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Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: There will be no question of weakening the rigorous controls that currently exist for the protection of customer confidentiality. The contract specifications will contain all the necessary safeguards to ensure confidentiality of information is maintained to the high standards required of civil servants; with all staff involved being bound by the same stringent security and confidentiality rules. These include a requirement for all staff to sign a declaration acknowledging the provisions of Section 123 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992, which makes it a criminal offence to disclose information provided for Social Security purposes.

Benefit Payments: Administration

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We have a rolling programme to review and redesign the way we administer benefits. The aim is to develop processes that actively support our objectives for improved accuracy and security at each stage of a claim. We will remove steps and activities which we have identified through analysis of current processes to be of limited or no value. At the same time tasks and activities will be

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organised in ways that promote efficient working and streamlined handling, and reduce the need for double handling or rework. We intend to make best use of the opportunities available from developments in information technology to reduce off-system activity and the duplication of work where more than one benefit is involved.

Asylum Seekers: Benefit Restriction

The Viscount of Falkland asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Secretary of State for Social Security's remarks on 15th July (H.C. Deb., col. 854), whether they have any reason to believe that the withdrawal of benefits will do more to deter bogus claims to asylum than to deter genuine ones, and if so, what is that reason.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The restriction in benefit entitlement for asylum seekers is intended to reduce the incentive to economic migrants to abuse the asylum process. The genuine asylum seeker does not come here to get benefits but for protection against persecution. It is the economic migrant who responds to economic incentives.

The Viscount of Falkland asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Secretary of State for Social Security's remark on the 15th July (H.C. Deb., col. 854) that "the overall number of claims (to asylum) fell by more than half since January 1995" supports the finding of the Court of Appeal that the withdrawal of benefits threatens the right to seek asylum itself.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The regulations which Parliament has just confirmed are intended to limit the financial incentive to make and pursue a bogus application for asylum. The asylum seeker who makes his position clear from the start will qualify for benefit while his application is being considered by the Home Office. Once a person has been awarded refugee status they will be able to claim a retrospective payment in respect of any part of their asylum claim during which they were excluded from the benefit system.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in drafting the amendment to the Asylum and Immigration Bill approved in the House of Commons on 15th July, they accepted the finding of the Court of Appeal that the withdrawal of benefits from asylum seekers was in conflict with Sections 2 and 6 of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act (1993), and therefore threatened the right to seek asylum itself.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: We are still considering the legal implications of the Court of Appeal judgment and the possible advantages of a further appeal. We decided that it would be right to act to restore the Government's policy on benefits for asylum seekers as quickly as possible.

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Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Secretary for State for Social Security's remarks on the 15th July (H.C. Deb., col. 845), by what criteria he has judged the regulations withdrawing benefits from asylum seekers to be "successful".

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The policy is judged a success on the basis of the sharp decline in asylum application which has been seen since the benefit rules were changed in February.

The policy was intended to deter economic migrants from abusing the UK asylum system. Since genuine refugees come to this country to seek refuge rather than benefits. The decline in asylum applications shows that the policy has successfully deterred economic migrants from claiming asylum in the UK.

Asylum-Seekers: In-Country Applicants

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Secretary of State for Social Security's remarks on the 15th July (H.C. Deb., col. 847) how it is possible to reconcile the view that it is reasonable to hold in-country applicants for asylum to assurances that they will have no recourse to public funds with Article 31.1 of the UN Convention on Refugees.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Article 31.1 prohibits contracting states from penalising refugees for illegal entry. Holding in-country asylum applicants to their assurances that they will have no recourse to public funds is entirely compatible with that article.

Child Support Agency: Computer System

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the only companies invited to tender for the CSA computer service were EDS and Lockheed, and whether it is correct that both are owned by General Motors.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: No. While EDS is the prime supplier of IT systems development and support requirements for the CSA, the Child Support Agency's computer system consists of several elements. EDS and Lockheed were the only companies invited to tender for the operational accounting element of the system. Lockheed IMS is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Lockheed Martin Corporation. EDS Scicon was owned by General Motors but this is no longer the case: they became an independent public company on 10th/11th June 1996.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the computer service provided by EDS to the Child Support Agency (CSA) and whether they will undertake to give no further contracts to EDS until they are satisfied.

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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: EDS is the prime contractor for the development of the Child Support Agency's computer system. EDS has consistently met the user acceptance criteria for each contract awarded.

EDS is also contracted to provide live service support for the Child Support computer system to specified standards of availability; response times; and output handling and dispatch. On all three EDS meet or exceed the customer requirement and provide a satisfactory level of service.

Public sector procurement is governed by EC directives which ensure fair and open competition and which result in the selection of the supplier whose bid offers the most economically advantageous deal. The department cannot speculate as to the outcome of any future procurement exercise.

UK Debt: Percentage of GNP

Viscount Brentford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the United Kingdom's Government debt as a percentage of gross national product ("GNP")

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Gross general Government debt as a percentage of gross domestic product--the ratio used in the European Union excessive deficits criteria--is estimated to have been 54¼ per cent. at end March 1996, well below the 60 per cent. reference level.

UK and EU Debt: Percentage of GNP

Viscount Brentford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many European Union Member States would currently qualify for European Monetary Union based on the criterion for debt as a percentage of GNP; and

    What is the comparison between the United Kingdom's debt as a percentage of GNP and that of the other major European Union member states including Germany and France.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The question of which countries fulfil the necessary conditions for adoption of the single currency will be decided by the Council, meeting in the form of Heads of State of Government, in accordance with Article 109j of the EC treaty. The latest Commission Spring forecast and the UK Summer economic forecast provide comparable information on the current and projected debt of each member state.

Debt (percentage of GDP)
19951997
UK(1)54.556.0
Belgium133.7130.6
Denmark71.968.7
Germany58.162.4
Greece111.5111.4
Spain65.768.0
France52.457.8
Ireland85.577.3
Italy124.8122.8
Luxembourg5.96.8
Netherlands79.078.7
Austria69.473.9
Portugal71.671.8
Finland59.463.2
Sweden79.979.6

Source:

UK: Summer Economic Forecast 1996.

Non UK: Commission Services Spring 1996 Economic Forecast.

(1) UK figures are for financial years 1995/96 and 1997/98.


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