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Written Statements

Volume 401: debated on Thursday 20 March 2003

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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 20 March 2003

Work And Pensions

Benefit Fraud Inspectorate

On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (BFI) has today announced its programme of activity for 2003–04 (Phase 8).The BFI is an independent unit within the Department for Work and Pensions that inspects and reports directly to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, on the standard of benefit administration and counter-fraud activity in local authorities and Departmental agencies.As part of the Phase 8 activity, the BFI will be inspecting 8 of the poorest performing councils identified through the comprehensive performance assessment process: Barking and Dagenham, Bury, Isle of Wight, Knowsley, Milton Keynes, Portsmouth, Swindon, and Wokingham. These local authorities are collectively responsible for paying out nearly £200 million per year in housing benefits.BFI is also offering specialist advice as part of its Performance Improvement Action Team programme to a further 9 poor performing councils identified through the comprehensive performance assessment process.The BFI will undertake a first inspection of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, which performed well during the 2002 comprehensive performance assessment of its benefit service, but has consistently failed to provide quarterly management information to the Department for Work and Pensions.Follow-up inspections on other local authorities will also be undertaken. These authorities have been identified from post-inspection monitoring of performance.In addition to first and follow-up inspections, the BFI will also undertake comprehensive performance assessments in England on the benefits service for 183 district local authorities, and updates on the 115 single tier local authorities assessed in 2002.In Scotland, BFI will undertake 10 best value inspections in partnership with Audit Scotland. BFI will also undertake assessments of the benefits service for the 22 Welsh local authorities as part of the Wales Programme for Improvement.


Provisional Debt Management Report 2003–04

In compliance with the Code for Fiscal Stability, the Provisional Debt Management Report 2003–04 is being published today. Copies are available in the House Library.

Invest To Save Budget: Round 5

I am pleased to announce that 48 bids from across the public and voluntary sectors have been successful in Round 5 of the Invest to Save Budget at a cost of £32 million including consequential funding for the devolved Administrations, and £28 million in total over the 3 years to 2005–06. The attached table describes the winners of this round.The Invest to Save Budget (ISB) is a joint Treasury/ Cabinet Office initiative. It provides support for projects which increase the extent of joint working between different parts of government, identify innovative ways of delivering public services and reduce the cost of delivering the services and/or improve the quality and effectiveness of services delivered to the public. This is the fifth round of the ISB which started in 1999.It is expected that a total of £354 million will be spent on ISB projects over the period from 1 April 1999 to 31 March 2004. Round One was restricted to central government departments and their agencies. In the second and third rounds local authorities, police and fire authorities, health authorities, non-departmental public bodies and public corporations could also apply. In the fourth round, voluntary sector bodies were able to apply for the first time. The fifth round continues the partnership and innovation themes and is encouraging effective project and risk management.Winning projects have to agree an implementation plan with the sponsor departments. Each project has to provide six-monthly progress reports and carry out an evaluation of its success once it has been completed. Wider dissemination of the good practice from completed projects is then fed back into the whole spectrum of public service providers.

Lead PartnerTitle
Central Government
Cabinet OfficeDevelopment of generic electronic forms to drive forward delivery of citizen focused Cabinet Office transactional services.
Cabinet OfficeCV Bank and Job-Matching systems for civil DCMS service recruitment
DCMSModernise the British Library's document supply service
DEFRAEmergency sub-sea hazard location facility
DEFRAElectronic Public Register to enable public participation in environmental decision making processes
DOHRapid diagnosis of patients with Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus (MRSA) and to develop electronic tools for the surveillance of MRSA in hospitals.

