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17 Jan 2008 : Column 1421W—continued

Kelvin Hopkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the net cost would be of increasing the basic state pension for all existing pensioners to 60 per cent. of median population income in 2008-09. [172161]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The estimated net cost is approximately £22 billion in 2008-09 which takes savings from income-related benefits into account.

Pensions

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people made contributions into a group personal pension scheme in 2005-06. [175052]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The information is not available in the format requested. Such information as is available is presented as follows:

Employer sponsored g roup p ersonal p ensions
Thousand
Number of members

Personal pensions

1,890

Stakeholder pensions

870

Notes:
1. The information shows the number of Personal and Stakeholder pension scheme members. They are derived from monthly and annual statistical returns submitted to HMRC by pension providers alongside claims for the repayment of basic rate income tax on contributions. Due to lags in providers submitting monthly returns the number and amounts shown in the tables will tend to underestimate the number of members during the year.
2. The number of members relates to members of each reporting provider and should not be taken as numbers of individuals, since individuals can have more than one pension provider.
3. Employer sponsored schemes include group personal pensions, group stakeholder pensions and all contracts set up under a trust by an employer.
Source:
As reported to HMRC by providers between 6 April 2005 to 5 April 2006

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people aged (a) 18 to 25, (b) 25 to 45 and (c) 45 to 65 years are contracted out of the state second pension; and what proportion of the working population in each age group these figures represent. [175063]


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Mr. Mike O'Brien: The latest available information is in the following table:

Age-group Number of people contracted out ( T housand) Percentage of corresponding workforce

18-25

633

17

26-45

6,779

49

46-64

3,743

43

Notes:
(a) Contracting-out figures are based on a one per cent. sample of LLMD 2 and are shown to the nearest thousand.
(b) Workforce figures on which the percentages are based are from the Office for National Statistics mid-2003 population estimates.
(c) The “46-64 age group” excludes women aged between 60 and 64 as people cannot contract out beyond state pension age (currently 60 for women and 65 for men).
(d) The age-groups set out in the answer differ slightly from those set out in the question to avoid overlapping and to take account of the fact that men cannot contract out beyond state pension age.
Source:
Lifetime Labour Market Database (LLMD) 2, 2003-04

Paul Rowen: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many pensioners have had their pension payment date (a) advanced to 21 December 2007 and (b) set to be paid on 24 December 2007. [175078]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The information requested is not available in the format requested. Such information as is available is as follows.

Pensions: Carers

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people in (a) Eastbourne constituency, (b) England and (c) the UK receive the carer’s credit for the state second pension; and what percentage of the population in each area each figure represents. [175073]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The new carer’s credit, replacing home responsibilities protection (HRP), will apply to those reaching state pension age from 6 April 2010. It will allow, in certain circumstances, a parent, a registered foster parent or a carer to build up entitlement to basic state pension and state second pension.

It is estimated that the more generous crediting arrangements will mean up to one million more people (around 90 per cent. of whom are women) will be accruing state second pension.

Currently HRP provides entitlement to state second pension as well as reducing the number of qualifying years needed for a full basic state pension. HRP is awarded to people who receive child benefit for a child under six years old, carers who receive carer’s allowance, and certain other carers.

The latest figures available (2003-04) show that in that year just under 1.9 million people in the UK qualified for state second pension because they had
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caring responsibilities. This represented just over four per cent. of the UK working age population at that time. Figures for England and at a constituency level are not available.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Damascus: Entry Clearances

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the restricted visa service at the British embassy in Damascus. [179385]

Dr. Howells: A restricted visa service has been in operation at our embassy in Damascus since 2 May 2007 for security reasons. Arrangements are therefore in place for Syrian nationals and others resident in Syria to apply at our embassies in Amman or Beirut. It will not be possible for a full service to be resumed until the embassy has relocated to a new building. This is likely to take at least two years. Any inconvenience caused is regretted.

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when the British embassy in Damascus will resume a full visa service; and if he will make a statement. [179387]

Dr. Howells: A restricted visa service has been in operation at our embassy in Damascus since 2 May 2007 for security reasons. Arrangements are therefore in place for Syrian nationals and others resident in Syria to apply at our embassies in Amman or Beirut. It will not be possible for a full service to be resumed until the embassy has relocated to a new building. This is likely to take at least two years. Any inconvenience caused is regretted.

Democratic Republic of Congo: Armed Conflict

Lyn Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received of clashes between security forces and the Bundu dia Kongo religious sect in the west of the Democratic Republic of Congo; what assessment he has made of the implications of such events for the political situation in that country; and if he will make a statement. [179486]

Meg Munn: On 5 January 2008 the Bundu dia Kongo (BdK) announced that it wished to replace the elected political leader of Seke Banza territory in western Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with one of its members. The police arrested three members of BdK in the territory on the same day. Unrest followed as a group of about three hundred BdK members, some armed with stones and sharpened sticks, confronted the police in the town of Seke Banza. During this incident the BdK attacked the vehicle of a police commander. As the vehicle left the area it ran over and killed four members of the BdK. A police officer was killed during the violence and twenty-two other people were injured and treated in hospital. The area has been calm since 5 January.


