Liz Blackman: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make arrangements to protect the position of pensioners reaching pension age after 28 February 2001 who have periods of residence in Australia. 
Mr. Rooker: As I have indicated in response to letters from right hon. and hon. Members who have raised the issue on behalf of constituents, we have been considering how to make transitional arrangements. I am pleased to announce we are putting arrangements in place to protect the position of those people who have periods of residence in Australia, on their return to live permanently in the UK. We are protecting such periods of residence up to and including 5 April 2001 for the purpose of basic retirement pension and bereavement benefits.
We shall, in advance of Primary Legislation, top up the pensions of people with residence in Australia prior to 6 April 2001 with an extra statutory payment if they have less than the full rate of basic pension. We will do this when they claim their pension.
There will be no extra cost to public funds as we would have made such payments if the Agreement with Australia had continued. I am arranging to write to all Members of both Houses who have raised the issue specifically with me.
Mr. Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what advice about the availability of (a) the Home Energy Efficiency plus Scheme and (b) other means-tested benefits is given to inquirers about Income Support. 
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Mr. Bayley: Income Support Information Sheet INF2(IS), issued with Income Support award notices, advises of other help people may be entitled to and includes a freephone number for advice on the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme (HEES) and HEES plus for those over 60.
Another source of information is the Benefits Enquiry Line which offers advice on other means-tested benefits and when appropriate will advise customers to contact the Home Energy Efficiency freephone.
Mr. Maclennan: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps he has taken to promote equality between (a) older people, (b) disabled people, (c) ethnic minorities, (d) religious minorities, (e) women and (f) gay and lesbian people, and the rest of the population, with respect to the (i) benefits, (ii) services and (iii) employment for which his Department has responsibility. 
Mr. Bayley [holding answer 12 December 2000]: The Social Security system in this country aims to provide financial support through benefits to individuals according to various sets of circumstances and needs, as defined through legislation and approved by Parliament. Some of the provision through benefits is targeted to very broad groupings by age, such as Child Benefit or Retirement Pension. Other benefits are defined and targeted more specifically to recognise particular personal circumstances. For instance, disability benefits help disabled people according to their needs. Depending on the extent of their disabilities, many disabled people face extra costs over and above the normal cost of living, and disability benefits provide help towards these extra costs, with the level of help reflecting a person's needs for either personal care or mobility. Other benefits reflect the provision of financial support to those on low or no income, such as Income Support. The benefit system aims to treat people fairly in a way that recognises diversity of circumstance and needs, and seeks to balance that with a focus on its key client groups (children, those of working age and pensioners).
The services that the Department provides are linked to the benefit provision and include locally based offices, centralised offices, telephone-based provision and internet opportunities. The Department uses many methods of communication including television, helplines, face-to- face contact and written information available in a range of languages and type sizes, from various outlets. Access to information is designed to be open to all irrespective of individual circumstances. In respect of the services that this Department provides, we also aim to ensure that all our policies, programmes and services are taken forward in line with the joint-departmental guidelines "Policy Appraisal for Equal Treatment" issued in 1998.
This Department as part of the Home Civil Service aims to be an employer which makes the most of what people can bring to their work, and values diversity. The Department is an Investor in People. It is committed to
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fairness and equality of opportunity for all in employment and advancement on the basis of suitability. The Department's equal opportunities statement requires that no eligible external or internal job applicant should receive less favourable treatment on the grounds of age, disability, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, religion or religious affiliation or because they work part-time. The Department offers, for example, family friendly employment policies, an open promotion system based on merit, specific schemes to encourage ethnic minority staff to develop their skills and careers.
Mr. Letwin: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment he has made of the effect of (a) the minimum income guarantee and (b) the pensioners' credit on the likely uptake of stakeholder pensions. 
Mr. Rooker: We are consulting on proposals to introduce the Pension Credit from 2003. The Pension Credit will reward savings and therefore have a positive impact on the take up of second pensions, including Stakeholder pension.
Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will list, for each year since 1995, the numbers of flights including helicopter flights taken by Ministers within his Department for UK and overseas visits; on how many occasions (a) charter flights were used and (b) first and club class tickets obtained; and who accompanied the Ministers on each trip. 
Mr. Rooker: Ministers are under a duty to make efficient and cost-effective travel arrangements. This Government have given a commitment to publish an annual list of visits overseas by Cabinet Ministers costing more than £500 as well as an annual figure on spend by all Ministers on overseas visits. The list for 1999-2000 was published on 28 July 2000, Official Report, column 969W.
Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to raise the capital limits for people in residential care and nursing homes in line with the changes to the Department of Health's charging rules announced in the NHS Plan. 
Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will list, for each year since 1995, the number of flights, including helicopter flights, taken by Ministers within his Department for UK and overseas
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visits; on how many occasions (a) charter flights were used and (b) first and club class tickets obtained; and who accompanied the Ministers on each trip. 
Dr. Reid: Ministers are under a duty to make efficient and cost-effective travel arrangements. This Government have given a commitment to publish an annual list of visits overseas by Cabinet Ministers costing more than £500 as well as an annual figure on spend by all Ministers on overseas visits. The list for 1999-2000 was published on 28 July 2000, Official Report, column 969W.
Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what progress has been made on Belize's application for relief under the Commonwealth Debt Initiative; and if she will make a statement. 
Clare Short: The Commonwealth Debt Initiative announced in 1997 offers relief on old aid debts to poorer Commonwealth countries, provided they are committed to the international development targets, are actively pursuing sound economic policies that benefit the poor, are promoting responsive and accountable government which encourages transparency, and are bearing down on corruption.
In assessing Belize's eligibility for debt relief, the UK and Belize Governments have jointly commissioned a study from KPMG to review the regulation of off-shore financial services and the effect of tax exemptions on pro-poor programmes.
The two Governments have written to KPMG to confirm that the study should cover the issue of Public Investment Companies. When the study has been completed, and discussed with the Government of Belize, a decision will be made on Belize's eligibility for debt relief.