HC Deb 23 June 1910 vol 18 cc575-83

BILL [Lords.—By order.]

Order for Second Reading read.

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

Mr. R. D. HOLT

Some of us who are opposing this Bill have been very much dissatisfied with the method of procedure adopted by the promoters. We felt that the grouping together of different companies in one Bill did not give the opponents a fair opportunity of putting their view before the Committee. I am glad to say, however, as far as I am concerned, that we have been able to come to an arrangement with the promoters under which they are ready to accept an Instruction to the Committee in these terms:— That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill that they do hear the case of the Promoters, the Liverpool United Gas Company, separately, and do, on the request of any of the Petitioners, consider the expediency of dividing the Bill in order to remove any difficulty that may in their opinion, be proved to exist (by reason of the inclusion of several cases in the Bill) in the submission separately of any of the cases in opposition. I could give very excellent reasons to prove that the case of the Liverpool Gas Company is on quite a different footing from the other companies in the Bill, but as the matter has been arranged in the way I have described it is unnecessary for me to take up any longer the time of the House.


I desire to say, on behalf of the promoters of this Bill, that their object in grouping a considerable number of companies together was merely to save (he time of Parliament and the expenditure of public money. They frankly and promptly accepted the sugges- tion that they should form not one Bill but three, and an Instruction to the Committee, which is now on the Paper in the names of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Sir D. Goddard) and myself, to consider whether, in any case, there ought or ought not to be separate and special treatment. I fully agree with the further suggestion of the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt). If, under these circumstances, the House is prepared to assent to the Second Reading, and my hon. Friend moves his Instruction, I shall ask leave to move the adjournment of the Debate, in order that an amended Instruction may be moved providing that there shall of necessity be a separate Bill for Liverpool, and that any other place may have separate treatment if they can satisfy the Committee that there are grounds for it. In that form I hope the Instruction will commend itself to the House. I am sure it will be agreed that there are aspects of this highly technical question which are common to a large number of authorities, and in that case one decision may be most economical, and at the same time proper; while, on the other hand, in the case of Liverpool there are exceptional circumstances which I cordially agree justify the suggestion of my hon. Friend. As to any other local authority, if they can satisfy the Committee upstairs that their case is in any way special, the Instruction, if agreed to, will secure that that local authority shall have special treatment. This having been agreed to by the promoters in conference with my hon. Friend and other Members, I hope the House will agree to the Second Reading, in accordance with the almost universal rule of sending to Committees upstairs Bills dealing with technical matters which require an attention which the House would not perhaps be willing or specially adapted to give.

Colonel SANDYS

I shall be sorry to oppose the Motion, but, although I am glad to hear that special treatment has been accorded to Liverpool, there are other places, notably a borough in my own Constituency, very deeply interested. I understand from them that the more usual proceeding in a case of this kind is that each borough or city interested should promote a separate measure dealing with the question on its merits or should seek to obtain a Provisional Order. The advantage of that procedure is that very often a conference takes place between the petitioners seeking certain advantages, such as the promoters of these Bills, and the cities or boroughs affected by the clauses of which they disapprove. There is a broad general principle involved. It is extremely difficult for this House to pass any measure applicable to all the circumstances of individual portions of the country, although the general principles of the measure approved on the Second Reading may be in themselves most excellent. Under these circumstances, as a portion of my Constituency takes exception to many technical points in the three Bills of the promoters, notably that their time would be largely wasted in attending the Committee, while all the provisions of the separate Bills relating to the different companies were gone into, I shall certainly oppose the Second Reading, and I would ask the House to allow the usual procedure to go forward under which the parties concerned obtain separate Bills or Provisional Orders.


