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21 Nov 2005 : Column 1600W—continued


Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development whether he is making funds available to charter helicopters in Pakistan to take relief aid to remote communities in Kashmir; and if he will make a statement. [29399]

Hilary Benn: DFID's contributions to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) includes support for the provision of helicopters to deliver relief supplies and undertake medical evacuations. Two Puma helicopters for the ICRC were transported to Pakistan by the Ministry of Defence from Spain. We have also funded the marginal costs of three British military heavy-lift CH-47 Chinook helicopters that have been carrying out humanitarian assistance flights since 28 October. In addition, DFID has channelled more than £2.2 million through the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) for helicopter provision.

On 17 November, the United Nations reported a total of 98 helicopters in operation and another eight due to arrive in the area, though the number of helicopters flying on any one day can vary due to weather conditions and maintenance. It is important that the helicopter operation is maintained while relief needs remain. Therefore, the British Government has been actively urging donors to ensure sufficient funding to maintain the United Nations helicopter fleet and we are also considering further support to UNHAS.
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Special Advisers

John Hemming: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if he will list the special advisers in post in his Department, broken down by pay band; and what the total budgeted cost to his Department of special advisers is for 2005–06. [29407]

Hilary Benn: Since 2003, the Government have published on an annual basis the names and overall cost of special advisers and the number in each pay band. For the most recent information I refer the hon. Member to the statement made by my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister on 21 July 2005, Official Report, columns 158–162WS.

Information on the numbers of special advisers prior to 2003 was provided at regular intervals and this information will be available in the Library of the House.

Information relating to costs for 2005–06 will be published after the end of the current financial year.

St. Helena

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development why contractors were appointed in respect of the proposed airport on St. Helena before an environmental impact assessment had been carried out. [29424]

Mr. Thomas: Contractors have not yet been appointed. An independent team is currently in St. Helena, carrying out an environmental impact assessment. Prequalification of potentially suitable contractors for the airport construction is being undertaken in parallel with this work; and a notice seeking capability statements was issued last month in the Official Journal of the European Union. The invitation to tender for the airport construction contract will be issued only once the outcome of the environmental impact assessment has been incorporated into the tender documents.

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if he will make a statement on the planning inquiry process followed in respect of the proposed airport on St. Helena. [29425]

Mr. Thomas: The St. Helena Government are fully involved in planning for the airport. A planning application will be submitted in accordance with prevailing local legislation, prior to issue of an invitation to tender for design, construction and operation of the airport. Independent expertise will be provided to assist in reviewing the application.

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what statutory controls are in place to protect the environment on St. Helena, with particular reference to (a) the feeding ground of the St. Helena firebird and (b) the native Giant Earwig; and what steps the Joint Nature Conservancy Council has taken on this issue. [29427]

Mr. Thomas: So far as we know, there is not a bird species known as 'the firebird' in St. Helena. But there is a 'Wirebird' (Charadrius sanctaehelenae), that is endemic to the island. It is currently protected under
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St. Helena's Endangered Species Protection Ordinance 1996 (as revised in 2001) and is specifically listed in the schedule to the ordinance.

The Giant Earwig (Labidura herculeana) is believed to be extinct. We understand live specimens were last seen in the late 1960s. Subsequent attempts to find it, including by the Zoological Society of London, have failed. Were it to be rediscovered, it would be eligible for protection under the same ordinance. It is not currently listed in the schedule.

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee, although not directly involved in matters relating to these two species, is aware of their conservation status through contacts with Government Departments and the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum.

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development why members of the Planning and Development Board on St. Helena have been required to sign the Official Secrets Acts. [29429]

Mr. Thomas: The St. Helena Development Board, which provides policy advice to the St. Helena Executive Council, includes representatives of the island community who are not employed as public servants. Although its work is conducted as openly as possible, with summaries of its discussions made available, the board occasionally considers material which is commercially or otherwise sensitive. All board members, therefore, have been required to make the same commitment to confidentiality as is normally required of public servants.

United States

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development on what grounds the US blocked packaged meals donated by the UK for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. [27082]

Hilary Benn: The United Kingdom delivered around 475,000 operational ration packs in response to a specific and urgent request from the United States' authorities following Hurricane Katrina. Some of the packs were distributed to the disaster area but the majority were impounded because they did not comply with US regulations concerning the import of processed meat products from the rest of the world. They also fell foul of a ban on the import of ruminant products from the EU. The UK was not aware that there was a danger of the packs being impounded until after a majority of the ration packs had been sent to the US. Once informed of the problem, the UK stopped the despatch of any further packs from the UK.

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what representations he has made to encourage the US authorities to accept British beef when offered as humanitarian aid. [27083]

Hilary Benn: I have not made any representations to the US authorities about accepting British beef when offered as humanitarian aid. The humanitarian circumstances were exceptional and I would not expect the situation to arise again.
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Dual Registration

Chris Ruane: To ask the hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission what research the Electoral Commission has undertaken into the number of electors who have dual registration in each constituency in the UK; and what measures are in place to prevent double voting. [26421]

Peter Viggers: The Commission informs me that it has undertaken no specific research into the number of electors in each constituency in the United Kingdom who are also on the electoral roll in another constituency. However, in the course of its policy review of the electoral registration process in the United Kingdom, the Commission received a number of submissions raising the issue of dual registration. These submissions informed the Commission's recommendations for reform of the registration process, first published in 2003.

Although it is possible to be registered at more than one address, it is an offence for an elector to vote more than once in any particular election, as set out in Section 61 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. Although it may be possible to detect instances of unlawful double voting by comparison of marked registers after the election, in the absence of a national electronic register there are no mechanisms in place specifically designed to prevent such conduct, or unlawful registration in more than one place.

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