Written Ministerial Statements
Tuesday 10 July 2012
Business, Innovation and Skills
Workplace Rights (Compliance and Enforcement Review)
In October 2010, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change announced to the House that the Government would examine how workplace rights are enforced and identify if Government’s enforcement activities could be streamlined. I am reporting our conclusions to the House.
Our review focused on the recruitment sector, Gangmaster licensing, enforcement of the national minimum wage and Government enforced aspects of the working time regulations. In October 2011 we reported our interim conclusions that there is a diverse range of enforcement powers corresponding to each agency. But, from the perspective of workers this range of powers and approaches has been aligned in a coherent way by the pay and work rights helpline.
In October 2011, we said that we would focus on ensuring that we do not have any unnecessary employment regulations. We also said we would examine if there are benefits to establishing a single Fair Employment Agency to protect the rights of the most vulnerable. Since we last updated the House, the red tape challenge has examined all of the regulations in scope of the review of workplace rights, compliance and enforcement.
Following the red tape challenge, we announced that we would consult on reforming the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 and the Employment Agencies Act 1973, legislation which regulates the recruitment sector. This is an important part of our economy that supports the functioning of our flexible labour market. Our consultation will be launched later this autumn. The red tape challenge process also identified improvements to the way in which the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) operates. I draw the House’s attention to the written ministerial statement of 24 May 2012, Official Report, column 83WS by the Minister of State for Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs, about the GLA. The Government’s response to the Löfstedt review sets out the work in hand to further improve the effectiveness of the heath and safety regulatory framework.
We have looked at how our current enforcement agencies operate and if establishing a single Fair Employment Agency would benefit workers or reduce the burden on the taxpayer. We have concluded that a single agency would not provide significant benefits to workers. By having enforcement agencies focused on specific areas we have a well functioning, risk based system within the UK. This approach, in conjunction with the pay and work rights helpline, means that workers can easily access any agency through a single number and receive the specialist advice and support they need.
Technology Strategy Board (Triennial Review)
We will shortly commence a triennial review of the Technology Strategy Board.
The coalition Government made a commitment to review public bodies, with the aim of increasing accountability for actions carried out on behalf of the state.
The Technology Strategy Board has been selected by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) as one of the non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) for which the review will commence during the first year of the programme (2011-12).
The review will be conducted as set out in Cabinet Office guidance, in two stages.
The first stage will:
Identify and examine the key functions of the Technology Strategy Board and assess how these functions contribute to the core business of BIS;
Assess the requirement for these to continue;
If continuing, then assess delivery options and where the conclusion is that a particular function is still needed examine how this function might best be delivered, including a cost and benefits analysis where appropriate;
If one of these options is continuing delivery through Technology Strategy Board, then make an assessment against the Government’s “three tests”: technical function; political impartiality; need for independence from Ministers.
If the outcome of stage 1 is that delivery should continue through Technology Strategy Board then the second stage of the project will be to ensure that it is operating in line with the recognised principles of good corporate governance, using the Cabinet Office “comply or explain” standard approach.
The report of the review will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Low Pay Commission (Triennial Review)
The coalition Government made a commitment to review public bodies, with the aim of increasing accountability for actions carried out on behalf of the state. The IPC, which advises the Government on national minimum wage issues, has been selected as one of the non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) for which the review will be commencing during the second year of the programme (2012-13). The review will commence today. This is not a review of the national minimum wage, to which the Government remain committed. The national minimum wage provides much needed protection for low paid workers and encourages those out of work to get back into the labour market.
Triennial reviews will be based on the successful methodology applied during the 2010 public bodies review.
The findings of both stages of the review will be examined by a challenge group with cross-Government representation. The outcome will be announced to Parliament within six months of the review commencing.
Energy and Climate Change
Radioactive Waste Management Report
I am pleased to announce today the publication of the second annual report of the Government’s managing radioactive waste safely programme. The programme is focused on implementing the geological disposal of higher activity radioactive waste.
