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13 Feb 2003 : Column 947W—continued

Written Questions

Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) how many named day written parliamentary questions tabled between 15 October 2002 and 5 February 2003 received (a) a substantive answer on the named day and (b) a holding answer; [97816]

Ms Blears: The Department received 803 named day written parliamentary questions between 15 October 2002 and 5 February. 258 were answered by the day named, 13 have yet to be answered, and 532 have been replied to substantively after being given a holding answer. The further breakdown requested is shown in the table.

Interval (in calendar days after the holdinganswer) within which the substantive answerwas givenNumber of PQs
Over 2846


Anglo-French Aircraft Carrier

Mr. Gerald Howarth: To ask the Prime Minister, pursuant to his announcement in Le Touquet, how his plan for France and the United Kingdom to have one aircraft carrier permanently available will work in practice. [97177]

The Prime Minister: The United Kingdom already maintains at least one of its three aircraft carriers (CVS) available for operations at any time.

One of the aims of closer UK-French carrier co-operation is to maximise the availability of aircraft carriers from European nations. The two countries intend to achieve this by exploring mechanisms for harmonising activity cycles. For example, it would be sensible to ensure that major maintenance periods were planned, where possible, so that the maximum number of assets (both hulls and air groups) could be available at any one time.

A series of joint working groups will explore how best to achieve this aim. These discussions, which have already begun, are expected to continue as the new UK and French carriers are brought in to service.

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Nick Harvey: To ask the Prime Minister (1) what have been the running costs of Chequers in each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement; [95527]

The Prime Minister: Chequers was established under the Chequers Estate Acts 1917 and 1958 and is administered by independent trustees who receive an annual grant from public funds towards its maintenance and to cover civilian staff employed at Chequers in accordance with the Acts. In the last five years the grant has been:


The Government have agreed to contribute 50 per cent. of the cost of a new roof at Chequers and the grant from 1998–99 onwards includes £50,000 per annum towards the roof fund. The grant for 2001–02 includes £25,000 towards urgent heritage repairs.

The Government also pay for service staff stationed at Chequers. Over the same period expenditure-net of VAT refunds-has been:


Responsibility for staff at Chequers rests with the administrative trustees of the Chequers trust. The annual grant is not a fixed percentage of running costs. As a private trust the accounts are confidential.

My family and I have used Chequers in a variety of ways, both official and private, consistent with the wishes of the donor, Lord Lee, and the Chequers Estate Acts.

Union Celebrations

Mr. Swire: To ask the Prime Minister what plans he has to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the union of England and Scotland in 2007. [94270]

13 Feb 2003 : Column 949W

The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Member to the answers given to him by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport today.


Child Poverty

Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will set a universal indicator of child poverty to be used by the Government. [94637]

Malcolm Wicks: We launched Measuring child poverty: a consultation document in April 2002. We will publish preliminary conclusions from the consultation in the spring. Further technical work, with experts in the field will be necessary before finalising the detail of any new measure.

Child Support, Pension and Social Security Act

Mr. Malins: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how much money in total has been withheld by way of retention or kept back by way of deprivation in relation to orders made pursuant to sections 62 to 66 of the Child Support, Pension and Social Security Act 2000; and what the total administrative costs incurred through such orders are; [91012]

Malcolm Wicks: The community sentence and benefits measures aim to encourage greater compliance with community orders. Therefore, sanctions only apply when people receiving the relevant benefit do not comply with their orders. The provisions were introduced in four pilot areas from 15 October 2001. A full and independent evaluation is being conducted which will inform any decision on future national implementation.

As at 15 January 2003, the cost to the Department of administering the Community Sentences and Benefits pilots running in four Probation Service areas was £403,736, of which approximately £262,000 relates to one-off start-up costs, including changes to the national computer systems.

Information on the total money withheld as a result of benefit sanctions following a breach of community order is not available. Information of the number of people who have lost benefit as a result of breaching their community orders, and the average weekly loss of benefit, is in the table. The figures for the average loss of weekly benefit should be used only as a guide to loss of benefit for individual offenders.

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BenefitNumber of individualsAverage weekly loss of benefit (£)
Income Support23015.28
Jobseeker's Allowance320(27)48.29

(27) After having a sanction imposed, 90 people have made successful hardship claims. This reduces the amount of benefit they have lost. If these hardship claims are taken into account, the average overall reduction in benefit is £33.19 per person per week.


1. Data are based on clerical returns received at the DWP Information Centre by 13 January 2003, and relate to the period from 15 October 2001 to 6 December 2002.

2. Average weekly loss of benefit has been calculated on an individual recipient basis using the Jobseeker's Allowance payment system (JSAPS) and the income support computer system (ISCS).

3. There are four probation service pilot areas: Derbyshire, Hertfordshire, Teesside and West Midlands.


DWP Information Centre: CS Stats forms 1 and 2 (Withdrawal of Benefits Pilot).

Pensions (Protected Rights)

Geraldine Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions under what circumstances a member of a pension scheme can benefit from the protected rights part of the pension fund before the age of 60. [97319]

Mr. McCartney: The only circumstances in which a member can benefit from the protected rights part of their pension fund before age 60, is where the trustees or managers of an occupational scheme are satisfied that the member has a life expectancy of 12 months or less. However, the Green Paper, "Simplicity, security and choice: Working and saving for retirement" (Cm 5677) published on 17 December 2003, includes a proposal to lower the age restriction on protected rights so that they may be taken at the same time as other rights. On the same date, the Government published "Simplifying the taxation of pensions: increasing choice and flexibility for all" which proposes to extend to personal/stakeholder pensions the provision allowing benefits to be taken early in the case of serious ill health.

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