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Bodies, which has made clear that voting members of those committees are appointed on a personal basis and are not to regard themselves as delegates of sectional interests.

Auditors

Mr. Austin Mitchell : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether the register of auditors which the recognised supervisory bodies are required to maintain under the Companies Act 1989 includes information relating to (a) criticisms of the firm by Department of Trade and Industry inspectors and (b) criticisms of firms by any disciplinary committee of the profession.

Mr. Redwood : No.

Corporate Insolvencies

Mr. Austin Mitchell : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what was the number of corporate insolvencies in 1988 and 1989, to date, in Britain ; and in how many of those cases the companies in question received a going concern qualification in their last accounts prior to going into receivership.

Mr. Redwood : The chief executive of Companies house tells me that in Great Britain in the financial year 1988-89, and up to 30 November in the current year, 1,252 and 1,367 companies were placed in receivership, and 13,900 and 9,056 in liquidation respectively. No information is available on the number of companies who, in their last accounts prior to receivership or liquidation, received a going concern qualification from their auditors.

Richards Shipbuilders Ltd.

Mr. Carttiss : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement about an application from Richards Shipbuilders Ltd. for assistance from the shipbuilding intervention fund.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement about an application from Richards Shipbuilders Ltd. for assistance from the shipbuilding intervention fund.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : I am pleased to announce that I have approved in principle a grant from the shipbuilding intervention fund which will enable Richards Shipbuilders Ltd. confirm an order for a tug which will be constructed at its Great Yarmouth yard for the Alexandra Towing Co. Ltd. This order will maintain employment at this yard.

Credit Cards

Mr. Bowis : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he intends to abolish the no discrimination rule imposed by credit card companies in the light of the Monopolies and Mergers report ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Ridley : On 22 August, I published the report by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on the supply of credit card services in the United Kingdom. I announced that I would welcome the views of all interested parties on the MMC's recommendation to end the "no discrimination" rule in the United Kingdom. Under this rule,


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imposed by the credit card companies, traders are required to charge the same price for purchases made with Visa or

Mastercard/Eurocard (which includes Access) credit cards as for those paid for by cash or other means.

I have received representations on this issue from a wide range of people including members of the credit card organisations, retailers and the general public. I have considered carefully, the views they expressed. In accordance with the advice of the Director General of Fair Trading, I have concluded that the no discrimination rule is anti-competitive. It restricts the freedom of retailers to set their own prices. This is a serious restriction on competition. Credit card purchases amounted to over £16 billion last year. Therefore I have decided that the rule should be brought to an end. I am asking the Director General of Fair Trading to seek the necessary undertakings. In the meantime, application of the rule remains a matter for the credit card companies.

The effect of ending the rule will be to give retailers the freedom to choose whether or not to charge the same whether payment is made by credit card or cash. It will be for retailers to decide whether to offer different prices. They will not be obliged to do so. I intend, subject to the statutory consultation procedures, to bring in regulations under the Consumer Protection Act 1987 to require that any price indication makes clear whether differential pricing applies.

Whether retailers find it attractive to take advantage of this new freedom will depend in part on the charges they themselves pay to the credit card companies. The MMC concluded that the level of profitability of five credit card companies accounting for some 80 per cent. of credit card lending last year was sufficiently above that which might have been expected in conditions of normal competition to be against the public interest. The MMC did not make any specific recommendations because of the prospect of increased competition. However, during the recent consultation period, considerable concern was expressed about the charges to retailers, including the interchange fee.

I have therefore decided to go further than the MMC recommended by taking steps to increase competition in this area. Credit card companies will have to provide the Director General of Fair Trading with information on the range of charges to retailers and the interchange fees which they have been making and to publish similar information on their current charges. As well as enabling the director general to keep the position under review, this should act as a spur to competition and should strengthen retailers' ability to negotiate the level of charges with them. I intend to discuss these additional remedies with the credit card organisations and their members before initiating the statutory consultation procedure that is required before making orders under the Fair Trading Act. I announced last autumn that I was accepting the Commission's recommendation that the two credit card organisations, Visa and Mastercard-Eurocard should no longer restrict the freedom of issuers of their cards in the United Kingdom to act as merchant acquirers, recruiting traders to take credit cards and handling the subsequent transactions. The Director General of Fair Trading is seeking appropriate undertakings from these organisations. These measures in combination with increasing competition should remedy the adverse effects identified by the Commission in its report. Nevertheless, with the


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Director General of Fair Trading, I will watch developments closely. If necessary, I will consider taking further action.

Mr. Shersby : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement indicating his preferred option for insurance cover connected with the use of credit cards in the retail sector.

Mr. Forth [holding answer 19 December 1989] : In August my Department issued a consultation document which proposed that where credit payment insurance and other ancillary services are offered as optional additions under a credit agreement, acceptance of the option should require a positive expression of acceptance by the borrower, such as the ticking of a box. A number of representations on this proposal have been received and are now under consideration.

