Fuel Bills (Low-Income Consumers)

Oral Answers to Questions — Energy – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th July 1977.

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Photo of Mr John Ovenden Mr John Ovenden , Gravesend 12:00 am, 4th July 1977

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he proposes to re- introduce the scheme for selective assist ance to electricity consumers next winter; and if he will consider extending the scheme to cover other types of fuel and amend the qualifications so as to increase the number of beneficiaries.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

We are keeping under review the need for helping those on low incomes with the cost of fuel.

Photo of Mr John Ovenden Mr John Ovenden , Gravesend

Will my hon. Friend accept that there is growing concern about the delay in announcing the Government's intentions about assistance towards fuel costs next winter? If he goes ahead with a scheme, as I very much hope he will, will he take account of the criticisms made of last winter's scheme in view of the fact that it did not help those who are dependent upon coal or gas for the majority of heating costs and those who are just above supplementary benefit level and who, therefore, lost out entirely and were denied any assistance?

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

Gearly, we recognise that there is always concern about people on low incomes having to face high fuel bills, but to say that there is growing concern about an announcement is to overstate the case. We have just finished last winter's scheme. We have not yet had opportunity fully to review its working. But of course, if we can draw any lessons from the working of the scheme last winter and if we were to repeat it next winter, we should put them into practice wherever possible.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Bain Mrs Margaret Bain , Dunbartonshire East

When the hon. Gentleman analyses the reports on last year's scheme, will he look further particularly at those on the poverty line and those who face a conflict between claiming rent and rate rebates and supplementary benefit?

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

I am aware of the hon. Lady's interest in this point and that of other hon. Members. However, only a very small percentage of those who opt for rent or rate rebates fall into this borderline area. The overwhelming majority of people who are in receipt of rent or rate rebates have incomes substantially above the level for supplementary benefit.

Photo of Mr Roderick MacFarquhar Mr Roderick MacFarquhar , Belper

Does not my hon.Friend agree that in addition to these very desirable special schemes it is absolutely essential to keep down nationalised industries' prices in the fuel sector for all consumers if we are to have a successful transition to phase 3 or whatever it is to be called?

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

The Government made a decision early in their life to move towards the economic pricing of fuel. That remains the position. Within that broad general position, it is important to ensure not only that the right decisions are made on investment and conservation grounds but that fuel is available to industrial and domestic consumers at prices they are able to afford.