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Amendment No. 198 would have the effect that a notice should be given if a "device" which is not a gas meter but "forms part of it" or is used "in conjunction with it" is to be disconnected. The present drafting would require such notice to be given only if the meter is to be disconnected. The amendment is unnecessary and also far too broad. It is unnecessary because if the device is part of the meter, disconnecting the device would automatically entail disconnecting the meter, thus triggering the existing notice provisions.
The other part of the definition of "device" relates to something that is not part of the meter but used in conjunction with it. If it does not simply mean something that is necessary to the operation of the meter, how far does it go? A gas cooker is used in conjunction with a meter in some sense. Any reasonable interpretation of the word "meter" already covers what needs to be covered, and does not extend to cookers and the like. So the amendment is not only unnecessary but goes too far.
Amendment No. 199 is also unnecessary and would have effects which extend far beyond the provisions of the gas code, with which these amendments are concerned. The current wording of the gas code says that any gas "fittings" owned by gas transporters or suppliers cannot be treated as landlord's fixtures and cannot be subject to distress or taken in bankruptcy or other court proceedings. Amendment No. 199 seeks to extend this to cover fittings owned by anyone other than the consumer.
The term "fittings" is defined by Section 48 of the Gas Act to include pipes and meters, and also apparatus and appliances for use by consumers for heating, lighting and other purposes. In other words, it covers both pipes and such things as cookers. Gas pipes are unlikely to be owned by anyone other than a transporter, supplier or the owner of the premises. So the amendment would be unlikely to have any effect in that regard.
But when it comes to items such as cookers, the effect of the amendment would be that if the cooker was owned by, say, a gas appliances company which was providing it under a hire purchase agreement, it could not be seized--not even by the company which provided it. Equally, a gas appliance belonging to a landlord would be deemed not to be a landlord's fixture, notwithstanding that it was fixed or fastened to the premises. These are odd effects to seek to achieve.
The purpose of the existing provision is simply to protect the property of gas transporters and suppliers. The amendment does not seem to benefit them and has the perverse consequences to which I have referred.
Amendment No. 200 is also unnecessary, as well as being too broad. It would apply to all gas meters, including meters owned by the customer himself. But even if it were tighter than that, it is unnecessary. This is because the consent of consumers is not necessary to transfer ownership of meters or fittings owned by suppliers or transporters. For the sale of a gas meter which is in a consumer's premises, Section 29(4) of the Sale of Goods Act 1979 would simply require an acknowledgement by the consumer that the meter or fitting is held on behalf of the buyer rather than the seller, and this would constitute delivery of the goods by the seller. The contract that the consumer signs with the supplier could simply say that such acknowledgement will be deemed to have been given in the event of a sale of a meter, or, alternatively, that the payment of a bill on which the change of ownership is mentioned constitutes delivery.
The Sale of Goods Act requires there to be a "delivery" of the goods by the seller, whether actual or constructive. This amendment would mean that the seller of a gas meter would have no way of making "delivery" of the meter to the buyer, and some alternative method would have to be prescribed. It would also mean that the position in respect of gas meters differed from that in respect of electricity meters.
Baroness Buscombe: I have listened with great care to what the Minister said. I simply cannot agree with him that these amendments are either unnecessary or too broad--not least because we have developed these proposals very much in consultation with the gas industry, which is deeply concerned about these issues. With great respect, we are not satisfied with the Minister's response and I should like to test the opinion of the Committee.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
("(bb) after sub-paragraph (2) there is inserted--
"(2A) Section 23 of this Act shall apply in relation to any dispute arising under this paragraph between an electricity supplier and a customer.";").