§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ *MR. MACDONA () Southwark, Rotherhithe
It will be in the recollection of the House that when this Bill was brought in last year* a number of Members, myself among them, voted against it because, although its object was good, electric power was asked to pass through districts without the leave of the local authorities. But that ground of objection has been removed in the Bill which is now before us by the*See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series]. Vol lxvii p 1181 9Discussion on Second Reading of the General Power Distributing company Bill, 3rd March, 1899.)1374 insertion of a special clause ensuring that local districts shall not be traversed without the leave in writing of the local authorities. I am, therefore, utterly amazed that the Bill should be opposed on the present occasion, as I understand it is to be. It is an unusual departure from the procedure of the House that private Bills should be so opposed on the Second Reading stage. The Select, Hybrid, or other Committees should first deal with such matters. This is a Bill to promote an extraordinary extension of trade and commerce, and in the interests of the commerce of the country it should be carefully considered by the House. Last week* a Bill of exactly the same purport—I refer to the North Metropolitan Electric Power Supply Bill—was read a second time, and referred to a Committee upstairs, and we ask that the same advantage should be extended to this measure. There is a feeling in the country that the municipalities are organising themselves into a gigantic monopoly with a view to strangling private enterprise in regard to the supply of electricity at the moment of its birth. Now, such a scheme ought to meet with very little sympathy at our hands. There is also a feeling in the country that fair play has not been accorded to private commercial enterprise in this matter in its competition with the municipalities, and, therefore, I do hope and trust that the House will take into its own hands the protection of these interests, that it will give a Second Reading to this Hill, and that it will allow any fancied objectionable provisions in it to be reported upon by a Committee upstairs competent to deal with it, and rectify any clauses necessary. Surely such a course will commend itself to a House which has so often shown itself jealous of any attempt to infringe its rights and privileges. I have to complain to the House of an attack upon its privileges by a member of the Corporation of Liverpool. An alderman of the City of Liverpool has threatened Members for Lancashire who fail to vote against this Bill that they may run the risk of being kicked out at the next election. That is a threat not worthy to be used by any member of so excellent a Corporation as that of Liverpool, nor is it one that should be directed against any Members*February 19th. (see page 355 of this Volume.)1375 of this honourable House by any representative of the Corporation of Liverpool.
§ *MR. MACDONA
Alderman Petrie. This Bill deals with a vast subject, and if it is carried it will enable electrical power to be supplied in bulk to local authorities who may wish to have it, enabling them, however, to distribute it in any manner they desire in the district over which they have control. And as it is a fact that many small districts would not care to incur the great expense of generating their own electric power, I think this will be an enormous advantage to them and encourage local effort in many country and suburban districts where municipal electric power may not be available— hence its vast importance to our agricultural interests where every year machinery is more and more coming into operation. It will, too, be a great assistance in developing commercial interests in many localities hitherto unexploited, and so encourage our undeveloped resources. I think it would he disastrous if this House were to prevent people who want this electric power having the opportunity of obtaining it in the manner proposed in this Bill. Remember that we in this country originated the use of electric power. For that we are indebted to British scientists; but on account of the hampering and handicapping restrictions, and the miserable subterfuges to which it has hitherto been subjected, we are far behind Germany, France, and America in the development of the use of electric power. Indeed, in many villages on the American continent, the inhabitants enjoy advantages which are still withheld from residents in our great manufacturing centres. This should not be allowed to go on any longer. Why, even at our own doors we find an instance of the result of these hampering restrictions, for the proposal to run the trains on the underground railway by electric power cannot be given prompt effect to because of the entire inability of our home engineers to make the machinery and appliances necessary for the purpose. We have, therefore, to await the convenience of America and Germany for the completion of the large orders for machinery which we have had to send 1376 out to them. This company is not claiming a monopoly, it rather seeks to destroy a monopoly. In matters like this I hold it is desirable that we should put a stop to municipal authorities holding a monopoly, as they desire to have in this case, and that we should secure fair play for all. I therefore support the Second Reading of this Bill, because it differs essentially in principle from the General Power Distribution Bill of last session, which I opposed, in that it does not propose to interfere in the slightest degree with any local authority, whether municipal, urban, or rural, in regard to the exclusive right to supply their own constituents with electrical energy. Nor does it propose to confer upon the company anything in the shape of a monopoly. The principle of the Bill is very clear and simple. It proposes to establish large generating stations on certain defined sites alongside or with canal access to large collieries, and outside any municipal area, where electricity can be manufactured wholesale at the lowest possible cost, and distributed through trunk mains throughout the area of supply, for sale in bulk to any local authority that may think fit to purchase ready-made electricity from the company instead of having their own generating station, and retail the electricity to their own constituents in such manner and at such prices as they may think fit. Section 36 of the Bill expressly prohibits the company from supplying electricity to any but the local authority, or a company already authorised by Parliament, except by consent of the local authority. Some of the smaller local authorities may prefer to allow the company to undertake the local distribution and supply in their district, but in such case they have the right of purchase of the local undertaking under Sections 2 and 3 of the Electric Lighting Act, 1888. Section 38 compels the company to sell a supply of electricity to any local authority within the area that demands it, and, as a necessary corollary to this, the company asks power to pass their mains through any intervening district to reach the district requiring a supply, which is the only compulsory power sought. The maximum prices the company are allowed to charge any local authority are fixed by the second schedule at 1d. per Board of Trade unit after the first 400 hours in any quarter, 2d. per unit for the second 200 hours, and 4d. 1377 for the first 200 hours supply, and slightly higher rates, namely, 1½d., 3d., and 5d. where the company undertake the local supply with the consent of the local authority. Section 43 provides that after the company has earned a profit of 10 per cent. all further profit shall be shared with the consumers, so that the concern then becomes a co-operative one, and it is to the joint interest of consumers and company alike to reach the profit-sharing stage as soon as possible. Such being the provisions of this Bill, I feel that I can most heartily support it, as it meets all the objections I myself felt to the Bill of last session, and all the objections urged by hon. Members who spoke against that Bill, fulfilling all their conditions and requirements. No local authority is obliged to take the company's electricity— they are free to take it or leave it as they think fit, and the company cannot sell electricity in any quantity, large or small, to a single individual without their consent. The power to pass through one district to reach another that wants a supply is a fair and reasonable one. What right has any local authority to act the dog-in-the-manger and deny this power, as though they were the absolute owners of that portion of England! What would Manchester have clone if any local authority along their 108 miles of pipe line from Thirlmere had been free to say, "No, you shan't have your water supply, for we stop the way—go round by some other route, if you can." They might as well go a step further, and prevent a cart or carriage passing through. 