HC Deb 26 February 1900 vol 79 cc1070-9

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That the Bill be now read a second time."

*MR. PICKERSGILL () Bethnal Green, S. W.

said the object of the Bill was to amalgamate eight or more important undertakings into one gigantic concern. Powers were asked to establish some central generating stations and to link up the scattered portions of the area of supply, the latter object involving the laying of new lines and the consequent breaking up of streets in six districts in London, in which at present the company had no locus standi whatever, namely Islington, Shoreditch, Battersea, Lambeth, Bermondsey, and White chapel. At present Shoreditch supplied its own electricity, and yet the people of that district would be required under the Bill to submit without any compensation to the inconvenience of having their streets broken up, and to the company occupying spaces on the streets, not for the purpose of supplying Shoreditch but some other district beyond it with electricity. The company ought not to have such powers without the sanction of the local authority. There were other considerations connected with the Bill of an even more important character. The company was really trying to drive a coach and six through the existing electric lighting code and if it succeeded other companies would follow in its wake. The passing of the present Bill would practically mean the repeal of the electric lighting code. At present a company could not obtain powers to supply electric lighting without the consent of the local authorities, though it was within the power of the Board of Trade to grant such powers by Provisional Order to be confirmed by Parliament if the local authorities withheld their consent unreasonably, but only in very exceptional cases did the Board of Trade override the wishes of the local authorities. Therefore, no company had a right to invade the area of a local authority without their consent. The company was breaking faith with the local authorities who might desire to exercise their powers of purchase, because the present Bill would render such powers illusory. The local authorities really consented to the various undertakings on the understanding that they were to he separate and self contained, in order that the option of purchase might be capable of being exercised. The Bill would practically render that option illusory, because under it several areas would be supplied by one generating station, and instead of several undertakings there would be one gigantic concern. One section of the Bill was very insidious. It provided that the company might make and publish one annual statement of accounts for the whole of its undertakings instead of an annual statement for each separate undertaking. That was in effect a repeal of Section 9 of the Electric Lighting Act, 1882, and was of vital importance, be cause it would upset the deliberate policy of Parliament, and throw great difficulties in the way of the option to purchase being exercised. The promoters of the Bill appealed to the recommendations of the Joint Committee of 1898, but those recommendations were to a great extent discredited by the rejection of the General Powers Distribution Bill last session. Similar proposals had already been submitted to Parliament. A Bill substantially the same—indeed, almost identical—with the present Bill passed its Second Beading last session, but the; Committee subsequently found that the preamble was not proved. The preamble in the present Bill was identical with that which was rejected. Under such circumstances was it right to read the Bill a second time, and to put the local authorities to the expense of resisting it before a Committee? In these circumstances, having regard specially to the fact that the company had its opportunity last session, and failed to satisfy the Committee of this House that the statements made in the preamble were well founded; and these statements being identically the same in the Bill now before the House, he thought he had shown good grounds why the House should reject its Second Reading, and he moved accordingly.

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. Pickersgill.)

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

*SIR ALBERT ROLLIT () Islington, S.

