HC Deb 30 April 1900 vol 82 cc256-67

Order for Second Reading read.

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

MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)

I beg to move the rejection of this Bill, for the following reasons:—The Bill proposes to incorporate a company, and to empower such company to light by electricity the City of Dublin, and certain urban districts adjoining thereto. The Corporation of Dublin are authorised by Provisional Order, granted to them by the Board of Trade, under the Electric Lighting Acts, to supply electricity for public and private purposes within their district, and they have, at great expense, constructed a generating station, and laid down electric mains and works, and are now supplying electricity, in most of the principal streets in the City of Dublin. I think it well here to enumerate the streets in which mains have to be laid:—Rutland Square, Sackville Street (Upper), Sackville Street (Lower), Earl Street, North, Talbot Street, Sackville Place, Eden Quay, O'Connell Bridge, Henry Street, Mary Street, Capel Street (part of), Grattan Bridge, Parliament Street, Burgh Quay, D'Olier Street, Townsend Street (part), Great Brunswick Street, Westland Row (part), College Street, Fleet Street, Anglesea Street, Westmoreland Street, College Green, Dame Street, South Great George's Street (part of), Trinity Street, Suffolk Street, Grafton Street, Wicklow Street, Chatham Street, Stephen's Green, Merrion Row, Merrion Street, Upper, Merrion Square, Kildare Street, Dawson Street, Nassau Street, Leinster Street, Clare Street. These streets comprise the principal thoroughfares of the City, and arrangements are being made to enable the necessary developments. I would ask the House to give particular attention to this: The present Bill entirely disregards the rights of the Corporation, and seeks power to break up the streets of Dublin, and to light the city by electricity, in competition with them. By the Electric Lighting Acts, Parliament imposed on the Board of Trade the duty of considering applications for Provisional Orders in cases where electric lighting powers are sought, and it is submitted that 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, and that no good reason exists why the time of a Committee of your Honourable House should be occupied in considering the present Bill. It is submitted that the passing of the Bill would not only do great injury to the City of Dublin and to the ratepayers thereof, but would also encourage attacks on the rights and privileges of local authorities generally, and would practically set aside the existing law. There is a great principle involved, that public utilities should not be administered by irresponsible private companies. To a certain extent this House has recognised that principle in recent years, for up to the present there is not a single case in which a company has been given powers to carry out the supply of electricity in a district where a local authority have established electricity works under the Electric Lighting Acts. The existing Electricity Generating Works of the Corporation in Fleet Street, Dublin, were created ten years ago, at a time when the public supply of electricity was in its infancy, and when the demands for electric lighting were comparatively small. Since then the industry has made great progress, and the Fleet Street works, situated in the centre of the City, at a spot which did not afford favourable facilities for extensions, became inadequate for the requirements. The development of the Dublin Corporation Electricity Undertaking has been hampered on account of the impossibility of getting a suitable site within the City for the generating works. This statement will be adopted by those who know the facts, and the necessity for the extension of the city boundaries. Ultimately, however, it was decided to utilise the old Pigeon House Fort for the works, and Mr. Robert Hammond, a member of the Institutions of Civil, Mechanical, and Electrical Engineers, and an eminent consulting engineer, has been appointed to design and carry out the scheme. He recommends the Corporation to spend at once £96,000 on the generating works and £118,500 on mains and connections, and £40,000 on public street lighting; and, following his advice, the Corporation, on December 28th last, decided to apply to the Local Government Board for sanction to the borrowing of £254,500 for these purposes. This they have since done, an inquiry has been held, and there is no doubt that the Local Government Board will approve of the proposed loan—in fact, their assent is daily expected by the Corporation. The generating works have been designed and the system of mains devised, and full specifications for the building of the works and their equipment with plant of the most modern type and the supply mains have been prepared, and tenders from manufacturers are being invited. When these works have been got into operation the Dublin Corporation will possess one of the best electricity supply systems of the kingdom. It would not be to the advantage of the public generally that a company should have the light to lay mains and supply in competition to the Corporation of Dublin. On the other hand, it would be a serious interference with business and a loss to the community to have the streets broken up by two parties. It will no doubt be urged by the promoters of this Bill that the Corporation have not sufficiently progressed during some years past. But they did all that their resources enabled them—for their borrowing powers were exhausted. But the application of the Markets Act relieved them, because under a clause in that Act money borrowed for waterworks purposes shall not be taken into account by the Local Government Board. Under this clause the Corporation were able to extend their borrowing powers, and they made application at once to the Local Government Board. Now, I would again point out to the House that a great principle is at stake. Public utilities should not be abandoned to private enterprise. There is already in Dublin a gas monopoly, a company which practically does what it likes with the consumers, and pays enormous dividends. If we are going to establish an electric light private company, then probably Dublin will have to choose between the devil and the deep sea, particularly if any understanding is arranged between the two companies. It is generally conceded that gas, water, and tramway should be the property of municipalities, and worked by them for the benefit of the community at large. If this Bill would not be sanctioned for an English, Scotch, or Welsh city, why should it be passed for Dublin? The Corporation of Dublin have managed a splendid water supply. Compare their system of municipal water supply with the private water companies of London, where every hot summer you have a water famine, low supply, and high prices. It may be urged that power will be given to the Corporation to purchase the company after a term of years, but the experience of such legislation is not encouraging. Many years ago Mr. Gladstone passed a Bill giving power to the community to purchase railways on certain terms, but no railway has yet been purchased; on the contrary, the carrying companies have increased their power, and as time goes on it will be more difficult to purchase them. If this Bill is passed it will be precisely the same thing with the electric lighting company. Therefore, Sir, having explained why the Dublin Corporation have partially failed in carrying out the electric lighting from the want of funds and space, both of which are now forthcoming, I trust the House will not take a retrograde stop by sanctioning the principle of private management of public utilities. I beg to therefore move the rejection of the Bill.