1, therefore, confidently appeal to the hon. Members for Battersea, Bethnal Green, Huddersfield, and others with whom I was in agreement as regards the Bill of last session, to support the Second Reading of this Bill, and even to the hon. Member for South-West Manchester to withdraw his opposition, based, as I believe it to be, upon the misrepresentations that have been issued broadcast by the municipal authorities. And now, Sir, I would draw attention to the unfair and questionable methods that have been resorted to by the authorities opposing this Bill. In the first place they have attempted to mislead the Members of this House as to the character of this Bill, trusting, apparently, to catch the votes of hon. Members who have not had 1378 time to study the Bill themselves. I will first read Section 36, which says—(1) Except for the purpose of obtaining convenient access to some general supply district or to some local authority requiring a supply of energy, or some company authorised by Provisional Order or Act of Parliament to distribute energy within the area of supply, the company shall not, exercise any of the powers of the principal Act in reference to any street within any district not forming part of a general supply district without the consent in writing of the local authority under seal.A "general supply" district, I should explain, is defined to mean a district where the local authority has consented to the company undertaking the distribution and supply to the inhabitants. It is hardly conceivable that in the face of that clause the petitions lodged against the Bill assert that the powers sought by the Bill "would enable the company to compete with your petitioners, and that the right to supply electrical energy within their district should be reserved to them, and that no powers for that purpose should be conferred on the promoters." The promoters do not ask for any such powers, but it is slily insinuated that they do in the 9th and 14th Clauses of the Petition of the Stretford Urban Council, which is a type of a group of ten petitions presented by a group of authorities, mostly under the influence of Manchester and Salford, and represented by one solicitor, who has been active in getting up this opposition. Sir, there are 98 urban and rural districts within the area of the Bill, the great majority of which are in favour of the principle of this Bill. At a meeting held in Manchester on February 13th, the following resolution was passed by 35 councils represented at the meeting—That this meeting of Urban District Councils desires to oppose the Lancashire Electric Power Bill, 1900, for the purpose of obtaining protective clauses, and that a Committee he appointed to formulate and carry out such opposition, and that the cost he home pro rata., according to rateable value.And the Chairman, in proposing the resolution, said—that they, as local authorities, did not so much oppose the passing of the Bill, but they did insist, if it were passed, that their local interests should he adequately safeguarded.Now to return to the Stretford petition. In Clause 5 they allege that—the inhabitants of their district will be injuriously affected by the Bill.1379 but they do not show in what way. In Clause 7 they say that—the question of supplying their district is now under consideration.I believe, Sir, they are in negotiation with the Borough of Salford for a supply —and I would ask, Would it not be clearly to their advantage in their treaty with Salford to have alternative offers from this company, and how could this "injuriously affect" the inhabitants? Is it not clear from this that the kind of competition objected to by the large towns is not competition within their own areas (which the Bill enables them to prevent), but competition in the supply to outside townships? In Clause 15 they object to "public inconvenience" caused by breaking open roads, etc. Surely it must be obvious that this cannot be an objection to the Bill, as the roads must be opened by someone if the public are to have an electrical supply at all, whether by the company, by Salford, or by Stretford themselves, and it is simply an attempt to hoodwink Parliament to put this forward as a special disability attached to the proposals of this Bill. In Clause 11 they raise the bugbear of electrolytic corrosion of gas and water pipes, owing to leakages arising from the high pressure in our mains. Now this is deliberately deceiving the House, for they know that the Board of Trade rules require the insulation to be of a strength proportionate to the pressure, and that there are stringent regulations as to leakages. I am assured by experts that there are hardly any cases of electrolysis except from the uninsulated rail return on electric tramways. The most recent case is that of the Manchester Corporation cables, which have been so badly managed and so defective that considerable leakages have occurred and caused some damage to underground pipes. The high pressure has nothing to do with electrolysis, which in all cases has been caused by low-tension currents. We also have a statement in the shape of a manifesto issued by the municipal corporations, which is intentionally misleading. They give a list of thirty-two towns, in twenty-seven of which they say that "works have been established," in the hope, no doubt, that hon. Members;may accept that statement, and let it pass without examining too closely into the list given on the last page of the document. They lay stress upon the large amount 1380 of capital totalled up on these various works, spent and proposed to be spent, as a proof that they are doing their duty. Why, Sir, it is part of our case that the policy of each community providing its own supply involves an extravagantly large expenditure of capital owing to want of system, cohesion, and central control—and not only extravagant capital outlay, but also extravagant working costs owing to the absence of that cooperative principle which governs our scheme, averaging our load, and enabling one horse power to be so handled as to do duty for perhaps four or five horse power in the present desultory and misdirected fashion. But not satisfied with attempting to deceive this House, the opponents of the scheme have actually gone the length, as I have stated, of dictating to Members of this House the course they must take on the question, and threatening us with Parliamentary extinction if we do not "do as we are bid." "Pressure" is to be brought to bear upon all Members of Parliament to vote against the Bill, which, being interpreted, means that we are to be cajoled, coerced, browbeaten, and bullied into voting against it; and those who resist this system of dictation are, according to Alderman Potrie, of Liverpool, to be kicked out at the next election. The hon. Member for S. W. Manchester. Mr. Galloway, charges me with inconsistency in advocating this Bill, when I voted against the Bill of the County of London and Brush Electric Lighting Company. Sir, I voted against that Bill because, in my opinion, it would have tended to complicate the re-formation scheme of the districts affected which is now in progress, and I considered it better to wait until this re-formation was completed. The Lancashire Bill is on totally different lines. Under it, the company cannot sell a single pennyworth of electricity in any district without the consent of the local authority. The company's scheme would enable every authority in the area to draw upon the great sources of power contained in the central coalfield of Lancashire in the concentrated and portable form of electricity, and we only ask that no governing body who might not care to avail themselves of this privilege, should have power to say to others who do want it, "No, you shan't draw upon this central source of power, for we block the way and 1381 won't allow it to pass to you." There is not the slightest resemblance between the two Bills, inasmuch as the County of London and Brush Bill offered no advantage to the public in the supply of cheaper electricity, while the Lancashire Bill does offer considerable public advantages. Alderman Petrie has no ground for assuming that the electors will do his bidding in this matter. The question of electrical supply has never yet been made a test one at any election, and if it were, it is not at all impossible that Alderman Petrie might find himself in the position to which he proposes to relegate hon. Members who venture to have opinions of their own, and presume to differ from him. I submit, Sir, that the manifestoes and statements issued to hon. Members by the municipal corporations and the very few urban councils who have thrown their lot in with them are entirely and intentionally misleading and altogether misrepresent the nature of this Bill. They are so framed as to deceive and mislead this House, and have been accompanied by suggestions and even undisguised threats of evil consequences to Members who dare to oppose the will of the municipalities that almost amount to breach of privilege. They are also replete with technical objections which I am assured by experts are entirely wrong and misleading. It is impossible to deal adequately with all these matters in a Second Beading debate. They are essentially matters for a committee to deal with. The allegations can be thoroughly sifted in Committee, and if there is any truth in them, the Bill can be rejected on the Third Reading, I therefore appeal to hon. Members not to allow themselves to be bullied and bounced and threatened fey the big corporations into rejecting the Second Reading, but to allow this Bill to go into Committee in order that the statements of the promoters and opponents may be properly tested and examined, before we entirely close the door against a system being introduced into this country which has undoubtedly proved an immense boon to other countries where it has been adopted. Out of ninety-eight urban and rural councils only twenty-seven have lodged petitions chiefly with the object of obtaining protective clauses, all the others being in favour of the Bill. It is approved by the Lancashire County Council, by nearly all the urban and rural 1382 councils that are not under the direct influence of Manchester and Salford, by the Chamber of Commerce of the county, by the Wigan Coal and Iron Company, whose interests extend over every part of the district, and many other large and important bodies, and ought not to be rejected without further inquiry.
