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London Bombings (Victim Support)

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): I would like to announce that the Government are making an extra donation of £2.5 million to the London Bombings Relief Charitable Fund to give assistance to bereaved and the injured victims of the 7 July London Bombings.

The further support is being made on a special, one-off basis in recognition of the exceptional circumstances of the London bombings, rather than under the rules of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, which would require a change to legislation.

The London Bombings Relief Charitable Fund is an independent charity set up by the Mayor of London and the British Red Cross in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Decisions on how the money is to be distributed will be made by its Trustees.

The Fund aims to distribute the money to the victims and bereaved as quickly as possible.

International Development

UK Assistance (Ethiopia)

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): In a written statement on 24 January 2006 I informed the House that the UK, along with all other donors, had decided to withhold direct budget support to the Government of Ethiopia as a result of concerns about the governance and human rights situation following the elections in June last year.

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I assured the House at that time that the UK remained committed to reducing poverty in Ethiopia and that we were looking at alternative ways to support poor people. I can now inform the House that I have approved £94 million for a new Protection of Basic Services Grant. Its objective is to maintain and expand basic services, such as primary schooling, basic health care, water supply and sanitation, and agricultural extension, in order to continue Ethiopia's slow but steady progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals while promoting transparency and accountability in the delivery of these services. It is also being supported by the World Bank, whose Board has just approved funding of $215 million (£123 million).

The project will provide for regular financial monitoring and reporting to ensure that funds are being allocated fairly and are being used for the agreed purposes. For the first time detailed budgetary information will be provided to citizens to increase local accountability. I hope that Civil Society organisations will play an important role in helping citizens to understand how money in the budget is allocated and what it is used for, and in bringing those responsible to account for spending decisions.

I have also recently approved £30 million for the Productive Safety Nets Programme for the current year to provide assistance to 7 million chronically food insecure households—the poorest people in the country. This programme removes the need for the annual emergency food appeal by providing poor people with predictable and guaranteed cash and food in exchange for work on public projects such as local roads and water schemes. During my visit to Ethiopia earlier this year, I was able to see for myself the way in which this programme was providing vital assistance to poor people to enable them to build better lives.

Improving the governance and human rights situation in Ethiopia has to be a priority for the UK. My colleagues and I continue to raise with the Government of Ethiopia the need to improve governance and human rights in the country, in the light of the criminal trial of some leading Opposition, media and Civil Society leaders on serious charges. We have urged the Ethiopian Government to ensure that the trials are fair, transparent and speedy, and are supporting the observation of the trial by an international jurist.


Rail Franchises

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): I am today announcing the publication of consultation documents for the new East Midlands, West Midlands and cross-country rail franchises. Copies of the consultation documents have been placed in the House Library and are available on the Department for Transport website at:

On 18 October 2005, the Secretary of State announced that three new rail franchises would be created (East Midlands, West Midlands and a new
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cross-country) from four currently existing franchises (Central, Silverlink, Cross-Country and Midland mainline). The new franchises will begin operation on Sunday 11 November 2007.

The publication of the three documents begins the formal consultation process on the service levels the new train operators should provide. The documents are a consultation on the franchise specifications and seek views on the minimum service level the Department for Transport (DfT) will wish to procure. This consultation and the responses received will later inform the Invitation to Tender (ITT) that bidders for each franchise will be asked to bid against this autumn. Bidders will have to provide the minimum service levels the ITT sets out and will be able to propose additional services above this minimum subject to any operational constraints and affordability.

Our aim is to ensure that all three franchises build on the recent success of current operators. Passenger numbers on Britain’s railway are growing, particularly on key routes served by these new franchises. We want to see those numbers continue to grow.

These new franchises are expected to meet current and future passenger demand and deliver a 2-5 per cent. increase in the number of trains operated per day. Bidders will also be required to build on recent performance improvements, and deliver value for money for both fare and taxpayers.

The documents propose service levels that will address crowding, allow for future growth and will put faster services in place on key routes. Passenger capacity will increase. On the cross-country franchise, DfT is proposing a timetable structure that allows bidders to put forward a substantial increase in capacity on key crowded trains. The Department expects bidders to propose additional carriages and longer trains on busy routes. Overall, the cross-country network is expanding with extra stations served. In particular, the consultation documents propose service levels that further capitalise on the £7.6 billion investment on the West Coast main line.

This is an important consultation that covers the provision of over 2,000 daily rail services. The consultation will run until 7 August 2006. Over the coming weeks the Department will be having extensive discussions with local interested stakeholders. It is important to ensure that these new franchises deliver further improvements for current and future rail passengers.

Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): I will attend the second Transport Council of the Austrian presidency which takes place in Luxembourg on 9 June.

The main items on the agenda are: the draft regulation on public service obligations in passenger transport, for which the Council will attempt to achieve a political agreement; the Commission's mid-term review on road safety; the proposal for the establishment of a joint undertaking to develop the new generation European air traffic management system (SESAR); a progress report on air transport
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negotiations with the USA; and the draft proposals on vessel traffic monitoring and port state control.

