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Written Answers

Volume 685: debated on Thursday 19 October 2006

Written Answers

Thursday 19 October 2006

Afghanistan

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their estimate of the current number of victims of drought and food shortages in Afghanistan; and what plans they have to respond to this situation.[HL7493]

We are in regular contact with the Government of Afghanistan, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and other relevant UN agencies about their assessment of the drought and attended the most recent update meeting at the Ministry of Rural Reconstruction and Development. The initial drought appeal was launched to secure pledges of in-principle support, prior to a proper assessment of the scale of the drought. The assessment results, including the number of drought victims and food shortages, are due to be released this month. On the basis of this information, DfID will evaluate its support.

Rural development is a key priority for DfID. We are a major donor in this sector and expect to spend around £35 million this year. The Ministries of Agriculture and Rural Reconstruction and Development are key partners. Putting our money through the Government ensures that they have predictable funding, and allows them to respond to their own priorities, including the drought.

Government Departments: Financial Reporting

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has any arrangements to enable staff of that department to raise, in confidence, concerns about matters of financial reporting, disclosure of other information or value for money and; if so, whether they will give details of the arrangements.[HL7613]

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has whistleblowing arrangements in place which are publicised on the intranet. These arrangements include two trained nominated officers, to enable staff to raise in confidence concerns about any matters which they believe they are being required to act in a way which conflicts with the Civil Service Code. These matters could include financial reporting or value for money.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Department for International Development has any arrangements to enable staff of that department to raise, in confidence, concerns about matters of financial reporting, disclosure of other information or value for money; and, if so, whether they will give details of the arrangements.[HL7655]

DfID's anti-fraud and corruption policy provides a framework for all staff to be able to report, in strictest confidence, allegations, suspicions or concerns about fraud and other financial misconduct against the department's funds. All allegations, suspicions or concerns are reported to the head of DfID's internal audit department or posted to a special email address: fraud@dfid.gov.uk. Timely reporting is a requirement; however, should an informant feel unable to use these internal mechanisms, there are other whistleblowing opportunities available, for example Public Concern at Work and the National Audit Office. DfID's anti-fraud and corruption policy is available to all staff by means of a leaflet entitled Fighting Fraud and Corruption, a copy of which I have placed in the Library, and detailed information on the department's intranet.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Privy Council Office has any arrangements to enable staff of that department to raise, in confidence, concerns about matters of financial reporting, disclosure of other information or value for money; and, if so, whether they will give details of the arrangements.[HL7665]

The Privy Council office implemented a whistleblowing policy in February 2006. This supplemented existing guidance to staff on nominated officers within the department, to whom staff may turn if they have any concerns that they are being asked to act in a way which is inconsistent with the Civil Service Code. The policy also explains the protection afforded by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 to staff wishing to report their concerns.

The Privy Council Office also has a number of other policies to protect staff and to enable them to raise concerns about impropriety or irregularity, including policies on fraud, procurement, conduct and discipline, harassment, bullying and victimisation.

House of Lords: Amendment Groupings

asked the Chairman of Committees:

Whether he will arrange for a copy of the grouping of amendments list for each day to be placed on the public parliamentary website.[HL7724]

The informal grouping of amendments lists are already made available on the internet by the Government Whips' Office, which producesthe lists, at www.lordswhips.org.uk. In response to the Question, appropriate links will be created from the public parliamentary website (www.parliament.uk) to the Government Whips' Office website.

Israel and Palestine: Gaza

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.[HL7523]

The humanitarian situation in the Palestinian Territories remains difficult, particularly in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians in Gaza receive only six to eight hours of electricity and two to three hours of water every day. Israeli Defence Force (IDF) incursions and air strikes continue. Palestinian homemade rockets are still being fired into Israel. Gaza's border crossings with Israel and Egypt have been mainly closed since late June, except for imports of basic supplies. DfID is keeping close track of the humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza through the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).

With technical assistance from DfID, UN OCHA is producing a monthly Humanitarian Monitor report. According to the most recent report, poverty in Gaza now stands at 79 per cent, marginally up from 77 per cent a year ago. However, among families that depend on salaries or payments from the Palestinian Authority (PA) poverty has risen from 42 per cent to 49 per cent in the past year. Average food prices in August were 9.95 per cent higher than in July. Hospitals and health centres in Gaza continue to function, although at reduced capacity. Fourteen per cent of essential drugs are out of stock. More than 80 Palestinian homes and structures were destroyed, with 61 Palestinians killed and 146 injured in Israeli military activity during August. Internal violence among Palestinians caused 12 additional deaths and 55 injuries. Homemade Palestinian rockets injured 10 Israelis. The monthly Humanitarian Monitor is available at www.ochaopt.org.

DfID has made up to £12 million available to meet Palestinian basic needs through the temporary international mechanism. Also, £9 million has been allocated to specific programmes to provide, first, essential medicines and health supplies; secondly, operations, maintenance and repair costs for water, sanitation and electricity services; and, thirdly, income for the poorest Palestinian government workers, including teachers, who have suffered a severe loss in income over recent months. DfID has also provided £15 million to support Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the wider region, though the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

Rural Areas: Postal Services

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have had discussions with Royal Mail about rural post deliveries and collections; and, if so, what was the outcome.[HL7618

Royal Mail's licensed operations and the provision of the universal service fall under the direct scrutiny of Postcomm, the independent regulator. Postcomm has recently announced that it is carrying out a public consultation on collection and delivery times. The consultation runs until 8 January 2007 and details of the consultation document can be found on Postcomm's website at www.psc.gov.uk. Printed copies are available from Postcomm, 6 Hercules Road, London SE1 7DB.

Schools: Specialist Schools

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why they do not permit academic colleges specialising in teaching those with high overall academic promise in addition to the 10 different types of specialist schools which are permitted.[HL7686]

The specialist schools programme is open to all maintained secondary schools including grammar schools. One of the overall aims of the programme is to strengthen and develop the quality of teaching and learning strategies, which includes provision for gifted and talented pupils. Specialist schools submit plans to the DfES which detail provision that schools intend to supply for gifted and talented students both in their own and partner schools.