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21 Nov 2002 : Column 277W—continued

Public-private Partnerships and PFI

Mr. Flight: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) whether his Department is reviewing the use of the Private Finance Initiative and public-private partnerships; and if he will make a statement; [81812]

Ruth Kelly: The Government keep all aspects of procurement policy under review in order to ensure that high quality public services are delivered on the basis of value for money.

Mr. Flight: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much of the off-balance-sheet borrowings funding projects on the Private Finance Initiative and public private-partnerships are (a) fully guaranteed and (b) effectively guaranteed. [81813]

Ruth Kelly: A full guarantee is in place in relation to the bonds issued by London and Continental Railways for the development of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. This represents a contingent liability of #3.75 billion and has been laid before the House.

No borrowings related to PFI and PPP are effectively guaranteed.

Mr. Flight: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many letters of comfort his Department has issued in association with the public private-partnership financing scheme. [81814]

Ruth Kelly: Details of all letters of comfort which fall within the definition of a reportable non-statutory liability in Chapter 26 of XGovernment Accounting" have been provided in minutes laid before the House of Commons. The exceptions are those cases where commercial confidentiality has required that they be reported in confidence in writing to the Chair of Public Accounts Committee.

Mr. Flight: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what checks and balances are in place to ensure that investment through public-private partnership and Public Finance Initiative offers value for money for the Government. [81815]

Ruth Kelly: This Government only uses PFI where there is a clear value for money case to do so. Specific procurement decisions are a matter for individual Departments concerned.

Mr. Flight: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) if he will make a statement on the Government's system for accounting for public-private partnerships and the Private Finance Initiative; [81811]

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Ruth Kelly: All Government liabilities are disclosed on the basis of openness and transparency. Independent auditors determine the accounting treatment for PFI and public-private partnership projects. The Government record all future PFI obligations in the Budget Red Book and reports to Parliament any contingent liabilities over #100,000.


Mr. Paul Marsden : To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many people committed suicide in each year since 1992. [82693]

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

Letter from L. Cook to Mr. P. Marsden, dated 21 November 2002:

Number of deaths from suicide and injury undetermined whether accidentally or purposely inflicted(17), persons, England and Wales, 1992 to 2001(18)

Calendar yearNumber of deaths

(17) The cause of death was defined using the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision (ICD-9) codes E950-E959 and E980-E989 excluding E988.8 for the years 1992 to 2000, and, for the year 2001, the International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision (ICD-10) codes X60-X84 and Y10-Y34 excluding Y33.9 where the Coroner's verdict was pending.

(18) Figures are for deaths registered in 1992 and for deaths occurring in each calendar year from 1993 to 2001.

Terrorist Funds

Mr. Wray : To ask Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer what progress has been made in co-operating with other European Treasury Departments in neutralising terrorist funds. [81063]

Ruth Kelly: As made clear in the recent joint Treasury/Home Office report XCombating the Financing of Terrorism: A Report on UK action", many of the measures to target, disrupt and cut off terrorist financing are taken at international level. The Treasury works in close cooperation with its European counterparts and others, including the financial services industry, to ensure the effectiveness of these measures in the fight against terrorism. EC Regulations have been introduced which require all EU members to freeze the assets of terrorists and those listed by the UN Sanctions Committee as associated with bin Laden, Al Qa'ida and the Taliban.

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Mr. Frank Field : To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what proportion of annuitants had annuitised over #100,000 of pensions savings in each of the last five years; and if he will estimate what the effect on annuity rates would be were the excess over #100,000 not annuitised. [82063]

Mr. McCartney: Estimates taken from data collected by the Association of British Insurers show that around 3 per cent. of pension funds used to purchase annuities in 2001 were #100,000 or larger.

Figures for earlier years are not available.

No assessment has been made of what the effect on annuity rates would be if people were not required to annuitise that proportion of their pension fund in excess of #100,000. The Government believes that, once any tax-free lump sum has been taken, the remaining funds built up in a pension fund should be used to provide an income in retirement.


Mr. Frank Field : To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much was spent on (a) contributory and (b) non-contributory benefits in the last 12 months. [82062]

Malcolm Wicks: Data on total expenditure on contributory and non-contributory benefits is included in the Department for Work and Pensions consolidated resource account.

Data on contributory and non-contributory benefits for 2000–01 was included in the Department of Social Security consolidated resource account published on 31 January 2002 (HC 491). The 2001–02 resource account is scheduled to be published on 31 January 2003.

Post Office Card Account

Mr. Hoban : To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what consultations have been carried out with benefit recipients on the advantages and disadvantages of (a) the basic bank account and (b) the Post Office card account. [82165]

Malcolm Wicks: We have discussed the changes widely with interested groups, who have been given an opportunity to comment on the information materials that will be issued to our customers. Our information campaign will take customers through the changes. Customers will be supplied with information which clearly sets out their account options (including the key features of each type of account) and enables them to decide which account best meets their needs and circumstances.

Mr. Hoban : To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the cost per transaction will be of paying (a) the basic state pension and (b) child benefit through (i) the basic bank account and (ii) the Post Office card account. [82166]

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Malcolm Wicks: The cost of making payments to the Post Office card account is less than 1p, as it is for basic bank accounts, however the Government pays additional costs to the Post Office for the provision of the Post Office card account services. These costs remain commercial in confidence.

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of (a) the likely take-up of the Post Office card account and (b) the cost to the Department thereof. [82170]

Malcolm Wicks: There is operating assumption that three million card accounts will be opened. The cost will depend on take-up which is itself dependent on a variety of factors including the numbers of benefit, pension and tax credit customers and the choices that customers make between different types of accounts.


Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to how many recipients of his initial letter regarding changes to the rules regarding inherited SERPs he plans to send a further letter of clarification following the referral of one such letter to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. [82277]

Mr. McCartney: Officials are currently finalising detailed plans in response to the Parliamentary Ombudsman's findings. However, we expect to be writing to around 500,000 individuals to offer further clarification of their SERPS position.

The background to this is that the Pension Service has sent out 5.1 million letters to people who will reach state pension age between 6 October 2002 and 5October 2010. This letter informed them of the changes to the rules regarding the inheritance of SERPS announced to the House by my predecessor on 29 November 2000 and subsequently approved by Parliament in March 2001.

This letter gave people the option of requesting a SERPS estimate, and by 16 November some 1,248,104 estimates had been requested.

This follow-up estimate letter was the subject of exhaustive drafting and an approval process that included the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) and outside bodies. One key complexity was around how to explain SERPS and its interaction with Contracted Out Deductions (COD).

However, it has come our attention that some people may have possibly misunderstood the estimate despite the caveat in the letter. This group may believe that they stand to receive their full SERPS without appreciating that if they have contracted out, their SERPS will be lower because of their occupational or private pension scheme.

We have therefore decided that officials should write again to all those people who have received an estimate letter and have some COD deductions except people who will reach pension age between now and 5 July 2003-they will get pre-retirement pensions claim material including full personal details of their new final entitlement.

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In addition we will continue the provision of the very successful Contact Centre, incorporating a helpline which has already dealt with in excess of 270,000 phone calls and 1.5 million pieces of post.

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