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Lump Sum Tax Payments

Mr. Gerald Howarth: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many taxpayers have arrangements with the Inland Revenue whereby in exchange for payment of a fixed sum of tax they are absolved from having to file detailed accounts and tax returns; how many of these individuals are British subjects; and if he will list the nationality of those who are not. [145788]

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many individuals were permitted to make an agreed annual lump sum payment to the Inland Revenue in lieu of submitting a tax return in the last financial year. [146006]

Dawn Primarolo [holding answer 17 January 2001]: The Inland Revenue has a small number of agreements of this sort, entered into at various dates since 1988, though none of the individuals concerned has been absolved from the general obligation to file a tax return. Whether an individual is a British subject, and the question of their nationality, are not features of the agreements which have been made. The policy in relation to these agreements is currently under review.

Special Advisers

Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if the special advisers working for him will relinquish their posts when the next general election is called. [149307]

Miss Melanie Johnson: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by the Minister for the Cabinet Office on 13 February 2001, Official Report, column 130W.

Select Committee Report

Dr. Harris: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what information he received on the contents of the Education and Employment Committee's report on access to higher education, and the proceedings of the Committee prior to the publication of the report. [150051]

Mr. Andrew Smith [holding answer 12 February 2001]: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer given by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for lifelong learning, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks) on 14 February 2001, Official Report, column 162W.

Ultra-low Sulphur Petrol

Dr. Cable: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he has taken since the March 2000 Budget to monitor changes in use of ultra-low sulphur petrol. [150113]

Mr. Timms [holding answer 13 February 2001]: The Treasury does not monitor changes in the usage of individual road fuels. However, figures are produced each month showing deliveries from refineries. The most

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recent figures for mid-January 2001 indicate that ultra-low sulphur petrol accounted for 47.8 per cent. of all petrol released in the UK.

Dr. Cable: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what representations oil refineries have made to him to have defrayed the additional production costs of low sulphur petrol; and what response he gave them. [150228]

Mr. Timms [holding answer 13 February 2001]: The Government receive a wide range of representations in the run-up to each Budget. These include representations from oil producers. All such representations were taken account of before announcing in Budget 2000 a 1p per litre reduction in the duty rate for ultra-low sulphur petrol.

Mr. Russell Brown: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what progress is being made on the introduction of ultra-low sulphur petrol in the United Kingdom [151634]

Mr. Timms: The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the pre-Budget report in November that the Government would reduce duty on ultra-low sulphur petrol (ULSP) on Budget day this year, in recognition of its environmental benefits, subject to consultation and it being widely available.

The Minister for Transport and I met the major oil companies on 21 February to discuss this issue. On the basis of that meeting, I am glad to say that we believe that the oil companies are on track to meet their target to supply ULSP nationwide at their retail sites by the end of March.

The Minister for Transport and I also met representatives of independent petrol retailers on 21 February. They operate over 5,000 retail sites across the country. Many are small businesses, often playing a vital role supplying rural and urban communities.

Although some independents are already supplying up to 50 per cent. ULSP, their representatives indicated that they anticipate that it could take independent retailers longer to complete the nationwide transition to ULSP than for the major oil companies, because of constraints on the capacity of UK oil refineries.

The independent retailers could move faster by increasing imports, but this might cause uncertainty in the wholesale and retail markets and would not necessarily be to the benefit of motorists.

The Government's objectives are to ensure that everyone should be able to share the environmental benefits of ULSP, and the benefits of the duty cut associated with it. It is in the whole country's interests that these objectives are achieved, and achieved as smoothly as possible.

Any decisions on actual duty rates will be taken and announced by the Chancellor in the Budget itself but, as a sensible measure that will be supported by independent petrol retailers to guarantee that all motorists would benefit from a cut in duty on Budget day, I can announce that the Government intend to match any reduction in duty on ULSP that is announced in the Budget with a reduction in duty on unleaded petrol for a temporary period until 14 June 2001.

