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Baroness Buscombe: I shall do battle on Amendment No. 195 and, in so doing, speak also to Amendments Nos. 196 and 197. Amendments Nos. 195 and 196 would provide electricity distributors with rights of access to meters in the case of an emergency.

Electricity suppliers will be responsible for providing meters at each point they supply and retrieving and processing the readings from them (described as "metering services" and "data services"). The supplier can appoint an agent to fulfil its responsibilities in respect of those services.

While distributors will retain ownership of the thousands of meters currently in place and must offer suppliers terms for the provision and operation of meters, they will not have any right of access to their meters. The powers to enter premises for access to meters will be given to suppliers who will be able to exercise those powers themselves or through persons appointed by them. A distributor could be appointed for this purpose, but a supplier will not have to accept the distributor's terms and will be able to select another party to provide metering services.

Where the supplier has not appointed the distributor as its agent for metering services, the distributor will not be able to deal with a faulty meter on the customer's premises. In that event a distributor will be able to disconnect the supply only in order to leave a safe situation, and ask the supplier--he would be in rather an unenviable position of explaining this to the customer--to arrange for its meter operator to deal with the meter; until this is done, the consumer will be without electricity. The amendments would enable distributors to enter premises in an emergency to inspect, repair and reinstall meters. In that way we believe that they are entirely practical.

The purpose of Amendment No. 197 is to clarify that the protection of electricity supply equipment from distress will pass to the successor of the company

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that installed that equipment. As presently drafted, Schedule 4 provides immunity from distress for equipment which is marked or branded with the name of an electricity company. As a result of the reforms in the electricity market, many of these assets will pass to different owners but remain in place for some time bearing the name of a predecessor in title. It is unclear whether the immunity from distress will pass to the successor company. The amendment deals with this point.

6.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, for her explanation of those amendments. I apologise for my flippant remarks at the beginning. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, knows better than to take me seriously.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 195 and 196. At present, the distribution arm of public electricity suppliers owns most of the meters in the country. We intend that in future suppliers and not distributors should be responsible for providing customers with meters and related services. Suppliers will not have to own the meters or provide services themselves, but may procure them from specialist metering firms or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said, from distributors. This policy aims to increase competition in metering and also ensure that customers have a "one-stop shop"; that is, they deal with the supplier for everything, rather than having to deal with different people for different aspects of their electricity service.

Distributors will continue to be responsible for line and plant, and so it is right that they should have various rights of entry related to those, including emergency access. But there is no reason for them to have privileged access to meters, for which they are not responsible.

It is important to remember that this is not an issue of safety. Of course it is usually the distributor who needs entry in an emergency and we have made provision for this. But if the fault is with an electric heater or cooker, there are no additional rights of entry enforceable by court warrants to inspect or replace these items, and similarly it is not necessary for a faulty meter. It is irrelevant that the distributor might happen to own it.

Moreover, it is anti-competitive. It would retain a link between supply and distribution which runs against the thrust of the Bill in separating the two. Also, specialist metering firms, which may also provide meters to suppliers for use by consumers, do not directly get these rights, so why should we skew the competitive playing field against them?

Of course, both specialist firms and distributors can benefit from a supplier's right of entry in relation to meters if they are authorised by the supplier, for example when the supplier has sub-contracted its metering requirements. But the responsibility for how those rights are exercised should remain with the supplier who has the responsibility.

I turn to Amendment No. 197. The current drafting in Schedule 4 states that if electrical plant lines or meters are marked sufficiently to indicate an electricity

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company as the owner, they cannot be treated as part of the landlord's property or be seized if, say, the landlord goes bankrupt. I think that it was the issues of seizure and distress that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, was most concerned about.

The drafting does not say that the name of the company which owns the relevant equipment must be marked, only that the mark should be sufficient to indicate that some electricity supplier or distributor is the owner. This seems sufficient to cover the case which might lie behind the amendment; namely, when equipment is marked with the name of a company which might no longer exist, for example a public electricity supplier, where ownership has passed to a successor supplier or distributor. Therefore I do not believe that this amendment is necessary.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 195 to 197 not moved.]

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 83 [The gas code]:

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 198:


    Page 81, line 18, at end insert--


("( ) In paragraph 12 (failure to notify connection or disconnection of service pipe), in sub-paragraph (1) after "meter" in both places where it occurs there is inserted "or gas device".
( ) In paragraph 13 (failure to notify disconnection of meter)--
(a) in sub-paragraphs (1) to (3) after "meter" in each place where it occurs there is inserted "or gas device", and
(b) after sub-paragraph (4) there is inserted--
"(5) In this paragraph and in paragraph 12, "gas device" means any device other than a meter forming part of or used in conjunction with the metering installation at any premises."").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 198, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 199 and 200. These three amendments are technical amendments to clarify the legal uncertainty in the current provisions of the gas code in the Gas Act. They complement the authority's current activities in bringing greater competition in meter ownership in the gas market and in the carrying out of meter installation and maintenance activities. Encouraging competition in these areas will bring down prices for the benefit of consumers.

Amendment No. 198 seeks to amend paragraphs 12 and 13 of the schedule. The two sub-paragraphs require persons carrying out work which involves removing a meter or connecting a meter to a service pipe to inform the supplier and the gas transporter concerned. The information in question is specified in regulations under paragraph 12. However, in any metering installation, there are other fittings than purely the meter and service pipe. In a domestic installation there will be a small pressure regulator and connecting pipes. For larger industrial and commercial installations there may also be pressure and temperature controls apparatus.

In the new competitive environment it may be the case that different parties will own the meter and other parts of the apparatus. This amendment ensures that if work is carried out to any part of the metering installation other than the meter the same information

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is given to the supplier and transporter in respect of that work as is currently given in respect of work involving the meter alone. This enables the supplier and transporter to ensure that their records of ownership and work carried out are kept up to date and helps to ensure the overall safe operation of the metering installation.

Amendment No. 200 seeks to remove a barrier to the free transfer of title in meters when installed in consumers' premises. A failure to attend to this is likely to discourage new meter owners and so reduce the scope for competition in the market.

The issue is that ownership in items such as gas meters can normally be transferred by what is known as "delivery"--that is, a physical or symbolic handing over of the meters--if at the relevant time they are in the possession of the party seeking to sell them. This is, however, not the case if at the relevant time they are in the possession of a third party, such as the hirer or consumer. In such a case, in order to transfer title the consent of the party in possession of the goods would be required. This is a considerable barrier to the transfer of title. Amendment No. 199 makes that consent unnecessary without changing the terms of the hiring agreement.

The third amendment seeks to amend paragraph 29 of Schedule 2B. This paragraph provides that meters and gas fittings of gas transporters and suppliers, provided that they are marked with a sufficient mark indicating the owner, are not liable to be seized by creditors of the consumer in recovering debts, and are also not deemed to be the landlord's fixtures. The latter provision is of particular importance as otherwise the common law could deem the ownership in the meter to pass from the gas transporter to the owner of the property as soon as the meter was fixed to the property. I beg to move.


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