(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Power whether he is aware of the public concern at the reduction of gas pressure which took place last night in the area served by the North Thames Gas Board and at its warning of further cuts today; and if he will give an assurance that every effort will be made to maintain pressure adequately to ensure safety in the operation of all appliances.
The present cold spell has come exceptionally early at a time when such severe weather is almost unprecedented and the boards' preparations for the winter are not yet completed. The North Thames Gas Board has consequently had difficulty in meeting the very heavy demand for gas and there has been a fall in pressure in some districts. The West Midlands Gas Board, mainly because of a breakdown at one of its plants, has also had to appeal to consumers to reduce consumption. I am assured that all possible steps to restore and maintain normal supplies are being taken by these boards.
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider whether some advice can be given, possibly through radio and television, to the public who use these gas appliances as to the safety precautions they should take?
Yes, Sir. There have been broadcasts to this effect, but the boards themselves, having reduced pressures to a certain level, would not permit these to go below the safety level.
Can my right hon. Friend say to what extent these happenings derive from the policies of the previous Administration?
Although the Opposition always try to blame the weather on the Government, I do not blame the Opposition for the fact that this has been the coldest spell at this time of year for 100 years. The boards have been caught on the wrong foot. A great deal of plant they are reconditioning for the winter is not yet in commission.
To what extent might the high pressure gas grid be expected to help in this situation, particularly in London and the Midlands? Some 70 factories in the Midlands have been asked to stop using gas today with the result that one firm alone has had to send home 2,000 men.
The boards themselves are, of course, bringing every ounce of plant they can into commission. When I say that in the last two or three days the consumption of gas has increased by nothing short of 40 per cent., the right hon. Gentleman will understand what that means.
Is not this yet another example of the failure of nationalised industries—[Interruption.]
Order. I hope that hon. Members will not spoil a good occasion. I want to hear the question.
Perhaps I might recapitulate, Mr. Speaker. Is this not yet another example of the failure of nationalised industries—worse service at increased cost?
Will the right hon. Gentleman take care not to let the first part of his answer, which is one of the funniest we have heard for years, obscure the serious issue, namely, that the termination or suspension of gas supplies would be a source of danger? While one does not want to exaggerate that, clearly it is necessary for the right hon. Gentleman and the Gas Council to have urgent consultations to take proper steps to deal with this matter.
The first part of the answer was a paraphrase of what the hon. Member himself said when he was answering in 1962. The safety issue is a very important point. In fact, the boards will ensure that if there were any danger of the pressure falling below that which is a safety factor, it would be a question of a cut rather than of any further reduction of pressure.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the danger which has been outlined could be the result of running away from a policy of using indigenous solid fuel, in respect of which it is within the capacity of firms and individuals to store the fuel which they want when and as required?
Will the Minister assure us that there will not be similar cuts in electricity week after week in the winter, too?
The generating boards are, of course, renovating their plant in the same way as is the gas industry, but I see no reason why there should be cuts during the winter period commensurate with that which we are now having.
Order. We have had a good run.