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The BFI reports that the council has actively demonstrated a strong commitment towards raising standards within its benefits service and has many areas of good practice. The report also shows that Sefton has some scope for making improvements.
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Inspectors found that 94 per cent. of the claims examined had been assessed accurately and that the supporting evidence had been considered. A weakness was identified in the evidence gathered about earnings and capital.
There were some delays in processing renewal claims and inadequate checks on claims that were not renewed. BFI also found that the council did not have a benefit overpayment policy and lacked the necessary management controls to be assured that overpayments were dealt with correctly.
The council has taken positive steps to counter benefit fraud. The performance of the counter fraud team was found to be effective, systematically achieving successful prosecutions although the council had not offered administrative penalties or issued a caution since introducing its prosecution policy. Investigation work might also be targeted more effectively to increase the number of benefit frauds detected.
A BFI best value inspection report on the benefits service is also published today and has been placed in the Library. It examines the service from a customer service and value for money point of view. For best value, inspectors found that Sefton council provided a fair or one star benefits service, which would probably improve to be equal to that of high-performing authorities.
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Beverley Hughes: The current regulations which made registration voluntary for charities connected with a number of religious bodies expire on 1 October 2002. My noble Friend Lord Filkin is today laying a new statutory instrument to extend those regulations until 1 October 2007. The Performance and Innovation Unit, as part of their review of the legal framework for charities, are considering the matter of exception and their report will be published in due course. The extension of the regulations will allow time for the implementation of any changes which the report may recommend.
Vernon Coaker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has made of the number of places required for children in accommodation centres (a) during the pilots, (b) in five years and (c) in 10 years. 
Beverley Hughes [holding answer 23 April 2002]: I refer my hon. Friend to the reply my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) gave my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward) on 24 May 2002, Official Report, column 551W.
Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the running costs were of (a) his Ministers' private offices, separately identifying expenditure on staff and (b) his Department in each year from May 1997 to the nearest date for which the information is available. 
|Year||Pay costs||Other running costs|
(27) Figures are provisional as at year end
Running cost information for the Department for the period from May 1997 is published in the appropriation and resource accounts which are already in the public domain. Figures for 200102 will be published in due course.
Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the United Kingdom definition is for the purposes of the proposed European arrest warrant of (a) swindling, (b) racism and (c) xenophobia. 
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Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The list in Article 2.2 of the Framework Decision on the European Arrest Warrant contains broad headings, designed to ensure that all serious offences are caught. It is for the requesting state to decide whether the conduct in question falls within one of the headings.
The UK has a number of offences which could fall into the category of "racism" and "xenophobia". These include racial discrimination, incitement to racial hatred, possession and distribution of racially inflammatory material and publication of material intended to stir up racial hatred.
Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department which offences in France for which British citizens could be extradited under the European arrest warrant are unknown to British law. 
Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The Government are not responsible for the law of another European Union member state. It will be for the requesting state to establish that the offence in respect of which extradition is sought is one covered by the Framework Decision on the European arrest warrant.
The Government believe those who break the law of France while in that country should be returned to stand trial there, irrespective of whether the conduct is an offence under United Kingdom law. In the same way, we would expect France to return someone who had broken the law here even if the conduct was not contrary to French law.
Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether (a) non-British residents of, (b) British overseas territories citizens resident in and (c) UK citizens resident in (i) Gibraltar, (ii) Jersey, (iii) Guernsey, (iv) Alderney, (v) the Isle of Man, (vi) British sovereign bases in Cyprus and (vii) other British overseas and dependent territories will be subject to the proposed European arrest warrant. 
Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The European arrest warrant system will operate in Gibraltar, as stated in Article 33 of the Council Framework Decision on the European arrest warrant and surrender procedures between member states. The Framework Decision does not apply to the jurisdictions of British overseas territories or the crown dependencies. The nationality of any resident has no bearing on the applicability of the proposals.
Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what safeguards he proposes to prevent the extradition of UK citizens under the European arrest warrant for offences which are unknown to English or Scots law. 
Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The Government believe that those who break the law of another European Union (EU) member state while in that country should be returned to stand trial there, irrespective of whether the conduct is an offence under United Kingdom law, in the same way that we would expect our EU partners to return someone who had broken the law here even if the conduct was not illegal in the person's country of nationality.
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However, the legislation to give effect to the European arrest warrant will provide that no one can be extradited from the United Kingdom for conduct which takes place in this country and which is not contrary to United Kingdom law.
Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what safeguards he proposes to prevent the extradition of UK citizens under the European arrest warrant without there being a proper case to answer. 
Under the terms of Article 12 of the ECE, extradition requests have to be accompanied by an arrest warrant (or certificate of conviction, in conviction cases), a statement of the offences for which extradition is requested and a copy of the relevant enactments.
Requests do not have to be accompanied by material establishing that there is a case against the person whose extradition is sought. That will not be changed by the introduction of the European arrest warrant.
Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department which jurisdiction it is proposed will determine, under the European arrest warrant, whether the property in the UK of British residents may be seized as evidence. 
Mr. Bob Ainsworth: As is currently the case with extradition requests, in European arrest warrant cases decisions on seizure of property in the United Kingdom (UK) for use as evidence will be taken by the British police in accordance with UK law.
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