suitable areas for recreation is in grave need of being made available, or brought up to standard to meet the needs of the children at the school; that the research in its design, costings and planning of the necessary improvements, as detailed in the school’s feasibility plan, are well advanced and offer a best practice, value for money solution to the current deficit of provision; and that the education authority, Cheshire West and Chester Council, provides the resources necessary to enable the school’s feasibility plan to be put into effect.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to take steps to promote the proposal to make adequate provision at Farndon Primary School and re-dedicates its support for the continuing high quality education at this establishment.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Stephen O'Brien, Official Report, 13 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 128 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, received on 17 August 2009:

Cheshire has seen a dramatic increase in schools capital funding in recent years. In 1996-97 it was allocated £10.4 million, and this has risen to nearly £118 million for the three year period 2008-09 to 2010-11. Much of the devolved funding is allocated at local authority level, for the local authority to allocate between primary and secondary schools as it sees fit. This applies, particularly, to modernisation funding and basic need funding for expansion.

Specifically, for the two years 2009-10 and 2010-11, the newly formed Cheshire West and Chester has been allocated over £42 million. This includes £7 million for modernisation, £1.9 million for basic need, and £7.5 million for primary capital. Other amounts within the total have been given to schools directly as Devolved Formula Capital, also for programmes such as ICT and for extended schools.

The Primary Capital Programme (PCP), commits to renewing at least half of all primary school buildings by 2022-23. The aim is to create primary schools that are equipped for 21st-century teaching and learning, and are at the heart of their communities with children’s services in reach of every family. The programme encourages and supports local authorities to take a long-term strategic approach to capital investment and to transform teaching and learning in primary schools, with the Children’s Plan at its heart. The programme overall is supported by £1.9 billion of capital investment in the period 2008-11.

To access PCP funding all authorities were asked to prepare and submit to the Department a Primary Strategy for Change (PSfC). Before the unitary changes, Cheshire County Council delivered a “strategy for change” document which did not include Farndon School as one of the priority projects for Cheshire West and Cheshire.

Local authorities and schools have a duty to care for the premises through use of their annual Devolved Formula Capital (DFC). This is an amount allocated each year to primary and secondary schools to be spent by them on their priorities in respect of buildings, ICT and other capital need. It may be combined with capital funding from other sources, pooled with DFC allocated to other schools, and saved up to fund larger projects. Priorities are set at school level, but should have regard to planned expenditure in a local authority’s asset management plan.

Decisions about how to prioritise capital investment are best made locally; it is for the Council to prioritise the schools in the project, deciding when each school will receive investment and the scope of work at individual schools, in the context of the overall funding allocation. We would expect a range of factors to be taken into account in making these decisions, including (but not limited to) current educational standards, levels of deprivation and the condition, suitability and size of the existing buildings and sites.

Good asset management is essential for schools if funding and assets are to be used efficiently and effectively to support the aims of the Children’s Plan. Asset management guidance was first published by the DCSF around 10 years ago; however, the content and format of this guidance was revised in November 2008. Local Authorities (LAs) use school Asset Management Plans to provide the framework within which capital investment needs are assessed and prioritised. This is undertaken in partnership with schools and other local partners in an open, transparent and consultative manner. The information collated helps schools, LAs and the other partners to make informed spending decisions on the repair, renewal and improvement of premises, and thereby targets resources for maintenance where they are needed most.

Communities and Local Government

Care Services (Essex)

The Petition of Mavis Hunt, and others,

Declares that permanent live in wardens in sheltered housing, for instance at Sweetbriar Lodge, should be retained, and notes the wonderful care and confidence these wardens give to vulnerable and elderly residents, enabling them to live with a degree of independence and dignity; further declares that councillors have full control of this decision and will be held to account for it; believes that a small expenditure on wardens can save much public money; congratulates wardens in Castle Point who are caring and thoughtful towards residents; expresses astonishment that Borough councillors are, yet again, threatening to remove wardens to save cash in a very short sighted manner and believes that councillors should start to listen to residents and the public.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to review its guidance to local councils on the use of permanent wardens and to ask Castle Point Borough Council to listen to the Member of Parliament and continue to support our local wardens.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Bob Spink, Official Report, 20 April 2009; Vol. 491, c. 122 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, received 12 October 2009:

The Secretary of State acknowledges the concerns of the petitioners regarding the continued use of resident wardens in warden controlled accommodation.

