§ 3. Mr. Rooker
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the estimated annual contribution to the Exchequer of the gas and electricity industries.
§ The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Peter Rees)
Both industries make payments of VAT and other taxes and duties in common with industry generally. The British Gas Corporation also incurred liability for £523 million in respect of gas levy and £208 million in respect of corporation tax for the financial year 1982–83. None of the electricity industries is currently paying corporation tax.
§ Mr. Rooker
Can the Chief Secretary explain what happened to the Secretary of State for Energy who before the election was fighting to keep electricity prices down but since being transferred to become Chancellor of the Exchequer has been fighting to put them up? It was not just the fact, was it, of taking up residence in a taxpayer-funded house?
§ Mr. Rees
The hon. Gentleman is straining a little to achieve a rather meretricious effect. Electricity prices will have been frozen for a year by April of next year, at a time when the retail price index will probably have gone up by about 5 per cent., which indicates a fall in electricity prices in real terms.
§ Mr. Pavitt
Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman had my experience since the beginning of October at advice bureaux for constituents of not a week going by without an elderly person, because of the housing benefit impact, coming in with an electricity or gas bill which he or she is unable to meet and one has to intervene to prevent the service being cut off? Will the Minister—as a good new year's gift, as it were—do something in conjuction with the Secretary of State for Energy to achieve a more equitable arrangement for energy prices?
§ Mr. Rees
I have not yet had the same experience as the hon. Gentleman, but if such a person were to come into my advice bureau I should say that we were contributing about £350 million a year to assist the less well off with their heating costs and that that benefited about 1 million gas consumers and 2 million electricity consumers, half of whom were old-age pensioners. I should also emphasise to such a hypothetical visitor that that was about three times what the last Labour Government ever did.
§ Mr. Budgen
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that those who visit my advice surgeries always complain about any increase in prices, but that as they leave they remark that it is better to have level price increases than to have the old distortion which was in favour of the domestic consumer and very much against industry, on which they know they depend?