§ 26 and 27. Mr.Grieve
asked the Minister of Power (1) whether he is aware that there is dissatisfaction in the West Midlands area with increases which have been imposed by the West Midlands Gas Board in charges for gas; whether these charges had his prior approval; and why he has permitted this breach in his policy of keeping down prices;
(2) whether he is aware that the West Midlands Gas Board has this year introduced a standing charge to gas consumers, irrespective of the amount of gas consumed; whether he is satisfied that this is consistent with the Government's policy of keeping prices down; and if he will make a statement.
§ 42. Mr. Fowler
asked the Minister of Power why he approved the establishment by the West Midlands Gas Board of a charge of 13s. for the first 13 therms of gas consumed per quarter, as this bears hardly on those whose consumption of gas is low, particularly pensioners living alone.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Dr. Jeremy Bray)
I would refer the hon. Member and my hon. Friend to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards) on 24th May. The standing charge is not related to gas consumption. It was introduced to ensure that all consumers met the minimum costs of providing them with a gas supply, irrespective of the amount of gas used.—[Vol. 729, c. 59.]
§ Mr. Grieve
Does the hon. Gentleman not appreciate that a rise of 15 per cent. in the cost of gas in the Midlands since 31st May, at a time when incomes have been frozen, has caused hardship and dissatisfaction? Does he not appreciate also that a standing charge of 13s. a quarter bears most hardly on old-age pensioners, many of whom now have bills for gas of 13s. for the standing charge and a few pence for the consumption of gas? Does he appreciate that his answer will, therefore, cause grave dissatisfaction to those people?
§ Dr. Bray
No. The price increase took place on 24th May, well before the standstill. The average increase is 7½per cent., not 15 per cent. The Board last increased its charges in 1962, and before that in 1957. In view of these circumstances the hon. and learned Member has given the House a totally misleading impression of the situation.
§ Mr. Fowler
But my hon. Friend has still not answered this, that this charge bears most hardly on old-age pensioners. Will he think of some means of easing the effect upon those living alone, particularly the old?
§ Mr. Hattersley
Can my hon. Friend give the House the assurance that every 1169 pensioner who so wishes it is allowed to pay the increased charges by means of a weekly payment meter rather than by a quarterly lump sum?
§ Mr. Grieve
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that Answer, I give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.