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EU Directives

Mr. Gibb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make it her policy to conduct an audit of EU Directives transposed into UK law since 1997 to determine what use has been made of protective provisions for small businesses. [746]

Nigel Griffiths: The Government have consulted fully on the implementation of all EU Directives since 1997, taking account of the needs of small businesses. We have no current plans to conduct an audit.

Foot and Mouth

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many tourism businesses have (a) applied for and (b) received loans under the Business Loan Guarantee Scheme in connection with the impact of foot and mouth disease. [134]

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Nigel Griffiths: No information is available on the number of businesses that have approached lenders.

Of the new loans that have been guaranteed by the Small Business Service, where the application forms identify that the businesses have been affected by foot and mouth disease, four of them are considered to be tourism related.

Women's Pay

Ms Ward: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans she has to tackle the level of pay for women relative to men. [464]

Ms Hewitt: The Government have an extensive programme of action to reduce the pay gap between men and women. This gap has reduced from 37 per cent. when the Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970, to 18 per cent. now. We are taking steps to make the legislation work better, by making equal pay claims quicker and easier. We are working with the Equal Opportunities Commission, employers and trade unions to develop voluntary equal pay reviews. The EOC has received an extra £100,000 to take this forward. The Government are committed to equal pay for its own staff. All Departments and Government agencies must undertake reviews and prepare equal pay action plans within two years. We are introducing Castle Awards to recognise employers' excellence in promoting equal opportunities and pay, and have appointed fair pay champions from a range of backgrounds to promote the issues. We also have a number of initiatives in place to address the underlying causes of the pay gap. These include tackling gender stereotyping in education, removing barriers to women's employment in traditionally male industries such as ICT and encouraging employers to take measures which allow parents to combine work and raising a family. In April of this year, the Government appointed Denise Kingsmill to lead an independent review into Women's Employment and Pay. This review will report in the autumn, and the Government will then consider what additional action is required to make further progress.



Mr. Galloway: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with his US counterpart on the bombing of a football game in northern Iraq on 19 June; and if he will make a statement. [385]

Mr. Bradshaw: None. Iraq's claim that a football match was bombed by allied aircraft is completely false. Although allied aircraft were patrolling the No-Fly Zones on 19 June and came under attack from Iraqi anti-aircraft and missile fire, they did not fire back.


Pension Credit

18. Mr. Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what consultations are planned with pensioner groups and groups representing

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older people on claims procedures envisaged under the new pension credit. [460]

Mr. McCartney: Over 400 responses were received to the formal consultation exercise [Cm4900, November 2000], many welcoming our proposals. We will continue to consider views and work closely with groups representing older people to deliver a modernised and dedicated service to meet pensioner needs.

22. Ms Oona King: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the introduction of the pension credit. [465]

Mr. McCartney: The pension credit forms a key part of the Government's overall strategy for tackling pension poverty, ensuring that no pensioner need live on less than £100 a week and no pensioner couple need live on less than £154 a week.

Housing Benefit

21. Mr. Grogan: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to reform housing benefit. [463]

Mr. Wicks: Following years of neglect by the opposition, improving administration is the biggest challenge facing the Housing Benefit system.

We published our strategy to achieve this in December and we are working with local authorities to drive up standards of service, tackle fraud and error and promote work incentives.

Retirement Provision

24. Mr. Viggers: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what action the Government propose to take to ensure that individuals are able to make appropriate provision for their retirement. [469]

Mr. McCartney: The Government are encouraging people to save for their retirement in a variety of ways. We have introduced stakeholder pensions, a new low cost safe, flexible pension option for moderate and high earners who do not have access to a good occupational scheme. We are also providing better information, through leaflets and in time combined pension forecasts, to help people make choices about the most appropriate provision for their retirement. And we continue to work closely with the pensions industry to seek ways of making the regulatory system simpler and easier to operate.

Private Pension Plans

25. Michael Fabricant: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the Government's policy on encouraging employees to contribute to private pension plans. [470]

Mr. McCartney: The Government attach great importance to providing better information to help people make informed decisions about saving for their retirement. We have already greatly improved the general pension information available by actively promoting our series of pension education guides. And we are working in partnership with employers and pension providers to introduce new pension forecasts giving both state and private pension details.

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Minimum Income Guarantee

26. Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what representations he has received on the impact of means testing on applications for the Minimum Income Guarantee. [471]

Mr. McCartney: The link between the intrusive and complex nature of means testing and non take-up of the minimum income guarantee by some pensioners has been established. A key objective of the Pension Credit is to tackle pensioner poverty and by 2003 no pensioner will have to live on less than £100 per week and couples no less than £154. It will reduce complexity, by modernising processes and removing outdated rules and reduce intrusiveness by, for example, abolishing the weekly means test.

29. Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what are the most recent estimates of increased take-up of the Minimum Income Guarantee as a result of the pensioner take-up advertising campaign. [474]

Mr. McCartney: Over 110,000 additional awards of the Minimum Income Guarantee had been made by the end of May 2001.

30. David Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the number of pensioners in North-West Leicestershire who are entitled to the minimum income guarantee but who are not receiving it. [475]

Mr. McCartney: Estimates of the number of pensioners entitled but not claiming the minimum income guarantee are not available below national levels. Around two million of the poorest pensioners are now receiving MIG. While over 110,000 additional awards had been made by the end of May 2001, generated by the take-up campaign.

Mr. Simon Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what proportion of pensioners in Wales have taken up the Minimum Income Guarantee. [476]

Mr. McCartney: Estimates of take-up and non take-up of MIG are not available below national levels. However, over 20,000 additional pensioners in Wales have been awarded MIG during the period of the take-up campaign.

Social Security Offices (Ethnic Minorities)

27. Mr. Dismore: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what recent assessment he has made of the service provided to ethnic minority communities by social security offices. [472]

Mr. Wicks: The Benefits Agency holds both an annual benefits forum and an annual ethnic minority forum. These present an opportunity for representatives of ethnic minority groups to address any problem areas. As a result of the last ethnic minority forum, held in February 2001, the Benefits Agency policy on provision of interpreting and translation services is being reviewed.

The Benefits Agency is committed to providing a service, which is fair and accessible to all members of the community. Local managers are responsible for ensuring that the level of service is of an acceptable standard. This commitment is also stated in the Customer Charter, which was published in November 1999. The standards in the Customer Charter are measured annually by a range of

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internal checks and customer satisfaction surveys. An analysis of the results informs service improvement action plans. All complaints received by the Agency are recorded and the data analysed centrally. The monthly reports produced are also used to inform service improvement plans.

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