HC Deb 02 November 1908 vol 195 cc907-19

Order for Second Reading read.

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

*MR. MORTON (Sutherland)

said before this Bill was given its Second Reading he would like on behalf of the Corporation of London to say a few words. This Bill was to give powers to the various electricity supply companies to amalgamate and carry on their business in connection with each other. There were two electricity supply companies in the City of London, and if this Bill passed in its present form it would permit those two City companies to amalgamate without the consent of the Corporation. But that was the very thing it was desired to prevent. When the Bill conferring powers on the second company was before the House it was approved by the House on the recommendation of the Board of Trade, on the ground that it would be a protection to the citizens of London, in so far that there would be competition which would effectually prevent the supply of electric light and power being charged for at too high a rate. The consequence of the action of Parliament at the time was that the second company, the Charing Cross Company, as it was called, was allowed to carry its Bill into an Act. In that Act the Corporation obtained powers, also recommended by the Board of Trade, to purchase the company at the early date of 1914. That provision was inserted in the company's Bill for the protection of the City. In that part of the Act which permitted the Charing Cross Company to carry on its business in the City of London it expressly forbade the company's amalgamating themselves with any other company in the City of London. Although he had several strong, objections to these Bills in its present shape, and still more if the proposed instruction by the Board of Trade was passed, he did not desire to move the rejection of the Bill at this stage because under the altered conditions, namely, the promise on the part of the Board of Trade to permit the House to have a free hand in considering these Bills on Report and Third Reading, if they could not obtain satisfaction before the Committee upstairs, they would be able to propose Amendments on Report and to oppose the Bill altogether on Third Reading. After all the fighting and trouble they had had in the City to get electric power and light on cheap and reasonable terms, it would be very hard on the citizens if that were to be taken away by Parliament simply for the benefit of the companies. No doubt, with proper precautions, the linking up of these companies might be of some use to the people, and all they desired was to ask Parliament to protect the citizens in their rights and privileges already granted by Parliament.

MR. COCHRANE (Ayrshire, N.)

desired briefly to explain the provisions of the Bill, which he thought had not been quite properly put before the House. Whilst the House had been discussing this electric supply question for years, with the desire to get at a more perfect system, they had, in his opinion, rather neglected to take advantage of the means that lay at their hands for obtaining cheap electric power and light. London waited while they were searching for the impossible and not using the material at their hand. This Bill was a simple one, and contained only three operative clauses—Clauses 3, 5, and 9. Clause 9 was similar to that which appeared in every similar Bill. Clause 3 was absolutely necessary. Parliament in the early days, when it started to consider the provision and supply of electricity, thought it necessary to divide London into watertight compartments; to give the companies certain areas, and to forbid any company to associate itself with any other in any other area. From that policy very unfortunate circumstances arose. Only lately there was a breakdown due to some defect in the current on a system of trains and tube railways. Owing to the inability on the part of those who supplied the electricity to obtain from another company which was well equipped and well able to supply electricity to the train and tube railway system, the whole of the traffic on those systems was brought to a standstill on a Saturday afternoon. What he desired to point out was that here they had a number of companies, each by Act of Parliament confined to its own district and unable to come to the assistance of another company in difficulties. Power was taken in this Bill to enable them to do so. That was so desirable that he need not labour the point. Clause 5 was to enable a company to give a supply outside its own area. Under the Provisional Order of 1889 a company was unable to do this. He hoped after this explanation the Bill would not meet with any opposition. It could do nothing but good, and he believed in the end would reduce the price of electricity supplied.


moved: "That it be an instruction to the Committee to which the Bill is referred, that they have power to insert a provision constituting the London County Council the purchasing authority on equitable terms. That existing purchasing authorities or any other person affected by such a provision shall be entitled to be heard before the Committee upon any petition presented not Later than 4th November."The Bill permitted the linking-up of the systems of thirteen electric companies supplying London. All these companies were subject to a purchase clause to come into operation in 1931. With this right of purchase fifteen local authorities were concerned, but questions of compensation for severance would arise not pleasant to contemplate, therefore to make the purchase rights really effective and economical there must be an endeavour to consolidate the purchase rights—a laborious detailed piece of work for the Committee. In the opinion of the Government the consolidated rights should be vested in the London County Council, after giving to the local authorities full opportunity to be heard in the interest of their ratepayers and their local claims to be fully appraised and adjusted. If the instruction were accepted by the Committee to which the Bill was referred, the consequence would be that the London County Council in 1931 would be possessed of the linked-up electrical system of the whole of the thirteen companies. He should hope that before 1931 it would be possible to link up the existing boroughs; and if they should be linked up—a process which would be facilitated by the Bill, because its promoters had agreed not to oppose any Bill of the boroughs who desired to link themselves up—then the London County Council would be possessed of the systems of both companies and boroughs, and, thus armed and equipped, would be in command and possession of the whole administration and supply of electricity within its area.


