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Session 2006 - 07
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Supplement to the House of Commons Votes and Proceedings
8 June 2007



6th June 2007

To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.

The Humble Petition of residents of Kingskerswell, Aller and Edginswell, Devon,


That we object to the proposed construction of a bypass around Kingskerswell and through the Aller valley, because the scheme would be highly damaging to precious countryside and the environment in the county of Devon. It should not be built because the costs involved are excessive and there are alternatives to relieving congestion on the A380 which would not damage the historic environment and give sustainable improvements.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House will urge the Government to reject this proposed scheme in favour of sustainable alternative measures which will protect our countryside for future generations.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.


Observations by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Petition [9th May] from the City of Derby against the proposal by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs to close its two offices in Derby.

    The Government notes that similar representations were put forward during the consultation exercise which HM Revenue & Customs held on its initial proposals for restructuring its operations in Derby, Nottingham and Leicester. All representations will be taken into account before final decisions are made this summer on the future of any of the offices under review.

24th May 2007


Observations by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the Petition [27th March] from the constituents of South West Bedfordshire and other users of Britain's waterways against reductions in the British Waterways grant.

    The Government agrees that Britain's inland waterways are a unique national asset that make an important contribution to the quality of life for millions of our citizens.

    2006/2007 has been a difficult and challenging year for the Department, one which placed additional budgetary pressures on it that were not provided for in its budget as set by the Spending Review 2004. It managed those pressures by close scrutiny of its budgets for the whole of the Defra family.

    In the case of British Waterways, this meant revised funding of 55.5m in 2006/07, a reduction of 3.9m in its initial allocation of 59.4m. Despite continuing financial constraints, its grant for 2007/8 has been held at this level. The level of grant for the next five years has not been decided and will depend on the outcome of the CSR07 settlement; the reference to a 60m cut is therefore wrong.

    The Government does not accept that these cuts will have a 'devastating effect' on the waterways. The context is that British Waterways has received significant additional resources over the past seven years. The Government provided an additional 42 million between 1999 and 2004 to enable it to reduce its safety maintenance backlog. A further tranche of 30 million was spread over the financial years 2001/02 to 2003/04 for infrastructure improvements to bring the network up to a sufficiently reliable standard to attract new business and opportunities on to the waterways. Government has provided 524m in funding for British Waterways since 2000, of which 452m was for waterways in England and Wales. It is also worth noting that British Waterways has to date received 8.9m more in grant from Government as a whole since 2002 than they were then projecting. And over the period 2002-2012 they project that, even on an assumed CSR settlement of 5% real cuts p.a., total revenues would be 30.1m higher than they had assumed in 2002.

    The Government will continue to support British Waterways' aim of working towards greater self-sufficiency in the longer term. British Waterways has been invited to work up proposals to change its legislative framework in order to provide it with greater freedoms for investment opportunities.

    The Environment Agency's funding was reduced by 28.1m in 2006/07 from the budget originally indicated in the Spending Review 2004. The table below shows how this cut was split between the Environment Agency's various ring-fenced budgets:

Cumulative cut Reduced budget budget
(m) (m)
    Environment Protection
12.5 126.9
    Flood Risk Management
14.9 419.2
0.4 5.9
    Business Resource and Efficiency in Waste Programme (BREW)
0.3 4.5

    Although the expected 2006/07 funding for the Agency's Environment Protection function (which includes navigation) was reduced, the total Government funding they received for this function was still around 20% higher in nominal terms than 2000/2001.

    Managing the budget reductions to minimise their impacts is a matter for the Environment Agency Board. After consideration, the Environment Agency decided to reduce and delay a range of projects across its business areas. This included reducing its operational spend on navigation by 400k. No cut was made to its capital budget and the Agency is on course to have spent an additional 30m in the SR2004 period on reducing the backlog of works to its navigation structure.

    Defra regrets the need to make an in year cut in 2006/7 which we acknowledge was disruptive. Funding will inevitably continue to be tight for Defra over the next few years. The outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review for the period 2008/09 to 2010/11 will inform the level of funding for inland waterways.

