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All countries have the same powers. We take the view that we have to be extremely cautious in what we do in these circumstances but that we should take any action we can to protect people, and indeed we have an obligation to do so. As for the French boatI presume that the noble Lord means Le PonantI understand that the French took action in conjunction with the Government of Somalia after agreeing on the action thought necessary in that case. Fortunately, we have not had a similar case involving a British boat. As for the figures, piracy is not increasing worldwide. Other areas are not following Somalia in that regard.
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the United Kingdom, along with France, Panama and the United States, is already co-sponsoring a proposal at the United Nations for a further resolution on the matter. It is already in hand.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the UK has pledged an initial contribution of £5 million for the immediate relief effort. This includes financial assistance channelled through the UN, the Red Cross and NGOs and air-lifting emergency supplies such as tents, water containers, blankets and plastic sheets. We will make further decisions as more detailed assessments on need come in. A DfID team of emergency response experts arrived in Burma last weekend.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Can any action be taken through the UN in terms of its duty to protect, or is that seen as counterproductive? Is the Minister satisfied that the first plane with aid from the UK is, as I understand it, leaving only today? Is there not more that can be done to channel aid through the NGOs, which are already working quietly and effectively in the field, to prevent what is at the moment a natural disaster becoming a public health catastrophe?
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that it is our priority to prevent a tragedy becoming a total catastrophe. As chair of the UN Security Council, we have made a number of suggestions but the response from China, Russia and other countries, including the ASEAN countries, is that it would be counterproductive at present to raise the duty to protect; we have not had a positive response to that.
With regards to DfIDs flights, we are pleased to say that we have got a flight in. As the noble Baroness said, it departed from Dubai for Burma today, where we have stockpiled tents, water containers, blankets and plastic sheets. We also have, we hope, two more scheduled flightsand more to follow in the coming weekand a DfID logistics expert at Rangoon airport working with the World Food Programme to try to co-ordinate getting the aid out of the airport. DfID is also flying in low loadersone of the problems is that the aid cannot be got off some of the planes because there is not equipment there to do thatand flat-bottomed boats.
Baroness Billingham: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, with this issue, not a moment should be wasted? Is she also aware that, as of today, Save the Children Fund has reached 100,000 people because it is already working in the five worst-affected areas? Given that fact, if we have a delivery agency on our doorstep, it would seem sensible that all government moneys that are going to be channelled into that areawe have been not very successful with that so farought to be given to Save the Children and organisations of a similar ilk.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that we are witnessing the worst humanitarian disaster since the Asian tsunami of 2004. She referred to Save the Children; we are working through NGOs such as Save the Children, World Vision, Merlin, CARE International, Action Against Hunger, Christian Aid, Concern, Muslim Aid, Oxfam and Population Services International. We are working through the Red Cross, the UN and the NGOs; that co-ordination is essential because, as my noble friend says, they are there on the ground.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, the Ministers words are very encouraging indeed but can she comment on the troubling reports in newspapers ranging from those in India to those in our own country that state that in some cases the Burmese junta has diverted aid to its own barracks and in some cases it has sold the aid on the free market? The price of rice has increased by 30 per cent in Burma in the past couple of months. Are the representations that are being made by Her Majestys Government and other Governments to allow visas for professionally qualified aid workers to get in and to distribute aid, bypassing the Burmese army, reaching a satisfactory conclusion?
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the issue of visas is extremely patchy. There is some improvement and more advisers and aid specialists are getting in, but not nearly enough. As we know, time is of the essence. There has been some improvement, but not nearly enough. The noble Baroness raised the issue of the purloining of aid by the Burmese regime; because it is such a closed regime it is very difficult to know, except for anecdotal evidence, exactly what is happening. All that we can do is ensure that none of our aid goes to the Government.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of Tear Fund, which is already in Burma working with local partners. Further to the answer that the noble Baroness gave, will the DfID team be directed to work specifically with the local civil society groups and the Buddhist and Christian groups that are already working in the cyclone area?
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we will work with all NGOs and faith groups that are working in the worst-affected areas. We are trying to co-ordinate from our DfID office in Rangoon but we are working as closely as possible with everyone in the field.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, has the Minister taken on board what the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, said; namely, that the Government should try to work with NGOs that are long established there? She reeled off a list of wonderfully worthy NGOs. Are they actually established in Burma? Will she take to heart the suggestion about Save the Children and let us know?
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, several of the NGOs that I reeled off, as the noble Baroness said, are established in Burma, such as Save the Children, CARE International and World Vision. They have been in Burma for some time. As the noble Baroness has
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Moved, That the Commons message of 8May be considered and that a committee of 11 Lords members be appointed to join with the committee appointed by the Commons to consider and report on the draft Marine Bill presented to both Houses on 3 April (Cm 7351) and that the committee should report on the draft Bill by 22 July 2008;
The noble Lord said: My Lords, when this Bill was introduced, it contained several very unsatisfactory features. These included the independent regulation of the operator and of those maintaining the infrastructure. By independent regulation, I do not mean regulation by Government. We were also concerned that there should be open access for any operator, particularly continental and freight, and that this would be accorded to them on a non-discriminatory basis.
