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Terrorist Bombings

Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which countries have signed the UN Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings. [103231]

Mr. Battle: The following countries have signed the UN Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings:

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    Sri Lanka









    United Kingdom

    United States of America




East Timorese Refugees

Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress is being made with the process of returning East Timorese refugees living in West Timor. [103214]

Mr. Battle: We have repeatedly urged the Indonesian Government to accelerate the return of those displaced East Timorese who wish to return home. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has opened a processing centre in Kupang, West Timor for those wishing to return, and the International Organisation for Migration is handling repatriations. Over 120,000 have now returned.


Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with his European counterparts regarding the lifting of the EU embargo on arms sales to Indonesia. [103209]

Mr. Battle: EU Foreign Ministers reviewed recent events in Indonesia at the 15 November General Affairs Council (GAC). Indonesia was not on the agenda at the December GAC. The EU Common Position concerning restrictive measures against Indonesia adopted on 16 September expires on 17 January 2000. It would require the unanimous agreement of all EU partners either to lift it early or to extend it.

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Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Government of Sudan concerning President Omar Hassan al Bashir's decision to dissolve parliament and declare a state of emergency. [103217]

Mr. Hain: We have taken a number of opportunities to speak to the Government of Sudan about the decisions of President Bashir both bilaterally and with the EU stressing our concern for the safety of British citizens and the importance we attach to a comprehensive peace settlement that benefits all Sudanese.

The situation on the ground remains calm. We will continue to monitor events closely through our Embassy in Khartoum.

European Security and Defence Identity

Sir Peter Emery: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he is taking to ensure that in plans for the European Security and Defence Identity the views of the neutral and non-NATO nations are not able to prevent the rapid exercise of military judgment. [102087]

Mr. Hoon: I have been asked to reply.

There is no reason to believe that the non-NATO Members of the European Union will obstruct the rapid and effective exercise of military judgment in any future EU-led crisis management operation. Operations for territorial or collective defence will remain a matter for NATO.

Under the arrangements agreed at the recent Helsinki European Council, all EU member states will be entitled to participate on an equal basis in EU decision-making. Once a decision to launch an EU-led operation has been taken only countries contributing to the operation would participate in day-to-day decision-making.


Miners (Compensation)

Mr. Wigley: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if the compensation paid to ex-coalminers or to their widows, on account of their suffering from emphysema or chronic bronchitis, will be liable to reduction on the basis of their receiving extra social security benefits (a) after giving up work and (b) for their loss of earnings. [103062]

Mr. Bayley: The provisions of the compensation recovery scheme applies to all victims of accident, injury or disease who have received both state benefits and compensation for the same need. The scheme will, therefore, apply to miners who have recently been awarded compensation for emphysema or chronic bronchitis. Under the provisions of the scheme, a compensator is liable to repay benefits paid up to the date of the final compensation payment, subject to a five year maximum. In turn, they must reduce the compensation to take account of the amounts repaid, but only where compensation and benefits are paid for a like need. Under no circumstances can compensation for pain and suffering

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be reduced. In the case of widows, where the compensation claim is made under the provisions of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, or would have been had an action been brought, any payments are exempt.

Benefit Payment Methods

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will estimate the unit cost to the Benefits Agency of making benefit payments by (a) voucher, (b) Girocheque, (c) payable order and (d) automated credit transfer. [103144]

Mr. Rooker: The overall average unit costs to the Benefits Agency are in the order of 54p for order book vouchers or foils, £1.36 for girocheques, 55p for payable orders and 1p for automated credit transfer.

Benefit Fraud

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what estimate he has made of (a) the cost of benefit fraud in the last financial year and (b) the surplus on unclaimed benefits in the last financial year. [103191]

Mr. Rooker: Previous estimates have shown that £2 billion a year has definitely been lost through fraud. A further £3 billion may have been lost in cases where fraud is strongly suspected and a further £2 billion where there is some suspicion of fraud.

We are now measuring the level of fraud and error in Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance, the two most vulnerable benefits, by thoroughly investigating a monthly random sample of cases in each Benefit Agency area. Staff error is measured separately by a special team within the Benefits Agency. The latest period for which figures are available is the 12 months ending September 1998 where the level of fraud and error in these benefits was £1.4 billion or 9 per cent. of the total benefit paid.