Post Office (Procurement Activities)

Mr. Harris : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what progress has been made by the Post Office in the implementation of the recommendations made in the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's report on the Post Office's procurement activities.

Mr. Forth : The Monopolies and Mergers Commission reported on the Post Office's procurement activities in October 1986. The Post Office's initial response, produced in January 1987, partially rejected one and accepted the remainder of the report's 49 recommendations. A report on progress to October 1987 was placed in the Library in December 1987. Nearly half the MMC's recommendations had been implemented by that time.

I have now received the Post Office's report on progress to October 1989, which I am placing in the Libraries. It indicates that considerable further progress has been made and all but one of the recommendations (relating to the introduction of productivity schemes in supplies department depots) have now been implemented. My Department will continue to monitor the Post Office's progress in implementing this recommendation.

Telecommunications Council

Mr. Amess : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the outcome of the Telecommunications Council on 7 December.

Mr. Forth : The principal items for discussion were a proposed Commission directive under Article 90 of the treaty of Rome aimed at introducing competition into the Community market for

telecommunication services and a related Council directive on a framework for open network provision (ONP) of telecommunication services.

The Council agreed the policy content of the Commission directive with a number of amendments designed to ensure that the introduction of competition would not interfere with the general availability of packet and circuit switched data services in each member state. The Council also agreed amendments on ONP which may be expected to lead to a common position on the proposed framework directive, probably before the end of this year.

The Government believe that this outcome was the best that could be achieved. In particular the essential market opening provisions of the article 90 directive have been retained. While the scope of the ONP directive will be


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more extensive than we had proposed, it should not impede our objective of enabling competition to develop without the constraint of unnecessary harmonisation.

Deregulation Reviews

Mr. Arbuthnot : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what progress has been made under the rolling programme of deregulation reviews announced on 31 January by the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs.

Mr. Redwood : Of the 22 reviews announced in January all are complete or nearing completion. They have already resulted in a wide range of benefits to business. In some cases it has proved possible to eliminate requirements altogether, in others to update and streamline controls. Quantifiable savings to business from these completed reviews should exceed £10 million per annum. Government communications with business have also been improved through the consultations which have taken place, as has the service provided by Departments.

Our prime aim remains to remove the time loss and frustration caused to business by out-of-date or cumbersome requirements. We are therefore bringing forward consideration of a number of wider issues which have an impact particularly on the development of smaller businesses, together with reviews designed to identify regulatory barriers to building new businesses in various sectors.

The full list of new departmental reviews is as follows : C & E--

(i) Industrial oils reliefs ; and

(ii) Methylated spirits reliefs

Review the burden placed on businesses by current administrative procedures, and consider whether the records required to be kept by users can be simplified.

(iii) Production and dissemination of information to the trade and public

Review will include the provision of VAT advice to business and the effectiveness of communications with new business.

DH--Review of CAPRICODE guidance

Review the procedures governing accountability in the NHS Building Programme (CAPRICODE) to ensure that no unnecessary restrictions are placed on the construction industry.

DSS--Service to business in the new National Insurance Contributions Unit

Review those areas of the Unit's work which provide a service to business and make recommendations on how these can be improved and burdens reduced.

DTI--

(i) Company law exemptions for private companies

Review the provisions for their impact on non-public companies. (

(ii) Regulations made under Part II of the Consumer Protection Act 1987

Review the need for regulations in the light of the development of industry standards.

(iii) CB radio licensing

Review various options for improving the present system of CB licensing.

(iv) Fixed-link radio user access system

Introduce a user accessible database for radio fixed links. DTp--Type approval procedures for equipment on merchant ships. Review scope for changing procedures in order to reduce costs of UK ship-owners.

HO--Betting-shop hours of opening

Consider an extension of the permitted opening hours beyond the existing statutory closing time.


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HSC--Strategy for negotiating EC health and safety Directives Assess general lessons for present and future regulatory policy based on experience of negotiating EC health and safety Directives. IR--PllD's

Review the PllD form and procedures with a view to reducing the burden they impose on employers.

MAFF--Export Refunds and Monetary Compensatory Amounts

Enquiry into product classification for which exports refunds and Monetary Compensatory Amounts are fixed, and the differentiation of refund rates by destination.

SO--

(i) The Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.

Review the working of the Act, with particular reference to the scope for reducing inconsistencies in optional business licensing powers of local authorities.

(ii) Registration and inspection of independent schools in Scotland.

Review procedures to assess whether the system is burdensome for school proprietors and what scope exists for simplification. EDU--Faster and simpler business licensing

Review feasibility of developing a cross-departmental public database to enable business to indentify quickly and clearly requirements to be met.

Arts and Design

Mr. Fisher : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what expenditure was made by his Department on (a) the arts and (b) design in the last financial year.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : The information is as follows :

(a) nil,

(b) £13,874,000.