The report shows that we are continuing to make progress across a number of key areas of work in the implementation of geological disposal, working within the underpinning principles of voluntarism and partnership with local communities. The results of a recent public opinion poll in Cumbria conducted by Ipsos Mori showed that the majority of local people surveyed were in favour of further participation in the managing radioactive waste safely (MRWS) process. This information will be carefully considered by the decision making bodies in Cumbria alongside other responses to the local consultation before a decision about participation is made.
The second annual report can be found at: http://mrws.decc.gov.uk. I have also written to the chairmen of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee and the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, and I have made available copies in the Libraries of both Houses.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Draft Water Bill
I am publishing today a draft Water Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. The draft Bill includes measures to strengthen the water sector’s ability to respond to the challenges of a growing population and less certain water supplies, and improve the deal it offers to its customers by offering more choice, and driving efficiency and innovation. These build upon the vision we set out in the water White Paper, “Water for Life”, for a resilient, affordable and sustainable water supply.
At the heart of our Water Bill are measures to give businesses and other non-household customers in England more choice by enabling them to switch their water and sewerage suppliers and to remove some of the existing regulatory requirements that act as a barrier to entrants wishing to enter the market.
A combination of greater pressure on suppliers from customers entitled to switch and new players will create a more vibrant and competitive market, bring new ways of working to the water sector, improve customer service and help keep the cost of bills down.
The Water Bill will also aid the development of a cross-border retail market for water and sewerage services by reducing burdens for operators that wish to supply services both in Scotland and in England and to eligible water supply customers in Wales. We want to see the market develop so that water suppliers on both sides of the border can work with their businesses and public sector customers to manage their water and sewerage services in the same way that they manage other utilities, increasing choice, providing tailored services, improving efficiency and cutting costs.
Measures in the Bill will further stimulate a market for wholesale water supply services by introducing a more flexible upstream pricing regime, and by allowing new opportunities in the upstream supply sector for new entrants to offer alternative supplies and services on behalf of customers and to other water supply licensees. These reforms will be mirrored in an extension of the licensing regime to sewerage services. This will help unlock new supplies of water and diversify methods of dealing with sewage.
To help these markets run more effectively we will allow Ofwat, other regulators and market participants to establish flexible charging rules and market codes. These changes will help facilitate new transfers of water between water companies—increasing flexibility and resilience in the water supply network, and make the cost of connecting to the water and sewerage networks more transparent for developers.
The Bill will also reform the special merger regime for the water sector to exclude more mergers from automatic referral to the Competition Commission by introducing a two-tier referral system.
In addition to reforming the water supply and sewerage markets, the Water Bill will enable the extension of the scope of the environmental permitting regime from prevention of pollution to include abstraction and impounding licences, flood defence consents and fish pass approvals. This will allow businesses to apply for just one permit covering these and a range of other activities, reducing red tape.
I am confident that measures contained in this Water Bill will increase choice for business customers and public sector bodies, drive innovation, improve customer service, keep bills down, make more flexible use of our water resources to improve resilience to drought over the long term and help secure future investment.
I am inviting the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee to scrutinise this draft Bill over the coming months.
Copies of the draft Bill and associated documents will be available in the Vote Office. The documents will also be available on the DEFRA website at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/qualitv/water/legislation/water/
International Whaling Commission
I am pleased to have attended part of this year’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Panama (IWC64) to demonstrate the UK’s commitment to the conservation work of the IWC and our fundamental support for the moratorium on commercial whaling.
The meeting delivered positive results for the conservation and welfare of whales which should not be overshadowed by the hugely unwelcome proposal by the Republic of Korea on its intention to commence so called “scientific whaling”. The UK Government are firmly against this proposal and will continue to state our opposition at every opportunity.
We maintained our strong line on a number of conservation issues, raising our concern about the critically endangered status of the western gray whale and welcoming the recommendation from the IWC Scientific Committee on ensuring appropriate monitoring and mitigation plans for oil and gas operations and work on entanglement, which pose the greatest threats to this critically endangered species. We also stated our support for a conservation management plan to protect southern right whales and welcomed further work on marine debris and ship strikes. The UK was also pleased to take on the role of vice chair of the IWC’s Conservation Committee.
