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26. Mr. Townend: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of the cost to the United Kingdom Government of conversion from sterling to the euro. [61772]

Ms Hewitt: The cost of the changeover should the UK decide to join the euro would depend on the manner in which businesses and other organisations were to approach the changeover and the extent to which organisations had incorporated euro compatibility into investment decisions before joining.


28. Mr. Boswell: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what recent consultations he has had with his European Union counterparts on the co-ordination of taxation policies. [61774]

30. Mr. Loughton: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what discussions he has had with EU finance ministers on the subject of EU tax harmonisation. [61776]

Mr. Hood: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what was the outcome of the ECOFIN Council held in Brussels on 1 December; and if he will make a statement. [62329]

Dawn Primarolo: The Chancellor attended the Economic and Finance Council--ECOFIN--of the European Union in Brussels on 1 December. I accompanied him. ECOFIN was followed by a joint meeting of ECOFIN and the Social Affairs Council.

I, as Chair of the Code of Conduct Group, presented the Group's first interim report to ECOFIN. The Council took note of the report, endorsed the further work and asked the Group to endeavour to complete its work as rapidly as possible. Commissioner Monti gave a brief presentation of the Commission's combined first annual report on the implementation of the Code of Conduct for Business Taxation and fiscal state aid and a progress report on the work concerning the taxation of income from savings and a common system of taxation from interest and royalty payments between associated companies.

The Council noted a presentation by Commissioner Van Miert on the Commission's Communication on the application of state aid rules to direct tax measures.

The Commission put forward a draft mandate for a study on company taxation which was not agreed.

Commissioner Monti requested that ECOFIN consent to the Commission and the Presidency Troika initiating exploratory talks with third countries on the external dimension of the taxation of savings. ECOFIN agreed the mandate.

The Presidency proposed that the Financial Questions Group continue its discussions on a framework for energy taxation based on the Commission's draft Energy Products Directive. This was agreed by the Council, with a view to the Council being able to assess the prospects for such a framework by May 1999.

The Presidency put forward a draft progress report entitled "Reinforced tax policy co-operation". The agreed report will be submitted to the Vienna European Council.

10 Dec 1998 : Column: 298

The Council agreed a report to the Vienna European Council on Agenda 2000.

ECOFIN discussed the Stability Programme of the Netherlands and the Convergence Programme of Denmark. The Council adopted opinions on these programmes.

ECOFIN agreed that the Commission would adopt on 9 December a proposal that allowed for only very limited access for credit institutions in Monaco to the French payments system. France is to discuss this measure further with the European Central Bank and the Commission.

The Council agreed a report to the European Council on the external representation of the euro area. The Council also agreed a report taking forward initiatives to reform the international financial institutions.

The composition and statutes of the Economic and Financial Committee were agreed.

ECOFIN agreed a statement on facilitating the reconstruction efforts in Central America following Hurricane Mitch.

The abolition of intra-EU duty free shopping on 30 June 1999 was raised. Several Member States asked that this decision be looked at again. The request did not achieve the necessary unanimous support of Member States. The Presidency concluded that no further action would be taken.

At the joint meeting of ECOFIN and the Social Affairs Council, agreement was reached on the Joint Employment Report and on amendments to the 1999 Employment Guidelines. Both texts will be sent to the Vienna European Council. The Chairman of the European Investment Bank gave a report on the progress made in implementing the programme agreed at the Luxembourg jobs summit.

European Economy

31. Mr. Alan W. Williams: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on progress toward the co-ordinated expansion of the European economy. [61777]

Ms Hewitt: Articles 103 and 104c of the Maastricht Treaty provide a basis for coordination and surveillance of budgetary and economic policies in EMU. The Government believe that growth and high employment in the EU will be best served by policies which promote economic stability and improve the performance of labour, product and capital markets. As part of this process, Member States are currently submitting Progress Reports on Product and Capital Markets which will be discussed in the new year.

Balance of Payments

32. Mr. Spring: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the balance of payments. [61779]

Ms Hewitt: A small current account deficit is expected this year, and the Pre-Budget Report shows that, as a proportion of GDP, it is forecast to remain modest by historical standards over the next few years.

10 Dec 1998 : Column: 299

VAT Village Halls

33. Mr. David Heath: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on his policy with regard to VAT reclamation by parish councils on building projects undertaken by village hall committees. [61780]

Dawn Primarolo: A parish council is not entitled to recover VAT incurred by a village hall committee. However, where a parish council owns, or is the sole trustee of, a hall and it incurs VAT in respect of works to the hall, this is normally recoverable. In addition, VAT may be recoverable where a parish council uses its own resources to undertake work to other halls.

Economic Stability

34. Dr. Desmond Turner: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what measures he has taken to ensure economic stability. [61781]

Ms Hewitt: We have put in place new frameworks for monetary and fiscal policy, and have taken tough action to deliver low inflation and sound public finances. These are essential for economic stability and sustainable growth.

Pension Mis-selling

36. Mr. Swayne: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement about the role of independent financial advisers in respect of pension mis-selling. [61783]

Ms Hewitt: I refer the hon. Gentleman to my statement of 5 November 1998, Official Report, column 685.

Monetary Policy Committee

Dr. Lynne Jones: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Monetary Policy Committee. [61767]

Ms Hewitt: The task of the Monetary Policy Committee is to set short-term interest rates to meet the Government's inflation target. The success of the new monetary framework is demonstrated by the fact that inflation is at its target, long-term interest rates are currently at their lowest level for over 35 years and inflation expectations have fallen.

Debt Relief (Honduras and Nicaragua)

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what discussions he has had with the Governments of Honduras and Nicaragua regarding debt relief; what steps he has taken to secure debt relief for those countries; and if he will make a statement. [61773]

Ms Hewitt: The UK has already written off all of its aid loans to Honduras and Nicaragua. Last month, the Chancellor and Secretary of State for International Development called on the International Financial Institutions to look at mechanisms that could mitigate the debt service burdens on Honduras and Nicaragua and announced a £10 million contribution to a multilateral Trust Fund to help meet debt service payments to the IMF and World Bank.

10 Dec 1998 : Column: 300

Employment Statistics

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will list the quarterly levels and changes in the United Kingdom employed labour force since 1990, identifying separately (a) employees in employment, (b) armed forces and (c) self-employment, with a breakdown of these categories by (i) full-time and part-time and (ii) sex. [62308]

Ms Hewitt: The information requested falls within the responsibility of the Director of the Office for National Statistics. I have asked him to reply.

Letter from Tim Holt to Mr. Mike Hancock, dated 10 December 1998:

    The statistics you have requested (where available) can be accessed via the Central Shared Database (CSDB) in the House of Commons Library.

    Figures for males and females are available for Employee jobs (the new name for employees-in-employment), Self-employment jobs and HM Forces in the United Kingdom. However, a full-time and part-time breakdown is only available for the Employee jobs component, and only from December 1992.

    When accessing the database you will need to know the CSDB 'identifiers' for each of the series of figures sought. These are as follows:

    Male Full-time Employee jobs: YEJN

    Male Part-time Employee jobs: YEJO

    Female Full-time Employee jobs: YEJP

    Female Part-time Employee jobs: YEJQ

    Male Self-employment jobs: YEJR

    Female Self-employment jobs: YEJS

    Male HM Forces: YEJT

    Female HM Forces: YEJU

    These estimates are subject to revision after 16th December 1998, when the short-term estimates will be benchmarked against the Annual Employment Survey (AES) results for September 1997. You may also wish to know that these figures are published in table B.11 of Labour Market Trends each month--copies of which are placed in the House Library.

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