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10 July 2006 : Column 1559W—continued

Leader of the House


25. Paul Rowen: To ask the Leader of the House if he will make a statement on his plans to modernise the proceedings of the House. [83322]

Mr. Straw: I am keen to take forward the work of my predecessors in modernisation of the House and its proceedings. The Modernisation Select Committee, which I chair, is planning to produce a report on the Legislative Process in the near future. I am looking also at ways of improving the effectiveness in the ways the House can hold the Government to account in other areas. I am happy to receive representations on these matters from all Members.

Ministerial Statements

26. Mr. Hollobone: To ask the Leader of the House if he will bring forward proposals to provide that Ministerial Statements are not begun on a Thursday until a full hour has been spent on Business Questions. [83323]

Nigel Griffiths: My right hon. Friend has no plans to bring forward proposals on this issue.

The amount of time provided for Business Questions is at the discretion of Mr. Speaker, who judges how much time is sufficient on a case-by-case basis.

There are occasions when the full hour would not be used up.

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EU Legislation

27. Keith Vaz: To ask the Leader of the House what steps he is taking to improve the scrutiny of EU legislation. [83324]

Mr. Straw: The Government are considering the proposals of the Modernisation Committee in the last session on Scrutiny of European Business. We hope to bring forward ideas for taking this issue further forward in due course.

House of Lords Reform

28. Ben Chapman: To ask the Leader of the House if he will make a statement on reform of the House of Lords. [83325]

Mr. Straw: The Joint Committee on Conventions was established on 22 May 2006 and will report at the end of this Session. The free vote on the composition of the House of Lords will take place around the turn of the year, preceding any legislation.

Parliamentary Questions

Mr. Bone: To ask the Leader of the House if he will bring forward proposals to improve the accuracy of parliamentary answers and the speed with which they are provided. [83480]

Mr. Straw: As I stated to the hon. Member in a written answer on 12 June 2006, Official Report, column 885W, I attach great importance to the accuracy and timeliness of responses to parliamentary questions tabled in the House and I have raised the matter directly with ministerial colleagues.

Departments should answer named day questions on that day and endeavour to reply to ordinary written questions within a working week.

I refer the hon. Member also to the Adjournment debate on 28 June 2006 on this matter, Official Report, column 344, in which it was noted that the substantial growth in the number of parliamentary questions tabled can place the system under pressure and that the time might be suitable for a further review of the system by the House.

My office continues to offer guidance to other Departments about the handling of parliamentary questions.

Party Funding

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Leader of the House how many staff are assisting Sir Hayden Phillips’s review of party funding. [83000]

Mr. Straw: Sir Hayden Phillips has four staff assisting him in the review of party funding.

These staff members have been seconded from the DCA and are separate from staff within the DCA who report to me on party funding.

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Mr. Amess: To ask the Leader of the House how many (a) questionnaires, (b) statistical inquiries and (c) investigations have been carried out by his office wholly or partly at public expense in each year since 1997; and what the (i) nature, (ii) purpose and (iii) cost was in each case. [83173]

Mr. Straw: None.

Saturday Sittings

Mr. Amess: To ask the Leader of the House on what dates the House has met on a Saturday since February 1986; what the main item of business under discussion was on each occasion; and at what time the House subsequently adjourned. [82323]

Mr. Straw: The House has not met on any Saturday since February 1986.

The last occasion on which the House met on a Saturday was in April 1982, to discuss the Falklands crisis.

Work and Pensions

Temporary Accommodation

15. Ms Buck: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps he has taken to improve work incentives for households in temporary accommodation. [83312]

Mr. Plaskitt: As announced in this year’s Budget, the Government intend to pilot an ‘Extra Homes’ scheme.

The Extra Homes initiative will take the Working Future project—currently under evaluation in East London—a step further by helping to provide more settled homes in the longer term.

Local authorities and housing associations will be invited to put forward innovative proposals to explore new approaches to help families in temporary accommodation overcome barriers to work and I would urge her borough to look into pursing that.

Civil Servants (Pensions)

17. Mr. Bone: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the total pension liabilities are of his Department and the agencies for which he is responsible; and if he will make a statement. [83314]

Mrs. McGuire: The pension liabilities of the Department for Work and Pensions and its agencies are not separately identifiable in The Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme. This Scheme is an unfunded multi-employer defined benefit scheme and individual departments’ pension liabilities are not available.

The Cabinet Office: Civil Superannuation Resource Accounts for 2004-05 gave the total pension liability for The Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme at 31 March 2005 as £84.1 billion. However, a change in the discount rate used for calculating pension liabilities
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that took effect from 1 April 2005 has increased the liabilities of The Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme to £94.7 billion.

Pension Reform

18. Mr. Lilley: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on progress with his plans for pension reform. [83315]

James Purnell: There is a broad consensus around the basic principles of pension reform as proposed in the White Paper. But we are continuing a programme of active engagement with all stakeholders to cement this consensus. That programme will include Parliament, representatives of employers, consumers and the financial sector as well as the general public.

This is in addition to the formal consultation on the White Paper, which closes on September 11(th). We will be publishing a summary of responses once the consultation has closed. We intend to bring forward legislation on Pensions Reform during the second Session of this Parliament, subject to approval by the Parliamentary Business Managers.

20. Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the likely impact of pensions reform on (a) business and (b) future pensioners. [83317]James Purnell: The White Paper Security in retirement: towards a new pensions system and the accompanying regulatory impact assessment set out the likely impact of our pension reform proposals on key groups including businesses and future pensioners.

