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Mr. Prentice: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he will commission research on the advantages and disadvantages of giving tax relief to cover the cost of private dental insurance for patients of dentists who have opted out of the NHS and where there is no alternative NHS dentist with an open list in the local primary care trust area. 
Mr. Timms: The Government are already discussing with the Commission and the European Court of Auditors how the annual Statement of Assurance may be improved to give a better assessment of progress. The Government also consider that it is important to continue to take an active role in promoting best practice in financial management and control in the Commission and in member states.
The Treasury takes the lead in negotiating EC annual and multi-annual budgets, as well as agreeing funding for new spending programmes, in line with UK priorities. The Treasury also leads in
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monitoring and reviewing the implementation of effective financial controls in the Commission and in member states to enable the budget to be spent appropriately and in accordance with the rules.
Mr. Brady: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of the level of fraud in the use of the EU budget in (a) the last year, (b) the last five years and (c) the last 10 years. 
Mr. Timms: Member States are required to report irregularities detected in the own resources, agriculture and structural funds budget sectors to the European Commission and the European Anti-Fraud Office. These figures are reported each year in the Commission's annual "Fight against Fraud" report. Reported irregularities may include suspected fraud cases, but the Commission does not identify the extent of fraud. Most irregularities are not fraud but genuine errors where the money paid out is usually recovered.
Mr. Brady: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what questions his Department has put to (a) the European Commission and (b) the European Court of Auditors during the last year regarding the Commission's accounting practices. 
Mr. Timms: Treasury officials have taken the opportunity to question the Commission on a quarterly basis at the Council's Budget Committee and on other occasions with particular reference to its progress with the implementation of new accounting procedures. They have been assured that progress is on target for the implementation of full accruals accounting with effect from January 2005. There has been no formal discussion with the European Court of Auditors on this issue.
Mr. Brady: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what representations his Department has made, since August 2002, to (a) the European Commission and (b) the EU Court of Auditors to ensure that UK funds have not been used inappropriately by EU institutions. 
Mr. Timms: Treasury officials played a major role in shaping the new Financial Regulation which now includes rules to govern the accountability of EU officials and requires the setting of "SMART" objectives (and the evaluation of their achievement) for all Community spending to ensure that the budget is spent appropriately. It also required the Commission to modernise its accounting practices. Officials continue to maintain close contact with the Commission and may assist in resolving specific UK issues. But while we maintain informal contact with the European Court of Auditors (ECA) on these issues, the ECA is prohibited under the treaty from taking instructions from any government.
Mr. Brady: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether his Department has raised concerns about the rate of turnover in senior accounting staff in the European Commission in the last three years. 
Mr. Brady: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the implications for the competitiveness of Eurozone countries of the strengthening of the euro against the US dollar. 
Sir Archy Kirkwood: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many complaints were received by the Financial Ombudsman Service in the latest period for which figures are available; how many of those cases were investigated; and in what proportion of cases investigated the complaint was upheld. 
Mr. Timms: In the financial year ending 31 March 2004, the Financial Ombudsman Service received a total of 97,901 cases and resolved 76,704 cases. This data and breakdown was published in June 2004 by the Financial Ombudsman Service in their annual review and report and financial statements, 1 April 2003 to 31 March 2004.
Sir Archy Kirkwood: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what plans he has to increase the (a) powers and (b) penalties available to the Financial Services Ombudsman to deal with building societies who provide inadequate services to those seeking mortgages. 
Mr. Timms : The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 established the Financial Ombudsman Service as an independent organisation to help resolve individual disputes between consumers and financial firms.The Financial Ombudsman Service has no powers to impose penalties against financial firms. This role is fulfilled by the Financial Services Authority, which may impose sanctions on firms, including building societies, which breach its rules.
Mr. Spring: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many advertisements for the new regime for General Insurance Regulation were placed in the national press by the Financial Services Authority in each month of 2004. 
The FSA ran two advertising campaigns advertising the new regime for General Insurance regulation in 2004. The first campaign, between late May and July, consisted of 15 advertisements in the
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national press and nine advertisements in selected trade press. The second campaign in October consisted of a total of 48 advertisements, in the national press.
Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the extent to which (a) the public and (b) banks and building societies have been made aware of the recent agreement negotiated by him for the release of sufficient assets of deceased individuals to pay inheritance tax on their estates in order to permit probate to be granted; and if he will make a statement on the steps taken to publicise that agreement. 
Dawn Primarolo: The Direct Payment Scheme was introduced on 31 March 2003 in order to help streamline the process for paying inheritance tax. The Inland Revenue worked closely on the design with the British Bankers' Association (BBA) and the Building Societies' Association (BSA) to produce a straightforward process. The scheme allows participating financial institutions to transfer funds belonging to a deceased person directly to the Revenue and eliminates the need for administrators to obtain funds from outside the estate in order to secure probate.
Members of the BBA and the BSA were given details of the scheme before it was launched. It was announced by press release and on the Inland Revenue website. Everyone dealing with a deceased person's estate who will need to pay IHT liabilities is given full details of the scheme and how to use it in the guidance notes they receive with their IHT return form. Callers to the Probate and IHT help line are also given guidance on the scheme when discussing payment of IHT. Information on the scheme is still available on the Revenue website at; http://www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk/howtopay/iht-direct-pay-scheme.htm.
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