Lead Partner


DOHIntegrated Care Records project will implement, in electronic form across specialist mental health care, education, primary care, and social services: multi-agency assessment/ referral templates that communicate clinical information.
DTICHAMELEON—to develop a comprehensive e-service on employment related regulations
DTIWeb based bankruptcy applications.
DFTe-Business Management Information and service delivery System for the Forum for Mobility Centres (MAVIS)
FCOe-administration for Chevening scholarship applications
HM Customs & ExciseDevelopment of a web-driven 'alert' system to push multi-department messages relevant to importers and exporters, directly to the target audience, improving Government-wide customer service.
Home OfficeRESTART Project—resettlement project designed to break the cycle of re-offending and custody of adult offenders.
Home OfficeThe Hope Project—targets prison inmates who have committed serial crime. The aim is to release offenders back into the community under close supervision, thereby, breaking the cycle of further drug abuse, and the commission of further crime
Home OfficeJoint National Asylum Service/UK Immigration Service to detect and deter illegal working by removing offenders and reducing fraud.
Home OfficeProject Vanguard—provision of e-communications on policing services that allows the public to transact e-business with the Kent Police Force
Home OfficeLost and Stolen Passport Database
Home OfficeProject PLX—pilot electronic link from the Criminal Records Bureau to police forces to enable enhanced disclosure checks.
Home OfficeIncreasing customer focus of the police service
Home OfficeSouth West Integration (SWING)—project to establish a pioneering dual prison/probation regional resettlement unit to help reduce prisoner re-offending
HM TreasuryBanking across the Chancellor's Departments
Lord Chancellor's DepartmentAccess to registered users to information held at the DVLA
Lord Chancellor's DepartmentReducing Offending Through Advice (ROTA)-providing social welfare and legal advice services to prisoners via intranet and video conferencing services to link prisoners with advice providers.
Lord Chancellor's DepartmentPilot for Child Contact Centre—to test arrangements designed to ensure that children and their families (where the parents relationship has ended) are referred to child contact centres.
Lord Chancellor's DepartmentElectronic Forms—improve access to civil and family justice for the citizen by providing an internet-based transaction channel to court forms.

Lead Partner


MODCritical rainfall thresholds for pluvial flooding.
MODTo demonstrate a non-invasive drug detection capability to improve drug detection in the UK.
ODPMTo modernise the system for revaluing business rates by using the Internet.
ODPMWebsite to provide businesses, individuals, local authorities and others with a path through ERDF information and application process and guidance on and State aid legislation.

Local Authorities

Blackburn with Darwen Borough CouncilPortable Intuitive Verbal Assessment tool (PIVAT)—to develop a portable assessment tool that will reduce duplication and delay and replace 'paper based' health and social care assessments.
Hampshire County CouncilImproving facilities for the public for notifying highway problems though the creation of a web based form and creation of an Interchange facility between Local authorities and Hampshire County Council.
London ConnectsDevelopment of a comprehensive and modular `e-democracy' tool kit. To enable London boroughs to consult citizens on-line on policy development and service planning.
Stockport Borough CouncilOn-line transactional counselling service
Southampton City CouncilElectronic co-ordination of inter-agency referral systems and some centralised aspects of service delivery for social care in Southampton
South Yorkshire Partnership Transport AuthorityRESPOND—pilot of a demand responsive transport service in an area of multiple deprivations in Rotherham
City of Sunderland CouncilAmalgamation of citizen's personal details held by various local public services, then providing capacity for individuals to access their own information on- line using digital signatures to ensure accuracy of information.
Westminster City CouncilProject to establish a database containing immigration and local authority information on unaccompanied asylum seeking children

Voluntary and Community Sector

Advice Sendee AllianceA pilot to test the use of on-line services to support a self-help approach to dealing with legal problems.
Bridgewater CollegeSkills for Life—a project to pilot a life skills initiative focused on first time offenders.
Charity Commission for E & WGuidestar UK-project to build a shared and accessible website reporting the activities, finances and performance of voluntary sector organisations
Construction Industry Training BoardElectronic testing and certification process for Gas Engineers.
Derby CollegeMore than on-line Registration (MOTOR)—to provide on-line attendance and achievement system accessible and responsive to learners. Registration data will be updated in the classroom enabling early warning of non-attendance.
Hampshire coalition of Disabled PeopleEquipment Direct-project to provide informed advice to disabled people about independence enabling equipment

Lead Partner


London Quadrant Housing TrustNeighbournet Housing Benefit Module—to establish the viability of automating the payment of housing benefit from local authority to registered social landlord.
Manchester Metropolitan UniversityArts in Health—to provide arts based products for the NHS to enhance patient care. Using art to promote public health.
National Children's BureauChildren's Centre project -brings together a consortium of children's charities in order to improve the quality of their current services, develop new joint services and prepare a common building.
NEL Workforce Development ConfederationRefugee Health Professionals—pilot project to develop a website to support health professionals who wish to re-qualify to work in the UK.
South East London Shared Services PartnershipLondon-Wide Child Protection on Line (CPoL)—to provide electronic access to social services child protection registers to NHS Hospitals across London.

