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18 Jan 2002 : Column 545W
Mr. Blunkett: Where provision of a service has been contracted out to a private company, any decision on future delivery will be based on value for money considerations, including performance and departmental requirements. We currently have no plans to bring back into the core Home Office any services which have been contracted out.
Mr. Keith Bradley: The Home Office Court Proceedings database is unable to distinguish offences of credit card fraud from other types of fraud as the circumstances of individual offences are not collected centrally.
The following table shows the number of persons found guilty or cautioned for all offences of 'other fraud' (as distinct from fraud by a company director or false accounting) for the years 1991 to 2000:
Information on the cost of credit card fraud is not collated by the Home Office. However, the Association of Payment Clearing Services has estimated the cost of reported losses due to credit card fraud over the last five years as:
APACS Fraud in Focus 2001
Lembit Öpik: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans his Department has to change the rules governing the issuing of work permits to Lithuanian citizens; and if he will make a statement. 
Angela Eagle: There is no differential between nationalities when considering a work permit application. The decision is determined by whether the application meets the criteria of the work permit arrangements.
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Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he last used the railway service in connection with his official duties; what station he left from and what was the destination; and whether it is his intention to make greater use of the railways in future. 
Mr. Blunkett: All arrangements for official travel are made in line with the guidance set out in Chapter 7 of the Ministerial Code, and the accompanying guidance document "Travel by Ministers", using the most efficient and cost effective mode of transport, and bearing in mind security considerations. My last official visit by train was on 11 December last year to address the Balsall Health Forum in the west midlands. For this visit I returned to London by rail from Birmingham New Street to London Euston. I intend to continue using the railway for official travel whenever this is practical.
Paul Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of the motivation of (a) child asylum seekers and (b) those who facilitate their journeys; and if he will make a statement. 
Angela Eagle [holding answer 17 January 2002]: We have not assessed the motivation of child asylum seekers. All asylum applications, regardless of the applicant's age, will be considered in accordance with the criteria set out in the United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees.
There is no common motivation for those facilitating child asylum seekers. Some will act altruistically, others to improve the economic or educational prospects of family members. But there are many whose motivation is profit and the involvement of organised people smuggling gangs is becoming increasingly common.
Mr. Gummer: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what information is given to applicants for a new student visa about the length of time that they may be without their passport. 
Angela Eagle: Information about the likely time scale for considering applications for leave to remain is quoted in the relevant application form and on the Immigration and Nationality Directorate website. The website is updated regularly. Since 1 January 2002, all new applications for leave to remain are being acknowledged. The acknowledgement letter indicates the likely time scale for the application to be considered. If, on initial consideration, the application cannot be decided for whatever reason, another letter giving a further indication of the likely time scale is sent to the applicant.
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Angela Eagle: We aim to decide 70 per cent. of all new general and settlement applications within three weeks but at present it is taking up to eight weeks to consider new straightforward applications. The reasons for this are (i) the exceptionally high number of new applications received this year, and especially, in recent months; and (ii) process changes that are being introduced. We are working to reduce this to three weeks or less as soon as possible.
Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the minimum period is within which a British passport holder can obtain an emergency replacement in the event of loss or theft; and what the minimum period was prior to 14 January. 
Angela Eagle: On 14 January the Passport Service introduced two new guaranteed services at its public counters. These are a same day service at £75 for a standard passport and a one week service at £60 for a standard passport. The standard two week service (non-guaranteed) remains available for postal application. The same day service is not available for first passport applications because of the time needed to complete checks on identity. Applications to replace lost or stolen passports are dealt with in the same way as first applications, because the high incidence of fraud makes it necessary to check identity and records of the previous issue. This means that the fastest service normally available for replacement of a lost or stolen passport is the guaranteed one week service.
Exceptionally, in the case of a genuine emergency involving travel for compassionate reasons or business purposes, a same day service can be provided. Prior to 14 January, services were not guaranteed and turnaround
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times would depend on factors such as the volume of applications being dealt with and the relative difficulty of establishing identity in the individual case. The change is intended to help customers by providing a choice of services with guarantees for those who need a fast service, while protecting the integrity of the British passport.
Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department on how many occasions in each of the last five years the Passport Office Agency has paid compensation to its customers; and what was the total sum of such compensation. 
Angela Eagle: The total number of compensation payments made to customers of the United Kingdom Passport Service over the last five years is given in the table together with the amounts for each year.
|Number of payments||Total amount of compensation (£)|
Angela Eagle: It is current policy to disperse asylum seekers away from London and the south-east. In his statement on 29 October last year my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made it clear that the policy of dispersing asylum seekers away from London and the south-east would continue. I can confirm that to date the Immigration and Nationality Directorate has not identified any areas in Essex suitable for use as cluster areas for the dispersal of asylum seekers.