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|Territorial Army Infantry Battalion||Establishment||Strength|
|51 Highland Regiment||637||724|
|52 Lowland Regiment||454||436|
|3 Prince of Wales Royal Regiment||358||345|
|Royal Rifle Volunteers||455||462|
|Lancastrian and Cumbrian Volunteers||422||421|
|Tyne Tees Regiment||553||632|
|West Midlands Regiment||550||499|
|Kings and Cheshire Regiment||454||464|
|East of England Regiment||549||649|
|East and West Riding Regiment||519||538|
|Royal Welsh Regiment||457||413|
|4 Parachute Regiment||324||454|
Dr. Moonie: The term "casual workers" is not used by the armed forces, and soldiers in the Territorial Army (TA) have not been formally designated as such. However, members of the TA are not eligible for membership of the Armed Forces Pension Scheme because of the terms of their employment. In the part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 service in the TA (as set out under sections 22 and 27 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996) is specifically excluded.
None the less, since 8 October 2001 members of the TA have had the option of joining the Armed Forces Stakeholder Pension Plan. The Ministry of Defence has designated Scottish Widows plc to provide this facility to all eligible members of the armed forces. MOD and Scottish Widows are involved in an exercise to inform all members of the armed forces of this new facility.
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Mr. Ingram: We remain determined to balance operational commitments. We will commit personnel to operations for no longer than is necessary to achieve the military aim. Recent operations in Macedonia demonstrated this well. We are introducing systems to monitor the amount of separated service undertaken by each individual in the armed forces which will help us to target our efforts on the most hard-pressed branches and trades. For operations overseas, a new and comprehensive package of welfare support was introduced worldwide in April 2001.
Mr. Hoon: We continuously monitor all threats to the UK and our armed forces. We judge there is currently no specific threat from biological warfare using genetically modified organisms. We are, of course, aware that biological warfare agents can be modified by methods such as genetic manipulation; such factors are taken into account in formulating our approach to biological defence.
Mr. Liddell-Grainger: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the Otterburn public inquiry report; and when the approvals for the future development of the training area will be given. 
Mr. Ingram: I welcome the announcement of 4 October 2001 by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) that he is minded to agree the development of Otterburn Training Area.
We have now examined the detail of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's letter and the report and are content with them. We have therefore responded accordingly to the Government Office for the North East.
Mr. Chaytor: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the possible uses of depleted uranium in respect of British Forces' engagements in the conflict in Afghanistan. 
Mr. Hoon [holding answer 22 October 2001]: No British forces currently engaged in operations around Afghanistan are armed with depleted uranium ammunition. However, we do not rule out the use of depleted uranium ammunition in Afghanistan, should its penetrative capability be judged necessary in the future.
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Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions his Department has had with US counterparts regarding the implementation and capability of the US Domestic Preparedness Programme. [R] 
Mr. Hoon: The Ministry of Defence has, for a number of years, actively engaged with the US Administration on all aspects of homeland security. Following the events of September 11, we have continued our regular dialogue and have made clear that we stand ready to assist should the US require our help.
Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has for the future of the integrated inquiry service; how much has been spent on the system; and if he will make a statement. 
Malcolm Wicks: The integrated inquiry service project was established to examine the feasibility of providing local authorities which administer housing benefit with wider access to the Department's benefit data. This would build on the existing data available through remote access terminals linking local authorities to the Department systems. Our aim is to speed up the processing of claims and improve customer service by reducing authorities' dependence on clerical processes.
A software application was developed by the project and tested in seven local authorities at an estimated cost of £800,000. An evaluation of these trials showed that there remained substantial technical problems to overcome before the tested application could satisfy the Department's and local authorities' business requirements. No assured solutions to these problems could be identified and we have therefore closed the project.
Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the relative sales of (a) stakeholder pensions and (b) personal pensions in the first quarter of this financial year; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. McCartney: Figures from the Association of British Insurers show that 535,000 single premium and regular premium pensions were sold in the April-June quarter of 2001, of which over 200,000 were stakeholder pensions. The volume of regular premium pensions sold represented an increase of 55 per cent. over the same period last year, and the volume of single premium pensions sold represented an increase of 192 per cent. over the same period last year.
