Written Ministerial Statements
Wednesday 30 March 2011
Business, Innovation and Skills
I have set Companies House the following targets for the year 2011-12:
Customer Satisfaction (Quarterly)
Accounts compliance rate—soft
Resolve complaints within five days
Service availability of Web filing
Service availability of WebCHeck and Companies House Direct
Search customers can access requested documents within 60 seconds
To increase the proportion of transactions that can be filed electronically (by end March 2012)
CEO to respond to all letters from MPs delegated to him to reply within 10 working days of receipt
Electronic transactions received are available to view on the public record within 72 hours
Images placed on Companies House image system are legible and complete
To achieve an electronic filing target for accounts by year end
To achieve an electronic filing target for all transactions apart from accounts by year end
Reduce carbon emission rating of Companies House headquarters building by 10% by end of March 2012
Average work days lost per person
To achieve taking one year with another, a 3.5% average rate of return based on the operating surplus expressed as a percentage of average net assets
Efficiency—saving on operational costs (year 1 of a new 3-year target)*
Payment of invoices within five days of receipt (new target: December 2010)
* This is a new three-year target to achieve by 2013-14 a reduction, in real terms, of 15% compared to 2010-11 in the operational monetary cost of the registry per company on the register.
National Measurement Office
I have tasked the National Measurement Office (NMS) to provide policy support to Ministers on measurement issues and a measurement infrastructure which enables innovation, promotes trade and facilitates fair competition and the protection of consumers, health and the environment.
I have set the National Measurement Office the following targets for 2011-12:
Improve performance of the NMS programmes over the corporate plan period.
Ensure 93% of meter examiner appointments, manufacturer authorisations/consents and modifications to meter approval and decisions are made within five business days.
Achieve 90% of the planned income growth for certification, calibration and quality management certification.
Generate a positive net contribution to consumers, the environment and the low-carbon economy through the activities of the enforcement authority.
Reduce administration costs by 14% in cash terms over this corporate plan period.
These targets will be assessed on the following bases:
Target 1: The use of a scorecard technique across all programmes is being developed for use in 2011-12 to provide a basis for measuring this improvement.
Target 2: This will be measured from the time that all necessary documentation has been received and should ensure a timely metering service.
Target 3: The planned income growth is that shown in this plan representing the totality of the income streams expressed.
Target 4: This will be measured by comparing our cost base against the value of products made compliant, withdrawn from the market or affected by a formal business improvement plan.
Carbon Price Floor (Government Response)
The Government have today published the Government’s response to the consultation document on the carbon price floor.
The consultation document “Carbon price floor: support and certainty for low-carbon investment” set out the Government’s proposal to provide greater support and certainty to the price of carbon in the power sector to encourage investment in low-carbon electricity generation.
Budget 2011 announced the introduction of a carbon price floor from 1 April 2013. The floor will start at around £16 per tonne of carbon dioxide (tCO2) and follow a linear path to target £30/tCO2 in 2020 (both in 2009 prices). The carbon price support rates in 2013-14 will be equivalent to £4.94/tCO2.
The consultation sought views on how best to implement the proposal. A number of issues were raised by respondents throughout the consultation. These are addressed in the Government’s response.
The Government intend to introduce legislation for the proposals in the 2011 Finance Bill (and subsequent secondary legislation) and to bring the proposals into effect from 1 April 2013.
Copies of the document have been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and are available on the Treasury website at www.hm-treasury.gov.uk.
The Economic and Financial Affairs Council was held in Brussels on 15 March 2011. The following items were discussed:
The Council agreed a general approach on the package of six legislative proposals aimed at strengthening economic governance in the EU, particularly in the euro area. This agreement respected the provisions in the UK’s protocol to the treaty. The UK negotiated a UK opt-out on the articles in the fiscal frameworks directive pertaining to fiscal rules and won a recital making clear that medium-term budgetary objectives referred to in the directive would not apply to the UK. Negotiations with the European Parliament will now take place with a view to finalising legislation by the summer.
Ministers adopted Council conclusions on climate finance, which welcome and reaffirm the commitments on climate finance agreed at the UN negotiations in December 2010. The Government support these conclusions. ECOFIN will revisit climate finance following further work by the Commission, Economic and Financial Committee and the Economic Policy Committee. This work will set out the key elements of the mix of international and national, public and private finance instruments needed to deliver scaled-up financial flows after 2012.