Grants

Mr. Thornton : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will provide estimates showing for each financial year from 1987-88 to 1990-91 the amount of actual or planned expenditure on (a) regional selective assistance, (b) English Estates and (c) inner city task forces.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : Actual expenditure in England on regional selective assistance, English Estates and inner city task forces for 1987-88 and 1988 -89 and planned expenditure for 1989-90 is as follows :


£ million                                                                    

                                 |1987-88   |1988-89   |1989-90<1>           

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Regional Selective Assistance<2> |122.7     |134.9     |147.3                

English Estates                  |47.0      |45.5      |50.0                 

Inner City Task Forces           |<3>5.5    |16.4      |19.2                 

<1> Figures contained in the 1989-90 Supply Estimates.                       

<2> Regional Selective Assistance includes the Business Improvement Services 

and Exchange Risk Guarantee schemes as well as the main RSA project grants.  

<3> DTI expenditure from November 1987 to end March 1988. Prior to November  

1987 the Inner Cities Unit was located in the Department of Employment and   

therefore details of expenditure are not readily available to DTI.           

Expenditure plans for 1990-91 will be published in the Public Expenditure White Paper in January.


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Telephone Information Services

Mr. Lewis : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) what has been the level of funding of the independent committee for the supervision of standards of telephone information services in each year since its establishment ;

(2) what have been the sources of the finding of the independent committee for the supervision of standards of telephone information services, in each year since its establishment ;

(3) what is the total number of persons currently employed by the independent committee for the supervision of standards of telephone information services ;

(4) what are the current funding arrangements for the independent committee for the supervision of standards of telephone information services.

Mr. Forth : These are matters for the independent committee for the supervision of standards of telephone information services (ICSTIS). No Governmnt funding has been provided to ICSTIS. The hon. Member may wish to write to the chairman, Louis Blom-Cooper, QC, ICSTIS, 67-69 Whitfield street, London W1P 5RL.

Export Credits Guarantee Mr. Mullin : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will list the countries with which trade is not supported by export credits guarantee.

Mr. Ridley : Libya and Zambia are the only countries for which ECGD export credit support is currently not available

Export Credits Guarantee Department

Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make it his policy that the introduction of private capital into the insurance services group of the Export Credits Guarantee Department will not precede the abolition of comparable state-owned agencies in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Mr. Ridley : I refer to the written answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) on 18 December 1989 at columns 23-24 .

It is the Government's intention that private capital be introduced into the company created from ECGD's insurance services group quickly after its incorporation. The early completion of these changes is in the best interest of ECGD, insurance services, the staff of both organisations, their customers and United Kingdom exporters.

Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make it his policy that the headquarters of the insurance services group of the Export Credits Guarantee Department will remain in Cardiff subsequent to any introduction of private capital into the ownership of the agency.

Mr. Ridley : The location of the new company once privatised will be a matter for decision for the management and shareholder(s).

Mr Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what arrangements the Export Credits


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Guarantee Department, insurance services group, Cardiff, have made with the Property Services Agency to occupy a new office building subsequent to ceasing to be a Government Department.

Mr. Ridley : Discussions have already been held with the Property Services Agency about possible future accommodation arrangements. No decisions have yet been taken.

Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what proportion of staff at the Export Credits Guarantee Department, insurance services group, Cardiff, have worked at projects group, London, during the past five years and vice versa.

Mr Ridley : The proportion of staff in the insurance services group, Cardiff, who have worked in the project group, London, during the last five years is about 0.15 per cent. and the proportion of staff in the project group who have worked in insurance services group is about 2 per cent.

Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what proportion of the work done by the Export Credits Guarantee Department computer centre at Llanishen arises from insurance services group, Cardiff, and how much arises from projects group, Cardiff.

Mr. Ridley : The Export Credits Guarantee Department computer centre at Llanishen currently provides services to the two business units in the following proportions :

Insurance Services Group-- 75 per cent.

Project Group-- 25 per cent.

It is expected that this will have changed by 1 April 1991 to give the following proportions :

Insurance Services Group-- 80 per cent.

Project Group-- 20 per cent.

Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make any future introduction of private capital into the insurance services group of Export Credits Guarantee Department conditional on satisfactory arrangements being made for future employment for the employees of the group.

Mr. Ridley : Any new employer will be bound by existing legislation which provides protection for the employees when the change of ownership takes place. Employment can best be safeguarded by growth in business. The changes I have announced will provide the best basis for such growth.

Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, pursuant to his written answer of 18 December to the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), if he will make it his policy to give preference to the introduction of private capital into Export Credits Guarantee Department, insurance service group, only where due consideration has been given to the need to safeguard employment in the financial services industry in south-east Wales.

Mr. Ridley : Any new employer will be bound by existing legislation which provides protection for the employees when the change of ownership takes place. Employment can best be safeguarded by growth in business. The changes I have announced will provide the best basis for such growth.

Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether the lease held by the Export Credits


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Guarantee Department, insurance services group, on the Crown buildings, Cathays park, Cardiff, precludes occupation by other than a Government Department or a charity.

Mr. Ridley : The lease on the Crown building land does include covenants about commercial activities and the implications of these are being examined by the Export Credits Guarantee Department and the Property Services Agency.


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