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Council of Europe

Mr. David Atkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what conclusions were reached in respect of the Council of Europe at the Dublin EU summit. [11823]

Mr. David Davis: Part VII of the "Presidency Conclusions" (document ref. SN 401/96) which was placed in the House Library on 15 December, records the views of European Council on the Council of Europe as follows:



EU-Israel Trade Agreement

Mr. Batiste: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he estimates the UK will ratify the EU-Israel trade agreement. [11704]

Mr. Hanley: The Order in Council is currently being drafted, and we expect the agreement to be laid before Parliament shortly and debated next month.

Entry Certificate Officers

Mr. Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many entry certificate officers were employed in British high commission offices in (a) Pakistan, (b) Sri Lanka, (c) India and (d) Bangladesh, on 1 January. [11677]

Dr. Liam Fox: The post by post breakdown of the entry clearance officers in the four countries is:

PostNumber of officers
Karachi5
Islamabad26
Colombo4
Bombay10
Calcutta1
Madras3
New Delhi12
Dhaka12

In addition, Karachi and Colombo each have one entry clearance manager, Bombay, Dhaka and New Delhi two and Islamabad four.

22 Jan 1997 : Column: 617

Visa Applicants

Mr. Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many (a) men and (b) women, were waiting for interview at British high commission offices in (i) Pakistan, (ii) Sri Lanka, (iii) India, and (iv) Bangladesh, to join husbands or wives resident in the United Kingdom, on 1 January. [11695]

Dr. Liam Fox: The post-by-post breakdown of applicants awaiting interview in the four countries is as follows:

PostMenWomen
Bombay101211
Calcutta05
Colombo427
Dhaka540147
Islamabad1,024772
Karachi3248
New Delhi1999
Total1,7201,309

Statistics for Madras are still being prepared. I shall write to the hon. Member shortly.

Mr. Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the longest period of time a person had been waiting for an interview to join (a) their husband and (b) their wife, in the United Kingdom at high commission offices in (i) Pakistan, (ii) Sri Lanka, (iii) India and (iv) Bangladesh on 1 January; and if he will make a statement. [11678]

Dr. Fox: The post-by-post breakdown of longest waiting times in the four countries is:

PostHusbandsWives
Bombay6 months6 months
Calcutta21 daysNil
Colombo1 month1 month
Dhaka6 months6 months
Islamabad6 months4 months
Karachi19 weeks19 weeks
New Delhi2 months2 months

Statistics for Madras are still being prepared. However, in 1995, the longest waiting time was six weeks for both husbands and wives.

Mr. Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the average time a person has waited for an interview in respect of an application to join (a) a husband and (b) a wife (i) in the United Kingdom and (ii) at British high commission offices in (1) Pakistan, (2) Sri Lanka, (3) India and (4) Bangladesh in the last year. [11694]

22 Jan 1997 : Column: 618

Dr. Fox: The post-by-post breakdown of average waiting times in the four countries is as follows:

PostHusbandsWives
Bombay3 months3 months
Calcutta10 daysNil
Colombo10 weeks10 weeks
Dhaka6 months6 months
Islamabad3.5 months3.5 months
Karachi18.5 weeks18 weeks
New Delhi2.5 months2.5 months

Statistics for Madras are still being prepared. However, in 1995, the average waiting time was six weeks.

It is not possible to prepare equivalent figures for applicants already in the UK.

Pillar Point Refugee Centre (Hong Kong)

Mr. David Atkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the future of Pillar point refugee centre in Hong Kong and its residents. [11824]

Mr. Hanley: The Pillar Point refugee centre in Hong Kong is funded and managed by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It was opened in 1989 and there are no plans to close it.

Some 620 Vietnamese refugees and 540 non-refugees are accommodated in the centre. UNHCR continue to seek resettlement places for the refugees. The non-refugees' closest links remain with Vietnam and we are seeking to negotiate with the Vietnamese authorities for their repatriation, in accordance with the comprehensive plan of action.

Far East

Sir Irvine Patnick: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will list the (a) companies and (b) universities assessed by his Department to be assisting planning in (i) education and (ii) research in the far east; and if he will make a statement. [12023]

Mr. Hanley: Neither this nor any other Department carries out such assessments. We do, however, welcome the involvement of British companies and universities in this kind of work.

SOCIAL SECURITY

Benefit Fraud Hotline

Mr. Gareth Wardell: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many calls have been made on the benefit fraud hotline to date; how many of those have been found to provide information that was substantiated; and if he will separately distinguish the figures between England and Wales. [9690]

Mr. Heald: The national benefit fraud hotline has received in excess of 125,000 calls up to 12 December 1996.

22 Jan 1997 : Column: 619

Information is not collected to show numbers of calls where the information was substantiated--where our investigations entirely confirm the caller's allegation. The results of investigations from referrals generated by the hotline are only starting to emerge. However, of the 25,942 investigations initiated by the end of November, 11,180 have been completed. Of these, 3,082 investigations have achieved benefit savings of £11,760,635.

Fraud investigations take some time to follow through, depending on the complexity of the investigation. Therefore in time, the volume and rate of investigations completed will increase until a steady state is achieved.

It is not possible to give separate figures for England and Wales as the information is not collected in this format.

Asylum Seekers

Ms Harman: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what representations his Department has made to the Home Office to resolve difficulties concerning the prompt payment of benefit to eligible asylum seekers arising from the absence in form IS96 of a sign as to whether a claim for asylum has been made; and if he will make a statement; [10790]

Mr. Roger Evans: Form IS96 is issued to any person from abroad granted temporary admission under the written authority of an immigration officer. Officials from this Department and from the Home Office have met to discuss this issue and have concluded that it is not appropriate to annotate form IS96 issued to an asylum seeker because it is not a secure document and does not lend itself to be adapted for that purpose.

An adjudication officer must be satisfied as to the true identity of a claimant before a benefit claim can be actioned. The bearer of form IS96: may not be an asylum seeker; may have been issued with more than one IS96 at different times, or may already have been refused leave to enter this country and granted temporary admission pending removal. Therefore, form IS96, annotated or otherwise, is unsuitable for use as a trigger for the payment of a social security benefit.

Departmental officials are in regular discussion with officials from the Home Office to improve the exchange of information between the two departments, to enable adjudication officers to verify the circumstances of asylum seekers' claims promptly.


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