Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The change results from a transfer from the revenue budget to the capital budget of £100,000,000 to meet existing commitments on pandemic flu.

Statement

The Secretary of State for Transport (Lord Adonis): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Transport (Sadiq Khan) has made the following Ministerial Statement.

Disabled People: Blue Badge Scheme

The Department for Transport has today published a consultation document containing proposals to ensure that the blue badge scheme is more consistently administered, to clamp down on badge abuse and to help more people with severe mobility problems to access services more easily.

The proposals form part of the implementation of the comprehensive blue badge reform strategy, published in October 2008.

Key proposals include:

improving scheme enforcement through amendments to primary and secondary legislation;widening eligibility criteria through secondary legislation; andimproving funding to local authorities to help them deliver improved eligibility assessments.

22 Mar 2010 : Column WS99

We have been working closely with stakeholders in the development of these proposals and will consult on other aspects of the reform programme later in 2010 and 2011.

A copy of the consultation document and associated impact assessment has been placed in the Libraries of the House.

Elections: Weekend Voting

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Michael Wills) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have today laid before Parliament the Government's response to the Election Day: Weekend Voting consultation.

The right to vote is the basis of our political system. Strengthening our democracy requires the removal of barriers to the exercise of that right. So the system for delivering elections must be accessible and responsive to the needs of voters.

To this end, the Government committed to consult on whether moving elections to the weekend might help to make voting more accessible and so potentially raise levels of turnout at elections. The consultation provided a further opportunity for debate about how the democratic process might better be shaped to the needs and preferences of citizens.

The Election Day: Weekend Voting consultation paper published in June 2008 invited views on the merits of moving the voting day from the traditional Thursday to one or both days of the weekend for parliamentary and European parliamentary elections, and local elections in England and Wales; and on the best way to do this. The paper set out a range of issues that would need to be taken into account and invited views and evidence. These included the importance of ensuring that religious groups would continue to have opportunities to vote in a manner consistent with their beliefs, and the practical and resource considerations.

The Government launched the weekend voting consultation with an open mind on whether moving polling day could be expected to support greater participation. I am grateful that many people and organisations responded to the consultation. We have considered carefully the views expressed. It is clear that there is no simple or single solution to raising participation and addressing the issues of low or falling turnout, and the responses reveal that there is a wide range of views on the proposals that were put forward.

An overall majority of respondents favoured retaining election day on a weekday. Evidence provided by local authorities and electoral administrators suggested that a weekend poll, particularly one held over two days, would add considerably to the logistical complexity of running elections, particularly in terms of finding appropriate staff and premises. While a small majority of those members of the public who responded to the

22 Mar 2010 : Column WS100

consultation supported proposals for weekend voting, there was no evidence that its introduction would have a significant positive impact on participation rates.

Overall, given the lack of consensus in favour of a moving election day, the Government do not propose to move forward with weekend voting at this time. However, recognising that there is some evidence of support amongst electors-albeit not conclusive here-we believe the issue should be further considered if additional evidence or a stronger view in favour of weekend voting were to become apparent in the future.

The results from the consultation suggest there is continued popular support for remote voting-whether by postal means as now or potential electronic means in the future. But it is clear from the responses that people wish to be reassured that such methods are secure, transparent and cost-effective. This is an issue that will be kept under review.

The Government are committed to approaching change to the administration of elections in a balanced way to support accessibility and increased engagement but also to ensure that the security and integrity of the ballot is protected. Maintaining public confidence in elections is paramount and it is right that any proposal for change is taken forward only where there is broad support.

Employment

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Jonathan Shaw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today setting out how my department can play a key role in the Government's plan to halve the budget deficit within four years. Through our employment programmes the Government have invested £5 billion to ensure that we can help people back into work as quickly as possible and this investment has helped to keep unemployment much lower than was previously expected. This, in turn, has helped to reduce the cost of out of work benefits: the claimant count planning assumption, published in the 2009 Pre-Budget Report would lead to a reduction in benefit expenditure of some £10 billion over five years, when compared with the assumptions used in Budget 2009.

My department has a key role in helping to reduce government borrowing. By helping more people back into work, DWP can help individuals as well as reduce expenditure on out of work benefits. It is important that this can be done as efficiently as possible, and I have today published a document Delivering more for less: the efficiency programme of the DWP showing how my department has consistently delivered value for money by reducing back-office costs, sharing costs across government and increasing the productivity of its staff. Due to these efficiency programmes, it has been possible to increase the quality of the services that we offer to customers, at the same time as reducing the cost to the taxpayer.