May I ask if the right hon. Gentleman proposes to take away the rights of the Corporation to purchase in 1914?


said every local body would have access to the Committee, and would be able to make their special case good with the Committee, which would adjust their case to the general interests of the public, but he undoubtedly proposed to consolidate all the existing purchase rights and vest them in the County Council.

MR. REMNANT (Finsbury, Holborn)

May I ask whether municipal authorities will be treated on the same lines as private companies?


said everything should be linked up everywhere and if the boroughs brought forward proposals to link up among themselves he certainly thought the Board of Trade would do all in their power to assist them.


In the matter of purchase, I mean.


You cannot imagine the London County Council would purchase the borough rights if it only meant transferring the rights of one set of ratepayers to another.

LORD R. CECIL (Marylebone, E.)

Under the terms of the instruction would the boroughs who are already in possession of the right of supplying electricity be entitled to be heard before the Committee if they desired, in criticism of the main part of the instruction? I am not quite sure whether, as the instruction is worded, they would. I anticipate the right hon. Gentleman would desire that the bodies which have an immense interest in the electric lighting of the Metropolis should be heard and should give the Committee the benefit of their experience and advice.


It is most carefully framed to give all parties effective access to the Committee, and I believe it has achieved that end.

MR. W. THORNE (West Ham, S.)

asked whether Barking and East Ham and West Ham would be in a position to be heard before the Committee. He understood that a generating station would be erected at Barking Creek.


said the hon. Member was turning his mind more particularly to another Bill which was already under the consideration of a Committee. There were three Bills dealing with London electricity. One dealt with the outside bulk supply, and the others were proposals for linking up certain groups of existing companies. It was with that second class of Bill that they were dealing now.

MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

said the borough council undertakings had been created by the ratepayers of the boroughs and not by the ratepayers of London, and any loss which would result from any scheme arising out of the Instruction would not fall upon London as a whole, but upon the ratepayers of a particular borough. Had the right hon. Gentleman in any way safeguarded them from any undue pressure from the central body, because that was a matter of finance of the highest urgency and also of very great importance in the long run to London.


said his observations as to the future fortunes of the linked-up boroughs, if and when they were linked-up, were of a speculative and anticipatory character and were not relevant to these measures. The only thing they could do to that effect was to ask the promoters of the Bill not to offer objection to any such facilities being offered to a borough. As to what would be the future of the borough's supplies when they were, consolidated, he did not think it would be wise or prudent to examine now. But although it might be only transference from borough to county ratepayers, in that respect equity must always rule their dealings, and if there were cases they would have, no doubt, to be adjusted.

Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to which the Bill is referred, that they have power to insert a provision constituting the London County Council the purchasing authority on equitable terms. That existing purchasing authorities or any other person affected by such a provision shall be entitled to be heard before the Committee upon any Petition presented not later than 4th November.—(Mr. Churchill.)


said the object of the Instruction he proposed to move was that the purchase price in 1931 should not be greater on account of the concessions proposed to be given. The meaning of the second part was that in case of any loss it should not come out of the funds of the ratepayers. This was not a new thing at all. Provisions had been inserted in the case of waterworks requiring to be linked-up in this way.

MR. RADFORD (Islington, E.)


