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ENVIRONMENT, TRANSPORT AND THE REGIONS

EU Transport Council

Mr. Hood: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what the outcome was of the Transport Council held in Brussels on 20 and 21 December; and if he will make a statement. [144177]

Mr. Hill: My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Transport, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, represented the United Kingdom at the Council.

The Council unanimously adopted Conclusions welcoming the Commission's proposals for a new European Aviation Safety Agency. The Commission welcomed the progress made and hoped that a Common Position would be reached by June 2001.

The Council took note of a progress report on a Commission proposal for transposing safety standards of the Joint Aviation Authorities into EC law. The Council also noted that a proposal for a directive creating generic training requirements for airline cabin crew was moving towards agreement.

The Commission set out the main conclusions of the High Level Group set up following publication of the Commission Communication "The Creation of a Single European Sky," and chaired by the Commissioner. The conclusions focus on: creating an independent regulator; managing civil and military airspace in Europe collectively; promoting technical interoperability; and improving the training and recruitment of air traffic controllers. The Commission said it would present a Communication to the Stockholm European Council, and make legislative proposals soon after that. Member states all reacted positively. Most pointed to the need to fully involve central European countries in this work. Lord Macdonald stressed the need to separate the operation and regulation of air traffic management services.

The Council discussed air passengers' rights. The Commission stressed the need for performance criteria for airlines. It hoped for new agreements with industry by the end of April. The Presidency noted that voluntary arrangements were preferable to legislation.

The Commission gave a progress report on negotiations on air services agreements with the central and east European countries.

The Presidency noted recent progress on the technical aspects of a Commission mandate for negotiating a Transatlantic Common Aviation Area with the US.

The Commission presented its report on the definition phase of the Galileo satellite navigation project. During the debate, the UK joined other member states in recalling the Conclusions of the Cologne and Nice European Councils on the predominant role of private sector finance in the project. The Council did not reach agreement on how to proceed with the development and validation phase. The Commission will undertake further work on outstanding issues, and the project is likely to be discussed again by the Council in April.

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Proposals on maritime safety arising from the "Erika" disaster were further debated and common positions reached on two draft directives. The first of these enhances the supervision, and responsibilities and liabilities, of ship classification societies. The second improves the targeting and standards of port state control inspections, concentrating effort on those vessels which pose the greatest safety and/or pollution risks.

The Commission gave a presentation on elements of the second package of post-"Erika" proposals: ship surveillance; increase in provision for oil pollution compensation payments; and a new European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). The UK underlined the need for the first two elements to be pursued internationally, in the context of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and supported the establishment of the EMSA, to the extent that it should provide for better quality technical support to the Commission.

Council Conclusions were adopted reaffirming a maritime safety policy aimed at reducing the risk of accidents and the avoidance of loss of life and pollution of the marine environment. In particular the Conclusions undertook to continue negotiations with the IMO on acceleration of the introduction of double-hulled tankers, on the basis of an approach agreed by the Council in October, and, if an agreement on those terms is reached at the IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee session in April 2001, to adopt a text bringing the IMO agreement immediately into Community law; emphasised the need for an adequate regime, global if possible, for compensation in the event of damage caused by oil pollution at sea; expressed the aim that Voyage Data Recorders (VDRs--"black boxes") should be compulsory within five years on all ships calling at EU ports, and that member states should continue their efforts in the IMO to secure an international agreement making mandatory the fitting of VDRs to all vessels.

There was a debate on an amended proposal to harmonise employment standards between EU and third country crew members on intra-EU regular passenger ferry services. The UK, supported by other member states, emphasised the need to protect seafarers' employment conditions and maintain an appropriate maritime skills base.

Political agreement was reached on a directive to improve the safety of bulk carriers, which is now subject to the scrutiny of the European Parliament.

Agreement with the European Parliament having been reached on the package of measures for opening up international rail freight in the EU, the Council unanimously adopted the package.

Political agreement was reached by qualified majority on a directive on working time in the road transport sector. Self-employed drivers will not be covered by the directive immediately, but their exclusion will be reviewed two years after transposition of the directive, with the aim of drawing up specific provisions. The UK is content with much of the agreed text, and was pleased to see revised definitions of working time and night work incorporated. However, as the final text did not include satisfactory provision on an individual opt-out, or a

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temporary derogation permitting a 65 hour maximum working week, the United Kingdom abstained from the Council's agreement.

The Council agreed Conclusions on a proposal obliging international lorry drivers to carry an attestation showing that they were legally employed. The Conclusions stated that the draft regulation should apply only to third country drivers (subject to review), and that work should continue with a view to reaching agreement on the regulation at the Council in April.

