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Written Statements

Volume 447: debated on Monday 5 June 2006

Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 5 June 2006

Treasury

Tax Credits

National statistics published on 31 May show continued growth in the number of tax credit recipients:

The total number of families benefiting rose to 5.9 million in 2004-05 (a 3.5 per cent. increase compared to 2003-04);

some 305,000 families benefited from the childcare element (a 14 per cent. increase compared to 2003-04);

some 79,000 families benefited from the disabled worker element (a 23 per cent. increase compared to 2003-04); and

end-year adjustments leading to an overpayment have fallen by a fifth—from £2.2 billion in 2003-04 to £1.8 billion in 2004-05.

The statistics record levels of end-year adjustments. They were preceded by the Comptroller and Auditor General’s standard report on the accounts of the Inland Revenue 2004-05; by HMRC officials’ evidence to the Public Accounts Committee on 19 April; by the Paymaster General’s remarks in the House on 11 May 2006; and by correspondence dated 25 May 2006 between the Paymaster General and the Chairmen of the Public Accounts and Treasury Select Committees which all reported the view that end-year adjustments would be at a level similar to that in 2003-04.

End-year adjustments are an integral part of a flexible system that responds to families’ circumstances as they change. Payments are based on household incomes which can of course change during the course of the year. Payments are therefore subject to adjustment during the course of the year and, if necessary, at the end of the year once these changes in incomes are known. National Statistics show that end-year adjustments leading to an overpayment have fallen by a fifth—from £2.2 billion in 2003-04 to £1.8 billion in 2004-05. Improved performance of the tax credits system has meant that fewer overpayments are caused by IT or administrative error. This is demonstrated by the improvements made to accuracy in processing and calculating awards, which rose from 78.6 per cent. in 2003-04 to 96.5 per cent. in 2004-05.

HMRC expects to recover the majority of the money overpaid, except where there has been a mistake by HMRC and it is not reasonable to expect the claimant to have noticed the error. Since the introduction of tax credits there have been clear procedures in place to ensure that recovery of overpayments does not create hardship. These include reduced recovery rates for those on low incomes, and, for those who are no longer receiving an award, 12-month instalment plans are available with longer repayment periods where necessary. On top of this HMRC considers the case for making additional payments to those who claim hardship as a result of recovery.

The national statistics released on 31 May relate to a previous year, 2004-05, and so do not show the impact of measures announced at the time of the 2005 pre-Budget report to give greater certainty to families while maintaining flexibility to respond to changing circumstances. Once these come fully into effect the level of end-year adjustments are expected to fall by a further third in future years.

The tax credits system has delivered three key achievements: it has improved incentives to work, reduced the tax burden on low to middle income families and helped to dramatically reduce child poverty.

Tax credits play a major role in moving people into work and helping people move up the employment ladder, ensuring that work pays over welfare. Tax credits and economic stability have helped to increase the number of people in work by over 2 million since spring 1997, and since 1997 long-term unemployment has reduced by 450,000. From October 2006:

A couple with two children, moving into full-time work on the national minimum wage will be £41 per week better off compared with the £34 per week gain to work in 1997;

a lone parent with two children, moving into full-time work on the national minimum wage will be £76 per week better off compared with the £54 per week gain to work in 1997; and

a single person without children, moving into full-time work on the national minimum wage will be £58 per week better off compared with the £39 per week gain to work in 1997.

Tax credits have also been central to reducing the tax burden on low to middle income families. The latest OECD study shows a large fall in the tax burden for families as a result of tax credits. The tax burden on a single earner couple with two children earning £21,000 has fallen from 17.3 per cent. of gross earnings in 1997 to 9.8 per cent. in 2004. This is the lowest rate of any G7 country.

In the UK, a single earner family with two children can now earn just under two-thirds of the average wage before they start to pay any net tax, that is, pay more in tax than they receive in financial support from the government. Tax credits have helped ensure that since 1997 the number of families with children paying no net tax has risen from under 2.5 million in 1997-98 to over 3 million in 2006-07.

The tax credits system has also played a key role in tackling child poverty. Since 1996-97, 700,000 children have been lifted out of relative poverty, compared to a doubling of child poverty in the previous 20 years. Tax credits have also helped to halve the number of children in absolute poverty. There are now over 1.8 million fewer children on absolute low income compared to 1996-97 on a before-housing-costs basis.

