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Highways Agency Budget

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): The department did not allow the Highways Agency to overspend; it occurred as a result of technical resource accounting and budgeting changes that would not have been necessary under cash accounting. My department and the Highways Agency are working closely to avoid a recurrence.

In 2001–02 the final audited expenditure position showed the following breakdown of underspending and overspending.

Overspending against voted provision is shown as a positive amount.

Resource £ millionCapital £ millionTotal £ million
Departmental Expenditure Limit (DEL)128–142–14
Outside DEL and AME–10–10
Conventional spending118–142–24
Annual Managed Expenditure (AME)338338
Grand Total456–142314

The Highways Agency underspent on its conventional expenditure programme (equivalent to the old cash expenditure) by £24 million, in line with its forecasts.

However, some technical accounting classification issues emerged in the first year of full resource accounting and the consequences of these came to light only after the end of the financial year. Regrettably this was too late for the department to seek proper parliamentary approval for the expenditure. As a consequence, this produced a resource overspend and a capital underspend against the voted provision within the departmental expenditure limit.

More significantly, within the annually managed expenditure (which covers resource accounting and budgeting non-cash items such as depreciation and write downs) the Highways Agency failed to budget correctly for the depreciation of bridges and structures, for the write-downs required on opening new roads and for the creation of some provisions for future maintenance. These led to the overall overspend of £314 million.

The department took account of the emerging audit results before submitting its Spring Supplementary Estimate for 2002–03 and is reviewing its future requirements in the light of this better understanding.

Full details of the circumstances of the budget excess are detailed in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report to the 2001–02 accounts for the agency (HC 326).

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Home Zones and Quiet Lanes

Baroness Scott of Needham Market asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to publish regulations on home zones and quiet lanes, pursuant to the Transport Act 2000.[HL2316]

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: We plan to publish regulations on home zones and quiet lanes in draft for consultation later this year.

Driving Licences

Viscount Simon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Macdonald of Tradeston on 25 March (WA 74), when they intend to require every driver to carry a licence when driving.[HL2319]

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: The Government have no plans to make the carriage of driving licences mandatory. The police have immediate, 24-hour access to the driver licensing details held by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. This information is provided via the police national computer and includes details of a driver's licensing status, entitlement and any associated restrictions that may apply. Police officers may also require drivers to produce their driving licences at a police station within seven days.

Transport Council, 27–28 March

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What the outcome was of the Transport Council held on 27–28 March and what its stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record. [HL2389]

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: The transport segment of the Transport, Energy and Telecommunications Council was held in Brussels on 27–28 March. My right honourable friend the Minister for Transport represented the United Kingdom.

The Council reached a general approach on a proposal further to accelerate the phase-out of single hull tankers and to ban the carriage of heavy grades of oil in such ships sailing to and from EU ports. The regulation will apply to all ships calling at or leaving Community ports and to all ships carrying Community flags anywhere in the world. The final date for phase-out of single-hull tankers is 2010, with an exemption until 2015 for certain vessels under specified conditions. A Presidency compromise date of 2008 was agreed for the coming into effect of a ban on carriage of heavy oil in tankers below 5,000 tonnes deadweight. The definition of heavy oils was agreed as those having a density at 15oC higher than 900kg/m 3 . We would have preferred a transitional period of 2010,

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and a definition of 950kg/m 3 , but these compromises are acceptable to the UK, so, together with other member states, we were able to support them as part of an overall package.

The Commission presented its proposed directive on ship-source pollution and the introduction of sanctions, including criminal sanctions, for pollution offences. The Presidency concluded that the Council would return to the matter in June.

The Council agreed a general approach on a directive to streamline the assessment of minimum vocational training standards for seafarers. The UK supports the proposal.

The Commission outlined the content of its Communication on Maritime Security, which is expected shortly. It will include a draft regulation on security for ships and ports in the EU, implementing existing IMO obligations, and set out the Commission's future strategy including a directive on port zones and staff security in the second half of the year. The Presidency hoped that the Council would be able to take decisions on these issues at its June meeting.

Under AOB, Belgium and France urged action by member states to support an unlimited liability system in respect of oil spills arising from recklessness by ship owners and charterers. This went beyond the Commission's original proposal. Council had previously agreed that the proposed Supplementary Fund to the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPC) regime, to be adopted at the May 2003 IMO Conference, should have a limit of up to E1 billion. The Commission noted that, if the IMO failed to adopt this supplementary fund, the EU should adopt its own regime before the end of the year.

Also under AOB, the Council discussed a paper for IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee in July, tabled jointly by France, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the UK, proposing the creation of particularly sensitive sea areas (PSSAs) around our coasts. The proposal requires further work on points of detail, but there was support in the debate. The Commission stressed the need for consistency with the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The Commission presented a progress report on the EU satellite navigation project, Galileo, and outlined the state of play on negotiations with third countries. A Commission mandate for negotiations with China about its involvement in the project was agreed on the condition that security arrangements would be the same as for Russia and the US. The Presidency looked forward to conclusions on integrating the existing EU EGNOS system in June.

The second rail package, which includes measures to complete market opening for rail freight, promote

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interoperability and safety and establish a European Rail Authority, was agreed. The package brings forward full liberalisation of international freight from 15 March 2008 to 1 January 2006 and requires liberalisation of domestic rail freight markets by 1 January 2008.

The Commission presented its proposal to improve safety in road tunnels following disasters in alpine tunnels in recent years. The directive will apply to all tunnels over 500m long on the trans-European road network and will stipulate technical changes, safety instructions for users and different management procedures. At least seven tunnels in the UK would be within scope. My right honourable friend expressed concerns about the costs and benefits of the proposal, which are shared by a number of member states, and about the potential adverse impact on traffic flow.

The Council confirmed the common position it had reached at the special session held on 31 December last on extension of the ecopoints scheme for limiting alpine lorry transit traffic. In doing so the Council rejected the amendments proposed by the European Parliament in its first reading on 12 February 2003, which could result in a difficult conciliation. The issue is not one in which the UK has a substantive interest.

On aviation issues, the Council debated the Commission's request for a mandate to allow the Commission to negotiate air service agreements with the US. Most member states were willing to give the Commission a mandate, but ony in return for greater certainty over future arrangements for the negotiation and implementation of bilateral agreements with third countries in light of the recent judgment of the European Court of Justice. The Presidency concluded that work would continue with a view to reaching agreement in June.

The Council was asked whether it supported the broad aims of the Commission's proposed regulation on unfair pricing practices by third countries and where it could be improved to facilitate agreement at the next Transport Council. The Commission's proposal would allow Community measures to be applied to non-EU airlines found to be using state aid to price unfairly. Most member states agreed with the broad principles of the proposal but had specific concerns on the detail. The Presidency invited COREPER to consider the issues and submit a text to Council in June for common position.

There was a unanimous political agreement on the proposal to improve safety standards of third country airlines operating to and from Community airports.

Following discussion over lunch, the Presidency reported general support for the Commission's view that state assistance for European airlines during the conflict in Iraq should be limited and proportionate.

No formal votes were taken at this Council.

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