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DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Cabinet Meetings

Sarah Teather: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what criteria will be used to decide which Cabinet Minister in his Department will speak on issues concerning his Department at meetings of the Cabinet. [28744]

Jim Fitzpatrick: As members of the Cabinet, both my right hon. Friends can and do speak on a wide range of issues discussed by Cabinet.

Council Tax

Bob Spink: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister whatassessment he has made of the impact of council tax increases on pensioners; and if he will make a statement. [29263]


 
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Mr. Woolas: The Government recognise the concerns of many pensioners, particularly those on low or fixed incomes, about council tax. This Government have already taken action to improve pensioner incomes, spending nearly £11 billion extra on pensioners in 2005–06 compared to 1997 as a result of measures we have introduced since then. On average, after allowing for inflation, pensioner households are about £1,500 better off this year than they would have been under the system which operated in 1997. The least well-off third of pensioner households are, on average, £2,000 better off.

Help with council tax bills is available for those who are least well off through council tax benefit (CTB). Nearly two and a half million people aged 60 or over now benefit, though the Government are concerned that many pensioners do not claim their entitlement. The Department for Work and Pensions is taking active measures to ensure that people are made aware of CTB and are encouraged to take up their entitlement.

The Government are providing additional money to pensioners specifically to help them pay their council tax bills. We gave £100 to households with someone 70 or over in 2004–05. In 2005–06 households with someone aged 65 or over are receiving £200, usually with their with winter fuel payment, unless they are receiving; the guarantee credit element of pension credit (people getting the guarantee credit element of pension credit are already entitled to up to a 100 per cent. rebate on their council tax bills). Households with someone aged 70 or over getting the guarantee credit element of pension credit are receiving £50 to help with living costs.

While no decisions have been taken on capping in 2006–07 and beyond, we will not hesitate to use our capping powers to protect council taxpayers from excessive council tax rises in the future. In 2003–04, the last year in which capping was not undertaken, the average council tax increase in England was 12.9 per cent. This fell to 5.9 per cent. in 2004–05 and again to 4.1 per cent. in 2005–06.

Sir Michael Lyons is currently conducting an Inquiry into the financing of local government in the context of its wider functions and future role. He is aware of the widespread concerns about how the current council tax system affects pensioners and others on low and fixed incomes. Sir Michael is due to report before the end of 2006 and the Government will carefully consider his recommendations.

Mike Penning: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what proportion of spending by (a) Hertfordshire county council and (b) Dacorum borough council has been financed from council tax in each year since 1st January 1996. [29568]

Mr. Woolas: The percentage of Revenue Expenditure by Hertfordshire county council and Dacorum borough council that has been financed from council tax in each financial year since 1 January 1996 is tabled as follows:
Percentage

HertfordshireDacorum
1996–9726.632.4
1997–9827.430.2
1998–9929.742.3
1999–200030.728.0
2000–0129.937.6
2001–0229.933.7
2002–0331.539.7
2003–0433.339.6
2004–0532.245.0
2005–0631.746.3

 
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The data are as reported by local authorities and are taken from Revenue Summary (RS) returns for 1996–97 to 2003–04, and Revenue Account budget (RA) returns for 2004–05 and 2005–06.

The definition of council expenditure used here is that expenditure funded from Aggregate External Finance (AEF), council tax and authorities' reserves.

Comparisons across years may not be valid due to changes in the method of reporting the information. In particular, the outturn data for 1996–97 to 2002–03 have been calculated on a non-FRS (Financial Reporting Standard) 17 basis while the outturn data for 2003–04 has been calculated on an FRS 17 basis. The budget data for 2004–05 and 2005–06 are a mix of FRS 17 and non-FRS 17. This is because for their 2004–05 and 2005–06 budget forms local authorities, after consultation, were given the option to complete their forms either on a non-FRS 17 basis or on an FRS 17 basis. Hence, figures for different years may not be directly comparable.

Sarah Teather: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether former residents of a dwelling can be required to give information about that dwelling for the purposes of a valuation of a property for council tax purposes. [30658]

Mr. Woolas [holding answer 21 November 2005]: Under Section 27(2) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 former owners or occupiers of a dwelling can be required to give valuation officers information about that dwelling.

However, in practice, listing officers of the Valuation Office Agency will only need to discuss information about a dwelling with a former owner or occupier if (a) that person has an outstanding council tax appeal relating to a dwelling he or she previously owned or occupied or (b) to find out when a dwelling was constructed or adapted into a separate dwelling if this took place before the present occupier took up occupation.

Firefighters

Ed Balls: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what protection is available for firefighters in England who are attacked in execution of their duty. [29178]

Jim Fitzpatrick: Firefighters enjoy the same legal protection from violence as anyone else. The criminal law already contains a wide range of power to deal with violent behaviour. There is a hierarchy of offences against the person where injury results, ranging from grievous bodily harm through actual bodily harm to common law offences of assault and battery, depending on the injuries inflicted. Courts have the power to impose the appropriate sentence, taking into account all
 
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the circumstances of a particular case. It is to be expected that the Courts would regard attacks on emergency personnel in the execution of their duty as being particularly serious offences. Maximum penalties for offences of violence range from six months for common assault to life imprisonment for causing grievous bodily harm with intent.

The Fire and Rescue Services seek to assess and manage the risk of potential attack in the execution of their duties. Fire and Rescue Services will ask the Police to attend any incident that would be considered threatening to the fire crew and are encouraged to report any incidents so that prosecution can be brought forward where appropriate.

Fire and Rescue Services are also introducing preventative measures such as video cameras in the cabs of appliances to help identify offenders.

Housing

Mr. Dismore: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister howmany registered social landlord properties were sold on the open market other than to tenants in each of the last five years (a) in London and (b) in each English region. [24270]

Yvette Cooper: The following table gives the numbers of homes disposed of by Registered Social Landlords on the open market or at auction each year for the past five years. These data are not recorded on a regional basis and may include open market disposals to tenants. However all these sales were at market value, that is, they do not include any disposals made to tenants at any discount under schemes such as Right to Buy or Right to Acquire.
Financial yearNumber of homes
2000–013,563
2001–022,974
2002–032,083
2003–044,111
2004–055,950
Total18,681




Source:
Housing Corporation




Sarah Teather: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will require English Partnerships to make a commitment to deliver social rented housing on the 17 sites being made available under the London Wide Initiative. [28893]

Yvette Cooper: Any development undertaken on the sites used for the London Wide Initiative will be subject to the normal planning regime. Work is continuing between English Partnerships, its development partners and the relevant local authorities on the total mix of houses on each site. This will be in accordance with respective local authorities' planning policies and agreed planning obligations. The sites will therefore provide social rented housing in accordance with housing need.

Sarah Teather: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will place in the Library copies of each regional housing board's recommended investment strategy for 2006 to 2008. [28743]


 
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Yvette Cooper: Copies have been made available in the Library of the House.


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