§ 13. Sir J. Langford-Holt
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he will give general directions to the gas and electricity boards that they should consult together to reduce the money spent by each on advertising to encourage the public to use their services, in view of the fact that each is a monopoly supplier in its own field.
§ Mr. Tom Boardman
No, Sir. This is a matter which is best left to the commercial judgment of the boards concerned.
§ Sir J. Langford-Holt
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is wrong to have two public bodies spending public money inviting the public not to buy the product of the other in an area in which, between them, they have a monopoly? If he is not prepared to give a general direction, will he be prepared to invite the chairmen of the respective boards to have consultations with each other?
§ Mr. Boardman
The gas and electricity industries are not the only suppliers of domestic fuel. Coal and oil are also competing in this sphere. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend believes that a completely cosy relationship between the two industries would ultimately be in the interests of the consumer.
§ Mr. Palmer
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that these industries have no absolute monopoly but are in competition with every form of consumer spending? Does he also agree that they are expected to act commercially and to pay their way? If advertising is to be condemned for public enterprise, surely it should equally be condemned for private enterprise?
§ Mr. Boardman
The hon. Gentleman must be aware that competition with other industries must be fair. It is my responsibility to ensure that that competition is fair. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that there is a real rôle in this area for consumers and consultative councils. If they believe that matters have not been properly presented, or that there has been unfair and improper expenditure, they have a rôle which they will undoubtedly fulfil.