MR. AUSTIN (Limerick, W.)

I beg to second the Amendment.

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

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


As one of the Members whose name is on the back of this Bill, I think the House is entitled to a few words from me in explanation of the position I have taken up. I would like at once to ask the House to remember that this is not a case of a private company or corporation seeking for the first time, in competition with the Dublin Corporation, to enter upon a virgin field, because the Corporation of Dublin have had electric lighting powers since 1892. I want to tell the House what, under those powers, they have done and what their present position is. During the eight years they have had possession of those powers they have spent £80,000 of the ratepayers' money on electric lighting. I have been told that the sum expended amounts to £100,000, but this morning I got official information from the Town Clerk of Dublin that it is only £80,000 that has been wasted in this manner. And what have they got in return for the money? Eighty public street lamps are lighted with electricity and there are 250 private consumers, and that is all we have to show for the £80,000. No doubt the Corporation have a generating station in the centre of the City, but they have just received an intimation from the Courts that if they increase their power they will be restrained, and it must be borne in mind that the power at present made at the generating station is even insufficient to light the Post Office in Sackville Street. From start to finish nothing could have been a greater failure or fiasco than the attempt of the Dublin Corporation to supply electric lighting. They not only give a very limited and inefficient supply, but at the present moment they are losing £2,000 a year. They are doing nothing themselves to improve it, and, if you ask any trader in Dublin, he will tell you that it is a standing and real grievance that electric light cannot be obtained. Now, the Corporation having had a fair trial, the traders of Dublin think they are entitled to have an independent corporation in the field to supply what is becoming an absolute necessity. There is one other point I wish to dwell upon. Under their Provisional Order the Corporation are empowered to make a maximum charge of 7d. per unit. And they have done so. Now, in Cork City, where the electric light is supplied by the Tramways Company, the charge is only 3d. per unit, and the promoters of this Bill believe it would be possible to supply an efficient electric light to the traders of Dublin at 4d. per unit and make a considerable profit even then. I hope the House will come to the conclusion that it is time the traders in Dublin should get some relief from the system of which they are the victims. It seems to mo that not only will the Corporation not give an efficient light, but they will not allow other people to do it for them. Personally I have not a penny of financial interest in this matter, but I may point out that the promoters of this Bill are mercantile men in Dublin of every shade of politics and party. This is a bona fide mercantile undertaking of which the people of Dublin are really in need, and I therefore ask this House to give the Bill a Second Reading.


