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5 Jun 2003 : Column 528W—continued

Bilateral Trade

14. Sir Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on current levels of bilateral trade with the United States of America. [116518]

Ms Hewitt: Initial figures for 2002 value UK exports of goods to the US at £28.38 billion and UK imports at £26.06 billion so there is a healthy balance in the UK's favour.

Small Businesses

15. Brian Cotter: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions she has had with the Department of Health on the effect of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill on insurance costs for small businesses. [116519]

Nigel Griffiths: I know that businesses and business organisations are concerned about the possible impact on insurance costs of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill's provisions on NHS cost recovery. I have represented these concerns to the Department of Health, and as a result the

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Government decided that the provisions in the Bill will not be commenced before the outcome of further work on the Employers' Liability Insurance system is known.

Steel Industry

16. Mr. Bailey: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions she has had with Corus and the unions on redundancies in the steel industry announced last month; and if she will make a statement. [116520]

Alan Johnson: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has held a number of discussions with Corus senior management and the steel Trade Unions about restructuring at Corus. It is always terrible when job losses and closures are announced, particularly in a long-established industry which is important to the UK economy, but the decision to restructure or relocate is a commercial one for the company to make.

We welcome the announcement of new investment at Port Talbot, Scunthorpe and Rotherham, which is essential if the company is to re-establish its competitive position.

Post Office

17. Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on the progress of the Post Office's urban reinvention programme. [116521]

Ms Hewitt: I understand from Post Office Ltd. that good progress is being made on urban reinvention. As at the end of April 2003, the company had entered into public consultation for compensated closures for a total of 417 offices and that 205 offices had closed under the terms of the programme as at that date. In addition, at the same date, Post Office Ltd. had received 149 applications for investment grants under the urban reinvention programme from offices remaining with the network, of which 36 had been approved.

I am also informed by Post Office Ltd. that, to date, five post office closure proposals have been withdrawn for further evaluation in the light of representations made during the public consultation process. In addition 18 closure proposals had been withdrawn, and a further 24 modified, prior to public consultation after discussion with Postwatch.

National Minimum Wage

19. Dr. Starkey: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans her Department has to extend the National Minimum Wage to 16 and 17-year-olds. [116523]

Alan Johnson: The Government agreed in March that the Low Pay Commission should look at the possible advantages and disadvantages of a minimum wage rate for 16 to 17-year-olds. We will publish terms of reference for the Commission shortly. The Commission will report to the Government by the end of February 2004 and we will consider the position then.

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British Business Assistance

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry pursuant to her answer of 16 May 2003, Official Report, column 460W, on British Business Assistance, in what format she holds the information; what she estimates the cost would be to provide the information in the formats as requested; and if she will make a statement. [115783]

Ms Hewitt: A list of DTI supported schemes is available from Individual scheme managers hold more detailed information on each scheme in a format suitable for the running of that scheme.

The information is therefore not held on a central database and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.


Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry which areas within the Chorley constituency (a) have been and (b) have not been connected to broadband. [116398]

Mr. Timms: This data is not available within Government.

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent discussions she has had with BT (a) in relation to the roll-out of broadband and (b) on ensuring that all areas receive broadband as soon as possible. [116399]

Mr. Timms: My colleagues and I maintain regular contact with BT across a wide range of issues as we do with other broadband providers. The Government's target is for the UK to have the most competitive and extensive broadband market in the G7 by 2005. Around 70 per cent. of UK homes and businesses already have access to broadband. Oftel have reported that the UK has over 2 million broadband connections and this is rising by well over 30,000 per week.

Cambridge-MIT Institute

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when funding from her Department was first made available to the Cambridge-MIT Institute; how much funding her Department gave to the institute in each year since funding began; what restrictions apply to the funding; what assessment she has made of the management of grants made to the institute; what guidance she has given to the institute on its management; and what the status is of the Department's relationship with the institute. [116681]

Ms Hewitt [holding answer 3 June 2003]: On 17 July 2000, DTI formally offered CMI a grant of up to £65.1 million for expenditure incurred up to 31 July 2005. Under the detailed terms and conditions of the offer, the grant is paid in arrears against invoices for expenditure properly incurred, and is conditional on CMI achieving its deliverables. The grant drawn down by CMI each year is published in the DTI Consolidated Resource Accounts.

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CMI is a limited company. Its Board of Directors are responsible for the operation of CMI and are accountable to DTI for proper expenditure of the grant. DTI and HMT have seats as observers on the CMI board, and there is regular contact with staff at all levels at CMI and both universities. I instigated an independent review of CMI in May 2001, and the CMI board accepted and acted upon all the recommendations. The most recent independent audit, in February 2003, found CMI's internal systems and controls and corporate governance practices to be satisfactory and made no recommendations for further action.

Coastal Wind Farms

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on (a) the development and (b) the benefits of coastal wind farms on the north-west coastline. [116611]

Mr. Wilson: Under the first round of offshore wind farm site leasing in 2001, the Crown Estate granted leases for a number of sites off the north-west coast—Barrow, Shell Flat (three sites), Southport and Burbo Bank. The development at Barrow has been given consent and consent applications for the sites at Shell Flat and Burbo Bank have been submitted to the DTI.

The Crown Estate will shortly invite applications for sites under a second round of leasing which will focus on the three strategic areas proposed in the Department's "Future Offshore" consultation paper (November 2002)—the Thames Estuary, the Greater Wash and the North West.

The second round will be informed by a strategic environmental assessment of development in the strategic areas. A report has been prepared which considers possible negative impacts as well as benefits and is available on the Department's website at: coastal wind farms will make an important contribution to meeting the Government's 10 per cent. renewables target. They will also contribute to the security of national energy supply and provide employment opportunities both locally and nationally.

Credit Card Industry

Mr. Gardiner: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) what recent representations she has received from consumer bodies about credit card cheque books; [116002]

Miss Melanie Johnson: Both Citizens Advice and the Office of Fair Trading—representing consumer bodies—raised concerns about the use of credit card cheques in the discussions of the Task Force on Tackling Overindebtedness. The Task Force also included the British Banking Association, the Finance and Leasing Association and the Consumer Credit Association representing the credit industry.

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Among the topics addressed, differential charging and fee structures were dealt with as a part of the work carried out on the transparency of information that should be provided to consumers.

The results of all of these discussions can be found in their second report to me, published 30 January 2003, which is available in the Libraries of the House.

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