§ Mr. Cummings
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many appeals are outstanding in respect of disallowment of invalidity benefit; and what is the average length of time for an appeal to be determined in the Seaham and Peterlee Benefits Agency area. 
§ Mr. Denham
The number of appeals outstanding in Great Britain in respect of disallowance of Incapacity Benefit (which replaced Invalidity Benefit in April 1995) for the quarter ending September 1997 is around 33,000.
The Independent Tribunal Service (ITS) is unable to provide waiting time details by Benefits Agency area as such information is not routinely kept in this format.
ITS has recently installed a new computer system in all offices and across all jurisdictions. Average clearance time information cannot be produced presently owing to difficulties with the system's statistical reporting package. The President is hopeful that these difficulties will soon be fully resolved. However, the average clearance time for Great Britain remains at least six months.
We are determined to reduce the current delays and complexity in the appeals system. The Social Security Bill which paves the way for modernising the delivery of Social Security, including the handling of appeals, had its third reading in the House on 10 December and is now continuing its passage through the other place. The Secretary of State will assume responsibility for the administration of the appeals system. She will set and publish demanding targets for the administration of appeals and report on the results.