HC Deb 17 June 1974 vol 875 cc10-6
9. Mr. Molloy

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what proportion of the electricity industry's receipts are from the sale of off-peak electricity.

16. Mr. Leslie Huckfield

asked the Sectary of State for Energy what percentage of the electricity industry's revenue is from the sale of off-peak electricity.

24. Mr. Tomlinson

asked the Secretary of State for Energy how much of the electricity industry's receipts since 1971 has been attributable to the sale of off-peak electricity.

Mr. Eadie

About 5 per cent. of total revenue from sales of electricity in the three years 1st April 1971 until 31st March 1974 came from off-peak sales under domestic and other quarterly tariffs.

Mr. Molloy

May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the great anger and annoyance of many people because of the recent announcement about night storage heaters and white meters? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people think that they have been cheated and conned—

Mr. Raphael Tuck

It is no use hon. Gentleman opposite cheering; the fact is that they were going to put up prices.

Mr. Molloy

If the Trade Descriptions Act has technically not been broken, it has been raped in spirit. Does my hon. Friend not agree that in view of the intense feeling among people he ought to reconsider the anouncement that has been made and that the entire proposal should be abolished? Otherwise folk will have no confidence whatsoever in any future announcements by great public industries.

Mr. Eadie

I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree when I say that we are well aware of the statement that he has made about the feelings of consumers of off-peak electricity. My hon. Friend will be aware that about 2 million out of 17 million consumers use the appliances that he has mentioned, and he knows that the House is to debate this matter on Thursday.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that that complacent reply will not satisfy organisations such as Help the Aged, which are desperately disturbed by the fears which his announcement has caused among old people?

Mr. Eadie

Yes, Sir, but the hon. Gentleman must be fair and agree that the Government have implemented a policy which can be of assistance to the aged. They have announced that heating charges for people on supplementary benefit will be increased by one-third from July.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Conservative Opposition have put down a motion on this subject for debate on Thursday. As they agreed with the fuel cost adjustment clause, the House will await with interest the statement by the Opposition Front Bench during that debate.

Mr. Huckfield

Does my hon. Friend accept that once upon a time night storage tariff customers used to be valuable to the generating boards because they used off-peak capacity? Because of that, an advertising campaign, which proved a great success, was undertaken to persuade people that they could install electric central heating for a small sum per week. Is my hon. Friend now saying that the Electricity Council and the generating boards do not want night storage tariff customers? Will my hon. Friend consider the whole matter again, because there is a tremendous amount of feeling on this issue?

Mr. Eadie

There is to be a debate on this topic on Thursday, but my hon. Friend should not be under any illusion about what I am saying about energy costs. I am saying that there has been a tremendous amount of miscalculation on both sides of the House about sources of energy.

Mr. Tom Boardman

Will the hon. Gentleman say what proportion of the increase in off-peak heating is directly attributable to the increased cost of coal due to increases in miners' wages?

Mr. Eadie

The answer is one-third to coal and two-thirds to oil.

Mr. Tomlinson

I accept that much of the problem was created by the Conservative administration and was disguised by them, but will my hon. Friend explain to my constituents how they are to meet this increased cost of 70 per cent., in addition to the increased rate burdens which they have had to suffer? Will my hon. Friend accept that we find it small comfort that he tells the House that the increase affects only 2 million people? For them the increase is as severe and damaging as it could possibly be.

Mr. Eadie

I was not trying to give any comfort; I was trying to give my hon. Friend the facts. I repeat that this matter is to be debated on Thursday.

15. Mr. Trotter

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what was the amount spent by the nationalised electricity industry in the last five years on advertising aimed at encouraging consumers to use cheap off-peak electricity for storage heating.

Mr. Eadie

I am advised by the Electricity Council that between 1969–70 and 1973–74 the approximate annual amounts were: £1.12 million; £1.70 million; £770,000; £390,000 and £140,000.

Mr. Trotter

I should declare an interest, in that I put my trust in these advertisements and completely converted to night store heaters, only to be conned like 2 million other people. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if there had been a similar breach of trust or misrepresentation by a private organisation it would have been pilloried? Is this the unacceptable face of nationalisation, and will he, before Thursday, consider his policy on this matter?

