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Local Authorities (Asset Sales)

Dr. Lynne Jones: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer on what basis he made his assessment of the amount that local authorities will be able to realise in annual asset sales; and over what period he expects these to be realised. [47038]

Mr. Darling: Local authorities are projected to realise £2¾ billion in asset sales in each of the next three years and in line with recent experience.

Income Tax

Mr. Amess: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer at what proportion of average earnings (a) a sole earner in a married two-parent, two-child family and (b) a single person with no children would start paying income tax in (i) April 1998, (ii) October 1998 and (iii) October 1999 taking into account family credit and the proposed working family tax credit; and how these figures compare with the position taking account of the equivalent benefits in 1968-69. [45994]

Dawn Primarolo: In 1998-99 a single person will start paying income tax at earnings of £81 per week, 24 per cent. of median full-time earnings (£337 per week). A married couple with one earner and 2 children under 11 will start to pay income tax at earnings of £108 per week, 32 per cent. of median full-time earnings. With the introduction of WFTC a married couple with one earner and 2 children under 11 will start to pay income tax at earnings of £245 per week. Additional help with child care is available to working families through the child care tax credit within WFTC. For example, a 2 earner couple on median earnings with 2 children and child care costs of £80 per week will gain £46 per week to this cost.

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VAT (Safety Helmets)

Mr. Wigley: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will remove VAT from safety helmets worn by (a) cyclists and (b) motorcyclists. [46702]

Dawn Primarolo: There is no VAT on safety helmets worn by motorcyclists. There is also no VAT on pedal cycle helmets designed for young children and not suitable for older persons.

Millennium Compliance

Mr. Evans: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what action (a) the Government and (b) the Bank of England are taking to assess whether they will be able to make their computers millennium compliant at the same time as making them euro compliant. [45453]

Mrs. Liddell: Government Departments have investigated the impact of the introduction of the euro on their operations. Where these occur steps are in hand to make the necessary preparations. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster carries out quarterly reviews across Government on the state of preparedness for the century date change. Copies of the returns from Departments have been placed in the Library. The Bank of England has been undertaking IT preparations necessary for both EMU and Year 2000 for over 2 years. It was decided at an early stage that where there was an overlap in EMU and Year 2000 work and, where it was practical to do so, the Bank would address both issues at the same time.

HIPC Initiative

Dr. Tonge: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what action his Department is taking after the G8 summit and the Foreign Ministers' Meeting regarding the HIPC initiative. [43725]

Mrs. Liddell: The Government will continue to work with other bilateral creditors and the International Financial Institutions to take forward the G8 decisions and to ensure that progress is made towards the Mauritius Mandate targets.

Rating and Council Tax

Mr. Caplin: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the outcome of the experiment involving the private sector undertaking work in the rating and council tax fields. [47413]

Dawn Primarolo: The 1995 Next Steps Review of the Valuation Office Agency recommended that experiments be held to establish the feasibility and capability of the private sector to undertake work in the rating and council tax fields. Experiments were held during a 12 month period beginning 1 July 1996 involving contractors in four locations (two performing functions related to council tax and two to non-domestic rating). The results were compared with control offices in the Valuation Office Agency. The experiments have now been evaluated and the conclusions are:



23 Jun 1998 : Column: 456

The Government have therefore decided not to take any steps at this stage to contract out rating and council tax valuation work. But if at any time they require valuation work which cannot easily or quickly be delivered within the capacity of the Valuation Office Agency they will look positively at involving the private sector.

I am very grateful to the private sector firms involved in the experiments for an effective example of public sector/private sector partnership.

Departmental Cash Limits

Mr. Derek Twigg: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what changes are proposed to the cash and running costs limits for Her Majesty's Treasury in 1998-99. [47550]

Mr. Darling: Subject to Parliamentary approval of the necessary summer Supplementary Estimate, the running costs limit for Class XVI, Vote 1 will be increased by £6,400,000 from £59,930,000 to £66,330,000 and the cash limit will be increased by £6,400,000 from £56,665,000 to £63,065,000. The increase will be charged to the Reserve and will not therefore add to the planned total of public expenditure.

