HL Deb 24 October 1990 vol 522 cc1380-2

17 Clause 11, page 11, line 10, after `for' insert 'the debtor's own'.

18Page 11, line 14, after 'for' insert 'the debtor's own'.

19 Page 11, leave out line 18, and insert 'relates to the non-payment of charges incurred by the debtor after the making of the order or is unconnected with non-payment by him of any charges.'.

20 Page I I, line 18, at end insert:

`() In this section "mains gas" means a supply of gas by a public gas supplier within the meaning of Part I of the Gas Act 1986.'.

21 Page 11, line 18, at end insert:

'() Rules of court may make provision with respect to the period for which any order restricting enforcement is to have effect and for the circumstances in which any such order may be revoked.'.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 17 to 21 en bloc. They all concern administration orders, and the new Section 112A of the County Courts Act 1984 inserted by Clause 11.

Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 clarify that the protection for supplies of domestic fuel and water provided by the new Section 112A(4) applies only to supplies for the debtor's own domestic purposes.

Amendment No. 19 also concerns the protection and termination of supply. As currently drafted, the new Section 112A(4) prevents a supplier of domestic gas, electricity or water from disconnecting supplies without leave of the court while an administration order or order restricting enforcement is in force, unless the reason for disconnection is unconnected with non-payment by the debtor. That permits utility suppliers to cut off supplies for, for example, routine or emergency maintenance, without applying to the court for leave.

During discussion of the clause in another place, and during discussions between the electricity and gas industries and my department, another situation has been identified in which it would be right for the supplier to be able to terminate supply without an order of the court. That is where the debtor defaults in payment of charges incurred after the order was made, and the supplier has followed all the procedures laid down by the statutes, regulations and codes of practice affecting him and has reached the conclusion, in accordance with those procedures, that there is no alternative but to terminate supply.

Amendment No. 20 is a purely drafting clarification of the definition of mains gas for the purposes of the new Section 1 12A of the County Courts Act 1984.

Amendment No. 21 permits rules of court to regulate the termination and revocation of orders restricting enforcement under the new Section 112A.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 17 to 21 en bloc. —(The Lord Chancellor. )

5.45 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the only comment I wish to make is in regard to Amendment No. 19 which the noble and learned Lord has so lucidly explained. We on these Benches are not very happy with that provision which permits creditors to cease supplying utilities—that is, gas, electricity or water—to debtors for whom administration orders have been made where they fail to pay charges incurred after the order. That means that that can be done without leave of the court.

One would have thought that it would be much more humane to say that the utility companies should install prepayment meters in those circumstances. However, to cause that hardship to people who have administration orders in regard to charges for essential utilities which may occur after that date, and to allow the utilities to be cut off without applying to the court, is a harsh way of dealing with the matter.

Again, we have the Commons amendment before us and I do not intend to ask for the opinion of the House by way of calling for a Division. However, I hope that it may be possible to advise the utility companies that that cause should not be adopted unless in a case which is completely undeserving and that the idea of installing prepayment meters would be a much more humane way of dealing with the matter.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, in this amendment I am concerned with preventing monopoly suppliers —utility suppliers—from exploiting that position in order to obtain preferential payment of a debt to the disadvantage of other creditors scheduled to the administration order or to an order restricting enforcement.

For that reason, I am concerned only with the charges incurred when that order was made. It is right that as regards the debts incurred thereafter the debtor and creditor should follow the normal procedures without further reference to the court which made the administration order or order restricting enforcement.

Of course, there are procedures for restricting the cutting off of supplies. I believe that very often a prepayment meter would be installed. However, there may be circumstances in which it may be more in the interests of the debtor that credit should be allowed. That is the purpose of the clause and I believe that it is reasonably humane.

On Question, Motion agreed to.