Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Clinton-Davis: Where?

Earl Ferrers: As always, the noble Lord is a trifle impatient. Had the noble Lord contained himself for half a moment longer, I would have told him. The revised section of the 1986 Act, which is set out in paragraph 4 of Schedule 3 to the Bill, provides that the costs of making a connection to premises within 23 metres of a relevant main should be defrayed by the person requiring a connection. The phraseology "defraying of costs" means that the costs only can be defrayed. It does not allow for a profit margin by the public gas transporter.

That obligation on the consumer to pay the costs of the pipe is further qualified by draft standard condition 4 of the public gas transporter's licence, which provides for the first 30 feet of pipe in the highway to be free of charge. That reflects the position in existing legislation but under the Bill we propose that it should be in the licence because it may not be appropriate in every case.

Beyond the statutory connection regime the transporter is still obliged to comply with any reasonable and economic requirement for a connection, although in this case a reasonable profit margin may be charged. However, the customer still has the option of making his own connection, and that option will itself put a downward pressure on what the transporter might charge.

In any event it is proposed that connection charges should be subject to regulation although certain exceptions may be approved by the director for new villages. Standard condition 4 of the draft transporter's licence provides that the transporter must prepare and publish a statement of the principles upon which charges will be made for making connections.

As for a requirement to make estimates of costs in particular cases available to the director and the Gas Consumers Council, both the director and the council already have the power to require any information which they need to help them deal with complaints. That power is set out in conditions 11 and 12 of the public gas transporter licence.

28 Jun 1995 : Column 809

I believe that the points I have made should satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that the concerns they have—and quite rightly—are already met in the Bill and that therefore the prices charged will be kept within bounds, are subject to certain regulations and, indeed, are transparent.

Lord Ezra: I thank the noble Earl for that detailed explanation. From the noble Earl's response, and after studying the part of the Bill to which he referred, it seems to me that anyone who wants a connection within 23 metres is thoroughly covered. In some other respects, I believe that the distance of 30 feet was mentioned. However, in those cases which exceed the minimal distance, it seems, as far as I understand it, to be up for grabs and that any charge can be made, any profit margin can be put in, and, if the potential consumer was not satisfied, then it would be up to him to make his own connection. Am I right in supposing that that is the situation and that, therefore, there is no transparency and no obligation to minimise cost over and above the 23 metres quoted in the Bill?

Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is fairly near to being correct. However, I am not so sure that the inflexion that he put upon the position is quite right. The fact is that within 23 metres the costs of making a connection to a main can be defrayed by the person who requires the connection. The first 30 feet of a pipe in the highway must be free of charge.

However, to take an absurd example, if the pipe were a quarter of a mile away, the individual concerned would get a quotation and if that quotation (which would, of course, include an element of profit) were too great or unreasonable, then he could obtain his own quotation from an independent supplier. He could run his own pipe down to the transporter's pipe and there would just be a connection charge. Therefore, the choice would be the consumer's; he could either use the services of the transporter or use the services of his own contractor.

Lord Ezra: I thank the Minister for his further explanation. However, I find the situation slightly disconcerting. I believe that the intending consumer would find it very difficult to start looking around and obtaining tenders from companies that lay pipes and have such tender documents prepared. Indeed, he could be involved in considerable expense. It seems to me that it would be very much simpler if the minimal cost obligation and the transparency obligation mentioned in the amendments were to be accepted. That would set people's minds at rest rather than forcing them, if they felt that they were being charged unduly high prices, to set themselves up as a sort of commercial organisation and put out tenders to a number of pipe laying companies at considerable cost, difficulty and delay. I do not see why individual consumers—I am not talking about firms or large enterprises—should be put to that trouble through lack of the simple assurances that we have requested. Has the Minister any further comments to make?

Earl Ferrers: I am not sure that I am able to comment very much more. In the normal course of events, there will be occasions when the transporter will be able to provide the pipe and make the appropriate charges which I have

28 Jun 1995 : Column 810

explained. However, if there are longer connections, they will be subject to the licence conditions and to the requirement to agree to any economic request. I do not believe that to be unreasonable. If longer lengths of pipe are required, it is possible for people to obtain other quotations. That is the point of having competition. As I said, I do not believe that that is unreasonable.

Lord Ezra: I find the Minister's response rather difficult to accept. However, I should like to consider the matter most carefully and return to it, if need be, on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 98 not moved.]

Lord Haskel moved Amendment No. 99:

Page 32, line 4, at end insert:

("Duties in respect of the disabled and pensioners.

9A.—(1) It shall be the duty of the transporter to provide special services to assist with safe use of gas appliances and fittings in the cases of consumers who are disabled or of pensionable age.
(2) It shall be the duty of the transporter to keep a register of consumers who are disabled or above pensionable age who may require assistance with the safe use of gas.
(3) It shall be the duty of the transporter, where a gas appliance has developed a fault that is known to be or could be life threatening, to mount a programme in conjunction with the manufacturer to inspect and rectify these appliances in all the consumers' property within their area."").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to try to keep some central control of safety services and apply continuity in order to look after those vulnerable customers who qualify for special services. As consumers will be able to purchase their gas from many different suppliers and change from time to time, the only way to ensure that there is an accurate register of customers who require such special services is for the transporter to keep the record and for him to supply those special services.

When British Gas was an integrated company, it had the resources to trace all the rogue appliances of any particular type and make them safe or repair them. Neither the gas suppliers nor Corgi will have the ability to do that; only the transporter will have sufficient manpower and resources to undertake that task. It is important that that ability is maintained. The amendment would ensure that the task is carried out. I beg to move.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: This amendment, like the ones we discussed a little time ago, is based on the use of the test of pensionable age. Once again I must make clear the self-evident point that it is odd that there should be different ages for men and women—65 for men, whereas on the other hand for a woman, for the time being, it is 60, although that will gradually disappear under the operation of the Pensions Bill which this Chamber carried a little time ago. I feel rather strongly that to use pensionable age as the criterion or test of whether help should be given is a mistake. It will produce anomalies of every sort and kind and I hope that it will not be persisted in.

Lord Skelmersdale: I am confused by this amendment for a rather different reason because in the Bill—I do not have the references immediately to hand but I am sure that my noble friend Lord Ferrers will be able to help us with that—the transporter is responsible

28 Jun 1995 : Column 811

for safety in the broadest sense and the supplier has to give free safety checks to disabled people and to pensioners. I do not quite see how they can do this without maintaining some sort of record. That said, the third subsection of the amendment is rather different. To me it is overburdensome—I think that is probably the word—because it suggests that if there is a fault identified anywhere in the country the transporter has,

    "to mount a programme in conjunction with the manufacturer to inspect and rectify these appliances in all the consumers' property within their area".

The area in this particular case could easily be countrywide, could it not?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page