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The Earl of Harrowby: My Lords, before my noble and learned friend sits down, perhaps I may ask him to look more carefully and personally at the turnover figure of £500,000 because it would not be my definition of a small business.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I attempted to put the matter as carefully as I could. The advice that we have received is that that turnover figure would be sufficient to capture the vast majority. However, yesterday evening I was advised that that might not truly be the case. It is in that context that I am suggesting that during the period of consultation which we have announced we will indeed look at any evidence which suggests that the figure is inappropriate.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I am greatly reassured by what the Minister said. Perhaps I could just say that a turnover of whatever figure does not necessarily relate to the profitability of the business. A business with a turnover of £0·5 million may be making a substantial profit or may be making a mere pittance, depending upon the nature of the business. Therefore, I believe that a degree of flexibility is needed in that approach.

I am very pleased that the Minister is to consult. I regret that the time has to be so short but I am sure that the organisations interested in this amendment will prepare their case to put to the Minister. I am very grateful indeed for the concessions that have been made and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 74, line 41, leave out from beginning to ("a") in line 42 and insert ("The Secretary of State shall by regulations provide that, in such cases and to such extent as may be provided by the regulations").

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The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, there are some difficulties because there was something of an error in the way in which the amendments were numbered. Amendment No. 27 comes before Amendment No. 26. Therefore, I now wish to move Amendment No. 26. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 28 not moved.]

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 29:

Page 74, line 45, leave out from beginning to ("no").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in responding to Amendment No. 27, I explained Amendment No. 29. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Transitional provisions and savings]:

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 84, leave out lines 35 to 37.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, we have been looking again at the Bill and have concluded that paragraph 2(2) of Schedule 5 serves no useful purpose. The Secretary of State already has a power to secure that the scheme makes such provision, and only such provision, as he considers requisite or expedient for the purposes of Part I of Schedule 5. This power is conferred on the Secretary of State in paragraph 3 of the schedule and it appears that the mention in paragraph 2(2) adds nothing. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendments Nos. 31 to 35:

Page 86, line 39, leave out ("4") and insert ("paragraph 4(1) to (4)").
Page 86, line 41, leave out ("4") and insert ("paragraph 4(1) to (4)").
Page 91, line 36, leave out ("Such a scheme") and insert ("A scheme under this paragraph").
Page 92, line 11, leave out ("this paragraph") and insert ("sub-paragraphs (1) to (6) above").
Page 92, line 14, leave out ("this paragraph") and insert ("sub-paragraphs (1) to (6) above").

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

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendments Nos. 36 to 39:

Page 93, line 4, leave out from second ("gas") to ("shall") in line 9 and insert—
("(2) The supplier's supply successor").
Page 93, line 45, at end insert—
("( ) In this Part of this Schedule "supply successor", in relation to a public gas supplier, means the person who becomes a gas supplier by virtue of a scheme made by or in relation to that public gas supplier under Part I of this Schedule.").
Page 94, line 26, leave out sub-paragraph (6).
Page 97, line 31, at end insert—
("( ) the Valuation for Rating (Plant and Machinery) Regulations 1989, so far as those Regulations continue to have effect for the purpose of determining the rateable values of hereditaments for days falling before 1st April 1995;").

25 Oct 1995 : Column 1136

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

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Repeals]:

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 98, line 39, column 3, leave out ("of").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. Before the Gas Bill leaves this House, I should like to say a few words in recognition of the work that has been done on the Bill. In particular, I should like to thank my government colleagues who steered the Bill through Second Reading and Committee—my noble friends Lord Ferrers and Lord Inglewood. As your Lordships will appreciate, since the summer the pack has been shuffled and they are elsewhere, but it has been a pleasure for me to build upon the foundations which they laid. I should like to thank all the noble Lords who have taken part in the proceedings on the Gas Bill as it has passed through its various stages in this House.

I should apologise for the number of government amendments that have been brought forward. My noble friend Lord Ferrers said at the outset that it was to be expected that the Government would need to bring forward a number of amendments because of the technical and complex nature of the Bill. It may be that the amendments surpassed all our expectations as regards their number, technicality and complexity, but I can say that these arose from a determination on the part of the department to do our utmost to ensure that the provisions of the Bill had the desired effect. I should like to thank noble Lords for their patience and for speeding progress by allowing the majority of these technical amendments to be moved formally.

I should like to thank the noble Lords, Lord Peston and Lord Ezra, who have led the Opposition's probing and questioning of the Bill, ably supported by the noble Lords, Lord Haskel and Lord Clinton-Davis. I believe that they have demonstrated the value of a revising chamber by effectively analysing the Bill for weaknesses and identifying points where we have been able to make improvements.

