HC Deb 12 January 1976 vol 903 cc21-2
17. Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what was the percentage increase in domestic coal, gas, electricity and paraffin prices, respectively, from March 1974 to the latest available date.

Mr. Benn

The average percentage increases since March 1974 in domestic gas and electricity tariffs, including fuel cost adjustments, have been 34 per cent. and 87 per cent. respectively. The NCB's prices to merchants have increased by 57 per cent. and the maximum retail price of paraffin, which took effect from 8th December 1975, was equivalent to a 32 per cent. increase over the March 1974 price.

Mr. Thomas

Is my right hon. Friend able to give the House a report of progress in the discusions that he has been having on the question of electricity and gas tariffs? Is he able to assure us that he is resisting the insidious campaign to get him to do away even with the modest restructuring of tariffs which has happened since the Government took office?

Mr. Benn

I can report to my hon. Friend and to the House that Ministers and officials have been wrestling with the problem of tariff structures for some weeks, if not longer. I hope that we shall be able to publish some of the calculations that we have made, so that people who think that there is an easy answer to the question of tariff restructuring—I am not suggesting that my hon. Friend thinks that there is, but some people do—will appreciate that it is very difficult to handle the problem in this way. I am well aware of the pressures to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. Michael Latham

Does the right hon. Gentleman's Department make any calculation of the proportion of the £6a-week permitted wage increase likely to be taken up by increased energy costs this year?

Mr. Benn

Not without further notice

Mr. Palmer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is probable that the Plowden Committee has made some observations on the subject of tariffs in the electricity supply industry? When will the Committee's report be made generally available to hon. Members?

Mr. Benn

I understand that it will be published as soon as possible. It was made available to me just before Christmas. In view of my hon. Friend's question, I shall make inquiries.

Mr. Biffen

Is it intended that the tariff studies to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred shall also take account of the differential impact on industrial tariff pricing and consumer tariff pricing?

Mr. Benn

I do not want to be pressed to say how much we shall be able to publish and what studies would be relevant, but it is my general intention to make public as much as is possible. These are very complicated calculations. There is a tendency to suppose that small users and poor users are one and the same, which they are not; and the cross-relationship between industrial and domestic tariffs is difficult but very relevant, because there will be further tariff increases in the fuel industries during 1976. Therefore, the more information on these matters that we can make public, the better.