Previous Section Index Home Page

The Council will be asked to agree conclusions on taking forward the Galileo satellite navigation programme. EU Ministers concluded at the June Council that the public private partnership process had failed and that
27 Nov 2007 : Column 25WS
the negotiations with the prospective concessionaire should end. The Commission’s subsequent proposals for taking forward the deployment through a public procurement were published in September and were presented to Ministers at the October Council. At that Council, Ministers called for an integrated decision by the end of this year. Following the agreement reached at ECOFIN on Friday on the financing of Galileo, at this forthcoming Council, Ministers will be asked to agree conclusions aimed at defining the general principles covering governance and a public sector procurement of the system. If it is the view of the majority of member states that the project should proceed, then the Government will continue to work to implement an overall management structure that ensures transparency, clear lines of governance and a clear contract between the Commission and ESA as procurement agent. The Government will also seek to ensure the maximum possible competition in procurement. This will provide opportunities for new entrants and SMEs, and deliver value for money for the Community and maximum opportunities for UK industry. All these objectives are in line with the commitments given to Parliament and which were set out in the European Standing Committee debate on Monday 26 November.

The Council will also be asked to agree conclusions on the Commission’s Action Plan on Freight Transport Logistics. The conclusions are general in nature and give no specific commitments in respect to legislative proposals. We are generally content with the majority of the proposals in the action plan and we support the fact that the Commission has mainly opted for non-legislative measures. We have reservations however concerning the Commission's intention to consider the potential for modification of vehicle weight and dimensions under Directive 96/53/EC and to update the 2003 proposal on Inter-modal Loading Units to technical progress, both of which we believe are unnecessary.

There will be a policy debate on progress made on the renewed EU Sustainable Development Strategy adopted by the European Council in June 2006. On the basis of this debate and another conducted in the Environment Council on 30 October, the presidency will prepare input to the conclusions of the December European Council. I shall draw attention to our recently published transport strategy Command Paper and stress the important contribution that EU initiatives on new car CO2 emission targets and on inclusion of aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme can play in meeting UK and European climate change objectives.

The Council will be asked to reach a political agreement on two legislative proposals in maritime transport. First, there is a regulation on the liability of carriers of passengers by sea and inland waterways in the event of accidents (incorporating the Athens convention into EC law). The Government are keen to reach political agreement on the text of this measure. The Government are now broadly content with the proposal for a regulation in the light of the amendments made by member states in negotiation. In particular, the Government would not wish to be bound by the setting of maximum limits of compensation, but agree that member states should have the flexibility to apply the provisions of the Athens convention to domestic seagoing voyages and, together with almost all member states, agree with the European
27 Nov 2007 : Column 26WS
Parliament that the measure should not apply to voyages on inland waterways. Our previous concerns in respect of subsidiarity have been resolved by the changes made in negotiation. The second maritime measure is a recast directive designed to update the existing directives relating to ship inspection and survey organisations. The proposal seeks to establish mutual recognition of the certificates which the organisations issue, introduces a financial penalty system to address poor performance, and places a requirement on the organisations to create a new certification system to improve their oversight. The Government are expecting that it will be possible to reach a political agreement, although there are some drafting issues relating to the proposed financial penalty system which need refinement.

In road transport, there will be progress reports on two proposals: a recast regulation on common rules for access to the international road haulage market; and a regulation on common rules concerning the conditions to be complied with to pursue the occupation of road transport operator. Negotiations on both of these proposals continue and we hope will go forward under the Slovenian presidency.

The Council will aim to reach a political agreement on each of three proposals on rail interoperability and safety which have been negotiated together. These are: a directive on interoperability of the Community rail system, combining three previous directives; a directive amending the 2004 directive on rail safety; and a directive amending the 2004 directive which established the European Rail Agency. The October Council reached a General Approach on the first two of these. The UK supports the objectives of the Commission's proposals and welcomes any initiative that improves cross-acceptance of rolling stock, and simplifies and modernises the technical part of the regulatory framework for rail. The texts being put to the Council are acceptable to the UK.

The Council will aim to reach a General Approach on a directive on airport charges, which aims to establish a framework of common principles as to how airports determine their charges for aircraft landing, take-off and handling of passengers. As part of this, the directive requires the establishment of independent regulators. In negotiation, the UK has sought a proportionate text that does not impose unnecessary regulatory burdens on airlines or airports, and a number of amendments to this effect have been made to the draft.

The Council will aim to reach Political Agreement on a recast regulation on common rules for the operation of air transport services in the Community (the “third package review”). This consolidates the three existing regulations of 1992, which established the aviation single market. The proposal seeks to update the regulations in the light of experience of the single market. The UK broadly supports the proposal, in particular on pricing and consumer protection.

Two issues of aviation external relations are on the agenda. The Council will be asked to adopt decisions giving the Commission mandates to negotiate with Jordan on a Euro-Mediterranean Aviation Agreement, and with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on an agreement regarding aviation security audits and inspections and related matters. The UK is content for both mandates to be granted by the Council.