§ MR. GALLOWAY
I rise for the purpose of moving that this Bill be read a second time this day six months, and although my task has been made somewhat easy by the speech which has just been delivered, I fear I shall have to detain the House some time by going into one or two matters in detail—matters of which I think it should be placed in possession before it comes to a decision. My hon. friend has referred to a Bill which passed its Second Reading a few days ago —the North Metropolitan Electric Power Supply Bill—and I at once frankly own that that was due to a mistake for which I am to a certain extent responsible. But I would point out that that Bill differed from this in so far as it applied to a purely agricultural area, and not to a number of municipal corporations. But my right hon. friend omitted to point out that the Brush Electric Power Bill was on Monday last rejected by this House* solely on the point now raised—namely, the crossing of streets without the consent of the local authority. I hope this Bill will be similarly dealt with. My hon. friend referred to the Bill of last session. But it will be in the recollection of the House that that was defeated under somewhat peculiar circumstances, for after certain assurances given by the hon. Member for Macclesfield, who was in charge of the Bill, I myself moved the adjournment of the debate to enable the matter to be further considered, but the House refused the adjournment, and rejected the Bill. What is it that the promoters of this Bill seek? They propose to lay hands on the whole of Lancashire south of the Ribble. That area, as represented by its local authorities, is wholly averse to the principle of the Bill. At an important conference of the boroughs of Lancashire held on the 23rd of February at the Town Hall, Manchester, it was resolved to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, and the grounds upon which opposition was decided upon seem to me to be of a most*See page 1070 of thid volume.1383 weighty character. The House must I remember that the boroughs represented at that meeting spoke on behalf of an aggregate population of upwards of three millions and represented a rateable value of fourteen millions sterling. On the broad ground of public policy I hold that where Parliament has authorised a municipal corporation to borrow money for municipal undertakings on the security of the rates, and the corporation has established its undertaking, special Parliamentary powers ought not, in the interest of the community, to be granted to private persons trading for profit to execute works of a similar character within the borough with out the consent of the Council. [Cries of "Why not?"] At any rate, that is the policy which was embodied in the Electric Lighting Acts which were consolidated in the Act of last session, and I venture to think that if the ratepayers' money has been expended under the belief and assurance that there will not be competition from outside within their own area, this House has no right to come down and reverse that policy unless more weighty reasons are produced than have been in the past. Nor can I see how any advantage can arise from giving Parliamentary sanction to any private enterprise which at the very outset promises to enter into competition with the various corporations affected by its provisions. Those who are supporting this Bill do not suggest that the municipalities have not done their duty in regard to electric lighting. It is, indeed, the fact that no fewer than nineteen of the Lancashire boroughs have established electrical supply undertakings, and that municipal capital amounting to upwards of four millions has been or is in process of being expended on electrical appliances. That merely shows that the municipalities have not been backward in doing the work which it is their proper province to do. Another point of supreme importance is that the Bill asks for power to upset the Tramways Act of 1870, as well as the Electric Acts of 1882 and 1888, as consolidated in 1899. Under those Acts no private company has power to cross the corporation tramways without the sanction of the local authority; but if this Bill should unfortunately pass the House that sanction would be done away with, and at a word the policy which has been fixed for the whole country by successive Acts of Parliament would be 1384 reversed. I think I can show that great injury might be done to municipalities, and, in consequence, to the ratepayers, by such action. But before doing that I should like to quote the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, who last year, speaking on the General Powers Bill, said it seemed to be a direct attack on the rights, privileges, and duties of municipal corporations, and added that it was not wise to pass a Bill which set aside the existing law.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. RITCHIE,) Croydon
That is a most garbled report of what I said, and I think the quotation is most unjustifiable. That Bill not only took power to go through the streets, but also to distribute light and electric power throughout the municipal area. My statement referred to that, and when the hon. Member for Macclesfield withdrew that part of the Bill, I said he had met my objection and that I would support the Second Reading.
§ MR. GALLOWAY
Of course, I apologise if I have in any way misrepresented what the right hon. Gentleman said. I maintain that if this House is, at the request of a private company, to override the whole of the Acts which have regulated corporations in years gone by, there will be no security for any municipality or any public body in this respect. In Manchester, and in all large municipalities, this question of the streets is a very serious one. The streets are full of various appliances for the benefit of the ratepayers —gas mains, water mains, hydraulic mains, sewers and telegraphs. The fact of these running underneath the streets makes it almost impossible at the present time for large corporations to find space in which to lay down mains for their own electrical purposes. If they have found difficulty in doing that, I venture to submit that it will be practically impossible for them to do it for any private company. The great point about it is that by the company taking these compulsory powers by Act of Parliament the corporations themselves will not derive one penny of profit or any advantage whatever from this breaking up of their streets. Another consideration is this. Assuming this House allows these companies to pass through a large town to supply consumers on the other side of the town, how are we to 1385 deal with the question of responsibility? Supposing an explosion takes place, and much damage is done, at the present moment the corporations are themselves liable. But if this Bill is passed, how are they possibly to decide who is to be responsible and answerable for such damage? It is a scientific fact that the explosion may not take place where the damage is actually done; it may be hundreds of yards away, and it would be impossible to say which of the mains was responsible. All these electrical works are at present in the hands of the corporations, and if any accident takes place they are compelled to take upon themselves the responsibility; there is no question of litigation, and no dispute can arise upon the point. The promoters of this Bill have made a great argument of the question of cost. They say that they can produce more cheaply, and that the municipalities cannot supply either light or power at anything like the same price. They quote the instance of America. But in America almost the entire bulk of the power is obtained by hydraulic means— from water and not from coal; therefore, while in America you may have a case like the Niagara Falls, where you can get a great power for practically nothing, it is an entirely different thing in this country, where you have to use coal, the price of which must affect the price of the electricity. There is one other point in regard to price. Under the Corporations Acts for the supply of electricity the corporations themselves are allowed to make only 5 per cent. on their undertaking; after that the price must be reduced to the consumer, and the 5 per cent. which they make goes to the relief of the rates. In Manchester and Liverpool as much as £10,000 or £15,000 has gone to the relief of the rates in this way. But what do this company propose to do? They propose to take 10 per cent. first of all for their own profits, and that 10 per cent. is a cumulative 10 per cent.; so that if for three years the company did not make a dividend they would be entitled in the next year to make 30 per cent and another 10 per cent for the year before the price could come down to the consumer. How they can profess to supply more cheaply than a corporation I fail to see. There is another point upon which this company have been extremely cute. They ask that after they have made 10 per cent., and they 1386 have reduced the price to the consume by 5 per cent., they should be allowed to make another I per cent. themselves How does that work out? Take the price as 5d. per unit. If the company reduce the price by ¼d. they can then make 11 per cent., and so on. How such a scheme is going to benefit the ratepayers or the communities who require electricity I entirely fail to see. I should like to say one word with regard to the speech which my hon. friend alleged was made by Alderman Petrie at the meeting at Manchester to which I have referred. I am authorised to state that the account as issued in the green pamphlet of the promoters of this Bill is an absolutely incorrect and inaccurate statement of what Alderman Petrie said. He did not make use of any words which could be construed in the sense which my hon. friend has thought fit to put upon them. We shall be asked to send this Bill to a Committee, but I desire the House to pause before they put the corporations to the expense, to say nothing of the inconvenience, of opposing this Bill. The expense and time taken by such a course will be very considerable, and unless it can be shown that some great public purpose will be performed by this Bill I submit that this House ought not to put the corporations to that expense and trouble. We have had private companies supplying this country before. There is the instance of London private companies' supply, which is as hopeless a failure as any private companies' supply of electric light in the world. I ask this House seriously to consider, before they hand over to the tender mercies of these private companies the electric light consumers and ratepayers of this country, the injustice they will be doing to the great municipalities who have done their work well in years gone by. It is for that reason I ask with every confidence that the House will follow the precedent set in the case of the General Powers Bill, and reject this proposal.
