Clause 48

Energy Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 4 March 2008.

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Provision of information and documents

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister of State (Energy), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

Clause 48 enables the Secretary of State to require by notice in writing, information and documentation from the operator and other persons—including associated companies—who already have or will have obligations under a programme once a programme, modification or condition comes into effect.

When making the request, the Secretary of State must specify when the information and documentation is to be made available and the manner in which it is to be provided. This is to ensure that the information is provided in a useable and timely manner. The request for information is limited to two circumstances. The first instance is referred to as Condition A. This applies where the information is necessary for the purpose of the Secretary of State deciding whether or not to approve a funded decommissioning programme submitted by an operator for approval.

The second instance, which can be found in subsection (3), is referred to as Condition—

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister of State (Energy), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

I thank the hon. Gentleman. Condition B applies where the information is necessary to the Secretary of State for the purpose of deciding whether to make a proposed modification or impose an obligation that is subject to clause 44 and the full modification procedure under clause 45. If condition B applies, the Secretary of State can request the information or documentation from any of those persons who would have an obligation under the programme if the modification were to be made. If an operator fails to comply with a request for information, the Secretary of State can make an application to the High Court for an order. If the order is granted, it may require the person to take such steps as the High Court may direct in order to comply with the Secretary of State’s notice. If the person failed to comply with the court order, the normal penalties for contempt of court would apply.

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry Shadow Minister (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

This seems a sensible clause generally, but surely the Secretary of State has an automatic right to request information in any circumstances. If the  companies from which he has requested information choose not to provide it, they must accept that they have chosen not to have their views taken into account. I am not quite certain why the provision is necessary, because it seems almost superfluous.

Will the Minister also tell us whether the information, once it has been provided, will be made public? Will it be there for all to see or will it be provided simply to him and his Department? How does the Freedom of Information Act 2000 relate to information provided in this way?

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister of State (Energy), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

The hon. Gentleman asks two important technical questions. Will he agree to my returning to them in a short while, so that I can be absolutely exact in my answers to him?

Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry Shadow Minister (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

While I am thinking about it, the Minister is getting inspiration. It seems rather strange to ask us to approve a clause when he has not been able to answer the questions on it. I hope that now that he has received enlightenment, he will share it with the Committee.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister of State (Energy), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

I was mindful that we might be occupied elsewhere in a few moments. I think that the hon. Gentleman is asking what the Secretary of State can do with the information. Can it be made public? Is it made available to others in the group? It is not our intention to release the information, as most of it is likely to be commercial in confidence. This is one of the difficulties that we are grappling with in these situations. Let us always remember that we are talking about private companies and that there will be competition between those companies. Issues about commercial confidentiality are therefore very important. However, information will, of course, be subject to normal freedom-of-information procedures. On the other issue, I will need to return to the hon. Gentleman as soon as I can.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 48 ordered to stand part of the Bill.