22 Mar 2010 : Column WS101

EU: Energy Council

Statement

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): Andy Lebrecht, Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, represented the UK at the Energy Council in Brussels on 12 March.

The first item on the agenda was the draft regulation concerning the notification to the Commission of investment projects in energy infrastructure, on which the council reached political agreement. Most issues, including the UK's previous areas of concerns (principally in relation to the extra burden on industry and on member state administrations) were resolved during negotiations and agreement was reached with little discussion by member states.

The council then agreed conclusions on the Commission communication "Investing in the development of low carbon technologies", which sets out the strategic approach to energy research in the EU over the next 10 years. The UK is content with the text of the conclusions and pleased that the previous expectation of large increases in member state national spending has now been qualified.

The last substantive item was an exchange of views on the energy aspects of the Commission's proposed Europe 2020 strategy for jobs and growth initiative, based on a presentation by the Commission of its communication published on 3 March. The Commission noted that energy was central to the Europe 2020 strategy, given its relevance to the economy, employment and climate change. In the discussion that followed, member states agreed on the value of the strategy, and on the importance of developing an energy action plan for 2010-14. There was general agreement that the energy action plans should cover energy efficiency, diversification of energy sources and research and development. The UK noted that the EU budget should reflect the 2020 priorities.

The presidency briefly updated the council on the outcome of the Informal Energy Council in Seville in January; on Russia-Ukraine energy relations; and on the latest report on the status of the EU electricity and gas markets. The Hungarian delegation reported on the energy security summit attended by representatives from Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe in Budapest on 24 February.

The council ended with a working lunch where Commissioner Oettinger outlined his views on the Commission work programme on energy, focusing on policies to meet the 20/20/20 objectives, the need for proper implementation of the internal market package, and energy efficiency. He also emphasised his intention that the energy action plan should look beyond the short-term and set out a route map towards 2020 and 2050.

EU: General Affairs and Foreign Affairs Council

Statement

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for

22 Mar 2010 : Column WS102

Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Chris Bryant) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The General Affairs Council and Foreign Affairs Council will be held on 22 March in Brussels. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (David Miliband) will represent the UK.

The agenda items are as follows:

Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)

Haiti

Ministers will discuss the EU's response to Haiti and seek to agree a common position for the global donors' conference in New York on 31 March. This is likely to include: a common aggregated figure for EU commitment for reconstruction; a long-term plan for economic growth and development; and a commitment to joint programming to enhance aid effectiveness. Ministers will also discuss the creation of an EU House in Haiti to enhance co-ordination and represent EU donors not present on the ground. They may also discuss plans for further work on the EU's emergency response capability.

Chile

We expect Ministers to be updated on the latest developments following the tragic earthquake on Saturday 27 February. The UK has responded to specific requests made by the Chilean Government and provided £250,000 to the Red Cross and delivered 600 tents to World Vision through DfID and the MoD. With EU partners, the UK has provided €3 million for the relief effort through European Commission Humanitarian Aid.

Afghanistan/Pakistan

Ministers will discuss the work of the new EU Representative for Afghanistan, Vygaudas Ušackas, focusing on his immediate priorities. These include implementation of the EU action plan, follow-up to the London conference and preparations for the Kabul conference. The upcoming EU-Pakistan summit on 21 April may also be discussed.

Follow-up to Gymnich

Ministers will continue their discussions on how the EU's post-Lisbon structures can deliver more coherent, coordinated and effective EU actins, including in its relations with emerging powers. Ongoing planning for the European External Action Service may also be discussed under this item.

Any Other Business: Belarus/Ukraine/Moldova

Under AOB, Ministers are likely to discuss Belarus' treatment of its Polish minority, internal developments in Moldova and visa-issues in relation to Ukraine and Moldova.

Middle East

Over lunch, Ministers will review recent developments on the MEPP with quartet representative, Tony Blair. Baroness Ashton is expected to brief on her visit to the region this week and the quartet meeting in Moscow on 19 March. Ministers are likely to agree an EU declaration for the EU/Israel Association Council, which will take place in Brussels on 23 March.

General Affairs Council (GAC)

The GAC will present and discuss the draft Council conclusions for the spring European Council on the 25 and 26 March including points on EU2020 and climate change. On EU2020, we will seek to make

22 Mar 2010 : Column WS103

progress on the agreement of a comprehensive European economic strategy that delivers strong, sustainable and balanced growth. On climate change, we will seek to ensure continued international focus on the goal of a legally binding treaty.

Land Registry: Electronic Conveyancing

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Michael Wills) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today, Land Registry is launching a formal consultation exercise to seek views on proposals to allow for electronic transfers and to extend the possible use of electronic legal charges (a form of mortgage).

