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12 Jan 2006 : Column 787W—continued

Industrial Disease Compensation

John Mann: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he is taking to ensure that industrial disease compensation cheques are paid directly to miners. [40692]

Malcolm Wicks: Compensation cheques are made payable to the claimant but sent via the claimant's representative. The claimant's representative is responsible for ensuring that the correct moneys are paid to the claimant and, for deceased claims, that compensation is correctly distributed.

David Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many pending coal health compensation claims there are in (a) North West Leicestershire, (b) the East Midlands, (c) England, (d) Wales and (e) Scotland involving claimants who worked as miners in both the public and private sectors where settlement is being delayed by lack of agreement with legal advisers to the former private sector employer. [40818]

Malcolm Wicks: The information requested is not readily available. There are nearly 22,000 claims involving co-defendants which have yet to be settled. However, most of the issues preventing progress have been resolved. Consequently, the bulk of these 22,000 claims should be in a position to be processed in accordance with the priority system.

Miners' Compensation

Mr. Clapham: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether agreements between his Department and (a) the Claimants Group Solicitors and (b) the Union of Democratic Mineworkers are effectively identical so far as the payment of compensation to claimants is concerned; and in what ways they differ so far as the claimant is concerned as stated in the Boyd-Smith report. [38957]

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Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 11 January 2006]: A claimant would receive the same compensation whichever handling agreement the claim is processed under. The medical assessment process is identical, the evidential burden is the same and the priorities for deciding which claims are processed first do not depend on the handling agreement that applies. There are some procedural differences but neither handling agreement delivers compensation any quicker than the other.

Pregnancy and Maternity

Michael Connarty: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he is taking to set out theemployment legislation relating to pregnancy and maternity for (a) employers and (b) employees. [40672]

Mr. Sutcliffe: A large amount of information is already available to both employers and employees, including guidance provided by DTI, DWP and HMRC. ACAS provides information through its dedicated helpline as well as through guidance. The information on the website is being enhanced to provide employers with more support in managing a pregnancy in the workplace. Information for employees has been drawn together on to the website.

However, in the context of the changes to maternity leave and pay provisions which will follow the Work and Families Bill, DTI, DWP and HMRC will work together to rationalise the guidance on their own websites and ensure there is comprehensive and coherent information available that is easily accessible and properly signposted. This will include Government working with stakeholders to develop the proposal for a leaflet setting out the rights and responsibilities of both employers and employees which will be provided at an early stage of a woman's pregnancy.

Michael Connarty: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps his Department is taking to support micro and small businesses to manage pregnancy and maternity within their employee base. [40699]

Mr. Sutcliffe: The Government recognise that small businesses can sometimes face particular difficulties in managing and administering maternity leave and statutory maternity pay (SMP). Additional financial support is available for smaller employers. All employers are able to claim back 92 per cent. of the SMP they pay to their employees but smaller employers—those whose annual national insurance liability is £45,000 or less—are able to claim back 100 per cent. of the SMP they pay out plus an additional 4.5 per cent. Employers are also able to claim this money in advance from HMRC where making the payment would cause them cashflow problems.

Measures in the work and families package will also offer small employers more practical support. To give employers more certainty in managing maternity leave we will be extending, from 28 days to eight weeks, the amount of notice a woman must give if she is changing her plans about returning from maternity leave. We willalso be clarifying in regulation that an employer may make reasonable contact with a woman during maternity leave. The introduction of keeping in touch
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days will enable a woman to do some limited days' work activity for her employer. This will support employers and employees in maintaining contact during maternity leave and will help to ease a woman's return to work after maternity leave.

Government are also changing some of the SMP rules to ease administration for employers. Employers will be able to calculate a daily rate for SMP if this will help them to pay SMP at the same time as a woman's usual payday. Women will be able to choose to begin their maternity leave on any day of the week which will allow maternity leave and pay periods to be fully aligned.

No employer now needs to calculate SMP manually. From February 2005, HMRC introduced and supplied a new SMP calculate to all employers on its employers CD ROM 2005. HMRC has also improved the SMP calculators on its website. To support those less comfortable with electronic solutions, the HMRC employer's helpline will calculate the SMP amounts and dates payable and the amounts recoverable, and follow this up with prompt reassurance in the form of written confirmation.

Services Directive

Michael Gove: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on current negotiations on the services directive under the Austrian presidency of the EU. [40955]

Ian Pearson: The proposed EU directive on services in the internal market was last discussed in Council at the Competitiveness Council on 28 November 2005. Ministers agreed that good technical progress had been made during the UK presidency, and that they should wait for the opinion of the European Parliament and the Commission's revised proposal before resuming discussions.

The European Parliament is scheduled to hold its first reading vote on the directive next month. The Commission has recently indicated that it will submit its revised proposal very soon afterwards.

The Austrian Chancellor has said that he hopes to present a solution on the directive, which is a priority dossier for their presidency. In their joint Operational Programme for 2006 (available at http://www.eu2006at/includes/Download_Dokumente/0512draft_operational programmeEN.pdf), the Finnish and Austrian Governments have stated that they are committed to completing negotiations on the directive.

The UK Government strongly support the market-opening objectives of the directive and will work closely with the Austrian presidency, other member states and the Commission to take negotiations forward during 2006.

Sunday Trading

Mr. Jenkins: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans the Department has for evaluating the impact of Sunday trading on the family life of employees. [40685]

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Mr. Sutcliffe: The DTI will be assessing work-life balance issues as part of its wider evaluation of the impact of further liberalisation of Sunday trading hours.

Telephone Main Lines (Broadband)

Mr. Weir: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many telephone main lines are in use in (a) Scotland, (b) Wales, (c) each of the English regions and (d) Northern Ireland; and how many are broadband in each case. [39199]

Alun Michael: The information is not available in the form requested, but Ofcom's Communications Market report 2005 showed that in the UK at the end of 2004 there were:

By September 2005, the number of broadband connections in the UK had risen to 8.l million 1 . Great progress has been made towards providing broadband access across the UK as a whole, where 99.6 per cent. of households are now connected to a broadband enabled exchange. This is considerable progress against the 2003 (80 per cent.) and 2004 (93 per cent.) figures.

Ovum, an analyst and consulting company in the telecommunication sector.

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