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Written Answers to Questions

Wednesday 18 October 2006

Leader of the House

Parliamentary Questions

Mr. Bone: To ask the Leader of the House what recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues about the response time and accuracy of answers to written parliamentary questions. [93596]

Mr. Straw: I refer the hon. Member to the answers I gave to him on 10 July 2006, Official Report, column 1560W and to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) on 19 July 2006, Official Report, column 427W.

I continue to have individual contacts on these issues with ministerial colleagues from time to time.



Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the impact of collateral damage from operations in Afghanistan on the propensity of the population to assist the Taliban and other insurgents. [92674]

Mr. Ingram: All instances of collateral damage are a source of profound regret and British forces take all available measures to avoid causing such damage. We know that the Taliban take no such measures when they indiscriminately target civilians with suicide bombs or improvised explosive devices.

Efficiency Savings

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the consequences are for the Department's overall budget of failing to meet targets for efficiency savings. [92619]

Mr. Ingram: The Department is on course to achieve its efficiency target for the current Spending Review period. The MOD uses the savings generated from these efficiencies for reinvestment in key Defence priorities; any failure to deliver efficiencies would, in the first instance, result in pressure on the Department's budget.

Flight Training

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the planning assumption is for average monthly flight simulator training hours for the UK Joint Strike Fighter pilots. [93338]

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Mr. Ingram: Joint Strike Fighter simulators are still in the development phase. The UK's current planning assumption is approximately 10 hours of simulation flight time per pilot per month which includes mission rehearsal and flight currency training.

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the planning assumption is for average monthly flight training hours for the UK Joint Strike Fighter pilots. [93342]

Mr. Ingram: The current planning assumption is that UK pilots flying Joint Strike Fighter may need up to 18.5 hours per pilot per month, to retain their competencies to fly and operate the weapon system.

Hercules Aircraft

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations were received by his Department concerning the vulnerability of the fuel tanks of Hercules aircraft prior to January 2005, with particular reference to (a) 47 Squadron in 2002 and (b) the period before and after the Falkland's war; and if he will make a statement. [92693]

Mr. Ingram: I will write to the hon. Member and place a copy of my letter in the Library of the House.

House of Commons Commission

Air Filters

Bob Russell: To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission with what regularity air filters in those parts of the main building with air conditioning are (a) inspected and cleaned and (b) replaced. [94469]

Nick Harvey: Air conditioning filters are inspected on a monthly basis. The majority of the filters are disposable and are not usually cleaned but replaced as soon as they become dirty. If the filters do not become dirty, they are changed on an annual basis.

IT Equipment

Mr. Ancram: To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission how many complaints have been made by hon. Members and their staff concerning Dell supplied printers since the new IT contract came into force; how many printers have been replaced; what the cost has been of replacement printers and parts for Dell supplied equipment; and under what warranty terms these goods are supplied to the House. [94144]

Nick Harvey: As of 30 September 2006 there were 1,424 Dell printers across the Parliamentary Estate, constituency offices and other locations.

Figures taken from helpdesk records show that from 1 May 2005 to 15 September 2006 a total of 910 calls were received on all printers, including the Dell printers. Of these 263 could not be solved by PICT Service Desk and were passed on to Dell for engineering visits. In the early part of the contract a
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number of the calls logged with Dell were for printers not correctly set up but since the setup was by Dell engineers these were accepted as valid warranty calls.

Included in the numbers above will be some repeat calls or visits for the same problem. Call categories range from advice on how to use the equipment, incorrect setup (which can usually be solved either on the phone or by a PICT engineer in Westminster), to mechanical failure which result in a warranty call being made to Dell.

A replacement is only undertaken as a last resort and was for less than 15 printers. There have been some cases where PICT have taken a decision to replace a printer and then get the repair done in Westminster to minimise the inconvenience experienced by Members or their staff. The printers are supplied under a hardware warranty for four years with a next business day response. Parliament will have incurred no costs for any repairs or replacements except where the fault has been shown to have been caused by misuse, accidental damage or has been wrongly diagnosed as a hardware fault resulting in unnecessary warranty call being made.

Trade and Industry

Coal Fired Stations

Dr. Whitehead: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) what the output of coal fired stations in the UK was in 2005; [94508]

(2) what proportion of the fuel burnt in coal fired power stations in the UK was (a) energy crops, (b) refuse derived fuel and (c) wood in the last period for which figures are available; [94510]

(3) what proportion of fuel burned in coal fired power stations in the UK is derived from non-fossil sources; and what the proportion is in each such power station. [94511]

Malcolm Wicks: Table 5.6 of the Digest of United Kingdom Energy Statistics 2006, a copy of which is in the Libraries of the House, shows that 134,918 GWh of electricity was generated from coal in the UK in 2005. The Digest is also available on the DTI Energy website at:

Biomass co-fired with fossil fuels accounted for 830.7 thousand tonnes of oil equivalent in 2005, whereas coal burned in power stations was 32,617 thousand tonnes of oil equivalent. Allowing for the fact that coal fired power stations also use some oil for lighting up purposes, and that some co-firing takes place in oil fired power stations, biomass accounted for around 2 per cent. of the total fuel burned in coal fired power stations. The biomass used was from a variety of sources including sawdust, wood pellets, waste derived fuels, short rotation coppice, olive cake and pellets, tall oil, palm kernel expeller, palm oil and oil tallow. Statistics for these individual sources and for individual power stations are not available because they would disclose information provided by individual generators in confidence.

