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Gas Supplies (Cessation)

Volume 990: debated on Thursday 7 August 1980

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15.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will now state the amount of compensation he is prepared to pay both in the public housing and private housing sectors for the change over from gas when the gas undertakings in Northern Ireland cease their operations.

Grant-in-aid will be paid towards the reasonable cost of providing replacement appliances of an approved type. The rate of grant will be 100 per cent for households in receipt of supplementary benefit or family income supplement; 50 per cent. for private domestic consumers and 30 per cent. for industrial and commercial consumers.

Arrangements for Housing Executive tenants are still being worked out but will be no less favourable than for other domestic consumers. I shall, in due course, make a detailed announcement setting out the conditions of eligibility for grant and the manner in which payments will be made.

In view of that statement, does the hon. Gentleman not think that it would be better to secure the natural gas pipeline for Northern Ireland?

No. Following examination of the costs involved in the pipeline, together with the substantial amount of deficit financing involved in maintaining the system in Northern Ireland, the Government's conclusion was that the preferable option was to close the industry.

Has the Minister taken into consideration that Northern Ireland is the lowest paid region in the United Kingdom, that many thousands of families are living just above the supplementary benefit and family income supplement levels and that they will be forced to pay a higher charge than the unemployed? Will he undertake to have another look at this matter to see whether something can be done to provide for such families?

I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's point. However, we must recognise that, with people living on supplementary benefit, there is a clear obligation for a definable group. It would not be easy to extend partial cover, in addition to the rates announced, to particular groups without affecting the whole.

Does the Under-Secretary of State agree that his statement today is a statement of discrimina- tion against those who are just above the poverty line? As many wage earners in Northern Ireland who are holding their jobs by accepting very low incomes will now be saddled with 50 per cent. replacements costs, will he reconsider this matter?

I have already answered that question in reply to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). The hon. Member for Antrim North (Rev. Ian Paisley) will recognise that that answer must stand. As regards reconsidering the matter, the proposals that I have announced today are the first of a series of proposals. There will be a fuller announcement in due course. I cannot promise a review of the grant payments offered.