Mr. Clappison: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what is the cost per issue of "Modernising Government News"; how many issues there have been to date; how many civil servants are employed full-time or part-time in work on it; what its circulation is; and what is its total cost to date. 
Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office (1) if civil servants are unable to take part in work that analyses or costs policies of Opposition parties; and if she will make a statement; 
Marjorie Mowlam: Departments are asked from time to time, under Governments of any party, to cost the policies and pledges of their political opponents. Since Departments would provide factual answers (subject to the limits on disproportionate cost) to questions from MPs about the costs of identifiable changes in activities or benefits, there is no objection to officials providing such factual information. These rules have applied under successive Governments.
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The basis on which this is done is that Ministers, assisted if they wish by their special advisers, are responsible for identifying the text of commitments together with any further interpretations or assumptions necessary to allow the commitments to be costed. Departments then provide factual material, drawing attention to any additional assumptions or qualifications which they have made (eg territorial basis, price level, first year or full year) including possible overlaps with other similar costings. Very often the exercise will be co-ordinated by the Treasury, who will then be in a position to exercise their own scrutiny and check consistency with other costings. When the exercise is not being co-ordinated by the Treasury, individual costings are cleared with the Treasury before being published.
When the factual material has been provided, it is for Ministers (assisted by their special advisers) to determine the form of presentation, although it is legitimate for Departments to check the presentation for factual accuracy and consistency.
Mr. Rendel: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what are the current SERPS rebate rates for those who have contracted out of SERPs and taken out private pensions; and what estimate he has made of what these rates would have been had their calculation taken into account the recently announced SERPS widows' entitlements. 
Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) how many people who have been convicted of social security fraud in each of the past five years had a previous conviction for social security fraud; 
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|Cautions and penalties as an alternative to prosecution
The figures do not include sanctions for benefit fraud by authorities administering Housing and Council Tax benefits. Penalties as an alternative to prosecution were introduced by the Social Security Administration (Fraud) Act with effect from December 1998.
Information on the number of prosecutions resulting in convictions is currently only available in respect of Benefit Fraud Investigation Service prosecutions in the years 1997-98 and 1998-99--in both years, 99 per cent. of such prosecutions were successful.
Our research suggests that approximately 5 per cent. of prosecutions involve a person with a previous conviction for benefit fraud. We are putting in place mechanisms to identify second and further convictions.
1 All-postal ballot
Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the annual running cost is, including the council tax liability, of his Department's former offices in 2 Marsham Street; how many civil servants work there; and what his plans are for the future of 2 Marsham Street. 
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Accommodation Strategy. The cost of maintenance and security for the year ending 31 March 2000 was £640,000 and for the year ending 31 March 2001 is not expected to exceed £725,000. Offices are not liable to Council Tax but to non-domestic rates. The empty rate liability is currently expected to be £1.2 million for the current year.
No civil servants work at the site, which has been vacant for several years other than occasional casual use such as a winter shelter for the homeless. With respect to the redevelopment of the site, I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) on 28 July 2000, Official Report, column 1167W. This explained that subject to final contract negotiations, part of the site will be used for the relocation of the Home Office, including the Prison Service, and part will be sold for other uses, mainly housing including affordable housing. Anne's Gate Property plc has been selected as the preferred bidder for the project. The demolition of the existing building on the site will commence after contracts are exchanged.
Mr. Hawkins: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he plans that the Gaming Machines (Methods of Payment) draft Deregulation Order will be put out to formal consultation; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Mike O'Brien: Preparation of the consultation document has taken longer than we had hoped. The deregulation proposals raised some complex legal issues which have required detailed discussion with the industry and the Gaming Board. We expect, however, to publish it very shortly.
Mr. Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many persons have exercised a human rights appeal under section 65 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 in relation to a refused family visit visa application since 2 October. 
Mr. Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many applications for support were determined by the National Asylum Support Service in (a) September and (b) October; and in what proportion of these cases the application was determined (a) within seven days, (b) within 14 days and (c) in more than 14 days. 
