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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) what recent discussions he has had with (a) UK supermarkets, (b) ministerial colleagues and (c) others about the sourcing of palm oil imported into the UK, with particular reference to the habitat of the orang-utan; 
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The UK Government support the conservation and sustainable management of rainforests, helping to protect forest habitats, including those of the orang-utan. The UK Government are in discussion with EU member states about the threats to these tropical rainforests caused by oil palm expansion. The UK Government are taking a number of steps to tackle these issues and these are outlined as follows.
The former Advisory Committee on Consumer Products and the Environment (appointed in 1999 by the, Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR)) considered palm oil in the context of the scope for retailers and others to influence the supply chain. As part of its work, in 2001, the Committee brought together a number of UK players including several leading retailers, to discuss and identify the scope for practical action to tackle the environmental issues associated with this commodity.
Building on that experience the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) commissioned, on the Committee's behalf, a feasibility study to assess how a broader sustainable commodities initiative might work as a tool to reduce the negative impact of commodity crops. The study concluded that there was no single best way forward for an initiative to suit all commodities or supply chain actors. Instead an initiative should consist of a coherent set of different activities. The study is available on line athttp://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/consumerprod/accpe/research/index.htm.
Based on the study, the advisory committee made a number of recommendations in its third report, From Principles to Action", around the need for a policy framework, information, best practice guidance and sharing of experience. These recommendations are being fed into the development of the Government's Food Industry Sustainability Strategy.
Defra is commissioning some further research work into the impacts of commodities on the biodiversity in international communities. The outcomes of this work will identify the range of commodities and inform future policy development. palm oil will be one of the commodities studied in this project.
A Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has been established, which is running a pilot programme in sustainable palm oil production in Malaysia. This is a two year scheme running from November 2005 which is subject to review at the end of this period. The programme is monitoring whether palm oil can be grown in both a legal and sustainable manner.
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what progress has been made in securing approval from the European Commission for
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the proposed subsidy for the two years to March 2008 to support the rural post office network; and if he will make a statement. 
Norman Lamb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether the Government plan to provide on-going subsidies to support the rural post office network beyond March 2008; and if he will make a statement. 
Barry Gardiner: Government has made it clear that it will make informed decisions about the longer-term future of the rural post office network in light of the Post Office Limited report into their trials of new and innovative means of delivering postal services to rural communities. The report is due to be delivered to Government by the end of this year. This will be considered alongside analysis of the network currently being conducted.
Norman Lamb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment his Department has made of the long-term viability of the Post Office rural network in the event that on-going subsidies are not available; what estimate he has made of the number of post offices which would be at risk of closure; and if he will make a statement. 
Barry Gardiner: No decision will be taken on the longer-term future of the rural post office network until Government has considered the findings of the Post Office Limited report of their pilot programme, trialling new and innovative ways of delivering postal services to rural communities. The report is due to be presented to Government at the end of the year. This will be considered alongside analysis of the network currently being conducted.
Norman Lamb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what initiatives his Department has in place to ensure that there will be progress by 2006 towards his Department's targets (a) to improve UK competitiveness and (b) narrow the productivity gap with the United States; and if he will make a statement. 
The Government's approach to raising UK competitiveness and closing the productivity gap with our main competitors, such as the USA, is based on maintaining macroeconomic stability to allow firms and individuals to invest for the future, and
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implementing microeconomic reforms to remove the barriers which prevent markets from functioning efficiently.
The Government has identified five drivers of productivity: investment, innovation, skills, enterprise and competition. A programme of reforms has been initiated to boost productivity through each of these drivers, along with cross-cutting policies. The DTI is pursuing these through its Five-Year Plan and PSA 1 target.
reforming the competition framework in the UK. The Enterprise Act 2002 has made the UK competition authorities (Competition Commission and OFT) independent, and has given the OFT a more proactive role in investigating markets that may not be working well for consumers;
the Science Budget; the 2004 Spending Review announced additional funding for the UK's successful science basean additional £1 billion for over the spending review period, equivalent to annual growth in funding of 5.8 per cent. in real terms.
The security situation in Afghanistan is broadly stable, if sometimes fragile, with levels of insurgent attacks driven largely by seasonal factors, particularly the weather. There was an upsurge in violence around the 18 September National Assembly election, as widely anticipated, though polling day itself
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was not significantly disrupted. Neither the Taliban nor other insurgent groups currently pose a credible strategic threat to the stability of Afghanistan.
(3) if he will make a statement on progress made in (a) the training and fielding of Afghan combat troops, (b) the equipping of Afghan combat troops and (c) establishing the institutions the Afghan army needs to sustain itself. 
Mr. Ingram: The training, equipping and development of sustaining institutions for the Afghan National Army (ANA) is led by the US. Other countries, including the UK, provide assistance (for example, the UK trains non-commissioned officers). The current target strength for the ANA is 70,000 by the end of 2009. Good progress towards this target is being made, with many ANA units now capable of conducting combat operations, albeit with support from international forces, in terms of both equipment and logistics. The ANA is now also well established in the regions.
The Afghan Ministry of Defence, as the key institution leading the development of the ANA, has made good progress under the leadership of Defence Minister Wardak and with the help of international partners. The UK is currently engaged in a project to build civil service capacity within the Afghan MOD, with the aim of creating a self-sustaining department.
Mr. Ingram: Plans for the recruitment and retention of the Afghan National Police are a matter for the Government of Afghanistan in consultation with Germany, who lead in this area, and the United States, who are providing resources in support of police reform.
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