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25 Mar 2003 : Column 174Wcontinued
Mr. Sheerman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what arrangements exist to compensate employees who lose a significant proportion of their company pension when the company goes into liquidation. 
Mr. McCartney: The Government are sympathetic to the situation faced by members of pension schemes who find themselves in the unfortunate position of being in a scheme that has insufficient funds to secure all its liabilities when it is wound up.
A compensation scheme already exists to provide compensation for losses caused by dishonesty where the employer is insolvent. However, our Green Paper, "Simplicity, Security and Choice: Working and Saving for Retirement", (Cm 5677), published on 17 December 2002, contains additional proposals aimed at improving protection for scheme members if their schemes wind-up. We are seeking views on removing the restrictions on the amount of compensation payable under the compensation scheme, sharing out scheme assets more fairly, insurance for schemes that are wound up due to employer insolvency and on strengthening the protection for members whose solvent employer chooses to wind up its scheme. The consultation period for the Green Paper proposals runs until 28 March 2003.
Nick Harvey: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to allow sub-postmasters to advise people on whether to open a Post Office card account for receiving benefit payments; and if he will make a statement. 
Malcolm Wicks: The Post Office card account is one of three account options that will be available to customers if they want to access their money at the Post Office. Because the Post Office card account has limited features it will not be the best option for everyone.
We will write to customers when it is their turn to change their method of payment. Customers will be supplied directly with information which clearly sets out their account options and enables them to decide which account is right for them. Sub-postmasters also have official Post Office leaflets, which provide factual information on the account options available, which they can give to customers.
As neither Post Office staff nor staff in the Department are experts in giving financial advice, it would not be appropriate for them to do so. Sub-postmasters, therefore, should not advise customers on which account is most suitable. It is for customers to choose which account best meets their needs and circumstances.
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Ms Oona King: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister pursuant to his answer of 3 March 2003, Official Report, column 868W, on affordable housing, how many units of affordable housing (a) for rent and (b) for sale were
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built with funding generated by recycled capital grant in each year since 1997, broken down by Government Office Region. 
Mr. McNulty: The number of units completed by registered social landlords (RSLs) which have been funded, wholly or in conjunction with loans or RSLs reserves, from recycled capital grant fund since 1997 by region are shown in the following table:
|Yorks and Humberside||0||0||1||0||16||0||38||0||50||9|
(12) As noted in the answer on 3 March, figures for 200102 are subject to validation. These figures differ slightly from the 3 March figures reflecting further validation work undertaken since then, but are still not final.
Mr. Edward Davey To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what recent estimate he has made of the cost of council tax collection and enforcement to local authorities; and if he will make a statement. 
Matthew Taylor: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister pursuant to his answer of 17 March 2003, Official Report, column 609W, on council tax, what assessment he has made of the main components of the cost of collecting council tax; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Leslie: The returns made by English local authorities to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister indicate about 30 per cent. of the gross collection costs are attributable to staff costs with the remainder being non-staff running expenses. No more detailed assessment of the cost of collecting the council tax has been made.
Matthew Taylor: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister pursuant to his answer of 17 March 2003, Official Report, column 609W, on council tax, whether the figures he provided were gross or net of council tax benefit; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Norman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many employees of (a) the Social Exclusion Unit, (b) the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit and (c) the Homelessness Directorate have been (i) members of the Labour Party, (ii) previous employees of the Labour Party and (iii) previous employees of Labour. 
Mr. Leslie: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister does not hold the information requested centrally. Previous employment records are held in individual staff files but extracting this information could be carried out only at disproportionate cost.
Mr. Drew: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister (1) if he will make a statement on the impact of the partial repeal of section 19 of the Fire Services Act 1947 in relation to the Government's policy on decentralisation; 
(3) what recent discussions he has had with the Fire Brigades Union on section 19 of the Fire Services Act 1947. 
Mr. Raynsford: The proposed partial repeal of section 19 of the Fire Services Act 1947 is a key element in the replacement of the existing over-centralised framework for fire cover and the early introduction of the new risk-based approach recommended by the Independent Review of the Fire Service chaired by Professor Sir George Bain. The Government believe that decisions on fire cover should be taken by democratically accountable fire authorities, acting on the professional advice of chief fire officers, and after taking account of the views of local communities. The proposed repeals are also consistent with the principles, set out in the White Paper "Strong Local LeadershipQuality Public Services", of giving local authorities
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greater freedoms and flexibilities by cutting back on consent regimes and red tape. The Bain Review, which recommended urgent repeal or amendment of section 19, invited evidence from all major stakeholders in the fire service. Since publication of the Review the Local Government Association and the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association have repeated their support for repeal. Draft guidance on the implementation of the new fire cover arrangements and on the consultation of local communities on significant changes in fire cover were placed in the Libraries of both Houses on 5 March, and are being circulated to a wide range of stakeholders for comment.
My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has met the Fire Brigades Union a number of times in recent weeks. At a meeting with Fire Service Employers and the Fire Brigades Union on 3 February the Deputy Prime Minister said that the Government had announced the proposed repeal of part of section 19 but that the Government would consult fully on the new draft guidance on the implementation of integrated risk management planning.
Mr. Paul Marsden: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what assessment he has made of (a) the capacity of Shropshire's Fire Service to maintain fire cover during the Fire Brigades Union strike on 20 March and (b) the number of military personnel able to provide fire cover. 
Mr. Raynsford: The proposed Fire Brigade Union (FBU) strike on 20 March did not go ahead. However, the emergency fire cover provided by the armed forces under Operation Fresco was once again made available to deal with the situation. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Ministry of Defence liase regularly at both ministerial level and official level, we are also in regular touch with other parties, such as Fire Authorities, to ensure that an appropriate level and range of emergency fire cover is available to minimise the risk to public safety caused by FBU strike action.
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