Home Department

Threat Of Terrorism

When I last spoke to the House of Commons about terrorism on 3 March 2003, I made clear that this country continues to face a significant threat from international terrorism.In agreeing to renew Part Four of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, Parliament accepted that we need to continue to protect ourselves from those who recognise no legal procedures, no boundaries and no parameters in terms of the action they are prepared to take.The terrorist threat remains real, and is serious. In the context of the present situation and concern that terrorists may seek to exploit the commencement of hostilities with Iraq by attempting attacks.I should assure the House and the public that we have taken and are taking every feasible precautionary measure to protect British citizens both here and abroad.I must re-emphasise that if a warning is necessary to protect safety, we issue it—and will issue it—without hesitation. And we will give any further information that helps people respond effectively.As I promised the House of Commons on 3 March, we have set up a dedicated website,, which went live on 18 March. That website provides a central point to publish advice and information from the security and intelligence services, on civil resilience, and other material that departments publish. It gives advice to the public on what measures they can take to protect themselves and their families at home, at work and when preparing to go abroad. And it provides information on the measures the Government is taking to protect British citizens and British interests, including

information on departments and agencies, legislation, protecting our infrastructure, and resilience and contingency planning.

I further made it clear in a written statement on civil contingencies (available on the "reports and publications" section of the new website) laid before the House on the same day that we have taken important steps to improve our resilience and contingency planning to deal with terrorist attacks should they occur.

The emergency services now have more equipment and trained officers to enable them to respond to a release of CBRN material and this has been accompanied by the publication of specific protocols for dealing with this kind of attack. For example, under a £5 million programme, the Department of Health has provided 360 mobile decontamination units; the CBRN Police Training Centre has been established at Winterbourne Gunner and the police now have 2,350 officers trained and equipped in CBRN response. Since 11 September 2001, £96 million has been spent on CBRN medical countermeasures, including spending on extra vaccines and antibiotics.

We have also looked hard at local resilience and London resilience and taken steps at both these levels to review and improve capability through funding and personnel training. But we must continue to strengthen and improve our resilience as part of a long-term strategy to work with our partners and allies to remove the terrorist threat and the threat of fear from the United Kingdom and the international arena.

Many people will be aware that action taken in 1991 to detain large numbers of Iraqi citizens proved to be ineffective. I do not consider the action taken in 1991 to have been the most appropriate means to deal with the situation then and I do not intend to repeat it now. Now in 2003, we are aware of only a very small number of people in this country who may be sympathetic to the Iraqi regime. These individuals are being interviewed and we will continue to keep under close review any threats posed by them or others to our security. However, we have no current reason to intern or otherwise detain citizens of Iraq who are resident in this country, but I remain in close touch with the Security Service and the police over this and will I take whatever action is necessary to protect the public based on constant threat assessments.

Military action in Iraq should not—and will not—detract from our commitment to a multi-racial and diverse Britain—one which values the contribution made by each of our many diverse ethnic, cultural and faith communities. We want a truly dynamic society, in which people from different backgrounds can live and work together—while retaining their distinctive identities—in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding. But we understand that military action in Iraq will have an impact on how some members of our society feel—not least in increasing insecurity.

We are therefore working with the police and other local agencies to ensure that tension levels within our communities are monitored on a daily basis. Within local areas agencies are working together—and with local communities—to provide reassurance and to ensure that there are arrangements in place to deal with any potentially difficult situations that might emerge. At this stage the assessments provided give us no reason to believe that there is a serious risk of a disturbance—but we are not complacent about this.

I state unequivocally that we have taken precautionary measures to deal with the events that we can anticipate. We cannot guarantee 100 per cent. security but we are preparing for a range of eventualities. We are in a situation that can develop at speed and change at speed. We will keep all aspects of our planning under review and I undertake to keep Parliament and the British public informed of any significant developments.

Nationality, Immigration And Asylum Act

Section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which came into force on 8 January 2003, prevents the provision of support to asylum seekers unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that their asylum claim was made as soon as reasonably practicable after arrival in the United Kingdom. Exceptions include families with children and those who can show they would suffer treatment contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Those with care needs continue to be supported by local authorities under the National Assistance Act 1948.On 19 February, Mr Justice Collins gave judgment in six test cases. He found that the section 55 decision-making process was flawed, largely on the grounds that there had initially been insufficient investigation of the circumstances in which entry to the United Kingdom was achieved, to give the claimant the opportunity to rebut a suggestion of incredibility and to set out fully the reasons for decisions. He also decided that there will normally be a real risk that to leave someone destitute will violate Articles 3 and 8.1 of the ECHR, and that inquiries should be made to try to establish whether any support is likely to exist. This effectively shifted the burden of proof to the Secretary of State, rather than the asylum applicant, as section 55 had originally intended.The Home Secretary appealed against the decision of Mr Justice Collins and the Court of Appeal gave judgment on 18 March 2003. The Attorney-General made it clear that the appeal was being made on the basis of the key legal principles, not on the basis of the six individual cases.At the Court of Appeal, the appeal was dismissed, as expected, in relation to the six cases, the judgment found in favour of the Government on several key issues of legal principle.The Court's decision makes it clear that the burden of showing an asylum claim was made as soon as reasonably practicable is on the asylum seeker, the ECHR does not require State support to be given automatically to all destitute asylum seekers who have failed to make their asylum claims when required to do so, and section 55 is not incompatible with the ECHR in any respect.

