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9 Nov 2005 : Column 530W—continued

Gas Suppliers

John Hemming: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what contingency plans the Department has to ensure the continued supply of gas in the event of a domestic gas supplier ceasing to trade. [25917]

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Malcolm Wicks: Since the implementation of the Utilities Act 2000 licensing schemes and standard licence conditions in October 2001, Ofgem has had the power to appoint a Supplier of Last Resort (SoLR) for all customers, domestic and non-domestic, in both the gas and electricity markets. This power is essential to ensure that all of a failed supplier's customers have continuity of supply.

Under the current licence conditions Ofgem can require any licensed gas supplier to become a SoLR and take the responsibility for supplying gas to customers of another supplier whose licence has been revoked. For customers whose annual consumption is reasonably expected to be less than 73,200 kWh the authority can direct a supplier to be a SoLR. For customers whose annual consumption is reasonably expected to be between 73,200 kWh and 2,196,000 kWh the authority can only direct a supplier to be a SoLR with that supplier's consent. There is no provision for appointing a SoLR (by consent or otherwise) for customers whose annual consumption is reasonably expected to be more than 2,196,000 kWh.

Once appointed, a SoLR will initially be supplying the customer on a deemed contract. This deemed contract will cover the period from appointment until customers have agreed a replacement contract with the SoLR or another supplier of their choice. There are licence obligations to ensure that the prices charged under a deemed contract are not excessive. A SoLR's deemed contract must also allow for its termination when the customer chooses to take a supply from another supplier.

Fuel Poverty

Norman Lamb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many people he estimates were living in fuel poverty in each of the last five years; what estimate he has made of the numbers in 2005–06; and if he will make a statement. [26205]

Malcolm Wicks: Figures for the number of households in fuel poverty in England are produced from analysis of the English House Condition Survey. From 2003, the survey is being carried out on a continuous rolling basis. Prior to 2001, however, this survey was conducted on a five-yearly basis. Hence, the number of households in fuel poverty is not available for all of the last five years. The figures for 2001 and 2003 are available, with an estimate being available for 2002. These statistics are detailed in the following table:

Total number of households in fuel povertyTotal number of vulnerable households in fuel poverty
2002 (estimate)1.41.2

Fuel poverty statistics for the United Kingdom are published in the UK Fuel Poverty Annual Progress Report.
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Analysis of the overall effects of changes in fuel prices and incomes, excluding consideration of energy efficiency improvements, suggests that the total number of vulnerable households in fuel poverty is likely to rise by between 200,000 and 800,000 households in England between 2003 and 2006. This is based on a range of price and income assumptions published by the DTI in July 2005.


Mark Lazarowicz: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what his policy is on the governing and administration of the internet. [25631]

Alun Michael: DTI is actively engaged with key players in the provision of internet services in the UK. Our approach to the administration of the internet has been to rely on self-regulation informed by a continuing dialogue on public policy issues—such as spam and child pornography—where Government and business can and do effectively work in partnership prevent or end abuse. The take-up and innovative use of broadband in the UK compares favourably with other leading industrial countries and reinforces the value of this approach.

The international aspects of governing and administering the internet is a key issue currently under discussion for the World Summit on the Information Society, due to take place in Tunis from 16–18 November

The EU position, which I shall present on behalf of the UK as presidency of the Council of the European Union, is defined by the Council conclusions of 27 June. We recognise that the United States Government carry out their key role fairly and effectively, but that a number of countries would want a more multilateral involvement in what they see as key internet infrastructure. We recognise the need to show the international accountability of the system. This is why the EU is advocating a new cooperation model, building on existing structures to assure all countries that the system continues to be managed in an open, transparent and accountable manner.

Mine Reserves Services Ltd.

Paddy Tipping: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent discussions he has had with the local authority about further financial support to Mines Reserve Services Ltd., in its role as a provider of the statutory Mines Reserve Scheme, for (a) 2006–07 and (b) 2007–08. [25482]

Malcolm Wicks: The Coal Authority has provided £5 million of support to Mines Rescue Services Ltd. over the last two years using unexpected gains from the sale of property assets inherited from British Coal. It appears unlikely at this stage, however, that further gains will emerge to enable such funding this year or in the future.


Norman Lamb: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on recent mistakes made by Powergen in billing customers; and what discussions he plans to have with the company to consider the implications of the billing problems. [26026]

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Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 8 November 2005]: I understand that Powergen's recent errors in billing some of its customers arose from its introduction of a single billing system across its operations. The migration of former customers of TXU Energi, which has now been completed, was the cause of particular difficulties affecting customers in Eastern England. Energywatch, which is responsible for investigating complaints against gas and electricity suppliers, is currently exploring with Powergen both any further action required to address billing errors and the company's proposals for dealing with customers who have been distressed or inconvenienced by those errors.

Smart Meters

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry pursuant to the Answer of 17 October 2005, Official Report, columns 796–97W on smart meters, what is involved in the work being undertaken by officials from his Department, Ofgem and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on a market framework and cost/benefit analysis; and when he expects the group will report. [25934]

Malcolm Wicks: My officials, working closely with Ofgem and Defra, are currently assessing the market framework for metering in the UK. Ofgem are currently undertaking an analysis of the costs/benefits of different kinds of innovative metering options, focusing on what evidence there is to support possible benefits and looking at what lessons can be learned from international experience in markets such as Italy and California. Their analysis will be completed by the end of the year.

St. George's Day

Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if the Government will take steps to introduce an official national holiday on St. George's Day. [25938]

Mr. Sutcliffe: The present pattern of bank holidays in the United Kingdom is well established and accepted, and the Government have no plans to change the arrangements.

Working Time Directive

Mr. Hollobone: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the effects on UK business of the EU's Working Time Directive; and if he will make a statement. [25438]

Mr. Sutcliffe: The Government published a Compliance Cost Assessment (CCA) of the predicted effect of the EU Working Time Directive on UK business with Explanatory Memorandum 13526/98 on 11 January 1999.

The Department has also commissioned and published five research reports on the effects of the Working Time Directive, in its Employment Relations Research Series. A summary of Departmental monitoring and evaluation of the Working Time Regulations can be found in Employment relations monitoring and evaluation plan 2005" (No. 44, July 2005).
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The European Parliament and Council of Ministers are currently debating proposals from the Commission to amend the Working Time Directive. The Government has published two initial Regulatory Impact Assessments (RIAs) of the predicted effect of the proposed Directive on UK business. The most recent was submitted on 12 July 2005, following Explanatory Memorandum 9554/05.

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