HC Deb 12 July 1883 vol 281 cc1193-208

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. John Holms.)

MR. WARTON moved, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time upon that day three months. He strongly protested against the course which had been taken in regard to these Electric Lighting Bills. The general Bill was hurried through the House last year at the end of the Session in a way that prevented the House from devoting to it the consideration which it required. To the 1st clause of the Bill he himself had down on the Paper four Amendments, which were absolutely necessary in order to make the clause intelligible. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, who was in charge of the Bill, relying on the majority at his back, as he always did, refused to allow any of those Amendments to be inserted, although he (Mr. Warton) had moved that the Bill be re-committed, in order that they might be considered. The Government majority was invoked on that occasion, and the proposition was rejected. Curiously enough, when the Bill went to the House of Lords those very Amendments were inserted; and when the Bill came down again to the House of Commons they were accepted, without remark, by the President of the Board of Trade. He regretted that the President of the Board of Trade should be so impatient to have the regulation of everything, whether it was an Electric Lighting Bill or a Bankruptcy Bill. He (Mr. Warton) thought the House had better wait until they saw how these schemes for electric lighting were likely to work before they hastily pledged themselves to a number of Bills giving a monopoly to various Electric Lighting Companies. His only fear was that they might regret the precipitancy of their legislation a short time hence.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day throe months."—(Mr. Warton.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, he could not think the hon. and learned Member was really serious in moving the rejection of the Bill. It must be remembered that it had been introduced in conformity with an Act passed by the House last Session, after the whole question had been fully considered by the Select Committee; and there were now before the House a considerable number of Bills, which had been introduced in conformity with the provisions of that Act. It must be remembered that the Notices for this Bill were given in November last; that the Board of Trade had held local inquiries, and had heard evidence from all quarters; and these Bills were now brought before the House, after great deliberation and discussion, in the shape of Provisional Orders by the Board of Trade. Exceptional facilities had been given a few days ago to the opponents of these Bills, and any persons interested in the matter would be entitled to be heard before the Committee. He trusted that the House would adopt the usual course of sending the Bill to a Committee; because it would be a very hard case indeed that the inhabitants of London should be deprived of the advantages of the electric light, or that the Companies which were willing to supply them should be impeded in their operations. If the Metropolitan Board of Works and the Vestries, which constituted the local authority, could not agree among themselves they could go upstairs before the Committee and settle their disputes. It was not at all right that the House should be called upon to settle them upon the second reading of the Bill. He sincerely hoped that no hindrance would be imposed by the House at this time of the Session to the trial of this very important experiment, so far as the inhabitants of London were concerned.


