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Written Statements

Volume 449: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2006

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 19 July 2006

Treasury

Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office

During passage of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005), Standing Committee D, 13 January 2005, column 130 and the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act (2005), 7 February 2005, column 615, statements were made that certain powers available to the Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office (RCPO) would not be used in respect of tax offences until the outcome of the consideration of these powers by the current review of HM Revenue and Customs’ Powers.

Those powers are contained in part 2 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The Act came into force on 1 April. They enable the director of RCPO (and prosecutors to whom he has delegated such powers), to serve disclosure notices, obtain material, conduct compulsory interviews and execute search warrants. These powers are powers of RCPO, not of HMRC; they are RCPO’s to use. However, the prosecutor can authorise use of the powers by an officer of HMRC in respect of tax offences where the prosecutor has decided that such use is appropriate.

As the powers are for RCPO to use, the issue for the Review of HMRC’s powers to consider was the guidance that was available to HMRC staff when a prosecutor had authorised the use of the powers by an officer of HMRC. The review has looked at that guidance and, following minor changes, has approved it.

The Attorney-General and I agree that the powers contained in part 2 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 are now available for use by RCPO in respect of tax offences.

Communities and Local Government

Planning (Best Value)

My right hon. Friend, the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill), when Minister for Planning made a statement to the House on 14 September 2004 about the Government’s approach to achieving the target for 100 per cent. of local planning authorities in England to perform at or above best value (BV109) levels for efficient handling of major, minor and other planning applications.

Since then, authorities have continued to make excellent progress in overhauling their processes and introducing a performance management culture. As a result it is now a realistic prospect that these targets, which are owned both by my Department (as PSA6) and by local government (as LG PSA11), will be achieved by the end of 2006-07 by the large majority if not all authorities.

In order to help embed recent changes in the performance culture in planning Departments, and to sustain delivery against the targets which now carry through to 2008 under the 2004 spending review, I am today announcing my intention to continue designating planning standards authorities for one more year.

It is my intention that authorities performing five percentage points below the targets levels in the year to June 2006 should be considered for designation as planning standards authorities in 2007-08. However, I intend to take into account performance in the year to September 2006 before making the final decision. I intend that the performance standards which designated authorities will be required to meet will be to the national best value target levels, as this year. In summary, the proposed thresholds and standards are as follows:

Percentage of applications determined within time

2007-08

Major applications

Performance threshold in year to June 2006

55

Standard to be met in 2007-08

60

Minor applications

Performance threshold in year to June 2006

60

Standard to be met in 2007-08

65

Other applications

Performance threshold in year to June 2006

75

Standard to be met in 2007-08

80

Supporting People

The Government are today confirming individual grant allocations to “Administering Authorities for the Supporting People Programme in 2007-08” which will fund housing related support services for over 1 million vulnerable people—including victims of domestic violence, teenage parents, older people and those with mental health problems—to live independently in their accommodation.

As part of the two-year local government funding settlement in December 2005, minimum allocations for 2007-08 were announced guaranteeing 95 per cent. of the total available. Some 5 per cent. of the funding was held back pending consultation on the draft Supporting People distribution formula, with a commitment to confirming full Supporting People allocations for 2007-08 before the summer recess.

The consultation on the Supporting People distribution formula is now complete and responses to this exercise have been assessed. Following consideration of the available options a decision has been taken to target the remaining funding in 2007-08 to help address some of the inherited uneven distribution of grant between authorities by increasing Supporting People funding to over half of all Supporting People local authorities.

This decision is consistent with the approach taken to determining allocations in both 2005-06 and 2006-07 when an earlier version of the formula was used to inform the grant allocations to those authorities furthest from their correct relative share of the budget. Further work will be carried out on the analysis of responses to the consultation with a view to taking forward work on how we can distribute future funding based on need. All Supporting People grant allocations are listed below.

The Government are also targeting funding from the Supporting People programme to assist linked programmes of national importance.

This early announcement of funding for 2007-08 will help provide the stability required by local authorities and the sector in order to plan for the future.

