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Oil and Gas Supplies

Mr. Simmonds: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment she has made of the impact on the (a) UK (i) domestic consumption and (ii) economy and the (b) EU (A) domestic consumption and (B) economy of supplies of oil and gas which pass through Ukraine being stopped or interrupted. [204382]

Mr. Mike O'Brien [holding answer 13 December 2004]: I am watching the situation closely. Although Ukraine is a transit state for gas supplies from Russia into the EU, there is significant gas storage capacity in the EU; in the short to medium term, therefore, there should be little impact on the availability of gas to final consumers in the EU or the UK

The Ukraine is also an important transit state for oil supplies from Russia into the EU. There are no reports that these supplies have been disrupted. If, however, supplies were disrupted for a prolonged period a combination of increased production from other producers, relatively high EU industry oil stock levels, and, if necessary, the co-ordinated release of emergency oil stocks by International Energy Agency members would limit the impact on the availability of oil products to final consumers in the EU and UK. These measures would also limit the impact of any disruption on the oil price.

Premium Rate Service

John Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, if she will make a statement on the progress of Ofcom's review of premium rate services. [203897]


 
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Mr. Mike O'Brien: Premium Rate Services (PRS) are regulated by the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services (ICSTIS). Their Code of Practice is set in accordance with condition 120 of the Communications Act 2003, which stipulates that Ofcom can set conditions to control the activities of PRS providers by means of such a Code of Practice.

The Government have discussed the issue of PRS dialler scams with ICSTIS and other stakeholders on several occasions over the summer and autumn. We have encouraged ICSTIS to take urgent action to deal with the problem. We have noticed some reduction in the number of complaints in the most recent months compared with the summer, although the problem remains significant.

In the summer we asked Ofcom to review PRS regulation, and Ofcom published a report on 9 December. The main recommendations for changes fall into the following three areas.

1. Improved Enforcement

Faster and more effective ICSTIS sanctions, including the power to impose sanctions directly on telecoms companies who breach the rules, with enforceable fines to deter fraudsters.

2. Consumer Redress

More effective mechanisms for ensuring that defrauded customers can get their money back, preferably from the person or company that breached the ICSTIS Code of Practice.

3. Consumer Information

Consumers need to be better informed about the ways they can protect themselves against PRS scams. All the telecoms companies in the PRS industry should play a more proactive role in informing and educating their customers. ICSTIS should continue to play a role in advising and educating consumers about PRS scams and its budget should reflect the increased resources it will need in order to continue to perform such a role effectively.

John Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps her Department is taking, in addition to the work being done by Ofcom and ICSTIS, to combat abuses of premium rate services, with particular reference to internet diallers. [203898]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: Ofcom's report from the review was published on 9 December. The Department's role in dealing with the internet diallers problem will be fulfilled through its representation on the steering group being set up to implement the recommendations in Ofcom's report.

Radioactive Waste

Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on the work of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management in compiling a national inventory of radioactive waste. [199659]

Mr. Morley: I have been asked to reply.

The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) has no responsibility for, or involvement in, the compilation of the UK Radioactive Waste
 
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Inventory. This is completed jointly by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and United Kingdom Nirex plc (Nirex). However, CoRWM has compiled inventory data relevant to its assessment of options for the long-term management of the UK's higher activity radioactive waste, and details of this are published on its website—www.corwm.org.uk.

Renewable Energy

David Hamilton: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what progress has been made in respect of the recommendations of the Royal Commission for Environmental Pollution on Biomass as a Renewable Energy Source. [204622]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The Government published their response to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution on 15 October 2004 and have also launched the following further initiatives for assessing and developing biomass energy:

A high level, one-year study of biomass energy is being undertaken by Sir Ben Gill, assisted by John Roberts, Chief Executive of United Utilities, and Nick Hartley of Oxera Consulting. The team will help Government and the biomass industry to address barriers and optimise the contribution which biomass energy can make.

The Bio-energy Infrastructure scheme has been launched—this will provide additional support of £3.5 million for biomass supply chains.

Planning Policy Statement 22 was issued in August, setting out a positive framework for renewable energy.

An initial scoping study has been commissioned by DTI and Defra to quantify the benefits which might be gained from promoting renewable heat and the extent to which support may be required.

Cambridge University has been commissioned to provide data on the economics of energy crops by April 2005.

The Forestry Commission are commissioning a study of the environmental impacts of a wide range of species which might be used for short rotation forestry.

In addition, the Non Food Crops Strategy was published in November and advice has been issued on the linkage between Energy Crops Scheme and Entry Level Scheme (subject to Commission approval).

Royal Mail (Performance Statistics)

Mr. Dismore: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will introduce performance statistics for Royal Mail based on the first three letters and digits of the postcodes; and if she will make a statement. [203836]

Mr. Sutcliffe: Royal Mail is required under the terms of its licence issued by Postcomm, the postal services regulator, to measure and publish its performance against agreed licence targets.
 
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Any additional measurement that may be undertaken to provide further detail is an operational and commercial decision for Royal Mail.

Sub-contractors

Mr. Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans she has (a) to bring forward legislation to provide protection for sub-contractors from loss following a main contractor's liquidation and (b) to introduce civil liability for losses by sub-contractors where they have been induced or increased by the misuse of letters of comfort by the holding company of a liquidated main contractor; and if she will make a statement. [203735]

Mr. Sutcliffe: The information requested is as follows:

(a) Proposals have been made by Sir Michael Latham's review group as part of the Review of Part II of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 to provide protection for sub-contractors from losses following a main contractor's liquidation. These are currently being considered by my Department, which will be issuing a consultation paper early next year.

(b) There are no plans to legislate in this area.

Mr. Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations she has received in respect of the letters of comfort issued to sub-contractors immediately prior to liquidation of Ballast plc by its Dutch holding company; and if she will make a statement. [203736]

Mr. Sutcliffe: No such representations have been made. Ballast plc went into administration in October 2003 following withdrawal of support from its Dutch parent. It did not go into liquidation until October 2004.


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