HC Deb 02 April 1984 vol 57 cc632-3
5. Mr. Yeo

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will estimate the proportion of gas which is marketed in rural areas.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I regret that statistics are not kept in a form to allow a comparison to be made between gas supplies to rural and urban areas.

Mr. Yeo

Notwithstanding that, I am sure that it is in everyone's interests for more gas to be sold in rural areas, and for that to happen more households should be connected to the mains supply. Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the village of Great Waldingfield in my constituency, although many households are already on the mains supply, other residents have been told that they must pay £700 for connection? Will my right hon. Friend do everything possible to encourage gas boards to keep to a minimum the capital charge to potential gas customers in rural areas for connection?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

My hon. Friend knows that a statutory duty is laid on the British Gas Corporation to supply if the house is within 25 yd of the main. Beyond that, British Gas and local area offices are prepared to look at different schemes to see whether it is economic to do so. I understand that Eastern gas is already in touch with my hon. Friend over this, and I hope that a solution can be found.

Mrs. Currie

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in large parts of my constituency of south Derbyshire, which is neither remote nor backward, including the village of Findern, to which I am about to move, there is no gas supply? Is he also aware that, despite my protestations to the chairman of the gas board, he seems more willing to chat us up at luncheon than to install mains? Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a social need in remote and rural areas for gas supplies, just as there is for telephones and for payments to hill sheep farmers?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am not aware of the details of the village to which my hon. Friend referred, although I do not doubt that she is correct. I hope that she will pursue this matter with the area office. British Gas is keen to sell more gas, and I am sure that it will discuss the matter with her constructively, as I should like to do on any occasion.

Mr. Rowlands

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the former Secretary of State, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was taking the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill through the House, swore that private gas supplies would reach many rural areas? How many applications has he had from private suppliers to supply rural areas, whether or not in the constituency of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie)?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The real point is whether or not it is commercial to provide such supplies. The opportunity is there, but has been so only relatively recently. In the meantime, we should see how the discussions with British Gas go.

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