HC Deb 08 May 1978 vol 949 cc760-2
12. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what derogations have been allowed to the British Gas Corporation from its statutory duty to supply all potential customers.

Dr. John Cunningham

The British Gas Corporation's duty to supply potential customers is defined by the relevant Acts of Parliament. There is no ministerial involvement in day-to-day decisions on such issues.

Mr. Knox

Is the Minister aware that it is very annoying for people who want to have gas appliances to find that they cannot get a gas supply? Is he satisfied that the derogations from the statutory duty to supply gas are correct? Is he satisfied that these have kept in line with changing circumstances? I have received more complaints in the last three months from constituents about this than in the previous seven and a half years that I have been a member of the House.

Dr. Cunningham

It is quite clear that gas for domestic purposes is very competitive, but the main qualification to which the hon. Member refers is that British Gas is not obliged to give supplies to premises more than 25 yards from an existing main unless the recipients are willing to enter into an agreement with the Corporation about the cost of installation.

Mr. Beith

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it has been the lack of availability of gas supplies that has contributed to the building of a number of all-electric estates, especially in Northumberland, by local authorities and by the Ministry of Defence? Is he aware that on such estates problems of high heating costs and dampness have arisen? Will he encourage gas boards to supply to rural communities wherever possible and to co-operate as fully as possible with local authorities which want to convert from electricity to make gas available?

Dr. Cunningham

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's assertion that people are living in all-electric houses merely because gas was not available. It is the local authorities which decide the sort of houses they want to build. If they wish, they can build solid fuel heated houses. There is plenty of coal and solid fuel to be burnt in Britain. As for taking the line that British Gas must supply gas to rural communities wherever they are, nothing would please me more if that were so. I happen to represent a constituency which covers 500 square miles of rural communities. However, British Gas must operate economically and within the statutes laid down by Parliament.

Mr. Palmer

How much similar latitude is given to the electricity supply industry?

Dr. Cunningham

That is another question. If my hon. Friend cares to table such a Question, I shall answer it.