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Retention System

Mr. Hilary Benn: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what plans he has to phase out the retention system in respect of construction works procured by central Government; and if he will make a statement. [155265]

Mr. Andrew Smith: A review of contracts is planned this year as part of the OGC's ongoing performance-related Achieving Excellence in construction initiative.

GC/Works/1 (1998), the Government standard form of construction contract and its associated sub-contract, allows Departments to forgo retentions as part of their commercial agreements with suppliers. Retentions do not feature in Defence Estate's Prime Contract conditions.

The move to performance-based partnering type contracts will reduce the need for retentions in the future. The NAO report "Modernising Construction", published in January 2001, gave strong endorsement to the partnering approach, as a means of achieving best value.


Ronald Maddison

Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Solicitor-General for what reasons the Attorney-General requested further information from Her Majesty's Coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon regarding his request for a fresh inquest into the death of Ronald Maddison; and if he will place in the Library a copy of the request from Her Majesty's Coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon regarding this case. [154769]

The Solicitor-General: Her Majesty's Coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon applied for the Attorney-General's consent for an application to the High Court for another inquest into the death of Ronald Maddison. The Coroner has been asked to provide a summary of the evidence given at the original inquest in May of 1953 and to provide the new evidence which suggests that the verdict of misadventure (nowadays termed "accident") at the original inquest was incorrect.

The procedure for ordering another inquest in these circumstances is governed by section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988. Only the High Court may order another inquest to be held. The Attorney-General's consent is required for the application to the High Court for another inquest.

The Coroner is currently away on holiday. I will inquire of him when he returns and if he has no objections I will place his request in the Library.

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New Electricity Trading Arrangements

Ms Buck: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he will designate the start of trading under the New Electricity Trading Arrangements. [155719]

Mr. Hain: On the advice of the Chief Executive of the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry today designated 00:00 hrs on 27 March 2001 as the time and date for the start of trading under the Balancing and Settlement Code, which commences the New Electricity Trading Arrangements.

Operating Aid

Mr. Clapham: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if an annual increase in pre-tax profit will cause operating aid to be terminated; and what recovery mechanism exists. [154478]

Mr. Hain: Under the UK Coal Operating Aid Scheme, aid is payable to loss-making production units only in respect of losses incurred through the production of qualifying (industrial) coal. Thus any reduction in such losses will reduce the level of aid payable, and any mine making an actual net profit before subsidy in any given financial year will not be eligible for subsidy in that year. However, the level of subsidy payable is not directly affected by the overall level of profits or losses made by the applicant company as a whole.

Applications for aid, and payments of aid if European Commission approval is given, are made on the basis of forecast losses. However, once each of the applicant company's relevant financial years encompassing the subsidy period is over, there will be a reconciliation process in which the forecasts are compared with actuals for the applicant production unit in that subsidy period. If actual losses have been less than forecast, any consequent overpayment of aid will be set off against any further subsidy payments due or otherwise recovered.

Animal Experiments

Mrs. Dean: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what was the total amount of money spent on medical research (a) using animals and (b) using alternatives to animals by (i) Government and (ii) industry in 2000-01. [153373]

Ms Hewitt [holding answer 12 March 2001]: It is impossible to put a precise figure on medical research spend that has required either the use of animals or alternatives to animals. All experimental work with animals is subject to approval by the Home Office. The majority of medical research projects do not involve any animal procedures. It is not possible to determine how many of these projects could have been pursued using animal experiments, and would have been issued licences, if the alternative approaches had not been available. Once alternatives to a specific experimental method have been successfully developed and shown to be effective, the Home Office will not issue a licence to conduct the same type of work using animals. All experiments using animals must satisfy the strict regulation of the 1986 Act.

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Secondly, where research projects depend on some animal experimentation, it is not possible to disaggregate easily the animal-related and other costs of medical research projects. For example, a research group studying how a mutated gene contributes to cancer might gain much information by studying individual cells in a laboratory, but might also need to examine how the gene contributes to disease in a whole animal, such as a mouse, to gain full understanding of the problem.

Hawley Group

Mr. Fabricant: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) if he will make a statement on the conclusions of the Hawley group; [154590]

Mr. Alan Johnson [holding answer 22 March 2001]: The Hawley group was established at the instigation of my noble Friend the Minister for Science and Innovation in October 1999. The group was chaired by Dr. Robert Hawley, Chairman of the Engineering Council, and consisted of representatives from the Engineering Council, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Education and Employment. My noble Friend received regular progress reports from Dr. Hawley throughout the course of the Hawley Review and also chaired public events on 23 May 2000 and 14 February 2001. DTI officials on the group were closely involved in the development of the review and they consulted colleagues within the Department, including those in the Office of Science and Technology, on a wide range of issues. Significant contributions were also received from officials in the DETR.

The Hawley group report entitled "Making the Best of Valuable Talent" was published in December 2000 and contained some 43 recommendations for re-positioning the Engineering Council to meet the needs and aspirations of an increasingly diverse and non-traditional engineering community. The report was circulated widely for discussion within the engineering community and the initial response proved most favourable. During the consultation exercise my noble Friend spoke directly to a number of senior representatives of the engineering community, from industry and from many of the engineering institutions, to seek their views on the contents of the report. All were strongly supportive.

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The culmination of the consultation process was a public event held at the Institution of Electrical Engineers on 14 February 2001 which was attended by senior representatives of the engineering profession, engineering industry, academia and Government. The meeting voiced its overwhelming support for the broad thrust of the report and gave a mandate for the Engineering Council to evolve into the Engineering and Technology Board. The Hawley group ceased to exist as of the end of the meeting and a series of six working groups have now been established to carry forward the process of change.

We have consistently expressed our support for the aims of the Hawley Review and welcomed the proposals outlined in the Hawley report. However, ownership of the process remains firmly with the engineering community itself and the shape and remit of the new Engineering and Technology Board is a matter for them alone. We are, of course, willing to provide continued support and encouragement during the transitional phase and DTI and DfEE officials will be taking an active role in a number of working groups.

The Engineering and Technology Board is due to come into existence in October 2001 and it will, therefore, be some time before a sensible assessment can be made of the impact of the new arrangements on the engineering and technology base in the UK. However, the Hawley group, led by Dr. Robert Hawley, can take a great deal of credit for initiating a wide ranging and radical assessment of the current structures within the engineering profession and encouraging a much needed debate on the future of engineering.

A copy of the Hawley report has been placed in the Library of the House.

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