HC Deb 12 May 1982 vol 23 cc917-8

A1. In section 12(3) of the Electric Lighting Act 1882 (incorporation of certain provisions of Clauses Consolidation Acts), both as enacted in the said Act of 1882 and as set out in the Appendix to the Schedule to the Electric Lighting (Clauses) Act 1899, for the word "thirty-eight" substitute the word "thirty-nine" (this amendment having effect also for the purposes of the said Schedule as incorporated with the Electricity Act 1947 or any other enactment).'

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 63 and 64.

Mr. Fletcher

The purpose of this group of amendments is to increase the penalties in Scotland for interfering with electricity meters and to consolidate and clarify the relevant offence provisions in electricity legislation. The South of Scotland Electricity Board has recently estimated that annual losses from meter interference are running at over £4 million with over 40,000 consumers in its area involved. The existing level of fine of £5, which has been unchanged since 1956, is no longer realistic and cannot be regarded as a suitable deterrent for this type of offence. The amendments would increase the fine to £200 for wilfully interfering with meters and to £50 for the less serious offence of failing to report accidentally damaged meters.

The amendments also update and bring' together in clearer form the relevant statutory provisions governing all forms of meter interference. The present provisions date back to the nineteenth century and are very diffficult to use. I emphasise that no alteration to existing law is involved apart from the increase in penalties. The amendments represent a sensible rationalisation of the present situation without altering the existing law or creating any new offences.

Mr. Foulkes

The comments that I made about the provisions that were introduced earlier by the Under-Secretary of State apply a fortiori to these amendments. The Minister said that one of the provisions with which we are dealing dates back to the nineteenth century. Clearly the Government have had sufficient time to introduce a Scottish Bill to deal with what is purely Scottish legislation and—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] It is all very well for hon. Members to say "Oh". That may be the appropriate reaction of English Members, but it is an inappropriate one for the Under-Secretary of State. He knows that on both sides of the House there is a desire that Scottish legislation should be dealt with properly. There should be Scottish Bills that should be considered by Scottish Standing Committees.

The Minister has said that we are merely increasing the level of fines to match the level of inflation. That is clearly not so when there is to be such a substantial increase in the fines that will be applicable. I agree entirely with the substance of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Those who are found to be tampering illegally with meters should be dealt with appropriately because otherwise the honest consumer has to pay for the electricity consumed by the dishonest consumer. I support the substance of the amendment, but I regret that it is to be inserted in an English Bill and not in a Scottish Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 65, in page 97, leave out lines 35 and 36 and insert 'statutory maximum'.

No. 66, in page 98, line 26, leave out from first 'the' to 'or' in line 28 and insert 'statutory maximum'.

No. 63, in page 98, line 32, at end insert—