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2 Dec 2003 : Column 23W—continued

Growth Capital

Brian Cotter: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when the results of the joint HM Treasury and Small Business Service Consultation aimed at improving access to growth capital for small businesses will be published. [141601]

Nigel Griffiths: Over 150 written responses were received on 'Bridging the finance gap: a consultation on improving access to growth capital for small businesses' from a wide range of interested parties. The Government are considering these responses, and the outcome of the consultation will be published before the Christmas recess.

Jewellery Sector

Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when and on what basis her Department commissioned research from consultants Gorham and Partners Ltd. underlying her Department's 2001 report into the competitiveness of the UK jewellery sector; and if she will break down the cost of the research between her Department and each of the contributors. [140527]

Jacqui Smith: The Competitiveness Analysis of the UK Jewellery Sector was commissioned in Feburary 2000 following consultation with industry representatives to provide an in-depth analysis of the sector's competitive position.

Following publication of the Competitiveness Analysis the Industry formed the National Jewellery Steering Group, which continues to meet to take forward the issues identified in the CA.

The Analysis cost £93,000 of which the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths contributed £30,000 and the DTI £63,000.

Online for Business Website

Brian Cotter: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many individuals are registered to use the UK Online for Business website. [141603]

Nigel Griffiths: As of October 2003 UK Online for Business website has 28,533 registered users.

Telecommunications Council

Mr. Hood: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the outcome was of the Telecommunications Council held on 20 November 2003; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if she will make a statement. [141075]

Mr. Timms: The Deputy UK Permanent Representative to the European Union, Anne Lambert, attended the Council on 20 November 2003 on my behalf.

There was a round-table debate on the state of the Telecoms sector, in particular, member states' implementation of the Telecoms Regulatory Package, and on 3rd generation mobile and broadband

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penetration and availability. France (Fontaine) reported on a joint Franco-British ministerial round table with industry leaders, which had proved fruitful in identifying the key success factors for broadband: viable business models throughout the value chain; regulatory stability and predictability; interoperability between platforms; user confidence through a more secure internet; and proper returns for intellectual property. Emphasising that she was also speaking on my behalf, Fontaine proposed that a similar event involving business leaders from across the value chain should be held at EU level in order to help promote the most effective conditions for broadband. Other member states, including the forthcoming Irish Presidency, expressed strong interest in carrying the initiative forward. Presidency concluded that a report of the debate would be submitted to the 12 December European Council. There was also a brief discussion of preparations for the World Summit on the Information Society to be held in Geneva in December.

The Presidency noted that agreement had been reached between the Council and the European Parliament at its first reading on a General Agreement on the structure and tasks of a Regulation establishing a new European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA). The Government supported this proposal but noted that they would have to abstain when it is formally adopted on the grounds that the legal base proposed—Article 95—is inappropriate for this body.

Council Conclusions on: the transition of analogue to digital broadcasting; digital TV and 3rd generation mobile endorsing the Commission's plans for consultation and follow-up action; and calling on member states and the Commission to work towards removing remaining barriers to E-Government services were adopted without substantial debate.

Trade Deficit (EU)

Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on (a) the latest goods trade deficit with the European Union and (b) how this figure compares with previous figures. [140523]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: According to figures published by the Office for National Statistics, the UK goods trade deficit with the European Union was worth £2.2 billion in September 2003. The deficit in the latest three-month period was £5.7 billion compared to £5.4 billion in the previous quarter, and £5.5 billion in the three-month period ended September 2002. The latest three-month deficit represents 10.0 per cent. of the total trade with the European Union. This compares with 9.4 per cent. in the previous quarter and 9.1 per cent. in the same quarter a year earlier.



Mr. Kaufman: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he will reply to the letter to him dated 20 October 2003 from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, with regard to Mr. Barry Johnson. [140779]

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Mr. Darling: My Department has no record of receiving a letter dated 20 October 2003 from the right hon. Member. However, to enable me to respond, my private secretary has requested a copy of the correspondence.

Low-cost Airlines

Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what discussions he has had with the European Commission regarding airport and business subsidies to low cost airlines; and if he will make a statement. [140522]

Mr. McNulty: The Government have had no discussions with the European Commission on this issue.

Rail Safety

Harry Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what assessment has been made of the implications for safety of the procedure of turning a rail track; whether the turning of a curved rail track has been assessed as having a safety implication; and if he will make a statement. [141179]

Mr. McNulty: This is an operational matter for Network Rail and as with all safety issues, the Health and Safety Executive. I am however assured by Network Rail that turning or 'transposing' of rail is carefully controlled to ensure that only rail with sufficient head width is transposed. In such cases rail standards with clearly defined limits for permissible side wear exist.

Harry Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what inspection methods are in place to discover (a) corrosion pitting and (b) possible problems at the foot and web of a rail track; what plans he has to improve inspection methods relevant to these conditions; and if he will make a statement. [141180]

Mr. McNulty: This is an operational matter for Network Rail who inform me that a number of new techniques are currently under trial or development to improve the detection of rail depth, corrosion pitting and gall over sleepers.

Ultrasonic Testing vehicles are now routinely monitoring rail depth for most major routes and guided ultrasonic equipment is currently being trailed which carries out inspection of the whole cross section of the rail from a fixed point using low frequency longitudinal ultrasonic waves. This should enable significant changes in section in the head, web or foot of the rail to be detected whether due to cracking or loss of section due to corrosion.

Coated rail products are also being used successfully in the network where local environments are harsh. This provides a barrier coating to the head and foot of the rail preventing corrosion or damage.


Tuition Fees

Andy King: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills which university vice-chancellors

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or other heads of higher education institutions have expressed to him (a) support for and (b) opposition to differential tuition fees. [140453]

Alan Johnson: Both my right hon. Friend and I have received numerous representations from universities on a number of matters related to the funding of higher education, both by means of formal correspondence and in meetings with Vice Chancellors and others from the higher education sector. The majority have expressed support for variable fees. UUK which is the representative body for Universities also supports variable fees.


Legal Aid

24. Mr. Chaytor: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs if he will make a statement on the future of legal aid. [140733]

Mr. Leslie: The Government remains firmly committed to the principles of legal aid—both criminal and civil—as a means of protecting fundamental rights and tackling social exclusion.

We must make sure that our services are tightly focused on the needs of the public.

We also have to live within our financial allocation—now almost £2 billion—with demand increasing more quickly than inflation. If we do not bear down on this problem it will limit the money available for tackling social exclusion.

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