Tax credits today provide support to 20 million people including 6.0 million families and 10.1 million children. Take-up of tax credits is substantially higher than in any previous system of income-related financial support for in-work families, with low-income families most likely to take up their entitlement. In the first year of tax credits 93 per cent. of families on incomes below £10,000 claimed their entitlement to Child Tax Credit; this compares to 50 per cent. in the early years of Family Income Supplement, 57 per cent. for Family Credit and 62-65 per cent for Working Families Tax Credit.

Building on the experience of the first two years of the new tax credits system, the Government have introduced a series of administrative enhancements and policy developments to improve the operation of the tax credits system.

A detailed programme of administrative improvements was announced in the Paymaster General’s statement to the House on 26 May 2005. This included measures to improve HMRC’s communication with families about their tax credit awards, reduce the risk of errors adding to overpayments, and improve the procedures for recovering overpayments.

Specific measures have also been taken to improve the service received by tax credit customers. From April 2006, award notices have included a clearer summary of what will be paid and, for the first time, an explanation of how this has been calculated. The guidance notes sent to customers with their award notices have been improved making it easier for recipients to check whether information is correct. HMRC’s code of practice on overpayments has been revised on the “reasonable belief” test when deciding whether to write off an overpayment.

As set out in the Paymaster General’s statement to the House on 5 December, analysis of the available data on end-year adjustments, or overpayments, suggests that they are caused by a number of factors. As a result, the Government announced the following key policy changes:

First, to address the impact of the annual income rises that have led to the need for adjustment, the Government announced an increase in the tax credits disregard from £2,500 to £25,000.

Secondly, families sometimes overestimate the extent to which their income has fallen when they seek extra support during the year. To address this, when claimants report a fall in income during the year, their tax credits payments will be adjusted for the rest of the year to reflect their new income level, but will not include a one-off payment for the earlier part of the year. At the end of the year, their award will be finalised when their actual income is known. If they have been underpaid, a further payment will be made in the ordinary way.

Thirdly, HMRC will continue to make provisional payments at the start of the tax year based on information from the previous year until claimants submit renewal information. But to reduce the scale of subsequent updating, the renewal window will be reduced to five months.

Fourthly, there are sometimes delays in reporting changes in families' personal circumstances to HMRC. The Government therefore announced greater responsibilities on claimants to report changes of circumstances, to ensure that delays in reporting do not lead to the need for subsequent adjustments. In addition, the notification period will be shortened.

Fifthly, to reduce the impact of adjustments on family circumstances, automatic limits on the amount by which tax credit payments can be reduced to recover a tax credit overpayment will be introduced.

These policy changes are designed to minimise the need for adjustments while maintaining the flexibility to respond to reductions in income and changes in circumstances.

Eliminating the need for adjustments would require a move to a fixed system where eligibility was based on the previous year’s income and circumstances, and where, as a result, flexibility would be diminished. This flexibility to respond to changing circumstances is important in today’s modern labour market where in any year three million people change jobs. Each year at least 200,000 men and women who move into new or better jobs see their family income rise by more than £10,000.

Constitutional Affairs

Oxfordshire Inquests

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I wish to make the following statement to the House about inquests due to be held in the Oxfordshire area. All casualties suffered by the UK armed forces are a source of profound regret. UK service personnel have put their lives on the line to help the Iraqis build a strong, stable and democratic Iraq and we cannot pay high enough tribute to the job they are doing, or the sacrifice some of them have made, We are committed to assisting families of UK service personnel who have died in Iraq when their loved ones are returned to the UK.

Today we are announcing information about the conduct of inquests by the Oxfordshire Coroner, Mr. Nicholas Gardiner, and how we intend to enable him to conduct expeditious inquests in his jurisdiction including into the deaths of servicemen and women who have died in Iraq.

Background

Inquests are to serve two main purposes, first to account publicly, in the public interests, for the cause of death, and secondly to give an opportunity for the bereaved family to ask questions about the death.

Each death of a serviceman or woman killed in an operation overseas whose body is repatriated to England and Wales is subject to an inquest. The inquest—both the investigation into the death and the holding of the public hearing into the death—is conducted by the coroner with jurisdiction which derives from where the body lies. In the case of deaths of servicemen and women whose bodies are flown into Brize Norton military airbase, the Oxfordshire Coroner Mr. Gardiner has jurisdiction.

Over the last 12 months, in addition to the non-armed forces inquests for which he has jurisdiction, Mr. Gardiner, his deputy coroners and one other coroner have conducted 30 inquests into the deaths of servicemen who have died in Iraq.

There remain 59 inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel killed in Iraq, and 11 inquests of civilians whose bodies were flown into Brize Norton.

