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Fuel (Pricing)

Volume 891: debated on Monday 28 April 1975

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9.

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection whether she is satisfied with the powers of her Department in controlling the pricing of fuel.

Yes. The Price Code applies to the production and sale of fuel in both the public and the private sectors. While we have no direct powers to control the price of fuel, the Government have asked the gas and electricity industry to restructure tariffs in favour of the smaller consumer and phase in increases with social security and pension upratings.

Is my hon. Friend able to do anything concerning complaints from consumers about coal merchants raising their prices by an unjustifiable amount? Does he not consider that it is rather unfair on consumers, particularly those with low incomes, that they have to bear the brunt of the withdrawal of subsidies from the nationalised industries and at the same time must suffer further increases imposed by coal merchants which appear to be out of proportion to the merchants' real increase in costs?

Yes, we share my hon. Friend's concern. We appreciate that all too often it is the poorest consumer who is the coal consumer. It is for that reason that only recently my right hon. Friend announced that the distributors' margins on coal are to be examined in one of the processes of special review undertaken by the Price Commission.

What part does my hon. Friend or his assistants and servants play in the committee which the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us just before the Easter Recess was to be set up to look after the interests of the poor in the matter of inflation? What representations did the Department make about the division in the electricity increases between the increase in the industrial tariff, which was very small, and the increase in the domestic tariff, which was very large?

We are represented on that committee and our aim has always been to protect the consumer as far as we can.