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10 July 2006 : Column 1482W—continued

VAT registration and de-registration data do not capture all business activity.

Businesses are unlikely to be registered if their turnover falls below the compulsory VAT threshold, which has risen in each year since 1997. Similarly, businesses that de-register may not have closed. In the retail sector 63 per cent. of enterprises in the UK (200,000 out of 320,000) were registered for VAT at the start of 2004.


Mr. Dunne: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether his Department had any discussions on ignition propensity in cigarettes at the European General Product Safety Directive Committee on 13 and 14 June. [84358]

Mr. McCartney: I refer the hon. Member to my answer given to the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) on 3 July 2006, Official Report, column 863W.

Company Law Reform Bill

Susan Kramer: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what estimate he has made of the percentage of British companies which will be required to make reports on (a) environmental matters, (b) employee relations, (c) social and community issues and (d) relations with suppliers under the Business Review provisions of the Company Law Reform Bill. [80873]

Margaret Hodge [holding answer 28 June 2006]: The Company Law Reform Bill provides that all companies, apart from small companies, will continue to be required to produce a Business Review. Quoted companies (approximately 1,300 companies) will need to include certain defined information to the extent
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necessary for an understanding of the development, performance or position of the company's business. They will need to report on the main trends and factors likely to affect the future development, performance and position of the company's business. They will need to report on (a) environmental matters (including the impact of the company's business on the environment), (b) the company's employees, and (c) social and community issues. Directors will judge whether to report on their relationships with suppliers where this is necessary to provide a balanced and comprehensive analysis consistent with the size and complexity of the company's business.

Kate Hoey: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether it is his intention that lobbying of members of a company regarding the policies of the company by non-members should be a proper purpose for requesting a copy of the company’s register of members under Clause 115 of the Company Law Reform Bill. [82698]

Margaret Hodge: It is likely that a court would consider proper any communication which is made for a lawful purpose and is relevant to either the holding of interests recorded in the register or the exercise of rights attached to them. Those who lobby others, whether or not they are members of a company, need to avoid straying into intimidation, harassment or blackmail, and to bear in mind relevant legislation such as the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and sections 145-148 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.


Mr. David Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the average damages recovered by the 10 law firms with the greatest volume of claims were in the vibration white finger and chronic bronchitis and emphysema schemes. [83122]

Malcolm Wicks: The average damages recovered by the 10 solicitors with the most claims submitted for each scheme are set out in the following tables:

Vibration white finger scheme
Solicitor Claims submitted Average damages paid (£)




Browell Smith and Co.






Union of Democratic Mineworkers






Hugh James









Watson Burton






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Respiratory disease scheme
Solicitor Claims submitted Average damages paid (£)







Hugh James






Browell Smith and Co.






Mark Gilbert Morse



Union of Democratic Mineworkers



Barber and Co.



Watson Burton



Credit Unions

Chris Ruane: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if his Department will provide information and membership forms for credit unions to its employees. [79937]

Jim Fitzpatrick: The Government welcome the contribution made by the various savings institutions in providing for greater choice and diversity in the financial services sector.

The Government's guiding principles are to ensure impartiality and to help create a level playing field for all providers of financial services in order that their specific attributes can be properly harnessed.

It would therefore be inconsistent for a Government Department to favour credit unions above other financial institutions.

Employees are of course free to join in credit unions if they meet their relevant membership criteria and Departments may provide appropriate levels of support if employees wish to set up a credit union.

Electricity Transmission System

Gordon Banks: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry which body is responsible for carrying out strategic environmental assessment of plans to upgrade the electricity transmission system in the UK. [84129]

Malcolm Wicks: The EU directive on strategic environmental assessment applies to authorities who are required to produce plans or programmes which set the framework for future development consent of projects. No such plans or programmes for overhead lines have been produced.