We are aware that a number of older people are concerned about changes to the warden systems in some sheltered housing schemes, and the implications that such changes might have. I should like to emphasise that the Government are very mindful of the housing and support needs of all older people—wherever they live—whether in their “own homes”, or with family, or in supported housing, like sheltered or extra care accommodation, or residential care establishments. The Government want to ensure that our older citizens should get the best housing and support services that can be made available locally and in the most effective way.

It is however, for local authorities to determine how to best meet the support needs identified in their communities—the Department does not prescribe any particular model of support. Communities and Local Government has given local authorities £1.686 billion of Supporting People funding. Authorities use this funding to provide housing support to a whole range of people, focusing their spending to best meet local need. All decisions about how the services are funded and monitored, which includes satisfaction with the service, are therefore made at the local level. From 1 April 2009 the Supporting People Programme grant was un-ringfenced. This supports our clear commitment to provide authorities with greater flexibility over their funding and allows them to develop innovative solutions to meet local needs.

We want to improve the delivery of support services for older people further, which is why we recently brought together representatives from Age Concern and Help the Aged and other key players such as the Local Government Association to form the Sheltered Housing Working Group. A number of ministerial led meetings have already taken place and work is progressing on taking forward the issues identified by the working group, to decide how to best work with and support the sector and service users going forward.

Green Belt (Somerset)

The Petition of residents of the Woodspring constituency and others,

Declares that the Government’s Regional Spatial Strategy proposes over 10,000 new homes on Green Belt land surrounding Long Ashton; and further declares that there are feasible options to accommodate necessary new housing without sacrificing the Green Belt.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to withdraw the proposed South West Regional Spatial Strategy and make a renewed commitment to the retention of the Green Belt.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Dr. Liam Fox, Official Report, 2 July 2009; Vol. 495, c.1P .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, received 12 October:

The proposed changes to the South West Regional Spatial Strategy were the subject of public consultation between July and September 2008. A substantial number of representations were received during that period about the proposed area of search 1A. No new representations can be taken into account now, as to do so might be unfair to other respondents.

However, the Government’s policy on land designated as green belt has not changed.

Planning Policy Statement 3 (PPS3) states that there is a presumption that housing development should be prioritised towards previously developed land, but recognises that some Greenfield land—undeveloped land that may or may not be part of existing green belt—may be needed for development. PPS3 puts the responsibility on local authorities to decide (within the broad framework provided by Regional Spatial Strategies) where to locate housing, to identify sites and to manage previously developed land back into development where possible to minimise the call on Greenfield and designated green belt land.

Planning and Development (Northamptonshire)

The Humble Petition of residents of Higham Ferrers in the Wellingborough constituency and the surrounding area,


That major concern is expressed about proposed developments near to Higham Ferrers Nursery and Infant School and Higham Ferrers Junior School which will pose a risk to the children attending these schools. Increased traffic along the adjacent service road will pose a threat to children and parents, who use this road as a safe area for both the dropping off and picking up of children. In addition many children use this road during the day as an access route to and from the school especially to the sports facilities. Hundreds of children will be affected by the proposed developments.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House urges the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to liaise with East Northamptonshire District Council and Northamptonshire County Council to ensure a safe environment for children using the schools.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.—[Presented by Mr. Peter Bone, Official Report, 16 December 2008; Vol. 485, c. 1071 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government received, 12 October 2009:

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government notes that a planning appeal has been submitted to him in respect of the above development. The appeal was received on 29 June 2009.

The petition has been brought to the attention of the Inspector, who visited the site on 22 September. The appeal will be determined during the course of the week beginning 28 September. A copy of the appeal decision will be sent to the hon. Member.

Planning and Development (Plymouth)

The Petition of people concerned at the proposed development of an energy from waste plant at Ernesettle, Plymouth,

Declares that the site identified by Plymouth City Council for an energy from waste plant at Ernesettle, Plymouth, is totally inappropriate for many reasons including the loss of playing fields.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to persuade Plymouth City Council to reconsider their decision and investigate alternative sites.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Alison Seabeck, Official Report, 11 May 2009; Vol. 492, c. 657.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, received 12 October 2009:

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is aware of the proposal for an Energy from Waste Incinerator in Plymouth. Plymouth City Council has allocated 4 sites within its Waste Local Development Document (DPD).

