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23 Apr 2007 : Column 945Wcontinued
Mr. Iain Wright: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps his Department is taking in negotiations with EU countries on the scope of matters introduced in economic partnership agreements with southern countries which do not have the support of those countries. 
Mr. McCartney: The UK believes that well-designed EPAs can promote long-term development, economic growth and poverty reduction in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. We recognise the importance of these agreements and have taken a strong, proactive approach in discussions within the European Union, drawing on the principles set out in the joint DTI/DFID Position Paper of March 2005, including ensuring that ACP countries have flexibility and choice over the content of the agreements.
The recent informal EUACP development minister meeting was productive and cause for optimism. ACP countries made firm their commitment to complete EPAs this year. DTI in conjunction with DFID will continue to support the ACP in every way possible to make sure that well designed EPAs are finalised this year. I am increasingly confident that this is within our grasp.
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry which organisations and individuals have been consulted in the preparation of the forthcoming Energy White Paper; and if he will list the documents, including websites, which have been used in the preparation of the White Paper. 
Malcolm Wicks: The Government are taking forward development of the policy proposals set out in the Energy Review Report in preparation for the 2007 Energy White Paper, which will be published in May.
A wide range of information and evidence, formal and informal discussions with interested parties, as well as a number of public consultations, have been a key part of informing the energy review process. The issues on which we have consulted, summaries of engagement activities and formal consultation responses can be found on the DTI website at:
Alongside the White Paper we will be publishing a number of the reports and documents that helped inform our proposals.
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will list the changes in planning law which are being proposed in respect of energy schemes arising from the Energy Review 2006. 
Malcolm Wicks: We expect to publish the Energy White Paper in May which will cover our proposals on the planning arrangements for energy infrastructure.
Susan Kramer: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) how many complaints about the conduct of estate agents were received by the Office of Fair Trading in 2006; and how many investigations were conducted as a result; 
(2) how many Office of Fair Trading investigations following complaints against estate agents in 2006 resulted in fines being payable; and what the total amount of fines levied was. 
Mr. McCartney: In 2006, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) received 210 complaints about the conduct of estate agents. As a result of the complaints received, 117 investigations were carried out into estate agent activities by the OFT in 2006.
The OFT did not prosecute any estate agents for offences under the Estate Agents Act in 2006. This is because there are very few criminal offences associated with the Act. The most serious acts of misconduct by estate agents are instead dealt with by banning the individual concerned from being able to engage in estate agency work. This is the most effective means of protecting consumers.
In 2006, the OFT issued three warning orders and five prohibition orders under the Estate Agents Act 1979. In addition, it obtained four undertakings from estate agents under part 8 of the Enterprise Act 2002, and it also issued 63 advisory or warning letters.
The use of informal actions, such as advisory or warning letters, alongside the formal powers reflects the need for responsible and proportionate enforcement. Formal action against estate agents involves banning them, or threatening to ban them, from estate agency work. Formal action can therefore have significant repercussions in that it can take away an individuals livelihood. Parliament has therefore necessarily made the burden of evidential proof substantial and such action would only be taken in the limited number of cases where the most serious instances of misconduct are not only identified, but clearly established, and where the agents fitness to continue in estate agency work is seriously called into question.
Susan Kramer: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) how many notices of warning under the Estate Agents Act 1979 were issued by the Office of Fair Trading in 2006; 
(2) how many notices of prohibition under the Estate Agents Act 1979 were issued by the Office of Fair Trading in 2006. 
Mr. McCartney [holding answer 17 April 2007]: I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave her today to question numbers 131784 and 131785.
John McDonnell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what indexes he uses to measure the impact of Government policy on fuel poverty. 
Malcolm Wicks: A household is said to be in fuel poverty if it needs to spend more than 10 per cent. of its income on fuel to maintain a satisfactory heating regime (usually 21(o)C for the main living area and 18(o)C for other occupied rooms). Figures for the number of households in fuel poverty in England are produced from analysis of the English House Condition Survey and published annually alongside figures from the Devolved Administrations in the UK Fuel Poverty Annual Progress Report.
In addition to the total number of households in fuel poverty, the English House Condition Survey is used to give detailed breakdowns of households in fuel poverty. The individual data records from the survey are also used for further analysis to assess the effectiveness of current policy and the impact of possible future policy options.
Government also actively reviews the assistance provided by the warm front scheme, the main programme designed to tackle fuel poverty in England, to ensure it is as effective as possible in reducing fuel poverty. A number of steps were taken to increase the impact of the scheme in 2005 including an increase in grant maxima and a wider provision of gas central heating. All actions are laid out in the Fuel Poverty Action Plan, published in 2004.
Mr. Baron: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) to what extent preferences shown by members of the public may influence the research priorities set by the Medical Research Council; 
(2) what (a) process and (b) decision-making criteria will be used to set research funding priorities for the Medical Research Council in each of the next three years; and what the timetable is for the setting of those priorities in each year. 