The improvements secured by the noble Lords are many indeed. They include a requirement on the director general to include in her annual report to Parliament an account of the development of competition; requirement on licensees to take steps to secure that officers authorised to exercise powers of entry are fit and proper persons; a new offence to control bogus meter readers; and greater clarity in the provisions relating to licences artificially framed to avoid social obligations.

I shall at this stage pay tribute to my noble friends Lord Skelmersdale and Lord Cochrane, who have brought to our debates a detailed knowledge of the workings of different parts of the gas industry.

Your Lordships have taken a keen interest in safeguarding the interests of the more vulnerable groups in society. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, ably supported by the noble Baroness, Lady David, make the

25 Oct 1995 : Column 1137

point that vulnerable groups of customers other than those who are disabled or of pensionable age, may need special consideration. The Bill now places an additional duty on the director to have regard to the needs of chronically sick people. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes for a number of suggestions on consumer matters, which have been helpful in revising the standard conditions of gas suppliers' licences.

Our considerations have also been helped by my noble friend Lord Cranbrook who has meticulously looked over the environmental duties of the director in the Bill. While I have not been able to agree with every point my noble friend made it has been possible in response to his suggestions to improve the reference to the environment, first by deleting the word "physical" and later by expanding it to take account of the impact of pollution on living organisms.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and my noble friend Lord Stanley took up the interests of traders suffering economic loss due to street works being undertaken outside their premises. While we could not accept the premise in logic on which their argument was based, we were able to bring forward amendments aimed at replacing the present British Gas scheme with regulations applying similar principles on a formal basis. I thank also my noble friend Lord Caithness, who contributed helpfully to our deliberations on many occasions.

I believe that it is right that competition should be extended to the domestic market so that households can benefit from a choice of gas supplier, as customers in the industrial and commercial markets have been able to do for the past few years. We are beginning to see evidence of the kind of benefits that customers might expect. Several gas companies have declared their intention to enter that domestic market, initially in the South West, and they have said that they expect to be able to offer savings of 10 per cent. or more to customers compared to the prices of British Gas. The existence of real choice will empower consumers to demand good service.

I believe that the Bill will provide a sound framework for the new fully competitive gas industry and that it will promote the development of competition in the domestic gas market. It should provide lasting benefits to consumers in general and the very careful consideration given by your Lordships to this complex Bill will have done a great deal to achieve that aim.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Fraser of Carmyllie.)

5 p.m.

Lord Peston: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends and, indeed, on behalf of all noble Lords I should like to thank the Minister for the many kind remarks that he has just made. It would weary the House if I were to go over every single name that the noble and learned Lord mentioned, but I can say that I am at least as appreciative as he is of the contributions made by all

25 Oct 1995 : Column 1138

the noble Lords whom he mentioned. However, I should like to add to the list the name of my noble friend Lady Turner who also helped us.

I certainly wish to be associated specifically with remembering that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, started the process. But, having said that, I should particularly like to congratulate the Minister. We have dealt with an immensely complicated Bill. The noble and learned Lord came into the process in the middle of the proceedings and I must say that he handled matters in a quite outstanding manner; that is, compared with me. I have actually had three people working with me and every time it got difficult I said, "Well, you do it", whereas I believe that the Minister has literally done everything since he began. That is a remarkable achievement.

I agree with the Minister that the Bill was a sensible measure in the first place. Indeed, promoting competition in the domestic market is a worthwhile objective and we wish to see it happen. Equally, the way that we have approached the matter has impressed me. I say that because the Government have been responsive to arguments and the Minister mentioned several places where the Bill has been changed in response to arguments put forward from different parts of your Lordships' House. I agree with the Minister that that shows the value of a revising Chamber.

However, I have to tell the Minister that during most of my years in this House I have had a fairly gloomy view of the latter, almost coming to the point where I did not see the point of a revising Chamber because, in my experience, almost anything that I put forward the Government turned down. Indeed, I believe that the list of amendments that I have had successfully accepted by the Government was still in single figures until we dealt with this Bill. Therefore, speaking just for myself, the Minister has changed my view from the rather gloomy one that I held to something a little more optimistic as regards what can be achieved by a Chamber such as ours.

After thanking the Minister and other noble Lords there is little more for me to say other than to reiterate the point that this is a very important measure. It is a measure which has been brought forward to give the consumer a better deal in the field. Many of us will be looking at it in the future with a view to seeing whether that happens. I strongly believe that it will. It is certainly my view that I wish to see a successful Bill.

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