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Bovine TB

Charlotte Atkins: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to bring further areas into the badger culling trial recommended by Professor Krebs to address questions about the incidence of tuberculosis in cattle. [115516]

Ms Quin: The next two sets of badger culling trial areas have now been identified. One will be located in Staffordshire/Derbyshire, and the other in Devon/ Somerset. These are the seventh and eighth areas to be enrolled in the trial, and we expect to announce the remaining areas later this year. The Government are committed to a wide-ranging research and control strategy

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to find a science-based solution to TB in cattle. The badger culling trial is an important element of that strategy.


Public Trust Office

Mr. Love: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will report on the progress of the reform of the Public Trust Office; and if he will make a statement. [114698]

Jane Kennedy: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) on 8 February 2000, Official Report, column 132W.

Starrs Case

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what progress the Government are making in considering the implications of the Starrs case in Scotland for the judicial system in England and Wales. [113405]

Mr. Lock: The Lord Chancellor announced on 29 November that he was considering the implications which the judgment in Scotland may have for the part- time judiciary in England and Wales. He is considering all part-time appointments, their terms and conditions and tenure with a view to considering whether any changes need to be made. That review is being undertaken with all deliberate speed and a statement will be made as soon as possible.

Cheshire Magistrates Courts Committee

Mrs. Dunwoody: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will list the membership of the County Committee for Cheshire indicating the home towns of the members and the bench on which they sit, and if he will list the county and magistrates' courts that the Committee is considering for closure. [115030]

Jane Kennedy: There are five members on the Cheshire Magistrates Courts Committee. Miss Baines and Mr. Darby, who sit on the Ellesmere Port & Neston Bench, reside in Neston; Mr. Fletcher, who sits on the Chester Bench, resides in Chester; Mrs. Mackenzie, who sits on the South Cheshire Bench, resides in Holmes Chapel; and Mr. Robinson, who sits on the Macclesfield Bench, resides in Altrincham.

Decisions on the future of magistrates courts are for the Cheshire Magistrates Courts Committee to determine, after consultation with the paying authority.

At present, no formal determination has been made by the Cheshire Magistrates Courts Committee to close any of its magistrates courts. However, the Committee recently consulted on proposals for the closure of the Park Green Court in Macclesfield and the Patten Hall Court in Warrington. The closing date for representations was 29 February 2000. The Committee proposes to make a final decision at its meeting scheduled for 17 March.

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Proposals for the closure of a county court are not the responsibility of the Magistrates Courts Committee. They are dealt with by the Court Service.


Benefits Agency (Scotland)

Mr. Browne: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many (a) inquiries and (b) requests for assistance about constituency problems have been received from members of the Scottish Parliament by the Benefits Agency Scottish Parliamentary Relations Unit since it was established; and if he will list the numbers according to (a) constituency and (b) originating MSP. [113648]

Angela Eagle: The information is not available in the format requested as correspondence between Members of the Scottish Parliament and this Department is treated as confidential. Such information as is available is as follows.

The Benefits Agency, Scottish Parliamentary Relations Unit (SPRU) deals with correspondence received by the Chief Executive and Departmental Ministers. Since it was established in October 1999 SPRU has dealt with seven inquiries and five requests for assistance with customers' problems from MSPs. In addition 31 pieces of correspondence have been received from MPs who are also MSPs.

Staff Posts (Risk Assessments)

Mr. Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what were the main results of the risk assessment of staff posts conducted by his Department last year; and if he will place a copy in the Library. [113782]

Mr. Rooker [holding answer 9 March 2000]: The risk assessment concluded that there are no additional posts that can be regarded as especially sensitive and that the most effective way of managing the risk of internal security breaches is through robust management controls and checks. Such controls are constantly reviewed and were recently strengthened. We are actively considering the introduction of criminal record checks for new recruits.

A copy of the document has been placed in the Library.

Child Poverty

Mr. Hilary Benn: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what measure he will use to assess progress towards the achievement of the Government's objective of eliminating child poverty. [114203]

Mr. Bayley: On 21 September 1999, we published the document "Opportunity for All" which sets out our strategy for tackling the causes of poverty and social exclusion. The report includes a range of indicators against which we can monitor our progress in tackling these causes and overcoming the problems of people living in poverty.

Further details on all the indicators in the "Opportunity for All" report have been placed in the Library.

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Housing Benefit

Mr. Love: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many private renting tenants were in receipt of Housing Benefit in (a) Greater London and (b) Enfield for each year since 1990; what was the average Housing Benefit paid in each of those years; and if he will make a statement. [114637]

Angela Eagle: The information is not available in the format requested. Such information as is available is in the table.

FebruaryTotal private renting tenantsAverage Housing Benefit (£ per week)
Greater London


1. The figures supplied are for February of each financial year.

2. The figures for caseload have been rounded to the nearest thousand for Great Britain and to the nearest 10 for the Local Authority,

3. The figures for average Housing Benefit have been rounded to the nearest 10 pence.

4. Data for any authority that did not supply information will have been estimated.


Housing Benefit Management Information System, Quarterly 100 per cent. caseload inquiries taken in February of each year since 1993.

Mr. Love: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what progress has been made on the standardisation of Housing Benefit administration and delivery by local authorities; and if he will make a statement. [114697]

Angela Eagle: We aim to transform the delivery of Housing Benefit so that local authorities provide a faster, more accurate service which is more secure against fraud, and which provides value for money and takes account of the views and needs of residents and taxpayers.

We are using the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate to help drive up standards of administration through its programme of inspections, working in partnership with local authorities to identify both areas for improvement and good practices. In February 1999 the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate published a good practice guide that was sent to all local authorities which was followed by a programmed series of seminars for local authority managers. An updated version of the good practice guide will be published later this year.

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In appropriate cases my right hon. Friend will be prepared to exercise powers under section 139D of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 to direct an authority to attain improved standards of administration following a report from the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate.

In addition, we are setting Best Value performance indicators from next month, which target key areas such as speed of delivery, accuracy and security. Local authorities will be required to set and meet challenging targets against these indicators and demonstrate that they are achieving continuous improvements in the standards of service they provide.

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