Clause 53 - Access to registers kept by Gas and Electricity Markets Authority

Deregulation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 18th March 2014.

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

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

The clause, which I hope will be non-controversial and very straightforward, amends section 49 of the Electricity Act 1989 and section 36 of the Gas Act 1986, which govern the keeping of two registers by the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority, the governing body of Ofgem. Those registers contain the provisions of licences and exemptions that have been granted under the 1986 and 1989 Acts and information related to compliance with those licences. The registers currently exist in paper form as well as in electronic form. The  contents of the electronic version of the register are available from Ofgem’s website, and of course that is open to everyone around the clock.

Currently, there is a requirement that the registers be made available for inspection by the public during certain hours and subject to the payment of such a fee as may be set by the Secretary of State. There are currently no specified hours for public inspection and no specified fee. Physical inspections of the registers have been very rare; indeed, Ofgem has not recorded any in the past five years. It is therefore becoming unnecessarily burdensome to keep the registers in a form suitable for inspection in person. The clause will allow Ofgem to stop producing paper versions of the registers as the electronic versions are available 24/7 online and free of charge.

If a non-certified copy or extract from any part of either register is requested, such a request will be covered by the normal rules governing freedom of information requests. As a safeguard, however, the clause preserves the Secretary of State’s power to set a fee for a certified copy of either register. The clause also ensures that any fees for certified copies or extracts from the register must be determined by the Secretary of State, not Ofgem. I am sure hon. Members will agree that these are straightforward amendments, based on a common-sense approach to access to a physical register that is rarely consulted.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Conservative, Macclesfield 2:30 pm, 18th March 2014

Some Labour Members have uncharitably called the Bill a Christmas tree Bill. I think of it much more as a broad brush that sweeps away unneeded regulation.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot intervene on an intervention.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Conservative, Macclesfield

Is this not further evidence of the importance of work such as the red tape challenge, which helped to identify these regulations that, through the Bill, we are looking to push away?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I do of course agree with my hon. Friend. The red tape challenge is making a real impact on business. Although some of these measures might be deemed to be small in nature, when taken together with the red tape challenge work they add up to a substantial saving for businesses and, indeed, the public sector.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

First, Mr Hood, I apologise for trying to intervene on an intervention. I make the point, however, that it is the Bill’s supporters who call it a Christmas tree Bill; we call it a ragbag or a hodge-podge or some other derogatory term. Surely a Christmas tree Bill would be full of presents and nice things.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

In so far as we are talking about electricity registers and Christmas trees have electric lights, I suppose that the hon. Gentleman’s intervention had some connection to the clause.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I will be equally brief. We all welcome the move not to print unnecessary papers and to reduce burdens. Will the Minister tell us how much not having to print copies of the register will save Ofgem?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I should have anticipated that the hon. Gentleman’s question would be on savings. I will scan the pages in front of me to see whether a pound sign appears anywhere.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

May I help the Minister? If he were to seek inspiration from elsewhere, he might be able to get an answer.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I am a little worried about his repeated requests that I seek inspiration. I am not in need of inspiration, but, as it happens, I can confirm that the estimated saving per annum is about £6,000, which is not an insubstantial amount.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I suggest that when the Minister says that the electronic register is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, he should remember that it is not available to the many under this Government who do not have access to broadband, be they in rural areas or in cities but without the means to afford it.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

From a sedentary position, the Solicitor-General pointed out quite rightly that most good libraries provide internet access and, therefore, the register is available.

Chi Onwurah rose—

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Before the hon. Lady intervenes again, I should point out that it is immensely harder for people to go to the site to access the physical register than to go to their library, as they would have to make a prior arrangement and travel to view it. If she insists on intervening, however, I am happy to give way for a final time.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I would like to respond to two points. I am not saying that it is easier to go there physically to access the register, but simply pointing out that we should never, ever forget those who—in part because of the policies of this Government—are prevented from accessing the digital and internet world. I can tell the Solicitor-General that libraries in my constituency, which may be closing or have had their hours shortened, have long queues of people waiting for free internet access, as they are often required to use the internet by DWP.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the hon. Lady for that. It sounds as if that may be an issue she needs to take up with her local authority, if it is not able to provide enough computers. I wonder which party runs her local authority. More seriously, it is worth reminding the Committee that this resource is usually accessed by companies rather than individuals. In most cases, the difficulties that she has highlighted will not arise, and of course  copies can be requested directly from Ofgem. Again, it is worth putting on the record the fact that in the past five years no one has sought to access this record.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

Developing the Christmas tree analogy, although £6,000 might seem to be an inconsequential amount of money, most of my constituents would be very pleased to find £6,000 beneath the Christmas tree with the other goodies.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Indeed. There is nothing further which I can add to that very pertinent intervention, other than to commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 53accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.