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Mr. Gibb: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The costs legitimately incurred by companies can be used as

19 Apr 2000 : Column 1046

a basis for future price increases. If the regulator regards the costs as legitimate, those costs will form the basis of future price reviews. The costs will simply be passed on to the consumer.

The Bill is particularly irritating in that the general increase in competition that is occurring in the industry thanks to privatisation and the opening up of markets by the Conservative Government is continually bringing down prices, even under the meddlesome stewardship of the Labour Government. Many extra costs will be lost, because prices will not necessarily rise. Neither, however, will they fall by as much as they otherwise would have.

Consumers are losing out. They are not benefiting by as much as they should from falling prices, and are suffering from hidden measures, such as the tripling of the energy efficiency levy from £1.20 to £3.60 on the average bill. That increase applies to each utility, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) often points out. In fact, it will mean an average £7.20 levy on bills, which is a form of stealth taxation. It is not an honest way in which to govern in a mature democracy.

The use of stealth taxes has arisen as a direct consequence of Lady Thatcher's having made it impossible for any Government to increase the rate of income tax since the time when she was Prime Minister. It is now politically unacceptable to raise the basic rate or the upper rate. Governments have therefore found other methods of raising taxes, and the Government are past masters at doing so by stealth. It is time that we exposed stealth taxes so that our mature democracy can assess how much tax we are paying and how much public expenditure we are prepared to pay for.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) for his point about indirect and hidden ways in which the Government are raising funds to implement their social programmes. I am disappointed--[Interruption.] I am sorry to repeat that phrase, and sorry that the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe objects to it, but I am disappointed by the hurried response of the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs to a serious debate during the Report stage of what is supposed to be a flagship Bill. Despite my disappointment, and in view of the fact that we have had a debate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19

Provision of advice and information to public authorities and other persons

7.45 pm

Dr. Cable: I beg to move amendment No. 35, in page 14, line 17, leave out "or body".

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 36, in page 14, line 18, leave out from beginning to "or" in line 19.

No. 38, in page 14, line 25, leave out from "body" to end of line 28.

Dr. Cable: May I first seek your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on a point of information? My colleagues and I tabled four amendments that were logically connected, but

19 Apr 2000 : Column 1047

the Chair, in its wisdom, has chosen three of them, but not the fourth, on which, in fact, the three were contingent. The effect of that is the amendments that we are debating would have exactly the opposite effect to that which we intended.

May I ask whether the Speaker's provisional selection list is sufficiently provisional to allow for the readmission of amendment No. 33, or could you give me further advice on how I should proceed?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am afraid that Madam Speaker's decision on the selection of amendments is final.

Dr. Cable: Naturally, I accept your judgment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall therefore speak briefly on the three amendments, but shall not waste the House's time by entering into prolonged debate on amendments that we acknowledge to be defective as they stand.

The Bill uses commercial confidentiality as a broad brush exemption from information that can be made available through the National Consumer Council. We regard that as a serious defect, which undermines the openness and transparency that we would wish from the consumer protection regime. We recognise that commercial confidentiality must sometimes be honoured and accepted, but a balance has to be struck between confidentiality and the right to know and to freedom of information.

Our amendments were intended to try to ensure that a balance would be struck and that the council would have an obligation to balance commercial confidentiality against the value of open information. In the event of a dispute between those two objectives, the matter would have been referred to the Information Commission. I regret that because of the way in which the amendments have emerged, their effect would be to narrow freedom of information rather than broaden it. I do not want to achieve that, so I shall not trouble the Government to produce a reply. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 35

Electricity licence modification references

Amendment made: No. 1, in page 34, line 34, at end insert--
'( ) In subsection (6), after "this section" there is inserted "or in carrying out functions under section 14A", after "the investigation" there is inserted "or the carrying out of those functions" and after "such investigation" there is inserted "or such functions".'.--[Mrs. Liddell.]

19 Apr 2000 : Column 1048

Clause 37

Modification following report

Amendment made: No. 2, in page 35, line 42, at end insert--
' "(5) After considering any representations or objections made in response to proposals set out in a notice under subsection (3), the Authority shall give notice to the Competition Commission--
(a) setting out the modifications it proposes to make to remedy or prevent the adverse effects specified in the report; and
(b) stating the reasons for making the modifications.
(6) The Authority shall include with the notice under subsection (5) a copy of any representations or objections received in relation to the notice under subsection (3).
(7) If the period of four weeks from the date on which the notice under subsection (5) is given elapses without a direction under section 14A(1)(a) having been given to it, the Authority shall--
(a) make the modifications set out in the notice; or
(b) if a direction under section 14A(1)(b) has been given, make the modifications which are not specified in the direction.'. --[Mrs. Liddell.]

Clause 48

General duties of electricity distributors

Amendment proposed: No. 28, in page 48, line 36, at end insert--
(c) to facilitate the development of embedded generation;
(d) to support the achievement of the Government's national renewable energy targets by facilitating small-scale renewable generation through net metering.'.--[Mr. Stunell.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 31, Noes 261.

Division No. 172
[7.47 pm


Baker, Norman
Ballard, Jackie
Beggs, Roy
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Brake, Tom
Breed, Colin
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Burnett, John
Cable, Dr Vincent
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Fearn, Ronnie
Foster, Don (Bath)
Hancock, Mike
Harvey, Nick
Kirkwood, Archy
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Moore, Michael
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Oaten, Mark
Öpik, Lembit
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Sanders, Adrian
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Stunell, Andrew
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Tyler, Paul
Willis, Phil

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. David Heath and
Dr. Jenny Tonge.


Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Barron, Kevin
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Benton, Joe
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Borrow, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Buck, Ms Karen
Burgon, Colin
Butler, Mrs Christine
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Cann, Jamie
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chisholm, Malcolm
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clwyd, Ann
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, David
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry
(B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Efford, Clive
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Fyfe, Maria
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce
Grogan, John
Hain, Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hanson, David
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Healey, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hill, Keith
Hoey, Kate
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Howells, Dr Kim
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Iddon, Dr Brian
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Lock, David
McAllion, John
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Ms Chris
Macdonald, Calum
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Maxton, John
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Meale, Alan
Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle
(B'ham Yardley)
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Olner, Bill
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
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Roy, Frank
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Salter, Martin
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Sheerman, Barry
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Snape, Peter
Soley, Clive
Spellar, John
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Touhig, Don
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Tynan, Bill
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Wood, Mike
Woodward, Shaun
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe and
Mr. Tony McNulty.

Question accordingly negatived.

19 Apr 2000 : Column 1050

Clause 57

Financial Penalties

8 pm

Mr. Gibb: I beg to move amendment No. 26, in page 54, line 46, at end insert--

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