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20 Dec 2004 : Column 1402W—continued

Christmas Cards

David Davis: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) how many hours of staff time were taken up in preparation of Christmas cards in 2004; [205168]
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(2) how many Departmental staff have responsibility for preparing Christmas cards; [205169]

(3) what percentage of official Departmental Christmas cards included a contribution to charity in their cost; and which charities benefited from such a contribution; [205170]

(4) what the cost of postage was for official Departmental Christmas cards in (a) 2003 and (b) 2004; [205171]

(5) what the cost was of purchasing official Departmental Christmas cards in (a) 2003 and (b) 2004; [205172]

(6) how many official Christmas cards were sent out by his Department in (a) 2003 and (b) 2004. [205173]

Mr. Timms: It is difficult to disaggregate the staff time spent preparing and sending Christmas cards, but across the Treasury the costs are minimal.

The Treasury procures its Christmas cards from the charity Card Aid. A third of the price of each card (23 pence) goes to the charity. In 2003 the Treasury procured 12,700 cards at £11,640, excluding VAT, and to date in 2004 the Treasury has purchased 10,714 cards at £9,852. Those costs are exclusive of VAT and include printing, packaging and delivery. Information in relation to the cost of postage is not available.

Coal Mining

Mr. Foulkes: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what consideration he has given to fiscal incentives to assist the coal mining industry in (a) flue gas desulphurisation and (b) clean coal technology. [205050]

John Healey: The Government's approach to using fiscal instruments for environmental measures is set out in "Tax and the environment: using economic instruments" which was published alongside the Pre-Budget Report 2002 and available at–332kb.pdf. The Government consulted earlier this year on the development of a Carbon Abatement Technology Strategy and supports investment through the Cleaner Coal Technology Programme. The Government has no
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plans to introduce fiscal incentives for flue gas desulphurisation or clean coal technology, although these are kept under review.

Combined Heat and Power Schemes

Richard Younger-Ross: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, how much financial support has been directed to combined heat and power schemes as a result of (a) the enhanced capital allowances programme and (b) business rates exception in each year from 2001 to 2003. [205242]

John Healey: The amount of Enhanced Capital Allowances claimed on combined heat and power (CHP) schemes is not separately identified on tax returns. The estimated cost to the exchequer for the enhanced capital allowances for all energy saving equipment (including good quality CHP) introduced in 2001 is set out in Table A2.1 page 150 of the Financial Statement and Budget Report 2001. Business properties are generally valued as a whole and it is not possible to separate out the effect of business rate exemptions to CHP plants. This information is not routinely collected.

Departmental Costs

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the cost was of (a) in-house canteen and (b) other catering services provided by his Department in each of the last two years. [202494]

Mr. Timms: The cost of in-house staff restaurant and associated facilities was £183,165 in 2002–03 and £193,185 in 2003–04. My hon. Friend's reply on 9 April 2003, Official Report, column 270W to the hon. Member gave a cost for other catering services during 2001–02 of £198,048. Comparable figures for 2002–03 and 2003–04 are not available due to the introduction of a new accounting system. However, this information will be available for future years.

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he will list the equipment leasing arrangements entered into by his Department in each of the last two years; and what the cost is to public funds in each case. [202500]

Mr. Timms: Equipment under lease by the Department entered into within the last two years are:



Lease Start Date

Lease End Date
Estimated Annual Charge (£)
Xerox DC470STScanning/Photocopying/PrintingDecember 2003July 20055,276
Xerox DocucentreScanning/Photocopying/PrintingFebruary 2003July 20053,732
Franking MachinePostageJanuary 2004January 20101,500
Photocopiers4Scanning/Photocopying/Printing/Colour FinishingJune 2004
and Nov 2004
May 2007
and Oct 2007

Departmental Policies

Dr. Kumar: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will set out, including statistical information relating as directly as possible to the constituency, the effect on Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East constituency of his Department's policies since 8 June 2001. [206838]

Mr. Timms: The Government have put in place a radical programme of both macroeconomic and microeconomic reform since our election in 1997 to improve the economic performance of all parts of the UK. There is significant evidence that these policies have already yielded considerable benefits for the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland constituency. For example, since May 1997, claimant unemployment has fallen by over 50 per cent., and both long-term unemployment and long-term youth unemployment have fallen by 80 per cent. Looking more specifically at improvements since the 8 of June 2001, the beginning of our second term in government, claimant unemployment has fallen by a third, long-term
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unemployment overall has fallen by 50 per cent. and long-term youth unemployment has fallen by almost 40 per cent. In November 2002 2845 families were benefiting from the Working Families' Tax Credit; by January 2004 4000 working families were benefiting from more than the family element of Child Tax Credit, an increase of 41 per cent.

