HC Deb 03 May 1976 vol 910 cc820-2
10. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his latest estimate of the amount of subsidies payable to the gas, electricity and coal industries during the current financial year; and what were the actual figures for the year ended 5th April 1976.

Mr. Eadie

The information which my right hon. Friend gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas) on 31st March in respect of payments in 1975–76 and 1976–77 stands, except that the latest estimate for compensation for price restraint to the electricity industry—England and Wales—for 1975–76 is now £11–6 million, not £21.6 million.

Mr. Gow

Will the Minister accept the congratulations of hon. Members on this side of the House on the policy of the Government to phase out these subsidies to nationalised industries? Will he also confirm that there is no danger of the Government weakening in their resolve to face this matter?

Mr. Eadie

I note the hon. Gentleman's congratulatory remarks, but I ought to point out to him that the legacies from his Government are still carrying on for some considerable time. For example, payments to the Central Electricity Generating Board for accelerating investment in the power stations are likely to continue until 1980–81.

Mr. Palmer

Does my hon. Friend agree that the subsidies to the gas and electricity industries were introduced by the Conservative Government against the wishes of those industries?

Mr. Eadie

Yes, and I particularly remember my hon. Friend and myself taking part in some of those debates. It is fortunate that there is a certain rapport between the Opposition and the Government in trying to deal with this problem.

Mr. Cryer

Does not my hon. Friend acknowledge that the congratulations of the Opposition are indictment enough on the phasing out of these subsidies? Is not the effect of the cuts in public expenditure that pensioners, single-parent families and people in real need are having to pay higher prices for gas and electricity, and is it not time that the Government reversed the policy, retained subsidies and kept prices down?

Mr. Eadie

I think that my hon. Friend and I are at one on this point, but I do not think my hon. Friend would want to support the policies inaugurated by the previous Government. I agree with him that there is a problem of severe fuel bills for pensioners, but I think he will agree that by means of pension provision and social security payments the Government have tried to grasp this nettle in order to assist pensioners and people to whom he has referred. Indeed, it was my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who faced this problem recently and tried to assist pensioners by preventing their fuel supplies from being cut off.