Lawson’s Account of Doubling Gas Bills Ahead of Privatisation

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Lord Lawson – then plane Nigel – recorded in his autobiography, The View from Number 11: Memoirs of a Radical Tory, the extraordinary controversay that surrounded his insistance that gas bills for hard working families should be hiked.
 
“Margaret herself was not entirely immune” to the public outcry at the government’s extraordinary rise. “David Howell had had great difficulty in getting her to agree to very necessary increases in the price of domestic gas…It was a brave decision.”
 
He recalled: “Inevitably this unpopular new policy came under severe attack, not only from the defeatists in the Government itself, but also from [British Gas chairman Sir Denis] Rooke. British Gas enclosed a leaflet with every household gas bill, effectively blaming the Government for the rise in prices.  
 
“Conservative MPs were inundated with complaints from constituents, and there were several tight votes in the House of Commons when members of our own side rebelled. When I arrived at the Department of Energy, several senior colleagues, notably Francis Pym, were sufficiently alarmed by the unpopularity to urge me to abandon the policy.”
 
He recalled: “The rumpus reached a climax at the 1982 party conference in Brighton…my first party conference appearance as a cabinet minister would thus be in reply to the most hostile debate of the conference.”
 
Lawson relied on the help of Peter Lilley to pass an amendment praising the government. Lilley appeared late and the “bending of the rules” to allow this manoeuvre “angered the audience still further.”
 
Lawson concluded: “I was at least able to assure the party faithful that there would be no further large increase in 1983, which they knew was a possible election year…and as I had envisaged, the gas price issue had disappeared altogether by the time of the 1983 election.”

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