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26 Mar 2008 : Column WS59

26 Mar 2008 : Column WS59

Written Statements

Wednesday 26 March 2008

Aviation: Royal and Ministerial Air Travel

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following ministerial Statement.

Every year members of the Royal Family and senior government Ministers undertake a number of journeys to fulfil a wide range of important public engagements and other essential commitments. The large majority of that travel is undertaken by road, rail and scheduled flights. However, there are times when these parties need to use non-scheduled or dedicated flights—for example, when these engagements involve several commitments in different parts of the country on the same day.

In 2006, Sir Peter Gershon, in his review of the royal and ministerial air travel service, recommended that the existing arrangements, currently provided by 32 (The Royal) Squadron of the RAF and, where RAF planes are unavailable, the charter market, be replaced with a new dedicated service. Over the past 12 months the department has worked closely with the Royal Household, No. 10 and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on plans to establish this new service.

The department has now completed an outline business case for the new service, in line with government procurement guidelines. This supports the analysis carried out by Sir Peter Gershon two years ago and its assessment of the need to improve the existing service. It also identifies a number of recent developments, some of which have significantly affected the nature of the service required.

In particular, the new Ministerial Code, published in July 2007, contains a clear presumption in favour of using scheduled flights rather than using RAF or chartered aircraft. An increasing proportion of overseas journeys, including a number of those undertaken by the Prince of Wales and Prime Minister, are now routinely made on scheduled flights. Since 2006, more use has been made of the charter market in place of RAF aircraft provided by 32 (The Royal) Squadron. In addition, a number of concerns highlighted by Sir Peter Gershon's team in relation to charter provision, such as value for money, have now been addressed. Over the same period, there have been substantial above-inflation increases in the cost of buying and operating commercial aircraft, with high price premiums currently being demanded and paid for early delivery.

The department is today recommending that the needs of these users can best be met through procuring a small aircraft for official travel within the UK, chartered air services for longer journeys involving small parties and a continuation of existing arrangements with UK airlines for journeys involving large parties. This approach provides the best solution for all users while minimising the financial cost and environmental impact of the new service.

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The Royal Household will be responsible for taking forward any procurement activity to support these recommendations separately. The new arrangements are expected to be in place when the service currently provided by 32 (The Royal) Squadron is withdrawn on 1 April 2009.

I would like to thank Sir Peter Gershon and his team for their work on the review and for the officials, industry experts and service suppliers who have supported completion of the business case. I also wish, on behalf of the Government, to thank 32 (The Royal) Squadron for the service that they have provided to the Royal Household and Ministers for the last 70 years.

Benefits: Fraud

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Statement.

On behalf of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection report on Luton Borough Council was published today. Copies will be placed in the Library.

The BFI report details a range of strengths and weaknesses in the housing benefit service provided by the council and makes recommendations to improve the security and efficiency of benefit delivery.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is considering the report and may ask the council for proposals in response to the BFI’s findings.

Defra: Laboratory Strategy

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): I made a Written Statement on 20 June 2006 (Official Report, col. WS 41) on Defra's laboratory strategy. I am now able to announce the decision on the future of Defra's Central Science Laboratory (CSL). I am also taking this opportunity to report to the House changes to Defra's Pesticides Safety Directorate.

These decisions pursue the aim of securing a long-term sustainable future for Defra's laboratories, in the case of the CSL, and the earlier decision to consolidate a number of regulators as part of the Government's implementation of the Hampton review of regulatory inspections and enforcement of March 2005. These regulators include the PSD and Defra's Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate (PHSI) and Plant Variety Rights Office and Seeds Division (PVS).

As part of the work to develop a new business plan for the CSL which better reflects Defra's future changing demand requirements and wider government needs referred to in my earlier Statement, we recognised there might be potential benefits to customers and to government from creating a new regulatory science

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agency from the PSD, PVS, PHSI and Defra's Plant Health Division (PHD), and combining them with the CSL.

Having considered the detailed business case for the new agency last year alongside an alternative option for the PSD of merger with one of Hampton's seven thematic regulators, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), we concluded that the best option for the future of the PSD was for it to join the HSE. The principal reasons were:

the regulatory scientific synergies that exist between the PSD and HSE are much stronger than between the PSD and those other bodies in the new agency;the preference expressed by the PSD's customers as part of an informal high-level stakeholder engagement exercise we undertook in 2007; andconcerns over conflicts of interest if the PSD joined the proposed RSA, which would inevitably result in some loss of business for both the CSL and PSD.

Accordingly, in the case of the CSL, a new Defra executive agency will be created from the CSL, PHSI/PHD and PVS. It will be established formally on 1 April 2009, but will operate in shadow form from 1 April 2008 under a newly appointed chief executive, Adrian Belton. This organisation will

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benefit customers of the respective constituent parts and taxpayers through improved effectiveness and compliance with the Hampton principles of better regulation and overall value for money.

Following a public consultation that ended on 14 January 2008, the PSD will become part of the HSE from 1 April 2008.

In joining the HSE, the PSD will become part of an organisation that is already responsible for the regulation of both biocides and chemicals. This will enable further exploration of the potential synergies between regulatory science and policy in order to identify options for further improvements in customer service and efficiencies. In the mean time the PSD will retain its distinct identity within the HSE.

Strategic policy responsibility for pesticides will remain with Defra Ministers and sit alongside strategic policy responsibility which Defra has for chemicals under the EU chemicals assessment and approval regime, REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals). Governance arrangements are being put in place to ensure that all departmental and cross-departmental interests are fully represented.

A summary of responses to the consultation on the PSD and the Government's detailed response to these will be made available on the Defra website.

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