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7 Oct 2008 : Column 598Wcontinued
Mr. Amess: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what representations he has received since January 2008 from Southend-on-Sea Borough Council on staffing levels in HM Revenue and Customs offices in Southend; what plans he has to meet representatives from the council to discuss this issue; and if he will make a statement; 
(2) if he will place in the Library a copy of the representations received from (a) Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and (b) the Public and Commercial
Services Union on the closure of HM Revenue and Customs offices in Southend; what responses he gave in each case; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Timms: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answers the former Financial Secretary my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy) gave on 16 June 2008, Official Report, columns 692-93. I have no current plans to meet representatives from Southend council.
Mr. Amess: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the (a) costs and (b) projected savings are expected to be of the Estates Consolidation Programme of HM Revenue and Customs in the Southend urban area; what recent representations he has received about this programme; what response was given; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Timms: The Estates Consolidation Programme (ECP) is a five-year undertaking designed to deliver £250 million cumulative accommodation running cost savings by releasing surplus accommodation across the HMRC estate. Accommodation is chosen for retention or vacation in conjunction with HMRCs Workforce Change Programme, which aims to ensure that the offices retained are those best suited to the Departments long-term business needs.
The overall projected estates savings for the Eastern England region in the period 2007-08 to 2011-12 are estimated at around £25.9 million. The overall costs associated with delivering those changes over the same period are estimated at around £10.7 million. For reasons of commercial confidentiality, more specific figures cannot be made available.
Treasury Ministers and officials receive representations from a wide range of organisations in the public and private sectors as part of the process of policy development and delivery. As was the case with previous Administrations, it is not the Governments practice to provide details of all such representations.
Mr. Philip Hammond: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer pursuant to the answer of 7 July 2008, Official Report, column 1263W, on Revenue and Customs: visits abroad, why it is no longer possible to disclose the destinations visited by HM Revenue and Customs staff. 
Mr. Timms: Pursuant to the answer of 7 July 2008, Official Report, column 1263W, for policy and operational reasons we are unable to disclose which overseas destinations HMRC employees travel to.
HMRC has previously disclosed countries to which HMRC staff have travelled. However in observance of the FOI exemptions we believe the publication of information on the operational focus of our activities could compromise and prejudice future enforcement objectives.
Current systems do not allow for the separation of data between policy and operational visits abroad. Information on policy visits potentially could be disclosed but are not currently held and would incur disproportionate cost to provide.
Dr. Cable: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of the loss of revenue to the Exchequer from stamp duty tax avoidance through the use of offshore trusts in the last period for which figures are available. 
Mr. Timms: I refer the hon. Gentlemen to the answer the former Economic Secretary to the Treasury my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Ed Balls) gave him on 16 April 2007, Official Report, column 415W.
Mr. Spellar: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will take steps to restrict those engaged in the operation of the oil industry from trading in oil futures. 
Mr. Timms: Commodity derivatives, such as the futures market, enable producers and consumers of energy to manage (or hedge) their exposure to adverse price movements in the future, thereby enabling them to plan for the future with certainty regarding the price they will receive or pay for the commodity in question.
Any measure to restrict those engaged in the operation of the oil industry, i.e. producers and consumers, from trading in oil futures would limit the ability of producers and consumers to hedge effectively against adverse price movements in the future, hindering efficient business planning and risk management.
Dr. Cable: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate he has made of the loss of revenue to the Exchequer from legitimate tax avoidance in the last period for which figures are available. 
Mr. Timms: The information requested is not available.
Mr. Wallace: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) how many arrests have been made as part of investigations into (a) VAT fraud, (b) smuggling, (c) duty avoidance and (d) large-scale tax avoidance in Lancashire in each year since 2000; 
(2) how many arrests were made by customs officers in Lancashire in each year since 2000. 
Mr. Timms: High-level data on arrest statistics are published in HM Revenue and Customs' Annual Reports. Copies of the Annual Reports are available in the Library of the House and online www.hmrc.gov.uk. The specific information requested could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.
Mr. Brady: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer from which overseas governments he has received representations on the proposed aviation duty; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Timms: The consultation on the proposed aviation duty closed on 24 April 2008, and considered all aspects of the operation of the duty.
A summary of consultation responses will be published in due course.
Philip Davies: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much (a) his Department and (b) its agencies spent on taxis in the last financial year for which figures are available. 
Mr. Timms: Spending on taxis in 2007-08 was as follows:
Mrs. Lait: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) of 24 June 2008, Official Report, columns 258-9W, on the Valuation Office: databases, whether the databases being aligned include the Valuation Office Agency's (a) geographic information system, (b) automated valuation model and (c) council tax banding tool. 
Mr. Timms: None of the three applications mentioned in the question are databases; however, they will all benefit from the database alignment exercise.