This does include the five deaths which occurred on 1 May in the helicopter crash in Basra and the two deaths which occurred on 13 May but not the two deaths from the 28 May bomb explosions near Basra.

Further support for the coroner to conduct inquests on deceased armed forces personnel

The Government have made available to the Oxfordshire coroner the resources to enable him to deal with the outstanding inquests:

Assistant Deputy Coroner—Sir Richard Curtis, a retired High Court judge, will be available from the end of June (subject of course to a number of other commitments), for the coroner to appoint as necessary.

Assistant Deputy Coroner— Selena Lynch will be available to begin on case papers from the week commencing 5 June, and is available from then until early July and then from late July onwards, for the coroner to appoint.

Assistant Deputy Coroner—Andrew Walker who is available to begin on case papers next week and is then available for two weeks in August and then from mid-September onwards.

Two additional coroner's officers—Thames Valley police have confirmed that they have two officers available who can be in place by the end of next week.

Additional member of support staff—This is available immediately.

Recording equipment—To enable two further courts to operate simultaneously.

Progress in the remaining inquests

The Oxfordshire coroner expects, with the additional resources, which have not hitherto been at his disposal, to be able to conclude those inquests of servicemen and women where the Ministry of Defence have completed their own inquiries and case papers have been prepared by the end of the year (we know of 30 cases in this category). With the additional resources the coroner would also expect to conclude inquests of civilians killed in Iraq where he has been provided with reports and other information (we know of three cases in this category) by the end of this year. We intend to keep the House informed on a quarterly basis about progress through the remaining inquests. We attach a table, which outlines the number of inquests outstanding and the date of death in each case.

Liaison with the Next of Kin

It is of the greatest importance that the next of kin have full information about the progress on the inquest of their deceased next of kin. The extra coroner resources will enable this to happen, in addition to the normal liaison between the Ministry of Defence and the families concerned.

Coronial Independence

Coroners are independent judicial officers. They are appointed and paid for by the relevant local authority and their officers and staff are employed by the local authority and/or the police.

Oxfordshire coroner:(i) Servicemen fatalities

Date of Death

Name of the Deceased

21.03.03

Lance Bombardier Evans*

21.03.03

Sergeant Hehir*

21.03.03

Major Ward* (Royal Marines)

21.03.03

Captain Guy*

(Royal Marines)

21.03.03

Warrant Officer 2 Stratford* (Royal Marines)

21.03.03

Colour Sergeant Cecil* (Royal Marines)

21.03.03

Marine Hedenskog*

21.03.03

Operator Maintainer (Communications ) 1 Seymour* (Royal Navy)