This DPD has been through a full public consultation exercise in accordance with the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. The DPD was submitted to the Secretary of State on the 29 August 2007 for an Independent Examination; the Examination was carried out on 6 February 2008 and the document was found to be sound. The DPD was adopted by Plymouth City Council on the 21 April 2008.

I understand from officials in the Government Office for the South West that no planning application for an Energy from Waste Incinerator at Ernesettle (Plymouth) has been submitted to the Council for determination. The determination of planning applications is primarily the responsibility of the City Council, as the local planning authority.


Bullying (Armed Forces)

The Petition of those concerned about bullying in the Armed Forces,

Declares that bullying in the British Army should be stopped once and for all.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Defence to take a firm and positive action to ensure that bullying in the British Army is once and for all put a stop to now.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Parmjit Dhanda, Official Report, 29 June 2009; Vol. 495, c. 136 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Defence, received 18 August 2009:

All personnel have the right to live and work in an environment free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination. These principles are enshrined in values and standards that reject any form of harassment, intimidation or discrimination and call for respect and appropriate behaviour at all times. These values and standards are introduced in recruit training and continuously reinforced throughout an individual’s service.

There is a policy of zero tolerance of bullying or ill-treatment and we encourage any allegation of inappropriate behaviour to be raised to the attention of the Commanding Officer to be investigated accordingly.

All allegations of mistreatment are taken very seriously and all substantive allegations are investigated, including by Service Police such as the Royal Military Police if appropriate. For the purposes of investigations Service Police are independent of the Ministry of Defence.

There are robust procedures for dealing with all forms of unacceptable behaviour. All those who are found to fall short of the Service’s high standards or who are found to have committed an offence under the various Service Acts are dealt with administratively (up to and including dismissal) or through the disciplinary process, as applicable.

All Commanding Officers are made fully aware of their responsibility to protect others from the differing forms of harassment, physical and mental intimidation and discrimination, and any suspicion of bullying is dealt with immediately. These principles are reinforced throughout all military training.

All personnel have access to the full range of welfare and well-being support. Every unit has a comprehensive welfare system, which is widely publicised. This starts with Officers and non-commissioned officers, who have a line management welfare responsibility to individuals. Within the unit, personnel also have direct access to Unit Welfare Officers, pastoral, medical and welfare staff. A further secondary level of welfare support is provided which can either be accessed directly or through unit welfare staff. An example of this is the Army Welfare Service which provides a confidential professional support service and a Confidential Support Line telephone service. Personnel also have access to the Samaritans helpline.

There is no evidence to suggest that Absent Without Leave is a problem because of widespread bullying. However, all those returning from unauthorised absence are asked whether they wish to report any concerns.

In addition, the Secretary of State for Defence has established the statutory appointment of the Service Complaints Commissioner to provide an alternative point of contact for individuals (either Service personnel or a third party who wishes to make an allegation on behalf of a Service person) who feel unable to approach the chain of command to make an allegation that a Service person has been wronged in relation to discrimination, harassment, bullying or other inappropriate behaviour. The Commissioner will refer an allegation to the person considered appropriate to receive it. Normally, this will be the Commanding Officer of the Service person who is alleged to have been wronged. However, the Commissioner may refer the case to another officer if, for example, the Commanding Officer is the subject of or implicated in the complaint.

Energy and Climate Change

Wind Farm Development (Wales)

The Humble Petition of Robert Andrew Robinson Town Clerk of Welshpool Town Council,

Sheweth that the Communities of Mid Wales (and in particular Welshpool) are deeply concerned about the effect of Wind Farm transpiration in Mid Wales and in particular through Welshpool which is proposed over a sustained period.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House will urge the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to initiate a public inquiry on this matter before any Wind Farm Development is approved or allowed to take place and to ensure that full, proper and open consideration occurs prior to implementation of the project in Mid Wales.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.—[Presented by Lembit Öpik, Official Report, 14 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 264 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, received 11 September 2009:

The Government take the consideration of all impacts from wind farm development very seriously.

Where an application for a wind farm has been made under s36 of the Electricity Act 1989, a public inquiry into the application is mandatory if the relevant planning authority (Powys County Council in this case) objects. Even if the relevant planning authority does not object, I have the discretionary power to call for a public inquiry if! consider it necessary in the light of objections received.

