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Objective 5b Funding

Mr. Blizzard: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what representations she has received regarding the eligibility for Objective 5b funding of projects involving the private sector. [42323]

Mrs. Roche [holding answer 18 May 1998]: Rules were published by the Department in May 1995 allowing private sector involvement in European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) infrastructure projects. These rules remain in place. We have not received any representations about them.

Officials within the Department and Government Offices regularly discuss the eligibility of individual private sector projects and their compliance with the relevant Objective 5b programme. Of particular importance in these discussions is the European Commission requirement that public sector contributions to programmes are not replaced by private sector funds. Failure to achieve the expected level of public sector contributions is likely to lead to reduced payments of Structural Funds grant by the Commission. Private sector projects will not therefore be able to be supported if they replace necessary public sector contributions.

Cabouchon Jewellery

Mr. Campbell-Savours: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if she will institute inquiries under section 432 of the Companies Act 1985 into the price paid and arrangements made for the sale and distribution of the assets, including stock, of Cabouchon jewellery and the Cabouchon trade mark. [42565]

Mr. Nigel Griffiths: My Officials have liaised with the administrative receivers and a petition has just been presented in the High Court for the compulsory winding up of the company. The petition will be heard on 3 June 1998 and if, as expected, the company is wound up, the Official Receiver will have a statutory duty under the Insolvency Act 1986 to investigate the causes of the company's failure. In such circumstances no purpose would be served in using Companies Act inquiries to duplicate the Official Receiver's investigation.

Energy Council

Mr. Sawford: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what was the outcome of the Energy Council meeting on 11 May. [43180]

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Mr. Battle: The Council considered several issues and received reports on matters of interest. I chaired the meeting.

I am particularly pleased to report that the Council was able to adopt the gas directive following the European Parliament's second reading. I regard this as an important development towards the completion of the single market in energy. It will lead to a more competitive market and a better deal for consumers.

The Council held a positive and constructive open debate on energy and the environment. It focused on three questions: enhancing renewable energies by making them cost competitive; promoting energy efficiency and CHP; and promoting environmental objectives. Member states underlined the importance of linking an energy response to Kyoto and outlined their actions at national level. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment as President of the EU Environmental Council was able to attend for the open debate demonstrating a joint approach to environmental issues between Energy and Environment Ministers.

Following the open debate Council adopted a Presidency proposal for Council conclusions on the energy response to Kyoto which agreed the need for action both at national and EU level in the areas of renewable energies, combined heat and power and energy efficiency. The Council also adopted a Resolution in response to the Commission's White Paper on renewable energy sources which urges Member States to develop national strategies with a view to bringing about a substantial increase in the use of renewables throughout the EU. The Council agreed that the White Paper's indicative target of 12 per cent. for the European Union as a whole by 2010 provides useful guidance for these increased efforts. I regard such action as a win win win situation where new jobs in new energy services and new technologies will be created as a result of tackling environmental challenges.

The Council held an orientation debate on the energy framework programme to bring together all community energy specific programmes e.g. ALTENER, SAVE to support energy efficiency as well as a new programme to promote clean solid fuel technology. There was broad consensus on the approach and the text, and progress was made on technical aspects of the decision. The discussion on the budget was deferred until after the opinion of the European Parliament.

The Council received presentations from the Commission on the development of the single market in electricity and harmonisation requirements following the electricity directive. The Commission also gave a progress report on the Energy Charter Treaty and presentations on a proposal for a Council directive amending the Directive on minimum oil stocks, a review on Coal State Aids Decision Coal and information on the oil refining market. Political agreement was also reached on the ALTENER II decision following the European parliament's second reading.

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Overseas Training Exercises

Mr. Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what was the most recent major unit overseas training exercise; and what was its cost (a) without and (b) including air movement costs. [41868]

Dr. Reid: The most recent major unit overseas training exercise was Medicine Man 1 which commenced on 14 April and will run until 25 May 1998. The exercise is being held at the British Army Training Unit in Suffield, Canada.

The cost of the exercise without air movement charges will be approximately £12.76 million. Air movement costs will be a further £1.02 million.

Public Bodies

Jackie Ballard: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what is the average attendance fee of (a) male and (b) female members of boards of non-departmental public bodies responsible to his Department; [42830]

Mr. Spellar: The majority of board members of non-departmental public bodies give their time and services voluntarily and receive no payment other than normal travel and subsistence expenses. Where members do receive remuneration, this can vary between an annual salary or an attendance fee, and in some cases, board members choose not to claim the attendance fees to which they are entitled. Individuals' remuneration therefore is not directly comparable, but is regardless of gender where made. Full details of all payments to board members of non-departmental bodies, by gender, are given in the Cabinet Office publication "Public Bodies". Copies of "Public Bodies 1997" are available in the Libraries of the House.

Public Appointments

Jackie Ballard: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when his Department's action plan for increasing the number of women holding public appointments will be published; and if he will place a copy in the Library. [42831]

Mr. Spellar: My Department's action plan for increasing the number of women and ethnic minorities holding public appointments will be published shortly. A copy will be placed in the Library of the House.

Defence Bills Agency

Mr. Edwards: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what key targets have been set for the Defence Bills Agency for 1998-99. [43078]

Dr. Reid: Targets have been set for the Chief Executive of the Defence Bills Agency for the financial year 1998-99 in accordance with the Agency's aim of meeting the requirements of its Service Level Agreement with the Ministry of Defence in a manner which offers best value for money.

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The roles of the Defence Bills Agency as defined in its Framework document are: the authorisation and payment of bills from MOD's suppliers and contractors; the invoicing and collection of MOD receipts; the maintenance of accounting records for the MOD central ledger; and the provision of financial management information to budget holders.

The Chief Executive's key targets for 1998-99 build on the high standards of service already achieved by the Agency since its formation in January 1996 and are as follows:

    2. To raise 100 per cent. of invoices within 5 working days of receipt of correctly-presented instruction.

    3. To meet the criteria contracted for in the Service Level Agreement covering debt recovery, management information systems, maintenance of contract records, reduction of overpayments and clearance of credit notes. To deliver these services within the agreed price of £15.587 million for the financial year 1998-99.

    4. To achieve a further efficiency improvement over that specified in the Service Level Agreement for 1998-99 of 2½ per cent. in the bills process to staffing ratio. For 1997-98 the ratio was 6,395 bills processed for each member of staff. The target for 1998-99 is 6,555 bills processed for each member of staff.

    5. To ensure that, by 1 January 1999, the Agency's internal financial systems are fully compliant with the Department's Resource Accounting and Budgeting system.

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