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The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): For many years the drafting of primary legislation has relied on section 6 of the Interpretation Act 1978, under which words referring to the masculine gender include the feminine. In practice this means that male pronouns are used on their own in contexts where a reference to women and men is intended, and also that words such as chairman are used for offices capable of being held by either gender. Many believe that this practice tends to reinforce historic gender stereotypes and presents an obstacle to clearer understanding for those unfamiliar with the convention.
I have worked with colleagues in Government to secure agreement, that it would be right, where practicable, to avoid this practice in future and, accordingly, Parliamentary Counsel has been asked to adopt gender-neutral drafting.
From the beginning of next Session, Government Bills will take a form which achieves gender-neutral drafting so far as it is practicable, at no more than a reasonable cost to brevity or intelligibility. This policy already applies to tax law rewrite Bills and is consistent with the practice in many other jurisdictions in the English-speaking world.
The Government recognise that, in practice, Parliamentary Counsel will need to adopt a flexible approach to this change (for example, in at least some of the cases where existing legislation originally drafted in the former style is being amended).
Over dinner Development Ministers will discuss the issues around "Investing in Africa" and "Reconstruction in the Great Lakes Region". World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz and Dr. Michael Otto (Chairman of the Board of the Otto Group and founder of the "Cotton made in Africa" initiative) will attend as guest speakers to share their experience of investing in Africa. President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Roland van der Geer, EU Special Representative for
the Great Lakes, have been invited to discuss the political, economic and social challenges presented by the reconstruction in the Great Lakes Region.
Energy and development is one of the priorities for the German EU Presidency. Discussion will be focused around Presidency paper questions on how the EU and African partners can work together on energy security and access to energy, as well as on mitigating the negative effects of climate change.
This discussion follows-up agreement at the October 2006 GAERC. In their discussion paper the Presidency have asked three questions around how to start implementing the operational guidelines and how to better balance the geographical focus of EU donors' development work.
Negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements with Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries are due to be completed during 2007. There will be an EU Development Ministers session on EPAs in the morning in preparation for a joint EU-ACP Ministers discussion in the afternoon. Approximately thirty ACP Ministers are expected to attend. The sessions will focus on how to ensure the Agreements are development-friendly and EPA-related support for ACP countries.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): My Department has today initiated the procurement of a new fleet of trains for the Intercity Express Programme (IEP) by issuing a notice to the market through the Official Journal of the European Union.
The IEP will develop a new fleet to replace the current high speed train. This is a project that complements this summer's high level output specification, looking at the railways in the next control period, and the longer term framework for the railways. The new fleet will improve capacity and reliability and meet increasing passenger requirements. It will also deliver improved energy efficiency, reduce emissions and ensure flexibility of train deployment so that future demand and environmental requirements will be met.
This is the most significant rolling stock programme in the UK for over 30 years. My Department has received widespread input from the rail industry and passenger groups in setting this specification. However, it will be the rail industry rather than my Department who will be designing this train.
The Department is expecting to commission between 500 and 2,000 new vehicles, with deployment subject to costs and value. This fleet will be introduced across the network from 2014, and can expect to operate for
30 years. A "pre-series" batch of the trains will be introduced first, to test the new train in an operational environment before production of the full fleet begins. It is likely these pre-series trains will be deployed on the East Coast Main Line from 2012.
The total cost of the programme will be dependent on the bids that my Department receives from interested parties, and the final number of vehicles purchased. I will continue to update the House on this and other information as this long-term project develops.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): I am today announcing that we have issued bidders for the InterCity East Coast Mainline franchise with an Invitation to Tender (ITT). The shortlist of the four organisations who will receive an ITT was announced to the Stock Exchange on 20 February 2007.
A copy of the Stakeholder Briefing Document, which gives a synopsis of the ITT, has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and is available on the Department for Transport website at www.dft.gov.uk.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced to Parliament on 18 December 2006 that we had started a competition to find an operator to run train services on the East Coast Main Line from London to the North East and Scotland. Until the conclusion of that competition, it has been agreed that ONER will continue to operate services on the Department's behalf under a temporary management contract.
The ITT has been informed by a public consultation that closed on 15 February 2007. The objectives for the new franchise include the requirement to meet current and future passenger demand and facilitate increases in capacity.
We have stipulated that all bidders demonstrate that they will deliver value for money for both passengers and taxpayers and improve services for current and future rail users. Bidders must provide the minimum service levels the ITT sets out and can propose additional services and enhancements, subject to any operational and affordability constraints.
Current service levels will be maintained, with additional Leeds half-hourly services that will commence in May 2007 included. Bidders will also be required to reflect the emerging recommendations of the East Coast Route Utilisation Strategy, which will be published by Network Rail.
We expect bidders to consider the level of rolling stock used on the franchise and how they might provide additional capacity. Bidders have been asked to price the trialling of pre-series InterCity Express Trains, which will replace the current fleet of High Speed Trains, should a fleet become operational from Summer 2012.
Performance will be contracted to improve, and faster journey times, particularly on longer distance journeys, delivered. We expect improvements in safety, security and accessibility at stations to be put in place.
Fares will be set in a manner consistent with current Government policy. The winner of the franchise competition will put in place an interoperable smart ticketing system across the franchise area by January 2010.