My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether a decision has been reached about the proposal to make a 10 per cent. surcharge on electricity supplies to consumers in the Western Isles; and whether they will make a statement.
My Lords, the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board announced on 29th August last that it had decided to withdraw the 10 per cent, surcharge on tariffs applying in its diesel areas. This decision was welcomed by the Government.
My Lords, while thanking the noble Earl for his reply, may I ask whether he is aware that the board at the same time declared that the surcharge on those tariffs was properly applied? Is he further aware that in imposing the tariffs they did not refer to the Electricity Consultative Council before applying them?
My Lords, I am aware that the board had made that claim. Indeed, under the provisions of the Electricity (Scotland) Act 1979 the fixing of the tariffs is the responsibility of the board and the Government can intervene only in very specific circumstances. As regards the last point raised by my noble friend, I understand that it is the intention of the Electricity Con- sultative Council for the North of Scotland District to make representations to the Government to this effect, and I can assure my noble friend that they will be given careful consideration.
My Lords, will the Minister say what the circumstances were which gave rise to the Government's intervention in this particular case?
My Lords, I think that that question, not as to character but in the scope of the answer, rather goes outside the generality. There are various circumstances in which my right honourable friend may give a direction to the board, in this case to withdraw, for instance, a surcharge. However, he received certain advice in the particular case which my noble friend raised before your Lordships' House, and my right honourable friend took certain action. At any rate, it had the happy result which I told your Lordships about earlier.
My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that the reply which he gave to me will be received with great acclamation by the public generally? Does he further agree that the proposal to remove this lacuna in the Scottish law would only bring it into line with the law in England whereby boards have to apply to the Electricity Consultative Council?
My Lords, I am not over-interested in the law in England, but there are certain arrangements in that country which I think we in Scotland could look at and consider whether they could be adapted and, if necessary, applied in Scotland.
My Lords, despite the Minister's disinterest in the law of England, is he aware of the fact that the surcharge in England on power is about the same as in the Western Islands? In other words, we pay 10 per cent, more per kilowatt here than is paid North of the Border. Is it possible that some other members of the Government might take an interest in that rather remarkable fact?
My Lords, I am sure that that point will be well noted.
My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that it was, indeed, other groups of islands, as well as the Western Isles, which were threatened with this surcharge, because the generation of electricity had to be by diesel oil and therefore was expensive? However, will my noble friend accept that the large majority of those on the mainland made it clear through the press and in other ways that they were happy to pay the extra which would fall on them in order that these island groups should not in this way be discriminated against?
Yes, my Lords, I think that there was very considerable disaffection and anxiety in Scotland that persons who experience considerable disadvantage through geographical remoteness should not suffer what might be described as a further penalty.