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Mr. Andrew Smith: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister which local authorities have held ballots on stock transfer; and which have opted for (a) transfer to housing associations, (b) transfer to arm's length management organisations and (c) to remain with the council. 
Yvette Cooper: A list of local authorities that have held ballots on stock transfer and the outcome of those ballots; and lists of authorities that have had their stock options appraisal signed off by the relevant Government Office for transfer, ALMO, retention, and a mixed model, have been placed in the Library of the House.
Mr. Woolas: The most recent actuarial valuation of the Local Government Pension Scheme funds was carried out on 31 March 2004. Analysis of this data indicates that local authorities in England and Wales are committing about £3 billion during 200506 to ensure the on-going solvency of the scheme.
Mr. Betts: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what steps he has taken to satisfy himself that minerals and planning authorities are applying minerals planning guidance 3 consistently to decisions on applications for surface mining. 
Yvette Cooper: The First Secretary of State does not examine each decision in terms of national policy. It is the responsibility of the Minerals Planning Authorities to consider and determine each application on its merits, within the context provided by national, regional and local planning policies, including guidance contained in MPG3. If, following a refusal of planning permission, an applicant feels that policies have not been complied with, without good reason, an appeal may be lodged and will be considered by an independent planning inspector.
Mr. Betts: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what steps he has taken to satisfy himself whether policy 45 on opencast coal as contained in the draft submission of the North East regional spatial strategy conforms to the alternative tests of environmental acceptability or community benefits as contained in minerals planning guidance 3. 
Yvette Cooper: On 5 October the Government made representations to the Secretary of the Panel which will hold an examination into the draft Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) for the North East of England. It indicated that since policy 45 on opencast coal applied a double test of environmental acceptability and a requirement to yield local community benefits, it conflicted with Minerals Planning Guidance note 3. The representation indicated the Government's view that a case has not been made for this departure from national policy and a regionally specific policy was therefore not justified in the RSS. The examination in public into the draft RSS, which is due to be held in spring next year, will provide an opportunity for the discussion and testing of matters selected by the panel following their consideration of all the representations made.
Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether he expects an increased take-up rate of small business rate relief to result in revenue reduction for (a) local councils and (b) central Government. 
No. The allocation of money to local authorities for 200506 was announced through the local government finance settlement in February and will not be affected by increased take-up of small business rate relief. On the basis of research conducted before the relief scheme came into effect, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister expects that the amount of relief paid by local authorities on a national basis will be balanced by an amount raised from those businesses not eligible for the relief. However, if the actual total differs from these estimates, the Secretary of State has the power to adjust the small business non-domestic rating multiplier to address any imbalance.
18 Oct 2005 : Column 858W
Mr. Hutton: The number of civil servants on fixed-term or casual contracts as at 30 June 2005 (Quarter 2 2005) was 17,280 (full-time equivalents). This figure is an unpublished best estimate, by the Office for National Statistics, and relates to staff not on a permanent civil service contract.
Detailed analyses of the civil service are published annually in 'Civil Service Statistics', copies of which are available in the Library. The latest version was published on 7 February 2005, based on information as at April 2004.
Mr. Wallace: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what the policy of the Duchy of Lancaster is towards the proposed use of Duchy land by Canatxx Gas Storage Ltd. and Canatxx Energy Ventures Ltd. for a new gas storage facility at Preesall, Lancashire; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Hutton: The Duchy of Lancaster recognises the importance of diversifying all energy sources within the United Kingdom to ensure a continuity of supply. However, the Duchy has informed Canatxx that it will not open any discussions in relation to the proposal for a new gas storage facility at Preesall, Lancashire until such time as Canatxx has completed the local planning process and obtained a planning consent for its scheme.
Mr. Wallace: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will list the occasions on which (a) Ministers and (b) officials from his Department have communicated with Canatxx Gas Storage Ltd., Canatxx Energy Ventures Ltd. or a company associated with Canatxx with regard to their proposals for a new gas storage facility at Preesall, Lancashire (i) by letter, (ii) by e-mail, (iii) by telephone and (iv) in person; and what the content was in each case. 
Mr. Hutton: The Duchy office has had a wide variety of communications with Canatxx which has primarily been of an informative nature. It would not be appropriate to publish the content of these communications as this would be of a commercially confidential nature.
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