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Mr. Alan Reid: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what factors affected the decision on which regions should receive additional allocations from the European Regional Development Fund under paragraph 54 of the final comprehensive proposal from the Presidency of the Financial Perspective 2007 to 2013; what account he took of the position of the Highlands and Islands when making the proposal; and if he will make a statement. 
Alun Michael [holding answer 20 January 2006]: Paragraph 43 of the final comprehensive proposal from the presidency, explained that the methods, definitions and arrangements set out in the document for allocating the structural and cohesion funds to the member states are by necessity of a general nature. They do not allow an adequate response to certain circumstances, such as the need to take into account revisions of the most recent statistical data; the disproportionate impact on certain regions and countries of mechanically applying certain criteria and exceptional geographic and demographic circumstances.
I am aware of the particular difficulties of the Highlands and Islands as a result of falling GDP levels. The December budget settlement will provide further substantial European support, to enable the Highlands and Islands to tackle those challenges over the next seven years. This support comes on top of the quarter of a billion euros the region has received since 2000.
Jim Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many requests for export licences for Man Portable Air Defence Systems to Governments or their agents were made under the June 2003 G8 Evian protocol; and how many were granted. 
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the annual cost has been to Royal Mail of fraudulent or abusive misuse of the freepost system in each of the last five years. 
Malcolm Wicks: The Government take the recent increases in gas prices very seriously, and particularly their impact on the competitiveness of UK industry. We understand that this creates tough trading conditions, especially for energy intensive users, and we are aware of a few companies having reduced production in response to the very high prices since November. This will, of course, have a negative impact on UK industrial output, but in terms of overall GDP this will be relatively minor.
I have visited a number of major industrial gas users and am continuing to meet with companies, business representatives and gas suppliers to discuss gas prices and security of supply. We are also undertaking some research into the capability of UK industry to reduce their gas demand.
The impact on UK businesses of increases in gas prices will depend on a variety of factors, including how much gas a particular company uses, the degree of their exposure to spot and forward prices and the duration of high prices. It will also be affected by the energy prices paid by their competitors. A further sector-specific issue is whether they are in a competitive market where international trade sets the price or in a sector where prices are determined more locally and rising energy costs could be passed on.
Provisional data for October 2005 show that UK retail gas prices for small, medium and large industrial users were below the EU15 median. However, individual companies will have agreed commercially confidential contract terms and prices that might differ from these averages. I am also aware, from my industry visits and meetings, that, there is some evidence that gas prices in the UK for some of our very large industrial users are above those on the Continent, and I recognise the risk that this presents to UK competitiveness. Officials are working closely with Industry and Ofgem, with a view to help, wherever possible, to mitigate the situation and reduce these impacts.
Julia Goldsworthy: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps his Department is taking to contribute to the Marine Bill, with particular reference to (a) streamlining consents for activities in the marine environment and (b) improving the planning regime for such activities. 
The Department is working closely with Defra as the Department leading on preparation of a Marine Bill. Making consenting and offshore planning processes more efficient is an important objective for the Bill.
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Malcolm Wicks: The Department has had various discussions with other departments, industry and stakeholders on proposals for a Bill. The Government will shortly be undertaking a public consultation on most of the main issues that a Marine Bill might cover and will in due course publish a summary of the representations received in response to that consultation.
Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 20 January 2006]: The Department is working hard to reach agreement on this issue with all parties. The information that is required to process claims affected by this issue is not with the Department but with the claimants' representatives and insurers of the small mines. I am therefore unable to give a firm date for resolution of this issue, but hope that we will soon be able to reach an agreement with the other parties.
Gregory Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many requests for additional funding the Natural Environment Research Council made in each year since 1997; what the amounts were in each case; and how many of these requests were granted. 
Barry Gardiner: During the course of each Spending Review since 1997, the Natural Environment Research Council has requested funding to support its key priorities. NERC received the following allocations from the Department (as set out in the Science Budget allocations publications at http://www.ost.gov.uk/research/gov_spend.htm), which are subject to technical budgeting adjustments:
In addition, the Department administers the Large Facilities Capital Fund which provides capital funding for large scientific projects. NERC sought support from the fund towards the construction of RRS James Cook and a rebuild of the Halley Antarctic Station, and has been granted upto £25 million for the first and £20.1 million for the second.
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2001a contribution towards the estimated £3.023 million costs of reconstruction of the Bonner Laboratory at the Rothera research station in Antarctica following its destruction by fire. The Department agreed to provide up to £2.49 million to support the rebuilding costs.
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