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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 14 July 2008


Tax Credits

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jane Kennedy): Tax credits today provide support to 20 million people including around 6 million families and 10 million children. Take-up of tax credits is a significant success. Tax credits have played a key role in tackling child poverty: since 1998-99, some 600,000 children have been lifted out of relative poverty, compared to a doubling of child poverty in the previous 20 years. Tax credits also play a major role in moving people into work and helping people move up the employment ladder, ensuring that work pays over welfare.

Over the past 12 months, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has significantly accelerated its work programme for measuring error and fraud in the tax credits system and has today published its estimates for both 2005-06 and 2006-07. A copy of these statistics has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and is available on the HMRC website.

The figures show that HMRC has reduced the level of error favouring the customer from 9.2 per cent. of all tax credit entitlement in 2003-04 to 7.6 per cent. in 2006-07, and the levels of fraud from 0.6 per cent in 2003-04 to 0.2 per cent in 2006-07.

I have today set HMRC a target to further reduce levels of error and fraud to no more than 5 per cent. of finalised entitlement by the end of March 2011. HMRC is committed to achieving this challenging target.

HMRC has strengthened its strategy for reducing error and fraud, building on the Tax Credits Transformation Programme. This programme has improved HMRC’s understanding of tax credit customers, enabling the Department to better support customers to get their claim right.

HMRC will deliver targeted assistance to customers making a new claim, to help them claim more easily. This could range from straightforward advice when a customer requests a claim form to intensive help over the phone or face-to-face.

Existing customers will receive support in areas in which they have difficulty to ensure that they are providing the correct information on which to base their awards, and help with the renewals process. For example, during this years’ renewal window HMRC is proactively contacting vulnerable customers to offer them additional assistance to renew their claims. From September, HMRC is also rolling out new services to proactively seek information from customers and make better use of information already held, to help mitigate against errors relating to an individual’s award.

HMRC is also embedding this deeper understanding of customer behaviour into its compliance programme, deploying resources to areas of greatest risk with the aim of identifying incorrect claims and supporting customers to prevent errors in the future.

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HMRC also remains vigilant to fraud. Previously published information on organised fraud shows that HMRC is successfully stopping the majority of claims identified as being submitted by organised fraudsters. The Department has implemented a range of measures designed to restrict the opportunity for fraudsters to abuse the system, including tighter control on the issue of claim forms, fraud awareness training for staff, and deploying compliance officers in tax credit call centres.

These measures, combined with the closure of the e-portal, have significantly reduced the level of identified losses due to organised fraud from the levels in 2005-06. In 2006-07 HMRC identified attempts to defraud the tax credit system of around £252 million. Of this the vast majority, some £212 million, was detected by HMRC before any money was paid out.


Far East Prisoners of War and Civilian Internees

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): On 26 January 2007,1 announced that the Ministry of Defence would consider claims for compensation for injury to feelings resulting from discrimination on grounds of national origins from persons of non-UK national origins whose claim under the UK’s ex gratia payment scheme for former Far East prisoner of war and civilian internees was rejected under the birthlink criterion. I am now announcing the cut-off date and arrangements for those compensation claims.

Claimants who think that they are entitled to compensation should write to the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency setting out the basis on which they consider themselves to be entitled to make a claim for indirect discrimination under the Race Relations Act 1976. The cut-off date for receipt of applications will be 31 December 2008.

We have consulted the Association of British Civilian Internees—Far East Region (ABCIFER) about these arrangements and will be seeking their support in publicising the cut-off date.

Home Department

Draft (Partial) Immigration and Citizenship Bill

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): I have laid before Parliament today a draft (partial) Immigration and Citizenship Bill to replace almost all of our current immigration laws with a single piece of legislation, together with plans to radically reform the path to citizenship for newcomers to Britain.

At the heart of the Bill are radical changes to nationality law to ensure that newcomers earn their way to citizenship with full access to benefits and social housing reserved for citizens and permanent residents. Full details of our policy are set out in “The Path to Citizenship: Next Steps In Reforming The Immigration System—Government Response To Consultation” which I am placing in the Library.

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Economic migrants will need to speak English and prove they can hold down a job paying taxes to qualify for citizenship.

Committing even minor crimes will slow down citizenship. Serious crimes will trigger automatic deportation.

Citizenship will also be slowed down for those who do not make an effort to become an active citizen.

We will take powers to ask migrants to pay a little extra towards local public services.

In addition our draft Bill sets out how we propose to ensure that the sweeping changes that we are making this year to our border security and immigration system stick.