Local authority

2007-08 grants allocation (£)

Barking and Dagenham

5,061,217

Barnet

7,497,667

Barnsley

5,673,232

Bath and North East Somerset UA

4,011,947

Bedfordshire County

7,118,216

Bexley

2,984,688

Birmingham

51,912,681

Blackburn with Darwen UA

6,031,664

Blackpool UA

6,138,533

Bolton

9,101,572

Bournemouth UA

11,152,392

Bracknell Forest UA

2,016,121

Bradford

19,219,872

Brent

12,806,959

Brighton and Hove UA

12,659,223

Bristol, City of UA

27,812,095

Bromley

5,428,129

Buckinghamshire County

5,587,753

Bury

6,653,044

Calderdale

5,674,656

Cambridgeshire County

12,168,459

Camden

35,723,266

Cheshire County

20,537,745

City of London

698,534

Cornwall County

14,204,036

Coventry

15,490,980

Croydon

8,951,651

Cumbria County

9,443,16.4

Darlington UA

3,825,855

Derby UA

10,556,336

Derbyshire County

17,260,646

Devon County

19,337,068

Doncaster

11,064,106

Dorset County

9,665,842

Dudley

6,439,067

Durham County

14,588,081

Ealing

11,125,397

East Riding of Yorkshire UA

4,937,622

East Sussex County

11,561,210

Enfield

11,055,312

Essex County

29,622,839

Gateshead

5,987,723

Gloucestershire County

24,633,207

Greenwich

9,302,736

Hackney

22,221,917

Halton UA

7,803,714

Hammersmith and Fulham

12,826,145

Hampshire County

31,109,951

Haringey

21,330,020

Harrow

3,582,678

Hartlepool UA

3,984,694

Havering

2,578,536

Herefordshire, County of UA

6,523,367

Hertfordshire County

21,000,881

Hillingdon

5,954,047

Hounslow

5,525,734

Isles of Scilly

1,846

Isle of Wight UA

6,379,804

Islington

15,934,504

Kensington and Chelsea

11,170,507

Kent County

32,024,915

Kingston upon Hull, City of UA

11,059,567

Kingston upon Thames

4,405,694

Kirklees

10,593,700

Knowsley

7,381,274

Lambeth

20,792,197

Lancashire County

29,052,873

Leeds

32,986,531

Leicester UA

15,529,446

Leicestershire County

7,012,300

Lewisham

17,219,829

Lincolnshire County

21,373,288

Liverpool

41,900,943

Luton UA

4,520,292

Manchester

38,557,790

Medway UA

5,840,889

Merton

3,385,278

Middlesbrough UA

5,982,841

Milton Keynes UA

5,241,687

Newcastle upon Tyne

18,817,689

Newham

11,068,502

Norfolk County

16,336,572

North East Lincolnshire UA

6,145,522

North Lincolnshire UA

3,454,079

North Somerset UA

5,874,185

North Tyneside

8,623,570

North Yorkshire County

15,180,220

Northamptonshire County

14,256,621

Northumberland County

7,054,329

Nottingham UA

26,052,630

Nottinghamshire County

25,705,789

Oldham

8,227,686

Oxfordshire County

18,856,965

Peterborough UA

4,607,583

Plymouth UA

8,213,292

Poole UA

4,944,078

Portsmouth UA

8,921,250

Reading UA

4,935,083

Redbridge

4,467,863

Redcar and Cleveland UA

2,410,460

Richmond upon Thames

2,847,584

Rochdale

15,076,659

Rotherham

7,567,131

Rutland UA

730,810

Salford

13,191,145

Sandwell

10,580,319

Sefton

6,746,556

Sheffield

25,227,224

Shropshire County

6,345,391

Slough UA

4,325,790

Solihull

2,778,479

Somerset County

19,063,308

South Gloucestershire UA

4,674,886

South Tyneside

4,947,095

Southampton UA

10,559,245

Southend-on-Sea UA

4,908,331

Southwark

18,765,619

St Helens

10,218,473

Staffordshire County

11,971,701

Stockport

8,022,591

Stockton-on-Tees UA

2,950,823

Stoke-on-Trent UA

5,479,678

Suffolk County

18,734,394

Sunderland

11,263,297

Surrey County

18,509,347

Sutton

3,667,041

Swindon UA

5,397,250

Tameside

7,217,707

Telford & Wrekin UA

3,917,442

Thurrock UA

2,375,440

Torbay UA

5,708,189

Tower Hamlets

15,384,899

Trafford

5,431,885

Wakefield

6,967,057

Walsall

7,067,337

Waltham Forest

7,882,823

Wandsworth

11,177,258

Warrington UA

7,611,086

Warwickshire County

10,146,789

West Berkshire UA

5,408,772

West Sussex County

15,049,327

Westminster

17,051,638

Wigan

7,626,132

Wiltshire County

8,174,934

Windsor and Maidenhead UA

1,723,056

Wirral

10,341,400

Wokingham UA

1,609,880

Wolverhampton

7,997,826

Worcestershire County

14,984,323

York UA

8,268,239

Defence

Defence Industrial Strategy and Defence Procurement

I am pleased to announce progress on the complex weapons sector of the Defence Industrial Strategy (DIS). This sector provides key missile development capabilities to our armed forces.

