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Alan Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what assessment the Government has made of the likely year of peak global oil production; what contingency plans the Government has made should global oil supplies peak sooner than International Energy Agency predictions; and what assessment he has made of the likely effect on the UK economy of the passing of peak production. [197009]

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Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 31 March 2008]: The Government's assessment is that the global oil (and gas) reserves are sufficient to sustain economic growth for the foreseeable future. This is consistent with the assessment made by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its 2007 World Energy Outlook (WEO).

However, the Government recognise the need for further investment both in upstream and downstream oil in order for production to keep pace with the growing global oil demand.

The Government constantly monitor risks to the UK economy, including from energy-related developments, as detailed in the Energy White Paper (May 2007) and the Long-term Opportunities and Challenges for the UK (November 2006). In addition, the UK's policies, as outlined in the Energy White Paper, in promoting open and competitive markets, increasing energy efficiency, investing in low carbon technologies and the use of alternative energy sources such as renewables will reduce the risks to the UK of any potential future declines in global oil and gas production.

The Government are also aware of a wide range of academic and industry studies which look at future world oil supplies, including the peak oil phenomenon, and meets regularly with experts to discuss this and other oil market issues.

Post Offices: Closures

Robert Key: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform pursuant to his answer of 19 March 2008, Official Report, column 972, that in certain circumstances the Chairman of the Post Office would himself review cases and take closure decisions, what the procedure is by which this process can be engaged in respect of the proposed closure of Laverstock Post Office on 1 April. [197783]

Mr. McFadden [holding answer 31 March 2008]: The review process for closure decisions after public consultation is instigated by Postwatch where it considers that Post Office Ltd. has not given due consideration to material evidence received during the public consultation or that the proposal for the branch does not meet the Government’s policy requirements.

A four-stage process provides for review on an individual case basis. Where Post Office Ltd. and Postwatch are unable to reach an agreed way forward after the first three stages, a review of the closure decision is then undertaken by the chairman of Royal
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Mail Group. I understand that in the case of Laverstock, discussions about the closure did not proceed beyond the first stage of the review process as Postwatch were satisfied at that stage that all relevant factors had been duly considered by Post Office Ltd. in reaching their decision.

Renewable Energy: Finance

Mr. Ingram: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform how much his Department has spent on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources in (a) 2004-05, (b) 2005-06, (c) 2006-07 and (d) 2007-08. [196213]

Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 25 March 2008]: The 2007 Energy White Paper sets out the Government’s policy to promote energy innovation in renewable technologies. The Government are supporting a wide range of technology push measures to stimulate research and development and demonstration through the Research Councils, Technology Strategy Board, Energy Technologies Institute (all DIUS funded) and the Environmental Transformation Fund (DEFRA and BERR funded).

These bodies work closely together to ensure that funding activities are complementary and together effectively supports a portfolio of technologies, including renewables such as wind, wave and tidal, microgeneration and photovoltaics and bioenergy.

In addition market pull comes by providing the market mechanisms and incentives such as the renewables obligation (RO). By 2010 the RO along with exemption from the climate change levy will provide around £1 billion per year in support to the renewables industry. We are introducing measures to allow banding of the RO. This will provide the generation industry with greater incentive to develop and deploy those technologies which are currently further from commercial deployment.

Small Businesses

Anne Main: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform how many new businesses were registered in (a) St. Albans and (b) England in each of the last five years. [196186]

Malcolm Wicks: VAT registration data provide the only accurate indicator of the level of business start-up activity.

The number of new VAT registrations in St. Albans and England are shown in the following table for 2002 to 2006, alongside data for the stock of all VAT registered businesses. Data for registrations in 2007 will be available in autumn 2008.

Number of VAT registrations and stock of VAT registered businesses in St. Albans and England
2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007


St. Albans












Stock at start of year

St. Albans














Business Start-ups and Closures: VAT Registrations and De-registrations 1994-2006, available at:

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Although the number of new registrations has fluctuated over the period, the total number of VAT registered businesses in St. Albans has increased annually, from 5,715 at the start of 2002 to 6,160 at the start of 2007, an increase of 445 (8 per cent.). For England, in comparison, the total number of VAT registered businesses has increased from 1.52 million to 1.67 million, an increase of 149,000 (10 per cent.).

VAT registrations do not capture all business activity. Businesses are unlikely to be registered if they fall below the compulsory VAT threshold, which was £60,000 at the start of 2006. Only 1.9 million out of 4.5 million UK enterprises (43 per cent.) were registered for VAT at the start of 2006.

