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Prison Service (Sustainable Development)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): I will today place in the Library of the House copies of HM Prison Service's third annual sustainable development report, covering public sector prisons in the period April 2004 to March 2005.

The report sets out the progress being made by the service in addressing its sustainable development commitments. Significant achievements include introducing a biodiversity action plan for the whole of the public sector prison estate; establishing waste management units at individual prisons; reducing the service's carbon dioxide emissions by 7 per cent; and introducing an environment manual to improve prisons' environmental performance. In addition, the report addresses the service's impacts in respect of reducing re-offending and improving prisoners' prospects on release.

The report also details the service's future aims, particularly for meeting the targets set under the Government's framework for sustainable development on the Government estate and the initiatives planned to continue its successes.


River Agency

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela E. Smith): My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Northern Ireland has made the following ministerial statement:

Key Targets
Urban Flood Defences:To construct or refurbish 286 metres of urban flood defences.
Drainage Infrastructure:To accommodate increased storm run-off from 79 hectares of development land.
To replace/refurbish 646 metres of dangerous culverts.
Maintenance Watercourses:To complete identified maintenance works on 1,167 of the 1,617 designated open watercourses included in the notice of annual maintenance as part of a six-year scheduled maintenance programme.
Replies to written enquiries:To issue substantive replies to 80 per cent. of written enquiries within 15 working days of receipt.
Schedule 6 applications:To respond to 98 per cent. of schedule 6 applications within three months."

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Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (Debt Management)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the benefit fraud inspectorate (BFI) inspection report on debt management—handling of complaints and comments was published today and copies have been placed in the Library.
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The Department for Work and Pensions administers a wide range of benefits, paying out some £110 billion in 2003–04. As a result of customer or official error, from taking out loans from the Department or from fraud, people can find themselves in debt to the Department. The Department has an obligation to protect public funds and debt management is responsible for the recovery of these debts. In 2004–05 it recovered £190 million.

BFI looked at debt management's recovery procedures and in particular at how they handled complaints and comments from customers. A lack of corporate processes, limited procedures and little guidance for staff led to inconsistencies in approach and to some examples of poor customer service.

In response to the BFI findings debt management has redesigned its business process and is currently implementing a new IT system which promises significantly to improve its efficiency in the recovery of debts and handling of customer complaints.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now considering the report and the action plan produced by debt management in response to BFI's report.