Mr. Eadie

On the first point, if the hon. Gentleman had consulted me and some of my hon. Friends we could have given him good advice on what proper central heating should be. His second question has nothing to do with nationalisation. It has an awful lot to do with the fact that the House and the country did not think out a proper energy policy in relation to cost.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Does my hon. Friend accept that no matter how incompetent the previous administration were over this nationalised industry it will not do now to say that people must accept these charges? I am afraid that it will be a great hardship to a number of people. We expect from him much more enlightenment in the administration of this industry.

Mr. Eadie

I certainly take the strictures of my hon. Friend, but the question related to advertisements for night storage heaters. It still is a cheaper form of electricity—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes it is. It is cheaper than ordinary electricity. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it is preferable, from the point of view of conservation, that night storage heaters should be sold in conjunction with cheap insulation.

Mr. Peyton

Not all of us would accept the hon. Gentleman as a heating consultant, but would he advise his right hon. Friend that he failed earlier to answer the perfectly reasonable question of his hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield), and that as a result of Government policy we shall now have a growing mistrust from the public, who once felt that an agreement had been made, respecting the interests of both sides, that special prices should be given to those who used off-peak heating, and that this has now been violated?

Mr. Eadie

My qualifications as a heating consultant may be better than those of the right hon. Gentleman. He should address his second point to his right hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench. They agreed to the fuel cost adjustment clauses and they will have to enlighten the right hon. Gentleman in the debate on Thursday.

Mr. Palmer

Is my hon. Friend aware of the contradiction in the attitude of Conservative Members, who are always lecturing the nationalised industries on the need to be commercially minded and then, apparently, deny them the right to advertise?

Mr. Eadie

I could not agree with my hon. Friend more.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Is it not now becoming apparent to the hon. Gentleman and to his right hon. Friend that they would be well advised to accept the Opposition motion about off-peak heating, especially since the advice of the Patronage Secretary is that they should accept it?

Mr. Eadie

That is the great dilemma that the House will face. We do not yet know what the Opposition policy is. We look forward with great interest to Thursday's debate.

25. Mr. Hunt

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is the average cost of the 70 per cent. rise in off-peak electricity to those households which have installed night storage heaters.

Mr. Eadie

For typical households with night storage heating using about 12,000 units a year, of which 9,000 are at off-peak or night rates, the increase in their bills is expected to average about 75p a week.

Mr. Hunt

As, in the main, these night storage heaters have been installed by householders with very limited means, does not a figure of that kind represent a savage blow to their weekly budgets? Is it not time that we had at least some expression of sympathy from Ministers to these people in their pressing plight?

Mr. Eadie

There is no lack of sympathy. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the House is to debate this matter on Thursday.

Mr. Greville Janner

Is it not completely hypocritical of Conservative Members to attack this decision, when it arose directly out of their plans and their arrangements? That said, however, is my hon. Friend aware that the complaints which most of us on the Government side of the House have received have come from people of limited means, who regard the change as extremely unfair?

Mr. Eadie

I am glad that my hon. and learned Friend has raised the question of people of limited means. As I told the House previously, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is trying to take care of this matter and has made announcements relative to the giving of some financial aid.

26. Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many representations have been received from the public in regard to the increase in night storage charges for domestic electricity heating.

19. Mr. Rose

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what representations he has received concerning the proposed increases in costs of electricity for night storage heaters.

Mr. Eadie

I have received 333 letters from hon. Members and 416 direct from the public about the electricity price increases. The bulk of them refer to the increases in off-peak and night rates. In addition, I have seen the letter sent to the Prime Minister by the National Consumer Protection Council on 10th June covering about 3,000 letters from consumers and signed on behalf of various organisations.

Mr. Dykes

Will the Minister stop appearing to be so complacent about this matter? Is he not aware that hundreds of thousands of people are facing literally unbearable increases in charges? Will he for one moment forget the debate later this week, behind which he has continued to shelter for the whole of this Question Time, and undertake to postpone any of these increases for three months pending full inquiries?

Mr. Eadie

As Question Time goes on I begin to gain the impression that Opposition Members would like to forget the debate on Thursday. I do not think that the House can forget it

Mr. Leadbitter

I hope that my hon. Friend will bear in mind that it is of little consequence either to many of us in the House or, certainly, to the people affected by this matter where he says that the blame is laid. Is he aware that the people involved place the responsibility on many of us in the House? Is he, therefore, aware that unless something is said on Thursday to change our minds, some of us will not be persuaded that we should support him and the Government?

Mr. Eadie

I note what my hon. Friend has said. We shall have to wait until Thursday night.

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