wished, as shortly as possible, to state some reasons why he supported the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. One reason was the great inconvenience occasioned by the action of the Board of Trade in including in the Bill districts which had agreed to the Orders, and other districts which had not, be-cause it necessitated a district which was opposing one Order to oppose the whole Bill, and go to considerable expense in appearing before the Committee. He regretted that the plan adopted should put the parties to such great inconvenience and expense. He did not understand why the Orders which had been opposed could not have been dealt with by separate Bills. This Bill affected two portions of the locality controlled by the Board of Works for the Westminster district, which, according to the Electric Lighting Act of 1882, was the lighting authority for that district. The Order had been granted in direct opposition to the wishes of that Board, and no opinion had been expressed in its favour, or, indeed, as to the desirability of electric lighting at all by the inhabitants. The two districts were Victoria and South Kensington, both of them rich and important districts; and if a monopoly were given to a Company to light those districts great difficulty would be thrown in the way of the local authorities in obtaining a well-considered scheme for lighting the whole district, because the rich districts—the best for paying and trade purposes—would be taken up and the poorer portions of the locality left out. He thought the Government and the Home Secretary would agree with him that it was important that the poorer parts of the district, for police and moral purposes, should be as well lighted as the richer. The Board had received applications from two other Companies who were prepared to light the whole district—one of them the Edison Electric Lighting Company, and the other the Metropolitan Brush Electric Lighting and Power Company, and they had also received applications from private individuals for licences under which the whole district might be lighted, and a revision of the terms would take place at the end of every seven years. They, therefore, objected very strongly to having a certain portion of the district taken away and given to a particular Company, when other competing Companies had given notice of their desire to deal with the whole district. He submitted that the intention of the provisions of the Electric Lighting Act of 1882 was to encourage electric lighting on terms agreeable to the local authorities, and that the Board of Trade should only step in and grant Provisional Orders where the opposition of the local authorities was of a vexatious character, and contrary to the wishes of the inhabitants. That, however, was not the case in this instance. The Electric Lighting Act of 1882, in Section 3, dealt with and contemplated the granting of licences, and then Section 4 went on to deal with the question of Provisional Orders. The Board of Works of the Strand district, acting on that clause, had already granted licences for the lighting of their whole district, and the present Bill utterly upset and superseded their authority and their opinion in the matter. It might be said that, according to the warding of the Act, the licence had to be confirmed by the Board of Trade; but he submitted to the House that the intention of that provision was only to protect the interests of the consumers, and that it was not intended to supersede entirely the opinion of the local authority. Nevertheless, according to the present Bill, the wishes of the local authorities were entirely superseded, and the power to light these districts was handed over to Companies who would practically have a monopoly and the power of charging exorbitant prices for 21 years, instead of there being a possibility of revising the terms at the end of every seven years. For this, among other reasons, he hoped the House would not consent to the second reading of the Bill, or, if they did, that it would only be on the understanding that the opposed Orders were struck out.


said, the noble Lord who had just sat down had given some reasons for objecting to this particular Bill now before the House; but the hon. and learned Member who moved the Amendment had given no reasons whatever in support of it, except the general fear, which, no doubt, governed his whole conduct in the House, that they were proceeding too fast, and his desire to stop all legislation, which appeared even to extend to Provisional Orders. Under these circumstances, he (Mr. Chamberlain) would confine his remarks to the objections of the noble Lord. If the Bill were read a second time it would be allowed to go to the Hybrid Committee already appointed, before whom all objections to it would be very properly and fully heard. The noble Lord had an idea respecting the intention of Parliament in connection with the Electric Lighting Committee which was not at all warranted by the facts. The noble Lord appeared to think that Parliament intended that these Provisional Orders should only be granted with the goodwill and consent of the local authority. On the contrary, it appeared to him (Mr. Chamberlain) that the object of Parliament in passing that Act was, in the first place, to protect the community at large against anything in the nature of a permanent monopoly, such as in the case of gas and water; and, in the second place, to protect these important experiments from being stifled in their inception either by want of enterprize or by competing interests, or by the prejudice of the local authorities. When the Board of Trade had to consider the applications made to them they found a very general wish on the part of the local authorities that they should be left entirely alone. That was not an unnatural desire; but if the Board of Trade had yielded to it, this important experiment, instead of having a beneficial result, would absolutely have been stifled in its inception, and there would have been no chance of any further progress being made. Under these circumstances, what the Board of Trade thought it best to do was to hear the authorities and all their objections, either to particular Companies or to the proposed terms of an Order. These objections were carefully weighed and considered, and, as far as possible, were attended to by the Board of Trade; but where they took the form of mere general refusals on the part of the local authorities to allow any wires to be laid down in their districts for the purpose of electric lighting, and a desire to have the whole matter left to them to say when and where the experiments should be made, the Board of Trade thought it their duty to pass over such objections on the part of the local authority, because they did not think it fair to the ratepayers, or to the probable consumers, or to the Company who were willing to provide electric lighting, to allow the local authorities to stand in the way of the experiment and to prevent it from being carried out. As to the Westminster Board, they, and they alone, among the local authorities, although they had been invited again and again to appear before the Board of Trade and state their objections, had refused to attend, and their opposition had to be dealt with in their absence. The case was carefully considered, and it was owing to their own ladies that the particular objections of the Westminster authorities were not able to be heard and fully considered. They had now another opportunity of appearing before the Select Committee, and of being represented by counsel, or in any other way, before the Committee, in order to object to the granting of an Order. The noble Lord complained that opposed Orders had been placed in the same Bill as Orders which were not opposed. The Board of Trade could not tell beforehand whether an Order was opposed or not, and it would have been very convenient if they could have done so. For instance, he found to-day that a notice had been given at the last moment to oppose an Order which up to that time had been unopposed; and, considering that circumstance, he should no longer resist the Motion of his hon. Friend behind him (Sir George Campbell), but would consent to refer the Electric Lighting Provisional Order Bill (No. 6) to the same Hybrid Committee. That Committee would be able to hear the evidence in all of these cases.


