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3 Feb 2009 : Column 1003W—continued


Mr. Gregory Campbell: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much household debt there was in the UK in December 2008. [253087]

Kevin Brennan [holding answer 2 February 2009]: I have been asked to reply.

The information requested falls within the responsibility of the UK Statistics Authority. I have asked the authority to reply.

Letter from Karen Dunnell, dated 3 February 2009:

Departmental Correspondence

Sandra Gidley: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many letters he has received on the subject of his Department's package of assistance for banks. [253155]

Angela Eagle: This information is not held and could only be provided at disproportionate costs.

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Equitable Life

Bob Spink: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what timetable he has agreed with Sir John Chadwick for presentation of (a) an interim report and (b) a final report of his investigation into the scope of compensation for Equitable Life policy holders; when he expects the first payments to policy holders to be made; and if he will make a statement. [253446]

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer with reference to the statement of 15 January 2009, Official Report, columns 377-80, on Equitable Life, what timetable he has set for Sir John Chadwick to provide his advice to his Department; and if he will make a statement. [253460]

Ian Pearson: The Government have asked Sir John Chadwick to advise as quickly as he is able, including providing interim updates.

Housing: Valuation

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many localities there are in each billing authority area in England. [252422]

John Healey: I have been asked to reply.

I have placed in the Library of the House a table detailing the number of localities delineated by the Valuation Office Agency, by billing authority area in England.

Northern Rock: Mortgages

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what information (a) his Department and (b) the Financial Services Authority holds on the number of people who have a mortgage with Northern Rock at its standard variable rate. [252413]

Ian Pearson: The Financial Services Authority (FSA) is operationally independent from the Government and such questions should be addressed directly to the FSA. In respect of information held by the Treasury, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer given to the hon. Member for Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) on 21 July 2008, Official Report, column 728W.

Public Sector: Procurement

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether a public authority advertising a contract in the Official Journal of the European Union may specify that preference will be given to a bidder who can demonstrate delivery of a local multiplier effect in the local economy; and if he will make a statement. [254181]

Angela Eagle: Advertisements placed in the Official Journal of the European Union must be compliant with our EU and other international obligations. These are in place to open up markets and to prevent discrimination across the Community. Any contract notice which states a local preference would not be consistent with those legal obligations.

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Royal Bank of Scotland

Rob Marris: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many meetings Ministers in his Department held with (a) staff and (b) directors of the Royal Bank of Scotland in (i) each month in 2008 and (ii) January 2009. [253091]

Angela Eagle: Treasury Ministers and officials 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.

Taxation: Self-Assessment

Mr. Binley: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will bring forward proposals to reduce HM Revenue and Customs’ 6.5 per cent. interest charge for late returned self-assessment tax returns. [254001]

Mr. Timms: Interest is not charged on late returned self-assessment returns, but rather on any tax shown as due on a return and unpaid at the due date.

HM Revenue and Customs recalculates its interest rates following any change in the Bank of England base rate in line with procedures laid down in legislation. The legislation sets out how the rates for various taxes and duties should be calculated and when they apply from. In accordance with the legislation the rate of interest charged on underpaid income tax is currently 3.5 per cent. This rate has applied since 27 January 2009.

Thoresen Review

Mr. Sanders: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what consideration his Department has given to the findings of the Thoresen Review of Generic Financial Advice. [253298]

Ian Pearson: The Government accepted the Thoresen Review's central recommendation to pilot the Money Guidance service through a large-scale regional pathfinder on 3 March 2008, alongside publication of the Thoresen Review's final report. As announced at PBR 2008, the £12 million pathfinder, jointly funded by HM Treasury and the Financial Services Authority, is on track to launch this spring in the North East and North West of England. The pathfinder will inform Government decisions on roll-out of a national Money Guidance service.

Valuation Office: Electronic Equipment

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer with reference to the answer to the hon. Member for Weybridge of 26 November 2008, Official Report, column 1889W, on departmental electronic equipment, to what use the Valuation Office Agency has put the (a) flat screen televisions and (b) stereo equipment it purchased in the years concerned. [252403]

Mr. Timms: The information is as follows:

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Valuation Office: South East

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer with reference to the answer to the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst of 6 November 2008, Official Report, column 682W, on housing: valuation, if he will rank each individual locality reference in each valuation area in the South East according to value significance. [252213]

Mr. Timms: A list of locality reference numbers, ranked in order of value significance by valuation area within the Valuation Office Agency's South East Group, has been placed in the Library. The list is based on data extracted between 9 and 10 September 2008.

Information that identifies the extent and location of each locality, relative to the list of numbers that ranks each individual locality, is commercially confidential.

Welfare Tax Credits

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what recent steps the Government have taken to increase the uptake of tax credits by those entitled to them. [253248]

Mr. Timms: Paragraph 5.40, Chapter 5 in the pre-Budget report 2008 set out the steps the Government are taking to increase the uptake of tax credits, which includes HMRC working in partnership with other organisations to promote working tax credit in innovative ways. Since then coverage through partnership marketing has increased from 500,000 employees at 40 organisations to 660,000 employees at 44 organisations.

