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Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what his estimate is of the cost of placing the order for four new roll-on, roll-off transport ships for the Royal Navy; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Hoon [holding answer 5 December 2001]: Negotiations continue to finalise a 25-year private finance initiative contract for the Department's strategic sealift with AWSR as the preferred bidder. This will cover the operation, support, maintenance, and crewing of up to six roll on/roll off ferries to be available for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to use at varying periods of notice. It is estimated that routinely the MOD will require only four of the six vessels and when not being used by the Department they will be available to the owners, AWSR, for commercial purposes. The total value of the contract is estimated to be worth around £950 million with some 85 per cent. being spent within the UK. The cost of the ship-build element will be contained within the overall strategic sealift service contract. We hope to be in a position to complete negotiations shortly.
Mr. Wray: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on (a) the Eurofighter and (b) the Joint Strike Fighter and when they will be in service. 
Mr. Hoon: Both Eurofighter and the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) will be essential components of the UK fast jet inventory. They will complement each other. Eurofighter is optimised for the air superiority role, while JSF is primarily a strike aircraft, with a secondary air defence role. The current forecast in service dates for Eurofighter and JSF are 2002 and 2012 respectively.
Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will announce details of the overseas trade fairs, seminars and outward missions programme to be supported by British Trade International from 1 April 2002. 
Ms Hewitt: Details of a £21.7 million British Trade International programme of support for participating in overseas trade fairs, seminars and outward missions, in the form of supported groups, will be placed in the Libraries of the House. Organisations that bid for support are being informed.
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These activities continue to be central to trade development work world wide. We are conscious of sponsor organisations' need for a greater degree of flexibility on how these funds are allocated, particularly for overseas trade fairs and seminars to reflect the ways in which conditions in some markets and sectors may change in the course of the year. British Trade International will seek to observe this need for flexibility, within the overall budget provision, in administering the 200203 programme.
Mr. Crausby: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what guidance she has given to trading standards officers in local authorities throughout the United Kingdom to ensure that fireworks comply with British Standard 7144. 
Miss Melanie Johnson: We have made it a requirement under the Fireworks (Safety) Regulations 1977 that fireworks must comply with BS7114. In addition, we have issued guidance to trading standard officers and others through our firework safety toolkit on the requirements of the 1997 regulations including the importance of BS7114.
Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what (a) advice and (b) support was provided to Thomas Whitter Ltd. by the Government office for the north-west after the company was taken into administration. 
Alan Johnson: No advice or support has been sought by or given to Thomas Witter Ltd. by the Government office for the north-west.
Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what decisions were taken by the north-west development agency in relation to support for Thomas Whitter Ltd. following the actions taken by the Government office for the north-west. 
Alan Johnson: No decisions have been taken by the north-west development agency about support to Thomas Witter Ltd. The agency has been in contact with the company, but the company does not feel that the agency can do anything to help. The agency remains willing to discuss support should that position change.
Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, pursuant to her answer of 29 November 2001, Official Report, column 1047W, on the Government office for the north-west, what (a) support and (b) advice the Government office for the north-west provides to companies in non-assisted areas on management buy-outs. 
Alan Johnson: The Government office for the north-west can provide advice on a range of issues associated with management buy-outs, either directly or indirectly, by referring the company to one of its partner organisations, such as the Small Business Service or the north-west development agency. The Government office cannot provide direct financial support to companies in non-assisted areas.
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Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what files the Government office for the north-west holds on concerns raised by hon. Members on behalf of local companies. 
Alan Johnson: The Government office for the north-west holds files where concerns raised by hon. Members have led to some substantive action being taken.
Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what are the criteria for companies to receive (a) advice and (b) support from the Government office for the north-west when placed in administration. 
Alan Johnson: Any company may seek advice from the Government office for the north-west, regardless of its situation. A company may be eligible for financial support from the Government office if it is located in an assisted area and is investing in capital expenditure. This can apply to a company in administration where the legal entity of the company changes.
Mr. John Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what research her Department has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on standards of conduct and competence concerning the advertising and selling of hearing aids to elderly and vulnerable customers; and if she will make a statement on the plans for independent scrutiny of the hearing aid industry. 
Miss Melanie Johnson: The private supply of hearing aids is regulated by the Hearing Aid Council. The operation of the Hearing Aid Council was recently reviewed. The Government are considering its recommendations.
Mr. Martyn Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans she has to change consumer protection legislation relating to the purchase of motor insurance policies following the provisional liquidation of Sussex Insurance Services. 
Miss Melanie Johnson: The DTI investigated this company and the Secretary of State petitioned successfully for its provisional liquidation. Responsibility for insurance regulation, which protects consumers in this area, rests with the Treasury and the FSA.
Mr. Denis Murphy: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps she is taking to encourage the growth and development of small businesses in areas of high unemployment. 
Nigel Griffiths: The Small Business Service (SBS) was established in April 2000 as a single Government agency dedicated to help small firms and represent their interests. One of the key aims of the SBS is to stimulate enterprise, particularly in areas of deprivation, including those with high levels of unemployment.
Working through a national network of Business Link operators, the SBS provides information, advice and access to expertise on just about everything needed to start and grow a business. An element of the funding provided to Business Link operators is allocated on the basis of relative levels of deprivation.
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Under the Phoenix fund, we are providing support to 96 projects aimed at stimulating enterprise among under-represented and disadvantaged groups. A number of these projects are in areas of high unemployment.
Enterprise grants of up to £75,000 are available in the assisted areas and other specified areas of England to support growing small and medium-sized businesses. In addition, larger grants are available through regional selective assistance in assisted areas to help create and safeguard jobs.
The whole Wansbeck district is covered by the enterprise grant scheme and much of it by assisted areas.
Under the new deal, help is available to all long term unemployed people who want to become self-employed.
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