Stability and Growth Pact Implementation
Hungarian and Polish Ministers informed the Council of measures they are taking in order to reduce their deficits below 3% of GDP, and an exchange of views followed. The Council called on them to ensure strict compliance with the recommendations it issued under the excessive deficit procedure. The Government agree that member states need to have credible deficit reduction plans in place.
Short Selling and Credit Default Swaps
The presidency updated Ministers on ongoing work on the draft regulation on short selling and credit default swaps. The intention of the regulation is to harmonise short selling requirements across the European Union and harmonise the powers that regulators may use in exceptional situations where there is a serious threat to financial stability or market confidence. The Government’s position is that proposals should not impact market efficiency and liquidity, in particular in relation to sovereign debt. Further work will continue on this regulation before returning to ECOFIN in May for general approach.
Reform of financial regulations
The Council took stock of progress in the area of financial services regulation following a presentation from Commissioner Barnier. The Government are pleased with the progress which has been made since the financial crisis. However, it is critical that any proposals going forward have a clear evidence base and that thorough, objective impact assessments are carried out, along with extensive consultations.
G20 ministerial meeting in Paris
French Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde, informed the Council of the outcome of a G20 meeting of Finance Ministers and central bank governors held on 18-19 February. The Government believe that the G20 meeting was productive, and it was significant to reach agreement on a set of indicators for assessing external imbalances that threaten the world economy.
Educational Bodies (Oversight as Charities)
The Under-Secretary of State for Education, the Minister responsible for schools, my noble Friend Lord Hill of Oareford and I are today announcing proposals for the oversight as charities of academies, sixth-form colleges and foundation and voluntary schools. In my capacity as Minister for civil society, I have day-to-day responsibility for the legal framework for charities in England and Wales. I believe that the measures I set out here will continue to ensure the appropriate and effective regulation of charities and therefore help maintain public trust and confidence in the charitable sector. The Department for Education, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Cabinet Office have worked closely with the Charity Commission to agree these proposals and the commission is content for the Secretary of State for Education to fulfil the principal regulator role in England, and the Welsh Assembly Government to fulfil the principal regulator role in Wales.
Under the Academies Act 2010, academy proprietors will be “exempt” charities. Exempt charities are not registered with, or directly regulated by, the Charity Commission. Instead the aim is, wherever possible, to appoint an existing regulator to be their principal regulator, with the additional duty of promoting charity law compliance. The objective of this approach is to ensure that there is oversight of exempt charities as charities, while shielding them from unnecessary or duplicative regulation.
It is proposed that the Secretary of State for Education is appointed to be the principal regulator of academy proprietors under the Charities Act 2006. It was originally proposed that the Young People’s Learning Agency be appointed as the principal regulator as it currently undertakes much of the day-to-day work of funding and regulating academies on behalf of the Secretary of State. However, following the review of public bodies, the YPLA will, subject to the will of Parliament, be succeeded next year by an Education Funding Agency, an Executive agency of the Department for Education. Therefore, it is now considered more appropriate to appoint the Secretary of State for Education as principal regulator, because he has the existing roles of funding and regulating academies. In practice, the YPLA (and its proposed successor the EFA) would carry out much of the necessary information gathering which would then be used to report to and advise the Secretary of State. This arrangement will not impose any additional burden on academies or on the YPLA, and academies will no longer be required to register with the Charity Commission.
Sixth-form colleges which are charities (there are 94 in England) had their exempt status removed by the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. We propose to re-confer exempt status on them and appoint the Secretary of State for Education as their principal regulator. As the YPLA already regulates the funding of sixth-form colleges by the Secretary of State, this is considered to be a more appropriate and proportionate approach to promoting their charity law compliance than requiring them, in addition, to register with and report to the Charity Commission. This arrangement will not impose any additional burden on sixth-form colleges or the YPLA.