We made significant progress in gaining consensus on our proposals for strengthening the IWC’s welfare agenda, a major step towards embedding welfare considerations across the work of the IWC. Among the recommendations was a proposal for a UK funded workshop on the euthanasia of stranded whales, with many IWC members expressing an interest in participating. Similarly, recommendations from a UK chaired intersessional group on strengthening IWC financing for whale conservation were adopted.
We are pleased that an EU resolution on the importance of reducing contaminants into the marine environment and the possible effects on human health was passed by consensus. The UK also supported the south Atlantic whale sanctuary, proposed by Brazil and others, which looked to promote the long-term conservation of large whales throughout their habitat. Unfortunately this proposal was defeated in a vote.
The UK supports aboriginal subsistence whaling where it is sustainable and there is a clear and identified “need”. We supported a request from the USA, Russia and St Vincent and the Grenadines for a roll-over of their existing quota for the next six-year period, receiving reassurances following our questions to St Vincent on the provision of data. However, Greenland’s request for an increase in quota was rejected by the IWC as many countries continued to have concerns over the level of commerciality associated with the Greenlandic hunt and whether the increase in quota was appropriate to meet their needs; as a result no quota was agreed for Greenland.
We were pleased by the agreement to increase participation of observers in IWC business, and the UK will also continue to engage in intersessional work seeking to improve governance processes, to ensure that the IWC can operate effectively and in line with international best practice. Finally, with the adoption of a proposal for the IWC to move to biennial meetings we believe it is important that any progress on the conservation of cetaceans is not hindered and will encourage countries to work intersessionally to protect the future of whale populations worldwide.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Departmental Programme Spending
In my statement to the House of 1 February 2011, I set out the funding allocations for the FCO’s strategic programmes for the financial year 2011-12. I also undertook to inform the House of our spending plans for future years, together with further information on how we will ensure programme money is spent effectively.
Since my last statement, the FCO has improved the way it manages its programme spending in a number of ways. We have given our heads of post greater responsibility for deciding how best to spend their local budgets. We have established a programme evaluation board to assess the impact of our work, and a cadre of internal reviewers to ensure the money is well spent. These changes have significantly improved our management of FCO funds, ensuring each and every project supports our foreign policy priorities. For the 2012-13 financial year, I have decided to allocate:
£57 million for programmes dedicated to national security, comprising—£36 million on counter-terrorism, £14 million on Afghanistan, £4 million on building stronger international institutions and £3 million on counter-proliferation;
£48.8 million for bilateral and regional programmes, comprising—£5 million for Arab partnership work, £1 million for public diplomacy, £19 million on scholarships and £23.8 million for bilateral programmes;
£21 million for prosperity programmes to support a stable, open global economic environment and a shift to sustainable growth;
£10 million for programmes on human rights and democracy, comprising—£6.5 million for FCO led human rights and democracy work and £3.5 million for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy; and
£7 million for programmes with the overseas territories.
These allocations are fully aligned with the FCO’s priorities. These are to safeguard Britain’s national security, to build British prosperity and to support British nationals around the world. They reflect the increasing importance of our bilateral relations alongside our leading role in international institutions, our commitment to the overseas territories, and our determination to promote human rights and democracy.
Independent Police Complaints Commission
I am pleased to announce that today my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury and I are publishing the annual report of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). Copies of the report have been laid before the House and will be available in the Vote Office.
This is the eighth annual report from the IPCC. The report covers the work of the IPCC during 2011-12 and includes a discrete chapter on the discharge of its responsibilities in respect of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
Animals (Scientific Procedures)
The “Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals—Great Britain—2011” (HC 345), was laid before the House today. Copies are available in the Vote office.
This annual statistical report meets the requirement in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 to inform Parliament about the licensed use of animals for experimental or other scientific purposes. It also forms the basis for meeting periodic reporting requirements at EU-level. Supplementary information with additional tables is also available on the Home Office website.
