HL Deb 10 July 1989 vol 510 cc79-84

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Clause 97 [Provision of statistical information]:

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Strabolgi)

My Lords, before calling Amendment No. 171 I should inform the House that if this amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 172.

[Amendments Nos. 171 and 172 not moved.]

Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 173: Page 66, line 47, leave out ("may be so specified") and insert ("it is in the public interest to know and in particular such information as has been reasonably sought by any member of the public.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I may again speak very briefly to Amendment No. 173, which seeks simply to clarify what we would regard as the relevant meaning of "may be so specified". We have discussed before certain questions of information disclosure and statistics and are aware of certain problems that arise.

The concern about the phrase "may be so specified" is that it is extraordinarily open-ended. It may mean everything and nothing. It may mean a great deal more than is said in the amendment—and that would please us enormously—but our concern is that it may mean a good deal less.

Our view, which applies particularly to this Bill, is that on the whole disclosure of information is generally presumed to be in the public interest. That does not mean that it is always so; it is generally so. However, in the Bill in particular where there is such a complex process of, as it were, regulation and control, I believe that it would be highly desirable if the Secretaryof State saw as a central task not merely the provision of statistical information per se but the provision of as much information as would be: reasonably sought by any member of the public". That is the essence of the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I should like to say briefly that the words "may be so specified" which it is suggested should be left out are, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, says, vague and open-ended. Therefore I should have thought that it would be helpful to clarify the wording in some way.

I have a problem in giving my whole support to the amendment because it introduces the phrase "the public interest". Those words are vague and lead to many difficulties.

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, first, I should say to the noble Lords, Lord Peston and Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, that the phrase "may be so specified" means specified in the notice by the Secretary of State. As was briefly touched on in Committee, Clause 97 is designed to ensure that the Government can continue to obtain certain statistical information from the electricity industry after privatisation. This will enable us to continue to prepare and publish a range of statistics about the supply and demand for electricity, which contribute to our overall understanding of the economic development of the country.

The clause as it stands does not inhibit any person from putting a case for the collection and disclosure of additional statistical information about the electricity supply industry to the Secretary of State. However, it quite properly leaves to the Secretary of State the decision as to whether the need for the information and public interest warrant the exercise of the powers of this clause for its collection and publication, when set against the costs to the industry. I should perhaps make clear that we intend to keep to the minimum the requests we place on the industry for statistical information, while ensuring that we obtain sufficient information for the Government and the public to maintain an overview of the generation, transmission and supply of electricity.

We also need to ensure that information cannot be disclosed about companies which could seriously and prejudicially damage their interests, consistent with the need to be able to publish meaningful statistics. After privatisation, companies will be operating in a highly competitive environment. It is therefore essential, for example, that the interests of new entrants to the field should not be undermined by the disclosure of information which could allow their larger and more powerful rivals to undercut them.

The amendment proposed by the noble Lord would introduce the concept of "public interest" into the provision of information under this clause. But this clause is concerned solely with the provision of statistical information to the Secretary of State. The protection of consumers' interests is covered by the regulatory arrangements and provisions for consumer representation set out in Part I of the Bill. The director and the Secretary of State are already charged with the duty of protecting consumers' interests, and Clauses 30, 43 and conditions in the licences will enable the director to obtain relevant information about the supply companies.

The arrangements we are proposing under this clause will establish a sensible balance between the Government's and the public's need for general statistics about the electricity industry on the one hand, and, on the other, the companies' need to be protected from unnecesssary and burdensome demands for data, the release of which might seriously and prejudicially affect their interests.

I hope that the general context that I have set out will reassure the noble Lord and that as a result he may feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his answer. I agree with him entirely that this is a matter of balance between the needs of the public, the needs of the Secretary of State and the costs that are placed on companies when they have to provide information. We are trying to ensure that that balance will be correctly struck. We hope, accepting how powerfully industries can lobby and how difficult it is for the public to lobby, that the Secretary of State will recognise his responsibilities in this matter, as I am sure he will. The noble Earl has emphasised that point of balance. I am therefore perfectly happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 174: After Clause 97, insert the following new clause:

("Promotion of new techniques in national interest.

.—(1) The Secretary of State shall exercise the power conferred on him by section 5 of the Science and Technology Act 1965 (expenditure on research and development in science or technology) for the purpose of promoting such research into, and such development of, new techniques relating to the generation, transmission or supply of electricity as appears to him to be necessary in the national interest.

(2) The Secretary of State may, if he considers it expedient for purposes connected with the performance of his duty under this section, serve notice under this subection on any licence holder or any person who is authorised by an exemption to generate or supply electricity.

(3) A notice under subsection (2) above may require the person on whom it is served to furnish, at a time and place specified in the notice, to the Secretary of State such information about that person's business as may be so specified.

(4) Subsections (3), (5) and (7) to (9) of section 97 above all apply for the purposes of this section as they apply for the purposes of that section.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment has been debated. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 15 [The Scottish Pension Schemes]:

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 174A: Page 127, line 1, leave out second ("former") and insert ("existing").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 174A, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 174B and 174G.

