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Lord Boyd-Carpenter: Will my noble friend explain a little more about pensionable age? As I understood him, there is somewhere a provision under which pensionable age will be defined as 60 although for half the population it is 65 anyhow and it will remain that for some years while the age gradually moves up under the legislation which we have already passed. It seems a somewhat misleading use of the expression "pensionable age" when at the start it applies to half the population who are not pensionable and then gradually increases to cover the whole lot.

Lord Inglewood: I do not know whether my noble friend heard me clearly when I mentioned this earlier. The place at which he ought to look is Schedule 3(3) (2B), where a definition of "pensionable age" is given for this part of the Bill.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My noble friend has been kind enough to refer me to the definition. But the definition is itself an inaccurate statement because that is not for half the population of pensionable age.

Lord Inglewood: As my noble friend knows a great deal better than I do, having so much more experience in these matters, one defines these matters, and if there is a difficulty one defines them by reference to a particular definition that is contained in the Bill. Here is the definition we have for this part of the Bill.

Lord Merlyn-Rees: Perhaps the Minister can help me on one point. I came into the Chamber to listen to this debate because for many decades as an inner city Member of Parliament I was brought into the problems that arose as a result of gas supply. Increasingly over the years those problems were dealt with very well by British Gas and any problems I had in my home were dealt with very well. Therefore, I was not surprised when the Minister said that under the new system it is very likely that much of the work would be contracted to British Gas. That answered 99 per cent. of my concerns about this.

However, what will happen if by the nature of the area, or by the nature of the number of people who are chosen to take supplies from the new supplier, the work is not so subcontracted? I would be very content with British Gas looking after it. What safeguards are there that the new supplier will deal with it as well as British Gas has dealt with it?

28 Jun 1995 : Column 795

Lord Inglewood: The crucial point is that the procedures which are to be put in place in these circumstances are conditions of the licence. Transporters will not get the licence unless they meet the standard. I hope that I have answered the noble Lord's question.

Lord Haskel: The finer points of difference between "obligation" and "power" would be lost on someone who was anxious to get his cooker or heater working, particularly if there were children in the house and there were people on the premises who could fix it or some advice could be obtained over the telephone as to how to fix it. To me it smacks of some of the old demarcation disputes which we used to have in the 1950s and 1960s. I understand that it is difficult for the Bill to place this obligation on the gas supplier but I feel that it is not a very satisfactory situation. We shall probably have to come back to this at Report. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 91 not moved.]

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 92:


Page 27, line 28, leave out ("supplied") and insert ("conveyed to the premises").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 92 concerns a drafting point. It simply secures that the wording of paragraph 20(1) of Schedule 2 conforms with the wording elsewhere in the schedule and the Bill, which refers to a transporter "conveying" gas and a supplier "supplying" gas. Paragraph 20(1) relates to a public gas transporter's rights of entry to a consumer's premises. It says that one purpose for which the transporter has such a right is to ascertain the quantity of gas supplied. For consistency of drafting, that should read, gas "conveyed to the premises". I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 93:


Page 28, line 23, at end insert:

("Entry following discontinuance of supply

21A.—(1) This paragraph applies where a consumer's premises have been disconnected by a public gas transporter, or a supply of gas to a consumer's premises has been cut off by a gas supplier, otherwise than in the exercise of a power conferred by—
(a) paragraph 17, 18 or 19 above;
(b) regulations under section 18(2) or 18A(1) of this Act; or
(c) regulations under section 15 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (health and safety regulations).
(2) Any officer authorised by the public gas transporter or gas supplier, after 24 hours' notice to the occupier, or to the owner of the premises if they are unoccupied, may at all reasonable times, on production of some duly authenticated document showing his authority, enter the premises for the purpose of ascertaining whether the premises have been reconnected, or the supply has been restored, without the relevant consent.
(3) In this paragraph "the relevant consent" has the same meaning as in paragraph 10 above; and sub-paragraph (3) of paragraph 21 above applies for the purposes of this paragraph as it applies for the purposes of that paragraph.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff): If Amendment No. 94 is carried, I shall be unable to introduce Amendment No. 95.

