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Written Statements

Volume 692: debated on Tuesday 5 June 2007

Written Statements

Tuesday 5 June 2007

Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Vernon Coaker) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government believe that while alcohol plays an important and positive role in our culture and economy excessive consumption among some sections of the population is cause for considerable concern. More needs to be done to promote sensible drinking and ensure that those of us who drink alcohol do so in a safe, sensible and social way.

In 2004, the Government published the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England. This was a major milestone—the first cross-government statement on the harms caused by alcohol, which included a shared analysis of the problem and programme of action to respond through better education and communication, improving health and treatment services, combating alcohol-related crime and disorder, and working with the alcohol industry.

The past three years have seen significant progress through the “Know Your Limits” binge-drinking campaign; “Think” driving campaign; enforcement of Ofcom's new code on television advertising; the first national trailblazers project identifying the need for and availability of alcohol treatment; trailblazer projects to identify and advise people whose drinking is likely to lead to ill health in the future; new enforcement powers in the Licensing Act 2003 and the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006; setting up of local partnerships such as “Best Bar None”; and the establishment of a new independent charity, the Drinkaware Trust, to educate and promote sensible drinking.

Recent announcements of the progress being made on the labelling of alcohol drinks and the Tackling Underage Sales of Alcohol Campaign (TUSAC) further demonstrate that progress is being made.

Safe, Sensible, SocialNext Steps for the National Alcohol Strategy builds on the foundations which have been laid and the lessons learnt since 2004.

The strategy aim is:

to minimise the health harms, violence and antisocial behaviour associated with alcohol, while ensuring that people are able to enjoy alcohol safely and responsibly.

It will do this by:

ensuring the laws and licensing powers we have introduced to tackle alcohol fuelled crime and disorder, protect young people and bear down on irresponsibly managed licensed premises, are being used widely and effectively;

focusing on the minority of drinkers who cause or experience the most harm to themselves, their communities and their families. These are:

18-24 year-old binge drinkers—a minority of whom are responsible for the majority of alcohol-related crime and disorder in the night-time economy;

young people under 18 who drink alcohol—many of whom we now know are drinking more than their counterparts did a decade ago; and

harmful drinkers—many of whom do not realise their drinking patterns damage their physical and mental health and may be causing substantial harm to others.

shaping an environment which actively promotes sensible drinking, through investment in better information and communications, and by drawing on the skills and commitment of all those already working together to reduce the harm alcohol can cause, including the police, local authorities, prison and probation staff, the NHS, voluntary organisations, the alcohol industry, the wider business community, the media and of course local communities themselves.

A substantial programme of work will be delivered in support of these aims. This will include:

sharpened criminal justice for drunken behaviour to bear down on those committing crime and anti-social behaviour while drunk, and, where appropriate, offering advice, support and treatment to offenders to change their behaviour;

a review of NHS alcohol spending to highlight the burden of alcohol-related harm to the NHS and inform smarter spending decisions;

more help for people who want to drink less through the development and promotion of sources such as telephone helplines, interactive websites and support groups;

toughened enforcement of underage sales through the use of legislative powers to prosecute and even close premises that persistently sell alcohol to children;

trusted guidance for parents and young people in the form of authoritative, accessible guidance about what is and what is not safe and sensible in the light of the latest available evidence from the UK and abroad;

public information campaigns to promote a new “sensible drinking” culture through a new generation of publicity campaigns which promote sensible drinking and highlight the physical and criminal harms related to alcohol misuse;

public consultation on alcohol pricing and promotion to find out if alcohol pricing and promotion cause people to drink more; and

compulsory local alcohol strategies through which all local strategic partnerships—comprising the police, local authorities and civil society organisations—will be required by law to have established a strategy to tackle alcohol-related disorder on their patch by 2008.

