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Orders of the Day — Electricity Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:36 pm on 13th December 1988.

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Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy) 9:36 pm, 13th December 1988

Conservative Members would go some way with the hon. Gentleman. It is interesting that we are having this discussion about whether we have given enough competition. That is a perfectly reasonable debating ground, and we are delighted to have it. The 1983 Act, for various reasons—notably that the CEGB was left as a monopoly—did not work. That is why we are bringing in this replacement. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned the 1983 Act. Of course we were not pleased with it. It was a step in the right direction, but it was not far enough. It left a monopoly in place, and that monopoly, in effect, was able to control the rules.

We say that where we cannot have perfect competition, we should regulate to protect the interests of the consumer. The truth is that, philosophically, a member of the Labour party—whether or not he is a member of the new yuppy Labour party—would not know a consumer if he saw one. The Labour party owes its very existence to producer interests. One never hears about common ownership of the means of consumption. Socialism was founded on the unholy alliance between producers and trade unions. The market place simply does not feature in Opposition Members' thinking. The truth is that the interests of the consumer are the essence of the Bill which, for the first time, imposes an obligation on the industry to supply all consumers, unless it is technically impractical to do so.

The consumer will not only benefit directly if some three quarters of his costs are subject to the force of competition, but he will have the chance, if that is what he wishes, to buy his electricity from an alternative supply company. The hon. Member for Rother Valley was wrong about that.

It has been said that the Bill is radical. That is precisely right. It is extremely radical. To change the whole emphasis of an immense utility away from one that is dominated by a single producer towards one that reflects the interests of the customer is an enormously ambitious undertaking. We are under no illusions about that. For the time being it may not appeal to the myopic imagination of the Opposition, bent on driving this country back into the past, but I am sure that it will receive the support of the mass of the country.