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Mr. Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) how many outstanding claims for payment of SERPs to newly retired pensioners there were in January and June of each year since 1997; and if he will he make a statement; [141515]

Mr. Rooker: Figures are kept of the number of outstanding Retirement Pension claims of which SERPS is a component of the overall pension. The table provides details of the claims outstanding for the requested months.

DateClaims outstanding
January 199750,978
June 199731,382
January 199843,703
June 199832,064
January 199933,441
June 199934,930
January 200033,849
June 200031,136

The fact that claims are outstanding does not signify that payment of pension is overdue. This is because claims can be made up to four months in advance of the entitlement date.

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SERPS is a component of the overall Retirement Pension and details of the arrears of SERPS paid to newly retired pensioners since 1997 are not available. Details of arrears of pension paid were not maintained prior to April 1999 when the Benefits Agency began its recovery from the problems caused by the late delivery of the NIRS2 computer. Since that recovery began, and up to 30 November 2000, arrears of Retirement Pension to 137,000 pensioners totalling £47 million have been paid.

Benefits Agency

Mr. Edward Davey: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many staff vacancies there were in the Benefits Agency in 1999 and 2000 in (a) England and Wales and (b) Greater London. [141941]

Angela Eagle: The information is in the table.

Benefits Agency vacancies

April 1999April 2000
Greater London21861
England and Wales1,2201,424


A snapshot of the vacancy position has been taken at the start of each financial year, 1 April 1999 and 2000.


Commission Minutes

Mr. Baker: To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, what is his policy in respect of the publication of records of meetings of the Commission. [142132]

Mr. Kirkwood: I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) on 14 November 2000, Official Report, column 588W.


Mr. Baker: To ask the Chairman of the Catering Committee what is the policy of the Refreshment Department towards the supply to customers of shark-fin soup. [142120]

Mr. Dennis Turner: The Refreshment Department has no formal policy about the service of shark-fin soup, but the Director of Catering Services informs me that it has never been served in the nine years that she has worked here.

Accommodation and Works Committee

Mr. Baker: To ask the Chairman of the Accommodation and Works Committee on what date the Committee authorised expenditure on fig trees for the atrium of Portcullis House; and what budget was allocated for this purpose. [142134]

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Sir Sydney Chapman: The proposal to build Portcullis House, which was approved by the House in 1993, from the outset included a covered courtyard with large scale planting. The design for the courtyard subsequently evolved in consultation with The Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art, whose recommendation for the current scheme my Committee accepted. The budget was £183,000.

Mr. Baker: To ask the Chairman of the Accommodation and Works Committee what his policy is in respect of the publication of records of meetings of the Committee. [142135]

Sir Sydney Chapman: The policy is that laid down by the House as regards proceedings of Select Committees--that is, the Committee's formal Minutes are published at the end of each Session of Parliament.


Speeding Prosecutions

Mr. Baker: To ask the Solicitor-General how many occasions in the last 12 months the CPS decided not to prosecute drivers suspected of driving in excess of 100 mph. [142108]

The Solicitor-General: The Crown Prosecution Service holds no central records on the outcome of particular offences. The information is held on individual case files, and could be recovered only by examining every relevant file in each CPS office. The costs of such an exercise would be prohibitive.


Kosovan Albanians

Mr. Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development how much money the Government have made available to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for emergency relief to the Kosovan Albanians to date. [142160]

Clare Short: The United Kingdom contributed resources worth over £9.4 million to UNHCR's programmes in Kosovo and neighbouring countries during and after the refugee crisis in 1999-2000. We have not contributed additional resources to UNHCR for its work in Kosovo in 2000-01 in reflection of our changing priorities in Kosovo and the increased involvement of other donors, but will continue to monitor the situation in case new needs arise. UNHCR's Kosovo programme provides assistance to Kosovar Albanians, as well as Serbs, Roma and other minority groups.

Technical Assistance

Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development how much the British Government have donated to the WTO technical assistance fund. [142194]

Clare Short: The UK has committed a total of £1.5 million to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Technical Assistance fund, through extra-budgetary

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contributions. This is in addition to the UK's assessed contributions to the WTO's regular budget, a proportion of which is allocated to technical assistance.

St. Helena

Dr. Marek: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will make a statement on progress towards the construction of an airfield on St. Helena. [142507]

Clare Short: A comparative study of the options for sea and air access to St. Helena is currently under way. The team undertaking the work visited the island in mid-October. We expect their draft report by the end of this month. We will then need to discuss the report and its recommendations with the St. Helena Government. The results of the study cannot be prejudged and no presumption can be made that it will lead to support being offered for the provision of an airfield. We hope decisions will be reached in early 2001.

East Timor

Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what projects her Department are funding to improve women's rights in East Timor. [142216]

Clare Short: The bulk of my Department's assistance for East Timor is channelled through trust funds established by the United Nations, for the Transitional Administration in East Timor, and the World bank, for reconstruction and rehabilitation programmes. UNTAET has a special gender unit and has set a target of 30 per cent. for the recruitment of women into the East Timorese public service.

In addition we fund a small Human Resource Development programme implemented by Oxfam. Through this programme we have funded research by East Timorese women's groups into the obstacles preventing their participation decision making processes; Oxfam are also implementing a small project which aims to improve women's literacy.


Intellectual Property

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions his officials have had with the TRIPS Council regarding the compliance of the United Kingdom's intellectual property laws with Article 2 of the TRIPS Agreement relating to the obligation of the United Kingdom to comply with Article 10 of the Paris Convention. [142124]

Dr. Howells: Having notified its main dedicated intellectual property laws and regulations to the WTO, the United Kingdom participated in reviews of developed country WTO Members' TRIPS implementing legislation carried out by the TRIPS Council throughout 1996 and 997. Records of introductory statements made by the United Kingdom delegation, questions put to the United Kingdom delegation and the responses given were published by the WTO in four documents with references IP/Q/GBR/1, IP/Q2/GBR/1, IP/Q3/GBR/1 and IP/Q4/GBR/1. All of these documents are available to the public on the WTO

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website, None of these discussions touched explicitly on the question of Article 10 of the Paris Convention.

Mobile Phone Radiation

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent assessment he has made of the health risks posed by (a) mobile phones held next to the ear and (b) mobile phones used where there is a connection provided between phone and ear. [142121]

Ms Hewitt: The Department of Health published a leaflet on 8 December providing information about the health risks from mobile phones. The Department of Trade and Industry has not commissioned any specific measurements of mobile phones held next to the ear. Mobile phones in use in the UK should comply with the exposure guidelines of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation. The Department commissioned tests of hands-free kit, and the results of this work were published in August and are available on the DTI website

Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the work his Department is undertaking, in conjunction with the Consumers' Association, into the dangers posed to consumers by mobile phone radiation. [142126]

Ms Hewitt: The Department has held discussions with the Consumers Association and the scientific community about the different results obtained from measurement tests of mobile phones hands-free kit. We have also discussed what further work could be undertaken. We are all agreed that even with the difference in measurement, the phones that were measured with the hands-free kit attached were still inside the exposure guidelines of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.

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