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14 Dec 2009 : Column 775Wcontinued
We have made clear our support for Egyptian-sponsored efforts to build a non-partisan, technocratic Palestinian Government, which would be capable of working productively with the international community. These Egyptian efforts continue.
Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the effects of the Gaza blockade on efforts to reach peace in the middle east. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis: We regularly press Israel to ease restrictions at the Gaza crossings and permit the legitimate flow of humanitarian and reconstruction materials, trade goods and people into Gaza. We urge Israel to do so immediately, regardless of broader peace negotiations.
The UK continues to vigorously pursue a comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution involving a viable Palestinian state living alongside Israel in peace and security.
Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he plans to take to end the blockade of Gaza. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis: We will continue to press the Israeli authorities, both at an official and ministerial level, to ease border restrictions into Gaza and allow the passage of essential humanitarian aid and reconstruction material. These concerns were recently highlighted at the EU Foreign Ministers Meeting on 8 December 2009. The EU Foreign Affairs Council conclusions are available at:
Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last requested the Israeli government to end the blockade of Gaza. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis: We have consistently pressed Israel to ease restrictions and allow the flow of essential humanitarian aid and reconstruction material into Gaza. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised this issue during his conversation with the Israeli Foreign Minister on 25 November 2009.
Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received on the (a) number of rockets or mortars fired from the Gaza strip into Israel and (b) injuries resulting from such attacks in each of the last four quarters. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis: According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry there were 762 rocket and mortar attacks during Operation Cast Lead, and 193 attacks between the ceasefire on 18 January and 8 December 2009.
There have been no Israeli fatalities since the ceasefire. We do not have figures concerning causalities.
Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received on (a) the number of incidents of (i) Israeli military incursions, (ii) rocket mortar or tank fire from Israel into Gaza, (iii) bombing and (iv) sound bombs in each of the last four quarters and (b) fatalities and injuries that have resulted. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis: We are unable to establish the total number of incidents in Gaza involving the Israeli Defence Forces in 2009.
However, according to the UN, since the end of Operation Cast Lead, a total of 85 Palestinians have been killed and 134 others injured in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on how many occasions in 2009 at the Erez crossing (a) British and (b) EU diplomats were shot at by Israeli or Palestinian forces; and what steps the Government have taken to reduce the risk of such incidents in future. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis: There have been two incidents which have involved Israeli Defence Forces firing warning shots at diplomatic officials. One incident involved an official from the British consulate-general in Jerusalem and the second an official from an EU consulate-general in Jerusalem. We have discussed our concerns with the Israeli authorities.
Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether HM Ambassador to Israel plans to (a) support and (b) attend the Gaza freedom march on 31 December 2009. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis:
Our ambassador to Israel has no plans to attend the Gaza freedom march on 31 December
2009. We advise against all travel to Gaza. Despite the ceasefires continuing to hold, they are fragile and tensions remain extremely high.
We remain gravely concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and continue to urge the Israeli authorities to ease restrictions at the crossings and implement UN Security Council Resolution 1860 fully.
Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions (a) he and (b) his representatives have had with the UN Secretary-General on the publication of the UN Secretary-General's report on the cost of damages to UN buildings and equipment in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead; and whether he has asked the UN Secretary-General to (i) publish his report and (ii) seek damages from the parties responsible. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis: The Government were deeply concerned by reports of incidents involving UN property/personnel during the Gaza conflict. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set up the UN Board of Inquiry to investigate certain incidents involving UN property/personnel during the Gaza conflict. The board reported back on 5 May 2009. The UN Secretariat are taking this forward directly with the Israeli Government.
It is for the UN Secretary-General to decide whether or not to make public anything further on this matter.
Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on how many occasions (a) he and (b) the Prime Minister have raised Gaza access issues with their Israeli counterparts; and on what occasions the Israeli Government has acceded to requests for access in the last 12 months. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis: The UK regularly urges Israel to reduce restrictions at the Gaza crossings and to allow the legitimate flow of humanitarian and reconstruction materials, trade goods, and people.
My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary last raised Gaza access issues with their Israeli counterparts on 14 October 2009 and 25 November 2009 respectively.
Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on Israeli controls on access to Gaza. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis: Middle East issues, including Gaza, were discussed in depth at the EU Foreign Ministers meeting on 8 December 2009. The relevant section of their conclusions reads:
"Gravely concerned about the situation in Gaza, the Council urges the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1860 and the full respect of international humanitarian law. In this context, the continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive. It has devastated the private sector economy and damaged the natural environment, notably water and other natural resources. The EU again reiterates its calls for an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza. In this context, the Council calls for the full implementation of the Agreement on Movement and Access. While extremists stand to gain from the current situation, the civilian population, half of which are under the age of 18, suffers. Fully recognising Israel's legitimate security needs, the Council continues to call for a complete stop to all violence and arms
smuggling into Gaza. The Council calls on those holding the abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to release him without delay."
Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs with reference to his statement in The Sunday Times of 6 January 2008, when he expects the planned increase in numbers of diplomatic staff in the middle east and south Asia to have been completed. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis: The planned increase in numbers of diplomatic staff (not including UK Trade and Industry staff) took place throughout the last financial year (April 2008 to March 2009). This saw an extra 32 front line staff deployed across the middle east and south Asia.
Mr. Soames: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment he has made of the part the Government are playing in the middle east peace process. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis: The UK continues to pursue vigorously a two-state solution. We support the Palestinian Authority in building the institutions of a future Palestinian state. We speak out to discourage acts which undermine the prospects of peace. And we strongly support the US effort to restart peace negotiations.
There is more consensus in the international community than there has been for many years about the basis for a resolution of the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. We are continuing to support the efforts of the US Administration who are engaged in a good-faith endeavour to bridge the gap. We will continue to support those efforts, because the alternatives for the people of Israel, Palestine and the rest of the region look so much worse.
Mr. Watson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next plans to visit the South Caucasus group of countries to discuss (a) bi-lateral relations and (b) broader global issues. 
Chris Bryant: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has no current plans to visit the region. Baroness Kinnock visited Georgia in June 2009 and met with President Aliyev when he came to the UK in July 2009. In recent months Ministers and senior officials have also had a series of meetings in London with counterparts from the South Caucasus, including the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Georgia, Deputy Foreign Minister of Armenia and Deputy Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan. I hope to visit the region soon.
John Howell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on how many occasions the UK delegation to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has included a Minister since 1997. 
Chris Bryant [holding answer 10 December 2009]: None. The UK's report on the implementation of the convention, and its optional protocols, was last examined by the Committee in 2008, when a senior official from the Department of Children, Schools and Families led the delegation.
John Howell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on how many occasions a Minister has appeared before the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to discuss the UK's report as a state party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1997. 
Chris Bryant [holding answer 10 December 2009]: None. The UK's report on the implementation of the convention, and its optional protocols, was last examined by the Committee in 2008, when a senior official from the Department of Children Schools, and Families led the delegation.
Mr. Harper: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) whether all (a) existing and (b) future claimants of (i) attendance allowance and (ii) disability living allowance over the age of 65 years will have the option of continuing to be able to receive their benefits in cash via a direct payment from a future National Care Service; 
(2) whether (a) existing and (b) future claimants of (i) attendance allowance and (ii) disability living allowance over the age of 65 years will need to agree care plans in order to access the equivalent level of support. 
Jonathan Shaw: If disability benefits for older people are reformed as part of the introduction of the National Care Service, people receiving the affected benefits at the time of reform will continue to receive the same level of cash support. We do not anticipate that these people will need to agree a care plan in order to access this cash support.
As we said in the Green Paper, if we were to draw some disability benefits for older people into the new National Care Service, we would create a new offer for individuals with care needs. This support would be delivered in line with the best principles of benefits; a system that is consistent across the country, providing flexible methods of payment through personal budgets and investment in prevention.
Steve Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the (a) value in current prices and (b) cost of the Christmas bonus was in each year since its introduction. 
Angela Eagle: The response is in the following table:
|Value of Christmas bonus award (£, 2009-10 prices)||Total Christmas bonus expenditure (£, cash terms)||Total Christmas bonus expenditure (£ million, 2009-10 prices)|
1. Total expenditure figures have been rounded to the nearest million and are given in both cash terms and 2009-10 prices deflated by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) deflator.
2. The values of the Christmas bonus awards are rounded to the nearest pound and are given in 2009-10 prices deflated by the Retail Prices Index for the 3rd quarter each year.
3. Total expenditure for 2008-09 reflects the latest forecast outturn at the time Budget 2009 was published.
4. The Christmas bonus was first paid in 1972-73.
5. The Christmas bonus was not paid in 1975-76 or 1976-77.
6. Expenditure in 1975-76 relates to small amounts of expenditure due at Christmas 1974.
7. The 2008-09 figures for the Christmas bonus include the normal £10 payment and the pre-Budget report 2008 measure of an additional one-off payment of £60 to ail Christmas bonus recipients.
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