The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): I am now able to give the House a report on HMRC's progress in resolving the issues on which I made a statement on 8 September 2010. Lesley Strathie, chief executive of HMRC, will be writing to the Public Accounts Committee and Treasury Select Committee separately today.
Since September they have made rapid progress on working through the nearly 6 million adjustments needed to ensure that the correct amount of tax is collected for the tax years 2008-09 and 2009-10. By the end of last year in 90 % of cases where HMRC had received all relevant information, customers had received a refund notice or a calculation of overpayment in respect of these years.
In cases where an underpayment was due HMRC have sought to take a flexible and sympathetic approach to collecting the tax that is due. In the minority of cases where the unexpected bill has been caused by HMRC's failure to act promptly on the information received, HMRC have considered claims to be written off under an existing concession (ESC A19).
HMRC estimate that there are about 250,000 cases in respect of 2008-09 and 2009-10 where a taxable state pension has been paid by DWP and the tax due on this pension should have been collected through a tax code adjustment. These pensioners have not yet been issued with a notice of underpayment but would have a strong case for their underpayment to be written off in line with the concession. HMRC will not require these pensioners to claim the concession individually, but will instead write off all the relevant underpayments.
HMRC are working to clear the backlog of cases from earlier years. They will work all cases where a taxpayer is due a repayment for earlier years.
Further underpayment notices will not be issued for years earlier than 2007-08. For 2007-08, where possible, any amounts due will be included in the tax code for 2011-12 so that the money is collected over the course of the year through PAYE. HMRC will apply the same treatment to these cases as to those for 2008-09 and 2009-10. HMRC will not be collecting sums for less than £300 for that year and will allow people to spread payments in cases of hardship. Taking these concessions into account, HMRC expect to be in touch with around 450,000 people before the end of March to collect underpayments to the value of some £180 million.
The annual exercise to set tax codes for the 2011-12 tax year is about to begin. HMRC have reviewed the experience of last year when transitional issues with the new system led to some taxpayers receiving incorrect tax code notifications, and have conducted extensive additional testing designed to prevent a recurrence of these issues this year.
HMRC are continuing the process of modernising PAYE for the 21st century through the introduction of Real Time Information (RTI). This will help reduce the need for reconciliations in the future.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): The Deputy Permanent Representative, Andy Lebrecht, represented the United Kingdom at the Environment Council on 20 December in Brussels. I was unable to attend due to severe weather disrupting travel between the United Kingdom and Belgium.
The Council reached political agreement on the regulation concerning the placing on the market of biocidal products. The UK welcomed the political agreement as a risk-based compromise which strikes the right balance between protecting health and environment from the biocides themselves but also from the harmful organisms that biocides are used to control.
The Belgian presidency presented the outcome of the third trilogue with the European Parliament on the regulation setting emission performance standards for new light commercial vehicles, as part of the EU's integrated approach to reduce CO2 emissions from light-duty vehicles. During the exchange of views that followed Environment Ministers indicated their support for the compromise that had been reached, including the long-term target of average CO2 emissions of 147 grams per kilometre in 2020. The European Parliament is expected to vote on the proposal at its February plenary session.
Further conclusions were adopted on improving environmental policy instruments. Several member states expressed the importance they attach to having a seventh environment action programme to succeed the current one which covers the period up to 2012. The UK stressed the need for the new framework to be based on an assessment of the current sixth environment action programme, and highlighted the move to an environmentally sustainable, low-carbon, resource-efficient economy as a key challenge to be addressed. This could be achieved through focus on: integration of sustainability objectives in other policy areas; better implementation of existing legislation rather than new initiatives; and more involvement of society, incentivising and motivating behaviour change.
The Council took note of the presidency's progress reports on the recast directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and on the proposal for a regulation regarding the possibility for member states to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs in their territory. The discussion on GMOs followed similar lines to the earlier discussion at Environment Council in October 2010, with many member states raising concerns about the proposal. The UK has yet to finalise its position on this dossier, but emphasised the need to find a way through the current impasse and to achieve legal
clarity on the consistency of the proposal with WTO rules and the single market. Several member states focused on the need to consider clear criteria upon which national decisions on cultivation could be taken and welcomed the Commission's proposal to discuss this further.