regarded the speech of the right hon. Gentleman as a very extraordinary one, because it seemed to be based on the supposition that the measure passed last year was intended entirely to prejudge the question whether electricity, or any other form of lighting, was to be the lighting of the future in the Metropolis, or any other part of the country. There really seemed to be an onus probandi now to prove that the country was not given over entirely to electric lighting as the lighting of the future. In regard to the Westminster Board of Works, the President of the Board of Trade must be aware, from the correspondence which had taken place between the Board and himself, that they had repeatedly objected to being forced against their will, and without any manifestation of feeling on the part of their constituency, to adopt any particular system of electric lighting. At the present moment it could scarcely be assumed that electric lighting had yet reached its final stage of development; and if it had not reached that final stage of development, that it was to be at the discretion of the Board of Trade how far experiments were to be made in various parts of the country. In this instance the district, of which the Westminster Board was the local authority, was to be the corpus viri which was to get very little benefit in case of success, and to pay the whole cost of the experiment; and the arrangement itself was to be concluded for 21 years. The whole of the richer portion of the district would be handed over to the Company it was sought to establish; and if at any future time the local authority, acting by means of a licence or a Provisional Order, sought to grant privileges to any other Company who desired to introduce a different system, they must be told that they must either work by means of another Company who had a present monopoly, or that they must buy that other Company out, and proceed with their own experiments at a great disadvantage. He contended that where they had a great district like Westminster, and when there had been no manifestation of opinion on behalf of the inhabitants favourable to the immediate introduction of electricity, where also they had a local board which was altogether unfavourable—he did not even think there was a minority of one in favour of the experiment being tried at the present moment—it was most objectionable that the President of the Board of Trade should step in and override and supersede all expression of popular feeling. The right hon. Gentleman said—"I will select the Company I will hand you over to; you shall be bound neck and heels for 21 years; no one else shall have the opportunity of trying a rival system; and if you try a rival system you must introduce it under every kind of disadvantage." It was said that they were to have an improved system of local government for the Metropolis next year. If they were to have municipal reform in London, he certainly thought they should postpone the consideration of this question until they had a larger and more responsible body to attend to the introduction and development of so important an element in the future as the electric lighting of the Metropolis. The Westminster Board were unanimously supported by their constituents in opposing this Order; but the Board of Trade had most emphatically shown their contempt for the existing local authority by altogether disregarding and overriding their opinion in a matter in which they had the unanimous support of the ratepayers. Having done this, they might, at any rate, allow the matter to stand over for the comparatively short time which it was understood would elapse before a comprehensive system of Metropolitan Government was introduced. He could not imagine a more fit and proper subject to be referred to the higher intellect of the body proposed to be established than the consideration of the important question it was now proposed to settle by the mere ipse dixitsic volo, sic juleo—of the Board of Trade. Seeing that the opinion of the local authority had been emphatically expressed, and that it was endorsed by the constituency, he should support the Amendment.