The amendments which we have proposed to Schedule 15 do not represent any change of policy on our part. They tidy up the drafting or the provisions designed to protect the pension rights of employees of the Scottish industry who are transferred to the successor companies on vesting.

The first four amendments amalgamate the existing sub-paragraphs 1(1)(a) and 1(1)(b). The amendments improve the drafting of paragraph 1 consequent upon the amendments made at Committee stage which inserted the definition in paragraph 5 of the schedule of "existing employees of the Scottish Boards". More importantly, however, the amendments will allow the Secretary of State to regulate the position of vesting day employees of the Scottish boards in relation to both superannuation schemes.

I should explain that existing employees of the hydro board at the Cruachan pumped storage station will be transferred to the south company but will have the option of remaining in the hydro board superannuation fund. We are clearly anxious to ensure not only that they should be enabled to continue to participate in the north scheme, but also that they should subsequently be able to join the south scheme without losing the protections enshrined in the Bill. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy has already recounted to the House his narrow escape from being tipped from a bucket into the loch on Ben Cruachan when the station was under construction, a fate from which he was apparently saved by Scottish Office officials. I have to tell your Lordships that if they are not minded to agree to these amendments, I may not be so lucky! I understand that we have trade union agreement. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendments Nos. 174B to 174G:

Page 127, line 2, leave out ("North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board") and insert ("Scottish Boards").

Page 127, line 3, after ("Scheme") insert ("or the South Scheme").

Page 127, line 5, leave out paragraph (b).

Page 127, line 9, after ("prescribed;") insert— ("(cc) for enabling either scheme, or both schemes, to be wound up (in whole or in part) in such circumstances as may be prescribed;").

Page 128, line 33, leave out ("the North Scheme") and insert ("either scheme").

Page 128, line 34, leave out from ("above") to end of line 36.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 109 [General interpretation]:

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 175:

Page 71, line 9, at end insert— ("(2) For the purposes of this Act any class or description may be framed by reference to any matters or circumstances whatever.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this has been debated. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 17 [Transitional provisions and savings]:

Baroness Hooper moved Amendment No. 176:

Page 146, line 33, at beginning insert— ("(1) Any land compulsorily acquired by an Electricity Board before the transfer date which was so acquired by virtue of Part I of Schedule 3 to this Act, or is treated as so acquired for the purposes of that Part, shall be treated for those purposes as so acquired by the appropriate successor company; but nothing in paragraph 4 of that Schedule (as applied by this sub-paragraph) shall be taken as requiring the consent of the Director to any disposal which is effected in pursuance of a provision included in a transfer scheme by virtue of section (Transfer schemes under sections 66 and 67(2)(c)) of this Act or in pursuance of Schedule 10 to this Act. (2)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 177: Page 149, line 17, leave out ("and").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 177, I speak also to Amendment No. 178. These are technical amendments. At present Section 10(3) of the Electricity (Scotland) Act 1979 enables the Secretary of State to authorise the extension of existing works in a constructional scheme (the procedure whereby consent is given at present for hydro-electric developments in Scotland) if he is satisfied that the additional works are of a minor character. This allows such work to be done without the preparation of a constructional scheme. It is known that authorisations have been made under the terms of Section 10(3) of the 1979 Act. Accordingly it is necessary to ensure that, notwithstanding the repeal of Section 10 by the Electricity Bill, any such authorisation should continue to have effect in relation to the appropriate successor companies to the Scottish boards. This amendment inserts such a transitional provision into Schedule 17 and on that basis I commend it to the House. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 178:

Page 149, line 19, at end insert ("and (c) any authorisation of a Scottish Board under section 10(3) of that Act to execute works of a minor character without the preparation of a constructional scheme,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 18 [Repeals]:

The Earl of Dundee moved Amendment No. 179:

Page 152, line 5, at end insert—

("51 & 52 Vict. c. 12. The Electric Lighting Act 1888. The whole Act,").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, these are technical amendments. With your Lordships' leave, I shall speak to Amendment No. 180 also. These technical amendments are consequential to the amendment which was accepted earlier by your Lordships on the introduction into the Bill of a new provision in Schedule 4 for protection from interference. The first amendment repeals existing legislation on such protection. The second repeals the provision in the Telecommunications Act 1984 which amended that legislation. I commend them to your Lordships. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Dundee moved Amendment No. 180: Page 158, line 22, column 3, at end insert (",8").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 111 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

The Earl of Dundee moved Amendment No. 181: Page 72, line 5, leave out ("paragraphs 11 and 14") and insert ("paragraph 11").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this is simply a drafting amendment. Your Lordships will recall that in Committee we agreed to delete paragraph 14 from what was then Schedule 14. That paragraph proposed a change to the Capital Allowances Act 1968 to allow in the reference to the term "electricity undertaking" in Section 7(5) of that Act to the terminology of this Bill. The capital allowances legislation is currently being consolidated. The amendment to Section 7(5) of the 1968 Act is now to be undertaken as part of that exercise. The amendment simply brings the drafting of Clause 111 into line with the decision to delete paragraph 14 from what is now Schedule 16. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.