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24 May 2005 : Column 54W—continued


Steve Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will estimate the proportion of the adult population in (a) the UK, (b) the South West and (c) South Gloucestershire that had domestic access to e-mail (i) in the latest year for which estimates are available and (ii) five years earlier. [644]

Alun Michael: The Office for National Statistics does not produce figures for home adult email access but they do produce household Internet access figures, which are quoted as follows.

The percentage of households able to access the Internet from home in Q4 2004 were:

The percentage of households able to access the Internet from home in Q4 1999 were:

Nuclear Industry

Paul Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions the Department has had with (a) the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and (b) BNFL in respect of the future operation of the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) following the leakage of radioactively contaminated nitric acid at THORP in April. [837]

Malcolm Wicks: DTI officials have had a number of discussions with both the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and British Nuclear Group (BNG) concerning the leak at THORP that resulted in the plant being closed. With regard to the future operation of THORP, the NDA and regulators are still looking at how best to proceed. We will wait for their advice before taking a decision on the way forward.


Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the impact on UK businesses of the increase in wholesale gas prices and the increase in energy costs, with specific reference to the terms of (a) productivity and (b) competitiveness. [45]

Malcolm Wicks: The impact on UK businesses of increases in gas and energy prices will depend on a variety of factors, including how much gas or energy a particular company uses, the degree of their exposure to spot and forward prices and the duration of high prices. It will also be affected by the energy prices paid by their competitors. A further sector-specific issue is whether they are in a competitive market where international trade sets the price or in a sector where prices are determined more locally and rising energy costs could be passed on.

Despite recent rises, UK gas and electricity prices for industrial users in 2004 were lower in real terms than they were in 1994. In January 2005, UK gas and electricity prices for small, medium and large energy
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users were still below the EU median; for extra large electricity users their electricity prices were at the level of the EU median. However, individual companies will have agreed commercially confidential contract terms and prices which might differ from these averages.

Data on the average industrial gas and electricity prices in the UK over time can be found in tables 3.3.1 Real Terms and 3.3.2 Real Terms at:

Average gas price comparisons for different size categories of energy users across the EU can be found in tables 5.8.1, 5.8.2 and 5.8.3 at: and for electricity prices in tables 5.4.1, 5.4.2, 5.4.3 and 5.4.4 at:

There is anecdotal evidence that, for very large users of gas, gas prices in the UK are above those on the Continent. The Department is in discussion with the Energy Intensive Users Group and other industrial stakeholders to develop ideas for improving the operation of the forward market and to identify ways users can mitigate the effects of high forward gas prices. On 16 May the DTI held a seminar with major users to discuss forward gas prices and we are planning a further similar seminar with smaller users. We have undertaken research into the operation of the forward gas market. The report by independent consultants Global Insight can be found at

Miners' Compensation Scheme

John Mann: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made since 1 April of the merits of asking the Serious Fraud Squad to investigate solicitors who have doubled-charged clients claiming under the coalminers' compensation scheme. [165]

Malcolm Wicks: The regulation of solicitors is a matter for the Law Society. The Department continues to work closely with them on the issue of double charging.

John Mann: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry which solicitors are refusing to agree his Department's proposed scheme of £500 minimum compensation for successful claims for miners' industrial disease. [167]

Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 23 May 2005]: The £500 minimum payment is a proposal from the Claimants' Group of solicitors. A revised minimum payments proposal has recently been received and is under discussion between the parties. The Department has not yet been formally notified of any solicitors' refusal to agree to this proposal.
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Veterinary Services

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions he has had with the British Veterinary Association on the proposed legislation to abolish free prescriptions for veterinary purposes. [153]

Mr. Sutcliffe: In my capacity as Minister with responsibility for competition, I met the British Veterinary Association to discuss the Competition Commission recommendations on prescription-only veterinary medicines on 18 September 2003. The draft legislation recently published proposes to implement their recommendation that prescriptions should be free for three years. Currently there is no requirement for free veterinary prescriptions.

Working Time Directive

Steve Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the implications for the working arrangements of hon. Members of the proposed changes to the rights of UK workers to opt out of the Working Time Directive; and if he will make a statement. [643]

Mr. Sutcliffe: The Working Time proposals are still under negotiation; any changes must be agreed by both the European Parliament and European Council.

The Government are therefore not yet in a position to assess their impact. I will of course, submit a full Regulatory Impact Assessment when the final proposals are clear.


Electricity Green Tariff

Robert Key: To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the House of Commons Commission whether the House purchases electricity on a green tariff. [402]

Sir Stuart Bell: 11 per cent. of the electricity purchased for the parliamentary estate is from renewable sources.


Select Committees

Mr. Knight: To ask the Leader of the House if he will bring forward proposals during 2005 to combine the functions of the Procedure Committee and the former Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons in one new select committee. [180]

Mr. Hoon: I have no plans to do so.


Licensing Changes

Mr. Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what discussions she has had with representatives of sports clubs which run small bars
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as ancillary businesses about the impact on those bars of the recent changes in licensing fees; and if she will make a statement. [695]

James Purnell: The concerns of amateur sports clubs were debated in detail before the Licensing Act 2003 was passed. My Department held a number of meetings with the Central Council of Physical Recreation to discuss the effects of the Act on sports clubs with bars, and these discussions will continue as implementation proceeds.

In introducing the new licensing regime, the Government have no intention of penalising those involved in running clubs, nor to affect the important roles such clubs play in local communities. The situation will remain under review, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made a commitment to an independent review of fee levels and associated costs, within a reasonable period after the new framework is fully introduced. The review will consider the concerns of sports clubs, and its results will inform any necessary adjustments to the levels of fees introduced under the Act.

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