HC Deb 14 June 1898 vol 59 cc183-209

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That the Bill be now read a second time.

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

* MR. CRIPPS (Gloucester, Stroud)

I object to this Bill on principle. This Provisional Order which has been sanctioned by the Board of Trade deals with some of the most important questions which can possibly be raised in connection with our industrial policy, and there is a principle involved which, if sanctioned by this House, applies not only to electric lighting companies, but to many other industrial undertakings of a similar kind. In taking up my present attitude I desire to say that I do not take any specific action on behalf of the companies involved. I have no connection or interest whatever with either of them. The question seems to me to be whether a private company authorised by Parliament to carry out an industrial undertaking—and which has, as I can show to be admitted, carried out all its obligations—shall be liable to be faced with a rate-aided competition, and to what practically amounts to expropriation, without any measure of compensation. I venture to suggest that an attack of this kind is a very dangerous infringement of what we recognise, and always have recognised, as the principle of security, namely, that every man should be compensated for his property if the property be attacked or in any way depreciated by a subsequent Act of Parliament. There is no precedent whatever for the Motion now brought before the House in all my experience of Measures of the kind. I appeal to both sides of the House, and say that the principle which should govern all matters of public and private relation is that everyone should be certain of being treated on equal principles and of receiving equal benefits. I think, too, that in the event of an interest being threatened compensation should be provided on the ground that the principle of compensation is involved in the greater principle of equal treatment amongst all persons and all interests. I repeat, Sir, there is no precedent whatever for the proposals contained in this Order, and do not hesitate to say, after great experience in the adjustment of relations between local authorities and private companies, that if the principle in this Provisional Order is sanctioned by Parliament, it will be setting aside previous practice, and be manifestly unjust. It is a matter of principle decided by this House that any company should be paid out before you give a local authority power to set up rate-aided industrial competition. This rate-aided competition is merely wasteful expenditure. No private interest can, in the long run, compete successfully with rate-aided competition, and no precedent exists, because any such precedent would be on the face of it unfair and unjust. Let me just say a word or two as regards the analogy between tramway companies and electric lighting companies. In both cases the local authorities can purchase existing concerns on favourable terms. There is no question, as in the case of gas or water, that local authorities may have to pay some exorbitant sum after arbitration. So far as tramways and electric lighting companies are concerned, the local authorities can, after a period of years, purchase without having to buy out the business, but only at the price of the plant and the machinery. I hope the House will appreciate this point. The tramway company is in the position of a company with a period of 21 years, and after the expiration of that time the local authority buys out on certain specified terms. If, during those years, the same authority which has the power to purchase was liable to come in and compete against the tramway company it would be flagrantly unfair. Can it be allowed that an authority which has power to purchase shall be able to step in during the period covered by the concession, and compete in order to take away the expectation of profit? No, Sir; but let me say something regarding the special Acts of Parliament which cover the case now under consideration. The first was passed in the year 1882, and the proposal was to give a concession to companies for a period of 21 years. The result was that the period was so short and the science of electricity in such an elementary state, that no progress worthy of the name was made. At that time any local authority might have come in, but they did not do so, and private enterprise was not induced to do so either, because the period was so short. Then in 1888 a new Act was passed, which gave to the companies a period of 42 years. Thus, as the law stands, a period of 42 years has been granted to the companies, during which they must make their harvest of profit, because, at the end of that time, they will be bought up on the unfavourable terms laid down by Parliament. These local authorities now ask to come in during the period of 42 years, and by competition to depreciate the property during the remaining years of the concession. That principle cannot be just in matters of this kind. It cannot be just to give a concession for 42 years, and then to come to Parliament during the course of those years in order to depreciate the property which belongs to the companies. An electric light company is in other respects unfavourably situated in competition with a local authority. A local authority has power to ask the Board of Trade to raise the prices charged by the company every seven years, which is not the case with any other companies—gas, water, or tramway. You have a local authority which assented to this concession for 42 years, which has special power of purchase at the end of that time, and which has a right to revise prices every seven years, now coming and asking as a new precedent to be allowed also to compete during the remaining years of the concession. On principle that is neither right nor fair. If you were to sanction anything of this kind, in the first place you would never have any private industry in connection with matters of this kind; and, in the second place, if you allow this Bill to pass with this principle of the rate-aided competition, you directly take away all security under the guarantee on which this private capital was invested. One of the most important members of the vestry of Marylebone is Mr. Brooke-Hitchings, who is Chairman of the Lighting Committee, and I want to quote what he says, in order to show that there is no question here of the company not having fulfilled its duties. It is simply a question of principle whether you will allow competition without purchase in the first instance, although the company has done all that is required. He was asked— 'Is the parish badly served by the company?' He says, 'Oh, no. The vestry has an agreement with the company. Their prices are fair and reasonable, and the company is prepared to meet the vestry in every way.' Of course, I admit that if a company of this kind could be shown, not