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19 Sept 2002 : Column 186W—continued

Sub-Post Office Closures

Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent discussions she has had with Consignia with regard to the closure of sub-post offices in Scotland. [72023]

Stephen Timms: I have met recently with Consignia executives to discuss plans for the post office network which are likely to lead to some closures as a result of the forthcoming programme to restructure the urban post office network. Any closure would need to be preceded by discussion with the subpostmaster and local consultations. The Post Office has been tasked with avoiding preventable rural closures.

Rural Post Offices

Mr. David Stewart: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what research was (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated in the last 12 months on the effect of the introduction of automated credit transfer on the future financial viability of rural post offices; and what plans she has to commission future research in this area. [70849]

Stephen Timms [holding answer 18 July 2002]: The Performance and Innovation Unit's report "Counter Revolution: Modernising the Post Office Network", showed that the future viability of the network was challenged by the introduction of automated credit

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transfer. In December 2000, PostComm advised my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on support for rural post offices. This advice was based on research which included consideration of the impact of automated credit transfer. No other research has been commissioned into the effects of this on rural post offices in the last twelve months.

As set out in the PIU report the effect on the network will depend on the Post Office's ability to generate replacement business. We are concentrating on supporting the Post Office's efforts to build up these new business opportunities, including universal banking services, so as to mitigate the effects of the move to automatic credit transfer. We will be monitoring the situation closely as the programme unfolds. We have no proposals for other research in this area.

Post Office Card Accounts

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the Government's target is for the number of Post Office card accounts to be operational in (a) 2003, (b) 2004, (c) 2005 and (d) 2006; what the estimated cost is to the Government of those accounts; and if she will make a statement. [72509]

Stephen Timms [holding answer 24 July 2002]: The Government does not have a target for card accounts at the Post Office, rather there is an operating assumption of 3 million card accounts at the end of the benefit and tax credit migration period in 2005, but there will be no cap and no eligibility criteria. Numbers will build up over the migration period from April 2003 but the scale of that build up will depend critically on individual consumer decisions which are difficult to predict with any certainty. The Government has agreed contractual terms with the Post Office for the provision of the card account, the details of which are commercially confidential to the parties.

Solar Power

Alan Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what the payback period is on available photovoltaic and other domestic solar power installations; what contribution the Government's major photovoltaics demonstration programme makes to reducing the payback period; what the comparative payback period is for solar energy technology; and what packages of financial support are available to support and promote the use of solar energy. [73192]

Mr. Wilson: The typical payback period for photovoltaic installations is 50–100 years. The major photovoltaics demonstration programme effectively halves this payback period for the purchaser by offering 50 per cent. grants on this technology. Our rationale for supporting photovoltaics is that it is a technology at a relatively early stage of development, but with significant potential for further cost reduction and for meeting our electricity needs in the future.

Solar water heating is a proven and commercial technology with a payback period of 15–20 years. No financial support is currently available for this technology through central government, although such support is currently being considered under the £10 million

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Community and Household renewables scheme. Support may, however, be available through local authorities and energy suppliers.

Consumer Credit

Mr. Love: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when the review of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 will be completed; what the terms of reference of that review are; and if she will make a statement. [73011]

Miss Melanie Johnson: Last July I published a consultation document Tackling loan sharks—and more! which set out proposals for the first major review of our consumer credit laws in almost 30 years. The aim of the review is to create a modern regulatory framework that protects consumers against loan sharks and other unfair lending practices, while enabling business to operate competitively in a modern credit market.

The priority areas for review are:-

In March I consulted on the first of the substantive issues—increasing/removing the financial limit. We are now considering the responses to that consultation. Further consultations on the remaining priority issues will follow during the remainder of 2002 and the early part of 2003.

Vehicle Fuel Consumption

Tim Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment her Department has made of the effectiveness of the intelligent motor generator technology developed by Ricardo in reducing fuel consumption in road vehicles. [72626]

Alan Johnson [holding answer 24 July 2002]: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given to him on 23 July 2002, Official Report, column 964W, by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport. The intelligent motor generator technology developed by Ricardo and other proposals from various other suppliers are currently being appraised by the DTI and DfT under the New Vehicle Technology Fund. As such an assessment of its likely benefits (to the environment) are not yet available.

Fuel Suppliers

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent action she has taken with the competition authorities to ensure that a free and open market between fuel suppliers operates within the UK petrol retail industry; and if she will make a statement. [73236]

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Miss Melanie Johnson: Under UK competition legislation the Director General of Fair Trading is responsible for monitoring markets and investigating allegations of anti-competitive behaviour.

The Director General has investigated the petrol retail industry a number of times in recent years and has found it to be competitive. He has said that he will continue to monitor the market closely.

Electricity Generation (Mablethorpe)

Mr. Greg Knight: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessments she is making of the electricity generation programme now in place at Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire; how long she expects such evaluation to take place; and what plans she has to encourage further air-powered generation. [72950]

Mr. Wilson: The department does not evaluate the performance of individual wind farms.

Accreditation of wind farms and other renewable energy generating stations for the Renewables Obligation is given by Ofgem.

Wind energy, along with other forms of renewable energy, stands to benefit substantially from the introduction of the Renewables Obligation from 1 April this year. This places an obligation on electricity suppliers to supply a specified proportion of their electricity from renewable sources. The level of the Obligation is set to rise each year reaching a target of 10 per cent. by 2010, by which time its value could be up to £1 billion per year. The Obligation has been set up for a 25 year period (2002–27), providing the right climate for expansion of wind energy and renewable energy generally.

Wind energy, along with other renewables, also benefits from exemption from the Climate Change Levy.

The Government has assigned £74 million over the next three year for capital grants for offshore wind energy projects, where initial capital costs are greater, and the technology is less well established, than is the case for onshore projects.

We are encouraging a positive approach to new renewable energy proposals, including new windfarm proposals, through regional renewable energy plans and targets.

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