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Student Loans

18. Mr. Illsley: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the future of student loans. [11347]

Mr. Andrew Smith: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills announced in October that she is leading a review of student funding. This will examine the appropriate balance between the contribution made by students, their families and the state to support our ambitions to widen access and participation in higher education.

Banking Services

19. Dr. Cable: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what progress has been made in implementing the findings of the Cruickshank report on UK banking. [11348]

Ruth Kelly: There have been three recent developments.

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First, the Julius Review Group published in July its report reviewing the banking codes. The Government are now considering the response of the industry to the report's recommendations.

Second, the Government published their response to consultation on competition in payment systems in August. The Government will bring forward legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Third, the Competition Commission reported to the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in October with the findings of its inquiry into the provision of banking services to small and medium sized enterprises. The Government are considering these findings.

Tax and Benefit Integration

20. Roger Casale: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what further plans he has to integrate the tax and benefit systems. [11350]

Dawn Primarolo: The Government are committed to further integration of the tax and benefit system to tackle poverty and to promote incentives to work and save.

Over the last Parliament a number of reforms were introduced, including the introduction of the Working Families Tax Credit, the Children's Tax Credit and the Minimum Income Guarantee for Pensioners.

In the next stage of reform, the Government intend to introduce a new system of tax credits from 2003 which will help to support families, make work pay and tackle child poverty.

The Pension Credit, also introduced from 2003, will help reward saving, support pensioners on low to modest incomes and tackle pensioner poverty.

NHS Investment

22. Mr. Russell Brown: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what representations he has had from health professionals in the NHS on public investment in health services. [11352]

Mr. Andrew Smith: I am always interested in the views of health service professionals and receive regular representations on a range of public service issues.

Discount Rate

23. Mr. Burnett: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for what reason the Treasury discount rate is set at 6 per cent. in real terms. [11353]

Mr. Andrew Smith: The discount rate is based on several factors, including the cost of public sector capital and the estimated rate of social time preference. The 6 per cent. rate currently recommended was set in 1989 and was derived from the evidence then available. A review is currently under way of the project appraisal and capital appraisal system to ensure it embodies best practice in present circumstances.

27. Paul Holmes: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what recent analysis his Department has undertaken of the influence on the relative values of public sector comparators and public-private partnership costs of changing the discount rate. [11359]

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Mr. Andrew Smith: The project appraisal and capital approval system used in government is currently under review. However, the rationale for any change in the discount rate would have implications for other parts of the appraisal process, so the overall effect would depend on a combination of these factors.

September 11

24. Mr. Khabra: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he is taking to minimise the impact of the terrorist attacks on 11 September and the bombing of Afghanistan on the British economy and business confidence; and if he will make a statement. [11354]

Ruth Kelly: The Government will publish forecasts for the UK economy and the public finances in the forthcoming pre-Budget report, taking into account all developments and influences on prospects.

29. Tim Loughton: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what revisions he has made to his estimates for economic growth and tax revenues in 2001–02 and 2002–03 following the events of 11 September. [11361]

Ruth Kelly: The Government's latest forecasts for the UK and world economies and the public finances were published in "Budget 2001" (HC279). Updated forecasts will be presented as part of the forthcoming pre-Budget report.


25. Mr. Kidney: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what recent assessment he has made of the competitiveness of the UK economy in terms of productivity. [11355]

Mr. Boateng: The Government make regular assessments of UK competitiveness and productivity and are committed to increasing UK productivity at a faster rate than that of their major competitors. Budget 2001 gave the most recent assessment of UK productivity, and Government policy in this area was set out in "Productivity in the UK: Enterprise and the Productivity Challenge", published in June this year. The forthcoming pre-Budget report will provide a further update on UK productivity relative to our main competitors.

Public-private Partnerships

26. Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what recent representations he has received from interested organisations regarding public-private partnerships. [11357]

Mr. Andrew Smith: Treasury Ministers receive representations from various organisations and individuals on a wide range of issues.

28. Mr. Francois: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the viability of future public-private partnership schemes. [11360]

Mr. Andrew Smith: The Government's approach to public-private partnerships was set out in the Treasury document, "Public-private partnerships: the Government's approach", published in March 2000.

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Public Services

30. Mr. Challen: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on what recent measures he has taken to promote the improvement of public services. [11362]

Mr. Andrew Smith: The Government's prudent stewardship of public finances since 1997 has made it possible to provide unprecedented levels of investment for key public services. £43 billion of additional funding has been allocated to Departmental Expenditure Limits by 2003–04. Three quarters of these increased funds will be spent in the Government's priority areas of health, education, transport, housing and law and order. This investment in public services is tied to commitments by Departments to deliver improved service standards and key reforms, the targets for which are set out in their public service agreements.

Housing Market

31. Mr. Edwards: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the impact of the level of interest rates on the housing market. [11363]

Ruth Kelly: In August this year mortgage rates averaged 6.0 per cent. This compares with an average of over 11 per cent. during the period 1979–97. As a result, mortgage interest payments on the average mortgage are now over £1,500 a year lower than if interest rates were still at the levels seen from 1979–97.

Regional Development Agencies

32. Mr. Ben Chapman: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what recent research he has commissioned on the impact of his policies on the economic plans of the Regional Development Agencies. [11365]

Mr. Andrew Smith: The Regional Development Agencies are key to meeting economic development challenges faced at the regional level. To support their objectives, the RDAs need a stable national macroeconomic environment in which to operate, which we have provided through the national framework of macroeconomic reforms and policies we have implemented since 1997. Within that framework, we have also given RDAs the flexibility and autonomy they need to address regional priorities and deliver economic growth within and between every region.

To understand more fully the regional impact of national policies, and to ensure that the economic plans of the RDAs can best work within them, the Treasury is supporting through the Evidence-Based Policy Fund a research project, led by DTLR, to identify public expenditure flows into the regions. This project is due to be completed early in 2002.

Single European Currency

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the Government's plans to hold a referendum on joining the single European currency. [11346]

Ruth Kelly: The Government's policy on membership of the single currency remains as set out by the Chancellor in October 1997 and restated by the Prime Minster in

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February 1999. The Government have said they will complete an assessment of the five economic tests within two years of the start of this Parliament. Once the assessment has been completed, the Government will make a decision on UK membership of the single currency. If the Government recommend UK entry, it will be put to a vote in Parliament and then to a referendum of the British people.

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