27 Nov 2007 : Column 27WS

Local Transport Capital Settlement

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Ms Rosie Winterton): Today I am announcing the distribution of a package of funding of more than £4 billion to improve local transport outside London over the remaining three years of the Local Transport Plan period. An indicative announcement of half of this funding package was made last year. This announcement confirms that funding is available now the comprehensive spending review has been completed.

It builds on the £8.5 billion provided to the 122 local transport authorities, including the six passenger transport authorities, over the last seven years for small local transport improvements and capital highways maintenance. These improvements tackle pinch points, improve integration and provide genuine alternatives to the car.

The £4,036 billion package consists of £1.768 billion for integrated transport improvements and £2.268 billion for highways capital maintenance.

This capital funding is in addition to the £2.3 billion made available in regional funding allocations for local authority major schemes and Highways Agency schemes of regional significance over the next three years.

Local transport plans have now been implemented for more than six years. Local transport authorities can be proud of the way they are creating safer, cleaner environments. They have made great progress in reducing local road casualties, improving the condition of many local road networks, providing facilities for cyclists and pedestrians and integrating transport planning alongside that of health, education and housing.

Alongside this year's settlement we have also confirmed financial planning guidelines (announced last year) for a specific road safety grant set up as part of the move to integrate safety cameras into the wider road safety delivery process from 1 April 2007. The funding totals £330 million over three years—that is, £110 million per year. Some £286 million of this is being distributed to local authorities outside London. The remaining £44 million is for London and national agencies. This funding represents a long-term commitment to fund further improvements in road safety and provides local authorities and their partners with the flexibility to implement a locally agreed mix of road safety measures that will deliver the greatest reductions in road casualties in their area.

Details of the 2008-09 to 2010-11 allocations have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, and are also available at:

Work and Pensions

Mental Health and Employment

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Peter Hain): Mental health conditions are now the single biggest cause of both absence from work and people claiming incapacity benefits. Around 40 per cent. of people currently receiving incapacity benefits
27 Nov 2007 : Column 28WS
are doing so because of mental ill-health, ranging from more common problems such as stress, anxiety and depression, to more serious conditions.

But the more common mental health conditions can be relatively easily treated and with the right support need not significantly affect people’s lives.

We know that being in work is usually good for people with all types of mental health problems and so there is a clear need to support people with mental health conditions to overcome or manage their problems, helping them to find or remain in work.

I am therefore announcing, in partnership with the Secretary of State for Health, our intention to develop a National Strategy for Mental Health and Work, to ensure a co-ordinated response across government to the challenges faced by people of working age with mental health conditions and improve their employment chances.

To support the strategy I am today also announcing a number of measures to ensure that mental health and employment support is delivered in a more holistic way, that we provide more advice and support to healthcare professionals and employers, and improve the communication between these two key groups.

27 Nov 2007 : Column 29WS

All this work will contribute to improving the health and employment prospects of people of working age, which is the subject of the review currently being undertaken by Dame Carol Black, which will report to Ministers early in 2008.

This will build on the substantial progress that has been made in this area since 1997.

We have been transforming the support that we give to Jobcentre Plus customers with health conditions or disabilities, moving away from a system that abandons people to a life on benefits to one which helps them to realise their potential. The introduction of Employment and Support Allowance which will replace incapacity benefit next autumn, along with the expansion of Pathways to Work across the country by April of next year will create a more positive system, built on rights and responsibilities and offering tailored support to help people back into work.

The new medical test for the allowance, the work capability assessment, will be fairer, more accurate and more robust than the current personal capability assessment. Importantly the mental capacity element of the assessment has been fundamentally improved and will be better able to assess the challenges faced by people with mental health conditions and learning disabilities.

Alongside employment support, the Government have been working to make more treatments and health interventions available to people with mental health problems and there has been a significant increase in mental health expenditure since 1997. Only last month the Secretary of State for Health announced the very
27 Nov 2007 : Column 30WS
welcome expansion of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme. The service will ensure that over the next three years 3,600 new therapists will be trained and 900,000 more people will be treated for depression and anxiety. This will have a major impact on those of working age suffering from mental health conditions.

We have therefore been working with medical professional bodies to ensure that GPs and healthcare professionals recognise the importance of work to the health and well-being of their patients; ensure speedy and effective investigation, treatment and rehabilitation; and give sound advice on fitness for work. This work has included the development and testing of a number of training and education programmes and other supportive tools.

Equally important is ensuring that employers understand the challenges faced by people with health problems, so that they can make appropriate adjustments to allow people to remain at work while their health conditions are addressed or to return to work in a phased way as part of their recovery. We are working across Government as part of the Health, Work and Well-being Strategy to engage and support employers. For example, the Department of Health’s Action on Stigma campaign ‘Shift' launched a new package of supportive tools on mental ill-health in October, designed to give advice on managing and supporting people with mental health problems in the workplace.

Today's announcement is further evidence of our commitment to achieve a step-change in the support available to help people with mental health conditions find and remain in work.

    Index Home Page