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The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Miss Melanie Johnson): This month is the fifth anniversary of the establishment of the Office for National Statistics, and we are now making major advances in statistics. We have a new index of services, and we are the first country to update our national accounts to meet the new European system of accounts. We also have new data capture initiatives and initiatives to make small area data available for social statistics. In line with last year's White Paper, we have also launched "National Statistics".
Mr. Mackinlay: As my hon. Friend is the Minister in charge of the veracity of Government statistics, I want to draw to her attention the fact that in countless hospitals throughout England and Wales, death certificates are not being completed in a proper and frank manner. Is she aware that for the past 20-odd years, although death certificates may mention pneumonia or septicaemia, there is often a cover-up of the fact that at least some contribution to death was made by MRSA. I shall attempt to pronounce that: methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus--[Laughter.] This is not a matter for levity--not hundreds but thousands of people die in our hospitals because of it, and the hospitals are contriving not to tell the truth. They are covering up because of political considerations, resource considerations, possible litigation--
Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton): Will my hon. Friend recognise the important work that my constituents do in the statistical office in Runcorn, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall)? She will know that, because of the review that has taken place, they are concerned about their future. Will she be in a position to make a decision about the office in the not-too-distant future, and will she take into account the representations that the unions want to make to her soon?
Miss Johnson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend; I know that he takes a keen interest in the concerns of his constituents who work in Runcorn. As he knows, I have been considering the matter for a little while and I need to give it further thought. However, as soon as I make a decision, I shall alert him.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): Was not the Economic Secretary right in her first answer that the Government have taken more initiatives on statistics than any previous Government? Is she not concerned about the growing number of statistics that provide clear evidence of declining confidence in the economy? Is not the only statistic about which we can be confident under a Labour Government the one showing that taxes will go up? Will the Economic Secretary please tell us whether national statistics show that the tax burden is higher or lower than it was when the Government came to office in 1997?
Miss Johnson: We have published endless details of the tax burden. As the hon. Gentleman knows full well, it is lower than it was under the previous Government's plans. On his point about the figures, through the framework for national statistics, we have set out new arrangements that guarantee the independence of statistics that are produced. That is in contrast to the previous Government, who fiddled the figures on unemployment statistics on numerous occasions--dozens of revisions were made to unemployment figures to present a picture to the country that was different from the reality of unemployment under the Tories.
Miss Johnson: I welcome my hon. Friend's interest in the subject, which is shared by the Government. In response to PAT 18--the policy action team report--we have put in place an initiative with additional funding to produce local area statistics on a ward-by-ward and, indeed, other area basis. I am sure that all hon. Members will find that extremely useful.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): The climate change levy, which comes into effect next week, will help to deliver the reductions in carbon emissions needed for the United Kingdom to meet its Kyoto and domestic targets. I am delighted to inform the House that European state aid clearance was given yesterday for the package of negotiated agreements for energy-intensive users, including the full 10-year duration that we sought, and for exemptions for renewable energy and combined heat and power.
Mr. Evans: Following the announcement yesterday by the President of the United States that he will not proceed to ratify the Kyoto protocol because it is not in the best interests of American industry, will the Financial Secretary put British industry first? Will he look again at the enormous cost of the climate change levy, regardless of the package that he has just announced? Throughout the country, including the north-west, the levy will do enormous damage to manufacturing industry which, in any event, is in general decline. The President of the United States is putting American industry first; is not it about time that the Chancellor started to put British industry first and scrapped the levy?
Mr. Timms: It is in the interests of every inhabitant of the globe that the Kyoto process proceeds and that the problem of climate change is addressed. It was disappointing that The Hague conference failed to reach agreement, but our aim is to work with the US Administration to advance the process. The climate change levy is a key element in meeting our Kyoto obligations and is revenue-neutral. All the proceeds will be recycled back to business, and the whole levy has been designed to protect the competitiveness of UK firms.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): Does my hon. Friend agree that the message of President Bush's deplorable decision to turn the Kyoto agreement on its head is that no Government anywhere should ever let themselves be compelled by vested interests and that our Government are right to put the environment first?
Mr. Timms: I have certainly seen the press reports this morning. Our aim is to work with the United States Administration to take this very important process forward. It is in the interests of every citizen of the globe that we do so.
Mr. Russell: Does the Paymaster General agree that the higher rate of VAT on existing buildings is a disincentive for urban renewal and that the nil VAT on new building encourages greenfield development? That being the case, why has it taken the Government four years to get around to sorting out this mess?
Dawn Primarolo: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The package that was introduced in this year's Budget by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on VAT on contaminated land and on development in disadvantaged areas builds on Lord Rogers' report. It is specifically targeted at the regeneration of contaminated sites in inner-city areas and has been widely welcomed as the right way forward for developing these policies. Indeed, the empty homes initiative welcomed those proposals as the Government recognise how to deal with these problems.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that a charity in Ilkley in my constituency may well have to pay a levy of £10,000 over and above the cost of building a bandstand because Customs and Excise does not regard a bandstand as a building? If a bandstand is not a building, what is it?
Dawn Primarolo: I will not speculate on whether or not a bandstand is a building. However, I have noted my hon. Friend's comments, and I will certainly look closely at her point about the problems that her constituents seem to be experiencing with Customs and Excise.