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Fuel Stocks

Mr. Crabb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) what the statutory basis is for maintenance of strategic stocks of (a) petroleum products, (b) natural gas and (c) coal; [92232]

(2) what estimate he has made of the current levels of the UK’s strategic stocks of (a) petroleum products, (b) natural gas and (c) coal, broken down by (i) Government stocks and (ii) privately-held stocks. [91450]

Malcolm Wicks [pursuant to the reply, 9 October 2006, Official Report, c. 569-70W]: The figure for UK held oil stocks of 11.2 million tonnes reported in the last paragraph should be “13.5 million tones”.

Marine Energy Accelerator Renewable Energy Project

Mr. Dai Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what funding his Department (a) provides and (b) has allocated for future years for the Marine Energy Accelerator Renewable Energy Project. [94630]

Malcolm Wicks: Since 1999 in excess of £25 million has been committed to support research and development of emerging wave and tidal energy technologies through the DTI’s Technology Programme (formerly the DTI New and Renewable Energy Programme).

In addition, £50 million has been allocated to a Marine Renewables Deployment Fund to assist the continued development of these technologies.

The Carbon Trust’s recently announced £3.5 million Marine Energy Accelerator Programme (www.carbon trust.co.uk/technology/technologyaccelerator/mea) is not receiving direct funding support from the DTI. The Carbon Trust’s annual funding is in excess of £105 million in grants from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Scottish Executive, the Welsh Assembly Government and Invest Northern Ireland.

Postal Collections

Mr. Rogerson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the final collection times are from Royal Mail post boxes in Cornwall; and what they were on (a) 1 October 2003, (b) 1 October 2004 and (c) 1 October 2005. [94439]

Jim Fitzpatrick: This is an operational matter for which Royal Mail has direct responsibility. I have, therefore, asked Adam Crozier, Chief Executive of Royal Mail, to reply direct to the hon. Member on the issues he has raised over collection times.

International Development


John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what steps are being taken by his Department to promote the status of women in Afghanistan. [92944]

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Hilary Benn: DFID's programme promotes the status of women in Afghanistan in a number of ways.

DFID provided significant support to the election process in 2005 and has worked with the Government to strengthen the role of women in the democratic process. The parliamentary and provincial elections had a strong turn out (43 per cent.) of women voters. Currently, a quarter of the MPs in the Afghan Parliament are women.

DFID's support to the Government's national programmes includes support to enhancing the role of women at community level. For example, the national solidarity programme ensures that women are engaged in determining community development priorities through the formation of community development councils. We also support the Micro-finance Investment Support Facility of Afghanistan (MISFA), currently per cent. of MISFA's beneficiaries are women.

Through our Civil Society Challenge Fund (CSCF), we provide £500,000 to Womankind Worldwide for their Women's Empowerment Programme. This initiative aims to empower individual women, women's organisations and wider civil society with the skills and knowledge to claim and exercise their human rights and actively participate in political and civil affairs.

The Government of Afghanistan is currently working with donors to define its strategy for development over for the next five years (the Afghan National Development Strategy). In that process, gender equality is being addressed as a key theme. The UK is actively working to ensure gender equality issues are fully integrated.

John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what steps are being taken by his Department to promote alternatives to poppy production in Afghanistan. [92952]

Hilary Benn: In financial year 2005-06, DFID spent nearly £50 million developing alternative livelihoods in Afghanistan. This is a tenfold increase on the amount spent in 2003-04. A proportion of this funding is specifically targeted on improving agricultural opportunities for Afghan farmers. This includes research to help identify, test and implement new crops and technologies.

In addition to developing agricultural opportunities, DFID is supporting non-farm options to ensure sustainable alternative incomes for those who make their living from opium poppy. We are also pursuing innovative ways for farmers to make a living, including apricot drying, honey bee keeping, tailoring and weaving and the introduction of fruit tree nurseries and greenhouses for vegetable production.

DFID is contributing to the Government of Afghanistan’s National Solidarity Programme (NSP) and National Rural Access Programme (NRAP), both of which have rolled out to all provinces in Afghanistan. NSP has created 17,033 community development councils and financed 17,109 community led projects. NRAP is constructing 855km of rural roads. The multi-donor Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan (MISFA), which DFID also supports, is working in 20 provinces and has disbursed US $81 million in small loans to 197,278 clients.

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John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what recent discussions he has had with the Chinese Government on (a) sustainable development, (b) corporate and social responsibility and (c) poverty reduction in Africa. [93076]

Hilary Benn: The discussions we have had with the Chinese Government are as follows:

Aid and Debt Cancellation

Helen Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what steps he is taking to ensure that aid and debt cancellation programmes deliver the appropriate outcomes when his Department reviews its staffing. [92775]

Hilary Benn: The overall outcomes DFID is seeking to achieve are set out in its Public Service Agreement 2005-08; i.e. eliminate world poverty through the achievement of the Millennium development goals in the countries we work in and with partners within the international system. We aim to implement this through our corporate planning process so that we use our resources both financial and human in the most effective way possible. Each director produces delivery plans which sets out specific plans to achieve and monitor our progress during the year. We also have country assistance plans which set out how we will engage in the countries with which we work. The choice of aid instrument and the impact of debt cancellation programmes are important factors in our planning.

Human Resources within DFID remain our greatest asset and it is vital that we ensure that our staff are deployed effectively around the world. This is done through our strategic work force planning process. This
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sets out how we will attract and retain staff, how we will train and develop them and the skills needed to help us deliver our goals. It is through this planning process that we ensure we have the right staff in the right place with the right skills. We will identify gaps in our current staffing profile and take action to close those gaps.

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