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New Clause—Service Lines Into Consumers' Premises

Volume 439: debated on Monday 23 June 1947

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Any service line of any Area Board which is taken into the premises of a consumer at a point below the level of the ground shall be taken into the premises in such manner as to prevent any influx of gas at the point of entry.— [Sir A. Gridley.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.45 P.m.

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This new Clause seeks to give statutory effect to yet another regulation. I have told my friends in the gas industry that theirs is a much more dangerous industry than the electricity supply industry, because they are dealing with a poisonous substance which people frequently make use of to put an end to their troubles. We have to safeguard the consumers of electricity, and we have endeavoured to do so as a result of an inquiry made by a Parliamentary Committee into deaths caused by gas poisoning. It is, therefore, desirable that this provision should be retained in the Bill.

For obvious reasons, the words of this new Clause must be retained in the regulations we shall provide under Clause 52. We must protect the consumer in a matter of this sort, and I can give the hon. Member the assurance he requires. He has referred to my "definite assurances," and I can say that we give such an assurance on this matter because the facts are inescapable.

While we are grateful for the Minister's assurances, I hope the House and the public outside will not be deluded by them and by the fact that we are withdrawing these new Clauses in the belief that the Minister will provide the statutory protection which the consumer has hitherto enjoyed. The fact remains that the statutory protection of the consumer is being repealed by later Clauses, and all the consumer is left with now is the doubtful protection of the Minister. We cannot foresee today all the circumstances that will arise, and we have done our best by putting down new Clauses. We have extracted assur- ances from the Minister, but, thus far, they are only a poor alternative to the restoration of the consumers' statutory protection.

I would like to know whether the draft regulations will be seen by Members or will be formally laid before Parliament before this Bill becomes law? The Minister mentioned that only slight modifications were involved, and if the regulations are in being now, it would not be difficult to get them out. Perhaps we could see the regulations in draft before we part with the Bill, so that we would know whether the Minister's words had been carried into effect.

In reply to the noble Lord, it is not customary to present such regulations to the House, but regulations when they are laid before the House are subject to a negative Resolution by hon. Members if they so desire. There is an adequate safeguard here. First of all, the existing regulations continue after the vesting date until the new regulations are drafted, so that the consumer will be adequately safeguarded under them. Then we shall promote regulations along the lines of the existing regulations, and take into account the substance of the words contained in the new Clause. That appears to me to be a satisfactory safeguard.

The right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) doubted whether the assurances as given by me, would be an adequate substitute for words embodied in the Statute. He is quite right to doubt whether anything said by a Minister would be an adequate substitute for words embodied in a Statute, but it does not depend so much on what the Minister says as on the taking of a commonsense point of view in matters of this sort. As I have said previously, the facts are inescapable. The consumers must be protected and, inasmuch as the Electricity Commissioners thought fit to protect them under the existing regulations, it is extremely unlikely that the new dispensation would seek to escape from the provisions of those regulations. That is as far as I can go. No matter who succeeded me, he would be compelled by virtue of the need for such regulations to continue along the same lines. It seems to me that that should be an adequate safeguard to the consumer. I doubt whether there is any scepticism on the part of the electricity consumers in these matters. They are well protected now, and the protection will continue.

Question put, and negatived.