Should I call for a public inquiry to be held, I will issue in advance a statement of the matters, which seem to me to be relevant to my consideration of the application. These matters could include transportation impacts in connection with the construction of the wind farm. The views of those objecting would be taken into account, together with all other relevant factors, in identifying these matters.

Even if a public inquiry is not held, I will similarly take objectors’ views into account in reaching my decision on the application.

I am aware that Powys County Council, the Welsh Assembly Government and the developers concerned are considering transport issues raised by wind farm applications in mid-Wales.

Applications for wind farms made under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 will be considered by the relevant local planning authority. The local planning authority would similarly consider transportation issues in their assessment of such applications.

As transport issues, including cumulative impacts, will be assessed as part of the normal planning application process for each wind farm, it would not be appropriate to hold a separate inquiry across a number of applications solely into transportation issues as requested in the petition.


Storage of Embryos

The Petition of people who have embryos stored under the terms of the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act and the regulations made there under and others,

Declares that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Statutory Storage Period for Embryos and Gametes) Regulations 2009 (S.I., 2009, No. 1582), dated 25 July 2009, a copy of which was laid before this House on 1 July, does not provide for the preservation of embryos whose statutory storage period has expired; is concerned that in circumstances where people have stored embryos under 1991 regulations ahead of medical treatment that renders one or the other of them infertile that the lack of transitional regulations in S.I., 2009, No. 1582 will result in embryos being destroyed against the express wishes of the donor.

Further declares that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority supported the case for allowing people in such cases to have access to further extensions to the storage period.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons calls upon Her Majesty's Government to bring forward further regulations to allow for the continued storage if embryos for those who actively desire it in order that they might use them to have a family by means of surrogacy and act immediately to suspend the destruction of such embryos where the donors so wish.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Paul Burstow, Official Report, 21 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 857 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Health Department, received 18 September 2009:

Under the current law, human embryos may be stored for five years. In certain circumstances, extension of storage may be allowed. However, this does not include cases where the woman to whom it is intended the embryo will be transferred would be acting as a surrogate. This is because of concerns about surrogacy at the time the legislation was made.

The Government have reviewed the storage provisions, to enable more people with premature infertility to benefit from them. The new legislation will increase the maximum storage period for embryos from five years to 10 years, and in addition will provide that storage can be extended for rolling periods of further ten years (up to 55 years in total) if a registered medical practitioner provides a written opinion that the person for whom the embryo is being stored is prematurely infertile. Under the new system, in cases where it is intended that the embryos are to be used in a surrogacy arrangement and the criteria set out in the regulations are fulfilled, the storage period may be extended.

However, this new legislation does not apply to embryos that have run out of time on 1 October 2009, and which therefore are outside the current legal storage time limits. Although only a small number of women are in this situation, we all appreciate that for them it is tremendously important as it is their chance to have a child. The dilemma is morally straightforward—we are sympathetic to these women and have been urgently seeking ways to help them—but legally it is very complex.

As a result of very careful thought and consultation with our lawyers, we have found what we believe is a solution. We are making an Order under section 64(1)(a) of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 to enable the 10 year rule to apply to embryos that are out-of-time on 1 October 2009 on the basis it would be ‘supplementary provision’ to section 15(3) of the 2008 Act.

The Order will mean that these embryos can remain in storage for 10 years from the date they were first put into storage. Therefore, for instance, an embryo subject to the current five year storage limit that has been in storage for six years on 1 October 2009 will be able to be stored for a further four years. The Order will be effective from 1 October 2009. It does not affect the legality of out-of-time storage before 1 October 2009.

The Government’s overriding priority is to have in place a legal mechanism that will prevent these embryos from being destroyed. We have therefore concentrated our efforts on producing the Order to achieve that from 1 October 2009. From what we know of the circumstances of the women affected, that will give them a number of years of additional storage.

