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In July 2007, the Government published their White Paper Delivering a Sustainable Railway. Within this the Government set out their high level output specification (HLOS) for the railways, detailing the outputs they wanted the industry to achieve by the end of the five-year period from 1 April 2009 to 31 March 2014 (known as control period 4 or CP4). These outputs covered the areas of capacity, reliability and safety.
In terms of capacity, targets for the accommodation of extra demand were produced for each of the main London termini and major cities. The White Paper indicated that a total of 1,300 additional carriages were expected to be required to meet these requirements. So far 423 of these additional carriages have been ordered, even before the start of CP4.
I am pleased to announce to the House that today that my department has signed a deed of amendment to its franchise agreement with London Eastern Railway Ltd, which trades as National Express East Anglia (NXEA) and is part of National Express Group plc.
This contractual variation will enable NXEA to add 188 carriages to its existing fleet, boosting capacity into London Liverpool Street by providing approximately 11,000 extra seats during the morning three-hour peak period by December 2011.
NXEA will lease 120 new electric multiple unit (EMU) carriages, that will be built by Bombardier Transportation UK Ltd in Derby. These trains, which have a capital cost of £160 million, will be owned by owned by Lloyds TSB General Leasing (No.8) Limited, a subsidiary of Lloyds TSB Bank plc. This is the first time this bank has provided finance for trains. The trains will principally be used on the Stansted Express route, enabling a cascade of rolling stock within the franchise to lengthen other services.
NXEA will also lease 68 Class 321 EMU carriages which are currently in use on the London Midland franchise where they are due to be replaced in July 2009. These carriages will receive an internal refresh.
This is one of the largest contract changes negotiated with a train operating company (TOC) during its franchise term since privatisation of the railways in 1997. I hope to make further such announcements over the next 12 months, although this requires TOCs to co-operate in providing my department with affordable and value for money proposals which meet the capacity requirements for their franchise areas.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
Together with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development, I should like to update the House on the current situation in Sri Lanka, our continuing concern and the action we have been taking.
The fate of civilians caught up in the fighting in the north of Sri Lanka between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is the most pressing concern. It is vital that they are able to move away from danger to safety.
The last remaining territory held by the LTTE continues to shrink. Currently it measures less than 20 square kilometres. Since January more than 60,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have left the conflict area and moved into government-controlled territory. Over 10,000 have moved within the past week. But credible reports suggest that well over 100,000 remain trapped within the conflict zone. These civilians have been displaced numerous times over the past 18 months and are living under constant threat from the continued heavy fighting. Despite the lack of verifiable reporting from the conflict area there are credible reports of civilians being killed and wounded every day, including in the no fire zone. We condemn the killings of civilians in the strongest possible terms and continue to urge all parties to take action to avoid further civilian casualties. Both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and ensure the protection of civilians at all times.
It was our concern for civilians that led my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to call for a ceasefire on 14 January. I have since repeated that call on numerous occasions: in phone calls with both the Sri Lankan President and Foreign Minister; in public statements; and in concert with other countries.
We renew that call today for an urgent humanitarian ceasefire. We call on the LTTE to allow the remaining civilians to leave the conflict area and to desist from enforced recruitment of civilians. But the actions of the LTTE cannot excuse any failings by the Sri Lankan Government to meet the higher standards naturally expected of democratic governments in a conflict.
We have also been active with partners in the EU, the UN and the Commonwealth. Following discussions at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 23 February, EU Foreign Ministers publicly called for a ceasefire and made clear their concern for civilians trapped by the fighting. Sri Lanka continues to be discussed within the EU and we support a proposed EU high-level troika to Sri Lanka at the earliest opportunity.
At the UN we have been working for some time to ensure that the Security Council is fully briefed on the situation in Sri Lanka. We supported the visit by the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, to Sri Lanka in February and his subsequent briefings to the Security Council. We also welcome the continued engagement by the UN Secretary-General who has made clear his views on the deteriorating situation. This involvement by the UN means that the Government of Sri Lanka can be in no doubt about the concerns felt by the international community over the humanitarian situation.
At the recent meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, although Sri Lanka was not on the agenda, we nevertheless took the opportunity to raise our concerns over developments in Sri Lanka, particularly the humanitarian crisis.
In addition to calling for a ceasefire we continue to call for unhindered access for humanitarian agencies to the civilians displaced by the fighting, including those still trapped in the conflict area. There is an urgent need to increase the quantity and frequency of food and medical shipments to those affected by the fighting. Humanitarian agenciesspecifically the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Crossalso need unhindered access to enable independent observation of the security screening of civilians and the running of the IDP camps. It is vital that these camps are temporary and that the IDPs are returned to their homes as early as is safely possible. We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to abide by their public commitment to return 80 per cent of IDPs by the end of the year.
The appointment by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister of my right honourable friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne) as his special envoy to Sri Lanka was a measure of the UKs commitment to contribute to an improvement in the humanitarian situation and to the search for a sustainable political solution to the conflict. It should be seen as such. We have been disappointed that the Government of Sri Lanka continue to reject the appointment, despite earlier assurances from the president that his Government would engage with an envoy. We will continue to press the Sri Lankan Government to reconsider. In the mean time, my right honourable friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun will engage with representatives of other countries, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, parliamentarians and community representatives with an interest in Sri Lanka.
As well as upping our diplomatic efforts we have also been taking practical steps to contribute to an improvement in the situation. Since September 2008 the Department for International Development (DfID) has committed £5 million of humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka. Of this sum, more than £4 million has already been allocated in support of agencies providing protection and assistance work for IDPs. This includes £835,000 that DfID has transferred this week to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and to the International Organisation for Migration. £915,000 is being held in reserve so that we can continue to respond immediately to further needs as they arise.
We recognise that the LTTE is a terrorist organisation and that the Government of Sri Lanka have a need to root out the threat from terrorism. But the over-riding need is for an immediate end to the tragic humanitarian crisis. We want to see an end to the conflict and a serious drive to achieve a sustainable political settlement that takes fully into account the legitimate concerns of all Sri Lankas communitiesSinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. As part of this process the Government of Sri Lanka need to tackle seriously the problem of human rights violations and the culture of impunity that underpins it. We urge the Government to ensure that all violations, including recent attacks on the media, are thoroughly investigated so that those responsible are brought to justice. The Government will continue to engage with political parties across all communities in Sri Lanka to support progress in all of these areas.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Jack Straw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The renovation of Middlesex Guildhall has now been completed on time and within budget by Kier Group Plc. The building has been handed to the Ministry of Justice to carry out the final phase of works.
This is a major milestone in the development of a Supreme Court for the United Kingdom. We remain on track to deliver a fully functioning Supreme Court in time for the opening of the legal year in October 2009.
This renovation has breathed new life into a previously tired building, which sits in one of the most historic and recognisable public spaces in the world. The renovation works have been completed to the highest standard, as appropriate for its setting and required for a Grade II* listed building.
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