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David_ruffley_mpThe end of half-term brings with it a new edition of Hansard and written answers. Herewith some that grabbed my attention.

The answer that leapt out at me was to Shadow Home Affairs Minister David Ruffley. Staggeringly, the Government doesn’t seem to know by how many police officers the country is short:

"Mr. Ruffley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many police officer vacancies at all ranks there were in (a) the Metropolitan Police Force and (b) all other forces in 2007-08. [256695]

Mr. Coaker: This information is not collected centrally."

I suppose now that Eric Pickles is Party Chairman he won’t table so many questions. That’s a shame. He asked a good one about The Man’s power to rifle through our bins:

"To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what powers waste collection authorities have to enter premises in relation to suspected breaches of waste regulations; and what powers they have to (a) measure and (b) photograph household waste; [252326]

(2) whether joint waste authorities will be eligible to undertaken directed surveillance under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000; [252407]

(3) what powers of entry the joint waste authorities will have. [252410]

Jane Kennedy: Section 92A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA) gives local authorities powers to serve a litter clearing notice on any open land, requiring the occupier, or failing that, the owner, to clear litter from that land. If the notice is not complied with, they can enter the land, clean up and then reclaim their costs.

Section 59 of the EPA allows waste regulation authorities and waste collection authorities to serve a notice on the occupier or owner of land to require the removal of controlled waste unlawfully and knowingly deposited. Where a person fails to meet these requirements, the local authority or the Environment Agency may clear the waste and seek to recover the costs.

Waste collection authorities have no powers to enter domestic premises to gather evidence of breaches of regulations on how waste is presented for collection.

It is intended that joint waste authorities should have the same powers as are currently available to local authorities when they are carrying out those functions which joint waste authorities may take over."

Shadow DEFRA Secretary Nick Herbert asked about flooding:

"To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many properties in England and Wales are classified as at risk of flooding. [256355]

Huw Irranca-Davies: The Environment Agency undertakes regular assessments of the number of properties at risk of flooding from rivers and from the sea through its National Flood Risk Assessments. In the most recent assessment (in 2006) DEFRA and the Environment Agency estimated that 2.3 million properties were at risk of flooding in England and Wales."

North Thanet MP Roger Gale asked an intriguing question about benefits:

"To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to which allowances and benefits UK citizens living in other EU member states and Switzerland may be entitled; and when the Government plans to implement the decisions of the European Court of Justice on the matter. [255298]

Mr. McNulty [holding answer 9 February 2009]: People who move from the UK to live in other EU member states and Switzerland may continue to receive certain UK social security benefits. For example they continue to be paid some UK contributory benefits such as state pension or bereavement benefit.

UK citizens who live in other states may be able to claim benefits from their state of residence. The exact nature of the benefits they can receive depends on where they have worked, what benefits they receive from the UK, whether they meet the relevant entitlement conditions and how the benefits are covered under the European social security coordination rules. These rules cover benefits for old age, survivors, invalidity, unemployment, industrial injury and prescribed diseases, sickness, maternity, and family.

The UK does not hold detailed information on the benefits systems of other states.

We expect to set out entitlement conditions for those wishing to claim the UK disability benefits from abroad shortly. The Directgov website will be updated at that time:

Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling wanted to know about alcohol-related offences – but the Government couldn’t answer:

"Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people were charged with each type of alcohol-related offence in (a) the year before and (b) the year following the introduction of the Licensing Act 2003. [254495]

Jacqui Smith: Charging data is not held centrally."

By contrast, the answer to Nicholas Soames was informative:

"Mr. Soames: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether time spent in the UK by a foreign national on a student visa counts towards the qualifying period for UK citizenship. [256883]

Mr. Woolas: The qualifying period of residence for naturalisation as a British citizen is five years (or three if married to a British citizen). Currently time spent in the UK on a student visa will count towards this qualifying period."

Mr Ruffley was also reminded of the link between Class A drugs and crime:

"To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what percentage of those brought into a police station tested positive for Class A drugs in 2007-08; and what the level of voluntary treatment take-up was. [256692]

Mr. Alan Campbell: Drug testing of offenders for specified Class A drugs (heroin and cocaine/crack) in police custody takes place in 107 BCUs. Offenders arrested or charged with a “trigger offence”—largely acquisitive crime related offences—are required to provide a sample to be tested.

The average rate of positive tests for specified Class A drugs for offenders arrested or charged with a trigger offence in 2007-08 was 38.7 per cent.

The figure for number of offenders entering treatment through DIP includes individuals from both DIP intensive areas (i.e. the 107 BCUs operating drug testing and related interventions) and the non-intensive areas of the programme. Offenders from the DIP non-intensive BCUs are not drug tested.

The data on the proportion of those who test positive and voluntarily agree to treatment are not available in the format requested. The Drug Interventions Programme does not routinely hold data on those entering treatment only as a result of a positive drug test.

In 2007-08 the number of offenders entering treatment voluntarily through the Drug Interventions Programme was 43,903."

Tom Greeves

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