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5 Jun 2007 : Column WS71

Written Statements

Tuesday 5 June 2007

Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Vernon Coaker) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Government believe that while alcohol plays an important and positive role in our culture and economy excessive consumption among some sections of the population is cause for considerable concern. More needs to be done to promote sensible drinking and ensure that those of us who drink alcohol do so in a safe, sensible and social way.

In 2004, the Government published the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England. This was a major milestone—the first cross-government statement on the harms caused by alcohol, which included a shared analysis of the problem and programme of action to respond through better education and communication, improving health and treatment services, combating alcohol-related crime and disorder, and working with the alcohol industry.

The past three years have seen significant progress through the “Know Your Limits” binge-drinking campaign; “Think” driving campaign; enforcement of Ofcom's new code on television advertising; the first national trailblazers project identifying the need for and availability of alcohol treatment; trailblazer projects to identify and advise people whose drinking is likely to lead to ill health in the future; new enforcement powers in the Licensing Act 2003 and the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006; setting up of local partnerships such as “Best Bar None”; and the establishment of a new independent charity, the Drinkaware Trust, to educate and promote sensible drinking.

Recent announcements of the progress being made on the labelling of alcohol drinks and the Tackling Underage Sales of Alcohol Campaign (TUSAC) further demonstrate that progress is being made.

Safe, Sensible, SocialNext Steps for the National Alcohol Strategy builds on the foundations which have been laid and the lessons learnt since 2004.

The strategy aim is:

to minimise the health harms, violence and antisocial behaviour associated with alcohol, while ensuring that people are able to enjoy alcohol safely and responsibly.

It will do this by:

ensuring the laws and licensing powers we have introduced to tackle alcohol fuelled crime and disorder, protect young people and bear down on irresponsibly managed licensed premises, are being used widely and effectively;

focusing on the minority of drinkers who cause or experience the most harm to themselves, their communities and their families. These are:

18-24 year-old binge drinkers—a minority of whom are responsible for the majority of alcohol-related crime and disorder in the night-time economy; young people under 18 who drink alcohol—many of whom we now know are drinking more than their counterparts did a decade ago; and harmful drinkers—many of whom do not realise their drinking patterns damage their physical and mental health and may be causing substantial harm to others.

shaping an environment which actively promotes sensible drinking, through investment in better information and communications, and by drawing on the skills and commitment of all those already working together to reduce the harm alcohol can cause, including the police, local authorities, prison and probation staff, the NHS, voluntary organisations, the alcohol industry, the wider business community, the media and of course local communities themselves.

A substantial programme of work will be delivered in support of these aims. This will include:

sharpened criminal justice for drunken behaviour to bear down on those committing crime and anti-social behaviour while drunk, and, where appropriate, offering advice, support and treatment to offenders to change their behaviour;a review of NHS alcohol spending to highlight the burden of alcohol-related harm to the NHS and inform smarter spending decisions;more help for people who want to drink less through the development and promotion of sources such as telephone helplines, interactive websites and support groups;toughened enforcement of underage sales through the use of legislative powers to prosecute and even close premises that persistently sell alcohol to children;trusted guidance for parents and young people in the form of authoritative, accessible guidance about what is and what is not safe and sensible in the light of the latest available evidence from the UK and abroad;public information campaigns to promote a new “sensible drinking” culture through a new generation of publicity campaigns which promote sensible drinking and highlight the physical and criminal harms related to alcohol misuse;public consultation on alcohol pricing and promotion to find out if alcohol pricing and promotion cause people to drink more; andcompulsory local alcohol strategies through which all local strategic partnerships—comprising the police, local authorities and civil society organisations—will be required by law to have established a strategy to tackle alcohol-related disorder on their patch by 2008.

The Government recognise that promoting a sensible drinking culture which reduces violence and improves health is a job for the whole of society. Everyone has a personal responsibility to drink in a sensible way. Parents and guardians should look at the example they set in their drinking habits. Educating young people and parents about harms associated with alcohol misuse, through both alcohol education in schools and the provision of authoritative information and guidance, is a key priority for the Government. The friends and family of anti-social and harmful drinkers can provide support and encouragement to those trying curb excessive drinking habits, and local communities and residents can raise concerns about licensed premises with the police or local authorities. Business and industry have made important contributions already, but should look for ways to promote sensible drinking and the responsible management of licensed premises.

This Government believe that it is possible to make this country a healthier, safer place to live where more people drink in a safe, sensible and social way. But we will only achieve this if we all pull together, and “call time” on the way some of us drink.

