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Industry and Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 21st November 1994.

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Photo of Ms Judith Church Ms Judith Church , Dagenham 6:30 pm, 21st November 1994

Many of those proposals have been put forward by British Gas itself in a letter that has been sent to all hon. Members. Frankly, we should not be worrying about the cost of the proposals. We have to provide proper services for the elderly. We have to provide proper services and guarantees for disabled customers. We have to provide guarantees on energy efficiency. Above all, we must ensure—something that has to be put into legislation—that all suppliers should have to offer the full range of payment methods. That would ensure that all the people who are being supplied with gas have a choice—not the sort of choice that British Gas is now putting before the people, that if they cannot afford to pay their bill months in advance, they will end up having to pay higher prices, and whereby the least able to pay the higher prices will have to pay them. Also, all suppliers should be required to publish their prices. Above all, we need clear regulations on cherry-picking.

If the Government do not implement those proposals, British Gas says that 12 million people will lose out and 6 million people will gain. One does not need a crystal ball to know who the 12 million are who will lose out and who the 6 million are who will gain. Listen to the voice of the gas customers and the Gas Consumers Council, which I strongly suspect that Ministers and British Gas would like see the back of. It says: Service standards are likely to fall below the present level that regulation … has forced on British Gas". It also says that competition will lead to price rises, which may be on a scale which will leave many people at a price disadvantage for several years, some of them forever. That may be what the Government want; it may be what British Gas wants; it may be what the independents want; but it is not what my constituents want and it is not what I want. It is not what the Labour party wants. After the bloody nose that the Government got over the Post Office White Paper, the Government may be well advised to listen.