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The Committee adjourned at twenty-one minutes before eight o'clock.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Plaskitt) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The authorities that will be inspected are Ashfield District Council, Carmarthenshire County Council, Ealing London Borough Council, Gravesham Borough Council, Guildford Borough Council, Lewes District Council, Mid Devon District Council, Preston City Council, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, South Lanarkshire Council and West Lothian Council.
BFI is an independent unit within the Department for Work and Pensions that inspects and reports directly to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the standard of benefits administration and counter-fraud activity in local authorities and the department itself.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My honourable friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Tony McNulty) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
On 3 January this year the Sun newspaper published allegations made by an ex-employee about working practices at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate's (IND's) Public Enquiry Office (PEO) in Croydon. On 9 January I said that Tim Gbedemah, a non-executive director of IND, would lead a formal inquiry into these allegations, with the following terms of reference:
"To investigate the allegations about practices within the Public Enquiry Office at Lunar House in Croydon, which Mr Anthony Pamnani was reported to have made by the Sun newspaper on 3 January; to establish, as far as possible, their substance; and to make any recommendations for further action to the Director General of IND, in the light of any findings."
I am pleased to say that the investigation found no evidence to support the Sun's central allegation that there was a corruption "racket" in the public enquiry office involving "sex for visas". Some isolated
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incidents of unprofessional behaviour have been identified and the report indicates there may be evidence of further misconduct by some members of staff. It also identified some failures to follow the correct procedures for carrying out security checks on certain applicants. We take these findings very seriously. We will now ensure that appropriate action is taken to address them, including where necessary taking disciplinary action.
Importantly, the report also makes the point that its findings must be seen in context and acknowledges the significant improvements that have been made. In the period under examination the PEO decided around half a million cases. We are justifiably proud of the hard work and professionalism of the overwhelming majority of staff in the public enquiry office and elsewhere.
The director general of IND and I are very grateful for Mr Gbedemah's work. We accept all of his recommendations and I am asking the director-general to put together an action plan to take them forward. We are committed to improving continually and we will look at how we can positively apply the lessons learnt across the whole of IND.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): I would like to inform the House that the UK and the US withdrew our monitors from the Jericho Monitoring Mission on 14 March. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary (Mr Jack Straw) made clear in his Statement to the other place on 29 April 2002 (Official Report, col. 668), it is the prime responsibility of the Palestinian Authority to ensure the personal security of the United States and United Kingdom monitors. Over the past months it has become increasingly clear that the Palestinian Authority is unable to do this.
The UK and the US have repeatedly raised our concerns over the security of our monitors with the Palestinian Authority and urged it to meet its obligations under the Ramallah agreement. Unfortunately, there has been no improvement. We therefore issued a joint US/UK letter to President Abbas on 8 March 2006. This letter said that we would have to terminate our involvement with the mission if the Palestinian Authority did not immediately either fully comply with the Ramallah agreement (which sets out monitoring arrangements) and make substantive improvements to the security of the monitors or come to a new agreement with the Government of Israel. As required by the Ramallah agreement we informed the Israeli authorities that we were delivering a letter in these terms. I have placed a copy of this letter in the Library of the House.
The Palestinian Authority has consistently failed to meet its obligations under the Ramallah agreement. Ultimately the safety of our personnel has to take precedence. It is with regret that I have to inform the
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House that these conditions have not been met and we have terminated our involvement with the mission today, 14 March 2006.
Yesterday I announced the membership of the reconstituted Northern Ireland Policing Board with effect from 1 April 2006. The cross-community board is one of the great successes flowing from the Patten
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recommendations. I would like to pay tribute to the current board members for the considerable contribution they have made to policing in Northern Ireland and the crucial role they have played in ensuring that the PSNI is effective, efficient and responsive to the needs of the community.
Ian Paisley Jnr MLA, William Hay MLA, Arlene Foster MLA, Peter Weir MLA, Fred Cobain MLA, Danny Kennedy MLA, Alex Attwood MLA, Dolores Kelly MLA, Professor Sir Desmond Rea, Joe Byrne, Barry Gilligan, Pauline McCabe, Rosaleen Moore, Suneil Sharma, Dawn Purvis, Brian Rea MBE JP, Trevor Ringland, Brendan Duddy and Deirdre MacBride.
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