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Student Visas

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the average period of time taken to process a visa application from a person seeking to study in the UK was in the last 12 months; and if he will make a statement. [31223]

Mr. Bradshaw: I have been asked to reply.

We do not record separate statistics on processing times for visa applications received from students. They are included in the visitors category.

Straightforward applications from students and other visitors would normally be processed within 24 hours. During 2001 on average 94 per cent. of straightforward applications received were processed within 24 hours.

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many visa applications made by those hoping to study here have been turned down in each year since 1997; and if he will make a statement. [31224]

Mr. Bradshaw: I have been asked to reply.

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The number of student visa application refused are as follows:


(30) The figures for 2001 are for January–March 2001. We collect these statistics only on an annual basis. Future statistics will be on a financial year basis and are due to be collected during April 2002.

Indefinite Leave to Remain

Mr. Bill O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many applications from wives of United Kingdom citizens to obtain indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom have been waiting over the target time of three weeks at the latest date for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement. [31141]

Angela Eagle: We aim to decide 70 per cent. of all new general and settlement cases within three weeks and met this for the first half of 2001. Information on the number of applications from wives of United Kingdom citizens for indefinite leave to remain which were not decided within this time scale is not available.


Non-departmental Public Bodies

Norman Baker: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will list the senior appointments made by his Department to executive and advisory NDPBs in 2001 and give their (a) name, (b) previous job, (c) political affiliation, (d) sex and (e) ethnic origin. [30471]

Mr. Leslie: The names of women and men serving as chair and deputy chair of all non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) are set out in the annual publication "Public Bodies", copies of which can be found in the Libraries of the House; other personal data are not disclosed except for ethnicity and then only in summary form.

During 2001 only one senior appointment was made by a Cabinet Office Minister to a non-departmental public body sponsored by Cabinet Office. In February 2001, Mr. John Sheldon was appointed by the Parliamentary Secretary as deputy chair of the Civil Service Appeal Board.

In addition, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, in his capacity as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, made the following senior appointments:

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Civil Defence Grants

Sandra Gidley: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what increase in civil defence grants has been made following the events of 11 September. [31241]

Mr. Leslie: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), on 23 January 2002, Official Report, column 891W.

Ministerial Visits

Mr. Soames: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will list the visits he has made abroad on behalf of Her Majesty's Government since August 2001; what the objective of each visit was; and if he will make a statement on the outcome of each trip. [32042]

The Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) on 14 January 2002, Official Report, column 36W.

People's Panel

Paddy Tipping: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what decision has been made with regard to the People's Panel following the expiry of the contract with MORI. [32895]

Mr. Leslie: We believe that the People's Panel has been influential in demonstrating the value of establishing the views of citizens and the users of public services in policy-making and service delivery.

Since the People's Panel was set up in 1998, Government Departments and agencies have improved greatly in their efforts to consult with their customers, and to assess satisfaction with the services they provide.

Therefore, we have taken the decision that there is no longer a need for the Cabinet Office to carry out this function centrally, when it can be done more effectively by Departments, agencies and local services as part of their mainstream policy development and service delivery.

Social Exclusion

Harry Cohen: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what steps he intends to take to enhance the delivery of Government measures to tackle social exclusion in deprived and low-income areas; and if he will make a statement. [31255]

Ms Keeble: I have been asked to reply.

The Prime Minister launched "A New Commitment to Neighbourhood Renewal National Strategy Action Plan" in January 2001. The national strategy is a long-term initiative which aims to deliver neighbourhood renewal—the process of delivering real change to England's most deprived neighbourhoods. The Government's vision is reflected in their long-term goal: to narrow the gap between deprived neighbourhoods and the rest, so that within 10 to 20 years, no-one should be seriously disadvantaged by where they live. It aims to deliver this by enhancing the delivery of economic prosperity, safe communities, high quality schools, decent housing, and better health to the poorest parts of the country.

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The national strategy requires a change in the way we approach main Government programmes to ensure they focus on deprived areas. The strategy is being spearheaded by the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, a cross-cutting unit based in DTLR and staffed by officials from across Whitehall and the public sector, with secondees from the private and voluntary sectors.


Ministerial Visits

Mr. Ancram: To ask the Prime Minister, pursuant to his answer of 14 January 2002, Official Report, columns 87–89W, on ministerial visits, what the size of his entourage was on each of the visits; if transport was provided by (a) the RAF and (b) a commercial carrier; and where applicable, what the chartering costs were. [31703]

The Prime Minister: The information requested is included in the detailed list of Cabinet Ministers' visits overseas and information on expenditure by all Ministers on travel overseas. The list for the period 1 April 2001 to 31 March 2002 will be published as soon as possible after the end of the current financial year.



Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the (a) cost and (b) effectiveness of the Department's advertising campaign on pension awareness. [31839]

Mr. McCartney: The pensions education campaign promotes the Government's aim to combat poverty and promote security and independence in retirement for future pensioners. The campaign encourages future pensioners to save for their retirement where they can afford to, and provides impartial information on their pension options to help them make informed decisions.

Changing attitudes towards planning for retirement is not a straightforward task and will take time. We are planning to continue pensions education activity.

However, results so far are encouraging. The campaign has provoked almost 900,000 responses and almost 1.2 million information guides have been sent out. Awareness of the campaign is increasing.

The cost for the campaign from April 2000 to December 2001 is approximately £9.3 million. This cost includes campaign development; press, cinema and TV advertising; research and evaluation; the costs of running our information order line; website development; printing leaflets and other campaign materials.

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the implied annual uplift is in gross state retirement pensions for qualifying deferment of payment (a) under present arrangements and (b) under future planned modifications of the system; what current annuity rates are; and if he will make a statement. [31305]

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Mr. McCartney: Entitlement to Retirement Pension arises when a person attains pensionable age but to be entitled they have to make a claim. They can put off claiming their pension to earn increments. When they claim, each part of the pension is increased by about 7.5 per cent. for each full year of deferral.

Currently the maximum period for deferral is five years but from April 2010 there will be no time limit and the incremental rate will increase to about 10.4 per cent. for each full year.

Annuity rates vary according to the individual's circumstances and are not directly comparable to the increment rates for state pension purposes.

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what actions he is taking to improve access to financial advice tailored to the needs of individuals contemplating taking out stakeholder pensions. [31840]

Mr. McCartney: Stakeholder pensions are a straightforward, good value, flexible product which need to adhere to certain minimum standards. These minimum standards mean that for many people less advice is necessary than that needed for personal pensions. For example the minimum standards will mean all stakeholder schemes should offer a good basic deal, and the simplification of tax rules means a single tax regime for all defined contribution pension schemes.

As a part of the minimum standards, all stakeholder pension scheme providers are required to provide, within the charge limit, information about the scheme and additional explanatory material. This will help individuals to decide whether a stakeholder scheme would be a good option for them.

We recognise that some people will need further advice. The Financial Services Authority (FSA), which regulates promotion and advice, has produced 'decision trees' to help individuals work through key questions on whether or not to join a stakeholder scheme, without necessarily requiring full individual advice. It has issued a consultation paper this month explaining how it proposes to keep them accurate and up-to-date.

In some cases there may be a need for individual- specific advice. Scheme providers may give this advice within the charge. It is also open to scheme providers to charge an additional fee for individual advice, or for individuals to seek advice, for a charge, from an independent financial adviser.

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