HC Deb 08 March 1982 vol 19 cc588-9
8. Dr. Edmund Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will seek to extend the requirement that the British Gas Corporation should supply gas to residential properties, which at present it is not obliged to supply.

Mr. John Moore

No, Sir, but there is no statutory bar on the British Gas Corporation supplying premises outside the 25-yard limit. Moreover, the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill will allow consumers outside that limit to seek, where available, alternative supplies.

Dr. Marshall

Will the Minister encourage British Gas to go over the albeit non-statutory bar to which he referred? Is he aware that the present arrangements discriminate unjustly by creating two groups within our nation—those who receive gas and those who are most unlikely ever to receive gas from the British Gas Corporation? Is he aware that those arrangments operate unfairly against many of my constituents and also against those of the Secretary of State?

Mr. Moore

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has reminded those who did know about it of the attraction of gas to so many people who cannot obtain it. I must remind him, however, that the British Gas Corporation has an obligation to seek economically to satisfy gas demand, as opposed to the specific duty to which I referred. Extension within that economic availability must be left to British Gas.

Mr. Rost

Is my hon. Friend aware that British Gas has abused its monopoly powers by refusing supplies to district heating and combined heat and power schemes, or by agreeing to supply them only at the industrial rather than the domestic tariff? Is he aware that that has worked greatly against consumer interests, as cheaper heat could have been provided through many schemes which as a result of British Gas policy have not gone ahead?

Mr. Moore

I am conscious of my hon. Friend's extensive knowledge of the subject of combined heat and power, and I am aware of the comments that have been made about past pricing policy in this regard. I am sure that all my hon. Friends will recognise the ways in which competition as a result of the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill will enhance supply opportunities.

Mr. Douglas

How can the Minister justify certain tentative proposals to export gas when some consumers in the United Kingdom, particularly in Northern Ireland, cannot be supplied?

Mr. Moore

Questions relating to Northern Ireland are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but I am aware of the point and shall bring it to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. Dover

Is my hon. Friend aware that constituents in Chorley and in North-West England generally will find his answer most unsatisfactory? On the other point, will he confirm that potential consumers can now look to subcontractors to make a link with existing gas mains?

Mr. Moore

I am aware of my hon. Friend's persistent activities on behalf of his constituents in this respect. I suggest that it might be proper to await the completion of proceedings on the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill, but certainly that Bill seeks to offer competitive alternative supply choices to consumers in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Rowlands

Does the Minister agree that as the buying rights of British Gas are an important part of conservation and depletion policy for North Sea gas, if those rights are destroyed depletion policy will also be destroyed? Does he agree that if the Bill is passed without safeguards British Gas may find itself with insufficient supplies of gas even to supply its own 15 million customers?

Mr. Moore

The Government are responsible for depletion policies for oil and gas, and our powers in that area are unchanged. It is hard to conceive that competition, as in all other area, will not increase rather than diminish opportunities for supply.