Motion made, and Question proposed, "That it be an instruction to the Committee to which the Bill is referred to insert a clause making it clear: (1) That the companies shall not be entitled in the event of the purchase of their undertakings, to any additional sum by reason of the exercise of the powers by this Act authorising agreements between the said companies for mutual assistance or association; and (2) that the companies shall not be entitled, in the event of the purchase of their undertakings, to any sum in respect of any loss occasioned by severance from such undertakings of any mains or works laid or constructed under the provisions of this Act."—(Mr. Timothy Davies.)


said that he did not recommend the House to adopt the Instruction. In 1931 the plant and property of the companies would pass to the purchasing authorities, but there would be no question of profits, dividends, prospective advantages, or good will. The companies would be purchased, not exactly under tramway terms, but for the value of their plant and their sites. The linking-up of a few more mains and connecting links might be carried out, and it was conceivable that the purchasing authority would have to pay something more in respect of these additions. This was obviously fair and just, because value was being obtained for the money in a more efficient electrical supply. The other point raised had reference to severance; but if the instructions already passed were carried out the whole linked-up system of the companies would be taken as a whole. It was not an inequitable or dangerous situation.


said that after the explanation given by the President of the Board of Trade he would ask leave to withdraw his Instruction.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


moved, "That it be an Instruction to the Committee to insert such provisions in the Bill as will ensure that the powers proposed by the Bill to be conferred upon the London Electric Supply Companies shall be conferred also on the local authorities who are authorised distributors in the administrative County of London." He thought this Instruction was one which would be accepted by all responsible persons connected with the Bill. His object was to restore the Bill to the original condition in which it was presented by the promoters to the other House. They had already had experience of a very efficient system of an electrical undertaking in the Newcastle district, under which some eight different systems had been linked together. Recent events had shown that if they concentrated too greatly the supply of electricity they would be exposed to the danger of breakdowns such as that which recently occurred upon certain underground railways, and upon part of the London tramway system. As the main argument for his Instruction, he inquired why, where there were two persons living in the Metropolitan area, the one living in a district served by companies should enjoy the benefits of a linked-up system which would be denied to a resident in another district served by a municipal undertaking.

SIR WILLIAM BULL (Hammersmith)



, as a point of order, asked whether, they had any right to confer the powers suggested, inasmuch as the public authorities were not promoters of the Bill, were not necessarily opponents, and might not be before the Committee at all.


It is not the right to purchase, but the right to link up which the hon. Member is proposing, and the right to link up was in the original Bill. If the House decides to adopt the Instruction moved by the hon. Member, then the Bill will be restored to its original condition. I have satisfied myself that this point is covered by the notices issued for the Bill, and this Instruction comes within the four corners of it. It is, therefore, in order.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That it be an Instruction to the Committee to insert such provisions in the Bill as will ensure that the powers proposed by the Bill to be conferred upon the London Electric Supply Companies shall be conferred also on the local authorities who are authorised distributors in the Administrative County of London."—(Mr. Claude Hay.)


said he did not wish to be taken by the House as being in any way opposed in principle to the general sense and tenour of the instruction. He agreed that it was desirable that the boroughs should have every facility for linking up all the electrical systems, but he was not sure whether the hon. Gentleman would not be putting upon the Committee a task which it would be very difficult to carry out, and which would be to some extent inappropriate. It was for them to bring forward their own scheme. It was not for a Committee sitting upstairs to elaborate such a scheme for the linking-up of the boroughs without the boroughs themselves first coming forward. He was not quite sure that the resulting plan, if the Committee carried out the behest of the hon. Gentleman, would be satisfactory or agreeable to the boroughs. At any rate, it would be a labour of great difficulty and complexity. He thought a much better way to proceed was that indicated by his right hon. friend the Member for West Islington on the next Bill, that was to say, that they should leave the future initiative of this linking-up of the boroughs to come from the boroughs. They should take this opportunity of binding these companies not at any future time to offer opposition to similar rights being conferred on the boroughs if they were afterwards asked by the boroughs.

MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

said he thought the intentions of the hon. Member for Hoxton were good, but he did not think he had been very happy in the way he proposed to carry them out. It would be extremely difficult to compel the Committee to put in a provision which would really help the borough councils in this matter. As far as they could go was to ask the companies to bind themselves not to oppose the Bill if the councils came forward with some proposals at a later date. The object which the hon. Member had in view was clear, and he suggested that he should agree to an Amendment in the form of that which he himself had put down with respect to the next Bill. He thought the promoters of the Bill would agree to accept that. If the hon. Member would agree to that, he would be very pleased to move an Amendment in the terms suggested.


asked what the terms were.


said the terms of the Instruction would be that a provision should be inserted in the Bill binding the promoters not to offer opposition to any future leglislative proposals that might be brought forward on behalf of the borough councils for such mutual assistance or association as this Bill conferred on the promoters.

