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19 Mar 2007 : Column 659Wcontinued
Mr. Jeremy Browne: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on the Lyons report. 
Mr. Woolas: Government Ministers have discussions with their colleagues on a broad range of issues.
Charles Hendry: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what discussions she has had with other Government Departments on the potential impact on the Governments digital strategy of making local loop unbundling operators subject to non-domestic rates liability for unbundled local loops; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Woolas: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given on 23 October 2006, Official Report, column 1687W, by my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and the Regions to the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff).
Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what the timetable is for the National Planning Application Register to hold 100 per cent. of all planning applications and decisions. 
Ruth Kelly: There is no timetable as the proposal for the National Planning Application Register is still at the feasibility testing stage and the Government have yet to take a decision on whether and how to take it forward.
Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how many full-time equivalent staff were employed by each regional Government office in England in (a) 1997 and (b) 2006. 
Ruth Kelly: The number of permanent, fixed term and casual staff working for each Government office for the regions, including those temporarily away from the office on secondment, loan, maternity leave, career break and special leave without pay, in March of each year, was as follows. Full-time equivalent (FTE) figures are not available for 1997:
|March 1997||March 2006|
|(1) For 1997 figures include staff in Government office for Merseyside, which was merged with GO North West on 1 April 1998.|
Since March 2006, the total number of staff has fallen to 2,450 (2,353 FTE) in February 2007 and is expected to fall to about 200 by December 2008.
In 1997 the Government office network represented the interests of four Whitehall Departments. Today the network delivers on behalf of 10 Departments.
Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what plans she has for further waves of bids for unitary status. 
Ruth Kelly: We have given councils in two-tier areas a short window of opportunity to make proposals for unitary status. We have no plans to launch a further round of reorganisation.
Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what criteria she has specified for assessing the business cases put forward for unitary authority status. 
Mr. Woolas: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given on 19 December 2006, Official Report, column 1818W.
Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whom she has appointed as independent auditors to assess unitary authority bids. 
Mr. Woolas: The assessment process, set out in the Invitation to Councils in England which we published alongside the White Paper, provides that financial cases underpinning the proposals that proceed to stakeholder consultation will be subject to limited assurance in relation to the submission of baseline figures to be carried out by the Audit Commission.
Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government when she expects (a) the bids for unitary status to undergo assessment and (b) reports on these assessments to be published. 
Mr. Woolas: Proposals for future unitary structures are currently being assessed against the criteria set out in the Invitation to Councils in England which we published alongside the White Paper. We intend to announce our decisions on which proposals should proceed to stakeholder consultation before 27 March, the day for publication of the notice of election for the forthcoming local government elections.
9. Barbara Keeley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of the work of the Respect Task Force; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. McNulty: The Respect Task Force works across Government and published the Respect Action Plan in January 2006 in which it set out an ambitious programme of work to build a modern culture of respect. One year on, good progress is being made, as documented by the progress report recently published.
10. Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the prevalence of gun crime in England and Wales. 
Mr. McNulty: Gun crime (including air weapons) has increased since 1997; there has been a decrease in the total number of firearms offences over the last two years, from 24,094 in 2002-03 to 22,896 in 2004-05 and 21,521 in 2005-06. There were 50 homicides involving firearms (including air weapons) in 2005-06, a decrease of 36 per cent. from 78 the previous year and the lowest recorded since 1998-99.
11. Philip Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of custodial sentences. 
Mr. Sutcliffe: The report Re-offending of adults: results from the 2003 cohort shows that for this cohort the two-year re-offending rate for adults is 57.6 per cent.2.3 per cent. below the predicted rate calculated from the 2000 baseline. For custodial sentences it is 65.8 per cent. which is higher than for non-custodial sentences at 53.4 per cent. though the disposal given depends upon the characteristics of the offender which will also affect the chances of re-offending.
12. Mr. Hollobone: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent discussions he has had with the Solicitor-General and the Minister for Constitutional Affairs on the operation of the Bail Act 1976. 
