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27 Jun 2005 : Column 1248W—continued

Press Officers

David Davis: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many press officers his Department has employed in each year since 1997, broken down by pay grade. [1394]

Mr. Charles Clarke: Press officers within the Home Office are employed at the information officer (IO) and senior information officer (SIO) grades.

A breakdown of staff by pay grade prior to 1999–2000 is unavailable as this information is not held on record. The information provided in the table covers full financial years from 1999–2000 to 2004–05.

The Home Office Press Office and the Prison Service Press Office merged in May 2001.

In 2003–04 the Press Office Newsdesk answered 60,039 calls; Press Office issued 583 press notices and held 29 briefings for the media.

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Project IRIS

Mr. Oaten: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on progress in implementing Project IRIS. [4682]

Mr. McNulty: The Iris Recognition Immigration System (IRIS) operational pilot has been implemented at Heathrow Airport Terminals 2 and 4 and commenced passenger enrolments from 20 June 2005. After the pilot has been fully evaluated the system will roll-out to eight other airport terminals during 2005.


Mr. Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the role in the EU of SitCen. [503]

Mr. Charles Clarke: The EU Joint Situation Centre (SitCen) monitors and assesses events and situations worldwide on a 24-hour basis with a focus on potential crisis regions, terrorism and WMD-proliferation. The SitCen also provides support to the EU High Representative, Special Representatives and other senior officials, as well as for EU crisis management operations.

The SitCen is divided into three units: the Civilian intelligence Cell (CIC), comprising civilian intelligence analysts working on political and counter-terrorism assessment; the General Operations Unit (GOU), providing 24-hour operational support, research and non-intelligence analysis; and the Communications Unit, handling communications security issues and running the council's communications centre (ComCen).

This creation of a CT analytical capacity within the CIC, which became active on 1 February 2005, has been the major aspect of SitCen's development since the attacks of 11 March in Madrid. As set out in The Hague multi-annual work programme, the intention is that SitCen furnishes the council with strategic intelligence-based assessments on counter-terrorism matters. An initial six month work programme has been set up to reflect the priorities of Heads of State as set out in the ED Action Plan on terrorism. This cross-pillar work programme incorporates justice and home affairs priorities, as well as those issues highlighted by external policy working groups. As such, it includes for example, assessments on threats to modes of transport; threats to critical national infrastructure targets in EU member states; and an assessment of trends in terrorist financing.

SitCen's priorities had hitherto largely focused on Common Foreign and Security Policy issues and did not serve to provide the necessary JHA input. With the CT Cell's work programme now reflecting broader EU CTpriorities it is intended to add support to current policy areas. This is the principal area where the SitCen CT Cell can contribute to JHA work: strategic intelligence-based assessments on counter-terrorism matters in support of current policy discussions.


Sarah Teather: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people were (a) arrested and (b) successfully prosecuted for terrorist activities in
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London in each year since 1997; and to which organisations those successfully prosecuted belonged; and what their country of origin was. [2528]

Mr. Charles Clarke: Statistics on the operation of Prevention of Terrorism Legislation from 1997 to 2001 are available on the Research and Statistics section of the Home Office website.

Statistics on arrests and prosecutions, since 11 September 2001, under the Terrorism Act 2000 are also available. These can be found in the terrorism section of the Home Office website.

These statistics reflect the operation of specific terrorism legislation. It is important to remember that it is, and will continue to be the case, that terrorist suspects are dealt with by the most appropriate legal means. This could be the legislation for murder, grievous bodily harm or the use of firearms or explosives which are all outside the scope of the Terrorism Act.

Sarah Teather: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department on what dates in the last 12 months he has held meetings with the Mayor of London to discuss contingency measures in the event of a terrorist attack on London. [2435]

Mr. Charles Clarke: The development of contingency plans for London are managed through London Resilience based in the Government office for London. The London Resilience Forum, which meets quarterly, oversees this work and is chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for London Resilience, with the Mayor of London as the deputy chair. The Minister for London Resilience in turn sits on the Cabinet Committee overseeing resilience work nationally. This is chaired by the Home Secretary.

Outside this structure Home Office officials work closely with the London Resilience forum and a range of other Departments and agencies to develop the contingency plans for London.


Mr. Ian Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will take steps to ensure that visa inquiries from High Commission and Embassy entry clearance officers to the Evidence and Enquiries Unit of the Home Office are processed within 14 days. [4704]

Mr. McNulty: The service level agreement between UKvisas and the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (Evidence and Enquiry Unit) sets a process time of 25 days from receipt of inquiries from posts abroad, to the despatch of responses. That performance target time is currently being met in 96 per cent. of cases.


Benefits (Childless Couples)

John Hemming: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what benefits may be paid to couples without children. [3787]

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Mr. Plaskitt: The Department do not provide any benefits expressly aimed at couples without children. A couple without children, who meet the qualifying conditions, would be entitled to the full range of social security benefits, either as a couple or as individuals.

British United Shoe Machinery

Mr. Garnier: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will instigate an inquiry into the collapse of the British United Shoe Machinery Limited's pension scheme. [5151]

Mr. Timms: No.

The Pensions Ombudsman is an independent statutory commissioner and can investigate complaints of injustice resulting from maladministration and disputes of fact or law by the trustees or managers of a scheme, or by an employer on a pensions matter.

The body responsible for the regulation of work-based pension schemes is the Pensions Regulator which replaced the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority (Opra) from 6 April 2005. The law requires that those involved in running occupational and personal pension schemes, including stakeholder schemes, should consider reporting to the regulator breaches of any legislation or rule of law concerning the administration of the scheme.

Council Tax Benefit

Mr. Byers: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the amount of council tax benefit that was unclaimed by pensioners in the latest year for which figures are available. [7420]

Mr. Plaskitt: The latest available information is in Income Related Benefits Estimates of Take Up in 2002/2003", a copy of which is in the Library.

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