Initial indications are that stakeholder pensions have made an encouraging start and that they are also helping to increase the overall coverage of private pensions provision, but it will be some time before the impact becomes clear.
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Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many ministerial decisions were made where authority for the same derived from the royal prerogative for the most recent calendar month for which information is available. 
Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the comparative values of pension funds of typical 60-year-old males each year since 1997, in cash and real terms. 
The BFI first inspected Blyth Valley district council in October 1999 and found significant weaknesses in the administration of Housing and Council Tax Benefit and counter fraud work. At its follow-up inspection, in April 2001, inspectors confirmed substantial improvements, with progress and developments in the vast majority of areas.
The report notes that through the commitment and enthusiasm of members, managers and staff, the council has achieved a significant improvement in performance in combating fraud and error. This is highlighted by the fact that 42 of the 44 recommendations from the first report have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented.
Inspectors consider that benefits administration and overpayment recovery now has the necessary resources and management information in place to enable the council to deliver an effective service, while the implementation of a comprehensive checking regime has enabled the council to identify and focus on priority issues and proactively manage its operations.
The council has addressed the main issues identified in BFI's first report concerning its counter fraud activities. However, BFI considers it has focused too heavily on claiming Weekly Benefit Savings. It is now moving to a more sanction and deterrence based operation. As its Weekly Benefit Savings claims are fairly accurate, inspectors conclude there is a sound basis for this move, which will ensure the council provides a value-for-money deterrent to fraud.
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Blyth Valley is an excellent example of an authority responding positively and effectively to weaknesses identified by the BFI and thus providing a more secure and accurate benefits service to its community
The report makes recommendations to help the council address remaining weaknesses and to further improve the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, as well as its counter fraud activities.
During the inspection the council was implementing a new management structure and inspectors found a positive improvement in performance as a result. At the time of inspection, BFI found the longstanding backlog of work was significantly reduced.
The report notes the standard of evidence in support of claims was variable. The council has now introduced the Verification Framework, which should address some of the previous weaknesses but inspectors consider management checking needs to be improved to underpin this.
Inspectors report that the council failed to make payments of benefit on account where this was required and consider that improvements need to be made in the risk management of Housing Benefit claims, including the use of shorter benefit periods.
BFI found evidence of improved performance in the work being carried out by fraud staff including tighter systems and management controls of investigation work. Inspectors found the council had implemented new procedures and set up a dedicated team resulting in high levels of overpayment recovery.
Malcolm Wicks: The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate report in respect of the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea was published on 21 August 2001 and copies of the report have been placed in the Library.
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who may be able to claim are identified and the council deals quickly with benefit callers. A customer satisfaction survey in July 2000 revealed an overall level of satisfaction of 82 per cent.
Inspectors found no backlogs of work with 95 per cent. of claims paid within the timescale required by legislation. The BFI report notes that there is a high level of payment accuracy. The council is introducing the Verification Framework in stages to avoid a negative impact on performance.
A number of weaknesses in the management and investigation of fraud work were identified by inspectors, but the report notes the council has recently taken steps to address these and has a good record of applying sanctions to those committing fraud.
BFI's first inspection of the borough of Broxbourne in March 1998 found significant weaknesses in the administration of Housing and Council Tax Benefit and counter fraud work. The follow-up inspection, in October 2000, confirmed substantial progress and developments in many areas of work, although inspectors also found scope for further improvement.
Inspectors consider the council's implementation of the Verification Framework has been comprehensive. BFI found the council improved public access to benefits information and assistance, and now has effective joint working with BA. The report notes, however, that the previous problems of backlogs of work and slow processing were still in evidence.
Inspectors found that the council's IT system did not provide adequate information on the management of overpayments; however, the report does note that the council has made substantial progress in its administration of overpayments since the first BFI inspection.
