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Orders of the Day — Utilities Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 31st January 2000.

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Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry 3:31 pm, 31st January 2000

That is an important point. We have discussed with the National Association of Pension Funds and other institutional investors how we can deal with concerns about the remuneration of directors. I hope that, when we respond to the consultation document—which I trust we will within two or three weeks—our response will command broad support among such organisations.

The Bill has four main objectives: to secure a fair deal for consumers, particularly the disadvantaged; to provide more effective competition in the utilities markets; to ensure that the utility sector contributes to environmental objectives; and to modernise the regulatory framework, making it more consistent, transparent and accountable.

The Bill seeks to put the consumer at the heart of utility regulation. We believe that competition is the best way of serving consumer interests, but in some areas it is not yet an effective discipline. In those areas, we will pursue tough but fair regulation in the interests of consumers; in areas in which competition is developing, there is still work to be done in ensuring minimum standards of service and building consumer confidence in the new competitive markets.

The Bill contains a package of consumer measures. It requires regulators to put consumers first; it enables regulators to impose financial penalties on companies for non-compliance with service standards; it includes measures to encourage shareholders to link directors' pay with service standards; and it establishes independent consumer councils to act as consumer champions. It gives regulators a new primary duty to protect the interests of consumers. To build consumer confidence in the utilities, we need minimum standards of service in both the competitive and the monopoly markets.