asked the Secretary of State for Energy what effect he expects the differential in price movements of gas supplied to industrial and domestic consumers to have on the future relative demand for gas from these sectors.
The rises in gas prices to domestic consumers have enabled the British Gas Corporation to hold down the price of gas to industry. To the extent that this curbs demand in the domestic market, it will make increased supplies of gas available to industry.
Is it not a fact that, for the first time for many years, the relative prices of gas for different categories of users are rationally and economically defensible? Does not the history of gas prices over the past few years show how unwise it is for Governments artifically to hold down the price of gas and other fuels for political or electoral reasons?
My hon. Friend is right. By the end of this year, at long last, gas prices to both the domestic and the industrial market will be more or less appropriately related to costs. It was grossly irresponsible of the previous Administration to hold down domestic prices for gas as they did. That was a penalty for industry both in making less gas available for industry and forcing industrial prices higher than they should have been. I hope that now we have the relativities on a sensible basis we shall be able to go ahead, to the benefit of the industry and the consumer alike.
Did not the Government freeze gas prices in the autumn of 1979 shortly after they came to power? That being the case, the Minister's comments are political clap-trap.
They are far from being political claptrap. What the right hon. Gentleman is saying is that we did not straight away put right the follies of his Government. I concede that. We have now taken action, and done so.
Do domestic gas prices in the United Kingdom compare with domestic gas prices on the Continent?
Domestic gas prices in this country, despite recent rises, are substantially lower than domestic gas prices in France, Germany and most Continental countries. In some cases they are only half what they are on the Continent.