said he supported very strongly the motion for the rejection of the Bill, which seemed to him, like many others, an attempt to evade, or rather to override, by private legislation, the general law of the land, and especially in this case to escape the provisions of the Electric Lighting Acts, which required the consent of the local authority for the purpose of carrying out their provisions. The powers sought by the Bill were extremely strong. In the first place, by applying the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, it proposed to take property compulsorily and also water rights from the Regent's Canal, and yet in almost the next clause it was sought to escape from the provision of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act which secured that where there was severance the whole property should be taken. That was, of course, a clause which would be a great disadvantage to landowners. Then the Bill authorised the breaking up of streets, not only to lay the mains, but to alter and repair them from time to time. He need hardly point out the inconvenience of different authorities undertaking that work. But in the present case an exceptional injustice was to be perpetrated, because powers were sought to break up the streets in districts, not of supply, where a benefit was to be given and where a burden might on that account be submitted to, but in the intervening districts, which had no interest whatever in the work. Then the Bill evaded the provision of the Electric Lighting Act by which the consent of the local authority was necessary if the proceeding adopted was by Provisional Order, except that there was a right of appeal to the Board of Trade on the ground that the local authority was unreasonable. Again, he would point out that if a company elected to proceed by Bill instead of Provisional Order, it was only fair that they should be brought under the same Standing Orders of the House as those that regulated tramway companies, under which the consent of the local authority must be obtained if procedure by Bill was adopted. This was a matter of infinite importance in local government. Local authorities supplied electricity themselves, and there was no valid reason why their streets should be under any other jurisdiction than themselves. It had been argued that these large means of producing electricity were beneficial. Electrical experts, however, hold that beyond a certain point of capacity there was no advantage whatever in these large aggregations of power: but that, on the contrary, they were a source of some disadvantages. Then it was an evil that these powerful private companies were able to exercise a pressure upon consumers which was at variance with public policy. There was a case within his own personal experience the other day in which a large and powerful company said to all its consumers that they must submit to take a changed current of 200 volts or pay the maximum charge of 8d., whereas the current might, and ought to be, supplied at 4½ d., as in the City of London and elsewhere. The local authorities were those which had the interests of the community most at heart, which were representative of the consumers, and which were most disinterested in the matter, and their consent and approval ought to be required instead of being dispensed with as was sought to be done under this Bill.

MR. KIMBER () Wandsworth

said that all the reasons—if they could be called reasons—given for the rejection of this Bill afforded, in his view, no ground for the House departing from the ordinary principle of referring the Bill to the ordinary Committee. None of the grounds put before the House by the mover and seconder was the House perfectly competent to discuss; whereas a Committee could proceed to ascertain the merits of the whole question. The House itself could not take evidence on the merits of the case, or to disprove the allegations of the hon. Member who had spoken, and it would be an intrusion on the time and attention of the House if he were to attempt to do so. It was said that one of the clauses of the Bill was an attempt to override the law of the land, because it adopted the provisions of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act as to compulsory powers for taking property. He did not see how that was; it was only a provision to take advantage of a general Act passed in 1845 for the purpose of obtaining land for public purposes. The seconder of the Amendment suggested that while seeking for compulsory power to take land, the company asked to be exempted from the ordinary conditions that if they wanted one piece of land they must take the whole. But that was a matter of detail which the Committee could best deal with. There were an ample number of precedents given by the House, in Acts of Parliament passed in former years in which this exemption was granted; and he saw no reason why exemption should not be allowed in this case. But even if there were no precedents, the Committee might be trusted to do its duty. Another point taken was that the Bill exempted the company from the obligation, under the Electric Lighting Act of 1892, to render separate accounts for each undertaking, but when the Bill came before the Committee, if sufficient reason was not given why the company should not render separate accounts for each undertaking, the Committee could impose that condition. Then there was an objection that power should be given to the company to break up the streets in intervening districts. At the first blush, that did strike one as being a little strong; but Parliament, in its wisdom, had already granted such power to private undertakings, and he saw no reason why identical facilities should not be given in this case, so that the undertaking could be carried out in the most economical fashion and on the most approved system. At all events, whether this power "was right or not, it was a matter which would get equal justice from the Committee as from the House. He asked the House to pass the Order for the Second Beading and allow the Bill to go to the Committee.


said that as a representative of what was called by the Bill an "intervening district," he wished to say a few words in support of the hon. Members for Bethnal Green and South Islington. It was a matter of regret to him that this Bill had been put down for that day, and that it could not have been postponed until after the decision of the House on other Bills which raised the same principle and which came on next Thursday. This Bill raised the question of intervening areas, which was a vital matter that the House of Commons ought to closely safeguard. If a local authority came to the House of Commons to get power to supply electricity, it was confined to its statutory area, and very properly too. And if a private company came to the House and asked for powers to override the general law, and to break up tike streets of a district which they were not going to supply with electric light—all for the profit of the private company and at the expense of the ratepayers of that area—then that was a principle the House ought to oppose. Another objection was that a conference of the local authorities of London had met and decided with unanimity that the Bill was against the general interests of the highways and streets administration. Last year the Committee of the House of Commons threw out the Bill, and would not have anything to do with it, because it invaded the principles which had been laid down with respect to areas. The Bill sought power to pull down workmen's houses, but its housing scheme was very defective and did not comply with the Standing Orders. He further objected to the Bill because it sought to abstract water from the river Wandle (which never had as much water as it should have) and was against the interests of the taxpayers. There was not a single clause in the Bill about the failure of electric lighting which had taken place. Recently there had been in Marylebone, Kensington, and Westminster a deficiency of electric light supply, and there was no remedy as against the company. The House ought not to allow any electric light Bill to go through, unless there was some protection for the electric light consumer in the event of the electric supply failing. If the company got the powers asked for, it would use them in the most arbitrary fashion. Its conduct in his own district had been referred to by Lord Justice Vaughan Williams as "lawless and highhanded."

