HL Deb 19 January 1988 vol 492 cc82-3

3 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the regulatory regime being prepared for the electricity industry after privatisation will be strictly similar in effect to that applying to the gas industry at the time.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, effective regulation of the electricity industry after privatisation will be essential in order to safeguard the interests of consumers. The Government are considering the most appropriate form very carefully. Much will depend on what structure is decided for the industry. My right honourable friend will be making a statement on this when decisions are reached.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that satisfactory reply. Does he not agree that where there is no competition from other suppliers of energy—for, for example, computers, railways, and washing machines—there will be much more of a need for a regulatory regime which will not be oppressive but which will protect the consumers, both industrial and domestic?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, protection of consumer rights will be one of our main priorities when we privatise the electricity industry. We are examining ways of safeguarding the rights of customers and securing high standards of service. The main purpose of regulation is to safeguard consumer interests in areas where a monopoly applies, and I agree entirely with my noble friend.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that, to the extent to which he can ensure both competition and emulation between a number of separate authorities, the level of regulation will assume a lower proportion? Does he recognise that there are many who believe that the Central Electricity Generating Board has had such a monopoly in the supply and generation of electricity that perhaps there will be some argument for offering the possibility of a number of separate generating authorities which could pursue, for example, alternative technologies, pollution abatement, district heating and other matters of that sort?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend. This is one of the matters being discussed at the moment and upon which no decision has yet been taken.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, does not the noble Lord admit that all these artificial measures could be avoided if he were to take the simple act of not privatising a public monopoly?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, that is a matter of opinion.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend when we can expect a White Paper on the subject, because an increasing number of people are mildly interested in knowing the shape of the Government's proposals and there is some mounting anxiety that those proposals might give rise to a forest of regulations which would be very difficult to understand or comply with?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am afraid I cannot tell my noble friend if or when a White Paper will be produced. However, I will convey his remarks to my right honourable friend.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, following the BBC programme "This Week, Next Week", over the weekend people are really very confused? On the one hand, the Secretary of State appeared to say that no decisions have yet been taken about the form that privatisation will take; on the other hand, he was saying that consumers would be given more protection. Can we be given more information as to exactly what stage the Government have reached? In addition, before we have a White Paper on the subject, can we have a Green Paper so that not only this House and another place but consumers generally can have a say about the electricity industry and whether or not they want it privatised?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am not in a position to reply to that question. However, at this stage I will tell my right honourable friend what the noble Lord has said and no doubt he will communicate with him.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, may I ask the Minister a direct question? If and when electricity is privatised will it be recognised that the prime motive is profit rather than safety?

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, safety will never be sacrificed.

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