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Nuclear Reactors

Mr. Baker: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if she will list the occasions since 1980 when nuclear reactors have been shut down for safety reasons,

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indicating in each case the date of shut down, the reason for the shut down and the date on which power generation recommenced. [24775]

Mr. Battle [holding answer 22 January 1998]: Information on the occasions since 1980 when civil nuclear reactors have been shut down for safety reasons, their dates and reasons for shut down and the dates when power generation recommenced is not recorded centrally. To provide the information requested for 35 currently operating civil power reactors in England and Wales and Scotland and nine which are now under-going decommissioning over a 18 year period could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

In addition to outages ie. a shutdown for re-fuelling, maintenance and repair on a schedule agreed by the regulator--the Health and Safety Executive's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII)--there are other occasions when reactors have to shut down ("trip"). The substantial in-built redundancy of safety systems at all nuclear generating sites ensure a trip if there is a fault in one of the many back-up systems on the reactor. Also, a significant proportion of the trips are not related to the safety of the reactor, but to failure in the ancillary equipment for example turbines or National Grid transmission faults.

However, any incidents of significance or potential significance for the health and safety of the workforce or the public at all UK civil nuclear installations, including nuclear electricity generating sites, are reported in the Health and Safety Executive's "Quarterly Statement of Incidents at Nuclear Installations" published since 1976. Copies of the most recent statements are available in the Library of the House. I am asking HSE to ensure copies of all statements, dating back to 1976, are placed there.

In addition, civil nuclear operators are also required by their nuclear site licence conditions to keep records of all incidents, events and other deviations from normal operations, thee are reviewed carefully by the NII. Since 1987, details of all such incidents have also been published in site newsletters, copies of which are circulated to Local Members of Parliament, Local Liaison Committees, the local media and to the Library of the House.

Political Advisers (Support Staff)

Mr. Bercow: To ask the President of the Board of Trade how many secretarial and support staff work full-time in support of his political advisers. [25188]

Mrs. Beckett [holding answer 23 January 1998]: Two.

Overseas Visits

Mr. Bercow: To ask the President of the Board of Trade how many overseas visits have been made by her Department's political advisers at public expense since 1 May. [25164]

Mrs. Beckett [holding answer 23 January 1998]: Six.

Dietary Supplements

Dr. Iddon: To ask the President of the Board of Trade when she received the letter dated 22 December 1997 from two United States of America senators concerning the relationship between MAFF's proposed universal ban

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on the general sales of dietary supplements containing more than 10 mg of vitamin B6 and international agreements; what consultations she had with other Government Departments; and what reply she plans to make. [25618]

Mr. Battle: The letter was received on 16 January: a reply will be sent shortly. The proposed controls on the level of vitamin B6 in dietary supplements sold under food law are being formulated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in consultation with other interested Government Departments. They are based on recommendations made by two UK committees of independent experts following a review of the scientific data on the safety of vitamin B6: MAFF will be issuing a consultation paper on their proposals in the near future. Measures designed to protect human health are permitted under EC and international trade rules.

Gas Industry

Mr. Brake: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what representations she has received on selling techniques within the gas industry. [25802]

Mr. Battle: My Department has received a number of representations from consumers and companies operating in the gas industry. I welcome the introduction of a new gas suppliers' licence condition, expected to come into force this week, which will enhance consumer protection in this area.

National Scientific Achievements

Dr. Gibson: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if she will list the action taken by the Minister for Science, Energy and Industry to ensure that the Treasury takes full account of national scientific achievements in determining the level of support for the scientific base. [25606]

Mr. Battle: The future level of support for the Science and Engineering Base will be determined through the Comprehensive Spending Review. This review is taking full account both of the nation's past scientific achievements and our future capability for supporting research of world class standing.

Foreign Shareholder Limits

Mr. Jack: To ask the President of the Board of Trade (1) if she will make a statement on the linkage between recent applications made by Rolls-Royce and British Aerospace for launch aid and the outstanding decision on the foreign shareholder limits as they affect these two companies; [25666]

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Mr. Battle [holding answer 27 January 1998]: I received a request from British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce last July for the Government's consent to certain changes to the companies' articles of association. These proposals are being considered carefully by the relevant Government Departments, and this has included an assessment of the present foreign shareholder limits on the activities of those companies. I hope that the Government will be able to respond to this request relatively soon.

Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe

Mr. Bercow: To ask the President of the Board of Trade when she will reply to the letter of 5 January from the hon. Member for Buckingham regarding the sale of the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe's BP shareholding. [25824]

Mrs. Beckett [holding answer 27 January 1998]: I replied on 27 January, having been overseas from 10 until 21 January.

Emergency Telephone Calls

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the President of the Board of Trade (1) what measures she is taking to improve the percentage of emergency calls answered by electricity companies; [26239]

Mr. Battle: Under Condition 9A of the new Public Electricity Supply Licence, the Licensee shall establish and operate an inquiry service for use by any person for the purpose of receiving reports and offering information, guidance or advice about any matter or incident that causes danger or requires attention or affects the maintenance of the security, availability and quality of service of the licensee's Distribution System.

The inquiry service shall ensure that all reports and enquiries are processed in a prompt and efficient manner and be available to receive and process telephone reports and inquiries at all times on every day of each year and be operational no later than 31 March 1998.

OFFER is currently looking at the steps taken by the Public Electricity Suppliers (PES) to deal with the aftermath of the recent storms. The investigation includes the difficulties that customers experienced when trying to contact the PES to report loss of supply and obtain information about likely restoration times, and see what lessons can be learned. I have asked to see their conclusions.

Electricity Cables

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if she will introduce measures to require the annual inspection of electricity cables. [26240]

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Mr. Battle: Inspections of a sample of electric lines and plant belonging to each Public Electricity Supplier are carried out annually under the provisions of section 30(2)(a) of the Electricity Act 1989 by the Department's Engineering Inspectorate.

The last annual inspection of electric lines and plant belonging to NORWEB plc took place in the Bolton/Wigan/Skelmersdale area on 26 and 27 August 1997.

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if she will introduce legislation to penalise electricity companies that fail to repair damaged cables within 24 hours. [26241]

Mr. Battle: Under Sections 39 and 40 of the Electricity Act 1989 the Director General of Electricity Supply has powers to set standards of performance in connection with the provision of electricity supply services by public electricity suppliers to tariff customers in individual cases and standards of overall performance by public electricity suppliers. He has used these powers to introduce in July 1991 Guaranteed Standards of Performance which cover a wide range of services, including one on restoring electricity supplies after faults. These Standards were revised in 1993 and 1995. Currently the Guaranteed Standard of Performance for restoring electricity supplies after faults lays down that customers are entitled to claim a payment if the electricity supply is not restored within 24 hours of a fault being reported. The payment is £40 for domestic customers and £100 for non-domestic customers for the first 24 hours and a further £20 for every additional 12 hour period during which the supply remains off. Customers are required to submit a claim in writing. The Director is currently consulting on a number of further changes which could lead to increased payments.

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