The increases are necessary to provide for the costs of a new service providing information to business about the introduction of the euro in January 1999 and will be offset by foregoing the equivalent amount of unused end year flexibility carryover.

Pending Parliamentary approval of the Supplementary Estimate, urgent expenditure estimated at £1,400,000 will be met by a repayable advance from the Contingencies Fund.

WALES

Local Deprivation

Ann Clwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will prepare an Index of Local Deprivation, similar to the one introduced by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. [44967]

Mr. Hain: Welsh Office officials are working with the Welsh Local Government Association and other agencies to set up a joint project board to oversee the development of a new Index of socio-economic conditions for Wales. I expect this work, which will take into account the results of the review of the Index of Local Conditions in England, to be completed in about a year.

Further Education Funding Council

Mr. Wigley: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to make changes in the membership of the Further Education Funding Council for Wales prior to the establishment of the National Assembly. [46701]

Mr. Ron Davies: On 14 April I appointed 6 new members and re-appointed two existing members to the FEFCW. I am currently considering appointing one further member and will shortly advertise for a new Chairman to replace the existing incumbent, whose term of office expires next Spring.

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Departmental Cash Limits

Mr. Gareth Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what changes he is proposing to make to the voted cash limits for his Department in the current financial year. [47440]

Mr. Ron Davies: Subject to parliamentary approval of the necessary supplementary estimates, I intend to increase the cash limit on class XIV, vote 2 by £4,300,000 from £828,763,000 to £833,063,000 as a result of changes resulting from the Dearing review. The increase will be offset by a transfer from the Department for Education and Employment, class IX, vote 1 and will not therefore add to the planned total of public expenditure.

Welsh Assembly

Mr. Corbett: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what educational publicity campaign he plans to undertake, at what estimated cost, to inform electors of the new proportional voting system to be used for the election of the Welsh Assembly. [47140]

Mr. Ron Davies: I regret this information is not yet available. My Department will be undertaking an educational publicity campaign to explain the proportional voting system but the extent and cost of this campaign have yet to be decided.

DEFENCE

Royal Yeomanry and Queen's Own Yeomanry

Mr. Brazier: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when the Royal Yeomanry and Queen's Own Yeomanry last underwent the periodic REME examination of their vehicles; and if they passed. [45848]

Dr. Reid [holding answer 18 June 1998]: The most recent Royal Yeomanry Periodic REME Examination was conducted between August 1997 and February 1998. The last Queen's Own Yeomanry Periodic REME Examination was conducted between February and March 1998. The vehicles of both units were graded Satisfactory overall.

Mr. Brazier: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when the Queen's Own Yeomanry last carried out their annual gunnery grading; what result they got; and what were the comparable figures for regular armoured reconnaissance units. [45849]

Dr. Reid [holding answer 18 June 1998]: The Queen's Own Yeomanry last conducted a Gunnery Firing Period at Warcop over the period 16-20 April 1997. They carried out all the assessed firing exercises for Territorial Army Yeomanry and achieved a satisfactory standard. The standards laid down for regular armoured reconnaissance units are different from those set for the Territorial Army and therefore it is not possible to make objective comparisons.

Mr. Brazier: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what are the manning levels for officers and soldiers in (a) the Royal Yeomanry and (b) the Queen's Own Yeomanry. [45850]

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Dr. Reid [holding answer 18 June 1998]: The manning level of the Royal Yeomanry as a percentage of its own establishment is 89 per cent. for officers and 82 per cent. for soldiers. The Queen's Own Yeomanry has manning levels of 100 per cent. for officer and 92 per cent. for soldiers.

Mr. Brazier: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the total annual budget for personnel costs, including permanent staff, man training days and bounty, for (a) the Royal Yeomanry and (b) the Queen's Own Yeomanry; and what would be the equivalent cost of manning regiments of similar size and roles with regular soldiers. [45853]

Dr. Reid [holding answer 18 June 1998]: The total annual budgets for personnel costs for the Royal Yeomanry and the Queen's Own Yeomanry are £2.976M and £1.418M respectively. Comparable costs for regular regiments of a similar size and role are not available. However, the costs of paying regular and TA soldiers to perform a particular role for a given period of time are broadly comparable.


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