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The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): On 17 October the World Health Organisation and Sudanese Ministry of Health published the report of the second Darfur mortality survey. This was a six-month retrospective mortality survey, covering the period from Bid el Fater in November 2004 to the start of the survey in May. The first survey was undertaken in August 2004, and covered deaths over a two-month period.

The report showed that while mortality rates in Darfur are still above baseline levels, they are significantly lower than the first survey and are below the international crisis threshold of one death per 10,000 people per day. In North and South Darfur, the average mortality rate was found to be 0.8 deaths per 10,000 people per day, and in West Darfur it was measured at 0.6 deaths per 10,000 people per day. The Red Cross/NGO "Sphere" project on minimum standards in disaster response puts the baseline mortality rate for Sub-Saharan Africa at 0.44 deaths per 10,000 people per day.

Due to poor security, the survey teams were unable to access some parts of Darfur especially South Darfur where the results apply only to internally displaced people in camps. The report also notes that there are times when mortality rates rise because of temporary increases in violence, seasonal disease outbreaks or breakdowns in food supply. Applying these mortality rates to the entire region for the entire year would therefore be misleading.

I am placing a copy of the report in the Library of the House of Commons.


Departmental Payment Performance 2004–05

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Alan Johnson): The overall payment performance of Government is 97.09 per cent. Figures for the financial year 2004–05 show that there has been a continuing improvement on last year's figure of 96.68 per cent. There has also been a continued improvement in the payment performance of a number of Departments and agencies, with 65 per cent. achieving the average or above, and 54 per cent. improving on their performance of last year.

Government Departments and their agencies are required to monitor their payment performance and to publish the results in their departmental or annual reports. The table lists, by Department, the proportion of bills paid within 30 days, or other agreed credit period, on receipt of a valid invoice.

The Government take this issue very seriously, and is committed to improving the payment culture in the UK, in order to create fair and stable business transactions. The Government's own payment performance is an important element in this policy.
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Main Departments 2004–05Paid on Time %
Defence Bills Agency (Ministry of Defence)100.00
Privy Council Office100.00
Office for Government Commerce99.86
Office of Gas and Electricity Mkts (OFGEM)99.42
Office of Water Services (OFWAT)99.41
Health and Safety Executive99.37
The National Archives (Public Records Office)99.30
Intelligence Agencies (GCHQ)99.07
Department for Culture, Media and Sport98.77
Department for Transport98.75
Scotland Office (Department for Constitutional Affairs)98.75
Office of Fair Trading98.56
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister98.56
HM Revenue and Customs98.50
Wales Office (Department for Constitutional Affairs)98.45
Charity Commission98.12
Office for National Statistics97.95
Export Credit Guarantee Department97.85
Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED)–97.43
Cabinet Office (OPS)97.13
Forestry Commission96.96
Electoral Commission96.58
Department for Education and Skills96.54
Department for National Savings and Investments96.51
Food Standards Agency96.43
Postal Services Commission (PostCom)96.43
Department of Work and Pensions96.28
Department for International Development95.86
Ordnance Survey95.68
Office of the Rail Regulator95.33
Treasury Solicitors Department94.91
Central Office of Information94.82
Serious Fraud Office93.58
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)92.97
Land Registry92.79
Department of Health92.49
Royal Mint92.05
UK Trade and Investment90.65
HM Treasury90.23
Crown Prosecution Service89.67
Department for Constitutional Affairs (Lord Chancellor's Department)89.51
Government Actuary's Department87.47
Department of Trade and Industry87.33
Home Office86.59
Northern Ireland Office85.33
Foreign and Commonwealth Office68.22
Overall Total97.09


Office of Rail Regulation (Health and Safety Enforcement)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): The Railways Act 2005 provided for the transfer of certain health and safety
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functions on the railway (and other guided transport systems) from the Health and Safety Commission to the Office of Rail Regulation. In addition, regulations are required to transfer responsibility for the enforcement of health and safety legislation relating to such transport systems from the Health and Safety Executive to the Office of Rail Regulation. Draft regulations will also make clear that the Office of Rail Regulation will not have health and safety responsibilities for fairground equipment, guided buses or trolley buses. I have today published a consultation document on the draft regulations. The consultation will close on 5 December.

At the same time I have launched a consultation document on draft regulations under which the rail industry would fund the health and safety functions of the Office of Rail Regulation by means of a levy. The consultation on that document closes on 16 December.

Copies of both documents have been placed in the Library of the House.


Benefit Fraud Inspectorate (Boston Borough Council)

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 BFI inspection report on Boston Borough Council was published today and copies have been placed in the Library.

In 2004–05, Boston Borough Council administered some £13 million in housing benefits, about 44 per cent. of its gross revenue expenditure.

In 2004–05 the council reported that it was taking 57 days on average to process new claims to housing benefits. At the time of the inspection in July 2005 the majority of the management team had only been in post for a few months but performance was beginning to improve as the backlog of claims had been cut. Allowing for some misreporting of performance the council was taking an average of 47 days to process new claims in the first quarter of 2005–06. However, significant further improvement is needed to meet the Standard of 36 days.

BFI found significant delays at each stage of the new claims process and in processing changes of circumstances. The longest delays were in the time taken to obtain all required information from customers. No monitoring of the throughput or clearance of work meant there was a lack of control over the flow of work. A limited management checking regime meant the council did not have reliable feedback on the quality of work done or the ability to identify areas were performance needed to be improved.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering the report and may ask the council for proposals in response to BFI's findings.