Foundation and voluntary schools (there are over 8,100 in England and 175 in Wales) were, until April 2009, exempt charities. They are currently treated as if they are exempt charities under transitional provisions which will expire on 31 August 2011. The proposal is to re-confer exempt status on these governing bodies and appoint the Secretary of State for Education to be their principal regulator in England and the Welsh Assembly Government to be principal regulator in Wales. This was the preferred option on consultation in 2010, and is also considered to be more appropriate and proportionate than requiring them to register with, and report to, the Charity Commission in addition to the Department for Education or Welsh Assembly Government. Again, the arrangement will not impose any additional burden on foundation and voluntary schools.
There are safeguards which we will put in place to avoid any potential conflicts of interest and ensure that, as principal regulators, the Secretary of State and the Welsh Assembly Government will be able to maintain the integrity of charitable status. There will be memoranda of understanding between the principal regulators and the Charity Commission setting out their respective roles, how they will work together and the circumstances in which the principal regulator would refer issues to the commission. The appointment of a principal regulator does not diminish the commission’s role in preserving public confidence in charities. If a principal regulator felt that there was a potential conflict of interest, it could seek the commission’s advice on handling it. In addition, if the commission felt that a regulator had a conflict of interest, it would raise the issue with the regulator concerned and/or with the Cabinet Office.
Draft secondary legislation to make these changes will be laid before Parliament in due course.
Communities and Local Government
Future of Local Public Audit
On 13 August my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced plans to disband the Audit Commission, transfer the work of the Commission’s in-house practice into the private sector, and refocus audit on helping local people hold councils and local public bodies to account for local spending decisions.
Since the announcement, my Department has worked closely with other Government Departments, the Audit Commission, the National Audit Office, the accountancy profession, local government and health sectors and other partners to design the new framework. I am now publishing, for initial consultation, our detailed proposals, which are a continuation of the Government’s desire to increase the independence of local public bodies and their accountability to local people, while maintaining clear accountability, through Ministers, to Parliament. I have placed a copy of the consultation paper in the Library of the House.
Our proposals follow a set of design principles: localism and decentralisation; transparency; lower audit fees; and high standards of auditing. We have also been guided by the established principles of public audit, including the independence of public sector auditors from the organisations being audited and the wider scope of public audit.
The new framework mirrors that already in place for the audit of companies. If audit firms wish to become statutory local auditors, they will need to fulfil the rules and arrangements of the professional bodies that are designated as “Recognised Supervisory Bodies” by the Financial Reporting Council. They will therefore be mainly self-regulated.
The overarching issue is how to ensure levels of assurance are maintained in the new framework, without creating a complex bureaucratic system which places additional costs and burdens on councils. Strong accountability to Parliament through accounting officers will be retained, while decision making on auditor appointment’s selection will be decentralised.
The Department of Health is considering the governance and accountability arrangements for the new health landscape and these will help determine the appropriate audit arrangements. The local public bodies referred to in the consultation paper do not, therefore, include local health bodies. However, I will be undertaking a further consultation on the arrangements for the audit of all local public bodies for which auditors are currently appointed by the Audit Commission, including health bodies, when I publish my draft Audit Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. The Department of Health will publish a paper summarising its proposals at the same time.
Energy and Climate Change
I am pleased to inform the House that the Department of Energy and Climate Change, with Ofgem, is today publishing the response to the prospectus consultation on the smart metering implementation programme.
The Government’s vision is for every home in Great Britain to have smart energy meters, giving people far better information about, and control over, their energy consumption than today. Businesses and public sector users should also have smart or advanced energy metering suited to their needs. The roll-out of smart meters will play an important role in Britain’s transition to a low-carbon economy, and help us meet some of the long-term challenges we face in ensuring an affordable, secure and sustainable energy supply.
I have deposited copies of “Smart Metering Implementation Programme—Response to Prospectus Consultation—Overview Document” and supporting materials in the Libraries of both Houses.
The documents are also available on the Department of Energy and Climate Change website at:
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
New Waterways Charity
On 21 June 2010, Official Report, column 4WS, I made a statement about inland waterways policy for England and Wales. I said that we were considering the appropriate civil society model for British Waterways, including the possible inclusion of the Environment Agency’s navigations. On 14 October, the Government subsequently announced their intention to move British Waterways in England and Wales from being a public corporation to a New Waterways Charity—subject to parliamentary approval.
