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Marine Environment


Human Tissue Authority

The Minister of State, Department of Health(Ms Rosie Winterton): Section 29 of the Human Tissue Act 2004 sets out the procedure for approval of certain codes of practice of the human tissue authority. The codes have today been laid before Parliament. The codes give advice and guidance to those carrying out activities covered by the legislation, and deal specifically with:

Subject to parliamentary approval, the codes will take effect from 1 September when the Act is fully implemented.

International Development

Climate Change Adaptation in Africa Research and Development Programme

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): I am today announcing an allocation of £24 million for the Climate Change Adaptation in Africa: Research and Development Programme. DFID is supporting this programme in partnership with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada. We anticipate that other donors will lend support as the programme becomes established.

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The total budget, combining contributions from DFID and IDRC, will be up to £31.5 million. The programme will seek to identify ways in which communities, organisations and governments in poor countries across Africa can adapt to the impacts of climate change. Climate change will impact the poorest hardest and is likely to impair growth and poverty reduction efforts. The poor will have to cope with more droughts, more extreme temperatures and sudden and intense rainfall causing greater food and water insecurity, loss of income, higher death rates and more prevalent diseases.

The programme will:

(i) provide support to African-led research in this area;

(ii) help those vulnerable to climate change to learn from actual cases of climate adaptation;

(iii) help develop the capacity of African scientists and organisations to adapt to climate change; and,

(iv) establish a network of international scientists who will provide guidance, mentoring and supervisory inputs in response to requests from African researchers.

DFID is allocating a total of £24 million over five years to fund the new programme, starting in the financial year 2006-07. Funding for the first two financial years, £9 million, is part of the total £255 million DFID announced for all research in these two financial years.

Trade and Industry

Gas Supply Infrastructure

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry(Mr. Alistair Darling): I am making a statement today to the House on the interaction of existing Government policy and planning procedures with regard to the need for additional gas supply infrastructure.

This statement reiterates previous public commitments(1) made by this Government on the importance of gas supply infrastructure and will help clarify the Government policy context for planning and consent decisions on gas supply infrastructure projects.

The UK economy faces a major challenge; our indigenous gas supplies are in decline and we are moving towards increasing import dependence on gas. To manage this change, new gas supply infrastructure is needed to increase Great Britain's capacity to import, store and transport gas efficiently. A regulatory environment that enables the development of timely and appropriately sited infrastructure projects is therefore vital.

The need for increased gas supply infrastructure, and a regulatory environment to allow such infrastructure to be delivered to the market in a timely fashion, was set out by the Government in the Energy White Paper of 2003(2): “Our Energy Future—Creating a Low Carbon Economy”. It identified four challenges, one of which was securing the reliability of energy supplies. This remains integral to an energy policy that meets the needs and expectations of all energy consumers. It is being considered as part of the DTI's energy review(3) in the context of the measures that are required to
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develop the GB market framework for delivering reliable energy supplies. It is clear that any weakness in infrastructure could push up gas prices, or result in interruptions to supply, with harmful consequences for both UK markets and UK consumers.

The decline in our indigenous supplies has serious implications for our gas import infrastructure, storage and domestic transportation needs. The Government welcome all solutions which could help address this need, and favours no particular route. The market is responding to this challenge, with actual and planned investment in gas import infrastructure, storage and related transportation of some £10 billion over 2005-10. The projects have the potential to make a real difference to our gas supply infrastructure; by 2010, our storage capacity could more than double and our import infrastructure is planned to more than triple.

Ultimately, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy noted(4) to the House last year, failure to help facilitate such infrastructure will, immediately or over time, create difficulties in balancing supply and demand, reducing the reliability of our energy supply arrangements, with potentially disastrous consequences for the local, regional and national communities and economies.

To meet this challenge we require a regulatory environment that enables the development of timely and appropriately sited new gas supply infrastructure projects. The current consents regime is only now starting to deal with a new tranche of gas supply infrastructure projects; we must consider how avoidable delays can be prevented in the future to ensure that these projects, and those that follow them, can commission on time if approved. This means a planning consent regime that offers more clarity for developers about processes and timescales, thereby contributing to a lower overall level of risk for developers.

Our focus must therefore be on reducing the regulatory barriers to maximising gas supply, a view shared by the Trade and Industry Committee(5), and in line with this Government's focus on better regulation. We are looking to achieve this through a number of measures, as set out by my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in a parliamentary debate(6) on security of supply earlier this year.

The measures will cover:

This statement forms an integral part of the third action, and my department is actively progressing the other measures.

This Government believe that allowing the free operation of a competitive GB market, within an appropriate regulatory framework overseen by an independent regulator, is the most efficient way to ensure security of gas supply. Government policy establishes broad objectives, which are supported by
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light touch regulation. The private sector then takes commercial decisions to develop the infrastructure that can maintain and improve the reliability of energy supplies. This Government warmly welcome the potential diversity of solutions that the market is seeking to deliver. Both onshore and offshore, large and small solutions are required to meet our needs.