§ SIR J. T. WOODHOUSE () Huddersfield
, in seconding the Amendment, said he would not have felt justified in interposing in the debate had it not been that the Bill raised a very important and serious question of principle, which alone justified the House in debating the Bill at Second Reading, and determining whether it 1387 should be rejected or not. The promoters of the measure were not a public authority seeking public rights at the hands of the House of Commons, but a body of private speculators, primarily desirous of pecuniary gain, but presenting their case as one of public policy and as satisfying a great and pressing public demand. The question the House had primarily to determine was whether a public case had been made out for this Bill. He respectfully submitted it had not. Was there anything in this proposal or in the situation to justify the House in reversing the whole spirit of legislation which had animated it for a great number of years past? Up to the present, no Bill for the supply of electricity had been able to be obtained without the consent of the local authorities concerned. The legislation enacted in 1882 and 1888 provided that legislative powers should be sought by Provisional Orders with the consent of the local authority. It was true that an appeal might be made to the Board of Trade, but he believed that in no case—certainly in very few cases, and those in very exceptional circumstances—had the Board of Trade gone against the local authorities. The onus was upon the hon. Member for Rotherhithe and his friends to show that the general law of the land, well considered and well directed by Parliament, should be set aside in favour of a Bill promoted by private speculators. What was the pith of the case which they had endeavoured to make out? It was that the local authorities in the district on which they sought to lay their hands, of eleven thousand square miles south of the Ribble, had not discharged their duties, and that the private speculators with a million capital could discharge the public duty more efficiently and more economically than the local authorities. They had had experience as between private companies and local authorities of the supply of electric energy, and he would give one instance in Lancashire. Liverpool had been supplied with electric energy by means of a private company. The municipality determined to buy that company. They bought it, as municipalities and public authorities always bought when they dealt with public rights obtained by private companies, at great cost. And what were the facts? That electric light as supplied by that company was supplied 1388 at 6d. or 7½d. per unit, and at 4d. or 5d. per unit for power. Since the municipality had acquired that company, although they had doubled the capital they had reduced that 7½d. to 4d., and the 4d. to a 1d., and after providing for depreciation and sinking fund had made a profit of £8,000. He submitted that under these circumstances the suggestion that a private company could beat a municipality in cheapness and efficiency required a lot of making out. It was a well-known fact that similarly Sheffield, Birmingham, and Leeds had transferred their powers from private companies to municipalities. Manchester was a very large municipality, and was surely entitled to have its views weighed in the House. Manchester was not only supplying its own citizens, but also the surrounding localities, who were taking their part in the expenditure, and they were doing that at 1¼d. per unit, and he defied any company to do it cheaper or more economically. It was being done at a saving to the ratepayers of £26,000 a year. Anyone who had studied the Bill must feel that the Bill was promoted to compel local authorities sooner or later to buy out the promoters of the Bill and to put a pecuniary profit into their hands. But whilst they asked for the right to supply power, there was not a word in the Bill to compel them to supply that power. Therefore, whilst they had control under this Bill of 11,000 square miles, they could, although they might not exercise the power, keep other people from exercising it. It had hitherto been the practice of Parliament to permit municipalities and local authorities to control the area within which their authority existed. Under this Bill it was proposed to permit a right of way, say, for instance, right across the area of Manchester, without the consent of the municipality of Manchester. Those who knew the position of affairs in our great cities knew that the streets were so crowded with gas mains, water mains, hydraulic mains, and telephone cables, that the municipalities did not know how to make provision for other things. Why had the municipalities gone in for these things in our large cities? In order that they might keep the control of their own streets, and in order that companies might not come in and break up the streets at their own pleasure. The Bill empowered a private 1389 body of men to go right through the streets of our great cities, whether the corporation liked it or not, and to pay nothing for it. That was a principle which the House had hitherto most assiduously objected to, and it was because it violated the principle uniformly accepted that he respectfully asked the House to reject the Bill. An attempt had been made to import much prejudice into the opposition of the municipalities. But who were the municipalities? They were the representatives, and were elected in the same way as Members of the House of Commons, and it was in their name, on their behalf, and as a united body that he appealed to the House to reject the Bill.