The DIS identified that it represented a substantial challenge to maintain the industrial capability we wished to retain onshore given that we expect investment in new systems to decrease in the next five years from the current level due to a sharp decline in market size. We undertook to work with UK industry to meet this challenge, and can now announce that we are forming a “Team Complex Weapons (CW)”. “Team CW” is led by MBDA and is centred around, QinetiQ, Thales Air Defence Ltd., Thales Missile Electronics and Roxel. “Team CW” will enable the UK to maintain key skills and technologies through a mixture of directed procurements and open competition, enabling controlled restructuring to take place whilst maintaining on-shore access to the capabilities our armed forces require.

Together we will develop “Team CW” during the second half of this year. We intend to agree a Strategic Partnering Agreement in 2006. This will require contractually binding measures focused on business transformation both within the Ministry of Defence and within industry allowing better-informed-through-life decisions to be made, and a more incremental approach to technology insertion to be adopted.

We intend to use a range of programmes to incentivise the restructuring process. Most significantly, we have changed our procurement strategy for the Loitering Munition Demonstration and Manufacture programme, potentially worth more than £500 million. It will be single-sourced to the MBDA-led “Team CW”, subject to an enduring requirement for this technology, to affordability and to the ability to clearly demonstrate value for money.

We are also announcing four contracts for the development of technologies to contribute to the enhancement of Storm Shadow, and the Future Anti-Surface and Future Rapid Effects programmes, which will offer significant opportunities for collaboration. In the support area, we have placed a “Contract for Availability” known as PROJECT RevISE that covers air-launched weapons designed by MBDA.

Our joint approach with industry will enable us to develop a globally competitive industry that will deliver the technologically advanced missiles our armed forces will need in the future.

Far East Prisoners of War and Civilian Internees

Late last year, it emerged that inconsistent criteria had been used for deciding payments over the history of the ex-gratia payment scheme for former Far East prisoners of war and civilian internees. In response to this, my predecessor, the then Minister with responsibilities for veterans, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), agreed that there should be an independent investigation to examine how the use of inconsistent criteria had arisen and why this had not been exposed earlier. Mr. David Watkins, a retired senior civil servant from the Northern Ireland Office was appointed to undertake this work and his findings were presented to me on 7 July. A copy of his report has been placed in the Library of the House.

The report finds no evidence of culpable behaviour by individuals but identifies a number of shortcomings with the scheme’s development and administration and also makes recommendations designed to avoid any recurrence.

I am grateful to Mr. Watkins for an investigation which has been thorough and far reaching, and has included consultation with the key representatives of those who were adversely affected by the errors. I welcome his report and can say now that we accept the overall thrust of its recommendations. We will analyse it in more detail, in consultation with other interested Departments, and I intend to give a more detailed response in a further statement after the recess.

While the errors in administering the scheme were deeply regrettable, I would echo the report’s recognition of the admirable work undertaken by the then War Pensions Agency and others that allowed the scheme to be introduced in a remarkably short timescale, with some 14,000 payments made within three months of the scheme’s introduction, and a total of over 25,000 payments now made.

Finally, I know that there has been a residual concern that a number of those who do not qualify under the scheme may be experiencing hardship. To respond to this concern, my officials have been in discussion with the charity which provides support in such cases amongst those from the UK who were once prisoners of war or civilian internees in the Far East. I am pleased to announce that the Ministry of Defence will shortly be providing financial assistance to support the charity’s work in dealing with such cases and to help publicise the recently announced changes to the criteria, as a result of which eligibility under the scheme has been extended to those who can show a close link to the UK since the second world war.

