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Army Attributable Pensions

Ms Oona King: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a further statement on the mistaken taxation of Army attributable pensions. [53048]

Dr. Moonie: Since my statement to the House on 23 January 2002, Official Report, columns 891–902, the Armed Forces Personnel Administration Agency has been conducting a review to establish more clearly the exact extent of the problem with the mistaken taxation of service invaliding and attributable pensions. This work is not complete, but has revealed that some Royal Navy invaliding and attributable pensions awarded between 1973 and 1999 have also been mistakenly taxed. We will be reviewing all the case files of those who might have been affected and arranging for refunds to be made as appropriate. This will be done as quickly as possible but is expected to take some months given the need to review several thousand pension files. We will also be providing appropriate national publicity to allow those who think they might have a claim to apply for a tax refund.

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Our research has not so far revealed any cases where Royal Air Force pensions were wrongly taxed and there is evidence that the RAF has had in place checks which would have uncovered cases where attributable pensions should have been exempt from tax. However, we will include the RAF in our continuing work to ensure that no error is left unidentified.

Our further work to date has confirmed that the problem was more extensive than originally understood but has also shown the complexity of the issues involved as, over time, changes have been made to the organisations responsible for administering the pensions and to the rules governing the schemes. We have therefore concluded that we should set up an internal review, completely independent of the staffs involved, to establish the precise extent of the current problems and to expose any other problems that may exist. This independent review will look across all three sevices, be launched as soon as possible and is likely to take a number of months to complete. The review team will be headed up by a senior civil servant and consist of staff drawn from the Defence Internal Audit. In order to provide external confidence, the NAO will be invited to validate the procedures. I will report the findings to the House.

TRANSPORT

Car Sharing/Car Clubs

The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): I have written to Sir Trevor Chinn, the chairman of the Motorists' Forum, welcoming their report on car sharing and car clubs and enclosing the Government's response. The response outlines further support that the Government will give to work in this field, in particular:




Copies of my letter and the Government response have been placed in the Libraries of the House.

TREASURY

Public Service Pensions

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng): Legislation governing public service pensions requires public service pensions to be increased annually by the same percentage as State earnings related pensions (additional pensions). My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announced on 19 November 2002, Official Report, column 16WS that benefits such as additional pensions will be increased by 1.7 per cent., in line with the annual increase in the Retail Prices Index up to September 2002. Public service pensions will therefore be increased by 1.7

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per cent. from 7 April 2003, except those which have been in payment for less than a year, which will receive a pro-rata increase.

HOME DEPARTMENT

Drug Strategy

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): All controlled drugs are harmful and will remain illegal. Drug misuse is the biggest challenge society faces. It damages the health and life chances of individuals. It undermines family life, turns law-abiding citizens into thieves and erodes communities. It is essential that we educate the young about the dangers of drugs, prevent drug misuse, tackle the dealers to reduce the prevalence of drugs on the streets and reduce the harm drugs cause.

To address this, the Government has published its Updated Drug Strategy developed to take account of new evidence of what works and focus on delivery.

In 1998, the first cross-cutting strategy was introduced to tackle drug trafficking, supply and misuse. This update builds on the foundations laid and the lessons learnt. We must concentrate on the most dangerous drugs, the most damaged communities and the individuals whose addiction and chaotic lifestyles are the most harmful, both to themselves and others. Education, prevention, enforcement, treatment and harm minimisation are our most powerful tools.

Setting out a range of policies and interventions, the Updated Drug Strategy provides:








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Copies of "Updated Drug Strategy 2002 " have been placed in the Library. It is also available on the web at http://www.drugs.gov.uk.

CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT

New Radio Ownership Scheme

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): I have today deposited a copy of the draft Order and accompanying Explanatory Memorandum in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies have also been sent to the Radio Authority, the Independent Television Commission (ITC) and the Commercial Radio Companies Association. We welcome comments from anyone with an interest.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Fire Service

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): Today I have placed copies of a report produced by the COBR–Joint Assessment Cell report, entitled XIndustrial Action by the Fire Brigades Union. Contingency arrangements during the 8-day strike, 22–30 November 2002" in the Vote Office and Libraries of the House.

PRIME MINISTER

Chief Surveillance Commissioner

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I am today laying before Parliament the annual report for 2001–2002 of the Chief Surveillance Commissioner on the discharge of his functions under Part III of the Police Act 1997 and Part II of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. As required, under section 107(3A) of the Police Act 1997, after consultation with the Chief Surveillance Commissioner I can confirm that no matter has been excluded from the enclosed report.

I am most grateful to Sir Andrew Leggatt and his colleagues for the work which has gone into preparing it.