Electricity Supply Industry

Oral Answers to Questions – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21 July 1980.

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Photo of Mr David Stoddart Mr David Stoddart , Swindon 12:00, 21 July 1980

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he plans to bring forward legislation concerning the reorganisation of the electricity supply industry.

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave on Monday 14 July.

Photo of Mr David Stoddart Mr David Stoddart , Swindon

Yes, I noticed that reply and the fact that the right hon. Gentleman seems to agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) about the need to retain area boards and area board chairmen. Does the right hon. Gentleman's announcement mean the end of the concept of power boards and that he has ended his search for private capital in the electricity supply industry?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

About 17 per cent. of electricity is already generated by private means in the industry. My announcement on 14 July confirms that we believe that substantial improvements in the structure of electricity supply can be achieved within the existing statutory framework.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers , Gosport

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no popular demand for reorganisation of the electricity supply industry? Does he agree that the best idea is to let sleeping Plowdens lie?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. There is no need for an enormous centralising upheaval in the industry. That would be the wrong course. There is need for improvement, but I believe that it can be achieved within the existing statutory framework.

Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw

Is the Minister aware that generally the last Labour Government supported the proposals in the Plow-den report? Is he aware that the reasons included the anomalies in pricing policy, installation of meters and disconnections? Is he aware that to the consumer it seems that the area boards have different policies? For instance, is he aware that in London five times more disconnections take place than in the rest of the country? Will he try to introduce a national standard policy, because the present system is distressing to poor people?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

There are some anomalies and some variety. I am not sure that variety is necessarily bad. To compare the LEB with other areas with different problems is a little misleading. The hon. Gentleman reminds us that the previous Labour Government supported the centralising proposals in the Plowden report. We believe that they are out of date and that there is nothing for the consumer in such centralisation. I am not surprised that the last Labour Government took that view, but we take a different view.

Photo of Mr Peter Rost Mr Peter Rost , Derbyshire South East

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the price of electricity is higher in Britain than in some competitor countries and that it is rising faster than in countries such as France and Germany which have major nuclear programmes? How will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is greater efficiency and competition in the industry so that we can retain our competitive position?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

Efficiency and competive-ness in the industry are important goals. That is one of the reasons why the present operations of the CEGB have been referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission under the new Competition Act—which was not possible before. Reference has been made to comparative prices, particularly for heavy energy-using industries. There is a danger in making snapshot comparisons when all over Europe contract prices are being revised upwards. We keep a close watch on this. I share my hon. Friend's concern to ensure that we have a highly efficient and competitive industry drawing on efficiently priced fuels and with efficient operations so that it gives good service to the customer.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

On the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), is the Minister aware that in some areas there are many immigrants who cannot read or write English and who receive no notice that their electricity supplies are to be cut off? Will he ask the boards to notify the local social security department before they cut off a supply? If he does not do that, is he aware that many old people might die in winter through lack of heat? Will he ask the boards to notify the social security departments before they take action?

Photo of Mr David Howell Mr David Howell , Guildford

As the hon. Gentleman knows, because he has taken a close interest in the matter, the code of practice has been reviewed. I take note of what he said. I shall see whether the provisions can be improved so that the problems he described are minimised.