Ministers also exchanged views on the outcome of the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN convention on climate change at Cancun. They agreed that the outcome was positive and forward-looking, laying the foundation for further work and confirming the strength of a multilateral process. The UK supported Germany in their call for a new strategy building on Cancun, part of which had to be a move beyond the EU's 20% target.
The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): I regret to inform the House that there was an inaccuracy in some of the information referred to in my answer to an oral question from the hon. Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell) on 6 December 2010, Official Report, column 17.
The response quoted an email sent by the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson), which stated that "Mrs Namir Rad ... was not given only 24 hours' notice" of her impending change of accommodation. It has since come to light that the content of his email was incorrect. Mrs Rad was, on this occasion, given less than 24 hours' notice of the requirement to move by the accommodation provider, Y-People. Y-People has since carried out an internal investigation and the error occurred because the organisation provided inaccurate information to the UK Border Agency. Y-People has implemented controls to prevent this reoccurring and also to provide increased assurance of the accuracy of the information to the UK Border Agency.
The regional senior managers of the UK Border Agency have also implemented measures to ensure that no moves take place in Glasgow without their direct knowledge and approval and that no one will be asked to move at such short notice.
The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): The Government have decided to opt in to the EURODAC regulation. The regulation meets the criteria set out in the coalition agreement with regard to EU justice and home affairs measures.
The draft regulation will govern the operation of the EURODAC fingerprint database, which collects the fingerprints of asylum seekers, and certain illegal entrants to the EU, in order to help member states to determine who is responsible under the Dublin regulation for dealing with an asylum claim. The Government are committed to the Dublin system, of which EURODAC is an essential part, as it helps tackle the problem of people abusing asylum systems across Europe by making multiple claims in different EU member states.
The Government will approach forthcoming legislation in the area of justice and home affairs on a case-by-case basis, with a view to maximising our country's security,
protecting Britain's civil liberties and enhancing our ability to control immigration.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Owen Paterson): In my written statement of 11 November, Official Report, columns 25-26WS, I set out a period of two months during which I would receive representations as to whether it is in the public interest that I should establish a public inquiry into the death of Patrick Finucane. As part of this process my officials have had a constructive meeting with representatives of the Finucane family and a further meeting will be arranged. In light of the fact that useful discussions are under way between the family and the Government, I have decided, with the agreement of the family, to extend the period during which I will receive representations by two months. When this further period has concluded it remains my intention to consider the family's views carefully and in detail, along with any other relevant representations I receive, before taking a decision as to whether or not it is in the public interest to hold a public inquiry into the death of Patrick Finucane.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I regret to inform the House that there was an inaccuracy in the answer I gave to parliamentary question 31081 on 16 December, Official Report, columns 866-67W, about the numbers of persons who habitually travel to a place of work. The table, with corrected figures for 2005, is detailed below:
|Numbers of people by mode of travel and location of workplace|
|October to December|
|Area||Mode of travel||2005(1)||2006||2007||2008||2009|
(1) Following realignment from seasonal to calendar quarters, data for December are assumed to follow the same pattern as that of October and November.
(2) Includes railway trains but excludes underground train and light railway or tram.
(3) Includes car, van, minibus and works van.
(4) Includes bus, coach and private bus.
Source: ONS Labour Force Survey (LFS)
An investigation has shown that the error was due to a change in the Labour Force Survey methodology introduced by ONS in early 2006. Specifically, the survey changed from providing data for non-standard "seasonal" quarters (i.e. "Autumn" = September to November,
"Winter" = December to February, etc.) to using more standard calendar quarters from this point. As a result of this change, the Department's estimates for the period October to December in 2005 are actually based on only two months of data (October to November) instead of three months in all later years. The 2005 estimates given in the answer should therefore have been adjusted upwards by a factor of 1.5 to take account of this difference. However, this adjustment was not applied and the error was not spotted before the draft answer was submitted.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mrs Cheryl Gillan):
I am pleased to inform the House that the explanatory memorandum explaining the Government's proposal
for framework powers in the Localism Bill are available in the Vote Office, Library and the Printed Paper Office, and on the Wales Office website: (www.walesoffice.gov.uk).
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mrs Cheryl Gillan): I would like to inform the House that the proposed National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Health and Health Services) Order 2011 was laid yesterday, as Command Paper 7992. Copies of this can be found in the Vote Office and are also available in the Library. I have written to the Welsh Affairs Committee and to the House of Lords Constitution Committee to request they undertake pre-legislative scrutiny.