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Nationalised Industries

Volume 928: debated on Monday 14 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what steps he will take to encourage the reductions of costs by better use of resources in the nationalised industries; and how he will ensure consumers share the benefits.

My proposals for prices policy after 31st July will apply to nationalised industry prices in broadly the same way as they would to other sectors. The new criteria will focus attention on cost reductions and better use of resources.

Will the Secretary of State please give some encouragement to the consumer in regard to the nationalised industries? How can the consumer believe that she will get a better share of the benefits of nationalised industries when, as in the case of gas, she is being forced to pay a price which is clearly not allowed by the Price Commission? Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that that decision runs quite counter to what is allowed in the private sector?

No, I do not accept the hon. Member's judgment about that at all. As for comforts to the consumers, the position is very clear. We have now largely corrected the errors made in nationalised industry prices by the previous Government, and we can look forward in future to increases in nationalised industries' prices, which cannot altogether be avoided, being at a much slower rate than in the recent past.

Why are there three Ministers, one Whip, one Parliamentary Private Secretary and only six Labour Back Benchers in the Chamber for Questions on prices and consumer protection? Have the right hon. Gentlemen's Back Benchers despaired of ever having their Questions answered?

Is it not clear that the impending increase in the price of gas is no more and no less than a tax on the consumer? If the costs of production are less, why should the consumer have to pay because the Government have failed to reduce their extravagant spending programmes?

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He is implying that the gas price increase is intended to help deal with some of the economic problems, such as the reduction of the public sector borrowing requirement, that we successfully faced in December, when his party proposed more savage cuts. If we followed any of the suggestions that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have made, that would affect the consumer a great deal more.