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Oil/Gas Supplies

Mr. Blizzard: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the likely effect of the proposed changes to the oil tax regime on future (a) exploration for and (b) production of oil and gas in the UK continental shelf. [37121]

Malcolm Wicks: The changes to the North sea fiscal regime announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his pre-Budget statement on 5 December were subject to detailed analysis to ensure that the North sea tax regime delivers the Government's objectives of striking the right balance between oil producers and consumers, by promoting investment and ensuring fairness for taxpayers. They are not expected to have a significant effect on exploration for oil and gas on the UK continental shelf. They are also not expected to have a significant effect on production. While the increase in the rate of the supplementary charge may impact a very small number of marginal investments, the Ring Fence Expenditure Supplement should provide an incentive to investment, particularly by new entrants, a small but important sector for the continued vitality of the North sea. The industry can now plan for the future safe in the knowledge that there will be no further increases in North sea taxation for the lifetime of this Parliament and with the offer of discussions with Government to tackle wider structural issues which affect the stability of the North sea oil tax regime.

Peninsular Power Ltd

Mr. Cox: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what indications have been given to Peninsular Power Limited concerning his Department's likely response to applications from that company for extensions of the crop targets specified in the terms of the offer of a grant under its Bio-energy Capital Grant scheme to the proposed biomass energy generator at Winkleigh in Devon. [33976]

Malcolm Wicks: The Department has received no such request from the company. If the Department were to receive such a request, our requirements are amendable, but consideration of any amendment would need to ensure that (a) they are in line with the objectives of the scheme (b) any revisions are not likely to affect the assessment of the competition under which the grant undertakings were originally awarded.

Phoenix Fund

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans he has for the Phoenix Fund; what other funding streams he expects will be available for community development funding agencies; and if he will make a statement. [36704]

Alun Michael: The Phoenix Fund was introduced in 1999 as a time-limited programme to help build good practice on business support for under-represented groups and deprived communities. It was not designed to provide long-term core funding for these organisations. Under the 2004 spending review for the period 2006–07
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to 2007–08, the DTI is making available a £6 million per annum contribution to regional development agencies, toward their support for enterprise in under-represented groups and deprived communities. The Government have also introduced the Community Investment Tax Relief scheme to enable community development funding agencies to raise finance from the private sector. The first 23 accredited Community Development Finance Institutions are aiming to raise over £80 million this way, which is double the figure that has been committed to the sector through the Phoenix Fund. Furthermore, following the Graham Review of the Small Firms Loan Guarantee scheme, there is now scope for more Community Development Finance Institutions to become Small Firms Loan Guarantee scheme lenders under the new arrangements and it is hoped this can be taken forward from next March.

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent discussions he has had with regional development agencies about replacement finance for the Phoenix Fund. [36705]

Alun Michael: The Phoenix Fund was only ever intended to be a time limited, pump priming fund and was, exceptionally, extended to 2006.

Under the 2004 Spending Review for the period 2006–07 to 2007–08, DTI is making available a £6 million per annum contribution to regional development agencies (RDAs), toward their support for enterprise in under-represented groups and deprived communities. As part of our ongoing engagement with regional development agencies (RDAs), the Secretary of State and I met RDA representatives in November when we discussed the future promotion of enterprise in the regions and the RDAs' contribution towards this.

Power Supplies

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions he has had with energy providers on their ability to protect vulnerable individuals in the event of a breakdown in power delivery; and if he will publish the (a) protocol for identifying such individuals and (b) guidance on support to be provided to them. [35812]

Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 8 December 2005]: While gas supplies will be tighter this winter than in previous years, National Grid report that under all credible scenarios gas and electricity supply can be maintained to domestic customers, small businesses and other organisations. The regulation of gas and electricity supply, including arrangements in respect of vulnerable customers, is the responsibility of the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem). Ofgem requires gas and electricity suppliers, under section 37 of their licences, to provide services for persons who are of pensionable age, disabled or chronically sick. These obligations include the maintenance of a Priority Service Register, and the provision of special services to meet the access, communication and safety needs of eligible customers. Relevant information about customers on the register is passed to gas and electricity distribution companies to enable them to comply with their obligations in the event of certain categories of supply failure.
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Renewable Energy

Mr. Lancaster: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans he has to encourage smaller, non-excluded energy production schemes being set up to take advantage of the Renewable Energy Certificates. [35266]

Malcolm Wicks: I assume the hon. Member is referring to Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs).

Many microgenerators already benefit from the Renewables Obligation (RO). However, feedback from microgenerators, as part of the current Review of the RO, suggested that the some of the administrative requirements might act as a barrier to accessing the benefits of the RO. One potential barrier is that the RO order defines the obligation in terms of the supply of electricity to customers in Great Britain. As a result there is a requirement that even generators that consume their own electricity must first sell it to a supplier before buying it back for their own consumption.

The Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill is currently before Parliament, and the Government intend to use this to introduce primary legislation that would allow the removal of this requirement for small generators. The Government would also like to use the same Bill to introduce primary legislation, which would allow agents to act on behalf of small generators through the process of accreditation and claiming ROCs and allowing ROCs to be issued to agents. It will also allow agents to amalgamate the output of small generators.

The Government are also carrying out further work, outside of the current Review of the RO, to address other barriers preventing the widespread take-up of microgeneration technologies. The Government will be publishing a strategy for the promotion of microgeneration next year.

Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will develop mechanisms for supporting fuel cell technology and hydrogen energy akin to the Renewables Obligation. [37226]

Malcolm Wicks: There are no plans at the present time to do so. Hydrogen and fuel cell technologies offer significant potential to contribute to the Government's target of 60 per cent. CO 2 reduction by 2050. On the 14 June, the Government announced a funding package worth £15 million for hydrogen and fuel cell demonstration projects.

Social/Community Policies (Businesses)

Mr. Iain Wright: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps his Department is taking to promote responsible social and community practices by business. [36200]

Malcolm Wicks: DTI leads for the Government on corporate social responsibility, in liaison with other Departments who will all have an interest in this wide ranging agenda.

Our approach to corporate social responsibility is to create the right framework to encourage companies to make socially responsible practice an integral part of their business operations, to the benefit of both society and business.
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By working with organisations like Business in the Community we have supported a range of initiatives that benefit local communities. The Government also encourage corporate community involvement through, for example by means of the publication of 'A guide to tax incentives for corporate giving', which was published jointly by HM Treasury and Home Office.

Information about the Government's approach can be found on the Government CSR website

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