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29 Mar 2007 : Column 1656W—continued

Mr. Thomas: Since 1999 Nicaragua (US$ 4.5 billion), Honduras (US$1 billion) and Bolivia (US$ 2.06 billion), have all received substantial debt relief through the heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC) initiative. In
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addition, since its implementation last year these countries have also benefited from the 100 per cent. cancellation of debt stock owed to the World Bank, IMF and African Development Bank under the multilateral debt relief initiative (MDRI). Last year, the MDRI relieved debts of $968 million to Nicaragua, $1.3 billion to Honduras and $1.75 billion to Bolivia. DFID has monitored the spending of this money through our work with the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This helps to ensure that the money gets targeted to items in the budget that directly impact on the poor, such as health and education. We have cancelled all outstanding bilateral debt owed to the UK, including contributing to the debt relief provided under HIPC and MDRI.

Despite good progress on multilateral debt relief, Nicaragua still has about $1.3 billion in outstanding debt from commercial creditors who are not part of either HIPC or MDRI. This debt hinders how Nicaragua can use other debt relief to address poverty, and is subject to ‘vulture funds’ which buy the debt when Nicaragua is least able to pay, and then press for repayment at several times the debt's face value, when economic prospects are looking better. DFID has just committed $3.5 million to the elimination of this debt, in a deal with the World Bank and other donors. The deal itself reduces the debt to $64 million. The Nicaraguan Government itself will contribute $3.5 million. With contributions from the Government of Nicaragua, World Bank, DFID and others, it is hoped that this will fully eliminate the outstanding commercial debt owed by Nicaragua.

In addition, the Inter-America Development Bank has recently announced debt relief to the five poorest countries in the region. This amounts to $3.4 billion and $1.0 billion of future interest payments from its fund for special operations (FSO). This will provide immediate relief of $1 billion for Bolivia, $984 million for Nicaragua, and $467 million for Guyana among others. However, the UK has abstained from voting on this deal, along with several other European countries. This was because of concerns that the deal would hinder access of the poorest countries to concessionary IADB financing in the future. Access to continued flows of concessionary lending from the FSO of the IADB will be important to the achievement of the millennium development goals in countries such as Nicaragua. The UK is currently in discussions with IADB and other shareholders on this matter.


Lyn Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assessment he has made of the humanitarian situation in Nepal. [126272]

Mr. Thomas: DFID, like other international donors, monitors the humanitarian situation in Nepal primarily through the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). UNOCHA provides leadership to and co-ordination of the international humanitarian community, and works with DFID and other international bodies to monitor and respond to emerging and ongoing humanitarian crises. In 2006-07 DFID provided £700,000 to support
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humanitarian monitoring and co-ordination, and the provision of food aid in response to drought.

Food security problems, particularly related to drought, are severely affecting more than 900,000 people. Health indicators remain at a critical level, with acute malnutrition among children under five having increased to 12 per cent. over the last five years. Protection remains a central issue, including for children directly affected by the conflict. Significant numbers of those displaced during the conflict have been returning—either spontaneously, or with facilitation, though many internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees continue to face protection concerns. 107,000 Bhutanese refugees remain dependent on international aid. In addition to the humanitarian challenges exacerbated by the conflict, Nepal’s mountainous terrain means that it continues to be vulnerable to natural disasters including landslides, floods, and earthquakes.

The UN has just launched a Common Appeal for Transition Support which provides a framework for a co-ordinated international response to these issues. The appeal focuses on issues of particular importance in the short term, including food security, health, displacement, disaster preparedness, and protection. DFID is currently examining the appeal document to assess which elements it might support, and will continue to monitor the humanitarian situation jointly with UNOCHA and other partners.

