Utilities Bill — 31 Jan 2000

Order for Second Reading read.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As hon. Members will know, the Government are committed to modernisation and reform in a whole range of important areas of public life. The Utilities Bill is part of that agenda of modernisation and reform. It will modernise and reform the utilities markets and it will deliver efficiency and fairness, bringing together social justice and fairness--two sides of the same coin. It puts consumers first and provides a basis for effective competition and a stable framework of regulation for the future. It will deliver essential reform of the structure and framework that was introduced by Conservative Members at the time of privatisation.

The Conservatives' approach to the utilities owed more to dogma than to a real desire to raise standards for the consumers or to extend choice. The current ramshackle legislation does not effectively serve consumers, the business community or the utility companies themselves. It is simply not acceptable that consumers and business users should suffer from a rigged electricity market, but that is exactly what we have at present.

It is not acceptable that consumers have no way of telling whether directors' pay in companies enjoying a monopoly position is linked in any way to service standards. Indeed, the Conservatives' approach on privatisation to the directors of the former public utilities was a Conservative version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" However, the directors of the privatised utilities certainly did not need to ring a friend--or, perhaps, they had rung a friend before.

It is not acceptable that consumer bodies are so closely linked to the regulators offices that they even have to issue their press notices on headed notepaper from the regulators themselves. It is also not acceptable that decisions that shape the vital telecommunications and energy markets can be taken purely on the say so of an individual regulator.

Fair and open utility markets are essential for business and domestic users alike. If we are to be at the forefront of the digital economy, businesses and consumers need access to cheap, fast and reliable telecommunications. They do not have that at present. If we are to have a fair society, we must ensure that everyone has heat and light in their homes and access to new technology. At the start of the 21st century, it is simply not acceptable that too many people struggle to keep warm in their own homes.

The Conservative Government's approach to the utilities was to privatise them quickly, and that was driven by dogma to such an extent that precious national assets were sold at a knock-down price without real concern for the industry and the structures that were put in place.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton):

Given that the price of electricity has fallen by 29 per cent.

I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Utilities Bill because, although it contains worthwhile provisions for merging the electricity and gas regulatory authorities, for separating the licensing of supply and distribution of electricity and for introducing new electricity trading arrangements, it also contains measures which increase regulation and intervention by government in the utility sector; which impair transparency and accountability in the regulatory framework; which add to industry costs which will ultimately be passed on to consumers; which introduce powers to levy unlimited fines; and which significantly undermine the independence of the regulators."

This is not least a competitiveness point . . . There is a risk that firms investing now may get locked into capital stock which does not meet the requirements of the future.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 136, Noes 343.

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Party Summary

Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.

What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.

What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.

What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.

PartyMajority (No)Minority (Aye)BothTurnout
Con0 136 (+2 tell)085.7%
Independent1 0050.0%
Independent Labour1 00100.0%
Lab323 (+2 tell) 0077.9%
LDem18 0039.1%
Total:343 136077.0%

Rebel Voters - sorted by vote

MPs for which their vote in this division differed from the majority vote of their party. You can see all votes in this division, or every eligible MP who could have voted in this division

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no rebellions

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