The Government recognise that promoting a sensible drinking culture which reduces violence and improves health is a job for the whole of society. Everyone has a personal responsibility to drink in a sensible way. Parents and guardians should look at the example they set in their drinking habits. Educating young people and parents about harms associated with alcohol misuse, through both alcohol education in schools and the provision of authoritative information and guidance, is a key priority for the Government. The friends and family of anti-social and harmful drinkers can provide support and encouragement to those trying curb excessive drinking habits, and local communities and residents can raise concerns about licensed premises with the police or local authorities. Business and industry have made important contributions already, but should look for ways to promote sensible drinking and the responsible management of licensed premises.

This Government believe that it is possible to make this country a healthier, safer place to live where more people drink in a safe, sensible and social way. But we will only achieve this if we all pull together, and “call time” on the way some of us drink.

Burial: Law Reform

My right honourable friend the Minister of State (Harriet Harman) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In 2001, the Government undertook to conduct a review of burial law, a survey of burial grounds, and certain other initiatives, in response to the recommendations of the eighth report on cemeteries by the Environment Sub-Committee of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee.

Following preparatory groundwork, in 2004 the Home Office issued a public consultation paper on burial law reform and in 2006 we published a report on the responses. The survey of known burial grounds in England and Wales was also undertaken. More than 10,000 completed questionnaires were received.

Although most people now opt for cremation, about 150,000 people are still buried in cemeteries and churchyards every year. Millions of graves are extant throughout England and Wales. It is right to expect sustainable, high-standard burial facilities for our communities. Yet, in some areas there are difficulties in finding sufficient, local space for new graves. Maintaining existing old burial grounds can also present particular problems.

One solution which the Government have been urged to consider is the re-use of burial grounds after a suitable lapse of time. It is a solution which can offer sustainable land use for the future, and the prospects of keeping burial facilities in good order and near to the communities they serve. It is an option which has received wide support.

The Government are now satisfied that it would be right to enable graves to be re-used in this way, subject to appropriate safeguards. For example, no grave should normally be re-used unless the last burial took place at least 100 years before. And families should have the opportunity to defer re-use of their relatives’ graves for at least another generation.

We therefore intend to introduce measures which, using powers available under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, will allow local authorities to re-use graves in their cemeteries, if they wish. At the same time, we will develop, in consultation with burial professionals and others, good practice guidance on the re-use of old burial grounds, the provision of burial space generally, and the maintenance of existing burial grounds.

The 2004 consultation paper raised a number of other issues, in particular regarding the case for modernising the law relating to the regulation of burials and burial grounds.  Details of the Government’s response to these issues have been published today.  In general, we propose to introduce effective and affordable changes where legislative opportunities arise, and we will keep the need for further measures under review. In the mean time, there appears to be scope for making certain administrative and procedural improvements, and we propose to work with burial professionals to promote practical changes where they will improve the services available for bereaved people.

Work on the responses to the burial ground survey of England and Wales has now been completed and a report on the findings has also been published today. The survey results indicate that less than three-quarters of burial grounds now have room to accept new burials, with only about 20 per of all designated burial land as yet unused. Burial grounds with unused burial space predict that the median time remaining until their land will be fully occupied by graves is about 25 to 30 years.

There is considerable regional variation in these values, and while the survey results do not reflect trends and issues at a very local level, they suggest that there is particular pressure on burial space in predominantly urban areas, and that there will generally be increasing pressure over the next 10 to 20 years.

Our survey has provided us, for the first time, with an essential factual basis on the number, size and usage of burial grounds. This will help inform future policy and operational development.

Finally, concerns have been expressed in recent years about the action taken by some local authorities to make safe unstable memorial stones in their cemeteries. It is essential that gravestones and cemeteries are maintained in a decent and respectful way. Last March, in conjunction with government colleagues and the chairmen of the Health and Safety Commission and the Local Government Association, I issued advice to all authorities on how managers should strike a more sensitive and proportionate balance between their responsibilities for ensuring safety in their burial grounds and the needs of visitors and memorial owners.

