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Volume 972: debated on Monday 29 October 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will state his estimate of the rise in the price of paraffin following the removal of price controls.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement about the price and supply of paraffin, with regard to the effects on elderly people and others on low incomes.

Following decontrol in July, premium paraffin prices have risen by 25 to 30 per cent. to reflect crude oil price increases and to restore retail margins. I am assured that the overall supply position is adequate to meet normal demand this winter.

Is the Minister aware that even the conservative estimate that he gave well exceeds the average rate of inflation and the proposed increase in welfare benefits for this winter? Now that, as a result of a happy accident, the hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity to reflect on his policy on this matter, will he take note of the point made in last week's debate that a large number of elderly and disabled are dependent upon paraffin for their heating? Will he at least give them a transitional period in which to adjust before he brings back the order that was responsible for the increase?

The events of last Wednesday were the result of procedural confusion. I do not believe that they truly and fairly reflected the will of the House. The Government accordingly propose to give the House a further opportunity to consider paraffin price control. An announcement will be made in due course.

Is the Minister aware that thousands of tenants are trapped in high-fuel-cost dwellings, with no fireplaces? Their only solution in the past was to use paraffin. Now that the Government are taking that away as a cheap fuel, will the Minister make available a programme to put fireplaces back into these dwellings so that people may burn wood or anything else that they can scrounge if they are disconnected by the gas or electricity boards? Or is he determined to disconnect all fuel from those houses?

The important point that has escaped the attention of the hon. Gentleman is that if these measures had not been taken there would have been a serious danger that the number of suppliers would have dwindled so rapidly that no paraffin would have been available for those who needed it.

Is the Minister aware that as a result of the confusion several hundred retailers and small business men are liable to a fine of £400 under the energy legislation? May we press him further on what he intends to do about the situation? Will he have second thoughts and bring in some form of subsidy or control giving a reasonable profit to retailers, without leaving the matter to the free market?

The hon. Gentleman has a weakness for trying to create trouble where trouble does not exist. The significance of last Wednesday's vote is that the Government are obliged to revoke by order the Paraffin (Maximum Retail Prices) (Revocation Order) 1979. That will be done at the earliest opportunity. Until then paraffin prices will not be controlled.

Given the Minister's incompetence the other night in failing to confirm the paraffin price rise, would it not be a good idea, for the protection of the British people against inflation, if he were put in charge of price increases?