I do not wish to deny a good deal of what has boon said by the hon. Member opposite with regard to the electric lighting of Dublin. I admit that it is very far from perfect, and that it would be a waste of time to try and argue otherwise, but I do submit that, under the circumstances, the supply is as good as the Corporation could be expected to give. Remember that they have to fight against an enormous gas monopoly, and in the past they have not had the means at their disposal with which to improve the system. Now, however, they have both the means and the determina- tion to do it. I do not believe that those who are promoting this Bill have any intention themselves to supply the city with electric light. Their idea is to obtain powers which they may sell, and for which they will make the ratepayers of Dublin pay very heavily. It is contrary to the usage of this House to grant such powers under these circumstances. I have on many occasions voted against monopolies of this kind, and even in this session Bills of a like character have been thrown out with ridicule. I have in my mind a scheme by a company to purchase property required for improving the Thames Embankment, and it will be in the recollection of the House with what scorn that proposition was treated here. As I take it, the tendency nowadays is to municipalise these undertakings and to vest them in corporations. And yet you are now being asked to set up a rival in the matter of electric lighting to the Dublin Corporation which would have done better in the past had it had more money at its disposal, and which would have been furnishing an adequate supply at this moment had its resources not been jobbed away by old Tory corporations. You are asked by this Bill to stop the clock, to put it back and to deprive us in Dublin of the little bit of Home Rule we possess. I hope the good sense of this House will reject the measure. I believe if hon. Members knew who were the promoters of the Bill they would come to the conclusion that they are not so disinterested as has been suggested.


The proposal before the House is not to put the people of Dublin into the hands of monopolists. It is rather to allow a Committee of this House to inquire into the relative merits of the two schemes, and I trust the House will not, by assenting to this Amendment, prevent this Bill being considered on its merits. It appears to mo that it has in its favour a strong primâ facie case. It is not promoted by any external body of speculators. The gentlemen who are concerned in its promotion are not only consumers of the light, but are among the largest ratepayers of Dublin, and they declare that they are only acting in self-defence. They complain that the attempt of the Corporation of Dublin to supply the electric light has resulted in a dismal failure, as out of a population of 300,000 people there are only 250 private consumers, and within the last fortnight the Post Office, which is within the compulsory area, has been refused a supply. The corporation has had its powers for ten years. It has done absolutely nothing outside its compulsory area, and even within that area it has again and again refused requests for the supply of the light. There are persons who have been waiting in vain two, three, and four years for a supply. The quality of the light is also a substantial ground of complaint, and although the maximum charge is imposed upon the consumers, the ratepayers have to supply a deficit of over £2,000 a year. It seems to me that these are matters which could be more properly dealt with by a Committee of this House, and I therefore hope the Bill will be read a second time.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

If this matter is pressed to a division, I shall feel bound to vote for the rejection of the Bill, and, as I am a citizen of Dublin, I think I ought to explain my reasons. On principle I have always voted against any measure which proposes to set up monopolies in regard to either lighting or water supply. I entirely demur to the suggestion that this is a matter of detail which ought to be dealt with by a Committee of this House. I think it is a question of principle which the House itself should deal with. The Bill involves a great principle. It involves the handing over to a private company of the right of breaking up the streets of Dublin whenever they may desire to do so, and I find, according to the schedule attached to this Bill, all the principal thoroughfares of the city are to be handed over to the company. It may be, and indeed it has been, said that the supply of electric light to the city by the corporation has up to the present been unsatisfactory. I fully admit that. But then good reasons have been advanced for it. Dublin has suffered from the gas monopoly, which has done its best to block the progress of electric lighting. But although the corporation has been so strongly denounced in this matter, I would point out that the same body has supplied the citizens with one of the most excellent systems of water supply to be found in the whole of the United Kingdom, and there is no reason to doubt that, now it is in a better financial position, it will be able to do all that is required in the matter of supply of electric light. I have another reason for opposing this Bill. I do not believe that the gentlemen whose names are given as its promoters have the slightest intention of themselves supplying the city with the electric light. Their idea is to get the concession and to sell it to another company of which we have no knowledge. It is not therefore a banâ fide scheme. I hope the House will reject this proposal to hand Dublin over to another set of monopolists.


The hon. Member who last spoke says he desires to protect Dublin against a monopoly. I thought the object of this Bill was to give power to a company to compete with the corporation, and I certainly must say I have never heard the word monopoly used in the sense in which the hon. Gentleman uses it now.