*MR. MARKS () Tower Hamlets, St. George's

said that in November the new municipal bodies would come into existence. Great things had been hoped of the new bodies, and not the least of them had reference to electric lighting and electric power facilities. The question of electric lighting had lately occupied a great measure of public attention. In many districts applications had been made to take over the electric light and power plants as part of the municipal undertaking, and facilities had been afforded for doing that where the electric light and power plants had been purely local concerns. Obviously a new difficulty would be introduced into the matter if the local plants were to be amalgamated, and the municipal authorities had to deal, not with a local concern, but with one great amalgamation. He could not entirely free his mind from the suspicion that one of the underlying motives of the promoters of the Bill was to "head off'" municipal competition. To some extent he was justified in that view by the fact that in many districts in the East of London companies had obtained powers and had gone no further. As the new municipalities would blossom forth in November, he urged upon the House not to allow this company to create an amalgamation which would make the acquisition of electric plants by local authorities more difficult, if not impossible. In his opinion the now municipal governments would, if given a fair chance, be able to establish a useful, economical, and possibly profitable, local electric plant, and he hoped that the House would allow the Bill to go over at any rate for the present.

SIR J. FEEGUSSON () Manchester, N. E.

said he had no interest in the Bill. It was urged that the Bill should be thrown out because a Bill for general electric powers had been thrown out last year. In last year's Bill he took some interest. Great objections were entertained to it by municipalities because powers were given to the company to use compulsory powers in areas in which the municipalities had already set up their electric light. That was a very different thing from the present Bill, which simply sought to extend the powers already granted to the company. The head and front of the Bill's offence was that it desired to take power to carry its mains through districts which had an electric system of their own. It did not seek to compete with local municipalities. This Bill differed from other Bills that had been before the House in that, in addition to electricity for the purpose of lighting, it embraced electricity for the purpose of motive power. He ventured to suggest that the House should not refuse the Bill a Second Beading.

MR. BOULNOIS () Marylebone, E.

said his name appeared on the Bill, although he was not interested in the company promoting the Bill. He did not know that he should have risen but for the remark which fell from the hon. Member for Battersea when he said the company was coming to the House to over-ride the decision of Parliament. The hon. Member spoke of this company as being desirous to break up the streets of districts which it had no power to supply with energy or electric light. During last session two electric lighting companies obtained Bills which gave them power to pass through districts to which they were not authorised to supply light or energy. This particular company supplied districts on the north and south of the Thames, and they were not able to get from one district to another without going to Parliament for powers. The consequence was they were obliged to establish generating stations, and were not aide to economise in the way they desired in the interests of the public. The Bill only facilitated the distribution of electric energy in districts in respect of which Provisional Orders had been obtained. They would not interfere with any right or power possessed by any municipality or local body. As to the desirability of local authorities supplying electric light or energy, they would have been in darkness still if electric lighting had been left to local bodies, and it was owing to the enterprise of these companies that they now possessed so good a light. Athough

it was true that this Bill was thrown out last year by the Committee, that was no reason why they should reject the Second Beading. He hoped the House would not depart from its usual custom of giving the company a chance of stating their case before the Committee.

