Mr. Ivan Lewis: Poverty and social exclusion are complex and multi-dimensional issues, affecting many aspects of people's livesincluding their living standards, health, housing, the quality of their environment and not just low income. The Department for Work and Pensions "Opportunity for all" report sets out the Government's strategy for tackling poverty and social exclusion and reports progress against a range of measures.
However, 200304 data show nearly 2 million pensioners have been lifted out of absolute low income since 1997. Compared with the 1997 system, in 200506, as a result of the Government's measures including the pension credit, pensioner households will be on average £29 a week better off while the poorest third of pensioner households will be on average £39 a week better off.
Alongside a 7 per cent. real increase in the basic state pension, winter fuel payments and free television licences, pension credit has been key to this increase in income. Pension credit which now pays over £6 billion a year to our poorest pensioners, guaranteeing a minimum income of £109.45 a week for single pensioners and £167.05 couples (over age 60). 2.7 million pensioner households (3.3 million individuals) were receiving pension credit at end March 2005. The Government are committed to increasing the guarantee credit element of pension credit by earnings next year and in the next spending round 200608.
Mr. George Osborne: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how he calculates the start and end points of the economic cycle; when, for the purposes of calculating the golden rule, the current economic cycle (a) started and (b) is expected to finish; and when his Department estimates that the next economic cycle will start. 
Mr. Ivan Lewis:
The Treasury's transparent and consistent methodology for dating the cycle uses a wide range of survey and other information and is explained in "Trend Growth: Recent Developments and
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Prospects" published alongside Budget 2002 and "Fiscal Policy: Public Finances and the Cycle" published alongside Budget 1999. The most recent "Financial Statement and Budget Report 2005" (HC 372) gave an assessment of when the current cycle is judged to have started and is expected to end.
Dr. Iddon: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether the projected figures for increasing public investment in scientific research set out in the 2004 Spending Review are contingent on increases in investment by the private sector; and if he will make a statement. 
John Healey: The 10-year Science and Innovation Investment framework set out the Government's intention to increase investment in the public science base at least in line with the trend growth rate of the economy through the 10-year period, increasing science spending as a proportion of GDP.
The 10-year framework recognised that this scenario represents a considerable challenge for both Government and UK business, which can only be achieved if the Government's commitment to invest substantially in the science base is matched by the private sector and leading charitable funders, and in particular that it is clear that private sector R and D funding is on a new and growing trajectory.
Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will introduce legislation to prevent accountancy firms selling aggressive tax avoidance schemes from securing contracts awarded by his Department. 
The Government will continue to award contracts in accordance with procurement procedures. I refer my hon. Friend to my answer of 15 June 2005, Official Report, column 391W.
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Mrs. Iris Robinson: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what (a) the total amount of tax credit payments claimed in Northern Ireland since their introduction, (b) the total amount of overpayments, (c) the value of overpayments which have been written off and (d) the value of overpayments retrieved is. 
Dawn Primarolo: Estimates of the total amount of tax credits entitlement, broken down by country and region, appear in the HMRC publication "Child and Working Tax Credits Statistics. Finalised Awards 200304.Geographical analyses."
The numbers of tax credits awards where there was an underpayment or overpayment at 5 April 2004 following finalisation also appear in the publication "Child and Working Tax Credits Statistics. Finalised 200304. Supplement on payments in 200304. Geographical analyses."
The estimates in both these publications are based on samples and are subject to significant sampling uncertainty. These publications can be found on the HMRC website at http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/stats/personal-tax-credits/cwtc-geog-stats.htm.
Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the performance of the tax credits system against targets set for it over the period March 2003 to June 2005; and if he will make a statement. 
Dawn Primarolo: Details of the Inland Revenue's performance against their tax credits targets for 200304 were published in their annual report and accounts in October 2004, and can be found on the HMRC website at http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/about/reports.htm.
The spring departmental report 2005, which can be found at the same address, gives progress against the targets in 200405. The Department will publish final results for 200405 in its annual report, which will be available on its website at www.hmrc.gov.uk.
Section 40 of the Tax Credit Act requires the Board of Inland Revenue, now HM Revenue and Customs, to make an annual Report to the Treasury about tax credits. Section 40(2) requires the Treasury to publish the annual Report and lay a copy before both Houses.
Overpayments are not identified until awards are finalised after the end of the financial year. For 200405 awards, this process is currently under way. Therefore estimates of numbers of overpayments or underpayments for 200405 awards at 5 April 2005 will not be available until after family circumstances and incomes for 200405 have been finalised. The most recent estimates available for the net amount paid in tax credits and the net amount of overpayments is for awards at 5 April 2004 based on final family circumstances and incomes for 200304. They appear in the HMRC publication "Child and Working Tax Credits Annual statistics. 200304 Payments." The estimates are based on samples and are subject to significant sampling uncertainty.
Dawn Primarolo: For 200304 and 200405 (the first two years of the new tax credits), I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) on 15 June 2005, Official Report, columns 39495W.
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Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer by what date he intends to introduce a statutory test for recovery of overpaid tax credits; whether the test will include an independent right of appeal; and if he will make a statement. 
Dawn Primarolo: At 28 May 2005 HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) had nearly 400 full-time equivalent staff working in the Tax Credit Office handling tax credit complaints. These staff also deal with compensation in accordance with complaints and redress procedures explained in the Department's Code of Practice 1: "Putting things right".
Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of the (a) number and (b) total value of excess tax credit payments and overpayments where there was no disregard of income rises of up to £2,500 in (i) 200304 and (ii) 200405; and if he will make a statement.