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18 Jul 2005 : Column 1357W—continued

Working-time Regulations

Mr. Hayes: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the impact of ECJ case C-484/04, 2005/C 31/16, of OJ C31 of 5 February, on voluntary opt-outs of the 48-hour week regulations, with particular reference to civil servants; and what representations he has received thereon. [9048]

Mr. Sutcliffe: Pursuant to my answer of 26 May 2005, Official Report, column 176W, to the hon. Member, the Infraction Case in question is still on-going so it would not be appropriate to make an assessment of the impact at this time. The Department receives many representations on the working time directive and related issues but I am not aware of any representations on this specific issue.

WORK AND PENSIONS

Child Support Agency

5. Mr. George Mudie: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on progress in the transfer of cases from the old Child Support Agency payment system to the new system. [12305]

Mr. Plaskitt: No bulk transfer has taken place yet. It can only do so once the case information on file is cleaned and the computer system is stable. Work to secure those conditions is in hand.

Of 680,000 new scheme applications, 260,000 are still to be cleared. There are in addition 78,000 old scheme cases, still to be cleared, down from 130,000 a year ago.

Both these issues—transfers and backlogs—underline the scale of the problems in the agency. This is why we asked the Chief Executive to carry out a strategic review. His findings will be presented to us over the coming months and we will report to the House in due course.

20. Mr. Carmichael: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the operation of the Child Support Agency. [12320]

Mr. Plaskitt: The operations standard is not where we want it to be. The Chief Executive is reviewing the Agency's operations and structures. He will report his findings and set out his proposals to improve the Agency's performance to us over the coming months.

Despite all the well known problems, the agency's staff are working hard and doing a good job in difficult circumstances helping to give financial support to over half a million children. They are doing a tough job with sensitivity. They like us, and like the agency's clients want to see the CSA reach an acceptable operational standard.

Mr. Amess: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the future of the Child Support Agency. [12317]


 
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Mr. Plaskitt: The Chief Executive is reviewing the Agency's operations and structures. His work is advanced. He will report his findings and set out his proposals to improve the Agency's performance to us over the coming months. We will obviously report to the House in due course.

Construction Industry

10. Mr. Clapham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what recent discussions he has had with the Health and Safety Executive on safety and health in the construction industry. [12310]

Mrs. McGuire: My noble Friend the Lord Hunt, has met with officials from HSE since his appointment in May this year, to discuss matters concerning the construction industry. My hon. friend also visited two Birmingham construction sites with an HSE Inspector on 10 June and is scheduled to visit the Constructing Better Health initiative in September.

Pensions (Investment)

16. Paul Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to encourage people under 30-years-old to invest in their pensions. [12316]

Mr. Timms: We want people to be aware of the need for pension saving from an early age, so that younger people get into the habit of saving. We are supporting the Financial Services Authority's financial capability strategy, which includes a young adults working group, and the guidance published last week to encourage employers to practise auto-enrolment into good occupational schemes should also help younger employees.

18. Mr. Hunt: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on his Department's policy on compulsion in pension saving. [12318]

Mr. Timms: The Government have asked the Pensions Commission to examine the case for compulsory pension saving.

Our aim is to build a national consensus on a long-term solution to the challenge of adequate provision of income in retirement.

Debt Management

21. Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the reorganisation of his Department's debt management section. [12321]

Mr. Plaskitt: Debt Management was established in April 2001 to bring increased focus to the management control and recovery of benefit debt owed to the Department.

To enable this, work has been transferred from 127 sites across the country to the 10 dedicated debt centres. This has been completed within agreed timescales and to budget.

The new IT system that has been developed to support the organisation is currently being rolled out to the debt centres, completion expected by the end of July 2005.
 
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The programme initially focused on overpayment debt for Jobcentre Plus and the Pensions Service, and is gradually expanding to take on Disability and Carer's Service debt and Social Fund recovery where the recipient is no longer in receipt of benefit. The extension into these areas is expected to be completed by February 2006.

The organisation also assists local authorities with the recovery of housing benefit and council tax benefit debt.

Women's Pensions

22. Margaret Moran: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what measures he intends to take to tackle pension inequality for women. [12322]

Mr. Timms: We have not ignored the issue of women and pensions since we came to office. Pension credit is contributing to tackling the legacy of inequality. Measures such as state second pension, improving opportunities for women in the work place and increasing options for pension flexibility have all contributed to increasing pension entitlement for women.

We want to continue to make progress. Fair outcomes for women and carers is one of our principles for pension reform and will be one of the key factors on which proposals for reform will be judged. To help this develop our thinking, we will be holding an event later this year to discuss how to make the pensions system work well for women. Prior to this event, to aid discussion we will publish our analysis of the pension position of women.

Pension Protection Fund

23. Tim Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he last met the board of the Pension Protection Fund to discuss its operation. [12323]

Mr. Timms: I met the Board of PPF when I visited the PPF office in Croydon on 18 May 2005, as well as meeting on a number of occasions with the Chair and Chief Executive.

A Memorandum of Understanding between the Department, the PPF and the Pensions Regulator has been signed recently and establishes a framework for cooperation between the Department and the two new non-departmental public bodies. It clearly shows that while the Department has no responsibilities or direct involvement in the operational activities of the Pensions Regulator or the PPF—it does have a stewardship role in both bodies.

Pension Fund Trustees

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps he is taking to support individuals who assume responsibility as trustees of pension funds. [12319]

Mr. Timms: Trustees do a vital job in the management of occupational pensions.

As a result of the measures introduced in the Pensions Act 2004 trustees will—for the first time—have access to support in their work through codes of practice issued by the Pensions Regulator. My predecessor asked the
 
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Pensions Management Institute to assist in co-ordinating a new trustees' Forum. I am looking forward to the first meeting of the Forum next week

David T.C. Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what measures his Department is taking to encourage more people to become pension fund trustees. [12324]

Mr. Timms: We want to encourage pension scheme members being actively involved in the running of their own pension scheme.

Legislation already gives members the opportunity to get involved in the running of their schemes through member-nominated trustees. From April 2006 all schemes will include one-third member-nominated trustees, as the employer's ability to opt out of these provisions will be removed.


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