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5 Feb 2003 : Column 267W—continued

Contingency Planning

Tom Brake: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office pursuant to his answer of 19 December 2002, Official Report, column 892W, on contingency planning, what alternative back-up communication medium is available in the event of failure with or unavailability of the Public Switch Telephone Network as the principal and common medium for communication between emergency services throughout the UK; and what plans the Government has to introduce a more secure medium than the current PSTN as the principal and common medium for communication between emergency services throughout the UK. [94514]

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Mr. Alexander: The emergency communications network (ECN) is available to the emergency services throughout the UK as a back-up to the PSTN. The emergency services radio replacement programme will provide security based on digital standards and interoperability across the emergency service agencies.

Government Car Service

Norman Baker: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office how many Ministers are entitled because of security reasons to use ministerial cars for all purposes including party purposes. [94994]

Mr. Alexander: This information is not disclosed under Exemption 1(a) of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information on the grounds that its disclosure could harm national security.

Public Service Targets

Tony Wright: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office (1) what the key public service targets are against which the Delivery Unit monitors progress; and what assessments have been made by the Delivery Unit of progress against these targets; [95107]

Mr. Alexander: The Delivery Unit works with HM Treasury to help departments meet their Public Service Agreement targets set out in Cm 5571, copies of which are in the Libraries of the House. The Government monitors progress against these targets regularly.

TRADE AND INDUSTRY

Accountancy (Investigation and Discipline Board)

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions officials from her Department have had with officials from the Accountancy Foundation concerning the creation of the investigation and discipline board. [96189]

Miss Melanie Johnson: In the course of the recent Review of the Regulatory Regime of the Accountancy Profession, officials from the Department of Trade and Industry held extensive discussions with all the key interests as well as undertaking a full public consultation. Meetings were held with officials of the Accountancy Foundation, which covered all the main aspects of the review including the role of the investigation and discipline board.

Consultancy Contracts

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what (a) terms of reference and (b) guidelines have been set for the Government's review of the relationship between companies, their accountants and the awarding of consultancy contracts. [94397]

Miss Melanie Johnson: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry set out in her statement to the House on Wednesday 29 January a range of measures to be taken by Government, business

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and regulators to address the concerns raised following last year's corporate and auditing scandals in the US. This includes measures to address the threats to auditor independence where an audit firm provides non-audit services to an audit client, such as consultancy services. The Auditing Practices Board will be reviewing this further as part of its newly expanded role as standard-setter on auditor independence issues.

Consumer Credit Act

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what research she has commissioned into the effectiveness of the Consumer Credit Act 1974; what plans she has to amend this Act; and if she will make a statement. [94411]

Miss Melanie Johnson [holding answer 30 January 2003]: In July 2001 we announced a major review of the UK's consumer credit laws. We have already published the results of our consultations on financial limits and exemptions and we have consulted on early settlement and on-line agreements. On 28 November 2002 I published the Household Survey on the Cause, Extent and Effects of Overindebtedness. This research identified a number of changes that need to be made to the Consumer Credit Act to encourage responsible lending.

On 30 January I launched a consultation on licensing and issued my response to the 2nd Report of the Task Force on Tackling Overindebtedness.

Decisions on where the Act might need to be amended will be informed by these consultations and announced in due course.

British Trade International

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will place the technical note underlying British Trade International's Public Service Agreement in the Library; and if she will make a statement. [94881]

Ms Hewitt: The technical note underlying British Trade International's Public Service Agreement is being finalised and will be published on the website shortly.

Consumer Direct

Ross Cranston: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether Dudley will be included in the pilot projects for Consumer Direct. [95215]

Miss Melanie Johnson: Local authorities will be invited later this year to prepare collaborative proposals for delivering Consumer Direct, via a regional approach. Pathfinder regions or nations will be selected on the basis of evaluation criteria that will be published at that time. A core specification for the new helpline, setting out eg minimum standards and service levels, is currently being developed.

Credit Cards

Norman Lamb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what measures she is taking to ensure transparency in the credit card market. [95434]

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Miss Melanie Johnson [holding answer 4 February 2003]: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) on 22 January 2003, Official Report, column 366W.

Directors' and Officers' Insurance

Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans she has to make it a statutory obligation for non-executive directors to hold directors' and officers' insurance. [94631]

Miss Melanie Johnson: Section 30 of the Companies Act 1985 allows a company to insure its directors against actions by the company or by third parties. There is no distinction between executive and non-executive directors.

In his "Review of the role and effectiveness of non-executive directors", published on 20 January, Derek Higgs recommends that the Combined Code should be supplemented to include a provision that companies should arrange appropriate "directors' and officers'" insurance.

Fireworks

Mr. Crausby: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans she has to encourage organised firework displays in order to curb misuse of the private use of fireworks. [95243]

Miss Melanie Johnson : I have no plans to encourage increases in the number of organised firework displays.

Food Retail Industry

Tony Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what her policy is on mergers in the food retail industry; and if she will make a statement. [95212]

Miss Melanie Johnson [holding answer 3 February 2003]: Proposed mergers in the food retail industry are considered, like other proposed mergers, under the provisions of the relevant legislation, currently the Fair Trading Act 1973. As a first step, the Office of Fair Trading investigates and then advises the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether a merger raises competition concerns meriting further in-depth investigation by the Competition Commission. The Secretary of State follows the advice of the Office of Fair Trading on whether to refer a merger to the Competition Commission, save in exceptional circumstances.

Gender Pay Gap

Mr. Crausby: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the gap between the average earnings of men and women is in (a) the North West and (b) Bolton. [95101]

Alan Johnson: In 2002 the gap between the average earnings of men and women in the North West was approximately 18 per cent. compared to the national average of 19 per cent. The North West experienced a narrowing of the pay difference between men and

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women by half a percentage point compared to 2001. Unfortunately it is not possible to obtain figures for Bolton.

Nuclear Industry

Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the total quantity was of plutonium permanently withdrawn from safeguards under the provisions of Article 14 of the 1978 Trilateral Safeguards Agreement between the United Kingdom, Euratom and the International Atomic Energy Agency; and which were reactors of origin of the plutonium. [93907]

Nigel Griffiths: A report provided in July 2000 (28 July 2000, Official Report, column 1094W) set out this information and noted that, other than for the return of military-origin material temporarily brought into safeguards, notifications for permanent withdrawals from safeguards involved a total of less than 10 grams of plutonium. This conclusion still holds.

When nuclear material is subject to commercial bulk process like reprocessing, material from different origins becomes mixed in the plant and hence loses its separate identity. For each plutonium isotope, the atoms involved are also indistinguishable and thus regarded as interchangeable. This means that it is not possible to make a definitive statement about the reactors in which the plutonium concerned was produced.


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