HC Deb 06 February 1956 vol 548 cc1328-30
26. Mr. Gresham Cooke

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will issue a general direction to the Central Electricity Authority forbidding it to offer hire- purchase facilities subsidised by its other operations.

The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Aubrey Jones)

No, Sir. I am in general satisfied that, thanks to the fair trading principles established between the electricity boards and private contractors, the boards do not indulge in unfair competition by charging costs incurred in retail activities to electricity supply. The Herbert Committee have, however, made what seems to me a sensible suggestion, namely that in future separate accounts be published for retail and other activities, and I am considering this.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

While thanking my right hon. Friend for his reply, may I congratulate him upon his first appearance at the Box? Would he agree that hire-purchase business by the Central Electricity Authority has doubled in the last year? Would he further agree that the Authority makes no charge for collection, that therefore the facilities it offers are below cost, and does my right hon. Friend feel that that is fair competition?

Mr. Jones

I thank my hon. Friend.

It certainly is my aim, in so far as it is practicable, to eliminate unfair sources of competition, but beyond that, to eliminate competition entirely, no. I would not go with my hon. Friend to that extent.

37. Mr. K. Robinson

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power by what authority electricity boards threaten to discontinue the supply of electric current because of failure of the consumer to keep up to date with hire-purchase payments on electrical equipment.

Mr. Aubrey Jones

The boards have no such general authority but there are still in existence a number of local enactments which permit some boards in certain districts to disconnect for such reasons. I should like to take this opportunity of saying that I would deprecate the use of these powers.

Mr. Robinson

While thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that the London Electricity Board is rather apt to follow this practice? Does he not agree that existing legislation gives perfectly adequate rights to hirers as well as protection to purchasers? Will he consider giving a general authority to this effect?

Mr. Jones

I was not aware of what the hon. Member said. I think that any question of giving a general authority must necessarily await the repeal of the many local enactments, which is something I shall certainly consider in due time.