Burial: Law Reform

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My right honourable friend the Minister of State (Harriet Harman) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In 2001, the Government undertook to conduct a review of burial law, a survey of burial grounds, and certain other initiatives, in response to the recommendations of the eighth report on cemeteries by the Environment Sub-Committee of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee.

Following preparatory groundwork, in 2004 the Home Office issued a public consultation paper on burial law reform and in 2006 we published a report on the responses. The survey of known burial grounds in England and Wales was also undertaken. More than 10,000 completed questionnaires were received.

Although most people now opt for cremation, about 150,000 people are still buried in cemeteries and churchyards every year. Millions of graves are extant throughout England and Wales. It is right to expect sustainable, high-standard burial facilities for our communities. Yet, in some areas there are difficulties in finding sufficient, local space for new graves. Maintaining existing old burial grounds can also present particular problems.

One solution which the Government have been urged to consider is the re-use of burial grounds after a suitable lapse of time. It is a solution which can offer sustainable land use for the future, and the prospects of keeping burial facilities in good order and near to the communities they serve. It is an option which has received wide support.

The Government are now satisfied that it would be right to enable graves to be re-used in this way, subject to appropriate safeguards. For example, no grave should normally be re-used unless the last burial took place at least 100 years before. And families should have the opportunity to defer re-use of their relatives’ graves for at least another generation.

We therefore intend to introduce measures which, using powers available under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, will allow local authorities to re-use graves in their cemeteries, if they wish. At the same time, we will develop, in consultation with burial professionals and others, good practice guidance on the re-use of old burial grounds, the provision of burial space generally, and the maintenance of existing burial grounds.

The 2004 consultation paper raised a number of other issues, in particular regarding the case for modernising the law relating to the regulation of burials and burial grounds. Details of the Government’s response to these issues have been published today. In general, we propose to introduce effective and affordable changes where legislative opportunities arise, and we will keep the need for further measures under review. In the mean time, there appears to be scope for making certain administrative and procedural improvements, and we propose to work with burial professionals to promote practical changes where they will improve the services available for bereaved people.

Work on the responses to the burial ground survey of England and Wales has now been completed and a report on the findings has also been published today. The survey results indicate that less than three-quarters of burial grounds now have room to accept new burials, with only about 20 per of all designated burial land as yet unused. Burial grounds with unused burial space predict that the median time remaining until their land will be fully occupied by graves is about 25 to 30 years.

There is considerable regional variation in these values, and while the survey results do not reflect trends and issues at a very local level, they suggest that there is particular pressure on burial space in predominantly urban areas, and that there will generally be increasing pressure over the next 10 to 20 years.

Our survey has provided us, for the first time, with an essential factual basis on the number, size and usage of burial grounds. This will help inform future policy and operational development.

Finally, concerns have been expressed in recent years about the action taken by some local authorities to make safe unstable memorial stones in their cemeteries. It is essential that gravestones and cemeteries are maintained in a decent and respectful way. Last March, in conjunction with government colleagues and the chairmen of the Health and Safety Commission and the Local Government Association, I issued advice to all authorities on how managers should strike a more sensitive and proportionate balance between their responsibilities for ensuring safety in their burial grounds and the needs of visitors and memorial owners.

I believe that our recent work and all the measures now proposed will go a long way to improve, modernise and secure local burial facilities for all those who seek a dignified resting place for their relatives and the preservation of our rich inheritance.

Copies of Burial Law and Policy in the 21st Century: The Way Forward, the Government’s response to the consultation, have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. Copies are also available on the internet at www.justice.gov.uk/publications/policyreports/buriallaw050607/htm.

Copies of Burial Grounds: The Results of a Survey of Burial Grounds in England and Wales have also been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. Copies are also available on the internet at www.justice.gov.uk/publications/statistics.htm.

Cities: Development Companies

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My honourable friend the Minister for Local Government (Phil Woolas) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today publishing my department's summary of responses to the consultation document, The Role of City Development Companies in English Cities and City-Regions. Copies are available in the Libraries of both Houses.

EU: Energy Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Truscott): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Employment Relations and Postal Services (Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Lord Truscott will represent the UK at the forthcoming Energy Council in Luxembourg during the afternoon of 6 June.

The only substantive item on the Council agenda is the internal gas and electricity market, on which there will be a policy debate. The debate will follow on from the discussions of proposals put forward in the Commission's strategic energy review that took place at the Energy Council in February and spring European Council in March. One of the key conclusions agreed by Ministers and heads of government was that further measures were required to achieve a fully effective internal energy market. This is something that the UK very much supports.

The debate will draw on three communications produced by the Commission and submitted to the council as part of the Commission's strategic energy review (An Energy Policy for Europe) in January 2007. These discussion documents cover (a) prospects for the internal gas and electricity market; (b) the sector inquiry by DG Competition on the gas and electricity markets; and (c) the EU's priority interconnection plan.

