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The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): The Local Transport Act 2008 includes powers for the Secretary of State to confer additional functions on Passenger Focus (formally known as the Rail Passengers' Council-the statutory rail passenger watchdog) so it can represent bus, coach and tram passengers. The Act also enables secondary legislation to be made requiring certain persons to display certain information relating to public transport.
The Department for Transport is today publishing a consultation on a draft order to extend Passenger Focus' remit and draft regulations requiring bus and coach operators to display information on their vehicles about who passengers should contact if they want to make a complaint. Copies of the consultation materials will be made available on the Department's website: www.dft.gov.uk/consultations, and are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): Under section 19 of the Transport Act 1985, the Secretary of State has the power to designate bodies who may issue permits under that section to eligible community transport operators. These section 19 permits allow the holder to operate transport services for hire or reward, subject to certain conditions, without the need for a full public service vehicle operator's licence.
While developing the policy proposals now contained in the Local Transport Act 2008, the Government signalled their intention to review the current list of designated bodies. The Department for Transport will shortly be publishing a consultation on how it intends to advance this review. Copies of the consultation materials will be made available on the Department's website-www.dft.gov.uk/consultations-and will be placed in the Libraries of the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark):
The air travel organiser's licence (ATOL) system provides financial protection to those taking flight-inclusive package holidays overseas. It ensures that in the event of a tour operator becoming insolvent,
consumers already abroad can complete their holidays and be returned to the UK and those who have paid for their holidays but have not yet departed will receive a full refund. It is operated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
The failure of XL leisure group in September 2008 and the effects of the recession have caused serious financial difficulties for the air travel trust fund (ATTF), which meets the insolvency protection costs of the ATOL scheme. To help address this, between April and June this year, the CAA consulted on possible increases to the ATOL protection contribution (APC) paid by travel companies to the ATTF. The consultation looked at a range of possible increases to the current charge of £1 per passenger to between £2.50 and £3.50 per passenger.
Following the consultation, the CAA provided advice to the Secretary of State recommending the APC be increased from £1 to £2.50 per passenger with effect from 1st October 2009. After careful consideration, I have decided to approve the recommended increase. I am aware of the extra burden this will place on travel companies and consumers at difficult times, which is why I have agreed to an increase at the bottom of the range consulted on by the CAA. I believe this strikes the right balance between ensuring the future financial stability of the ATTF while keeping additional burdens on travel companies and consumers as low as practicable. I believe that £2.50 for the protection that ATOL provides represents a good deal for consumers-it is cheaper than stand-alone airline failure insurance and represents less than 0.5 per cent. of the average ATOL holiday price. The CAA intends to review the rate of the APC before the ATTF moves into surplus, projected to be by the spring of 2012.
The increased APC will allow the ATTF access to additional commercial credit facilities which will benefit from an increased and extended Government guarantee that the Government have agreed to in principle. The Government also intend to consult on reforms to the ATOL system in the autumn to make it fairer and more understandable for consumers. A copy of the CAA's advice to the Secretary of State and a summary of consultation responses will be placed in the House Library.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Helen Goodman): I am pleased to announce publication of the annual report by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the Social Fund 2008-09 and the Social Fund Commissioner's annual report 2008-09.
The Secretary of State's Annual Report on the Social Fund for 2008-09 (Cm 7677) has been laid before Parliament and will be published later today. Copies are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
The report records that total gross expenditure in 2008-09, excluding winter fuel payments, was over £1.1 billion. This included over 252,000 non-repayable community care grants and over 3 million interest free loans together worth over £761 million, funeral and
cold weather payments totalling over £258 million and almost 263,000 Sure Start maternity grants worth almost £133 million. In addition an estimated 9 million households benefited from a winter fuel payment at an estimated cost of around £2.7 billion.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper): On 11 May 2004, a tragic factory explosion occurred at the ICL Plastics premises in Glasgow. Nine people were killed and 33 were seriously injured. Proceedings were subsequently taken against ICL Tech Ltd and ICL Plastics Ltd under the Health and Safety at Work,etc. Act 1974 and in August 2007 the companies pled guilty to the charges. I would like to express my sympathy to the bereaved families and to the injured survivors.
In October 2007, the Government and the Lord Advocate of Scotland announced a joint investigation into the explosion. Lord Gill, Lord Justice Clerk, was appointed chair of the joint independent inquiry in December 2007. Today, I am pleased to announce the publication of Lord Gill's report.
The key message from this report is that this was an avoidable disaster and that its causes are clear. While the inquiry has established that the primary responsibility for safety lay with the site user, it has identified that there were failings across the system.
In the case of the site user, the report sets out serious failings in risk assessment, inspection and maintenance, among others. It refers to both certain inadequacies in the liquid petroleum gas (LPG) safety regime in which it operated in the mid 1970s and late 1980s and the urgency of HSE's response since the explosion.
The replacement of metallic pipework and steel risers on a systematic and prioritised basis; and early inspection of all buildings that have a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) supply to identify any hazardous features from the design or layout;
the establishment of a permanent and uniform safety regime to govern the installation, maintenance, monitoring and replacement of all LPG systems, including clear guidance on responsibilities of supplier and user;
the development of a continuing and planned safety regime, particularly in relation to the use of polyethylene pipes; and
the improvement of communications between suppliers, users and HSE and also within HSE.
The Government also agree that further improvements are needed to the safety regime in this area, and we expect to provide a full response to Lord Gill's report in January next year. I have therefore today asked the chair of HSE and its board to consider the report's findings and to report back to me on progress by the end of September, addressing both Lord Gill's criticisms of its actions since the explosion and how the report's recommendations can be taken forward. I have asked HSE to explore with the LPG suppliers and users and with trade unions how improvements to the LPG safety regime can be made.
I will report back to Parliament in the autumn on the progress that has been made and I will ensure that hon. Members have the opportunity to feed in their views before the Government's full response to Lord Gill's report is issued.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper): I am pleased to announce that the Department for Work and Pensions has today laid in the House the 2008-09 annual reports and accounts for the Rent Service (HC652) and the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (HC841). The annual reports and accounts for Jobcentre Plus, the Pension, Disability and Carers Service, and the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission's separate report on its client fund account will be laid as soon as possible.