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23 Oct 2006 : Column 1650W—continued

Start-up Businesses

Natascha Engel: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what advice and assistance is available to small start-up businesses offering services and supplies to public bodies; and what steps he has taken to ensure that such businesses can access the same information and competitions as large, well-established preferred bidders. [93735]

Margaret Hodge: I have been asked to reply.

We recognise the importance of removing barriers faced by small businesses accessing public sector contract opportunities. Our measures to ensure small businesses are on an equal footing include the new Supply2.gov.uk web portal, which aims to bring buyers and sellers together; regional training events; a guide for small businesses on how to tender; and the local authority concordat aimed at ensuring purchasing
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policies are small business friendly. These and other measures, are expected to lead to greater opportunities for small firms and a more competitive environment, for the benefit of SMEs and the economy.

Tax Credits

Mr. Touhig: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what procedures are in place to deal with general inquiries in circumstances where the IT system for processing working family tax credits becomes inoperative. [92925]

Dawn Primarolo: Working families tax credit was replaced by child tax credit and working tax credit in 2003.

Where systems supporting these two new tax credits become unavailable, e.g. due to such planned events as system upgrades, then advisers are still able to provide answers to general inquiries. In some instances HMRC can still record details of reported changes. If that is not possible, callers are advised to call back when HMRC expects its systems to be available.

Callers may also be directed to the HMRC website which contains extensive information and guidance.

Nick Harvey: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the impact of the recently announced operational bonus for service personnel on tax credits. [94706]

Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how the bonus recently announced for service personnel on combat duty will be treated for tax credit purposes. [95076]

Dawn Primarolo [holding answers 19 October 2006]: We intend to amend the tax credit regulations so that the operational bonus is disregarded for tax credit awards.

Mr. Frank Field: To ask Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer how many service personnel are claiming tax credits. [95075]

Dawn Primarolo [holding answer 19 October 2006]: The information requested is not available.

Peter Viggers: To ask Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer what the incidence of tax credit fraud was in the last period for which figures are available; what the total amount involved was in that period; and what assessment he has made of how successful the relevant authorities have been in eliminating it. [95316]

Dawn Primarolo: I refer the hon. Member to the statement I made to the House on 11 July 2006, Official Report columns. 1281-82, and to the HMRC publications “Child and Working Tax Credits: Error and fraud statistics 2003-04” and “Tackling error and fraud in the Child and Working Tax Credits” available on the HMRC website at www.hmrc.gov.uk/news/index.htm.


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Mr. Byers: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of the savings which would be made if tax credits were not available to higher rate taxpayers. [95691]

Dawn Primarolo [holding answer 20 October 2006]: The estimated annual saving, in 2006-07, of removing entitlement to tax credits for those families with at least one higher rate taxpayer is £0.1 billion.

This estimate excludes any behavioural response to the change. It was calculated using the Department’s tax and benefit model.

Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many staff at the Tax Credit Office received bonus payments in each month between December 2005 and September 2006; what the total amount of bonuses paid has been; what the largest single payment was; and if he will make a statement. [93456]

Dawn Primarolo: The director of the Tax Credit Office has the discretion to award special bonuses to recognise exceptional performance. The dates and number of payments made are:

Staff in receipt of bonuses
Number

December 2005

47

January 2006

0

February 2006

0

March 2006

224

April 2006

0

May 2006

0

June 2006

12

July 2006

6

August 2006

3

September 2006

1


The total amount paid to TCO staff between December 2005 and September 2006 was £60,948.50. The total number of awards made in this period was 293 and the average payment was around £200.

The largest single payment was for £1,000.

Tobacco Counterfeits

Mr. Breed: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) when his Department will reach a decision on the introduction of an anti-counterfeiting scheme for tobacco products in the UK; [95709]

(2) what technological solutions he has examined for the purpose of tackling the trade in counterfeit and smuggled tobacco. [95710]

John Healey: HM Revenue and Customs have been working closely with the tobacco manufacturing industry to examine a range of practical measures that could be implemented to tackle counterfeit tobacco products, such as covert pack markings.

However, this is a complex area and the options need careful consideration before any decisions can be taken.


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Mr. Breed: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has discussed with the Secretary of State for Health the potential implications of the proposed change in minimum age for the sale of tobacco for the smuggled tobacco trade. [95711]

John Healey: Ministers and officials from HMRC and the Treasury have meetings with a wide variety of organisations in the public and private sectors as part of the process of policy development and delivery. As was the case with previous Administrations, it is not the Government’s practice to provide details of all such meetings.

HM Revenue and Customs take a tough approach to tobacco smuggling and at Budget 2006 published “New responses to new challenges: Reinforcing the Tackling Tobacco Strategy”. This includes a range of measures designed to tackle illicit activity through targeted action at all points along the supply chain— from overseas production and sourcing of tobacco products to UK distribution networks.