I believe that our recent work and all the measures now proposed will go a long way to improve, modernise and secure local burial facilities for all those who seek a dignified resting place for their relatives and the preservation of our rich inheritance.

Copies of Burial Law and Policy in the 21st Century: The Way Forward, the Government’s response to the consultation, have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. Copies are also available on the internet at

Copies of Burial Grounds: The Results of a Survey of Burial Grounds in England and Wales have also been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. Copies are also available on the internet at

Cities: Development Companies

My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government (Phil Woolas) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today publishing my department's summary of responses to the consultation document, The Role of City Development Companies in English Cities and City-Regions. Copies are available in the Libraries of both Houses.

EU: Energy Council

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Employment Relations and Postal Services (Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Lord Truscott will represent the UK at the forthcoming Energy Council in Luxembourg during the afternoon of 6 June.

The only substantive item on the Council agenda is the internal gas and electricity market, on which there will be a policy debate. The debate will follow on from the discussions of proposals put forward in the Commission's strategic energy review that took place at the Energy Council in February and spring European Council in March. One of the key conclusions agreed by Ministers and heads of government was that further measures were required to achieve a fully effective internal energy market. This is something that the UK very much supports.

The debate will draw on three communications produced by the Commission and submitted to the council as part of the Commission's strategic energy review (An Energy Policy for Europe) in January 2007. These discussion documents cover (a) prospects for the internal gas and electricity market; (b) the sector inquiry by DG Competition on the gas and electricity markets; and (c) the EU's priority interconnection plan.

Discussion will focus on the four main issues that the Commission intends to address in a further legislative package on the internal energy market, which is expected to be submitted in September 2007: the further unbundling of networks, effective regulation, adequate infrastructure investment and co-operation among network operators.

The UK Government support the Commission position on all these proposals, and consider them as vital for the further development of the internal market.

The only other agenda item covers international relations in the field of energy. This is an important issue for the UK, though will only be an information item at this Council. It was discussed more fully at the March spring council when the UK and other European heads of government reaffirmed the need for the EU to speak with a common voice on shared energy objectives. The German presidency and the Commission will report on a number of developments on the EU's relations with the USA, Russia, OPEC and Africa; on proposed international co-operation in energy efficiency; on the Energy Community Treaty; and on other EU initiatives in the international field.

EU: Telecoms Council

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Industry and the Regions (Margaret Hodge) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I will be representing the UK at the Telecoms Council in Luxembourg on 7 June 2007. This will be the only formal Telecoms Council under the German presidency of the European Union (EU).

The first item on the agenda will be political agreement on the proposal for a regulation on roaming on public mobile networks within the European Community. Following the endorsement by the European Parliament, it is expected that this Council meeting will also give political agreement to a text that will lead to the introduction of price reductions for consumers by the end of the summer. I intend to express my warm approval of the outcome, which as you are aware has been influenced by the UK. I will also take the opportunity to stress that the use of such a regulation to control prices should be seen as an exceptional measure.

The presidency will then provide a progress report on the proposal for the full accomplishment of the internal market of Community postal services by 2009. There are significant economic and consumer benefits to be achieved through liberalisation of the postal market, and for that reason I intend to intervene in support of the Commission to help move this proposal forward. Political discussions on this key proposal are likely to continue over a ministerial lunch, where I will reinforce the UK's position and seek to encourage others to move towards our objectives.

After lunch, the Council will reconvene with the adoption of the Council conclusions for the i2010 annual Information Society Report for 2007. The i2010 strategy sets the context for the EU's work on information society and media issues. The strategy consists of three priorities: the regulatory environment; innovation and investment; and inclusion. In my intervention, I will express my continued support for the Commission's i2010 strategy, stressing its importance as an economic driver in achieving the goals of the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth.

This agenda item will be followed by an exchange of views on the Commission's communication on the way forward for the take-up of radio frequency identification (RFID) in Europe. The UK welcomes the communication and generally supports its conclusions. During my intervention, I will give my support to this communication but also emphasise the importance of avoiding excessive regulation as this will hinder the rollout and take-up of RFID technology in the European and global economy.

