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15 Jan 2004 : Column 861W—continued

Home Improvement Agencies

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what progress has been made on national coverage of home improvement agencies (HIAs); how this progress measures against the Government's targets for HIAs; and if he will make a statement. [148238]

Keith Hill: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has invited Supporting People administering authorities to bid for a proportion of the extra £2 million being made available from 1 April 2004 to restructure and to expand the Sector's current geographical coverage. Bids must be submitted to Foundations, the National Co-ordinating Body for Home Improvement Agencies, by 31 January 2004.

Mobile Phone Masts

Keith Vaz: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister when he last met representatives of the mobile phone industry to discuss siting of phone masts. [148208]

Keith Hill: I have not held any meetings with representatives of the mobile phone industry to discuss siting of phone masts. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) will be meeting representatives of the Mobile Operators' Association and the five commercial network operators on 19 January.

Somerset County Council

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how much funding was provided to Somerset County Council in (a) 2001–02, (b) 2002–03 and (c) 2003–04. [145764]

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Mr. Raynsford: The table gives details of revenue grants received by Somerset County Council as part of gross Aggregate External Finance (AEF) between 2001–02 to 2003–04.


Revenue Support Grant117,071112,197140,412
National Non-Domestic Rates120,178131,815133,669
Specific Grants within AEF(2)48,09045,98164,472
Total Central Government Support285,339289,993338,553

(2) Information on specific grants up until 2002–03 is taken from local authority outturn returns. For 2003–04, where outturn information is not yet available this is based on local authority budget returns.


The grants are on an unadjusted basis and may not be comparable between years, because transfers of function may have taken place.


Child Trust Funds

Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what measures his Department has taken to prevent investment companies offering child trust funds from offering reduced services to customers who do not invest the maximum sum permitted. [148666]

Ruth Kelly: Providers who want to offer child trust fund accounts will need to be approved by the Inland Revenue and will have to satisfy various conditions. All Child Trust Fund providers will be required to offer a stakeholder account. This will mean that a simple, low cost, accessible and risk-controlled account will be available for all. Full details of this and other conditions, such as the requirement for all children to receive annual statements, will be set out in the child trust fund regulations. We will publish draft regulations during the passage of the Child Trust Funds Bill, which is currently going through Parliament.

Ethical Financial Policies

Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assistance the Treasury offers local authorities in developing (a) ethical and (b) environmental (i) investment, (ii) banking and (iii) procurement policies. [145715]

Ruth Kelly: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), together with other Government Departments, offers assistance to local authorities in relation to these matters.

The standards of ethical conduct expected from members of local authorities in all areas are laid down in a model code issued by ODPM in November 2001.

Local authorities have wide discretion to determine policies on investment and banking. New guidelines on prudent investment practice will come into effect from 1 April 2004. These guidelines enable ethical and environmental considerations to be fully taken into account by local authorities.

Guidance on Sustainable Procurement has been issued by The Office of Government Commerce and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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Gift Aid

Mr. Wiggin: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) if he will make a statement on the withdrawal of Gift Aid from charitable membership; [147150]

John Healey [holding answer 12 January 2004]: Gift Aid is designed to promote giving to charity by individuals. It has delivered significant benefits to all fundraising charities. Donations to charities using Gift Aid are subject to rules governing the level of benefit that a donor can receive from the charity in return for a gift. If a gift exceeds these limits then Gift Aid cannot be claimed on the gift. However, under a special exemption introduced in 1989 and imported into Gift Aid as part of a wider reform in 2000, certain heritage and conservation charities are able to claim Gift Aid on membership subscriptions in the same way as they were previously able to claim tax refunds under Deeds of Covenant. Deeds of Covenant lasted for at least three years, meaning that a donor was required to have an ongoing commitment to a charity, but Gift Aid can apply to one-off donations as well.

A number of charities eligible for the special exemption are claiming Gift Aid tax refunds under so-called 'day membership' schemes. These schemes do not generate additional giving, but simply reclassify admission fees as donations on which Gift Aid is being claimed.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the pre-Budget report (Cm 6042) that the Government will amend the Gift Aid legislation to ensure that the special exemption applies as it was originally intended and not to these 'day memberships'.

This will mean that heritage and conservation charities will continue to benefit from the special exemption where a donor has an ongoing commitment to the charity, such as an annual membership, and these charities—like other fundraising charities—will continue to benefit from Gift Aid on other donations of money.

No estimate is available of the amount of money being claimed by charities which are taking advantage of this. Charities are not required to differentiate on their Gift Aid claims the amounts they are claiming for 'day membership' income from other amounts they are claiming. However, the purpose of this measure is not to raise revenue but to maintain a level playing field for all charities. It is unfair that some charities are claiming Gift Aid payments on what is in effect an admission fee when most other charities cannot.

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We will work closely with those charities affected to ensure that the change operates as intended and that the impact on them is minimised. The Government intend to announce final details of the changes in this year's Budget and introduce legislation in the next Finance Bill.


Mr. Tynan: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what recent discussions he has had (a) as part of the Paris Club, (b) with Gulf states and (c) with other states regarding the cancellation, reduction and rescheduling of Iraq's sovereign debt. [147530]

John Healey: The UK believes that Iraq's external debt is unsustainable and that creditors will need to agree a significant reduction through a clear multilateral process in order to restore Iraq to sustainability. This is likely to lead to the writing off the vast majority of Iraq's external debt. The UK would like to see this agreed by creditors before the end of 2004.

The UK welcomed the success of the US Presidential Envoy, James A. Baker III, in creating a G7 consensus on the need for substantial debt reduction for Iraq in the Paris Club during 2004.

The UK frequently discusses Iraq's debt problems with international partners and with international financial institutions, including discussions in the Paris Club, with the aim of broadening and deepening the emerging international consensus.

Public Sector Pensions

Mr. Laxton: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment his Department has made of the level of the Government's public sector pensions liability. [148317]

Ruth Kelly: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave him on 14 January 2004, Official Report, column 816W.

Tax Credits

Mr. Webb: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer pursuant to the letter of 2 December 2003 from the Paymaster General to the hon. Member for Northavon, on tax credits compensation, how many claims for compensation were submitted to the Inland Revenue up to the end of September 2003; and what the (a) minimum and (b) maximum compensation payments were that were made. [147991]

Dawn Primarolo: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Sir Archy Kirkwood) and the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) on 19 November 2003, Official Report, column 1100W.

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