I am delighted to hear that news, because industry needs to know well in advance, when it is budgeting, what prices might do in the coming year. Is my right hon. Friend aware that some industries have been worried that one of the effects of the damaging miner's strike will be to make them less competitive because electricty prices will go up?
I am aware of the importance to industry of keeping electricity prices as low as possible. That is the electricity industry's objective. I am pleased to say that electricity prices to industrial consumers have fallen on average by 8 per cent. in real terms in the last two years.
Does the Secretary of State agree that he has wasted £4,400 million in the last 10 months attacking the National Union of Mineworkers and that a large part of that cost will fall on industries such as the electricity industry, resulting in price increases in the coming months or years? Will not old-age pensioners between the ages of 70 and 85, whose heating benefits have been cut, and the families of striking miners whose benefits have also been cut, have to bear the cost of the Government's attack on the miners and their families in the last 10 months? Yet again the people least able to bear the cost will have to bear it.
As I know of the hon. Gentleman's passion for looking after pensioners, I know that he will be doing all that he can to persuade Mr. Scargill to accept the very good terms available.
Electricity prices to industrial consumers vary greatly within all countries, according to the nature of the load being supplied. In general, however, French prices are the lowest in Europe and are, typically, up to 20 per cent. lower than those in the United Kingdom and other EEC states. This is largely due to the greater proportion of electricity generated by nuclear power in France.
As French electricity prices put British industry at a competitive disadvantage, which is bad for investment and jobs, will my hon. Friend explain some of the reasons for the price differential? Does he agree that the large French nuclear programme enables that country to generate electricity significantly more cheaply than we can manage?
Does the Minister accept that while European electricity suppliers may advertise certain tariffs through long-term agreements, they supply electricity at a much lower figure to many industrialists working in Europe? Is there not a massive subsidy to industry in Europe? Are there not many companies with bases in this country and Europe which obtain electricity at a cheaper rate by using that method to get around the advertised tariffs?
The French tariff is lower because, broadly speaking, it has a larger nuclear element. The electricity supply industry in Britain is currently considering proposals for successors to the present load management schemes, including the contracted consumer load scheme, which formally expires in March 1985. I understand that the Electricity Council intends that the new arrangements should, overall, be no less beneficial than the present schemes.