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Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 58:

Page 26, line 17, leave out from ("premises") to second ("the") in line 19 and insert ("are reconnected, the consent of the public gas transporter to whose main the reconnection is made;
(b) where the supply is restored,").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 58.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 59:

Page 27, line 13, at end insert—

("Failure to maintain shipping arrangements

12A.—(1) Where—
(a) any arrangements for the conveyance of gas by a public gas transporter to a consumer's premises at a rate reasonably expected to exceed 2,500 therms a year have been made by a gas shipper, or by a person authorised to make the arrangements by an exemption granted under section 6A of this Act; and
(b) those arrangements have ceased to operate and have not been replaced by arrangements made for the like purpose,
the transporter may, after giving 21 days' notice to the relevant persons, disconnect the premises.
(2) The relevant persons for the purposes of sub-paragraph (1) above are—
(a) the occupier, or the owner of the premises if they are unoccupied; and
(b) any gas supplier who, to the knowledge of the transporter, has contracted to supply gas to the premises.
(3) The notice required to be given by sub-paragraphs (1) and (2)(a) above may, in the case of unoccupied premises the owner of which is unknown to the public gas transporter and cannot be ascertained after diligent inquiry, be given by affixing it upon a conspicuous part of the premises.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 60:

Page 28, line 30, after ("9(2),") insert ("10(2)(b), 12A(1),").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 60.

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On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 61:

Page 28, line 33, leave out ("5(4), 7(3)") and insert ("7(3) or (4)").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 61.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendments Nos. 62 to 64:

Page 28, line 33, leave out ("or 9(2)") and insert (", 9(2) or 10(2)(b)").
Page 28, line 37, at end insert ("either is no longer an owner or occupier of the premises or").
Page 28, line 42, at end insert—
("( ) In this paragraph—
"consumer", in relation to a disconnection or cutting off under paragraph 10(2)(b) above, means—
(a) the owner of the premises at the time when the reconnection was made, or the supply was restored, without the relevant consent if the premises were unoccupied at that time, or if that reconnection or restoration of supply was made by him or on his behalf; and
(b) the occupier of the premises at that time in any other case;
"relevant consent" has the same meaning as in paragraph 10 above.").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 62 to 64 are grouped with Amendment No. 60. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendments Nos. 65 and 66:

Page 31, line 33, leave out from ("supplier,") to ("may") in line 35.
Page 31, line 40, leave out from first ("above") to end of line 41.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendments Nos. 65 and 66 en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 67:

Page 32, line 22, at end insert—
("( ) The transporter in the case of those who are disabled, of pensionable age or in other cases of urgent need is authorised to carry out repairs to gas appliances and fittings at the same time as the emergency visit; and the cost of this will be charged to the consumer.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 67. A similar amendment was raised in Committee. However, as this matter looks after the safety of consumers, I feel that it is important to raise it again.

The amendment deals with the question of who gets an appliance working again after there has been an escape of gas. At present, a British Gas service engineer who attends a gas escape not only makes the escape safe but makes a permanent repair to the appliance, or a temporary repair and arrangements to have the appliance permanently repaired, or he turns it off and fixes a definite appointment to repair it. Under the new draft arrangements public gas transporters are required to undertake minor appliance repairs in the course of fixing a leak, so long as they can be done within half an hour

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and with inexpensive parts. The engineer then gives the consumer a list of registered installers who can be contacted.

The Minister must be aware that these kinds of cosy demarcation arrangements between suppliers at the expense of consumers are no longer acceptable. Today, successful businesses make every effort to satisfy their customers, even if it takes longer than half an hour. As drafted, the Bill primarily looks after the needs of the transporter by limiting liability to half an hour's work plus a few inexpensive parts. Surely, in modern business terms the Bill should ensure that priority is given to the needs of the consumer. The need of the consumer is that he or she gets the appliance working as soon as possible and with the least inconvenience. As with small businesses, the consumer wants a one-stop shop, not to be shuffled between the transporter, supplier or installer.

The effect of this on safety was raised in Committee by my noble friend Lord Peston. Unless there is a firm commitment to get appliances working again with the minimum delay and inconvenience, people may hesitate to report gas leaks in case their appliances are out of order for some time. Perhaps the Minister would wish to use this opportunity to reassure the House of his department's commitment to consumer safety.

In Committee, the Minister said (Hansard Col. 793) that it is important to distinguish between the obligation to make safe and the power to do so. That ignores the consumer's convenience. Many of us on this side of the House feel that the amendment should apply to all gas consumers, but, in order to appeal to the Minister's compassion, the amendment has been limited to those more vulnerable members of society, including the chronically sick. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I support what the noble Lord has just said. I well recall the debate that we had on this issue in Committee. This seems to be an instance when the new arrangements go back on what already exists. Under the present arrangements, as the noble Lord has pointed out, when a gas leak has to be dealt with not only is the leak stopped but any necessary repairs are done and urgent action is taken to ensure that the gas supply is reconnected as soon as possible.

Under the new arrangements, the consumer could well be left in the lurch. The leak could admittedly be dealt with, but then, particularly if it were in winter, and particularly if it happened to be at a weekend, the consumer would have to trawl through a list of plumbers dealing with these matters and it could be some days before the appliances were working again.

It is to be hoped that the amendment will be considered seriously from that point of view. We are all in favour of opening up the domestic market. What we are wholly against is that the services which are to be rendered to customers in that opened-up market might be noticeably worse in some respects than they are at present.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I support the amendment. Many of those whom the amendment seeks to help will be living on their own. They will be elderly disabled

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who will need heating. They may be unable to find the relevant contractor to help them in a hurry. With society as it is today, many people who live on their own do not have relatives nearby whom they are able to call upon for help. Gas appliances are, I suspect, more likely to break down in the winter because there is a greater use of heating then. The types of person that the amendment seeks to assist are those who need more heating than other people.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, whether the amendment has it right, I would not know, but I hope that my noble and learned friend the Minister will realise that this is, I think, to all noble Lords, a most important matter. The position particularly of disabled people when there is a failure of their gas supply is not just alarming but can be dangerous.

I am sure that the House will want to be reassured that the Bill as it stands or as it would stand if amended as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, will take care of that. This is, socially, one of the most important issues with which we have been concerned this afternoon. I hope that my noble and learned friend the Minister will bear that in mind.

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