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Mrs. Roche: As at the end of August 2000, 11,300 1 asylum seekers were allocated support by the National Asylum Support Service. This figure was 14,200 1 at the end of September 2000 and 18,200 1 at the end of October 2000. These figures include dependants. Information on the proportion decided within seven or 14 days is not available.
Mrs. Roche: As of 4 December, the net income from fees from family visitor appeals was £13,000. It may be that some of this total will be refunded following the resolution of appeals which are currently outstanding.
Mr. Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many applications for support have been made to the National Asylum Support Service by asylum-seekers since 3 April 2000; how many of these applications have been determined; and how many applications remain under consideration. 
Mrs. Roche: As at 4 December 2000, the National Asylum Support Service had received 25,000 1 applications for support since 3 April 2000. 22,700 1 asylum seekers, including dependants, have been allocated NASS support. Information on the number of applications determined, and the number outstanding, is not currently available.
Mr. Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to change the rules governing asylum seekers' ability to undertake (a) voluntary work and (b) paid employment; and if he will make a statement. 
Mrs. Roche: I have no plans to limit the ability of asylum seekers to undertake paid voluntary work. I am reviewing the concession which allows asylum seekers to seek permission to take paid employment if an initial decision on their asylum application has been outstanding for six months or more.
Mr. Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many staff were employed in processing asylum applications on the last date for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement. 
Mrs. Roche: As at 4 December, the number of staff employed in the Integrated Casework Directorate in processing asylum applications was about 1,230. As with the reply given to the hon. Member on 4 July 2000, Official Report, column 175W, this figure includes those who manage and support staff making the decisions as well as the decision makers. It does not include Immigration Service staff also engaged in processing asylum applications.
Mr. Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the average time was for reaching (a) an initial decision and (b) a final decision on an asylum application for (i) an individual, (ii) a family and (ii) for all applications, (A) on the latest date for which figures are available and (B) in each of the last five years; and if he will make a statement. 
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(5) The average length of time (in months) is calculated from when the data application is lodged to the date of initial decision, and relates to the year in which the decisions were made.
(6) Figures are estimates based on cases for which information is recorded.
Mr. Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department by what date he expects to comply with Government targets for the time taken to process asylum applications; and if he will make a statement. 
Mrs. Roche: The 1998 White Paper committed the Government to make most initial asylum decisions within two months by April 2001. We are on course to meet this target and are already doing so for families with children.
Mr. Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he made of the administrative costs (a) in total and (b) per asylum seeker of providing support for asylum seekers through (i) the voucher system and (ii) the social security system; what the total cost to date is of administering asylum vouchers; and if he will make a statement. 
Mrs. Roche: The total staffing and related costs of the National Asylum Support Service (NASS), which include the administrative costs of the voucher scheme, are estimated as £16 million for 2000-01. Based on an anticipated total of 43,000 applications for support the estimated administrative cost per asylum seeker in 2000-01 is £372.
Total staffing and related administrative costs of NASS, including the costs of administering the voucher scheme, assessing applications for support and arranging the dispersal and accommodation of asylum seekers to 30 November 2000 are recorded as £9 million. Vouchers are printed and distributed by third party providers under contract to the Home Office and the costs of this service are commercially confidential. Payments made under the voucher contract to 30 November 2000 are included in the total staffing and related administrative cost.
Between 1994 and 1999 the annual administrative costs for income support for asylum seeker claims for one year was estimated to be in the region of £1 million and £2.5 million in 1999-2000. The estimated costs in the current year to the end of October are £0.5 million.
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Mr. Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department by what date he plans to end the policy of not allowing change to be given when asylum vouchers are spent; and if he will make a statement. 
Mrs. Roche: As part of the review of the operation of the asylum voucher support system, we are giving early consideration to how change and lower denomination vouchers can be issued in the context of the decisions made by Parliament and reflected in the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act. My officials are working on the practicalities and we hope to make an announcement soon.