HC Deb 20 February 1984 vol 54 cc547-8
5. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will list the increases in the domestic prices of coal (pithead price), electricity and gas that have taken place since January 1981.

Mr. Peter Walker

The Department of Employment index shows that the domestic price of coal has increased by 22 per cent. over the period January 1981 to December 1983, that of gas by 54 per cent. and that of electricity by 21 per cent. The average pit-head price of domestic coal increased by 21 per cent. over the same period.

Mr. Canavan

Bearing in mind the excessive nature of the increases, particularly with gas, where the price increase has been over twice the rate of inflation, why are the Tory Government, who claim to be non-interventionist, intervening to put prices up, thereby plunging hundreds of thousands of families into fuel poverty? Will the Secretary of State give us an absolute assurance now that no further demands will be made on the energy supply industries to raise their prices even further?

Mr. Walker

If the hon. Gentleman holds those views, he should start canvassing vigorously for the Tory candidate in Chesterfield. During the period for which the Labour candidate for Chesterfield, Mr. Benn, was responsible, domestic coal prices soared at much faster rates, as did gas and electricity prices.

Mr. Skeet

In view of the Government expenditure programme for 1984 to 1987, under which the electricity and gas supply industries will have to pay considerably more to the National Coal Board, would it not be a fairer result to allow electricity and gas to make a takeover bid for the NCB?

Mr. Walker

I have detected no signs of eagerness on their part to do so.

Mr. Hardy

Does the Secretary of State agree that the figures he gave the House confirm that the Government's commitment to energy conservation is based overwhelmingly on a reliance on pricing? Does he further accept that present domestic prices of coal, gas and electricity are higher than they need to be, higher than they ought to be, and that, for industry, they are higher than those charged by our competitors who pursue more intelligent policies?

Mr. Walker

No, Sir. Before the hon. Gentleman makes assertions of that kind he should look, for example, at the recent CBI survey, which shows that in the majority of industries that simply is not true. The CBI identifies a minority of industries where there are some problems, but it says that the majority of industries are very competitive. The astronomic increases in industrial charges that took place under the last Labour Government are in stark comparison with what has happened under this Government.

Mr. Rathbone

How do the prices of coal, gas and electricty in this country compare with those in other EC states?

Mr. Walker

Certainly over the past year prices in, for example, France, Italy and other European countries, have risen far faster.