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Ministerial Visits

Mr. Salmond: To ask the Prime Minister (1) if he will list all official overseas visits undertaken by Ministers in his Department in each year since May 1997, indicating (a) the cost in (i) cash and (ii) real terms, (b) the number and grade of (i) civil servants and (ii) special advisers accompanying Ministers and (c) the number of official engagements or meetings undertaken on each visit; and if he will make a statement; [6943]

The Prime Minister: The rules on the use of non-commercial flights for Ministers visits overseas are the same as those that have applied under successive Administrations and are set out in full in "Travel by Ministers". A copy is in the Library of the House.

Lists of overseas visits undertaken by Cabinet Ministers costing more than £500 during the period 2 May 1997 to 31 March 2001, together with the cost of all Ministers visits overseas, were placed in the Library of the House

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and published in the Official Report on 17 June 1999, columns 196–97W; on 28 July 2000, column 969W; and on 20 July 2001, column 467W.

Cruse Bereavement Care

Virginia Bottomley: To ask the Prime Minister what correspondence he has had with Cruse Bereavement Care in the past four weeks; and if he will make a statement. [7548]

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Member for South-West Surrey has written to my office about the work of Cruse Bereavement Care.

I will be writing to Mike Pearson, Chairman of Cruse Bereavement Care, this week to thank him for the outstanding way that Cruse has responded to the tragic events of 11 September in the US. During my recent visit to New York, I was very impressed by what I heard about the Cruse team's tireless efforts. Their staff both here and in New York have provided hope and comfort to many families.

Chechnya (Human Rights)

Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Prime Minister what representations he made to President Putin concerning human rights abuses in Chechnya during his recent visit to Russia. [7436]

The Prime Minister: I have discussed Chechnya with President Putin on various occasions and last did so in Moscow on 4 October.


Employment Zones

15. Mr. Love: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the effectiveness of employment zones in reducing unemployment. [3590]

Malcolm Wicks: Employment zones are one of a range of initiatives we have introduced to help reduce unemployment. The 15 employment zones are performing well and have already helped nearly 13,000 people move into work. We are currently evaluating the zones before deciding how to take the initiative further.

Benefit Fraud

16. Patrick Mercer: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the amount of money lost in benefit fraud in 2000–01. [3591]

Mr. Darling: In our 1999 paper "Safeguarding Social Security" we estimated that £2 billion was lost annually due to confirmable benefit fraud.

We have set firm targets to halve the amount of fraud and error in Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance by 2006. We have already met our first milestone, of a 10 per cent. reduction, 18 months ahead of schedule.

17. Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to set targets for reducing benefit fraud in Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. [3592]

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Malcolm Wicks: This year we have introduced for the first time a continuous measure of the level of Housing Benefit fraud. We will consider the appropriateness and scope for setting targets for reducing the level of incorrectness in Housing Benefit in the light of the results of this exercise.

Social Deprivation

18. Mr. David: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to help people back into work in areas of acute social deprivation. [3593]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: Our welfare to work initiatives are helping people into work in all parts of the country. We have also introduced Action Teams for Jobs and employment zones which are helping people in the most deprived areas. Today we are increasing the number of Action Teams from 40 to 53, and teams will now run until March 2004.


19. Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when new carers over the age of 65 will be eligible to apply for carers' benefits. [3594]

Maria Eagle: We propose to make this change by Regulatory Reform Order. The necessary consultation ends today. We will lay the Order as soon as practicable and it will be considered by the Deregulation Committee thereafter. Following a period of 60 days, it will be laid before the House using the Superaffirmative Procedure. A similar procedure will be followed in the other place.

Disability Benefit Forms

20. Mr. Amess: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to simplify benefit application forms, with particular reference to benefits for people with disabilities. [3595]

Maria Eagle: We are indeed improving the existing disability claim forms. Earlier this year we were able to reduce the Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance claim packs by up to 9 pages without losing any essential information. We are now looking at what further can be done to simplify both the claim forms themselves and the overall claiming process.

We are also introducing a shorter and simpler Minimum Income Guarantee form from the end of this month, and we are investing £2 billion over the next three years to modernise radically the service we provide to our customers so they only have to provide the same information once.


21. Barbara Follett: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans his Department has to ease the transition from welfare to work for mothers with young children. [3596]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: We have introduced a wide range of help for mothers with young children making the move from welfare to work.

Over 90 per cent. of the participants in the new deals for partners and lone parents are women, benefiting from advice and support in looking for work, training and

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childcare. We have improved the extended payments of housing and council tax benefit scheme, and introduced extended mortgage payments and the lone parents benefit run-on. These measures are supported by the National Childcare Strategy and the introduction of the Working Families Tax Credit and the Children's Tax Credit.

The introduction of Jobcentre Plus will provide those mothers claiming benefits with young children with the opportunity to find out about the support available to help them make the move into work.

State Benefits (Collection)

22. Lawrie Quinn: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on his plans to make it easier for pensioners to collect their state benefits through private bank accounts. [3597]

Mr. McCartney: Most new pensioners (56 per cent.) already opt to have payment made directly into their bank/building society accounts, and find the process straightforward and convenient.

Paying benefits directly into bank accounts will become the normal method of payment from 2003. To support that, we will implement a number of improvements to our present systems to make it simpler for existing customers to switch. We will back up these enhancements with an effective publicity campaign, and where it is required we will also provide individual claimants with advice on opening and operating a bank account.

In addition we have made it clear that people will still be able to collect their pension weekly in cash from post offices. The Post Office is developing Universal Banking Services which will enable this to happen.

Jobcentre Plus

23. Mrs. Anne Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to improve co-ordination between the benefits system and the support given to help people find work. [3598]

26. Mrs. Betty Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to increase the amount of personal advice available to unemployed people at jobcentres. [3601]

30. Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to enable the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service to work more closely together. [3605]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: The new Jobcentre Plus service will draw together the Employment Service and the parts of the Benefits Agency which support people of working age. It will deliver a single integrated service with a clear focus on work to benefit claimants of working age and to employers.

Jobcentre Plus will come into being at the end of this financial year. At the same time, the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service will cease to exist.

To demonstrate the improved and more work-focused service we intend to offer in Jobcentre Plus, we are putting in place around 50 "pathfinder" offices throughout the

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country. In parallel, we are introducing work-focused interviews for all claimants of working age in 39 additional sites adjacent to the pathfinders.

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