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2 Feb 2006 : Column 641W—continued

Public Libraries

Mr. Swire: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if she will make a statement on the (a) recent and (b) likely closure of public libraries. [47795]

Mr. Lammy: We are monitoring the situation closely and I have written to all leaders of the 149 library authorities in England to remind them of their statutory obligations. Primarily, the operation of library services are a matter for determination by the elected representatives of the parent authorities. However, public libraries are valuable community assets and local decision makers should think carefully about what might be lost through closures.

RNIB Talking Books

Mr. Wills: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how many local authorities subsidised the cost of Royal National Institute for the Blind Talking Books on the most recent date for which figures are available. [47578]

Mr. Lammy: The Government do not hold this information centrally; however, according to the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), 131 English local authorities subscribe to the RNIB talking books scheme.



Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if he will make a statement on the humanitarian situation in (a) China, (b) Ethiopia and (c) Burma. [47041]

Hilary Benn: There is no humanitarian emergency in China. The country has made dramatic progress in reducing absolute poverty over the last 25 years, with over 450 million people lifted out of poverty. There are, however, still 135 million people below the poverty line and progress towards some of the Millennium Development Goals is slower than expected. The DFID programme focuses on increasing access to basic education, water and sanitation and basic health services, and on tackling HIV and AIDS and Tuberculosis.

In Ethiopia, 2.6 million people in, especially in the Somali, Afar and Oromia regions, have been badly affected by the drought and will need humanitarian assistance in 2006. The Government of Ethiopia and UN agencies issued an appeal on 23 January 2006, with particular emphasis on non-food needs such as health, nutrition, water, sanitation and livestock. We are considering our response. We will also continue to support the Government of Ethiopia's Productive Safety Nets Programme which provides assistance to those communities and households most vulnerable to crop failure by enabling them to invest in assets like clothes and livestock, or to build roads or protect water supplies.

Burma is one of the poorest countries in Asia. It is not on track to achieve any of the Millennium Development Goals. There is little reliable data but we know that many of Burma's 50 million people face poverty and
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vulnerability. We provide £500,000 a year humanitarian assistance through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to support displaced people in Eastern Burma.


Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what the outcomes were of the discussions on increased private sector investment and growth in Kenya held on his recent visit there. [47040]

Hilary Benn: I did not have any formal discussions regarding private sector development on my recent visit to Kenya. However, I did hold discussions on governance and corruption. We will continue to push on these issues to create a better climate for investment. More widely, DFID has been engaged for a number of years on private sector development in Kenya and, with our assistance, the Government of Kenya is soon to publish a Private Sector Development Strategy and a Financial Sector Strategy, and is implementing a Strategy for the Revitalisation of Agriculture.

Natural Disasters

Mr. Dismore: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development whether vulnerability to natural disasters is considered as one of the criteria in the development of aid programmes; and if he will make a statement. [47095]

Mr. Thomas: Vulnerability is a factor which DFID takes into account in allocating aid to particular countries. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), approximately half of the world's least developed countries face high levels of natural disaster risk and the impact on poor people is increasing. It is important that developing countries ensure that their planning includes efforts to minimise the impact of risk and respond more effectively when disasters occur. DFID has produced a new policy outlining our approach to disaster risk reduction which will be published shortly.

DFID is funding significant disaster risk reduction programmes in countries susceptible to disasters. For example, we are providing over £60 million to support disaster preparedness in Orissa, India. In Bangladesh, with the UNDP, we are supporting the development of the government's Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme which is helping to improve legislation, programming and co-ordination across government ministries on disaster risk reduction.

DFID is also providing support for the international disaster risk reduction system. We are one of the leading donors to the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, contributing around £1 million per year and we are providing £3.75 million to support the Pan American Health Organisations' work in the Caribbean to reduce the vulnerability of the health sector to disasters. Our support to the disaster risk reduction work of the Red Cross and international non-governmental organisations totals over £16 million.

Palestinian Authority

Mr. Joyce: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what aid and assistance the UK is giving to the Palestinian Authority. [47446]

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Hilary Benn: The Department for International Development's (DFID) programme of assistance to the Palestinians aims to enhance the prospects for peace, make Palestinian governance and institutions more effective and accountable, and encourage more co-ordinated delivery of humanitarian and development assistance. In 2005–06 our programme has included:

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This is in addition to assistance provided through the UK Government's Global Conflict Prevention Pool (GCPP).

Given the current political uncertainty in the occupied Palestinian territories we are reviewing how we can best support the peace process and economic development.

Parliamentary Questions

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development when he will reply to question number 42471 tabled by the hon. Member for Cotswold. [46368]

Hilary Benn: I refer the hon. Member for Cotswold to the response I gave on 30 January 2006, Official Report, columns 13–14W.
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0870 Numbers

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry pursuant to the answer of 8 November 2005, Official Report, column 291W, on 0870 numbers, what contractual arrangements his Department has for the provision of non-profit making 0870 lines. [37643]

Alun Michael: Cable and Wireless provide the 0870 lines deployed directly by the Department of Trade and Industry. Under current arrangements the threshold for revenue to return to the Department is set at 359,999 call minutes per year for each 0870 line. The low volume of calls on the 0870 lines means that these thresholds have not been reached.

These services can be terminated with three months notice. Other 0870 lines are supplied by BT and managed by sub-contractors through two DTI funded contracts providing support for UK bidders into the EU's sixth Framework Programme for RTD. These BT lines attracted set up charges of up to £250 per number and continue to attract rental charges of £200 per annum, which is absorbed into the overall cost of the contracts. Calls to these numbers are charged at national rate, so are not revenue earning for either DTI or our contractors. The two contracts are due to run until the end of 2006.

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