Mr. Sutcliffe: The operation of the Bail Act is kept under continuous review by the criminal justice departments with the aims of ensuring that appropriate decisions are made as to whether to release a defendant on bail or remand in custody, and of improving the processes which underpin the management of bail when granted. The 'Rebalancing the Criminal Justice System Review published last July included a range of commitments to ensure that defendants who breach bail are returned to court quickly and dealt with robustly.
13. Mr. Khan: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking to ensure that teenagers are aware of the possible dangers associated with drug use. 
Mr. Coaker: Since 2003 FRANK, the Government funded drug awareness campaign, has reached out to young people, their parents and carers, with a range of innovative national and local communications providing credible drug advice and information. We have also launched Understanding Drugs as a new resource to all secondary schools to support drugs education programmes. In addition we continue to work across Government to ensure that drug education in schools is effective at building awareness of the harm caused by drugs as well as engaging and supporting those groups of young people most vulnerable to developing drug problems.
14. Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what steps he is taking to reduce the level of drug usage in prisons. 
Mr. Sutcliffe: To tackle drug-use in custody, NOMS has in place a comprehensive drug strategy. The strategy's three key aims are to: reduce the amount of illicit drugs getting inby using a co-ordinated range of supply reduction measures; reduce the demand for drugsthrough delivery of effective drug treatment; and strengthen through-care links with the community, helping ensure timely continuity of care for drug-users on release. While NOMS remains committed to doing more, the drug strategy is already making significant progress, with drug-useas measured by random mandatory drug testingdown from 24.4 per cent. in 1996-97 to 10.3 per cent. in 2004-05; a reduction of 58 per cent.
15. Paul Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has made of the number of cocaine users in (a) 1997 and (b) 2006. 
Mr. Vernon Coaker: We do not have a figure for 1997, however we know that while the number of users of cocaine powder increased significantly, to about 769,000 in 2005-06, use of amphetamines decreased and overall use of stimulant drugs has remained stable over this period.
16. Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what proportion of inmates of young offender institutions are remand prisoners. 
Mr. Sutcliffe: The January prison statistics show that 2 per cent. of people in young offender institutes were unsentenced (either awaiting trial or convicted but awaiting sentencing) and held under prison-rules.
Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many 2052SH forms were opened in respect of each young offender institution in (a) 2003, (b) 2004, (c) 2005, (d) 2006 and (e) 2007 to date; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Sutcliffe: This information is not collated centrally in the requested format and could be obtained only at a disproportionate cost.
17. Mr. Iain Wright: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what role he plans for family intervention in helping reduce crime and antisocial behaviour; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. McNulty: As part of the respect programme the Government have committed to establish a network of family intervention projects across England. Evidence shows that these projects are effective in reducing antisocial behaviour of the small number of families who can be responsible for significant amounts of antisocial behaviour in their community.
18. Andrew Selous: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of measures to combat drug-related crime. 
Mr. Coaker: The most recent published crime figures show that the strategy is working: recorded acquisitive crime, to which drug-related crime makes a substantial contribution, has fallen by 20 per cent. since the onset of the drug interventions programme (DIP) (the 12 months to March 2003).
The drug interventions programme (DIP) is now getting on average over 3,000 drug misusing offenders into drug treatment each month.
The Home Office is carrying out an ongoing research programme to look at the effectiveness of individual programme components.
19. Ms Dari Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking with the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to improve the literacy of prisoners. 
Mr. Sutcliffe: As part of the cross-Government plan to reduce re-offending, the strategy for improving skills outcomes for offenders was set out in the Green Paper Reducing Re-Offending Through Skills and Employment. This followed and builds on the work of the Learning and Skills Council in rolling out its new Offender Learning and Skills Service nationally from July 2006. The plans outlined in the Green Paper are being taken forward in Reducing Re-offending Through Skills and Employment: Next Steps, published in December 2006 which furthers the focus on developing offender skills resulting in more obtaining sustainable employment.
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