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Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela E. Smith): My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Northern Ireland Office (Lord Rooker) has made the following ministerial statement:


European Union Transport Council

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): I chaired the Transport Council in Brussels on 5 December. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), was in the UK national seat.

The Council received a progress report from the Commissioner on the "Air Transport Negotiations Between the EU and the US". The Commissioner reported on the progress made in recent talks with the US. For the UK, my hon. Friend stressed the need for a balanced package, in which changes on airline ownership and control are an essential element. Summing up, I welcomed progress so far, but noted that the Council could not reach any decisions until the US has concluded its internal rule-making process.

The Council discussed the Commission's request for a mandate to open air transport negotiations with China. While there was agreement about the growing importance of China as an aviation market, the view of the Council was that it would be premature to give the Commission a mandate for community-level negotiations while the focus is on EU-US.
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Following a progress report on the amending regulation on aviation security, I concluded that there were good prospects for early agreement.

The Council reached political agreement on three proposals from the "Third Rail Package".

The rail market access directive was put to the Council as amended in prior negotiation to take account of member state's concerns. The directive would open the market for international rail passenger transport in 2010, including allowing "cabotage", that is, picking up and setting down passengers in the same member state, but enable member states to restrict competition where strictly necessary to protect public services. In reaching political agreement, the Council accepted requests for member states to be allowed to impose a levy on all passenger train services on their territory to contribute to the financing of services provided under public service contracts, provided certain conditions are met; and for market opening to be delayed until 2012 in those member states in which more than half of the turnover is derived from international traffic.

Discussion of the market access directive has proceeded alongside consideration of relevant aspects of the proposal for a regulation on Public Service Obligations (PSOs) in land-based public transport. This would provide an updated regulatory framework for award of public service contracts and the financial compensation provided to operators. A progress report was noted by Council on the PSO element. In addition, the Council and Commission made a minutes statement stating that rail market opening can only be achieved step by step recognising public service needs, and committing the Council to try to reach political agreement on the PSO proposal as soon as possible in 2006 on the basis, inter alia, that member states should continue to have the possibility to award directly without competition contracts for rail public services.

The Council reached political agreement on the regulation on international rail passenger rights. This builds on the existing international convention (COTIF/CIV) and creates new rights for international rail passengers on access to tickets and information, a system of compensation and assistance for passengers in case of delay, and specific rights of access and assistance for passengers of reduced mobility.

There was political agreement on the directive on train crew licensing. It provides for a European licensing and certification system for train drivers, with the possibility for renewable derogations for "domestic" train drivers if it is demonstrated that application of the EC system would not be cost effective.

The Council was unable to reach political agreement on the directive on driving licences. While there was recognition of the positive elements in the proposal, particularly regarding driving licence tourism and improved security, a significant number of member states still had problems with the proposal. In summing up, I reminded the Council that there was support for the measure from several member states and that the Council would need to return to it.

The Commissioner gave a progress report on the Galileo project. He reported that the first Galileo satellite would be launched later in December and that progress on the concession had been made. In summing
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up, I emphasised the importance of ensuring proper functioning of the public private partnership to give value for money.

The Council agreed conclusions on boosting employment prospects in the maritime sector. The conclusions aim at action by all stakeholders to sustain high-quality maritime skills and assure continuation of European maritime know-how across the broader sector. This is an example of a non-regulatory approach to a timely issue.

The regulation on multi-annual funding for the European Maritime Safety Agency, for its work in responding to pollution caused by ships, and the regulation on information on the identity of air carriers were agreed without debate.

Four of the presentations under AOB referred to in my pre-Council statement on 1 December were given as planned, namely on road safety, the new maritime package, the air traffic management Single Sky Project (SESAR) for which a PPP is proposed, and extension of the scope of the European Aviation Safety Agency.

There were a number of additional AOB points.

Ireland called for action on the current situation regarding ferry manning. The Commission recalled that there is no EC legislation on ferry manning at present, and that priority should go to achieving solutions through the social partner dialogue and to implementing higher standards based on the forthcoming Convention text from the ILO.

The Slovenian Minister invited Ministers to a conference he is hosting in Ljubljana in January on Motorways of the Sea.

France introduced a Memorandum calling for a strengthening of oversight of aviation safety: nationally, within the Community and within the International Civil Aviation Organisation. The Commissioner welcomed this approach.

France presented a memorandum to the Council and expressed its concern about the impact of high fuel prices on road transport.
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Local Transport Capital Settlement

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): Today I am announcing firm allocations for the 116 local highway authorities and six Passenger Transport Authorities in England, outside London, for capital expenditure in 2006–07. This will amount, in total, to a £1.6 billion package of funding to improve local transport, with £1.4 billion in this local transport capital settlement announced today, and a further £200 million for new major schemes, the details of which will be finalised early next year. This is the first part of some £8 billion over the next five years.

This builds on the £8 billion of investment in local transport projects in the five years of the first Local Transport Plan period. That period saw a reduction in road casualties, an improvement in local road maintenance and better travel choices being delivered in many towns and cities. Today's announcement demonstrates the Government's commitment to building on these achievements.

This year's settlement delivers firm funding for 2006–07, the first year of local authorities' second Local Transport Plans (2006–07 to 2010–11). We have also issued financial planning guidelines for the integrated transport block for the whole of the second LTP period. This will give authorities predictable funding levels for the next five years to enable them to formulate effective and realistic transport strategies.

Funding has been released to allow authorities to continue work on major transport schemes already under construction. I will be announcing further 2006–07 funding for new major schemes next year after I have received regional advice on the prioritisation of schemes.

Details of the 2006–07 allocations have been placed in the Vote Office and both Libraries of the House. Right hon. and hon. Members representing English constituencies outside London will receive details for the local transport plan area covering their constituencies, from their regional government office.