Mr. Pickles: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer pursuant to the answer of 14 July 2008, Official Report, column 151W, on the Valuation Office: Eurostar, what source of funding or financial aid system was being investigated. 
Mr. Timms: The European Commission investigation, under article 88(2) of the treaty, was into an alleged state aid in respect of British Telecom's and Kingston Communications' non domestic rating assessments.
Mr. Pickles: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) pursuant to the answer of 14 July 2008, Official Report, column 152W, on the Valuation Office: video recordings, what the titles are of the internal training videos available on the Valuation Office Agency intranet; 
(2) pursuant to the answer of 14 July 2008, Official Report, column 151W, on the Valuation Office: video recordings, what the name is of each internal training video used by the Valuation Office Agency for valuation purposes. 
The VOA has used video recordings for a variety of training and information purposes. These recordings are usually accessed through the intranet and they are sometimes embedded in documents or
accessed via links. The VOA does not maintain a single comprehensive record of all such filmed sequences and to collate this material, examine it, and isolate training videos could be achieved only at a disproportionate cost.
Mrs. Lait: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the timetable is for the decision on whether local authorities will be compensated by HM Revenue and Customs for the VAT payments they have made on off-street car park charges; what the Governments policy is on the issue; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Timms: The European Court of Justice gave its judgment on this issue on 16 September 2008 and the precedent case will now revert to the High Court for judgment. It would not be appropriate for the Government to comment further on the matter until the legal process has been concluded.
Chris Grayling: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what IT updates to tax credits systems are planned; on what dates such updates are scheduled for implementation; and what the earliest date is upon which an additional update could be added to the schedule. 
Mr. Timms [holding answer 17 September 2008]: HM Revenue and Customs are currently working towards delivering three major upgrades to the tax credits system in October 2008, April 2009 and October 2009.
HMRC also makes regular changes throughout the year to secure the ongoing health of the IT system and its ability to deliver tax credits business events.
9. Mr. Wallace: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the 1989 Madrid declaration. 
Bill Rammell: British Ministers have not recently discussed the 1989 Madrid Declaration specifically with EU counterparts. However, we continue to discuss issues relevant to the Declaration, such as encouraging respect for human rights, within the EU and between the EU and China. The arms embargo was last discussed at the 2007 EU-China summit.
10. Ms Angela C. Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment he has made of relations with Georgia; and if he will make a statement. 
Caroline Flint: Relations with Georgia are excellent. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited Tbilisi on 14-15 August and met President Saakashvili in New York on 27 September. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister welcomed the Georgian Prime Minister to London on 19 September.
Throughout events in Georgia this summer, we have worked closely with partners in the EU, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, NATO, G7 and UN to reverse Russias encroachments into Georgian territory outside the conflict zones, address immediate humanitarian needs, assist Georgias economic recovery, foster long-term peace and stability, and encourage Georgias domestic reform programme.
11. Mr. Joyce: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations the Government have made to the Government of Rwanda on the continued detention of Charles Ntakirutinka. 
Gillian Merron: British officials made representations after the arrest in 2002 of the former Rwandan minister to whom my hon. Friend refers.
Since his trial in 2004, we have continued to take a close interest in this case.
HM ambassador in Rwanda raised this case with the Rwandan Minister for Justice in August.
12. Mr. Dunne: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with his Spanish counterpart on the decision of the Valencia Autonomous Region on access to local health care facilities for British expatriates below pensionable age. 
Gillian Merron: The new scheme is in line with European law and is intended to bring Valencia into line with the rest of Spain. Officials at the British Embassy in Madrid have been active in negotiating an extension until the end of the year so that British Citizens who might be affected have time to make necessary provisions. The Embassy will remain in close contact with the Valencia Authorities on this issue.
13. Mr. Vara: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the political situation in Zimbabwe. 
Gillian Merron: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretarys statement to the House yesterday made our position clear. Zimbabwes people want the agreement signed on paper to work in practice. A Cabinet needs to be appointed without further delay to reform Zimbabwes economic management and the behaviour of its security forces. The UK continues to provide humanitarian relief to the Zimbabwean people and we remain ready to support recovery when a new government shows commitment to reform.
17. Mr. Hollobone: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the political situation in Zimbabwe. 
Gillian Merron: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretarys statement to the House on 6 October 2008 made our position clear. Zimbabwes people want the agreement signed on paper to work in practice. A Cabinet needs to be appointed without further delay to reform Zimbabwes economic management and the behaviour of its security forces. The UK continues to provide humanitarian relief to the Zimbabwean people and we remain ready to support recovery when a new government shows commitment to reform.
14. Mark Pritchard: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment he has made of the security situation in the Horn of Africa; and if he will make a statement. 
Gillian Merron: The Government remain concerned about ongoing tensions and violence in several areas of the Horn of Africa, particularly in Somalia.
We continue to work with regional governments and international partners to encourage peaceful resolution of political differences as well as offering humanitarian and development assistance.
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