The overarching aim of Land Registry's e-conveyancing programme is to make conveyancing easier for everyone, with an electronic system that makes buying and selling property less stressful for the public, conveyancing professionals and the other parties involved.

Proposed new land registration rules would prescribe an electronic transfer as an additional kind of electronic disposition of registered land in England and Wales. Existing rules made in 2008 provide for the creation of "standalone" electronic legal charges: the proposed new rules would revoke the 2008 rules and allow for both standalone electronic legal charges and electronic charges accompanying a transfer. There is already provision for electronic discharges. The proposed new rules would, therefore, make it possible, for the first time, to carry out electronically each of the principal conveyancing steps in the typical sale and purchase of a house.

Subject to the outcome of the proposals and the advice and assistance of the Rule Committee, it is anticipated that the new rules would come into force during 2011.

Land Registry has today published a consultation paper E-Conveyancing Secondary Legislation-part 3, copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Marine Management Organisation

Statement

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State (Hilary Benn) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce that the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) will vest on 1 April 2010 as an executive non-departmental public body.

The MMO has been established by the Marine and Coastal Access Act, and will act as the UK Government's principal delivery body in the marine area in the waters around England and in the UK offshore area for matters that are not devolved and its centre of marine management expertise. The MMO will bring

22 Mar 2010 : Column WS104

together a number of marine management activities from across government, as well as delivering new marine planning, licensing and nature conservation functions created by the Act. This represents a real opportunity to provide an identifiable focus on marine matters and will make a contribution to achieving sustainable development by bringing together delivery of a number of marine functions within a single independent body, enabling integrated implementation of government policy for the marine area.

The MMO will contribute to the Government's public service agreement (PSA28) "to secure a healthy environment in which we and future generations can prosper". Its main areas of responsibility will encompass:

delivering an integrated system of marine planning; delivering a streamlined, transparent and consistent system for licensing marine activities and developments;contributing to conserving natural resources, ecosystems and species, including the development of marine protected areas;modernisation and streamlining of the management and regulation of England's marine fisheries; andcontributing to responses, relationships and returns to the EU and international bodies.

In delivering the functions above, the MMO will work closely with a wide range of UK government departments with a policy interest in the marine area-the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Communities and Local Government (CLG), the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The MMO will also deliver specific operational functions on behalf of Defra, DfT and DECC.

The MMO also has a requirement to manage its functions with the overarching objective of making a real contribution to the achievement of sustainable development in the marine area and in the wider context. I will issue the MMO guidance on how it should discharge its functions with regard to this objective, and a draft of this guidance will be laid in Parliament.

The organisation will be directed by an independent chair (Christopher Parry) and board, and led by a chief executive (Steven Gant). The MMO will have net operating costs in 2010-11 of £32.3 million. It consists of a headquarters office located in Newcastle, and a network of 18 coastal offices.

I announced on 12 February 2009 that the Marine and Fisheries Agency (MFA) would be subsumed into the new body and that it would cease to be a separate executive agency. The remit and functions of the MFA will continue to be delivered within the wider remit of the MMO.

Stakeholders will receive the same professional services they currently receive from the MFA. As the MMO develops I expect to see stakeholders gain further benefit because the MMO will deliver:

A coherent, transparent delivery body for independently reconciling conflicting demands and pressures in the marine area including through the introduction of a new, integrated system of marine planning;

22 Mar 2010 : Column WS105

a modernised, accessible and streamlined licensing system, leading to structural efficiencies and savings;a comprehensive approach to the formulation and implementation of policy in the marine area across government;an authoritative hub for information exchange and research in the marine area, providing access to its own data and an expert on what other sources are available;a contribution to the achievement of sustainable development and partnership in the marine area providing a single focus for marine management issues; andthe positioning of the UK as the internationally recognised leader in marine management.

Since the Marine and Coastal Access Act received Royal Assent on 12 November 2009, my officials have been working to put in place the necessary legislation to commence and transfer appropriate powers and duties to the MMO to ensure that it is operational from 1 April. This began with the first Commencement Order which came into force on 12 January 2010, establishing the MMO as a body corporate, and is being followed by further Commencement Orders and mechanisms to transfer functions to the MMO. These will come into effect on 1 April.

The new marine planning function and streamlined licensing regime are currently either under consultation or in development and will come on stream after vesting. Current timetabling anticipates the new licensing regime to be operational from spring 2011, and marine plan areas to be agreed in that timeframe also which will enable the MMO to prioritise and begin work on this first marine plan.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page