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Mr. Fabricant: Will the Minister give way?

Mrs. Liddell: I wish to make some progress. Many hon. Members have made points in the debate to which they are entitled to have a reply.

Hon. Members have raised the issue of the effect that NETA will have on combined heat and power and on renewables. We have had lengthy discussions with the

31 Jan 2000 : Column 872

Combined Heat and Power Association about the impact of NETA and we hope to be able to work with the association to ensure that CHP continues to make an expanding contribution to our energy market.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West suggested that there was a lack in the resources available to the CHPA, but it has not said that to us. The association acknowledges that NETA is complicated and that it will create difficulties, but it has not made the point that the hon. Gentleman made. We shall discuss the matter with the association.

The stricter gas consents policy was mentioned several times. The Government have always made it clear that that stricter policy is a temporary measure, aimed at getting rid of distortions in electricity trading arrangements. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer), who spoke about the coal industry, that one of the distortions in the energy market was against coal. The new electricity trading arrangements will remove that distortion. However, I do not underestimate the difficulties faced by the deep-mined coal industry. The Government are aware of the problem and are studying it.

My hon. Friends the Members for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill)--I have heard some strange pronunciations of that constituency today--for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) and for Hornchurch, and the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, all highlighted the problem of fuel poverty. In the early days of the 21st century, fuel poverty is completely unacceptable. That is why the social aspects of the Bill, and the reserve power that we are taking, are very important.

However, there is another way to tackle fuel poverty. The regulator is taking forward a social action plan that we hope will make the use of cross-subsidy unnecessary. I expect the industry to co-operate fully with the plan, and I have asked those at the highest level in each company to take into account issues of fuel poverty. For example, the extent to which the Electricity Association's task force on fuel poverty comes up with realisable plans to ease fuel poverty will be an important guide to the industry's commitment to resolving the problem.

Economic regulation does not take place in a vacuum. Environmental, as well as social, responsibilities must also be taken into account. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton asked for more detail on the statutory social and environmental guidance. I accept her point that more detail is required, and the Government intend to publish copies of draft statutory social and environmental guidance for energy and for telecoms. That guidance will allow consultation to be held with all the interested parties.

The drafts will be preliminary versions, so that all involved can contribute to ensuring that the guidelines meet the needs of Government and of industry. That common-sense way forward will ensure that the regulator has the opportunity to take into account the Government's overall policies.

Mr. Gibb: Will those drafts be available before consideration of the Bill in Committee begins?

Mrs. Liddell: I do not know when proceedings will begin in Committee, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government intend that the draft guidance will be made available as soon as possible.

31 Jan 2000 : Column 873

The issue of standing charges is, I know, very close to the hearts of many Labour Members. Our constituents are often deeply concerned that people, especially the poor, have to pay standing charges. We have long believed that such charges are unfair and that they have a particular impact on low-use and less well-off customers. However, the answer to the problem can be found in competition in energy markets. We are already seeing some progress. Norweb and British Fuels Ltd. offer packages without a standing charge, and Centrica recently announced that it was abolishing standing charges.

The Government foresee an important role for the new consumer councils in ensuring that information on tariffs is available to every customer, including poorer customers. A number of Labour members, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil, pointed out the difficulty that disadvantaged people face in accessing the cheapest tariffs for electricity. It is very important, therefore, that we concentrate on getting information across to people.

I should like briefly to refer to some of the issues on telecoms regulation. I know that British Telecom has been briefing hon. Members on their concerns about over-regulation. The Bill introduces better regulation measures such as depersonalisation. We have heard a lot tonight about one regulator by name. We do not believe that that is the way to give the regulatory certainty that is required by companies in planning ahead. It is important to have regulatory certainty, which is why the Bill makes these significant changes.

The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) asked about concurrency and related that to overlapping regulation. We believe that concurrency will help to avoid overlapping regulation. Utility regulators will have powers under the Competition Act 1998. That will help eliminate the overlap with the Office of Fair Trading. Indeed, the consumer councils will have no decision-making powers. They will investigate, report and make representations, so I do not think that the overlapping that the hon. Gentleman mentioned needs to be especially considered.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch asked about consumer councils as advocates. That is their key role--to be advocates, to be partisan on behalf of consumers. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Gilroy) referred to access to information. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, it is very important to have a balance regarding freedom of information to ensure that the information in the public domain is not anti-competitive and does not lead to an increased burden. It is important to consider balance. That can be discussed in more detail in Committee.

