Previous Section Index Home Page


Guyana Floods

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): Unprecedented rainfall in the last two months has caused serious flooding in large areas of Guyana's coastal regions. Rainfall for the first two weeks of January was five times the normal monthly average. Some 39 per cent. of the population of Guyana are estimated to have been affected. The worst affected area is along the East Coast from Mahaica to Georgetown, where 172,020 people have been severely affected. Reports indicate 27 deaths associated with the flooding to date, but there are no fully reliable figures at this time. It would be surprising if the figure remained this low—aside from the risk of more flooding we must be prepared for very serious health challenges as the waters recede.

The Government's civil defence/emergency stocks had been exhausted through Guyana's assistance to Grenada (following Hurricane Ivan) and not replenished. Given the scale of the disaster, the Government have responded as well as could be expected in the circumstances. Systematic assessments of the population's needs are underway by the UN and civil society. These should establish prioritised needs and a division of responsibility around who can fund and deliver relief against these needs. This process should also improve quality of information on the extent and impact of the disaster.

The Government have responded to the emergency by setting up temporary shelter in schools and other public buildings, as well as providing food and potable water. Currently, there are about 1,695 people living in 17 shelters. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 3,200 families are in need of food. WFP's food supplies can provide food to 2,000 families for one
10 Feb 2005 : Column 92WS
month. The remaining 1,200 families are being covered from other sources, but supplies to these families are not as secure over the longer term. Evacuation points have been identified, and at least three, which are already established military camps, will not need much to get them operational. However, it is not clear how many people these camps could take.

DFID's immediate bilateral support was to provide £20,000 directly to the Government's relief effort. We also provided £80,000 to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) for their delivery of emergency supplies, including water and environmental sanitation (WES) kits, and survival items such as blankets and treated mosquito nets.

I spoke to President Jagdeo on the 27 January 2005, and expressed our support for the Government and people of Guyana at this trying time. On 31 January, I approved an increase of our bilateral contribution from this initial £100,000 by a further £180,000. This provided £120,000 for the deployment of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution's (RNLI) rapid response team of six boats and 20 crew and personnel. They arrived in Guyana on Wednesday 2 February and will help ease the problems in distribution highlighted in the available assessment reports. We will also supply £57,000 to support the Pan American Health Organisation's (PAHO) water and sanitation action plans, which will achieve security of water quality for up to 195,000 people (35,000 households). The Pan American Health Organisation will also be tackling the problem of the disposal of human waste. On 8 February 2005, the United Nations launched a flash appeal for Guyana of approximately £1.6 million. DFID will continue to assess whether there is a case for further support to the relief effort, specifically in the areas of water and sanitation, and public health. We have budgeted a small amount—£10,000—for strengthening relief co-ordination.

The EU Delegation has announced the release of a total of €1.7million to the relief effort. €700,000 from European Development Fund resources; €500,000 to Oxfam for water and sanitation work and €200,000 to the Pan American Health Organisation for medical supplies and emergency health assistance (the UK's share of EDF is calculated at 12.7 per cent. giving a total here of £61,163). €1 million has been provided from the General Budget.: €650,000 for the International Federation of the Red Cross for food including the cost of transport; €350,000 yet to be allocated, (the UK's share of the EU's budget funds is calculated at 18 per cent. giving a total here of £123,839). In all, the UK has provided 185,002 to the emergency in Guyana through the EU.

In addition to our humanitarian relief, the President asked for DFID's help in reorienting the Government's programmes with the international financial institutions to deal with long term needs for infrastructure rehabilitation and livelihood recovery schemes. Once the immediate emergency has passed, DFID will liaise with the Government of Guyana and its international partners on these matters. Flood-impact on rice and sugar crops will have implications for growth, debt and poverty reduction in Guyana. A team from the World Bank has just completed its initial assessment and expects to circulate a report on 15 February 2005. The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the
10 Feb 2005 : Column 93WS
Caribbean (ECLAC), will provide a more detailed assessment of the socio-economic impact of the floods by early March.


Paramilitary Activity (IMC Report)

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Paul Murphy): On 3 February 2004 I received a report from the independent monitoring commission (IMC), made under articles 4 and 7 of the international agreement that established the commission.

The report covers the robbery at the headquarters of the Northern Bank in Belfast on 20 December 2004 and puts it into the context of what the commission believes are related incidents. It was submitted to the British and Irish Governments under article 4c of the agreement, which enables the commission to report on an ad hoc basis. Having considered the contents of the report, I am today putting it before Parliament and I have placed copies in the Libraries of both Houses.

The IMC report concludes that the Northern Bank robbery was planned and undertaken by the Provisional IRA. The commission also concludes that PIRA was responsible for a number of other robberies which are listed in the report.

The IMC concludes that Sinn Fein must bear its share of responsibility for the incidents mentioned in the report.

