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Helen Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what estimate she has made of the effect on women's employment of (a) more flexible hours and (b) better child care; and if she will make a statement. 
It is extremely difficult to evaluate the effect of more flexible hours and better child care on women's employment, as there are many factors that influence the decisions that women make. We would generally expect
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that increased availability of flexible working and child care would increase women's participation in the labour market.
Both the DTI and the Department for Work and Pensions are conducting ongoing work in this area. The DTI is running a series of roundtables across the country so it can hear directly from parents, carers and employers, about their experiences and needs. A Citizens' Jury is also running which will bring a new perspective to the programme of work.
Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what estimate she has made of the proportion of fuel poor households in (a) the UK and (b) England that contain an older person. 
Mr. Timms: It was estimated that, in 2002, there were two and a quarter million fuel poor households in the UK: of those it is estimated that one and three quarter million households were in the vulnerable category, defined as those households containing older people, children, or householders with a long term illness or disability.
In England in 2002, estimates suggest that 1.4 million households were in fuel poverty, and that 1.2 million of those were in the vulnerable category. The number of households containing an older person specifically is not available for 2002.
Estimates are available for 2001 for England, however, 52 per cent. of the 1.7 million households in fuel poverty in that year contained an older person. A detailed breakdown of information for England will be available for 2003, and will be published in spring 2005.
Nigel Griffiths: The Business Link network in England, and the equivalent organisations operating in other parts of the UK, can provide advice and information on any specific financial assistance available to recent graduates wishing to start up their own businesses. The exact assistance available will depend on a number of factors. These include the individual circumstances of the graduate, the proposed location and type of business they want to start.
Harry Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the outstanding amounts of Export Credits Guarantee Department guarantees in respect of military equipment were in financial years (a) 200102, (b) 200203 and (c) 200304. 
Mr. Mike O'Brien:
The following table lists amounts at risk as at the end of each of the last three financial years in respect of ECGD guarantees for exports of defence related equipment. These figures are made up of future maturities (amounts that have not yet to fall due for payment) and claims outstanding for recovery
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(claims paid that ECGD has yet to recover). Claims outstanding are in respect of business underwritten from 1991 onwards as ECGD does not hold claims information on cases supported before this date broken down by industry sector:
|At 31 March||Future maturities||Claims outstanding||Total|
Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will discuss with Royal Mail the closure of Moor Road Post Office, Chorley, and the extent to which (a) guidelines on closure were followed and (b) evidence against closure was considered. 
Mr. Timms: We do not have a role in the process to determine the closure of individual offices. This is an operational matter for POL. The process is carried out in accordance with the Code of Practice agreed with Postwatch.
Nigel Griffiths: Barclays Bank's latest survey of business creation includes non-VAT registered firms and shows that there were 115,000 business start-ups in England and Wales in the last quarter of 2003, including 500 business start-ups in Southend-on-Sea Unitary Authority and 3,000 within the County of Essex. The latest yearly figures show 465,000 business start-ups in England and Wales in 2003. This represents a 19 per cent. increase on the year before. Included in these figures are 2,000 business start-ups in Southend-on-Sea Unitary Authority and 12,300 in the County of Essex.
VAT registrations do not capture all start-up activity. Businesses are unlikely to be registered if they fall below the compulsory VAT threshold, which has risen in each year since 1997. Similarly, businesses that de-register
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will not necessarily have closed. Only 1.8 million out of 3.8 million enterprises were registered for VAT at the start of 2002.
Mr. Timms: The main stimulant for new gas storage projects will be the market opportunity, including the widening seasonal (summer-winter) spread of wholesale gas prices. The Department and Ofgem seek to provide an appropriate light-touch regulatory environment, and ensure that the market is aware of the opportunities through the regular reports of the DTI-Ofgem "Joint Energy Security of Supply Working Group". In addition my Department informs relevant local planning authorities, considering planning applications, of the energy policy background.
Mr. Timms: Government are committed to maximising economic recovery of UK oil and gas resources and there are substantial quantities of hydrocarbons yet to be produced. We are working on a number of initiatives aimed at maximising continued North Sea activity, investment and exploration. In particular we:
have enhanced the licensing system to make available "promote" licences to encourage new companies to get involved in the North Sea, and new "frontier" licences to the West of Shetland to bring exploration to this area;
continue to ensure current licensees release fallow acreage so that others can develop it;
have introduced a new Exploration Expenditure Supplement to reduce barriers to entry for new companies that do not receive the full benefit of current 100 per cent. exploration and appraisal capital allowances; and
with PILOT, the Government/industry forum, established "brownfield" workgroups which aim to ensure maximum recovery from existing fields, and have improved the access to offshore infrastructure.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment she has made of the possible implications of a rise in the price of world oil on the competitiveness of UK manufacturing firms. 
Jacqui Smith: As oil is an internationally traded commodity, the price rise has affected all world manufacturers. Moreover, as the rise has been accompanied by a fall in the US dollar against sterling, the rise in the sterling price of oil has been less pronounced.
The pick-up in business investment, allied with improving prospects for world trade, are in fact expected to underpin a strengthening of manufacturing output this year, building on recent signs of a turnaround in the sector.
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