On February 28 I announced that I wished to take a phased approach to the delivery of my vision for a “national trust for the waterways”. In phase 1, the liabilities and assets of British Waterways in England and Wales will transfer into the new charity, alongside an “endowment” consisting of the property portfolio owned by British Waterways in England and Wales. In phase 2, the EA navigations would transfer to the new charity, if sufficient funding can be found in the next spending review to enable the charity to take on the liabilities associated with them, and subject to the agreement of the charity’s trustees.
Today, I am announcing the publication of the Government’s consultation on the New Waterways Charity, which is available at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult
This consultation document puts Government’s commitment to localism at the centre of plans for the New Waterways Charity. Moving the powers, functions and assets of BW to civil society through the creation of a “national trust for the waterways” will allow stakeholders the opportunity to play a role in the governance of the waterways and to bring their expertise and passion to the operation of the organisation. The transfer will also promote greater engagement of local communities, leading to a range of enhanced public benefits including amenity, green travel to work, health and well-being and support to inner city and rural regeneration.
This proposal will also enable the waterways now owned and run by BW in England and Wales to be placed on a more financially sustainable long-term footing. The New Waterways Charity will have access to new sources of income from both commercial and private sources, including legacies, donations, increased borrowing and fundraising, as well as the chance to grow a volunteer base.
This consultation will consider the charity’s scope, governance, the charitable constitution, sustainable business model, as well as the process for managing the transition. The consultation will close on 30 June 2011.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Japan Earthquake (Government's Response)
I would like to update the House on the Government’s response to the earthquake and tsunami which struck Japan on 11 March, and the consequent events at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant.
In doing so, I wish to express our profound sympathy to the Japanese Government and people for the appalling loss of life in the disaster, and to pay tribute to the courage and resilience of the Japanese people.
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster we set up an emergency helpline for those concerned about British nationals in the affected areas. As of 27 March, we have received over 9000 calls to our helpline and can confirm that some 970 people reported to our missing persons hotline have been confirmed safe. There are, to date, no confirmed British fatalities. We continue to work to locate British nationals whom we have been unable to contact. There are now a small number about whom we remain very concerned. We are making every effort to track them down. It is important to stress that in these difficult circumstances, it is likely to take some time for the Japanese authorities formally to identify those who may have lost their lives or been injured and to notify next of kin.
Within 48 hours of the earthquake and tsunami, our ambassador to Japan led the first British team deployed to Sendai, one of the main cities affected. In the following days, we deployed over 60 specialist consular staff, drawn from across the FCO’s global network, to north-east Japan to provide consular assistance and established a 24-hour consular response centre in Sendai. Our rapid deployment teams visited reception centres, hospitals and other locations to trace British nationals. They assisted more than 170 British nationals.
We reinforced our embassy in Tokyo, which worked around the clock on the crisis response including the provision of consular assistance to those in need. We stationed staff at both of Tokyo’s airports, provided consular help at our consulate general in Osaka, and staffed a temporary desk at Kansai International airport. We continue to provide assistance from our embassy in Tokyo and our consulate in Osaka.
In light of the severity of the disaster, the Government decided to provide a higher level of consular assistance and support for those directly affected. This included help with transport out of the immediate danger zone, from Sendai to Tokyo, financial support for people who needed essentials such as food and clothing, telephone calls home and accommodation in Tokyo. This support was delivered by the FCO’s consular teams on the ground in north-east Japan and Tokyo. We supplemented the available commercial capacity with charter flights to help those British nationals leave Japan who wished to do so.
The Government are also providing humanitarian assistance to supplement the efforts of the Japanese Government, and stand ready to do more. A 63-strong DFID-organised search and rescue team arrived in Japan on 13 March and made a significant contribution to the Japanese recovery operation in the affected area of Ofunato. The UK rescue team and medical advisers worked alongside US rescue workers and together cleared a large industrial district and residential area. The team returned safely on 19 March. In response to a Japanese request, we are providing 100 tonnes of bottled water to Mito City in Ibaraki Prefecture, one of the worst affected regions, which is hosting evacuees from Fukushima. We have also offered other forms of support to the Japanese Government including nuclear expertise. Through the Department for Energy and Climate Change the British nuclear industry has also provided radiological equipment to assist the Japanese as they work to bring the situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant under control.
