§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I beg to move, in page 22, line 17, to leave out the Clause.
Like the hon. Member for Harwich (Sir J. Pybus), I must declare at once that I am not an expert in gas undertakings. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I said "undertakings". We discussed this Clause in Committee, and I want to say at the outset that I am not at all happy about it, because, if I remember rightly, the Clause was inserted for the first time in Committee upstairs. A gas undertaking is compelled to supply fittings to the person who uses gas. I understand that that has always been the case. But the insertion of this Clause will mean that the user of gas, the ordinary householder, will be able to make a written request for better fittings, which will be provided by the gas undertaking, and the householder, of course, will have to pay extra for them.
I feel that this arrangement might lead to a great deal of trickery. In spite of the fact that the Clause declares that a better type of fitting can only be provided on the personal request of the householder, I have too much knowledge of the people who knock at one's doors not to know how they can get the written request of any householder for almost anything. I am absolutely satisfied that some gas undertakings which are run for profit will just make the so-called better fittings appear a little superior, but the same fittings will be supplied at an enhanced rate, and I am afraid therefore, the Clause will operate against the person who uses gas.
I would not, however, oppose the Clause if all the undertakings of the country were outside the purview of those who make a profit out of the 1666 supply of gas. If all undertakings were municipally owned, there is no reason to think that a municipality would want to make a profit out of these superior fittings. I know what is happening in another sphere of life. I am connected with National Health Insurance, and I have come across this sort of case more than once. There is a rule that insured people are entitled to a complete set of teeth for six guineas. Strangely enough, some dentists persuade a number of the insured population that, if they pay a little more, they can get a better set of teeth, and, when they supply the so-called better set, I am assured that they are of the same quality. That is exactly what I am afraid will happen in connection with these so-called better gas fittings. I was more unhappy about the introduction of this Clause when I remembered where it emerged from. I was, indeed, a little suspicious when I found that the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Clarry) was championing a cause of this kind.
§ 11.39 p.m.
§ Dr. BURGIN
I would ask the Committee to resist this Amendment. The matter is really very simple. Representations have been made to the Board of Trade that there is a demand by consumers who take their gas from a prepayment meter to have supplied to them on hire fittings or gas stoves of a class superior to that which the undertakers ordinarily supply. No rights are taken away from anyone by the Clause. It is an enabling Clause to put pre-payment gas customers on the same footing as people who have an ordinary meter. People who have an ordinary meter can hire any superior type of apparatus they like, and this is to put the person who has a pre-payment meter on the same footing. Before that is done, the consumer must show in writing that he understands that he is entitled to the ordinary fittings free of special charge and that he deliberately elects to have this special one at special rates because it is his own request. In theory there cannot be any objection to any clear understanding. It is enabling, and is asked for by consumers, and it is for that reason that the Board of Trade have thought fit to introduce it into this Bill, which is an enabling Bill for the gas industry as a whole.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
Would the hon. Gentleman be good enough to explain why it is necessary to have this Clause? Would it not be possible for the ordinary consumer to make an independent arrangement with the gas company as regards the hire or purchase of any of those special fitments, if they so desire, irrespective of this Clause altogether?
§ 10.41 p.m.
§ Dr. BURGIN
The answer is no, because you must have a statutory provision to amend the power of charging which at present exists. This Clause is so drafted that none of the restrictions of supply under which undertakers labour shall prevent them from doing those express things which they require. Of course, if every consumer cared to make a separate bargain with the undertaker, no doubt very few would take the matter to the House of Lords to determine whether it was ultra vires. I am advised that it cannot be intra vires. As the Department dealing with the administration of this subject, I am advised that it is necessary to amend the law, and that this Clause is the appropriate way to do it.