Private monopoly.


I do not care whether it be private or public. How can it be a monopoly when it is a proposal to set up another supply in competition with the corporation? You cannot create a monopoly in that way. It is admitted, even by those who oppose this Bill, that the Corporation of Dublin have not used the powers they possess in such a manner as to be of service to those whom they desire to serve. We are told that there are large traders in Dublin whom the corporation have been unable to supply with the light. What the House is asked to do is to read this Bill a second time, in order that its merits may be examined into by a Committee. I think, judging from the speeches of hon. Members who have spoken against the Bill, the House would be justified in reading it a second time, and I trust that it will pursue that course.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

It has been the invariable rule of Parliament, when a company comes to this House for power to construct a railway, not to allow another company to enter within the area of competition, and the same policy has been pursued in regard to both water and electric lighting schemes.


Not at all.


Can the right hon. Gentleman quote a precedent to the contrary?


There are several areas in London where there are competing supplies of electric light. Further than that, a Committee was appointed some years ago for the express purpose of considering this question, and they advocated competition.


That is only a general statement. Can the right hon. Gentleman mention a single district in London into which, after one company has got its powers, another company has been allowed to enter?


Yes, the City of London.


And why? Because of the flagrant way in which the City Corporation allowed its rights to be invaded by a private company. Even in this last session there have been a number of Bills introduced in the House of Commons to supply electricity in bulk. Various Corporations objected to them and the House of Commons threw the Bills out. Only this year a company sought to invade the area of the Batter-sea Municipal Supply, and the House of Commons threw the Bill out by a majority of forty-six. I repeat it has been the invariable rule of Parliament, where one company already has the right of supply, not to permit a competing company, and not to permit also a private company to compote with a municipal authority. I ask the House to recognise the fact that the Dublin Cor-

poration has shown its ability by supplying the citizens with a magnificent water system. They have a supply of water which is at once plentiful, cheap, and of good quality, and for giving it the corporation deserve well at our hands. Judging from that it is only fair to assume that the corporation, now they have the means, will also be able to provide an efficient supply of electric light. It seems to me that Dublin has already quite enough private companies in its midst, and, if I am not mistaken, the present proposal is to hand over the supply of electric light to the very persons who run the Cork Electric Light and Tramways. If this Bill is passed a very dangerous precedent will be established; a precedent which will, no doubt, soon be extended to England, Scotland, and Wales. Every sensible man admits that a municipality ought to have in its hands its electric supply, as well as its water and tram undertakings. But if this Bill is passed you will do a thing which will delight all who are opposed to what is broadly known as municipal trading. I cannot understand why the people of Dublin should object to the city having the power of illumination in its own hands. It has recently shown itself pre-eminently successful in administration, and with a little more experience it may do equally well with illumination. I ask the House to support the Members for Dublin, who are advocating the cause of the municipality as against the seekers of ten per cent. profits. Do not deprive the city of the opportunity of making from its electric supply a profit which, instead of going into private pockets, might well be devoted to removing some of those terrible slums which now exist.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes, 103; Noes, 83. (Division List No. 105.)

Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir A. F. Campbell, Rt. Hn J. A.(Glasgow) Dalrymple, Sir Charles
Allsopp, Hon. George Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh.) Denny, Colonel
Anstruther, H. T. Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, E.) Doughty, George
Barry, Rt. Hn A H Smith- (Hunts) Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Doxford, Sir William T.
Bartley, George C. T. Cohen, Benjamin Louis Faber, George Denison
Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire) Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Fardell, Sir T. George
Bethell, Commander Cornwallis, Fiennes Stanley W. Fisher, William Hayes
Blundell, Colonel Henry Courtney, Rt. Hon. Leonard H. Flannery, Sir Fortescue
Boulnois, Edmund Crilly, Daniel Fox, Dr. Joseph Francis
Bowles, T. Gibson(King's Lynn) Curran, Thomas B. (Donegal) Gedge, Sydney
Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John Curran, Thomas (Sligo, S.) Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John E.
Goulding, Edward Alfred Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine Sharpe, William Edward T.
Gull, Sir Cameron Long, Rt. Hn. Walter(Liverpool) Simeon, Sir Barrington
Gunter, Colonel Lowther, Rt. Hn. James (Kent) Smith, J. Parker (Lanarks.)
Hasley, Thomas Frederick Lowther, Rt. Hn. J. W. (Cumb'land) Spencer, Ernest
Hamilton, Rt. Hn. Lord George Macaleese, Daniel Stanley, Sir H. M. (Lambeth).
Hanbury, Rt. Hn. Robert Wm. M'lver, Sir L. (Edinburgh, W.) Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley
Haslett, Sir James Horner Malcolm, Ian Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier
Heath, James Maxwell, Rt. Hn. Sir Herbert E. Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)
Helder, Augustus Milward, Colonel Victor Thornton, Percy M.
Hobhouse, Henry Morgan, J. Lloyd(Carmarthen) Ure, Alexander
Houldsworth, Sir Wm. Henry Morton, Arth. H. A.(Deptford) Walrond, Rt. Hn. Sir W. H.
Howard, Joseph Murray, Rt. Hn. A Graham(Bute) Warr, Augustus Frederick
Hudson, George Bickersteth Myers, William Henry Wilson-Todd, Wm. H.(Yorks)
Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick Newdigate, Francis Alexander Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R.(Bath)
Johnson-Ferguson, Jabez E. Nicol, Donald Ninian Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm
Johnston, William (Belfast) Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart-
Joicey, Sir James Paulton, James Mellor Wrightson, Thomas
Kay-Shuttleworth, Rt. Hn. Sir U Pilkington, R. (Lanes, Newton) Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arcy
Kennaway, Rt. Hon. Sir John H. Purvis, Robert Yerburgh, Robert Armstrong
Kimber, Henry Renshaw, Charles Bine Younger, William
Lafone, Alfred Rentoul, James Alexander
Lawrence, Sir E. Durning-(Corn) Ridley, Rt. Hn. Sir Matthew W. TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr. William Moore and Mr. Arthur O'Connor.
Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.) Ritchie, Rt. Hon. C. Thomson
Leighton, Stanley Russell, Gen. F. S.(Cheltenham)
Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn (Swansea) Scoble, Sir Andrew Richard
Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.) Hogan, James Francis Price, Robert John
Allan, William (Gateshead) Horniman, Frederick John Pym, C. Guy
Asher, Alexander Jacoby, James Alfred Rasch, Major Frederic Carne
Austin, M. (Limerick, W.) Jones, Wm. (Carnarvonshire) Reid, Sir Robert Threshie
Baker, Sir John Kearley, Hudson E. Richardson, J. (Durham, S. E.)
Barlow, John Emmott Kinloch, Sir John Geo. Smyth Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)
Blake, Edward Labouchere, Henry Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)
Broadhurst, Henry Langley, Batty Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye
Bryce, Rt. Hon. James Laurie, Lieut.-General Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)
Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cumbl'la'd) Smith, Samuel (Flint)
Burns, John Leese, Sir Joseph F.(Accrington) Soames, Arthur Wellesley
Buxton, Sydney Charles Leng, Sir John Steadman, William Charles
Caldwell, James Lloyd-George, David Tanner, Charles Kearns
Cameron, Sir Charles(Glasgow) Lough, Thomas Tennant, Harold John
Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H. Lyell, Sir Leonard Thomas, Alf. (Glamorgan, E.)
Channing, Francis Allston Maclean, James Mackenzie Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Dewar, Arthur M'Crae, George Wallace, Robert
Dillon, John Maddison, Fred. Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.
Doogan, P. C. Mappin, Sir Frederick Thorpe Wason, Eugene
Duckworth, James Monk, Charles James Whiteley, George (Stockport)
Emmott, Alfred Norton, Capt. Cecil William Williams, John Carvell (Notts)
Farquharson, Dr. Robert Nussey, Thomas Willans Williams, J. Powell- (Birm.)
Foster, Sir W. (Derby Co.) O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork) Wills, Sir William Henry
Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Wilson, John (Govan)
Gold, Charles O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool) Yoxall, James Henry
Harwood, George O'Malley, William
Hayne, Rt. Hn. Charles Seale- Palmer, George Wm. (Reading) TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr. Field and Mr. Carew.
Hazell, Walter Perks, Robert William
Hedderwick, Thomas Chas. H. Pickersgill, Edward Hare

Bill read a second time, and committed.

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