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Benefit Fraud Inspectorate Report: West Dunbartonshire Council

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On behalf of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection report on West Dunbartonshire Council was published today and copies have been placed in the Library.

In 2004–05, West Dunbartonshire Council administered some £41 million in housing benefits, about 22 per cent of its gross revenue expenditure. The council was selected for inspection of its counter-fraud arrangements because it reported to the department that it had not achieved any sanctions between April 2003 and March 2005.

BFI found that the council's overall performance in countering fraud was poor. Although the council had an anti-fraud strategy the management structure of the benefits service did not create a strong counter-fraud environment or focus and there was a lack of management control over the counter-fraud work that was done.
 
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West Dunbartonshire Council acknowledged its shortcomings in this area and is committed to improving performance, including developing an action plan to address the recommendations made in BFI's report.

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

Incapacity Benefit: Pathways to Work

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform (Margaret Hodge) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Pathways to Work model was launched in seven Jobcentre Plus districts in October 2003 and April 2004. These districts were:

I would like to update colleagues on the very encouraging results from the pilots and announce implementation dates for the next phases of rollout.

We are seeing an eight percentage point increase in the number of people coming off incapacity benefit within six months. This remains an early tentative but extremely encouraging finding. The evidence from the Pathways to Work pilots continues to far exceed our expectations. The number of people with a health condition or disability in the seven pilots who have found work now exceeds 17,000. Over 14,000 incapacity benefit customers have voluntarily accessed some element of the choices package to help them move back towards work. This includes 6,660 people who have attended the innovative condition management programme, delivered through our successful partnership with the Department of Health, NHS and primary care trusts.

Overall, more than 21 per cent of all new customers who have a work focused interview go on to access choices provision. Pathways to Work is making a real difference to the lives of people on incapacity benefit. We are undertaking a rigorous evaluation of the programme and that evaluation will inform our programme.

In the December 2004 Pre-Budget Report my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the expansion of Pathways to Work to an additional 14 Jobcentre Plus districts. These districts serve local authority areas with the highest concentrations of incapacity benefit customers. This will allow us to focus resources on those areas where Pathways to Work will have the greatest impact.
 
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The expansion will be implemented in three phases from October 2005 through to October 2006.

I can therefore announce that the first phase of this expansion has today been launched in the following Jobcentre Plus districts:

The remaining districts to follow next year are:

From 24 April 2006: Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster; City of Sunderland; County Durham; Lanarkshire and East Dunbartonshire; Liverpool and the Wirral; Greater Manchester Central; Swansea Bay and west Wales.

From 30 October 2006: Eastern Valleys; Greater Mersey; Staffordshire.

Iran

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): On 26 October, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad of Iran addressed a conference in Tehran on "A World Without Zionism". In his speech, he is reported to have called for "Israel to be wiped from the map", and said that "the Islamic world will not let its historic enemy live in its heartland", "the new wave of (attacks) in Palestine will erase this stigma from the Islamic world" and that "anybody who recognises Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury".

As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in his press conference at the European Council at Hampton Court on 27 October, these sentiments are completely unacceptable. I welcome the clear condemnation by the United Nations Security Council on 28 October and the statement by the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, expressing his dismay. They have spoken for the world. Israel is a long-standing member of the United Nations with the same rights and obligations as every other. Under the United Nations charter, Iran, like other members of the organisation, has undertaken to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

Mr Annan has also said he intends to place at the top of his agenda when he visits Iran in the next few weeks the Middle East peace process and the right of all states in the area to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force. I welcome that.

At the informal summit of European Union Heads of Government at Hampton Court on 27 October, the presidency issued the following statement.

"EU leaders meeting at Hampton Court today condemned in the strongest terms the comments in respect of the state of Israel attributed to President
 
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Ahmedinejad of Iran. Calls for violence, and for the destruction of any state, are manifestly inconsistent with any claim to be a mature and responsible member of the international community.

Such comments will cause concern about Iran's role in the region, and its future intentions. The fact that these comments were made on the same day as a horrific attack on Israeli civilians should reinforce the lesson that incitement to violence, and the terrorism that it breeds, are despicable and unacceptable acts. For its part, the EU remains committed to a solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute based on the principle of two states living side-by-side in peace and security. It urges all parties in the region to do their utmost to bring that vision to fulfilment".

In addition, on 27 October, the Foreign Office summoned the Iranian chargé d'affaires in London on behalf of the European Union to protest at the remarks. Many of our European partners and other countries have done likewise.

We welcome too the international community's forthright condemnation, and its reaffirmation of the right of Israel to exist. We welcome particularly the statements by officials of the Palestinian Authority and other governments in the region.

We remain profoundly concerned at Iran's links to groups trying to undermine peace in the Middle East through violence, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad which claimed responsibility for the horrific attack at Hadera in Israel on 26 October. The EU has said that Iran's policies towards the Middle East peace process and terrorism are among the factors it will consider when formulating its policy towards Iran.

President Ahmadinejad's remarks also underline the imperative for Iran to take steps to address international concerns about the intentions of its nuclear programme, and to provide objective guarantees that that programme is for solely peaceful purposes. We call on Iran to meet urgently and in full the requests of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors, to suspend fully all of its uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, and return to talks with the E3/EU on the basis of the Paris agreement.

Ministry of Defence: Annual Report and Accounts 2004–05

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence (John Reid) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
 
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On 28 October I published the Ministry of Defence's annual report and accounts 2004–05. It combines the department's annual performance report and departmental resource accounts in a single document that provides a comprehensive overview of the MoD's financial and non-financial performance. For the second successive year the Comptroller and Auditor-General has approved the accounts without qualification.

The report shows that once again the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence delivered what they were required and resourced to do during a busy and challenging year. It reflects the broad and diverse range of operations and tasks undertaken during the year, and the Armed Forces and Ministry of Defence's continuing vision of being a force for good in the world. It also details the sizeable progress the Ministry of Defence has made towards achieving the efficiency targets set by Her Majesty's Treasury in the 2002 and 2004 Spending Reviews, and the considerable progress already made in delivering the capabilities and reformed force structure set out in the July 2004 Command Paper Delivering Security in a Changing World: Future Capabilities.

Copies of the annual report and accounts have been placed in the Library of the House. It is also available online from the department's Internet site at www.mod.uk.

Veterans Agency: Challenge Fund

Lord Drayson: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Don Touhig) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to announce the extension of the department's Veterans Challenge Fund. This fund was established on 1 April 2003 for a fixed initial period of three years to provide a mechanism for MoD to pump prime activities which address an identifiable gap in the existing activity or knowledge supporting the Government's veterans programme. Two million pounds was allocated to the fund over the three-year period.

I am delighted that the challenge fund has been successful in allowing the MoD to wholly or partly fund projects and support partners in a practical way. I am confident that the continuation of the fund, with a present allocation of £750,000 per year, will support a variety of projects that will benefit veterans. Further details on eligibility and the application process can be found at www.veteransagency.mod.uk/pdfolder/vasecpdfs/challenge.pdf.


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