Zimbabwe: Overseas Aid

Mr. Bone: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what aid was provided to Zimbabwe by the UK in 2006-07. [130175]

Hilary Benn: The UK is one of the largest bilateral donors of humanitarian support to Zimbabwe, supporting over 1.5 million of the poorest people. DFID spent £138.9 million bilaterally in Zimbabwe in financial years 2001-02 to 2005-06. Our funding prioritises HIV/AIDS, food insecurity and supporting orphans and vulnerable children. Our current programmes will help ensure that an additional 30,000 people receive anti-retroviral treatment, will provide health care for around 350,000 children, promote food security in both urban and rural areas and assist extremely vulnerable displaced people. The UK does not give direct funding to the Government of Zimbabwe. All DFID’s bilateral funding is channelled through NGOs and UN agencies, much of it programmed jointly with other donors. We do not believe in cutting direct assistance to poor Zimbabweans and thus punishing them further for their unaccountable government.

Through the Africa Conflict Prevention Pool, jointly funded by DFID, FCO and MOD, the UK supports civil society organisations to promote better governance and human rights. Allocations totalled £2 million in 2006-07 and will be £2.5 million in 2007-08. The British embassy in Harare also supports community groups with small grants (£800,000 per year). The UK contributions to multilateral aid to Zimbabwe (United Nations, European Commission, World Bank and others) totalled £37.5 million from 2000 to 2004 inclusive.

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Electoral Commission Committee

Elections: Expenditure

Mr. Djanogly: To ask the hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission what assessment has been made of the case for decentralising responsibility for monitoring and regulating campaign and constituency expenditure in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to its regional offices. [130068]

Peter Viggers: The Electoral Commission informs me that it set out its views on the role of its regional and devolved offices on 19 March in its response to the 11(th) report from the Committee in Standards in Public Life. This is available in the House of Commons Library and on the Commission’s website.

Elections: Local Government

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission what assessment the Electoral Commission has made of the potential change in local government electoral turnout in an elected mayoral system. [130561]

Peter Viggers: The Electoral Commission informs me that it has made no assessment of the potential change in local government electoral turnout in an elected mayoral system.

Electoral Commission

Mr. Djanogly: To ask the hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission what assessment he has made of the effect of proposals to allow party members to serve as (a) staff of the Electoral Commission and (b) Electoral Commissioners on the effectiveness of the Electoral Commission. [130062]

Peter Viggers: In its Eleventh Report, the Committee on Standards in Public Life made recommendations aimed at changing the extent of the statutory restrictions on grounds of political activity on appointment as an Electoral Commissioner, and at reducing the duration of the similar restrictions on appointments to the Commission’s staff. The Speaker’s Committee will be considering this report soon. I also refer my hon. Friend to my answer of 25 October 2006, Official Report, column 1868W, to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, (Mrs. Dunwoody).

Mr. Djanogly: To ask the hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission how many staff of the Electoral Commission have worked for the Commission (a) for less than one year, (b) for between (i) one and two years, (ii) two and three years, (iii) three and four years, (iv) four and five years and (c) for more than five years. [130270]

Peter Viggers: The Electoral Commission informs me that the figures for current staff are as follows:

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(a) less than 1 year


(b) (i) 1-2 years


(b) (ii) 2-3 years


(b) (iii) 3-4 years


(b) (iv) 4-5 years


(c) more than 5 years


As at 23 March 2007. ‘Current staff’ includes all permanent and fixed term staff members, but excludes consultants and temporary workers.

Leader of the House

House of Lords: Powers

Andrew George: To ask the Leader of the House pursuant to the answer of 13 March 2007, Official Report, column 173W, on the House of Lords: powers, what timetable he has set for (a) the reconvening of the cross-party talks and (b) the setting of a date for a detailed statement on the way forward. [130468]

Mr. Straw: The Government are currently considering the next stages and once discussions are complete I will make a detailed statement to the House.

Political Parties: Finance

Jo Swinson: To ask the Leader of the House what representations he has received on the propriety of front companies acting as conduits to allow anonymous donations to political parties. [130678]

Mr. Straw: I have received many representations on this issue from hon. Members over recent months.

Its importance has also been recognised by Sir Hayden Phillips in his recent report—‘Strengthening Democracy: Fair and Sustainable Funding of Political Parties’—where he states:

The Government share this concern and agree that this is an area which would benefit from further consideration.