The Court found against the Government on procedural fairness and drew attention to a number of areas where they considered improvements could be made.

The Home Office has already changed the procedures for making section 55 decisions to meet the Court's main concerns.

The Government will not appeal to the House of Lords against the Court of Appeal decision.

The Court of Appeal judgment means that the Government can continue to operate section 55 as Parliament intended. It gives renewed legal backing for the Government's policy to tackle abuse of the asylum system and send a clear message to those who are abusing the system that they will not be supported at public expense.

The key legal issues have been settled by the Court of Appeal and the Government can, therefore, uphold the robust and fair asylum support system for which Parliament legislated.


Armed Forces Pension Scheme

The Government is aware of the concerns of Service personnel whose unmarried partners are currently ineligible for pension benefits. While this is being considered as part of the reviews of pension and compensation arrangements for the Armed Forces, we have concluded that it would be appropriate to address now the particular risks associated with conflict. We have therefore decided that, as of today, where a Service person dies as a result of service related to conflict, ex-gratia payments equivalent to benefits paid to a surviving spouse under the Armed Forces Pension Scheme may be awarded to their unmarried partner, where there is a substantial relationship. Eligibility for such benefits will be assessed against a set of criteria which would include financial dependence or interdependence, children, shared commitments such as mortgage, prime beneficiary of a will, shared accommodation, the length of the relationship and no legal spouse. The decision on eligibility would be based on a broad assessment of the substance of the relationship and not all of these criteria would need to be met for entitlement to exist.

Prime Minister

Council Of Europe And Western European Union

The Baroness Knight of Collingtree has been appointed a full member of the United Kingdom Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Assembly of Western European Union while the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) has been appointed a substitute member.

Culture, Media And Sport

Scottish Land Fund

The Scottish Land Fund, operating under the New Opportunities Fund's Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities Programme, has made a significant impact on sustainable development in rural Scotland. Since its launch in February 2001, it has assisted 88 projects, worth a total of £8.2 million.In response to representations from the Scottish Executive and the New Opportunities Fund, I propose to allocate an additional £5 million to the Scottish Land Fund, by increasing the budget allocated to the Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities Initiative from £125 million to £130 million. In accordance with the provisions of the National Lottery etc Act 1993 (as amended by the National Lottery Act 1998), I intend to issue an amendment to the New Opportunities Fund's Directions, subject to consultation with the Fund and the Scottish Executive, to bring into effect the increase in funding for the Scottish Land Fund, through the Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities Initiative.

Trade And Industry

Broadband Stakeholder Group

The Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness (Mr. Stephen Timms): The Government is today publishing its response to the Broadband Stakeholder Group Second Annual Report and Strategic Recommendations at I have also placed copies of the response in the Libraries of the House. The Broadband Stakeholder Group made fifteen recommendations to the Government for the development of its broadband strategy; the Government broadly accepted all of them.

The Government response sets out its broadband strategy and features information on many of the projects and initiatives underway throughout the English regions and Devolved Administrations.

In particular, the response highlights the importance of aggregation of public sector demand for broadband in the Government's strategy for broadband roll-out. The pace of aggregation is growing. The recently established UK Broadband Task Force, which is taking forward our work on aggregation, is tasked to create regional structures, which will carry out the aggregation of public sector demand. The Government will ask the Regional Development Agencies to play a major role in the creation and implementation of these regional structures as part of their responsibility for regional economic development and infrastructure.

The UK Broadband Task Force is now discussing with central Government departments the inclusion of their connectivity requirements in its new remit. Through this work we will ensure that the new investment in broadband infrastructure necessary to meet specific public sector needs also results in wider broadband availability for businesses and households in rural and remote areas.

Northern Ireland

Census 2001

Copies of the third report of the Northern Ireland Census 2001—"Northern Ireland Census 2001 Standard Tables" have today been laid in the Northern Ireland Assembly as required by statute. Copies have also been lodged in the House of Commons Library and the House of Lords Library.