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"—(Mr. Galloray.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ *MR. SETON-KARR () St. Helens
said he rose for the purpose of strongly supporting the Bill. He had not the slightest personal interest in it except that he was a Member of the House, a member of a large industrial constituency which the Bill affected, and also a British citizen interested in the industrial progress of the country. The London Chamber of Commerce and all the other chambers of commerce were strongly in favour of the Bill. His hon. friend who moved the rejection had called attention to two similar Bills, one of which had been rejected and the other passed by the House quite recently, and in alluding to the Bill which had been passed he said it had been passed by mistake. What his hon. friend meant to say was that the municipalities by mistake omitted to instruct the House of Commons to oppose that Bill. Were they to understand that the House could not go right on a matter of this kind without instructions from the municipalities? He most respectfully dissented from that. It had been said that no public case had been made out for this Bill. He would endeavour to make out that case, and if he did not succeed it would be his fault rather than that of the Bill. The Bill proposed to generate electricity in bulk and supply it to a large area at very much lower rates that those at which it could now be produced. The area affected by the Bill embraced the whole of Lanca 1390 shire south of the Kibble, containing altogether 129 local authorities and 182 townships, the bulk of the districts having a population not exceeding 10,000 each. Of these local authorities only sixteen had electricity works in operation, supplying electricity on a small scale at high charges to a fraction of the inhabitants. Twenty-two districts had Provisional Orders, but had taken absolutely no action, although some of the Orders were no less than ten years old. In 91 districts no attempt whatever had been made to obtain Orders or to carry out works, and this year there was not one application for a Provisional Order within the area proposed to be taken by this company. If the public were to wait for the action of these local authorities in order to be supplied with a growing necessity of the age they might wait until the Day of Judgment. The previous speaker had spoken contemptuously of private speculators. What had municipal corporations ever done to promote large industrial undertakings? Railways had been built and factories erected by private speculators, and the same class had founded and carried on the prosperity of the country. The supply of electricity in bulk was far too large a question for municipal corporations. The practical difficulties in the way were too great. Local authorities could not afford to sink large sums of the ratepayers' money in large installations of electrical plant, nor ought they to undertake with that money the risks which were inseparable from the initiation of an enterprise of the kind. Those risks were properly incurred by people described as private speculators. Political considerations also were involved. But in order to make such an enterprise pay it was necessary to generate and distribute electricity over a large area. Speaking generally, it was not possible for any one of the 129 districts affected by the Bill to generate cheaply its own electricity. The measure had been very seriously misrepresented. It proposed to have two or three large generating stations in the heart of the colliery district, where, by getting cheap fuel, it would be possible to manufacture the electricity in bulk far more cheaply than if the company were restricted in the site of their plant. There would also be far fewer establishment expenses than if each of the 129 districts had a separate station. A very important 1391 point was that by distributing over a large area the maximum and the minimum demands were very much more uniform, with the result that a large enterprise could afford to sell more cheaply than where the maximum and the minimum demands were restricted to fewer hours per day. In a large central establishment there would be a demand for power by day and for light at night, so that the machinery would be working probably for about twenty hours out of the twenty-four, instead of four or five hours, as was generally the case in an ordinary municipal plant. This was not a question of theory, but of fact. In the case of Cardiff, a 12 50 horse-power plant was necessary in order to supply a maximum short demand of 80 horse-power. America was 100 years ahead of this country in the question of electricity. From the city of Detroit one could travel for twenty miles round the city for ten cents on an electric tramcar at the rate of twenty miles an hour. There was the great electrical plant at Niagara, distributing electrical energy for a radius of about forty miles. All this was done by private enterprise, with the result that these districts and others like them in America had improved enormously with regard to industrial enterprise and general prosperity. Large consumers there were charged ¼d. per unit for their electricity, while the average to all consumers was ½d. per unit, while in Manchester 5d. per unit was charged for lighting, 1½d. per unit for power, and 2d. for the public lighting. The average amount charged by private enterprise in America, Germany, and Switzerland was one-third the lowest English price, and yet the Manchester Corporation were using the money of the ratepayers to oppose the introduction of somewhat similar terms in this country. There wore no compulsory powers sought in the Bill, except that of going through a non-consenting district in order to reach a consenting district on the other side. That objection had been run for just about as much as it was worth. Somebody must tear up the streets if the public were to have cheap electricity, and the power was safeguarded in the Bill to an extreme point. The non-consenting district could prescribe the route, or the could do the work in their own way and make the company pay for it. Was it reasonable, if a district desired to obtain 1392 cheap electricity from a central authority, that it should be deprived of that advantage because a non-consenting district declined to have its streets torn up? If the spread of cheap electricity was to be opposed in this manner the people of England might as well give up all idea of any improvement in the country's commercial prosperity. The promoters were prepared to accept any form of words to safeguard the local authorities to the greatest possible extent, and the scale of charges was fixed in the Bill. As to the amount of dividend, this was a question of supplying electricity cheaply, and if the promoters did not succeed their object had failed. If, however, they succeeded, surely no one would grudge them anything up to 10 per cent. All profits over 10 per cent. were to be shared with the consumers. If safeguarding clauses wore introduced— and they had been introduced—there would be no objection to the principle of the Bill on the part of many of the local authorities. [The hon. Member here read several letters to this effect.] The municipal corporations in their opposition to the Bill did not, in his opinion, represent public opinion in their districts. They represented merely themselves and their officials, and he thought they were very misguided in their opposition. The promoters of the Bill had received a letter from a solicitor representing the Preston county council to the effect that if certain clauses protecting the property of the county were inserted the council would not press its opposition. All that the local authorities wanted were protective clauses. He would wish to call attention to the work which the Manchester Corporation, who were leading the opposition to the Bill, were doing in connection with the supplying of electricity. They obtained their order ten years ago, and up to last March they had only supplied 2,570 customers out of a population of 500,000. They had lately made contracts to supply the adjoining districts, and they were in this dilemma: if they were to succeed in maintaining their monopoly of the supply of electricity they would at their present rate of progress either have to supply these outside districts and keep their own customers waiting or they would have to supply their own area and neglect the outside districts. The hon. Member who seconded the rejection of 1393 the Bill stated that the cost of production in Manchester was 1¼d. per unit. His information, however, was that it was 1½d., but that figure excluded the three important items of depreciation, sinking fund, and interest on loans. These three items represented another 1½d., making the cost per unit 3d. He did not suppose that the hon. Member had any intention of misleading the House, but to state that 1¼d. was the cost per unit was very misleading indeed.
§ SIR J. T. WOODHOUSE
said he had his information from the chairman of the Manchester Electric Lighting Committee, who, be thought, would not make an inaccurate statement, and who stated that the profits amounted to £26,000 after charging 1¼d. per unit.
§ *MR. SETON-KARR
said the hon. Member had left out half the story. He had omitted the three important items of depreciation, sinking fund, and interest on loans on the debit side of the account. On a commercial basis the cost was 3d. per unit when these items were taken into account. Manchester supplied its large customers at about half the price charged to small customers. Such a system could not be commercially sound, and he submitted that the Corporation perpetrated— he used the word in no offensive sense— a fraud on the small customers because they had to pay the difference between the two charges. The corporation of Manchester were using the money of the ratepayers—in perfect good faith, no doubt from their own point of view—to perpetrate a system which was really putting a bounty on their electric supply. He ventured to think that the opposition to the Bill was really opposition on the part of those who were in favour of municipal trading as against private enterprise. He was one of those who were hostile to municipal trading except within certain limits. He considered it a principle most dangerous to the prosperity of this country that municipalities should be allowed to go outside their proper province. They might just as well try to regulate railways or factories as try to 1394 stop the development of electrical production. They had done nothing to promote it in the past, they would do nothing in the future, and it should be left to private enterprise. He thought that the House would now understand why he, the representative of a Lancashire borough, was strongly supporting the Bill, and he was not afraid of his action as far as his constituents were concerned. He had unlimited faith in their intelligence. In conclusion he would remind the House of the enormous advantage of cheap electricity to the country. They could seldom take up a paper without reading of an accident caused by a paraffin lamp, but with cheap electricity all over the country those accidents would be avoided. Again, manufacturers would have a wider choice in the selection of sites for factories, which was now restricted by the proximity of coal mines, railway facilities and other reasons. But with electricity cheaply transferred they would have a wider area to select from. Further, manufacturers would save a considerable part of the money now spent on coal. He believed that in the case of long-distance freight 75 per cent. of that money was spent on carriage alone. The railways did not want the coal traffic; they would prefer to carry manufactured goods produced by electricity. Finally, he put it to the Labour Members of the House the hon. Members who said they represented the working men of the country—a statement he did not accept—that the question was of enormous importance to the working classes, who were at present handicapped by the severe competition of America and the Continent. where they enjoyed the advantages of cheap electrical power. He earnestly trusted the House would pass the Second Beading. The principle of the Bill was of enormous importance to the country, and to its industrial prosperity, and the opposition to it on the part of municipalities did not represent public opinion or public interest, at any rate in his part of the country.
