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Gas Industry

Mr. Gibb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) if he intends to reopen the application of the gas-fired power station proposals which he refused as a result of the stricter consent policy; [120116]

Mrs. Liddell: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced on 17 April that he intends to lift the stricter consents policy as soon as the new electricity trading arrangements are in place, which he expects to be by October this year. The lifting of the stricter consents policy will mean that the existing presumption against new gas-fired power generation will no longer apply. The initiative for proposals for new power stations will remain with private sector companies to consider, to meet the evolving needs of the energy market. That market will be influenced by measures such as exemption from the climate change levy for CHP and enhanced capital allowances. It will also be influenced by the implementation of the Integrated Pollution Prevention Control (IPPC) Directive which emphasises that installations are operated in such a way that energy is used efficiently, and by the draft Large Combustion Plants Directive, which if adopted in its present form will

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require the technical and economic feasibility of providing for the combined generation of heat and power to be examined.

The Government strongly support CHP and, consistent with the above measures, will expect developers to be able to show that they have explored opportunities to use CHP, providing heat for business and the community, although it is recognised that that may not always be practical. The Department will be discussing with developers the information which needs to be submitted as part of the notification under section 14 of the Energy Act and applications under section 36 of the Electricity Act.

The Department will also be contacting the promoters of the 15 proposals put on hold since October 1998, with a view to seeing whether those developers wish to proceed with their proposals and what updating of information is required of them.

Until the stricter consents policy is lifted, it will continue to play a part in the energy market.

Mr. Gibb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment his Department has made of the likely future reserves of North Sea gas, taking into account the proposal to lift the stricter current policy from October. [120108]

Mrs. Liddell: The Department of Trade and Industry publishes estimates of remaining recoverable reserves of gas on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) in its annual "Brown Book", the next edition of which is due for publication in May 2000. The UKCS includes the Irish Sea and Atlantic Margin as well as the North Sea. The lower and upper ends of the ranges of the Department's estimates of remaining recoverable reserves of natural gas, in billion cubic metres, at the end of 1999 are given in the table in cubic metres:

Lower end of rangeUpper end of range

(6) "Yet-to-find"

The impact on remaining recoverable reserves of the proposed lifting of the stricter consents policy from October 2000 is not likely to be significant. Higher demand for gas could advance the pace of reserve depletion or it could increase the reserve base if it leads to an increase in exploration activity.

Mr. Gibb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when Britain will become a net importer of natural gas. [120107]

Mrs. Liddell: The date on which the UK will revert to being a net importer of natural gas will depend on a number of variables, such as the timing of commencement and cessation of production from particular fields and the rate of growth of demand (which can influence the pace of exploration and development of discoveries). It is likely that the UK will again become a net importer of gas during the present decade. There is, however, infrastructure in place to permit imports as and when they are needed.

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Mr. Redwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) what legal advice he received concerning the legality of imposing a moratorium on gas-fired power stations; [120183]

Mr. Byers: None. No moratorium has been imposed.

Mr. Redwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will estimate how much coal capacity is lost for each additional 1MW of gas-fired electricity generation, assuming electricity demand and the import level stay the same. [120184]

Mr. Byers: I refer the right hon. Member to my reply on 25 May 1999, Official Report, column 109W.

Coal Division

Mr. Redwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry for what reason two officials have recently been moved from his Department's Coal Division. [120358]

Mr. Byers [holding answer 2 May 2000]: All changes reflect normal career moves.

Patent Office

Ms Christine Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement about the quinquennial review of the Patent Office. [120982]

Mr. Alan Johnson: The Government are committed to achieving better public services that are of higher quality and are more responsive to the needs of the people who use them. The services and functions provided by Executive Agencies and non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs) are at the heart of this programme of continuous improvement and their effective delivery is a key element in the success of Modernising Government. Regular Agency and NDPB reviews are an important element in ensuring that we have in place the right structures to deliver the Government's agenda effectively and to provide a strong focus on improving their future performance.

The Quinquennial Review of the Patent Office, which forms part of that programme of review and continuous improvement, was launched on 27 April. Its terms of reference are:

To consider and to make recommendations regarding:
First, the organisational status which would be most appropriate for the policy work and operation of the Patent Office in the future, taking into account its contribution to the objectives of the Department and of the Government as a whole, including the Modernising Government agenda, developments in the national and international legislative, regulatory and commercial environment, and the views of customers, staff, consumers and other interested parties; and
Second, whether any changes should be made to the way in which the Patent Office operates, including its aims and objectives, targets and financial controls; the scope of the activities undertaken; and whether its activities could be done more effectively.
The review is to be undertaken in accordance with the latest Cabinet Office guidance, published in January 2000.

The Review will be carried out by officials in the Department of Trade and Industry, with specialist advice as appropriate. The Review Team will report to a Steering

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Group which will include two independent members and be chaired by Dr. Catherine Bell, the Director General of Corporate and Consumer Affairs. The aim will be to complete each stage of the review within three months, as recommended in the Cabinet Office guidance.

As indicated in the terms of reference, the Review Team is seeking the views of interested parties. A consultation paper is available from:

Comments should be sent to the same address by 19 May 2000.

Wind Energy

Mr. David Stewart: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on his Department's policy on offshore wind farms. [120226]

Mrs. Liddell [holding answer 2 May 2000]: I refer the hon. Member to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) today.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what actions are being taken to promote the development of a UK manufacturing, supply, installation and maintenance industry relating to wind energy, with particular reference to offshore wind energy; and if he will make a statement. [119923]

Mrs. Liddell: Support provided under the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO), the Scottish Renewables Obligation (SRO), and my Department's research and development programme for renewable energy has contributed to the development of the wind industry. The first two UK offshore wind turbines are to be installed this year and developers are now looking to see how wind energy can be deployed more widely offshore.

The Government are taking powers in the Utilities Bill currently before Parliament to promote the development of renewable energy through a new Obligation on electricity suppliers. The intention is that this would include both onshore and offshore wind and would create a market for renewable energy until 2025. Support under existing NFFO and SRO contracts will be maintained. There will be no new rounds of NFFO and SRO contracts

The Government are also looking at the possibility of some limited additional support for offshore wind and energy crops. However, Government acting alone will not be sufficient to meet the challenge ahead and industry is expected to play an important part.

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