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Postal Services

12. Mr. Connarty: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps she has taken to ensure that the universal service provision is adhered to in the UK market for postal services. [25556]

14. Geraldine Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps she has taken to ensure that the universal service provision is adhered to in the UK market for postal services. [25560]

Mr. Alexander: I refer my hon. Friends to the answer given earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) at column 417.

Mrs. Browning: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will list the Crown post offices which have opened since May 1997. [27651]

Mr. Alexander [holding answer 15 January 2002]: I understand from Post Office Ltd. that no new Crown post offices have opened since May 1997.

Mrs. Browning: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will publish the gross running costs of the Crown post offices in (a) 1996–97 and (b) 2000–01. [27652]

Mr. Alexander [holding answer 15 January 2002]: I understand from Post Office Ltd. that the information is not available in the form requested.

Steel Industry

13. Dr. Kumar: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions she has had with steel industry management regarding the future of the steel industry. [25558]

Alan Johnson: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and my noble Friend the Minister for Trade and Investment have met senior management from Corus to discuss a variety of issues in recent months.

Aviation Industry

15. Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on the commercial position of airports and aircraft companies following the attacks of 11 September. [25561]

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Ms Hewitt: The hon. Member will be aware that the last four months have been a difficult time for those companies in the aviation and aerospace sectors. UK companies are working extremely hard to remain competitive. The current downturn in these sectors has regrettably resulted in job losses, but the long-term prospects for the industry remain good.

22. Tom Brake: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assistance her Department is providing to small firms affected by the downturn in the aviation industry since 11 September; and if she will make a statement. [25570]

Mr. Wilson: There is no specific support available from the Government for small businesses that have been adversely affected by these events.

The Government do, however, make a significant financial contribution to the aerospace industry generally, in terms of launch investment, research and technology funding, and competitiveness improvement training.

There are also other forms of generic business support available.

The Business Link network provides advice and support for companies suffering as a result of a recent crisis. Business Links can also advise companies on a number of disaster management issues. Companies experiencing difficulties should contact their local Business Link office. The Business Link National Contact Centre, 0845 600 9006, will put small firms in touch with their local provider.

Small businesses dependent on the UK airlines affected by 11 September will also benefit indirectly from the aid package provided by the UK Government to the aviation industry.

Vehicles Directive

16. Dr. Murrison: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on her policy on the end of life vehicles directive. [25563]

Miss Melanie Johnson: Our policy is to implement with a light regulatory touch, achieving the environmental objectives of the directive without putting UK business at a competitive disadvantage. We are now assessing responses to our consultation document, and the recommendations of the Trade and Industry Committee.

Restrictive Practice

17. Mr. Dismore: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on progress with the Office of Fair Trading report into restrictive practice in the professions. [25564]

Miss Melanie Johnson: As stated in the pre-Budget report, published on 27 November 2001, the Government intend to remove schedule 4 to the Competition Act 1998, which provides a special regime for the exclusion of professional rules from competition law, in the forthcoming Enterprise Bill.

The professions are conducting reviews of their own in light of the OFT report and some bodies have already announced positive changes as a result. On the remaining matters for Government from the report, the Lord

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Chancellor's Department is considering what further steps might be needed in respect of the market for legal services to ensure that competition issues are fully addressed.

Mineworkers' Pension Scheme

18. Mr. Illsley: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on the Government's entitlement to half of the surplus of the mineworkers' pension scheme. [25565]

Mr. Wilson: I am pleased to announce a new, additional benefit for members of the mineworkers' pension scheme on the lowest incomes, at a cost of £90 million. This will be funded out of the Government's share of the scheme's reserves.

The package will help mineworkers' pension scheme members who have only very modest miners' pensions, despite many years of service to the industry before 1975. Help for that particular group was identified as a priority in discussions with the scheme's trustees. Now, thanks to gains in the scheme's value under the Government's guarantee, the Government and Trustees have agreed a package of benefits, which includes special one-off payments for up to 66,000 of these members, alongside the 9 per cent. bonus for all members agreed earlier this year.

These lump sum payments will apply to members with at least five years service who left British Coal before or shortly after 1975 and who are on low pensions, defined on a sliding scale from not more than £5 a week after five years' service to not more than £10 a week after 10 or more years' service. The amounts they will receive will depend on their length of pensionable service and the current value of their pensions. Those with the longest service and the lowest pensions will receive the most. Payments, will range between £200 (e.g. for someone with, five years' service on £4 to £5 a week, or with 10 years' service on £9 to £10 a week) and £2,000 (for someone with 10 or more years' service on less than £1 a week). Details will appear in the next edition of the mineworker's pension scheme newsletter.

Members will not need to claim the money—most of those eligible, including all the existing pensioners, are expected to be paid in May, with the remainder paid within the next 18 months.

The Government and the Trustees of the two former British Coal pension schemes, the mineworkers' pension scheme and the British Coal staff superannuation scheme, have also agreed a joint statement agreeing a review of arrangements for the Government's guarantee of members' basic pension benefits. The text of that statement is as follows:


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Mr. Todd: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent representations she has received on the Government's share of Coal Industry Pension Fund surpluses. [25567]

Mr. Wilson: I have received seven representations on this issue over the last two months.

Manufacturing Industry

19. David Wright: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps she is taking to encourage research and development in UK manufacturing industry. [25566]

Alan Johnson: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer given earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) at column 411.


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