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Gender Pay Gap

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what assessment he has made of the extent of the gender pay gap among staff in his Department. [40993]

Mr. Leslie: In response to the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) Task Force 'Just Pay' report, the Cabinet Office and its agencies and the Central Office of

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Information are committed to reviewing their pay systems by April 2003 and preparing action plans to close any gender pay gaps.

Regions White Paper

Mrs. May: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the reason for the delay in the publication of the Regions White Paper. [42174]

Mr. Leslie: We have always stated that the Regions White Paper will be presented to Parliament as soon as it is ready. That remains the case.


Coal Communities (Regeneration)

Dr. Francis: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions he has had with the First Secretary of the National Assembly for Wales regarding the regeneration of former coal communities in Wales. [34843]

Mr. Touhig: I have regular discussions with the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales on a range of issues.

In a relatively short space of time the Coalfields Regeneration Trust has established itself as a leading funder and partner in coalfield regeneration in Wales. All the £3.46 million available for Wales during the first three years has been committed to nearly 60 projects.


Adam Price: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what recent discussions he has had with Consignia concerning the future of the postal service in Wales. [35639]

Mr. Paul Murphy: I have had discussions with ministerial colleagues about this issue.

Public Appointments

Fiona Mactaggart: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how many appointments to public bodies have been made through his Department (a) from April 2000 to March 2001 and (b) since 31 March 2001; and how many of these were (i) men and (ii) women. [42148]

Mr. Paul Murphy: Information about numbers of ministerial appointments to public bodies is included in the Cabinet Office's annual report "Public Bodies". Copies are placed in the Library of the House and the report is published on the Cabinet Office website.

My Department does not sponsor any public bodies; however, I am jointly responsible for some appointments made through other sponsoring Departments.


Industrial Action

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many interim payments have been issued to those whose benefit or tax credit awards have been delayed as a result of the recent PCS Union strike action. [30343]

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Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many benefit claimants have received interim payments at an amount equivalent to the full benefit rate as a result of industrial strike action undertaken by Jobcentre Plus staff; and under what terms and conditions such interim payments are being made. [32641]

Mr. Nicholas Brown [holding answer 5 February 2002]: As at January 28, there are around 4,700 customers in receipt of weekly or fortnightly interim payments. The payments are made at a rate equivalent to the income support rates. Interim payments are recoverable and will be off set against any benefit that is due once the claim is reviewed and assessed using the normal benefit rules.

Tax credits, administrated by the Inland Revenue, have not been affected by industrial action in the Department for Work and Pensions.

Housing Benefit

Ms Oona King: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what percentage of private rented sector tenants have had their entitlement to housing benefit restricted as a result of (a) local reference rent determinations and (b) single room rent determinations in each rent service area in the past 12 months. [34551]

Malcolm Wicks: The information is not available.

Mr. Salmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on what basis a student loan is classed as income for students applying for housing benefit. [36060]

Malcolm Wicks: Support for full-time students is generally provided through the educational maintenance system which is designed for their needs. However some full-time students in vulnerable groups, such as lone parents or disabled people, are eligible to claim income- related benefits, including housing benefit, in recognition of their extra needs.

As with other people claiming income related benefits any income a student has is taken into account when assessing entitlement to benefit. Since a student loan is intended to help towards everyday living costs it is taken into account as income. However, before the weekly income is assessed £319 of the annual loan is disregarded towards the cost of travel and £260 towards the cost of books and equipment. In addition, any grants made specifically for these costs are disregarded in full. Once the weekly loan income has been calculated a further £10 a week is disregarded.

To treat student loans in any other way would put students in a better position than people who have no access to these resources.

Rent Service

Ms Oona King: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) if he will list by Rent Service area the localities used by the Rent Service in (a) September 2001 and (b) January 2002 to determine the local reference rent and single room rent; [34552]

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Malcolm Wicks: Our policy is that local reference rents should reflect the generality of the market and must therefore be based on an area large enough to take account of the bigger picture which reflects a more generalised choice of housing. Localities are intended to reflect the qualities (both good and bad) of an area. Details of Rent Service localities are not published because markets can change rapidly rendering such information out of date and meaningless. Localities are necessarily fluid in order to reflect the housing market. Current Rent Service guidance states that localities should be reviewed on a monthly basis.

Rent Officers determine localities by using their professional judgment, expertise and knowledge of the local housing market. There is no requirement for the Rent Service to consult formally about these arrangements.

The technical advice and guidance circular on valuation good practice, which is used by rent officers in England, is the responsibility of the Rent Service. A copy of the circular, which has also been shared with Rent Officers in Wales and Scotland, has been placed in the Library.

There has been no report from the Rent Service on the impact on the number of localities since the introduction of Statutory Instrument 3561. The amendments introduced by that instrument are designed to ensure that our policy is achieved and to restore certainty. They are not designed to change the way in which localities or local reference and single room rents are decided. The position for people claiming Housing Benefit is therefore unchanged.

Performance and Verification Frameworks

Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will place in the Library the responses to the consultations on the performance framework and the verifications framework. [29484]

Malcolm Wicks: Local authority circular F25/2001 contains a summary of the responses to consultation on the Department's paper "Splitting the Verification Framework into Modules" issued in July 2001. A copy of this circular has been placed in the Library.

A copy of the summary of responses to consultation on the performance framework has also been placed in the Library.

Winter Fuel Payments

Mrs. Gillan: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what progress has been made in discussions with the European Commission about the extent of the UK's legal obligations under European regulations on winter fuel payments; and if he will make a statement; [39988]

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Mr. McCartney [holding answer 4 March 2002]: Department officials met recently with officials from the European Commission, and as a result of that we expect to bring this matter to a close shortly.

Mr. Kidney: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much his Department plans to spend on (a) winter fuel payments and (b) Warm Front plus grants in (i) 2001–02 and (ii) 2002–03. [37640]

Mr. McCartney: The estimated cost of winter fuel payments for 2001–02 and 2002–03 is around £1.7 billion for each year.

Warm Front plus grants are a matter for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. However, I understand that the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme (HEES) is now marketed as the Warm Front Team and that for the period April 2001 to January 2002, over £73 million was spent on HEES plus grants. The expected HEES plus spend for the remainder of 2001–02 is almost £8 million. For the 2002–03 financial year, it is estimated that the spend on HEES plus will be in the region of £50 million.

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