Events at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant have been of serious concern. On Thursday 17 March, we advised British nationals currently in Tokyo and north-east Japan to consider leaving the area. We also joined the US in advising nationals to remain outside a broader 80 km zone around Fukushima. As a precautionary measure, we also began issuing iodine tablets to British nationals from locations in Sendai, Niigata and Tokyo. We are now distributing iodine tablets solely from our embassy in Tokyo. We have explained the circumstances in which people should take this medicine, who are the priority recipients (children and pregnant and breastfeeding women), and how we will advise people further on this if the situation changes.
The Government chief scientific advisor (CSA) and the Scientific Advisory Group in Emergencies (SAGE) have been engaged in detailed scenario planning for dealing with the ongoing events and we have contingency plans in place. The CSA has briefed the British community in Japan three times by telephone conference. Even in a worst case scenario, SAGE’s advice is that the risks to human health beyond the exclusion zone set by the Japanese authorities could be managed by precautionary measures, in particular, staying indoors to avoid exposure.
We continue to update our travel advice to advise and inform British nationals in Japan as the situation evolves.
We in Britain will continue to do all we can to speed Japan’s recovery from the earthquake and tsunami. Europe has made that same pledge. That is why the Government believe that one of our highest priorities must be to invite Japan to enter into a free trade agreement with the EU. At the European Council on 25 March the Prime Minister led calls for the EU to open negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) with Japan, subject to Japanese movement on non-tariff barriers. An ETA could boost Japan’s trade with the EU by €54 billion and EU trade by €43 billion and would send a strong signal of EU support for Japan.
Right to Provide Initiative
Today I am formally launching the Department’s guidance to support the Government’s new right to provide initiative and can announce that the Government will be investing at least £10 million through the Social Enterprise Investment Fund (SEIF) in 2011-12.
The new right to provide guidance “Making Quality Your Business” sets out the Department’s guidelines to support public sector employees who are thinking about taking up the right to provide. The guide sets out a process for people working in NHS trusts who have the right to propose the development of a staff-led enterprise.
The right to provide programme will enable staff across health and social care to explore setting up staff-led mutuals to take over and run services. It builds on the successful right to request scheme for community health services, which will see almost 25,000 community NHS staff set up social enterprises to take over the services they provide. Right to provide extends the opportunities provided by right to request to others working in health and social care.
We are committed to the big society approach, making public services answerable to the people that use them. Right to provide devolves power to front line staff at a local level who know how things can be done better and gives them the opportunity to put their ideas into practice. Employee ownership, combined with strong staff engagement, has demonstrated that it can deliver successful enterprises in a commercial context; we believe it can do as well in public service.
The Department’s Social Enterprise Investment Fund invests via loans and grants in new and existing social enterprises operating within health and social care. In the last year alone the fund has invested over £40 million in social enterprises in the health and social care sector, including support for community healthcare services through the transferring community services programme, and since its launch SEIF has supported over 450 social enterprises,
I am pleased to announce the investment of at least £10 million in the SEIF in 2011-12, which will demonstrate our continuing commitment to support the social enterprise sector and new organisations being created through the right to provide.
The Department’s guidance has been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.
Legal Services Board Chairman
Prior to the enactment of the Legal Services Act 2007 and many of the key provisions contained within it, this House was informed that David Edmonds had been appointed inaugural chairman of the Legal Services Board, established under the Act. The LSB is the over-arching regulator of legal service providers.
I am pleased to announce that following consultation with the Lord Chief Justice, David Edmonds has been reappointed in his role as chairman of the LSB for a second and final term of appointment to commence upon expiry of his current term on the 30 April 2011. His appointment will be for a fixed period of three years.
Bribery Act 2010
The Bribery Act 2010 is an important piece of legislation which seeks to tackle the scourge of bribery in international commerce.
Last year, as part of the preparation for implementation of the Act, we consulted on statutory guidance about procedures that commercial organisations can put in place to reduce their exposure to bribery and understand the Act. The guidance cannot of course change the substance of the Act, but the consultation did yield a large number of practical suggestions for its improvement, some of which I have taken up.
I am now confident that the guidance will prove a useful tool which will help prevent businesses from going to unnecessary lengths to comply with the law, and having consulted the Scottish Ministers, I am publishing it today under section 9 of the Act.
