§ Order for Consideration read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended, be now considered."—(Mr. John Holms.)
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
desired to point out that the Bill, as amended, had not yet been printed; and he believed that there had been some Amendments in- 1220 troduced into the Bill by the Committee. It had been represented to him that the District Board of Works for the Strand objected strongly to the inclusion of their district within the Order made by the Board of Trade. he had no desire to cause any delay in the passing of the Bill, because he believed it was a matter of importance that it should go before the House of Lords at once; but he would ask the President of the Board of Trade to consent to the omission of the Strand District from the Order, or, at any rate, to allow a re-hearing of the case as far as that Board was concerned. It was stated that the other authorities included in the Order were satisfied, and assented to the powers which were given under the Bill; but the Strand District Board of Works had uniformly objected to the Order, and he thought the feeling of the local authorities in the matter ought to be consulted and respected.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
also desired to say a word in regard to another Order included in the Bill—namely, the Order which applied to the Kensington District. Not only had the Bill not been printed, but the Report of the Committee had not yet been printed, and he had not the least idea of what the Committee had done. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) was quite wrong in stating that all the other Boards were consenting parties to the Bill. The Local Board of Kensington had certainly not consented to the Order; and he wished to draw the attention of the House to the very great extent to which the local authority in that district had been superseded in the matter. He would not detain the House by making any remarks of his own; but he would read a statement from the Kensington Vestry, which was the local authority in the matter. The Clerk to the Vestry, in a letter to the Board of Trade, said—I am directed by the Vestry of Kensington to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 19th instant, stating that the Board of Trade are willing to defer the consideration of the above Order until the 30th instant. In reply, I am instructed to state that, in the opinion of the Vestry, it will be utterly impossible to arrive at any satisfactory arrangement with the Companies in so short a time; in fact, the Swan United Electric Lighting Company have only just intimated that they are now preparing an Order, and hope to submit the same for the approval of the Vestry at the latter end of the present week; and it would appear highly inexpedient 1221 that the Vestry should enter into any engagement which has not had deliberate and mature consideration. I am, therefore, instructed to request that the Board of Trade will be good enough to further extend the time for sending in replies for three months, so as to enable the Vestry to confer with the Companies, and make such arrangements as may, in the interests of the parishioners and the public generally, be deemed expedient.That was the view of the Kensington Vestry, and the answer they received from the Board of Trade was a very curt one, refusing more time. The letter was written on the 26th of April, and when the matter was discussed the Provisional Order had only been submitted to the Vestry for two days; nevertheless, the Board of Trade refused to grant more time for its consideration. The position taken up by the Kensington Vestry was this—"We are not prepared to consent to your Order, and we are not prepared to refuse it. Therefore, if you go on with the Order we throw the responsibility upon you—the Board of Trade. Of course, you have power to do it, if you like; but we are not a consenting party. We object to the onus of proving that this is not a good Order being thrown upon us, and we think that the onus of proving that it is a good Order ought to be thrown upon the Company, and that they ought to obtain our consent." The other day, when the question was under discussion, the President of the Board of Trade said that local government was all very well, but that local authorities might, through ignorance or prejudice, put a stop to this great improvement. It was quite evident that the Board of Trade were bent upon coercing the local authorities. He quite admitted that the Bill of last year gave certain power to the Board of Trade; but he was surprised to find the Board carrying it to such an extent. Very few knew anything about the Electric Lighting Bill which was passed through the House at the end of last Session. They had had a Provisional Order presented under it to the Kensington Vestry only two days before they were required to appear before the Board of Trade. They were told that they must either consent to it, or show adequate reasons for throwing it out. He could only again express his surprise that the President of the Board of Trade, of all men in the world, should have taken this high-handed and de- 1222 spotic action. The Kensington Vestry, not having made up their mind on the subject, applied to the Board of Trade for three months' delay in the matter, but this was peremptorily refused; and it now appeared that this Order was to be thrust upon them in spite of that objection. Individually, he had no objection to the Bill; but, in the interest of local government, he was sorry to see an attempt to force it in this manner. The Kensington Vestry had no voice in the matter; and if the Bill were persisted in, as far as the Kensington Order was concerned, the entire responsibility must rest upon the Board of Trade and the Committee to which the Order was referred.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, he was very much surprised at the line of action taken by his hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell). It would be in the recollection of the House that when this Bill was proposed for second reading his hon. Friend dissented from it on the same ground that he had urged to-day; but, with the evident concurrence of the great majority of the House, the matter was referred to a Hybrid Committee for consideration, before whom all parties could be heard, and to whom the ordinary rules in regard to locus standi would not be applied. That Committee was presided over by the right hon. Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth); and after leaving held several Sittings, and having heard all the parties, the Committee came to a decision. With respect to the Kensington Order, he believed that no alteration was made in the provisions of the Order as originally drawn; and he was surprised, after the careful inquiries of the Committee, that his hon. Friend still persisted in his opposition. The opposition of his hon. Friend was based on an entire misconception of the action of the Board of Trade; but he (Mr. Chamberlain) begged to say that the Board were not, in the slightest degree, concerned in the matter except as servants of the House. The Board of Trade had had imposed upon them the duty of carrying out the Bill passed last Session. His hon. Friend made a charge that the Bill was hurried through the House. It was nothing of the kind. It was altogether inaccurate to say that it was hurried through the House; on the contrary, it was discussed during 1223 nearly the whole of a Saturday Sitting, and all its provisions were adopted by the House. He believed that several Divisions took place, but that almost unanimously the feeling of the House was in favour of the Bill. Now, the principle of that Bill could be briefly stated. It was quite conceivable that the House might have taken the view that this question of electric lighting was one that concerned the local authorities only; and it might have allowed the local authorities to have the whole decision of the question without any. interference, and have let them have the right of deciding absolutely whether the districts in which they were interested were to be lighted by electricity or not, and on what conditions the lighting was to be carried out. There appeared, however, to be a general feeling that if that were done it might happen that the local authorities, and especially those who happened to be in the possession of gas works, might think it to their interest to shut out the experiment; and it was also thought that if it were left to the local authorities to say whether a particular system should be introduced or not, it might possibly happen that over the greater part of England the experiment would be altogether prevented, and that was deemed to be undesirable. The duty was therefore cast upon the Board of Trade of carrying out the Act by enabling licences and Orders to be granted to Companies to light certain districts, preference being given, in the first place, to local authorities who wished to light their own districts, and power being given to the local authorities to settle the conditions upon which private Companies would come in. The Board of Trade had gone most carefully into the question submitted to them; and, generally speaking, the Orders were very nearly the same in all cases, and had been assented to by all the parties concerned. A great number of Orders had already passed the House, and some had passed the other House, and the local authorities had agreed to the terms arranged. There were one or two cases in which there had been objection, and the Kensington Vestry was one of them. What the Kensington Vestry said was—"We do not know enough about electric lighting to induce us to say anything about it at the present moment, and therefore 1224 we ask for further delay; but we do not seek to oppose the Order." The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) said the Vestry asked for three months' delay; but the hon. Member knew perfectly well that three months' delay meant the throwing over of the Bill until next Session. Under those circumstances, the Board of Trade felt it was not fair to refuse to hear what the Company which proposed to light the district had to say; and, being satisfied that it was a feasible and practicable scheme, the very limited power which the Bill alone gave had been conferred—namely, the power of lighting the district for 21 years, subject, however, to the possibility of another Company stepping in hereafter with some further discovery in electricity, or with a proposition to light the district upon more satisfactory terms. That was all he had to say with regard to the Kensington Vestry. He now came to the case of the Strand District, and he was sorry that he was not able to consent to the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) to exclude that district from the Order. Perhaps the House would allow him to state what the question was. The Strand was a very peculiar district altogether, and was very strangely configured. It consisted of three parts. The Edison and Swan Companies proposed to light one part of the district; but the Strand Board favoured an agreement with the Jablochkoff Company. The Board of Trade, however, considered the matter, and refused the Order. Now, the district of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, was wholly surrounded by the district of St. Martin's, and the district of St. Martin's had agreed with the Edison Company to light their district; but the opinion of the Board of Trade was that it was absolutely impossible for the district to be lighted satisfactorily by any other Company than that which undertook the lighting of St. Martin's; and, after full consideration, they decided to give to the Edison Company power to light the inclosed district. Then there was a third district—the Strand proper—running down to the Embankment, for which an application was made by the "Swan" Company for an Order, and also an application for a licence from the Jablochkoff Company. 1225 There was, however, evidence from the consumers that if the licence was granted to the Jablochkoff Company nothing whatever would be done—because the Company was not in a position to give satisfaction, not having a suitable amount of capital, and not being otherwise in a position to carry out the scheme if allowed to go on with it. Upon these facts an Order was made by the Board of Trade giving the district to the Swan Company; but with the proviso that if the Jablochkoff Company should apply for a licence within six months, and should be successful in obtaining it, the Swan Company should give up so much of the Strand District as the Jablochkoff Company could obtain a licence for. He was sorry that the Chairman of the Committee was not present. It was in that form that the Bill came before the Committee; and after going into the facts of the case carefully the Committee decided, he believed, to confirm the Edison and Swan Orders, and to strike out the proviso relating to the Jablochkoff Company. The Committee seemed to think that the application of the Jablochkoff Company was not a serious one, and that it ought not to be seriously entertained; and, furthermore, that the Board of Trade had exceeded their powers in making the Order of the Swan Company conditional. Therefore, the Committee decided upon making an absolute Order in favour of the Swan Company. They had, however, made some alteration in the district of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, and had made some other trifling alterations in the Bill. That Bill now came down to the Lower House with these alterations; and he hoped the House, after the statement he had made, and knowing how carefully the matter was gone into by the Board of Trade in the first instance, and afterwards by the Hybrid Committee, who heard all the evidence, and considering the enormous expense the parties would be put to by further opposition, would place no further obstacle in the way of the passing of the measure. With respect to Kensington, as he had already pointed out, a delay of three months meant a delay of a Session; and if the Kensington Vestry could not make up their minds before now, there was no reason to suppose that they could make it up in another year.
