8. Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): What steps (a) Ofgem and (b) Oftel are taking in response to the 50th report of the Committee of Public Accounts in Session 200102 on pipes and wires (i) to simplify the information requirements they place on companies and (ii) to change the period over which price reviews are conducted. 
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): Both regulators have taken steps to minimise the information requests that they make, consistent with the need to regulate effectively. Both regulators need to allow time for the conducting of price reviews, so that they can get the necessary information and allow for adequate public consultation and for the possibility of appeal.
Ms Hewitt: Yes, I am. Indeed, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, investment in the electricity network has gone up significantly since privatisation, contrary to the allegations that were made on last night's BBC programme. Ensuring that price controls allow for adequate investment is a matter that my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services and I regularly discuss with Ofgem.
The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Jacqui Smith): We have given the Office of Fair Trading new powers in the Enterprise Act 2002 to approve for trade bodies and others codes of practice that aim to safeguard and promote the interests of consumers.
Mr. Hoban : A business in my constituency is more stringently regulated by a trade body than by the statutory regulators, and suffers from two lots of inspection and monitoring. Is it possible to cut the cost of regulation by allowing the trade body to take the lead, thus reducing the burden on small businesses?
Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. It is difficult for me to respond today without the details of the particular trade body and regulations. What is important, however, is that through the changes in the Enterprise Act 2002 we are attempting to ensure that trade bodies regulate their members in a way that businesses and consumers can feel confident about. That is the reason for the new two-stage approach to determining the codes introduced in the 2002 Act.
I agree that we need to deregulatethat is why the raft of regulations introduced during the years of Tory Government are being seriously reconsidered. For example, in the regulatory reform action plan that was published yesterday alongside the Chancellor's pre-Budget report, the Department of Trade and Industry alone identified 60 areas for regulatory reform, many of which will bring considerable benefits to small business.
Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend will know from cases in her own constituency work load, constituents who are not satisfied with a particular service often, in their frustration, have recourse to the local trading standards organisation. Will my right hon. Friend give a message to the Office of Fair Trading to the effect that it should take note of the problems that trading standards officers regularly have to deal with, ensure that cowboy operators and people who hide behind trade organisations do not get away with it, and help our constituents to get the service that they want and pay for?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to ensure that consumers have confidence in the whole regulatory framework by improving the process of codes underlying regulation by the Office of Fair Trading and ensuring that trading standards organisations discuss with the OFT, as they frequently do, how to secure certainty not only for businesses, but, importantly, for consumers about the regulatory process that protects their interests.
Mr. Gibb : I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. He may recall that although nowadays most pupils study for a GCSE in a foreign language, only 30 per cent. did so before it was made compulsory in 1991. Given the CBI's concern about a shortage of employees with a second language, does he accept that the Government's decision to end compulsory language study after the age of 14 will have a seriously damaging effect on Britain's economic prospects?
Mr. Sutcliffe: I always listen to what the hon. Gentleman says, because he has taken principled positions on many issues in this House. We are considering the study of second languages in earlier years and working with the Department for Education and Skills. Although such training is not compulsory at key stage 4, we are saying that if people want it, they are entitled to it. The hon. Gentleman will have noted the announcement of the Chancellor's new deal for skills in yesterday's pre-Budget report: that creates opportunities for languages in re-skilling the work force.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): The Government are considering legislation and it is hoped that it can be introduced as soon as parliamentary time permits.
Mr. Purchase : But does the Under-Secretary understand that the pressures to which workers are subject are often not perceived because they are different from a direct threat? There is an implied threat, especially to junior managers and supervisory staff, that their promotion chances may be diminished unless they continue to supervise and manage at Christmas. When we defended workers from having to work every Sunday, we would say, "Aren't workers entitled to one day a week?" We have now retreated so far on workers' rights that we ask, "Aren't they entitled to one day a year?"
Mr. Sutcliffe: If my hon. Friend considers the employment rights measures that the Government have introduced since 1997it would take too long to go through every onehe will recognise the benefits to working people of a Labour Government. For example, there is an entitlement to four weeks paid holiday a year.
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): We are working closely with Ofgem and the industry to ensure reliable electricity supplies. Indeed, security of supply was one of the four key goals of energy policy that we specified in the energy White Paper, which was published earlier this year.
Generation plant margin for this winter is now projected at just over 20 per cent. That is enough to meet predicted demand in all but the most exceptional circumstances, thereby reflecting that energy markets are working effectively.
Mr. Brown : I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. The issue is important and we all appreciate that weather conditions and engineering or technical difficulties can cause reductions in power and black-outs. However, when looking to the future, I am deeply concerned because although I support renewables, I am worried that the gap or the targets that we have set cannot meet baseload power supply. I encourage my right hon. Friend to think further and more deeply about nuclear energy and the direction of future development.
Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the need to ensure long-term investment in a range of electricity generation sources, including renewables. We clearly spelt out the position on nuclear energy in the White Paper: we will keep the nuclear option open. However, at this stage, the emphasis needs to be on renewables and energy efficiency, which undoubtedly represent the cheaper and the better way of fulfilling all our energy policy goals.
Ms Hewitt: I have just spelt out our policy conclusions. Electricity generation from the nuclear power sector will continue to play an important role in our country for a long time. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that, for the reasons that we set out in the White Paper, had we decided to encourage building a new generation of nuclear power stations, we might as well have given up on energy efficiency and on renewables, for which we need a step change in investment and effort. I am glad to say that our Government will deliver that.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim) (UUP): I welcome the commitment to secure electricity supplies in the years ahead. However, there is a feeling that the Government are paying only lip service to renewables, especially when small and medium-sized companies that try to
Ms Hewitt: The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point. It is precisely because of the need to get planning decisions made much faster on renewable energy projects, and on a range of other investment projects, that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has introduced a new planning Bill to ensure that, even as we balance environmental and economic considerations, we do so without the absurd delays that currently plague the planning system. Let me also remind the hon. Gentleman that the renewables obligation that we have put in place will deliver support for renewables investment worth some £1 billion a year by 2010. We have also recently extended the life of that renewables obligation and the amount of money that will be generated by it, to the great welcome of the renewables industry.