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Child Benefit

Annabelle Ewing: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what guidelines his Department issues on the timescale for switching over to the other parent, as the children's primary carer, as the new recipient of child benefit in cases of marital breakdown or spousal desertion. [53777]

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Malcolm Wicks: The rules governing the transfer of child benefit from one person to another are statutory, and are contained in the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992. Generally, child benefit cannot be transferred from one person to another in any circumstances until three weeks after the week in which a competing claim is received, for example following a marital breakdown or spousal desertion.

However, where someone has been receiving child benefit on the basis that a child has been living with them, absences from one another are disregarded for up to eight weeks in any 16-week period. Following a separation therefore, both parties will continue to meet the "living with" condition for a short period, and in default of an agreement between them it falls to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his discretion to determine which of them is entitled for this period.

Minimum Wage

Mr. Lyons: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he last met the Low Pay Commission to discuss the minimum wage. [55208]

Maria Eagle: My right hon. Friend has not met the Low Pay Commission. The minimum wage is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Criminal Offences

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many criminal offences have been (a) created and (b) abolished by his Department since 1997. [55426]

Malcolm Wicks: Nine offences have been created since 1997 and four have been abolished.

The offences created in the Social Security (Fraud) Act 1997 were modified by the Social Security Fraud Act 2001. The modification involved repeal and redraft of four of the offences.

Benefit Tribunals (Doctors)

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what guidance he has given concerning the independence of doctors serving on benefit tribunals since 2000. [55305]

Maria Eagle: It is not appropriate for my right hon. Friend to issue guidance to the panel members who are appointed by the Lord Chancellor to sit on appeal tribunals within the Appeals Service. The panel members, and the tribunal decisions they make, are independent of the Department for Work and Pensions. Guidance for panel members is a matter for the president of appeal tribunals.

Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will estimate the number of non-resident parents who have had their driving licences removed by the courts since April 2001 as a result of the provisions introduced under the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act. [54514]

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Malcolm Wicks: In the period from April 2001 to 18 March 2002, the agency made 58 applications to the court for committal/withdrawal of a driving licence.

In 21 cases the non-resident parent is now paying. Two non-resident parents provided information to the agency that resulted in them being assessed to pay nothing. One non-resident parent has had his licence withdrawn and three non-resident parents have a suspended disqualification from driving order. In a further 22 cases the magistrates imposed a suspended committal sentence. The rest of the cases are still with the courts, with three non-resident parents the subject of tracing action by the agency.


Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will estimate the number of carers (a) entitled to and (b) being credited into the state second pension. [54517]

Mr. McCartney: We estimate that up to 2 million carers could benefit from the state second pension. However, as entitlement to state second pension is based on complete qualifying years, the first of which is 2002–03 tax-year, we have no figures currently for the number of people who are entitled in respect of that year.

Winter Fuel Payments

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to his answers of 24 April 2002 to the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown), Official Report, columns 343–44W, on backdated winter fuel payments, what information the Government collect on people who are entitled to winter fuel payments but who do not receive the money automatically. [56448]

Mr. McCartney: Most people who are entitled to a winter fuel payment receive their payments automatically. However, others have to make a claim. From winter 2000–01, the claim details recorded are used to make further payments automatically, unless the individual's circumstances change. This procedure ensures that people do not have to provide their details more than once.

Publicity aims to ensure that the people who need to claim are aware of the position. It is then up to the individual to choose whether or not to claim.

Adult Disadvantage

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to the answer of 21 March 2002, Official Report, column 528W, on the age positive campaign, what budget his Department has allocated for the age positive campaign in each of the next three years. [47590]

Maria Eagle: The current planned budget for 2002–03 and 2003–04 is £900,000 per annum. As with all departmental programmes, budgets for 2003–04, and the subsequent two years, will be reviewed as part of the Spending Review 2002 process, the settlement of which will be received in July 2002. In addition, in line with financial management regimes, all budgets are reviewed internally during the course of the financial year.

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BT Lines

Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many of BT's lines have been handed over to competitors as a result of local loop unbundling. [44779]

Ms Hewitt: Currently more than 300 local loops have been unbundled. Operators are able to place orders with BT for unbundled local loops on a 'business as usual' basis.

Universal Bank

Mr. Todd: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on progress in establishing the Universal bank. [54023]

Mr. Alexander: The Department of Work and Pensions, together with the Inland Revenue and the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency, have agreed contractual terms with Post Office Ltd. for the provision of the Card Account and are working on implementation. A lot of detailed work is being carried out on implementing universal banking services and the plan remains to deliver in advance of the migration of benefit payment to ACT from 2003.

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when and for what reasons the Universal bank has been renamed the New Direct bank; whether all benefit claimants will have access to the New Direct bank; when she expects the New Direct bank to be established; if she will list the (a) banks and (b) building societies that have agreed to deliver the New Direct bank services; and with which company a contract has been signed for the benefit payment card account. [54510]

Mr. Alexander: The Government's plan for universal banking services continues to be based on two key elements: post office access to the banks own basic bank accounts (which have a variety of operating brand names); and a simple Card Account which will allow benefits claimants without bank accounts to access their benefits in cash at post offices using a Post Office account instead of an order book or giro. We have no plans to rebrand any of this as "the New Direct bank".

Wind Farms

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what action she will take to find other sites for offshore wind farms should any of the present sites be rejected on grounds of possible interference with military radar. [55576]

Mr. Wilson: The sites in the first round of offshore windfarm developments were selected by developers who then made applications for site leases to the Crown Estate, as landlord of the seabed within territorial waters. Of the 18 projects there are no Ministry of Defence objections to 13. The Ministry of Defence are in dialogue with the remaining five developers and would hope to bring the matter to a successful conclusion.

The Department is working closely with a wide range of organisations to develop a strategic framework for the next stage of windfarm development and hope to issue a

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consultation document in the autumn. Part of the programme of work will seek to identify potential areas of the sea for further windfarm developments, taking into account a range of factors, although ultimate site selection must be a commercial decision for the developer. Each windfarm development would be subject to the usual consenting process.

We are also working actively with the Ministry of Defence on several collaborative projects which are designed to address the specific problem of wind turbines on radar, and siting issues more generally.

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