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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced on 19th December that he had invited a group of distinguished experts to advise him on the expressions of interests in, and on the future use and management of, the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, which he holds for the benefit of the Crown charity, Greenwich Hospital.
The advisory group has submitted its interim report. He is most grateful to its members for the way in which they have addressed the issues so far. Copies of the report, amended only to protect matters of commercial confidentiality, have been placed in the Library of the House.
Much detailed work remains to be done to secure the future of the site but, with the support of his right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for National Heritage and for the Environment (the latter as Minister for London), I am pleased to be able to announce that my right honourable friend has accepted the central recommendations of the advisory group that, in the event of non-Defence occupancy of the Royal Naval College:
To carry forward the recommendations in the report, new powers are required and these will be sought in the Armed Forces Bill, currently in another place. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces has advised the Select Committee considering the Bill of his intention to table an amendment, whereby my right honourable friend can be empowered to balance the wider interests of the heritage of the site with his responsibilities towards Greenwich Hospital.
He is grateful to those organisations and individuals that have contributed to the debate so far on the future of the Royal Naval College. He is conscious that this announcement will be a disappointment to some who indicated an expression of interest, but whose proposal will not be considered further.
The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has received the first annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee and is presenting it to Parliament today. Copies are also being placed in the Libraries of both Houses. He is grateful to the committee for the careful and thorough way in which they have carried out their work. Certain portions of their report contained material which fell within the provisions of Section 10 of the Intelligence Services Act, and which has accordingly, after consultation with the committee, been deleted from the published report.
The House will wish to be aware that, following consultations with the Leader of the Opposition and in accordance with Section 10 of the Intelligence Services Act, the Prime Minister has appointed the right honourable Lord Blaker as a member of the committee to succeed Lord Howe of Aberavon who has indicated his wish to step down from the committee. He is very grateful to Lord Howe for the part he has played in the Committee's work.
The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): The Environment Act 1995 requires the Environment Agency to make charging schemes so as to recover the costs of carrying out its regulatory functions.
The Government have consulted those who are likely to be affected by the schemes. In the light of that consultation, and with the consent of the Treasury, of my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Wales and--with regard to the Radioactive Substances Act--of my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Environment Agency has now made charging schemes for 1996-97 for regulation under Integrated Pollution Control and the Radioactive Substances Act.
The schemes are similar to those which were previously administered by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution, and there are no changes to the levels of charges as they were set out in the equivalent schemes for 1995-96. This represents a reduction in real terms of around 3 per cent. and has been achieved by continuing improvements in efficiency.
Since responsibility for these schemes is shortly to pass from the Inspectorate to the Environment Agency, now is an appropriate time to acknowledge the hard work which the Inspectorate has done over the past three years to reduce the level of direct charges in real terms whilst maintaining a credible regulatory regime. We are also pleased to see the Environment Agency making these schemes, which demonstrates their intention to build upon the improvements in regulatory effectiveness and efficiency which were achieved by the Inspectorate, and to limit any increases in charges to those which are essential in order to reduce pollution and to improve the environment.
We therefore intend to amend the Regulations to remove the current £400 ceiling. Instead, local authorities will be required to draw up scales of charges, indicating the likely cost for unopposed orders and the maximum cost which they would charge. This change will be implemented by amending regulations, which we hope to have in place by the summer.
Earl Ferrers: Since the Government accepted in full the recommendations in Lord Cullen's 1990 report on the Piper Alpha disaster, a total of four sets of new health and safety regulations for the offshore sector have been made. The latest, the Offshore Installations and Wells (Design and Construction, etc.) Regulations were laid before Parliament today. They mark a significant milestone in the review and reform programme undertaken by the Government as a result of Lord Cullen's report.
The new legislation effects fundamental changes in the management of safety offshore, as recommended by Lord Cullen. A safety case regime for offshore installations has been established. This requires all installation operators and owners to assess the risks arising from offshore installations, and demonstrate how those risks will be controlled. It is now unlawful to operate an installation without acceptance of its safety case by the offshore safety regulator, the explosion, for emergency response--areas of high risk identified by Lord Cullen as requiring specific legislation--and for management and administration issues. Moreover, the new regulations complete offshore implementation of a European Directive concerned with health and safety in the extractive industries. Much old legislation has been revoked both by these new regulations and other reform initiatives in the programme.
The Government have therefore met their obligation to review and reform offshore health and safety legislation in the manner set out by Lord Cullen in his report. We commend the Health and Safety Commission for its efforts in taking forward this programme and all parts of the industry for their positive approach to it. Together they have secured a legislative regime providing a firm foundation for the continued improvement of health and safety standards in the offshore sector.
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