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British Gas Corporation

Volume 13: debated on Monday 23 November 1981

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy when last he met the chairman of the British Gas Corporation to discuss the abolition of the corporation's monopoly of supply of gas to industrial users.

I repeat my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on the decision to abolish the monopoly supply to industrial consumers, but I urge him to go slightly further and to consider allowing corporations other than the BGC to provide gas to domestic consumers, especially to those who are not able to get gas from the BGC at present.

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and there is a case to be made for saying that anyone without a statutory right of supply from the BGC should be a candidate for supply by the private sector.

As the effect of the campaign waged by the oil companies, egged on by the Secretary of State, has been to force the British Gas Corporation to charge higher prices for gas, will not the real loser be the consumer, who will lose in all senses? Did Sir Denis Rooke not warn the Secretary of State about the possibility of gas price increases on top of those that the right hon. Gentleman has imposed on British Gas by insisting on a 10 per cent. real increase, over and above the rate of inflation?

All sorts of warnings are issued from various quarters at various times. Ministers have to get used to that and assess what is likely to happen. There is no reason why gas prices should rise as a result of competition. The general consequence of competition is to make prices lower than they otherwise would be. Indeed, the welcome that the industry has given to the proposals would not have been given if industry had thought that they would result in dearer gas.

Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that it is necessary to require any private pipeline owner to supply gas to anybody living or operating a business within a short distance of that pipeline if supplies are to be extended to either industrial or private users?