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14. Mr. Mark Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when she plans to introduce legislation to implement the reforms to the regulatory structure proposed in the communications White Paper. 
Mr. Alexander: I am pleased to announce that this afternoon the Government will introduce in another place the Office of Communications Bill. This Bill will be a paving measure related to the draft Communications Bill that was announced in the Queen's speech. The Communications Bill itself will be published in draft later this session.
Miss Melanie Johnson: The platform of economic stability the Government have established, together with our policies to foster enterprise and help firms to innovate and grow, are the best way to secure the long-term success of UK manufacturing industry.
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16. Rachel Squire: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on progress on the settlement of claims for compensation for chronic bronchitis, emphysema and vibration white finger. 
Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy has recently visited the respiratory disease testing centres in Newport and Ayr, as well as the Department's claims handling agents in Sheffield, to meet some of the 1,000 medical and claims processing staff employed by our contractors in the settlement of these claims and to discuss the progress that has been made over the last six months.
17. Mr. Blizzard: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what estimate she has made of the level of new capital investment in UK offshore oil and gas production to date this year. 
Mr. Alexander: The latest figures provided by the industry show capital investment in UK oil and gas production at some £860 million for the first quarter of 2001. This is 37 per cent. higher than investment in the first quarter of 2000, giving encouragement that the efforts of the Government/industry PILOT initiative are bearing fruit.
Ms Hewitt: We are determined to achieve more equal representation of men and women in public appointments. Each Government Department has an action plan containing clear goals and objectives to help them achieve this aim. I will be encouraging my ministerial colleagues throughout Government to ensure that their Departments meets its goals.
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Mr. Wilson: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on 25 June 2001, Official Report, column 18W, that he has asked the performance and innovation unit to undertake a review of the options for meeting our long-term energy objectives. A key issue will be ensuring continued security and diversity of energy supplies over the long term, while addressing the challenge of climate change. I shall be chairing an Advisory Group for the project which will report to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister by the end of the year.
Mr. Wilson: The Renewables Obligation on licensed electricity suppliers will provide a strong regulatory and financial incentive to the renewable energy industries. An order setting up the Obligation will be placed before Parliament later this year.
The Government have exempted electricity from renewable energy from the climate change levy and are also providing over £260 million of direct financial support over the next three years for research, development and deployment of renewable energy technologies.
Mr. Alexander: The Government have made a commitment to work to ensure that broadband is accessible in all parts of the country. In May, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced a major new project to determine how to speed up the roll-out of broadband services to individuals and businesses in rural and other areas that individual suppliers currently see as uncommercial. The project will establish how, by aggregating the public sector's demand for broadband services, we can best encourage telecoms companies to roll out broadband infrastructure to these "hard to reach" areas.
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Alan Johnson: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that 100,000 workers in Wales became entitled to a higher rate of pay when the national minimum wage (NMW) was introduced on 1 April 1999. The ONS estimates that around 90,000 workers in Wales will benefit from the increases in the NMW main rate and development rate to £4.10 and hour and £3.50 respectively on 1 October 2001.
Mr. Wilson: As my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Mrs. Liddell), informed my hon. Friend at the end of last year, we recognise that the start-up of the respiratory disease scheme was too slow. We took a number of initiatives to tackle this and get money out more quickly.
Significant progress is now being made, and since the beginning of the year the number of medical assessments GB-wide has risen to around 830 a week, with the total number increasing from 8,500 in January to over 24,000 now.
Ms Hewitt: A quinquennial review of the six grant-awarding Research Councils was announced by my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on 13 February 2001, Official Report, columns 8283W. This review is in progress, and expects to report in the early autumn. The councils are being reviewed together as a group. One of the issues under consideration is how to encourage joint working among the councils, both at a strategic and operational level.
Nigel Griffiths: The Small Business Service, through the networks of 45 Business Links, encourages entrepreneurship across society and is placing particular emphasis on start-ups and micro-businesses. Business Link advisers are actively involved in helping such start-ups, including new retail businesses and in so doing address various factors, including finding a suitable location. This is often done in partnership with local authorities, who will have a detailed knowledge of town centre sites.
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