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Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 2, line 31, at end insert:
("( ) In performing his duties under this Part, the Director shall—
(a) take all reasonable steps to consult persons or bodies appearing to the Director to be representative of persons or bodies likely to be affected by the performance of those duties; and
(b) take all reasonable steps to explain and publicise his reasons for any decision made under this Part." ").

The noble Lord said: This is another amendment concerning consumers. Various consumer bodies have been in touch with many of your Lordships. They believe that the Bill is deficient in that it does not oblige the director general to consult them, to take their views into account, and so on. They do not understand—I am certain that I am not the only noble Lord whom they have approached on the matter—why the duty to consult people who represent consumer views is not put explicitly on the face of the Bill.

The director has to take into account the interests of consumers but in practice the way to do that is to consult these bodies. They are extremely effective, they are extremely well-informed and they are extremely intelligent. The point of the amendment is to press the Government to take the matter seriously and at least to begin to answer why the consumer bodies have been left out. Were they left out on purpose, or were they left out because they were forgotten? I am seeking some arguments and reasons.

My own judgment is that at this stage this would be a useful amendment to include. I am not saying that in many years to come, if the industry settles down and is seen to be working well, problems of this kind will arise on any great scale. But at this stage I should have thought that the Government would want to say that the director should

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carry out such consultation and that they would want that consultation process as a duty on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: I hope I shall be able to explain the background to our position in answering some of the noble Lord's points. The Government are strongly in favour of the regulation of the gas industry being as transparent as possible. In practice, the director general consults widely on all significant decisions. That is good administrative practice and we applaud it.

The Bill nevertheless provides for specific consultation obligations in respect of the more significant functions of the director. She is required to consult before making any substantive licence modification under Section 23 or before making any modification to the standard conditions of licences at the time when a licence is granted—that is, new Section 8 of the Bill, provided for in Clause 8. These are among the most important procedures by which the director will be able to give effect to the duties set out in Clauses 1 and 2.

These sections contain obligations on the director to give notice stating that she proposes to make the modifications and setting out their effect and stating the reasons why she proposes to make the modifications. Notice is to be given so as to bring it to the attention of persons likely to be affected by the modifications and the director is also specifically required to send a copy to relevant licence holders, to the Secretary of State, to the Health and Safety Executive and to the Gas Consumers' Council. All representations must then be considered.

There are also requirements to consult, tailored to meet the appropriate requirements of the case, contained where necessary within other parts of the Bill which confer specific functions on the Secretary of State or on the director.

I believe that this approach is more appropriate than the blanket requirement proposed by Amendment No. 23. It allows for as much consultation as is necessary in each case, without imposing an unreasonable burden on the Secretary of State or the director.

A requirement to consult on all decisions and give reasons in each case would lead to the whole regulatory process becoming gummed up. It would also lead to a much more legalistic approach to regulation, with the spectre of judicial review in the background, which might well act to the advantage of large companies rather than consumers as they could afford better to pay for elaborate legal advice. It is better, as we have done, to look at the requirements for consultation very much on a case-by-case basis.

Lord Peston: I thank the noble Lord for that reply. He has made one or two good points which I had not thought about. I shall certainly reflect on what he said. It had not occurred to me—but then I am not an expert draftsman—that one had in mind businesses being able to intervene on the same basis as I was assuming consumers and their representatives would be consulted. I shall certainly have to reflect on whether the amendment fails simply because it does not point to what I wanted it to point to.

It was also not my desire to get in the way of efficient administration. The Gas Consumers' Council is an excellent body and I have been very impressed with what

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it has done. That is also true of the National Consumers' Council and the Consumers' Association and various of the other bodies which have been in touch with me, including those representing special interests, such as the elderly and so on. I was not trying to argue that I believed that the director would not look at these people. I assumed that the director would be a sensible person who would be in touch with such bodies—she would be foolhardy not to—saying, "This is what I am proposing to do. What do you think?" I am sure the Minister would agree with me that once these bodies knew what was going on they would get in touch with the director anyway and say, "We hear you are thinking of doing this, which we do not like. We would like to submit the following comments to you". I do not think I am over-egging the pudding. I am simply saying that I would like it done in a formal way so that consumer consultation is taken for granted and is not ad hoc.

Having said that, I was impressed by the one or two difficulties which the noble Lord raised. I certainly do not want companies using great batteries of lawyers to hold up important decisions simply because, in the American style, they know that that is the way of avoiding the unpleasant day to come. I would not like my amendment to lead to that under any circumstances. I shall rethink that part. But I believe that I have made my point. The noble Lord has uttered one or two sympathetic remarks, which pleased me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 2, line 31, at end insert:
("( ) The Secretary of State and the Director shall each have a duty to consult with the Health and Safety Executive with the objective of securing that any public gas transporter, retailer, shipper or supplier who may have cause to undertake work on any gas supply meter, gas fitting or appliance shall ensure that—
(a) any employee or third party contractor is suitably qualified in the relevant aspects of gas distribution, installation or service;
(b) any third party contractor undertaking such work is registered with an appropriate recognised trade body approved by the Health and Safety Executive." ").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 48 and 58. These amendments are about health and safety. The 1986 regulations say that people handling gas and gas appliances should be "competent". We have moved on a long way since then and there are a lot of new suppliers and new firms coming into the business. It appears to me that we ought to define the qualifications rather more precisely. It is a way of raising the standards both for the consumer and also for those who are installing gas equipment and maintaining it. It will also prevent suppliers putting out safety work to non-qualified staff. British Gas has a very high standard of training. Under the existing regulations it maintains that all its people are trained to City and Guilds level or NVQ Level No. 3.

The purpose of these amendments is to see whether there should be some standard of training defined so that the quality of service is maintained. Gas is a dangerous thing to handle. There is no fail-safe as there is with electricity. One does not have a fuse-box with gas, so it is

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difficult to switch it off. Therefore, it is important to make sure that only properly qualified people handle the appliances and installations. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Cochrane of Cults: These three amendments are totally redundant as the matter is entirely covered by the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1994, and the Health and Safety Executive, including the corresponding provisions of the Confederation for the Registration of Gas Installers. The various points made by the noble Lord are entirely covered by the existing arrangements and therefore these amendments are superfluous.

Earl Ferrers: Perhaps I may first say to the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, that the Government are determined to maintain high levels of safety in the gas industry. That is absolutely vital. I agree with my noble friend Lord Cochrane of Cults that these amendments are redundant because the points raised in them are covered elsewhere. We asked the Health and Safety Commission to undertake a thorough study into all these issues. It did that and we accepted its report.

The matters which the amendments seek to regulate are substantially, and more appropriately, dealt with elsewhere. The principal instrument is the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1994. These require that only competent people may do work on any gas fitting. This includes all gas appliances, pipework in the house beyond the meter and the meter itself. The regulations also require that all companies and self-employed persons doing work on gas fittings must be members of an approved class of persons. At present, that means that they must be registered with CORGI.

Up to the point of the meter, the responsibility for safety lies with the public gas transporter. At present that arises under the general provisions of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, but I understand that the Health and Safety Executive is preparing new regulations to set down more explicit rules in relation to gas pipelines and the management of public gas transporter systems. These will impose specific duties on public gas transporters for the safe construction, maintenance and abandonment of gas pipelines.

The arrangements which the Government are proposing will meet the necessary requirements of safety. The safety issues which are contained in the noble Lord's amendment are therefore already provided for, either in statute or in regulations. The changes which he is proposing would in fact not only be unnecessary, but cut across those arrangements. I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied that the concerns which he has drawn to our attention are already met.

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