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Employment-related Litigation

Mr. Fraser: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the cost to business of employment-related litigation in the last year for which figures are available. [136455]

Mr. Alan Johnson: This information is not available.

Universal Bank

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what estimate he has made of (a) the setting up costs and (b) the annual running costs of the Universal Bank. [136708]

Mr. Byers: The Post Office and the High Street banks are working together to develop Universal Banking services. An announcement on costs will be made in due course.

Overhead Power Lines

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what research he has recently commissioned on the possible link between overhead power lines and cancer. [137199]

Mrs. Liddell: The Department of Health is currently funding both epidemiological and laboratory studies on power lines and cancer. The Department of Health also contributes to the World Health Organisation International Electromagnetic Fields Project and has supported the United Kingdom Childhood Cancer Study. The electricity industry is supporting high-quality, independent research.

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The Department of Trade and Industry has not recently commissioned any research into the possible link between overhead power lines and cancer as it is believed that there is sufficient on-going research sponsored by Government and by other agencies.

The Government also rely on the independent advice from the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) for guidance on all forms of hazard to health from radiation, including electromagnetic fields. That advice to date is that, while the possibility of an association cannot be dismissed, there is insufficient evidence of any adverse health effect from the fields from power supplies to which the general public may be exposed.

Postal Services Act

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he plans to bring the Postal Services Act 2000 into force; and if he will make a statement. [137485]

Mr. Alan Johnson: I have made the first Commencement Order under section 130 of the Act to set the dates for the coming into force of many of the principal provisions of the Act. In accordance with the Order, these provisions will be brought into force in three phases.

As announced in the pursuant answer given on 6 November 2000, Official Report, column 18W, the Postal Services Commission became a statutory body on that date, with many of its new powers, including the power to prepare for the licensing regime. I can confirm that Mr. Graham Corbett CBE has been appointed as Chairman. Mr. Robin Aaronson, Mr. Tony Cooper, Ms Julia Kaufmann OBE, Ms Janet Lewis-Jones, and Mr. Ken Olisa have been appointed as members. The Commissioners have with the approval of the Secretary of State appointed Mr. Martin Stanley as their Chief Executive and he will under the provisions of the Act be a member of the Commission.

Also on 6 November the powers which will pave the way for the establishment of the Post Office company and the transfer of the Post Office's business to this company were commenced (though the transfer will not take place until next Spring).

On 1 January 2001, the provisions relating to the new Consumer Council for Postal Services will be commenced.

On 26 March 2001, the requirements for the full licensing regime will be commenced; and (as this is the day on which it is planned to vest the business of the Post Office in the new Post Office company) the repeal of much of the existing Post Office legislation will take effect.

A further Commencement Order will be made in due course covering the provisions not contained in the first Order. It is expected that most of the remaining provisions will be commenced on 26 March 2001.

Post Office Network

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions he has had with the Post Office regarding the proposals contained in the Performance and

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Innovation Unit report on the Post Office Network sub-post offices for a new role for Government general practitioners. [137256]

Mr. Alan Johnson: There have been extensive discussions between my Department and the Post Office on the development of proposals and of a business case for a Government General Practitioner role for the Post Office Network, including sub-post offices.

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what measures his Department is taking to protect suburban post offices from closure in the Sutton and Cheam parliamentary constituency. [136442]

Mr. Alan Johnson: The Government are committed to implementing all 24 of the recommendations in the Performance and Innovation Unit report on modernising the post office network. Many of the measures being undertaken, such as development of Universal Banking services, of a Government General Practitioner role as one stop shop for electronic access to public services and of e-commerce opportunities, will be relevant to all parts of the post office network, whether urban, suburban or rural.

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how funds announced in this year's Spending Review for the maintenance of the post office network will be divided between areas defined as rural and areas defined as urban; and to publish the criteria used to define an area as rural or urban. [136716]

Mr. Alan Johnson [holding answer 6 November 2000]: As some of the measures for the modernisation and maintenance of the post office network for which funding was allocated in the Spending Review relate to the network as a whole, it is not possible to give a precise division between rural and urban areas. The Government definition of a rural post office is one located in a community of less than 10,000 inhabitants.

Internet Chat Services

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the self-regulatory approach in dealing with undesirable and illegal Internet content in the specific case of Internet chat rooms and their use by paedophiles to contact children. [136216]

Ms Hewitt [holding answer 6 November 2000]: Illegal content in chat rooms is covered by existing law, and is dealt with by the police in the same way as illegal content in the off-line world.

The Internet Crime Forum sub-group on chat recently published its interim findings (http://www. internetcrimeforum.org.uk/chatwise.html). This group looked at potential means of addressing the problems with chat rooms. Their recommendations were that the best way forward was to educate users and increase awareness of the risks. They suggested further measures on reporting mechanisms and advice to users that service providers should take.

The self-regulatory approach employed by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has proved successful at regulating relatively static Internet content such as web pages and newsgroups. The IWF is generally regarded as a model internationally. However, Internet chat is ephemeral, and the IWF's remit does not specifically

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cover it. The IWF passes reports that it receives about chat rooms directly to the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS).

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if his Department was represented on the inter-departmental Internet Crime Forum sub-group on Internet chat services; when he will receive the report; and if he will make a statement. [136219]

Ms Hewitt [holding answer 6 November 2000]: Both the DTI and the Home Office are represented on the main Internet Crime Forum panel. The Home Office is represented in the sub-group on Internet chat services, although the DTI is not.

The preliminary findings of the sub-group have been published on the Internet Crime Forum website, at: http://www.internetcrimeforum.org.uk/chatwise.html. I understand the full report will be published shortly.

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he last met (a) Internet service providers and (b) web hosting services to discuss guidelines for the provision of Internet chat services with special reference to the protection of children. [136217]

Ms Hewitt [holding answer 6 November 2000]: DTI Ministers discuss matters of concern with ISPs and others involved with web hosting on a regular basis. As Minister responsible for e-commerce, I last met a group representing the ISP industry on 25 May.

I also met representatives of children's charities earlier this year to discuss issues related to the safety of children on the Internet. As a result of this meeting, Government and outside bodies including the charities and the Internet Watch Foundation have developed a set of safety messages for children and their parents on the use of the Internet. These can be found on the Government's UK Online portal at: http://www.ukonline.gov.uk/sub--safety.htm#children.

In addition, representatives of the ISPs attend the Internet Crime Forum, a body that includes representatives from Government, industry and the police. This body, which covers Internet safety issues for children, last met on 26 September.


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