Heating or eating choice 'puts lives at risk'Energy companies blasted by MPs

23 January 2007

 

Gas hob

Energy companies are forcing vulnerable people to choose between heating and eating, the government has been warned.

The claim came as rocketing gas and electricity bills were condemned in the House of Commons as ‘unacceptable’, ‘staggering’, ‘intolerable’, ‘extraordinary’, ‘scandalous’, ‘excessive’ and ‘indefensible’.

MPs from all main parties joined forces in a Westminster Hall debate to demand that cuts in wholesale prices be urgently passed on to customers.

And in a strongly-worded attack, Labour's Tom Clarke protested: ‘Despite the wholesale price being down, consumers are still faced with the sheer brutality of power exercised by energy companies.’

Wholesale prices

He quoted criticism by Ofgem, the independent regulator, about the ‘uncomfortable lag’ between cuts in wholesale prices and bills.

Ofgem has warned energy companies of ‘stringent’ action if it believes they ‘want to keep some of the jam on [their] fingers’ in the coming year.

Mr Clarke, MP for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill in Lanarkshire, argued: ‘It would be far more appropriate to accuse the energy companies not of having jam on their fingers but of draining the lifeblood out of every low income household in Britain.

‘And worse than that - given the facts that we have on hypothermia in Britain, putting people's lives at risk as they are forced to choose between heating and eating.’

Energy demand

Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks said the government's Energy White Paper would be published in March.

And while he could not pre-empt its content, he had ‘heard and absorbed’ MPs' views.

But he also warned of ‘a huge global hunger for energy’ triggering dramatic price increases worldwide.

‘I think it is a reasonable prediction to say that the era of cheap energy has gone forever,’ he added.

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