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THE PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES (HANSARD)

in the third session of the fifty-second parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the seventh day of may in the forty-sixth year of the reign of

HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II

FIFTH SERIESVOLUME DCXVI TENTH VOLUME OF SESSION 1999--2000


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House of Lords

Monday, 24th July 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Drought Relief

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures they are taking to relieve the drought in west and south Asia.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the Department for International Development has contributed over £3.2 million for drought relief activities in west and south Asia. This support has been channelled through the World Food Programme for its regional operations; through Oxfam, Christian Aid and Tearfund in India; and through Save the Children in Pakistan. DfID also seconded a five-person team of specialists to support the UN in its assessment of the drought in Pakistan. The Government are monitoring the situation carefully and currently considering what further assistance to provide.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. However, does she not agree that damage through drought is caused at least as much by the absence of a local water harvesting strategy and infrastructure? Is DfID doing anything about that?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that water shortages, which are partly the result of low rainfall, have been exacerbated by poor management of limited resources and by overpopulation. That is why our funding so far has been carefully targeted to agencies that seek to address

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some of these longer term issues. For example, in India we support cash and food for work schemes where local communities are employed to rehabilitate traditional water harvesting structures. International NGOs working on the provision of safe and adequate drinking water, fodder for livestock and health issues have also been supported.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness mentioned India. Does she agree--I am sure she does--that an unprecedented number of droughts and associated famines, and often floods, too, are occurring and that Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and other states of India are a particularly cruel example? All over Asia we are seeing droughts on an enormous scale--in China, North Korea, south Pakistan, Afghanistan and many other places. While it is not possible for governments to solve those problems, does the noble Baroness accept that water management, and the politics and technology of water management, are becoming the central issue in development tasks and in development policy? Will she assure us that our support for water management advances and for research into water technology is strongly focused to meet this new and vast area of tragedy to which there is no immediate solution?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that we must take the whole issue of water management and environmental sustainability extremely seriously. That is why we have given resources to assist developing countries in assessing their vulnerability to natural disasters. We plan to reduce that vulnerability through sustainable environmental and economic management. This is an approach we have taken for some time and will continue to take.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, what steps are taken to ensure that the relief reaches those for whom it is intended? How far is the human rights record of the domestic government taken into account? For example, in Afghanistan are any conditions imposed on the domestic government?

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Baroness Amos: My Lords, noble Lords will recall that we have previously discussed in this Chamber the human rights record not only of Afghanistan but of other countries where we give humanitarian assistance. We make a distinction between the giving of humanitarian assistance in crisis situations and our long-term bilateral programmes where we are much more careful about supporting governments committed to pro-poor policies and to long-term economic development. As regards Afghanistan, we have had some difficulty working with NGOs on the ground. The security situation in Afghanistan also presents us with some difficulty. However, some funds are being channelled through the World Food Programme.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, I declare a broad interest covering water in the Middle East. Why does Britain fail, through lack of ECGD support, to promote British technology for providing developing countries with water supplies, in contrast to the support given in other European Union countries?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble Viscount that we fail to give support to countries which need assistance in terms of water management and resource development. The whole area of environmental sustainability is one we have taken extremely seriously. Through our development programme we have prioritised that area of work in many of the countries we are now discussing.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, the noble Baroness knows of my interest in Plan International and therefore I shall not declare that interest yet again. Is she aware that in India NGOs such as Plan must work with a local partner and that the Indian Government will not allow many of them to work independently? Does that make any difference to the aid given by DfID? Is India the only country where that occurs?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I do not think that India is the only country in which NGOs are expected to work with a local partner. I shall certainly write to the noble Baroness having made further investigations into the matter. We are working through NGOs because we are very keen to ensure that the resources that we contribute to assist in the drought get to the local communities. That is often the best way to be effective.

Rail Fares and Station Parking Charges

2.42 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether recent increases in fares and car parking charges on the railways are consistent with the objectives of their integrated transport strategy.

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The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): My Lords, under the Railways Act 1993 the franchising director has powers to regulate rail fares. Key fares--approximately 40 per cent of fares--have been capped at 1 per cent below the rate of inflation. Her Majesty's Government are committed to increasing rail use by 50 per cent by 2010. We are looking to train operators to play their part by setting the price of unregulated fares and car parking charges accordingly.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. He has raised the question of unregulated fares. Is he aware that the fare from Liverpool to London has quadrupled since privatisation? Is he further aware that restrictions on when one can turn up and travel--supersavers, cheap day returns and so on--have been altered in such a way that they no longer suit many passengers? Does the Minister have any way of dealing with this problem, which offsets many of the advantages achieved in other parts of the rail network and the rail fares system? In particular, has he considered referring the issue to the competition authorities?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I should point out that 70 per cent of passenger journeys by rail are made with discounted fares. Since privatisation, in the four years from 1995-96 to 1998-99, the increase in standard class fares of 9 per cent was against an inflation rate in RPI of 9 per cent. Therefore there has been no real increase. Those figures take us until March of last year and will be updated in October of this year. We welcome the proposal of the Association of Train Operating Companies to band the 90 ticket types into six generic groupings to make the current fares structure easier to understand. We are talking to the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority about future fares regulation in the light of the current franchise replacement process.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that at stations on the Hereford to Paddington line there has been an increase in car parking charges, a reduction of space and capacity for cars, and a universal refusal to install CCTV cameras, despite evidence of theft and vandalism at those stations--allegedly because there is not enough money to install them? Does the Minister agree that CCTV cameras at station car parks should be a standard service for the benefit of car owners?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, unlike fares, there are no provisions in the franchising agreements in relation to car parking charges. The previous government instructed the franchising director to let franchises in a way which left maximum scope for initiative, with requirements no more burdensome than necessary. However, the franchising director is seeking improvements in many areas,

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including asking operators to put additional security patrols on trains and in car parks, and to look at the provision of CCTV at stations and car parks.


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