The 2011 statistical report shows that there were just over 3.79 million scientific procedures, which represents an increase of 2% over 2010. An increase in the use of fish accounts for the majority of the overall increase. Breeding of genetically modified (GM) animals and harmful mutants (HM), mainly mice, remained stable, accounting for 1.62 million procedures. A number of factors, such as investment in research and development and strategic funding priorities, determine the overall level of scientific procedures.
The Home Office, as regulatory authority under the 1986 Act, ensures that its provisions are rigorously applied and only authorises work that is scientifically justified and minimises the numbers of animals used and the animal suffering that may be caused.
The statistical report and supplementary information can be found at:
I am pleased to inform the House that I have also today placed in the Library the annual report of the Home Office Animals in Science Regulation Unit for the year 2011. Publication of the report honours a commitment given in response to a recommendation of the House of Lords Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures in July 2002 that more information should be made available about the implementation of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.
As in previous years, the report explains how the Home Office regulates the use of animals under the 1986 Act. It provides information about cases of non-compliance and infringements of ASPA and the outcomes of those cases. It also records progress with the adoption of European directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes and with the delivery of the coalition agreement commitments to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research and to end the testing of household products on animals.
The commitment to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research is being delivered through a science-led programme headed by the United Kingdom’s National Centre for Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs). As the annual report explains, the national centre is closely involving many others in this delivery and the programme is focusing on refinement as well as reduction and replacement and is coordinating action to minimise and reduce animal use and suffering. Reducing the use of animals in scientific procedures is an ambitious goal, which requires significant innovation from across the UK’s science, mathematics and engineering base. The NC3Rs has pioneered a first-class science-led programme which not only provides opportunities to replace and reduce animal use but also to refine the welfare of those animals which continue to be used (principles commonly known as the 3Rs).
A key component of the NC3Rs strategy is CRACK IT, the world’s first open innovation programme focusing on the 3Rs, which was launched last September by the NC3Rs to foster a more collaborative approach between scientists in industry, universities and the SME sector. Through CRACK IT, the NC3Rs has already awarded £3.5 million in projects which will reduce reliance on animal models for the safety testing of drugs, chemicals and consumer products and provide novel tools for the discovery of new medicines for serious diseases such as bipolar disorder. This is in addition to the £3.3 million in grants that the NC3Rs has awarded in 2011 to some of the UK’s best scientists to replace, reduce and refine animal use.
The NC3Rs is also committed to supporting the development and training of the research leaders of the future. In December 2011, it announced funding for 15 PhD studentships in areas such as burn injuries and Alzheimer’s disease, and in May 2012 it awarded the first prestigious David Sainsbury fellowships, a new scheme to attract exceptional junior scientists to research which focuses on reducing animal use and improving animal welfare.
These activities are complemented by the NC3Rs’ work with major stakeholders in the bioscience sector including the research funding bodies, industry and regulatory agencies. The NC3Rs continues to review all grant applications for the Medical Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Wellcome Trust involving the use of cats, dogs, horses or non-human primates. This enables the NC3Rs to identify further opportunities to reduce animal use.
Importantly, the NC3Rs has continued to provide a forum for pharmaceutical companies to share data to identify new ways to reduce their use of animals. Data sharing facilitated by the NC3Rs has led to reductions in the use of rodents and non-human primates in drug discovery and development, and other areas of safety testing.
Most recently, the NC3Rs has launched its new evaluation framework, the first ever attempt to benchmark systematically the impact of 3Rs programmes. As well as enabling robust evaluation of the centre’s work to replace, reduce and refine animal use, the evaluation framework has the potential to complement the Home Office annual statistics of scientific procedures on living animals and become a barometer of the application of the 3Rs in the UK.
Secure Training Centres and Young Offender Institutions (Physical Restraint)
Today I am announcing that I have formally approved a new system of restraint for use in secure training centres (STCs) and under-18 young offender institutions (YOIs) in England and Wales, titled “Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint” (MMPR).