said, he thought the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had misinterpreted the remarks which had been made by the President of the Board of Trade. All that this Bill did was to enable those who wished to adopt electric lighting to have an opportunity of doing so. His hon. Friend said that they ought not to have the power of doing this without inquiry. He quite agreed with the hon. Gentleman that it ought not to be done without inquiry; but they had already had an extensive inquiry last year by a most able Committee, who went into the whole question, and had it carefully investigated with the assistance of the Board of Trade. Surely, as far as inquiry was concerned, there had been a great deal of it, and the time had now arrived when they should put this invention into practical operation. They were told that these Bills were intended to give a monopoly to particular Electric Lighting Companies. He thought that was a misuse of the word "monopoly," because if any Electric Lighting Company which obtained an Order under these Bills did not carry out the work in a proper manner, or if it could be shown that other Companies could do the work so much more cheaply, there was nothing in the Bill to prevent other Companies from coming in. But, if they were to wait until the era of enthusiastic inventors was over, they would never practically get anything done at all. If they passed these Orders, the public would have the benefit of them. It must be remembered that the electric light had to compete with candles, lamps, and gas; and, therefore, it was to the interest of the Electric Companies to provide the public with electric light on as reasonable terms as possible. The House was told that the Bill referred only to the richer districts, and left out the poorer ones. Now, his own belief was that the poorer districts would be those which would be most valuable for Electric Lighting Companies to take up, because they would be the districts where electric lighting would be most continuously required. The electric light would be at work during the whole year in the houses and workshops of the poorer districts; whereas the richer portion of the population went away from London during a considerable part of the year. In the interest of the poorer members of the community, he begged the House to allow the Bill to go forward. It was not simply a question of lighting, but of fresh air as well, as hon. Members knew very well who had experienced the improved atmosphere of the Library, and other parts of the House into which the electric light had been introduced. There were thousands of workpeople who had to work in close and confined rooms in the Metropolis; and it was important, for sanitary purposes, that they should have the advantage of this system as soon as possible. The people of Westminster, who were said to object to the inclusion of their district in the Bill, would have an opportunity of stating their objections before the Committee to which the Bill was to be referred; and, therefore, he hoped the House would agree to the second reading. He thought that the Resolution passed the other day dealt a somewhat severe blow against the system of Provisional Orders; but, as it had been adopted in one case, he presumed it would be done in regard to the rest of these Bills. Therefore, if the local authorities of Westminster, or of any other locality, had anything to say against these Bills, they would have a full opportunity of ventilating their views before the Committee upstairs.


said, the hon. Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock) had expressed a hope that the House would agree to the second reading of the Bill. He (Mr. W. H. Smith) regretted that it was not in the power of the House to agree to those portions of the Bill which were unopposed, and that there was no way of separating the opposed from the unopposed parts of the Bill. On behalf of his constituents he thought he was entitled to be heard against the proposal to include the Southern district and the Westminster district in this Bill. There was no evidence whatever that a single constituent in this district desired to have these powers forced upon him. The ratepayers of Westminster looked with great distrust upon the effect which the exercise of these powers would produce. The local authorities of the district, whose duty it was to make the necessary provision for the lighting of the district, objected altogether to the provisions of the Bill, so far as Westminster was concerned. In one case, the local authorities had already granted a licence for seven years to another Company, which licence would be destroyed by this Company if the Bill passed. He thought it was most undesirable that the experiments about to be made should be tried, not only against the wishes, but at the expense of the inhabitants of this part of London; and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would consent to exclude these particular Orders from the Bill. If that were done, there would be no opposition to the second reading of the measure; and he believed it would be perfectly possible to proceed with the Orders that were opposed in a separate Bill, when, of course, the local authorities interested in the question would be able to oppose them directly in the House. He strongly objected to any attempt to impose heavy charges upon the ratepayers in opposition to their wishes; and there was a strong feeling in the locality that the provisions of the Bill ought not to be forced upon the inhabitants against their consent. He thought it was a very strange exercise of the power of the Board of Trade to call upon the ratepayers of the Metropolis to appear in a Committee Room to oppose a Bill which would practically give a monopoly to some three or four Companies. It seemed to him to be quite unreasonable that this power should be exercised by the Board of Trade at the expense of the inhabitants of the Metropolis. As he had said, the effect of passing these Orders would be to give a monopoly to particular Companies, and, in the case of the Westminster district, to exclude all other Companies. He thought everyone must see that it would be a most unwise and improper course to allow any Company to take up a single portion, or one or two isolated portions, of a large district like that of Westminster. They could well afford to wait for another year for the further development of electric lighting; and, on behalf of his constituents, he might say that they were perfectly willing that the experiments which the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock) said were in course of being made should be made in the interim, so that they might next year have the advantage of the best inventions.


