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Written Answers

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 30 October 2008

Written Answers

Thursday 30 October 2008

Africa: Agriculture

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How much assistance they have given to centres of research into improved dry land agriculture in Africa during the past two financial years; and with what measurable results in productivity and agricultural extension. [HL5052]

In the past two years the Department for International Development (DfID) has provided £5.8 million directly to international research centres working on dry land and semi-arid agriculture. In addition, over the same period, a proportion of DfID's overall contribution of £40 million to 15 international agriculture research centres has been spent on research into the development of new varieties of drought-tolerant crops and the development of improved farming practices to overcome the worst effects of drought.

New varieties of crops, more productive and better able to withstand drought, have increased the yields of staple crops grown in arid and semi-arid areas, For example, drought-tolerant varieties of maize, developed with DfID support, increase farmers’ yields by 25-30 per cent and are being grown on more than 1 million hectares in Africa. Sorghum varieties have been developed and released which increase farmers’ yields by over 50 per cent. In total over 400 new varieties of drought-tolerant and more productive crops have been developed and released in Africa by international agriculture research centres.


asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the European Commission required dividends on ordinary shares not to be payable until preference shares were redeemed under the Government's bank recapitalisation scheme; and, if so, why. [HL5721]

State aid approval for the bank recapitalisation scheme was given on the understanding that there would be incentives for early redemption of the preference shares held by the UK authorities.

However, there was no agreement that the options available to the UK in doing so should be limited to a no-dividends policy.

Benefits: Winter Fuel Payment

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will increase the winter fuel allowance to pensioners on benefits in line with fuel cost inflation. [HL5743]

The winter fuel payment provides a significant contribution to an older person's winter fuel bill but it is not intended to cover the whole cost.

In his 2008 Budget Statement, the Chancellor announced that we will make an additional one-off payment with the winter fuel payment for 2008-09. Qualifying households with a member aged 60 to 79 will receive an extra £50, bringing the amount paid this winter to £250; and an additional £100 will be payable to qualifying households with a member aged 80 or over, bringing that amount to £400.

Human Rights

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Who are their principal advisers on human rights; when they were appointed; what remit, if any, they were given; for how long they are appointed; whether they are remunerated; whether their advice is published; and, if so, in what form. [HL5600]

Officials in the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other departments advise government Ministers on human rights issues. It is part of the statutory duties of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to advise the Government when requested on matters relating to human rights. The Government may also from time to time consult on an ad hoc basis interested parties or experts on specific topics; with the exception of counsel providing legal advice who are paid accordingly, these advisers are not remunerated, do not hold a formal position, and do not provide published advice. As part of his role as an independent and unpaid adviser on constitutional issues to the Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Lester has also advised on the work towards a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

India: Orissa

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Department for International Development plans to invest in projects for tackling rural poverty amongst the Dalit peoples and scheduled tribes in Orissa State, India. [HL5841]

The Department for International Development (DfID) has two ongoing programmes that directly address rural poverty among Dalits (scheduled castes) and scheduled tribes in Orissa.

The western Orissa rural livelihoods project, with a budget of £32.75 million, focuses on improving opportunities for very poor people to earn a decent living. The project aims to benefit 400,000 poor people from four districts including 140,000 people from scheduled tribes and 60,000 from scheduled castes. The project commenced in 2000 and will run over a period of 10 years. A recent review found that good progress was being made, with income levels in the target communities rising steadily.

The Orissa tribal empowerment and livelihoods programme is jointly supported by DfID, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Government of Orissa and the programme beneficiaries. DfID's contribution is £9.76 million over six years, from 2004 to 2010, and is intended to improve incomes, water and sanitation and reduce malnutrition in very poor tribal areas. The programme aims to benefit poor people from eight districts with a total population of 1.7 million people. 75,000 households are being directly targeted, including 315,000 people from scheduled tribes and 37,500 from scheduled castes.

In addition to these two programmes, DfID supports a number of Government of India schemes which cover the entire country and are therefore active in Orissa. These address the need for better health, education and other services for the poorest, with a focus on marginalised groups such as scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

Northern Ireland Office: Taxis

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How much the Northern Ireland Office spent on taxis in each of the past five years. [HL5602]

The invoiced expenditure on taxi fares for the Northern Ireland Office, excluding its agencies and executive NDPBs, in the past five years is shown in the following table.













Changes to transport arrangements in 2007-08 have generated overall savings even after allowing for the increase in taxi costs. Further taxi fares were claimed by employees as reimbursable expenses but due to the processes involved in making these payments, costs can only be provided at disproportionate cost.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which ranks of officials in the Northern Ireland Office are permitted to use a taxi; and for what type of trip. [HL5636]

The Northern Ireland Office keeps the cost of travel on official business under regular review. Departmental guidance requires all staff to use the most efficient means of transport taking account of travel costs, time and incidental expenses, for example, the cost of car parking. The use of taxis, when compared to all the alternatives including public transport, is at times the most cost-efficient means of travel for the purpose of official business. The policy applies to all grades of staff.