Health

Annual Reports and Accounts

The annual reports and accounts for the following organisations have been laid before Parliament today:

Dental Practice Board

Dental Vocational Training Authority

Mental Health Act Commission

National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse

NHS Appointments Commission

NHS Blood and Transplant

NHS Business Services Authority

NHS Direct

NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement

NHS Logistics Authority

NHS Professionals

NHSU

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence

The annual reports and accounts for the following organisations will be laid before Parliament shortly:

Human Tissue Authority +

Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health

Council for Health care Regulatory Excellence

Healthcare Commission

NHS Pensions Agency

NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service

Prescription Pricing Authority

The business plans for the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency have been placed in the Library today.

Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme

The ninth report to Parliament on the pharmaceutical price regulation scheme (PPRS) was published today.

The report covers the main points of the 2005 scheme and the delivery of the 7 per cent. price cut; the management and operation of the 1999 scheme including the delivery of the 4.5 per cent. price cut and consolidated information on company annual financial returns. The report sets out the contribution made to the economy by the UK based pharmaceutical industry and gives an update on international price comparisons.

Copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

Home Department

Foreign National Prisoners (Deportation and Removal)

I would like to update the House on progress in deporting foreign national prisoners, following the Home Secretary’s statement on 23 May 2006, Official Report, column 77WS, volume 446.

Our objective is that foreign national prisoners should face deportation and deportation should happen as early as possible in their sentence. As an immediate step, we now have an Imminent Release Team in IND, working with HM Prison Service to ensure that foreign national prisoners who meet the existing criteria are not being released from prison without being considered for deportation. My review of the last few weeks confirms that, in order fully to achieve our objective, there is a need for legislation, as well as fundamental reforms in the eight areas identified.

First, the Home Secretary identified that there is today no unique identifier to link individuals who come in contact with the asylum and immigration and criminal justice systems. We have therefore commenced development of a comprehensive approach to identity management across all Home Office areas and will finalise a strategic action plan by the end of September 2006

Secondly, we have identified that the police, Crown Prosecution Service, courts and prisons depend on self-declaration of nationality and that there is no requirement for the police to record nationality of people brought into custody. There is no requirement in law for a detainee to furnish details of their identity or nationality. The immigration and nationality directorate and the criminal justice agencies have now designed and tested proposals for new ways of working, alongside options for new legal requirements to address this. We will conduct detailed field tests with frontline staff over the summer and produce recommendations in October.

Thirdly, work has to be done to ensure that all future instructions are given to all agencies of the criminal justice, asylum and immigration systems and are both consistent and fully implemented. IND needs to work much more closely with the criminal justice agencies. Lin Homer has therefore joined the National Criminal Justice Board to ensure that this is done. Since 23 May, new guidance has been issued to IND and the prison service. Over the summer we will audit related guidance of six key agencies, benchmark implementation and develop recommendations for change, including training provision, by October. This will be followed up by training and awareness events for staff working in the 20 key prisons, which process largest numbers of foreign national prisoners at the earliest stages of their sentences, by the end of 2006.

Fourthly, the Home Secretary asked for an audit of policy criteria and processes; and fifthly that steps should be taken to ensure that all deportation decisions are made according to the most robust interpretation of the requirements of our international obligations. Guidance in May to IND and prisons identified interim criteria, so that all non-European economic area nationals sentenced to 12 months imprisonment or more, either in one sentence or in two or three sentences over five years; and all EEA nationals sentenced to 24 months or more, should be considered for deportation. We are today changing the immigration rules with effect from midnight tonight to confirm the presumption that all such prisoners should be deported. The guidance sets out also that only rarely will factors other than international obligations weigh against deportation.

But the current law does not go far enough to link criminality with deportation in the way that we would want and the public would expect. We need to change the law to make deportation the norm for foreign national prisoners, to remove some in-country rights of appeal; to streamline procedures; and otherwise to remove barriers to deportation and removal, including existing exemptions for some Commonwealth nationals. We shall announce further steps in the wider IND review, to be published before recess.

