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Depleted Uranium

Dr. Palmer: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made in developing a test for depleted uranium for Gulf and Balkans veterans; and if he will make a statement. [54185]

Dr. Moonie: Contracts have been placed with five laboratories to carry out a pilot study to determine a test that will identify the presence of depleted uranium in urine. The pilot exercise will examine a number of different methods and establish whether a suitably accurate, precise and sensitive test is available. Following assessment of the results of the pilot exercise, arrangements for the main voluntary testing programme will be put in place. If a suitable test is identified, the voluntary test is likely to be available in October 2002.

It is extremely important that the method of testing be credible to all parties. This pilot exercise is a vital step in ensuring that the correct test is chosen so that both veterans and the Ministry of Defence can have confidence in the results of the voluntary testing programme.

Prisoners (Afghanistan)

Mr. Menzies Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what guidance has been issued to United Kingdom armed forces undertaking (a) Operation Jacana and (b) Operation Fingal with regard to the status of prisoners taken as part of these operations; and if he will make a statement. [52111]

Mr. Hoon: Any prisoners taken by Operation Jacana forces during offensive operations will be treated as prisoners of war. Operational Fingal forces, who are part of the International Security Assistance Force providing security assistance to the Interim Administration in Kabul, are not expected to be involved in operations that may involve the taking of prisoners.

TRADE AND INDUSTRY

Post Offices

Mr. Evans: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on the effect that Post Office redundancies will have on the communities in Lancashire; and what the Government will do to help those people who will lose their jobs. [48603]

Mr. Alexander: The Consignia board decided that the company's costs needed to be reduced to stem its losses and improve its performance. At the moment it is not immediately clear what the effect in Lancashire will be. It is understood that up to 140 jobs will eventually be affected, although it is not known at this stage how many of these will actually be job losses. The company will

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offer as many of those affected as possible the option of continued employment with a different part of the business or a voluntary redundancy package.

The Government will do everything we can through the Jobcentre Plus and other agencies to provide support, assistance and new opportunities to those people losing their jobs.

Mr. Evans: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on the effect that Post Office redundancies will have on the communities in Wales; and what the Government will do to help those people who will lose their jobs. [48604]

Mr. Alexander: The Consignia board decided that the company's costs needed to be reduced to stem its losses and improve its performance. At the moment it is not immediately clear what the effect in Wales will be. It is understood that up to 125 jobs will eventually be affected, although it is not known at this stage how many of these will actually be job losses. The company will offer as many of those affected as possible the option of continued employment with a different part of the business or a voluntary redundancy package.

The Government will do everything we can through the Jobcentre Plus and other agencies to provide support, assistance and new opportunities to those people losing their jobs.

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many (a) urban and (b) rural post offices are facing closure in Northern Ireland. [51947]

Mr. Alexander [holding answer 23 April 2002]: Post office closures are an operational matter for Post Office Ltd. The programme of urban restructuring has not yet begun.

The Government are committed to the maintenance of a nationwide network of post offices. We are also committed to providing transitional assistance to rural post offices and are developing proposals in the light of advice from Postcomm.

Consignia

John Cryer: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether her Department has had talks with the Dutch postal company TPG in the past year. [49945]

Mr. Alexander: The Department has met representatives of the Dutch postal company, TPG, on a limited number of occasions to examine specific aspects of a possible merger of Consignia's postal activities with them. No satisfactory agreement was reached between the companies on a merger and Ministers therefore agreed with the company that discussions should cease.

Since the Government have given Consignia commercial freedom, within the public sector, it is entirely appropriate that Consignia has been considering its commercial strategy, including the possibility of relationships or joint ventures with other operators.

Mr. Hammond: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when she was notified by the management of Consignia of negotiations which have taken place within the last 12 months regarding a potential sale of an equity share in the business. [51244]

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Mr. Alexander: In the last 12 months, Consignia notified the Department about its intention to explore the possibility of a merger of its postal activities with the Dutch Post Office (TPG) in June last year. Talks commenced in July but have ceased as no satisfactory agreement was reached.

Postcomm

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what negotiations have taken place with Postcomm on the sale of postal services. [51380]

Mr. Alexander: Postcomm's document "Proposals for effective competition in UK postal services" issued on 31 January has been a public consultation and the Government have consistently encouraged stakeholders to make their views known to Postcomm.

We believe it is important now for stakeholders to engage in an effective dialogue and to reach a common understanding. This is the nature of a consultation process and we would expect Postcomm to take due account of all the views expressed and to consider their implications. We will obviously be following these discussions closely.

The Budget

Mr. Keetch: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what changes the Budget of 17 April will make to business in Herefordshire. [51653]

Nigel Griffiths: I am pleased to support the Budget measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 17 April. I expect the Budget changes to help businesses in Herefordshire become more competitive and productive. Herefordshire has an above-average number of small businesses, which will benefit from a reduction in the starting rate of corporation tax from 10 per cent. to zero and a 10 per cent. cut in the small companies' rate; a reduction in the red tape and compliance costs imposed by the VAT and payroll administration systems; and a new £30 million training fund to bring small businesses up to the Investors in People industry standard. Further details of these measures, and of other measures to benefit businesses of all sizes, can be found on www.budget.treasury.gov.uk. The Hereford and Worcester Chamber of Commerce and Business Link (on 0800 104010) can also provide advice on the impact of the Budget on business activity.

Business Promotion (Schools)

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what has been done since 1997 in the West Midlands to promote business in schools. [51482]

Nigel Griffiths [holding answer 24 April 2002]: Key programmes in schools include: Enterprise Insight and the Enterprising Schools initiative.

Since 1997, activities have included getting children of primary school age to experience the world of work, and the funding of local Education Business Partnerships so that pupils could undertake work placements.

The Excellence in Cities initiative has provided learning mentors from the world of business who act as role models when they visit schools.

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The DfES Teacher Placement Service helps teachers to spend time in industry.

I am encouraging local successful entrepreneurs to return to their school and talk about the exciting opportunities and challenges in business.

Newspaper Supply

Brian Cotter: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) when the Office of Fair Trading will publish its response to the consultation on the review of the Newspaper Supply Code of Practice; [53007]

Miss Melanie Johnson: The Director General of Fair Trading has not yet concluded his work on the review. The numbers of responses will be included when the review is published.


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