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House of Lords: Travel

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): The House Committee agreed in May 2004 to the setting up of a pilot scheme to provide a credit card for Members to use to purchase tickets for official parliamentary travel. Twenty members participated in the pilot and feedback has been positive. Under the scheme the Finance Department settles statements direct and reconciles them with Members' attendance claims as they are received. Members are also required to verify card statements.

The House Committee has agreed that the use of the card should now be offered to all Members from 1 April 2006, and this will be done on a rolling basis.

Use of the card will be subject to certain conditions. These will be based on the following principles:

Use of the card will be voluntary. However, from 1 April 2007, all claims for ticketed travel in excess of £100 will need to be supported by vouchers unless a travel card is used.

Further details of the scheme will be circulated to Members by the Finance Department. The Finance Department will subsequently contact Members to offer the use of the card.
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Nuclear Energy: Nuclear Materials Accountancy

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My right honourable friend the Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Department of Trade and Industry is today publishing, on behalf of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, British Nuclear Fuels plc and Urenco (Capenhurst) Ltd., details of "material unaccounted for" (MUF) arising from the use of plutonium and/or uranium in civil nuclear programmes during 2004–05. The figures, which are available on the DTI website at–materials–balance.htm, aggregate the various operations at each site and follow the practice introduced in 1977. Copies of the report are also being placed in the Libraries of the House.

All of the figures are within internationally accepted standards published by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for expected measurement uncertainty associated with nuclear materials accountancy. The 2004–05 figures conform to the pattern over previous years and give no rise to concern over either the safety or the security of the operation of the plants.

The nuclear materials balance in future years will also be published on the DTI website.

Transport: Urban Congestion Targets

Lord Davies of Oldham: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport (Alistair Darling) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The public service agreement target published in July last year is based on the congestion targets in the local transport plans (LTPs) of the 10 largest urban areas (London, Greater Manchester, West Midlands, Tyne and Wear, Merseyside, Greater Bristol, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Leicester and Nottingham). Local congestion targets were to be included in the local transport plans which will be published in March.

In December a problem was discovered with some of the data being used to set the congestion targets. Corrected data will not be available in time to set targets in March. The March local transport plans will contain congestion tackling strategies, but the targets consistent with those strategies will now be set by July at the same time as the public service agreement.

Universities: Governance

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Bill Rammell) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
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I have today written to heads of all English higher education institutions explaining how the Government are taking forward our commitment outlined in paragraph 7.10 of the 2003 White Paper The Future of Higher Education. Copies of my letter have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament.

Chapter 7 of the White Paper focused on freeing up higher education institutions from bureaucracy and questioned how far regulation of universities through the Privy Council was necessary. Currently, the legal position is that all changes to institutions' charters and statutes or instruments and articles of government have to be approved by the Privy Council and can delay institutional changes. The White Paper concluded that the Privy Council did not need to approve minor changes in the way universities go about their business. Subsequently, we have been working to decide what should count as a "minor change".

My letter explains how our proposals for de-regulation of governance arrangements will mean that in future only core issues of public interest will be monitored by the Privy Council.

The approach to drawing up key areas of public interest that still need protecting has been agreed by the department, the Privy Council Office and our stakeholder bodies—Universities UK, the Standing Conference of Principals, the Association of Heads of University Administration, the Committee of University Chairmen, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the devolved administrations.

The department has identified the key areas where there is a continuing "public interest" in university governance. These include degree awarding powers and university title, powers and objects, academic freedom and governance structures, particularly the functions and constitution of the governing body. Non-key areas include provisions on membership, internal structures and detailed roles and constitution bodies such as the senate and court.

My letter explains that while the Government cannot require institutions to liberalise their governance arrangements, we very much hope that they will bring forward proposals that will relieve them of the obligation of having all amendments to their governance arrangements agreed by the Privy Council.

This is just one of the steps we are taking to demonstrate that the Government are serious about reducing unnecessary bureaucracy to the absolute minimum compatible with effective regulation and quality assurance, not just in higher education, but more broadly across education and the economy as a whole. Light touch, risk-based and proportionate regulation is essential for the success of any sector in our 21st century economy and this is especially vital for higher education, to help ensure our universities remain world class.

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