Malcolm Wicks: The MRC will set its research priorities for the three years from 2008-09 to 2010-11 building upon its extensive consultation with stakeholders, including the research community, other Research Councils, Government Departments, the national health service (NHS), industry and the public. The detailed research priorities will be developed by the MRCs research boards and, where appropriate, involving the Office of Strategic Coordination of Health Research (OSCHR), and will be finalised once the MRC's allocation from the Science Budget is known.
The decision-making criteria include scientific opportunity, the impact of research on improving human health, the tractability of the area, the potential for exploitation, and opportunities for research training.
When the science budget allocation to the MRC from CSR 2007 is made, the MRC will prepare a strategic plan for the four years 2008-09 to 2011-12. This is likely to be published towards the end of 2007 or early in 2008.
Priorities will continue to be reviewed during the next three years as described. Future MRC delivery plans will be published in April/May of each year. Any new priorities that arise in-between times will be announced on the MRC website.
The MRC has a range of longstanding mechanisms to sustain dialogue with the general public, to capture and use public opinion and attitudes in developing research priorities, corporate and communications objectives. These include a requirement of a lay representation on the steering committees, public and patient involvement in numerous committees, workshops and panels. The MRC also holds annual public meetings. In addition, the MRC has a programme of public consultations, often in collaboration with other research councils under the RCUK banner, which allow MRC to gauge public attitudes to, awareness and expectations of the research areas and some examples include the use of animals in research; research using human embryos; ageing research; and the use of personal health information for research.
The MRC set up in 2000 a consumer liaison group for developing public and patient involvement, which became the Advisory Group on Public Involvement in 2003. The MRC is currently developing a public panel that would assist the setting up a network of lay experts.
Mr. Dai Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps have been taken to ensure that the arrangements governing the payment of compensation payments to former miners minimises the cost of processing overheads. 
Malcolm Wicks: The Department continually strives to achieve efficiency savings in the cost of running the schemes. For example, we have recently had some success in our appeal of the respiratory disease fast-track solicitors cost. This ruling will result in an estimated £99 million saving.
The fast-track process for respiratory disease claims should reduce claims processing costs by £150 million and shorten the scheme by two years.
A programme of efficiency improvements at the Department's claims handlers, Capita, saved 12m during 2005 and is estimated to have saved an additional 6m since.
The National Audit Office is also carrying out a value for money review of the Department's administration of the coal health compensation schemes. The report is anticipated during the summer.
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he is taking to minimise the generation of packaging for consumer goods including food. 
Malcolm Wicks: The Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2003 (as amended) require that packaging volume and weight must be the minimum adequate amount to maintain necessary levels of safety, hygiene and acceptance for the packed product and for the consumer. As regards to discussions with producers of packaging, I refer to the reply given by my noble Friend the Minister for Energy in another place on 13 March 2007, Official Report, column WA117.
Mr. Greg Knight: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations he has received on the Horizon computer system used by the Post Office; and if he will make a statement. 
Jim Fitzpatrick: My right hon. Friend has received no recent formal representations about Post Office Ltd.s Horizon computer system but the Department does occasionally receive correspondence about technical problems with the Horizon system at individual offices. Operational responsibility for Horizon rests with Post Office Ltd.
Mr. Greg Knight: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make St. Georges Day a bank holiday in England. 
Jim Fitzpatrick: The present pattern of bank holidays in the United Kingdom is well established and accepted, and the Government have no plans to change the arrangements.
Mr. Greg Knight: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions he has had with his European Union counterparts concerning harmonising the number of bank holidays taken each year in member states; and if he will make a statement. 
Jim Fitzpatrick: Public holidays throughout the European Union reflect the different histories and traditions of the countries concerned and vary from country to country.
The European Union average is 11 days and in some member states, for example Germany, entitlement to time off for a bank holiday is lost, if it falls at a weekend. In the United Kingdom if it falls at a weekend we have an alternative day off.
The present pattern of bank and public holidays is well established and accepted, and the Government have no current plans to change the arrangements or to discuss harmonisation with the member states.
However because some employers currently include the eight bank holidays as part of workers statutory 20-day annual leave entitlement, we intend to make time off for bank holidays additional to this entitlement.
Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for South Holland and the Deepings of 11 January 2007, Official Report, column 738W, on regional development agencies, what the addresses are of each of the regional development agencies' overseas offices. 
Margaret Hodge: The following list shows the addresses of the Regional Development Agencies' overseas offices.
Advantage West Midlands
The British MidlandsAustralia Office
Unit 4, 7 Newry Street
33, Avenue du Maine
75755 Paris Cedex 15
Im Dornenhau 29
The British MidlandsIndia Office
4DB, Edena Building, 4th Floor,
97, Maharshi Karve Road,
The British MidlandsJapan Office
Kishimoto Building 3F
311A2 - 1 Marunouchi
2 Chome, Chiyoda-ku
Advantage West Midlands,
World Trade Centre,
Kungsbron 1 ,
Box 703 96,
S-107 24 Stockholm
225 Franklin Street
Boston MA 02110
Southeast and Southwest USA
11951 Freedom Drive
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