Energy Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 22nd October 2008.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 8:45 pm, 22nd October 2008

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for the way in which he moved the amendment. The noble Baroness must know that all amendments proposed by the noble Lord are sensible—otherwise, he would not move them—so we take that as read. The issue is whether they pass other tests as well as being sensible.

Clause 57 makes it an offence to provide false or misleading information to the Secretary of State in response to a requirement under the nuclear decommissioning chapter of the Bill. False or misleading information in this context can be taken to mean false or misleading information which a person knowingly or recklessly includes in, or omits from, the information submitted to the Secretary of State. The result of submitting such false or misleading information would be that the Secretary of State would not be in receipt of information that is accurate enough or sufficient for him to discharge his functions under these clauses. We are therefore talking about very serious issues.

We debated these issues in Committee, and an amendment along these lines was considered in the other place which sought to remove "misleading" from the clause. We resisted that attempt because it was felt that it would have the effect of allowing for the submission of information that was misleading, which would inevitably weaken the significant layers of protection that we are putting in place in this framework. Moreover, the Government argued at the time that the action of "misleading" the Secretary of State was a deliberate act. It cannot be acceptable for the necessary robustness of this regime that a person should be able to knowingly or recklessly submit misleading information without there being any sanction. The issues are far too serious for that.

We want to encourage transparency and openness in the framework that we are creating but, where there is a deliberate attempt or reckless failure to mislead, it is only right that the framework should be backed up by sanctions, which the Bill contains. We do not think that the issue of whether there could be a "clerical error" would fit within this framework. No prosecution is going to be brought on the basis of a clerical error for such a serious issue. We are talking about "misleading" rather more significantly than by some fault in the document that is just a slip.

The noble Lord's amendment would clarify this issue in the Bill by setting a materiality threshold for the offence and, as he rightly said, there are precedents for that. He mentioned several Acts: suffice it to say that I am becoming increasingly familiar with the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, which looms fairly large in our present considerations. I know that the noble Lord is testing accurately when he refers to that Act as well as to others. His amendment seems to be an attempt to bring Clause 57 into line with the approach more generally used in the situation he defined; as he rightly said, the financial and legal communities both have good experience and knowledge of operating the law in those terms.

We can see merit in the proposal, so for the second time this evening I will ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment on the basis that we will look further at this issue. I am sure he will recognise that we intend to have a robust offence regime locked into this Bill. That is of critical importance, given the potential size of the liability involved in such a critical and significant industry, but we also want the regime to be practicable. We will, therefore, look at the amendment and come back with a further amendment on Third Reading, if he would be so good as to withdraw his amendment.