Home Department

Air Guns (Control)

The Petition of residents of North Norfolk and others,

Declares the Petitioners’ serious concern at the dangers posed to dogs, humans and other animals by the lack of controls over access to air guns; notes the distress that the loss of a beloved family pet can cause; expresses the Petitioners’ sympathy with the Currah family; and considers that the lack of practical restrictions on the use and purchase of air guns needs to be urgently addressed.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to confirm they will take action to enforce the restrictions on the sale and use of air guns.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Norman Lamb, Official Report, 13 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 128 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Home Department, received 12 October 2009:

The Government totally condemn the irresponsible or malicious use of air weapons and has the deepest sympathy for those people who are injured or whose pets are killed or maimed as a result.

The Government keep controls on air weapons under close scrutiny and has strengthened the law considerably on several recent occasions. There is now a range of strict laws against the misuse of air guns, including a prohibition on the sale of air guns to under-18s and controls on their possession in public. No one is allowed to have a loaded weapon in a public place without reasonable excuse or lawful authority. Businesses which sell air weapons are now required to register with the police as dealers and to complete sales on a face-to-face basis.

It is an offence for persons of any age to fire an air weapon across the boundary of premises or to fire an air weapon within 50 feet (15 metres) of the centre of a public road in such a way as to endanger or impede any road user. It is an offence to shoot pets and protected wild birds or animals.

Other offences include trespass with an air weapon, having an air weapon with intent to damage property and having an air weapon with intent to endanger life. The legislation gives courts the power to inflict a range of penalties ranging from heavy fines to life imprisonment for the really serious offences.

There are encouraging signs that the new measures are beginning to work and air gun offences are currently at their lowest level since the 1980’s. While this reduction in the number of offences is to be welcomed, the Government are not complacent and will continue to keep controls under review to ensure that the irresponsible, reckless and criminal misuse of air weapons is tackled vigorously wherever it occurs.


Public Transport (Lancashire)

The Petition of the customers of Rossendale Transport,

Declares that the announcement by Rossendale Borough Council, that they plan to test the market to ascertain the interest in Rossendale Transport Ltd with a view to a possible sale of the company, is against the wishes of the thousands of people who have signed this Petition; notes that Rossendale Transport is one of the few local authority-owned bus companies which makes a profit; believes that if such a sale were to proceed it could seriously jeopardise public transport services in the Rossendale Valley which are essential to those without access to a car, particularly the young and the elderly; and further declares that up to 200 jobs could be put at risk.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to take any necessary action to prevent Rossendale Borough Council from selling off Rossendale Transport.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Janet Anderson, Official Report, 20 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 721.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Transport, received on 14 August 2009:

I understand that the situation with regard to Rossendale Transport has changed significantly since this petition was delivered to Parliament.

On the 28th July 2009, Rossendale Borough Council announced that they had decided to halt its test marketing exercise of Rossendale Transport Ltd, having concluded that indicative valuations made by a number of third parties did not meet their expectations. The Council will therefore retain its ownership of Rossendale Transport Ltd.

I entirely share the views of the petitioners that public transport is absolutely essential to a great many people, and the Department continues to work closely with operators and with local authorities to maintain standards in public transport services.

In general terms, it is for local authorities to decide the best model for buses in their area, and since the enactment of the Local Transport Act 2008, local authorities no longer require the approval of the Secretary of State to sell municipally owned bus operators. I believe that this change in legislation is entirely appropriate, and that locally elected councils are much better placed than central government to decide how to obtain the best quality of service, and the best value for money, for local residents.

Taxis (Liverpool)

The humble petition of Mr. Alan Watterson, of 81 Elm Vale Liverpool, the residents and taxi drivers of Wavertree Constituency and surrounding area.

Sheweth, that the livelihoods of the legitimate taxi and private hire trade in Liverpool are severely affected by the cross border hiring of vehicles licensed in neighbouring boroughs; also sheweth that the safety and well-being of the taxi-using public is put at risk by the use of such un-licensed vehicles as their insurance is nullified.

Wherefore your petitioners pray that your Honourable House urges the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to consider amending the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 to require taxis and private hire vehicles to return to the licensing area when they have completed a hiring that terminates outside of that area.

And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc—[Presented by Jane Kennedy, Official Report, 14 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 1P .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Transport, received 3 September:

Private Hire Vehicles (PHVs) are licensed in provincial areas of England and Wales under Part II of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976. Drivers, vehicles and operators (that is, those who arrange the hirings) must all be licensed separately. They are licensed by district/borough councils or unitary authorities and the legislation terms the area within which a licensing authority governs PHV activities a “controlled district”.

