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31 Jan 2003 : Column 1077Wcontinued
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Peter Hain [holding answer 30 January 2003]: My Department was created in July 1999 and has lost no days to industrial action. In respect of illness I refer the hon. Member to the answer my predecessor gave to the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) on 23 May 2002, Official Report, column 514W.
Peter Hain: Job sharing is only one of a number of alternative and flexible working patterns that staff at the Wales Office are welcome to take up. The flexibility of the pattern is decided in consultation with management to suit an individual's need and the needs of their work. At the present time, the Wales Office has eight staff out of 49 who work a flexible pattern; none of these job-share.
Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what briefings he provided to the media in advance of the statement made by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills on higher education, 22 January 2003, Official Report, columns 30119, in respect of reports that the National Assembly for Wales was to be given additional powers over student support in higher education. 
Peter Hain: I gave no such briefings. However, my Department did field media calls on the issue. After the statement to the House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, I gave on the record interviews and issued a press statement.
Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what identity verification requirements there are for the opening of a basic bank account; and if he will make a statement on the measures being taken to minimise fraud in relation to the payment of benefits into basic bank accounts. 
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are and where they live. The bank will tell them which documents they will accept as prooftypical things are a passport, full current driving licence, order book, utility bill and council tax bill.
Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what safeguards are in place to ensure (a) that the automated payment of benefits to bank accounts is to accounts in claimants' own names and (b) that such accounts are genuinely opened and operated by the claimant in question; in what circumstances he allows benefits to be paid to an account in the name of a person other than the claimant; and if he will make a statement. 
Malcolm Wicks: Benefits are paid into the account nominated on the claim form by the claimant. The claims and payments regulations allow payment into accounts in the name of the person entitled to benefit, or their spouse (or partner), or a person acting on their behalf, or in the joint names of the person entitled to benefit and their spouse (or partner), or the person entitled to benefit and a person acting on their behalf. These are the options listed on claim forms or other relevant literature.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he intends to reply to the letter to him dated 11 December from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, with regard to Mr. A. Ali. 
Mr Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many empty homes his Department (a) had five years ago and (b) has now, by region; if he will establish an empty homes strategy within his Department; and if he will set a target for reduction in empty homes. 
Malcolm Wicks: This Department occupies approximately 1,800 buildings. Of those, only 6 contain living accommodation. One of the two flats which form a sub-lettable part of a DWP building in the London region is vacant at present. All such sub-lettable space is actively managed by the department's property advisers to minimise vacancies. We are currently looking at options for the future of the building as a whole.
In view of the numbers involved I do not believe the Department needs either a strategy or a target for reduction. Records that are available indicate that there were no unoccupied homes five years ago.
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Mr. Mike O'Brien: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given her by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the Department for International Development, 27 January 2003, Official Report, column 574W.
Jane Griffiths: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Chinese Government about the treatment of female prisoners in Drapchi prison, Tibet. 
Mr. Leigh: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received concerning a court case challenging the constitutionality of the Hamayouni Decree, governing the construction of Christian places of worship in Egypt, which is due to open in Cairo on 28 January 2003; and whether he will be sending a human rights observer to monitor the trial. 
Mr. Mike O'Brien: Our officials at the British Embassy in Cairo have been monitoring the case challenging the constitutionality of the Hamayouni Decree in Egypt. The trial session on 28 January was the first trial hearing since the case was referred from the State Commissioners court. Our officials have learned that the case has been adjourned until 28 February for further examination of the case by the authorities. Our officials in Cairo will continue to monitor the trial.
Mr. Wray: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much has been allocated to the increased protection of British embassies and consulates since 11 September 2001; and what general improvements have been made. 
Mr. Rammell: The FCO embarked on a programme of physical security enhancements following the 1998 attacks on US missions in East Africa. After the attacks in the US on 11 September 2001, the FCO accelerated its investment in further securing both staff and missions. Over £25 million has been invested in physical security enhancements for British missions overseas. This work has included the installation of bomb blast windows,
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Mr. Rammell: We plan to open a visa application centre in Jalandhar (Punjab) on 3 February. New application centres will also open that day in New Delhi and Chandigarh. The new application centre in Gujarat will open on 24 February in Ahmedabad, as will the centres in Mumbai and Pune. We also plan to open application centres in Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad on 10 February and in Kolkata on 17 February.
The establishment of this network of 10 application centres is part of our continuing effort to improve visa services for our customers in India. Many will no longer need to make the often long and difficult journey to make a visa application, but instead can visit one of the conveniently located application centres closer to their home.
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