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28 Oct 2003 : Column 177W—continued

Unqualified Mechanics

Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what research her Department has conducted into the effect on the motor industry of the number of unqualified mechanics operating within it; and what plans she has to take steps to improve the situation. [133409]

Mr. Sutcliffe: In 2002 the Department carried out a mystery shopping exercise into the car servicing and repair sector following a study of the sector carried out by the OFT in 2000. Both studies showed high consumer detriment and shortfalls in delivering acceptable levels of customer service.

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A number of DTI-led and joint DTI/DfES skills related initiatives are underway to reduce skills gaps and shortages for the automotive industry as a whole. Sector Skills Councils are being set up to achieve four key goals: reducing skills gaps and shortages; improving productivity, business and public service performance; increasing opportunities to boost the skills and productivity of everyone in the sector's workforce; and improving learning supply, including apprenticeships, HE and national occupational standards. For the automotive industry, SEMTA (for the science, engineering and manufacturing technologies sectors including automotive) and Automotive Skills Ltd. for the automotive retail, servicing and repair sectors will be looking to achieve these goals.

One of the first tasks of these new bodies will be to undertake a detailed skills audit, which will bring into focus the issue of qualified mechanics within the industry.Linked with SEMTA will be the recently launched Automotive Academy, which will provide a comprehensive range of support to enhance process improvement activities in the automotive manufacturing sector. DTI has committed £15 million over 5 years to support the establishment of the Academy which will kitemark existing courses where these meet the needs of industry and will commission new material where necessary to fill gaps in provision.

In addition to these initiatives the DTI and industry has developed a new Motor Code for which the main retail trade associations in the UK are seeking Office of Fair Trading approval. This focuses on customer service and provides an opportunity for the industry to show collective responsibility for enhancing its reputation with its customers.


Visitors Centre

36. Mr. Luff: To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, if he will make a statement on the progress of plans for the establishment of a parliamentary visitors' centre. [134532]

Sir Archy Kirkwood: Following two feasibility studies, and wide consultation in both Houses, the Commission is, with the authorities in the House of Lords, now looking at ways of taking forward the development of new visitor facilities.

Palace of Westminster Art Collection

Norman Baker: To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, how many works of art from the Palace of Westminster Collection are (a) on public display in the House, (b) on display in the House in areas to which the public do not have regular access, (c) on loan and (d) in storage. [135094]

Sir Archy Kirkwood: The House of Commons Commission is responsible only for matters affecting this House. However, I understand that there are 6,708 works of art in the permanent collections of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, of which

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approximately 10 per cent. is in storage at any one time. One work is currently on loan from the House of Commons collection.

There are 417 works of art on display on the route taken by visitor tours, in the committee rooms and committee corridor in the Palace, and in the committee rooms and surrounding areas in Portcullis House. These areas may be visited by unaccompanied members of the public or by members of the public on organised tours. Many works of art are on display in catering facilities or other areas to which the public may have access if accompanied by a passholder. If any member of the public wishes to view a specific work of art from either of the collections, efforts are made to arrange this.

Norman Baker: To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, how much has been spent by the Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art on the acquisition of works of art in each year from 1997 to date; and how much has been realised through sales of works of art. [135095]

Sir Archy Kirkwood: Expenditure from the House of Commons Administration Estimate since 1997 on acquisitions for the House of Commons collection is shown in the following table:


Expenditure from the House of Commons Administration Estimate since 1997 for works of art for Portcullis House is shown in the following table:


There have been no sales of works of art since 1997.

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Pregnancy Discrimination

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Minister for Women what measures are in place to prevent pregnancy discrimination at work. [133470]

Ms Hewitt: Discrimination on the ground of pregnancy or maternity is a form of direct discrimination on the ground of sex. The courts have interpreted the Sex Discrimination Act as meaning that discrimination on the ground that a woman is, or might become, pregnant is unlawful. This is reinforced by the amended Equal Treatment Directive published on 5 October 2002, which says that less favourable treatment on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity within the meaning of the Pregnant Workers Directive constitutes sex discrimination.

In 1999, the Government introduced specific protections to prevent women from suffering detriment and from being unfairly dismissed or selected for redundancy for reasons connected with their pregnancy, childbirth or maternity leave. We have also ensured a women has a clear right to return to her job after maternity leave, on the same terms and conditions as if she had not been away.


Licensing Act

Mr. Steen: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what estimate has been made of the additional cost to local authorities of implementing the Licensing Act 2003; and how much this will add to the average council tax bill. [134850]

Mr. Caborn: There will be no additional cost to local authorities resulting from the implementation of the Licensing Act 2003. Fees will be set by the Secretary of State at a level that will allow the full recovery of all costs relating to their duties under the Act. There will therefore be no additional cost to council-tax payers as a result of the new regime.

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Patrick Mercer: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to carry out exercises similar to OSIRIS II in other cities. [134115]

Mr. Blunkett: I refer the hon. Member to the reply given to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) on 16 October 2003, Official Report, column 314W.


Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent discussions he has had with gun trade associations on the (a) sale and (b) criminal use of airguns; and if he will make a statement. [134596]

Caroline Flint [holding answer 27 October 2003]: We have discussions with the gun trade associations on a range of issues. Most recently we have been discussing the problems which have arisen as a result of criminals converting air weapons which use the self-contained gas cartridge system to fire conventional ammunition. It was not possible to modify these guns to prevent conversion and we have therefore made provision in the current Anti-Social Behaviour Bill for future manufacture, importation, transfer or sale to be prohibited. Existing owners will be able to retain their guns provided they obtain a firearms certificate.

Car Insurance (Fines)

Sir Sydney Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many times in each of the last 10 years the maximum fine for driving without insurance has been imposed by the courts; and in how many cases the fine was paid in full. [133018]

Paul Goggins [holding answer 21 October 2003]: Information collected centrally in the Home Office Court Proceedings Database shows that for the offence of using a motor vehicle uninsured against third party risks, the maximum fine of £5,000 (Level 5) has been imposed in England and Wales on seven occasions from 1992 to 2001. Five times in 1996 and twice in 1997.

An amendment to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, s.143 has now made using a motor vehicle while uninsured against third party risks a fixed penalty offence from 1 June 2003. Initially, offenders will be subjected to a £200 fixed penalty, which can be increased to a maximum fine of £5,000 if the matter goes to court. Information is not collected centrally on the amount of fines paid by the type of offence.

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