To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what is his current estimate of the total costs of advertising and other expenditure to be incurred in the flotation of the electricity supply industry.
No advertising expenditure by Government will take place before the Electricity Bill receives Royal Assent. It is therefore too early to provide estimates of costs.
It is perhaps not surprising that the Minister ducks the question. Will he confirm or deny that the cost of pursuing the Government's half-baked dogma will be between £200 million and £370 million? Does he agree that that kind of money would be better spent on the Energy Efficiency Office—instead of halving its budget—so that it can help people to save energy, to reduce pollution and to cut fuel poverty and wastage? That would be a much better use of the money than electricity privatisation.
I assure the hon. Lady that whatever costs are incurred will achieve value for money for the taxpayer. We cannot help it if the Labour party does not like wider share ownership. We do, and we will continue to back it.
The Government are absolutely committed to the privatisation of the electricity industry, because we believe that it will achieve much better standards for the consumer, will put a downward pressure on the prices for the consumer and will achieve things that the Labour party would never have achieved in its wildest dreams by keeping the industry nationalised.
Will my hon. Friend explain to the mixture of simpletons and troublemakers on the Opposition Benches that if, in privatising an industry, the advertising cost is more than recouped by an increase in the price that the Government get, it is a jolly good idea for the taxpayer? Will he also point out that companies like Unilever, ICI and other people spend money on advertising, and they do so because they feel that it is commercially beneficial?
Will my hon. Friend re-examine the consumer advertising, both before and after flotation, of the area boards now and the area plcs afterwards, in view of the still prevailing serious allegations of unfair competition against the private sector retailers, notably in the form of the latest advertisements of the Eastern electricity board—"£50-worth of free current if you buy a cooker from us"?
My hon. Friend has for some time been a champion of the independent sector. The Bill and the restructured industry will recognise the anxieties that he and others have expressed by making certain that the retailing aspects of the privatised industry will be ring-fenced, kept entirely independent, and will not be able to trade in that unfair way.
We are absolutely committed to a policy which since 1979 has resulted in an increase in private shareholders from 3 million to 9 million. We absolutely agree with that and think that it is right in every possible sense, not least because it provides a great incentive to greater efficiency within the industry. The process of privatisation involves projecting the industry to the public.