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House Condition Survey

Mr. Welsh: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has to undertake a new Scottish House Conditions Survey. [3309]

Mr. Chisholm [holding answer 17 June 1997]: The second Scottish House Condition Survey was carried out in 1996 and the results are expected to be published by Scottish Homes in the autumn.

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Sub-post Offices

Mrs. Ballard: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if she will lay down minimum standards for proximity of local communities to sub-post offices. [3380]

Mr. Ian McCartney: No. I have instituted a review of options for implementing our election manifesto pledge to grant the Post Office greater commercial freedom, and against this background the Post Office have agreed to suspend their Crown office conversion programme. However, whilst the Government are committed to a nationwide network of post offices, the location of individual post offices must remain an operational matter for the Post Office.


Mr. Burden: To ask the President of the Board of Trade when she intends to publish the revised draft firework safety regulations. [4831]

Mr. Nigel Griffiths: I propose to publish my proposals for new firework safety regulations tomorrow. Copies of the consultation document will be sent to a wide range of organisations with an interest in firework safety, including consumer groups, enforcement authorities, industry, firework user groups and other groups who use fireworks during religious and cultural festivals. Copies of both the consultation document and the draft regulations are being placed in the Library of the House.

Energy Council

Mr. Miller: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what was the outcome of the Energy Council meeting held on 27 May. [4832]

Mr. Battle: The Council considered several issues and received reports on matters of interest. I represented the UK.

The Council discussed gas market liberalisation and the renewable energy green paper. First, the gas liberalisation directive: progress was made which I believe puts us on course to achieve a liberalising measure. Discussion centred on three key issues; a framework for market opening, take or pay contracts and emergent markets and regions. I emphasised the Government's commitment to the single market and called for a positive commitment to gas liberalisation through an effective third party access regime as well as market opening so that customers can get the benefits of competition.

On the basis of the views expressed the presidency concluded that on market opening a qualitative approach with quantitative criteria could form the basis for a compromise. This should include power generators and large industrial customers as eligible customers; a minimum percentage opening of gas markets; the possibility of Member States limiting market opening above a certain level; and a progressive market opening. On take or pay contracts discussion focused on the possibility of derogating from the directive if problems arose with future contracts. The presidency concluded that there was support for a system characterised by transparency, well formulated criteria and the involvement of national independent gas authorities and

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the Commission in any such decisions. On emergent markets the presidency concluded that there was broad support for the proposal to allow Member States only now developing a gas market and those not directly connected to another EU system and having a single external supplier, to derogate from parts of the directive. On emergent regions there was support for further consideration of an approach whereby regions eligible for derogations were listed in an annex.

The presidency's proposals were recognised as a step in the right direction and a good basis for progress in further discussions at a possible second Council on 24 June.

Council also reached agreement on a resolution on the Commission's Green Paper on a renewable strategy. There was some discussion of the Commission's proposal for a Council decision concerning a multiannual programme for the promotion of renewable energy sources in the Community-ALTERNER II. I emphasised that the UK was very positive about renewable and keen to achieve increased targets for renewable energy electricity generation.

There was an exchange of views on the Commission communication on an overall view of energy policy. I welcomed the communication as a first step in the review of Community programmes with an energy component and supported the concept of a framework programme to provide greater transparency for the citizens of Europe and value for money. In order to dovetail with this framework, I suggested ALTERNER II should be limited to a tighter two year programme. The Commission is expected to present a further communication before the end of 1997.

Council conclusions were agreed on climate change and energy policy. They recognised the contribution of actions towards climate change commitments particularly in the development of a renewables strategy, energy efficiency standards, long-term agreements with industry and an electricity industry initiative to address environmental concerns. The conclusions call for further analysis, the preparation of a post-Kyoto action programme and a strategy for the promotion of combined heat and power.

The Commission will submit a revised proposal on energy objectives which will take into account the European Parliament's comments.

The Council noted Commission progress reports on the external dimension of energy networks, the Energy Charter Treaty, the Euro-Mediterranean partnership and information on agreements with industry on energy savings and on co-generation.

The first structured dialogue on energy with the countries of central and eastern Europe (CEECs) focused on energy efficiency and Trans European energy Networks (TENs). CEEC ministers outlined the measures they were taking to increase energy efficiency, develop renewable and meet EU standards. The progress being made with the help of EU programmes, particularly in the areas of TENs, was welcomed and it was agreed that co-operation should continue.

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Encryption Services

Mr. Otttaway: To ask the President of the Board of Trade when she expects to make an announcement on the proposals put forward in the consultation document "Licensing of Trusted Third Parties for the Provision of Encryption Services." [3975]

Mr. Battle: An analysis of the responses to the Consultation Paper is currently underway. As soon as this process has been completed, and following discussion with ministerial colleagues, a statement will be made.

ACAS Report

Mr. O'Neill: To ask the President of the Board of Trade when she expects to receive the annual report for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. [4829]

Mr. Ian McCartney: The ACAS Report for 1996 has been laid before both Houses of Parliament. Copies are available from the Vote Office.

Travel Industry

Mr. Cotter: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what plans she has to introduce legislation which prohibits discrimination by the travel industry against single people. [3948]

Mr. Nigel Griffiths: The practice in the travel industry of charging single people supplements is based on commercial considerations and I have made the travel industry aware of this matter.

Caviar and Shark Meat Imports

Mr. Flynn: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what quantity of (a) caviar and (b) shark meat is currently imported into the United Kingdom per annum; and if she will make a statement. [2700]

Mrs. Roche: In 1996 the UK imported 31 metric tonnes of caviar (sturgeon roe) worth £5.6 million. Information on shark meat is not available.

The convention on International trade in Endangered Species (CITES) will be holding its biennial meeting between the 9-20 June, in Zimbabwe. During the Conference proposals on the listing of sturgeon and monitoring of shark species will be discussed. The UK will consider all conference proposals carefully and in consideration with our colleagues from the other EU Member States.

Computer Systems

Mr. Nigel Jones: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what plans she has to prohibit the sale of non-millennium compliant computer systems; and if she will make a statement. [2537]

Mr. Battle: The century date change is a particularly serious issue, but I do not believe that prohibiting the sale of non-millennium compliant computer systems is necessary.

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It is for a well informed, individual purchaser to decide for himself what he needs in his own particular case. As for any other hardware or software supply issue, the details of conformance and performance are best covered in a discussion or specification and agreed by commercial negotiation. The law already provides a remedy for the purchaser of defective goods under The Sale of Goods Act 1979 and for services under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982, and I see no need for fresh legislation.

Radioactive Discharges

Mr. Flynn: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if she will list the components of the liquid and gaseous radioactive and chemical discharges which have been released from (a) Sellafield and (b) Dounreay, stating the activity and mass of each chemical, since these plants became operational. [1845]

Mr. Battle [holding answer 2 June 1997]: I refer my hon. Friend to the BNFL publication "The Annual Report on Radioactive Discharges and Monitoring of the Environment" and in the case of Dounreay, the figures for liquid and gaseous discharges are contained in the HMSO publication, "Radioactive Waste Discharges form UKAEA Establishments and Associated Monitoring Results", both of which are available from the Library of the House. The amount and content of material discharged from Sellafield and Dounreay are subject to limits set by the Government's regulatory bodies.

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