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Freedom of Information Act

Andrew Selous: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the likely costs to his Department in the first quarter of 2005 of compliance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000; and if he will make a statement. [199074]

John Healey: The Treasury already publishes significant amounts of information on its website and in its publication scheme, and routinely responds to information requests under the Open Government Code. The cost of handling future requests under the Freedom of Information Act will depend on the number and nature of such requests, which it is difficult to forecast in advance. Such extra costs as arise will be met from within the Treasury's existing running cost ceiling.

Fuel Prices

Mr. Weir: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he is taking to assist in stabilising fuel prices; and if he will make a statement. [199213]

John Healey: The Chancellor recently set out four areas for action aimed at alleviating pressure on the crude oil price: First, OPEC must continue to take necessary action to return pricing to levels consistent with global prosperity. Secondly, actions are needed to
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improve the transparency and efficiency of the oil markets. Thirdly, oil producing countries need to promote sustainable investment in their reserves and productive capacity. Fourthly, all countries must promote greater energy efficiency and develop new sources of energy. G7 Finance Ministers broadly endorsed these themes at their meeting in October and called for producer and consumer action to progress them.

Government Buildings (Disabled Access)

Tom Cox: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether all Government buildings in his Department within the Greater London area are fully accessible to disabled people; and if he will make a statement. [199320]

John Healey: Yes.

Income Tax

Paul Farrelly: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many pensioners in Newcastle-under-Lyme have benefited from the 10 per cent. rate of income tax since its introduction. [198711]

John Healey: All income taxpayers benefit from the 10p pence starting rate. The Survey of Personal Incomes (SPI) estimates that there are around 6,000 state retirement pension age taxpayers in the Newcastle-under-Lyme constituency in 2000–01 and 2001–02. The sample size of pensioners living in this constituency is small in the 1999–2000 Survey of Personal Incomes, so a reliable estimate cannot be given for this year.

Ministers' Private Offices

Mr. Prisk: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the running costs of Ministers' private offices in his Department have been in each year since 1997. [191388]

Mr. Timms: For information relating to 1997–98 to 2002–03, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answers which the former Financial Secretary (Ruth Kelly) gave to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) on 8 January 2002, Official Report, column 813W and 29 April 2003, Official Report, column 305W. The comparable figure for 2003–04 was £4.4 million.

National Insurance Contributions

Mr. Tynan: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what assessment he has made of the opportunities for those remaining in education until the age of 18 years and then pursuing a four year higher education course to accrue a national insurance record sufficient to receive the full basic state pension at retirement. [198698]

John Healey: All young people receive Class 3 credits for the tax year in which they reach age 16 and the two following years.

Subject to certain conditions, those over 18 may pay voluntary contributions to the extent these are required to qualify for a full basic state retirement pension. These may be paid up to six years after a period of education or training ends, provided the year for which they are to be paid included a period of at least six months full-time education or training. It is not always necessary to pay
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these since it is possible to achieve full basic state pension with up to five non-qualifying years in the working life.

Mr. Tynan: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what proportion of those aged between 18 and 21 years in higher education made sufficient national insurance contributions in 2003–04 to be credited with a qualifying year. [198699]

John Healey: The information requested is not available. For individuals who made insufficient National Insurance Contributions, it is possible to pay voluntary Class 3 National Insurance Contributions. These may be paid up to six years after the period of education ends, provided the year for which they are to be paid included a period of at least six months' full-time education or training.

Negative Equity

Michael Fabricant: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what recent estimate the Treasury has made of the number of households with negative equity in their homes; and if he will make a statement. [199283]

Mr. Timms: The Treasury has made no such estimate. However, the Bank of England's Financial Stability Review highlights that the share of first-time buyers (FTBs) with loan-to-value ratios of over 90 per cent. has fallen back in recent years. Analysis from the Council of Mortgage Lenders, noted that: "It would take significant house price falls for negative equity to resurface as a major issue in the UK", (Housing Finance, Spring 2004).

Select Committee Recommendations

Mr. Allen: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many recommendations by parliamentary Select Committees have been adopted by his Department since June 2001. [197772]

Mr. Timms: Since June 2001, the House of Commons Treasury Committee has published some 27 reports, most of them containing a large number of recommendations. In addition, several other select committees of both Houses have issued reports relating to the Treasury's responsibilities and many of these reports have contained a significant number of recommendations. It would be possible to determine how many such recommendations had been accepted and implemented, either wholly or in part, only at disproportionate cost.

Select committee reports relating to the work of the Treasury are given very careful consideration by Treasury Ministers.

Stamp Duty

Ms Keeble: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what plans he has to reform stamp duty to help first-time buyers. [199335]

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Mr. Timms: The Government keep all taxes under review.

Sustainable Reporting

Mr. Drew: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the Government's attitude towards sustainable reporting; and what encouragement he has given to the promotion of corporate social responsibility with particular reference to sustainable reporting. [198741]

John Healey: Following on from the Company Law Review, as announced by the Minister of State for Industry and the Regions the Government published draft regulations on the Operating and Financial Review (OFR) in May for consultation. The OFR is not intended to duplicate or replace social and environmental reports that many companies already prepare for the public interest. Proposals will require quoted companies to provide a narrative report setting out the company's business objectives, its strategy for achieving them and the risk and uncertainties that might affect their achievement. It will require companies to report on other matters where these are necessary for an understanding of the business. These matters include employees, the environment and social and community issues.

More companies are already reporting on their corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability performance—for example 132 of the UK top 250 companies reported on their environmental performance in 2003, while 139 companies participated in Business in the Community's (BITC) second Corporate Responsibility Index.

The Government continue to support the Association of Certified and Corporate Accountant's (ACCA) Annual Sustainability Reporting Awards and helped business report on their key environmental impacts by publishing a series of voluntary guidelines, including greenhouse gas emissions, waste and water.

Further information about the Government's vision and ambitions for CSR may be found in its report, "Corporate Social Responsibility: A Government Update", published in May 2004, a copy of which is available from the House of Commons Library.

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