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON () Tower Hamlets, Poplar

said this Bill was substantially the same as the one introduced last session, therefore he thought they were entitled to have some indication of the views of the Government on this measure. This Bill contained identically the same principle as that dealt with in the very much larger and far-reaching measure which would have to be discussed when they came to deal with the Bill for generating electricity. That was a principle which the House ought to decide before adopting this Bill. He did not think they ought to do anything which would handicap the new municipalities about to be formed. This company would never have been given powers upon previous occasions if the House had thought they were endeavouring to set up a large monopoly and establishing a great rival to local authorities. Under the circumstances he hoped the House would reject this Bill, in order that the general question might be considered.

The House divided:—Ayes, 105; Noes, 147. (Division List No. 41.)

Runciman, Walter Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch) Williams, Jos. Powell (Birm.
Russell, T. W. (Tyrone) Smith, James Parker (Lanarksh) Willox, Sir John Archibald
Seely, Charles Hilton Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley Wodehouse, Rt Hn E. R. (Bath)
Seton-Karr, Henry Sturt, Hon. H. Napier Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. S.
Sharpe, William Edward T. Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arcy
Shaw-Stewart, M. H. (Renfrew) Walrond, Rt. Hon. Sir W. H. TELLERS FOR THE AYES—
Simeon, Sir Harrington Webster, Sir Richard E. Mr. Boulnois and Mr.
Sinclair, Louis (Romford) Wentworth, Bruce C. Vernon- Kimber.
Aird, John Cubitt, Hon. Henry Kenyon-Slaney, Col. William
Anstruther, H. T. Dalrymple, Sir Charles Knowles, Lees
Archdale, Edward Mervyn Dixon-Hartland, Sir Fred. D. Lafone, Alfred
Arnold, Alfred Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers Lawrence, Sir E Durning (Corn)
Ashton, Thomas Gair Dyke, Rt. Hon. Sir William H. Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool)
Bainbridge, Emerson Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas Long, Col. Charles W. (Evesham)
Baird, John George Alexander Fardell, Sir T. George Lonsdale, John Brownlee
Balcarres, Lord Fergusson, Rt Hn Sir J. (Manc'r) Lowther, Rt. Hon. J. (Kent)
Baldwin, Alfred Field, Admiral (Eastbourne) Loyd, Archie Kirkman
Banbury, Frederick George Finch, George H. Macartney, W. G. Ellison
Barnes, Frederic Gorell Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M.
Beach, Rt. Hon. W. W B (Hants.) Fison, Frederick William Montagu, Hon. J. S. (Hants.)
Bill, Charles Gedge, Sydney Moore, William (Antrim, N.)
Blundell, Colonel Henry Gilliat, John Saunders Morrell, George Herbert
Bonsor, Henry Cosmo Orme Gordon, Hon. John Edward Morrison, Walter
Bowles, Capt. H F. (Middlesex) Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon Morton, Arthur H. A. (Deptford)
Bowles, T. Gihson (King's Lynn) Goschen, George J. (Sussex) Murray, Rt Hn AGraham (Bute)
Cavendish. V. C. W (Derbysh'e) Goulding, Edward Alfred Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay
Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich) Hamilton Rt. Hn. Lord George Lease, Herb. Pike (Dadingt'n)
Chamberlain, J. Austen (Worc'r) Hare, Thomas Leigh Phillpotts, Captain Arthur
Coddington, Sir William Helder, Augustus Pilkington, Rich (Lancs Newt'n)
Coghill, Douglas Harry Hill, Rt. Hn. A. Staveley (Staffs) Powell, Sir Francis Sharp
Cohen, Benjamin Louis Howard, Joseph Quilter, Sir Cuthbert
Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Hozier, Hon. James Henry Cecil Rasch, Major Frederic C.
Colomb, Sir John Charles Ready Hudson, George Bickersteth Rentoul, James Alexander
Colston, Chas. Edw. H. Athole Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick Richardson, Sir T. (Hartlepool)
Cox, Irwin Edward Bainbridge Jessel, Captain Herbert Merton Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir M. W.
Cross, Herbert S. (Bolton) Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex) Hound, James
Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.) Fisher, William Hayes O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)
Allan, William (Gateshead) Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmund O'Malley, William
Allhusen, Augustus H. Eden Flannery, Sir Fortescue Pilkington, Sir GeA (Lanes S W)
Allison, Robert Andrew Flower, Ernest Platt-Higgins, Frederick
Ambrose, Robert Foster, Colonel (Lancaster) Power, Patrick Joseph
Asquith, Rt. Hn Herbert Henry Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.) Price, Robert John
Austin, Sir John (Yorkshire) Garfit, William Provand, Andrew Dryburgh
Bailey, James (Walworth) Gold, Charles Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward
Baker, Sir John Goldsworthy, Major-General Purvis, Robert
Barlow, John Emmott Gull, Sir Cameron Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Hartley, George C. T. Hanson, Sir Reginald Redmond, William (Clare)
Bhownaggree, Sir M. M. Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Sir Wm. Reid, Sir Robert Threshie
Biddulph, Michael Harwood, George Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)
Billson, Alfred Hayne, Rt. Hon. Chas. Seale- Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)
Blake, Edward Heaton, John Henniker Rollitt, Sir Albert Kaye
Bryce, Rt. Hon. James Hedderwick, Thomas Chas. H. Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)
Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Charles H. Sassoon, Sir Edward Albert
Burns, John Hoare, Sir Samuel (Norwich) Scott, Chas. Prestwich (Leigh).
Burt, Thomas Houston, R. P. Sidebotham, J. W. (Cheshire)
Buxton, Sydney Charles Howell, William Tudor Sinclair, Capt J. (Forfarshire)
Caldwell, James Johnston, William (Belfast) Smith, Samuel (Flint)
Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H. Joicey, Sir James Souttar, Robinson
Causton, Richard Knight Kearley, Hudson E. Stanhope, Hon. Philip J.
Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.) King, Sir Henry Seymour Stanley, Ed. Jas. (Somerset)
Channing, Francis Allston Langley, Batty Steadman, William Charles
Cook, Fred. Lucas (Lambeth) Laurie, Lieut-General Stephens, Henry Charles
Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasg'w) Lawson, Sir W. (Cumberland) Stevenson, Francis S.
Cornwallis, Fiennes Stanley W. Leese, Sir Joseph F. (Accrington) Stirling-Maxwell, Sir John M.
Courtney, Rt. Hon. L. H. Leng, Sir John Strachey, Edward
Curran, Thomas B. (Donegal) Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn (Swan.) Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)
Curran, Thomas (Sligo, S.) Lough, Thomas Tennant, Harold John
Curzon, Viscount Macaleese, Daniel Thomas, A. (Carmarthen, E.).
Dalbiac, Colonel P. Hugh Macdona, John Cumming Thornton, Percy M.
Dalziel, James Henry Maclean, James Mackenzie Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Davies, M. Vaughan (Cardig'n) M'Ewan, William Ure, Alexander
Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles M'Kenna, Reginald Walton, John L. (Leeds, S.)
Dillon, John Maddison, Fred. Wanklyn, James Leslic
Donelan, Captain A. Marks, Henry Hananel Warr, Augustus Frederick
Doogan, P. C. Massey-Mainwaring, Hn W. F. Wason, Eugene
Douglas, Chas. M. (Lanark) Mellor, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Yorks.) Weir, James Galloway
Doxford, Sir Wm. Theodore Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand Welby, Lt.-Col. A C E (Taunton)
Drage, Geoffrey Milbank, Sir Powl'tt Chas. John Whitely, George (Stockport)
Buncombe, Hon. Hubert V. Mildmay, Francis Bingham Williams, John Carvell (Notts.)
Evans, S. T. (Glamorgan) Milner, Sir Frederick George Wilson, Frederick W. (Norfolk)
Evans, Sir F. H. (South'ton) Monk, Charles James Wilson, John (Govan)
Evershed, Sydney Montagu, Sir S. (Whitechapel) Wilson, Jos. H. (Middlesbrough)
Faber, George Denison Morton, E. J. C. (Devonport) Yoxall, James Henry
Farquharson, Dr. Robert Norton, Capt. Cecil William TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr.
Farrell, James P. (Cavan, W.) O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Pickersgill and Mr. Gallo-
Fenwick, Charles O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W.) way.

Resolutions agreed to.

Second Heading put off for six months.