HC Deb 23 April 1964 vol 693 cc1493-5
11. Mr. V. Yates

asked the Minister of Power, in view of the new evidence sent to him by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, regarding the problem of compensation for money stolen from gas and electricity meters, what further consideration he has given to taking action to enable consumers to be relieved of the responsibility for such losses.

Mr. Peyton

I have asked the boards concerned to examine these cases and I will write to the hon. Member about them but my right hon. Friend is still convinced that this should remain a matter within the discretion of the boards.

Mr. Yates

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise from the memorandum which I submitted that a very large number of widows and old-age pensioners have, had their meters robbed and that this is not their responsibility? Why should they be presented with bills which are far' beyond their capacity to pay? Could not the hon. Gentleman ask the boards to exercise more reasonable discretion in a matter of this kind?

Mr. Peyton

This matter was gone into fairly fully recently and I tried to make clear then that a considerable burden would be placed on the boards if the preset position was changed. I believe that the boards take a sympathetic view in cases of hardship, but it would be wrong for my right hon. Friend to give them a direction on this subject.

Mr. S. Silverman

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the boards endeavour and often succeed in getting the best of both worlds in these matters? When the money is in the meter they regard it as their money and sometimes bring prosecutions for theft against the householder. When the money is lost they regard the money as belonging to the householder so that the householder becomes responsible for the loss. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that this is not the way in which a powerful statutory authority should treat helpless individuals?

Mr. Peyton

No, Sir. The boards always regard the money in meters as belonging to them. The point is that the occupier of the house is responsible for the safe custody of the money.

Mr. Hocking

Is my hon. Friend aware that many local authorities arrange for meters to be placed outside the property and that there have been a number of cases of theft from such meters? If the boards cannot be elastic in these matters, could my hon. Friend ask his right hon. Friend to persuade local authorities to have these meters installed in places of safety?

Mr. Peyton

I will certainly look at that point.

Mr. T. Fraser

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a great lack of uniformity among different boards in the way in which they treat these unfortunate householders whose meters are broken into? Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that there is growing concern about the widespread hardship that is suffered by householders whose meters are broken into? Will he undertake to have this matter fully examined to see whether there is some solution which can be offered centrally by his Ministry?

Mr. Peyton

I could not accept that there is lack of sympathy by the boards and it would be wrong for my right hon. Friend to seek to dictate to them how they should act in this matter. They are much nearer, being local boards, to the circumstances of these cases and the matter must be left to their discretion.