asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether the cost to the domestic consumer of coal, electricity and gas, respectively, has risen faster or more slowly than the retail price index since 1st March 1974.
Between 19th February 1974 and 18th February 1975, the General Index of Retail Prices rose by 20 per cent., while the constituent subgroups for coal and coke, electricity and gas rose by 26 per cent., 35 per cent. and 10 per cent. respectively.
Those are not happy figures, and the figures for 1975–76 are likely to be even less happy. Does my hon. Friend accept that increases of this kind bear disproportionately on the poor, and will he consider publishing a statement each time his right hon. Friend approves an increase in the price of electricity, gas or coal, showing the House the impact of the increase on the poor?
I assure my hon. Friend that the effect of such increases on the poor consumer has been taken into consideration. My hon. Friend has referred to this subject previously, and I know that he is interested in the impact on the index of retail prices. I can tell him that the estimated direct effect on the index of the average domestic basic electricity tariff increase of 28½per cent. announced on 25th March will be 0·7 per cent. If my hon. Friend has particular suggestions to make, my right hon. Friend, as he has always said, is perfectly prepared to listen to them.
Would it not at least be helpful if the Department of Energy coordinated its activities and allowed grants to be made available to the relatively less well off for purposes of insulation?
In her statements to the House, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has made clear that she has taken into account the need to assist poor consumers and pensioners. The question of insulation and grants for that purpose has been raised in the House before, when it was made clear that it would be extremely difficult to start from scratch now to insulate dwellings, this being something which all Governments should have tackled some considerable time ago.
Does my hon. Friend realise that in smokeless zones in my constituency domestic consumers have recently had to face yet another increase in the cost of solid smokeless fuel amounting to 14 per cent., bringing the price per hundredweight bag up to £2? This is causing real hardship to poor people, especially old-age pensioners. Is there nothing that the Department of Energy can do about it?
In the context of my hon. Friend's question, relating to the effect of recent price increases, whether for coal or for smokeless fuel, I can tell him that of the expected £370 million extra revenue accuring to the National Coal Board in 1975–76 only £40 million will come from the domestic market. My hon. Friend expresses special concern for pensioners, and I remind him that there was a record uprating of pensions by 29 per cent. last July, with a 16½per cent. increase in the maximum amounts of family income supplement, and there is to be a further uprating of pensions and related benefits of 16 per cent. this April. Moreover, there have been extra heating additions. If my hon. Friend wishes to pursue this matter, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services will be only too happy to give him any information he wants.