The Neighbourhood Statistics Service provides a wide range of statistical information at Parliamentary constituency level, taken from the 2001 Census and other sources. This service is available on the National Statistics website at http://neighbourhood.statistics.


Mr. Hood: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the outcome was of the ECOFIN Council held on 16 November; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if he will make a statement. [199751]

Mr. Gordon Brown: I attended ECOFIN Council on 16 November in Brussels.

The Council held a policy debate on the main issues raised in the review of the EU's Stability and Growth Pact (SGP). The Council requested the EFC to continue work on the following issues in light of the debate: Taking account of the economic cycle when using fiscal policy; better definition of the national medium-term budgetary objective; making the debt criterion more operational; improving the implementation of the excessive deficit procedure; taking structural reforms into account; and improving governance.

The Council welcomed the report by Eurostat on Greece's deficit and debt data for the period since 1997, in light of the recently revised data. Ministers stated their intention to return to the question of accountability and possible future action to prevent the re-occurrence of such an event, based on a Commission report. Ministers mandated the EFC to examine such a report closely and report to ECOFIN. Ministers will also assess the excessive deficit situation of Greece at the earliest opportunity based on a Commission recommendation. Ministers encouraged the Greek authorities to live up to their commitment under the excessive deficit procedure to take sufficient corrective measures.

The Council held an orientation debate on the Commission's proposals for modifying, under the EU's financial framework for 2007–13 period, the system of own resources for the financing of the EU budget and the mechanism used for the correction of excessive net budgetary imbalances by member states. There were no Council Conclusions. The Presidency noted that: a broad majority of delegations were in favour of the current arrangements but with some technical improvements, such as the idea of switching to a GNI-based system moving away from the current system based in part on member states' shares of a notional VAT-base; an overwhelming majority of delegations did not support the Commission's idea of introducing a new tax-based EU own resource; and that a broad spectrum of views were expressed on the Commission's proposal for the establishment of a generalised correction
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mechanism. I set out the Government's position on the Commission's proposals, noting that the expenditure proposals were unacceptable that the UK's position for a budget of no more than 1 per cent. EU GNI was clear and that the focus needed to be on what the EU spends its money on. I also stressed that the UK abatement remained fully justified.

The Council broadly welcomed the Report of the High Level Group chaired by Mr. Wim Kok. The Council agreed conclusions that stressed particularly: achieving higher growth and employment; reforms aimed at accelerating Europe's employment and productivity growth; political ownership and leadership; the central role of the BEPGs (Broad Economic Policy Guidelines) and of multilateral surveillance; and increasing accountability, for example through 'benchmarking'. The Council agreed the direction of the Lisbon strategy 'is right and imperative, but much more urgency is needed in its implementation'. The Council will closely examine the proposals to be presented by the Commission on the mid-term review, and invited the Economic Policy Committee (EPC), in this regard, to assist it in the preparation of its contribution to the 2005 Spring European Council. In this context, the UK highlighted the Wood Review and its messages for European Public Procurement.

The Council adopted conclusions without debate on financial integration and the review of the Lamfalussy framework. These conclusions highlight that the Council considers, on the basis of initial evidence, the Lamfalussy framework to have been successful in meeting its key objectives. The Council, on financial integration, concluded that 'all future legislative proposals be accompanied by thorough impact assessment'.

The Council took note of a presentation by the Commission of legislative proposals aimed at simplifying business obligations relating to value added tax. The Presidency indicated the Council should look broadly favourably at this proposal.

The Council reached a political agreement on a proposal for a Regulation on controls of cash entering or leaving the Community. The agreement was reached by qualified majority, with only the Italian delegation voting against. The Council decided to set at 10,000 euros the threshold above which individuals will be required to declare cash when crossing the EU's external frontiers.

