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Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the mandate of the Committee on the introduction of a uniform format for visas is; how many times it has met over the last 12 months; what the United Kingdom representation on it is; what the annual cost of its work is to public funds; if he will list the items currently under its consideration; if he will take steps to increase its accountability and transparency to Parliament; and if he will make a statement. 
Beverley Hughes: The mandate for the Committee on uniform format visas is Article 6 of Council Regulation (EC) 1683/95 of 29 May 1995 laying down a uniform format for visas. This Regulation has since been amended by Council Regulation (EC) No 334/2002 of 18 February 2002 which introduced new technical requirements for the uniform format for visas and maintained the mandate of the Article 6 Committee.
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United Kingdom representation on the Committee usually comprises the Inspector and a Chief Immigration Officer from the Immigration Service National Forgery Section (the Immigration Service centre of expertise on travel document security and abuse) and a representative from the United Kingdom Visas (a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office unit responsible for visa related matters).
Precise figures for the annual cost of the Committee's work on public funds are not available. However, travel costs to meetings for one member of the United Kingdom delegation are reimbursed by the Commission.
Currently under consideration by the Committee is its standing mandate of a general review of security and standards of performance of the uniform format visa with a view to enhancement of security safeguards as considered appropriate and necessary. In particular at present, the Committee is considering technical specifications to implement Council Regulation (EC) No. 334/2002 which requires integration into the visa of a photograph produced according to high security standards. The Committee is also currently mandated by Council Regulation (EC) No 333/2002 for a uniform format for a form for affixing the visa issued by a member state to a person holding a travel document not recognised by that member state. The Regulation requires the Committee to set specification for the form that meet high technical standards, in particular as regards safeguards against counterfeiting and falsification.
Mr. Lloyd: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what targets he sets for his Department to respond to a request for information from an overseas post in cases for applications for a settlement visa for spouses of UK nationals. 
Beverley Hughes [holding answer 23 May 2002]: The internal target for responding to requests for information from posts abroad is 90 per cent. within two weeks of receipt of the request. The earliest outstanding request was received on 14 February 2002.
Mr. Lloyd: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the average time is for a response to a request for information from the Democratic Republic of Congo in cases for applications for a settlement visa for spouses of UK nationals. 
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Beverley Hughes: Mr. Glover's letter of 11 February 2002 was received in the Home Office on 7 March 2002. It was transferred to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) for response. The National Asylum Support Service, one of the directorates in IND, subsequently replied to him on 25 April 2002. I apologise for the delay in providing my hon. Friend's constituent with a substantive reply.
Mr. Sanders: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to reply to the letter of 6 December 2001 from the hon. Member for Torbay regarding Mr. Ian Broom of Torquay. 
Glenda Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what sums have been made available to London boroughs to cover the additional costs of asylum seekers returning to London. 
Beverley Hughes [holding answer 20 May 2002]: The National Asylum Support Service (NASS) has not provided any funding to London boroughs to cover additional costs of asylum seekers returning to London from dispersal areas. NASS is responsible for meeting the direct costs of providing support to asylum seekers who are destitute. NASS is not responsible for providing funding for other services such as education and health. Asylum seekers returning to London can apply to NASS to change their support package from subsistence and accommodation to subsistence only. But asylum seekers could not, as a matter of routine, request that accommodation be provided in London. London is not a dispersal area. Accommodation will be provided in London only in exceptional circumstances.
Mr. Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the nature of activities envisaged under paragraph 17 of the Laeken Conclusions, referring to the Specialist (Counter-Terrorist) Services. 
Mr. Blunkett: Prior to the European Union (EU) Council Meeting in Laeken, excellent co-operation already existed between the specialist units of EU member states responsible for counter-terrorism. The events of 11 September emphasised the need for practical and effective international co-operation against terrorism, both within and outside the European Union. This need was reflected in the conclusions of the meeting. An example of such co-operation was the United Kingdom proposed
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Alan Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) how many people are held under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001; how long each has been held; how many face formal legal charges; how many have been convicted of a terrorist offence; and how many are being held in conditions where normal prisoners' rights do not apply; 
Mr. Blunkett: 11 foreign nationals have so far been detained using powers in Part IV of the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001. Eight were detained in December 2001, one in February 2002, and a further two in April 2002. Of those detained two have left the United Kingdom voluntarily. The other nine remain in detention. Normal Prison Service rules apply in respect of all aspects of the detentions. It is long-standing Government practice not to discuss individual cases or the immigration status of individuals. If, however, an individual chooses to publicise their case, we would be able to confirm their name and nationality. This is a matter for the individual and their legal representative in the first instance.
Mr. Spring: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the issue of the British plane-spotters tried in Greece was discussed by Ministers or officials with the Greek Justice Minister on his recent visit to London. 
Mr. Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the backlog of cases is at IND; and what the estimated length of time is that IND takes to reply to a letter from hon. Members. 
Our latest estimate for appeals with the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) waiting to be sent to the Immigration Appellate Authority, provided to my hon. Friend previously on 14 May 2002, Official Report, column 604W, gives a figure of 48,000, the majority of which are asylum appeals, including work in progress.
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Information on the average length of time it takes for officials in the IND to respond to hon. Members' correspondence is currently not collated centrally and is available only at disproportionate cost.
Beverley Hughes: The Croydon Public Enquiry Office (PEO) provides a fast-track, same-day service to personal callers with regard to straightforward immigration applications/inquiries as well as operating an urgent return of documents section. The small amount of incoming mail that PEO receives is opened during the working day. Each item is linked to its relevant Home Office file and/or allocated to a caseworking unit within 24 hours.
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