§ Mr. Freeson
asked the Secretary of State for Energy, pursuant to his reply to the right hon. Member for Brent, East on 5 December, Official Report, column 47, if he is yet able to say what information he has as to the codes of practice followed in (a) the United States of America and (b) the European Economic Community which state the circumstances when gas and electricty supplies are not allowed to be cut off.
§ Mr. Giles Shaw
Practices within the United States of America and the Community vary and detailed information is not available. However, I understand that in the United States of America the state agencies responsible for regulating fuel utilities specify the circumstances in which supplies to domestic consumers may be disconnected. These appear to parallel closely the United Kingdom fuel industries' code of practice. Thus, in general, utilities ensure adequate contact with consumers before disconnecting and made efforts to avoid this where undue hardship would result—for example, during the winter months or where the consumer is elderly or ill. Similarly, I understand that in the Community all member states operate the equivalent of a voluntary code of practice. This in general takes account of the age, health and family circumstances of the consumer and provides alternative easy payment methods to help avoid disconnection. Overall, both in the United States of America and the Community, the fuel industries have the same power to disconnect as do the United Kingdom industries and take similar measures to exercise this power responsibly so as to avoid undue hardship to consumers. I will also write to the right hon. Member further on this matter.