Does the Secretary of State accept that many of us fear that if, and when, the British Gas Corporation is privatised it will seek to maximise sales and push up demand to increase profits? Will the right hon. Gentleman discuss with the chairman of the corporation possible statutory duties on any privatised board to take full account of conservation efforts and, in particular, to consider demand management as much an option as other sources of supply?
Does my right hon. Friend appreciate the fact that my request for a target date illustrates the impatience that many of us feel and our hope of seeing his industry in the private sector? Will he therefore do all that he can to bring the date forward, in the hope that there will then be widespread ownership among those who work in the industry?
I very much admire my hon. Friend's volunteering to serve on the Committee stage of this legislation. I know that he will help us to expedite the passage of the measure. The proposal has been widely welcomed by employers, customers and others. I hope that it will reach the statute book and be implemented as quickly as possible.
Is this not just the latest action in all the all-too-long line of handouts and bribes to the millionaire backers of the Tory party and which has absolutely nothing to do with increased efficiency, increased democracy or a better deal for gas consumers? Is it not a fact that £5 billion has been raised through special gas price increases and that it is due for transfer from the public purse to the bank balances of the sharks and speculators represented by the Secretary of State for Energy? Those people will lose that money on renationalisation of the British Gas Corporation.
In my reply to the previous question I expressed the hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubeneezee) would remain a firm supporter of the proposal. I also hope that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) will remain a firm opponent of it. The hon. Gentleman's opposition is, as always, primitive and totally incorrect. He should talk to some of the employees of industries which have been privatised and see how many of them have any desire to go back to nationalisation.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his privatisation proposals. However, will he bear in mind, as the monopoly moves into the private sector, the need to safeguard the raw materials of the chemical industry— ethane and other materials—so that they have a ready flow and are competitive on world markets?
Has the Secretary of State any plans to meet the chairmen of other nationalised industries, especially the chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority? Will he discuss with the authority's chairman the Exclusive Office Cleaning strike? Women cleaners' wages are being reduced by 21p an hour and their holidays are being reduced from four weeks to one week. Will the right hon. Gentleman take up this question with the authority?
While I delight with my right hon. Friend in the fact that privatisation is to go ahead as quickly as possible, may I ask whether he intends that Scottish gas should be a separate entity within that privatisation?
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the regulatory arrangements for the prices charged by a denationalised corporation are of great importance not only to consumers but to the whole of the energy industry? Will he give a clear statement of how the regulatory framework and criteria for prices will work? Will they, for instance, be similar to those applying to British Telecom?
I hope the hon. Gentleman will understand that at this stage it is not possible to give detailed proposals, but there will be an effective regulatory system that will both protect the consumer and encourage the industry to improve its efficiency.
As no gas has been supplied direct from producer to customer making use of the common carrier provisions in the 1982 Act, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that no further measures are required to make those provisions more effective before the corporation is privatised?
I have said that we will keep this matter under review. Certainly the 1982 provisions are important and can be used to advantage, and I believe that that will happen in a number of cases. However, there is no doubt that the bulk of gas distribution will be through the present system operated by the corporation.
The answer to the first point is no.
On the right hon Gentleman's second point, representatives of an organisation representing all the unions involved asked to see me when our proposals were first made known, I wrote to them immediately after my announcement and asked if they would like to have a meeting—I should be only too delighted to have such a meeting—and I am awaiting a reply.