HL Deb 05 December 1985 vol 468 cc1403-4
Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to their Answer on 29th October (col. 1445), whether they will make a Statement on the wide-ranging discussions they have had with the electricity supply industry about the report of the Director General of Fair Trading, including his recommendation for wider publicity.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Gray of Contin)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will arrange for a full Statement on the lines requested by the noble Baroness to be printed in the Official Report. Briefly, however, the Government's discussions with the industry have been successfully completed. Many electricity boards have already discussed improved publicity with their consultative councils and others will include it in the normal discussions on the next general round of tariff changes. The Government expect to deal with the question of overcharging by landlords, not by making it a separate criminal offence but as part of the proposed new legislation on misleading price indications announced in my noble friend's Statement of 4th March to this House.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that statement, acceptable not only to me and to the House but to the large numbers of people affected by the resale of electricity. Does he realise how glad we are that the Government are evidently not prepared to tolerate this abuse by a minority of landlords and that we had better now await the details of the proposed legislation to see how far this covers the points raised by the director general in his original report and whether they are workable? Can the Minister say whether legislation is to be expected this Session and, if so, when? Finally, I am most grateful for what the Government have done.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for her generous remarks. I would pay tribute to the leading role that she takes on behalf of the consumer. I am afraid that I cannot be specific in answering her final point. The best that I can tell her is that legislation will be forthcoming as soon as parliamentary time permits.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, can the noble Lord give the House an assurance that when the legislation dealing with this matter is being framed special attention will be paid to its enforcement? Is he aware that very often it is the enforcement that falls down when regulations are made?

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, yes, I can give the noble Lord that assurance. Indeed, that is one of the reasons why the Government decided that the particular offence referred to earlier should not be a new special offence, one of the reasons being that this would require access to private property, which always causes great difficulty.

Following is the Statement referred to above: The Government expect to deal with this subject not by making overcharging a separate criminal offence but as part of the proposed new legislation on misleading price indications announced in my noble friend Lord Lucas's Statement of 4th March to this House. When the necessary powers become available under that legislation we would expect to introduce an order which would require those who resell electricity to give itemised bills which include a statement showing the number of units charged for. the rates applied and the statutory maximum rate. The general provisions of that legislation, under which it would be a criminal offence to give a misleading price indication, or to fail to comply with an order, would then apply to those bills and the information given in them. The present civil remedy would also continue to be available. The electricity supply industry, with the agreement of the Government, has decided not to abolish the daily availability charge as recommended in the report but, instead, to rationalise it throughout the United Kingdom on the basis that the maximum any tenant will pay through the daily availability charge will be no more than he would pay through the domestic standing charge if he were a standard direct credit customer of his electricity board. The industry has satisfied itself that this will be a fair arrangement for both tenants and landlords and expects to introduce this change in the next general round of tariff changes, probably in the spring of 1986. The arrangements for itemised bills will also embrace the daily availability charge. I understand that many electricity boards are discussing with their area electricity consultative councils what steps should be taken with regard to the report's recommendation that there should be increased publicity for maximum resale prices. In some areas, discussions have already taken place and in others the subject will be included as part of the normal discussions regarding the next general round of tariff changes. The Government recognise that additional publicity will be necessary for the new powers which I have outlined today at the time they become available and will consider the form this should take in due course. The industry has however already informed the Government of its willingness to play its part by incorporating details of the new arrangements in its own leaflets, showroom notices and other advertisements about the maximum resale price of electricity".

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