Minister warns of new rise in gas prices

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British consumers may face rises in the price of gas if the feud between Russia and Ukraine is prolonged, the Government warned yesterday. The British market is currently unaffected because gas is not sold here directly from Russia. But although there is no immediate threat, supplies could become "tight", the Energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, said.

"There's always a worry about knock-on effects," Mr Wicks warned. "This is a difficult winter throughout Europe. It's colder than average and for various reasons in Britain we have got quite a tight equation between demand and supply."

EU energy ministers are expected to meet tomorrow to discuss the crisis, which has already hit gas supplies in member states as far apart as Poland and France. Mr Wicks said: "We've got to use our good offices through the EU to bring about a resolution."

Wholesale gas prices in the UK have risen by 35 per cent in two years, partly because of a fall in supply from the North Sea. Two companies - Scottish and Southern Energy and Npower - raised their prices on 1 January, and consumer groups have warned that some firms may exploit the uncertainty of the Ukraine dispute to push them higher.