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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 14 November 2002

TRADE AND INDUSTRY

Gas Prices

The Minister for Energy and Construction (Mr. Brian Wilson): We have published today our conclusions on the operation of the GB gas market and concerns, especially from industrial consumers, on a marked increase in gas prices which occurred in 2000. We have carefully considered all the responses to the consultation and have found that the fundamental reason for movements in gas prices has been the influence of trade with continental Europe through the Interconnector pipeline, essential for the UK's winter gas requirements and future security of supply, as we become net importers.

The consultation produced no evidence to suggest anti-competitive behaviour nor to justify a competition investigation by the Office of Fair Trading or the European Commission. The consultation was useful in eliciting views about the operation of gas markets.

We recognise the difficulties that industrial consumers experienced with the rise of gas prices in 2000. To address this we are continuing to press for liberalisation and competition in energy markets both here and on the continent, and to then ensure that the inherent benefits are passed on to both industrial and domestic consumers. The complexity of the gas market means that we must seek to introduce greater transparency for the consumer. To this end we will continue to work closely with Ofgem, Transco and representatives of gas consumers, shippers and producers to increase understanding and clarity for all market participants.

The published response includes a summary of responses to the consultation. Copies have been placed in the libraries of both Houses.

Employment Tribunal System Taskforce

The Minister for Employment Relations, Industry and the Regions (Alan Johnson): With my right honourable and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor I have today published the government's response to XMoving Forward: The Report of the Employment Tribunal System Taskforce".

I have placed copies in the Library of the House and it is also available on the DTI's Employment relations website http://www.dti.gov.uk/er.

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ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS

Fridge Disposal

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): Report number 109 has been laid today seeking agreement to the distribution of the #40 million funding for English local authorities through a special grant. We propose that the amount payable to an authority will be allocated according to the formula used for county services within the Environmental, Protective and Cultural Services SSA block, in the same manner that the previous allocation was calculated.

Our officials are writing to each local authority concerned with details of the special grant and the process by which they will receive their allocation.

HOME DEPARTMENT

Asylum Seekers

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): Regulations were laid before Parliament on 21 October 2002 amending the Asylum Support Regulations 2000. The amendment, which came into effect on 11 November 2002, increased the level of support provided to dependants of asylum seekers aged under 16 who are supported by the National Asylum Support Service. The support rate has risen from #33.50 to #37.00 per week.

Animal Procedures Committee

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): In accordance with Section 20(5) of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, I have placed the Committee's annual report for 2001 in the Library today. Annexes to the report include the Committee's reports on Biotechnology and Openness.

TRANSPORT

Bus Fuel Duty Rebate (Biodiesel)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Mr. David Jamieson): A 100 per cent. rebate is now available for the fuel duty paid on biodiesel used by bus services which are eligible for support under the rules of my Depatment's Bus Services Operators Grant scheme.

CABINET OFFICE

Workforce Development

The Minister of State (Mr. Douglas Alexander): The Strategy Unit's report XIn Demand, Adult Skills in the 21st Century—part 2" has today been published as a report of the Government.

The report, commissioned by the Prime Minister, sets out a detailed and long-term plan for improving the productivity of the UK through raising skills levels in the workforce.

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It focuses on the government's strategy for




The report also sets out who is responsible for delivering the improvements, how progress will be monitored and how success will be evaluated.

Copies of the report have been placed in the libraries of the House. Additional copies and further information can also be found on the Cabinet Office website at www.cabinet-office.gov.uk/innovation.

CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT

Local Radio Services

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): After public consultation on the proposed radio ownership scheme, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I have agreed that the policy of local radio ownership should ensure that in every local market with a reasonable range of services (three or more analogue stations) there should be at least two commercial radio operators and at least three commercial media voices across local and regional radio, television and newspapers.

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For radio-only operators, maximum ownership will be limited to 55 per cent. of a market, as defined by a points system. For significant cross-media owners (either the relevant regional Channel 3 licensee or a local newspaper owner with more than 50 per cent. in the market in the coverage area of a radio station) there will be a stricter limit of 45 per cent. for analogue service, although this will only be applied in areas where there are three or more overlapping licences. No one will be allowed to own a local radio licence if they own both the relevant regional Channel 3 licence and more than 50 per cent. of the local newspaper market in the coverage are of the radio station.

The necessary rules would be introduced by order once the Communications Bill is enacted and a draft order would then be published alongside the Bill.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

Local Authority Housing Assets

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Mr. Tony McNulty): The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is about to go out to consultation on a proposal to amend the Local Authority (Capital Finance) Regulations 1997 to allow local authorities to use up to 100 per cent. of the capital receipt they receive from the disposal of certain housing assets, excluding right to buy sales and large and small scale voluntary transfers, for the provision of affordable housing.

The consultation paper and draft regulations may be found on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's web-site at http://www.odpm.gov.uk. Copies of the consultation paper have also been placed in both house libraries.