HC Deb 23 March 1904 vol 132 cc533-9


Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.

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

MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid.)

said that this was one of those complicated Bills which referred to London. When electric lighting was introduced into London the old boundaries of the vestries existed; but after the Metropolitan Boroughs Act was passed these boundaries were all altered and the consequence was that the electric lighting areas got mixed. If this Bill were intended to adjust the boundaries so as to make the electric lighting areas correspond exactly with those of the metropolitan boroughs it would have been an undoubted advantage. But obviously that was impracticable under this Bill. The question dealt with was to balance inconvenience—to escape from one inconvenience and change it for another inconvenience. The Bill would certainly not bring about a state of perfection. In dealing with such matters as electric lighting, gas, and water, London should be dealt with as a whole, so that the plant could be put down as most convenient in natural areas and not in the artificial areas of the metropolitan boroughs. Under this Bill, which laid down entirely fictitious boundaries, the whole electrical supply of London would be placed in a disjointed state. Clause 1 provided that where, by reason of any alteration of boundary under the Local Government Act of 1899, any area, being part of the area of supply of the council of a metropolitan borough, had become situate outside the borough, that area should, as from the date of the passing of the Act, be transferred to, and become part of, the area of supply of the council of the borough in which the transferred area had become situated if that council was authorised to supply electricity within the borough, or, if that council was not so authorised, of any company so authorised, but only if the area of supply of that council or company adjoined the transferred area. Then followed a number of contingencies which showed that there was no perfection in the proposed scheme. Clause 2, which had reference to the adjustment of the area of supply, provided that where a council was authorised to supply electricity the area should become part of the area of supply, but only if the area of the supply adjoined the transferred area. But if the council did not supply, what then? He did not think that the first two clauses dealt adequately with the matter. There were two exceptions in Clause 2—namely, where the area consisted of a whole parish or the greater part of a parish, and where a company was authorised to supply within the borough in which the area had become situated at any point adjoining the area. Then it was proposed that the foregoing provisions should not apply in the case of any part of an area of supply in which mains or other works suitable to, and used for, the supply of electricity had been laid down or executed before the 1st day of January, 1904. Then there was the question of agreement between one company and another; and it was proposed that such agreements should have the force of an Act of Parliament. That was rather unusual. Why not proceed by Provisional Order, which would enable the public to have a say in the matter? A Provisional Order would appear on the Statute-books whereas no arrangement for the publicity of agreements was provided under the Bill. At present, borough councils were empowered to supply electric light, and no doubt it was intended to make that power operative; but it was impossible to know how far the Bill would secure that end. He did not intend to criticise the general effect of the Bill; but he wished to impress on the President of the Board of Trade the desirability of considering the electric supply of London as a whole under one governing body. That would tend to concentrated cheapness and good management. He would not oppose the Bill but would leave the responsibility in the matter with the President of the Board of Trade.


said he wished to remind the House that this Bill was a hybrid Bill, namely, a Bill rought in by the Government dealing with private interests, and it, therefore, would have to go to a Committee upstairs, and it was in Committee that the details of a measure of such a technical character could be practically examined. The hon. Gentleman described very accurately the broad outlines of the Bill, and had therefore relieved him from doing so. The hon. Gentleman complained that the Bill was not a complete solution of the difficulty. No doubt that was the case; but any attempt to meet the difficulty at this moment would not be at all an easy matter. All he claimed was that the Bill went some distance in the direction of reducing the abnormalities which followed from the Act of 1899, as regarded electric lighting areas. The Bill applied to small and unimportant alterations for which it would not be worth while for a local authority or company to introduce a Provisional Order. It was very expedient that those alterations should be made before the time when the local authorities were entitled to purchase. It was obvious that the transfer of areas from one authority to another would be very much more difficult as time went on. Where works had already been laid down they had been obliged to leave matters to be arranged according to agreement between the two companies or local authorities. He did not claim that the Bill would solve all difficulties, but it would assist solution when the problem came to be dealt with as a whole.

MR. BRIGG (Yorkshire, W.R., Keighley)

said that there were objections to the Bill which he would not press, seeing, that it would be sent to a Select Committee, and that it was only intended to smooth the way for future legislation. Certainly the question of electric lighting in London would have to be dealt with in a large and comprehensive scheme, and possibly it would be wise to constitute an Electricity Board analogous to the London Water Board.

MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

said the hon. Member for Mid Lanark deserved the thanks of the House for ascertaining the reason of the Government for introducing this Bill this afternoon. There had been three or four Bills put down upon the Paper for which the House had no explanation, and in regard to this particular and important matter he had not heard that there was any burning desire, outside, that the House of Commons should put aside all other matters to discuss it. Why was it that, at the most valuable period of the session, time was to be occupied in discussions of this kind, for which no special need had been established. As he understood, the Bill gave power to the Board of Trade to practically ignore any decision which might be arrived at by the Committee upstairs. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that the companies very often were not under the same local authority. In view of this Bill, he thought when the Government undertook to deal with local areas they ought to take power also to consolidate the local authorities, which was a thing that this Bill did not do. The right hon. Gentleman had been long enough at the Board of Trade to know that the one thing which created so much dissatisfaction among the people was the number of local authorities which had the management of the streets. Every day in the year the streets were being pulled up for something or other, and what was wanted was one central authority for the management of the streets, so that they might not be pulled up more than once a year. He was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman had not thought fit to take power to consult the local authorities. He did not know what the London County Council thought of this Bill, but apparently as there was no opposition from the hon. Member for Battersea they were satisfied.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said he made no pretensions to have a mandate to speak for the London County Council on this or any other matter, but he felt compelled to respond to the invitation just extended to him. The Electric Lighting London Bill was not opposed by the London County Council, because it was a Bill which met public necessities in the degree that they were met by the Bill which the London County Council presented in the previous year, a Bill which, in deference to the Board of Trade, the Council did not persist in; the result was that the Board of Trade with the able assistance of the hon. Member for Mid Lanark, who really ought to be on the Treasury Bench leading the Government, did the work of the County Council. The Bill harmonised the electric lighting and borough areas which the new boundaries under the London Government Act disturbed and to that extent it ought to be supported. In London there were thirty local government areas, of which one half were supplied with electric light by companies and one half by local authorities. He hoped this Bill would not be made the medium of transferring from a local authority to a private company any area of supply which it would be more profitable, from the ratepayers point of view, for the local authority to keep. That possibility was worthy of note, in view of the fact that the Borough of Bermondsey was at present much perturbed about a readjustment of boundaries which, if sanctioned by the Board of Trade against the wish of the borough council, would inflict upon the local authority what they considered to be a material inconvenience and loss of profit. If any attempt was made to use this Bill for the purpose of giving private companies a numerical ascendancy in regard to the areas supplied by them, he hoped, in the interests of the public, the President of the Board of Trade would take the side of the local authority rather than that of the companies. Several matters required to be carefully watched, but if the Bill was going upstairs to a Hybrid Committee, before which the local authorities would be able to present their case, he would support the Second Reading.

MR. CUST (Southwark, Bermondsey)

was understood to ask whether, if an area not coterminous with a borough desired to obtain from the local authority electric light, which the local authority was equally anxious to supply, this Bill would prohibit such an arrangement being arrived at. If that was the principle of the Bill, it would inflict a great injustice on certain localities which had incurred heavy expenditure on electric lighting undertakings, and would check similar enterprise in the poorer parts of London.

SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)

regarded the Bill as a small attempt on the part of the Government to bring about something approaching uniformity of action in regard to the lighting of the Metropolis. One had only to wander around the precincts of the Houses of Parliament to see some of the most disgraceful lighting to be found in any great town in the universe. It would be a defect in the Bill if it enabled private companies to increase their control over the general lighting of the Metropolis, because whatever jealousy there might be on the part of some persons in regard to municipal trading, there could be no doubt that, if a local authority set up a generating station for locomotion purposes, every facility ought to be given to the local authority to control the lighting as well as the locomotion within its area, because a much better financial result was obtained from the combination of the two undertakings. He hoped, therefore, that, if possible, the Bill would be so modified in Committee as to give a bias in favour of local authorities acquiring extended powers of lighting in their own areas, and possibly, by combination, of giving a better service in particular districts. He was anxious that private companies should not obtain any advantage over local authorities.


did not think it possible for private companies to get any advantage under the Bill. The measure did not effect any question such as that to which the hon. Member was referring.


said that under these circumstances the Bill could be received only as a very small step in the direction of securing uniformity in the lighting of the Metropolis, but he hoped it would obtain a Second Reading and be sent to a Committee, by which all its details could be carefully inquired into.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Select Committee of Five Members. Three to be nominated by the House, and Two by the Committee of Selection.

Ordered, That all Petitions against the Bill presented three clear days before the meeting of the Committee be referred to the Committee; that the Petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, their Counsel, or Agents be heard against the Bill, and Counsel heard in support of the Bill.

Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.

Ordered, That Three be the quorum.—(Mr. Gerald Balfour.)

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