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Earl Ferrers: I accept the noble Lord's rebuke. It is what one describes as a slip of the tongue. I should have made it clear that it was any gas transporter, and not just British Gas, which is affected.

Baroness Nicol: My noble friend is right. The gas industry has been freed from the constraints of public ownership with much acclaim all round. It must be prepared to accept the responsibility that goes with that freedom. That includes being responsible for the loss and damage that it causes and for paying up in the way that any other commercial organisation must pay up.

I am disappointed that all the answers given by the Minister were those given in another place. He has added nothing new. The letter from British Gas is the one that is already being discussed with the British Retail Consortium and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce. They were totally dissatisfied with that as a solution. It is because of that continuing dissatisfaction that I felt that I could bring the amendment forward tonight.

We should have further discussion on this issue with the Government to see whether there is not some way in which we can move forward. The Minister has not answered why it can work for water and not for the gas industry. I do not know whether he has an answer he wants to give before I decide what to do with the amendment. It seems to me that the two cases are a parallel. On the question of road works the matter is different because the thing is over and done with in two or three days at the most, and it is in the public sector and for the general good.

My noble friend Lord Peston is right. When the stand was taken that no compensation could be paid by the gas industry, it was then a publicly owned corporation. We were all expected to shoulder the burdens of it, because we all shared the benefits. That has changed completely. It is now open to competition and to taking on its responsibilities. Does the Minister want to answer the question as to why water is different before I decide what to do with the amendment?

Earl Ferrers: That is fair. I did not answer the question about water, and I apologise for that. The noble Baroness did, incidentally, talk about British Gas. After my rebuke by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, I grovelled with an apology and said that the provision applied to all privatised gas companies. Of course TransCo will retain a de facto monopoly in the transportation of gas in most of the country for some time. Of course, the provision would apply to any transporter.

Water, of course, is different. The arrangements in respect of street works by water companies are anomalous. None of the other utilities, local authorities, highway authorities, or any other person with rights to break or close streets is subject to a requirement to pay compensation for economic loss to businesses which are affected by the works. The requirement in water appears

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to have arisen following judicial interpretation of disputed wording in old legislation, which was subsequently clarified in a consolidation Act.

I should add that the compensation provisions in water go wider than street works, and include compensation for interfering with a person's right to enjoyment of his own land where economic loss is clearly appropriate. The existence of a provision for compensation in respect of street works by water companies, whose origin is unclear, is not a justification for introducing an inappropriate obligation in the case of gas, but I recognise that the Committee is concerned about this point.

The noble Baroness made a number of good points and I wish to consider all that has been said before the next stage of the Bill. Obviously, I cannot tell the noble Baroness what my conclusions will be but I shall consider what has been said.

Baroness Nicol: I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to consider what has been said today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 [Acquisition of rights to use gas processing facilities]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 62:


Page 15, line 25, leave out from ("facility") to ("and") in line 26 and insert ("for the purposes of any business carried on by him;").

The noble Earl said: This is a technical amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 12, as amended, agreed to.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 63:


Before Clause 13, insert the following new clause:

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Duty of Director to advise etc

("It shall be the duty of the Director General of Gas Supply, where either he considers it expedient or he is requested by the Secretary of State to do so, to give information, advice and assistance to the Secretary of State with respect to any matter in respect of which any function of the Secretary of State under this Act is exercisable.").

The noble Earl said: Amendments Nos. 63 and 67 are technical amendments. I beg to move Amendment No. 63.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clauses 13 and 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendments Nos. 64 to 66:


Page 16, line 43, leave out from second ("any") to ("before") in line 44 and insert ("public general Act passed").
Page 17, line 6, at end insert:
("(2A) The Secretary of State may by order make such consequential modifications of any provision contained in any local Act passed, or in subordinate legislation made, before the appointed day as appear to him necessary or expedient.").
Page 17, line 7, after ("(2)") insert ("or (2A)").

The noble Earl said: These are technical amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 16 agreed to.

Earl Ferrers: I believe that we have gone far enough. Indeed, I am not sure that we have not gone too far. There are other amendments that we wish to table before the next stage of the Bill and therefore, if it meets with the approval of the Committee, I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

        House adjourned at twenty-three minutes past ten o'clock.

22 Jun 1995 : Column 519


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