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Written Answers to Questions

Thursday 16 March 2000


Welfare Reform

Mr. Peter Bradley: To ask the Prime Minister what further progress the Government have made in their welfare reform programme; and if he will make a statement. [115348]

The Prime Minister: Welfare reform is central to this government's agenda of modernisation, and to our goals of tackling poverty and social exclusion. Today I am announcing plans for the next stage of welfare reform which will radically change the way the Government provides support for people of working age. The aim is to accelerate the move from a welfare system that primarily provide passive support to one that provides active support to help people become more independent, based on work for those who can and security for those who cannot.

During 2001 a brand new, modern agency will be established with a clear focus on work. This will draw together the Employment Service and the parts of the Benefits Agency which support people of working age. It will deliver a single, integrated service to benefit claimants of working age and to employers. The agency will continue and develop the partnership approach to working with local authorities and the private and voluntary sectors which the Government have adopted in implementing their welfare to work policies.

Already the New Deal has helped around 260,000 people back into work. The national minimum wage and tax credits are helping work pay. And the ONE pilots are showing how, working together, the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service can provide a radically improved service to clients and employers alike. The new agency will have a new culture, and will be firmly focused on helping people to become independent. It will help further to embed a culture of rights and responsibilities within the welfare system. Personal advisers will steer clients towards work or training, help them claim the benefits they need, and provide additional support tailored to their needs. Help will be directed to those that need it, while fraud will be squeezed out of the system.

The agency will provide a proactive and responsive service to employers--helping people to find jobs and helping employers to fill their vacancies with the right people.

The agency will also help and support working age people who are out of the labour market for whatever reason. A single agency will provide a better and more responsive benefits service to all people of working age, tailored to individual needs and asking the question "what can we do to help you become independent".

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The agency will provide a single point of contact for all working age people to access the following benefits: Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance, Maternity Allowance, Widows' Benefit, Industrial Injury Disablement Benefits and Invalid Care Allowance. The administration of the Social Fund is under review.

The new agency will be in the front line of the drive to modernise government. It will have the technology to provide the most up-to-date service to more than 10 million customers each year. Job vacancies, information about services and benefits and availability of child care will all be on hand at the press of a button. Located in high streets and town centres across the country this new service will represent the face of 21st century government. Over time the new agency will produce efficiency savings compared with the current arrangements.

Design and development of the new agency will be carried out jointly by the Secretaries of State for Education and Employment and for Social Security. I am asking them to establish the agency as soon as possible in 2001 so that, alongside the new service for pensioners announced yesterday, it can start to deliver our vision of a modern welfare state and contribute to reducing poverty and expanding opportunity.

Local Elections

Mr. Darvill: To ask the Prime Minister what advice has been given to civil servants on the conduct of Government business during the forthcoming elections to the Greater London Authority and to local councils on 4 May. [115349]

The Prime Minister: The Government have issued guidance to civil servants on the principles which they should observe in relation to the conduct of Government business in the period before the forthcoming elections.

The guidance stresses that civil servants should conduct themselves in accordance with the Civil Service Code and is based on the need to maintain political impartiality of the Civil Service and the need to ensure that public resources are not used for party political purposes.

The guidance will come into force on 13 April.

Copies of the guidance have been placed in the Libraries of the House, and are also available from the Vote Office.


Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill

Miss Widdecombe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has made of the annual number of convicted offenders who would receive a shorter custodial sentence than at present if the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill became law; how many offenders convicted of each type of offence would receive shorter sentences; what estimate he has made of the average reduction in the length of sentence (a) received and (b) served; and if he will make a statement. [112532]

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Mr. Charles Clarke [holding answer 2 March 2000]: It is estimated that 5,400 convicted offenders would receive shorter custodial sentences because their cases would be dealt with in the magistrates courts. This covers all categories of either-way offences. It is also assumed that the average reduction in the length of sentence (a) received would be 4.6 months and (b) served would be 2.3 months.

Senator Pinochet

Mr. Hammond: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has made of the cost to the Metropolitan police of the presence of Senator Augusto Pinochet in Surrey for 17 months; what discussions he has had with the Chief Constable of Surrey relating to such costs incurred by his force; and what payments have been made by his Department to each force in reimbursement of those costs. [113559]

Mr. Charles Clarke: The information as regards the estimated cost to the Metropolitan police of the presence of Senator Augusto Pinochet in the United Kingdom cannot be provided for security reasons.

In relation to the costs incurred by Surrey Constabulary, the Chief Constable asked for additional financial assistance in January. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary approved a special payment in the financial years 1998-99 of £200,000 for Surrey police. There was no commitment to provide any further assistance.

No special payment was provided to the Metropolitan police for their involvement with the policing of Senator Pinochet.


Mr. Ottaway: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking to deal with beggars and squeegee merchants on the streets of Croydon. [114259]

Mr. Charles Clarke: The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis informs me that there have been a number of operations during the past year in the Croydon area to address these problems and that his officers will continue to respond appropriately to any complaints.

The Commissioner has also advised me that he proposes next month to launch a drive to reduce street crime. Under the new initiative, specialist task forces will be introduced to assist boroughs with particular problems. Aggressive begging, which is intimidatory and often uses force, will be part of the focus of this initiative.

Crime and Disorder Act 1998

Mr. Coaker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what response he has had to his letter to local authorities and chief constables asking for comment on the operation of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 with respect to (a) child curfews and (b) anti-social behaviour orders; [114532]

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Mr. Charles Clarke: No applications have been received from local authorities to establish child curfew schemes under section 14 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary wrote on 15 October 1999 to local authority chief executives and chief officers of police about the provisions in the 1998 Act to tackle problems caused by unruly and anti-social behaviour.

Responses have been received from a number of local authorities and police forces and from professional and staff associations. They are being studied with a view in the operation of the Crime and Disorder Act provisions. An action group has also been established, involving local authority representatives and others, to consider issues relating to the use of anti-social behaviour orders. Regional seminars arranged by the group are currently being held and provide an opportunity to share good practice.

Kerb Crawlers

Mr. Fabian Hamilton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what assessment he has made of the impact on re-offending of the kerb crawlers re-education programme in West Yorkshire; [114563]

Mr. Charles Clarke: The Home Office have not been involved in the Kerb Crawlers Rehabilitation Programme in West Yorkshire. We have, however, received a copy of the evaluation of the programme carried out by West Yorkshire Police.

We hope to discuss the programme with interested parties to see what lessons can be learned but we have no current plans to introduce such a programme nationwide.

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