HC Deb 20 January 1975 vol 884 cc1001-2
10. Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he has been able to take steps to protect small consumers and poor consumers in the current round of electricity and gas price increases.

25. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what proposals he has to help poorer consumers meet increased costs of gas and electricity.

Mr. Eadie

The position of small consumers will be borne in mind when the electricity industry's price proposals are considered. In the case of gas, recent increases have been formulated so as to bear most heavily on the larger domestic consumers.

Mr. Thomas

I greatly appreciate what my hon. Friend has been able to do in this matter and I am sure that small consumers will appreciate it, too, but I wonder whether the very small consumer, and especially the small consumer with a prepayment meter, slipped through his net, since it appears to me that the increase for these people has been above 30 per cent. rather than at 12 per cent. Has my hon. Friend studied the situation in Ireland where there are pensioners' rebates for energy consumption, and has he looked also at the position in Japan where a progressive tax is operated?

Mr. Eadie

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has told the House that he is carrying out an examination of this matter. I refer my hon. Friend to Hansard of 18th December, cols. 482–3. There are difficulties here. I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that the problem is easier to state than to resolve, but, as I say, it is being carefully examined.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

Assurances are not enough for the small and poorer consumer. How do the Government reconcile allowing these prices to climb indiscriminately with a background of massive food subsidies, since it is these energy consumers who are hardest hit?

Mr. Eadie

Assurances are valuable when they are specific, and my right hon. Friend has given an undertaking to report to the House and to make a statement on this matter. As regards energy-pricing policies, I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman should hang his hat on this aspect of the matter, because I thought there was agreement on both sides of the House that the sooner we returned to proper pricing in relation to energy the better it would be for the country.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Is my hon. Friend aware that many small and poor consumers would prefer to pay for their gas and electricity as they use them through the prepayment machines to which he referred earlier? Is he aware also that there is a long delay in the provision of these meters by the electricity and gas boards? Will he bring pressure to bear on the boards to expedite the provision of these prepayment machines?

Mr. Mike Thomas

And to reduce their prices.

Mr. Eadie

I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall). The matter has come under attention from time to time. If my hon. Friend has any information regarding specific areas where there has been delay, I shall try to assist him in contacting the area board concerned, which, after all, has complete discretion in these matters.