§ MR. BROADHURST () Leicester
said he would remind the hon. Member who had just spoken that the Mayor and Corporation of the town he represented were strongly opposed to the Bill he was supporting, and while he accepted the hon. Member as the representative of political opinion in St. Helens, he would prefer the opinion of the mayor and 1395 corporation on municipal matters. The point involved in the Bill was very simple and did not need elaborate arguments. The broad principle underlying the Bill was that it could prevent a small community supplying its own electric power. A more selfish proposal had never been made to the House. It also practically proposed to repeal the provisions of the Act of 1882. Electric lighting was in its infancy, but in the near future many urban authorities, who at the present time had not had the opportunity, would naturally wish to supply their own electricity. The Bill is not a philanthropic measure, but the venture of a body of private persons for the sake of gain. It was a sort of Chartered Company scheme by which the promoters saw a grand opportunity to obtain certain rights which at present belong to other people, and if the Bill were to be passed the small municipalities of the country would be handed over to the hands of persons whose only idea was to accumulate vast fortunes out of the necessities of the people. Under these circumstances, he strongly opposed the Bill. He contended that Parliament had no right to hand over powers such as were asked for by the promoters to any public company, the only object of which was to make profits for its shareholders, and he urged the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to consider the matter from the point of view now suggested. If he did, he would infallibly come to the conclusion that it was absolutely necessary to protect the rights of the community at large.
§ *SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
(Monmouthshire, W.): Before the President of the Board of Trade addresses the House, I would ask leave to offer some observations to his consideration which apply to the whole of this group of Bills. I do not in the least intend to express an opinion as to Lancashire's interest,in which I have no right to intervene, but I think that the House must be aware that in dealing with all these Bills it is dealing with a very great question. It is not a question of one part of the country or another. I do not altogether share my hon. friend's objections to great enterprises being carried on through private sources. That was a question which occupied fifty or sixty years ago the attention of this country, and that was at the time of 1396 the commencement of the great railway interest. That question was decided by the wisdom of the great statesman Sir Robert Peel. We know that Sir Robert Peel was much attacked at that time for throwing the railway enterprise of this country into private hands, and not adopting the system so largely followed on the Continent. I look forward to this question of electricity and electric supply as the great question of the future, and it is from that point of view that I wish to refer to the subject. If this company is prepared upon proper conditions to supply electricity to any part of the country, I am not opposed to that. No man can say to-day what part electricity may not play in the industry of the country, and that is a point which the House of Commons should keep in view. But what are the conditions which ought to be imposed? What was the policy which was pursued with regard to the railway companies? Parliament did not leave it altogether to particular promoters of Bills. Parliament did not leave it to the discretion of individual committees. They placed the whole of that great enterprise, upon which more than a thousand millions of private money has been expended, greatly to the benefit of the country—a sum larger than the National Debt, and now paying interest at least of 4 per cent., and one of the greatest investments for the savings of the country—under general legislation. I think that a model which we ought to follow in this instance. But what was the method which Parliament in those days adopted in dealing with the railways? They did not allow particular promoters to take their chance in individual committees. They placed the whole of that great enterprise, as I have said, under general legislation; that was carried out by the Land Clauses Act and the Railway Clauses Act. I approve of that course. If you have a company coming and proposing matters of this kind, in my opinion you ought very carefully to consider the matter, and not to compromise a great question like this without full consideration. You ought to have some principle laid down which should govern all cases which cannot be left to the decision of Private Bill Committees. I have a great respect for Committees. In former days I had some experience of Private Bill Committees, and I would like to say that in dealing 1397 with a question of this kind it ought not to be left to the decision of a particular Private Bill Committee except under those safeguards to which all railway promoters are liable. The hon. Member who has spoken, with the ability he always shows, in support of this proposal, referred to the giving of the electric light to rural districts. I wish one of these companies would come into Hampshire and light the villages and my own house with electricity at a penny farthing, or whatever the price is to be. If that were done I should be delighted. But I do not feel absolute security. I have read a pamphlet in which it was stated that the promoters would go into places which had already an electric supply, provided that the company did not supply electricity, except to wholesale consumers, within the district of any local authority already authorised by a Provisional Order or Act of Parliament to furnish such a supply. They would go in and take the plums out of the pudding and leave the currants. They said that they reserved the right to deal directly in the case of a trader using a large quantity of electricity, and that it was in the public interest to do so, and, further, they gave to the local authority in every case the duty of carrying the mains.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I think the right hon. Gentleman is referring to some other Bill, probably the South Wales Bill.