The Commission presented its proposals on weekend lorry bans, driver training, and the amendment to Regulation 3820/85 on drivers' hours.

There was a debate on proposals on public service obligations in the field of passenger transport by road, rail and inland waterway, and on state aid granted for co-ordination of transport in those modes. The UK was among member states to speak in support of the proposals. The Presidency concluded that public services were of general interest and needed particular treatment to safeguard them, and that there was a general desire for progress.

The Commission presented its Green Paper on security of energy supply.

The Council adopted a directive continuing indefinitely the harmonised start and end dates for summertime in the EU (last Sunday of March and October respectively). There will be a review after five years.

School Transport

Mr. Nicholls: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what representations he has received regarding the safety of school buses and coaches used by school parties. [144463]

Mr. Hill: Over the last two years ministerial colleagues and I have responded to two Parliamentary Questions, three letters from Members' constituents and my officials have responded on behalf of Ministers to four letters direct from the general public on this subject.

Mr. Nicholls: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many school coaches are (a) over 10 years old, (b) over 20 years old and (c) older than 20 years. [144457]

Mr. Hill: There is no dedicated vehicle classification of a school coach as it is unlikely that coach operators would use their vehicles solely for the purpose of carrying school children. It is thus currently impossible to know the ages of the vehicles that are used for carrying school children, although it is generally recognised that vehicles used for school and college contracts are normally from the older section of the public service vehicles--PSV--fleet.

Mr. Nicholls: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how many buses which have been subject to spot-checks have been found by the police to have defects in each of the last five years; and what estimate he has made of the number which were school buses. [144487]

Mr. Hill: In addition to its routine roadside spot checks the Vehicle Inspectorate supports the police in nationwide checks. Of these, Operation Coachman, which has been running since 1997-98, involves specific targeted

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roadside checks on the condition of public service vehicles (minibuses, coaches and buses) used on school and college services. The table shows the results of Operation Coachman checks in each of the last three years and routine PSV roadside spot checks in each of the last five years. Data on routine PSV roadside spot checks carried out by the Inspectorate are not broken down to identify school buses.

Number of vehicles examinedProhibition rates (Percentage)
Operation Coachman
1999-20002,52317.4
1998-992,17118.1
1997-982,25418.9
PSV spot checks(7)
1999-200023,51613.4
1998-9920,63513.6
1997-9828,04512.7
1996-9728,80914.4
1995-9623,98715.0

(7) Figures include emission only spot checks and foreign vehicles


A prohibition notice bans the use of a vehicle on a public road. There are two types of prohibition. An immediate prohibition is issued when defects are so serious that further driving of the vehicle would involve a risk of injury. A delayed prohibition is issued for less serious defects and can come into force at any time within 10 days of the inspection of the vehicle.

The prohibition rate at targeted roadside checks (such as Operation Coachman) is not indicative of the condition of the PSV fleet as a whole. The Inspectorate targets vehicles which are most likely to have defects. The higher prohibition rate for Operation Coachman is due to the fact that vehicles used for school and college contracts are normally drawn from the older section of the PSV fleet.

Mr. Nicholls: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what proportion of school buses have correctly-fitted seat belts. [144459]

Mr. Hill: Seat belts are required to be fitted on all school minibuses and coaches, but not on other types of bus. All new seat belt installations on buses, whether fitted on a voluntary or mandatory basis, must satisfy a Vehicle Inspectorate installation check. Subsequent to this initial check, seat belts and anchorages are inspected for condition as part of the normal annual test.

Although figures for school buses are not recorded separately, Vehicle Inspectorate figures for buses in general show that a total of 2.5 per cent. of public service vehicles (covering most large buses and coaches) and 6 per cent. of Class V vehicles (covering most minibuses) failed the annual test due to seat belt or anchorage defects.

Mr. Nicholls: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assessment his Department has made of the number of school buses that comply with Government safety standards. [144460]

Mr. Hill: All buses are required to be constructed and operated to meet specific legal requirements for safety. Compliance with these standards is checked through statutory annual testing and through in-service checks during the year.

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In addition to these checks the condition of buses used to carry school children receives extra attention through a special annual national enforcement campaign called Operation Coachman. This campaign shows that the incidence of defects in buses used to carry school children is approximately 17 per cent. of vehicles and is similar to the rate detected in other targeted enforcement exercises. The reason for this figure is due to the fact the Department's Agency the Vehicle Inspectorate target their attention to vehicles which are suspected of having defects during special enforcement exercises.


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