The storage of gas onshore and offshore is only possible in certain geological structures, which are present in a limited number of locations in Great Britain. Such salt formations must have a certain minimum thickness in order to store gas.

Gas is now also stored in some depleted oil and gas fields(8). Only one field is currently in operation but there are several others at different stages of development. These provide “ready made” storage structures with seals that have proven to be secure for millions of years. The nature of these structures is well known from the data collected during their development. An additional benefit is that storage in oil-bearing reservoirs can increase the amount of oil ultimately extracted from them. However, the reservoir characteristics needed for storage can be different from those needed to develop the field and not all onshore fields will be suitable for gas storage. Local planning officers should take this into consideration when making or preparing advice on planning consents.

The DTI recognises the importance of local democracy in the decision-making process, and the significant contribution that local involvement makes to the quality of decision making. The views of all stakeholders must be taken into account. But if we are to maintain a rigorous planning system, it must also enable decisions to be taken in reasonable time. A balance must be struck between meeting the concerns of local authorities and those they represent, and the national need for infrastructure that will provide us with secure energy supplies(9).

As my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy set out to the House last year(10), the provision of energy infrastructure is part of a delivery system that provides an essential national service. Business and homes in the UK require a reliable supply of energy free from disruption and interruption. New energy infrastructure projects may not always appear to convey any particular local benefit, but they provide crucial national benefits, which all localities share. In particular, projects add to the reliability of national energy supply, from which every user of the system benefits.

Against the background of the clear national need for new gas storage infrastructure, it is important that developers, where they are not already doing so, start an early dialogue with planning authorities to ensure that appropriate policies are included in Regional Spatial Strategies and Local Development Frameworks. Where developments need to come forward ahead of changes to local planning policy, it will be vital for developers to begin an early dialogue with local planning authorities, and the community more generally, about their proposals. It will be important to ensure that the environmental impacts of their proposals are better understood, and that the national need for these developments is fully taken into account by local planning authorities when making their decisions regarding planning consents.

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In summary, we need timely and appropriately sited gas supply infrastructure to be delivered by the market, because:

I am today placing in the Libraries of both Houses a fuller note, including annexes, setting out Government policy, to help clarify the context for planning and consent decisions on gas supply infrastructure.

Winter Energy Supply

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry(Mr. Alistair Darling): It has been a tight winter for energy supply, and this has led to high energy prices. The energy market had taken steps to prepare for the winter, and Government worked closely with Ofgem and National Grid to ensure that all possible actions were taken to secure energy supplies. Looking ahead to next winter, I am announcing today the creation of a Business Energy Forum to look at strategic energy issues. Looking beyond next winter, I am depositing in the House a parliamentary statement of “Need for Additional Gas Supply Infrastructure”. This sets out the economic case for taking action on planning to enable our strong energy market to deliver.

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Outturn for Winter 05/06

The gas market for winter 2005-06 was tighter than the previous winter. Gas supplies were maintained, but increased gas prices arising from the tight supply-demand balance were a major issue for industry as well as for domestic users. A fire at the Rough gas storage facility on 16 February 2006 led to the facility being taken out of operation, and heightened concerns about supply during the final stages of the winter. There was one Gas Balancing Alert, on 13 March 2006, which followed the loss of the Rough storage facility, butno forcible interruptions due to supply-demand constraints. Adequate supplies of gas and electricity were successfully maintained on every day this winter.

The market had responded to projected increased demand, with additional import infrastructure at the Isle of Grain LNG terminal, the expansion of the Interconnector import capacity, and a new storage facility, Humbly Grove. All these began operation at the start of the winter. DTI played a proactive role, working with developers and regulators to smooththe path for these developments. The Government encouraged offshore producers to be ready to maximise their production capacity in the winter, and supplies of gas direct from the offshore fields held up well throughout the winter.

There was significant demand-side response from the electricity-generating sector. In terms of base-load generation, there was switching from gas to coal. In addition, there was some switching from gas to distillate fuel. The level of coal-fired generation was more significant than had been expected, and this clearly has implications for carbon emissions and climate change. Accordingly, the experience gained here will be taken into account by the Government's Energy Review.

Other energy intensive users also reduced demand significantly in response to high prices. The Government also worked to increase the awareness of energy intensive users of the importance of demand side response, and had facilitated switching from gas to other fuels for power generators and other users, by working with the Environment Agency to ensure this could be accommodated within the regulatory regime.

Price signals would have been expected to be sufficient to incentivise full use of new import facilities. There was, however, under-utilisation of this capacity, despite strong price signals to the market, particularly early in the winter. Lower than anticipated delivery of gas from continental European sources through the interconnector led to further increases in price. Ofgem has estimated this cost UK consumers up to £1.5 billion this year over the winter. The Government are looking into how to resolve this, supporting Ofgem and the European Commission's investigations. The Government also continue to push hard for liberalisation of the European market, including in particular, transparency of gas stocks and movements throughout the EU.

Throughout the winter, the Government worked closely with National Grid and Ofgem to communicate information on the gas market to Parliament, industry and the public, in particular on price. The Government recognise the difficulties faced by industrial users, particularly energy intensive energy users, and also domestic users.

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