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Mr. Burns: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many and what proportion of letters received by his Department between 20 June and 20 July were replied to (a) in under 15, (b) in under 20, (c) in under 30, (d) in under 40 and (e) in over 40 working days. 
Mr. Boateng: A sample of the 663 letters received in the period concerned indicates that 69 per cent. were answered within 15 days, 87 per cent. within 20 days, 96 per cent. within 30 days and 98 per cent. within 40 days.
Mr. Boateng: There are at present no proposals to change the scheme. The Government are attracted to replacing all or part of the scheme with a public spending programme to direct resources towards Government priorities on sustainable waste management. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is aiming to issue a consultation paper by the end of this year.
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Mr. Boateng: As part of the pre-Budget Report the Government announced on 27 November that Customs activity this year to tackle cross-channel passenger smuggling of alcohol and tobacco has had a profound impact. Revenue losses from this form of smuggling have been reduced by 76 per cent. compared to last year, with cross-channel passenger smuggling of beer almost eliminated and cross-channel passenger smuggling of wine and spirits more than halved.
Building on these successes, and those of its wider efforts to tackle tobacco smuggling, the Government published alongside the PBR a paper "Tackling Indirect Tax Fraud" which sets out the strategic principles that underlie the Government's approach to tackling fraud and outlines the steps being taken to tackle other forms of fraud and smuggling in the alcohol sector.
Mr. Nigel Jones: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what discussions he has had with Commissioner Bolkestein regarding distortions to the working of the Single Market caused by the level of UK excise duty rates; 
(3) if he has been able to reach agreement with Commissioner Bolkestein regarding the confiscation of vehicles and goods from suspected smugglers before conviction. 
Mr. Boateng: I met Commissioner Bolkestein on 20 November and explained that the Government are totally committed both to the principle that EU citizens should be able to engage in cross border shopping for their own use in other member states and to tackling criminal smuggling. The Government are confident that the approach of UK Customs to tackling those individuals who seek to break the law by smuggling alcohol and tobacco into the UK is fully consistent with our EU obligations and that once the European Commission is fully informed of the situation, they too will be satisfied.
Sue Doughty: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what records HM Customs and Excise are required to keep of the number of private cars seized by them; and what plans he has to change that requirement. 
Mr. Boateng: Customs collate centrally and publish annual statistics on the number of vehicles seized across the UK. At a local level, Customs maintain specific records of all vehicles seized to deal with appeals and court cases as well as for intelligence gathering.
Sue Doughty: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much compensation was paid in each year since 1995 to drivers and their families from costs arising from cars wrongly impounded by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, including (a) consequential costs arising from loss of use of a car, (b) loss of items in the car, (c) loss of earnings and (d) travel costs incurred in collecting the car from Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. 
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Sue Doughty: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what procedures are in place for the audit and reporting of (a) the number of private cars impounded by HM Customs and Excise at Channel ports, (b) personal possessions contained in private cars impounded by HM Customs and Excise at Channel ports and (c) disposal of tax discs in cars disposed of by HM Customs and Excise. 
Mr. Boateng: At a local level, Customs maintain specific records of all vehicles seized to deal with appeals and court cases as well as for intelligence gathering. Personal possessions are returned to the owner either at the time of seizure, or can be collected within 30 days. Tax discs are an integral part of a vehicle to legalise road use and are retained. Local managers carry out assurance checks on all information held, and all Customs procedures are subject to internal audit and scrutiny by the National Audit Office.
Sue Doughty: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much revenue from the disposal of private cars and personal possessions in those cars was retained by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise in each of the last five years. 
Sue Doughty: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what procedures are in place for (a) handling tax discs and (b) disposal of personal possessions in private cars which have been disposed of by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise at channel ports. 
Mr. Boateng: Once a vehicle has been forfeited to the Crown, Customs dispose of the vehicle in the most cost-effective way. If Customs choose to sell the vehicle at auction then the tax disc is sold as part of the vehicle. If the vehicle is crushed, Customs return the tax disc to the DVLA and the Exchequer is refunded.
In the great majority of cases any personal possessions in private vehicles are taken by the individual at the time of seizure. However, Customs allow at least 30 days for the collection of personal possessions before they are disposed of.
Sue Doughty: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many private cars were impounded by HM Customs and Excise at channel ports in each year since 1995; and how many have been released to their owners by HM Customs and Excise following appeals by the car owners. 
Mr. Boateng: Customs' centrally held information on the numbers of private vehicles seized does not distinguish the location at which seizure took place, nor is the number of vehicles restored on successful appeal centrally collated.
For the number of vehicles seized across the whole of the UK from 199495 to 199798, I refer the hon. Member to the answer given on 18 June 1998, Official Report, column 274W. For the number of vehicles seized across the UK in 199899, 19992000 I refer the hon. Member to the answer given on 15 January 2001, Official Report, column 125W. Figures for the number of vehicles seized by Customs across the UK during 200001 are contained in the Government's response to the independent report by John Roques into "The Collection
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of Excise Duties in HM Customs and Excise" (House of Commons command 5329, July 2001), a copy of which was placed in the Library on 19 July 2001.
Sue Doughty: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much revenue was raised from the disposal of personal possessions in private cars disposed of by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise in each of the last five years. 
Mr. Boateng: In the great majority of cases any personal possessions in private vehicles are taken by the individual at the time of seizure. However, Customs allow at least 30 days for the collection of personal possessions before they are disposed of. In the rare event that personal possessions are not claimed within a reasonable period, Customs dispose of them. It is not normally Customs practice to sell such items.
Mr. Chope: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, pursuant to his answer of 20 November 2001, Official Report, column 272W, on Equitable Life, if he will inform the hon. Member for Christchurch as soon as the response has been sent to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. 
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