Clause 66

Energy Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 6 March 2008.

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Provision of information to Secretary of State

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

The clause, which concerns provision of information to the Secretary of State, will ensure that the Secretary of State has access to the necessary information to carry out his functions as they relate to the decommissioning of offshore renewables. Those functions include making a judgment on the suitability and financial viability of the proposal contained in a decommissioning programme—the offshore issue relates to that.

The provisions will therefore enable the Secretary of State to require information about the place where the offshore renewable energy installation is or will be situated; the offshore renewable energy installation and an associated electric line; in certain circumstances, details of an associate as defined by the Bill; the financial affairs of the person receiving the notice for information and, in certain circumstances, the financial affairs of an associate as defined by the Bill; the proposed security in relation to carrying out the decommissioning programme; and, in certain circumstances, the name and address of any person whom the recipient of the notice believes to be an associate.

The clause will make it an offence to fail to comply with a notice requesting information without a reasonable excuse. The penalties are set out in section 113 of the Energy Act 2004. One of those is becoming rather familiar to us, and I have had the honour of reading them out on a number of occasions. However, I know that the hon. Member for Wealden likes the full works, as it were, so an offender is liable

“on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum”.

That is £5,000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and £10,000 in Scotland. I will not comment on why it is £10,000 in Scotland because that matter is devolved. On conviction, they are liable

“to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine, or to both.”

The hon. Gentleman may want that to be 10 years, with all those prison places to fill up—in the very distant future, may I say? I do not know, but I do not want to anticipate his question.

Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans 9:45, 6 March 2008

I do not wish to tempt the Minister down the route of talking too much about Scotland. However, will he reassure the Committee that the £10,000 fine has nothing to do with Scotland being more worried about the severity of the crimes, but applies because it is a harsher regime?

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

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West has no direct experience of that. I think that the penalty is different because Scottish law has different origins and differs from English law in many respects. Such things are lost in the mists of time, so I will not go down that route.

The clause also provides that it is an offence for a person to disclose information obtained by virtue of a notice under the clause unless it is disclosed with the consent of the person providing the information—that it

“is for the purpose of the exercise of the Secretary of State’s functions under this Chapter, the Electricity Act 1989 or Part 4 of the Petroleum Act 1998”,

or because it is otherwise required by law. Under the Bill, the offences in relation to the disclosure of information are also included in the decommissioning provisions for nuclear waste and for oil and gas installations. The penalty provisions for such offences mirror those in section 41 of the Petroleum Act 1998 and section 113 of the Energy Act 2004. It is important that information can be obtained for the Secretary of State to fulfil his functions under the chapter. The clause clearly states for what allowable purposes such information may be further disclosed. Clarity on information use and disbursement is essential to enable the decommissioning regime to operate as intended and to ensure that all operators meet their responsibilities in regard to decommissioning.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 66 ordered to stand part of the Bill.