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Trade Fairs and Seminars

Mr. Waller: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the results of the bids for trade fair and overseas seminar support for 1997-89. [12007]

Mr. Nelson: I am pleased to announce that, under the trade fairs support scheme, about 260 groups of firms will be offered support totalling £17 million for exhibitions world-wide in 1997-98. This will be a major fillip, especially to small and medium firms which otherwise would not exhibit their products to potential customers in this way. In addition, this year, for the first time, similar export promotion activities will be eligible for the sector challenge competition, the results of which will be announced in March. I am pleased to report that a number of such applications have been invited to prepare full bids under the challenge.

Of the 260 exhibitions being announced now, nearly half will be in Europe, about one fifth in the Asia Pacific and another fifth in the Americas. The full programme will be published in my Department's overseas promotions guide later this week. Copies will be sent to business links and trade associations and copies will be placed in the Libraries of the House.

Against a background of considerable demand for this support and in order to maintain a substantial programme while containing public expenditure, I have decided to reduce the rate of grant on the approved cost of renting space and constructing stands at trade fairs from 50 per cent. to 45 per cent. I have also decided not to revalue the price levels on which construction grants are based. These changes will apply to all events for which my Department announces support from today. Offers of grant and firm announcements of support already made will continue to attract grant at current rates. I am not yet in a position to take decisions on supporting some events which would involve new expenditure in 1998-99.

Inclusion of the trade fairs programme in the sector challenge should bring significant benefits to exporters by allowing new and more flexible approaches to exhibiting. I will be reviewing the way that we support trade fairs after the first sector challenge but my intention is to make all support for the trade fairs after this round available through the sector challenge. Consequently, the existing understanding to support automatically a core programme of events will continue only up to 31 March 1999.

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In the meantime, with the aim of making the current scheme more customer-friendly, I have decided to streamline its administration. My Department will be reducing the number of forms, simplifying those forms still needed and asking intermediaries to be more accountable to their customers and less to my Department. This will apply routinely to the events for which I am announcing support from today and, where practicable, to offers already made.

In addition, under the related overseas seminar scheme, my Department plans to support 31 events in 1997-98. Details of these too will be included in the overseas promotion guide.

Business Links

Mr. Waller: To ask the President of the Board of Trade, pursuant to the Government observations on the fifth report of the Trade and Industry Committee on business links--House of Commons 301 of Session 1995-96--what steps the Government have taken to reduce bureaucracy and relate funding to outputs; and what targets he intends to set for each business link. [12030]

Mr. Page: From 1997-98, each business link will have a single budget for the core services that it is required to provide and my Department will make its contribution to the cost of business link services against proposals set out in the relevant training and enterprise council business plan for meeting the needs of the area. Funding will no longer depend in a mechanistic way on the precise levels of activity on each service, but each business link partnership will need to meet targets related to (a) the fees paid to the business link by assisted businesses, (b) the number of businesses with at least one employee using business link services and (c) the number of businesses that have an established fee-based relationship with the business link. The numerical targets for each business link will depend on local circumstances such as how long the business link has been operating.

These targets reflect the fact that business links are commercial organisations operating in the private sector, although with a public purpose. If they are to be credible in providing business advice to their client customers, it is particularly important that they also operate commercially. Charging helps the assisted business to appreciate the value of the services provided and helps business links to generate additional funds so that the business link can increase the volume, quality and range of services it offers. In order to ensure that all business links make progress in this area, I have decided to set a minimum level for fee income from assisted businesses. Consequently, by their fifth year of operations--or by 1998-99 for business links that will reach their fifth year in 1997-98--business links should be earning at least 25 per cent. of their income from the assistance they provide to businesses. In earlier years, they will be expected to be making clear and defined progress towards this target. This approach gives business links considerable freedom in deciding how to charge their customers, while ensuring a broad minimum overall level of income from assisted businesses across all business link areas.

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Overseas Projects Fund

Mr. Milburn: To ask the President of the Board of Trade how many projects have been won with overseas projects fund assistance in each of the last five years; and if he will identify each project. [11444]

Mr. Lang:

    1992-93: 3

    1993-94: 5

    1994-95: 5

    1995-96: 1

    1996-97 to date: 3.

Information about individual projects is confidential between the company and the Department.

Mr. Milburn: To ask the President of the Board of Trade, pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Mr Pope) of 11 November, Official Report, column 14, on the overseas projects fund, if he will identify each of the projects assisted in each of the last five years. [11446]

Mr. Lang: Information about individual projects is confidential between the company and the Department.

Arbitration Act 1996

Mr. Waller: To ask the President of the Board of Trade when the Arbitration Act 1996 will come into force; and if he will make a statement. [12008]

Mr. Lang: I am pleased to announce that, before the House rose for the Christmas recess, I made an order to bring the main provisions of the Arbitration Act 1996 into force on 31 January 1997. I have decided not to bring sections 85 to 87 of the Act, which make certain special provisions for domestic arbitration agreements, into force. A draft order to repeal these sections will be laid before both Houses as soon as is practicable.

The new Act will apply to all arbitration proceedings which are commenced on or after 31 January, no matter when the agreement to arbitrate was made. The only exception is the provision at section 46(1)(b) of the Act, which enables the parties to agree that the dispute can be decided in accordance with provisions other than the law. This provision will apply only to new arbitration agreements made on or after 31 January 1997.

The commencement order which brings the Act into force makes certain transitional arrangements to deal with situations where applications in respect of arbitral proceedings are made to the courts around the time the Act comes into force.

Arrangements are being made to have new rules of court in place on 31 January to complement the new Act.

At the same time, I have laid before both Houses an order under section 91 of the Act to set at £3,000 the amount below which a consumer arbitration agreement will be considered unfair. The order will apply to England and Wales and Scotland. Apart from its provisions on consumer arbitration agreements the Act does not apply to Scotland. A similar order is being made for Northern Ireland.

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The departmental advisory committee on arbitration law produced an excellent commentary on the Arbitration Bill in February of last year. A supplementary report is being prepared which will bring the commentary on the project up to date.

My Department is in the process of preparing a brochure on the Act which is being written with the needs of small business and consumers specifically in mind.


Electronic Tagging

Mr. Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the age of (a) the youngest and (b) the oldest person who was electronically tagged in England and Wales during 1996. [10884]

Mr. Sackville: The answers are: (a) 16; (b) 60.

Mr. Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many (a) men and (b) women were electronically tagged in England and Wales during 1996. [10885]

Mr. Sackville: Two hundred and thirteen men and 16 women were sentenced to curfew orders monitored electronically in the three trial areas during 1996.

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