The guidance remains centred on six key principles and is intended to assist businesses of all sizes and in any sector or market. In particular it makes it clear that anti-bribery procedures should be proportionate to the risk of bribery and to the size and structure of an organisation. I am also publishing a much shorter guidance document which summarises the key principles of the guidance and which sets out essential messages about the Act. This is designed to be of assistance to smaller businesses in particular.
Both the section 9 guidance published as “The Bribery Act 2010 Guidance about procedures which relevant commercial organisations can put in place to prevent persons associated with them from bribing (section 9 of the Bribery Act 2010)” and the shorter guide published as “The Bribery Act 2010 Quick start guide” will be posted on the Ministry of Justice website today along with a Government response to the consultation. Copies will also be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
In order to allow a period of three months for businesses to familiarise themselves with the guidance before the Act comes into force I intend to commence all the provisions of the Act that are not yet commenced on 1 July 2011.
The Government have also decided that a conviction of a commercial organisation under section 7 of the Act in respect of a failure to prevent bribery will attract discretionary rather than mandatory exclusion from public procurement under the UK’s implementation of the EU Procurement Directive (Directive 2004/18). The relevant regulations will be amended to reflect this.
The implementation of the Bribery Act 2010 will ensure that the United Kingdom is at the forefront of the battle against bribery, allowing the country to tackle corruption without being burdensome to legitimate business.
Office of the Public Guardian
The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) supports the Public Guardian in discharging his statutory duties under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. The OPG business plan 2011-12 will be published today, The business plan will be available on the Ministry of Justice website and copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The following are the significant impact indicators that have been set by the OPG for the year 2011-12.
The percentage of lasting and enduring powers of attorney being registered within 11 weeks.
Upon receipt of an application to register an EPA or LPA, the OPG will process the application and register the instrument within 11 weeks. This includes the statutory waiting period of six weeks during which people entitled to notice can lodge objections to the registration.
The number of case reviews of deputyships.
We will review a proportion of total case load in 2011-12. Case reviews help us to ensure that our supervision of deputies is operating effectively and in the best interests of the client.
The number of visits undertaken.
As the main means of face-to-face contact with customers, visits are a useful tool in assessing how a deputyship is operating in practice, and what support deputies and clients want to receive from the OPG. Visits also support compliance investigations.
The number of investigations concluded within three and six months.
When an investigation into the actions of an attorney or a deputy is commenced, timely conclusion is an important safeguard for the client and provides assurance to whistleblowers and families that we are acting on their concerns.
OPG operates on a full cost-recovery basis through the fees it charges for services. The full set of indicators is published within the business plan.
Leader of the House
Oral Answers to Questions (Order)
A revised “order of oral answers to questions” rota has been issued today, to cover the period when the House returns following the Easter recess.
It includes the following changes:
Topical questions have been introduced for the Cabinet Office and the Department for International Development. There will be a seven-minute slot for topical questions within their current total allocation of 30 minutes;
The amount of time allocated to the Deputy Prime Minister for questions has been increased to 40 minutes and, consequently, the length of time allocated for topical questions within this slot has been extended to 20 minutes. There will be an increase to 20 minutes for questions to the Attorney-General; and
As a consequence of the changes above, the days on which some questions are answered will move. Time allocated to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been reduced to 45 minutes.
Departmental Expenditure Limit (2010-11)
Subject to parliamentary approval, the Department for Transport departmental expenditure limit (DEL) for 2010-11 will be amended as set out in the following table:
1Depreciation, which forms part of resource DEL, is excluded from the total DEL, since capital DEL includes capital spending and to include depreciation of those assets would lead to double counting.
The switch between resource and capital expenditure limits is to cover the cost of funding various rail schemes directly following a review of the Network Rail regulated asset base.
Agency Business Plans
I am pleased to announce the publication today of the business plans for the Department for Transport’s agencies—the Highways Agency (HA); the Driving Standards Agency (DSA); the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA); the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA).
The business plans set out the services each agency will deliver and any significant changes they plan to make; the resources they require; and a framework of measures by which their performance will be assessed.
