HC Deb 23 May 2000 vol 350 cc848-9
3. Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

If he will make a statement on the Government's plans for the future regulation of electricity supply, generation and distribution in Scotland. [121873]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)

The provisions of the Utilities Bill will put service to consumers at the heart of the regulatory process.

Mr. Connarty

Does my hon. Friend share my pleasure that the Utilities Bill will establish a new and independent Gas and Electricity Consumer Council, which will be responsible for forwarding the interests of the consumer?

My hon. Friend will be aware because I told him that my spouse was caught by basically a mis-selling trick by signing what she thought was an inquiry form for a transfer from electricity to gas. She found that she had signed a contract. I had eventually to write to Sir Ian Robinson, from whom I received a letter of apology for the mis-selling. Will my hon. Friend assure me that the new independent council will stop rogue mis-selling by agencies that are not part of utilities but receive money for getting people to sign up by basically conning them into signing forms?

Mr. Wilson

I am glad that my hon. Friend acted so effectively on behalf of his constituent. His point speaks for itself. Any form of rogue mis-selling is clearly improper. A strong consumer body will be empowered to consider that sort of practice. It is important also to say that it will have an office in Scotland. The exact structure is being finalised, but we shall have a more effective consumer body to ensure that the consumer interest is at the heart of the entire process.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

Given the imminent construction of the electricity interconnector from the west coast of Scotland, what plans are there for extra patrols on the foreshore to warn of the washing up of phosphorous devices as a result of the construction?

Mr. Wilson

I am aware of the problem with phosphorous devices. If additional measures are necessary, I shall be happy to hear from the hon. Gentleman. I will take up the matter with the various agencies to ensure that public safety is of paramount importance.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the cost of electricity and other forms of heating is still far too high for many poor families in Scotland? Will he therefore agree to bring to the notice of his colleagues on the interdepartmental group on fuel poverty the real hardship in terms of health and economic cost that is faced by many thousands of families in Scotland as a result of fuel poverty and the adverse climatic conditions that occur every winter? Does he agree that even more urgent attention needs to be paid to the problem?

Mr. Wilson

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is necessary constantly to ensure that nobody is impoverished by the need to have warm, dry homes. That must be a primary objective of government. I need hardly point out to my hon. Friend that we have done much in this regard by means of insulation programmes and grants, for example. We have also substantially increased the winter fuel allowance for pensioners to £150 next year. However, I would be the last to pretend that there is nothing more to be done. My hon. Friend has a very honourable record of contributing to that debate.