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Earl Ferrers: I meant to make it clear that I am not keen on that and therefore I do not advise the Committee to accept it.

The Earl of Cranbrook: I have indicated to the Committee that I should like to return to Amendments Nos. 20 and 22 because they deal with separate issues.

Amendment No. 14 is linked to Amendment No. 15, which I assume the Committee will accept, and in particular to Amendment No. 17. Amendment No. 14 is a necessary precursor of Amendment No. 17 because it creates paragraph (i).

I apologise for the fact that I raise this matter rather precipitously. That is because my attention was focused so sharply by my experiences of the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development. It is extremely important that full consideration should be given to the Round Table's deliberations, but I recognise that I have given the Committee very short notice and very little time for the matters to be assimilated at official level. Nevertheless, as Members of the Committee who care to consult the documents, copies of which are placed in the Library, will see, it brought together an extremely powerful group of people who gave their time to put their heads together for that one day.

My amendments were prompted by my appreciation of how important it is that we should consider the use of gas because it contributes directly to the carbon dioxide load; and how important it is that ultimately there should be reference to sustainable development in the Bill. Therefore, for the time being I wish to withdraw the

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amendments but I believe that it is appropriate that they should be considered in due course and I shall return to this matter on Report.

Lord Peston: Before that happens, will the noble Earl make clear which amendments he is withdrawing?

The Earl of Cranbrook: I shall withdraw Amendment No. 14 and I shall not move Amendment No. 17 because they are inextricably linked. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 2, line 18, leave out ("physical").

The noble Earl said: I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for asking that question because I had a horrible feeling that my amendment might have gone down the plughole. That is not the intention and I beg to move Amendment No. 15.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 2, line 19, after ("with") insert ("the construction of any pipeline and").

The noble Lord said: I am now totally at a loss as to what is going on. I was looking forward to hearing an explanation of Amendments Nos. 20 and 22 which are grouped with the amendments that we have just debated. Shall we be returning to those amendments in a few moments?

The Earl of Cranbrook: I am working on the assumption that my noble friend will move Amendment No. 20, because that amendment stands in his name, and I shall then have the opportunity to speak again to Amendment No. 22 and explain the differences and some of the background.

Earl Ferrers: That seems to be reasonable. I intend to move Amendment No. 20. I am not certain about the nice nuances in relation to those two amendments and I look forward to hearing about those with a certain amount of trepidation.

Lord Peston: I am fairly sure that that is not within our rules but I am always extremely reasonable. I shall not object to that procedure when we reach those amendments.

The Earl of Cranbrook: It is perfectly clear that the list of groupings is advisory and not obligatory. I am absolutely sure that it is the correct behaviour.

Lord Peston: I am not suggesting for one moment that it is incorrect behaviour. I am pleased to know that we shall have an explanation in relation to Amendment No. 20 in a few moments. Therefore, I should now like to speak to the amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hilton of Eggardon. It might have been useful if the amendment had been grouped with the others.

I simply raise briefly—I am sure that my noble friend would have been able to deal with the issue in a more sophisticated way—the question as to why the Bill is written as it is. It refers to the effect on the environment of

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activities connected with the conveyance of gas through pipes. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, refers to, "the use of gas conveyed through pipes." Common sense tells me that what might damage the environment—it is where the issue arises in practice—is the building of pipelines. Once the pipelines have been built underground, with the area made good again, all is well. In the meantime, the environment has taken a terrible beating. I am puzzled as to why the construction of any pipeline was not included.

It may be that that concept is subsumed logically under the conveyance of gas: that one cannot convey it unless one builds some pipes and that therefore if one is taking into account the conveyance of gas, one is taking into account the construction. If that is what the noble Earl is about to tell me, it will satisfy me. If he is not, I emphasise to him that for those who are worried about the world in which we live, digging up the ground and making a terrible mess which seems to go on endlessly is about as bad a destruction of the environment as anything I can think of.

That is the purpose of the amendment. To go back to my earlier remark, I should like to be assured that the amendment is not needed and that the matter is subsumed in the Bill as drafted. It is an important consideration.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Inglewood: In this case my noble friend Lord Ferrers will not be able to give the noble Lord, Lord Peston, any satisfaction. I hope that I may be able to do so. Of course, we agree that the construction of gas pipelines that are likely to have significant effects on the environment should only be allowed to go ahead if those effects are properly assessed first and taken into account. That is why it is our intention to bring forward later this year an order under the European Communities Act 1972 to provide that procedure. We believe that those arrangements will meet the concerns underlying the amendment and that in this country we shall continue to have high pressure pipelines installed to our current high standards.

If one thinks about it, it would not be practicable for the director to consider the construction of every single pipeline. Those which are likely to have an environmental impact will be dealt with by environmental assessment. As to those which are not, British Gas has enough short low pressure pipelines to go several times around the world. For the director to consider each addition to this vast spider's web, cat's cradle, call it what you will, would create an enormous bureaucracy to little effect.

It is interesting that earlier the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, commented that this aspect of gas was not environmentally intrusive in general. Any general matters which arise from the pipes which are not subject to environmental assessment will fall within the more general requirement to consider activities connected with the conveyance of gas. I hope that that gives the noble Lord, Lord Peston, some comfort.

Lord Peston: I thank the noble Lord, and I apologise to him. Perhaps he will accept that when I refer to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, it subsumes the noble Earl, Lord

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Ferrers, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and anyone else sitting on the Government Front Bench who fancies speaking.

The noble Lord's answer was extremely reassuring, if I understood it. I gather that such a consideration will be taken into account but that we do not need to provide for it in the Bill because we shall make provision under a European directive that we shall all be extremely pleased to support. Therefore the answer is doubly good.

I accept the fact that we cannot become involved in all the detail. However, such pipelines can be an environmental mess and we wish to have high standards as regards taking into account the environment. I am pleased with the answer. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 not moved.]

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 2, line 28, at end insert ("or in receipt of one or more of the means-tested benefits").

The noble Baroness said: We are glad that the requirement that the interests of those who are disabled or of pensionable age are taken into account by the Secretary of State and the director general in the exercise of their duties. As one of pensionable age, I am particularly glad that that is so. I noted with amusement that my noble friend has put my name to all those amendments which are attached to those of pensionable age—so here I go!

We are concerned that the special circumstances of other equally vulnerable consumers are not afforded similar considerations, particularly those on the lowest incomes. For example, the provision of free gas safety checks is one of the tangible benefits currently available to elderly and disabled customers. Yet the risks of using poorly maintained or rarely serviced gas appliances are not confined to those consumers.

It is a fact that those on the lowest incomes may be at much greater risk because they are less able to afford the costs of servicing equipment than many pensioners or disabled people. Similarly, the commitment not to disconnect pensioner households in the winter months recognises that elderly people are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of hypothermia and cold-related illnesses. However, the same is true of young children, as the Government recognise through their scheme for making extra payments to meet fuel costs for income support claimants in periods of severe weather.

We wish therefore to see some additional degree of protection afforded to customers who are financially disadvantaged. That means that we wish to add the words in the amendment,

    "or in receipt of one or more of the means-tested benefits".

I beg to move.

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