§ *SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I do not desire to speak on any particular Bill. I wish to speak on the general conditions, and that is why I referred to the Lands Clauses Bill. There should be in every Bill a condition that where a district is passed through, especially when whole counties are token, it should be obligatory to give a supply wherever it is demanded. That is a condition which ought not to be left to the discretion of a Private Bill Committee. There ought to be general conditions applying to all Bills, as was the case with reference to the railway interest. There ought also to be a condition that the money to be supplied should be sufficient for the purpose for which it is taken. If you find a condition in a private Bill such as obviously cannot, under any circumstances, meet the wants of the district covered by the Bill, of 1398 course it will mean that the most favourable part of the district will be taken, and on which the money will be expended. I do not wish to refer particularly to any other Bill, but if you take the control for five years over two counties, and if all you are obliged to expend in five years is £50,000, you hang up the whole enterprise of that district during that period, while, in fact, the money you are obliged to spend would be only sufficient for one big town. That is an example of why it is necessary that you should have conditions which are general applying to all Bills, on the principle on which you acted in reference to the railway interest of the country. Why, I ask, are these Bills brought forward as private Bills, independently of the general legislation which already exists? In the Act passed by Parliament upon this subject there is a condition that no company shall come unless with the consent of the local district. That is the Act of 1888. The consent of the local authority is required for a Provisional Order. If, therefore, the promoters had come for a Provisional Order under the general law, as, in my opinion, they ought to have done, they would have been obliged to consult the interests of the local authorities. That is the general law, and it does not apply only to places already supplied with electricity, but to places which are not supplied with electricity. That being so, this is amethod of evading the general law which Parliament has passed in order to send to a Committee upstairs a Bill promoting a private enterprise which may defeat this provision of the general law. I do not think that is a wise course to take; it is contrary to public policy, and to the policy which has been hitherto pursued. The great railway interest, which is certainly as important as this interest, is governed, so far as the principles to be applied are concerned, by general legislation. I am quite sure that this matter has not been sufficiently matured and considered. I say most emphatically that I am not against the principle of this or any of the Bills of a like nature. I think there is room and great necessity for the employment of capital in this country, which at present receives a very low rate of interest, and a great deal of which goes abroad and is lost. I am, therefore, not arguing in favour of diminishing the employment of capital in this country; still less am I against the principle of 1399 giving such a supply us that of electricity to all the cottages and villages in England. But I should like to have some security that when the capital is supplied the cottages will get the light. I am not speaking at this moment so much in the interests of the great towns, which may look after themselves, or the great manufactures, which have the means of supplying themselves; but if these great monopolies are to be granted—and this is a gigantic monopoly—let them he beneficial monopolies governed by the general law and by a mature policy considered by Parliament. I have endeavoured to speak not upon any particular Bill, but upon the policy which ought to govern all the legislation in reference to this great industry. I think it would be a very good thing if these Bills were not proceeded with this year, but were brought forward next year after there has been time for the Government to consider those matters. We ought not to send these Bills—which, after all, will establish precedents governing the future —haphazard to Private Bill Committees; we ought to take a wide and statesmanlike view of the whole of the future of the electrical supply of the country, a course similar to that taken by Sir Robert Peel in 1840. We would thus be able to deal with this important question on general principles. I shall vote against the Bills, with the desire that they may afterwards be dealt with maturely and considerately by the Government and the House.
§ *MR. RITCHIE
The right hon. Gentleman has said very truly that the question which the House has to decide is a very important one, perhaps one of the most important ones that have come before the House by means of a private Bill for a great many years. I hope the House will give its attention to the very important considerations in this case before they decide to reject on the Second Reading a Bill that is fraught with so many possibilities. It is true, I think, that the electrical enterprise of this country is in an exceedingly backward condition; it is inferior with regard to light, and certainly with regard to the conveyance of power, to many European countries, and it is greatly inferior to North America and Canada. It may almost be said that there are villages in North America which are in possession of advantages in 1400 connection with electricity which some of our largest towns do not possess. It cannot be doubted that there is a great demand for something to be done. At present electric light matters are governed largely by the legislation of 1882, and the right hon. Gentleman has said that this Bill is largely in opposition to many of the enactments in the Act of 1882. If no other charge or argument could be brought against this proposal the arguments of the opponents of this Bill would indeed be weak. It must be remembered that it was the Act of 1882 which more than anything else had delayed and hampered the development of electrical supply, and in so far as this Bill departs from that Act I think its departure is amply justified by the condition of things at present existing in the electrical world.
§ *MR. RITCHIE
I was referring to a speech made by another right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, after having acknowledged the desirability of legislation and the drawbacks of the existing condition of things, made a speech which was, I think, based very largely upon another Bill. When his attention was drawn to this the right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to bring his remarks into harmony with any one of these Bills, but still the right hon. Gentleman's argument did refer to powers which are not asked for in this Bill. The Bill does not enable the promoters to distribute electric energy in bulk without the consent of the local authority, or, if it does, I have an assurance from the promoters to the effect that they will undertake to agree to an Amendment in Committee which would make it perfectly clear that they do not ask for the power to distribute even in bulk without the consent of the local authority. The right hon. Gentleman said this Bill proposes to take out the plums and leave the currants; as a matter of fact, there are no plums taken out. The right hon. Gentleman says that, after they get the Bill, there is nothing to compel them to give electrical energy even in bulk, and that cottages in rural districts might be left without the electric light because there was no power of enforcement. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, is wrong in that statement, because Section 38 of the 1401 Bill says that the company shall, upon being required to do so by any local authority, give and continue to give to such authority a supply of energy at a price not exceeding that stated in the schedule for a supply in bulk, and shall furnish and lay such mains as may be necessary for the purpose of the supply.
§ *MR. RITCHIE
Yes, but I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the energy is to be given in bulk to local authorities in order that they may distribute it. It is one of the advantages of the Bill that local authorities which would never dream of setting up their own supply, and could not afford to do so, can come to the company and say they wanted a supply of energy in bulk sufficient to enable them to distribute it among all the people in a particular district.
§ *MR. RITCHIE
The district council or the municipality—they would be the only two local authorities which would be entitled to undertake such a work.
§ *MR. RITCHIE
No. Their powers are extremely limited, and I do not think they often make use of such as they have. The right hon. Gentleman stated that the company could pick and choose whore they would go—that they could take the profitable and leave the unprofitable districts; but they are bound to supply to any local authority within their area such electric energy as the local authority may require, either for manufacturing or lighting purposes. In my opinion the promoters have pursued the right course in bringing forward this Bill, and I ask the House to allow it to go to a Committee where it may be thoroughly examined. In order to make quite sure that the only power asked for in the Bill, so far as the local authorities were concerned, was the power of passing through the streets, and that there was no intention to "invade" any local area, the promoters have given me the following written assurance—The promoters wish it to be clearly under- 1402 stood that they are not asking for any power to distribute electricity in any borough or district except with the consent of the local authority concerned, and that they will agree to any amendment to Clause 36 which may be necessary to make this perfectly clear. The promoters are also prepared to insert a provision in the Bill to the effect that, whether in bulk or otherwise, they shall only supply electricity in those boroughs or districts for which Provisional Orders or other statutory powers have been obtained."?I do not think it is possible to go any further than these gentlemen propose to go. Whether the House of Commons thinks it is desirable or not to insert any Provisional Orders in this Bill I do not pretend to say, but if any safeguards of that kind are required, the promoters, I am sure, would not object. The object of the Bill is to make electricity, for lighting, and especially for power, to make it popular, and to make it cheap through the whole of the district affected. I am as jealous of the rights of municipalities as any one, but I think it is pushing the matter too far when with one accord municipalities—many of which have no concern in the matter—object to such a small interference as is here proposed. If, in the case of three adjoining districts, A and C want electrical energy for power or light, it is out of the question that B should block the way and prevent A and C from obtaining it. In my opinion that would be distinctly contrary to public interest, and it is only because I believe it to be to the public interest that this enterprise should succeed that I desire to impress upon the House the grave considerations involved before they reject the Bill. What is the proposed interference with the streets? The local authority might dictate to the company the route which the cable should take, and might itself open up the streets and lay the cable, charging the company with the whole cost of the work. Therefore the local authority would maintain in a very large sense the control of its own streets.
