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28 Jun 2005 : Column 1481W—continued

Student Visas

Mark Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues about the effect of increases in visa charges on numbers of applications from overseas students to universities in the United Kingdom. [7268]

Dr. Howells: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was involved in correspondence discussions on the matter of the increase in visa fees for overseas students with my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. In addition, he has discussed this issue with the previous and current Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (respectively Mr. Mullin and Lord Triesman of Tottenham).
 
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Sudan

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the Justice and Equality Movement of Darfur (JEM); and whether the JEM has recently visited the UK. [7847]

Ian Pearson: Through the Sudan Unit in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London and our Embassy in Khartoum, we are in regular contact with the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The then UK Special Representative met Dr Khalil, the leader of the JEM in London on 19 April. During this meeting we urged them to abide by their commitments under the Abuja protocols, to prevent attacks and to negotiate a political settlement.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn) met representatives of the JEM during his visit to Darfur on 13 June. He pressed them to respect their commitment to the ceasefire, noting that responsibility for the majority of ceasefire violations in recent weeks have been laid at the rebels' door. He urged them to negotiate constructively in Abuja.

To this end we welcome the resumption of peace talks in Abuja. A UK observer at the talks is in contact with the JEM on a daily basis. We continue to press them to negotiate in good faith and find a solution to the conflict in Darfur.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Business Rates

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the average business rate in London has been in each year since 1997. [7399]

Mr. Woolas: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given on 16 June 2005, Official Report, column 542W.

Council Tax

Dr. Kumar: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will take steps to limit regional variations in council tax. [7301]

Mr. Woolas: Council tax levels are primarily for local authorities to determine, although the Government have made it clear that they will not hesitate to use their capping powers to protect council tax payers from excessive increases.

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the average (a) Band D and (b) per dwelling council tax bill has been in (i) London and (ii) each London borough in each year since 1997–98. [7398]

Mr. Woolas: Details of the average (a) Band D and (b) per dwelling council tax bill in (i) London and (ii)each London borough in each year since 1998–99 are published on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's website and can be found under the heading Information For Taxpayers—Council Taxes" at: http://www.local.odpm.gov.uk/finance/ct.htm.
 
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Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the Government's plan for (a) council tax on and (b) planning permission for second homes. [7402]

Mr. Woolas: The information is as follows.

(a) From the financial year 2004–05, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has given local billing authorities the discretion to set the council tax discount offered on second homes at any point between 10 per cent. and 50 per cent. No further changes are planned.

(b) I refer the hon. Member to the answer given to the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) on 13 June 2005, Official Report, column 127W.

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the estimated gross revenue generated in England by reducing the council tax discount on (a) second homes and (b) empty homes was in the last year for which figures are available. [7404]

Mr. Woolas: It is estimated that the additional amounts of council tax generated in 2004–05 as a result of billing authorities reducing council tax discounts for properties in their area were £88 million for second homes and £49 million for long-term empty homes.
 
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Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the definition is of a second home for the purposes of setting council tax bills. [7405]

Mr. Woolas: For the purpose of setting council tax bills, a second home is a chargeable furnished dwelling which is no one's sole or main residence.

E-projects (Funding)

Robert Key: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will list the projects for e-enabling parish councils and local community groups that his Department is funding; what the (a) central funding and (b) partnership contribution is for each project; and if he will make a statement. [6557]

Mr. Woolas: The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's Local e-Government programme does not directly support the e-enablement of parish councils and local community groups. However, through a number of projects we have funded, local authorities have been given the tools to support their local groups. Local authorities are encouraged to do so through the Local e-Gov Priority Outcomes guidance as part of their community leadership role.

The five projects we funded are:
Name of project Area of interestODPM stream of funding (£)Partnership contribution (£)
2005–06Local Directgov—workstream 2Neighbourhoods and parish councils350,000n/a
2005–06East of England Regional PartnershipE-enabling Parish Councils300,000n/a
2004–05ENCORE—workstream 4E-Community Services531,200n/a
2004–05The Local LinkOnline services to build web pages for first tier councils170,000170,000
2004–05Community Heritage StoresCommunity Heritage Store68,00068,000

EU Funding (West Midlands)

Paul Farrelly: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how much EU funding has been secured for projects in the west midlands since 1997, broken down by (a) parliamentary constituency and (b) local authority. [7717]

Yvette Cooper: The west midlands region has secured over £1.2 billion of funding from the European Union since 1997, via a package of structural funds programmes, namely
£

ProgrammeERDFESFEAGGFTotal
Objective 2 (1997–99)226. 10 million77.49 million303.59 million
Urban (1997–99)1.95 million0.88 million2.83 million
Leader II (1997–99)1.0 million0.25 million0.25 million1.50 million
Objective 2 (2000–06)515 26 million100.00 million615.26 million
Objective 3 (2000–06)318.09 million318.09 million
Leader+ (2000–06)1.13 million1.13 million
Grand total1.2424 billion

These sums are in addition to the £335 million of EU funding allocated to the region under the earlier programmes (1994–95), part of which was still available to spend up to 2001.

European funding is allocated on a national/regional basis for projects operating in eligible programme areas which are agreed with the Commission at the start of the programming period. EU funds are not allocated on a sub-regional basis in the west midlands region, so the above allocations cannot be broken down to a parliamentary constituency or local authority level.

Paul Farrelly: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how much (a) objective 2, (b) objective 3 and (c) other EU funding has been secured in the West Midlands in 2005–06, broken down by (i) parliamentary constituency and (ii) local authority area. [7718]

Yvette Cooper: European Structural Funds programmes operate on the basis of calendar years. Between 1 January and 31 December 2005, the West Midlands has been allocated a total of £110.4 million in European funding, broken down as follows:
 
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£ million

ProgrammeERDFESFEAGGFTotal
Objective 260.9214.5075. 42
Objective 334.7034.70
Leader+0.280.28
Grand total110.40

EU funds are not allocated on a sub-regional basis in the West Midlands, so the above allocations cannot be broken down to a parliamentary constituency or local authority area.


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