HC Deb 11 June 1979 vol 968 cc15-7
10. Mr. Dudley Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what steps he proposes to ensure that those urban and rural areas currently without a gas supply have one provided to give them parity with the majority of United Kingdom citizens.

Mr. Norman Lamont

I am satisfied that the British Gas Corporation meets its statutory obligation with regard to the supply of gas.

Mr. Smith

Is my hon. Friend aware that about a quarter of the population of this country does not have a gas supply and that many of those who are deprived live in villages near large urban areas? Does he not think, in view of the fuel crisis, that the gas industry should be playing a much more significant part in providing alternative sources of energy, particularly for heating?

Mr. Lamont

I am aware of the position. Under the Gas Act 1972 the Gas Corporation has a statutory duty to supply gas on request only to any premises within 25 yards of the gas main currently in use. The position on electricity is different. As my hon. Friend will know, the cost of a gas main is considerably more than that of an electricity main. In deciding whether to ask people for a contribution to link them to the gas main gas boards have to take into account both the capital cost and the revenue that might arise from such sales.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Is the Minister aware that the responsibilities of the British Gas Corporation do not extend to all parts of the United Kingdom to which this question refers? Will it be the policy of Her Majesty's Government that all parts of the United Kingdom should be considered on the same basis regarding access to sources of natural gas?

Mr. Lamont

I am aware of that problem. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the problem is a longstanding one, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is considering.

Mr. Hannam

Does my hon. Friend accept that an important factor in the choice of fuels is the provision of chimneys or flues in housing? Will he pursue a policy of persuading local authorities to provide chimneys in as much housing as possible?

Mr. Lamont

I note what my hon. Friend has said. I am sure that this matter will be carefully studied by my hon. Friend who has particular responsibility for conservation and conservation standards in public buildings.

Dr. Edmund Marshall

In view of the high cost of providing gas mains compared with the cost of connecting other fuels, would it not make for fair competition between different fuels if there was a policy of grants and subsidies to provide connection to gas supplies?

Mr. Lamont

I do not believe that grants and subsidies would make for fair competition. The profits of the Gas Corporation contribute to the national interest both by tax revenue and by reductions in Government borrowing.

Dr. John Cunningham

Given the availability and competitive position of gas, the further constraints on oil supply and the fact, as the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) pointed out, that large areas of the country have no gas supply, would it not be fair to those consumers if the Government reviewed the provisions of the Gas Act 1972?

Mr. Lamont

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the management of the Gas Corporation is anxious to maximise its share of the market. The management has every reason to want to do so. As I said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith), in deciding whether someone should or should not be connected to the main, the management balances the cost with the revenue that is expected. There is every competitive incentive to the Gas Corporation which does not need subsidies suggested by the hon. Gentleman.