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Lord Peston: I am indebted to the noble Lord. We could argue for quite some time about the optimum size of a storage depot for gas parts. I probably think that it should be larger than others think should be the case. However, what has also happened in the modern market economy is that the consumer has borne costs which were earlier borne by firms. Firms used to regard making parts available as one of their obligations, but they do not accept that obligation to the same degree as used to be the case.

Before seeking leave to withdraw the amendment, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord about my original argument, which is that the practice to which I have referred is what British Gas used to do. British Gas used to make sure that spare parts are available. Does the noble Lord at least agree that that was the case and that British Gas took seriously the whole question of spare parts for appliances although it was principally a gas supplier? Was not that the case when it was a monopoly?

Lord Inglewood: The noble Lord has almost answered his own question. When British Gas was a monopoly, it had to take such matters seriously because there was no alternative. We believe that the privatisation of the industry and subsequently the introduction of competition is a better way of providing both an improved and a cheaper service for the customer.

28 Jun 1995 : Column 801

Lord Peston: That is helpful, but as I have said many times if we are to have a private sector, I should prefer there to be competition rather than a monopoly. However, I recognise that when you abandon a monopoly, one or two things might be lost—and this is one example. I am extremely interested in this experiment, but it might lead to a deterioration in service with regard to spare parts. The noble Lord says that he hopes that it will not; but I thought that someone should point out that some of the things that a monopoly does—only some, because I am a great believer in getting rid of monopolies—can be helpful to consumers.

The point of the amendment is to try to keep an eye on that market—perhaps the director will do this—to ensure that consumers do not suffer and are not told, "I am sorry that you have no cooking facilities this week, but it is none of our business if the spare parts are not available. Why not buy a new cooker?" That is what happens with computers. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

6 p.m.

Schedule 3 [Other amendments of Part I of 1986 Act]:

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 96A:

Page 30, line 35, after ("consumers") insert ("after consultation with the Council").

The noble Lord said: Consultation is, in our view, something which, contrary perhaps to the Government's view, should be enshrined as a principle in an Act of Parliament, and, in particular, consultations in this context with the Gas Consumers Council, because that is the council referred to. It becomes especially clear when we recount just one instance, and that is the Railways Act 1993. There was supposed to be consultation, for example, over the Fort William line. That should have been the subject of consultation. It was not. That exemplifies the concern that many of us expressed when that Bill was going through the House: that specific consultation should be enshrined in that Act. It was not, and the Government let themselves down by not ensuring that consultation should take place. They are paying a price for that, as indeed are railway interests.

It is not right that we should look merely to the courts to preserve an interest here by way of judicial review. It is something that can be inserted simply into the Bill, and that is the purpose of the amendment. The amendment, not unnaturally, is supported by the Gas Consumers Council. One has to ask why. It is supported by it because it is not confident that it will be consulted by Ofgas. Ofgas does not seem to regard the Gas Consumers Council as flavour of the month. It is unfortunate that that should be the case, because the Gas Consumers Council's role is self-evidently important so far as concerns the protection of consumers.

Ofgas has certain other interests, but so long as there is that suspicion, the best way of ensuring that it disappears is to make provision in the Bill to that effect, and that is what we are seeking to do. It is right that we should insist that when the director considers it appropriate to assign a licence or modify the conditions, the circumstances in

28 Jun 1995 : Column 802

which the director decides to do that should be expressed clearly. The Gas Consumers Council, not unnaturally, wants to have assurances that it will be consulted as part of the process leading to assignment.

If there is concern as to why it is the Gas Consumers Council which is referred to in the provision, it is just that there is already effective liaison among the various other bodies, such as the National Consumer Council, the Consumers' Association, Age Concern, NACAB and the Gas Consumers Council. Under the umbrella of the Gas Consumers Council, that matter can be dealt with adequately. There should not be any problems in that regard. The responses given by the Minister of State in another place were ineffective and merely a device to avoid doing that which we and the Gas Consumers Council believe is absolutely essential. I hope the Minister will be rather more forthcoming in his reply today. I beg to move.

Lord Ezra: I support the amendment so effectively moved by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. We are talking about protecting consumers' interests. The Gas Consumers Council exists. It is recognised as playing a major role in all these affairs. The amendment is appropriate and desirable. I hope that the Government will agree with it.

Earl Ferrers: I understand the concern felt by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, about looking after consumers' needs and the need for consultation. We must guard also the words of his noble friend Lord Peston who said that we must be careful not to have unnecessary words in the statute.

It is true that the provisions on the assignment of licences do not provide for a general statutory consultation which applies in respect of other licence modifications. That follows the precedent of the Railways Act 1993. It reflects two particular distinguishing features. The first is the limited scope that the director general has to impose conditions which must be incidental to, or consequential on, the assignment, or which relate to protecting the interests of consumers.

