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Vernon Coaker: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the measures he has introduced to tackle poverty in disadvantaged areas. [68402]

John Healey: Spending Review 2002 reinforced our commitment to improving public services in disadvantaged areas—more jobs, better results in schools, improved health, safer and cleaner neighbourhoods—with Departments being held accountable for delivering improvements through their Public Service Agreement targets.

Occupational Pension Schemes

Mr. Steen: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what incentives he provides to encourage employers to offer occupational pension schemes for their employees. [70442]

Ruth Kelly: Employers get tax and National Insurance relief to encourage them to offer occupational pensions schemes for their employees.

Employer contributions to occupational pension schemes are normally exempt from corporation tax. And, where the scheme is contracted-out of SERPS, the employer pays a lower rate of National Insurance contributions.

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Customs (Scotland)

Annabelle Ewing: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many Customs staff were employed in Scotland in each year since 1995. [70634]

John Healey: The total number of full-time equivalent staff employed by Customs and Excise in Scotland since 1995 is as follows:

All figures are for the financial year to 1 April.

Five Pound Notes

Barbara Follett: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer why some of the new 'Elizabeth Fry' five pound notes had serial numbers which rubbed off; and when the Bank of England plans to start reissuing the new note. [71907]

Ruth Kelly: The Bank of England suspended issuance of the new Elizabeth Fry five pound note after it was discovered that, on some notes, it was possible to remove part or all of the serial numbers, when the note was rubbed vigorously. The problem was traced to unexpectedly slow drying of the numbering ink on some of the notes, when the numbers were printed over the new varnish coating. This varnish had been introduced to make the note more durable. In future the Bank will put the varnish over the numbering, as tests have shown that this solves the problem. The notes already printed will undergo extensive drying treatment to ensure that the numbering ink dries thoroughly.

The Bank plans to resume issuing the new note in the week commencing 19 August 2002 and is announcing this today.

The total cost of finding and solving this problem amount to less than £250,000 (or approximately half of one per cent. of the annual costs of note issue and production). The Bank is looking to find cost savings elsewhere in note production to ensure that the taxpayer does not suffer any loss of revenue.

Euro Preparations

Barbara Follett: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on euro preparations. [71908]

Mr. Gordon Brown: As I said in my Mansion House speech in June 2002, our decision on the euro is of immense, historic importance to the long term future of our economy and our country as a whole. In 1997 we set out the case in principle for the single currency, and said that the determining factor underpinning any Government decision on membership is the national economic interest, and whether the economic case is clear and unambiguous.

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As part of our commitment to prepare and decide, the Government are continuing work on EMU preparations—in partnership with business—to ensure that the UK has a genuine option to join the euro if that is what Government, Parliament and the people, in a referendum, decide.

I am today depositing in the Libraries of both Houses a copy of the Sixth Progress Report on Euro Preparations. The report describes the changeover to the euro in the euro area and sets out lessons from the euro area changeover.

It also sets out what Government and partners are doing to raise awareness of the potential impact on UK businesses and gives an update on planning for possible UK entry.

Alongside the Sixth Progress Report on Euro Preparations, I am also laying a report on the changeover in the euro area which was commissioned by the Standing Committee from the Private Sector Learning Group.

EU Committees

(Scottish Representation)

Angus Robertson: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) when the EU Committee on recovery of claims is next due to meet; whether representatives of the Scottish Executive (a) have been and (b) are members of it; and if he will make a statement; [70917]

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John Healey: The following table indicates when the various EU Committees are next due to meet:

EU Committee(12)Next meeting
Tariff Quotas(13)9 or 10 September 2002
Training (SCAT)(14)
Customs 2002(13)September or October 2002
Duty-Free Arrangements(14)
Mutual Assistance—Recovery of Claims31 July 2002
Excise Duties(13)November 2002
Tariff and Statistical5 and 6 September 2002
Origin(13)16 or 17 September 2002
Value Added Tax(13)November 2002
Information Technology (SCIT)2 November 2002

(12) The Anti-Fraud Committee (SCAF) was dissolved on 29 May 2002. There is no EU VAT or Customs Committee on the recovery of claims other than that on mutual assistance.

(13) Date yet to be finalised.

(14) Not yet set.

The UK is normally represented by one or two officials from HM Customs and Excise on each of these Committees. The Customs delegates at these Committees represent all of the UK.

Online Tax Return Services

Mr. Bell: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if the Treasury is reconsidering the strategy of Government and the private sector performing the functions of tax return preparer on the Internet as direct e-commerce service providers to consumers. [71601]

Dawn Primarolo: The Inland Revenue continues to encourage third parties to provide e-filing products alongside the free Inland Revenue product, SA Online.

Mr. Bell: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if the Treasury intends to revise its strategy of providing online tax return services where such services can be provided by the private sector; and if he will make a statement. [71602]

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Dawn Primarolo: The Inland Revenue have no plans to withdraw their electronic self assessment product, SA Online. 88 per cent. of customers using the Internet Service for Self Assessment used the Inland Revenue product last year.

Mr. Bell: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the Treasury's proposed investment in the Inland Revenue's internet self-assessment programme is for (a) 2002, (b) 2003 and (c) 2004, including its marketing and advertising budget; and if he will make a statement. [71603]

Dawn Primarolo: The proposed investment in the Inland Revenue's self assessment programme for 2002 is £7 million. The marketing and communications budget for 2002 which covers the marketing and advertising of e-filing is £2 million.

Our plans for 2003 onwards are still being considered.

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