Discussion will focus on the four main issues that the Commission intends to address in a further legislative package on the internal energy market, which is expected to be submitted in September 2007: the further unbundling of networks, effective regulation, adequate infrastructure investment and co-operation among network operators.

The UK Government support the Commission position on all these proposals, and consider them as vital for the further development of the internal market.

The only other agenda item covers international relations in the field of energy. This is an important issue for the UK, though will only be an information item at this Council. It was discussed more fully at the March spring council when the UK and other European heads of government reaffirmed the need for the EU to speak with a common voice on shared energy objectives. The German presidency and the Commission will report on a number of developments on the EU's relations with the USA, Russia, OPEC and Africa; on proposed international co-operation in energy efficiency; on the Energy Community Treaty; and on other EU initiatives in the international field.

EU: Telecoms Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Truscott): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Industry and the Regions (Margaret Hodge) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I will be representing the UK at the Telecoms Council in Luxembourg on 7 June 2007. This will be the only formal Telecoms Council under the German presidency of the European Union (EU).

The first item on the agenda will be political agreement on the proposal for a regulation on roaming on public mobile networks within the European Community. Following the endorsement by the European Parliament, it is expected that this Council meeting will also give political agreement to a text that will lead to the introduction of price reductions for consumers by the end of the summer. I intend to express my warm approval of the outcome, which as you are aware has been influenced by the UK. I will also take the opportunity to stress that the use of such a regulation to control prices should be seen as an exceptional measure.

The presidency will then provide a progress report on the proposal for the full accomplishment of the internal market of Community postal services by 2009. There are significant economic and consumer benefits to be achieved through liberalisation of the postal market, and for that reason I intend to intervene in support of the Commission to help move this proposal forward. Political discussions on this key proposal are likely to continue over a ministerial lunch, where I will reinforce the UK's position and seek to encourage others to move towards our objectives.

After lunch, the Council will reconvene with the adoption of the Council conclusions for the i2010 annual Information Society Report for 2007. The i2010 strategy sets the context for the EU's work on information society and media issues. The strategy consists of three priorities: the regulatory environment; innovation and investment; and inclusion. In my intervention, I will express my continued support for the Commission's i2010 strategy, stressing its importance as an economic driver in achieving the goals of the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth.

This agenda item will be followed by an exchange of views on the Commission's communication on the way forward for the take-up of radio frequency identification (RFID) in Europe. The UK welcomes the communication and generally supports its conclusions. During my intervention, I will give my support to this communication but also emphasise the importance of avoiding excessive regulation as this will hinder the rollout and take-up of RFID technology in the European and global economy.

Finally, under any other business, the Commission will provide information on its forthcoming communication on the evaluation of the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA).

I will write to you again after the Telecoms Council to provide an update on discussions.

EU: Transport Council

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Stephen Ladyman) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

The Council will aim to reach political agreement on three maritime transport proposals. The first is a directive amending Directive 2002/59/EC, which established a community vessel traffic monitoring and information system. The second proposal is a recast of the existing directive (as amended) onport state control,with theintroduction of a new inspection regime aimed at the better targeting of ships for inspection, and with the prospect of banning seriously substandard ships from calling at EU ports. This recast is a part of the European Commission’s programme of simplification of legislation.

The third proposal is a directive on investigation of maritime accidents, amending Directives 1999/35/EC and 2002/59/EC. We support the rationale and much of the content of the proposal, which is influenced by UK practice, and hope a political agreement can be reached. We think it is essential that EU accident investigation bodies are independent of political and/or commercial pressures, and that accident investigation is undertaken to help improve safety and not to apportion blame.

The UK is content with all three of the maritime texts being put to the Council for political agreement.

There will be a progress report on a draft regulation on the liability of carriers of passengers by sea and inland waterways in the event of accidents. The UK is broadly able to accept this proposal. Some good progress has been made on it and most of the outstanding issues relate to the Commission's desire to go beyond the Athens Convention of 2002. We strongly oppose use of this regulation to extend the Athens Convention to inland waterways. We are also keen to ensure that the regulation is as consistent as possible with the Athens Convention and incorporates the IMO guidelines relating to insurance for terrorism.

There will be a policy debate on the setting up of a European data centre for the long-range identification and tracking of ships (LRIT). The UK, along with the majority of EU member states, supports, in principle, the concept of developing a co-operative data centre for the EU. However, more information on financing, technical and legal framework issues is required prior to offering definitive political support. The intention is to reach a political agreement, either to support or reject the concept, during the next meeting of the Council in October.


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