The commission has said that if the Northern Ireland Assembly was now sitting, they would be recommending the implementation of the full range of measures referred to in the relevant legislation including the exclusion of members of Sinn Fein from holding political office. In the context of suspension they recommend that I should consider exercising the powers I have to apply financial penalties to Sinn Fein.

I am grateful to the commission for their timely submission of this report and for its careful analysis. I shall now consider carefully the commission's recommendations. I plan to make a further statement to the House in the week of 21 February.


Rail Spending

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): In the "Future of Transport" White Paper published in July, (Cm 6233, available from the House of Commons Library), we set out how the Government will respond to the factors that shape travel over the long-term, and the resources being made available to support its strategy.

The 2004 spending review settlement has provided the Department with almost £15 billion to spend on the railways over its three year period. This is an increase of £1.9 billion over previously published plans, averaging at 15 per cent. per year.

This statement sets out how the Department for Transport intends to allocate this money on the railways until April 2009, which is the end of the current control period for rail.
10 Feb 2005 : Column 94WS

Department for Transport (all figures £m at cash prices)

Government Support to Franchises1,0661,5011,3531,417
Network Grant1,8432,8832,8322,651
Total Government commitments to franchise support, Network Rail and other3,1704,6294,4084,299
Total Rail4,5575,8104,5884,392

(1) This reflects the enhancements that are directly funded on a 'pay-as-you-go' basis by DfT/SRA, as opposed to those enhancements that are funded through Network Rail.
(2) Expenditure on Other includes, inter alia, support for Merseyrail, rail pensions, the British Transport Police, research and project development, as well as running costs currently incurred by the SRA.

As can be seen, Government commitments to the passenger railway are significantly higher after 2005–06, owing to increases in Network Grant and support to franchises. This largely reflects trends in Network Rail income and the increased investment now going into the railway coupled with the significant decreases in the amount of new borrowing by Network Rail.

Funding for CTRL reflects the profile of our payments under the contracts with the CTRL promoter.

Our spend will enable the Government to deliver their commitments to complete a broad range of plans. These include the completion of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and through Network Rail, the modernisation of the West Coast Main Line. We will also complete the Mark I rolling stock replacement programme which is bringing some 2,000 new vehicles on to the network.

The spending review outcome allows the Department to support the regulator's interim review funding for Network Rail, (published in December 2003 and March 2004, available from the House of Commons Library), as shown in the following table:
Network Rail (all figures £m at cash prices)(4)

Source of funds
Network Grant1,8432,8832,8322,651
Access Charges1,5532,5842,6872,927
Other Income401372400420
Additional borrowing (repayment)3,108446333(13)
Total source of funds6,9056,2856,2525,985
Application of funds
Operations and Maintenance(3)2,5052,3962,3172,243
Interest on borrowing1,0751,1791,2011,211
Total application of funds6,9056,2856,2525,985

(3) Includes performance payments.
(4) DfT analysis based on ORR Interim Review.

10 Feb 2005 : Column 95WS

These figures show Network Rail progressing towards much greater financial stability. In particular, its need for additional borrowing will decline dramatically in 2006–07 and continue to reduce until the end of the current control period.

Network Rail is funded through Network Grant, paid direct by Government; access charges paid for use of the network by private train and freight operating companies; and other income from activities such as property and retail. In the current year it is forecast that 47 per cent. of Network Rail funding will be from the Public Sector, and 53 per cent. from the Private Sector (44 per cent. from train operating companies and 9 per cent. other income, including freight access charges).

Network Rail also has the capacity to borrow. As at September 2004 Network Rail reported a net debt of £14.3 billion.
10 Feb 2005 : Column 96WS

The interim review by the rail regulator, and supported by the Government's spending plans, ties Network Rail into achieving efficiency savings of some 30 per cent. by 2009. Nevertheless, its plans for the four year period in the above table include the replacement of 3,360 km of rail, the renewal of 2,900 km of sleepers and the reduction of train delay minutes by 26 per cent.

The Government's plans provide the best opportunity in a generation to achieve a stable and sustainable funding position for the national railway. In particular, they see rapid investment by Network Rail on infrastructure renewal and investment, delivering on a range of planned projects, improving reliability, and putting right decades of neglect on the basis of properly funded proposals.

Realising this stability in the medium term will require careful control of costs, particularly over the coming spending review period. In addition to the 30 per cent. efficiency savings, Network Rail will need to retain a focus first and foremost on the renewal and modernisation of the existing network and demonstrate its improved efficiency before looking at any wide-ranging enhancement programmes. Efficiencies will be required as much on the franchising side as from Network Rail—and the costs of rolling stock remain an important part of the equation.

But, the provisions of the Railways Bill currently passing through Parliament will enable the Government to fulfil its White Paper commitments, delivering better cost control and greater efficiency. The spending review settlement will enable the Government to tackle the decades of underinvestment and put the railways on a secure footing for the future.