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22 Mar 2001 : Column: 303W
level of funding through the Science Budget by an average of 7 per cent. per year, in real terms, over the next three years. We have taken significant steps to reverse the underfunding of university scientific research infrastructure: and we will increase postgraduate student stipends by 23 per cent. in real terms. We have also, and for the first time, allocated funds for an 'e-science' initiative which will enable the development of very high speed computing for the next wave of science. The UK is a good place to do science and many international companies have R&D centres here.
Dr. Howells: In compliance with metrication legislation made in 1994, four out of five trade weighing machines are now operating in metric units. We fully expect the remaining weighing machines to convert to metric.
Mr. Alan Johnson: The chemicals industry has consistently outpaced the growth in the economy overall. Forecasts suggest that this pattern will continue for the foreseeable future. The industry does, however, face significant pressures on restructuring, performance and innovation to meet rapidly changing global challenges. The Government will continue to do what they can to help the industry meet those challenges.
Mr. Alan Johnson: By accepting all 24 recommendations of the Performance and Innovation Unit's (PIU) report on the future of the post office network, the Government have demonstrated their continuing commitment to maintenance of a nationwide network. We are working closely with the Post Office, the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters and other stakeholders to implement the PIU recommendations. These measures are designed to modernise and improve Post Office services and to strengthen confidence in the future of the network.
Mr. Alan Johnson: We estimate that the increase in the national minimum wage to £4.10 from 1 October 2001 will be of direct benefit to around 120,000 workers in Scotland--6.1 per cent. of all workers in Scotland.
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The Low Pay Commission's third report, which the Government published on 5 March, contains a thorough assessment of the impact of the national minimum wage thus far and of the likely impact of this increase. Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Mr. Alan Johnson: Earlier this month the independent Low Pay Commission produced volume 1 of their third report evaluating the impact of the national minimum wage. The Commission undertook an extensive consultation exercise as part of their work. They received 150 written submissions and took oral evidence from the CBI, the TUC and a number of other organisations to supplement their written evidence. Volume 2 of the third report, which will cover issues of implementation and enforcement, is due in May.
Ms Hewitt: The Government recognise the importance of clusters and networks and are working closely with the RDAs to identify and remove barriers to their growth and development. In the White Paper "Opportunity for All in a World of Change", published on 13 February, the Government set out their proposals to promote the growth of successful clusters by asking the RDAs to develop strategies for success for their regions, building on their existing strengths. They will do so with the assistance of a report, "Business Clusters in the UK: A First Assessment", which was also published on 13 February.
Government funding for cluster development will continue to be provided to RDAs via the Regional Innovation Fund. Continued work on clusters will be undertaken by Lord Sainsbury's Clusters Policy Steering Group.
Mr. Alan Johnson: The UK companies that produce engineering steels have had to adapt to difficult trading conditions in recent years and have undertaken restructuring in order to remain competitive. This has been a painful process for those involved but it leaves them well placed to continue to supply the home market and maintain exports.
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Ms Hewitt: Since August 1998, all legislation likely to have an impact on business has been subject to a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA). A series of Command Papers lists RlAs for each six month period, the most recent being No. 4918. RlAs are published and are available from the Libraries of the House.
In the last few weeks, we have agreed with miners' solicitors how compensation for loss of pension will be handled. This element of compensation amounts to around £400 million. This is the last piece in the jigsaw. This now means that, over the next few months, we will see many full and final offers of compensation made.
And as I said in my earlier reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie), in the last eight weeks alone we have announced a package of measures which will see £million's of additional compensation being brought forward and offered quickly to a whole raft of claimants.
Many of these will not previously have been made an offer. We are also clearing a large backlog of medical reports, which will enable 1,000 claims a week to go forward to have compensation assessed over the next three months. I am also pleased to see the number of respiratory consultants employed on this scheme steadily increasing. We now have 228 in place an increase of almost 25 per cent. from a few months ago. The number of medical assessments carried out per week is now well over 600--an increase of 50 per cent.
Mr. Alan Johnson: The Green Paper "Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice" sought views on a number of practical options to help working parents. The Green Paper recognises that parents daily juggle work and family life and, recognises that businesses, particularly small employers, need to minimise extra costs.
During the consultation period for the Green Paper, which ended on 7 March, Ministers and officials met almost 300 people and received over 450 written responses to options contained with it. The Government are now considering these responses.
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Mr. Alan Johnson: The consultation period for the Green Paper "Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice" ended on 7 March. During the consultation period officials and Ministers met almost 300 employees, employers and other interested groups and representatives. Additionally more than 450 written responses were received.
The Government announced how they intend to proceed on those issues covered in the Green Paper with financial implications for the state in the Budget on 7 March. These are an increase in the flat rate of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) and Maternity Allowance; an extension to the period of flat rate maternity pay to 26 weeks; the right to two weeks paid paternity leave for all working fathers and paid adoption leave, paid for the same period and at the same flat rate as SMP. Additionally the Government have doubled the threshold for Small Employer Relief.
All of the options announced in the Budget had strong support throughout the consultation from employees, employers and other interested groups. The responses received during the consultation period will help inform decisions on the remaining options just as they helped inform the initial decisions on maternity and paternity leave.
Ms Dari Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the impact of the Green Paper, "Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice" on the people in the northern region. 
Mr. Alan Johnson: Following the consultation on the Work and Parents Green Paper, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the Budget increases to maternity pay and leave and the introduction of paid paternity and adoption leave. Based on current figures, we estimate that around 160,000 working men and women in the north-west, north-east and Yorkshire and Humberside will have the opportunity to benefit from these changes alone. Other options put forward in the Green Paper are still under consideration and decision on these will be announced in due course.
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