The new system is a major step forward in improving the way young people are safeguarded in the under-18 secure estate. A comprehensive programme of work has resulted in a new system of restraint that has been specifically designed for use on young people in custody. This has been independently assessed by the independent Restraint Advisory Board (RAB) chaired by Professor Susan Bailey.
The “Independent Review of Restraint in Juvenile Secure Settings” in 2008 called for a significant cultural change in the way challenging behaviour is managed and this has been the premise on which MMPR has been designed and developed.
The behaviour of some young people in custody is extremely challenging and can put the safety of themselves, other young people and staff at risk. It is important that custody staff are given the necessary skills to ensure the safety of those in the custodial establishments including when restraint needs to be used.
The Government are clear that restraint should only ever be used as a last resort where it is absolutely necessary to do so and where no other form of intervention is possible or appropriate.
The Restraint Advisory Board’s report sets out the comprehensive assessment process the Restraint Advisory Board followed in order to make recommendations on minimising and managing physical restraint. After careful consideration, the Government have accepted all the recommendations. To support the delivery of MMPR, the Youth Justice Board and the National Offender Management Service will introduce a range of improved data collection and monitoring arrangements.
A programme of work will now begin to roll out MMPR in secure training centres and under-18 young offenders institutions. We will publish the full Restraint Advisory Board report, Government response and a version of the MMPR manual.
I am also announcing a replacement for the Restraint Advisory Board whose primary objective of assessing minimising and managing physical restraint has been completed. The Independent Restraint Advisory Panel (IRAP) will retain a similar breadth of expertise to the Restraint Advisory Board and will be chaired by Professor Susan Bailey. The Independent Restraint Advisory Panel’s objectives will be assessing the systems of restraint commissioned for use in secure children’s homes and supporting the implementation of MMPR. Details of the Independent Restraint Advisory Panel will also be available on the Ministry of Justice website, www.justice.gov.uk.
Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012
On 24 May 2012, Official Report, column 94WS, I announced the Government’s implementation plans for the provisions under part 2 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 relating to civil litigation funding and costs. The Government have now considered further advice from the Civil Justice Council and I can therefore set out further details of those provisions.
A regime of qualified one way costs shifting (QOCS) is to be introduced in personal injury claims, so that claimants conducting their case properly will not have to pay towards defendants’ costs if the claim fails. Rules will be drafted on the following basis:
i. QOCS will apply to all claimants whatever their means; there is to be no financial test to determine eligibility;
ii. Subject to the provisions below, claimants who lose will not have to contribute towards defendants’ costs (there is to be no minimum payment by a losing claimant);
iii. QOCS protection would be lost if:
(a) the claim is found to be fraudulent on the balance of probabilities;
(b) the claimant has failed to beat a defendant’s “part 36” offer to settle; or
(c) the case has been struck out where the claim discloses no reasonable cause of action or where it is otherwise an abuse of the court’s process (or is otherwise likely to obstruct the just disposal of the proceedings).
iv. The principles set out in part 36 of the civil procedure rules override QOCS, but only up to the level of damages recovered by the claimant;
v. QOCS protection would apply in relation to claims that are discontinued during proceedings (subject to iii(a) above); and
vi. QOCS protection would be allowed for all appeal proceedings as the requirement for permission to appeal controls unmeritorious appeals.
The Ministry of Justice is considering further the practicality of QOCS protection not applying to elements of a claim for personal injury that are pursued for the benefit of a third party (such as a property damage insurer or a credit hire provider) in respect of goods, services or indemnity provided by a third party to the claimant as a consequence of the accident.
The sanctions under part 36 of the civil procedure rules (offers to settle) are to be reformed on the following basis in order to encourage early settlement:
i. There is to be an additional sanction to be paid where judgment for the claimant is more advantageous than a defendant’s part 36 offer. This additional sanction is to be calculated as 10% of damages where damages are in issue, and 10% of costs for non-damages claims;
ii. In mixed (damages and non-damages) claims, the sanction will be calculated as 10% of the damages element of the claim;
iii. However, the sanction under these provisions is to be subject to a tapering system for claims over £500,000 so that the maximum sanction is likely to be £75,000; and
iv. There would only be one sanction applicable for split trials.
