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18 Apr 2000 : Column WA81

Written Answers

Tuesday, 18th April 2000.

Defence Evaluation and Research Agency

Lord Brett asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to ensure that the effectiveness of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency will be maintained if the proposals for its part-privatisation are implemented.[HL2131]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): The Government concluded in the Strategic Defence Review that, in order to guarantee the ability of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) to continue to conduct world-class research, we would harness the opportunities offered by a Public Private Partnership. Last year's consultation exercise on a potential PPP proposal produced a wide range of useful comments from stakeholders.

As a result of this process, we announced in October that we would be widening the scope of our discussion to take these comments into account. That work is now complete and has led to the development of two revised models for potential PPP structures, known as "Core Competence" and the "Public Sector Option". A detailed evaluation of these options indicates that Core Competence best meets the PPP objectives while also responding to the views of stakeholders. Both models are described in a consultation document which has been placed in the Library of the House and which is also available on the internet at www.mod.uk/commercial/ppp/dera/.

The essence of Core Competence is a clear separation of those functions which are best developed within a PPP, and those which are best performed wholly within government. Around three-quarters of DERA would be turned into a company, which we would hope to float on the stock market as soon as its potential is judged to be suitably developed. A core of staff would be retained wholly within the MoD to provide a high level overview of defence science and technology. This ensures that MoD would retain access to in-house impartial advice and allows management of the defence research programme and international research collaboration. Specific very sensitive areas and programmes would also be retained.

We believe that this approach would create two vibrant, sustainable organisations. The new company would have the freedom to flourish, to grow its business and to diversify the wealth of knowledge it has built up over the years to the benefit of the wider UK economy, while still providing the MoD with the

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essential services we shall continue to need long into the future. The retained organisation will be a small but also world-class organisation offering rewarding careers within MoD and the wider Civil Service.

This approach is good for DERA, good for MoD and good for the wider UK economy. It will provide the UK technology sector with added impetus and ensure we are well placed to take on the challenges and opportunities offered by the 21st century.

All stakeholders are now being invited to submit their views on the revised proposals. As the previous exercise has proved, we are willing to listen and to respond to comments before taking a final decision.

Postage Stamp Themes

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they expect to make representations to the Post Office concerning the suitability or otherwise of topics for special stamp issues; whether such representations were made about the bi-centenary in 2001 of the United Kingdom; and, if so, by which department, and what was their nature.[HL1873]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: It is not normal practice for the Government to make representations on subjects suitable for special stamp issues. The choice of topics for stamps is left to the Post Office. I am not aware that representations were made to the Post Office by any government department concerning the bi-centenary of the United Kingdom.

Sheltered Accommodation: Free Television Licences

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are their plans to amend the Wireless Telegraphy (Television Licence Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2000 in order to ensure that those organisations which are responsible for managing sheltered accommodation in which all the residents are over 75 are not required to buy television licences for the television equipment used in communal areas.[HL1956]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Government have no such plans. Our policy on free television licences for people aged 75 or over is intended specifically to benefit individuals and their households. A single licence taken out by the managers of sheltered housing, whatever the age of the residents, already covers any number of television sets installed in the communal areas at the specified address. Introducing free licences to cover such sets only in cases where all the residents were 75 or over would inevitably create anomalies, since a single resident aged below 75 would disqualify the accommodation.

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Driving Licence Applications: Processing Period

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the performance standard requirements for the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency for processing applications for driving licences and their renewal within a reasonable time.[HL2019]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency undertakes to issue photocard driving licences (and return original identity documents) to their customers within 15 working days (3 calendar weeks) from the receipt of their applications. Applications where medical investigations have to be undertaken do take longer.

Horse Enterprises on Farms: Rate Relief

Baroness Masham of Ilton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy on rate relief for equestrian enterprises on farms; and[HL1974]

    Whether any equestrian enterprises on farms, whether or not still in active operation, will qualify for rate relief; and[HL1975]

    Whether any small riding schools not on farms will qualify for rate relief.[HL1976]

Lord Whitty: At present the rateable values of stud farms linked to agricultural land and property are reduced by £2,500. This represents a saving of £1,040 on rates bills this year. In announcing an Action Plan for Farming on 30 March, the Prime Minister said that the Government would be consulting publicly on proposals to extend rate relief to horse enterprises linked to farm premises.

Details of the proposals have still be to worked out. Small riding schools not linked to farm premises would not qualify for relief under these proposals, but might qualify for relief under the Government's proposals for rate relief for small businesses. We shall be consulting separately on the details of these.

Belfast International Airport: International Services

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the debate on Northern Ireland on 22 March (H.L. Deb., col. 358), what support they are giving, on an ongoing basis, to Belfast International Airport to compete with Dublin Airport in attracting direct international services?[HL1985]

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): The Government do not provide direct marketing support for Belfast

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International Airport, which is a profitable private sector enterprise. But they are always happy to draw attention during international air services agreement negotiations to the potential advantages of serving Belfast. There are no legal constraints on air carriers wishing to start up services between Belfast and another EEA destination. The Government have also offered access to all regional airports, including those serving Belfast, to their bilateral partners, provided reciprocal treatment is permitted to UK carriers. I understand that the Northern Ireland Tourist Board markets the Belfast airports as gateways to the Province.

London-Aberdeen Rail Route: Improvement

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have held any discussions with Railtrack and the Scottish Executive on the upgrading of the line between Aberdeen and London.[HL1979]

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: The shadow Strategic Rail Authority (sSRA) is discussing with all interested parties a replacement for the current Great North Eastern Railway franchise, including future infrastructure requirements for the entire East Coast Main Line. Separate discussions between the sSRA, Railtrack and the relevant train operating companies are also taking place to improve journey times within Scotland on the London to Aberdeen route. The Scottish Executive is a party to all these discussions.

Minister for Transport: Meetings

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, and on what dates since his appointment, the present Minister of Transport has had formal meetings with:


    (a) the British Road Federation;


    (b) the Road Haulage Association;


    (c) the Freight Transport Association;


    (d) the Royal Automobile Club;


    (e) the Automobile Association;


    (f) the Cyclists Touring Club;


    (g) the Pedestrian's Association; and


    (h) Transport 2000.[HL1830]

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: Ministers have extensive dealings with organisations in both the public and private sector as part of their official duties.

It would be impracticable to maintain a central record of such meetings.

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