HC Deb 18 June 1973 vol 858 cc18-9
15. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions he has had with the managements of the nationalised coal, gas and electricity industries regarding the applications which those industries will submit to the Price Commission for price increases.

Mr. Tom Boardman

I have discussed with the Electricity Council the issues involved in an application by the industry to the Price Commission. The British Gas Corporation kept me fully informed of its intentions, but no issue arose requiring discussion. The National Coal Board also kept me fully informed of its intentions, but NCB prices for coal are not subject to the code. There is no question, therefore, of an application.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Is my hon. Friend aware that this is a somewhat preoccupying reply? As the Price Commission, under the code, is already required to disregard the need of the nationalised industries to bring themselves back to a more comprehensible and sensible financial posture, surely it is most undesirable that there should be a prejudging by the Government of any price increase that they might obtain from the commission before they go to it. Is not the decision by the commission to reduce the increase that the Coal Board requires and requested in contradiction of our obligations under the Treaty of Paris?

Mr. Boardman

There has been no prejudging of the application that has been put in. The application by the Electricity Council on behalf of the industry is its application. Whether, under the code, the Government have any right to make any decision on the outcome does not yet arise.

The decision not to put up the price of domestic coal was taken by the National Coal Board. It was not one where the Government had any right to direct. It was the board's decision, taking into account the overall counter-inflation policy and the economic needs of the country, not to put up prices.

Mr. Palmer

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government, by their constant interference in the pricing policies of the nationalised industries, have treated those industries very shabbily, with the result that they have lost track of commercial accountability?

Mr. Boardman

Intervention in the pricing structures of these industries goes back a long way. The overriding consideration is counter-inflation. It is essential that the Government take whatever action they properly can to ensure that their counter-inflation policy is successful.