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Middle East

Mr. Moore: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has for a conference in London on the Middle East peace process; and if he will make a statement. [199498]

Mr. Rammell: We have made it clear that we are determined to redouble our efforts to achieve progress towards a lasting peace and to mobilise the international community to do likewise. We are looking at how we can best support both parties to move forwards, and judge that a meeting or a conference may at some stage help the new Palestinian leadership prepare for Israeli disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank in the context of the Roadmap.

Overseas Contracts

John Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the success of British companies in winning government contracts in other European countries. [199819]

Mr. Boateng: I have been asked to reply.

In the 2003 pre-Budget report, the Chancellor announced that Alan Wood, Chief Executive of Siemens plc, was to lead a review of UK businesses' experiences in competing for public procurement contracts in other EU countries. The report, to the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, was published in November 2004 and is available in the Library of the House.

Palestinian Authority

Mr. Moore: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assurance he has (a) sought from and (b) been given by the Israeli Government that elections for the Palestinian Authority in January will be given appropriate support by Israel. [199502]

Mr. Rammell: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised this issue during his visit to Israel and Palestine last week. On 24 November, following the Foreign Secretary's meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. Mr. Shalom stated that "Israel will do everything in its power to facilitate the smooth running of the forthcoming Palestinian elections. We also welcome the commitment of the international community to this process."
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Mr. Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions his Department has had with the Government in Sudan on the situation there. [200474]

Mr. Mullin: In recent months my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for International Development and I have all visited Sudan and held in depth meetings with the Sudanese Government. Most recently the Foreign Secretary spoke to the First-Vice President on the telephone on 16 November. We are in regular contact with the Sudanese Government through our Ambassador in Khartoum. Discussions cover both the situation in Dafur and the North-South peace process.

UK Embassies

Sir Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many personnel are employed (a) from his Department and (b) locally by the commercial department of the UK Embassy in Vienna. [199939]

Mr. Alexander: One full-time UK based member of staff is employed in the Commercial Section of the Embassy in Vienna plus 30 per cent. of the Ambassador and 15 per cent. of the Deputy Head of Mission. There are five Locally Engaged positions, but six staff (two on a job share). (There are 21 UK Based Staff employed in the whole of the Embassy)


Financial Assistance Scheme

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions which companies he has had discussions with regarding contributions to the Financial Assistance Scheme; and how much each of them has agreed to contribute. [200162]

Malcolm Wicks: Ministers from the Department for Work and Pensions have held many meetings with representatives from the pensions industry.

No direct financial contributions have yet been made, but we are keen that the industry should have the opportunity to offer support to the Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS) either by voluntary financial contributions or assistance in kind.

We are most grateful for the valuable assistance in kind offered by the pensions industry to date, both in sharing their expertise through the FAS Industry Working Group and in supporting the data collection exercises which enhance our understanding of the problems which the FAS must address. We maintain a firm hope that the industry will further support the Government's leadership in assisting these individuals, and we believe that they have a strong interest in doing so.
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IT Systems

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many different IT systems hold customer benefit data; and what plans he has to integrate those systems. [200119]

Jane Kennedy: The Department currently holds customer benefit data in seven major IT benefit systems supported by the Departmental Central Index, which holds national insurance numbers and details, and the Personal Details Computer System. The Personal Details Computer System is the Department's master repository for customer personal details and ensures the synchronisation of customer data across the benefit systems.

As part of the modernising delivery programme, we are increasing data sharing capability across the Department and rationalising the number of systems we have holding data. Key to this is the introduction of the Customer Information System which will become the central repository for core customer benefit data. This new system will start to be delivered from mid-2005 and will enable a more consistent and consolidated approach when interacting with our customers.

Myasthenia Gravis

Mr. Robathan: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on benefit entitlement for those diagnosed with myasthenia gravis. [201078]

Maria Eagle: We do not pay benefits based on medical diagnosis.

Incapacity benefit is intended to provide a source of income for sick and disabled people of working age who are unable to work.

Entitlement to disability living allowance is based on walking difficulties and/or the need for personal care which results from severe disability. The customer's medical condition is not, necessarily, the key factor. Rather it is the disablement that results from it and the effects of that disablement.

We are ensuring that the benefit system encourages and promotes work where possible. However, we recognise that those with the most severe conditions may never be able to work, and benefits provide security for those for whom work is not an option.

Parliamentary Questions

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many written questions for his Department were unanswered when Parliament Prorogued; and how many of the unanswered questions were tabled in each of the previous months of the 2003–04 Session. [201548]

Maria Eagle: No questions were unanswered when Parliament Prorogued.

Theft and Fraud

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will launch an inquiry into the levels of theft and fraud in his Department committed by officials and contractors. [201186]

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Mr. Pond: A typographical error by Hansard in reporting a response to a previous question overstated levels of fraud and theft by a factor of 1,000. The actual level of fraud detected involving contractors is less than 1/20 of 1 per cent. of the level of expenditure. The actual level of frauds involving staff is even smaller.

The Department has recently formed a dedicated unit with responsibility for the prevention, deterrence and investigation of internal fraud. Over a number of years actual levels of fraud and theft by contractors and officials has not significantly changed and while the Department will continue to take all reasonable steps to reduce this further it does not give grounds for an inquiry.

Winter Fuel Payments

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many (a) men and (b) women in Pendle receive the winter fuel allowance. [199930]

Malcolm Wicks: In Winter 2003–04, the total number of people in Pendle who received the winter fuel payment was 16,850, of which 7,495 were men and 9,355 were women. We would expect the numbers to be similar for winter 2004–05.

Brian Cotter: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many (a) people and (b) households in the Weston-Super-Mare constituency were (i) eligible to receive and (ii) received the winter fuel payment in 2003–04. [199766]

Malcolm Wicks: It is not possible to provide an accurate estimate of the number of people in the constituency of Weston-Super-Mare who were eligible to receive a winter fuel payment as DWP administrative data does not contain complete information on household circumstances, and payments are based on household composition.

The number of people in the Weston-Super-Mare constituency who received a winter fuel payment for winter 2003–04 was 23,505, in 16,045 households.

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