New Deal (Leicester)

19. Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the progress of the New Deal in Leicester. [83316]

Mr. Jim Murphy: New deal continues to be a success, with more than 9,000 people helped into work through the new deal programme in Leicester, including 2,750 people in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

"Talk on Trial": Report

Mr. Stewart Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the cost was of commissioning the research report entitled “Talk on Trial: Job interviews, language and ethnicity”; and if he will make a statement. [76302]

Mr. Jim Murphy: In February 2004 King’s College London (KCL) was commissioned following a competitive tendering process, to undertake research on whether ethnic minority candidates are disadvantaged in job interviews. The total cost of the research was £160,000. The KCL tender was chosen for three prime reasons: the KCL proposal provided the most innovative and robust set of methods for investigating the issues, the research team included members with a world-class reputation in this field of research, and it offered the best value for money from six tenders submitted.

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50-plus Workers

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many personal advisers there are to assist new deal for over-50s claimants; and how many jobcentres provide facilities for such advisers. [82297]

Mr. Jim Murphy: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie. I have asked her to provide the hon. Member with the information requested.

Letter from Lesley Strathie:

John Barrett: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps his Department is taking to increase the number of people in work aged 50 years and over in (a) the Edinburgh local authority area and (b) Edinburgh, West parliamentary constituency. [82707]

Mr. Jim Murphy: Like all other customers, people aged 50 and over can benefit from the range of services provided by Jobcentre Plus, including access to jobs and help and support to find work.

Additional help is provided to older people who do not find work quickly. New deal 50 plus is a voluntary programme that provides people with advice and guidance from personal advisers, and access to in-work financial help through the 50 plus element of the working tax credit. Since April 2000, the programme has been successful in helping more than 150,000 older workers into employment, including 1,320 people in the city of Edinburgh local authority area and 210 in Edinburgh, West parliamentary constituency. Once in work, new deal 50 plus customers can claim a training grant of up to £1,500 for training of which up to £300 can be used for life-long learning.

People aged 50 and over, including those in Edinburgh, are also eligible for help from new deal 25 plus. People who have been claiming jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) for 18 months and who have not previously participated on new deal 25 plus, are already required to attend the gateway stage of the new deal 25 plus programme. This is a period of up to four months of intensive job search and specialist help and support to improve job prospects. This is followed by the intensive activity period (IAP) which is currently voluntary for people aged 50 and over. The IAP provides further support and pre-work training to help people return to work.

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Since April 2004, we have been piloting mandatory participation in the new deal 25 plus IAP for people aged 50-59 who have been claiming JSA for 18 months. Edinburgh was not part of the pilot. However, interim pilot results have been positive and, as announced in our Welfare Reform Green Paper, we intend to commence a phased national rollout.

Between 1979 and the mid 1990s, the number of people on incapacity benefits trebled. Since then, growth in the case load has slowed significantly and, in November 2005, there were 2.71 million people claiming incapacity benefits, a fall of 61,000 over the year. 46 per cent of those claiming incapacity benefits are aged between 50 and state pension age although, between 2000 and 2005, the number of people in this age group fell by 52,000. This has contributed to the overall reduction in the incapacity benefits case load.

We still clearly have more work to do and, like other age groups, people aged 50 and over will be able to benefit from the rollout of the successful pathways to work service across the whole country which will be completed by 2008. Pathways offers new incapacity benefit (IB) customers early support from skilled personal advisers and direct access to a ‘Choices Package’ of employment programmes and clear financial incentives to make work pay. Any IB customer will be able to access the support and help available on a voluntary basis. Pathways is due to rollout in the Edinburgh area in the future.

Through our Age Positive Campaign we are working with employers and others to promote the business benefits of an age diverse workforce and best practice on age in recruitment, training and promotion. In May 2005 we launched the ‘Be Ready’ national information campaign to raise employer awareness of, and ability to adopt, flexible employment and retirement opportunities to support the recruitment and retention of older workers in advance of age legislation due in October 2006.

Accident Victims

Mr. Dismore: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much has been recovered from accident victims' compensation by way of recoupment of benefits in each of the last three years; and if he will make a statement. [75996]

Mr. Plaskitt: The information is in the table.

Total amounts recovered by the Compensation Recovery Unit by way of recoupment from damages awarded to accident victims in each of the past three years
Financial year Amount (£)







Note: The figures in the table are rounded up to the nearest £. Source: Figures are taken from the Compensation Recovery Unit's Management Information Statistics.

Under the provisions of the Social Security (Recovery of Benefits) Act 1997, the compensator—the person who caused the injury or, more commonly, his insurer—is liable both to pay damages to the injured
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person and to repay benefits to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. (It is not the actual benefits which are recovered, but "an amount equivalent to" the total benefit payment). In certain circumstances it will be possible for the compensator to deduct some or all of the amount he has had to repay to the Secretary of State from the gross compensation award, a practice known as "offsetting".

Not all social security benefits are recoverable. Retirement pension and child benefit, for example, are paid for reasons which could have no connection to a personal injury. The benefits which are recoverable are listed at Schedule 2 to the 1997 Act. They are grouped according to the head of damage against which they may be offset: loss of earnings, loss of mobility and cost of care.

Social security benefits are not paid in respect of pain, suffering, personal inconvenience and so on, and therefore no offsetting may be made against the general damages element of a compensation award. If a compensation claim is settled by a payment made up of general damages, the compensator will have to bear the full cost of paying compensation and repaying benefits to the State.

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