HC Deb 28 February 1972 vol 832 cc26-7
31. Mr. Thomas Cox

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent discussions his Department has had with representatives of the Gas Council, following complaints by consumers of the difficulties and financial cost they have experienced as a result of gas conversion.

Sir J. Eden

The Gas Council is well aware of my concern that this major programme should cause minimum inconvenience to the consumers. This is also the aim of the area boards, which are responsible for carrying it out.

Mr. Cox

In spite of that reply, the Minister will be fully aware of the widespread criticism which is being made throughout the country by consumers about the difficulties, and especially the additional financial cost, that conversion causes. Should not the Minister impress on gas boards that they should judge each case on its merits and get away from the practice of the standard compensation claim which in many cases is totally inadequate to meet the additional costs that consumers have had to face?

Sir J. Eden

What the individual area boards do in cases where compensation is justified is a matter for them. My statutory powers of intervention are fairly limited. Questions of hardship are for consideration by the Supplementary Benefits Commission and I know that it takes these matters very much into account.

Sir Bernard Braine

Has my hon. Friend had any discussions with the Gas Council about the deteriorating standards of service and civility being experienced certainly by consumers in the North Thames Gas Board area? Is my hon. Friend aware that the introduction of computer accounting, for example, leads to many errors of accounting followed by a failure to answer consumers' inquiries and threats to cut off the gas supply and that, in the case of elderly people living alone, this causes great distress and anxiety? Will my hon. Friend investigate this scandalous state of affairs?

Sir J. Eden

Those representations which have been made to me, as well as letters which come to me from hon. Members, are passed on to the area boards concerned as these are matters within their management responsibility.