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22 Oct 2002 : Column 213W—continued

Plastic Bag Levy

Lynne Jones: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has carried out of the levy on plastic bags introduced in Ireland. [75596]

John Healey: The Government keeps under review developments and experience of relevant taxes in other countries. The Government currently has no plans to introduce a plastic bag tax.

Digital Hearing Aids

Chris Grayling: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for what reason VAT is levied on digital hearing aids. [75626]

John Healey: There is no VAT on digital hearing aids supplied to patients by the NHS. The provision of a digital hearing aid by way of business involves two supplies for the purposes of VAT: hearing equipment, which is charged with VAT at the standard rate, and a dispensing service, which is exempt from VAT.

Long-standing formal agreements with our European partners mean that we are unable to change the existing VAT treatment for hearing aids.


Mr. Malins: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he is taking to reduce the levels of smuggling of heroin from Afghanistan. [75419]

John Healey: The UK is pursuing a number of initiatives to reduce the levels of smuggling of heroin from Afghanistan, ranging from building the expertise of Afghan counter-narcotics officers to gathering and sharing intelligence with law enforcement partners about all aspects of the trade along the smuggling routes.

Mr. Malins: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what discussions he has had with ministers concerning opium production in Afghanistan and its likely effect on the availability of heroin in Britain; and if he will make a statement. [75420]

John Healey: Regular meetings are held at both Ministerial and official level to discuss a range of issues concerning Afghanistan, including opium production, poverty relief, reconstruction and security sector reform.

Estate Sales

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what parts of the Customs and Excise estate have been sold, and to whom, since 1997; [75681]

Dawn Primarolo: The bulk of both Departments' properties was sold to Mapeley STEPS Ltd in April 2001 as part of a contract for the provision of serviced accommodation over a 20 year period. The number of properties sold to Mapeley STEPS Ltd by the Inland Revenue was 101 with a total area of approximately 387,000 square metres. The corresponding figures for Customs and Excise were 35 properties and an area of approximately 92,000 square metres.

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Other than the disposals in connection with the STEPS contract, no comprehensive central record of property disposals exists and one could only be reconstructed at disproportionate cost. But properties known to have been disposed of are:

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what part of HM Treasury estate have been sold, and to whom, since 1997. [75682]

Dawn Primarolo: None.

Online Tax Assessment

Mr. Simon Thomas: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will list which (a) software and (b) hardware is not able to access the Inland Revenue's online assessment forms. [75163]

Dawn Primarolo: As to (a), the Inland Revenue only has available information relating to the software that can be used. Customers can either use the Inland Revenue's own software ''SA Online'' or software provided by a third party supplier. A list of approved commercial software is available on the Inland Revenue Website.

The information sought under (b) is not available. The Inland Revenue is able only to advise what hardware is required to use the service. The service is compatible with the most popular hardware and software, and the Inland Revenue's requirements are in line with similar commercial products, such as Internet Banking.

Mr. Simon Thomas: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what proportion of online assessment users failed to send their information due to (a) technical incompatability or (b) website failure. [75164]

Dawn Primarolo: The information requested is not available.


Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what plans he has to act as an insurer of last resort in relation to employers' liability insurance and public liability insurance. [75851]

Ruth Kelly: None.

Personal Pensions Sales

Mr. Tynan: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many of the cases reviewed under the FSA Review

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of personal pensions sales have indicated a financial loss necessitating compensation; and of these, in how many cases the reviewing company has (a) recompensed that financial loss and (b) yet to recompense that financial loss. [76321]

Ruth Kelly: The FSA Review indicated financial loss in 1,099,907 cases. Of these 1,006,173 cases have been recompensed, leaving 93,734 yet to be recompensed.

Mr. Tynan: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many cases were reviewed and how many cases remain to be reviewed under (a) the Financial Services Authority Review of Personal Pensions Sales and (b) the FSA Review of Free Standing Additional Voluntary Contribution Sales. [76320]

Ruth Kelly: The latest information from the FSA is as follows:

Number of CasesPersonal PensionsFree Standing Additional Voluntary Contributions
To be reviewed41,0285,644

Pension Annuities

Lynne Jones: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many respondents to the consultation document on annuities put forward the suggestion for a money back guarantee on the purchase of pension annuities; and in what way the views of these respondents were reflected in the analysis of the responses to the consultation. [76340]

Ruth Kelly: Out of a total of 601 responses, 29 included comments on the idea of a money back guarantee. The summary of responses published on 18 July gave a broad picture of the consultation feedback. The complete set of responses was placed in the Library on the same date.

As indicated in the reply given on 18 July 2002 to the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger), Official Report, column 467W, any reforms to annuities will need to dovetail with simplification and other reforms being considered in the pensions Green Paper this autumn.

Income Tax

Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what his estimate is of the proportion of (a) total income tax and (b) all taxes paid by the top 10 per cent. of income tax payers by income for each year since 1980–81. [76294]

Dawn Primarolo: It would only be possible to provide a reliable answer at disproportionate cost. Some of the information is, however, available in table 2.4 of Inland Revenue Statistics which is available on Inland Revenue's website Estimates for some earlier years are also available in table 2.3 of the 1993 edition of Inland Revenue Statistics which is available in the Library of the House.

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ECOFIN Council

Mrs. Lawrence: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the outcome was of the ECOFIN Council held on 8 October; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if he will make a statement. [76605]

Mr. Gordon Brown: I attended the ECOFIN meeting on 8 October.

The Presidency and Commission gave an oral progress report on negotiations with third countries on the draft EU Directive on Savings. It was decided that the Commission should continue negotiations on the basis of its current mandate.

ECOFIN had an orientation discussion on the Presidency's proposed guidelines for an energy tax directive. The UK supported the Presidency's draft guidelines. ECOFIN will further consider the outstanding issues at its meeting on 5 November.

On streamlining of economic reform processes and the review of the Employment Strategy, it was agreed that ECOFIN would have a full discussion in November, on the basis of a joint report by the Economic and Financial Committee (EFC) and Economic Policy Committee (EPC).

Council held an orientation debate on the budgetary and financial aspects of enlargement ahead of the Brussels European Council on 24–25 October. Along with other Member States, the UK stressed the importance of enlargement taking place on a sustainable financial basis and the need for parallel progress on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, including degressivity of direct payments.

ECOFIN endorsed the Economic and Financial Committee's proposals on new arrangements for financial stability, supervision and integration. The proposals will now go for consultation with the European Parliament as well as industry and consumer organisations before adoption by ECOFIN in December.

Council adopted conclusions on Macro-Financial Assistance and approved an updated Common understanding on economic issues for Russia.

The Commission stated its intention to end the state aid exemption for aviation insurance from 31 October, and set out criteria for possible participation in a mutual insurance fund. The Presidency noted that any member state that wished to continue their state guarantee scheme beyond 31 October would have to apply for general state aid clearance in the normal way. The EFC will continue discussions on mutual insurance funds to inform future ECOFIN consideration.

At the UK's request, the Commission was asked to produce clarification for EU Ambassadors in COREPER on the scope for an EDF (European Development Fund) contribution to financing the shortfall in the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative.

No votes were taken at the meeting.

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