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3 Dec 2002 : Column 734W—continued

Post Office Card Accounts

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will set out the timetable for the advertising campaign for the Post Office Card Account applications; and if he will make a statement. [83651]

Mr. Andrew Smith: The Department for Work and Pensions will be converting people to direct payment over a two-year period, with the first payments going into accounts in April 2003. An information campaign will support the conversion.

Informing people about the availability of the Post Office card account is part of this campaign rather than a separate advertising initiative. We need to ensure that people are aware of the range of options open to them, and in a position to choose what is appropriate and convenient for them. Our information campaign will take customers through the changes, including getting their money from their account at the Post Office and the availability of the Post Office card account.

There will be two main elements to our campaign. Customers will be supplied directly with information, which clearly sets out their Xaccount options" and enables them to decide which account is right for them. Customers do not need to take any action until they receive a letter about the change. Until then they can keep their order book or giro.

In addition, we plan to make more general information available and also undertake some advertising. This activity will be timed to coincide with the build up of the number of people transferring to direct payment into accounts. Again, this activity will include reference to all of the Xaccount options" including the Post Office card account.

The Government and Post Office Limited are working together to ensure that front-line Post Office staff have all the information they need to answer any questions from customers about banking facilities in Post Office branches.

The first invitation letters asking for account details started to go out to some Child Benefit customers at the end of October, other customers will be contacted in due course. The Veterans Agency started writing to its customers in early October.

The Post Office plan to have their card account service available from April 2003. The banks' own basic bank accounts are scheduled to become available through Post Office branches at the same time.

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Since many people will rely on the card account to collect their benefit, pension or tax credit, it is essential that the systems supporting the card account are reliable and robust. The Post Office are carrying out extensive testing of systems, and also intend to undertake some piloting work in advance of April 2003.

In line with good practice, and in order to minimise risk, the intention is gradually to build up (starting from April 2003) the number of benefit customers and pensioners that we pay through the Post Office card account. As the system proves itself in live running, we will increase the number of people paid through the card account. And, at an appropriate time, those new tax credit customers who have asked for a Post Office card account will start to have their payment made in this way. In the intervening period, Tax Credit customers opting for a card account will be paid by giro and DWP customers by order book or giro as appropriate.

Rehabilitation Services

Mr. Gareth Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what action he is taking to improve vocational rehabilitation services; and if he will make a statement. [83855]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: Improved vocational rehabilitation services are key to our strategy for enabling people with health problems and disabilities to move into employment, and so become and remain independent.

Jobcentre Plus, in partnership with the NHS, has already tested work-focused rehabilitation programmes in Salford and Bristol. The programmes provided integrated support to enable people with chronic back pain to return to work. Trials finished in 2001, with many participants finding work as a result.

Building on this partnership approach, our new Green Paper XPathways to Work—Helping people into employment", published on 18 November, proposes the establishment of groundbreaking rehabilitation programmes. These will be piloted in six areas across the country starting from late 2003, combining support to find jobs with health-focused rehabilitation.

The programmes will be complementary to any clinical care already being provided by primary care and community services in pilot areas. Their key focus will be to help those with conditions such as depression, back pain and heart disease understand the impact that their condition has and increase their confidence to work or train and lead as normal a life as possible.

In addition, the Job Retention and Rehabilitation Pilot Project, a joint initiative with the Department of Health, is currently exploring ways in which we can support people faced with losing their employment through prolonged sickness or disability. The pilot will run from early 2003 to 2005, and will aim to provide robust evidence about the relative impact of three intervention strategies (boosting healthp are, boosting workplace support and a combined approach) in helping people to return to work.

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Staff Training

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much money has been spent on staff training in his Department in the past 12 months; and how many staff took part. [85121]

Mr. McCartney: During the 12 month period ending March 2002, the most recent year for which these data are available, the Department spent £97.3 million on staff training and development. This equates to an average of just under £800 for each of the approximately 123,000 staff in the Department.


Departmental Websites

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what Government Departments have bought into the new design for departmental websites. [85065]

Mr. Alexander: There is no single design for departmental websites. XThe Guidelines for UK Government Websites", published in June this year, set out the standards for Government Departments to follow. This document includes 10 design guidelines, ranging from content, usability and delivering services for the citizen.

Genetic Modification (Scientific Panel)

Norman Baker: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what the membership of the scientific panel established by the Strategy Unit to consider the issue of genetic modification is; and which members have undertaken work for the biotechnology industry. [84726]

Mr. Alexander: The Strategy Unit is not responsible for the appointment of the scientific panel that has been asked to consider the science of genetic modification. This is being handled by the Office of Science and Technology, which is part of the Department of Trade and Industry.



Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development when the last census of the Afghan population was; and what discussions are taking place on the question of a new one. [84202]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I have been asked to reply.

The most recent estimate of the Afghan population by the World bank in 2001 was 26.6 million with a further 2.2 million refugees in Pakistan and 1.5 million in Iran.

There has not been a census in Afghanistan since 1963. The UN began work on one in October but it is likely to take five years to complete.

Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what steps are being taken to register Afghan adults so as to ensure universal suffrage in future elections. [84203]

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Mr. Mike O'Brien: I have been asked to reply.

There is currently no electoral register of Afghan adults. We are considering ways in which we can work with the UN to assist the Afghan Transitional Administration to prepare for the elections, due in mid-2004.


Magistrates Courts (Fines)

Mr. Malins: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, how many fine defaulters were imprisoned by Inner London magistrates courts in each of the past three years. [83809]

Hilary Benn: I have been asked to reply.

The number of fine defaulters imprisoned by Inner London magistrates courts was 99 in 1999; 58 in 2000; and 42 in 2001.

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Wasted Costs

Mr. Soames: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what powers courts have to make a 'wasted costs' order. [82468]

Ms Rosie Winterton: Section 19A of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 enables the court, in criminal proceedings, to disallow or order the legal or other representative to meet the whole or any part of the 'wasted costs' incurred by a party as a result of any improper, unreasonable or negligent act or omission on the part of any representative or his employee.

In civil proceedings, an equivalent power rests in Section 51 of the Supreme Court Act 1981 which provides that the costs of proceedings are in the discretion of the court, subject to any enactment, or rules of court. Rule 44.14 of the Civil Procedure Rules provides the court with the power to make an order for 'wasted' costs against the party or his legal representative where they have failed to comply with a rule, practice direction or court order or where their conduct at any point in proceedings was unreasonable or improper.

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