HC Deb 09 May 1988 vol 133 cc11-2
16. Ms. Quin

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what further representations he has received about the rise in electricity prices.

Mr. Parkinson

I have received a number of representations about electricity price rises.

Ms. Quin

What is the Minister's reaction to the report that was published last week by National Utility Services, which shows that the United Kingdom is well on the way to becoming one of the countries with the most expensive electricity because of the targets that have been imposed on the industry by the Government? What initiatives does he intend to take to help those at the lower end of the income scale who are faced with electricity price rises?

Mr. Parkinson

As I told the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), that company draws its statistics from a very narrow range of its own customers. It does not pretend to cover the whole industry. The CBI and the Electricity Council produce the most authoritative figures. They show that Britain is firmly in the middle of the list, for both industrial and domestic prices. The price increase this year is the first since 1985. Under the Labour Government prices increased ahead of the rate of inflation by more than 30 per cent. Under this Government they are 12 per cent. less than the rate of inflation, even after taking the present price increase into account.

Mr. Watts

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best prospects for low-price electricity will come from his proposal to introduce competition into the generation of electricity and also from giving to the generating companies the right to buy their fuel, including coal, at competitive market prices?

Mr. Parkinson

Yes. Generation costs cover 80 per cent. of the cost of electricity. Competition in that area of the industry offers the best prospect of keen prices for the customer.

Ms. Gordon

Is the Minister aware that because of the increasing cost of electricity a growing number of poorer people are late in making their payments? In London they are receiving very aggressive and unpleasant letters from the electricity authorities, threatening them with court orders allowing the authorities to break into people's homes and install electricity meters if those poorer people are not prepared to sign a statement to the effect that they are willing voluntarily to have meters. A number of these letters have been received by people who are in hospital—often elderly people—and they have caused great distress. Will the Minister do something about it?

Mr. Parkinson

The hon. Lady knows that under the code of conduct the electricity authorities do not disconnect elderly people during the winter months. I should like her to tell her constituents that the electricity authorities are ready to listen to representations on behalf of consumers who have a real problem and who need help in the staging of the payment of their bills. I hope that the hon. Lady will agree that people should pay their electricity bills, just as they pay other bills. If they do not do so, the price of electricity for everyone will have to be increased.