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Independent Monitoring Commission

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): I have laid before Parliament the Ninth Report of the Independent Monitoring Commission. This is the first report on the security normalisation programme and it covers the first six months of the normalisation period.

When I announced the security normalisation programme on 1 August last year, I stressed that normalisation could only take place in an enabling environment. I have a non-negotiable duty to protect the safety and security of the people of Northern Ireland. I have subsequently made clear that if the security situation changes and there is not, an enabling environment I will not hesitate to ensure that appropriate security measures are in place to safeguard the public in Northern Ireland.

I welcome the IMC's confirmation that the Government have proceeded with normalisation as promised and that they believe this is consistent with Government's obligations to the safety and security of the public. I am confident that the remaining commitments in the first tranche of normalisation will be delivered in the next two months and that the IMC will be able to confirm this in their next report on security normalisation.

I am also pleased to note that the IMC agree that PIRA have taken a strategic decision to follow a political path and that they do not present a terrorist threat or a threat to the security forces.
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Council of Europe/Western European Union

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. James Clappison) has been appointed as a substitute Member of the United Kingdom Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Assembly of Western European Union in place of the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. David Evennett).


Coal Health Claims Handling Contract

The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks): Following the re-tender of the Coal Health Claims Handling Contract; the contract has been awarded to Capita, the current holder.

The contract is worth £118 million over three years, with provision for extension, and is intended to complete work on virtually all VWF claims by end-2007, and COPD claims by 2009. As part of their bid, Capita have made a number of innovative proposals designed to build on the efficiency measures introduced during the past two years.

It is, of course, imperative that claimants receive their due compensation as soon as possible and, coupled with the fast track procedures now in place, I am confident that this contract will contribute significantly to the early completion of the £7 billion coal health schemes.

Coming of Age (Draft Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): Today I am publishing our analysis of responses to the "Coming of Age" consultation that ended on 17 October 2005. The consultation sought views on the draft Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006. Our analysis is available on the DTI website at: There were 392 responses, of which 248 were non-confidential. Copies of those responses are also available on the DTI website.

We have taken into account the responses, and continuing informal consultation with key stakeholders, when finalising the regulations, which I have laid before the House. Subject to the approval of both Houses the regulations will come into force on 1 October.

I have arranged for copies of the report to be placed in the Libraries of the House.


Mayor of London (Rail Powers beyond London Boundary)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Derek Twigg): In line with the commitment given in "The Future of Rail" White Paper, I am today launching a consultation document on "Proposals for the Mayor of London's Rail Powers beyond the London Boundary". The Mayor of London is required to promote integrated and economic transport services to,
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from, and within Greater London. This paper asks for views on whether the Mayor should have the ability to propose changes to rail services within a defined network extending beyond the London boundary, subject to agreed governance arrangements.

These changes will include the ability to buy additional services and propose savings on defined routes, to propose limited changes to train stopping patterns on longer distance services, and to pay for other enhancements, such as station improvements. The paper also asks for views on the application of future agreements on rationalised integrated fares and ticketing on the defined routes.

There is an operational case for extending the Mayor's powers on the defined routes, as a number of the services on the London inner suburban rail network begin or end just outside the Greater London Authority boundary.

Travellers and other stakeholders outside London have a direct interest in proposals which affect their rail services. Those interests should be reflected in the Governance arrangements for any new powers passing to the Mayor. The Railways Act 2005 allows for the appointment of two members representing areas outside London to the TfL board. The consultation will consider how TfL should further engage with stakeholders and obtain agreement from relevant transport authorities outside London in making and pursuing any proposals.

The consultation exercise will run for 12 weeks, and end on May 31. The consultation document can be found on the Department for Transport's website ( and copies have also been deposited in the House Library.


Households Below Average Income

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. John Hutton): Today I have published the Households Below Average Income (HBAI) report for 1994–95 to 2004–05. This is a report published under National Statistics arrangements with results that cover Great Britain. Copies have been placed in the Library.

The report shows the position during the financial year 2004–05. It reports on the levels of low-income among all client groups and the progression being made towards reducing poverty.

I am also publishing today our Poverty Progress Report which demonstrates the huge progress we have made in raising aspirations and breaking the cycle of deprivation in Britain. Copies have been placed in the Library.

With income measured in absolute terms, that is compared with 60 per cent. of 1996–97 median income, between 1996–97 and 2004–05 over seven million people have been lifted out of poverty; the number of children living in poverty has fallen by half; the number of working-age adults living in poverty has fallen by over a third; and, over 2 million fewer pensioners are living in poverty.
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With income measured in relative terms that are compared with 60 per cent. of contemporary median income, between 1996–97 and 2004–05 there were over 2 million lifted out of poverty. Of which, 800,000 were children, 600,000 were working-age adults and 1 million were pensioners.

We have made significant progress on our journey to eradicating child poverty by 2020, the historic target we set in 1999. However, these figures also show how much more there is to do. We must now redouble our efforts in the years ahead; to focus relentlessly on the remaining barriers that hold people back in a new drive against social exclusion that will enable everyone to share in the nation's growing prosperity.

Seven years on from setting the target of eradicating child poverty within a generation, we remain absolutely committed to our goal. By continuing to target support for those who need it most; by ensuring work for those who can; breaking the cycle of deprivation and working to deliver high quality public services we are building a
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long-term approach to deliver long-term change. Not just to tackle child poverty—but to offer every individual and every generation the opportunity and support to raise, and fulfil, their aspirations.

Independent Living Funds

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): I am pleased to announce an increase in the maximum sums payable by the Independent Living Funds.

The maximum weekly payment from the Independent Living (1993) Fund will increase from £420 per week to £455 per week and from £715 per week to £785 per week for the Independent Living (Extension) Fund. The overall maximum limit of the Funds and Social Services input for the first six months of a 1993 Fund application will also increase from £715 per week to £785 per week. These increases will take place from 1 April 2006.

This will provide greater assistance to people with high support needs who wish to live independently in the community.