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Orders of the Day — Utilities Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:34 pm on 31st January 2000.

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Photo of Mr Ivor Caplin Mr Ivor Caplin Labour, Hove 5:34 pm, 31st January 2000

The hon. Gentleman may well be right, but I draw his attention to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill) on the windfall tax, which we were told was unacceptable and would decimate the utility sector. However, it has been a great success, although it was opposed by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that there were four key areas of the Bill. I think that there might be five, which I will take the House through. The first is to secure a fairer deal for consumers, which will be done by the establishment of the independent consumer councils so that there is an effective voice for those who pay the bills. The Bill will make sure that information can be published. There is also the principal objective of saying to the utilities that the protection and interests of consumers must be at the heart of their business.

The second area is that of disadvantaged consumers, to which reference has been made in the debate. The Bill proposes a new duty for the regulators—and the utilities, ultimately—to take into account the interests of low-income consumers. Few Labour Members will be unhappy to see that duty placed on the utilities.

Thirdly, the Bill modernises the regulatory framework. It is about 15 or 16 years since the privatisation of BT. We can argue about whether the framework used then was right or wrong, but we can all agree that the world has moved on and there is clearly a need for the system to be modernised to take account of market developments. [Interruption.] I understand that some Opposition Members may not want the world to move on. We have seen that already in the past two and a half years and we look forward to seeing it many more times.