MR. BONAR LAW (Dulwich)

thought the Board of Trade themselves introduced a Bill with the idea of giving these general powers. He suggested to the President of the Board of Trade that possibly the object they all aimed at would be arrived at if the proposal of his hon. friend was altered so as not to make it mandatory, but to give the Committee power, if they chose, to make this recommendation. He suggested that the words "if they think proper" should be inserted in the Instruction.


thought this a very useful suggestion. Personally he preferred the form of words put forward by his right hon. friend the Member for West Islington; but it would not be possible to move such an Instruction to the Committee without notice. That being so, if there were a general preference for the Instruction which had been moved by the hon. Member for Hoxton, and that Instruction were not made mandatory, he thought that would meet the purpose.

SIR EDWIN CORNWALL (Bethnal Green, N. E.)

feared that by taking the course suggested they might fail to achieve the object which they all desired, for the Committee might not see fit to insert in a private Bill a clause giving powers to local authorities. If the Instruction suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Islington were agreed to, they would be safeguarded.


Why not have both?


said if they had both his objection would fall to the ground. He asked the House not to assent too readily to the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman opposite, because by so doing they might lose both. He was strongly against inserting in a private Bill a provision giving powers of the kind proposed. Nothing could be more inconvenient than that borough councils should have to look into private Bills to see what their powers were. He understood the President of the Board of Trade to say that the promoters had agreed to the Instruction standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Islington. If that was so, he did not think they need disturb themselves any more about it.

*SIR SAMUEL SCOTT (Marylebone, W.)

said the right hon. Gentleman had stated in his speech that he was not aware that any borough councils had supported this Instruction to the Committee. Speaking on behalf of the borough council of Marylebone he desired to inform the House that they did support this instruction. If his hon. friend would accept the proposal which had been made, he thought it would meet the view of the borough council in the matter.


said he was perfectly willing to accept any words which would carry out the general intention that he and those he represented had in view. He was most ready to accept any instruction proposed by the right hon. Member for West Islington, but he wanted it to be clearly understood that the motive which animated him was to try to save the ratepayers' money. If there were no such instruction those whom he represented and the ratepayers would have to fee counsel and spend thousands of pounds in defence of their undertaking. That he wished to avoid. Might he point out to the President of the Board of Trade that the difficulty and expense to which he had alluded would have been avoided if the Government had proceeded with their Bill of 1906, which was introduced by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer who was then President of the Board of Trade. Clause 6 of that Bill conferred on the parties he represented the power of interchange and so-forth, without their spending the London rates in securing those rights in the municipality undertakings. If the Government were to undertake to introduce a Bill next session conferring the powers given in Clause 6 of the Bill of 1906 he would be content not to pursue his Instruction, although alternatively he was willing to accept the Amendment of the Member for Dulwich to insert in his Instruction the words "that they have the power," after "Committee."


Perhaps some hon. Member will move the Amendment.


moved that these words be inserted in the proposed Instruction.

MR. BOWLES (Lambeth, Norwood)


Amendment proposed— In line 1, after the word 'Committee,' to insert the words 'that they have the power.'"—(Sir F. Banbury.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


said he wished to point out that that would not secure the object the hon. Member had in view. The instruction went on to say that the powers proposed by the Bill "shall be conferred also on the local authorities." How could they confer powers on the local authorities? It was not their Bill. They could not turn this Bill, which was a companies' Bill, into a general Bill. He thought the hon. Member would not get out of the difficulty by accepting the Amendment; and that he would do best to close with the offer made by the President of the Board of Trade.


said he would not have proposed his Amendment if he had not thought it would be of real use, and he believed that the House would be wise to allow the Amendment which had now been moved to be carried.

Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert such provisions in the Bill as will ensure that the powers proposed by the Bill to be conferred upon the London Electric Supply Companies shall be conferred also on the local authorities who are authorised distributors in the Administrative County of London.