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Capital Allocations

Mr. Kidney: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what action he intends to take to monitor the spending by Departments of their capital allocations. [130145]

Mr. Andrew Smith [holding answer 20 July 2000]: Capital spending is monitored by monthly returns from Departments to the Treasury. In addition, as part of the 2000 Spending Review, each Department has been asked to prepare Departmental Investment Strategies setting out their plans for allocating and managing future investment. These will be published in the autumn.


Office Costs

Mr. Baker: To ask the Prime Minister what has been the cost of his Office for each year from 1997 to date; and what is the estimated expenditure for 2000-01. [126504]

The Prime Minister [holding answer 20 June 2000]: Before coming to office the Government clearly set out its aim to have a strong strategic centre of government.

Since May 1997, some of the administrative burdens on my office have greatly increased. For example, extra staff have had to be employed to deal with over 500,000 items of correspondence received by my office in the last year--an 84 per cent. increase over the previous year. This compares with an estimated 25,000 items received annually five years ago.

The actual costs of my office were £6.9 million from 1 May 1997 to 31 March 1998; £8.7 million in 1998-99 and £10.4 million in 1999-2000.

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Pensions Ombudsman

Mr. Paul Clark: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he has undertaken a quinquennial review of the Pensions Ombudsman. [132478]

Mr. Rooker: The quinquennial review of the Pensions Ombudsman has been undertaken in accordance with the Government's modernising agenda. Copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

Social Security Leaflets

Mr. Rendel: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what omissions and ambiguities were found during the systematic review of the social security leaflets conducted between 1996 and 1999; and what changes were made to the leaflets in consequence. [131903]

Angela Eagle: We have carried out more than one systematic review of Social Security leaflets since 1996.

Between 1996-99, the Benefits Agency undertook a wholesale review of its customer information leaflets with the aim of making them much more customer focused. This piece of work involved primary research and continuous product testing, as well as consultation with key stakeholders. The leaflets were redesigned and the information within them laid out differently, but the core information was not altered.

In June 1999 a further review was commissioned to identify any erroneous information that needed to be removed or any information which was missing from our leaflets.

This exercise was completed in August 1999 and no major amendments were identified. There were a few minor changes made due to a combination of minor omissions and lack of cross-referencing. Revisions and future changes were also identified around JSA leaflets. These future changes being incorporated later in the year.

The Benefits Agency review resulted in the roll-out of a new suite of leaflets; fewer in number by a third, better targeted to client groups and easier for customers to negotiate their way around. Full evaluation of these new leaflets is in progress; all the early indications are positive.

Insurance Policies (Redemption)

Mr. Miller: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will list the circumstances in which his Department requires insurance companies to divulge redemption values of policies held by claimants. [132022]

Mr. Bayley: A person claiming an income-related benefit may be asked to provide evidence of the value of any capital asset. Depending on the type of asset this may be the face value, the market value or the surrender value. However, evidence would not normally be sought if it was clear that the value would be disregarded. For example, the surrender value of life insurance policies is fully disregarded. No evidence of surrender value would be needed in this case.

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West Coast Main Line

Mr. Pollard: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what action his Department is taking to ensure that Railtrack's plans for the West Coast Mainline upgrade provide sufficient train paths to make possible an expansion of existing commuter and freight services; and if he will make a statement. [130232]

Mr. Hill: The Rail Regulator and the Franchising Director are ensuring that the needs of all train operators using the West Coast Main Line (WCML) are met by Railtrack's plans for the provision of train paths. The Rail Regulator has issued an order requiring Railtrack to produce final plans and options for the WCML upgrade. In particular, he is seeking information about the extent to which these plans would meet the capacity commitments which Railtrack gave to the Rail Regulator in April 1998. The Rail Regulator also issued a consultation document on 20 June about reviewing the increased costs associated with the WCML upgrade as part of his periodic review of Railtrack's access charges. He is consulting widely on these costs, which have risen from the original estimate of £2.3 billion to a new figure in the region of £5.85 billion. These figures will be subjected to considerable scrutiny and discussion with the Franchising Director before the Rail Regulator announces his draft conclusions later this month.

Housing Investment

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what projection he has made of the level of housing investment in 2001-02; what the figure was in 1996-97; and if he will make a statement. [130484]

Mr. Mullin: Capital resources for housing investment in 1996-97 were £2.1 billion. Following the 1998 Comprehensive Spending Review, plans for 2001-02 were £3.1 billion and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on Tuesday that housing investment in 2003-04 will be £1.6 billion higher than now. Full details of the new spending plans for housing in 2001-02 to 2003-04 will be announced in the next few days.

Fuel Taxation

Mr. Brake: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what assessment he has made of the environmental impact of the relative costs of and levels of taxation on fuel products transported by (a) pipeline, (b) rail and (c) road; and if he will make a statement. [130716]

Mr. Hill: The Government have not undertaken a specific assessment of the environmental impacts or cost implications of the transportation of fuel products by different modes of transport. All fuel products are distributed from the refinery to the final consumer in the UK through a combination of pipeline, rail, road or ship, although the exact modes of transport used vary depending on where the fuel is refined and consumed.

21 Jul 2000 : Column: 350W

Lifecycle environmental analysis indicates that, regardless of the mode of transportation, the distribution of fuel products is only a small element of the overall lifecycle environmental impacts from fuel products, and the extraction, production and especially consumption of the fuel causes far greater environmental damage. The cost of distributing fuel products is also relatively low in comparison with underlying fuel prices, although the cost of distribution increases the further the consumer if away from a major fuel terminal which can be supplied by ship or pipeline.

London Underground

Mr. Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, pursuant to his answer of 3 July 2000, Official Report, column 84W, if he will specify the problems with the final trainborne element of the Automatic Train Operation signalling system; and if he will make a statement. [131366]

Mr. Hill: There are two faults which have developed: stopping inaccuracy and overrunning platforms. Almost all station stops are now to specification. Minor stopping inaccuracy no longer causes significant service delay.

The problems with ATO arise from the train failing to register the station properly and overrunning the station platform. Although this creates no safety risk, it causes disruption for customers and the timetable.

The Central Line should be fully ATO operational by the end of the year subject to HMRI approval.

Departmental Initiatives

Dr. Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will list each departmental initiative since May 1997 requiring bids for funding together with the total resources available, the number of successful bids and the proportion this represents of total bids received; and what data he collects on the average expenditure of organisations bidding for funding through each initiative. [131082]

Ms Beverley Hughes: I refer my hon. Friend to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary's reply of 17 July 2000, Official Report, column 93W.

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