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Departmental Sickness Absence

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will commission and publish an independent report on the reasons for the level of sickness absence in his Department. [26973]

Dr. Moonie: The Cabinet Office already commissions and publishes an independent annual report "Analysis of sickness absence in the Civil Service". This report includes details of the causes of absenteeism. The report for the year 2000 will be published shortly.

RAF Shawbury

Mr. Paul Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, pursuant to his answer of 15 October 2001,

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Official Report, column 1141W, on RAF Shawbury, if he will make a statement on the success of achieving alternative employment for staff made redundant by FB Heliservices Ltd. [27286]

Mr. Ingram: As a result of the planned closure of the Wessex helicopter repair line at RAF Shawbury, near Shrewsbury, the contractor, FB Heliservices Ltd. issued formal dismissal notices to 26 staff on 10 January 2002. FBS continue to seek employment for these staff and some may be able to take up alternative posts with the contractor.

In their pursuit of alternative employment for the staff involved, the company is continuing discussions with the Ministry of Defence about the possibility of transferring work from other locations to Shawbury to alleviate the situation.

Reconnaissance Regiment

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) when the reconnaissance regiment will move in to Bovington; [27723]

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Mr. Ingram: I will write to the hon. Member and a copy of my letter will be placed in the Library of the House.

Missile Defence

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will submit requests from the US authorities to use RAF bases for the purpose of national missile defence to the House for prior approval. [27533]

Mr. Hoon: President Bush has made it clear that he has not yet decided what sort of missile defence system he will ultimately seek to deploy. We have received no request from the US for the use of sites in the UK for missile defence purposes, and it remains premature to indicate how we would respond to any specific request.

Service Personnel

Mr. Djanogly: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many service personnel working in the armed forces are married to other persons serving in the armed forces. [26128]

Mr. Ingram: The total number of service personnel currently recorded as married to other service personnel is 6,270.

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Departmental Staff (Benefits)

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will estimate the number of individuals in (a) her Department, (b) related agencies and (c) related non-departmental public bodies whose annual remuneration including benefits in kind exceeded (i) £100,000 and (ii) £200,000 in each of the last four years. [26324]

Ms Hewitt: The number of individuals whose annual remuneration including benefits in kind exceeded either £100,000 or £200,000 in each of the last four years are estimated for (a) the Department and (b) related Agencies in the tables:

As at 1 April(i) More than £100,000(ii) More than £200,000

With regard to estimations for related non-departmental public bodies, I refer the hon. Member to the answer given today by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office on 29 January 2002, Official Report, column 253W.

Annual remuneration including benefits in kind covers basic salary, allowances and bonuses. It does not include overtime payments or pension contributions.


Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps she will take to ensure that retail outlets accepting euro-denominated notes and coins offer customers fair exchange rates. [26007]

Ms Hewitt [holding answer 11 January 2002]: Consumers should not be misled about additional costs imposed for paying in euros. Consumers are protected by price marking legislation which requires prices to be clear and legible—including exchange rates and any commission charged for using foreign currencies.

It is a commercial judgment for those retail outlets which accept euro-denominated notes and coins what exchange rate they charge.

While we recognise that there are some costs involved in handling foreign currencies, retailers who do not offer customers a fair deal should remember that consumers have long memories. Consumers will vote with their feet and the contents of their wallets.

Catering-ware Exports

Ms Walley: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what negotiations are under way in the WTO to reduce the tariff on catering-ware exports to the USA; and if she will make a statement. [27374]

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Ms Hewitt: On 14 November 2001 at Doha the members of the World Trade Organisation launched a new round of multilateral trade negotiations. This will include negotiations aimed at reducing and where appropriate eliminating tariffs on industrial products. A reduction in the peak US tariffs on catering ware will be a priority for the UK in those negotiations.

Mail Deliveries

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what proportion of Christmas post, posted on or before the last posting date announced by Royal Mail, failed to be delivered before Christmas Day. [26564]

Mr. Alexander: This is an operational matter for the company subject to the regulatory powers and duties of the Postal Services Commission in respect of service standards.

I am advised by the company that statistics on quality of service for the Christmas period, when Royal Mail handled around 2.1 million items, will not be published until later this month.

Acquired Rights Directive

Mr. Weir: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when the Government intend to take action to ensure recompense for those affected by the UK breach of its Community obligations under the 1977 acquired rights directive. [27273]

Alan Johnson: The Government have admitted that, until the TUPE Regulations were amended in 1993, the acquired rights directive was not implemented correctly, and that this was a sufficiently serious breach of the UK's EC obligations to give rise to a liability for damages, where anyone suffered losses as a result. The Government are therefore prepared to compensate anyone affected provided that they can show that they suffered loss as a result of that breach. At present, a number of claims have been brought in the courts, but without the cause and amount of the claimed losses having been established.

