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Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 99A:

Page 32, line 8, leave out ("This section ") and insert ("Subsection (2) below").

The noble Earl said: In moving the amendment, perhaps I may speak to Amendments Nos. 99B to 99H, 99J, 99L to 99N, 99P to 99S, 136A, 149E, 151A, and 151G to 151L.

This large group of amendments is technical. Rather than weary Members of the Committee with the detail, I hope that noble Lords will take it, so to speak, as read. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendments Nos. 99B to 99J:

Page 32, line 12, leave out from beginning to ("pipe") in line 13 and insert ("or
(b) could be connected to any such main by a").
Page 32, line 19, leave out ("section") and insert ("subsection").
Page 32, line 22, leave out ("and thereafter maintain the connection").
Page 32, line 24, at end insert ("and").
Page 32, line 26, leave out from ("subsection") to end of line 31 and insert ("connect the premises to the relevant main by the pipe there mentioned").
Page 32, line 35, at end insert:

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("(2A) Subject to the provisions of this Part and any regulations made under those provisions, where any premises are connected (whether by virtue of subsection (2) above or otherwise), the public gas transporter shall maintain the connection until such time as it is no longer required by the owner or occupier of the premises.").
Page 32, line 37, leave out ("(2) (a) or (c)") and insert ("(2)").
Page 32, line 48, at end insert:
("(4A) Where at any time a public gas transporter connects any premises under subsection (2) (b) above—
(a) the pipe supplied and laid by the owner or occupier of the premises; and
(b) any rights of the owner or occupier which relate to the laying, maintenance, repair, alteration or removal of the pipe,
shall at that time vest in and become property or rights of the transporter.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 99K not moved.]

Earl Ferrers moved Amendments Nos. 99L to 99N:

Page 33, line 1, leave out ("(2) (a) or (c)") and insert ("(2)").
Page 33, line 15, after ("(2)") insert ("or (2A)").
Page 33, line 16, after ("connect") insert (", or maintain the connection of,").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendments Nos. 99P to 99S:

Page 33, line 19, after ("(2)") insert ("or (2A)").
Page 33, line 30, leave out ("service").
Page 33, line 34, leave out ("in pursuance of subsection (2) (a), (b) or (c)") and insert ("to be made or maintained in pursuance of subsection (2) or (2A)").
Page 33, leave out lines 54 and 55 and insert:
("(9) Subject to subsection (10) below, in this section, 'relevant main', in relation to a public gas transporter, means any distribution main in its authorised area which is being used for the purpose of giving a supply of gas to any premises in that area at a rate not exceeding 75,000 therms a year.
(10) Any pipe which—
(a) vests in and becomes the property of a public gas transporter by virtue of subsection (4A) above; and
(b) apart from this subsection, would be a relevant main for the purposes of this section,
shall be such a main if, and only if, it has been declared to be such a main by the transporter; and a declaration under this subsection shall not be capable of being revoked."").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes moved Amendment No. 100:

Page 33, line 55, at end insert:

("Obligation to supply

. After section 10 of the 1986 Act there shall be inserted the following section—
"Obligation to supply.

10A.—(1) A gas supplier licensed to supply under section 7A above shall, on being required to do so by any potential domestic gas consumer, give and continue to give a supply of gas at a premises of which the consumer is an owner, occupier or leaseholder and which is connected by a service pipe to a relevant main.
(2) It shall by the duty of the gas supplier to process all applications for a supply of gas without undue preference or undue discrimination.
(3) Subsection (1) above shall apply only where the gas supplier is licensed to supply gas to the person at the premises concerned.

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(4) Subsection (1) above shall not apply if, and so long as, to do so would, in the opinion of the Director, significantly prejudice the supplier's ability to continue to supply gas to domestic consumers at premises where it already does so.
(5) Subsection (1) above shall not apply where a person requesting a supply of gas to a premises is bound by the provisions of a contract with another supplier unless that contract will either expire before the supply from the supplier is to commence or the contract is capable of being terminated.".").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment concerns the mechanism of imposing an obligation on suppliers to supply gas for those who wish to be supplied. I regret that I shall not be present to speak to Amendment No. 106. However, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, will speak to it.

The issue is, should the obligations to supply and in Amendment No. 106 to publish, be in the licence conditions which are subject to change by the director general, with the approval of the Secretary of State, or should they remain within the Act where they are subject to change only with the agreement of Parliament. The Minister of State, when explaining why the obligations should be in the licence and not in the Bill, frequently used the word "flexibility". In the case of the obligation to supply, the Minister said that the relevant provisions are all encompassed by the standard conditions in the licence. He went on to say, "We believe strongly that we need the flexibility that would be afforded by keeping them in the licence".

I point out that the Gas Consumers Council asked me to table this amendment and the later amendments, Amendments Nos. 106 and 149. One is from the Gas Consumers Council and the other from the National Consumer Council. The single underlying object of the Bill is to benefit consumers by introducing competition into the provision of gas. There is general support for the legislation because of the likely benefits in price and standards of service. But the general good depends on the benefits being made available so far as possible to all users of gas. A consumer's opportunity to choose his supplier depends on there being an obligation on the part of that supplier to supply and on the public knowledge of the prices and other terms of supply on offer from each and every supplier in a given area. The prospect at any time in the future of the obligations being put aside is a charter for selective marketing of gas in which those less economically active or aware could be seriously disadvantaged.

Flexibility at the discretion of the Secretary of State and the director general may be attractive to their organisations and may be attractive to some potential suppliers, but so far not one realistic example has been put forward as to why such flexibility might actually be needed. Indeed, one is concerned that the need for flexibility signals an intention to put the obligations aside.

References have been made to the industrial market which is tiny by comparison with the 18 million domestic consumers. In the industrial market, consumers have welcomed the likely removal of British Gas's unilateral obligations to supply and to publish prices. But this is a sector inhabited by the professional buyer. Confusing it with the domestic market shows a misunderstanding of the gas market. The idea of 18 million consumers negotiating individually with one or more than one supplier is not realistic.

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"Flexibility" may seem to be a good word, but we must be sure that it does not simply present the opportunity to remove two important obligations which are cornerstones of protection for the consumer. Such artificial flexibility is not in the interests of consumers and would be prevented by Amendments Nos. 100 and 106.

More information has been made available in the licences. The first version of the licence defined the obligation to supply as to make it available. That has now been amended and the Gas Consumers Council is pleased that the amendment uses the wording,

    "to continue to supply gas".

However, it believes that it would be better still if the licence repeated the words of the 1986 Gas Act,

    "to give and continue to give a supply of gas".

The first version of the licence only requires the supplier to process an application without "undue preference". An application could therefore have been processed with undue discrimination. That again has been changed and suppliers must now process applications without undue preference or undue discrimination. The Gas Consumers Council feels that progress has been made in that respect. I beg to move.

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