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6 Feb 2003 : Column 358Wcontinued
Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what his estimate is of the cost of theft and fraud to (a) his Department, (b) its agencies and (c) non-departmental public bodies in 2002. 
Mr. Charles Clarke: An estimate of the cost of theft and fraud to my Department in 200102 is £70.077 million. The amount is made up as follows.
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|Individual Learning Accounts||67.000|
|Thefts in DfES||0.008|
The estimated loss on Individual Learning Accounts has been accepted by the NAO and appears in the DfES's 200102 accounts. The amounts due in respect of TECs and Training Providers was recovered during the settlement negotiations following closure of the TECs.
Information in relation to NDPBs is not collected centrally.
21. Andrew Selous: To ask the Solicitor-General what recent representations she has received from victims of crime about the review of unduly lenient sentences. 
The Solicitor-General: In the last year 33 victims have contacted the Attorney and myself personally complaining of unduly lenient sentences. Of those we referred six cases to the Court of Appeal which increased the sentence in three. In addition to those cases raised directly by victims, we have considered 325 other cases of unduly lenient sentences of which we referred 151 to the Court of Appeal.
23. Ms Coffey : To ask the Solicitor-General what assessment she has made of the use of victim impact statements by the Crown Prosecution Service. 
The Solicitor-General: Victim Personal Statements, were introduced in October 2001 to give victims the chance to explain how the crime has affected them. They help the court when sentencing. The CPS also use these statements to identify those victims who may need special help in giving their evidence. The Home Office are leading an evaluation of them.
24. Mr. Allen: To ask the Solicitor-General what guidance she gives to the Crown Prosecution Service relating to not proceeding with murder charges in return for a plea of guilty to manslaughter; and if she will make a statement. 
The Solicitor-General: Cases of murder are conducted under the guidance of the Code for Crown Prosecutors. The code sets out the circumstances in which guilty pleas to less serious charges can be accepted. In such cases the prosecution should be prepared to explain their reasons in open court and speak to the victim's family, take their views into account and to explain the situation.
6 Feb 2003 : Column 360W
Mr. Streeter: To ask the Prime Minister when his officials intend to respond to the request for funding made to them by Judge William Taylor on 2 February. 
The Prime Minister: As far as I am aware, my office has not yet received a letter from Judge William Taylor.
Mr. Pike: To ask the Prime Minister if he discussed at his recent meeting with the President of South Africa the situation in Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement. 
The Prime Minister: I met President Mbeki on 1 February. We had discussions on a wide range of issues, including Zimbabwe. We shared our understanding of the problems faced by Zimbabwe. President Mbeki said his government are engaged in dialogue with the Zimbabwe authorities to address the difficulties in the country. The UK's position has always been that there must be a return to democracy and the rule of law. We will continue to assist in tackling the humanitarian crisis in the country.
Kate Hoey: To ask the Prime Minister what recent discussions he has had with the South African President about Zimbabwe. 
The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike).
Mrs. Gillan: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what the maximum number of train paths per year through the Channel Tunnel is that would be allocated to Central Railway under their proposals. 
Mr. Jamieson [holding answer 31 January 2003]: Paths through the Channel Tunnel are made available according to the general rules applying to all train operators requesting capacity. The available allocation for any operator will depend on the characteristics of the paths requested and also on the demand from other users.
Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport pursuant to his answer of 27 January, Official Report, column 523W, on congestion charges, whether exemptions or concessions under his uniform minimum standard will apply to (a) parents taking young children to school, (b) night workers, (c) key workers in the public services, (d) small business and (e) residents living a short distance outside a charge zone. 
Mr. Jamieson [holding answer 31 January 2003]: We will consult on the scope of a uniform minimum standard of exemptions and concessions in due course once we have had an opportunity to take into account the experiences gained from road user charging schemes in London and Durham.
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Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many empty homes his Department (a) had five years ago and (b) have now, by region; if he will establish an empty homes strategy within his Department; and if he will set a target for reduction in empty homes. 
Mr. Jamieson: The Department for Transport was formed on 29 May 2002. As at 31 December 2002, the Department owned 577 dwellings, all of which were held by the Highways Agency. The table shows the breakdown by the Highways Agency regional office.
|Branch||Total stock||Vacant||Habitable and vacant||Habitable and vacant over six months||Uninhabitable (vacant)|
Columns 3 to 5 are not in addition to column 2. Of the 100 vacant properties 41 were habitable and vacant (column 3) of which seven were vacant over six months (column 4) and 59 were vacant and uninhabitable (column 5).
The Department undertakes a continual review of its property needs and takes measures to dispose of property which is surplus to business needs in accordance with Government Accounting Regulations. The Highways Agency manages its portfolio to minimise the number of unoccupied houses, maximise the rental income and safeguard the value of its properties. The Highways Agency has been in discussion with both Transport and Housing Ministers about making more of its houses available to social housing groups and key workers in areas of housing
6 Feb 2003 : Column 362W
need and will work in partnership with social housing groups to achieve this. Any property, which the Agency has acquired, that is not needed for road operation is sold to obtain best economic, social or heritage value.
The Highways Agency is already subject to the following targets, which it successfully achieved in the last year: that no more than 15 per cent. of its housing stock is vacant on 31 March in any year; and that no more than 3 per cent. of habitable properties are empty for more than six months.
Although the number of vacant properties as at 31 December 2002 exceeds the 15 per cent. target (17.3 per cent.) it is not uncommon to be above the target level at that time of year and current forecasts indicate that the target is likely to be reached by 31 March 2003.
Mr. Don Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will list the (a) technical and financial contracts, (b) technical consultants used on a call-off basis and (c) financial consultants used on a call-off basis by (i) the Health and Safety Commission and (ii) Health and Safety Executive relating to railway matters since April 2002, the nature of the assignment for each consultant, and the value of work done by each consultant. 
Mr. Jamieson: The Health and Safety Commission (HSC) does not commission its own work as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), set up under the terms of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, has executive responsibility for commissioning appropriate work on HSC's behalf.
The HSE does not let financial contracts and therefore has no information in respect of financial contracts or financial consultants.
The technical contracts commissioned by HSE (including HMRI) in relation to railway matters since April 2002 are as follows:
|ABB Eutech Ltd.||Control and Protective systems: Assessment methodology|
|Scientifics Ltd.||New requirements for the transport of dangerous goods by rail|
|BOMEL||Evaluation of railway safety case regulations|
|Business Strategy Group||The relationship between the railways industry and HSE|
|University College, London||FN curves and criterion lines for railways and other transport modes|
|AEA Rail||Classification of railway schemes|
|Competence Assurance Solutions Ltd.||Classification of railway schemes|
|National Economic Research Associates||Review of the economic aspects of the ERTMS project team Report|
|Mr. P. Grant||Safe movement of trainsindependent evaluation of initial drafting|
|External supportCall-off agreements|
|NEL(1)||Technical review of the ERTMS project team report|
|WS Atkins||Technical aspects of SPAD investigations|
|Serco Assurance||Potters Bar investigation|
|Serco Assurance(1)||West Ealing DerailmentForensic examination of track|
6 Feb 2003 : Column 363W
|191(1)||Technical review of the ERTMS project team report||NEL|
|192||Technical aspects of SPAD investigations||WS Atkins|
|199||Potters Bar investigation||Serco Assurance|
|234(1)||West Ealing DerailmentForensic examination of track||Serco Assurance|
(1) These projects were commissioned by Directorate/Divisions of HSE other than HMRI.
The values of individual contracts are commercially confidential, but the total cost of these contracts to date is £998,534.
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