Sixthly, new formal arrangements are now in place to refer cases for consideration of deportation where the foreign national prisoner is in custody in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Prison authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland have confirmed that these processes are working well. These arrangements involve IND officials and officials in the Scottish Executive, the Scottish Prison Service, the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Prison Service. Agencies are now developing proposals to extend these formal arrangements for referral across the justice systems in these jurisdictions: for example with the police, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and Scottish courts; and at each stage in the system in Northern Ireland, as approved by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The seventh priority area for action is the sensitive issue of mentally disordered offenders, where there has hitherto been no established system of referral, and nationality has not routinely been recorded. As with Scotland and Northern Ireland, arrangements have now been put in place to ensure that cases are referred for consideration of deportation for this particular group, when their formal restriction is due to end. Home Office officials are considering with the Department of Health what other actions we might take to ensure mentally disordered offenders can be considered for deportation at the earliest appropriate opportunity.

Finally, the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is conducting targeted interviews with foreign national prisoners who qualify to transfer to serve their sentence in their home country. An urgent amendment is being sought to legislation currently before Parliament to remove the need for prisoner consent in these cases; and prisoner transfer agreements are being negotiated with more foreign Governments. We have agreements with 96 countries and territories. NOMS, IND and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are assembling a package of measures to accelerate this work further.

There remains much to be done. Progress in all these areas will be reported in due course.

Ministerial Authorisation (Zimbabwe)

As a result of intelligence received in 2001 and July 2004 suggesting systematic fraud in applications for UK ancestry from Zimbabwean nationals, consideration of such applications was suspended last year pending further investigation.

In the light of continued evidence of fraudulent Zimbabwean applications for indefinite leave to remain in the UK on grounds of UK ancestry lodged prior to 25 October 2004, my predecessor made an authorisation on 16 January of six months duration under section 19D of the Race Relations Act 1976. This authorisation enabled staff in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate to subject these applications to more rigorous investigation than applications from persons of other nationalities, for the purpose of detecting fraudulent applications.

As a result of our review of this authorisation, I have decided to renew it for a further six months. We will review the continued need for this authorisation before its expiry.

A copy of the authorisation has been placed in the Library of both Houses of Parliament.

Northern Ireland

Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland

The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland's annual report and accounts for the year ended 31 March 2006 is published today.

Copies will be available in the Libraries of both Houses.

Youth Justice Agency of Northern Ireland

I have placed copies of the Youth Justice Agency's annual report and accounts for 2005-06 in the Libraries of both Houses.

This is the Agency's third annual report since its inception on 1 April 2003. It achieved nine of its 10 key performance targets and all 17 of its development objectives.

Transport

Demand Management (M25)

In July 2003 the then Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South-West (Mr. Darling), in response to the ORBIT multi-modal study, confirmed his intention to add an extra lane of capacity to bring most of the remaining three lane sections of the M25 up to four lanes in each direction. Construction work on this major investment project costing over £2 billion is expected to start in 2008 and run through until 2016 with the widening being undertaken in stages.

At the time of the decision to increase the capacity of the M25, it was made clear that widening would be pursued alongside measures to improve the management of traffic flow in order to lock in the benefits that the additional capacity would provide.

The Department has been exploring how traffic management technology already being used on the motorway network might be used to control congestion on the orbital motorway and its junctions. But traffic using the motorway also uses surrounding local roads and not just the motorway. The modelling that has been completed shows that there is potentially considerable benefit to be gained in the Department applying and operating traffic management techniques jointly with local authorities. The benefits would be reflected in better overall journey times for the majority of road users, across both the national and the local networks

It is vital that we harness local authorities' local knowledge at the planning stage, as well as developing a joint approach in applying that knowledge. I am therefore writing today to all the local authorities around the M25 to start this dialogue, focusing initially on those in the north west segment, where the first section of widening will take place, with the aim of developing an approach that will ensure long-distance traffic and local residents all benefit from this huge national investment.

Heathrow Sustainable Development (Air Quality)

I have today published the technical report of the Air Quality Technical Panels instituted after the 2003 Air Transport White Paper to review the basis upon which air quality assessments should be carried out for Heathrow Airport.

We continue to support further development at Heathrow, including the addition of a short, third runway in the 2015 to 2020 period, after a new runway at Stansted, but only if we can be confident that the conditions set out in the White Paper can be met. Publishing this report is a significant milestone in the programme of work to review the scope for meeting those conditions. I am grateful to the panel members who have devoted their energies over the past two years to a very full review of the issues and have produced a detailed and comprehensive report.

The report has been peer reviewed and I am happy to accept its recommendations. It is primarily concerned with methodology—how future assessments of air quality around Heathrow should be conducted. It does not attempt to prejudge the question whether development at Heathrow is more or less likely to be achievable within the critical air quality limits. But importantly it provides a sound scientific basis on which we can now proceed to carry out the remaining stages of the work to address that question in the coming months, building on the panels' recommendations.