to be fulfilling its duty, some special question may arise in the particular instance; but where, as in this case, you have the assent of the local authority itself to my proposition that the company has amply and properly fulfilled all its duties within its district, then you come back to this pure question of principle, which I hope the House will decide only in one way—namely, is it fair, where a company has invested capital, under these circumstances, on the security of Parliament for a concession of 42 years, that the ultimate purchasing authority should be allowed to come in and, by means of competition, to depreciate the property or crush out private enterprise? That, I apprehend, is a most important matter of principle. As far as I am aware, there is only one point which has been raised which is said to apply particularly in this case of electric light. When this Act was passed through Parliament a certain Amendment was introduced, and it is as regards the terms of that Amendment that I would say a word or two. I have looked up "Hansard" to see what passed at the time the Bill was introduced, in order to see whether the view which has been generally adopted as regards the meaning of that Amendment is the right view or not. The clause, as I understand, on which the advocates of this Provisional Order rely is in the first section of the Act of 1888. What that provision says is this, and so it has always been construed. So far as the Board of Trade is concerned, there is no objection to their granting a Provisional Order in the sense of sending it on, in order that Parliament may come to a decision. There have been a large number of cases in which persons have come to Parliament asking for power such as is contained in this Provisional Order. Heretofore Parliament has never granted them in any single instance. When this question has been dealt with it was not whether Parliament would deal with a question of this sort one way or the other. It was simply whether the Board of Trade would have power to sand on an Order of this kind, having granted one before, in order that the decision of Parliament might be taken upon it. That is the meaning of this section, and the only meaning of it. It was never intended for a moment to introduce a principle which is manifestly unfair and unjust, or to interfere with the principle on which Parliament has always acted as regards these private companies; and, though the Debate was a short one, this very question was raised whether there was any intention to promote competition as between the local authority on the one side and a private company on the other, and that intention was disavowed. Anyone has the power to apply to Parliament, which decides whether what is proposed is right or not; and here, in this case, Parliament has to decide whether the principle of allowing rate-aided competition without previous purchase is a just principle or not. I do not think there are any special instances as regards this case. I may note that the Vestry of Marylebone appear to put the same interpretation on this clause as I am explaining to the House, because this same gentleman who represents the vestry in these matters makes this statement. He says, "We must remember that the original shareholders put their money into the concern in the belief that it would be a monopoly." I do not like the word monopoly, because it is generally used as a matter of prejudice, but let us state the same proposition in other words. "We must remember the original shareholders put their money into the concern in the belief that there would not be competition with the vestry." That is what he means, and that is absolutely true as regards all these undertakings. There is one precedent—a Provisional Order was passed a year or two ago for Newington—but that is really no precedent at all. A lighting company had powers over Newington, but did not wish to exercise them They wanted to see whether they could get any custom, and they could not. It was a matter of bargain between them and the vestry that the vestry should be allowed to take over their powers. That is no precedent for a case of this kind, where in the Vestry of Marylebone there has been more than half a million of money spent, where the company is doing a large business and fulfilling its obligations at the present time. It is only in cases where this question is raised, where there is hardship, where you cannot deal with the company without treating them unfairly, that you have to discuss these matters. I hope I have not detained the House at any undue length, but this matter is one of great importance, and it cannot be understood without explanation. It is thought that those who are taking the attitude I take are in some way attacking the rights and privileges of local authorities. We are not doing that. We are dealing with a far higher principle—namely, that whether you are dealing with local authorities or with private enterprise you must have just and righteous dealing all round, and that is the principle involved. Let me say one word in conclusion. I feel myself that the progress of this country depends on the versatility, the sustained energy, of private enterprise. I do not think we ought to take any step rashly which would in any way interfere with what I consider the foundation of our commercial prosperity. And this is more important in this particular case, because private enterprise is more particularly of advantage when it is a pioneer enterprise. Local authorities are not likely to undertake pioneer enterprises in their experimental stage. What is the case here? Here was a pioneer experimental enterprise which the local authorities might have undertaken, but of which they would not undertake the risk. That wag a very proper attitude for them to take; but, having thrown the risk of this pioneer enterprise upon a private company, they ought to deal in every way fairly and rightly with the interests of this particular company. I have not the slightest connection with any one of these companies, I am not an investor in a gas, water, tramway, or electric lighting company; it is merely a question of principle, and nothing else. But I am told that, as regards this company, for many years they got no dividend at all. Now the time has come when they are getting a very comfortable dividend. After a period they will be bought out on terms which give them no compensation for their risk. What is to be done in the meantime? I say Parliament ought to keep to the principle which is universally adopted. Given the concession, the private company ought to have the value and interest in it during the time it endures, and, if the local authority wants to come in, it ought, first of all, to deal fairly in the way of compensation with private enterprise, and if they did that I for one should not object to their carrying out electric lighting in their own district. I beg to move that the Bill be read this day six months.

