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The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Welfare reform is central to this Government's agenda of modernisation, and to its goals of tackling poverty and social exclusion. Today the Prime Minister is announcing plans for the next stage of welfare reform, which will radically change the way the Government provide support for people of working age. The aim is to accelerate the move from a welfare system that primarily provides passive support to one that provides active support to help people become more independent, based on work for those who can and security for those who cannot.
During 2001, a brand new, modern agency will be established with a clear focus on work. This will draw together the Employment Service and the parts of the Benefits Agency which support people of working age. It will deliver a single, integrated service to benefit claimants of working age and to employers. The agency will continue and develop the partnership approach to working with local authorities and the private and voluntary sectors which the Government have adopted in implementing its welfare to work policies.
Already the New Deal has helped around 260,000 people back into work. The national minimum wage and tax credits are helping work pay. And the ONE pilots are showing how, working together, the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service can provide a radically improved service to clients and employers alike. The new agency will have a new culture, and will be firmly focused on helping people to become independent. It will help further to embed a culture of rights and responsibilities within the welfare system. Personal advisers will steer clients towards work or training, help them claim the benefits they need, and provide additional support tailored to their needs. Help will be directed to those who genuinely need it, while fraud will be squeezed out of the system.
The agency will also help and support working age people who are out of the labour market for whatever reason. A single agency will provide a better and more responsive benefits service to all people of working age, tailored to individual needs and asking the question: what can we do to help you become independent? Fraud will be squeezed out of the system.
The agency will provide a single point of contact for all working age people to access the following benefits: Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance, Maternity Allowance, Widow's Benefit, Industrial Injury Disablement Benefits and Invalid Care Allowance. The adminstration of the Social Fund is under review.
The new agency will be in the front line of the drive to modernise government. It will have the technology to provide the most up-to-date service to more than 10 million customers each year. Job vacancies, information about services and benefits and availability of child care will all be on hand at the press of a button. Located in high streets and town centres across the country this new service will represent the face of 21st century government. Over time, the new agency will produce efficiency savings compared to the current arrangements.
Design and development of the new agency will be carried out jointly by the Secretaries of State for Education and Employment and for Social Security. The Prime Minister is asking them to establish the agency as soon as possible in 2001 so that, alongside the new service for pensioners announced yesterday, it can start to deliver our vision of a modern welfare state and contribute to reducing poverty and expanding opportunity.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Government have issued guidance to civil servants on the principles which they should observe in relation to the conduct of government business in the period before the forthcoming elections.
The guidance stresses that civil servants should conduct themselves in accordance with the Civil Service Code and is based on the need to maintain the political impartiality of the Civil Service and the need to ensure that public resources are not used for party political purposes.
The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): People claiming Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) are not required to disclose any previous convictions. It is therefore not possible to provide information about the number or proportion of JSA claimants who have convictions for standard list offences.
My department is keen to have better information about the employment position of ex-offenders. For this reason we have commissioned the National Institute of Economic and Social Research to work with the British Market Research Bureau and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders to produce a definitive assessment of the position of offenders in the labour market. The research will be reported at the end of the year and will inform further policy development.
What is the number of asylum seekers who are living in Kent who are awaiting appeals on decisions concerning their applications for asylum; and[HL1446]
How many people living in Kent have been given asylum.[HL1447]
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Oakington Reception Centre will strengthen our ability to deal quickly with asylum applications, many of which prove to be unfounded. In addition to the existing detention criteria, applicants will be detained at Oakington where it appears that their application can be decided quickly, including those which may be certified as manifestly unfounded. Oakington will consider applications from adults and families with children, for whom separate accommodation is being provided, but not from unaccompanied minors. Detention will initially be for a period of about seven days to enable applicants to be interviewed and an initial decision to be made. Legal advice will be available on site.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The White Paper Fairer, Faster and Firmer--A Modern Approach to Immigration and Asylum, published in July 1998, standardised the period allowed for asylum seekers to submit further material after a substantive interview at five days. We have decided that some adjustment to this policy is needed to deliver faster asylum decisions while at the same time ensuring that asylum seekers have a proper opportunity to establish their claim.
In the case of applications considered at Oakington Reception Centre, we are arranging for the Refugee Legal Centre and Immigration Advisory Service to provide legal advice on-site. It has been agreed with those organisations that the consideration process should operate so that such advice may be provided both before and after the substantive interview. Other than in very exceptional circumstances, the substantive interview will take place on the third day at the centre and so there will normally be two more days after the interview in which to submit additional representations. The five-day period for submission of supporting material will in these cases therefore commence as soon as the asylum application has been made, rather than from the date of the substantive interview.
We have also decided that the five-day period for submission of further supporting evidence will not apply to asylum claims where no substantive interview is conducted at the time when the claim is made. In those cases, applicants are issued with a Statement of Evidence form, which they are required to submit to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate within 14 days. We think this gives applicants a reasonable period to set out their claim, and time to seek legal representation if they wish. Where an application is not granted on the basis of the evidence in the Statement of Evidence form, applicants are interviewed and in these cases a decision will be made immediately after this substantive interview.
Discretion will be exercised to permit an extension of the applicable period for the making of post-interview representations where exceptional circumstances require--for example, where possible torture victims are identified.
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