22.03.03

Lieutenant Wilson

22.03.03

Lieutenant West

22.03.03

Lieutenant Green

22.03.03

Lieutenant Williams

22.03.03

Lieutenant King

22.03.03

Lieutenant Lawrence

22.03.03

Flight Lieutenant Main*

22.03.03

Flight Lieutenant Williams*

22.03.03

Sapper Allsopp

22.03.03

Staff Sergeant Cullingworth

24.03.03

Sergeant Roberts*

25.03.03

Corporal Allbutt

28.03.03

Lance Corporal of Horse Hull

30.03.03

Lance Corporal Brierley

30.03.03

Marine Maddison

30.3.03

Major Ballard

01.04.03

Lance Corporal Shearer

06.04.03

Fusilier Turlington

06.04.03

Private Muzvuru*

06.04.03

Lance Corporal Malone*

13.08.03

Private Smith

23.09.03

Sergeant Nightingale

01.01.04

Sergeant Patterson

01.01.04

Major Stenner

02.01.04

Lance Corporal Craw

28.06.04

Fusilier Gentle

19.07.04

Flight Lieutenant Gover*

09.08.04

Private O'Callaghan

31.10.04

Staff Sergeant Rose*

08.11.04

Private Tukutukuwaqa

01.05.05

Guardsman Wakefield

25.05.05

Lance Corporal Brackenbury*

29.06.05

Signaller Didsbury

15.07.05

Private Spicer

15.07.05

Private Hewett

15.07.05

2nd Lieutenant Shearer

05.09.05

Fusilier Manning

05.09.05

Fusilier Meade

30.01.06

Lance Corporal Douglas*

31.01.06

Corporal Pritchard*

02.02.06

Trooper Smith*

28.02.06

Private Ellis*

28.02.06

Captain Holmes*

28.02.06

Lieutenant Palmer*

15.05.06

Private Morris*

15.05.06

Private Lewaicei*

07.05.06

Wing Commander John Coxen*

07.05.06

Lieutenant Commander Darren Chapman*

07.05.06

Captain David Dobson*

07.05.06

Flight Lieutenant Sarah-Jayne Mulvihill*

07.05.06

Marine Paul Collins*

Source: Oxfordshire Coroner and Ministry of Defence

* Denotes that the investigation is incomplete

Oxfordshire coroner:(ii) Civilian fatalities

Date of Death

Name of the Deceased

22.03.03

Terry Lloyd*

11.10.04

P Chadwick

24.05.04

Robert Morgan

24.05.04

Mark Carman

09.12.04

Rag Gurung*

01.01.05

John Dolman*

01.01.05

Nicholas Pears*

01.01.05

John Eardley*

01.01.05

Tracy Hushin*

30.07.05

Kenneth Hull*

30.07.05

Andrew Holloway*

Source: Oxfordshire Coroner and Ministry of Defence

* Denotes that the investigation is incomplete

Defence

DASA Survey (Service Voting)

I have today placed in the Library of the House a copy of the report of the survey on service voting conducted by the Defence Analytical Services Agency.

The Ministry of Defence has been working with the Electoral Commission to improve the electoral process for the armed forces. This survey was undertaken to provide hard evidence of the numbers of service personnel who register and cast their vote. It was also designed to provide information to help us judge how best to continue to encourage service personnel to do so in future.

I welcome the survey, which gives us hard facts to target future work. The survey indicates that the services are broadly consistent with national trends on voting in the general election, given that they demographically fall within the lower age ranges where fewer people voted. In addition it shows that 60 per cent. of service personnel are currently registered, with a significant majority of those (67 per cent.) choosing to register as ordinary rather than service voters.

Although these figures indicate that anecdotal evidence of a very significant drop in numbers registered was pessimistic, they do show that there is still work to be done. The survey suggests, for example, that we have been less effective in getting the message across to those serving overseas and other ranks. We are working closely with the Electoral Commission to analyse the survey, to understand the reasons behind the results, and to use them to make further improvements to the quality of information available to all service personnel.

We remain committed to improving arrangements for the service community to exercise their right to vote, and I am also keen to improve further the quality and timeliness of information on registration and voting options and procedures and to simplify them where possible. We will continue to work hard, with the Electoral Commission, to achieve this.

Education and Skills

Education Council: 19 May

The Scottish Executive Minister for Education and Young People, Mr. Peter Peacock, and Ms. Anne Lambert, UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU, represented the UK during the Education Council in Brussels.

At the Education Council:

1. Ministers agreed conclusions on the European Indicator of Language Competence. The agreement covered the basic parameters of the indicator, including level of testing and the languages to be included, as requested by the European Council in 2002. An advisory board of member states’ experts will work out the technical specifications. A sentence was added to make clear that the advisory board should take into consideration the need to prevent undue administrative and financial burdens on member states.

The Council agreed that pupils should be tested in two foreign languages at the end of ISCED level II (ages 9-14 in the UK). However, in those member states where only one foreign language was taught at that level, testing of the second language would be at ISCED III (15 - 19 and therefore after the end of compulsory education in the UK). Some member states would have preferred all testing to take place at ISCED III, but could accept the compromise.

2. The Council agreed a general approach for a recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning. The presidency expected to reach early agreement with the European Parliament. The Commission (Figel) said the recommendation could be finally adopted at the Education Council in November 2006.

The UK maintained its parliamentary scrutiny reserve, noting that the UK Parliament thought the text went too far in the direction of defining and prescribing the content of curricula. The Parliamentary Scrutiny Committees had particular difficulty with the idea that knowledge about European integration and structures was “essential”. The UK asked the Council to replace “essential” with “desirable” or “important”. The presidency noted the UK’s concerns and outstanding scrutiny reserve but declined to alter the text.

3. The Council also agreed a general approach for the recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a Quality Charter for Mobility. The presidency said a joint report of the European Parliament's Employment and Culture Committees was expected in September.

4. Ministers exchanged views on the financial aspects of the Lifelong Learning Programme. The Commission said that, following the agreement on the EU financial perspective (2007-13), the total budget for the programme would be EUR 6.97 billion. A formal proposal would be adopted on 24 May. It would break down the funding between the four main sub-programmes as follows: 13 per cent. to Comenius (schools); 40 per cent. to Erasmus (higher education); 25 per cent. to Leonardo da Vinci (vocational training); and 3 per cent. to Grundtvig (adult learning).