said, he was surprised to hear the somewhat contemptuous tone in which the President of the Board of Trade had spoken of local authorities. As regarded the question of general policy, he quite agreed that a great deal might be said in favour of trying the experiment of electric lighting. What he objected to was, that Provisional Orders should be passed in favour of three or four monopolist Companies, who, within one month of the passing of the Bill, would have obtained possession of the best parts of the Metropolis, and the power of portioning them out among themselves. About one-half of London was proposed to be given over to the Metropolitan Brush Company, which had been started as a Limited Liability Company, with a capital upon which £3 per share had been paid up, notwithstanding which the shares of the Company were at present, he was told, in the market at a few shillings a share. He thought that fact showed that the Company were not in a favourable position to undertake extensive works. It seemed to him, however, that the floor of that House was not the proper arena for discussing the details of these questions. The President of the Board of Trade had done what he (Sir George Campbell) had asked him in the first instance to do—namely, he had consented to refer the Bills to a Hybrid Committee, where the evidence of all who were interested in the matter would be heard. A well-constituted Committee would be able to sift the good from the bad, to accede to those local authorities who wished to allow the experiment to be tried in their district, and to exempt those local authorities who were opposed to it. This Bill proposed to confirm an Order for the introduction of electric lighting into the area of Kensington. The Vestry of Kensington represented him as his local authority, and they had passed a formal resolution, asking for delay. But the Board of Trade replied—"Either do this yourself, or let somebody else do it." Upon that intimation, the Vestry said—"We do not understand the matter sufficiently to oppose the Bill, and therefore we will throw the responsibility upon you. We have not consented to the introduction of your scheme, and you are unreasonable if you choose to force into the district these Provisional Orders. The responsibility rests with you, and not with us." He should vote for the second reading of the Bill, on the understanding that it would be referred to the Hybrid Committee already appointed.


said, he did not desire to discuss for a moment the merits of these Provisional Order Bills; but, having been a Member of the Committee to whom the question was re- ferred last year, he thought it was only right that he should say a few words. The Act of last year, undoubtedly, contemplated that in many cases licences would be given by the local authorities under certain safeguards then provided; but it also contemplated the possibility that there might be some local authorities—he did not say it in any disagreeable sense—who would obstruct, and who would not desire that electric lighting should be introduced at all into the districts connected with them, however much individual ratepayers, like himself (Mr. Stanhope), might desire it to be introduced. Such obstruction might have the effect of putting off the introduction of electric lighting until an indefinite period. Therefore, the Committee of last year introduced the system of Provisional Orders, by which the Board of Trade was to have power in certain cases, by granting Provisional Orders, to supersede the authority of those who were concerned, and to empower Electric Lighting Companies to introduce the system. At the same time, it was intended to surround that permission with such safeguards as the Select Committee of last year considered to be adequate. It was proposed that the Board of Trade should have the power of doing, in regard to these Provisional Orders, what they did in the case of other Provisional Orders—namely, that they should give full notice to all the parties concerned of their intention to hold a local inquiry, so that they might hear the views of the people most interested. As far as he could learn, in the present case, the Board of Trade had fulfilled all the requirements of the Act, and had called upon all the persons who were interested in these Orders to state their cases be-fore them. In the case of Westminster, he was informed that the local authorities had refused to state their case; and, if so, it was somewhat hard that they should now come down to the House and ask the House to reject the Bill on the second reading, having persistently refused to state what their opposition was to the Provisional Orders proposed to be granted by the Board of Trade. He thought the House would agree with him that there was no reason whatever for departing from the ordinary course which the House adopted in these cases—namely, of reading the Bill a second time and referring it a Hybrid Committee, before whom the whole case might be heard.


