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Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 135:


Page 50, line 32, after ("may") insert (", after consultation with the Director,").

The noble Lord said: This is another technical amendment which, for practical purposes, is to improve co-operation between the Secretary of State and the director. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 136:


Page 50, line 48, at end insert:
("4) After that subsection there shall be inserted the following subsection—
"(2A) Where at any time the Secretary of State modifies a standard condition under subsection (1A) (a) above for the purposes of its incorporation in licences under section 7 or 7A(1) or (2) above granted after that time, he shall publish the modifications in such manner as he considers appropriate."").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 136A:


Page 52, line 41, after ("10(2)") insert ("or (2A)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Inglewood moved Amendment No. 137:


Page 52, line 41, after ("12(1)") insert ("or (5)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Inglewood moved Amendments Nos. 138, 139 and 140:


Page 53, line 15, at end insert:

("Duty of Director to investigate certain matters

.—(1) In subsections (1) and (2) of section 31 of the 1986 Act (duty of Director to investigate certain matters), for the words "an enforcement matter" there shall be substituted the words "a reserved matter".
(2) For subsection (3) of that section there shall be substituted the following subsections—
"(3) In this section and section 32 below "reserved matter" means any matter—
(a) in respect of which any functions of the Director under section 28 above are or may be exercisable; and
(b) which has not been designated by the Director as a matter which is to be investigated by the Council.
(4) A designation under subsection (3) above may be made—
(a) either generally or in relation to matters of a particular class or a particular matter; and
(b) either unconditionally or subject to such conditions as may be specified in the designation.
(5) Conditions specified in a designation under subsection (3) above may contain provision for the designation to cease to have effect, either generally or in relation to matters of a particular class or a particular matter, in such circumstances as may be determined by or under the conditions." ").
Page 53, line 17, leave out ("In") and insert ("For").
Page 53, line 18, leave out from ("matters)") to end of line 21 and insert ("there shall be substituted the following subsection—

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"(2) This subsection applies to any matter (not being a reserved matter) in respect of which any functions of the Director under this Part are or may be exercisable."
( ) In subsections (3) and (5) of that section, the words "paragraph (a) of" shall cease to have effect.").

The noble Lord said: These are technical amendments which have been made in response to the desire of the director and the Gas Consumers Council to introduce some flexibility into the division of labour between them. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Clinton-Davis moved Amendment No. 140A:


Page 53, line 39, at end insert:
("(5) The Council shall have a duty to the extent requested by the Director General of Fair Trading under section 124(3) of the Fair Trading Act 1973 as regards the promotion and keeping under review of Codes of Practice designed to promote high standards of service in the sale, installation, maintenance and repair of gas appliances.".").

The noble Lord said: With this amendment we are seeking to place an obligation on the Gas Consumers Council to promote the publication of codes of practice for retailers within certain categories; for example, about delivery times and conduct before and after sales—the latter point is of course of great importance—but only if that is requested by the Director General of Fair Trading.

There are too many examples of companies which use foot-in-the-door sales techniques which have brought an element of selling into disrepute. One needs to ensure that the customer is not neglected in a post-sale situation.

If the Minister were to say that it is not in the interests of business to engage in sharp practice, I would say that the trouble is that there are too many instances of businesses succeeding while adopting plainly immoral standards.

There are too many instances also of customers, after a sale has been promoted, being forgotten about or neglected. We believe therefore that it is right that that obligation should be assumed by the Gas Consumers Council. It would enable codes to be distributed relating to manufacturers and the supply of spare parts, which is an important issue, and to cover the other points that I have made. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: The question of industry codes of practice overseen by the Director-General of Fair Trading is an interesting one. To date, the gas appliance industry has not produced such a code of practice, perhaps because the nature of the market allows consumers to choose effectively and because of the large numbers of small firms in the repair sector. The decision is, however, one for the gas appliance industry, and we are happy to leave it to it.

Where government do accept a role is in enforcing safety-related standards for installation, maintenance and repair of gas appliances. The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1994 already require that only competent persons may do work on any gas fitting. That includes all service and repair work on gas appliances. The regulations further specify 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 members of CORGI. The performance of installers is routinely monitored to help ensure standards are maintained.

28 Jun 1995 : Column 835

In any event, we believe that the Gas Consumers Council has adequate powers under Section 33 of the Act to investigate any matter relating to the gas appliances and their servicing and that a specific duty in that area is unnecessary. It would be wrong for the council to be required to give priority to codes of practice over other matters which it is empowered to consider.

Lord Clinton-Davis: I do not understand that brief at all. It is as though somehow or other this kind of thing does not happen. We know, as a matter of practice, that codes of practice are imposed on all sorts of goods. We know, for example, when it comes to double glazing, holidays, vehicle repairs and so forth, provisions are made for trade associations to impose a code of discipline on those who fall short of the requirements of the code of practice.

The purpose of the requirement is not to be bureaucratic; it is to ensure that there is available a constantly enhanced standard. Again, it is a question of customers having the right to know what is going on and to feel that someone is there to protect them in relation to these issues. Perhaps the Minister will deal with that point rather more clearly than I think he did. It might be my fault. It is getting late. One is getting tired. One had to cancel one's so-called dinner to be back in time. All those things have an effect on one's mental capacity. I do not believe that those points were met sufficiently by the Minister. Perhaps he will help me on them.

Lord Inglewood: As I hope I had made clear in my remarks, it is not as though this is a market where the cowboys operate indiscriminately. I explained that the Government accept a role in enforcing safety-related standards for installation, maintenance and repair of gas appliances. As we have always said, safety is the paramount consideration when looking at these matters.

So far as concerns the wider issues, this is currently an unregulated and competitive market. Levels of customer service are a matter for competition between companies. Retailers cannot hope to win business by treating customers badly, and dissatisfied customers can always turn to alternative suppliers.

The noble Lord referred to codes of practice which have been imposed in other sectors of the economy. Just because they apply in one sector it does not follow automatically that it is the right thing to do in a different sector. Of course it is always open to the director-general to recommend to the relevant trade association that some form of voluntary code of conduct would be appropriate. We believe that is the appropriate situation for the industry to be in.

Lord Clinton-Davis: I find that argument less than convincing. The Minister says that it is not a market in which the cowboys will operate indiscriminately. How does he know? The market is, in many respects, a new market. Opportunities will exist which are different from those existing today. How does he know? Because the situation is unknown at present, the consumer is entitled to know why the burden which, as I understand it, the Gas Consumers Council is happy to pick up—I hope that I am not wrong about that; I believe it to be the case—should not be imposed upon it.

28 Jun 1995 : Column 836

The Minister says that this situation is different from all the other instances I cited. Why? He did not explain that. He just asserted it. One is concerned to ensure that the consumer should have the information that he requires so as to have the security in his mind that his interests are being looked after, and that if a supplier departs from the standards expected of him, that will, if necessary, be looked after appropriately by disciplinary procedures, by the trade association or, in this instance, the Gas Consumers Council.

It is absurd to say that one can just leave things to the market in the absolute knowledge that everything will go well because it is in the supplier's interests to play according to the rules. That is to defy what happens in the real world.

Many people apply high standards and obtain advantages from doing so. But surely the Minister knows from his own experience that that is not always the case. When we are dealing with issues of such importance to consumers, surely he will reflect on the matter again. I invite him to do what the noble Earl did on a previous occasion. This is another issue that affects the interests of consumers and I ask him to reflect further upon it.


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