In the past couple of days, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and I have held meetings and discussions with officials and we hope that the Minister will now be able to give the House the reassurances that we have sought. We hope to see the Channel Tunnel rail link and Eurostar, after they have been sold off to defray taxpayers investment, brought as soon as possible within the scope of the Office of Rail Regulation, which has accumulated a great deal of specialist knowledge on which to base judgments about the efficiency with which the track is maintained. By efficiency, I mean how efficient Network Railwhich is the contracted maintenance partner of the Channel Tunnel rail link companyis in doing its job. We hope that its pursuit of efficiency will extend to those services. We also hope that the development agreement referred to in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996 will be superseded by the concession agreement into which the Government, if this Bill passes, are about to enter. I beg to move.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, my name appears on the two amendments tabled today. I, too, have had meetings with the Minister for Railways, Tom Harris, and officials. In the past 24 hours, we have made a great deal of progress. The first concern that prompted this amendment was that the Channel Tunnel rail link would be different from the rest of the network and that access to it for passengers and freightI declare an interest as chairman of Rail Freight Group, although I do not think that freight is of particular interest herecould have been skewed in favour of one particular operator. The second concern was about the level of charges and who would set them. There is the charge applicable for maintaining the track, and then there is the cap, which is the extra charge that can be put on to help defray the capital cost, which the Government have guaranteed. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give me assurances on both these issues.
The first one is the cost of maintenance. Allowing the new infrastructure manager to maintain the track, without any form of regulation, is a dangerous path to go down. Railtrack was regulated and it failed. The Office of Rail Regulation has had to put strong pressure on Network Rail to cut its costs by 31 per cent in the past five years, and the regulator will probably have to do much the same in the next five years. To say that these companies would reduce their costs just because of market pressure, without any regulation, is a dangerous road to go down. I hope that my noble friend can give me some comfort on that.
The second issue is the cap that is allowed to help defray the capital cost. Those who invest in the rolling stock and, maybe, the terminals to operate on this line will need some comfort that the cap will not be changed every year. The Government may wish to retain control of setting this cap effectively, but, for example, there may be a change of Government in two years timewhich is highly unlikely, but one has to look at options. The incoming Government might think that the Channel Tunnel rail link was a waste of time and they might have severe financial crises on their hands, such that they would have to increase the charges. That would not be very good for the companies which invested in new rolling stock to run on this line on the basis of the comfort that they had from the initial charge level.
The level of charges as regards both issues should be set by the Office of Rail Regulation. However, if the Government insist upon keeping control of the cap element, I hope that my noble friend can give me some comfort that the cap cannot be changed suddenly by another Government or a change of policy of a particular Government, on a whim, which would destroy investor confidence.
Finally, there is the question of access. We all hope that the line will be extremely successful in encouraging many more passengers to use not only Eurostar, but, I hope, new services that will come here. Whether those are run by French railways, SNCF, by Deutsche Bahn, the German railways, or by a UK company which buys new trains to run on the line, it is important that there is sufficient capacity and that it is reserved not only for Eurostar because it was there first. The open access regime should be managed independently, I hope by the Office of Rail Regulation, to give everyone a fair chance to run trains in competitionwhich is I am sure what the Government want.
I thank officials and Ministers for all the time that they have spent discussing this. I very much hope that my noble friend will be able to give me some comfort and that, finally, we can reach an acceptable compromise.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment. Although this is a short Bill, it has provoked some interesting discussions. We have all had the interests of rail users and taxpayers at heart in the debates on amendments that have been tabled. As everyone knows, I have always had a lot of sympathy with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and, particularly, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. His
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I, too, met the Minister, Tom Harris, recently. I also received a letter yesterday from the Minister in this House and I hope that in his reply he will reiterate some of the points he made. Some of my concerns were perhaps helped by the letter, which described a framework that puts a cap on excess charges and, in particular, sets out a clear supervisory role for the Office of Rail Regulation.
These debates have been important and, I repeat, they were for the benefit of rail users and taxpayers. We all want to maximise any sale receiptsand I hope that some of them will be reinvestedfor the benefit of the rail network, which we have talked about in several of our debates. I support this amendment and hope that the Minister will alleviate some of those concerns, as he did in the letter he sent to me yesterday.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, I speak on behalf of my noble friend Lord Tenby, whose name is also attached to this amendment but who unfortunately cannot be here today. He has asked me to apologise to the House and to say a few words on his behalf.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, got it rightindependent regulation should be independent. The idea that the Government should be involved in regulating is not very sensible when you have appointed an independent regulator. So I entirely agree with what has been said by the noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Berkeley. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that nobody knows more about railways than the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who speaks regularly on the subject. If the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, decides to press this amendment, I shall certainly support him in the Lobby.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I, too, want the Channel Tunnel rail link to be a success. I remember the frustration of seeing the timetable showing that trains from Edinburgh would end up in Paris and I look forward to the time when Scotrail runs such services. In support of the amendments, first, I continue to believe that the Channel Tunnel rail link should be regulated by the Office of Rail Regulation. Secondly, I believe it is wrong to set a precedent of disconnecting the emerging high-speed rail network from independent regulation.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, briefly, I add my support for this amendment and I thank my noble friend Lord Bradshaw and other colleagues. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who knows more about the Channel Tunnel and the history of it than any other person that I have met in this place or elsewhere. I will be very brief, just a few secondsI apologise profusely to the Minister, I hope he will forgive me for the discourtesybecause the meeting time of our Select Committee this afternoon has been changed from 4.15 pm to 3.30 pm. I have to be there at the beginning.
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