The new rule on proportionality has been agreed by the Civil Procedure Rule Committee (CPRC), and the test is intended to control the costs of activity that is clearly disproportionate to the value, complexity and importance of the claim. The senior judiciary are considering revisions to the costs practice direction to give effect to the new rule.
Changes to the civil procedure rules (CPR) will be considered by the CPRC in the autumn, in order for the necessary changes to come into effect for April 2013. The Ministry of Justice will continue to engage with key stakeholders throughout the implementation stage and will also work closely with the senior judiciary on other aspects of Lord Justice Jackson’s reforms, which are due to come into effect at the same time. Updates are provided on the judiciary website at:
Crossrail (Annual Update)
Crossrail is now moving firmly into its construction phase. A number of significant milestones have been achieved in the last 12 months. The purpose-built tunnelling and underground construction academy was opened in East London last year and welcomed its first students in September 2011. Tunnelling began in May, with the first tunnel boring machine launched at the Royal Oak portal in west London. Construction contracts for Paddington, Farringdon, Whitechapel, Tottenham Court Road and Liverpool Street stations have been awarded. The Canary Wharf station box structure is now complete. The invitation to negotiate for the Crossrail rolling stock and depot contract was launched by Crossrail Ltd on 28 February, with the first round of tenders due to be returned during late summer.
To reduce the number of lorry movements, excavated material from Crossrail’s western tunnels has started to be transported directly from Royal Oak to Northfleet in Kent by rail. A former freight line from the north Kent line has been completely reconstructed to enable freight train movements from London. Two thirds of excavated material generated by tunnel, station and shafts construction will be taken to Northfleet and transferred by ship to create a new 1,500 acre nature reserve at Wallasea Island in Essex.
Network Rail is responsible for delivering improvements on the existing surface sections of the Crossrail route. The overall target price for these works was approved in April 2012 and was within the £2.3 billion funding envelope. Network Rail has also begun construction of the expanded Stockley flyover in west London to enable higher frequency Crossrail trains to operate to Heathrow airport.
Crossrail services are on schedule to be operational from 2018 with full services operating from late 2019. The Crossrail board continues to forecast that the costs of constructing Crossrail will be within the agreed funding limits. We expect Crossrail to cost no more than £14.5 billion.
During the passage of the Crossrail Bill through Parliament, a commitment was given that a statement would be published at least every 12 months until the completion of the construction of Crossrail, setting out information about the project’s funding and finances.
In line with this commitment, this statement comes within 12 months of my last one which was published on 13 July 2011. The relevant information is as follows:
Total funding amounts provided to Crossrail Ltd by the Department for Transport and Transport for London (TfL) in relation to the construction of Crossrail to the end of the period (22 July 2008 to 29 May 2012).
Expenditure incurred (including committed land and property spend not yet paid out) by Crossrail Ltd in relation to the construction of Crossrail in the period 30 May 2011 to 29 May 2012 (excluding recoverable VAT on land and property purchases).
Total expenditure incurred (including committed land and property spend not yet paid out) by Crossrail Ltd in relation to the construction of Crossrail to the end of the period 22 July 2008 to 29 May 2012 (excluding recoverable VAT on land and property purchases).
The amounts realised by the disposal of any land or property for the purposes of the construction of Crossrail by the Secretary of State, TfL or Crossrail Ltd in the period covered by the statement.
The numbers above are drawn from Crossrail Ltd’s books of account and have been prepared on a consistent basis with the update provided last year. The figure for expenditure incurred includes monies already paid out in relevant periods, including committed land and property expenditure where this has not yet been paid. It does not include future expenditure on construction contracts that have been awarded.
Government Shareholding in NATS
My Department ran a call for evidence last year to explore the options for the future of the Government’s 49% shareholding in the UK’s air traffic control provider, NATS Holdings plc (NATS).
