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The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Paul Murphy): On 3 February 2004 I received a report from the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC). The IMC concluded that the Northern Bank robbery was planned and undertaken by the Provisional IRA. The commission also concluded that PIRA was responsible for a number of other robberies that are referred to in the report.
The commission concluded that Sinn Fein must bear its share of responsibility and recommended that I should consider exercising the powers I have in the absence of the Assembly to implement the measures which are presently applicable, namely the financial ones.
I announced in Parliament on 22 February that I was minded to remove for a period Sinn Fein's entitlement to financial assistance payable to political parties in Northern Ireland. Yesterday, having provided Sinn Fein with an opportunity to make representations to me, I laid in Parliament a direction to remove Sinn Fein's entitlement to financial assistance for 12 months from 29 April 2005, the maximum period permitted under the relevant legislation.
5 Apr 2005 : Column 133WS
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Spellar): I am pleased to announce that the Northern Ireland discretionary social fund budget for 200506 will be £59.59 million. £13.32 million will be allocated to grants; £46.17 million to loans and £0.1 million will be held as a contingency reserve. The new allocations represent an increase of £1.34 million over the initial gross budget set at April 2004. This increase will be funded through higher loan recoveries, plus an increase in net treasury funding of £0.68 million for this year. This £0.68 million is the third and final instalment of the increases to the discretionary social fund announced in the autumn 2002 pre-budget report.
The loans budget has been increased to £46.17 million, an increase of £0.66 million on the initial 200405 loans budget. To improve the fairness of the scheme, budgets will be allocated in a way that will over time achieve greater consistency of outcome for customers wherever they live.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Paul Murphy): The Government have received and welcome a report from the chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland, Kit Chivers. The report is on the Juvenile Justice Centre and has today been published.
2. Ensure, by working with UK shipowners, that no more than 3 per cent. per cent. of UK ships inspected under the Paris memorandum of understanding (MOU) arrangements are detained, and also ensure that the UK shipping register maintains a position on the Paris MOU white list which is comparable to registers of a similar size and reputation.
3. Reduce the proportion of people who suffer death or injury while involved in beach activities, coastal swimming and recreational diving, by increasing MCA prevention activities, working in partnership with other organisations.
5. Establish a fully operational automatic identification system (AIS) network around the UK coast, to implement real-time tracking and monitoring of shipping movements from the shore. This will ensure the UK meets its obligations under the vessel traffic monitoring directive, and will assist monitoring of SOLAS convention traffic in transit through UK coastal waters, providing real time situational awareness to all rescue co-ordination centres within their operational area for the first time. This will enhance capability for SAR co-ordination activity, Marine pollution control co-ordination, monitoring of voluntary (MAREP) reporting schemes and vessels in transit through traffic separation schemes around the UK.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond): On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection report on Gravesham borough council was published today and copies have been placed in the Library.
In 200304, Gravesham borough council administered some £21 million in housing benefits, about 41 per cent. of its gross revenue expenditure. Between April 2001 and March 2004 the council raised only two administrative penalties and no formal cautions or prosecutions had been made. Weaknesses in counter-fraud work included a lack of up-to-date policies and procedures, limited awareness of benefit fraud as an issue and ineffective work with Jobcentre Plus and the Pension Service.
However, some progress had been made since the appointment of a benefits manager and a fraud and inspections manager, including the completion of 48 investigations, with three sanctions administered and the recruitment of four staff to carry out reviews of postal claims and home visits from October 2004. There are also plans to recruit two more fraud investigators.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond): On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection report on Hinckley and Bosworth borough council was published today and copies have been placed in the Library.
In 200304 Hinckley and Bosworth borough council administered some £10 million in housing benefits, about 35 per cent. of its gross revenue expenditure. BFI's comprehensive performance assessment in April 2004 found weaknesses in the council's counter-fraud activity. The inspection found that since then the situation has improved and the counter-fraud service is now performing to a reasonable standard. It is clear that the council is now committed to improving its counter-fraud service and this was shown by the prompt and positive reaction from members, senior managers and staff to BFI's findings and recommendations.
There is now a comprehensive set of policies and procedures to guide staff and investigators are experienced and generally well trained, although did not fully comply with legislation and guidance in some investigations.
In September 2004, the council made a successful bid for performance standards funding to provide training and support officer and was keen to explore further funding for other counter-fraud initiatives.
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