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Consumers And The Nationalised Industries

Volume 413: debated on Wednesday 22 October 1980

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2.48 p.m.

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 when they expect to complete their review of the position of consumers and the nationalised industries.

My Lords, the review of the consumer interest in the nationalised industries commissioned by my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Consumer Affairs is progressing and my right honourable friend expects to receive a report later in the year.

My Lords, as the Minister will probably agree, this had been on the way a long time, I think about a year or so. May I ask if it would be any use putting down a further Question before the end of the present Session or if one should wait until the next one opens? Shall we have a Green Paper as soon as the report is made? Finally, may I ask the noble Viscount whether all consumers in all nationalised industries are to be considered or whether there are to be any exceptions, and if so which are these exceptions?

My Lords, it is entirely up to the noble Baroness to decide when she puts down Questions, but I do not think I shall be able to add to the Answer and answers I am giving today during this Session. Yes, it is a rather long time, but these consumer committees have stood for some 30 years within the nationalised industries. There are in all, including Scotland and Northern Ireland, some 47 of them. So it takes a little time to conduct a thorough review after so long into so much. As to what my right honourable friend will do when she receives the report, her options are open. Any major changes would require legislation and then the normal processes, which would involve consultation at some stage, would take place.

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that lengthy reply, which I do not think really gets us very much further. However, while I realise that it would be no good putting down a Question in the present Session, is he aware that I am particularly concerned with a consumer group which was set up more much recently than 47 years ago? Can the noble Viscount comment on the fact that I have been reliably informed that the civil aviation traveller is being considered at present and can he tell me whether such travellers will be included in the final report?

Yes, my Lords. Although the Airline Users' Committee is not a statutory committee—and this is a subject on which I know the noble Baroness has views—the scope of the review committee will cover airline travellers and what procedures are thought to be best for their interests.

My Lords, will the noble Viscount bear in mind that there is not only an England and a Scotland, but a Wales too? Surely we should know what the position is so far as Wales is concerned?

My Lords, the figure of 47 which I quoted included Wales as part of the United Kingdom, even if I did not make it clear. I was referring to 47 consumer councils, including all the regional ones. Moreover, it is 30 years since the basic structure was established, and not 47.

My Lords, in view of the Minister's statement that it will take 12 months before we receive a report from the committee, would he not be willing to give us an interim report?

My Lords, I did not say that it would take 12 months; I said that my right honourable friend expected a report later in the year. I cannot go beyond that.

My Lords, as the nationalised gas industry is making a profit of about £500 million a year, will the Minister consider reducing the price of gas to both domestic and industrial consumers?

My Lords, that is another question, but perhaps it gives me the opportunity to point out that the consumer has not only the protection of the existing committees. The Fair Trading Act has been used by the present Government and the Competition Bill has been enacted, and a number of parts of the nationalised industries have already been referred to the Monopolies Commission and reports have been received. All those facts are designed to increase efficiency which will benefit the consumer.

My Lords, am I to gather from that reply that we may shortly expect a reduction in the price of gas, in view of the fact that the industry is making £500 million a year profit?

My Lords, nothing in what I said would enable the noble Lord to come to that conclusion.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether, in view of the discontent of staffs in various consumer bodies, he will try to speed things up a little?

My Lords, I shall pass the noble Lord's remarks on to my right honourable friend.