§ Lords Amendments considered.
§ MR. WARTON
said, that when the Bill was before the House of Commons in Committee, he moved several Amendments at the bottom of page 1 and at the top of page 2, which he believed to be essential for the purpose of removing obscurities; but his proposals were rejected. He had also taken the liberty of moving that the Bill be re-committed; but to no purpose. Now, however, the Amendments he had wished to see inserted had come down from the House of Lords.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) had somewhat misrepresented what had occurred. When the Amendments referred to were moved, he (Mr. Chamberlain) had promised, on the part of the Government, that they would be carefully considered, and, if found compatible with the drafting of the Bill, inserted at the next stage. There had been no next stage in this House, however, as there had been no Report. In the interval between the Bill leaving the House of Commons and its Committee stage in the House of Lords, the Amendments had been considered in detail, and introduced into the Bill at the instigation of the Government.
Lords Amendment in page 12, line 32, leave out ("fifteen years") and insert—
("Twenty-one years or such shorter period as is specified in that behalf in the application for the Provisional Order or in the special Act.")
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."—(Mr. Chamberlain.)
§ SIR JOHN JENKINS
said, he objected to the Lords Amendment. The question was very fully discussed on the occasion of the second reading in that House; and he understood that it was then agreed that the term "fifteen 1780 years" should be adopted as a compromise between the term proposed by the Government, and that proposed by the Electric Lighting Companies. The House in Committee, therefore, after very fully considering that question, fixed on 15 years as a mean average between the two. Electric lighting, undoubtedly, at the present time, was in an experimental stage; and he feared that, if they extended the term from 15 to 21 years, they would run the risk of creating monopolies such as those already given to the Gas Companies. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) had entertained this opinion himself when he brought forward the Bill for second reading. The right hon. Gentleman had said then that the term contained in the clause was the result of a compromise; and, accordingly, having fixed the period of 15 years as being midway between the two previous proposals, the Committee had considered 15 years amply sufficient to enable the Electric Lighting Companies to make the necessary experiments. The object of the Committee was to avoid throwing an obstacle in the way of the Companies, and to see that the interests of the public did not suffer from the creation of a monopoly similar to that in the case of gas. He believed that all the Electric Lighting Companies, with the exception of the Edison Company, had expressed their approval of the term fixed by the Committee, looking upon 15 years as sufficient time to enable the Companies to make proper experiments. That view was pretty generally entertained throughout the country, and amongst hon. Members who had given the matter their consideration. It was very unfortunate that a question such as this should be brought forward in the closing days of the Session, when a large number of hon. Members had left town, and were, consequently, unable to take part in the discussion. In Gas Bills and Water Bills there was some restriction as to the prices that were to be charged for the commodities supplied under their provisions. In this measure, however, there was no limitation whatever, and, moreover, he was assured, there was no means of accurately measuring the quantity of electric current which would be supplied to private individuals or for public purposes. There was no limitation as to profit which might be made; 1781 consequently, he considered it very unwise on the part of the Board of Trade to have given way to one Company which was dissatisfied at what was fixed by the Government in the first instance. He trusted the Lords Amendment would not be agreed to.
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, he wished to support the view of the hon. Member who had just sat down (Sir John Jenkins). He considered it in the highest degree unwise to, as it were, crystallize the invention of electric lighting as it now stood. Fifteen years was a great deal too long a time, as everyone must see, when they remembered that the whole science of electric lighting was not 15 years old, or anything like it. To give a monopoly for 15 years would prevent improvements from being carried out during the whole of that time. Twenty-one years, however, was a still longer period, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would stand upon the principles he had introduced into the Bill as a compromise. It was too late, in the last days of the Session, to extend the period to such a serious degree, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would persist in retaining his own Amendment.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) had correctly stated the circumstances under which he had recommended the term of 15 years to the Select Committee. It was a compromise, and at the time when the question was last discussed in that House he was of opinion that it was a fair compromise; but, since then, further information had been brought before him which had certainly made a difference in his opinion, and which he thought might alter that of his hon. Friend. At the time when this matter was discussed before the Select Committee, it was certainly the opinion of the Committee that, in the present experimental stage of electric lighting, there would not be any considerable expenditure of capital; and if it was proposed to try, in an experimental way, the lighting of a street, or a few houses, or a small district, a monopoly of 15 years would be quite sufficient to pay promoters for their investment of capital. But already, in the few months during which this matter had been under discussion, very great progress had been made with electric lighting, and it now seemed very 1782 probable that large installations would be made, in some cases involving hundreds of thousands of pounds of capital, and it did not seem to him that 10 or 15 years would, in all cases, be sufficient to justify such an outlay of capital, and that if the compensation were strictly confined to that short time they would not be induced to spend their capital, and give that development to electric lighting which was desired. Therefore, he was willing to reconsider the opinon he had formed with reference to this matter. An Amendment was proposed in the other House that in all cases the term of a Provisional Order—that was to say, the term after which the purchasing clause took effect — should be extended to 21 years. He objected to that, because it would have been a hard-and-fast line, which would have involved a period of 21 years, even in the case of small installations; and, therefore, he secured an Amendment to the Amendment in the other House, and as the Bill now came down the period was a maximum of 21 years; the local authorities being left in every case to come to an agreement, if they pleased, with the Company, or persons asking for permission to make an experiment, whereby they might consent to a shorter term than 21 years. Under these circumstances, he hoped no great grievance would possibly result, and he believed the clause would be found to work well in practice, and would not cause the creation of a monopoly which would in any way be dangerous to the public interests.
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK
denied that what was proposed could be called a monopoly. A local authority would have the option of purchasing an installation, and that was very different from a monopoly. When the period was settled in this House at 15 years, the Chairman of the Hammond Company protested against it, and the Chairman of the Swan Company took the same view. They both said they were not satisfied, and he thought, as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) had said, when it was a question of investing £250,000 or £500,000, and a Company was liable to be bought up in 15 years, without any compensation for goodwill, it was reasonable to extend the term. There was no doubt that in one sense it was true, as the hon. Member 1783 for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) had said, that electric lighting was still in an experimental stage; but, still they had had experience at Holborn Viaduct, and other places, which showed that electric lighting could be successfully and generally carried out, and the only question was as to which was the best system. He hoped, under the circumstances, the House would agree to the Amendment.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ MR. WHITLEY
said, he wished to express his own obligations, and, he was sure, those of the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir R. Assheton Cross), to the Secretary of the Poor Law Board (Mr. Hibbert), for the attention he had given to the Bill. The Bill was in a much better shape than it had ever been before, and he was sure it was owing to the exertions of his hon. Friend.
§ Remaining Amendments agreed to.