* MR. KIMBER (Wandsworth)

I beg to second the Motion on these simple grounds. The application is made, by two vestries, each (if them 10 years ago declining to undertake the risk for the benefit of the public because they knew it was hazardous. They gave their consent in writing to private investors and undertakers entering upon this project. After many trials it has been found possible to make it succeed. What was the nature of the act which these vestries did when they gave their consent? I say it was nothing less than this, that they held out to the commercial public that they might safely invest in this enterprise with a fair prospect of being treated equitably, and of having such powers and terms as would enable them to get back their capital with fair profit within the term of 42 years allowed by the conces- sion. All went well as long as no profit was made on it. It is quite true that in the Act of 1888 an express power is reserved, or rather provision is made, that the fact that the private company has received a Provisional Order shall not hinder the Board of Trade from giving another Order to the local authority. But I submit the Board of Trade have entirely misconceived the nature of the duties thereby devolving upon them. Surely when such a power is delegated by Parliament to a great public Department of State that power is to be exercised on principles of equity. It is not to be used for the purpose, when private enterprise has succeeded, of snatching it away from them and making it public property. Only in the event of the company not having fulfilled its duty ought the Board of Trade to exercise this arbitrary and confiscating power of taking away from the company that which was deliberately granted to them with the consent of the local authorities. It is not fair to say to the local authorities, "Take the profits of this company into your coffers. It will enable you to reduce your rates." It may be said that it is a legitimate object for local bodies to reduce the rates, but they have a trust to perform, and they, equally with the Board of Trade, have duties which have to be exercised with equity. What are the principles which this House has recognised in the nearest analogous case we can find to it? The nearest case is that of the gas companies. They also are regulated as these electric companies are as regards their profits. They can be revised every seven years in this case, and in the case of gas companies, whenever they come to Parliament for fresh capital. The only grounds on which Committees of this House permit competition of gas companies in the same district are that the existing company has failed to supply people with gas of the quality required by statute, or that they have charged more than they ought to have done, or that they have managed their affairs so badly that they have been unable to pay the statutory dividend. It would not be beneficial to the community at large that money should be wasted, and public convenience frustrated, by streets being torn up by a number of competing bodies. I submit that these principles which have been observed time out of mind by Parliament and its Committees ought to be observed in the case of electric lighting. The Board of Trade, it seems to me, have entirely misconceived the principles on which these powers ought to be exercised by them. They are in a manner quasi judicial bodies, and ought to administer their powers on the basis of right and equity. It is significant that in the circulars which have been sent by the vestries to members not one word from beginning to end is said of the companies having failed to fulfil the duties imposed upon them. The only ground which is mentioned in these two circulars is this, that there is a power in the Act of 1888 reserved for them to do it if they like. If power is to be the only reason why a thing is to be done by a great Department of State, then there ends the great and most blessed principle of all human institutions; that is, the sense of right by which these authorities ought to be guided. If the possession of power takes its place then you may just as well have a military despotism at once to regulate all our concerns. The great principle is also involved of local authorities undertaking private industries at all. I submit to this House that these lighting orders are not merely lighting orders—they are orders for the application of electric energy. The same machinery which produces electric energy for the purpose of light produces it also for other purposes. Whereas at the present time most of these orders have been applied for and used for the purpose of lighting only, the cost of production of this energy has been so reduced that it enables them to compete with gas produced by mechanical power, and steam, and other motive forces; so that we shall be faced with the question whether local authorities are to have power not only to light streets, which is a fair public object for them to come for, but power also not only to work tramways, but every industry carried on in the district using mechanical power. This force has been shown to be applicable to hundreds of industries. Therefore, I ask that Parliament will hesitate before it confers upon local bodies powers so extensive as that which may convert the whole of our industrial concerns into one vast system of State socialism.

MR. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

As I listened to the very able speech of the mover of the Resolution I could not help being forcibly reminded of the occasions on which, before he entered the House, I had the honour to be sitting on one side of a table while he addressed me and my colleagues from the other, because then I could recognise how greatly his success was founded upon a wise adhesion to the four walls, if I may so call it, of the brief which was placed in his hand, and to that perspective which he could always so wisely give, as he has given now, to the subject with which he deals. But in the present case, the perspective has been so arranged that, in his speech, which dealt with large and general principles, there was placed, in the most remote and quiet nook, what really is the essence and centre of the matter that lies before us. The speech of the honourable Member would rightly have been a speech against the Act of 1888. The right claimed by these local authorities is of no peculiar or unusual kind. I am not at this moment entering into the merits of the particular case any more than my honourable Friend did. It is a larger question that lies before us. The honourable Gentleman pointed to this Bill as if it were the case of a corporation intending to institute competition against a gas or water company, or something of that kind, and he appealed to myself and to other honourable Members sitting on this side of the House to look back on our experience of Private Bill Committees of this House. The experience with respect to those other matters to which he referred has nothing to do with the experience with respect to this particular question, because in the Act of 1888—which the honourable and learned Gentleman acknowledged, certainly, but which he put in a very remote corner of his speech, and considerably modified in his quotation of it—it is distinctly provided that the grant of authority to any undertakers to supply electricity within any area shall not in any way hinder or restrict the granting of a Provisional Order to the local authority. How can you go and with wise words turn that into some- thing which the honourable and learned Gentleman wishes to turn it into—a mere limited permission to the Board o Trade, under certain circumstances, to do a certain thing? I say the words of the Act do not in any way limit or restrict the position. There is no more to say on the matter, except this, that those words were introduced into the Act of Parliament as the result of prolonged negotiations, and as part of a quid pro quo. It is true that the Act of 1882, by its term of 21 years, was believed in this House to hinder electrical development, and that it was extended. But it was not extended without conditions being put in; and one of those conditions was the creation of this possible competition and the preservation of this power, not only, mark you, for the municipalities, but for other companies, if necessary, to be licensed. It was the view of many that that Act was passed when the conditions of monopoly of water and the like bore heavily on the public, because there was not some power of competition of the kind; but whether that be right or wrong, it carried with it the Parliament of 1888, and the speech, therefore, of the honourable and learned Gentleman, able as it was, but yet one-sided, and not facing the whole question—the speech, therefore, of the honourable Gentleman, speaking from his brief, should have been directed at a far earlier stage against the Act of 1888. That is the whole case, and I ask whether, fixing your eyes on the clause in the Act of 1888 which I have quoted, the rest of the honourable and learned Gentleman's speech has anything at all to do with the circumstances of the case?

