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15 Oct 2002 : Column 682W—continued

Firefighters (Strike)

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what risk assessment has been made of the safety of (a) oil refineries, (b) chemical industry installations and (c) power stations should they continue to operate during a national firefighters' strike; and if she will make a statement. [74529]

Mr. Wilson: COMAH sites operated by Oil refiners and Chemical industry plus major Power Generators have conducted or are in the process of conducting safety risk assessments covering the potential fire-fighters strike.

The Health and Safety Executive inform us that COMAH or Power Station sites regulated by HSE do not have a statutory duty for emergency services to be available during routine operation.

Evidence from the Merseyside Fire Fighters strike a few years ago showed that operators were able to manage their business activities such that the lack of fire service cover did not compromise safety, and such that their business activities were not significantly compromised.

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what percentage of (a) oil refining capacity and (b) oil product storage capacity would be protected from fire hazard by appliances operated by the industry in the event of a national firemen's strike; and what percentage would fail to meet safe operating standards in the event of such a strike. [74443]

Mr. Wilson: The UK Petroleum Industry Association inform us that:


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The Health and Safety Executive inform us that:


Consultancies

David Davis: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will list external (a) public relations/communications companies, (b) advertising and marketing companies, (c) management consultancies, (d) accountancy companies, (e) banking firms, (f) individual consultants and (g) other specialist consultancies used by her Department since June 2001; what actions those consultancies/companies have performed within her Department; and what costs have been incurred through use of these consultancies/companies. [74676]

Ms Hewitt: This information is not readily available and could only be collected at disproportionate cost.

Sub-Post Offices, Huntingdon

Mr. Djanogly: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry which sub-Post Office branches in the Huntingdon constituency will have cash machines installed by April 2003. [74220]

Mr. Timms: These are matters that fall within the day to day responsibility of Post Office Limited and I have therefore asked the Chief Executive to reply direct to the hon Member.

Mineworkers' Pension Funds

Jeff Ennis: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, pursuant to her answer of 22 July, Official Report, column 775W, on mineworkers' pension funds; if she will made a statement on the timetable for completion of the review. [73797]

Mr. Wilson: Discussions are continuing with the trustees of the Mineworkers Pension Scheme and the British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme to review the arrangements for the government's guarantee of member's basic pension benefits. That guarantee has served the schemes well, providing the security to enable the trustees to pursue a very positive investment strategy, both generating significant benefits for scheme members and protecting those gains in less favourable circumstances.

A number of improvements to the Schemes that will benefit their members have already been agreed.

On the central question of the way in which Government is compensated for the guarantee it has been agreed that further discussions should now concentrate on whether there may be any different methods of paying for the guarantee and other ways of guaranteeing bonuses where those different methods might offer advantages to Scheme members and do not represent a significant extra burden on the taxpayer.

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Discussions of those issues will include some detailed technical issues and will require advice from actuarial experts. It is hoped it will be possible to conclude these discussions in the next twelve months.

Post Office Closures

Mr. Flook: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry which post offices Consignia is planning to close in the Taunton constituency; and if she will make a statement. [74088]

Mr. Timms: The programme to restructure the urban post office network has not yet started and I am advised by Post Office Limited that, until it does, there are no specific plans for post office closures in the Taunton constituency. When the programme starts it will be taken forward in consultation with individual subpostmasters, the community, local stakeholders and Postwatch.

The objective of the urban network restructuring programme is to ensure that subpostmasters have the opportunity to build a viable business as well as to provide modernised and improved facilities which meet customers' needs and expectations and are in the right location for the local community.

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what her latest estimate is of the number of post offices and sub post offices that are likely to close over the next three years; and if she will make a statement. [74494]

Mr. Timms: Post Office Ltd will take forward an urban network restructuring programme whose objective will be to ensure that subpostmasters have the opportunity to build a viable business as well as to provide modernised and improved facilities which meet customers' needs and expectations and are in the right location for the local community. The programme will involve a significant number of urban post office closures over the next three years, but it is not yet known precisely how many. In rural areas, the Government has committed that there should be no avoidable post office closures before at least 2006. There has been a sharp fall in the number of rural closures.

