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Millennium Compliance

Mrs. Gillan: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if she notifies potential purchasers of obsolete information technology equipment sold by her Department that such equipment may not be millennium compliant. [25616]

Mr. Keith Bradley: The Department has a contract with a third party for the disposal of information technology equipment. The third party is made aware of any equipment that is not Year 2000 compliant.

SERPS

Mr. Duncan Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what estimate she has made of the cost of the uprating of the National Insurance rebate for Serps in each of the next five years. [25924]

Mr. Denham: The existing rebates are not specified beyond the 2000-01 tax year, so it is not possible to make precise estimates of the cost to the National Insurance Fund beyond that year. For information on the three years up to and including 2000-01 I refer the hon. Member to the written answer I gave the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) on 26 January 1998, Official Report, column 116.

Welfare Reform

Mr. Duncan Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the planned date of publication for the Minister for Welfare Reform's Green Paper on welfare reform. [25921]

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Mr. Field: I refer the hon. Member to the written answer given to the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker) on 26 January 1998, Official Report, column 104.

Benefit Fraud Inspectorate

Mr. Duncan Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what the running costs of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate were in the last year for which figures are available. [25922]

Mr. Denham: The running costs for the initial set up of the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate, which commenced in October 1996 were £404,458.

Child Benefit

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans the Government have to change the entitlement to child benefit for 16 to 18 year olds. [25108]

Mr. Keith Bradley: I refer the hon. Member to the written answer given to the hon. Members for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) and for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) on Monday 26 January 1998, Official Report, columns 103-04.

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many individuals receiving child benefit are estimated to be paying income tax at the higher rate; and how many live in families where their partner is estimated to be paying tax at the higher rate. [25104]

Mr. Keith Bradley: An estimate for 1997-98 from the 1995-96 Family Resources Survey based Policy Simulation Model (PSM) suggests there are around 120,000 individuals receiving child benefit and paying income tax at the higher rate. The PSM also estimates that there are around 855,000 individuals receiving child benefit where their partner is paying tax at the higher rate. The estimates should be treated with some caution as they are based on survey data which use current weekly income which may not accurately represent current annual tax liabilities. Estimates may also be influenced by sampling error and response rates.



Cold Weather Payments

Mr. Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment her Department has made of the costs of introducing a winter payment system for fuel instead of the cold weather payment; and if she will make a statement. [17366]

Mr. Denham [holding answer 25 November 1997]: Average expenditure on the Cold Weather Payment scheme over the last three winters was £35 million per year. If the scheme were replaced and everyone eligible for a Cold Weather Payment (around three million people) was given an automatic payment without the recorded or forecast temperature provision needing to be satisfied, the cost would depend on the level of the payment made. For example, for every £10 paid to each eligible person, the cost would be in the region of £30 million.

On 25 November 1997, Official Report, column 780, the Chancellor announced additional help of £400 million over this winter and next to provide extra help to almost

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10 million pensioners towards their winter fuel bills (further details were announced on 5 January). This help is in addition to the existing help with fuel bills to pensioners, such as Cold Weather Payments and action the Government have already taken to cut fuel costs and make homes easier to heat.

WALES

Agriculture Council

Mr. Denzil Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many meetings of the Council of Agriculture Ministers of the European Union he has attended. [23604]

Mr. Win Griffiths: None to date. In line with long established practice, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food takes the lead in European Community discussions and negotiations with a Senior Welsh Office Agriculture Department Official normally attending Agriculture Council meetings. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales met Commissioner Fischler, the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, on 11 July 1997 and 8 January 1998 and he proposes to attend a Council meeting when the items on the agenda are particularly relevant to Welsh agriculture.

Referendum

Mr. Ancram: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what was the source of his information that the 6,000 majority in favour of the yes campaign at the Caerphilly count came from the Caerphilly constituency; and if he will make a statement. [23606]

Mr. Ron Davies: Like all other local counts in Wales, the 6,000 majority is ascribable only to the whole borough. I have no information, beyond the opinion of local party workers, that could substantiate the right hon. Member's claim.

Health Inequalities

Mr. Barry Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what mechanisms he proposes to tackle inequalities in health in Wales. [25309]

Mr. Win Griffiths: We will shortly be publishing a consultation document which will provide the basis for a new public health strategy for Wales. This will be followed by an Action Plan in the Autumn. The strategy is intended to tackle the inequalities in health status in Wales. Collaboration between the NHS, local government, commerce, voluntary agencies and individuals will be essential, with partners sharing the responsibility for promoting better health.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Health Service Reorganisation

Mr. Godman: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when she expects to announce changes to the structure of the Health Service; when she intends to reorganise the health and social services boards and trusts; and if she will make a statement. [22739]

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Mr. Worthington: My Department expects to publish a major consultation paper on new arrangements to replace the internal market for health and social services in Northern Ireland in February. The paper will set out broad policy aims and objectives which parallel those in the White Paper "The New NHS, Modern and Dependable", and will seek views on how the policy should be taken forward in Northern Ireland. Following the consultation process, the Government will announce specific proposals for changes to the health and social services later in the year. We have recently produced a policy paper "well into 2000" which sets out our vision of the health service which a new structure must serve.

Castle Buildings Talks (Costs)

Mr. Robert McCartney: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what have been the total costs of the talks at Castle Buildings to date; how much (a) has been paid by and (b) is outstanding from the Irish Government; and how much has been paid to or on behalf of the three independent chairmen, broken down between expenses and taxable remuneration. [22805]

Mr. Paul Murphy: The information requested, up to 30 November 1997, is as follows:

£
Payments to Elected Delegates675,057.40
Payments to Party Support Staff108,341.85
Party Allowance and Research Grants621,249.80
Independent Chairmen and Aides--Expenses26,506.88
Remuneration319,711.20
Accommodation254,630.54
Travel418,091.92
Subsistence36,878.32
Block B, Castle Buildings:
(a) Initial set-up costs266,000.00
(b) Operational costs955,553.03
Additional NIO staff costs:589,311.43

The Irish Government are bearing an equal share of the running costs of the multi party negotiations, excluding any in respect of Strand One. During the period 10 June 1996 to 30 November 1997, under this agreement, the Irish Government have been invoiced for, and have paid, a total of £1,359.701.52 sterling.

Chiropody and Podiatry

Angela Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, pursuant to her answer of 17 November 1997, Official Report, column 27, when it became her policy to have priority groups for the provision of NHS chiropody services; how this policy was communicated to boards and trusts; and what notification she has received regarding (a) increases and (b) reductions in services for the priority groups in the present year or next year. [22563]

Mr. Worthington: This policy originated prior to the reorganisation of the health and personal social services in Northern Ireland in 1973, when chiropody services were limited mainly due to a shortage of professional staff. It was in this context that Boards were advised of the priority groups in a Departmental Circular issued in 1974, but these continue to apply where services have to be

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targeted on those in greatest need within available resources. As I indicated in response to a question from my hon. Friend on 17 November 1997, Official Report, column 26, Health and Social Services Boards and Trusts are not required to notify the Department of reductions or increases in particular services and, for the present or next year, none has.


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