HC Deb 11 February 1969 vol 777 cc1110-3
19. Mr. Dudley Smith

asked the Minister of Power what complaints he has received from users of natural gas that it is less efficient in its working than the former town gas; what reply he has sent; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Freeson

Twenty-four complaints since last April which my right hon. Friend has referred to the Area Boards to investigate. While natural gas gives rise to problems of adaption for consumers and appliances, these are due to its different calorific value and composition, and not to any technical inferiority to town gas.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Will the Parliamentary Secretary bear in mind that this gas presents very difficult ignition problems and as a result many people are now unable to use the pilot light on their equipment? Will he encourage extra research into this aspect?

Mr. Freeson

This is one matter among a number which the gas industry is taking into close account and I am quite sure it is capable of handling it.

Mr. Mapp

Is my hon. Friend aware of a recent case where the inadvertent use of facilities, possibly by negligence of the consumer, led to the escape of this type of gas which has very severe lethal qualities compared with other kinds of gas? Is that taken into account and proper warnings given and precautions taken about its use?

Mr. Freeson

The gas boards and the Gas Council are investigating this fault and others which have developed during the introduction of the conversion programmes. If there are particular points my hon. Friend would like looked at I or the industry will do so. If he writes to us, I shall certainly arrange that.

20. Mr. Dudley Smith

asked the Minister of Power if he is satisfied with the standards and techniques being applied by the gas boards in the natural gas conversion programme in various parts of the country; and if he will make a statement.

43. Mr. Emery

asked the Minister of Power how many representations he has received on the conversion of domestic appliances for the use of North Sea gas; what number and percentage of the conversions have initially worked unsatisfactorily and necessitated further maintenance; and what is the percentage increase set against the estimated unit cost for each conversion.

Mr. Freeson

My right hon. Friend has received 45 representations since the programme began last April. Standards and methods are continually improved by the boards in the light of experience and research but some further servicing, at present about 25 per cent. of conversions must be expected. Costs per consumer in these early stages, have averaged £34–£35, but they are estimated at about £30 for the whole 10-year programme in real terms.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that thousands of conversion mistakes have been made purely because the workmen concerned were inefficiently trained, and as a result many of my constituents have been without water or heating for three weeks or a month? As only 5 per cent. of the country so far has been converted, will the hon. Gentleman ask the boards to give special attention to the training of workmen involved?

Mr. Freeson

This point has been raised by my Department with the gas boards and by the gas boards with the contractors they are employing. I have spent some time visiting some of the conversion areas to see what was being done, to pick up on the mistakes and difficulties initially experienced. I am confident that the gas industry will get over them.

Mr. Emery

Does not the Minister realise that, particularly in North London, there have been major outcries against the unsatisfactory nature of the conversions? What steps is he taking to ensure that a conversion can be done in one visit and not by having workmen returning a number of times to readjust the sets? Is he concerned that the cost of this conversion is running at about one-seventh greater than was estimated?

Mr. Freeson

I am not over-anxious at this stage about the increased cost in the early stages of the programme because in real terms it will adjust along the lines originally estimated. As to having no return calls or visits, this is impossible. The industry expects that there will be further servicing required, bearing in mind the tremendous range of equipment to be put in hand for these conversion programmes.

Mr. Sheldon

Is my hon. Friend aware that people in a number of places where conversion programmes have been started feel deeply resentful that they have been chosen as guinea-pigs for what is apparently an unprepared scheme, so that there has to be recourse to private firms to do the installation, and many of those private firms do not come up to the standard requisite and obtainable?

Mr. Freeson

I am aware of the anxiety my hon. Friend has expressed and the inconvenience that has been experienced by a number of people in the early stages of this programme. I am also aware, however, that the vast majority of the conversions have been undertaken smoothly. I am also aware that there are not guinea-pig areas, but a start with these programmes has to be made somewhere. There are inevitably difficulties in the early stages, but there is every reason to believe, according to my contacts with the industry, that these problems will be overcome soon.

Mr. Gurden

Will the hon. Gentleman look at the efficiency, or lack of it, in the gas consumer councils in this respect to see that they are looking after consumers properly and not being just servants of gas boards?

Mr. Freeson

I should say bluntly that in his last remark the hon. Member was talking nonsense. If he has a particular case in which he thinks these matters are not handled properly by a local consultative council and he writes to us, I shall have it investigated. The job these councils are doing, particularly in these areas, is excellent.

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