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on how many sub post offices have closed in (a) gross and (b) net terms in each month since 1997. [74590]

Ms Hewitt: Since 1997 net annual figures for post office closures are:

March 1997163
March 1998243
March 1999233
March 2000382
March 2001547
March 2002262

I understand from Post Office Limited that gross closure figures have only been available on a quarterly basis from September 2000 and neither gross nor net closure figures are available on a monthly basis.


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Gas

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what policies she has to meet the estimated demand for gas from 2005 onwards. [74357]

Mr. Wilson: After 2005, as now, I expect gas to be supplied to the UK market by private companies operating in a competitive market. Government's role is to work with industry through PILOT to maximise the economic benefit to the UK of its own oil and gas resources, and with the Governments of exporting countries to set a political framework to facilitate commercial agreements between companies in the UK and in other countries. Energy security is central to energy policy and will be addressed in the forthcoming Energy White Paper.

EU Committees

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) when the EU Advisory Committee on state aid for the application of Articles 92 and 93 of the EC Treaty to certain categories of horizontal state aid (exemption) is next due to meet; whether representatives of the Scottish Executive (a) have been and (b) are members of it; and if she will make a statement; [67748]

Ms Hewitt: The Advisory Committee on categories of horizontal state aid last met on 24 July. Neither committee is currently due to meet. The UK is normally represented at these committees by officials from my Department.

The Scottish Executive is regularly consulted on, and is fully involved in discussions, at official and Ministerial level, with the Department on the formulation of EU policy which touch on matters which fall within the responsibilities of the Scottish Executive.

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when the EU Committee for the implementation of the Multiannual Community Programme to Stimulate the Establishment of the Information Society in Europe is next due to meet; whether representatives of the Scottish Executive (a) have been and (b) a remembers of it; and if she will make a statement. [68550]

Ms Hewitt: No date has been fixed for the next meeting of this EU Committee. As the programme concludes at the end of 2002, one further meeting is expected in the second half of the year.

The UK is represented by a single DTI official. The Scottish Executive is regularly consulted on, and is fully involved in discussions, at official and Ministerial level, with the Department on the formulation of EU policy which touch on matters which fall within the responsibilities of the Scottish Executive.

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Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when the EU Committee for the implementation of projects, actions and measures for the interoperability of trans-European networks for the interchange of data between administrations is next due to meet; whether representatives of the Scottish Executive (a) have been and (b) are members of it; and if she will make a statement. [64903]

Ms Hewitt: The correct title of the Committee is the Telematics between Administrations Committee (TAC). It is next due to meet on 3 December 2002. The UK is usually represented by an official from the Office of the e-Envoy, within the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Office delegate to this committee represents all of the UK.

The Scottish Executive is regularly consulted on, and is fully involved in discussions, at official and Ministerial level, with the Department on the formulation of EU policy which touch on matters which fall within the responsibilities of the Scottish Executive.

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when the EU Committee on the specific programme for research, technological development and demonstration on promotion of innovation and participation of SMEs is next due to meet; whether representatives of the Scottish Executive have been members of it; and if she will make a statement. [64915]

Ms Hewitt: The Committee on the specific programme for research, technological development and demonstration on the promotion of innovation and participation of SMEs, which was established under the EU's Fifth Framework Programme (1999–2002), is next due to meet on 17 October 2002. Officials from the Office of Science and Technology, Department of Trade and Industry provide the UK representation. Representatives of the Scottish Executive have not been members of this committee.

The Scottish Executive is regularly consulted on formulation and implementation of EU research and development policy that touches on matters which fall within the responsibility of the Scottish Executive.


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