However, travel patterns are, of course, not limited by local authority boundaries and it is inevitable that passengers’ requirements will involve journeys across district boundaries. Case law has established that the legislation allows a licensed PHV operator to arrange a hiring from anywhere to anywhere in the country so long as he uses for that hiring a vehicle and a driver licensed by the same licensing authority as granted his operator’s licence.

The construction of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 does not readily lend itself to the insertion of a simple alteration of the type envisaged by the petitioners. The principles governing cross-border hirings mentioned above arise from the interaction between sections 46(1), 75(2) and 80(2) of the 1976 Act. Any change to the cross-border hiring principles would necessitate much wider consideration of the Act itself.

While I recognise that the issue of cross border hirings is ripe for review, I am strongly of the view that any consideration of this particular element of the law should be undertaken as part of a wider review of taxi and PHV licensing law.

However, I am afraid that I cannot give any indication of when we might be in a position to undertake a full review of taxi and PHV legislation; this would depend on wider Departmental and Parliamentary resource and timing considerations.

Taxis (Northamptonshire)

The Humble Petition of Hackney Carriage drivers and associates of Wellingborough, Northamptonshire and surrounding areas,

Sheweth, that too many Hackney Carriage licence plates are being issued in the Borough of Wellingborough and that this is causing there to be a surplus of taxis which is stopping drivers making a livelihood and threatening the level of service provided to the public.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House urges the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to direct the Borough Council of Wellingborough to temporarily suspend the issue of any more Hackney Carriage licence plates until they have carried out a demand survey; and that the suspension be kept until a clear public demand for more taxis has been established.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.—[Presented by Mr. Peter Bone, Official Report, 13 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 129 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Transport, received 11 August 2009:

Responsibility for the issuing of Hackney carriage licences rests with the local authority and it is for them to consider if numbers should be limited, according to the conditions that prevail in the licensing area. Limiting the numbers of taxis is unlikely to be in the best interests of consumers.

Section 16 of the Transport Act 1985, provides that the grant of a taxi licence may be refused if the licensing authority is satisfied that there is no significant demand for the services of Hackney carriages which is unmet. This issue is usually decided by means of a survey.

However, most licensing authorities do not control the quantity of Hackney carriage licences issued. The Department for Transport considers this best practice, and publishes guidance to local authorities to this effect.

Travel Passes (Lancashire)

The Petition of residents of West Lancashire, and others,

Declares that the current arrangements of West Lancashire District Council force disabled people and those over 60 years of age to choose between a national off-peak bus pass and a discounted rail card; further declares that asking people to make a choice between these two items is not acceptable; believes that local passholders should get a better deal, like their neighbours in Wigan and Southport.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Transport to do all in his power to ensure that West Lancashire District Council changes its arrangements so that disabled people and those of sixty years of age are entitled to both a national off-peak bus pass and a discounted national rail card.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Rosie Cooper, Official Report, 20 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 720 .]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Transport, received 11 August 2009:

Concessionary Travel is a popular and successful policy that gives the opportunity for greater freedom and independence to 11 million older and disabled people. The statutory minimum bus concession guarantees free local bus travel for people aged over 60 and eligible disabled people from 9.30 am until 11 pm on weekdays, and all day weekends and bank holidays. The concession recognises the importance of public transport for older people and the role access to transport has to play in tackling social exclusion and maintaining well-being.

In addition to the Government’s bus concession scheme, train companies offer the Senior Railcard or the Disabled Persons Railcard which gives one third off the price of a large range of rail tickets. The Senior Railcard currently costs £26 a year and the Disabled railcard is £18 a year. The terms of this railcard are protected by the Department for Transport through its Franchise Agreements with the train operating companies.

Local authorities, such as West Lancashire District Council, have the power to improve the concession offered in their area beyond the statutory minimum. These local enhancements can include extensions to other modes, such as trams, rail or community transport. Local authorities can also offer alternatives to the bus concession such as a discounted rail card and this is the arrangement that I understand West Lancashire District Council chooses to operate.

Local authorities are best placed to know about local needs and circumstances and must fund any enhancements to the statutory minimum concession from their own resources. Therefore any decision to offer both a discounted national rail card as well as a national off-peak bus pass would be a matter for West Lancashire District Council, taking into account the needs of their residents and their financial priorities.