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Baroness Seear: My Lords, the noble Lord's replies to this Question suggest that the only things that count are those that can be counted. How does the Minister arrive at the social security costs? Is research taking place to find out the costs of the changes being made? Otherwise, we are just relying on figures which have no research base behind them at all.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that we should not take into account the cost to the general taxpayer of social security. We must take that into account; any responsible government must take it into account, although I appreciate that members of the party

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to which the noble Baroness belongs do not have to worry too much about the increased cost to the taxpayer. When we look at the different decisions we must face in order to control our budget, we look carefully at the consequences of those decisions and at the various research papers on those issues that come out of universities before we arrive at our final conclusions.

Baroness Seear: My Lords, the noble Lord cannot get away with simply sneering at my party, but we will leave that on one side for the moment. He may learn some day that we have rather more say in matters than he predicts. The noble Lord did not answer my question. How do the Government find out systematically what the real costs are? The noble Lord has not yet told us that. To refer to odd papers coming from universities not commissioned for the purpose is no answer at all.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I suggest that the noble Baroness looks at the report from the Department of Social Security which is published annually concerning the research we fund. She will see a fair body of expensive research funded directly by us in order to address the policy questions we are considering.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, what research was conducted by the department on the second-order effects of disallowment from benefit into crime rates and the catastrophic increase in the number of people in our prisons? If the noble Lord says that no such research exists, how can we make an estimate of the net results of any changes in the benefits when those increases in crime and the huge cost of building new prisons is set off against the reductions in expenditure?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, as I said, we look at all aspects of government expenditure. If the Home Office felt that something we were doing would impinge on its department, it would include the Home Office being involved in any discussions about possible repercussions on public spending. In relation to the rise in crime, I am fairly old-fashioned and take the view that badness has a lot to do with it.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the Question asks about the cost of DSS activities for other government departments. Perhaps I may ask the Government a question about the cost of DSS activities for the DSS itself. In recent years the Government have cut DSS staff and have stopped home visits, and are now threatening to close the free benefit helpline. Does the Minister agree that at the very same time accuracy in delivering income support has deteriorated very badly indeed; from almost 95 per cent. accuracy three years ago to 78 per cent. accuracy today, an error figure of £750 million? Do the Government see any connection at all between DSS cuts in staff and the increased DSS error in paying income support?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I think the noble Baroness is a little confused between the past and the future. We have announced that we are looking carefully at a change programme which will bring considerable savings to the Department of Social Security and result in fewer staff. Through that

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change programme we hope, by making the systems more efficient, to reduce mistakes, to reduce the time that is taken and to make sure that benefit goes to the people who deserve it. It is a change programme first attacked by the party opposite in the person of Mr. Chris Smith, its social security spokesman, and then approved of in a leaked letter from the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who said that all these possible savings were perfectly feasible.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, will the Minister explain to the House why the error rate for income support has risen by nearly 20 per cent. in three years?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I shall have to look that up to make sure that the noble Baroness is giving me a correct and accurate figure. One of the problems with income support is that it is complicated and one is very dependent on accurate information coming from the claimant. We hope to simplify the system, improve the way information comes from the claimant, and in that way reduce the number of errors. I hope I have the noble Baroness's support.

A.1: Alconbury Hill

3.1 p.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why so many hedgerows, shrubs and trees near the A.1 at, and northwards from, Alconbury Hill have been cut down, and whether they will ensure that fresh shrubs and trees will be planted there as soon as possible.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, site clearance is under way in preparation for upgrading the A.1 to motorway standard between Alconbury and Peterborough. The scheme is one of the design, build, finance and operate contracts. The clearance is necessary for Road Management Group, which has been awarded the contract, to gain access to the site and for the consequent construction of the new road and its structures. Considerable landscaping measures are included as part of the scheme. It is proposed that some 400,000 new trees and shrubs will be planted, which will considerably enhance the existing landscape.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Perhaps I may remind him that 46 ecological sites are affected by this development. Is he aware that a mass of ancient hedgerows, which produce beautiful blossoms especially at this time of year, have been torn down, unnecessarily in some cases? Will he ensure that their replacements are mature enough to take root and flourish without delay?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. This is clearly an important ecological area. That is why such care has been taken to make sure that the environmental impact of the road is minimised and it is why such environmental and landscaping work will

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take place. I can also reassure my noble friend that the work will take place, will fit in and will integrate with the existing landscape. That is one of the major priorities.

Lord Monson: My Lords, when the time comes to replant along the A.1, will the noble Viscount do his best to ensure that the same mistakes are not made as were made when the A.11 was widened from Stump Cross north-north-east towards Newmarket? There the planting was extravagantly dense, with the trees spaced less than a metre apart as opposed to the more normal 2.5 metres or so. Is not this practice expensive and wasteful both initially and when the time comes to start thinning?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I am sure that every endeavour will be made to ensure that the planting process is not wasteful and that the end result is an improved environmental area after this major road has been built.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that, although the Department of Transport plants oceans of trees along roads, it generally fails to look after them, which means that the trees are wasted? Will he try to explain to the department that the most expensive and time-consuming business in tree establishment is aftercare?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, clearly the proper maintenance and care of the trees is an important factor. That has been built into the DBFO contract for the Road Management Group. It will have a duty to make sure that the trees are properly maintained.

The Earl of Drogheda: My Lords, might not consideration be given when new roads are made to the possibility of transplanting mature hedges and trees? Given the fact that large earthmoving equipment is present, it is perfectly feasible to do so.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I shall ensure that the noble Earl's suggestion is passed on to the Highways Agency. I should have thought that it has already considered the possibility of transplanting trees. But where that is not possible, it is right that we should plant trees--and not just trees but trees and shrubs of the same species as are already in the area--and that they should fully integrate with the existing woodland environment.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, is it not the case that until now the Department of Transport has subcontracted the care and maintenance of motorway trees to the Forestry Commission? Is that still the practice, or has something happened to change it? Can we not be confident that the Forestry Commission will do a good job?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I am not able to advise the noble Baroness on what has happened with previous schemes. I shall find out and let her know. This scheme is rather different because it is one of the new phase of design, build, finance and operate schemes, whereby the party that has been awarded the contract

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not only builds the road but maintains it for a period--in this case, some 30 years. It is therefore its responsibility to maintain the trees.


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