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The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): The emergency services (fire and ambulance) and Railtrack are currently holding monthly exercises to familiarise personnel with the Severn Tunnel. There is also a Severn Tunnel Contingency Planning Group which is a multi-agency group facilitated by Railtrack. Its last exercise was a communications exercise on 12-13 August last year. This involved the British Transport Police, the Avon & Somerset and Gwent police forces, and the fire and ambulance services on both sides of the tunnel. Reports on exercises are done internally within each service with joint lessons shared through the group. No reports are published.
When they intend to abolish the "five minute rule" under which bus operators can vary departure times by up to five minutes without further notification to the Traffic Commissioners.[HL604]
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: These changes will be brought forward in the spring as part of a package of proposals on changes to the registration regulations. These proposals will also take forward the commitment in the White Paper Our Countryside: The Future--A Fair Deal for Rural England to consult on changes to make it easier to run flexibly routed services and on the notice period for community-based services. It is sensible for all changes to the registration rules to be considered in one package.
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: We have no immediate plans to change the de minimis limits, which were last increased in October 1998. However, we will keep their levels under review in the light of any representations from local authorities and others.
Whether the same economic and fiscal arguments apply to changes in the rate of stamp duty on residential property, particularly houses costing over £500,000, as on commercial property; and[HL520]
What practical difficulties of duty assessment or collection would follow a decision to levy stamp duty at different rates on residential and commercial property.[HL522]
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The stamp duty charge on transfers of land and buildings does not depend on the use made of that property. This has always been the case. The Government examine all the economic and fiscal arguments that apply to residential and commercial property whenever they consider the appropriate rates for stamp duty on property. The administrative implications of introducing different rates would depend on the definitions of residential and commercial property and how the charge would apply to mixed-use properties.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The stamp duty revenue receipts for land and property for the requested years are given in table 15.1 of Inland Revenue Statistics 2000. The estimated component of the receipts attributable to residential transactions is given in table 15.2. The estimated stamp duty receipts component for commercial transactions is the difference between these two amounts.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: As at April 2000, the latest date for which data are available, the average cost of answering a written parliamentary Question and an oral parliamentary Question was £123 and £285 respectively.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Three hundred and twenty-four thousand, two hundred and ninety-six self-assessment tax returns for the current year were filed electronically up to and including 31 January. The Inland Revenue has not set a target for take-up of electronic filing services.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): We expect the Commission to notify us of the amount of agrimonetary compensation available later this month. Initial estimates suggest that it could be of the order of £200 million across the beef, sheep, dairy, arable and sugar sectors. These estimates should be treated with caution as they are based on 1999 claim data, and the relevant data on market prices in 2000 are not yet available. If these estimates are correct, and the full amount were paid, the cost to the UK taxpayer would be around £170 million.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Responsibility for policy concerning smoking in government departments has been delegated to departments. Specific departmental policies are not held centrally. I have asked my colleagues to provide the information requested and will write to the noble Lord with my findings. I will place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Government set a deadline of 14 January for Legacy plc to submit its response to the preferred bidder letter to the Competition Team and a further deadline for exchange of contracts. The Government are continuing to negotiate with Legacy plc.
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