Unfair Practices

Mr. Sheerman: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform how many investigations the Office of Fair Trading is conducting into UK markets. [196666]

Mr. Thomas: The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) publishes an annual plan providing an overview of its current and planned work. The OFT recently concluded a public consultation on its draft annual plan for 2008-09, a copy of which can be found on the OFT website at A copy of the annual plan for 2007-08 and further information about the work of the OFT can be found at the “OFT at work” section of the OFT's website at

The OFT also publishes an annual report providing detailed information about the work it has undertaken during that year. The 2006-07 annual report can be found on the OFT website at

Utilities: Fees and Charges

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what plans he has to prevent utility providers charging those who do not pay charges by direct debit more than those who do. [195589]

Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 20 March 2008]: In respect of gas and electricity supply, in broad terms, the rebate given to customers paying by direct debit, rather than standard credit or prepayment, reflects the lower cost of serving direct debit customers. However, Ofgem is currently conducting a probe into the energy market, the results of which will be published shortly. If the evidence shows that prepayment meter users are treated less favourably than other customers in respect of their
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charges for energy, then we will look to Ofgem and the energy suppliers to come forward with proposals to reduce any disadvantage. If sufficient progress is not made by winter 2008-09, the Secretary of State is prepared to use his existing statutory powers with a view to reducing the differential between prepayment and other forms of payment.

For telecoms, Ofcom is currently consulting on introducing new guidance for communications providers who levy additional charges on consumers, such as for not paying bills by direct debit. This will spell out Ofcom’s view of the law and what providers have to do to meet their obligations under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999 to ensure that additional charges are fair and transparent. Once the guidance has been finalised Ofcom is proposing to give providers three months to comply. Ofcom will then start an enforcement programme.

Wind Power: Noise

Mr. Gale: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform pursuant to the Answer of 19 February 2008, Official Report, columns 559-60W, on wind power: noise, when he expects installation and product standards for micro wind turbines to be published. [189194]

Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 27 February 2008]: Under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) installation and product standards for micro wind, which address noise issues, will be published shortly. More information on development of the standards is available on the MCS website:


Accident and Emergency Departments: Essex

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many people attended hospital accident and emergency departments in (a) Essex, (b) Basildon Hospital NHS Trust and (c) Southend Hospital NHS Trust in each of the last three years. [197659]

Mr. Bradshaw: The information is not held in the format requested. Information is collected on attendances at accident and emergency (A and E) departments, minor injury units and walk-in centres at trust level, and can be found in the following table for Essex national health service trusts. The data currently available for 2007-08 cover only the first three quarters of the year (April to December 2007).

Attendances at A and E departments, minor injury units and walk in centres, NHS organisations in England 2004-05 to quarter three 2007-08
Organisation 2004-05 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 (Q1 -Q3)

Basildon and Thurrock University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

99, 893




Essex Rivers Healthcare NHS Trust





Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust





Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust





The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust





Note: Data for 2007-8 are for quarter one to quarter three. Source: Department of Health dataset QMAE.

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Alcoholic Drinks: Labelling

Mrs. James: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what consideration he has given to reviewing the Food Labelling Regulations 1984 to require the listing of all ingredients in drinks with alcohol. [197812]

Dawn Primarolo: A proposal made by the European Commission (EC) in January 2008 for a new food information regulation would introduce ingredient labelling on alcoholic drinks.

There would be an exception for wine, beer and spirits, pending a review by the EC with a proposal to produce a report to determine the labelling of these categories of drinks after five years of the entry into force of the regulations.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is responsible for taking forward UK negotiations and has issued a public consultation on the proposal, further information is on the FSA website at:

The FSA's consultation on the proposal requests comments and views on these issues.

Mrs. James: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what regulations govern the labelling of alcohol to display suitability for vegans and vegetarians. [197813]

Dawn Primarolo: There is no definition in law for the use of the terms ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’ either at United Kingdom, or European level. There are no current rules that make display of this information
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mandatory and any labelling of food or drink products as ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ is voluntary. Consumers are protected by general legal provisions outlawing false or misleading labelling in UK legislation.

Alcoholic Drinks: Misuse

Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what estimate he has made of the expenditure by the NHS on treatment of illnesses related to alcohol abuse in each of the last five years; and if he will make a statement. [196557]

Dawn Primarolo: We estimate that alcohol abuse costs the national health service around £1.7 billion each year, with an estimated £217 million spent each year on specialist treatment for alcohol dependence. Additional funding of £15 million has been included within primary care trust general allocations from 2007-08 to improve alcohol interventions.

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