The Austrian presidency has indicated that they will be aiming for the Council to reach a political agreement on the draft public service obligation (PSO) regulation. This would establish new rules for the payment of subsidy and the award of exclusive rights for public passenger transport services by rail and by road.

In the negotiations to date we have secured some changes to ameliorate potentially adverse effects on UK public transport arrangements. We have also succeeded in amending the proposal in such a way as to create a more level playing field for operators and to create an environment for further opening of the passenger transport market.

However, there are still some issues to be resolved. These include, in particular, the extent to which authorities should be permitted to award contracts directly without competition and the safeguards that should be put in place to ensure operators benefiting from direct awards may not compete unfairly in competitive markets.

At the Council the Government will be prepared to support a deal if the final text on the table appears to offer a satisfactory balance.

I expect the Council to adopt a set of Council conclusions welcoming progress on road safety—in particular, the publication of the Commission's mid-term review of the 2003 road safety action programme. The mid-term review indicates that progress will need to be accelerated in order to meet the EU target to halve road deaths by 2010. The conclusions also recognise that measures need to be strengthened at the appropriate level—community or member state—to deal with particular issues. In addition, the conclusions acknowledge the role of technology, campaigns and the road safety charter and will invite the Commission to take necessary actions, including, where appropriate, making legislative proposals.

The Council will also be debating Council conclusions in regard to the Commission's communication on inland waterways—NAIADES (navigation and inland waterway action and development in Europe). The conclusions agree the action programme to promote inland waterways for freight transport and comment on the detailed proposals of the recommendations contained within it. Although the communication only has limited relevance to the United Kingdom—as our inland waterways are not connected to those on the continent—the Government recognise the potential of Europe's inland waterways to help reduce traffic congestion and harmful effects on the environment as a whole.

The presidency has proposed the signature of the transport protocol to the Alpine Convention, which is an international agreement aimed at protecting the Alpine environment. The UK would in principle be prepared to support the signature but believes that the Council should take account of the views of a member state that is directly affected and opposed to the protocol.

There will be two substantive maritime items on the agenda. The Council is expected to reach a general approach on the proposed directive amending Directive 2002/59/EC establishing a community vessel
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traffic monitoring and information system. This directive contains a number of disparate provisions including the fitting of automatic identification system (AIS) technology to fishing vessels. The Government support the presidency text of the directive, subject to achieving a satisfactory agreement on detailed points concerning the length of the fishing vessels to be fitted with AIS technology and the implementation timetable for the different categories of fishing vessels (according to their overall length).

The Council will also hear a progress report from the Commission on the proposed directive on port state control which will simplify the existing much amended legislation. The proposed directive will also make for better use of limited port state control inspection resources, targeting for inspection those ships which pose the greatest risk while reducing the inspection burden on the owners/operators of quality ships. The requirements of the directive should be compatible with the outcome of the current work on targeting ships for inspection being undertaken by the Paris memorandum on port state control (which comprises EU port States plus Russia, Canada, Iceland and Norway).

The Austrian presidency expects the Council to reach a general approach on the proposal to establish a joint undertaking to develop SESAR, the project for the new generation air traffic management system in Europe. The Government support the SESAR project as a key element of the Single European Sky. The joint undertaking will allow for an integrated approach to the development of SESAR involving all parts of the aviation industry.

The second aviation item will see the Commission reporting on two aspects of aviation external relations—on the state of play on negotiations to agree an “open skies” agreement with the US, and on negotiations with Russia over the issue of Siberian overflight payments.

The Commission will provide an oral report, expected to include the key elements of the concession contract, for the Galileo satellite navigation project. The Government will argue strongly for a robust PPP which is affordable for the Community.

The most significant of the “Any Other Business” items are:

Work and Pensions

Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Code of Practice)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): I have today laid a draft code of practice prepared by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), before Parliament in accordance with the procedure set out in section 53A(4) of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. This draft code will replace the existing code of practice on “Rights of Access: Goods, Facilities, Services and Premises”, published in May 2002.

During the passage of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 2005, the Government said that the DRC
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would be issuing guidance to assist in the implementation of the new duties. The Government believe that clear and accessible advice and guidance for those with rights and responsibilities under the DDA is important. The Government therefore warmly welcome the draft revised code which provides clear advice and guidance for those with obligations under part 3 of the Act on how to avoid acts of disability discrimination, and to landlords and tenants on how to deal with requests by tenants for consent to make disability-related alterations to their homes to improve access for disabled people.

The draft revised code takes account of new duties in part 3 and part 5B of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, inserted by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005; and new duties introduced by the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006. The new duties mainly come into force from
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4 December 2006. They affect public authorities in the carrying out of their functions (other than those functions which are services and already covered by the DDA); private members clubs; and landlords and managers of rented premises in relation to reasonable adjustments and disability-related alterations to let residential premises. In preparing this code the DRC has consulted extensively among disabled people, their organisations, landlords and the wider public.

Subject to Parliament's approval of the draft code, the DRC proposes to issue and publish the revised code later this summer, giving those with responsibilities under the Act adequate time to read it before the new duties come into force. The Secretary of State will then provide for the new code to come into force on 4 December 2006, replacing the existing code from that date.

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