In a full table round, several member states regretted the substantial reduction in the budget originally proposed by the Commission. However, most welcomed the increased flexibility and decentralisation, which would allow unused funding to be transferred more easily between sub-programmes.

Many member states could accept the distribution of funding proposed by the Commission in order to ensure that the new programme started on time. Nonetheless, most argued that priority should be given to one or other of the sub-programmes. The UK suggested that Grundtvig should receive 6 per cent. of the overall budget, and said the increase should come from the much larger Erasmus Programme. It was important for the Council to send a signal about the importance of lifelong learning and the need to give greater assistance to older and low-skilled workers, particularly given the demographic challenges facing the EU. A number of other member states also asked for Grundtvig to receive additional funding. Several member states preferred to give priority to Erasmus, while a few others favoured Leonardo da Vinci. The attention of the Council was also drawn to the European Council’s request to double the number of mobility grants under these programmes between 2006 and 2013.

Summing up, the Commission said that there would be some room for flexibility, but reminded Ministers that the European Council had highlighted the particular importance of Erasmus and Leonardo da Vinci. The Commission urged member states to consider how they would use alternative sources of funding, including the EU structural funds. The Erasmus Mundus programme, which could no longer be funded from the new Lifelong Learning Programme, would continue until 2008. The Commission would at that point make a proposal for the future funding of that programme.

5. In a debate on the contribution of education to the EU Sustainable Development Strategy Ministers agreed the central role and importance of education and lifelong learning. Most stressed the importance of establishing strong links between policies for sustainable development, education, citizenship and cohesion. member states, including the UK, generally did not want to fix new EU objectives or targets. Existing processes, notably the Lisbon Strategy and the Education and Training 2010 Work Programme, were sufficient. One member state also stressed the need for synergy with the UN's 10-year strategy for sustainable development.

6. Under “Any Other Business” the Commission presented its recent Communication on higher education. The UK stressed the need for a concrete follow-up of the Communication and encouraged Ministers to have a full discussion in the near future about the issues it raised. The UK informed the Council about the “peer learning” seminar it would host in October on the theme of modernising universities. This seminar should produce concrete outcomes that could form the basis of Ministers discussions.

The Commission also informed the Council about its plans to develop a European Credit Transfer System for Vocational Education and Training.

7. Finland announced that during its presidency it would give priority, inter alia, to the follow-up of the Hampton Court summit; vocational education and training; and the themes of efficiency and equity in education and training.

Health

NHS Foundation Trusts (Authorisations)

The chairman of Monitor (the statutory name of which is the Independent Regulator of NHS foundation trusts) announced last week that, in accordance with section 6 of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003, Monitor had decided to authorise the following NHS acute trusts as NHS foundation trusts from 1 June:

East Somerset NHS Trust

Newcastle Upon Tyne NHS Trust

Royal Berkshire and Battle Hospitals NHS Trust

Salisbury Healthcare NHS Trust

Southend Hospitals NHS Trust

A sixth applicant, King's College Hospital NHS trust, has asked for further time to develop its application for foundation status. Monitor will consider the application when the trust decides to return to its assessment process.

Monitor's announcement brings the total number of NHS foundation trusts to 40. A copy of Monitor's press notice has been placed in the Library.

The Government remain committed to offering all NHS acute and mental health trusts the opportunity to apply for foundation status as soon as practicable.

A further group of trusts is being considered by Monitor for authorisation by 1 August. This will complete the second wave of foundation trust applications.

Children's Hospices

I am pleased that we have been able to agree new funding for children’s hospices of £9 million per year for the next three years.

I would like to pay tribute to the work of the children’s hospice movement which provides a valuable palliative care service to children and young people with a life threatening or life limiting condition and their families.

Children’s palliative care focuses on enhancing the quality of the child’s life and support for the family. It includes management of distressing symptoms, which may be intermittent or progressive; provision of respite (short breaks); and skilled care throughout life, at end of life and at bereavement. Children are encouraged to live as normal lives as possible, for as long as possible, including education and leisure, but this depends on excellent symptom control. Their palliative care needs therefore to be provided in a variety of settings—home, school, hospital or hospice. Children’s hospices provide an excellent service to these families but they are only part of the range of services on offer.

There are currently 34 voluntary children’s hospices in England providing respite care (short breaks), outreach care or end of life care. They receive some funding from local PCTs but the majority of their funds traditionally come from voluntary donations to support their work. Many children’s hospices have also received funding from the New Opportunity Fund (now the Big Lottery) but this funding is coming to an end between March 2006 and July 2007.