24th May 2007


Observations by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the Petition [18th May] from Councillor Ann de Vecchi and others of like disposition against the abuse of market power in the milk market.

    The Government notes that the dairy sector is going through a challenging time, particularly at farm level. It is true that farmgate prices are lower than they have been historically. Information from the Milk Development Council shows too that retail prices have increased. However, the Government believes that the setting of milk prices is a commercial matter to be resolved by private negotiation which should take place within the parameters set by competition law.

    The Government accepts that low farmgate prices have had an impact on profitability of dairy farmers, but notes that the cost of production and efficiency are also important (and not just for dairy farmers, but also throughout the supply chain). It is also true that the dairy sector has seen considerable restructuring, with the number of farms declining. However, this has been a long term trend and one which is not confined to the UK or to Europe. It is also worth noting that according to the Milk Development Council's Dairy Supply Chain Margins 2005-06, the rate of farmers leaving the industry has hardly changed in the past five years and is around 6-6.5%.

    The Government notes that there is already a Supermarket Code of Practice. The Code is legally binding on the four supermarkets (Asda, Safeway, Sainsbury and Tesco) who were subject to adverse findings following an investigation into the supermarket sector by the Competition Commission during 1999/2000. Since its takeover of Safeway, Morrisons have agreed to observe the Code on a voluntary basis. It is important to note that the Code is a formal remedy to a very specific adverse finding in the Competition Commission's report on supermarkets. Its scope and application cannot be extended to cover issues or parties that were not covered in the Commission's adverse finding. In addition, the specific practices which the Code seeks to control relate to supermarkets' trading relationships with their immediate suppliers, relatively few of whom are farmers. It was never intended to regulate the prices paid to suppliers for their products and does not seek to do this.

    The effectiveness of the Code has been subject to an extensive review by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). The review found no hard evidence to support the view that the Code was not working, and the audit uncovered relatively little evidence that it was being breached. In the light of these findings the OFT announced in August 2005 that it saw no need to amend the Code, or to create a supermarket ombudsman or regulator to deal with Code issues. However the OFT did say that it would be more proactive in monitoring supermarkets' Code compliance procedures. It also confirmed that trade associations could take group actions on behalf of their members, and undertook to work with supermarkets to ensure written records of their dealings with suppliers were kept.

    The Government notes too, that the impact of supermarket buyer power is already being looked at as part of the Competition Commission's investigation into the groceries market. In its report setting out its emerging thinking the Competition Commission noted that the number of dairy farmers has declined in recent years indicating significant difficulties in the sector. It also noted that supermarkets are retaining an increasing share of the retail price for milk. The Commission has said that they will look at this further (as well as other primary produce sectors). The Government welcomes this.

    There have been a number of calls for an ombudsman or regulator over the years. The Government supported the finding of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee's inquiry into milk pricing in June 2004, which concluded that there was no compelling evidence for setting up such a body. It is difficult to see how a regulator could determine a fair price other than by reference to a market price. A price regulator would almost certainly be incompatible with EU competition law, or with the common organisation of the market in milk and milk products. Were the Competition Commission to make a recommendation to Government concerning the establishment of a regulator, the Government would consider it carefully.

    The Government believes that it is in supermarket's and processor's own long term interest to establish fair and sustainable arrangements for dealing with their suppliers. A number of retailers have initiatives to encourage closer working relationships with identified suppliers, some of which attract a price premium. There have also been some positive developments in the contractual arrangements between processors and producers. These relationships which should help develop greater transparency and trust, are to be encouraged (as the Government has done through the Dairy Supply Chain Forum).

6th June 2007


Observations by the Secretary of State for Transport on the Petition [18th May] from Councillor Ann de Vecchi and others of like disposition for the reinstatement of the double track railway line between Lewes and Uckfield.