The second feature is a more practical one. It is that there may well be a need to fit in with merger timescales, and a widespread formal statutory consultation could make that more difficult. I am bound to tell the Committee that our view is that no change to the legislation itself is needed. My right honourable friend the Minister for Industry and Energy said in Committee in another place that the director would obviously wish to consult as widely as is practicable in the circumstances. He also said that he would expect the director normally to consult the Gas Consumers Council as a matter of practice. That is rather different from saying that the director should have a statutory obligation to do so.

The assignment of a licence would not normally be an opportunity to make other than technical changes to the conditions. Consultation with the Gas Consumers Council is something which should be welcome, if practicable, but it is not something which should be essential in all cases. We should be reluctant to place an absolute duty on the director to consult the Gas Consumers Council on every occasion. That is why I fear

28 Jun 1995 : Column 803

that the addition of the words in the amendment would be an imposition, because in the majority of cases I should have thought that there is likely to be consultation.

Lord Clinton-Davis: I am disappointed by that reply, because I had expected much more from the Minister. It is unfortunate that he should have cited in support of his case the Railways Act 1993—the very area where consultation has already fallen down, and fallen down in a demonstrably bad way because of the instance that I gave. So it strengthens our view that this is an area which should be covered by consultation. I fear that nothing the Minister has just said causes us to retract anything that we have already indicated. So I fear that on this issue we should take the opinion of the Committee.

6.7 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 96A) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 86; Not-Contents, 113.

Division No. 1


Airedale, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Birk, B.
Broadbridge, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Bruce of Donington, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Carter, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. [Teller.]
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Dubs, L.
Eatwell, L.
Elis-Thomas, L.
Ezra, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Fisher of Rednal, B.
Gallacher, L.
Geraint, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L. [Teller.]
Glenamara, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Greene of Harrow Weald, L.
Grey, E.
Halsbury, E.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Haskel, L.
Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hughes, L.
Hylton, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L.
Jacques, L.
Jay, L.
Jeger, B.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Judd, L.
Kintore, E.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Lovell-Davis, L.
McCarthy, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L.
McNair, L.
Mallalieu, B.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Mason of Barnsley, L.
Mayhew, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Mishcon, L.
Molloy, L.
Monkswell, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Ogmore, L.
Peston, L.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Redesdale, L.
Richard, L.
Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Robson of Kiddington, B.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Russell, E.
Sefton of Garston, L.
Shepherd, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Tenby, V.
Tope, L.
Tordoff, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Wallace of Coslany, L.
Walpole, L.
Whaddon, L.
White, B.
Wigoder, L.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.


Addison, V.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Ampthill, L.
Annaly, L.
Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L.
Ashbourne, L.
Astor, V.
Astor of Hever, L.
Balfour, E.
Beloff, L.
Blaker, L.
Blatch, B.
Blyth, L.
Boardman, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Bridgeman, V.
Brookeborough, V.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Cadman, L.
Caithness, E.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Carr of Hadley, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B.
Charteris of Amisfield, L.
Chesham, L.
Clanwilliam, E.
Clark of Kempston, L.
Cochrane of Cults, L.
Colwyn, L.
Craigavon, V.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Crathorne, L.
Cross, V.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Cumberlege, B.
Davidson, V.
Denham, L.
Dilhorne, V.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Dundonald, E.
Elton, L.
Ferrers, E.
Flather, B.
Gisborough, L.
Greenway, L.
Harlech, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Harrowby, E.
Hemphill, L.
Henley, L.
Hesketh, L.
Holderness, L.
HolmPatrick, L.
Howe, E.
Inglewood, L.
Jeffreys, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Killearn, L.
Kimball, L.
King of Wartnaby, L.
Lane of Horsell, L.
Lindsay, E.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Long, V. [Teller.]
Lucas, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Lyell, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
Macleod of Borve, B.
Malmesbury, E.
Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Mersey, V.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Milverton, L.
Montrose, D.
Mountevans, L.
Moyne, L.
Northesk, E.
O'Cathain, B.
Onslow, E.
Orkney, E.
Oxfuird, V.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Pender, L.
Rankeillour, L.
Reay, L.
Renton, L.
Renwick, L.
Rodger of Earlsferry, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Seccombe, B.
Shrewsbury, E.
Skelmersdale, L.
Skidelsky, L.
Stewartby, L.
Strange, B.
Strathclyde, L.
Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Sudeley, L.
Tebbit, L.
Terrington, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Trefgarne, L.
Trumpington, B. [Teller.]
Tugendhat, L.
Vivian, L.
Westmorland, E.
Whitelaw, V.
Wigram, L.
Willoughby de Broke, L.
Wise, L.
Wynford, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

28 Jun 1995 : Column 804

6.16 p.m.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 96B:

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