HC Deb 05 February 1979 vol 962 cc4-5
3. Mr. Madden

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied with the present arrangements for the electricity discount scheme.

The Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Dr. John Cunningham)

I am satisfied that the arrangements for this winter's extended electricity discount scheme will enable many more consumers with low incomes to benefit from the help it offers than was the case previously.

Mr. Madden

Is my hon. Friend aware that the extension to which he has referred is most welcome? Will he publish in the Official Report the groups which are eligible for discount? In view of the heavy electricity bills that can be expected this winter, will he intensify his efforts to publicise this scheme so that the maximum number of those who are eligible can apply?

Dr. Cunningham

The answer to all those questions is "Yes ".

Mr. Viggers

What is unique about the electricity discount scheme that it should cause the Department of Energy, alone among Government Departments, to choose to subsidise the Morning Star by advertising the scheme in that newspaper on 22 January?

Dr. Cunningham

There is nothing unique about it. The hon. Gentleman is totally wrong. The Morning Star has been used on no fewer than 10 occasions to display such advertisements.

Dr. McDonald

Is my hon. Friend aware that since the figure of £20 is the minimum requirement before anybody can take advantage of the discount scheme, it will mean that many pensioners will be unable to benefit very much from it? Will he consider removing this requirement?

Dr. Cunningham

No, and I must correct my hon. Friend. Although she may understand the scheme, I believe that her words may be misleading. Everybody who qualifies for the scheme this winter—that is between 4 million and 5 million people—will receive the £5 payment, except those who are paid in receipt of rent and rate rebates. A significant number of people will get £5. It is only for those with electricity bills in excess of £20 that the additional discount takes effect. We could not possibly alter that. We are already allocating £45 million to the scheme as a whole.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Will the Minister undertake to have discussions with the Fuel Poverty Forum and other bodies which have strongly commented on the availability of the scheme as it affects old people and those who require further heating assistance?

Dr. Cunningham

Yes, Sir. I recently wrote to David Green, the secretary of one of the groups co-ordinating such work, and offered to meet him and similar groups. I await his reply.