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Utility Charges

30. Mr. Hilary Benn: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on gas and electricity charges for pre-payment meter customers. [149035]

Mr. Hain: Charges for pre-payment meter customers are generally higher than those for direct debit and standard credit customers. This reflects the additional costs of supplying and maintaining the meters and the infrastructure that supports them.

The Government recognise that pre-payment meter use is concentrated among the poorest members of society (although pensioners, who make up half of the fuel poor, are low pre-payment meter users). They attach considerable importance to reducing these costs and have put in place a number of measures to drive down prices. The Utilities Act 2000 gave Ofgem and the new Gas and Electricity Consumer Council a specific responsibility to have regard to the interests of vulnerable individuals, including those on low incomes. The Act also provides a reserve power to take action if some groups of customers are not benefiting to the same extent as others from the competitive market.

The regulator, the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem), has taken a number of measures to assist pre-payment meter customers following the publication of its social action plan last year. In April 2000, Ofgem introduced a licence condition that limited to £15 the surcharge that public electricity suppliers can charge to cover the cost of supplying electricity through pre- payment meters. Ofgem's proposals for removing suppliers' rights to block transfers on the ground of debt are designed to improve access to the competitive market for pre-payment meter customers.

Energy companies are developing programmes aimed at low income and disadvantaged customers. Some of these, including reduced charges, new energy efficiency programmes and improved access to other payment methods, will directly benefit pre-payment meter customers.

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Environmentally Friendly Policies

32. Dr. Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what progress he is making in encouraging UK industry to adopt environmentally friendly policies. [149037]

Ms Hewitt: As demonstrated by the increased investment and other measures announced in the White Paper "Creating Opportunities", the Government are committed to providing the conditions and, where appropriate, the support that will enable the UK to become a leading player in the new markets for green energy and products, waste minimisation, recycling and re-use.

Late Payment

33. Mr. Blunt: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent representations he has received from business organisations concerning late payments of bills. [149038]

Ms Hewitt: The Government are committed to improving the payment culture in the UK and aim to build on the package of measures that have already been established.

Departmental officials continue to work with business organisations and representatives from the banking, factoring, accountancy, trade credit insurance and credit management sectors on this issue through the better payment practice group.

The Small Business Service has recently published a consultation document on changes to legislation required following the adoption of the directive on combating late payment in commercial transactions. Responses from business to that consultation will inform how the directive is best implemented.

Regeneration (Clay Cross)

Mr. Barnes: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what action he has taken since the closure of the former Biwater works at Clay Cross to help create alternative employment in the area and to regenerate the local economy; and if he will make a statement. [149018]

Mr. Alan Johnson: The Government Office for the East Midlands is co-ordinating the work of regional and local partners to ensure that effective support is being given to those made redundant. So far, over 150 have found jobs and a further 133 are being retrained to improve their employment prospects. A new business centre at Coney Green providing space for up to 50 businesses has been opened and phase 2 of this development has started. Plans to redevelop Clay Cross town centre are well advanced and this will provide further job opportunities.

Miners' Pensions

Mr. Alasdair Morgan: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what surpluses have been received by the Government in each of the past five years from the British Coal staff superannuation scheme. [148130]

Mr. Hain: Under the terms of the guarantee/surplus sharing arrangements agreed with the trustees of the British Coal staff superannuation scheme (BCSSS) in 1994, the Government are entitled to receive 50 per cent.

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of any scheme surpluses. Annual Government receipts following surpluses at BCSSS valuations in 1995 and 1997 are as follows:

Year£ million
1994-950
1995-960
1996-9739.5
1997-9839.5
1998-99107.1
1999-2000107.1
2000-0153.9

Mr. Alasdair Morgan: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how much was paid to the Government from the mineworkers' pension scheme surplus in each year since 1994. [148129]

Mr. Hain: Under the terms of the guarantee/surplus sharing arrangements agreed with the trustees of the mineworkers' pension scheme (MPS), the Government are entitled to receive 50 per cent. of any scheme surpluses. Annual Government receipts following surpluses at MPS valuation in 1996 and 1999 are as follows:

Year£ million
1994-950
1995960
1996-970
1997-98113
1998-99113
1999-20000
2000-01257

Mr. Alasdair Morgan: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what estimate he has made of the surpluses to be paid to the Government from (a) the mineworkers' pension scheme and (b) the British Coal staff superannuation scheme, this year and in each of the next five years. [148131]

Mr. Hain: Prior to the privatisation of British Coal in 1994, the trustees of the two British Coal pension schemes (the mineworkers' pension scheme and the British Coal staff superannuation scheme) reached agreement with HMG whereby the schemes were given HMG solvency guarantees that ensured that pension entitlements at privatisation would rise at least in line with inflation. As part of these arrangements the trustees receive, for distribution to scheme members, a 50 per cent. share of surpluses from periodic valuations usually carried out every three years. The remaining 50 per cent. is paid to HMG over a 10 year period.

Current provisional estimates of surplus payments to Government from the coal pension schemes are as follows:

£ million
Mineworkers' Pension Scheme
2000-01257
2001-02180
2002-03180
2003-04180
2004-05180
2005-06180
British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme
2000-0153.9
2001-02c.200
2002-03c.200
2003-04c.200
2004-05c.200
2005-06c.200

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Research and Development

Mrs. Gilroy: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how much was spent on research and development in each of the last 10 years. [149305]

Mr. Hain: I understand that this request refers to research and development in the gas industry. Unfortunately, the UK business enterprise research and development survey (carried out by the Office for National Statistics) does not collect information at this level. The survey collects aggregated information for business R&D performed in the electricity, gas and water supply industry (£137 million in 1999). Information on the topic is regularly published in "MA14: Research and Development in UK Business", a copy of which is available in the Library.

Disused Mineshafts

Mr. Bruce George: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if his Department has received the report commissioned from Heriot-Watt University into the relationship between house values and mineshafts in Stoke. [149446]

Mr. Hain: My Department has received a near-final draft of the report by Heriot-Watt University, but there remain a few points which require clarification.

Mr. Bruce George: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many of the recommendations made by the Trade and Industry Committee in its Seventh report of Session 1995-96 (a) have been implemented and (b) are being implemented. [149445]

Mr. Hain: Recommendations 1, 2, 9, 11 and 12 of the Committee's report have been implemented. I am awaiting the outcome of the research by Heriot-Watt University on the relationship between former coal mineshafts and property values in Stoke-on-Trent before deciding whether to reconsider the remaining recommendations rejected by the previous Government, along with recommendation 8, which is dependent on the way in which the other recommendations are acted upon.

Mr. Bruce George: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he is taking to compensate home owners whose properties are unsaleable or have suffered undue financial loss in value due to their proximity to disused mineshafts. [149510]

Mr. Hain: Where damage has been caused to property by disused coal mineshafts, home owners are entitled to have the damage made good, at no cost to themselves or their insurers, under the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991. I intend to consider whether there are any steps which the Government might be able to take to deal with other forms of loss connected with disused mineshafts in

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the light of the final report from Heriot-Watt University on the relationship between coal mineshafts and property values in Stoke-on-Trent.

Mr. Stevenson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he intends to publish and respond to the report of the inquiry commissioned by his Department from Edinburgh University into housing blight due to abandoned mineshafts. [149639]

Mr. Hain: My Department has received a near-final draft of the report from Heriot-Watt University on the relationship between former coal mineshafts and property values in Stoke-on-Trent, but there remain a few points which require clarification. I intend to publish and respond to the final report when I have had an opportunity to consider its findings.


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