The latest figures available show the amount left unclaimed in Income Related benefits was between £1,580 million and £4,110 million in 1997-98.


Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on inherited rights to SERPS for widows and widowers after 6 April 2000. [103323]

Mr. Rooker: We will make a statement as soon as we reach a conclusion on the way forward.

Household Incomes

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security, pursuant to her answer of 29 November 1999, Official Report, column 56W, on what is based his estimate of the total amount of extra social security expenditure necessary to achieve average increases in household income of (a) £46 per week before housing costs and (b) £52 per week after housing costs. [102814]

Angela Eagle: My written answer of 29 November 1999, Official Report, column 56W, provided estimates for the additional incomes required to ensure that all children were in households with at least half average income. Any implications for increased Social Security

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expenditure would be dependent upon how the increase in incomes was achieved. Increases in Social Security expenditure can be used to increase household incomes through improving incentives to work and helping people find work as well as through directly increasing benefit payments. Action on a wide range of fronts can boost incomes through increasing the earnings potential of those on low incomes and helping people to achieve their potential. Different approaches would require different levels of Social Security expenditure.

Our strategy for eradicating child poverty within 20 years involves tackling the main causes of poverty and social exclusion. This means helping parents find work, making work pay and ensuring that every child gets the best possible start in life as well as providing additional help for families through the tax and benefit system.

Winter Fuel Payments

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) how many pensioner households qualify for the 1999 winter fuel payment; and how many of those households had received this payment by 6 December; [102636]

Angela Eagle: To ensure that pensioners received their winter fuel payment before Christmas, those eligible were identified during the week commencing 20 September. Over 7.5 million pensioner households qualified for winter fuel payments this winter. By 6 December all those households should have been issued with a winter fuel payment. However, in case some pensioners may not have received their payment, a national and regional press advertising campaign was run from 9 to 15 December inclusive. This advised pensioners that they could ring the National Winter Fuel Payment Helpline with any concerns that they had about their payment.

Mr. Fearn: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security for what reasons the cut-off date for eligibility to receive the winter fuel allowance has been set at 12 September 1999. [102682]

Angela Eagle: In order to make Winter Fuel Payments automatically, without incurring disproportionate administration costs, it is necessary to identify those in receipt of qualifying benefits through official departmental computer records. Therefore, entitlement is based on being in receipt of one of the qualifying Social Security benefits for at least a day during a specified qualifying week.

The process of identification and determination of the amount payable takes around 10 weeks, therefore to ensure receipt of the payments before Christmas the qualifying week chosen for this winter was the week beginning 20 September. If the qualifying period was extended or a later week used, the exercise would not have been completed in time for payments to be made before Christmas.

Mr. Ruane: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many pensioners have received the £100 cold weather payment in each constituency in the last year. [102595]

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Angela Eagle: The information requested is expected to be available in the new year.

Mrs. Gilroy: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on winter fuel payments following the judgment made by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Taylor. [103839]

Mr. Darling: In 1997, we decided to make Winter Fuel Payments payable to elderly people in receipt of qualifying benefits--principally Retirement Pension. We did this because this meant that payments could be made quickly, automatically and at the right time.

Following the Court's judgment in the Taylor case, help through Winter Fuel Payments will be extended to everyone aged 60 and over, regardless of whether they are claiming a pension or are on another qualifying benefit.

By equalising the age of entitlement for Winter Fuel Payments at 60 for men and women, the number of people who will benefit will increase by up to 1.5 million. This will have an estimated annual programme cost of £85 million. It will mean that next winter, up to 11.5 million people in up to 8.5 million households will benefit from these payments.

In line with the judgment, the Government will also make backdated payments to the start of the scheme for up to 1.9 million people. This will have an estimated one-off programme cost of £125 million.

The age of entitlement for Winter Fuel Payments will initially be set at 60. Thereafter, however, it will move in step with entitlement for State Retirement Pension. It will therefore start to rise in 2010 and reach 65 in 2020.

We will need to find out the names and addresses of the people who are newly eligible for these payments. As the information we hold may not be up to date, we will therefore need to introduce a claims process for Winter Fuel Payments. This process will need to be developed carefully and appropriate IT systems built to deal with claims.

There is no need for people newly eligible for Winter Fuel Payments to contact the Benefits Agency now. A further announcement will be made early next year to advise people how to claim.

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