Finally, under any other business, the Commission will provide information on its forthcoming communication on the evaluation of the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA).

I will write to you again after the Telecoms Council to provide an update on discussions.

EU: Transport Council

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Stephen Ladyman) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The Council will aim to reach political agreement on three maritime transport proposals. The first is a directive amending Directive 2002/59/EC, which established a community vessel traffic monitoring and information system. The second proposal is a recast of the existing directive (as amended) on port state control, with the introduction of a new inspection regime aimed at the better targeting of ships for inspection, and with the prospect of banning seriously substandard ships from calling at EU ports. This recast is a part of the European Commission’s programme of simplification of legislation.

The third proposal is a directive on investigation of maritime accidents, amending Directives 1999/35/EC and 2002/59/EC. We support the rationale and much of the content of the proposal, which is influenced by UK practice, and hope a political agreement can be reached. We think it is essential that EU accident investigation bodies are independent of political and/or commercial pressures, and that accident investigation is undertaken to help improve safety and not to apportion blame.

The UK is content with all three of the maritime texts being put to the Council for political agreement.

There will be a progress report on a draft regulation on the liability of carriers of passengers by sea and inland waterways in the event of accidents. The UK is broadly able to accept this proposal. Some good progress has been made on it and most of the outstanding issues relate to the Commission's desire to go beyond the Athens Convention of 2002. We strongly oppose use of this regulation to extend the Athens Convention to inland waterways. We are also keen to ensure that the regulation is as consistent as possible with the Athens Convention and incorporates the IMO guidelines relating to insurance for terrorism.

There will be a policy debate on the setting up of a European data centre for the long-range identification and tracking of ships (LRIT). The UK, along with the majority of EU member states, supports, in principle, the concept of developing a co-operative data centre for the EU. However, more information on financing, technical and legal framework issues is required prior to offering definitive political support. The intention is to reach a political agreement, either to support or reject the concept, during the next meeting of the Council in October.

The Council will aim to reach a general approach on a regulation repealing Regulation 954/79 on ratification by member states of, or their accession to, the United Nations Convention on a Code of Conduct for Liner Conferences. This will remove the block exemption currently held by this sector of the shipping industry. We agree with this repeal.

There will be a report on the current situation on the Galileo satellite navigation programme. The Council will be asked to accept that the current negotiations for a PPP concession stand little chance of being completed satisfactorily. There are related scrutiny reserves. An explanatory memorandum is being submitted on the recent Commission communication on the negotiations and alternative options.  

The UK position is that there is not enough evidence on the cost and risk, or the affordability in terms of the Community financial perspectives, for the Council to make a decision on an alternative way forward.  The UK will continue to argue that a decision on the way forward is premature without more information and that finance Ministers should be involved.

The Council will be asked to agree conclusions on a European energy strategy for transport. The UK is broadly content with the latest draft. Our main concern is to ensure that the language on the planned framework for attaining the CO2 emissions target from new cars is consistent with that in the conclusions of the 21 May 2007 Competitiveness Council.

The Council will aim to reach a general approach on a directive bringing up to date the rules on transport of dangerous goods by road, rail and inland waterway. There were a number of difficult issues which were solved in the negotiations. The UK was content with the outcome and supports the proposed directive.

There will be a progress report on a draft directive on rail interoperability. The UK supports the proposal and will be working with the German presidency to solve remaining issues before the end of its term.

The Council will be asked to reach a political agreement on an amending regulation to extend the role of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to flight operations, personnel licensing and the safety of third-country aircraft. The UK supports the development of a comprehensive European regulatory system, centred on an effective European Aviation Safety Agency, as part of its commitment to establishing a high, uniform level of aviation safety across Europe.

