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RN Vessels

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the long-term service plans for use of (a) HMS Sheffield, (b) HMS Coventry and (c) HMS Cardiff. [114768]

Mr. Spellar: HM ships Coventry, Sheffield and Cardiff will remain Fleet assets until replaced by new ships entering service. On current plans, HMS Coventry will be replaced by HMS St. Albans at the end of 2001. In due course HMS Sheffield will be replaced by the Future

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Surface Combatant and HMS Cardiff by the first Type 45. Until replaced, they will be subject to a normal programme of operational tasking and upkeep.

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if the refit of HMS Nottingham is proceeding on time and within budget; when she will start post-refit trials; what is the date for her to return to active service; and if he will make a statement. [114802]

Mr. Spellar: The refit of HMS Nottingham is currently proceeding to programme and is within budget. Post-refit trials are planned to commence in the autumn and HMS Nottingham is expected to return to operational service early next year.

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what are the mid and long-term service plans for the three Royal Navy aircraft carriers; and if he will make a statement. [114797]

Mr. Spellar: The three aircraft carriers, HMS Invincible, Illustrious and Ark Royal undertake a rolling programme of operations and maintenance, to ensure that two ships are normally available for tasking. All three vessels are planned to remain in service for at least the next decade. Under current plans, Invincible will be the first to pay off, after which Illustrious and Ark Royal will provide the capability until the next two new aircraft carriers enter service.

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Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the cost of the refit is for the HMS Lancaster; if it will be completed to time and cost; if she will be able to carry the Merlin helicopter; and if he will make a statement. [114763]

Mr. Spellar: Expenditure to date on HMS Lancaster's refit is about £10.5 million. There are some outstanding minor costs which are subject to negotiation with the refit contractor. It is expected that the final cost will be within the original budget. The refit contract was completed earlier than originally planned, and HMS Lancaster will shortly return to operational service. She is now capable of carrying the Merlin helicopter.

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when and where HMS Norfolk will have her next refit; at what cost; and if he will make a statement. [114771]

Mr. Spellar: HMS Norfolk's next refit is planned to start in 2005 and to form part of MOD's competitive shipwork programme. Both the venue and the cost of the refit will therefore depend on the outcome of the planned competition.

Bloody Sunday

Mr. William Ross: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence which of the soldiers on duty in Londonderry on 30 January 1972 suffered a bullet wound to his foot. [114901]

Mr. Spellar: While on duty in Londonderry on 30 January 1972, a soldier suffered a bullet would to his foot as a result of the accidental discharge of his weapon. He has made a statement to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, but his identity cannot be revealed under the Tribunal's ruling on anonymity.

SOCIAL SECURITY

Housing Benefit

Mr. Neil Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what was the amount of housing benefit paid by each local authority in respect of local authority rented housing in the years (a) 1995-96, (b) 1996-97, (c) 1997-98, (d) 1998-99 and (e) 1999-2000; and if he will indicate the average number of recipients for each authority. [113843]

Angela Eagle: The information is in the Library.

Mr. Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security, pursuant to his answer of 9 March 2000, Official Report, column 806W, if he will list the local authorities that did not volunteer to participate in (a) the Area Benefit Review of Housing Benefit and (b) the last Housing Benefit Review. [115210]

Angela Eagle: In the summer of 1997 all local authorities in Great Britain were invited to volunteer to participate in the second National Housing Benefit Review for which a representative sample of authorities was needed.

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In the spring of 1999 the Department invited all local authorities in Great Britain to participate in a project to incorporate Housing Benefit paid with Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance (Income Based) into the Benefits Agency's Area Benefit Review programme.

In seeking volunteers for both exercises, the Department made clear to local authorities the level of commitment required. In the case of the national review, this involved diverting anti-fraud resources from mainstream anti-fraud activity for a period of approximately two months. In the case of the area benefit review, a continuing requirement to divert benefit processing resources from mainstream activity and to meet tight deadlines was involved. It was left to local authorities whether they would be able to make this commitment without jeopardising anti-fraud work or service delivery.

The list of local authorities who did not volunteer to participate in the second National Housing Benefit Review or the Area Benefit Review project has been placed in the Library.

Fraud Officer (North Essex)

Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when the Benefits Agency Fraud officer for North Essex will be contactable by e-mail; and if he will make a statement. [114978]

Mr. Rooker: This is a matter for Peter Mathison, the Chief Executive of the Benefits Agency. He will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Peter Mathison to Mr. Bernard Jenkin, dated 16 March 2000:



    Until recently we did not have in place a secure gateway from our internal e-mail system to the Internet to allow safe communication with those outside our system. This is now in place and instructions have just been issued to staff for its use. Over the coming months the e-mail addresses of BA District and other offices will be published on the DSS Web site. A timetable has not yet been finalised. A number of constraints remain to be resolved in terms of confirming identify and ensuring security before restricted or personal information can be sent by e-mail but these are being addressed.


    We have not yet, however, put in place the structures within offices to deal with a high volumes of enquiries but an arrangement can be made for specific cases and I understand that this option has been made available to you by the Fraud Sector manager.


    I hope this is helpful.

IR35

Miss Geraldine Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what estimate he has made of the impact on the social security budget of the introduction of IR35. [114498]

Mr. Rooker: The introduction of IR35 is estimated to yield an additional £220 million per year in National Insurance contributions in a full year. Although the increased contributions are likely to lead to higher future National Insurance benefit expenditure, it is not possible to quantify this increase.

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National Insurance

Mr. Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security, pursuant to his answer of 13 March 2000, Official Report, column 53W, (a) what types of fraud the new scans of national insurance numbers will identify that previous scans have not been able to, (b) what estimate he has made of how many fraudulent numbers there will be for each type of anticipated fraud and (c) how many numbers on the Departmental Central Index will be scanned using the new technique. [115204]

Mr. Rooker: The scans of National Insurance numbers are designed primarily to identify anomalies and duplicate records, rather than specific areas of fraud.

It is not possible to estimate how many cases of fraud will be identified by scans, or the type of fraud involved.

Each scan involves checking the whole of the Departmental Central Index database, some 81 million accounts.

Water Charges

Mr. Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will bring forward proposals to provide compensation to those in receipt of a state pension in Scotland for the recent increases in water charges; and if he will make a statement. [114679]

Mr. Rooker [holding answer 16 March 2000]: No. Social Security benefits are paid at a set UK rate. Account is taken of a wide range of goods and services, including water charges across the UK.


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