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Green Minister

Ms Ruddock: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what were his reasons for deciding not to continue in his predecessor's role as the Green Minister within his Department. [243]

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) reports to me on all environmental matters. I have allocated the important role of Green Minister to him to ensure that the Ministry's environmental responsibilities receive the fullest possible attention and expertise.

Staffing

Mr. Byers: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many staff his Department employs on a regional basis in each standard English region; what is the cost of running these regional operations; what was the total budget for each region in 1994-95; and what are the main purposes for which the budget is used. [268]

Mr. Boswell: I refer the hon. Member to the reply given to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) on 6 February 1995, Official Report, column 86, which provides the latest available relevant information.

TRADE AND INDUSTRY

National Engineering Laboratory

Mr. Anthony Coombs: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what financial arrangements have been put in place with ASL consequent upon the transfer of the National Engineering Laboratory. [2273]

22 Nov 1995 : Column: 200

Mr. Ian Taylor: Further to my reply to the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) of 31 October, Official Report, column 211, the business and staff of the National Engineering Laboratory have now transferred to Assessment Services Ltd. A payment of £1.95 million was made to ASL on completion and there will be a further adjustment as set out in my earlier answer. Overall, these terms represent better value for money for my Department than the other bids received or the sale benchmark.

Approval to this new service will be sought in a winter supplementary estimate for the Department of Trade and Industry's programmes and administration vote--class IV, vote 1. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure of £1.95 million has been met by repayable advances from the Contingencies Fund.

EU Consumers Council

Dr. Spink: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the outcome of the EU Consumers Council held on 9 November. [2231]

Mr. Jonathan Evans: I represented the United Kingdom at the Council. Political agreement was reached on a compromise text on the comparative advertising directive. The text fully meets United Kingdom objectives and concerns.

There was an orientation debate on the Commission's proposals for a new directive on unit-pricing--the requirement for retailers to indicate the price per unit of measurement. While welcoming the general thrust of the proposal as providing the consumer with an accurate and easily understood price comparison mechanism, I strongly argued that national Governments should be given discretionary power to exempt small shops from unit pricing, gaining support from a number of other member states. On grounds of subsidiarity, there was general support for allowing member states to determine on a national basis whether to exempt specific products from unit pricing; and the unit of measurement by which individual products should be unit priced.

The Council passed a resolution welcoming the Commission's report on the operation of the consumer credit directive and inviting the commission to undertake further study before proposing any further initiatives in this area. It was also agreed that the Commission should undertake studies in co-operation with member states on consumer education and information and on miracle products.

The Commission presented its paper on priorities for consumer policy 1996 to 1998, concentrating on financial services, public utilities, measures to enable the consumer to benefit from the information society, measures to improve consumer confidence in foodstuffs and to encourage sustainable consumption. These proposals will be subject to further consideration.

Mr. Barnes: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the outcome of the EU Consumers Council held on 19 November listing all votes, and all decisions which were determined by unanimity or without discussion. [438]