* MR. LAFONE (Southwark, Bermondsey)

In rising to support this Provisional Order, I will speak very briefly on the facts of the case, of which I have knowledge—namely, that of the parish of Bermondsey. The honourable and learned Gentleman who moved the rejection of this Bill has completely ignored the fact that one of the companies he represents entirely failed to carry out the duties it is legally bound to perform. I will not go over the question of what right local authorities have under the Act of 1888 to do as they have done in Bermondsey and in Marylebone, but I would ask the honourable and learned Gentleman, as a thick-and-thin supporter of the companies, whether he thinks they do their duty as they are bound to do, or whether they do not. In our own case—that of Bermondsey—the Act which the Electric Light Company possess was secured in 1889. From that time to now they have not taken a single step within the whole borough to carry out their agreement, and with this result—that we are obliged to-day to light our public halls and the public library with gas instead of electric light. The Vestry of Bermondsey are bound to light the streets. They would like to use the electric light for that purpose if it were in their power to do so, and not once, but several times, the Electric Light Company has been approached, and earnestly asked to carry out their agreement, and lay down the mains for the electric, light. They are in this position to-day, that if the penalties to which they are liable were enforced the amount would be £45,000 for neglecting, during the whole of the nine years, to carry out the duties which they undertook to do. They have grossly failed to perform their duties in Bermondsey, and therefore the Vestry of Bermondsey come before this House and ask it to confirm this Electric Lighting Order. From the honourable and learned Gentleman's speech you would suppose that no evidence had been brought forward. On the contrary, both the electric light companies appeared before the Board of Trade, and their arguments were carefully considered. The result was that, on the evidence brought forward by the two companies and by the Vestry of Bermondsey, the Board of Trade decided to allow this Provisional Order. The question before the House is whether the company shall neglect to do their duty, and, at the same time, the local authority shall not be allowed to undertake the work which they have failed to do. The Vestry of Bermondsey, which I represent, come before this House and ask it to confirm the Second Reading of this Provisional Order Bill.

SIR A. FORWOOD (Lancashire, Ormskirk)

I should like, with the permission of the House, to say a word or two on this question from the municipal or general standpoint, and not with regard to the specific Provisional Orders before the House, and also, I may say, as one who has had to deal with these Provisional Orders in a large municipality—Provisional Orders obtained by a private company. I venture to say that, when the Bill was passed which contained this clause dealing with electric lighting Orders, and reserving the power to the Board of Trade to concur in the granting of licences, that was regarded by the municipalities as a protection to them from the monopoly which had been created by gas companies in previous years. Therefore, feeling that we had that protection from a monopoly by that clause in the Act, opposition to the obtaining by private parties of Provisional Orders was not raised. Otherwise, if it had been supposed that by granting for 21 years in the first case, and subsequently extending to 42 years, the licences to private companies, we were thereby giving our consent in this House to hanging round the necks of our municipalities a monopoly such as has been hung round our necks by gas companies, the corporation of which I am a member would have strenuously opposed any Provisional Order which would have that effect. The various electric lighting companies have accepted these Orders under the condition of the Act of Parliament which has already been quoted. The investors in these companies knew perfectly well the conditions and risks under which they invested their money, and it would be a mistake to take away from the Board of Trade and the municipalities the power reserved to them under the Act. This is a very serious and important question. In the municipality with which I am connected we bought up an electric lighting concern which had obtained a Provisional Order for a certain portion of the city. That company had only been in existence five years. They had paid up £5 on their shares, and we paid £8 to buy them up. One may say, "Why did you not use the powers under the Act and go to the Board of Trade and obtain a Provisional Order for your selves?" I admit this was a pioneer concern which had done its work fairly, and we thought it desirable to make them a reasonable offer, and buy their company before we went to Parliament on account of the municipality. But Sir, if you repeal this protective clause, giving the Board of Trade power to apply for a Provisional Order for a municipality, then, instead of paying your 40 or 50 per cent. premium on the value of he electric companies' concern, they will stand hard and fast, and you will have to pay two or three hundred per cent. premium. This clause is a particular protection to the municipalities against monopolies, and also a reasonable protection to the shareholders against undue pressure on the part of a municipality. One point more. I think this electric lighting system is likely to be taken up very largely by municipalities, because electric lighting, tramway, and power purposes all go together. This country is sadly behind in its position as regards electricity. It is a century behind the position in which the United States is. There you have enormous, central power stations, with as high as 50,000 indicated horse-power. From these stations the not only produce lighting for the district, but they generate power for the electric tramways, which are an immense boon and convenience to the members of the community, and they also supply power for small industries. What is more calculated to improve the well-being of the people of any community than to enable the small man to take into his small workshop sufficient power to enable him to produce articles, may be in competition with a larger undertaking? Therefore, like gas, electricity will become a public necessity, and as a public necessity, like gas and water, it ought to be in the hands of the municipality. I hope, therefore, that the House will do nothing which might give the electric lighting companies the idea that it is going to pass over and set aside the clause in the Act of Parliament which was put in to protect the municipalities.

MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

There is no doubt whatever that there is a feeling, especially in London, that the gas and water monopolies would not have been granted if all the circumstances which existed at the present time had been foreseen. The object of this Act of 1838 with regard to electric lighting was certainly to find a compromise between the monopoly existing in regard to gas and water, and to do what was fair in both directions. The clause which has been read seems to show that everybody who went into an electric lighting scheme did so with his eyes open to the clause, which was that, if it were thought proper to grant a company certain rights with regard to electricity, there was a right to do so under certain conditions; but it was expressly stated that it was not in any way to enact that the company were to have a monopoly. That being the case, I cannot see that they have any possible ground of complaint if the locality thinks proper now to create a rival system. I myself am somewhat doubtful of the wisdom of local authorities in embarking on these enterprises. That, I am aware, is against the spirit of the time, and my own district has embarked largely on this electric lighting scheme. Whether it is going ultimately to answer no human being can say, but there is no doubt that the spirit of London is to go in for these undertakings, and if London is debarred from so doing it will be a bad thing for this side of the House. A great many people are ready to go in for these speculations, but we have put in the words of this Act as plainly as it could be put what are the conditions under which the companies exist, and I cannot think it reasonable or fair for the companies to say that it is unfair to them to carry out the Act Tinder which they were created. I myself shall certainly vote for this Provisional Order, because I am sure of this, that London requires it, and I am quite convinced, that the companies, who are no doubt injured by this step, must blame not us, but themselves, for they went into it with their eyes open to the fact that competition was to be allowed, and that they were to have no monopoly of any sort.