As representing Wolverhampton, I find myself in a somewhat difficult position. The course taken by the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) has come upon me by surprise. I understood that he, in common with others who have petitioned against the Bill, was going to oppose it. The course it is now proposed to take is to me entirely new, and involves considerable difficulty. If the result in the case of Wolverhampton were to be exactly what it already is in the case of Liverpool, I could understand the position. It would be like an individual Bill which would be individually opposed. But other cities and towns, as far as I can understand, are not to have the same privilege as Liverpool. Liverpool is to be treated as a distinct place at once, but other places are to go through the expense of appearing before the Committee, and waiting possibly many days in hearing the various discussions. If that is the case, it means considerable expense to the corporation which I represent. If the result of the proposal were that Wolverhampton had to put forward its case in the same way as if the company promoted an individual Bill, I could not offer the slightest opposition; but if it means that they have first to prove that they have special claims and afterwards to go to the expense of urging those special claims, it seems to me that they have to incur double expense and are placed in a very difficult position indeed. That is the position so far as I can see. At the same time, under these circumstances we, who I think are generally interested in this measure, are placed at a very sudden and great disadvantage. Unless the difficulties I have just hinted at are overcome, I myself see no alternative on behalf of the interests which I represent, and according to the views which have been represented to me, but to oppose a Second Reading. Others who are similarly situated to myself, I take it, will be compelled to adopt the same course. What I do not understand is this: Why other towns have not been approached in the same way as Liverpool has been approached. My town petitioned in opposition, and I think under those circumstances we might have been approached just in the same way as Liverpool to see whether it was possible for us to make equal terms. I had no information of anything of the kind. Under these circumstances, therefore—I do not want in the slightest degree to offer a fractious opposition to the Bill, what I do I do purely in the public interests—having been informed and instructed that Wolverhampton objects, I feel, unless I can be satisfied on the point of expense, I am bound in justice to my Constituents to oppose the Second Reading.


The hon. Member speaks of the interests of Wolverhampton. Wolverhampton is not included in this Bill at all.


I beg pardon, Mr. Speaker, I mean the third Bill. I understood the second Bill would raise the point, but I will wait until the third Bill is produced.


I do not say but what it might be convenient to the House to discuss the three Bills together. Strictly speaking, the interests of Wolverhampton do not arise upon this Bill at all. I think it might be better to take each Bill separately, in default of any agreement to discuss them otherwise.

Mr. PERCY ILLINGWORTH (Lord of the Treasury)

Perhaps I may very shortly inform the House why the Board of Trade thinks that the case of Liverpool should be given preferential treatment, and should be regarded as a case by itself. The subject is a highly technical one. I do not wish to weary the House with much that might be involved in setting forth the position and the many complexities of the position. But Liverpool is differentiated in this case, in so far as their supply is of twenty candle-power. It is the highest supplied by any company or any town in the United Kingdom. The rest of the towns, authorities, and gas companies concerned all, I believe, supply gas of a quality of from fourteen to sixteen candle-power. Therefore their circumstances are on all-fours, and it was considered that it might be desirable to group all those cases together. I hold no brief for one side or the other. The Board of Trade in these matters takes up an attitude of benevolent neutrality, but I think it should be said, in justice to the promoters of this Bill, that they did approach in the first instance Mr. Speaker's counsel. They asked him if it would be possible to introduce all these undertakings and companies under the cover of one Bill. He replied that it was perfectly competent for them to do so, but at the same time it would be more agreeable and more easy to group these different cases in separate Bills, and so to introduce them to the House. That has been done, not with any view, intention, or desire to prejudice any local authority, but with the view, which I should have thought the local authority would have shared, of putting all the cases of sixteen candle-power producers, which are on all-fours, together, and so saving expense instead of incurring expense by separate Bills. I do not see that in any way the representatives of the local authorities are in any way prejudiced, because they may, if they so desire, place before the Committee the reasons which may induce the Committee to give them separate treatment. I therefore ask the House, in view of the circumstances of the case, to read this Bill a second time, and let the Instruction go forward to extend the same treatment to the second and third Bills, at the same time accepting the instruction which is down in the name of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ipswich (Sir Daniel Goddard).


I understand, Sir, we shall not be in order in referring to No. 2 Bill at the present time; or should we discuss No. 2 Bill?


Better take them separately.


I have been specially requested by the Corporation of Lowestoft to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. In doing so I am desired to voice the view expressed at a conference of the local authorities dealing with all these Bills, not upon the ground of injury to any particular locality, but upon the broad principle that, in the first place, forty-three different companies have combined together to come to Parliament in these three Bills. I am asked to point out that these companies are very differently circumstanced, both as regards the conditions of supply and as regards the prices, testing places, methods of testing, standards of illuminating power, and other matters. They have totally different areas of supply, and it is almost impossible—and this is the view of the local authority—for any authority to deal separately in a joint promotion of this character with the various circumstances of the companies supplying within its jurisdiction.