The Council briefly discussed the issue of reduced rates of value added tax and agreed to re-examine the dossier at its meeting on 7 December.

The Council was briefed by the Commission and by the President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) on implementation of the European Action for Growth launched by the European Council last December.

A meeting also took place between EU Ministers and Candidate Countries (Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Turkey). Ministers discussed the structural challenges facing the Candidate Countries on the basis of an EPC report.
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Mr. Jimmy Hood: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the outcome was of the ECOFIN Council held on 7 December 2004; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if he will make a statement. [204722]

Mr. Gordon Brown: Jon Cunliffe, Managing Director of Macroeconomic Policy and International Finance, represented the UK at ECOFIN.

The Council took note of a report by the Commission on the issue of accountability as regards revisions by Greece of data it had previously provided for the assessment of its budgetary situation and of a report by Eurostat on the revision of the figures. The Council also took note of the Commission's decision to launch an infringement procedure as a practical consequence of its accountability report. The Council will return to the issues of how to improve the governance in the European statistical system early next year. Council agreed conclusions without debate.

The Commission and the European Central Bank presented the 2004 convergence reports on the economic performance of the 11 member states with a derogation from the Euro—this does not include the UK. The report included for the first time an assessment of the 11 new members states' progress towards adoption of the euro. The Commission noted none of the 11 member states with fulfilled the conditions for Euro entry. Council took note of this presentation.

The Presidency concluded that most member states thought the progress report on the EU's financial framework for 2007–23 was a useful contribution to the European Council, and that the building blocks broadly represented the range of member states' opinions. ECOFIN highlighted the need to respect national processes of fiscal consolidation in determining the EU budget for the next period, as well as the principles of EU value added, proportionality and solidarity. There was also a general view that the particular needs of the new member states should be fully taken into account, and that revenue would need to be part of the final overall package.

The Council took note of the presentation by Mr. Gijs de Vries, EU Counter- Terrorism Coordinator, of a strategy document prepared by the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy and by the Commission on prevention of the financing of terrorists and terrorist groups. The paper was approved and it was agreed to forward the document to the General Affairs Council with a view to the European Council meeting on 16 and 17 December. The strategy provides an overview of the EU's actions to date and a number of recommendations on how they might be further strengthened.

The Council agreed a general approach on a proposal for a Directive aimed at preventing the use of the financial system for the purpose of money laundering and terrorist financing. It asked the Presidency to engage contacts with representatives of the European Parliament with a view to enabling the Directive to be adopted in first reading.
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The Council agreed a general approach on two directives which will implement the Basel II Accord adopted by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision. The proposals modernise capital adequacy requirements for banks and investment firms, significantly improving the existing rules. The Council requested the Presidency continue contacts with representatives of the European Parliament in order to explore the possibility of adopting the directives in the first reading.

The Council agreed a general approach on a proposal for a Directive aimed at improving the reliability of company financial statements by establishing minimum requirements for the audit of company accounts. It asked the Presidency to engage contacts with representatives of the European Parliament with a view to enabling the Directives to be adopted in first reading. The draft directive introduce a number of provisions in order to better ensure independence amongst statutory auditors and audit firms.

The Council was briefed by the Presidency on the follow-up given to conclusions adopted at its meeting on 21 October regarding the potential burden on business of compliance with EU legislation and regulations. The six Presidency Initiative on Regulatory Reform was launched. This initiative spanning the Presidencies of Ireland, Netherlands, Luxembourg, UK, Austria and Finland, contains proposals to promote a better regulatory framework in the EU.

The Council examined a draft Directive aimed at changing the place of taxation to the place of consumption for business to business supplies of services. Discussion focused on the early entry into force of the Directive and on provisions relating to the long-term leasing of motor vehicles. The Council requested the incoming Luxembourg Presidency to consult further on these issues and to report back at a future meeting with a view to enabling it to reach an agreement.

The Council took note of the intentions of the Luxembourg and United Kingdom delegations to put forward suggestions concerning the organisation of work on the issue of VAT reduced rates during their forthcoming Presidencies. The Council also took note of the presentation by the Commission of a note on the issue.

Jon Cunliffe, Managing Director of Macroeconomic Policy and International Finance, represented the UK

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