I think the House ought to have some statement from the Board of Trade on this question. It is difficult to understand their position. There are two companies—those of Bermondsey and Marylebone—which are entirely different. In Bermondsey the company have not attempted to perform their duty, but in Marylebone the company have given an efficient service, and the only possible question might be as to the cost of the electric light. The Board of Trade have taken the course of putting the two Orders in one Bill—the case where the company have given a good service, and the case where the company have given a bad one—and they have thrown them both down before the House for it to deal with as it pleases. To me it seems clear that the object of the Act of 1888 was to give security to any company which gave a good service, but not to any company which did not perform their duty. The objection to the water monopolies is as to the monopolists presuming on their monopoly by giving either an inefficient service or charging too much. It was as a protection against inefficiency or overcharge that the clause which has been referred to was inserted in the Act of 1888, and I myself should not be willing to vote for anything that would in any way abridge the protection which that Act has given. But the Board of Trade have gone much further than that. They have taken upon themselves to grant an Order giving competitive powers throughout Marylebone in the very streets served by the existing company up to the very doors of the generating station of the company, without any proof of failure of duty on the part of the company. That, I confess, seems to me to go beyond what was intended by the Act. The cases of the two companies appear to me to be dissimilar, and I think it a pity that at the beginning of what may be a number of struggles between electric lighting companies and municipalities the opportunity was not given us of deciding whether, in a case where a company had fully done their duty, their rights were to be interfered with. The right honourable Baronet [Sir A. Forwood] has made a very remarkable speech. He referred to the enormous benefits conferred on the people of the United States by the electric supply in that country, but he omitted to say that these immense benefits have been conferred by private enterprise, unrestricted as private enterprise has been in this country by the legislation passed by Parliament. Why is it that tramway powers, that lighting powers, that powers for the supply of electrical force, have been so much used in the United States? It was because there was security. They had not in the United States the advantage of having the Tramways Act of 1870, or the Electric Lighting Act of 1882, which have done so much harm to the real interests of the people of this country. All the things which the right honourable Baronet has spoken of have been done by private enterprise, and I venture to think that this House would do a grave injustice to the real interests of the people of this country if, in a case like Marylebone, where private enterprise has been doing its duty, it should interfere, and take away rights without compensation, and give competitive powers, and make it the absolute duty of the local authority to lay down mains in the very streets where they now exist. That seems to me to go beyond anything in the interests of the community, and I think in this electric business we have had opportunities of judging how much harm Parliament may do, and how little good it has done, towards the progress of electricity. The fact is that we have hampered and restricted the promoters of private companies dealing with electricity in this country, so that by the actual action of Parliament this country has been kept back. Capitalist are no better and no worse in this country than they are in America, where they have conferred those great benefits on the community of which the right honourable Baronet has spoken. Depend upon it, if you prevent capital from going into these electrical enterprises in this country, by creating a feeling of insecurity everywhere, the result will not be, in the end, for the benefit of the people. A great deal has been said as to the profits made by some of these electric lighting concerns. The profits are made by charging too much for the public lighting, and too little to the rich ratepayers who are able to have private lights. Public lighting, going on for a great number of hours, ought to be done at less than half the cost of private. That is not the way in which the municipalities who have taken up these enterprises make up their accounts, and it is literally true that these enterprises are rate-aided, though nominally they may not be so. That being so in the case of Marylebone, the position is this, that this House should, step in in a case where a company have been doing their duty, where the company have been hampered by the fact that the vestry, with a want of enterprise, have made small demands on them for public light, and not merely authorise but compel the vestry to break up the streets within the compulsory area of this company's supply, and to lay down separate mains along the streets in Marylebone—that is the proposal. I venture to think that that is not a proposal contemplated by the Act of 1883, nor one which the House should support.


