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6 Nov 2002 : Column 298W—continued


Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, pursuant to his answer of 15 July 2002, Official Report, column 65W, on inflation, if he will estimate the cost of measuring such differences; and if he will make a statement. [79516]

Ruth Kelly: The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician. I have asked him to reply.

Letter to Mr. Matthew Taylor from Len Cook, dated 6 November 2002:


Mr. Flight: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what proposals he has to encourage easier access to professional indemnity insurance for the Financial Services Authority in response to the recent recommendations from the FSA. [79710]

Ruth Kelly: Regulatory requirements relating to professional indemnity insurance are a matter for the Financial Services Authority, which is the single statutory regulator for the UK financial services industry.

In a press statement on 29 October 2002, the FSA announced technical changes to its rulebook regarding professional indemnity insurance.

Mr. Brady: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate his Department has made of the number of higher rate tax payers resident in each parliamentary constituency in the last 12 months. [79860]

Dawn Primarolo: A reliable estimate could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

6 Nov 2002 : Column 299W

Chartered Jets

Mr. Prisk: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, how much was spent by the Government in each year since 1997–98 on chartering business jets as a result of the RAF's jets in 32 (The Royal) Squadron being unavailable or unsuitable. [79463]

Mr. Alexander: I have been asked to reply.

Since 1999, the Government have published an annual list of all visits overseas undertaken by Cabinet Ministers costing #500 or more during each financial year. The list makes clear where private charter or RAF aircraft have been used. The Government have also published on an annual basis the overall cost of all Ministers' visits overseas. The costs include all Ministers' visits overseas undertaken by private charter or RAF aircraft. Copies of the lists and costs for the period 2 May 1997 to 31 March 2002 are available in the Libraries of the House.

All travel is undertaken fully in accordance with the rules set out in the Ministerial Code and Travel by Ministers, copies of which are available in the Libraries of the House.

Information in respect of travel by Ministers within the UK is not held centrally. However, the use of private charter jets within the UK would be expected to be exceptional.

Mr. Love: To ask Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer what evaluation he has made on extending the discretion to local authorities to charge the full rate of Council Tax on empty properties; and if he will make a statement. [77106]

Mr. Raynsford: I have been asked to reply.

An analysis of the responses to the consultation exercise is already available in the Library of the House and on the website of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I hope to be able to announce our decisions on the way forward shortly.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the effects of measures to allow sports clubs to claim council tax relief through becoming registered charities; and if he plans to amend these regulations. [79110]

Mr. Leslie: I have been asked to reply.

Sports clubs will normally be liable for national non-domestic rates.

The Charity Commission announced new rules allowing sports clubs to qualify for charity status in November 2001 and now recognise as charitable purposes certain sports related activities. Mandatory rate relief at 80 per cent. of the rates bill is available for all premises used wholly or mainly for charitable purposes. However, no assessment of the number of sports clubs that qualify for mandatory rate relief is available.

Non-profit making sports clubs that are not registered charities can receive discretionary relief from their local authorities. Sports clubs will also benefit from our proposals for small business relief included in the draft Local Government Bill.

6 Nov 2002 : Column 300W


Benefits Agency

Diana Organ: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) if he will make a statement on his plans for the jobcentres and benefits offices in the Forest of Dean; and what steps he will take to ensure that there will be sufficient resources to guarantee the effectiveness of jobcentre plus and the Pension Service in the Forest of Dean; [77113]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: We are currently taking forward one of the largest organisational changes in the history of the civil service. We are integrating the whole of the old Employment Service and the Benefit Agency's services for people of working age to form Jobcentre Plus whilst simultaneously launching the new Pension Service.

A key aim of the programme is to improve access to services providing active work-focused help to people of working age through Jobcentre Plus and an expert pensions advice service through The Pension Service. We are currently reviewing the facilities available to us to provide these services across the country. We are looking to make the most efficient use of these facilities whilst maintaining a high standard of service to all our customers. Both agencies are extending access to their services with, for example, the innovative use of new technology, the use of contact centres staffed by expert advisers, the extension of face-to-face services into communities and the sharing of facilities with our local partners such as local authorities.

In spring 2003 Bath Pension Centre is scheduled to take over benefit processing and the telephone advice service for the Gloucestershire area. Pensioners will still be able to meet an adviser face to face at local advice surgeries or by arranging a home visit. This will be backed up by local services delivered in partnership with local authorities and voluntary sector organisations. Pensioners will receive letters explaining the changes fully and giving them all necessary contact details.

The Coleford Jobcentre will be moving to new premises in the near future, as the current premises do not meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Jobcentre Plus are also considering moving delivery of Social Security services from Cinderford to this new Coleford office. We will be reviewing the delivery of Jobcentre Plus services as part of the roll out the new integrated offices throughout Gloucestershire by 2005–06. No decisions have yet been made on their location.

All of these changes will be managed so as to ensure that high quality public services can be maintained throughout the transition to the new arrangements.

Automated Credit Transfer

Paul Holmes: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what provisions he plans to introduce for disability claimants to claim their benefits via ACT. [79153]

6 Nov 2002 : Column 301W

Malcolm Wicks: From April 2003, the normal method of payment for benefits and pensions will be direct into bank and building society accounts (including the Post Office card account).

All customers, including those in receipt of disability benefits, will be supplied with information which clearly sets out their account options. They can choose the bank or building society account (including the Post Office card account) which best meets their needs and circumstances.

Paul Holmes: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on what date each disability benefit switches to payments via ACT. [79154]

Malcolm Wicks: From April 2003 the normal method of payment for benefits and pensions will be direct into bank and building society accounts (including the Post Office card account).

The Department will invite existing customers to convert to payment into an account on a benefit by benefit basis. The precise dates for inviting disability benefit customers are yet to be finalised. However current proposals are that customers in receipt of Invalid Care Allowance will start to be contacted in June 2003 and customers in receipt of Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance will start in August 2003. Customers do not need to take any action until they receive a letter from the Department about the change.

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