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Written Ministerial Statements

Friday 20 January 2012

Deputy Prime Minister

Statutory Register of Lobbyists

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): Today the Government have launched a consultation on initial proposals to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists. The consultation will run until 13 April 2012 and a consultation paper (Cm 8233) is available on the Cabinet Office website. A copy of the consultation document will also be placed in the House Library.

We believe the introduction of a statutory register will be an important step towards increasing transparency and rebuilding public trust in politics. Our initial proposals are that any individual or firm who lobbies for a third party for money must put themselves on the register and disclose their clients. We think it is important that the public should be able to see who is lobbying Ministers, and for whom. That is why there is already a requirement that Ministers should publish details of who they are meeting, at least quarterly. We believe it is right that lobbying companies should disclose who is paying them to lobby Government.

We suggest that individuals or companies lobbying for themselves should not be covered by a register because the disclosure requirements on Ministers will show this activity already. We hope for a wide range of responses on all our proposals, but we are particularly interested to hear views on whether organisations like NGOs and charities, which do not lobby for others for money but are advancing agendas, should be covered. We are also consulting as to how, if at all, trade union activities should be covered.

The Government are clear that it is not our intention to propose that individuals taking up issues with Ministers, or companies discussing matters of mutual interest with Government should be covered by the requirement to register. These are vital democratic functions and covered by the disclosure requirement on Government Departments. We are interested in views on whether our definitions meet this objective.

Any proposals for a statutory register should not impinge on the ability of charities to lobby or on a constituent’s ability to lobby their own MP.

This is a complicated area, and we are hoping for a wide range of consultation responses to help us produce proposals which are proportionate and practical.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): The next Agriculture and Fisheries Council is on Monday 23 January in

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Brussels. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Minister with responsibility for Agriculture and Food will represent the UK. Stewart Stevenson MSP and Alun Davies AM will also attend.

In the morning, following a presentation of the Danish presidency’s programme for the next six months, the Commission will present their animal welfare strategy, published this week.

In the afternoon there will be a discussion on the single common market organisation (CMC) Regulation as part of the CAP reform package. This item will cover market intervention measures, role of producers’ organisations, crisis management and competition policy.

At lunch the Commission (José Manuel Barroso—president of the Commission and Dacian Ciolos—Agriculture Commissioner) will be hosting an event launching celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the CAP.

Environment Council

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): I represented the UK at the Environment Council in Brussels on 19 December. Stewart Stevenson, Scottish Minister for Environment and Climate Change, also joined the delegation.

Following lengthy debate, the Council adopted conclusions on implementation of the EU biodiversity strategy to 2020. I indicated the need for speedy implementation, and highlighted the UK’s own national biodiversity strategy. I also emphasised the importance of fully implementing the resource mobilisation strategy. In relation to CAP, I reiterated our view that the best way to help the environment was through targeted measures under pillar 2: environment outcomes are most cost-effectively delivered by longer-term, targeted interventions.

Ministers also adopted conclusions on the resource efficiency road map. The Commission underlined the importance of this agenda for the future of the European economy. I brought attention to significant savings we have identified UK businesses could make via increased resource efficiency, and stressed the importance of this agenda in making the transition to a “green” economy, not just in the EU, but also globally in the context of Rio plus 20. I also highlighted that businesses were leading the drive towards more efficient resource use and it was important to draw on their expertise.

The presidency informed the Council of progress made on: the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on control of major accident hazards involving dangerous substances (“Seveso III” directive); the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the export and import of hazardous chemicals (PIC); and the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 1999/32/EC as regards the sulphur content of marine fuels. On the latter, I supported the elements of the Commission’s proposal that aligned it with the relevant 2008 International Maritime Organisation agreement, as it would provide much-needed certainty for industry and would deliver significant environmental benefits. However, I also emphasised that the economic impact on the industry must be minimised.

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After lunch, over which Ministers continued to discuss the importance of resource efficiency, there was an exchange of views on the result of the 17th conference of the parties (COP 17) to the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) in Durban. Most member states agreed that the result was an important step forward, and that the EU’s speaking with one voice, with a clear position, and in coalition with the least developed countries and small island states, were key factors that contributed to the success of the conference, and elements which should be built upon in future. Many member states noted, however, that there are still significant challenges to be overcome in the coming months, such as defining the EU’s emission reduction target, the length of the second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol, and how to tackle the issue of surplus assigned amount units. I made the case that further progress depended on the EU’s leadership, and to this end I made the case that an EU emissions reduction target of 30% (compared to 1990 levels) was the right place to be in 2020.