The Council will be asked to reach a general approach on a regulation on rules for the operation of air services. This is a recast version of the third aviation package, the legislation which set up the aviation single market. We have engaged robustly with the Commission and other member states to secure significant improvements to the original proposals. The improvements are largely deregulatory and will ensure the better and more consistent operation of the common aviation area, closing certain loopholes that were being exploited to the detriment of UK carriers.

One issue remains unresolved; namely, whether national social law should apply to airline staff employed outside that airline’s home country. We believe that such a provision is inappropriate here and cuts across established EU legislation on labour issues. In order to secure final agreement to the regulation, we are proposing to the Council a neutral text which simply asserts that all relevant social provisions of Community law would apply to such workers.

The Council will aim to agree a resolution on the formal establishment of a joint undertaking to implement the SESAR programme, the new generation European air traffic management system. We welcome confirmation of the commitment by the European Commission and Eurocontrol, as founder members of the JU, to fund the development phase. However, we believe that the financial commitment of industry is critical to the overall success of the project.

The Council will be asked to adopt broad conclusions on the EU position on aviation emissions trading, in preparation for the 36th Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), in September. The UK is keen to work within the ICAO framework to develop policies, instruments and standards to reduce the impact of aviation’s emissions.

Health: NHS Trusts

My honourable friend the Minister of State (Andy Burnham) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The chairman of Monitor (the statutory name of which is the independent regulator of NHS foundation trusts) announced last week that, in accordance with Section 35 of the National Health Service Act 2006, Monitor had decided to authorise the following NHS acute trusts as NHS foundation trusts from 1 June:

Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Trust; and

West Dorset General Hospitals NHS Trust.

Monitor's announcement brings the total number of NHS foundation trusts to 67. A copy of Monitor's press notice has been placed in the Library.

The Government remain committed to offering all NHS acute and mental health trusts the opportunity to apply for foundation status as soon as practicable. Monitor is now authorising trusts on a monthly basis, and further waves of NHS foundation trusts are set to follow.

Highway Code

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Stephen Ladyman) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

In February 2006, we issued a draft of proposed revisions to the Highway Code for public consultation, which closed on 15 May 2006. More than 4,000 people offered a total of almost 27,000 comments.

Taking account of these comments, a new draft version of the Highway Code was laid before Parliament on 28 March 2007. A large number of responses to the consultation concerned the rules on cycling and more than 40 amendments were made to these and other rules to take account of comments from cyclists. However, since the code was laid before Parliament, further representations have been made by cyclists who remain concerned that the revised text of rules 61 and 63 on cycle facilities and cycle lanes is insufficiently clear.

Following informal discussions with the CTC, an organisation representing cyclists, we are proposing changes to draft rules 61 and 63 to make clearer the position regarding the advice in the code on the use of cycle facilities and cycle lanes. On 31 May, the Department for Transport wrote to key road safety interests, including members of the Road Safety Advisory Panel, as well as cycling and walking representative bodies, concerning further changes to the Highway Code. A copy of the department’s letter has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

We have asked stakeholders to let us have their views by the end of Tuesday 12 June. The reason for this short timescale is so as not unduly to delay the publication of the new edition of the Highway Code. Any proposed changes have to be laid in Parliament for 40 days before they can come into effect, so will need to be laid by 15 June if the 40-day period is to be completed before the Summer Recess. Views are requested by 12 June to allow time for them to be considered before laying the changes in Parliament. We would then expect to publish the revised edition of the Highway Code in September.

Pensions: Thornton Review

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Work and Pensions (James Purnell) has made the following Statement.

On 16 January this year, I announced that Paul Thornton had been appointed to undertake a review of the functions of pensions institutions as an independent external reviewer. I am pleased to advise the House that I am today laying a copy of his report in the Library of the House.

Paul Thornton has examined whether the functions of the Pensions Regulator, the Pension Protection Fund, the Pensions Ombudsman, the PPF Ombudsman and the Pensions Advisory Service, and the Financial Services Authority, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and the Financial Ombudsman Service in as much as their responsibilities covered pensions, are arranged most effectively. He has done so in an open and consultative way, seeking views from key stakeholders through an initial call for evidence, a consultation on emerging issues, meetings with key players and extensive engagement with the institutions themselves.