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), who has let me know that he cannot be present because of a family illness, asked about financial penalties. We believe that there is a place for financial penalties. They are available in the gas market and we believe that there is a place for them in the electricity market, but they must be proportionate. The hon. Gentleman also asked who would regulate the futures market on the new electricity trading arrangements. That will be regulated by the Financial Services Authority in the same way that any financial options market would be regulated.

Mr. Butterfill: I am most grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. She has not dealt with what I consider to

31 Jan 2000 : Column 874

be the most important point--the security of supply in the electricity supply industry. What is the Government's policy in that connection?

Mrs. Liddell: If the hon. Gentleman looks at the Bill, he will see that the regulator has responsibility to take into account the Government's commitment to, and responsibilities for, security of supply. I believe that our actions will ensure that security of supply will be preserved.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) asked about the health and safety responsibilities of the energy industry. The regulator is an economic regulator; health and safety matters are the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive. However, the regulator must ensure that the industry has sufficient finances to take health and safety matters into account.

There have also been questions about why the water industry is treated differently. I think that both sides of the House recognise that the water industry is significantly different. We have taken into account the wide range of different aspects of regulation that affect utilities.

When in opposition, we undertook to achieve open and predictable regulation that is fair to both customers and shareholders. The Bill delivers on that promise. It will improve the transparency, consistency and predictability of regulation, and will provide a stable framework. It is a good move forward for the people of this country. It is about reform, modernisation and common sense, and I commend it to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 136, Noes 343.

Division No. 55
[10 pm


Amess, David
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baldry, Tony
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela
Burns, Simon
Butterfill, John
Cash, William
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth
Collins, Tim
Colvin, Michael
Cran, James
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Day, Stephen
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Duncan, Alan
Faber, David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Flight, Howard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Fox, Dr Liam
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Roger
Gibb, Nick
Gill, Christopher
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Gray, James
Green, Damian
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Gummer, Rt Hon John
Hague, Rt Hon William
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Horam, John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David
Major, Rt Hon John
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Moss, Malcolm
Norman, Archie
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Prior, David
Randall, John
Redwood, Rt Hon John
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Laurence
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Ruffley, David
St Aubyn, Nick
Sayeed, Jonathan
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Soames, Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Richard
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Steen, Anthony
Streeter, Gary
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Townend, John
Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael
Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Walter, Robert
Wardle, Charles
Waterson, Nigel
Wells, Bowen
Whitney, Sir Raymond
Whittingdale, John
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Yeo, Tim
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Oliver Heald and
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Ashton, Joe
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Baker, Norman
Ballard, Jackie
Barnes, Harry
Barron, Kevin
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Bennett, Andrew F
Benton, Joe
Bermingham, Gerald
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul
Borrow, David
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Butler, Mrs Christine
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Cann, Jamie
Caplin, Ivor
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Chisholm, Malcolm
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Corbett, Robin
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, Jean
Cotter, Brian
Cousins, Jim
Cox, Tom
Crausby, David
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Dalyell, Tam
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Fearn, Ronnie
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzsimons, Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Foulkes, George
Galloway, George
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Andrew (St Ives)
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Graham, Thomas
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce
Grogan, John
Gunnell, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Healey, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Ms Margaret
Hoey, Kate
Home Robertson, John
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Kirkwood, Archy
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Livsey, Richard
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Love, Andrew
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
Macdonald, Calum
McFall, John
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
McNamara, Kevin
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Maxton, John
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Meale, Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle
(B'ham Yardley)
Mountford, Kali
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Eddie
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Öpik, Lembit
Organ, Mrs Diana
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Pendry, Tom
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prescott, Rt Hon John
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Rendel, David
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Rowlands, Ted
Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Adrian
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Short, Rt Hon Clare
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Smith, Miss Geraldine
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen
Squire, Ms Rachel
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Stringer, Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Touhig, Don
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tyler, Paul
Tynan, Bill
Vis, Dr Rudi
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Willis, Phil
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wise, Audrey
Wood, Mike
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wray, James
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Noes:

Mrs. Anne McGuire and
Mr. Graham Allen.

Question accordingly negatived.

31 Jan 2000 : Column 877

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 62 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).

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