The business plans will be available electronically on agency websites, and copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Department for Transport has today published a consultation on a proposal to allow a 2.05 metre increase in the length of semi-trailers and a maximum overall length for articulated heavy goods vehicles of 18.75 metres. The current maximum permitted length of an articulated heavy goods vehicle is 16.5 metres, and the maximum length of semi-trailer compatible with that overall limit is 13.6 metres. However, the current maximum permitted length for a rigid vehicle/drawbar trailer combination is already 18.75 metres, so the new proposed maximum length for articulated goods vehicles would not mean longer vehicles than are already circulating on Britain’s roads.
The proposal is based on research findings and an impact assessment. It would be a relaxation of the current regulatory requirement on the road haulage industry. The Government accept the research findings which show it could have a significant potential net benefit to road haulage, as well as wider benefits in terms of reductions in congestion, local air pollution, carbon emissions, accidents, noise and infrastructure costs.
In June 2009, following earlier work on longer, heavier vehicles, the Department for Transport commissioned a detailed study into the feasibility and impacts of allowing the use of longer semi-trailers in GB, within the existing weight limit of 44 tonnes gross vehicle weight (GVW). The primary objective was to establish whether the introduction of these high-volume semi-trailers would deliver overall economic, environmental and societal benefits or disbenefits.
The study considered two main possibilities: increasing the length of a semi-trailer by up to 1 metre, to 14.6 metres in total, or increasing it by up to 2.05 metres. The latter option would increase the maximum permitted length of a semi-trailer to 15.65 metres, which would provide the same loading length as an existing rigid truck/drawbar trailer combination.
The study also considered the possibility of increasing the overall maximum permitted length of an articulated lorry to 18.75 metres. This would enable the development and use of tractor units with safer, more aerodynamic, frontal designs in addition to high-volume semi-trailers.
Based on the findings of the study, the Government believe there is a good case for permitting both an increase of up to 2.05 metres in the length of semi-trailers, and an increase in the overall permitted length of articulated vehicles to 18.75 metres. The existing weight limit of 44 tonnes GVW will remain in force. The consultation will enable the Department to develop a better understanding of the practical implications on road users generally of such an increase, and to identify proportionate mitigation measures to minimise the risk of unintended adverse consequences. Depending on the outcome of the consultation, the Government will consider permitting the operation of high-volume semi-trailers on a trial basis pending the introduction of the necessary changes to current regulations. This trial could be helpful to determine whether or not mitigation measures are required.
The consultation will run until 21 June 2011. Copies of the consultation document have been placed in the Library of the House. Further copies are available on the DFT website at www.dft.gov.uk. Depending on comments received and the Department’s response, amendments may be made to regulations.
UK Aviation: Sustainable Framework
My Department’s business plan confirmed the coalition Government’s decision not to support new runways at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. It also committed the Government to create a sustainable framework for aviation in the UK. This framework will replace the previous Administration’s “The Future of Air Transport” White Paper which, while recognising aviation’s economic benefits, failed to take sufficient account of climate change and the impact of aviation on local communities. Today I am publishing a scoping document which aims to define the debate as we develop a new long-term policy for UK aviation.
The Government are committed to returning the UK to sustainable economic growth. Aviation has an important role to play in delivering that growth. It makes a significant contribution to the UK economy and provides the international connectivity this country needs to thrive in the highly competitive global economy. This Government want to see aviation prosper. Aviation should be able to grow, but it must also play its part in delivering our environmental goals and protecting the quality of life of local communities.
The Government have made clear their commitment to meeting the challenge of climate change. Today, aviation contributes around 6% of UK CO2 emissions but this share will increase as demand for air transport increases and other sectors of the economy reduce their emissions. The scoping document explores the most effective ways of addressing aviation’s environmental impacts, both global and local, and seeks answers to questions on both issues.
The publication of this scoping document represents the start of a dialogue to give a wide range of stakeholders an opportunity to contribute to the development of the policy framework. I expect the views expressed to be varied, and sometimes difficult to reconcile, but I want to move the aviation debate on from the polarisation which has characterised it in recent years, towards a consensus which balances the benefits that aviation brings with its impacts, both global and local.
We will publish a draft policy framework for public consultation in March 2012, and formally adopt the framework by March 2013.
EU Transport Council
I will attend the first Transport Council of the Hungarian presidency, which will take place in Brussels on 31 March.