Which of these Bills is the hon. Member dealing with 1 I do not find Lowestoft in any of them.


No, Sir, I am not referring particularly to the interests of Lowestoft. I am referring to the general principle in respect of these Bills, and of the objections which the conference of the local authorities of Lowestoft and other authorities throughout the country have urged. I was referring to the important conference of local authorities of the country, which is opposed to any principle of legislation of this kind. I am endeavouring, Mr. Speaker, to the best of my ability to voice the grounds of their opposition. They point out that any particular local authority, whether interested in these particular Bills or not, is likely to be prejudiced in the future in the case of legislation, whether it be by gas companies, railway companies, or others, who may adopt a similar procedure in promoting Bills in Parliament, if the precedent set by these Bills is allowed to be established.


May I inquire what precedent the hon. Gentleman refers to? Is it the grouping?


Yes: that is it exactly. By this Bill, which is only typical of the three before the House, it is undoubtedly the fact that gas companies are seeking new powers from Parliament which they do not possess at present. The main object, so far as this particular combination is concerned, is to enable them to adopt a new form of burner, which will have the effect of reducing the illuminating power and of increasing the cost, notably to the poor, who are much larger users of gas for heating and other purposes than they used to be. I do not think it is seriously denied by the promoters that this will be one of the direct effects of this Bill, if granted. They plead, as I understand, that they are limited by Act of Parliament to a maximum limit of dividends—I believe that is the only answer—and that they are bound by Act of Parliament to reduce the cost of gas to the consumer when the maximum dividend is reached; therefore, they say, what the consumer loses in one way by the loss of illuminating power he will regain in another way by the reduced cost of his gas. That is no answer. In the first place, there is no guarantee that the amount which the consumer will continue to pay on a reduced bill will be equivalent to the reduced article that he is consuming at the increased price. And in the second place, of course, we all know there is a limit to dividends beyond which the reduction has to be made. It is quite possible that it is conducive almost to extravagant depreciation, and other charges, which will not go into the pockets of the consumer, and which will increase the cost. This is directly raised by the powers under this Bill. The burner which complies with Section 3 of the London Gas Act is a different one from the one now proposed to be adopted, and I am told the cost of this new burner is something like two guineas, and, therefore, would be beyond the powers certainly of the poor. I am told that in his evidence before the Lords Committee the chief engineer of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board said that the effect upon his company of this Bill would be to increase their annual gas bill by no less than £3,000 or £4,000, and would involve them in a cost not less than £2,000 for adapting their engines used to the new conditions. The circumstances under which this Bill has been brought in and the powers it proposes to give, and the difficulties in which every local authority would be placed if it is to seek a locus standi to appear before the Committee give, I

venture to hope, sufficient ground as to why this Bill should not get a second reading.


I venture to offer a few remarks upon the principle of these three Bills, for this reason, that I think if the House does not accept the Second Reading they will be stopping progress. The meaning of these three Bills is this. They propose to substitute for an antique instrument the most modern form of testing gas. The hon. Gentleman, who has just spoken, seemed to think that the poor will have to purchase these burners. That is not the case at all; it is the gas companies who have to pay the two guineas for the burners. I think the public has been enabled, by the progress in science, to better the original bargain with the gas companies. By improvements in the gas itself, in fittings, and in burners, the public gets better value from gas of a certain standard than when the bargain was made. Gas is very largely used to-day for heating and for power, and it is less and less used for lighting. In the Metropolitan area, for instance, more than half the gas is used for heating and for power, and therefore gas of the lower standard is just as good for the majority of users as gas of the higher standard. So much has that been acknowledged that Committees upstairs have readily allowed gas companies in this country to lower their standard, and as a matter of fact the Welsbach light, which is practically-universal, is better if used with poor gas than with rich. Therefore this Bill will enable the companies to give cheaper gas, and if that gas is well burned it will be better for the public than the dear gas. I am in no way interested in gas companies, but I hope the House will not insist upon an antiquated instrument instead of a more modern one.