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The Government are concerned by these events. The UK supports the effective function of legitimately-elected political leaders in DRC. As the anniversary of the violent clashes in 2007 between DRC security forces and the BdK in the same region approaches, it is hoped that further violence can be avoided through a professional and well-planned response.

Derek Pasquill

Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs who in his Department took the decision to refer the matter of Mr Derek Pasquill to the Crown Prosecution Service. [179693]

Meg Munn: The Metropolitan police took the decision to refer the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Entry Clearances: Internet

Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what procedures are in place to allow individuals to apply for visas online. [179386]

Dr. Howells: Individuals can apply for visas online through the following website:

This is currently available to applicants in 111 countries and is due to be available globally by April 2008.

Middle East: Armed Conflict

Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps the Government have taken since August 2006 to secure the release of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hamas and Hezbollah in June and July 2006. [179110]

Dr. Howells: The UK remains concerned about the welfare of Gilad Shalit, captured by militants in Gaza, and Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev captured by Hezbollah in northern Israel in 2006.

The UK and the international community continue to work for the release of these soldiers as a high priority. Egypt has led international efforts to secure the release of Corporal Shalit. We have remained in close contact with the Egyptian authorities, as well as the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority, and continue to offer our support.

We believe that the most effective way to achieve the release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev is to support efforts by the UN to mediate between the parties as part of the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. The UN Secretary-General has appointed a special facilitator to try and obtain the release of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. I was encouraged by an exchange of prisoners between Israel and Hezbollah in October 2007 and hope that this will lead to more progress in the negotiations for the release of these soldiers. We will continue to support the UN's efforts. We will also raise the fate of all of these servicemen with those who might have information about their whereabouts whenever an opportunity arises.


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In November 2007 I met the wife and father of Ehud Goldwasser and expressed sympathy for their situation. Shortly before the first anniversary of their capture, I reiterated our call for the release of Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser in a debate in the House on 27 June 2007, Official Report, columns 87-92WH. In addition, I made a public statement calling for their release.

Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations the Government have made to Syria on using its influence to try to secure the release of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hamas and Hezbollah in June and July 2006. [179111]

Dr. Howells: The UK remains concerned about the welfare of Gilad Shalit, captured by militants in Gaza and Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev captured by Hezbollah in northern Israel in 2006. In July 2006, following the kidnap of Goldwasser and Regev, the Syrian ambassador was called to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Syria was urged to use its influence to secure the release of these soldiers. During meetings between Syrian and UK Ministers since then we have consistently called on Syria to play a helpful role in Lebanon and the middle east more broadly. This includes supporting full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for the release of the captured soldiers. We also continue to support the efforts of the government of Israel, Egypt and others to negotiate the release of Gilad Shalit.

Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations the Government have made to Iran on using its influence to try to secure the release of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hamas and Hezbollah in June and July 2006. [179112]

Dr. Howells: The UK remains concerned about the welfare of Gilad Shalit, captured by militants in Gaza and Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev captured by Hezbollah in northern Israel in 2006. While the UK has not made any specific representations to the Iranian Government on this issue, we continue to encourage the Iranian Government to play a more helpful role in the region. We believe that most effective way to achieve the release of the soldiers captured by Hezbollah is to support efforts by the UN to mediate between the parties, as part of the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. We also continue to support the efforts of the Government of Israel, Egypt and others to negotiate the release of Gilad Shalit.

Sri Lanka: Human Rights

Lyn Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the likely effect on the observance of human rights in Sri Lanka of the end of the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission; and if he will make a statement. [179489]

Dr. Howells: We regret and are very concerned at the departure from the country of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, following the abrogation of the
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2002 Cease-Fire Agreement by the Sri Lankan Government. My noble Friend the Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, the right hon. Lord Malloch-Brown, paid tribute to their effort in his statement of 4 January, available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website at:

The departure of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission can only add to the case for an expanded presence and mandate in Sri Lanka for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Sri Lanka: Peace Negotiations

Lyn Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions his Department has had with the (a) Sri Lankan Government and (b) Norwegian Government on the status of the ceasefire agreement in Sri Lanka. [179485]

Dr. Howells: On 4 January, my noble Friend the Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, the right hon. Lord Malloch-Brown, issued a statement on the abrogation of the 2002 Cease-Fire Agreement by the Sri Lankan Government. We continue to reiterate to the Sri Lankan Government their responsibility for addressing Tamil grievances and for setting out a viable framework for a just political solution. My noble Friend also paid tribute to the unstinting work of the Norwegians, whom we continue to consult given their wide experience over five years as facilitators of the peace process.

The full text of my noble Friend's statement is available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website at:


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