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Welsh Language (Departmental Policy)

15. Mr. Ian Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what his policy and practice is on the use of the Welsh language for official purposes within his Department. [155506]

Mr. Paul Murphy: The Wales Office is committed to treating the Welsh and English languages on a basis of equality. Office publications, such as the Departmental Report and Service Delivery Agreement, are already made available in both languages. The office will always reply in Welsh to anyone who writes in Welsh and telephone calls in Welsh are always transferred to a Welsh speaker where available. If no Welsh speaker is available at the time of the call, the call can be returned later by a Welsh speaker.

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The Wales Office is committed to doing more to provide a fully bilingual service to the people of Wales, and to that end, the office plans to publish a draft Welsh Language Scheme for consultation during 2001.

New Deal

16. Mr. Michael: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Education and Employment about extending the new deal in Wales. [155507]

Mr. Paul Murphy: I meet regularly with my Cabinet colleagues to discuss a wide range of issues, including the New Deal.

In his Budget statement on 7 March, the Chancellor announced a strengthening of the Government's Welfare to Work Programme through the extension of the already successful New Deal scheme.

The schemes to benefit from this extension will be: New Deal 25+--this will make all over-25s who have been on Jobseekers Allowance for at least 18 months eligible for the New Deal; New Deal for Lone Parents--the extension will potentially help around 50,000 lone parents in Wales; New Deal for Disabled People--which will be extended to all those claiming invalidity benefit.


17. Mr. Donald Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions he has had with pensioners' organisations in Wales about pensions and benefits for the elderly in Wales. [155508]

23. Mr. Win Griffiths: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what recent discussions he has had with pensioners' organisations in Wales about pension levels and take-up of the Minimum Income Guarantee. [155514]

Mr. Paul Murphy: I met the National Association of Pensioners in Wales on 7 June last year to discuss pensions, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State met members of the Age Concern focus groups recently to discuss a range of issues affecting older people in Wales.

This Government are committed to delivering real improvements to ensure that pensioners have a decent and secure income in retirement.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced measures in the Budget that will improve benefits to pensioners and help tackle pensioner poverty.

The basic State pension is rising by £5 per week to £72.50 for a single person and £8 per week to £115.90 for a couple helping all 630,000 pensioners in the region.

The Minimum Income Guarantee, putting a floor under pensioners incomes, is rising to £92 for a single pensioner and £140.55 for couples. This will increase again in April 2003, and will help tackle pensioner poverty in 105,000 pensioner households in Wales. 10,000 more pensioners in Wales will be eligible, and benefits for the 95,000 pensioners currently eligible will be increased.

An increase in age related income tax allowances for pensioners by £240 over and above inflation from April 2003 will benefit half of all pensioner households in Wales: 165,000 households.

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Other measures for all pensioners, and particularly help for the poorest, includes the free eye tests, Winter Fuel Payments and the reduction in VAT on fuel to 5 per cent.


18. Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what recent discussions he has had with the First Secretary about small and medium-sized businesses in Wales. [155509]

Mr. Paul Murphy: I regularly meet the First Secretary and discuss a range of issues.

The Chancellor's Budget announced on 7 March 2001 a package of measures such as help to manage SMEs entry into the VAT system, reduce burdens and improve their cash flow, which will benefit many of the 140,000 SMEs in Wales.

Additionally, the Small Business Council is currently holding events in town halls across the UK with the aim of listening to business and its concerns.

European Funding

19. Mr. Rowlands: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he intends to meet the chief executive of the Wales European Funding Office to discuss the implementation of Objective 1 programmes. [155510]

Mr. Paul Murphy: I last met with John Clark, the Chief Executive of the Wales European Funding Office, on 29 January 2001. I was pleased to learn that WEFO are making good progress in implementing Objective 1 in Wales and that utilisation of the programme has been achieved faster in Wales than anywhere else in the UK. Importantly, this has been achieved in Wales through a partnership between private, public and voluntary sectors.

A total of 190 projects have been approved so far under the Objective 1 programme, with Structural Funds support of £146.1 million.

Schools Funding

21. Ann Clwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what recent discussions he has had with the First Secretary of the National Assembly about direct payments to head teachers in Wales, as announced in the Budget. [155512]

Mr. Paul Murphy: I meet the First Secretary on a regular basis and we discuss a range of issues.

My hon. Friend and I are very pleased that Wales will receive an additional £100 million over the next three years as a result of the Budget's additional spending on key public services. It will of course be for the Assembly to allocate the funds according to its own priorities.

Manufacturing Industry

22. Mr. Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions he has had with the First Secretary on proposals to assist redundant manufacturing workers. [155513]

Mr. Paul Murphy: I meet the First Secretary regularly and discuss a wide range of issues including manufacturing.

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The Prime Minister confirmed on 14 March that areas that have been affected by large scale redundancies will be helped by a job transition service (JTS). This JTS will focus on matching skills of those made jobless to the jobs offered in the changing economy.

In addition, areas affected by steel and other significant job losses currently have access to an on-site jobshop to offer help with all aspects of job search, training and benefits advice, staffed by the Employment Service Rapid Response Unit.

Welsh Language

28. Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what advice and assistance his Department gives to EU applicant countries within whose boundaries there are linguistic minorities, about his programmes to protect and promote Welsh; and if he will make a statement. [155519]

Mr. Paul Murphy: The UK Government are always ready to consider sympathetically requests for assistance from applicant countries. So far, my Department has not received any requests for advice in respect of the position of minority languages. Should we do so, I would be very happy to share our experience of Welsh language policy.


Ministerial Visits (Peterborough)

Sir Brian Mawhinney: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will list the Ministers in his Department who visited any of the constituencies which are in the Peterborough unitary authority area between 1 January 2000 and 14 February 2001, indicating in each case (a) the date of the visit, (b) the constituencies included in the visit and (c) if the local hon. Member met the Minister. [151035]

Mr. Timms [holding answer 26 February 2001]: I visited Peterborough on 22 January 2001. During the course of my visit I met the hon. Member for Peterborough, (Mrs. Brinton). There were no other visits to the area during this period by Treasury Ministers on Government business.


Civil Service Salaries

Dr. David Clark: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what the average percentage increase in the salaries of members of the Senior Civil Service is in the current financial year. [156726]

Mr. Ian McCartney: The average individual award from 1 April 2000 was 4.8 per cent. Figures for April 2001 are not yet available.

People's Panel Support Group

Dr. David Clark: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office when the People's Panel Support Group last met. [156728]

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Mr. Ian McCartney: The People's Panel Support Group last met on 16 June 2000. A meeting scheduled for 17 October 2000 had to be cancelled when key members of the group were unable to attend.

A full evaluation of the people's panel is under way. Further meetings of the support group are planned for when its results are available.

Important reports from the panel over the last 12 months include research into putting consumers at the heart of public services, attitudes to public services in deprived areas, public services and ethnic minorities and extended opening hours.

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