HC Deb 06 February 1968 vol 758 cc215-6
41. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Minister of Power what is the result of his Department's study of the question of joint meter reading and billing in this country, having regard to French experience, details of which have been sent to him; and whether he now proposes to recommend to the gas and electricity boards that they combine their meter readings.

Mr. Freeson

The study of the advantages and disadvantages of joint gas and electricity meter reading and billing as well as other related matters is continu- ing. Full account is being taken of French practice and experience in this field.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

How long will the inquiry take and when can we have a decision on the matter?

Mr. Freeson

I am not in a position to say how long it will take. One reason is because, unlike the position eight or nine years ago, there have been major developments in the computer field which complicate the relationship between meter reading, billing and accounting and other matters of management control.

Mr. Dance

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I tabled a similar Question about 18 months ago on this very subject and received precisely the same answer—that there would not be any saving? Is he aware that I saw this system working in France? Cannot we hurry this up, for if it can work in France, why cannot it work here?

Mr. Freeson

The basis of the industries concerned in France is radically different from that applying in this country. In that country there is a unified industrial management, whereas we have two separate industries. However, the position is being studied closely. As I said, it is much more complicated than it was eight or nine years ago.

Mr. Emery

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that major savings could be made in this sphere? Is he further aware that if he considers that a computer cannot overcome some of these difficulties, his thinking is very far behind normal managerial practice?

Mr. Freeson

I do not believe that there would be major savings, any more than the Weir Committee did eight or nine years ago. I was not suggesting that computers could not overcome the difficulties that are involved, but that other problems also arise.