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Mr. George Howarth: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the optimum value of sterling in relation to the (a) DM, (b) euro and (c) dollar at which it would be most beneficial for the
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United Kingdom to enter the euro, provided that all other elements of his five economic tests are met; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Boateng: The determining factor underpinning any Government decision on membership of the single currency is the national economic interest. The Government have said that the rate at which sterling would enter the single currency would need to be consistent with economic fundamentals in the UK and compatible with sustainable convergence between the UK and other euro area economies.
Mr. Waterson: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the responsibilities and role are of (a) regional chambers, (b) local authorities, (c) regional development agencies and (d) the EU Committee of the Regions in the national handover plan and preparing for the euro. 
Mr. Boateng: A full list of all the organisations involved in changeover planning was set out in the second outline national changeover plan, which was published in March 2000. A copy is available in the Library of the House.
Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the constitutional implications of United Kingdom membership of the European single currency; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Boateng: The Chancellor's October 1997 statement on EMU acknowledged that to share a common monetary policy with other states represents a major pooling of economic sovereignty. It also stated that if the economic benefits are clear and unambiguous, there is no constitutional bar to British membership of EMU.
Mr. Laws: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will list the (a) dates and (b) membership of each meeting of the cross-policy committee on preparations for the European single currency over the last four years; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Boateng: The cross-party advisory group on preparations for the euro is an informal group which acts as a channel for the exchange of information and develops cross-party awareness of the continuing preparations for the euro. Given the importance of preparations for the euro, every parliamentary party is invited to be represented on the group. The group has met six times since its first meeting on 19 June 2000, the last being on 8 March 2001.
Mr. Boateng: The Chancellor's most recent forecasts for the UK economy were published in the Financial Statement and Budget Report 2001 (HC 279). Forecasts for trade in goods and services and the balance of payments can be found on pages 171175, tables B5-B7.
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Mr. Boateng: I refer my hon. Friend to section 5.66 to 5.69 of the economic and fiscal strategy report published on Budget day, copies of which are in the Library. This sets out the Government's view on annuity pension arrangements.
Mr. Boateng: Arrangements for the publication of the report on the regulation of the Equitable will be made when the report is completed and handed to HMT. We will decide whether any further action is necessary in the light of this report.
Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many tons of gold have been sold by the Bank of England since he instructed it to do so; and what has been the average price secured from these sales. 
Mr. Boateng: Since the gold sales programme was announced in May 1999, as part of the restructuring of the United Kingdom's foreign currency reserves, 295 tonnes have been sold. The average price secured at the 12 auctions held to date is $273.09 per ounce.
Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the total number of euros purchased by the Bank of England is since he instructed it to invest 40 per cent. of the proceeds of gold sales in this currency; and what has been the average purchase price. 
Mr. Boateng: The proceeds from sales of gold are invested, over a period of time, in interest-bearing foreign currency assets, in broadly the same proportion as currently held in the net foreign currency reserves, as part of the Bank of England's day-to-day management of the United Kingdom's foreign currency reserves.
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Mr. Boateng: The determining factor underpinning any Government decision on membership of the single currency is the national economic interest. The Government have said that the Treasury will complete an assessment of the five tests within two years of the start of this Parliament.
Mr. Boateng: A reduced rate of 5 per cent. was introduced last year on the supply and installation, in residential accommodation, of goods whose primary purpose is to save energy. Energy-saving materials sold direct to the public are not included in the list of goods and services to which, under agreements with our European partners, a reduced rate of VAT may apply. The Government are in favour of extending the reduced rate to cover these DIY installations and have raised this with the European Commission.
Mr. Burstow: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the impact of the decision of the London VAT tribunal in the Kingscrest case on the implementation of free nursing care and the affordability of fee levels. 
Mr. Boateng: The decision of the VAT and duties tribunal in the Kingscrest Associates Ltd. and Montecello Ltd. case does not impact upon nursing care. The Government are of the view that the care of vulnerable people provided by residential homes should not be subject to VAT and are considering how best to challenge this decision.
Mr. Burstow: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will amend VAT regulations to clarify the VAT status of care homes following the recent decision of the London VAT tribunal in the Kingscrest case. 
Mr. Drew: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on what advice is now being offered by individual Inland Revenue officers to those businesses that may be affected by IR35. 
Dawn Primarolo: Genuine businesses are not affected by IR35. IR35 applies only where, if it were not for the interposition of an intermediary such as a service company, the worker would be an employee of the client. The Inland Revenue provides a free service to anyone who wants advice on the application of the IR35 rules. This includes providing opinions on contracts of engagement and a dedicated IR35 helpline. There is also extensive material freely available on the Inland Revenue IR35 website. Full details about how to use the opinion on contracts service are available on the Inland Revenue website.
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Dawn Primarolo: None. Inland Revenue officials have met with members of the professional contractors group executive to discuss practical issues arising out of the application and operation of the IR35 legislation.
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