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2 Dec 2002 : Column 517W—continued

OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises

Dr. Tonge: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when she expects the UN panel of experts on the illegal exploitation of natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to present substantiated evidence regarding alleged breaches of the OECD Guidelines for multinational enterprises committed by UK companies, as listed in Annex III of their report. [83730]

Ms Hewitt: The expert panel's mandate expired when it submitted its last report. There is currently no UN process or mechanism in place to follow up the report and supply the information the UK and others have requested. Discussions are under way in the UN on how to proceed. We are pressing for a resolution to this problem and continue to press for the information we have requested to be supplied as soon as possible.

Parliamentary Questions

Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, pursuant to her answer of 25 November 2002, Official Report, column 36W, for what reason guidance was necessary; when and by whom guidance was supplied; and if the wording was supplied by a different Government Department. [84485]

Ms Hewitt: It has been the practice, over successive Administrations, for the Cabinet Office to issue guidance to others on a range of issues, including answering parliamentary questions where appropriate.

Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry pursuant to her answer of 25 November 2002, Official Report, column 36W, if she will set out the criteria used to assess whether a parliamentary question is a round robin in respect of which guidance is expected. [84486]

Ms Hewitt: The term Xround robin" is used by my Department's Parliamentary Branch to indicate to officials that the Member has tabled similarly worded questions to other Government Departments.

Regional Government Offices

(Withholding Information)

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what guidelines are given to regional government offices on withholding information from hon. Members. [84080]

Mr. Leslie: I have been asked to reply.

Government Offices act in accordance with the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

Rural Gas Supply

Mr. Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent discussions she has had with OFGEM on facilitating the supply of mains gas to rural communities. [83876]

Mr. Wilson: The Department is in frequent discussions with a range of interested parties, including OFGEM, on measures to assist the fuel poor in non-gas areas, including rural areas.

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Rural Post Office Network

Mr. Robathan: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry pursuant to the answer of 25 November, Official Report, column 30W, on the Post Office, when she expects to announce the details of funding for the rural post office network; and what preliminary discussions she had with the European Commission on state aids clearance. [84579]

Mr. Timms: The Government are fully committed to supporting a rural network. As recommended by the Performance and Innovation Unit (in their report in June 2000: XCounter Revolution, Modernising the Post Office Network) we have asked the company to maintain the rural network and to prevent avoidable closures, in the first instance to 2006. This has been underpinned by the appointment of Rural Transfer Advisers by POL and a £2 million fund to support community post office initiatives.

As recommended by PIU the Postal Services Commission has advised us on options for supporting the rural network from 2003. Following detailed consideration of this advice and discussion with the company the Government are now committed to making a substantial financial contribution to the rural network.

£450 million will be made available (from 2003 to 2006) to help the rural post office network through the transition of benefit payment to ACT. The package will be funded from Royal Mail Holdings accumulated surpluses, as part of a package to put Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd. on a commercial footing.

This funding is designed to help Britain's rural post offices through the changes in the network's business over the next few years. It provides direct support to rural post offices, maintaining front line services in local communities. It will also give Post Office Ltd. the financial freedom to pilot new and innovative ways of providing post office services in rural areas.

The funding will be administered by Post Office Ltd. under contract to the Government. In return for this investment Post Office Ltd. will be required to maintain the rural network and prevent all avoidable closures, working through their Code of Practice for doing so in the first instance to 2006; and to provide reasonable access for all citizens to Xover the counter" services in rural areas.

These services include:

A total of £150 million will be invested in each of the next three years, all of it ring-fenced for the support of the rural network.

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There will be three elements to the funding:

The flexible fund will enable Post Office Ltd. to:

Our expectation is that POL will work closely with the National Federation of Sub-postmasters and other stakeholders to make best use of this fund.

We remain in dialogue with the European Commission on matters relating to Post Office Ltd., and we expect to submit a formal notification to the Commission this week. Subject to state aid clearance, funding will be in place in April 2003.

Small Firms

Mr. Yeo : To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what progress has been made towards the targets set in 2000 for achievement in 2001–04, to achieve (a) an increase in the number of people considering going into business, (b) an improvement in the overall productivity of small firms and (c) more enterprise in disadvantaged communities. [83688]

Ms Hewitt [holding answer 26 November 2002]: Progress against the targets set in 2000 will be published shortly on the DTI website.

We will be able to report progress on the number of people considering going into business in early 2004, based on result from the 2003 Household Survey of Entrepreneurship.

SMEs productivity increased faster than all firms in the UK between 1999 and 2000.

Between 2000 and 2001 there was a narrowing of the gap between VAT registration rates in the most and least deprived wards in England.

Social Chapter

Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many EU Directives have been brought in as a consequence of the UK signing up to the Social Chapter; and if she will list them. [84247]

Alan Johnson: The UK has transposed five Directives arising from the Social Chapter: the Parental Leave Directive, the European Works Council Directive, the Part-time Work Directive, the Burden of Proof Directive in Sex Discrimination cases and the Fixed Term Employees Directive. In addition the Information and Consultation of Employees Directive has to be transposed by March 2005.

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Solar Electricity

Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment she has made of the case for the introduction of a support system for solar electricity by establishing a tariff that pays a higher price per KWh for solar electricity generated. [84216]

Mr. Wilson: The Renewables Obligation which the Government introduced from 1 April 2002 provides a substantial market advantage to most forms of renewable energy including solar electricity.

The possibility of a banded Obligation set at different levels for different forms of renewable energy was among possibilities explored in the consultations prior to the introduction of the Renewables Obligation, but a banded Obligation was rejected as too complex and requiring too great a degree of intervention in the renewable energy market.

The Government has, however, taken action additional to the Renewables Obligation to promote solar energy, in particular the setting up of the Major Photovoltaics (PV) Demonstration Programme on 26 March 2002. The Government has provided £20 million over three years for the first phase of this programme. Grants averaging 50 per cent. of costs are available both for small-scale applications between 0.5 and 5kWp and for medium and large scale installations up to l00kWp.

Prior to this, the Government provided £10 million for the Domestic Field Trial and Large-Scale Field Trial for Public Buildings, which will see a minimum of 500 homes and 15 larger non-residential buildings receive PV systems.

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