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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela E. Smith): In accordance with article 677 of the Companies (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, copies of the Companies Registry Annual Report 2005 have been placed today in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I have today appointed Sir John Bourn KCB as the independent adviser on Ministers' interests. He will provide advice to Ministers and permanent secretaries on the handling of Ministers' private interests as set out in Section 5 of the ministerial code.
Under the terms of the code, Ministers are required to provide their Permanent Secretaries with a list in writing of their interests which could give rise to a conflict of interest. As a matter of routine permanent secretaries will send Sir John Bourn copies of Ministers' disclosures with a note of any action agreed. He will also be sent any
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updates of the disclosures. This will allow Sir John to confirm that he is satisfied with the arrangements put in place.
It will, of course, remain the personal responsibility of Ministers to decide how to act and conduct themselves in the light of the code, and if necessary to justify their actions and conduct in Parliament.
Sir John is highly respected as the Comptroller and Auditor General and is ideally suited to the job of independent adviser on Ministers' interests. His impartiality and integrity are beyond reproach. I am delighted that Sir John has accepted the job which he starts with immediate effect.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I have today announced reforms to the state honours system which mean that I will not exercise my right as Prime Minister to nominate individuals directly for honours.
A new system of independent honours committees was established in 2005 following recommendations by Sir Hayden Phillips GCB and the Public Administration Select Committee. The committees are chaired by individuals from outside Government, with the majority of members from outside Government service. The committees' recommendations are considered by a main honours committee chaired by the Cabinet Secretary and consisting of the chairs of all the independent committees. The Cabinet Secretary submits the agreed lists to me who, by law, is the principal adviser on honours to Her Majesty the Queen.
Under these reforms, my principal involvement in honours from this point will be in setting the strategic policy framework. This will involve giving a remit to the independent committees that consider nominations from Government Departments and the public as to the general direction of policy, including priority areas for recognition. From now on I shall forward the honours lists to the Queen without amendment.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): I am pleased to announce the ministerial targets for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) for 200607. The ministerial targets are:
1a. Deliver the programme of planned inspections. The MCA wil inspect vessels during 200607 in a targeted manner based on factors such as UK policy direction (small passenger vessels), EU policy (ro-ro passenger
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vessels) and/or risk, based on Marine Accident Investigation Branch statistics on accidents and deaths. Most categories fall into a yearly based regime while others, fishing vessels, are part of a longer term five-year inspection regime.
3. Work with ship owners so that no more than 3 per cent. of UK ships inspected under global port state control arrangements are detained, and the UK shipping register maintains a position on the Paris Memorandum of Understanding White List which is comparable to registers of a similar size and reputation.
4. In 200607, reduce the proportion of vessels suffering machinery failures (commercial ships and leisure craft) in the UK by increasing prevention activities, working with other relevant organisations.
5. In 200607, strengthen our evidence base by analysing all fatal incidents and serious maritime accidents, to inform our assessment of maritime safety risks and prioritise these to assist with future regulatory policy and planning, including the allocation of costs and resources to activities.
6. As a category 1 responder, meet the provisions of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 on behalf of the Secretary of State, in so far as his functions include responsibilities to maritime and coastal emergencies (excluding the investigation of accidents).
7. Prepare for a review in 200708 of the implementation, effectiveness and impact of the comprehensive prevention strategy, using evidence based information to check the agency's direction in this area.
8. Work with other responders and providers to contribute to improvement of joined up approaches to civil resilience matters, and specifically develop with the Ministry of Defence a harmonised provision for search and rescue helicopters from 2012.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): The Austrian Presidency organised an informal meeting of transport Ministers, in Bregenz, Austria, on 23 March. The event was hosted by the Austrian Federal Minister for Transport and Innovation, Mr Hubert Gorbach, and I represented the United Kingdom.
During the first session, the Transport Commissioner, M Jacques Barrot, presented the midterm review of the EU Road Safety Action Programme, which will be discussed at the Transport Council on 27 March. Mr Gorbach then presented the results of the Expert Meeting on Infrastructure Safety held in Vienna in January. In discussion the UK emphasised the need for effective collaboration and exchange of best practice between Member States, rather than legislation.
The second session, which took place at the Road Safety Training Centre in Röthis, was entitled "Crossing Borders in eSafety". Issues covered here were: driver training using vehicles with the most up-to-date equipment; testing of HGVs and passenger vehicles
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using the latest eSafety equipment and simulators; and other recent trends and innovations in the road safety field.
Two sessions on the second day covered road safety awareness campaigns in the EU. A number of Member States, including the UK, gave presentations on their experience and previous campaigns. There was a discussion of the benefits of sharing of national campaigns and how to overcome potential difficulties such as copyright. There was also a discussion about implementing a common Europe-wide road safety power campaign, on which the Commission will bring forward proposals.
The main items on the agenda are: a debate on the draft regulation on public service obligations in passenger transport; a revised regulation on aviation security; progress reports on air transport negotiations with the USA, implementation of the European Single Sky (SESAR) and the Galileo satellite navigation project; and a debate on the EU strategy for sustainable development.
There will be a policy debate on the draft Public Service Obligation (PSO) regulation for public passenger transport services by rail and by road. The draft regulation sets out to ensure harmonised rules for granting of contracts to passenger transport operators, including rail operators, to provide public services. To focus the debate, the Austrian presidency will ask Ministers to address two multi-faceted questions.
