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Following the Northern Ireland Audit Office report Use of Consultants, the NIO has recently issued a new policy on the use of external consultants. Included in this is an annual statement for the annual actual and planned expenditure on external consultants and staff substitution. An annual statement was produced for the 2005-06 financial year. Therefore, we can provide the 10 most expensive consultancy fees charged to the NIO, excluding its agencies and NDPBs, for the financial year 2005-06. They were:
|Name of consultant/firm||Subject of consultancy||Cost (£)|
Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what his Department's annual budget is for employing workers on a consultancy basis; and how much of this budget was used in each of the last five years for which records are available. 
Mr. Hain: The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) is unable to provide all of the information requested by the hon. Member in relation to consultancy budgets and expenditure. Due to the NIO's current financial system we are only able to provide budget information for the previous and current financial years, i.e. 2005-06 and 2006-07. Budget information for previous years would have to be gathered manually and would be at disproportionate cost. The following table represents the information held on budgets and expenditure for consultancy costs for the NIO, excluding its agencies and NDPBs.
|(1) Not available.|
(2) Figures supplied for 2006-07 relate to the full years budget against the spend as at end of October 2006.
Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps are being taken by the Environment and Heritage Service to meet targets for areas of special scientific interest designations in Northern Ireland. 
David Cairns: Environment and Heritage Service (EHS) is presently establishing a priority, risk-based list of 200 sites for designation as areas of special scientific interest (ASSI) over the next ten years. In order to meet its statutory obligations EHS intends to increase incrementally its rate of designation from 15 ASSIs in this financial year to 20 next year and 25 in successive years.
Mr. Gregory Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he plans to amend the list of organisations of which police officers in Northern Ireland must declare their membership. 
Paul Goggins: Section 51 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 requires each PSNI officer to inform the Chief Constable of any notifiable membership which he believes he has, or if none, of that belief. As the list of organisations is provided in guidance published by the Chief Constable, any amendment to that list is a matter for him.
Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how much was collected in household rates in Northern Ireland in each of the last five years for which figures are available; and what the average paid per household was in that period. 
Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what estimate he has made of how much he expects to be collected in household rates in Northern Ireland in each of the next three years under the new rating system; what he expects the average sum per household to be; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Heald: To ask the Prime Minister pursuant to his answer of 27 November 2006, Official Report, column 329W, on Downing street (functions), which political events were hosted at Downing street in each year since May 1997; and how much was paid by the Labour party to meet the costs of each event. 
The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given to him by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on 9 October 2006, Official Report, column 72W. My right hon. Friends responsibilities are also set out in the list of ministerial responsibilities, copies of which are available on the Cabinet Office website and in the Library of the House.
To ask the Prime Minister what meetings (a) he and (b) officials acting on his behalf have had with representatives of the defence industry
since 1st August 2006; when each meeting took place; what the subjects of each meeting were; and who attended each. 
The Prime Minister: My officials and I have meetings with a wide range of organisations and individuals on a wide range of subjects. Information relating to internal meetings, discussion and advice is not disclosed as to do so could harm the frankness and candour of internal discussion.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: To ask the Prime Minister what progress has been made on proposals for a UN convention on the rights of disabled people as referred to in the answer of 25 March 2002, Official Report, column 618W, on Rehabilitation International's Charter (for the Third Millennium); what contribution the UK Government has made to this process; and when he expects to be in a position to sign such a convention. 
The Prime Minister: Negotiations on the text of the draft United Nations (UN) Convention on Disability Rights were completed earlier this year and the General Assembly adopted the Convention on 13 December. The Government support the Convention wholeheartedly.
The UK is committed to supporting comprehensive and enforceable rights for disabled people and wishes to see those rights enjoyed by disabled citizens everywhere. Despite many UN human rights conventions, the human rights of disabled people have not been fully recognised around the world, and they continue to experience discrimination and disabling barriers. The UK therefore welcomed the decision of the UN General Assembly to set up an ad hoc committee to prepare the text of a new Convention on Disability Rights and played a full and positive role in the negotiations. We also led negotiations for the European Union during our Presidency in 2005 and hope to be among the first countries to sign and ratify it.
The Afghan Government (GoA) with the support of the international community, remains focused on implementing the Afghanistan Compact.
However, progress against the compacts 43 benchmarks is currently uneven. Seven of the 11 short-life benchmarks outlined in the compact are expected to be met by 20 March 2007 deadline. These include the creation of a transparent appointments mechanism for all senior level appointments to the central Government and the judiciary; reform of corruption oversight procedures; and reviews of commercial laws and administrative boundaries.
The United Kingdom is working closely with the Afghan Government, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and other international actors to ensure any shortfalls are addressed arid that the political commitments outlined in the compact are implemented according to the benchmarks.
Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations have been made to the Burmese Government on the ability of international NGOs to operate in that country; and if she will make a statement. 
Margaret Beckett: We have strongly urged the Burmese Government to ensure the UN and international non-governmental organisations can address Burmas pressing humanitarian needs, in particular through the Three Diseases Fund. Our ambassador in Rangoon emphasised this in his meeting with the Burmese Foreign Minister and Deputy Foreign Minister on 18 August.
The UK played an active role in drafting the UN General Assembly resolution, adopted on 20 November, which calls for safe and unhindered access to all parts of Burma for the UN and international humanitarian organisations.
We are extremely concerned about the Burmese Governments decision to order the closure of the field offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs (Mr. McCartney) and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Thomas) released statements on 28 and 29 November respectively, strongly condemning the Burmese Governments actions. Our embassy in Rangoon has expressed our concerns about the ICRC to Burmese Government Ministers. The EU issued a statement on 5 December. The full text of the statement can be found at:
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