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Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, in the normal way of things I suggest that the Companion to the Standing Orders might say—I confess that I have not checked it—that probing amendments on Third Reading are undesirable. I absolve the noble Lord, Lord Peston, entirely from any blame whatever on this score because it is important to establish from the Government exactly what the timetable now is for this Bill and, more importantly, the operation from 1st April of the trial competitive areas.

As I understand it, the original plan was that there would be six months between the passing of the Bill and 1st April. That slipped to four months and rumour has it that it is about to slip to two months and that in fact the code will not be available for operation until 1st

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February. In those circumstances, one wonders why six months was chosen originally. More importantly, one wonders whether two months, which is all that is left between 1st February and 1st April, is long enough to get the system up and running so that we can have a smooth introduction to trial competition on 1st April.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, in responding to this amendment perhaps I may begin by reiterating our overall timetable for the liberalisation of the gas supply. Some 500,000 domestic gas consumers in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, will be the first to be able to choose their supplier from April 1996. From a date to be determined in 1997 a further 1.5 million domestic consumers in Dorset, Avon, Kent, East and West Sussex, will also be able to choose. Domestic competition will then be extended to the whole of Great Britain, and to 18 million consumers from a date in 1998.

This phased approach is intended primarily to test the technical and administrative systems necessary for competitive supply. But before the timetable can start it is necessary for the new legislative framework provided for in the Bill to come into effect. That happens on the appointed day, which I can confirm to my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale we intend to be 1st February next year. On that date the new network code, which will govern transportation, will also come into effect. We had earlier hoped and indicated to the industry that the appointed day might be 1st December. That was based on the Bill being passed in the summer. I hasten to say immediately to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and his other colleagues on the Front Bench, that I do not for one moment in anyway attribute any blame to them for the way they have taken the various stages of the Bill through your Lordships' House.

The fact of the matter is that we are still discussing the Bill. It is clear to us that three to four weeks would be insufficient time from Royal Assent to complete the implementation work for a Bill of this technical complexity. Noble Lords will have noticed the necessary number of technical matters that have had to be dealt with.

In any event, real concerns have emerged as to whether all aspects of the network code would have been ready on time. Clearly, noble Lords have read press reports that we are in discussion with British Gas about the relationship between this change in the appointed date and the timetable for extending competition to the domestic market.

While I am happy to respond to the amendment, this is a matter of detail which does not affect the Bill. The question is rather an abstract one: whether consumers can choose their gas suppliers from 1st April with a billing change to follow at the end of the month, or whether they can choose their supplier and have the billing change from that date. As I hope would be expected, we are probing carefully possible computer difficulties on this matter to ensure that the best possible result is available to consumers on 1st April.

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As yet, we are still considering the detail and officials of the department and Ofgas are continuing to have constructive meetings with British Gas to finalise the position. I hope that that explanation is of some assistance to the noble Lord.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, before my noble and learned friend sits down, I did venture to ask him whether he was satisfied that the two months now proposed would be long enough to do the work that he has just described.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, as I am sure my noble friend will appreciate, while there is a major task involved in the introduction of a large computer system and data base as well as supporting contractual and administrative arrangements, nevertheless I can emphasise that a great deal of hard work is going on. I have no indication at present that the two months will prove to be insufficient. There is clearly a volume of work that can be done in advance of 1st February. With the best endeavours that are currently under way, I hope that it will prove possible to achieve all that we wish to achieve on 1st April, notwithstanding 1st February being the appointed day.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reassuring answer. I appreciate that he cannot go much further than he has gone. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for going slightly against the Companion, but it seemed to me that not only noble Lords but also interested parties outside would want to have a realistic view of what is now going to happen with this important piece of legislation. That was obviously the reason why I used this method. I could not think of any other way of getting a statement out of the Minister. I am more than pleased with what the Minister has had to say. What is more to the point, interested parties outside will note with great care what the Minister said and will regard it as helpful. I have achieved my purpose, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 8:


Page 10, line 20, leave out ("that") and insert ("the 1986").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 6 I spoke also to Amendments Nos. 8, 9, 10 and 11. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 11 [Amendments of Part III of 1986 Act]:

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 9:


Page 16, line 17, leave out ("the 1986") and insert ("that").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 12 [Acquisition of rights to use gas processing facilities]:

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 10:


Page 16, line 45, leave out ("his") and insert ("the owner").

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On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 18 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 11:


Page 20, line 4, after ("17(1)") insert ("and (2)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2 [The gas code]:

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendments Nos. 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17:


Page 22, line 26, at end insert (", unless the context otherwise requires").
Page 23, line 43, leave out ("subsection (14) of section 17") and insert ("section 17(14)").
Page 26, line 26, at end insert ("; but this sub-paragraph shall not apply in any case where it is reasonably expected that neither of those sub-paragraphs will apply.").
Page 31, line 17, at end insert ("(i)").
Page 31, line 18, after ("or") insert ("(ii)").
Page 31, line 21, at beginning insert ("and in this sub-paragraph").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, these again are all drafting and technical amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

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

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 18:


Page 45, line 12, leave out ("the") and insert ("public gas").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this again is a technical amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 19:


Page 52, line 31, leave out from ("that") to end of line 35 and insert (", in so far as the following, namely—
(a) the cost of carrying out the modifications; and
(b) a reasonable element of profit,
will not be recoverable by the public gas transporter from elsewhere, the transporter should be entitled to receive them by way of consideration for carrying out the modifications." ").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, as some of your Lordships may recall, I did not move this amendment on Report as the version tabled was defective. It has now been remedied. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendments Nos. 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25:


Page 56, line 22, leave out (", or could have been if he thought fit,").
Page 56, line 24, at end insert ("or could have been determined by the holder if he had thought fit or had been required to determine them by or under a condition of the licence").
Page 56, line 37, after ("above") insert ("which incorporates the standard conditions").
Page 59, line 16, leave out (", or could have been if he thought fit,").
Page 59, line 17, at end insert ("or could have been determined by the holder if he had thought fit or had been required to determine them by or under a condition of the licence").
Page 71, line 5, leave out from ("information") to ("by") in line 11 and insert ("if—
(a) the disclosure is required by a notice under subsection (1) or (1A) of section 38 above;

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(b) the information has been obtained in pursuance of a notice under subsection (1A) of that section; or
(c) the disclosure is made by one licence holder to another and is required either by a condition of the disclosing licence holder's licence, or").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, these again are technical drafting amendments to Schedule 3, affecting principally the provisions for amending licences pursuant to references to the MMC. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.


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