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Departmental Employees (Disabled People)

Mr. Crausby: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what percentage of the total workforce in his Department is registered as disabled; and what steps he is taking to encourage the employment of disabled people in his Department. [102043]

Mr. Byers: On 1 April 1999, the percentage of staff who had notified the Department of a disability represented 4.2 per cent. of all staff. This included staff in DTI Headquarters, but excluded casual staff and staff in Government Offices and Executive Agencies.

The Department's external recruitment is through fair and open competition with selection on merit. We ensure that our recruitment processes are adapted to meet the requirements of disabled applicants.

World Trade Organisation

Mr. Dawson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what measures he will urge the World Trade Organisation to adopt in respect of environment and labour standards in order to ensure that free trade is fair and sustainable. [103099]

Mr. Caborn: Although the recent WTO meeting in Seattle did not launch a new round of trade negotiations, the UK, alongside its EU partners, will continue to press for negotiations to clarify the relationship between Multilateral Environmental Agreements and WTO rules; to clarify the rules on environmental labelling; and to examine the scope for taking into account the precautionary principle in WTO rules in relation to environmental risks. The UK will continue to press for a joint forum of the ILO and WTO to consider trade, globalisation and labour issues.

Regulated Industries (Consumer Charges)

Mr. Dobbin: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the impact on employment of decisions taken by regulators on the prices charged to consumers by the regulated industries. [103051]

Mrs. Liddell: Decisions on the form and level of price controls are matters for the sectoral regulators. In telecommunications, electricity, and gas, the independent industry regulators have statutory duties which govern the way in which they conduct their business. These are set out in the relevant legislation. Decisions taken by the regulated companies in response to proposals by the regulators are for the commercial judgment of the companies. If companies are not prepared to accept the regulator's proposals, they can reject them, and the regulator can then refer the proposals to the Competition Commission for a full review.

Manufacturing (Worcestershire)

Mr. Michael J. Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many manufacturing businesses were operating in Worcestershire during 1998. [103309]

Mr. Alan Johnson: There were 2,070 VAT registered businesses operating in the manufacturing sector in Worcestershire at the end of 1998.

20 Dec 1999 : Column: 379W


Mr. Gibb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what his proposed date is for the dissolution of the electricity pool and the commencement of the electricity trading arrangements. [103014]

Mrs. Liddell: The target for the implementation of the new electricity trading arrangements is autumn 2000.

Gas Disconnections

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the number of gas disconnections. [102725]

Mrs. Liddell: Figures from the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (OFGEM) indicate that in the first nine months of 1999 there were 15,500 gas disconnections for debt. Based on this trend the Regulator is hopeful that the total number of gas disconnections in 1999 should not exceed 20,000, representing a large fall compared to 1998 when there were nearly 30,000 gas disconnections. The Regulator will monitor the number of disconnections closely and has, in his Social Action Plan, set out a number of actions which should continue to place downward pressure on the number of disconnections.

Departmental Buildings

Mr. Maclean: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry for each of the buildings under his Department's control how many rooms are set aside for (a) ethnic minority religious use, (b) pregnant and nursing mothers and (c) smokers. [102339]

Mr. Byers: Where the Department is the major or sole occupier of a building provision is made for rest/first aid rooms and in most buildings there is a dedicated smoking room or area. No specific provision is made for religious observance, but staff can and do use meeting rooms for such purposes. Where the Department is a minor occupier of a building, provision of rooms or areas for purposes such as these will often be shared between all the occupiers.

Offshore Wind Farms

Mr. David Stewart: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on his Department's policy on the implementation of licensing of offshore wind farms. [103478]

Mrs. Liddell: The Government are exploring what regime might be most appropriate for consents and licensing for offshore wind farms following the earlier consultation with the industry and interested parties.

The location of offshore wind farms will need to take account of developers' wishes, the suitability of particular sites, and the availability of the various planning consents.

Export Credits Guarantee Department

Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many submissions were received by the Export Credits Guarantee Department during the recent consultation exercise on its mission and status; if these submissions will be made public; and if he will place a list of the submissions in the Library. [103066]

20 Dec 1999 : Column: 380W

Mr. Caborn: A total of 241 responses were received to the Public Consultation Document circulated in relation to the Review of the Mission and Status of ECGD, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced to the House on 27 July 1999, Official Report, columns 305-06W. As indicated in the Consultation Document, it is intended that a summary of the responses, a number of which were provided on a confidential basis, will be published and placed in the Library of the House.

Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what is his policy on taking environmental factors into account when granting export credit guarantees. [103215]

Mr. Caborn: ECGD takes environmental factors into account in all relevant cases. Environmentally sensitive cases are considered in conjunction with other relevant Departments.

On 23 November, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced a screening process to help to identify environmentally sensitive cases at an early stage.

Ilisu Dam

Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, pursuant to his answer of 29 November 1999, Official Report, column 23W, on the Ilisu dam, when he will make a decision on the application for export credit support; and if he will make a statement. [103234]

Mr. Caborn: The application for ECGD support for the UK participation in the Ilisu Dam project has given rise to a number of social, political, environmental and cultural issues requiring further consideration between ECGD, the other export credit agencies involved, the Turkish authorities and the contractors. A decision on the application will not be taken until the issues have been satisfactorily resolved.

Post Office (Benefit Payments)

Mr. Alasdair Morgan: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the effect on rural post offices of plans to pay benefits directly into claimants' bank accounts; and if he will make a statement. [102710]

Mr. Alan Johnson: The automation of the Post Office Counters Ltd. network, which is due for completion by the spring of 2001, will enable the Post Office to extend its arrangements with the high street banks to offer a range of banking facilities at post offices. This will mean that benefit recipients who wish to access their benefits in cash at post offices will continue to be able to do so, both before and after the migration of benefit payments to automated credit transfer from 2003, while other bank customers will benefit from the wider availability of banking facilities, particularly in rural areas.

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will estimate the unit cost to Post Office Counters Ltd. of processing a benefit payment by (a) voucher, (b) Girocheque and (c) payable order. [103143]

Mr. Alan Johnson: This information is in commercial confidence between the Post Office and the Benefits Agency.

20 Dec 1999 : Column: 381W

Miners (Compensation)

Mr. Wigley: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many (a) coalminers and (b) coalminers' widows are entitled to compensation as a result of suffering from emphysema or chronic bronchitis; and how many of them have received (i) full and (ii) partial compensation payments. [103061]

Mrs. Liddell: As of 16 December the Department has received 62,541 claims from living miners. We have made 645 full and final payments totalling some £1.9 million and 14,519 interim payments totalling some £28.5 million.

In addition, the Department has received 28,879 claims on behalf of deceased miners. This figure includes miner's widows and their dependants. We are unable to differentiate between the claims at this stage. However, we have made 1,149 bereavement awards to widows totalling over £10 million.

The Department will not know the total number of claimants who are entitled to compensation for some time. These figures will not be available until claims have been received and fully assessed.

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