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Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what his estimate is of the (a) annual cost and (b) total value of the empty properties owned by (i) his Department, (ii) agencies and (iii) other public bodies for which he has had responsibility in each of the last two years. 
The Highways Agency holds property in relation to the Government's Targeted Programme of Investment (TPI) in the strategic road network but the assets change year-on-year as the requirements of the TPI dictate. Properties identified as empty were either surplus property for sale, empty property awaiting refurbishment/letting and/or empty property awaiting demolition for road schemes or empty beyond economic repair. The annual cost of these properties in 200203 and 200304 were £545,000 and £582,000 respectively. These costs included utility costs, security, management fees and the annual repair costs to bring the properties into a lettable or saleable condition. The value of the properties was £7.159 million in 200203 and £17.821 million in 200304.
The General Lighthouse Authorities comprising the Trinity Lighthouse Service and Northern Lighthouse Board spent £18,000 in 200203 and £13,000 in 200304 on empty properties. The properties are mainly former lighthouse keepers' living accommodation and have not been valued. The properties have been retained because it is not possible to effectively separate the properties whilst maintaining the security of the operational lighthouses or it is difficult to sell or lease the properties due to their remote locations.
The British Railways Board (Residuary) Ltd. (BRBR) are a wholly owned subsidiary of the Strategic Rail Authority and is responsible for managing the majority of the remaining property, rights and liabilities of the British Railways Board. BRBR own a number property with values of £137.1 million at the end of 200203 and £132.5 million as at the end of 200304. BRBR are unable to provide the value of the empty properties as their records are not kept in this way and some sites are part rented which makes it particularly difficult to determine the value. The cost of managing freehold vacant office space was £689,000 in 200203 and £583,000 in 200304.
The Department has acquired properties adjacent to the route of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link which have become empty because of the impact of construction work. These are generally sold on the open market as soon as construction is complete but to obtain the value of these would involve disproportionate cost.
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Overall the increase in costs is 13 per cent. although the figures for costs alone can be misleading if not placed within the wider context of changes in unit price, areas measured, levels of consumption and improved record keeping. The DfT estate comprises some 1,170 properties of varying size, use and nature of occupation and it is therefore not possible to make any comprehensive or definitive statements about energy cost increases on such a diverse estate, which may be attributable to these and other factors.
Increases and decreases in unit charges and area occupied can also mask efforts to improve energy efficiency so a better measure of performance is consumption where the overall usage was down 2.2 per cent. over the same period. For more details on consumption I would refer the hon. Member to my answer of 20 October 2004 to the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), Official Report, columns 68788W.
Mr. Maude: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to introduce an automatic e-mail notification facility for all announcements and publications issued by his Department and those public bodies reporting to him. 
Charlotte Atkins: The Department for Transport does not currently offer an automatic e-mail notification facility from its website (www.dft.gov.uk). We have plans to make one available by the middle of 2005.
The News Distribution Service (NDS) issues all news releases on behalf of the Department, and posts them on the GNN website for universal reference. Any bona fide media practitioner can opt to have these announcements sent to them by e-mail, or by a variety of alternative distribution mechanisms.
Mr. Jamieson [holding answer 14 December 2004]: Following a public inquiry into this scheme under the Transport and Works Act 1992, the Department asked the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive (GMPTE) to provide additional environmental information. GMPTE provided this further material in October 2004 and gave an opportunity for interested parties to make representations to the Department by 2 December. We have now asked GMPTE for their comments on the six representations received. When we receive their response we will consider whether we should re-open the public inquiry or deal with the new issues by means of written exchanges. It is therefore too early to say when we will be in a position to decide the application.
Tom Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when (a) he and (b) other Ministers from his Department have visited Switzerland; and what plans he has for future visits by Ministers from his Department. 
Charlotte Atkins: The Department for Transport was formed on 29 May 2002. Since that date no Ministers from the Department have undertaken a departmental visit to Switzerland and none is currently planned.
Mr. Pike: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will introduce a requirement for learner drivers prior to taking their driving tests, to take theoretical instruction on driving on motorways, dependent on the area in which the driving test is to be taken. 
There is no evidence to suggest that newly qualified drivers are generally more dangerous than other drivers on motorways. We therefore have no plans at present to lift the current restriction on learner drivers using motorways. However, the theory test, including the hazard perception test, covers driving on motorways and other high speed roads, so learners are expected to acquire the appropriate theoretical knowledge. The Highway Code and the Driving Standards Agency's Driving Manual provide theoretical instruction to support this.
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Learner drivers are also expected to gain experience on high-speed roads other than motorways before attempting the practical test and are expected to demonstrate their skills on such roads where practicable.
Newly qualified drivers may also take the Pass Plus course of training which includes motorway driving with an Approved Driving Instructor. The scheme is taken up by some 20 per cent. of pupils who pass their test.
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