The first set of questions concerns the provisions in the regulation relating to the direct award of contracts for transport services. Part one seeks a Ministerial view whether the provisions of Article 5(6), which provide for the possibility of directly awarding regional or long-distance rail transport services, should be extended to include suburban heavy rail services. The Council and Commission minutes statement tabled at the December Transport Council accepted the principle set out in Article 5(6) but the Government will strongly oppose any further extension. The Government will argue that the inclusion of suburban rail services would effectively prevent the opening of the entire rail market in perpetuity.
Similarly the Government will firmly oppose the extension of the principle of direct award to all transport modes, which is the focus of the second part of the question. The UK will argue that an extension of the principle of direct award to all transport modes is against the principles of the Treaty. We will argue that it is diametrically opposite to the European Council statement in 2000 that called for the speeding up of liberalisation in areas such as transport. And we will argue that any extension of the principle of direct award makes a regulation that should be enabling some increase in liberalisation, largely worthless. At this stage
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we expect a majority of Member States and the Commission to oppose strongly extending Article 5(6) to all transport modes.
Finally on this section of questions the Government will support the proposition, couched as a question by the presidency, that measures should be put in place to prevent operators in receipt of direct awards from competing in open markets elsewhere in order to prevent distortions of competition.
The proposed regulation also provides for the continuation of public service contracts awarded on the basis of a fair competitive tendering procedure and of a limited duration comparable to the durations proposed in the regulation, until they expire. The second question asks Ministers whether other sorts of existing contracts should be allowed to continue until their expiry date, in particular considering the manner in which these contracts have been allocated and their duration. The Government will argue that contracts put in place before the first Commission proposal for a regulation in this area (26 July 2000) should be allowed to remain in place until they expire provided that they were awarded on the basis of a fair competitive tendering procedure and therefore in conformity with Community law that existed at that time.
Road safety is on the agenda in two parts. The Commission will present its mid-term review of the EU Road Safety Action programme. The review concludes that progress in reducing deaths on roads within the EU was faster in the period 200105 than previously, but that the rate of progress is not sufficient to meet the Action Programme's target of a 50 per cent. reduction by 2010, and calls for a renewed effort. The Government welcome the mid-term review and the emphasis in the Action Programme on making progress through collaboration and cooperation rather than European legislation. The Commission has indicated that it will be considering proposals for legislation.
The presidency will make a statement on the informal meeting of Ministers held in Austria in early March, which I attended on behalf of the UK. The meeting covered road safety awareness campaigns, driver training, vehicle technology, and latest trends in research and innovation.
There will be two presentations on inland waterways. The Commission will present its recent communication on the promotion of inland waterways. The Communication sets out an action programmecalled NAIADES (Navigation and Inland Waterway Action and Development in Europe)to boost Inland Waterway transport in order to reduce traffic congestion and harmful effects on the environment. While the Communication does not contain any legislative proposals, it does look at the different options for modernising the regulatory environment. The time frame for the implementation of the plan is the period 200613. The Austrian presidency will also report on the findings of a High Level Meeting on inland navigation, which considered the Communication in February.
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In regard to aviation security, the Council will be aiming to reach a General Approach on the regulation to replace the existing regulation 2320/02. The new proposal would help to clarify, simplify, and further harmonise legal requirements with the aim of enhancing overall security in civil aviation. The Austrian presidency has indicated that they will be aiming for the Council to reach a general approach, which the Government supports.
There will be a progress report on SESAR, the project for implementation of the Single European Sky (air traffic management). This will be on the basis of a recent Commission communication and a draft regulation on the establishment of a project management group. The regulation is subject to the consultation procedure, and co-decision with the European Parliament does not apply. The Government support the SESAR project as it will allow for an integrated approach to the development of the new generation European air traffic management system involving all parts of the industry. However, the Government also have a number of concerns which have yet to be resolved, in particular, the governance structure, scope and funding of the Joint Undertaking.
The third aviation item covers two aspects of aviation external relations. The Commission will report on the state of play on EU-US negotiations for an air transport agreement. Progress was made during the talks last autumn with the US, and we now await the outcome of a US rule-making process on airline control before we can evaluate whether what is proposed goes far enough to make the Stage One deal on the table acceptable. A decision may be possible at a Council later this year. The second external relations issue is Siberian overflight payments. A solution to this issue has been sought for several years.
The Commission will report on the key elements of the concession contract for the Galileo satellite navigation project. The Government will argue strongly for a robust PPP which is affordable for the Community.
There will be a policy debate on the current review of the EU strategy for sustainable development. The Environment Council has been asked to lead on a report for the June European Council, but ten other Council formations, including the Transport Council, have been asked to provide input on the basis of a unified set of questions.
Among the "A" points for agreement at the Transport Council is the draft recast directive on driving licences for which a text was endorsed at the preparatory meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Member States (COREPER) on 15 March 2006. Whilst the Government support much of what is included in the text it is concerned about the proposals on motorcycle staging. The Government consider that the system proposed on motorcycle staging will create significant difficulty for our motorcyclists, with no tangible benefit for road safety in the UK. I therefore intend to enter a minutes statement reiterating the UK's disappointment that it has been impossible to reach agreement on a better approach to motorcycling staging.
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