Sub-post Offices

Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans she has to offer payments to sub-postmasters in compensation for giving up the right to offer post office services. [27630]

Mr. Alexander: In line with the Performance and Innovation Unit's report, my Department has agreed in principle to support the compensation package, negotiated between Post Office Ltd. and the National Federation of Subpostmasters, for sub-postmasters affected by Post Office Ltd.'s proposed restructuring programme for the urban network. Discussions on the overall funding of the restructuring programme are continuing.

Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what estimate she has made of the number of sub-post offices which are economically viable. [27631]

Mr. Alexander: These matters were addressed in the PIU report in 2000, and in line with its recommendations, the Government are working on a range of measures

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with Post Office Ltd. and the National Federation of Subpostmasters to modernise and strengthen the viability of the network.

Petroleum Licensing

Miss Begg: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, pursuant to her answer to the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) of 20 July 2001, Official Report, columns 609–10W, what decisions she has made on Out-of-Round Offshore Licence awards. [28191]

Mr. Wilson: I will offer licences to Tuscan Energy (Scotland) Ltd. and Acorn North Sea Ltd. for Block 30/24, which includes the former Argyll, Duncan and Innes fields, and to ATP Oil and Gas (UK) Ltd. and CalEnergy Gas (UK) Ltd. for Part-Blocks 42/25a and 43/21a.

These awards, in their different ways, are good signs for the future of the United Kingdom Continental Shelf. They demonstrate some of the new approaches and working arrangements that PILOT has been pressing for over the past three years.

Argyll was the UK's first producing offshore field, but it was abandoned as uneconomic back in 1992 when less than 40 per cent. of the oil had been recovered. Tuscan/Acorn now hope to use the latest technology to reopen it and extract more of the oil left behind. Subsequently they should be able to reopen the old Duncan and Innes fields too, both of which were abandoned at the same time as Argyll. Tuscan and Acorn are two small new British companies, taking a fresh and imaginative look at the opportunities in the North sea and introducing a productive new alliance with the North sea's supply chain in the shape of Schlumberger and ABB.

ATP is one of the new entrants that DTI has been working hard to attract to the UK to bring work to our Fallow Discoveries. Their focused, high-efficiency approach, developed in the Gulf of Mexico, will allow them to develop the 43/21a discovery and other Fallow Discoveries, which others may not see as economic.

However, I do not intend to allow any of this valuable acreage to run to fallow. Accordingly the licences will be individually tailored to match the companies' plans. Tuscan/Acorn will receive four licences, three of which each cover one of the former fields while the fourth covers the rest of the block. Each licence will expire at an early date if the companies fail to meet their work commitments, so that if necessary each asset will individually be made available for relicensing. ATP's licence also has an early expiry date in the event that it is not progressed by then.

Miss Begg: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what opportunities there are for companies to acquire petroleum licences over unlicensed acreage in the North sea. [28192]

Mr. Wilson: I am today inviting applications for petroleum licences over a large number of blocks in the southern, central and northern North sea which will form the 20th round of offshore petroleum licensing. The blocks made available for licensing are close to existing petroleum developments and infrastructure.

This is the first North sea licensing round since blocks were awarded in the 18th round in December 1998. As such, I anticipate that there will be significant demand

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for licences from companies keen to acquire exploration opportunities in proven petroleum play areas. While there has been a great deal of oil and gas exploration on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) since North sea drilling started in 1964, there are still many geological horizons that have yet to be fully tested. The recent 'Buzzard' discovery is evidence that there is still significant potential for further large discoveries in the North sea.

In deciding which blocks to make available for licensing, I have considered the results of the Strategic Environmental Assessment covering a large swathe of the North sea undertaken by my Department on which consultation closed in December. After considering the assessment and the responses to the consultation, I have decided to take a precautionary approach and not offer for licence parts of four blocks in the central North sea because of the need to undertake further scientific analysis of a number of 'pock mark' features which were highlighted by the environmental assessment.

Any licences awarded in the round will contain conditions to protect environmental interests and the interests of other sea users. In addition, activities carried out under the licences will be subject to a range of legislation which is designed to protect the marine environment, including regulations which apply the Environmental Impact Assessment and Habitats directives to offshore oil and gas activities.

The licences will also contain provisions to ensure that licensees either undertake exploration work within a relatively short timescale or relinquish the licence at the earliest possible opportunity so that other companies are able to take forward exploration of the area. These requirements support PILOT initiatives to remove barriers to activity on the UKCS.

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