Intercity West Coast Rail Franchise

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): In May last year, the then Secretary of State announced that the next intercity west coast franchise would start on 9 December 2012.

The Department for Transport has today published an invitation to tender to mark the commencement of the formal bidding stage of the competition to replace the current operator on the west coast main line. The new franchise will continue through to March 2026, this date being aligned to the introduction of high-speed services along the proposed HS2 route.

Increasing capacity and tackling overcrowding is our priority. Some 106 extra “Pendolino” carriages are being provided for the west coast. In addition to the 45% increase in capacity delivered in December 2008, 31 existing Pendolinos are being lengthened from 9 to 11 carriages and four new trains are being introduced, increasing the number of standard class seats on each train by almost 50%, from 320 to 470.

In all, the 106 new carriages will make 28,000 extra seats available each day, an increase of 25%. We expect that the additional and lengthened trains will be targeted on those routes and times of day with the highest demand.

It was further announced in May that a consultation would take place on a revised train service requirement (TSR). A summary of and response to this consultation has also been published today on the Department for Transport website.

The TSR has been designed to give bidders greater flexibility to respond to passenger demand and run their businesses in a more commercial way within a framework set by the franchise that protects key outcomes for passengers, taxpayers and the economy. The TSR requires the provision of the same number of weekly stops at each station as set out in the current franchise; but will allow the franchisee to vary the capacity provided on individual days of the week in order to cater for the variations in daily demand.

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The ITT contains less specification than in previous competitions, with a stronger focus on outcomes, for example on passenger satisfaction, rather than detailed prescriptive inputs. We expect the additional flexibility set out in the ITT to enable bidders to provide both a better service for passengers and an improved financial return for taxpayers.

However, we will continue to specify core requirements and to manage overall compliance of key deliverables, such as performance and service quality. The franchise will contain new obligations based around passenger satisfaction with stations, trains and customer services.

The franchise length of up to 15 years including an option to extend by 20 months is intended to encourage the development of long-term relationships between the operator and stakeholders, giving greater scope to challenge and reduce excessive industry costs. We also expect the certainty provided by a long franchise to encourage investment in assets such as stations, by extending the period over which commercially attractive schemes can pay back. The new franchisee will take over full repairing responsibilities for the 17 stations they manage. We believe that cost savings can be achieved through combining roles currently split between the operator and Network Rail in relation to stations.

A new risk-sharing mechanism based on macro-economic variables has been introduced to remove some of the perverse operator behaviour experienced under the cap and collar system, while still providing an appropriate allocation of risk between the taxpayer and the operator.

Cap and collar led to stronger concentration on revenue generation schemes rather than on cost reduction because support was available in the event of underperformance on revenue. Our new risk-sharing mechanism helps create a more balanced approach to revenue and costs when bidders are considering how to develop their business.

A profit-share mechanism has been introduced to enable the taxpayer to benefit from a share in profits above an agreed threshold which the franchise has generated, while continuing to provide sufficient incentive for the franchisee to outperform.

The franchise will specify the introduction of ITSO-based smart ticketing. The introduction of smart ticketing will provide significant benefits for passengers and the use of the ITSO standard will enable the same card to be used on a range of different public transport services.

The intercity west coast ITT takes forward the franchising reforms set out in January 2011. Given the diversity of the rail network, our approach will be adapted to meet the individual requirements of different franchises. Future franchise contracts will not be identical but common themes will underlie all of them, including an emphasis on innovation, passenger satisfaction and greater commercial freedom to respond to the needs of passengers.

Work and Pensions

Draft Occupational Pension Schemes and Pension Protection Fund (Equality) (Amendment) Regulations

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): The Government have today begun consultation on draft regulations to ensure domestic

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legislation reflects the effect of current European case law regarding the obligation on pension schemes to treat men and women equally.

The draft regulations will amend domestic legislation to reflect the specific point that, where an inequality in pension scheme rules results from the legislation governing the guaranteed minimum pension, the scheme is required to equalise, even where no opposite sex comparator exists.

The Government have been advised by a number of organisations that some schemes with guaranteed minimum pension liabilities have been finding equalisation action

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difficult. As we wish to offer as much help as is practical, we have also published today, for consultation, one possible method of equalisation.

This suggested method of equalisation will not have any force of law and there will be no obligation on schemes to use it. However, the Government hope that experts in the pensions industry will engage constructively with it and, as a result, schemes will know that the revised version will have been published after a consideration of a large range of views.

A copy of this consultation document will be placed in the House Library.