His report confirms that the existing institutions are delivering their functions effectively. He recommends that the Pensions Regulator should build on its effective joint working arrangements with the Pension Protection Fund and the Financial Services Authority. He also recommends that there would be benefits in bringing the Pensions Ombudsman and the Financial Ombudsman Service closer together, and identified a number of issues that would need to be resolved in doing so.

The Government welcome his report, and intend to proceed to implement his recommendations, working with the institutions and other interested parties to develop practical proposals that ensure that current and future pensioners may continue to rely on an effective institutional framework for pensions.

Railways: Thames Valley Regional Planning Assessment

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Tom Harris) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The Department for Transport has today published the Thames Valley regional planning assessment for the railway (RPA), the latest in the series of 11 RPAs covering England and Wales. The Yorkshire and Humber RPA is also being published today.

Copies of the document have been placed in the Library of the House and can also be downloaded from the department’s website

The Thames Valley RPA covers west London, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, plus a small number of stations in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Hertfordshire on lines from London Paddington and London Marylebone.

RPAs provide the link between regional spatial planning (including preparation of regional transport strategies) and planning for the railway by both the Government and the rail industry, and are designed to inform the development of the Government's strategy for the railway. They look at the challenges and options for development of the railway over the next 20 years, in the wider context of forecast change in population, the economy and travel behaviour.

An RPA does not commit the Government to specific proposals. Instead, it sets out the Government' s current thinking on how the railway might best be developed to allow wider planning objectives for a region to be met, and identifies the priorities for further development work.

It is the Government's intention to publish the Wales RPA during the summer.

Railways: Yorkshire and Humber Regional Planning Assessment

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Tom Harris) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The Department for Transport has today published the Yorkshire and Humber regional planning assessment for the railway (RPA), the latest in the series of 11 RPAs covering England and Wales. The Thames Valley RPA is also being published today.

Copies of the document have been placed in the Library of the House and can also be downloaded from the department’s website at

The Yorkshire and Humber RPA covers the Yorkshire and the Humber planning region, together with parts of Greater Manchester and north Derbyshire which are both included in the wider journey-to-work area of the Yorkshire and Humber region, and the key trans-Pennine corridors, linking the region with Manchester and the wider north-west. The RPA excludes a small part of North Yorkshire where rail services on the Whitby line are closely linked to the north-east network and were covered in the north-east RPA.

RPAs provide the link between regional spatial planning (including preparation of regional transport strategies) and planning for the railway by both the Government and the rail industry, and are designed to inform the development of the Government's strategy for the railway. They look at the challenges and options for development of the railway over the next 20 years in the wider context of forecast change in population, the economy and travel behaviour.

An RPA does not commit the Government to specific proposals. Instead, it sets out the Government's current thinking on how the railway might best be developed to allow wider planning objectives for a region to be met, and identifies the priorities for further development work.

It is the Government’s intention to publish the Wales RPA during the summer.

Shipping: Abnormal Loads

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Stephen Ladyman) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

I have today published a consultation paper for the attention of stakeholders seeking views on proposed new guidelines to clarify and support the Government’s “water preferred” policy of using water for the transport of abnormal indivisible loads.

Since the 1970s, the Government have had a stated policy of using coastal shipping for moving the largest and heaviest abnormal loads. This was extended in 2002 to include the use of inland waterways wherever practical, economic and environmentally desirable. The “water preferred” policy encourages taking slow-moving abnormal loads off the road network, offering real benefits in terms of reducing disruption and congestion. The consultation is aimed at clarifying how the policy is applied and to provide greater transparency of the decision-making process.

Further information on the consultation is available from the Highways Agency Website at

Those wishing to comment on the proposals have until 28 August 2007 to do so.

Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Library of the House.