said, he was unwilling to take up the time of the House again; but, in common justice to the position which he occupied, and having had a great deal to do with the President of the Board of Trade in reference to these matters, he felt bound to say that the attacks which had been made by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), and his hon. Friend the Member for East Gloucestershire (Mr. J. R. Yorke) upon the Board of Trade, were not at all fair. The Board of Trade had displayed the greatest courtesy and the utmost possible consideration towards every local authority. In his (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg's) official capacity, he had been in communication with the President of the Board of Trade upon the subject, and he had invariably been received with the greatest courtesy, and he believed every member of the District Boards would say the same. Of course, there was a great deal of divergence of opinion on the subject. One Vestry wanted one thing, and another Vestry wanted something else; indeed, many Local Boards appeared not to know their own minds. He thought it was a great pity that the Westminster authorities refused to appear before the Board of Trade. All that the Metropolitan Board of Works wanted in the matter was, that there should be power to revise the charges for the electric lighting every seven years. He did not know how his right hon. Friend regarded that proposition, and he admitted that the whole question was a very difficult and complicated one.


said, the course pursued confirmed the propriety of the action taken by himself last year in opposing the Electric Lighting Bill when it was rushed through the House in a Saturday afternoon's Sitting. He expressed a fear at that time that the effect of such hurried legislation would be to take some hundreds of thousands of pounds out of the pockets of inventors and place them in those of needy patentees, causing an enormous loss which for many years would not be replaced. Nevertheless, the Bill was passed, and this was the natural outcome of it. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade gave a pledge, when the Bill of last year was passed, that all those who were interested in the matter should be fairly heard, and he believed that that pledge had been fulfilled in the spirit in which it was made, because all persons had been invited to attend before the Board of Trade. But that fact did not alter the principle which underlay these Bills—namely, that the ratepayers, and those who were fairly elected to represent them, were not to deal with their own concerns except with the approval of the Board of Trade. That principle, however, had been accepted, and it was too late to complain now. He fully understood the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith), that opposed Bills ought not to be included in the same category as unopposed Bills. He wished to put a technical question to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, which he thought was of importance to those who had an interest in the matter. He wanted to know why it was that each Order contained in the Bill had not been printed separately? If any person desired to obtain a copy of a particular Order, he could only do so by paying 3s. 6d. for the whole 10 Orders contained in the Bill; whereas, if each Order had been printed separately, he might have obtained it for 6d. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would take that matter into consideration, and see whether, in future, he could not print each Order separately, so that the expense to the ratepayers who were affected in particular districts would not be so heavy as it was at present.


remarked, that in passing the second reading of the Bill, they would confirm the principle of it in regard to every Order contained in it. He objected to the grouping together of several Provisional Orders in one Bill of enormous dimensions. He believed that one of these Orders confirmed a grant to the Swan Company of power to lay down wires for the lighting of the Southern district of the Metropolis. He was informed that the Strand Board of Works had themselves applied to the Board of Trade for an Order to empower them to light their own district, and they had made a provisional contract with another Company—not the Swan Company —to supply the light; but, not with-tanding, there was an Order contained in this Bill in reference to the Strand as if nothing whatever had taken place on the part of the Strand Board of Works, who were the local authorities; and the object of the present Order was to confer on a separate and distinct Company precisely the same powers which the Strand District Board of Works claimed for themselves strictly under the provisions of the Electric Lighting Act. He ventured to say that there never had been a more objectionable proceeding on the part of the Board of Trade or any other Public Department. He should, therefore, oppose the second reading of the Bill if it went to a Division.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 212; Noes 91: Majority 121.—(Div. List, No. 196.)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time.


begged to move the Resolution which stood in his name, and which, he believed, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was prepared to accept.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be committed to the same Committee to which Electric Lighting Provisional Orders Bills (Nos. 1, 4, and 5) are to be referred: That all Petitions against the Bills, or Orders, be referred to the said Committee; and that such of the Petitioners as pray to be heard by themselves, their Counsel, or Agents, be heard upon their Petition, if they think fit, and Counsel hoard in favour of the Bill against such Petitions."—(Lord Algernon Percy.)

Motion agreed to.