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Lord Clinton-Davis: With great respect, that answer is founded on a great deal of conjecture. The consumer is entitled to something better. We are not talking about people going into a shop to buy a bag of sweets or even a consumer item which is rather more valuable. We are talking about something which will relate to them for a very long time. It will be a very important contractual operation in their lives. I respect the argument which the noble Earl has put forward, but I do not find the answer a compelling one.

The Minister said that it may be important in the early stages for prices to be published. I do not know what he means by "early stages". How long will that last? The noble Earl is against publication in the long term, but what is the "long term" in this regard? No definition has been given at all. Probably the Minister does not know and I do not believe that the department has thought this out. We have a pig in a poke. I do not believe that it is in the consumers' interests to go down the route suggested by the Minister.

He seemed to convey the view that publication of prices was important. I believe that he said that more than once. If that is right in the early stages—and I ask him to be a little more precise about that—why should it not remain important in the longer term?

As regards flexibility, if there were some provision that this matter could be invoked by way of statutory instrument I would be reasonably happy. On behalf of this side of the Committee I want some form of parliamentary control and accountability. We do not want the regulator deciding these matters, perhaps in a capricious manner. I said before in an earlier debate that the relationship between the regulator and the Gas Consumers Council could be better. I do not know who is to blame for it and neither do I want to suggest an indictment here. The reality is that the relationship is not as good as it should be.

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Consequently, I return to the argument that what the Minister is suggesting is far from revealing the transparency that is required. I ask the Minister to reflect further on this matter. I do not believe that I can ask him to do more than that tonight. It is a perfectly reasonable request.

Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has asked me to reflect on this and I shall do so. I ask him to reflect, possibly back 15 or 20 years. When one went to buy petrol it was at a constant price wherever one went. Eventually petrol companies were allowed to adopt a flexible market and to place prices where they wanted. I remember that time well. It seemed tremendously avant-garde and almost disreputable. The whole market would go to glory, but it did not. Now we are used to paying different prices at petrol stations and one tends to shop around.

I am not saying that that is a direct comparison. However, at the moment I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Ezra, that there is a need for stability. People want to know where they are going. If it is said that, for the purposes of consumer benefit, "There shall be published a list of prices which will not be movable or negotiable", that is quite a static position.

While in the near future, and as long as is necessary, these prices will be fixed, I do not believe that in the longer term that may necessarily hold. Just before the dinner break I gave the example of people who use 3,000 therms who are entitled to negotiate. What about someone who uses 2,000 therms? Why should not that person be allowed to negotiate? I ask the Committee to look at this issue not from the point of view of the immediate future—because I agree with noble Lords that we now want to know what the prices are—but we should look further ahead and allow for flexibility. That is all I am asking. I shall certainly consider the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and indeed all that Members of the Committee have said.

Lord Clinton-Davis: Over what period?

Lord Ezra: Perhaps I may make it clear that I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, to speak on her behalf as regards Amendment No. 106, which is being taken at the same time. She cannot be here.

Perhaps I may answer two of the points which the noble Earl has just made. As regards the petrol stations, I made a point in support of the opposite argument. I said that they publish their prices in the sense that they display them. We can then make a choice and drive around and select on the basis of the published prices. The petrol stations are now obliged by law to show the prices.

To say that the price schedules will be immutable is totally wrong. Publication does not mean that they are published for ever and a day. In my time in the coal industry, I was used to the coal trade and all merchants published their prices. How could you deal with a merchant if you did not know his prices? Indeed, how could you use a supermarket unless it showed you its prices? I do not see why prices should be concealed from consumers. It is such an obvious matter for the requirement for transparency that I cannot understand why we are having this argument. It is so fundamental

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that, in our opinion, this provision should certainly be in the Bill. Unless domestic consumers know what prices they are to be charged, how can they do business? It is different for ICI or a large industrial concern. They have purchasing departments and staff who can go out, look around and negotiate until the cows come home. That is what they have to do, but the ordinary domestic consumer needs to know prices. Suppliers have complete freedom to change their price schedules as often as they like so long as they publish them, just as a filling station can change its petrol prices as often as it likes. As long as people know what the prices are, they can make a choice.

Lord Clinton-Davis: I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and to the Minister who has indicated that he is prepared to look again at this matter, without of course any commitment. That is fair enough. However, the argument about resale price maintenance is very different. As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, there is nothing immutable about the situation. In relation to the example that he gave, there are frequent changes—sometimes justified and sometimes not, but the fact is that there are frequent changes. In this instance, there is no reason why indicative prices could not be suggested. One could cite many examples of goods on the market to which that applies. It is not simply a question of petrol; there are many other instances. We are talking about a long-term transaction but, with respect, I think that the principle remains the same whether we are talking about the short or the long term. However, the Minister has clarified the position to some extent and is to reconsider the matter. In those circumstances, I am obliged to him and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 106 not moved.]

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 107:

Page 43, line 23, leave out ("conveyance by the pipe-line") and insert ("efficient operation of the pipe-line system, or the conveyance by the").

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 107, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 108 and 109. The amendments merely refine the director's power to require public gas transporters to allow people to make use of their pipelines. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendments Nos. 108 and 109:

Page 43, line 40, leave out from ("and") to ("gas") in line 41 and insert ("in the quantities so specified or determined by or under the directions,").
Page 43, line 48, after ("applicant") insert ("such ancillary or incidental rights as the Director considers necessary or expedient, which may include").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 110 not moved.]

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 111:

Page 45, line 31, after ("pipe-line;") insert:
("( ) he has consulted with that transporter as to exactly where in that area the proposed pipe-line is to be located, having regard to the location of other pipe-lines in that area;").

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

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Lord Inglewood moved Amendments Nos. 112 and 113:

Page 46, line 21, leave out ("a standard condition") and insert ("standard conditions").
Page 46, line 25, leave out ("that condition for the purposes of its") and insert ("those conditions for the purposes of their").

The noble Lord said: I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 115, 121 to 130 inclusive; 133 and 134. These are technical amendments which relate to the standard condition provisions in the Bill and turn the singular into the plural. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 114 not moved.]

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 115:

Page 47, line 13, leave out ("a standard condition") and insert ("standard conditions").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 116 not moved.]

8.15 p.m.

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 117:

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