HC Deb 29 April 1969 vol 782 cc1140-1
20. Sir J. Eden

asked the Minister of Power whether he is aware of the present widespread evasion of the law laying down a maximum resale price of electricity; and if he will seek powers to publicise the statutory limit.

Mr. Freeson

The steady volume of complaints I receive certainly suggests that there is widespread evasion. Publicity for maximum resale prices is already a statutory obligation of area boards under Section 29(2) of the Electricity Act, 1957.

Sir J. Eden

In his consideration of the steps he should now be taking, will the Minister concentrate on giving as much publicity as he can to the fact that there is this maximum limit and by means of the courts people can reclaim for over-charging? Has he given consideration to making overcharging a criminal offence?

Mr. Freeson

On the first point, I am glad of the opportunity of giving the matter publicity and I hope that area boards will take note of the point that has been made. Certainly I have raised the question of publicity and considered it with the consultative councils. They are doing their best to help. The question of legislation is not a matter we would rule out. We are considering whether it would be feasible to make it effective, which is something we could pursue.

Mr. Lubbock

Is it not completely unrealistic to expect the victims of overcharging, who generally are in poor circumstances, to take action in the courts to recover amounts of over-charging? Will the hon. Gentleman therefore take powers to enable local electricity boards to institute prosecutions against anyone alleged to be guilty of this offence and also to test the meters and advise consumers whether the meters are wrongly set?

Mr. Freeson

The first point made by the hon. Member is a fair comment. It is difficult for many people who are suffering from this kind of thing to take necessary action in self-defence through the courts. On the latter point, I would not wish to comment at this stage as to the precise form which any legislation which might be considered feasible might take. It is a matter we wish to study.