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Autumn Performance Report

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Andrew Smith): The Work and Pensions' Autumn Performance Report, which details the Department's progress against its Public Service Agreement objectives since spring 2002, has been published today. A copy has been placed in the Library.

Benefit Fraud Inspectorate

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Malcolm Wicks): The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate's (BFI) inspection report on Caerphilly County Borough Council was published today and copies of the report in English and Welsh have been placed in the Library.

The report finds that Caerphilly County Borough Council does not have an up-to-date corporate document that sets out the aims and objectives for the benefit service.

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The council placed an emphasis on paying benefit quickly and the achievement of this compromised the aims of getting payments right first time and deterring fraud. From its sample, the report finds that 100 per cent of Rent Rebate and Council Tax Benefit, and 84 per cent of Rent Allowance claims were processed within 14 days of all information being available. The council had no backlogs of work to hinder the claims processing times. However, the council failed to routinely verify information and evidence in support of claims. Security was not an integral part of the administration of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. Caerphilly County Borough Council had not implemented the Verification Framework and had no plans to do so. From its sample, the report finds that the quality of verification was poor compared to the Verification Framework benchmark and that the gateway to the benefits system was weak.

The report finds that the council effectively administered renewal claims and ensured continuity of benefit payments to claimants. However, over 1,000 claims were not renewed in 2000/01 and the council took limited action to establish the reasons.

The council dealt with changes of circumstances promptly, pursued overpayments of benefit vigorously and had an effective rate of recovery. The council made use of legal action and debt collection agencies to recover debt where other recovery options had failed.

The council investigated benefit fraud and had completed successful prosecutions. However, there was some scope for improvement in working with other organisations and in the quality and speed of investigations.

Management reporting and risk analysis also needed improvement, as the lack of reliable management information and risk analysis impacted on the council's ability to effectively manage its benefit service and counter fraud activity.

In 2000/01, Caerphilly County Borough Council administered approximately* £39.5 million in housing benefits.

My Rt hon Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and will be asking the council for its proposals in response to the findings and recommendations of the BFI.


Tenancy Deposits

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Tony McNulty): I am pleased to announce today the publication of a consultation paper on tenancy deposits. The research report on the pilot tenancy deposit scheme is also to be published in the week beginning 16 December. Summaries of both documents are also being published today. Copies of these documents will be placed in the Library of the House. The consultation paper will initiate a debate on what action might be taken to address disputes over tenancy deposits.

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Winter Supplementary Estimate

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): Subject to Parliamentary approval of the necessary

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Supplementary Estimates, the Attorney General's Departments DEL will be increased by £65,190,000 from £442,414,000 to £507,604,000 and the administration costs limits will be increased by £61,110,000 from £307,588,000 to £368,698,000. Within the DEL change, the impact on resources and capital are set out in the following table:

ChangeNew DELOf which votedNon-votedChangeNew DEL Of which votedNon-voted

The Crown Prosecution Service's DEL will be increased by £60,190,000 from £402,978,000 to £463,168,000 and the administration costs limit will be increased by £59,990,000 from £282,059,000 to £342,049,000. The increase in the resource element of the DEL arises from a transfer of £58,490,000 resources and £1,700,00 capital from the Criminal Justice System Reserve. The increases will be funded from the Criminal Justice System reserve and therefore do not constitute a claim on the reserve. The increases in the resource and capital elements of the DEL arise from speeding up the reform of the CPS to allow it to contribute fully to criminal justice targets.

The Serious Fraud Office DEL will increase- by £5,000,000 from £21,950,000 to £26,950,000 and the Administration Costs Limit will increase by £1,120,000 from £15,390,000 to £16,510,000

This Supplementary Estimate provides additional resources for the administration costs and operational costs incurred by the Serious Fraud Office to fund higher than expected caseload activity and expenditure.

The increases will be funded directly from the Consolidated Fund Contingency Reserve.


Royal Artillery Regiment

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): We have been looking at how to optimise the Royal Artillery to meet the demands of the new security environment.

The Army currently has two combined regular Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) (Phoenix) Regiments; 32 Regiment Royal Artillery based at Larkhill, Wiltshire and 39 Regiment Royal Artillery at Harlow Hill near Newcastle. Each of these regiments has two batteries of nine MLRS launchers, and one battery of three troops of UAVs (Phoenix).

As a result of past successful deployments the capability of Phoenix has become more widely recognised and valued within the military command structure. It has, therefore, been decided that a revised structure would provide a better focus for UAVs. In line with the direction set in the New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review this new structure will establish UAVs as a valuable asset for surveillance and intelligence gathering in addition to being Royal Artillery target acquisition assets to support the Indirect Fire System. The impact on the Royal Artillery will be the separation of these capabilities and the creation of discrete regiments; UAV (Phoenix) at Larkhill and MLRS at Harlow Hill. The reorganisation will require inter-regimental moves of complete sub-units but will not have any significant impact on the overall numbers of personnel at each site.

The Field Standard B2 variant of the Rapier missile system has reached the end of its useful life and will be withdrawn from service by 31 March 2003. The system is currently operated by 22 Regiment Royal Artillery, based at Kirton-in-Lindsey, Lincolnshire. Following the withdrawal of the Rapier FSB2 equipment, 22 Regiment will undertake a tour in Cyprus, in the infantry role, during the second half of 2003 before it is disbanded in March 2004. Personnel from the regiment will be re-deployed to other Royal Artillery units to support the introduction of planned new "network-centric" capabilities as described in the New Chapter, including the Watchkeeper UAV.

Our future Rapier air defence capability will be based on the more advanced Field Standard C model operated by 16 Regiment Royal Artillery and the Royal Air Force Regiment. The capability of 16 Regiment will be enhanced by the creation of a fourth battery. In addition, we plan to move 16 Regiment from Woolwich to Kirton-in-Lindsey in late 2004. It will then be close to both the Air Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington and the Joint Rapier Training Unit at Honington bringing a number of practical benefits.


Streetwork (Halcrow's)

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): Regulations under section 74 of the New Road and Street Works Act 1991 came into force in April 2001. These allow highway authorities to charge utility companies for works in the street which overrun an agreed deadline.

Following the implementation of these powers my Department appointed consultants, Halcrow, to monitor their effectiveness in reducing disruption on the highway. Copies of Halcrow's interim report were placed in the libraries of both Houses earlier this year.

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Halcrow have now produced their first annual report on these powers: Assessing the Extent of Street Works and Monitoring the Effectiveness of Section 74 in Reducing Disruption. The report consists of two volumes; Volume 1 is the main report and Volume 2 contains accompanying tables and charts. Copies of each have been placed in the libraries of both Houses today.

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