The funding announced today is intended to enable the services funded by the Big Lottery grant to continue, pending the outcome of a review of children’s hospice services and their funding arrangements. Our White Paper “Our Health, Our Care, Our Say” sets out our aim to give patients more choice about where they receive their care and the choice to be treated at home towards the end of life. We also want to see that staff who work with people who are dying are properly trained to look after them and their carers. We also want to see improved support for carers. We will be working with the Association of Children’s Hospices to see how the children’s hospice movement can contribute to the delivery of our aims for disabled children, those with complex health needs, those needing palliative care and their families.

Home Department

Voluntary Assisted Returns and Reintegration Package

In January 2006 the Home Office immigration and nationality directorate (IND) requested that a pilot scheme be undertaken by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to evaluate the effects that increased reintegration assistance may have on incentivising failed asylum seekers, and those who wish to withdraw any outstanding asylum applications or appeals, to return to their country of origin. This statement gives details of progress to date.

Introducing a pilot programme to offer VARRP (Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme) participants an additional £2,000 as either additional reintegration assistance or cash grants has increased the number of voluntary returns under this programme. There were 1,956 such returns between January-April 2006, and this represents an increase of 108 per cent. over the corresponding period in 2005.

A significant amount of work continues to promote voluntary returns, and there is to be a high level of interest to take up the scheme. We have decided to extend the scheme for a further six months, during which time IND and IOM will undertake additional analysis of the results of the pilot scheme to assist in developing the most appropriate level of incentive in future voluntary return programmes.

Only those who applied for asylum before 1 January 2006 can benefit from the enhanced package of reintegration assistance, and they must leave the UK between 1 July and 31 December 2006 in order to qualify.

International Development

Indonesia Earthquake

On the morning of 27 May at 5.54 am, Indonesians living on the island of Java suffered an earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale. The epicentre was near the southern coast of the island, approximately 37 kilometres south of Yogyakarta.

Initial estimates by the Government of Indonesia are that some 6,000 people were killed. More than 45,000 people have been injured and some 140,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed, leaving at least 200,000 people displaced.

DFID's Humanitarian Response Team was immediately made aware of the earthquake and began collecting information and assessing the need for assistance. The Government of Indonesia confirmed that it was taking responsibility for the national response and overall co-ordination and it did not appeal for international assistance. However it made it clear that offers of assistance would be welcome. I immediately announced £1 million in support of the International Federation for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and £3 million in support of the United Nations agencies. UK search and rescue teams were put on standby but were not needed, with search and rescue being carried out by local survivors and Indonesian rescue teams. A two person assessment team from DFID deployed to Indonesia on 28 May and based themselves in Yogyakarta from where they carried out assessments and met with partner organizations. The team is now in Jakarta and will return to London by the end of this week.

On Friday 2 June, I announced another £1 million to go to NGOs working on the ground in Java, bringing DFID's total commitment to the relief effort to £5 million. This will contribute to health and shelter, and help people to restore their livelihoods. We are also contributing some €600,000 as the UK's share of €3 million from the EC.

The Indonesian and international relief effort is well under way. The Indonesian Government have pledged $115 million, including $10 million for emergency response and $105 million for rehabilitation and reconstruction. The UN issued its Emergency Response Plan on 2 June, detailing its planned activities for the next six months.

With the support of DFID and other donors, national and international relief bodies working in Java are able to cope with the relief needs. As the need for longer term rehabilitation and reconstruction funds becomes clearer, DFID will be looking to see where it can provide further support. We will also continue to monitor volcanic activity on Mount Merapi, which was of concern prior to the earthquake.

Further information on the emergency response can be found on DFID's website at: www.dfid.gov.uk.

Work and Pensions

National Insurance Numbers

From July 2006 the Department for Work and Pensions will introduce a “right to work” condition into Jobcentre Plus's National Insurance Numbers (NINOs) allocation and decision making process for employment related applications. Regulation 9 of the Social Security (Crediting and Treatment of Contributions, and National Insurance Numbers) Regulations 2001 will be amended to enable this change.

Any individual applying for a NINO in connection with employment who does not have the right to work here legally will be refused one. This change follows a review conducted by the Department of the existing legislation governing the allocation of NINOs.

Previous regulations since the 1948 Act was introduced establishing the National Insurance system have never included a “right to work condition”. NINOs were never designed to act as evidence of an individual’s identity or to confirm that people have the right to live or work in this country. Current legislation requires employers to check that an individual has the right to work under section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996.