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11 Dec 2003 : Column 564Wcontinued
Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she is satisfied with the existing arrangements for consultation by the Post Office and Postwatch on proposed post office closures. 
Mr. Timms: The Government do not have a role in the consultation process for post office closure proposals, which is laid out in the code of practice agreed between Post Office Ltd. and Postwatch. I attach great importance to the role of Postwatch in protecting the interest of customers when any closure is proposed. Final decisions on closure, after consideration of representations received, are an operational matter for Post Office Ltd.
Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what progress has been made towards her Department's target of the UK obtaining 5 per cent. of its electricity from renewable sources by 2003; what her assessment is of whether the target will be met within the stipulated time; what percentage of electricity has been produced from renewable sources in each year since the target was introduced; and which renewable sources have contributed in each year. 
Mr. Timms [holding answer 10 December 2003]: Government Ministers acknowledged in the debates leading up to the introduction of the Renewables Obligation on 1 April 2002 that earlier hopes to obtain 5 per cent. of our electricity from renewable sources by 2003 would not be met. Such hopes had always depended on a high proportion of proposals awarded contracts under the old Non Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) arrangements resulting in commissioned projects, and it had become apparent that this was not happening with the necessary speed.
|Wind, wave and solar||0.23||0.25||0.25||0.32|
The table includes all renewable energy sources, including those not eligible for the Renewables Obligation, such as large-scale hydro, since the 5 per cent. target pre-dated the Renewables Obligation.
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Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions she has had with Postcomm with regard to its proposals to redefine the Royal Mail's universal service obligations. 
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Mr. John Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will extend to shop window displays the taste and decency controls that apply to advertising hoardings and advertisements on buses. 
Jacqui Smith: No. Extension of the British Code of Advertising Practice would be for the Advertising Standards Authority, an independent body, to consider. However, it is already a criminal offence, under the Indecent Displays Control Act 1981, publicly to display indecent matter, which includes displays in shop windows.
Mr. Woodward: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the (a) start-up and (b) failure rate was for small businesses in (i) the North West Region, (ii) Merseyside and (iii) St. Helens in each year since 1992. 
(1) Mid-year resident adult (16 and over) population estimates.
(2) The large VAT threshold increase in 1993 means data before and after this date are only broadly comparable.
Business Start-ups and Closures: VAT Registrations and De-registrations 19802002; population data from The Office for National Statistics
(3) Includes the Official Receivers offices of Blackpool, Chester, Liverpool, Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent. Businesses recorded in these figures were not necessarily active in the North West prior to being wound-up.
(4) Does not include creditors voluntary liquidations.
Andrew Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether the acquisition of the printing ink manufacturers Gibbons and Coates and Lovilleux by Sun Chemicals has been referred to the Competition Commission; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Sutcliffe [holding answer 10 December 2003]: Ministers are no longer involved in decisions on whether to refer to the Competition Commission mergers which do not raise specified public interest considerations.
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John Barrett: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what estimate she has made of the number of workers who work more than 48 hours a week but who have not signed the opt-out to the 48-hour average working week limit. 
Mr. Sutcliffe: A survey of workers' experiences of the working time regulations conducted on behalf of my Department in 2001 estimated that three quarters of long hours workers had not signed a written agreement with their employer to opt-out of the 48-hour average working week limit. Also, the Second Work-Life Balance Study: Employees Survey carried out in early 2003 estimates that 70 per cent. of employees who usually or were contracted to work more than 48 hours per week had not signed a written agreement to opt-out of the 48-hour average working week limit. Some of these employees would not have been required to sign an opt-out as not all would have worked over 48 hours per week on average over the 17 week reference period, some would have been autonomous workers and others would have been in sectors or occupations that were excluded from the regulations at the time of the surveys.
Mr. Sutcliffe: Guidance on the Working Time Regulations, which includes a comprehensive chapter on the weekly working time limits is available on the Department of Trade and Industry website. In addition the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) operate an inquiry helpline on all employment related legislation, including the Working Time Regulations. As part of their work, the enforcing agencies also play a role in educating employers and workers on the working time limits.
Mr. Sutcliffe: A survey of workers' experience of the working time regulations conducted on behalf of my department in 2001 estimated that around 30 per cent. of workers were unaware of laws regarding the number of hours people can work each week.
John Barrett: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will estimate the number of workers whose conditions of employment included a requirement to opt out of the 48-hour average working week limit. 
Mr. Sutcliffe: Employers are required to keep a record of workers who have opted out of the 48-hour average working week limit. As there is no requirement to report opt out agreements to anyone other than the parties concerned, there are no official estimates of the numbers of workers whose conditions of employment included a requirement to sign an opt out. However, workers who have agreed to opt out of the weekly working time limit retain the right to end the agreement at any time subject only to a notice period of a maximum of three months.
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Mr. Sutcliffe: The European Commission's Communication on the opt-out is expected shortly. The Government hope that the Communication will present a range of options on the opt-out that can be discussed with UK social partners.
UK is firmly committed to reducing working hours, demonstrated by the work/life balance campaign, but the problem is workplace culture rather than a lack of laws. Work/Life balance is not just about long hours but about providing individual workers with choice over their hours or pattern of work and ensuring that they are not disadvantaged by their choice.
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