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This will ensure that the introduction of ULSP across the country will happen in the smoothest way, and that car drivers--especially in rural areas supplied by independent petrol retailers--will be able to benefit from any duty cut that is announced in the Budget for ULSP. We want to match nationwide availability at the major oil companies with all motorists benefiting from any duty cut at independent stations too.

In this way we best achieve our aims set out in November--first, that the long-term benefits to the environment are achieved; secondly, that motorists would be able to benefit from a cut in petrol duty on Budget day; and thirdly, that the benefit would go to all motorists in all areas.

ECOFIN Council

Mr. Hood: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the outcome was of the ECOFIN Council held in Brussels on 12 February; and if he will make a statement. [150526]

Mr. Gordon Brown: I attended the meeting of the Economic and Finance Council of Ministers.

The Council examined and agreed Opinions on Stability and Convergence Reports for Denmark, Greece, France, Ireland, Italy, Austria and the United Kingdom.

The Opinion on the UK programme confirms that the UK is meeting its obligations under the Stability and Growth Pact and has delivered a sound, stable, macroeconomic performance. Government debt is one of the lowest in all member states, and the Opinion welcomes the sustainable long-term position of the UK's public finances. The Opinion also notes that the UK is projected to move into deficit in the medium term. I made clear to the Commission that this reflects the more than doubling of net investment announced in the 2000 Spending Review to promote the renewal and modernisation of the country's capital stock, and that financing this essential investment by borrowing is in line with the Growth and Stability Pact and the Government's fiscal rules.

The Council also adopted a Recommendation addressed to Ireland under Article 99 paragraph 4 of the Treaty establishing the European Community.

The Commission presented its report on the functioning of product and capital markets. The Council discussed a Presidency orientation document on the Broad Economic Guidelines. There was broad support on the need to press ahead with structural reforms and liberalisation of markets, particularly in financial services and network industries; and on the need to promote innovation and research and development. The Presidency will draft a key issues paper for the 12 March ECOFIN.

The Commission presented its Communication on E-commerce and Financial Services. The draft Directive on companies that manage common funds and unit trusts (UCITS) was referred back to the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the member states (COREPER) for further work.

Ministers confirmed their agreement to a proposed supplementary amending budget to allow for measures against BSE.

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Political agreement was reached on measures against euro counterfeiting and on the Presidency compromise proposal on derogations for excise duties under the mineral oils Directive.

Departmental Policies (Bristol, East)

Jean Corston: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will set out, with statistical information relating as directly as possible to the Bristol, East constituency, the effects on Bristol of his Department's policies and actions since 2 May 1997. [150556]

Miss Melanie Johnson: Bristol, East, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, is benefiting from the long-term action we have taken to build economic stability and secure high and stable levels of growth and employment. Since the general election, claimant unemployment in the constituency has fallen by 1,637, or 43 per cent., youth unemployment is down by 79 per cent., and long-term unemployment has fallen by 80 per cent.

Macroeconomic stability is being complemented at the microeconomic level by the Government's policies to ease the transition from welfare into work and to make work pay. To the end of November 2000, the New Deal for 18 to 24-year-olds had helped 1,229 young people in Bristol, East constituency gain valuable skills and experience--566 (46 per cent.) of whom had moved into employment. The Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC), introduced in October 1999, is helping to make work pay for low and middle income families. In August 2000, 1,700 families in the constituency were benefiting from WFTC.

The Government are also committed to developing policies which enable all pensioners to share in the country's rising prosperity. As a result of the recent pre-Budget report, all pensioners, including 15,500 in Bristol, East, will receive an above-inflation increase in the basic state pension from April 2001. Single pensioners will receive an extra £5 a week, and couples will receive an extra £8 a week. All pensioners aged 75 or over have also been entitled to a free TV licence since November 2000--including around 10,000 in Bristol, East.

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