Energy Policy

Kitty Ussher: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry pursuant to the answer of 5 June 2006, Official Report, column 223W, on energy policy, if he will add to the information available the results of the polling and focus group research conducted in preparation for the publication of the Energy White Paper in March 2003. [81975]

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Malcolm Wicks: The consultation on the Energy White Paper included a range of public opinion sampling exercises that included: focus groups, deliberative workshops, web-based stakeholder consultation, and an energy policy questionnaire used at a "Tomorrow's World" Roadshow. Reports from all these activities were freely available on DTI’s website until May this year when the website was re-designed and some of the older material removed.

I am placing copies of these reports in the Libraries of the House.

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what research he has conducted into the competitiveness of (a) the UK and (b) other industrial economies in terms of (i) energy costs and (ii) government subsidies. [83155]

Malcolm Wicks: April 2006 estimates suggest that:

Independent research by Oxford Economic Research Associates shows that in 2004 the UK had the most competitive electricity and gas markets in the EU and G7. The extent to which markets are assessed as competitive is based on factors such as the degree of market opening, the market shares of suppliers and the separation of transmission and distribution activities. This report is available at:

We have not conducted any in depth research into the competitiveness of the UK and other industrial countries in terms of government subsidies in the energy sector. The UK's experience shows that by giving clear investment signals to market players, competitive energy markets are the best way of maintaining secure and sustainable energy supplies, increasing efficiency and improving services for customers.

Mr. Bone: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what estimate he has made of the cost to households in the UK of the EU not implementing its energy policy in relation to gas. [82975]

Malcolm Wicks: The lack of a liberalised gas market in Europe has had a detrimental impact on the UK gas market recently. Without a liberalised market European energy companies face gas prices linked to oil prices, and dulled incentives for investment in infrastructure, balancing supply and demand efficiently, competitive pressures to compete and ability to export in response to price signals.

In a Global Insight report commissioned by Centrica and published in the summer 2005, it was estimated that the lack of effective liberalisation and the dominance of oil-linked long-term supply contracts in Europe would
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cost UK end-consumers (household and industrial) some £10 billion over following year (see 799&newsid=743). It was estimated that £4.3 billion of these costs would be borne by households.

In addition, Ofgem analysis suggests that the cost to UK consumers of Interconnector flows not always being in line with price signals during the last winter was £1.5 billion, and would cost £3 billion if repeated during the coming winter ( _notes_version.pdf?wtfrom=/ofgem/work/index.jsp&section=/areasofwork/wholesale marketmonitoring).

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what state subsidy other European countries give to help companies who are intensive users of energy. [83156]

Mr. McCartney: Direct support for energy costs is normally illegal under European state aid rules. However, companies which happen to be energy intensive users can legitimately benefit from a variety of aids, for example regional aid or aid for research and development, as long as these aids have been duly notified to and approved by the European Commission.

Details on aids granted by other member states can be found in the Commission's State Aid Scoreboard at:

Methyl Tertiary Butyl

John Thurso: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of potential carcinogenic effects from the use of methyl tertiary butyl ether as a fuel additive. [80820]

Mrs. McGuire [holding answer 28 June 2006]: I have been asked to reply.

This has been transferred to the Department for Work and Pensions for reply. The toxicology of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) has been considered extensively by various Expert Groups reporting to the European Commission's Directorates-General for Environment, Employment and Social Affairs and the Joint Research Centre, and globally by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). All these Committees have considered the data concerning the potential carcinogenic properties of MTBE and have concluded that it is not carcinogenic in humans. My Department has not directly assessed the potential carcinogenicity of MTBE.

Ministerial Visits

Mr. Evennett: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he has any plans to visit Bexley borough. [83483]

Malcolm Wicks: I have no immediate plans to visit Bexley.

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Mobile Phones

Mr. Weir: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what guidance has been issued to the mobile telecommunications industry on the provision of information on handset specific absorption rates (a) at all points of sale, (b) with each telephone and (c) via other means including the internet. [79585]

Margaret Hodge [holding answer 26 June 2006]: In 2000 the mobile operators and telecommunications industry received guidance based upon the Stewart report “Mobile Phones and Health, May 2000”, published by the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP).

The Government agreed with the Stewart report’s recommendations, which complies with international exposure guidelines that consumers should be able to get information about specific absorption rates (SAR) when:

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