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6 Nov 2002 : Column 294W—continued

Penrose Inquiry

Mr. Clappison: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) how many requests by Lord Penrose's inquiry for the production of documents he has declined; and on what grounds they were denied; [78830]

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Ruth Kelly: It was made clear at the outset of the Inquiry that the Treasury would co-operate fully with Lord Penrose. We have done so and all relevant officials are aware of this requirement.

The Treasury has sought to provide all relevant information to the Inquiry, including information not specifically requested.

The Inquiry has made a wide range of requests for documents and information and Treasury officials have co-operated fully in identifying and supplying the requested documents where they have been in the possession of the Treasury. No record of individual requests has been maintained, nor have specific procedures been put in place for dealing with such requests. No requests for the production of documents have been declined and we are not aware of any outstanding requests for information with which we have not yet complied.

Savings (Low Incomes)

Ms Walley: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what role he plans for the Friendly Society Movement in increasing savings for those on low incomes. [79393]

Ruth Kelly: Friendly societies have an important role, in competition with other service providers, in providing access to savings products. The Government are committed to encouraging a stronger saving habit in people from low-income groups. That is why we are introducing the Saving Gateway and the Child Trust Fund. Both measures will help develop a stronger saving habit, which should benefit friendly societies. The friendly society movement has played an important role in the establishment of the Child Trust Fund by providing advice and expertise.

Financial Education

Ms Walley: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the strategy for a national financial advice network; and if this will include the contribution made by (a) credit unions and (b) friendly societies in providing advice to the financially excluded. [79399]

Ruth Kelly: It is important that everyone should have access to appropriate financial education, information and generic advice to understand his or her options, as well as having access to regulated product specific advice where appropriate.

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There have been proposals for a new network to provide financial education, information and generic advice, and we have noted those proposals with interest. Many organisations are already involved in the provision of those forms of help.

All financial services firms can already support the provision of help for the financially excluded.

The Credit Unions Act 1979 sets out the objects of a credit union, which include the training and education of members in the wise use of money and in the management of their financial affairs. The Government support credit unions welcome contribution to tackling financial exclusion.

Financial Products

Ms Walley: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the contribution tax free financial products make to the quality of life for the less affluent; and if he will make a statement. [79398]

Ruth Kelly: The Government recognise the importance of savings in providing people with security if things go wrong, independence throughout their lives and comfort in old age. The Government's strategy is to create the right environment for saving, create the right incentives for people to save and ensure that individuals have the information and financial literacy they need to make the right saving choices.

The Government have already introduced successful products such as Individual Savings Accounts (designed to encourage saving among individuals, particularly those with little or no savings) and Stakeholder pensions (which have extended the benefits of pension saving to previously excluded groups). In addition, pilots for the Saving Gateway were launched in August 2002 and further proposals are being developed for the Child Trust Fund. Statements on the progress of the Government's saving policies will be provided in the Pre Budget Report.

Ms Walley: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the likelihood of less affluent consumers buying financial products without face to face advice. [79397]

Ruth Kelly: Many financial products (for example insurance, and cash savings) are widely bought without face-to-face advice.

Generally, more sophisticated consumers are more likely to buy investments without face-to-face advice.

But, while sales of retail investments without face-to-face advice have grown, the bulk of sales generally continue to be through advisers who will have met their client. However, as the Sandler Review of ''Medium and Long Term Retail Savings in the UK'' found, distributors have strong incentives to focus on higher income consumers. The Sandler Review therefore recommended building on existing product standards through the introduction of ''stakeholder'' products that could significantly help less affluent consumers by providing them with simple, good value, and risk-controlled products that could be sold face to face but without the time and cost associated with regulated advice.

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Sandler Review

Ms Walley: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what progress has been made with the Sandler Review. [79400]

Ruth Kelly: Ron Sandler's report was wide-ranging and contained recommendations for Government and the regulator, as well as for the retail savings industry. The Treasury is planning to consult on the Sandler recommendation for a suite of regulated products early in the new year. The consideration of Sandler's tax recommendations are being taken forward as part of the normal budget process. The FSA is considering the recommendations that touch on its responsibilities.

Neighbourhood Renewal

Ms Walley: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, how many of the recommendations of PAT14 have been achieved. [79395]

Ruth Kelly: Details of progress against specific recommendations of PAT14 were set out in the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal: Policy Action Team Audit report, published in January 2001. Although most proposed actions that were listed have been completed, the report recognised that the work to eliminate financial exclusion is on-going. While we have made important progress across the areas identified by PAT14—credit unions, banking and insurance services, financial education and ethnic minority issues—we need to continue to work with the financial services industry, voluntary and community groups to end financial exclusion.

Credit Unions

Ms Walley: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what his Department has done to support (a) credit unions and (b) friendly societies since 1997. [79394]

Ruth Kelly: The Government welcome the contribution of the mutual sector, including credit unions and friendly societies, to increasing choice and widening access in financial services.

Following the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, the Financial Services Authority has assumed responsibility for the regulation of credit unions and friendly societies. The Act also introduced an independent ombudsman scheme and single financial services compensation scheme. These measures should increase confidence in those considering membership of either credit unions or friendly societies.

We are in the process of delivering a programme of deregulatory measures with the aim of increasing the operational flexibility of credit unions. For example, four measures were introduced in July this year, including enhancement to credit unions' ability to borrow from external sources and more flexibility in the way credit unions can pay dividends to members.

Measures such as the introduction of the Saving Gateway and the Child Trust Fund are intended to encourage saving by low-income groups, which should benefit credit unions and friendly societies.

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