HC Deb 21 February 1967 vol 741 cc1407-9
15. Mr. Edward Lyons

asked the Minister of Power whether he will give a general direction to area electricity boards that where a medical opinion or certificate is provided stating that a sick child or old person living in an all-electric home is in need of warmth the electricity supply should be resumed or maintained notwithstanding that the householder is in arrears with payments to an area board.

40 and 41. Dr. David Owen

asked the Minister of Power (1) how many families had their electricity supplies disconnected because of an inability to pay the bill in 1966; and what are the comparable figures for each of the previous five years;

(2) if he will issue general directions, in the public interest, to all electricity and gas boards to notify as a matter of course the local authority children's department of their intention to cut off supplies to families who have not paid their bills.

Mr. Freeson

The figures are not kept centrally but they represent a very small proportion of total consumers. Electricity and Gas Boards generally treat such cases sympathetically and keep in touch where appropriate with welfare organisations. The chairman of the area electricity board concerned has already written to my hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Edward Lyons) about a particular case he drew to our notice, and the need to exercise sympathetic discretion has been impressed upon the staff concerned.

Mr. Lyons

Would my hon. Friend also direct the electricity boards throughout the country that no one wants profits made at the expense of the aged or of sick children and that they should treat all future cases with the greatest sympathy?

Mr. Freeson

I have already said that that is general policy, but it is inevitable—regrettable as it is—that there may be incidents of human errors of judgment. This may have been the case here. On my hon. Friend's first point, it would be a little unfair to accept the precise terms of his suggestion. There was no question of the board seking to make a profit out of sickness and hardship.

Mrs. Knight

Will the hon. Gentleman help pensioners who find it easier to pay their bills by instalments to get a better deal from the electricity boards, which now demand payment before the accounts are due—as some people have the laughable notion that public ownership is intended to mean that the industry is run for the benefit of the public?

Mr. Freeson

I did not follow the precise procedure which the hon. Lady suggested, but if she will set down her suggestions in detail I will consider them.