I think the time has arrived when I should state to the House, in a very few words, the position which the Board of Trade take up in regard to this matter. Application was not only received by the Board of Trade from the local authority, but, in the case of one of the Provisional Orders, both the local authority and two companies applied for a Provisional Order for a second electric lighting supply in the district. The Board of Trade had to consider first whether any Order should be granted or not, and then, if an Order were to be granted, whether it should be granted to a company or to the local authority. Well, Sir, as far as I am concerned I had no hesitation in deciding that it would not meet with the appreciation of Parliament if the Board of Trade were to reject the application from the vestries, with a view of granting the Order to a company. The honourable and learned Member for Stroud, who moved the rejection of this Bill, did not confine his remarks to the question involved in competition between a company and a local authority. The honourable and learned Member went a great deal further, for his contention was that, because the existing company in one instance were admittedly performing their duty, there should be no second Order given at all. The meaning of that is that a monopoly should be given, and that a monopoly would be given in each area when a company had obtained an Order. I do not, again, hesitate to say that, in my opinion, that is not only contrary to the public interest, but absolutely contrary to the directions of Parliament. The Act of 1888, which has already been quoted, shows very clearly what the view of Parliament was, namely, that, although a company may have come into existence in a locality, another Order may be made either for the local authority itself, or even for another company in the same manner. Subsequent to the decision of that Act an inquiry was held by Major Marindin into the circumstances under which Provisional Orders should be granted for electric lighting Orders for the metropolis, and after this full inquiry Major Marindin wrote it down distinctly that, in his opinion, two companies might be granted an Order in each area within the metropolis. Well, Sir, I think it can hardly be said, then, that a company applying for a Provisional Order subsequent to the Act of Parliament, and subsequent to the, inquiry, did not come with their eyes perfectly open to the possibility of being met with a competitor, either from another company or from the local authority. Some of my honourable Friends have objected to the competition of a local authority. They, no doubt, have advanced arguments which would seem to show that the competition of a local authority may be much more difficult to meet than that of another company, but I hardly think that Parliament, having expressly put in the words in the Act of 1888—"that a local authority may apply for and be granted an Order"—I hardly think it would be possible for the Board of Trade to adopt any other course than they did and grant the Order. My honourable Friend who spoke last found fault with the Board of Trade for granting both Orders, and went on to say that it was through this that one company who had performed their duty had to suffer in consequence of the allegations brought against the other company. We have nothing, again, to do with that. That is a question which, indeed, the Committee will have to inquire into. If it should be found that one ought to be taken and the other left, it is perfectly open for the Committee to take that course. The Committee will be perfectly free to deal with the merits of the case. I think, however, we should have done wrong if we had refused a particular Order to a particular local autho- rity, because in the one case a company had been properly acting and not in the other. This is a matter for inquiry. We have issued these Orders with the full knowledge that they would be considered by Parliament. What would have been the position, I would ask the House, if the Board of Trade had not issued these Orders? If we had refused the applications altogether it would have been impossible for Parliament to have considered the merits of the case, for the question would not have come before the House at all. It may be very well to say, Sir, that they could have applied for an Act. Well, Sir, that is contrary to the policy of Parliament. It has been constantly the policy of Parliament to decide that when certain things can be done by Provisional Orders they should be done by such means and not by an Act. By granting the Provisional Order we have put the whole thing in the hands of Parliament, and Parliament is able to deal with and to consider the points which have been raised in the discussion here to-day. I confess there are some arguments in the speech of my honourable Friend the mover of the Motion which are well worthy of consideration, but do not let us, by rejecting the Second Reading, prevent Parliament considering the case on its merits. The position that the Board of Trade have taken up is that we do not desire to express any opinion on the merits of the case when corning to a decision. I confess that there are some very important considerations in connection with these matters which are contained in the Orders, and which will be dealt with by Parliament in a Committee. The opponents of the Orders must not suppose that the Board of Trade are the promoters of the Orders. I should just like to refer to one matter which my learned Friend the Member for Stroud alluded to in connection with the Act of 1888. It has been answered by the honourable Member who seconded the Motion for the rejection of the Bill. The honourable Member for Stroud interpreted this section of the Act as meaning that the Board of Trade was to pass on this Order to Parliament. My honourable Friend the Member for Wandsworth said it was a monstrous thing for the Board of Trade to grant the Order at all. My view of this section of the Act is that it imposed on the Board of Trade the duty of considering applications from the vestries and from the company, and that unless there is some strong reason known in advance why the consent of the Board of Trade should not be given the Order should be granted, so that the matter might come before Parliament. These are the considerations that induced me to grant the Order, and if the House refuses to allow this matter to go before a Committee of the House its action will not be in accordance with the regulations of the House, and will make it impossible to properly deal with such matters in the future. I hope, without expressing any opinion on the merits of one party or the other, that the House will consent to refer this Bill to a Committee.

MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

I agree with the remarks which have just been uttered by the right honourable Gentleman, that the Board of Trade have no option in this matter, and that they are absolutely bound to grant these Orders, so that they should be sent to this House for consideration. We may go further and say that the House is bound to take these Orders and send them to a Committee, because to do otherwise would mean nothing less than to repeal the Act of 1888. The speeches of my honourable and learned Friend the mover of this Motion and the honourable Member who seconded were both speeches against the Act of 1888. They may well have been delivered when the Bill was before the House, and if the House were now to pass this Motion I do not hesitate to declare it would be to set up a very dangerous precedent. It would be reversing the uniform policy of the House for the last 15 years, and for that reason, if for that reason alone, the House is bound to let this Bill go to a Committee. It has been argued by several Members that we must take these cases as if there were no charges against the companies, as if all their actions had been meritorious, and as if they had been doing all that could be possibly expected from them. That might be all very well if it were so, but it is not to be assumed as correct as regards the parish of Marylebone that it has done everything that could be done. I myself, residing in the parish, could, if this were the place, as it is not—for it will be the duty of the Committee to hear evidence—testify as to this. I should be glad of an opportunity to prove that the quality of the light supplied by the present company in Marylebone is of an inferior quality. The honourable Member who spoke the last but one endeavoured to divert the case from the real issue, but we cannot do as he suggests, and the answer to his questions is the answer of the right honourable Gentleman, that the decision of the Board of Trade must be given on general grounds. We argue on general grounds, and we ask the opinion of the House on those general outlines—that the Bill of 1888 was against monopoly, that the Bill of 1888 was to encourage competition, and that the policy of 1888 was to give encouragement to local authorities, not to refuse consent to private companies, because by so doing they might forfeit their right in future to come in to compete with those same companies. I cannot help thinking that the Debate has disclosed on the one hand an attempt to repeal the Act, and on the other an attempt to do in this House what ought to be done in Committee. Other speakers, apparently, have asked the House to withhold its acts from the judgment of a Committee, and so to prevent the merits of the case being so fully reconsidered as they would be if placed before such a Committee. I earnestly hope the House will support the Board of Trade, and that we will not go out of our way to support and encourage a monopoly.


