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10 Jan 2005 : Column 140W—continued

Electromagnetic Fields

Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what action is taken to protect biological systems exposed to electromagnetic fields at public supply system frequencies. [206896]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: On the advice of the National Radiological Protection Board, the Government have adopted the guidelines of the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection on public exposure to electromagnetic fields. Exposure to electromagnetic fields at public supply frequencies ought to be within the basic restrictions given in the guidelines.

E-mails

Sue Doughty: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what her Department's policy is in relation to the storage and deletion of e-mails; and whether this policy has been reviewed in the past 12 months. [206746]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The Department's policy on the storage of e-mails has been reviewed and revised this year in accordance with guidance issued by the Cabinet Office. The policy is that e-mails should be stored in the Department's electronic records management system (ERMS) if they relate to the work of DTI and contain valuable information about, or evidence of, the activities of DTI.

E-mails in the ERMS will be deleted in accordance with existing departmental retention policies, which vary depending on the category of record. Some will be retained permanently in the national archives.

E-mails that are not stored in the ERMS should be deleted as soon as they have ceased to be of use.

Freedom of Information

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many staff in her Department were employed to deal with Freedom of Information Act 2000 issues in (a) 2001, (b) 2002, (c) 2003 and (d) 2004; and how many staff are budgeted to deal with Freedom of Information Act 2000 issues in (i) 2005 and (ii) 2006. [205035]


 
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Jacqui Smith: The staff in my Department allocated centrally to administer Freedom of Information Act issues are set out in the following table.

The table excludes centrally allocated legal advisers and secretarial support.
Number of staffPay range
20011.5½R10, ½R7, ½R3
20021.5½R10, ½R7, ½R3
20033.5R11, R7, ½R5, R3
20043.5R11, R7, ½R5, R3
20053.5R11, R9, R7, ½R5
20063.5R11, R9, R7, ½R5

Staff in this table also have responsibility for administering the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information and the Data Protection and Welsh Language Acts. Beyond those staff directly involved in the on-going implementation and application of FOI within a Department, it is difficult to identify precisely the number of officials who will be dealing with Freedom of Information issues from 1 January 2005, since it is potentially part of every civil servant's role to respond to Freedom of Information requests.

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many requests under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information have been answered by her Department within 20 working days since 1 January 2002; what the longest time taken by her Department to answer a request under the code since 1 January 2002 has been; and what steps she is taking to prevent delays to answers under the code. [205061]

Jacqui Smith: My Department monitors correspondence, including requests, against the Whitehall Standards 15 working day target, rather than the 20 working day target of the Open Government Code. The annual correspondence figures, collected on a financial year basis, and the number which met the 15 working day target are shown as follows.
VolumeNumber that were answered in 15 daysPercentage
2001–0282,00078,00095
2002–0372,00070,00097
2003–0492,00090,00098

The longest time taken to answer a request under the code was seven months.

From 1 January 2005, requests for information will be administered in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act which sets a general deadline for responding to requests of 20 working days. Through a comprehensive training and awareness programme, staff have been made aware of the importance of responding to requests within that deadline and the departmental records management system is under a programme of continual improvement.

Freedom of Information Act

Mr. Arbuthnot: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what safeguards private companies
 
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have that the flows of commercial-in-confidence information between them and public bodies will not be compulsorily divulged under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. [203946]

Jacqui Smith: The Freedom of Information Act provides a range of exemptions to protect information provided to public authorities. Those exemptions which are not absolute are subject to a "public interest" test. In the case of commercial-in-confidence information, relevant exemptions include the absolute exemption provided at section 41 of the Act, protecting information whose disclosure would constitute an actionable breach of confidence, and the non absolute exemption at section 43 of the Act, protecting information whose disclosure would prejudice the commercial interests of any person. These exemptions among others are likely to apply to information provided as commercial in confidence.

Fuel Poverty

Mr. Weir: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent research her Department has undertaken to ascertain the effect on households in fuel poverty of increases in fuel prices. [203977]

Mr. Mike O'Brien [holding answer 13 December 2004]: Our research suggests that the number of vulnerable households in fuel poverty is likely to rise by a limited amount in 2004 and 2005—perhaps by up to 200,000 vulnerable households in England over this period. This figure represents the combined effects of gas and electricity price increases countered by other measures that we have put in place on incomes and benefits. The assumptions behind this estimate are set out in two DTI publications which accompanied publication of the Fuel Poverty in England: The Government's Plan for Action on November 30. These internet publications are available to view at www.dti.gov.uk/energy/consumers/fuel_poverty/index.shtml.

Any potential increase in the numbers can be set against the very real progress that has been made: the number of households in fuel poverty in the UK has fallen by over three million since 1996, to 2.25 million in 2002 and further reductions are expected in the figure for 2003. In England, there has been a fall from the 1996 figure of 4.3 million households (three million vulnerable) to 1.4 million (1.2 million vulnerable) in 2002. The Government remains committed to achieving its target of seeking an end to the problem of fuel poverty in England in vulnerable households by 2010 as far as is reasonably practicable. .

Fuel poverty is devolved, and therefore the devolved administrations will be looking at how they each will meet their fuel poverty targets.

Mr. Weir: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) what assessment she has made of the effect of the recent changes in the cost of fuel oil on the number of households in fuel poverty; [203978]

(2) what estimate she has made of the number of households which rely on oil based heating systems; and what assessment she has made of the effect on such households of recent changes in the cost of fuel oil. [203981]


 
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Mr. Mike O'Brien [holding answer 13 December 2004]: As fuel poverty is devolved, therefore this answer covers England only.

My Department has considered the impacts of gas and electricity prices on fuel poverty for England. The results of this analysis were published in the Government's Fuel Poverty Action Plan, and suggests that the number of vulnerable households in fuel poverty is likely to rise by a limited amount in 2004 and 2005, perhaps by up to 200,000 vulnerable households in England over the period. We monitor the number of households in fuel poverty through the English House Condition Survey, with figures for 2003 becoming available in April 2005.

According to the 2001 English House Condition Survey, around 700,000 (3.3 per cent.) of dwellings in England used oil-fired central heating as their main form of space heating. Of these households, around 150,000 are likely to be vulnerable households in fuel poverty. Estimated heating oil prices for 2004 are around 20 per cent. higher than those in 2001. This will have increased the number of vulnerable households in fuel poverty who use heating oil. There are a number of uncertainties about exactly how many households will be brought into fuel poverty by changes in the price of heating oil, but it is likely to be significantly less than 50,000 vulnerable households.

The Government remain committed to achieving their target of seeking an end to the problem of fuel poverty in England in vulnerable households by 2010 as far as is reasonably practicable. Additionally, any potential increase in the numbers can be set against the very real progress that has been made: the number of households in fuel poverty in the UK has fallen by over three million since 1996, to 2.25 million in 2002 and further reductions are expected in 2003.


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