§ SIR WILLIAM HOULDSWORTH () Manchester, N. W.
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether a provision to that effect is already in the Bill.
§ *MR. RITCHIE
I believe that provision is in the Bill, and if it is not it ought to be. I cannot admit that Liverpool and Manchester will be in the slightest degree damaged by the Bill 1403 except in so far as the cable goes through their streets; and there is certainly no power given to the company to compete with the municipalities in the supply of electrical energy unless the local authorities desire them to do so. On all these grounds I think it would he a mistake if the House refuses to allow the Bill to go to a Committee.
§ *MR. HALDANE () Haddington
suggested that the Bill should he referred to a Hybrid Committee rather than to a Select Committee, so that they would have some guarantee that the matter would he dealt with from a broad point of view for the benefit of the public. He pointed out that this was not an Electric Lighting Bill, and that the clauses would be so framed as to conform to some model plan for future cases. It was primarily and mainly a Power Bill, a Bill introduced for the purpose of enabling power to be supplied in bulk to the few people able to take it. There was no guarantee that in the near future municipalities would supply such power, or express any wish to do anything of the kind. Indeed, the supply of a comparatively restricted class seemed hardly to form part of their duties. They had been asked what public interest was involved. He thought a very great public interest was involved. Our commercial supremacy was being challenged abroad in the development of electric plant and power, and he felt that when Parliament was called upon to take a step which would be the beginning of the development of a new industry they should not interpose an obstacle unthinkingly.
§ MR. CRIPPS () Gloucestershire, Stroud
said that the Joint Committee of 1898 reported that a Bill in this form might and ought to be passed, and if passed in this form it would not infringe any rights vested in the local authorities either under the Act of 1882 or that of 1888. The Committee added that if the right of veto, which was now claimed by local authorities, was to be insisted upon, all future development of electrical energy, and more particularly of electrical power, in this country must almost necessarily be stopped. Everyone knew that in the rise of foreign competition electrical power was having the greatest weight as against the industrial development of this country. If the House refused the Second Beading of this Bill they would 1404 do what they could to strangle one of the most important industries which required development. Personally, he would prefer the Bill to be referred to a Select Committee, which was a judicial body, rather than to a Hybrid Committee, which was composed of partisans, and, therefore, as bad a tribunal as they could possibly have.
§ MR. BRYCE () Aberdeen, S.
I only desire to say a few words on this subject. There is no doubt whatever that of all the manufacturing countries of the world we are nearly at the bottom in the matter of electrical supply, and not only is that an injury to the amount and the cost of production, but it also affects the prosperity of all industries connected with electricity electrical machinery, for instance, having to be imported instead of being manufactured in this country. The matter raised by the Bill is therefore of urgency. Again, we are all anxious to have industries established as much as possible away from the great centres of population, and that can only be done by encouraging undertakings like those proposed to be set up by the Bill. I think, therefore, there is a strong case for this. The Committee which sat two years ago, and which made a report on this subject, distinctly contemplated the bringing in of a Bill of this kind. It dealt with the matter and indicated the general lines on which they thought it should proceed. A great deal of the general legislation with regard to railways has been posterior to the passing of a number of Railway Bills. The House has been continually increasing the control of the administrative department over railways, and a great many points in which the Board of Trade controls railways were not introduced into the earlier Bills, but were the result of subsequent legislation I do not think it is possible for us, at this early stage of electrical legislation, to foresee all the general powers it will be possible for us to introduce into Bills dealing with electric lighting and electric power. We do not part with our powers of controlling the industry in future. It has been distinctly stated by the President of the Board of Trade that the companies do not propose to compote with the municipalities. If that is not sufficiently clear, a clause can be introduced to make it clear. I think, therefore, 1405 that the municipalities ought not to object to the Bill in toto, but should confine then efforts to securing the insertion in Committee of such provisions as may be necessary. In one form or another, what we want is a very strong Committee. Whether a Committee of the House, a large Select Committee, or a so-called Hybrid Committee is best to effect the purpose is a question which ought to be considered before it is appointed. But I do not think it would be possible for the House to allow a Bill of this importance to go to one of the ordinary small Committees. I think, moreover, the Board of Trade ought to give an exceptional amount of assistance to any Committee dealing with this question, and that any Committee dealing with it ought to have regard to the suggestions of the Board of Trade, which has had experience in the working of Electrical Supply Acts. If it should turn out that the Committee to which the Bills go does not sufficiently meet the objections taken by the municipalities, or those taken by us on grounds of public policy, we shall have a right to amend or throw over the Bills when they come up for Third Beading.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that these Bills ought not to be sent to an ordinary Private Bill Committee. The constitution of the Committee is a matter for future consideration, but it ought to be a strong Committee, whose decisions will carry weight.
§ *SIR ALBERT ROLLIT () Islington, S.
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether there was a provision in the Bill, or in the incorporated statutes, enabling the local authorities to do the through-main work, and, if not, whether he would got that provision inserted.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I believe there is no such clause in this Bill. In another company's Bill there is a very clear clause to that effect. It is clear to me that some clause giving to local authorities power over their own streets in the matter of through cable work ought to be inserted.
§ *MR. MACLEAN () Cardiff
asked whether the written undertaking of the Lancashire promoters to do nothing without the consent of the local authorities 1406 would also apply to the South Wales Bill, which, in its present form, empowered the promoters to supply wholesale customers, that is to say, to pick the plums out of the pudding, without the sanction of the local authorities.
§ MR. RITCHIE
Unless the promoters of these Bills are willing to accept a provision of that kind I should not myself be prepared to vote for the Second Reading.
§ MR. GALLOWAY
There are four Bills. Do I understand that all these Bills are to be referred to the same Committee, and put on the same lines by that Committee, or are we to go on with the different principle involved in each Bill?
§ MR. RITCHIE
I hope the Members connected with those Bills will be content with the statement made, and will be prepared to give the House an assurance that the Bills will be all practically on the same lines.
§ *SIR J. FERGUSSON () Manchester, N. E.
hoped the Bills would not be sent to a Hybrid Committee, which he regarded as a vicious tribunal. What was wanted was a strongly selected Committee.
SIR J. DILLWYN LLEWELYN () Swansea Town
asked whether the President of the Board of Trade would use his best endeavours to get the rights of local authorities recognised in all the Bills.
§ MR. RITCHIE
Undoubtedly my influence will be directed to secure that all Bills shall be on the same lines.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND () Clare, E.
asked whether the arrangement as to the Committee would extend to a similar Bill dealing with Dublin.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said he should be glad to consult with the hon. Gentleman if he would show him the Bill.
§ SIR J. T. WOODHOUSE
hoped the understanding that a Hybrid Committee should be adopted would be strictly adhered to.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said that what he stated was that the Bills ought not to be considered by the ordinary Private Bill Committee, but that the form the Committee might take would be a matter for consultation and consideration.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.