I only wish to intervene in this Debate to corroborate what has fallen from the right honourable Gentleman who spoke last as to the character of the electric lighting supply in Marylebone. It has been assumed throughout that the supply has been absolutely satisfactory, and that the question was only on general grounds. I can assure the House, because I have a house in the district, that the way in which the light is laid in Marylebone and the quality of the supply have been the cause of many complaints, and I earnestly trust it will not permit this monopoly to go on for another 30 years without inquiry before a Committee.

Question put— That the word 'now' stand part of the Question.

The House divided.—Ayes 198; Noes 114.—(Division List No. 136.)

Allan, Wm. (Gateshead) Farquharson, Dr. Robert McKenna, Reginald
Allen, W. (Newc.-u.-Lyme) Fellowes, Hon. A. E. Maddison, Fred.
Allhusen, Augustus Henry E. Fenwick, Charles Mappin, Sir Frederick T.
Allison, Robert Andrew Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne Maxwell, Rt. Hon. Sir H. E.
Ambrose, Robert (Mayo, W.) FitzWygram, General Sir F. Mellor, Rt. Hn. J. W. (Yorks)
Anstruther, H. T. Flower, Ernest Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand
Ashton, Thomas Gair Forwood, Rt. Hon. Sir A. B. Monk, Charles James
Asquith, Rt. Hn. Herbert H. Foster, Sir W. (Derby Co.) Montagu, Sir S. (Whitechapel)
Austin, Sir John (Yorkshire) Fowler, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (Wol'ton) Moon, Edward Robert Pacy
Austin, M. (Limerick, W.) Fry, Lewis Morley, Charles (Breconshire)
Bailey, James (Walworth) Garfit, William Mowbray, Rt. Hon. St. John
Baldwin, Alfred Giles, Charles Tvrrell Murray, Chas. J. (Coventry)
Banbury, Frederick George Goddard, Daniel Ford Myers, William Henry
Barlow, John Emmott Godson, Augustus Frederick Northcote, Hon. Sir H. S.
Barnes, Frederick Gorell Gold, Charles Norton, Capt. Cecil Wm.
Bartley, George C. T. Gordon, Hon. John Edward Nussey, Thomas Willans
Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire) Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir J. E. Oldroyd, Mark
Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Brist'l) Gourley, Sir Edward T. Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay
Beresford, Lord Charles Graham, Henry Robert Owen, Thomas
Bethell, Commander Gray, Ernest (West Ham) Palmer, Sir C. M. (Durham)
Birrell, Augustine Gull, Sir Cameron Paulton, James Mellor
Brigg, John Haldane, Richard Burdon Pickersgill, Edward Hare
Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John Hanbury, Rt. Hon. R. W. Price, Robert John
Bryce, Rt. Hon. James Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Sir Wm. Priestley, Briggs (Yorks)
Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn Harwood, George Richardson, J. (Durham)
Burns, John Hayne, Rt. Hn. Chas. Seale- Richardson, Sir T. (Hartlep'l)
Burt, Thomas Hedderwick, T. C. H. Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir M. W.
Caldwell, James Hill, Rt. Hn. Lord A. (Down) Ritchie, Rt. Hon. C. T.
Cameron, Robert (Durham) Hoare, Samuel (Norwich) Roberts, J. H. (Denbighsh.)
Camphell-Bannerman, Sir H. Holburn, J. G. Robertson, E. (Dundee)
Causton, Richard Knight Horniman, Frederick John Robertson, H. (Hackney)
Cawley, Frederick Howard, Joseph Rothschild, Baron F. Jas. de
Cecil, Lord Hugh Hughes, Colonel Edwin Round, James
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. (Birm.) Hutton, A. E. (Morley) Royds, Clement Molyneux
Chamberlain, J. A. (Worc'r) Jacoby, James Alfred Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)
Channing, Francis Allston Johnson-Ferguson, J. E. Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Clark, Dr. G. B. (Caithness) Johnston, Wm. (Belfast) Scoble, Sir Andrew Richard
Coddington, Sir William Jones, David B. (Swansea) Sharpe, William Edward T.
Cohen, Benjamin Louis Kenvon, James Shaw, Charles E. (Stafford)
Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Kinloch, Sir J. G. Smyth Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)
Colston, Chas. E. H. Athole Kitson, Sir James Sinclair, Capt. J. (Forfarsh.)
Colville, John Knowles, Lees Smith, Hn. W. F. D. (Strand)
Corbett, A. C. (Glasgow) Labouchere, Henry Spicer, Albert
Cozens-Hardy, H. Hardy Lambert, George Steadman, William Charles
Crilly, Daniel Langley, Batty Stephens, Henry Charles
Crombie, John William Laurie, Lieut.-General Stevenson, Francis S.
Cubitt, Hon. Henry Lawrence, Sir E. (Cornwall) Stewart, Sir M. J. M'Taggart
Curzon, Viscount (Bucks) Lecky, Rt. Hon. Wm. E. H. Stone, Sir Benjamin
Dalbiac, Colonel Philip H. Leng, Sir John Strachey, Edward
Dalrymple, Sir Charles Leuty, Thomas Richmond Stuart, James (Shoreditch)
Dalziel, James Henry Lewis, John Herbert Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)
Davies, M. V. (Cardigan) Llewelvn, Sir D. (Swansea) Tanner, Charles Kearns
Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles Lloyd-George, David Tennant, Harold John
Doogan, P. C. Logan, John William Thomas, David A. (Merthyr)
Doughty, George Long, Rt. Hn. W. (Liverp'l) Thornton, Percy M.
Drage, Geoffrey Lough, Thomas Tomlinson, W. E. Murray
Dunn, Sir William Lowe, Francis William Walrond, Sir William Hood
Ellis, John Edward (Notts) Lowther, J. W. (Cumberland) Warde, Lt.-Col. C. E. (Kent)