Written Questions

Mr. Heald: To ask the Leader of the House if he will bring forward proposals for the electronic provision of answers to hon. Members who ask written parliamentary questions. [129414]

Mr. Straw: The proof of concept database which allows the electronic exchange of parliamentary answers between Government Departments and the House of Commons (ePC) has recently been reviewed by Domain Technologies. The review was funded by the Leader's office and the authorities of the House of Commons.

It is my intention to proceed to the next stage in its development.

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Mr. Heald: To ask the Leader of the House if he will place in the Library a copy of the internal guidance detailing the administrative procedure by which written parliamentary questions are (a) placed in the Library, (b) sent to the hon. Member who asked the question and (c) made available to the Press Gallery. [129457]

Mr. Straw: Good practice followed by all Government Departments is that the answers should be available to hon. Members prior to them being distributed elsewhere in the House, e.g. Library, Hansard, Press Gallery etc.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture: Biofuels

Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps he is taking to encourage the use of anaerobic digestion of farm waste to create biogas for energy production. [127541]

Mr. Bradshaw: The Government are committed to making the most of the potential of anaerobic digestion to contribute to a number of our key objectives, notably, reducing greenhouse emissions from waste management and agriculture and improving air and water quality, as well as providing a source of renewable energy.

The UK Biomass Strategy and the national Waste Strategy, both of which will be published later this spring, will set out the important contribution which anaerobic digestion can make to achieving these objectives.

In order to encourage the greater uptake of anaerobic digestion, I am pleased that the Environment Agency has agreed to develop a standard for digestate in 2007-08. This will allow modern regulatory principles to be applied to the use of this material and bring certainty to when this material is considered to be “fully recovered”. This should help to facilitate the development of markets for digestate.

Air Pollution: Small Businesses

Mr. Andrew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what advice his Department makes available to small businesses on meeting emission targets. [129368]

Ian Pearson [holding answer 27 March 2007]: The Department funds the Carbon Trust, a not-for-profit company that works closely with business to encourage sustainable use of energy, establish energy efficient practices and systems, and develop low carbon technologies.

The Carbon Trust’s products and services for small/medium enterprises (SMEs) include an interest-free loan scheme of £5,000 to £100,000 for approved energy saving measures. The trust also provides advice via their website and a dedicated customer call centre, supports various trade bodies that work directly with SMEs and provides site survey visits to companies with energy bills over £50,000.

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Animal Welfare

Bill Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) if he will make a statement on the animal welfare enforcement database; [127367]

(2) what discussions he has had with (a) the Home Office, (b) the Department for Constitutional Affairs and (c) the Information Commissioner regarding the animal welfare enforcement database. [127369]

Mr. Bradshaw: DEFRA Ministers and officials have not yet discussed this issue with the Home Office, the Court Service or the Information Commissioner. However, we do see merit in establishing a central database for enforcers to access information such as details of convictions for offences relating to animals, disqualifications from keeping an animal, and certain records relating to previous licences. At present, there is no central record of those subject to disqualification orders and this is regarded as a significant handicap to effective law enforcement. The database could also contain a register of specialist experts, which would ideally be accessible to enforcers.

Bovine Tuberculosis

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what steps he has taken to establish the new arrangements for securing scientific advice on bovine TB following the Government’s strategic framework; [130300]

(2) what steps he has taken to implement the proposals put forward by his Department’s Science Advisory Council in 2005 for the establishment of a new bovine TB Science Advisory Board. [130301]

Mr. Bradshaw: The Government are committed to establishing a new bovine TB Science Advisory Body (bTB SAB) to provide independent expert advice to inform policy decisions on bovine TB issues.

Defra has broadly accepted the recommendations put forward by the Science Advisory Council (SAC) and has had lengthy discussions with SAC members to receive advice on reporting channels, body composition and terms of reference for its proposed bTB SAB. Agreement has been reached to establish an overarching bTB SAB with an independent external chair and membership drawn from existing, strengthened, independent expert advisory subgroups covering all aspects of the bTB science programme.

The Department continues to obtain independent expert peer review at all stages of its procurement and management of research and, last July, a quinquennial review of Defra’s Bovine Tuberculosis Research programme was carried out. The report is available on the Defra website.

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what the purpose is of a disease report form; and how the data collected are used to provide a better understanding of bovine TB; [130302]

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