The House divided: Ayes, 80; Noes, 61.

Division No. 70.] AYES. [8.45 P.m.
Adkins, W. Ryland D. Clough, William Higham, John Sharp
Balcarres, Lord Cornwall, Sir Edwin A. Holt, Richard Durning
Balfour, Robert (Lanark) Cowan, W. H. Hooper, A. G.
Barnston, H. Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.) Hope, Harry (Bute)
Barran, Sir J. (Hawick) Denman, Hon. R. D. Howard, Hon. Geoffrey
Barton, William Duncan, J. Hastings (York, Otley) Illingworth, Percy H.
Beale, W. P. Elverston, H. Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)
Benn, I. H. (Greenwich) Emmott, Rt. Hon. Alfred Lambert, George
Benn, W. (Tower Hamlets, St. Geo.) Ferens, T. R. Law, Andrew Bonar (Dulwich)
Brunner, J. F. L. Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue Lewis, John Herbert
Burns, Rt. Hon. John Forster, Henry William Low, Sir F. A. (Norwich)
Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd Lundon, T.
Buxton, C. R. (Devon, Mid) Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J.
Carlile, E. Hildred Greig, Colonel J. W. M'Callum, John M.
Cave, George Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose) M'Laren, Walter S. B. (Ches., Crewe)
Cawley, Harold T. (Heywood) Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale) Mason, J. F.
Millar, J. D. Roche, John (Galway, East) Valentia, Viscount
Molteno, Percy Alport Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland) Watt, Henry A.
Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen) Samuel, J. (Stockton) Wheler, Granville C. H.
Morton, Alpheus Cleophas Samuel, S. M. (Whitechapel) Whyte, Alexander F. (Perth)
Norton, Captain Cecil W. Sanders, Robert A. Wilson, J. W. (Worcestershire, N.>
O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool) Shorn, Edward Wood, T. M'Kinnon (Glasgow)
Perkins, Walter F. Smith, H. B. (Northampton) Young, W. (Perthshire, E.)
Pickersgill, Edward Hare Soares, Ernest J. Yoxall, Sir James Henry
Pollock, Ernest Murray Spicer, Sir Albert
Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford, E.) Strauss, A. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.
Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel Talbot, Lord E. Gulland and Mr. Dudley Ward.
Robinson, S. Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander
Adam, Major W. A. Hardie, J. Keir Radford, George Heynes
Attenborough, W. A. Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, W.) Rice, Hon. Walter F.
Baker, H. T. (Accrington) Harvey, W. E. (Derbyshire, N.E.) Ridley, Samuel Forde
Barnes, G. N. Haslam, James (Derbyshire) Roberts, George H. (Norwich)
Barrie, H. T. (Londonderry, N.) Hill, Sir Clement Rowntree. Arnold
Bentham, G. J. Houston, Robert Paterson Scott, A. H. (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Bethell, Sir J. H. Hughes, S. L. Seddon, J.
Bird, A. Hume-Williams, W. E. Shackleton, David James
Bowerman, C. W. Hunter, Sir C. R. (Bath) Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)
Cameron, Robert Jowett, F. W. Thomas, J. H. (Derby)
Chancellor, H. G. King, Sir Henry Seymour (Hull) Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Chapple, Dr. William Allen Leach, Charles Tryon, Capt. George Clement
Collins, Stephen (Lambeth) Lincoln, Ignatius T. T. Wadsworth, J.
Crawshay-Williams, Eliot Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester) Walton, Joseph
Croft, H. P. Mackinder, Halford J. Wiles, Thomas
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness) Mitchell, William Foot Wilkie, Alexander
Edwards, Enoch Muspratt, M. Williams, J. (Glamorgan)
Fell, Arthur Nuttall, Harry Wing, Thomas
Foster, H. S. (Suffolk, N.) Parker, James (Halifax)
Glanville, H. J. Pointer, Joseph TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Col.
Goldman, C. S. Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central) Sandys and Mr. Fletcher.
Greenwood, G. G.

Bill read a second time.