Copies of the report are available in the House Library and full details will be available on the Department's website.

Work and Pensions

Strategic Direction for Remploy

Increasing the number of disabled people that we support into work is a core part of our Welfare Reform agenda. This is central to meeting the Department's aim of an 80 per cent. employment rate, and central to ensuring equality of opportunity for disabled people.

Remploy was set up after the Second World War to provide employment to facilitate rehabilitation and progression to open employment. Employing around 5,000 disabled people, the Remploy factories are engaged in a wide range of sectors ranging from office furniture through textiles to electronics. These industry sectors have experienced significant change over the last sixty years—not least through increased international competition.

In addition, the way in which we support disabled people into work has evolved. Strengthened disability rights mean that we are now in a stronger position to support people in a mainstream environment. This is why Remploy developed its Interwork business—which supported 4,300 people into jobs in 2005.

These changes have raised significant questions about the future strategy for Remploy. That is why in March I commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers and Stephen Duckworth (a disability expert with wide experience of disability rights and employment issues) to conduct a strategic review of the future business options for the company.

Today I have published the findings of the review. Copies of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report have been made available in the Libraries, Vote and Printed Paper Offices and on the DWP website http://www.dwp.gov.uk/publications/dwp/2006/remploy

The report delivers a hard-hitting financial assessment of the challenges facing Remploy.

Factories are facing growing cost pressures as a result of increased international competition and technological development

The average cost per employee is £18,000 per year and over £48,000 in the household and toiletries factory— far greater than say the £5,000 cost per head of other WORKSTEP providers.

The report sets out a range of possible scenarios for the business—from no change to complete closure of the factory network. I am ruling out both of these options.

It is clear from both this report and that of the National Audit Office that doing nothing is not an option. This view is shared by the Remploy Board, its management and the trade unions. The necessity for change is clear, but I believe there is still a role for sheltered employment in the future.

We recognise that change will have an inevitable impact on the disabled people Remploy employs. We want to give Remploy the time and support to determine the best way to modernise and restructure its business. We intend therefore to provide the necessary funding to enable this to happen, in particular so there is sufficient time to consider factory reorganisation as part of an overall restructuring package. This is not a cuts package for Remploy; on the contrary we will be maintaining the baseline funding and investing more this year to help deal with the short term issues.

I will be asking the Board of Remploy to undertake the preliminary work to bring forward later next year a five year restructuring plan with proposals both to modernise the business and to support substantially larger numbers of disabled people into work. Full consultation will take place with the trade unions and employees in developing this strategy. I will be making clear that any such proposals must protect Remploy's disabled employees from compulsory redundancy. Once this plan is brought forward, we will consider whether we are able to offer the Board additional funding for modernisation and we will also consider at that stage with the Chair whether we need to enhance the range of skills on the Board to help them to do this.

Currently Remploy supports around 9,000 disabled people in factory employment, Interwork and managed services. In the longer term our ambition is that any restructuring should enable us to help significantly more disabled people in work than if we continue with the status quo thus providing substantially more opportunities for disabled people and better value for the taxpayer.

The efforts of Remploy's existing workforce, its Chair and current Board, and its supporters must not be under-estimated or taken for granted. They have much to be proud of. But Remploy cannot stand still and we need to examine how the ideals which lay behind its creation 60 years ago can fit the world which it now faces.

Disability Rights Commission

The Disability Rights Commission's Annual Report and Accounts 2005-06 have been published today and laid before Parliament. The Annual Report demonstrates the DRC's continuing success in its important work to eliminate discrimination against disabled people; promote equal opportunities; encourage good practice and keep the working of the Disability Discrimination Act and the DRC Act under review.

Benefit Fraud Inspectorate Reports (Publication)

On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection reports on the following councils were published today: Bath and North East Somerset Council, Elmbridge borough council, Exeter City Council, Gateshead borough council, Reading borough council, Shepway district council, Stevenage borough council and Walsall metropolitan borough council. Copies have been placed in the Library.

The BFI reports detail a range of strengths and weaknesses in the housing benefit services provided by councils and make recommendations to improve the security and efficiency of benefit delivery.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering the reports and may ask the councils for proposals in response to BFI’s findings.