Inspectors consider that the council has sufficient systems in place to ensure the effectiveness and quality of the housing benefit and council tax benefit administration and counter fraud work. The previous lack
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of monitoring of the contractor has improved and inspectors conclude the council now has effective monitoring mechanisms in place.
The BFI report notes the council has been working towards meeting the standards of the Verification Framework since February 2000. BFI found that some areas of verification of claims were good, although inspectors identified other areas that needed improvement.
The BFI report notes the council's counter fraud activity is effective, with a well-resourced fraud team. As a result, it is able to produce high quality investigations. In contrast, the housing benefit team does not have enough staff to meet customer expectations.
Inspectors consider that the introduction of the Customer Services Centre did not help the performance of the Housing Benefit team as anticipated. The team is also hindered by poor management information.
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Malcolm Wicks: The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate report in respect of the East Lothian council was published on 18 September 2001 and copies of the report have been placed in the Library. This is the second report on East Lothian council by BFI.
The BFI expressed major concern with the lack of demonstrable commitment at senior manager level to address issues highlighted by the first BFI inspection. Relatively few of the major recommendations from the first inspection had been fully implemented in areas such as the provision of management information, system security and overpayment recovery where long standing weaknesses were identified.
The report finds the council had made little or no attempt to tackle serious shortcomings in benefit administration. Inspectors found that it was extremely difficult to assess performance in benefit administration and overpayment management because the council was unable to provide any reliable data for the previous two financial years. Additionally, the BFI was particularly concerned that a number of matters which had been reported to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) (formerly Department of Social Security) as having been addressed were still found to be problematical. In particular, the report finds little evidence of sustained improvement in the council's strategic and operational management.
The report recognises that some definite improvements have been made in areas such as day-to-day claims processing and fraud investigation. Also there is praise for the commitment of front line staff.
Inspectors report that the council has made considerable improvements in many areas, particularly in re-designing processes to improve performance. Quality improvements have been less dramatic and the report recommends that the council should now focus on these areas to make further gains in the effectiveness and security of its service.
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council had over £15 million in benefit over-payment debt which, at the time of the inspectors' visit, was continuing to rise. The report notes that there was evidence that serious efforts were being made to recover this. The Report makes recommendations that, when implemented, will strengthen these.
Inspectors report variable standards of claim verification and identify improvements needed in this area and on the speed of processing claims. The report recommends more rigorous management and controls to improve the quality and consistency of checking and to ensure that guidance is followed.
The report notes that the council has a strong culture of probity at officer and Member level and that it recognises the need to draw together existing policies on probity into a single fraud and corruption policy. The BFI's findings show that Bromley's performance in tackling fraud was found to be ineffective in its organisation and investigation quality. A number of recommendations to tackle this are contained within the report.
The report notes the council welcomed the inspection as an opportunity to review and improve its benefit operations. The council has expressed its commitment to improving the security and integrity of the benefits system and modernising all its services using e-government.
Since the inspection, Bromley has begun to implement recommended changes, such as increasing staffing in the client unit. Full implementation of the recommendations contained in the report should enable it to build a more secure and efficient benefits system.
Brian White: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he will publish the report of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate into the Benefits Agency's closer working arrangements with local authorities. 
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Inspectors report that their investigation took place at a time when significant changes were taking place in the organisation with the start of a major project to focus substantial resources on supporting the frontline delivery of services to customers. There was also a great deal of work underway to develop and improve the relationship with local authorities.
BFI found areas where the BA needed to make improvements in order to ensure benefit payments were free from fraud and error. These include training BA staff in Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit issues, improving the recovery of Housing Benefit overpayments, and better checking of identities and more effective exchange of information with local authority counter fraud staff.
The report notes that changes made in BA should have a positive impact on counter fraud activity, especially the appointment of a Chief Investigation Officer and Head of Profession for counter fraud activity. The appointments should lead to a clearer strategic direction and raise the profile of closer working on counter fraud.
Inspectors also consider the introduction of BA's Performance Improvement Action Teams to support equalisation of performance amongst BA offices should also have a positive impact on several of the areas of weakness identified in the report.
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