The responses, along with work done by my officials in conjunction with other stakeholders, highlighted the strategic importance of NATS to the UK and the far-reaching implications of a sale at this time. These include the continued development of the single European sky agenda and the ongoing work on the single European sky air traffic management research programme (SESAR).
In parallel, I have considered the potential value that could be realised through a sale of the shares alongside the benefits from receiving dividends from a retained shareholding.
After considering these factors, I have concluded that it is in the best interests of the British taxpayer, the travelling public and the company itself to retain the Government’s shares in NATS at this time.
Last year I asked the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) to consider arrangements for delivering practical car driving tests from premises other than traditional driving test centres such as local authority buildings or leisure centres to provide a more local service for candidates. On 27 March 2012 I announced to the House the next steps of that programme. I also informed the House that we would be seeking public and private organisations to work in partnership with the DSA to identify and provide locations from which the practical car test could be delivered.
I am pleased to report that real progress has been made and there are proposals being developed for partnerships with Halfords Group PLC and Mantra Learning Ltd. Subject to working agreements being finalised and suitable premises with driving test routes being identified, driving tests should be delivered, in the locations I have already announced, from premises of these organisations in the near future. These will be non-exclusive arrangements and DSA may, in future, consider other partnering agreements to provide premises, which meet its criteria. Local agreements with the fire and rescue service, particularly in areas not otherwise covered, are also being explored and there have also been discussions with several universities.
Significantly this use of property will be provided at no cost to DSA. Tests will continue to be conducted by DSA examiners.
DSA will evaluate the success of these arrangements and I will keep the House informed.
In line with the Government’s transparency agenda, and the commitments made in the Command Paper “Reforming our Railways: Putting the Customer First”, additional information will from today be made available by the Office of Rail Regulation and Network Rail about the punctuality of train services.
In addition to the existing public performance measure (PPM), which indicates the proportion of train services arriving at their destination within 5 or 10 minutes, for short and long distance services respectively, information will now be published on trains which are “right time” at their final destination—that is, which arrive early or within a minute of the due time.
PPM is and will remain the Government’s and industry’s key measure of rail punctuality and reliability:
it recognises the different passenger expectations and operating practicalities between short and long distance services;
it incentivises the industry to ensure that the vast majority of services—significantly over 90%—get to their destination at or close to time; and
it gives the industry essential flexibility to manage minor operational disruption, which would not be possible with an absolute on time measure.
But the coalition Government recognise that passengers want more information about their services, including whether they are actually on time, and that is why Ministers have asked the industry to develop plans to provide this. We welcome the positive response which it has now made.
As a first step, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) is today publishing annual statistics on right time performance at industry sector level—that is; long distance, London and south-east, and regional (including Scotland), going back to 2001-02. Network Rail (NR) will from now on be updating these figures for each industry period, alongside the main PPM measure.
These figures show that, for the network as a whole in 2011-12, 69.8% of trains arrived “right time”, compared with 91.6% meeting the PPM target. This is a high level of performance by historical standards and represents a significant improvement over the last five years, compared with 62.7% right time and 88.1% PPM in 2006-07. Overall, the average delay incurred by passengers is now around two minutes.
Results of the spring 2012 national passenger survey just published by Passenger Focus showed very high levels of satisfaction with rail travel in this country (Great Britain). Nationally the percentage of passengers satisfied with their journey overall was 83%, and for punctuality and reliability it stood at 81%.
Right time information is generated by existing industry signalling systems, but these were not designed for precise monitoring of time-keeping, and there is some uncertainty over the accuracy of the data at individual operator level, so ORR is commissioning an urgent independent study into this.
In the light of that study, it is intended that right time information will be published at operator level from October 2012. In addition, Network Rail announced on 28 June that it was making available real time information on the reliability of individual trains, making it possible to analyse train performance at a far more granular level.
This will put our railway in the forefront of the transparency agenda, providing more information on punctuality and reliability for passengers than any other European country.
A good deal of information is also published on other key transport modes in this country, and the coalition Government are keen to see further progress on transparency over time.