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Post Office

Shona McIsaac: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he has approved the Post Office's five-year Strategic Plan and set the post-tax profit target for the Post Office group; and if he will make a statement. [144050]

Mr. Alan Johnson: I am pleased to announce that the Government have approved the Post Office's Strategic Plan for 2000-05. This is a five-year rolling Plan which is updated annually. The Plan represents a key element in the new arm's-length relationship that the Government are establishing with the Post Office in fulfilment of the reforms described in the White Paper published in July 1999. The Post Office will be building on the previous year's Plan and pursuing its strategy of becoming a global player in the distribution market.

Although much has been achieved over the past year, the Post Office recognises that there remains much to do. The market place for postal services is increasingly competitive and there are tough challenges to be faced,

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but the Post Office is working to build on current initiatives and to seize commercial opportunities as they arise in the UK and internationally.

The key features of the Strategic Plan are commercially confidential, and as such will not be published. In May this year the Government set the Post Office a return on capital employed target of 13 per cent. for 2000-01, which translated into an operational pre-tax profit target of £392 million for the year. Return on capital employed is defined as profit before interest payable and tax, but after operating interest receivable, divided by operating capital employed. This target excluded the network of post offices, where the report of the Performance and Innovation Unit on the network of post offices was awaited, and the non-operational interest arising from past surpluses held on the Post Office's balance sheet. This target was to be subsumed within the overall post-tax profit target for the Post Office as a whole, as described in the White Paper. The Government have now set a post-tax profit target figure for the group of £260 million for the financial year 2000-01.

As already announced, the 'dividend' that the Government effectively take out of the Post Office is now set at 40 per cent. of the post-tax profits of the business as a whole, and therefore if the Post Office achieves the profit target, this equivalent of a commercial dividend will be £104 million. This is subject to a dividend floor payment which this year will be raised from 80 per cent. to 90 per cent. of the dividend that would be paid if the Post Office meets its overall profit target. The dividend floor payment will therefore be £93 million. The Post Office will not pay dividends until it becomes a plc, but in the meantime will set aside the relevant amount in its reserves.

In order to help the Post Office to plan for the medium term, the Government have also set an indicative financial return for 2002-03 of 13 per cent. return on capital employed in the Post Office's operational business, excluding the network of post offices and any non-operational interest arising from past surpluses.

Mrs. Betty Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he will lay the Government's annual report to Parliament on the progress of Post Office reform; and if he will make a statement. [144049]

Mr. Alan Johnson: I have today laid in the Library of each House the Government's first annual report to Parliament on the progress of the reforms set out in the White Paper on "Post Office Reform: a World Class Service for the 21st Century", which was published in July 1999. This summarises the significant steps that have already been taken in implementing the reforms and the progress being made in giving the Post Office greater commercial freedom.


Mr. Gibb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will publish the planned operating cost of Ofgem for (a) 2000-01 and (b) 2001-02. [143155]

Mr. Andrew Smith: I have been asked to reply.

Ofgem published its proposed Plan and Budget for 2001-02 on 15 December. The document also provides budget information for 2000-01 (this document can be

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viewed on Ofgem's website Stakeholders within the industry and other interested parties have until 7 February to comment on these proposals. Ofgem's final corporate plan, which will have regard to comments received during the consultation period, will provide details of Ofgem's agreed budget for 2001-02.


Palace of Westminster (Security Staff)

Mr. Dismore: To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, how many (a) police officers, broken down by rank, and (b) civilian security staff are employed in (i) the Palace of Westminster and (ii) the parliamentary estate. [143597]

Mr. Kirkwood: The actual strength of Metropolitan police officers and civilian security officers employed within the parliamentary estate is:

Parliamentary Estate

(a) Police officers
Divisional commander 1
(b) Civilian security staff
Principal security officer1
Senior security officers12
Security officers225
Higher executive officers2
Executive officers2
Administrative officers5
Administrative assistants1

It is not possible to make a clear distinction between the Palace of Westminster and the Estate, as varied responsibilities affect the balance from day to day. In general terms, however, the majority of officers are employed within the Palace.



5. Mr. McWalter: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what further steps he is taking to create a normal security environment in Northern Ireland. [141755]

Mr. Mandelson: The Chief Constable recently announced a number of further normalisation measures, including the demolition of the six Fermanagh patrol bases, the closure and demolition of Long Kesh Army base and, with effect from 1 October, the closure of Strand Road Holding Centre. Work on the demolition of the

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Fermanagh patrol bases is now under way. The demolition of Long Kesh Army base is due for completion this month.

It is our overall aspiration to reduce further the number of army bases to no more than 20 and reduce the number of soldiers permanently based in Northern Ireland to about 8,000. However, this very much depends on the level of threat from dissident republicans and continued progress towards a normal civil society.


8. Mr. Wilkinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many illegal weapons he can certify as having been decommissioned this year by (a) republican terrorist groups and (b) loyalist terrorist groups. [141759]

9. Mr. Brady: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on decommissioning. [141760]

Mr. Ingram: This year, to date, we have received no reports from General de Chastelain and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning of any weapons having been decommissioned from either republican or loyalist groups.

The Government welcome the recent decision by the IRA to reopen its arms dumps to reinspection.

We understand that the IRA have had limited re-engagement with the Commission, but further progress is needed to fulfil the promises made in its statement in May.

Both Governments have agreed to take all necessary steps to facilitate the decommissioning process.

11. Mr. McCabe: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the prospects for removing illegally held weapons from Northern Ireland. [141762]

Mr. Ingram: Efforts are continuing to seek a way forward to enable decommissioning to occur as soon as possible.

Further progress still needs to be made by both Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries to meet their commitments to bring a lasting peace to Northern Ireland.

Decommissioning of illegal arms is an essential part of the Good Friday Agreement. All sides must honour all the commitments they have made. However, the Government cannot force decommissioning to occur. It has to be a voluntary, inclusive and consensual process.

22. Mr. Robathan: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assessment he has made of the number of illegal weapons held by terrorist organisations that are active in Northern Ireland; and when he expects to see them decommissioned in accordance with the terms of the Belfast agreement. [141775]

Mr. Ingram: For obvious reasons, it is not our practice to disclose such intelligence matters. I can however say that substantial amounts of firearms, munitions and explosives are held by various groups in Northern Ireland.

Efforts are still continuing to seek a way forward to enable decommissioning to occur as soon as possible.

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For their part, the Government are continuing to meet their commitments, as agreed with the Irish Government, to take the steps necessary for full implementation of the Agreement by June 2001.

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