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Hilary Benn: The recent signing of the Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement presents an opportunity for all donors to take a fresh look at their support to the east. To this end, DFID recently participated in a multi-donor mission to Kassala and Red Sea State, meeting representatives of civil society and state Government. Donors are now in the process of considering options for future support.
This year DFID will provide around £3 million in direct development and humanitarian assistance to Eastern Sudan. The funds are being spent principally on child nutrition, food security and social protection. Indirectly DFID channels funding to the east though the World Bank-managed Multi-Donor Trust Fund (health and community development projects) and the UN (livelihoods and food security). A significant element of EC funding in the east (livelihoods, water, and food security) is also attributable to UK contributions.
10. Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions he has had with (a) the EU Trade Commissioner and (b) his international counterparts on the future of the World Trade Organisation. 
Mr. McCartney: Neither my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, nor myself have had any discussions on the future of the World Trade Organisation, with either Commissioner Mandelson or other international counterparts. The Government believe that the first priority must be securing an ambitious, pro-development outcome to the Doha Development Agenda.
Margaret Hodge: The Companies Act is good for business. It modernises and simplifies our law, and contains many significant deregulatory measures. We will ensure that it is implemented in a way which takes full account of business needs.
The first benefit will be in January 2007 when we will introduce the provisions which enable companies to use electronic communications rather than paper for certain purposes. We calculate that we will save businesses over £50 million.
12. Tony Lloyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the capacity of small and medium-sized enterprises to increase the volume of their exports; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. McCartney: The business success of SMEs underpins our national prosperity. 99.9 per cent. of UK businesses are SMEs. Some 21 per cent. of those are exporters. Of all the UK companies that trade internationally 90 per cent. of them are SMEs.
SMEs continue to be a key client group for UKTI. UKTI offers a range of services to support SMEs trading internationally, including its flagship Passport to Export programme. Since the start of Passport in 2001 over 7,000 SMEs have been helped to start trading internationally. The programme will be further developed as part of UKTIs new strategy Prosperity in a Changing World.
14. Mr. Malik: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the contribution of the regional development agency for the Yorkshire region to the economy in the region. 
Mr. McCartney: I have laid a statement before the House setting out the latest position on Farepak. We continue to support vigorously the initiative of the Family Fund, to provide some assistance in time for Christmas, on a goodwill basis, for those who have been so badly affected.
Mr. McCartney: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State cannot intervene in the conduct of an individual insolvency case. But it is the duty of the administrators to seek to recover as much as they can for the benefit of all the companys creditors. They also have a duty to report to the creditors and consult them concerning proposals for the administration.
As a separate matter, DTI has sought to secure some assistance, on a goodwill basis, for those affected, which can be delivered in time for Christmas. We are very grateful for the assistance of the Family Funda long-established charity with extensive experience of delivering assistance to low-income familiesin setting up a dedicated voucher fund for this purpose. We strongly support this initiative.
Malcolm Wicks: The Department has asked the Union of Democratic Mineworkers for comments on their relationship with those solicitor firms to which they have referred work. They have not yet responded.
Mr. McCartney: The OFT considers that the retail banking market works well for consumers if bank charges are transparent, subject to effective competition and consistent with the principle of fairness. The structure of individual banks' charges is a matter for their own judgment, but the OFT may investigate and take appropriate action if there is evidence that charges are incompatible with the requirements of consumer or competition law.
Mr. Andy Reed: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he is taking to ensure that all communities are served by bank branches and services; and if he will make a statement. 
The Government recognises that lack of access to banking services imposes costs on those who can least afford them. In December 2004, the banks and the Government agreed to work together towards a goal of halving the number of adults in households without a bank account and of making significant progress within two years. In its first annual report, published in March, the Taskforce concluded that steady progress had been made, but encouraged the banks to continue to address the difficulties faced in opening a bank account.
The Government also recognises the importance of access to cash at the Post Office for many. 25 different bank accounts, including all basic bank accounts, are currently accessible over the Post Office counter.
In addition, an ATM working group chaired by John McFall MP is taking forward work on key issues in relation to ATMs, including the location of free and charging ATMs, particularly in deprived areas, and the transparency of signage. This working group is expected to report towards the end of this year.
Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what (a) contracts his Department has had with and (b) payments his Department has made to Capital One in each of the last five years. 
Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the effect of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 on the level of charges made by banks, credit card companies and store card operators; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. McCartney [holding answer 29 November 2006]: The OFT have been looking at the question of penalty charges in respect of credit cards and have stated that they believed that such charges had been generally set at a significantly higher level than was considered fair and set a £12 threshold for OFT intervention unless there were exceptional business factors.
