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25 Nov 2002 : Column 12W—continued

Submarines

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how much it has cost to make the submarines sold to Canada fit to put to sea; and if he will make a statement. [82143]

Dr. Moonie: The cost of the refurbishment of the Upholder Class submarines is commercially sensitive and I am withholding the details in accordance with Exemption 13 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

Tomahawk Missiles

Patrick Mercer: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made on the modifications of the next generation of Tactical Tomahawk missiles. [80700]

Dr. Moonie: An equally funded United Kingdom-United States programme is in progress to develop and test a version of the Tactical Tomahawk Block IV missile capable of being fired from submarine torpedo tubes. The first test firing is expected to take place next year.

VX Nerve Agent

Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what information he has received from the US Government about Iraq's possession of the dusty form of VX nerve agent; and if he will make a statement. [82566]

Mr. Hoon: Intelligence communications between the United Kingdom and foreign governments are confidential and I am therefore withholding the information in accordance with Exemption 1 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information. The Government's assessment of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was published on 24 September.

Whittington Barracks

Michael Fabricant: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the investigation of allegations of (a) rape and (b) bullying at the Army Training Regiment in Whittington Barracks near Lichfield; and what steps he is taking to reassure relations of soldiers at the barracks of their safety. [81166]

Dr. Moonie: The allegations made recently refer to events that are said to have occurred in 1997 and earlier. In respect of the rape allegation, no formal complaint has been made to the Ministry of Defence and there is no specific investigation ongoing. Naturally, should the allegation be made formally, then the department will instigate a full and proper investigation. I can confirm that claims have been brought against the Ministry of Defence in respect of bullying which took place at

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Whittington Barracks in 1991–92. As the claims are the subject of litigation I cannot comment further. Bullying and harassment of any kind will not be tolerated in the Army and any such allegations will always be thoroughly investigated. If such allegations are proven, appropriate action will be taken against the perpetrators.

WALES

Grants

Mr. McLoughlin: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will list the grants funded by his Department for which individual members of the public and organisations may apply; and if he will make a statement as to (a) the total of such funding in the last financial year, (b) the total number of awards and (c) their administrative costs. [82188]

Peter Hain: My Department does not fund any grants for individual members of the public and organisations.

Welsh Language

Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the remit of his spokesperson on the Welsh language. [83010]

Peter Hain: Wales Office policy on the Welsh language is a matter for Wales Office Ministers; I have not appointed anyone else to speak for us on these matters.

As part of my strong commitment to it, I regard it as important that Government policy is presented in the Welsh language. The hon. Member for Ynys Mon, (Albert Owen), has kindly agreed to assist in this.

WORK AND PENSIONS

Pensioners

15. Mr. Carmichael: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the need for pension reform. [81283]

Mr. McCartney: We have come a long way in our ambition to combat poverty and promote security and independence in retirement. State Second Pension and the groundbreaking Pension Credit, which is being introduced in October 2003, will mainly benefit women and those, on low incomes. But we still have further to go.

The Government's proposals will be published in a Green Paper shortly.

New Deal

22. Mr. Savidge: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what impact the New Deal for 25 plus has had on levels of unemployment. [81291]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: Since 1997, long-term unemployment has been cut by around three quarters, to its lowest level for more than 25 years. New Deal 25

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plus has played an important part in this success, so far helping over 112,000 people into work (90 in my hon. Friend's constituency).

In April 2001 New Deal 25 plus was re-engineered, to provide a flexible, more individually-tailored service to help more people get jobs and remain in them. The enhanced programme is performing well, increasing the rate at which participants enter jobs.

We are building on this success and enhancing and extending New Deal 25 plus even further. Next April we will be piloting more intensive help during the Gateway period and extending eligibility to all jobseekers who have been unemployed for 18 months out of the previous three years.

Benefit Fraud

24. Dr. Stoate: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his targets are for the reduction of benefit fraud. [81293]

Malcolm Wicks: We have recently announced a target of a 25 per cent. reduction in fraud and error in Housing Benefit for working age customers by 2006. This is in addition to the targets we have already set to reduce fraud and error in Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance for working age customers, which aim for a 33 per cent. reduction by 2004 and a 50 per cent. reduction by 2006. Latest figures show that we are on course to achieve more than double our March 2002 target of a 10 per cent. reduction.

Poverty

27. Mr. Anthony D. Wright: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps he is taking to reduce household poverty. [81296]

35. Mr. Tynan: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what measures he is taking to reduce the number of households in poverty. [81305]

Malcolm Wicks: We recently published Opportunity for all—Fourth Annual Report 2002 (Cm 5598), which provides a detailed account of our strategy, measurement indicators and what more we need to do. The report shows that we have achieved a great deal and that our approach is working and we will continue to deliver on this challenge over the years to come.

Incapacity Benefit

28. Mr. McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what impact on passported benefits the move from severe disablement allowance to incapacity benefit has had on the standard of living of young disabled people; and if he will make a statement. [81297]

Maria Eagle: : We have reformed Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disablement Allowance in order to provide more support to young people disabled early in life who have never had the opportunity to work. We estimate that around 175,000 young people will benefit from the change over time.

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Depending on their circumstances, young disabled people receiving incapacity benefit will still be able to qualify for help with NHS charges or other passported benefits on the grounds of low income.

We recognise that some young people will no longer have automatic entitlement to this help. But many of them will already be considerably better off as a result of the changes we have introduced. It would be unfair to treat these people differently to other incapacity benefit recipients.

Air Base Job Losses

29. Mr. Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what discussions he has had with the Ministry of Defence to discuss the loss of jobs following the announcement in July of the proposed closure of several experimental air bases; and if he will make a statement. [81298]

Mr. Nicholas Brown : We have not had any discussions with the Ministry of Defence about possible job losses resulting from the proposed closure of experimental air bases. Officials from Jobcentre Plus have contacted Qineteq Ltd, the company in my hon. Friend's constituency affected by these proposals, to offer advice and assistance with any redundancies. Although their help is not needed at this time, Jobcentre Plus will maintain contact with the company in case any help is needed in the future.

Jobcentre Staff (IT)

30. Dr. Palmer : To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will take steps to enhance IT expertise for Jobcentre staff. [81299]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: Jobcentre Plus managers identify individual training needs with their members of staff. Each member of staff has a personal development plan that includes training to ensure they have the IT expertise required for their job. National training plans are developed side by side with the development of new IT systems to ensure that staff are equipped to use the new systems when they come online. Jobcentre Plus is also carrying out a study into the practicalities of using computer-based learning to ensure that best practice is followed in IT training across such a large organisation.

Through the timely identification of learning needs and provision of suitable training, Jobcentre Plus are enhancing the IT skills, knowledge and confidence of staff so that they can deliver a high quality service to the public.


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