Welfare Tax Credits: Overpayments

Chris Grayling: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many bankruptcy orders have been issued in respect to the recovery of tax credit overpayments (a) in each year since 2003-04 and (b) in each month in 2008-09 for which information is available; and what the average level of overpayment was. [249235]

Mr. Timms: The information requested is not available centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost. HMRC's policy is to attempt to make personal contact in all cases before legal proceedings are commenced including at least one visit to the last known address of the claimant.

HM Revenue and Customs will only initiate insolvency action through the courts as a last resort and it would be unusual to commence insolvency proceedings solely in respect of tax credit debts.

International Development

Departmental Manpower

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development how many (a) full-time and (b) part-time staff posts (i) have been and (ii) are planned to be ended in each division as part of the restructuring in his Department referred to in his Department's Annual Report 2008, chapter 10, point 10.16; and what reduction in expenditure is expected to arise from this restructuring. [246921]

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Mr. Ivan Lewis: Details of headcount reductions at the Department for International Development (DFID) since 2004 are available in the 2008 Annual Report, Chapter 10, point 10.23. This is available in the Library of the House and on the DFID website:

For the 2008-09 to 2010-11 period there are no headcount targets.

Workforce planning and staff needs by division are continually under review.

Departmental Public Expenditure

Mr. Lancaster: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what his latest estimate is of his Department's underspend for the financial year 2008-09. [253976]

Mr. Douglas Alexander: The Department for International Development (DFID) estimates that it will spend its budget in full for the financial year 2008-09.

Developing Countries: Private Sector

Mr. Moore: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what discussions he has had with CDC on its role in private sector investment in developing countries during the global economic downturn; and if he will make a statement. [252400]

Mr. Douglas Alexander: Officials at the Department for International Development (DFID) have had discussions on the financial crisis with CDC in the context of the company's new investment policy announced in November 2008. This policy will focus CDC further on poorer countries that still have substantial need for investment capital during the crisis. A copy of the policy has been placed in the Library of the House.

With access to private credit in developing countries reducing as a result of the economic downturn, capital flows from development finance institutions such as CDC must be maintained or increased. Access to these funds will encourage private sector investment and the jobs that that helps to protect and create.

CDC therefore has an important counter-cyclical role to play in continuing to make commitments to funds which focus on its target geographies in low income countries and sub-Saharan Africa in particular.

However, CDC on its own can have only a small impact. A coordinated response is necessary and we are also encouraging CDC to coordinate closely with other Development Finance Institutions such as the IFC which is preparing a package of facilities and initiatives in response to the global financial crisis.

International Conferences

Mr. Moore: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development which (a) Ministers and (b) officials from his Department will attend the forthcoming Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Global Conference on establishing resource transparency; what his Department's objectives for the conference are; and if he will make a statement. [Official Report, 12 February 2009, Vol. 487, c. 17MC.] [252866]

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Mr. Michael Foster: The UK Government have been a leading supporter of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). DFID has committed £10.043 million to EITI and has so far provided £5.077 million of this since November 2002. Increasing transparency and knowledge of revenues from the extractive sectors empowers citizens to hold governments to account, so that mismanagement of funds away from sustainable development purposes becomes more difficult. In line with the EITI Global Conference's objectives, we will work with other stakeholders to take stock of EITI’s progress; to address the challenges which EITI faces; and to consider the next steps for taking forward the initiative.

The composition of the UK's delegation to the EITI Global Conference is yet to be finalised.

Palestinians: International Assistance

Mr. Winnick: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what his most recent assessment is of the humanitarian situation in Gaza; what continued financial contribution the UK plans to make; and if he will urge the international community to make a substantial contribution to deal with the humanitarian situation in the region. [253933]

Mr. Douglas Alexander: The Department for International Development (DFID) is extremely concerned by the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The United Nations estimates that over 90 per cent. of Gaza's population is at least partly dependent on food aid and one fifth of people have no access to running water. Access through crossings between Gaza and Israel remains severely restricted although some deliveries of emergency food aid, medicines and medical supplies have been allowed in but is not adequate to fully meet the needs of the population. The UK continues to urge Israel to immediately allow full and unhindered access for humanitarian agencies so supplies can get in.

The UK Government have made an additional pledge of up to £26.8 million to help meet immediate humanitarian needs in Gaza. Of this over £12 million has already been allocated. For the remaining funds, we are prioritising support to those agencies well placed to respond to immediate humanitarian assistance and protection needs. The UK will continue to meet needs through our five year £100 million commitment to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. We also provide funding through the European Community's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) which has allocated €3 million for urgent humanitarian relief work in Gaza, of which the UK contributes about 16 per cent. (€482,000).

We are in contact with other Governments on ensuring that the contributions made by the international community are adequate to meet humanitarian needs in Gaza. The continued restrictions on access into Gaza for humanitarian supplies are a serious problem that must be dealt with so that humanitarian assistance can reach those who need it.

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