    Uckfield is currently the southern terminus of a railway line which runs northwards to Oxted, Croydon and London. Until 1969, the line continued south beyond Uckfield to Lewes where it connected with lines (which still exist) to Brighton, Newhaven and Eastbourne.

    The line south of Uckfield survived the widespread rail closures which followed the Beeching Report of the early 1960s. By the late 1960s, however, passenger numbers had continued to decline: by then, too, the condition of one of the bridges on the line had deteriorated to the point where it needed significant expenditure; and another part of the line lay in the path of the Lewes bypass - which has since been built on the old trackbed. The result was that the Uckfield to Lewes section was closed in 1969. The section north of Uckfield remains, providing what is primarily a commuter service to London. Much of that remaining section has, though, been reduced to single track, reflecting the fact that the route now functions as a branch line rather than the secondary main line which it had been in the days when it ran through to Lewes and beyond.

    In 2004 new trains and a new timetable were introduced, providing an hourly service from Uckfield to London Bridge with connections to Victoria. A Sunday service has also been reintroduced after several years' absence and the line has been promoted by a local Community Rail Partnership.

    There have been attempts to re-open the line south of Uckfield almost ever since it first closed. The recent improvements in the service to Uckfield - and improving financial results - have given these efforts fresh impetus in recent years. An initial feasibility study into the reopening has been carried out by independent consultants and was sufficiently positive to lead local authorities in the area to support a larger study into the viability of a reopening scheme.

    The Department is prepared to consider any proposal for improving the transport network provided it is supported by a robust business case. The Department looks forward to seeing the results of the study into Uckfield to Lewes reopening that is currently under way.

6th June 2007


Observations by the Secretary of State for Transport on the Petition [18th May] from Councillor Ian Nimmo-Smith and others against proposed revisions to the Highway Code in respect of cyclists.

    On the 31st 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.

    Following informal discussions with CTC, we are proposing changes to draft rules 61 and 63 (as laid in Parliament) to make clearer the position regarding the advice in the Code on the use of cycle facilities and cycle lanes, so as to remove any possible doubt about their meaning. A copy of the letter has been placed in the library of both Houses. The Minister of State for Transport (Dr Ladyman) wrote to all MPs on Friday 1st June and a Written Ministerial Statement was issued on Tuesday 5th June 2007 [Official Report, Columns 14-15WS].

    There is no requirement for cyclists to ride on the left-hand lane on roundabouts. The advice on negotiating roundabouts gives cyclists the choice of following the procedures for the majority of road users or, if they feel safer, either dismounting and walking round on the pavement or verge or keeping to the left on the roundabout.

    The rules, specifically for cyclists, on roundabouts state:

    Rule 76 (as laid in Parliament) "Full details about the correct procedure at roundabouts are contained in Rules 184-190. Roundabouts can be hazardous and should be approached with care";

    Rule 77 (as laid in Parliament) "You may feel safer walking your cycle round on the pavement or verge. If you decide to ride round keeping to the left-hand lane you should: be aware that drivers may not easily see you; take extra care when cycling across exits. You may need to signal right to show you are not leaving the roundabout; watch out for vehicles crossing your path".

6th June 2007


Observations by the Secretary of State for Transport on the Petition [18th May] from Councillor James MacCleary and others of like disposition for noise reduction measures on the Lewes by-pass.

    The Lewes Bypass is a two lane dual carriageway section of the A27 in East Sussex, approximately 2km in length, stretching from the Ashcombe Roundabout in the west to the Southerham Roundabout in the east.

    A technical survey was carried out during financial year 2006/07 to ascertain the condition of the road surface. The survey identified that only small sections of lane 1 at the eastbound approach to and westbound departure from Southerham roundabout require resurfacing. The value management workshop held to discuss the prioritisation of works for financial year 08/09 has included the works identified as a result of the survey will be undertaken this financial year, subject to the allocation of funds.

    Whenever a road needs to be resurfaced for safety and maintenance reasons, quieter surfacing is used as a matter of course. The remainder of the Lewes bypass is currently in good condition and there are no plans to resurface it this financial year.

6th June 2007

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