§ MR. J. R. YORKE
said, he did not see what occasion there was for hurry in the matter, especially when the President of the Board of Trade himself admitted that he was not in a position to give an accurate account of the details of the Bill. He (Mr. Yorke) did not suppose that a single day's delay, which was all that his right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) applied for, would interfere with the progress of the measure. If the control of the House over its Committees was to be a reality and not a farce, it was most desirable that there should be some opportunity afforded of ascertaining what the Committee had done, instead of passing the Bill as a matter of course, because the President of the Board of Trade said that great expense would be incurred, and it was to be presumed that the Committee had given their decision in accordance with the equities of the case. Not long ago the Bill was before the House for second reading, and it was then stated that the arrangement proposed for the Western District was by no means satisfactory. The House were then told that the Bill was to be referred to a Committee, and that a Committee was the proper tribunal to determine the matter. The Westminster District Board of Works went to great expense in employing Parliamentary agents and counsel and everything necessary to fight the Bill before the Committee. The progress of the Bill was delayed for some days in Committee, and then, in the end, the Company withdrew everything that applied to the Western District, so that all the expense incurred by the Western Local Authorities was thrown away. If the matter had been fairly fought out on the second reading of the Bill all that expense would have been spared. He, therefore, hoped the Board of Trade would not force this measure upon the House without affording the House an opportunity of knowing what the decision of the Committee was. There could be no extraordinary reason for hurriedly forcing these Electric Lighting Bills through the House. It could not be pretended for a moment that electric lighting was in such a state that it was absolutely perfect, and, therefore, it was desirable to enforce an experimental system upon a locality for 21 years without giving an opportunity to the district 1227 during that period of adopting any other principle, although they were quite on the threshold of electrical science. If electrical science were perfect, they might have colour for the manner in which these matters were being forced upon the House and upon the local authorities; but it was well known that electric lighting was still in its infancy, and it was most undesirable to give one Company a monopoly over another, especially for so long a period as 21 years. His own opinion was, that it was both impolitic and unwise to force these Provisional Orders upon a district without the full consent of the local authorities.
§ MR. PULESTON
said, he was not going into any of the questions involved in these Provisional Orders, and he had risen merely for the purpose of answering the remark made by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), when lie said that the Electric Lighting Bill of last Session was passed through the House with undue haste. He thought that that was a remark which ought to be flatly contradicted. He submitted, most respectfully, that every possible facility was afforded for the discussion of that Bill, even by having, at the request and with the assent of the entire House, a whole day for the discussion of the measure.
§ MR. PULESTON
admitted that the House was by no means full at the time; but the Bill was taken on a Saturday, and was carefully considered and discussed in Committee. Although he had been upon the Select Committee himself, he was prepared to assert that no Bill was more thoroughly thrashed out; and he could only say that unless some means were found for giving effect to the decision of the House and of its Committees, all legislation would be at an end. He was not prepared to say whether the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would act wisely or unwisely in assenting to the proposal to put off the Bill for another day; that was another question altogether; but he thought some means ought to be found for giving effect to a measure which had been so elaborately prepared in the interests of the public as that which was before the House last Session.
§ SIR ALEXANDER GORDON
wished to point out that his hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) had not spoken on behalf of the Kensington Vestry in this matter. That Vestry applied for an extension of time, because they could not make up their minds in the few days allowed by the Board of Trade; and, being refused an extension of time, they were quite content to leave the question to the Board of Trade, reserving to themselves the right of adopting any scheme which might be found cheaper or more expedient in the course of the next 21 years. Upon that understanding they were not prepared to offer any further opposition to the measure.
Motion agreed to.
Bill, as amended, considered; to be read the third time To-morrow.