HC Deb 11 November 1991 vol 198 cc764-5
2. Mr. French

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairman of British Gas to discuss disconnection for debt.

The Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. John Wakeham)

I have had no recent discussions with the chairman of British Gas on the subject of disconnection for debt. This no doubt reflects the fact that the number of British Gas customers who are disconnected for debt is lower than at any time since records were first kept in 1977.

Mr. French

When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman of British Gas and discusses the subject, will he try to discover why some people receive letters threatening disconnection for non-payment as much as seven days or more after they have made payment? Will he inquire of the chairman whether British Gas's accounts system could be tightened to prevent such aggravation to members of the public?

Mr. Wakeham

Certainly, I shall discuss that point with the chairman of British Gas. Although the number of disconnections has fallen dramatically from almost 61,000 in the year to December 1987 to just over 19,000 in the year ending December 1990, there is a code of practice on disconnections and I want it to be adhered to.

Mr. Harry Barnes

Gas showrooms all over the place are being closed, including those in Clay Cross and Staveley in my constituency. Is there any evidence that indebtedness increases because people have difficulty paying bills which previously they could pay through gas showrooms?

Mr. Wakeham

No. Showrooms are, of course, a matter for British Gas. There is no evidence of additional payment difficulties—indeed, the number of people with difficulties seems to have fallen. That is partly due to the fact that, in the five years since privatisation, gas prices have fallen by 14 per cent. whereas, during the last five years of the Labour Government, they increased by 11 per cent.