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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 26 May 2005


Regulatory Impact Assessment

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Hutton): The Government are committed to ensuring that regulations are necessary, give effective protection, balance cost and risk, are fair and command public confidence.

In accordance with this, we require Departments to produce and publish RIAs for all regulatory proposals likely to have an impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies.

I have today presented to Parliament a Command Paper [Cm 6552] listing RIAs published between 1 July and 31 December 2004. Copies of those listed have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. This is the 22nd such Command Paper.


Electoral Administration Policy Paper

The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Harriet Harman): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has made the following written ministerial statement in the other place today, 26 May 2005.


Digital Screen Network

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (James Purnell): I am pleased to inform the House that the UK Film Council has today announced the 209 cinemas that will be part of its £11.7 million lottery funded digital screen network.
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This digital screen network is a world first that puts the UK at the forefront of digital cinema technology. In return for digital projection equipment, cinemas have committed to the showing of more specialised, non-mainstream, films. The result will be an additional 75,000 specialised film screenings in the first full year of the initiative, rising to 165,000 in year four. The digital screen network will ensure that people right across the UK, and not just those in the major cities, will be able to access a broader range of films.

This initiative is in addition to the UK Film Council funding of £2 million a year to support the distribution of specialised films and the £1 million already spent to ensure that more cinemas are able to show films in formats accessible to cinemagoers with sensory disabilities.


Tax Credit Over-payments

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo): Today over 6 million families and 10 million children are benefiting from tax credits. The tax credits introduced in April 2003 are more generous and more inclusive than any previous system of income-based financial support.

The introduction of a system of tax credits has been a huge undertaking. For the vast majority of families the new system is working well, providing important advantages over previous systems of support. In particular, the new system is more responsive than previous "snapshot" systems: it allows awards to be adjusted in-year when a family's income or other circumstances change.

I am determined that the tax credit system will do the job it was designed for—to deliver to all families the financial support they are entitled to, providing the right amount of support at the right time. However, at the point when the new tax credits were introduced, problems arose affecting a small proportion of families. Many Members have raised specific cases with me and there has been much discussion and debate in the House, most recently in the Westminster Hall debate that I was unfortunately unable to attend due to illness. I am, therefore, taking this opportunity to provide the House with an update on the steps that HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is taking to address these problems.

It is now well known that in the early months of 2003–04 the Inland Revenue encountered serious problems with the new IT system, resulting in over-payments and other difficulties. Some families have also found the information provided to them on the status of their awards unclear, which has made the process more difficult.

In response to these challenges I have agreed with David Varney, the chairman of HMRC, that HMRC will take a series of important steps to improve the administration of tax credits. The Department has been working hard with its new IT contractor to improve the performance of the tax credits IT system. The accuracy with which tax credits information is processed is improving. Officials have been working closely with representative bodies, for example, to improve the clarity of the information provided to families on their
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tax credit awards. Further, new streamlined procedures have been introduced to decide cases where the recovery of an over-payment is disputed.

These are all important steps forward but there remain key challenges for the Department in delivering tax credits. I am therefore setting out six measures to improve significantly the tax credits system, with particular regard to how the Department communicates with families about their tax credit award; reducing the risk of errors adding to the number of over-payments; improving procedures for recovering over-payments.

ECOFIN: European Economic Reform

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): Europe must adapt to the changing balance of global economic activity and the rise of fast-growing emerging economies. Only a globally-orientated Europe—focused on macro-economic stability, marrying flexibility and fairness in employment markets, championing enterprise and innovation, and open to trade—can forge a new route to social justice in a global age.

Among the reform initiatives we wish to move forward to help equip Europe to meet the global economic challenge:

Competitiveness and Regulation

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Competition, State Aid & Innovation

International co-operation

USA-EU co-operation

And because I believe this aim of European economic reform is one around which we can build a national consensus and one that all parties will want to support, I have written to my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), to ask whether his Committee on Europe can take the lead in this work. I urge all parties to participate.

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