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For domestic users, the Government have increased funding for tackling fuel poverty by approximately £300m over the 2005-2008 period. The Government's main way of tackling fuel poverty in vulnerable households in England is Warmfront. Similar schemes, Warm Deal, the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme, and the Warm Homes Scheme also operate Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively. These provide heating and insulation measures to vulnerable households. To help those on low incomes, the Government have committed itself to continued winter fuel payments for the duration of this Parliament.

Outlook for Winter 2006-07

National Grid's draft “Winter Consultation Document”, published today, indicates the supply-demand balance for gas next winter is expected again to be tight. Only a modest increase in demand is anticipated. Production of gas from the UK Continental Shelf, although lower than last winter, will continue to be by far the most important source of supply to the UK. Over the medium term, it will continue to contribute significantly to meeting UK demand. The balance of demand will need to be met through imports and release of gas from storage.

The market is delivering further new import infrastructure that is due to come on line next winter. This includes the completion of the Langeled Pipeline from Norway and the further expansion of the Belgian interconnector. There are also plans for the Balgzand-Bacton pipeline from the Netherlands to be in place this winter, and the new Excelerate LNG ship import facility in Teesside has recently been announced. In addition, the Humbly Grove storage facility should have had the opportunity to fill up with gas over this summer, unlike last year. The Government are monitoring carefully progress on restoring operations at the Rough storage facility.

The availability of adequate import infrastructure is only one aspect of supply. The Government remains committed to the liberalised market as the means of delivering security of supply. Interactions between the UK and other markets are growing, and the Government will be working to ensure that imports through the Interconnector and imports of LNG respond to demand from the UK. We will be meeting key companies over coming months, as we did last winter, to emphasise the importance to the UK of maximising gas supply in the winter. We will continue our efforts with Ofgem and the European Commission to push for greater transparency and liberalisation in continental European markets.

Electricity generation is expected to be similar to last winter, with around one third of electricity generation capacity gas-fired. Last winter showed, however, that during periods of high gas demand, coal generation becomes significant as the base load generator, and some gas-fired generators switch from gas to distillate as an alternative fuel. The Government will be working to ensure that reliability of alternative power generation capacity is enhanced, and to ensure that the environmental regulatory regime allows flexibility for power generators to switch from gas to alternative fuels if necessary.

The Government are taking early action to ensure that security of supply is assured during the coming winter, and to ensure that the impacts of a tight demand-supply
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balance are mitigated. The Government recognise that all participants in the market have a role to play, including the gas supply industry, including producers, transporters, and suppliers, users including industry, power generators and other energy intensive users, and regulatory bodies.

The Government are working to ensure that the best possible information on supply and demand forecasting is available to the industry. An important part of this includes working closely with National Grid who are producing their Winter Consultation Document, to be published by Ofgem today. The Government are also reviewing energy emergency arrangements, as part of proper contingency and emergency planning, consulting industry and other interested parties. The Government will be working closely with CBI, Ofgem, National Grid, producers, shippers, suppliers and industrial users to ensure that all possible preparations are made for next winter, that these are effectively coordinated, and communicated.

I am therefore announcing today the creation of a Business Energy Forum. This will be high-level group jointly chaired by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks) and Richard Lambert, Director General Designate of the CBI. The group will provide a forum for discussion of a broad range of strategic energy issues, with a focus on security of supply next winter. Its members will include representatives from industry bodies, including the Engineering Employers Federation, the Energy Intensive Users Group, and the Chemical Industries Association, gas producers and shippers, electricity generators and suppliers and representatives of other user groups.

Looking beyond next winter, there is further significant investment in gas supply infrastructure planned. The need for additional infrastructure, and a regulatory environment to allow such infrastructure to be delivered to the market in a timely fashion remains a priority for this Government. That is why today I am also depositing in the House a parliamentary statement of “Need for Additional Gas Supply Infrastructure”, which sets out the economic case for our growing need for more infrastructure, and clarifies the Government policy context for planning and consent decisions on gas supply infrastructure projects.

The lessons of last winter are being taken into account. In the light of last winter's experience, gas supplies should be able to meet daily demand, although concerns remain about high prices. The Government remain committed to ensuring that the UK's strong energy market has the opportunity to operate effectively next winter and in the years to come.


London Underground and National Railways (LUNR) Passenger Screeining Trials

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): We announced in November last year that the Department for Transport will be undertaking a small number of trials at stations on London's surface and underground rail networks, to test the effectiveness of passenger screening equipment in an operational environment.

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The first trial took place on the platforms for the Heathrow Express at Paddington station over a four-week period during January and February of this year. The data from the trial have been analysed and will be included in the final trial report.

The next phase of the project will be held at stations on the London Underground and will test equipment that can detect traces of explosives on passengers and their belongings.

Following consultation with London Underground, the British Transport Police and other stakeholders, Canary Wharf and Greenford have been chosen to host the next series of trials.

The trial at Canary Wharf will begin on Wednesday 17 May and will also run for a period of around four weeks. The trial will test the use of a document scanner, a finger scanner and a cabin baggage X-ray machine. Each day a small number of randomly selected passengers will be invited to take part, although any participation will be entirely voluntary. There will be minimal disturbance to the station's operations and the flow of passengers throughout the day will not be affected.

Once the trial at Canary Wharf trial has been completed, a similar trial at Greenford station will begin in which equipment that can analyse explosive traces on clothing and bags using swabbing and air samples will be tested.

Furthermore, in conjunction with the British Transport Police, we shall be trialling the use of explosives-sniffing dogs at a main London station and a major regional station, also for a limited period.

The sole purpose of these trials that we are undertaking is purely to test their application in a genuine rail environment. They are not direct measures to enhance security at these stations. No decisions have been taken on the future use of this equipment, all the data and feedback we can gain during the tests is merely to help inform any future judgments.

The UK's railway system is a network made up of 2,500 stations and 11,000 miles of track. It carries one billion passengers a year. The British public understand that a closed security system on a rail network of this size is unworkable.

However we must still aim to cut down the risks as much as possible, whilst still allowing people to go about their day to day business.

No single security measure is either foolproof or capable of mitigating every threat so we need to keep a range of measures available. It is therefore important that we not only consider both existing and emerging technologies, but that we subject them to vigorous tests in a mix of authentic environments to see just how effectively they can contribute towards keeping our networks as safe and efficient as possible.

Publication for Transport Annual Report 2006

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I have today published my Department’s annual report for 2006. Copies have been laid before Parliament and placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The report sets out the Department’s activities and achievements over the last year. It also describes the Department’s future expenditure plans for the period of the spending review 2004.

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