Mr. Gordon Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (1) what assessment his Department has made of the level of overcrowding on trains on routes between Blackpool and Birmingham; 
Mr. Jamieson: No specific assessments have been made but all train operators have a general obligation in their franchise agreements to provide sufficient capacity to avoid excessive crowding. In the Metropolitan areas, Passenger Transport Executives specify overcrowding controls for the services they require. One of the aims of the new franchise policy announced by the Secretary of State in July was to instruct the Strategic Rail Authority to reduce overcrowding and negotiate new franchises or extensions to secure the necessary improvement in capacity.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what the latest estimate is of (a) the number of empty homes and (b) the number of homeless; and what steps the Government are planning to improve these figures. 
Ms Keeble [holding answer 9 November 2001]: From the latest available information it is estimated that there were 763,900 empty residential properties at the beginning of 200001. The majority of these are classified as transitional vacancies.
The number of households accepted by local authorities in England under the homelessness provisions of the 1985 and 1996 Housing Acts as being eligible for assistance, unintentionally homeless and in priority need, in the first six months of 2001 was 59,530.
The Government have introduced a number of measures to reduce the number of empty homes including a reduction in VAT and changes to the way local authorities plan for housing. We will consult shortly on
12 Nov 2001 : Column: 509W
proposals to allow local authorities discretion to remove or reduce the 50 per cent. council tax discount for long-term empty homes.
Mr. David Stewart: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans he has to submit proposals to the European Commission in relation to regulations 248/92 and 95/93 governing slot (a) allocation and (b) ring fencing at Heathrow and Gatwick. 
Mr. Jamieson [holding answer 9 November 2001]: The Government are currently reviewing whether they should seek to ensure that slots are reserved at London airports for regional services. One possible means of achieving this could be the utilisation of Article 9.1.a of Regulation 9593. The Government have received a PSO application for the Inverness-Gatwick route from the Scottish Executive and this is under consideration. If the Government decided to impose a PSO, they would need to inform the Commission in accordance with Regulation 240892.
Mr. David Stewart: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what research his Department has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on demand for slots at Heathrow and Gatwick over the next five years. 
Mr. Jamieson [holding answer 9 November 2001]: The Department has commissioned the South East and East of England Regional Air Services study (SERAS), which is considering all aspects of airport capacity in the area, having regard to future forecasts of demand. The study is looking up to 30 years ahead. Consideration of demand for runway capacity at Heathrow and Gatwick forms part of the work.
12 Nov 2001 : Column: 510W
Mr. Allan: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what estimate he has made of the costs of the Health and Safety Laboratory's estates in Sheffield and Buxton in 200102. 
Mr. Allan: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what estimate he has made of the annual costs of the Health and Safety Laboratory's estates under the proposed PFI scheme on the Buxton site. 
Dr. Whitehead: Commercial negotiations for the Health and Safety Laboratory PFI collocation project have not been concluded with the preferred bidder. Any proposed costs relating to this project are therefore commercially confidential and cannot be made available.
Mr. Chaytor: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (1) how many do-it-yourself shared-ownership scheme purchases there were by each housing association in each of the last five years; 
Ms Keeble: Assistance under the do-it-yourself shared ownership (DIYSO) scheme led to 6,712 purchases in the years 199697 to 200001. Tables showing these purchases by housing association in each year have been placed in the Libraries of the House.
Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what contingency plans he has made to improve transport services in the west midlands if a national stadium is placed there. 
Ms Keeble: The capability of the transport system to deal with the potential demands of a national stadium in the west midlands are being considered by the project teams and the Government. There are a number of current projects which will improve the performance of the existing network, including the M6 Toll and Active Traffic Management on the M42. If implemented, the recommendations from the West Midlands Area Multi- Modal Study will also significantly improve the transport system. The Football Association have yet to decide whether or not they want a national stadium.
12 Nov 2001 : Column: 511W
Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions how many hotels in (a) London and (b) the UK have failed health and safety inspections in the last 12 months; and what mechanisms there are to ensure that health and safety guidelines are adhered to. 
Dr. Whitehead: We do not have any information in respect of the number of hotels in London and the UK that have failed health and safety inspections. Local authorities (LAs) are responsible for the enforcement of health and safety law in hotels throughout GB and LA inspectors will take appropriate enforcement action to ensure that health and safety guidelines are adhered to.
Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions how many vacancies there are for fire personnel in the UK; and what steps he has taken to encourage more people into the service in the last five years. 
Dr. Whitehead: Based on annual returns to HM Fire Service Inspectorate, the provisional figures for the establishment and actual strength of the fire service in England and Wales as at 31 March 2001 were as follows:
Local fire authorities are responsible for the recruitment and selection of fire service staff. In general the fire service is a popular career choice and applications far exceed the number of vacancies available each year. However, in some areas fire authorities and brigades do experience difficulties in recruiting to the retained (volunteer) sections of the fire service. For more than 10 years the Home Office, which had responsibility for fire service matters prior to the transfer to DTLR in June this year, has helped to encourage people to join the fire service both in a full-time and voluntary capacity by providing recruitment literature and advertising posters for local use.Over the last two years the Home Office, and now DTLR, have been encouraging. Fire authorities to review their recruitment practices in order to ensure they reach groups that are currently under-represented in the service. To help authorities to do this DTLR has developed new national recruitment literature which will be launched shortly.