The OFT is of the view that the broad principles do read across to the retail banking area and has decided to undertake further work on the application of these principles to bank current accounts. This fact-finding exercise is expected to take between three to six months, at which stage the OFT will consider whether a further detailed investigation of the fairness of individual bank default charges is needed.
The issue of Store Cards has been examined by the Competition Commission who have found problems with the way store cards are set up and run. They have recommended that Store card credit providers mustwhere APRS are 25 per cent. or above, warn cardholders on monthly statements that cheaper credit may be available elsewhere, give more and better information on all monthly statements, offer the option to pay by direct debit and separate payment protection insurance from the PPI package and intend to implement these recommendations by statutory orders to take effect in March 2007.
Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what percentage of the electricity used by his Department was generated from (a) renewable sources and (b) on-site microgeneration facilities in the last period for which figures are available. 
Jim Fitzpatrick: The Departments HQ estate has bought electricity from renewable sources equating to 36 per cent. for the period 2005-06 of its HQ estate requirement compared to a target of 10 per cent. by 2008.
Stephen Hesford: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what research his Department has undertaken on how businesses assess the level of gender equity among the pay of their employees. 
Government conducted the Workplace Employment Relations Survey (WERS) in 2004. Data was collected from managers and employees from over 3,000 workplaces to provide an up-to-date picture of the state of employment relations and working life in Britain. The findings and analysis of WERS Inside the Workplace: Findings from the 2004 Workplace Employment Relations Survey was published earlier this year.
The survey and analysis showed that job evaluation schemes are used by employers to help ensure that pay and grading systems in the workplace fairly reflect the skill requirements and responsibilities of the job. However, very few workplaces reviewed relative pay rates by gender.
We have been taking active measures to work with businesses and employers to encourage the use of equal pay reviews as a tool for assessing the level of gender equity among the pay of their employees. This has included promoting voluntary equal pay reviews through the DTI Strategic Partnership initiative, which is supporting a team of Equal Pay Panel of Experts, led by the TUC. In taking forward the implementation of the Women and Work Commissions recommendations and as part of the Government Action Plan, the
Women and Equality Unit is developing an equality check tool that identifies where there might be a high risk of a problem on any of the range of issues that cause the gender pay gap.
Philip Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) what estimate he has made of the financial effect on UK companies on (a) EU membership and (b) free trade within the EU; 
Mr. McCartney: Membership of the European Union is central to the pursuit of stability, growth and employment in the UK. Membership of the EU provides significant benefits for UK business and employment: Britain's trade with the European Union has grown from just over 40 per cent. of our total trade in 1973 when we joined to around 55 per cent. today, and the Government estimate 3 million jobs in the UK are linked to the export of goods and services to the EU. The European Single Market is the world's largest free trade area, providing UK businesses with the benefits of access to a market of 450 million consumers.
Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether the rolling Exports Credits Guarantee Department insurance cover negotiated to support Al Yamamah I and II will be continued to support the Eurofighter sale to Saudi Arabia; whether any additional or alternative ECGD cover for the sale (a) has been and (b) is being negotiated; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. McCartney: The Export Credits Guarantee Department has recently agreed to renew insurance cover for sales of defence equipment and related services to Saudi Arabia, including the possible sale of Typhoon aircraft.
Malcolm Wicks: The target for England is, as far as reasonably practicable, to eradicate fuel poverty in vulnerable households (those containing the elderly, children, the disabled or someone with a long-term illness) by 2010.
In 2004, the latest year for which figures are available, the number of households in fuel poverty was 1.2 million, 1 million of which were vulnerable. This was the same as 2003, and compares with 5.1 million English households in fuel poverty in 1996. However, our analysis suggests that increases in energy bills since 2004 are likely to lead to a rise of around 1 million English vulnerable households between 2004 and 2006.
The Governments main programme for tackling fuel poverty in the private sector in England is the Warm Front Scheme, which is the responsibility of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Warm Front provides heating and energy efficiency measures for those on a range of qualifying benefits. It has helped over 1 million vulnerable households since 2000. The Government issues winter fuel payments, which provide pensioner households with significant help with fuel costs in the coldest months. It has committed itself to maintaining the payments for the duration of this Parliament. The Government are also engaged in a series of initiatives with energy suppliers and others to mitigate the effects of price rises on the fuel poor. This includes a joint initiative with suppliers to target assistance to vulnerable pensioner households.
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