Ten measures will sit centre stage in the Bill and the immigration rules made under it:

Strong borders

Selective migration

Earning the right to stay

Playing by the rules

Managing any local impacts

Our earlier consultations show widespread support for our ambition to reform and strengthen the law. Polling I am publishing today confirms that;

But many want to see the detail to understand what we propose in practice. Today’s draft Bill will help that debate.

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The draft (partial) Bill is accompanied by a Narrative Document “Making Change Stick” which explains the Government’s plans for further clauses which are not included in it at this stage.

The Government have also published today explanatory notes on the draft (partial) Bill, illustrative rules on protection and a partial impact assessment.

We have consulted widely in preparation for this Bill including consultations published in June 2007 and February 2008. We want to proceed in the same spirit of openness. We invite views from Parliament and the wider public before finalising the full Bill for introduction.


Lockyer Service Review

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Maria Eagle): The Ministry of Justice is today publishing an internal review led by Kevin Lockyer, the then regional offender manager for the south-west region into indeterminate sentenced prisoners, including indeterminate sentences of imprisonment for public protection (IPP).

This review was a study into operational matters relating to the management and progress of indeterminate sentence prisoners through offender services. It was commissioned by Helen Edwards, then chief executive officer of the National Offender Management Service in April 2007. The review reported to the NOMS board in August 2007.

The review identifies various areas for improvements and proposed recommendations on how these improvements could be achieved. These recommendations were accepted in full by the NOMS board, who commissioned an implementation plan, which was agreed in September 2007.

The report identified five core principles for the better management of these prisoners.

These principles are:

In response to this report, NOMS established better case management arrangements through new, streamlined procedures for the management of indeterminate sentenced prisoners. This was to be achieved through the roll-out of phase three of the offender management model and through targeted work on IPP prisoners at or approaching their tariff date. It set out recommendations aimed at ensuring IPP prisoners have an assessment of need completed which leads to a sentence plan. It also sets out the need for improved access to the interventions contained in those plans. Good progress has been made, in particular in delivering assessments to those nearest their tariff expiry date and in moving IPP prisoners through the prison system.

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NOMS also recognises that in the medium to long-term there would be a requirement to consider local needs further, and to develop plans to meet those needs against a background of budgetary constraints which may require a significant re-assessment of resource allocations.

This review is a important piece of work, providing clear, evidence-led recommendations to improve existing practice. The review team was made up of officials from NOMS, Her Majesty’s Prison Service and a number of other bodies, and drew heavily on their experience and knowledge. I wish to take this opportunity to thank them all for their diligent work in producing this report.

I have deposited a copy in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The review can also be accessed at: www.justice.gov.uk/foi-indeterminate-sentence-prisoners.htm

Leader of the House

Departmental Objectives and Annual Reports

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The Modernisation Committee published its second report of session 2007-08 (HC 530) “Debating Departmental Objectives and Annual Reports” on 30 April. This report responded to the invitation in the Government’s Green Paper July 2007 “Governance of Britain” (Cm 7170) that the Committee should examine ways in which the House should be given additional opportunities to debate “the annual objectives and plans of the major Government Departments in order to strengthen further Parliament’s scrutiny of the executive”.

“Governance of Britain” noted that while Select Committees are already free, through the Liaison Committee, to select for debate the overall work of Departments (usually on the basis of a committee report or evidence on the Department’s annual report), the only regular annual debates on departmental objectives take place on the work of the Treasury (through the Budget debate and the PBR statement), the Ministry of Defence (through the regular defence debates) and the Wales Office (through the debate on Welsh affairs). As a result “a year can pass with the objectives and plans of some Departments having never been properly discussed”.

The Modernisation Committee report noted the competing pressures on available debating time in different parliamentary forums and that the most appropriate selection of Departments on which to hold debates may vary from year to year. It concluded that “additional opportunities to debate departmental objectives and annual reports could be provided by rebalancing the present programme of business and identifying existing opportunities more systematically, without the need for changes to the standing orders or the invention of a new formal procedure”.

The Government agree with these conclusions and accordingly will be seeking to ensure that the annual objectives and plans of a range of Government Departments will be debated each year through a combination of existing procedures:

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In the main Chamber, the Government will seek to identify opportunities for debate on individual Departments’ objectives and plans as set out in annual reports:

This will be in addition to the opportunities already provided for the Treasury, Ministry of Defence and Wales Office. The Government will take into account any review of the number and allocation of the current annual Chamber debates.

In Westminster Hall, on the Thursday afternoon slots not specifically allotted by Standing Orders as being at the disposal of the Liaison Committee, the Government will seek to identify opportunities for departmental objectives debates:

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