The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): The recent severe weather has caused significant concern about the domestic oil market and the liquefied petroleum gas market. I fully recognise the difficulties people have experienced with rising prices and supply problems.
Underlying many of the complaints are concerns about the challenges of supplying oil and gas to rural communities and whether the current market structure provides the reassurance that consumers can get fuels for heating when needed at a price they can afford.
The Office of Fair Trading is currently consulting on its annual plan to help determine its work programme for 2011-12. This includes proposals to prioritise markets impacted by high, rising and volatile commodity prices. The off-gas grid energy market is clearly one such affected market.
In response to the Office of Fair Trading consultation and mindful of the various issues highlighted by the recent severe weather, I have written to the Office of Fair Trading asking it to bring forward its competition and consumer study into off-grid energy. In addition, I have asked the Office of Fair Trading if the study could explore the longer term consumer issues such as lifetime payback, consumer standards and labelling for alternative energy sources or supplies. Such a study would provide an independent assessment of the off-grid market and establish what further action may be necessary to ensure it works properly.
I welcome the Office of Fair Trading's support for this area, and look forward to seeing its conclusions in advance of next winter so the lessons from this winter can be learned and any necessary changes made.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): The Home Office and the Ministry of Justice have prepared the first annual report to Parliament on the UK approach to Justice and Home Affairs policy following the coming into force of the Lisbon treaty on 1 December 2009. The report, which has been laid before the House today, is submitted on behalf of both my own Department and that of the Secretary of State for Justice.
On 9 June 2008 the right hon. Baroness Ashton, the then Leader of the House of Lords, made a statement setting out commitments by the Government to Parliament in respect of the scrutiny of decisions to be taken by the Government in accordance with protocol (No 21) to the treaties on the position of the UK and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice ("the Justice and Home Affairs opt-in protocol"). These commitments were designed to ensure that the views of the Scrutiny Committees should inform the Government's decision-making process.
"table a report in Parliament each year and make it available for debate, both looking ahead to the Government's approach to EU Justice and Home Affairs policy and forthcoming dossiers, including in relation to the opt-in, and providing a retrospective annual report on the UK's application of the opt-in protocol".
The coalition Government have agreed to maintain this commitment, and this is the first such report. It covers the 12 months since the coming into effect of the Lisbon treaty on 1 December 2009. For completeness the report also covers the application of protocol 19 to the treaties on the Schengen acquis integrated into the framework of the EU ("the Schengen opt-out protocol"). The Government decision-making process for this protocol is the same as for the Justice and Home Affairs opt-in protocol.