Valuation Office Agency

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer pursuant to the answer of 25 July 2006, Official Report, column 1397W, on the Valuation Office Agency, what factors he took into account when deciding that placing the documents in the Library was not appropriate. [94662]

Dawn Primarolo: As mentioned in my answer of 25 July 2006, Official Report, column 1397W, these documents, the Valuation Office Agency’s (VGA’s) (a) photography best practice guide and (b) COVO manual, mentioned in clause 3.7.1 of section 2 of the VGA’s Council Tax Manual, are merely internal technical guides.

Constitutional Affairs

Adoption Placements

Annette Brooke: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs pursuant to the answer of 24 July 2006, Official Report, column 932W, on adoption placements, how many placement applications for adoption were determined at the final care hearing; and how many are determined at a later date (a) in London, (b) at the Principal Registry of the Family Division and (c) nationally in each of the last 12 years. [95673]

Ms Harman: The information requested is not collected and to obtain it would incur disproportionate costs.

Clinical Negligence

Mr. Dismore: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs if she will ensure that the hourly rates allowed for claimants by the Legal Services Commission for experts in clinical

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negligence are the same as the NHS Litigation Authority’s payment regime for experts when defending clinical negligence claims; and if she will make a statement. [95202]

Vera Baird: The rates offered by the LSC are not dependent on the rates offered by the NHS Litigation Authority, but are set in reference to best value to the legal aid fund.

Court Translators

Ian Lucas: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how much was spent on court translators' fees in each of the last five years. [95222]

Ms Harman: The information requested is not collected centrally (and could be provided only at disproportionate cost) for interpreters used in the Crown court and criminal hearings in the magistrates courts. In each of the last five years the costs of interpreters for civil and family hearings are as follows:

Amount (£000)

2002-03

181

2003-04

204

2004-05

250

2005-06

494

2006-07

(1)208

(1 )As at end September.

Changes to the financial systems used to pay interpreters have taken effect in the last couple of years and the figures quoted are therefore approximate. HMCS is currently undertaking some analysis of interpreters booked in the last year to try to identify trends in the increase of bookings and subsequent cost.

Data Protection

Mr. Redwood: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what assessment she has made of the benefits which have resulted from the introduction of the Data Protection Act 1998. [95687]

Vera Baird: As with all legislation the Government keep the workings of the Data Protection Act under review. The results of the 2006 Information Commissioners Office Annual Tracker Survey of private and public organisations show that 89 per cent. agreed that the Act was needed. In addition to this, 80 per cent. of private organisations agreed that it improved information management, 81 per cent. agreed it improved customer trust and 60 per cent. agreed it adds value to the business. The Act is an important piece of legislation that ensures there is a proper legal framework to protect the way that personal data are processed. Individuals also benefit as the Act allows subject access rights in relation to personal data that are is held about them.


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Family Law Cases

Ian Lucas: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how much has been paid in disbursements in family law cases by the Legal Services Commission in each of the last five years. [96480]

Vera Baird: The amounts paid in disbursements by the Legal Services Commission in each of the last five years was:

£ million

2005-06

56.8

2004-05

47.6

2003-04

44.9

2002-03

39.2

2001-02

35.7


Freedom of Information

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs pursuant to the Leader of the House's answer of 16 October 2006, Official Report, column 582, on Parliamentary Questions, how many requests were made to each Department by hon. Members for information sought using the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in the last 12 months. [95595]

Vera Baird: The Freedom of Information Act requires each case to be assessed on its individual merits and so Departments do not collect information on requestor type, including Members of Parliament. The quarterly statistical reports published by my Department contain information on the implementation of FoI in central Government, including the number of requests received, the timeliness of responses, and the outcomes of requests.

However, it is estimated from information obtained during the Government's recent review of the Freedom of Information Act that between 300 and 400 requests are made to central Government by Members of Parliament each year.

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs when the Government plan to introduce legislation to amend the Freedom of Information Act 2000 provisions on calculating fees limits and aggregating requests. [95799]

Vera Baird: There are no plans to amend the Freedom of Information Act. However the Government are considering changes to the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004 to extend the activities which count towards the appropriate limit and to amend the circumstances in which public authorities may aggregate requests for the purposes of calculating the appropriate limit.

The Government will take stock of the responses to the report of the independent review on the impact of the Act, published on 16 October 2006, before bringing forward any secondary legislation.


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Mr. Pickles: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs whether the Government’s proposals to amend the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to allow public authorities to aggregate requests will allow authorities to aggregate requests from the same organisation but on substantively different topics. [95842]

Vera Baird: There are no plans to amend the Freedom of Information Act. However the Government are considering changes to the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004 to allow public authorities to aggregate requests from the same organisation on different topics.


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