asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many letters he has received from the general public on matters relating to gas prices.
My Department has received approximately 350 letters relating to gas prices this year.
Has my hon. Friend gathered from that correspondence that there is considerable public concern, particularly among those who have invested in expensive gas central heating equipment, about the extent to which gas prices have increased? Can my hon. Friend therefore give the consumer any hope on gas prices over the next two, three or four years?
It is not an easy adjustment for people to make, and to that extent my hon. Friend is right. Future legislation will increase the potential for additional supply through competition and must be of help to the consumer.
Will the Government impose any more gas price increases on the domestic consumer before the general election?
The Government's attempt to rectify past problems, which were recognised by the right hon. Gentleman the last time we discussed this matter, will be completed this year. To that extent, one would hope to see the consumer benefit from the Government's courage in going through the process of adjustment.
Is my hon. Friend aware that many people in my constituency and elsewhere in Britain live just outside the 25 yds connecting limit and cannot be connected to gas supplies, even if they live on housing estates? Does he agree that that is a result of the instability of supply caused by low gas prices for several years under the Labour Government?
My hon. Friend is right. More than 25 per cent. of the nation cannot receive gas, which is still a decent buy compared with other fuels, but have to pay 40 to 60 per cent. more for oil and electricity to heat their homes.
Will the Minister be less coy and more forthcoming and admit that the vicious increase in gas prices over the past three years has been the direct result of the Government's policy that prices should be increased by the rate of inflation plus 10 per cent?
I must draw the hon. Member's attention to the comments of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) on the Opposition Front Bench the last time we discussed this matter. His only complaint seemed to be that we had not made the radical adjustment to reality fast enough.