There will be a progress report and policy debate on the draft regulation amending Regulation 1406/2002, which established the European Maritime Safety Agency. The proposed amendment gives the agency several new, largely technical, tasks. In principle, the UK would be able to support the proposals, subject to the Commission delivering the additional funding required through a programme of reprioritisation of the current EU budget. It is also important for the UK to ensure that the extension of the agency’s marine pollution response capabilities, to cover offshore oil and gas installations, is at the request of an affected state only, and that any involvement in the analysis of the safety of these installations explicitly excludes activities or requirements related to the exploration or exploitation of mineral resources by means of a well.
There will be two agenda items on global navigation satellite systems (GNSS).
There will be a progress report and the Council will be asked to reach a general approach on a decision on rules for access to the public regulated service (PRS) of the Galileo system. I believe the text to be tabled for general approach addresses the UK’s earlier concerns covering costs, the framework for the manufacture of PRS receivers and associated material, and security standards.
There will be a policy debate and the Council will be asked to agree conclusions following the Commission’s recent mid-term review of the European programmes. The Government are deeply disappointed and concerned that the full Galileo programme cannot now be delivered within the budget or timescale agreed in 2007. A robust assessment of all options is needed in light of this. The Government consider that the programme should respect the 2007 budget by reducing its level of ambition. The draft Council conclusions do not prejudice the forthcoming negotiations on the next multi-annual financial framework for the EU and urge the Commission to continue its cost analysis in order to identify options for cost reduction. They go on to underline the Council’s wish that the cost analysis should result in cost savings. Accordingly, I expect to be able to agree to the conclusions.
The Council will be asked to adopt two decisions in the area of aviation external relations.
The first is a decision on the signature and provisional application of a memorandum of co-operation between the Community and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). I intend to abstain on this proposal as I consider that it is necessary to put down a marker that the UK is concerned about the principle of member state sovereignty in international organisations, and cautious about any proposals which could have the effect of enhancing the role of the EU at the expense of member states.
The second is a decision authorising the Commission to negotiate with Switzerland on an amendment to the existing air transport agreement. This will further remove barriers to market access on the basis of full application by Switzerland of the EU regulatory framework. The UK is supportive of the proposed negotiating mandate.
The Council may be asked to adopt a position on a decision concerning the accession of the EU to the protocol of 2002 to the Athens convention, relating to the carriage of passengers and their luggage by sea, 1974. A number of issues still need to be resolved. I will report to the House on this matter if it is considered at the Council.
I will be raising two issues under any other business. The first is the importance of ensuring that the forthcoming review of European air quality legislation takes full account of transport issues. The second is the need to make swift progress in delivering an enhanced regulatory regime for air cargo security.
If, as expected, the Commission’s new White Paper on transport policy is published before the Council, the Commission will give a presentation on it under AOB. A debate on the White Paper will follow at a later Council, when member states have given full consideration to it. Also under AOB, the Commission will report on the follow-up to the volcanic ash crisis of 2010, looking at the wider scope of crisis management and EU methodology.
Merchant Shipping (Ship-to-Ship Transfers) Regulations 2010
I wish to inform the House of a further development concerning the Government’s legislation to regulate, ship-to-ship transfers of oil carried as cargo.
In July-September 2010, a review of the Merchant Shipping (Ship-to-Ship Transfers) Regulations 2010, SI 2010 No. 1228, was conducted in view of concerns expressed about those regulations.
The Merchant Shipping (Ship-to-Ship Transfers) (Amendment) Regulations 2010, SI 2010 No. 1769, delayed the commencement provisions of SI 2010 No. 1228 for six months (ie. so that the earliest date any of its provisions would come into force was 1 April 2011), to ensure the provisions of SI 2010 No.1228 did not come into force before the completion of the review.
Amending regulations have been drafted, and work is in train to ensure that these amending regulations take account of representations made. However, consideration of the impact of these regulations on business will take time and is unlikely to be completed until May at the earliest.
Accordingly, I am laying before the House a Statutory Instrument which will delay the commencement provisions of SI 2010 No. 1228 for a further six months (until the next common commencement date, which is 1 October 2011), to ensure that the provisions of SI 2010 No. 1228 do not come into force on 1 April in their unamended form.