Evans, Sam. T. (Glamorgan) Lyell, Sir Leonard Warkworth, Lord
Evans, Sir F. H. (South'ton) McArthur, Chas. (Liverpool) Warr, Augustus Frederick
Fardell, Sir T. George McEwan, William Wayman, Thomas
Wedderburn, Sir William Wilson, John (Govan) Young, Samuel (Cavan, E.)
Welby, Lieut.-Col. A. C. E. Wilson, J. W. (Worc'sh., N.) Yoxall, James H.
Williams, Col. R. (Dorset) Woodall, William
Williams, John C. (Notts) Woodhouse, Sir J. T (Hud'rsf'ld) TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr. Lafone and Mr. Arthur Morton.
Williams, J. Powell (Birm.) Woods, Samuel
Wilson, H. J. (York, W.R.) Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart
Aird, John Hanson, Sir Reginald Nicholson, William Graham
Allsopp, Hon. George Hardy, Laurence Nicol, Donald Ninian
Ambrose, Wm. (Middlesex) Heaton, John Henniker O'Connor, Arthur (Donegal)
Arnold, Alfred Hill, Sir Edward S. (Bristol) O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens
Arnold-Forster, Hugh O. Hobhouse, Henry Pease, Alfred E. (Cleveland)
Arrol, Sir William Houldsworth, Sir Wm. H. Pease, Sir J. W. (Durham)
Bagot, Capt. J. FitzRoy Howell, William Tudor Phillpotts, Captain Arthur
Baird, John George Alex. Howorth, Sir Henry Hoyle Powell, Sir Francis Sharp
Barton, Dunbar Plunket Hozier, Hon. James H. C. Priestley, Sir W. O. (Edin.)
Biddulph, Michael Hudson, George Bickersteth Pym, G. Guy
Bill, Charles Hutton, John (Yorks, N. R.) Quilter, Sir Cuthbert
Boscawen, Arthur Griffith- Jackson, Rt. Hon. Wm. L. Renshaw, Charles Bine
Brunner, Sir J. T. Jebb, Richard Claverhouse Russell, Gen. F. S. (Chelt'hm)
Cameron, Sir C. (Glasgow) Jenkins, Sir John Jones Savory, Sir Joseph
Cavendish, R. P. (N. Lancs) Johnstone, John H. (Sussex) Sidebottom, T. H. (Stalybr.)
Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh.) Jolliffe, Hon. H. George Simeon, Sir Barrington
Clare, Octavius Leigh Kenyon-Slaney, Col. Wm. Sinclair, Louis (Romford)
Coghill, Douglas Harry Kimber, Henry Spencer, Ernest
Cox, Robert Knox, E. F. Vesey Stanley, E. J. (Somerset)
Cranborne, Viscount Lawson, John Grant (Yorks) Stock, James Henry
Denny, Colonel Legh, Hon. Thos. W. (Lancs) Talbot, Rt Hn J. G. (Oxf'd Univ.)
Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph Leighton, Stanley Tollemache, Henry James
Donkin, Richard Sim Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R. Usborne, Thomas
Dyke, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Hart Loder, Gerald Walter E. Webster, R. G. (St. Pancras)
Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton Long, Col. C. W. (Evesham) Webster, Sir R. E. (I. of W.)
Engledew, Charles John Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller Wharton, Rt. Hon. John L.
Fergusson, Rt Hn Sir J. (Manch.) Loyd, Archie Kirkman Whiteley, George (Stockport)
Ffrench, Peter Lubbock, Rt. Hon. Sir John Whiteley, H. (Ashton-u.-L.)
Field, Admiral (Eastbourne) Lucas-Shadwell, William Willox, Sir John Archibald
Firbank, Joseph Thomas Macaleese, Daniel Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm
Fisher, William Hayes Maclure, Sir John William Wylie, Alexander
FitzGerald, Sir R. Penrose- McCalmont, Mj-Gn. (Ant'm, N) Wyndham, George
Fletcher, Sir Henry Malcolm, Ian Wyndham-Quin, Maj. W. H.
Folkestone, Viscount Marks, Henry Hananel Young, Comm. (Berks, E.)
Gibbs, Hn. A. G. H. (C. of Lond) Mellor, Colonel (Lancashire)
Goldsworthy, Major-General Morgan, Hn. F. (Monm'thsh.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr. Cripps and Colonel Milward.
Goschen, George J. (Sussex) Morgan, J. L. (Carmarthen)
Goulding, Edward Alfred Mount, William George
Gretton, John Newark, Viscount
Gunter, Colonel Newdigate, Francis A.

First Three Resolutions agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee of Seven Members, Three to be nominated by the House, and Four by the Committee of Selection."—(Mr. Cripps.)

SIR W. HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)

I protest against this way of dealing with the Bill. It has come forward on its general merits, and I do not think, nor can I see on what grounds it has been suggested, that it should be treated in this exceptional way. I cannot see why a Bill of this kind should not go to a Committee in the ordinary way, and there is no reason why it should be dealt with differently from other Bills. We know the sort of influences to which the House is exposed in regard to Bills affecting private companies, and the sort of solicitation made on Bills of this description. The honourable and learned Member has alleged no reason in support of his idea. I can tell him that, in the course of my recollection of over 30 years in the arena of which he is so distinguished a Member, I remember taking part in an endeavour, happily unsuccessful, to prevent the State undertaking the telegraphs in this country. I repeat that the honourable and learned Member has given no reason why the Bill should be dealt with exceptionally. But probably he thinks that in a hybrid Committee he would have a better opportunity than he now has of defeating the Measure.


After the statement of the right honourable Gentleman I will withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill committed.

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