§ 18. Mr. Teddy Taylor
asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many households have had gas and electricity supplies, respectively, cut off because of the non-payment of accounts in the most recent annual period for which figures are available; and by what percentage these figures have increased or fallen compared with five years previously.
§ Mr. Taylor
Is not the Minister aware that this information is available in Scotland and that I have obtained it? Is it not outrageous for the right hon. Gentleman, when he is increasing electricity prices by such a substantial amount, not to have information about the number of people whose supplies of electricity and gas are cut off because they are unable to pay their bills? Is this not a major and frightening problem in Britain? Should not the electricity boards be instructed by the Minister, as are the gas boards, to ensure that every possible way of making the payment of bills easier should be investigated, and in particular the direct payment of bills of people on long-term benefit by the Supplementary Benefit Commission?
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Gentleman must know that I am not the Minister responsible for the South of Scotland Electricity Board. I can give him only the England and Wales figures. In terms of electricity, the number of domestic and commercial consumers disconnected was 120,000—that is, 0.7 per cent. of the total number. The figure for gas is about 34,000 cut-offs, or 0.36 per cent. of credit customers. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern. I am very anxious about the winter with substantially higher bills for gas and electricity consumers coming at a time when there will be a number of people unemployed, others on short time and others facing various difficulties. I have, as I promised the House, seen the 21 Chairman of the Electricity Council about the matter. I am writing to him as well as to Members of Parliament about the position, because it is of great concern to the whole community that a general desire to bring the nationalised industries into balance should not be followed by disconnections of a kind that would create serious hardship for many families.