HC Deb 13 February 1964 vol 689 cc535-7
9. Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux

asked the Minister of Power if he will give general directions in the public interest to the Electricity Council and the Gas Council not to demand repayment by householders of cash stolen from their electricity and gas meters unless satisfied that the money was stolen by the householders themselves.

Mr. Peyton

No, Sir. This is a matter which is best left to the discretion of the area boards.

Lieut-Colonel Cordeaux

Would not my hon. Friend agree that the householder concerned has no say at all about the theft-resisting qualities of the meter and has no control over the frequency of the clearances of the money which is in the meter? Under those circumstances, would he not agree that it is monstrous that any householder, rich or poor, should be required to make good this loss?

Mr. Peyton

My hon. and gallant Friend will bear in mind that the boards are entitled to do what they can to ensure the security of money belonging to them. I ought also to remind my hon. and gallant Friend that, if the boards are to carry the losses, those losses must ultimately be passed on to the consumer.

Sir B. Stross

Is not it a strange doctrine which the Parliamentary Secretary is offering to us? Surely if the householder has put his money in the meter he has given it to the Board, and once the money is in the meter, legally it does not belong to the householder but to the board? If the money is stolen, is not it the board's loss and not the householder's, who is now supposed to pay twice? That is a monstrous suggestion.

Mr. Peyton

It depends on the terms of the contract. Most boards expressly stipulate in their conditions of supply that, although money belongs to the board after being put into a meter, nevertheless the householder is to be responsible for its custody.

Mr. Carmichael

Does not the Parliamentary Secretary realise that both the Question and Answer are misleading? Is he aware that there have been such cases before the courts in Scotland, for instance at Paisley sheriff court, and it has been established that if the householder can prove that he is in no way responsible for the meter having been broken into, the board is responsible for the cash? Is he aware that that is on record?

Mr. Peyton

I am not responsible for the decisions of the courts, and I cannot answer for them in this House. The clear point I am making is that this is a matter which is better left to the discretion of the area boards, who make every attempt to deal with the question sympathetically, particularly in cases of hardship.

Mr. Holt

Will the Parliamentary Secretary say what freedom a householder has in deciding what are the terms of the contract to which the hon. Gentleman referred?

Mr. Peyton

That is not a matter for me. The terms of contracts are matters between the supplier and the consumer.

Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I wish to give notice that I shall endeavour to raise the matter on the Adjournment.