28 Jun 1995 : Column 796

Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 94:


Page 29, line 25, leave out paragraph 25.

The noble Lord said: I referred to paragraph 25 of this schedule rather flippantly in my Second Reading speech, but having referred to it, I felt that I had to go into the matter and seek expert legal advice. The paragraph is very strange. It replaces paragraph 19 of Schedule 5 to the Gas Act 1986, which I know is the regular reading of all Members of the Committee.

There are two matters which interest me. One is that the wording has changed and I cannot find any rationale for that. Secondly, and much more seriously, having tried to get some legal advice, I do not understand what the paragraph is doing here anyway. I have asked lawyers—we are here discussing distress and bankruptcy in England and Wales, but as Members of the Committee are aware, in Scotland one always refers to it as poinding and sequestration of the estate—and their legal advice is that one cannot distrain on something that the bankrupt does not own. Therefore, I am advised that this paragraph either has some really deep meaning which escapes everyone, or it is completely irrelevant.

The paragraph states that the gas meters or gas fittings which are owned by the public gas transporter or supplier cannot be subject to distress. My legal advice is that they cannot be subject to distress just as nothing else in the place which is not owned by the person in question can be. I simply raise the matter, having stumbled into this area hoping for an explanation on the finer points of the law. As Members of the Committee will know, I assume that since the Gas Act includes something similar there has to be something here. I shall not be surprised if there are early gas Acts which go back to the 19th century where all this started off. In my ignorant, humble and naive way of looking at it, the matter looks ridiculous. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, points out, this paragraph is to do with bankruptcy and similar matters and, incidentally, landlord and tenant law. Paragraph 25 of the schedule, as has been explained, prevents meters, including meters owned by the consumer, from being seized by the bailiffs. That is necessary because if the meter is seized and taken away, the consumer, the gas supplier, or any other parties, will have no evidence of the quantity of gas consumed at the premises. If the meter is owned by the supplier or the public gas transporter, as the noble Lord intimated, he might have views on having his property removed.

In reality, it may be that the risks of bailiffs and others carting off the gas meters are considered small, but in practice it would still be undesirable and we want to put it beyond peradventure. The provision which has existed in gas legislation for many years needs to be retained.

Lord Clinton-Davis: The reality here is rather different from that theoretical explanation. If every bailiff worthy of his or her name recognises that a gas meter in these circumstances does not belong to the customer, he is not going to take it. But here we have something which is absolutely superfluous to requirements. If one has a bogus bailiff engaged in a distress process, it might be totally different. This provision is superfluous to requirements.

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Lord Skelmersdale: I am about to demonstrate my "untrainability" as a lawyer. It seems to me that this paragraph covers only a gas meter which is actually marked or impressed. It is therefore clearly identified as being owned by a public gas transporter or supplier. But one assumes that there are other meters which are not so clearly marked and identified. In those cases it seems to me that this paragraph applies in a negative fashion and that the meter is deemed to be the property of the gas consumer and therefore could be subject to distraint.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Peston: I do not want to delay the Committee. It is simply my desire to rid the law of ridiculous paragraphs. The fact remains that earlier today the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, announced that there was not a single meter owned, so far as he knows, by an ordinary householder. I asked him that question and he said that there are not any. Therefore, the problem does not arise in the first place.

One has to ask what this is all about. I am certain that somewhere deep in Victorian history there must have been a point to all this. All that has happened is that the computer in the department which simply churns out these paragraphs feels that it might as well keep this matter going because no one has told it not to. In fact, this matter covers a case which is already met by the law of distress, bankruptcy and poinding. The fact is that the bailiff cannot distrain against something which the person does not own. That is the point I am trying to make and, so far as I can see, that it is the end of it.

I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, about "peradventure" and all that. The fact is that in my judgment the law should never be absurd. Here it looks as though we have an absurd carryover of something that made sense 100 years ago.


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