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Takeover Panel

22. Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what investigations the takeover panel is undertaking. [159085]

Dr. Howells: This is a matter for the Takeover Panel.

Sub-post Offices

23. Mr. Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions he has had with the Post Office regarding financing security improvements at sub-post offices. [159086]

Mr. Alan Johnson: Security and security improvements for the post office network are an operational matter for the Post Office. I understand from the Post Office that, in addition to the general programme of maintenance and improvement of existing security measures, they operate a risk based capital investment security programme under which £24 million has been invested over the last four years. I am also informed by the Post Office that they have earmarked over £30 million for investment in security measures over the next four years, based on a risk model which will deploy a wider range of security measures over the network.

House-sitters (Minimum Wage)

24. Mr. St. Aubyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on his policy on the application of the minimum wage to house-sitters. [159087]

Mr. Alan Johnson: The minimum wage covers workers and if a house-sitter meets the definition of a worker then he or she is covered. There is flexibility in the regulations to cater for the unusual arrangements involved in house-sitting and my officials are meeting the agencies to discuss this. A case involving house-sitters is

3 May 2001 : Column: 771W

due to be heard by an employment tribunal later this month. It is not appropriate, therefore, for the Government to comment further.

Mortgages

25. Dr. Iddon: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will ask the Office of Fair Trading to take steps to abolish the Rule of 78 for redemption of all existing mortgages. [159088]

Dr. Howells: Under the Consumer Credit (Rebate on Early Settlement) Regulations 1983, lenders can use the Rule of 78 to calculate early redemption terms for some types of loan. The Government agree that these regulations do not always give a fair and equitable outcome for consumers, particularly in respect of high-value, long-term loans such as mortgages.

We plan to bring forward proposals to replace the current settlement formula with one that will give a fairer outcome. We also want to improve the information consumers get about redemption terms, so they can take this into account when they decide which loan is the best deal.

Business Regulation

27. Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what studies he has commissioned into the regulatory costs of (a) British business, (b) US business and (c) business in other EU member states. [159090]

Ms Hewitt: We carefully assess the impact of all new regulatory proposals on British business. Since August 1998, all legislation likely to have an impact on business has been subject to a Regulatory Impact Assessment. RIAs are published and are available from the Libraries of the House.

We have not commissioned studies on the regulatory costs in other countries. However international organisations and companies do regularly carry out comparative surveys.

Electricity

28. Mr. Jack: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment his Department has made of the United Kingdom's ability to meet its electricity needs in each of the next five years. [159091]

Mr. Hain: At present, generating capacity available to the UK exceeds peak demand by around 25 per cent. This margin is widely considered to be more than adequate to meet its electricity needs.

The generating margin in future will continue to be determined by supply and demand conditions in the wholesale electricity market, as generators make commercial decisions to open new plant or close existing plant.

It is estimated that plant currently under construction, together with projects that have already received all the necessary consents, would be sufficient to meet both rising demand and some retirement of existing capacity and still maintain a margin of around 20 per cent. by 2005.

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Balance of Trade

29. Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on trends in the balance of trade over the last 12 months. [159092]

Mr. Caborn: The balance of trade was in deficit in the three months to February 2001 by £4.9 billion, compared to £4.3 billion for the same period a year earlier. Over the same period, exports rose by 11.9 per cent.

Bank Holidays

30. Mr. Grogan: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans he has to increase the number of bank holidays. [159093]

Mr. Alan Johnson: The Government have no current plans to increase the number of bank holidays. Any requests for the creation of additional bank holidays need to be measured against the disadvantages, notably the cost and disruption to industry that is inevitably involved.

Cammell Laird

31. Mr. Leigh: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the future of Cammell Laird. [159094]

Mr. Alan Johnson: I recognise that the present uncertain situation must be very worrying for the employees of Cammell Laird and their families, as well as for the company's suppliers and others. I am hopeful that the Receiver will be able to find a buyer for the business or yards so as to preserve as much employment as possible. The Government are in close touch with the Receiver to assist him in finding a buyer.

Minimum Wage

Mr. Nigel Griffiths: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many people are benefiting from the national minimum wage in (a) the Edinburgh area and (b) the UK. [159057]

Mr. Alan Johnson: When the national minimum wage was introduced in April 1999, some 140,000 jobs in Scotland were paying below the minimum rate. The corresponding figure for the United Kingdom was 1.5 million. There are no equivalent data available for individual towns and cities. The LPC has found that the substantial majority of those entitled to the minimum wage are now getting it.

Mobility Aids

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the protection offered to (a) disabled and (b) elderly people purchasing and leasing mobility aids. [159073]

Mr. Alan Johnson: Elderly and disabled people are protected by current consumer protection legislation in the same way as other consumers.

The Government remain committed to a strategy offering consumers, and particularly vulnerable groups, the protection they need to ensure they receive fair treatment and the information necessary to help them make informed choices.

3 May 2001 : Column: 773W

British Timken

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what action he is taking to protect apprentices and trainees affected by British Timken's proposed factory closure in Northampton. [159815]

Mr. Alan Johnson [holding answer 1 May 2001]: I will ask the Response Group to ensure that it covers this issue as part of its work.

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what action he is taking to investigate the impact of the closure of British Timken's factory in Northampton. [159817]

Mr. Alan Johnson [holding answer 1 May 2001]: The Government will do all we can to help those affected by the closure of the British Timken factory in Northampton. A Response Group has been set up to co-ordinate support activity. This Group will be chaired by the East Midlands Development Agency, working in partnership with the Government Office for the East Midlands, the Employment Service, the company and others.

Mr. Tony Clarke: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what action he is taking in respect of the closure of the British Timken roller bearing plant in Duston, Northampton. [160452]

Ms Keeble: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he is taking in response to the announcement by British Timken of the closure of its Northampton plant. [160359]

Mr. Alan Johnson: The Government will do all we can to help those affected by the closure of the British Timken factory in Northampton. A Response Group has been set up to co-ordinate support activity. This Group will be chaired by the East Midlands Development Agency, working in partnership with the Government Office East Midlands, the Employment Service, the company and other local partners.

Mobile Phone Licences

Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent discussions he has had with high-tech companies involved in the mobile phone industry on the issue of auctions for licences. [159172]

Ms Hewitt: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has had no recent discussions with high-tech companies involved in the mobile phone industry on the issue of spectrum licences for mobile communications that have been awarded by auction. There have been a number of discussions over a matter of months between the Radiocommunications Agency and various telecommunications companies, about auctions for spectrum licences for broadband and public fixed wireless access.


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