HC Deb 20 November 1919 vol 121 cc1208-81

As amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.

Question again proposed "That the Clause be read a second time."

Mr. THOMSON (resuming)

In order to secure the success of this measure in the country—and I am sure it is the unanimous feeling of the House that this measure of co-ordination and development of electrical power should be a success—the administration and development of it should be in the hands of a Department in which the various local authorities and the undertakers and traders of the country have absolute confidence. It is only by securing the hearty co-operation of all sections in this difficult transition period and period of development that you will be able to make the most of this great measure, and I am very much afraid the object the Government have in view of getting a hustle on will be defeated by the Clause they are trying to substitute for the procedure on which the Committee was unanimous. It is not a question of political feeling. It is that you will have the electrical development of the country and the arrangement of the generating stations put in the hands of a Department which is itself an interested party. The Home Secretary said, "You have in the Ministry of Transport already railway electricians skilled in the development of electricity as required by railways." That is a very strong argument against putting the Electricity Commissioners under the Ministry of Transport, because the traders, undertakers and municipalities will feel that in the development of this big scheme the interests of railway electrical development will naturally predominate rather than the development of electricity in the interest of the whole community. We were told that in future 10 or 20 per cent, of the electrical power may be taken by the railway companies. But whether it be 20 per cent, or a much larger figure, it is essential that the community as a whole should feel that its electrical development will take place on lines not in the interests of any one section of the community, but in the interests of the traders as a whole. The Home Secretary said we required driving force, and he suggested that that would be more likely to come from the Ministry of Transport than from the Board of Trade. The driving force in either case will depend upon the Commissioners themselves. If you get the right type of Commissioners they will be the driving force to see that this is carried through in the right way. It was in the mind of the Committee that the Commissioners, not merely judicially, but as administrators, would be the power behind the Bill to make it a success, and the question whether it should be under the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Transport was the question of who should, be the mouthpiece in this House rather than that they should have any active part. It is desirable that we should have Commissioners who are independent of transport, who will view the interests of the country as a whole in its electrical development, and if you get the right Commissioners you will have the right driving force to see that this is carried out in the interests of the country as a whole. The Committee, which considered the-matter very carefully, were, up to yesterday, absolutely in favour of following the advice of the experts rather than of the Cabinet, which cannot have considered the question as carefully as the Committee has.


I enter on the Debate with some diffidence, because I was a member of the Transport Committee and also of the Electricity Bill Committee, and in both of them I put down an Amendment opposing the transfer of electricity to the new Ministry. At first I was of the opinion that the new Ministry was going to be overloaded, and that it would have far too much to do and would be unable to do it properly, and I thought, with many other members of the Committee, that if the new Minister would confine his attention more exclusively to railways and try to deliver them from their present tangle and get them licked into proper shape, he had enough work to do without taking in hand harbours, docks, piers, canals, roads, tramways, and electricity. But during the Committee stage of the Transport Bill the provisions were modified greatly, and I have come to the conclusion that if the new Ministry of Transport is not to be crippled and hampered it really must have control of electricity. There is no doubt whatever that if the railways of the country are to be put into a proper condition there must be a great development in the electrification of railways, and that a great future is in, store for electricity for purposes of transport. It may be urged that that can be quite well done by the Board of Trade, but I think the evidence in favour of the new Ministry organising and initiating the necessary work in connection with the development of electricity by improving the means of transport is quite conclusive. The Board of Trade is simply a supervising authority. It makes regulations and sees that they are carried out, and what it lays down is observed by the various authorities over which it has supervision. But it has no initiative, and we are looking forward to the new Transport Ministry initiating great departures in the way of improving the transport of the country, and we hope there will really be found that driving power behind it which we cannot look for from the Board of Trade. Therefore, I think we should agree to this Clause. I know it is not a popular thing, having set up new Rules of Procedure whereby Bills are sent upstairs, that after a Committee has sat for eighteen or nineteen days, thrashing out the details of the Bill, the Cabinet should reverse decisions arrived at almost unanimously. Only twenty voted in favour of the deletion of the Clause.


How many are in the House out of 707?


I admit that that is one of the defects of the Parliamentary system, that we are here discussing this important Clause, and when a decision comes to be taken it will not be the Members who are present who will turn the scale but the Members who will flock in without really having any intelligent knowledge on the subject. Under our present system of Committee work it would never do to lay down a hard and fast rule that because a Committee came to a certain decision that should never be reversed by the House under any circumstances. But the decision of the Committee should not be reversed unless for very good reasons. Under the circumstances in which we are placed there are good reasons for the reversal of the decision of the Committee. I find myself in the position of having changed my mind. I did so from the most disinterested motives. I had the feeling that now that we have set up a Transport Minister and imposed upon him the duty of organising the whole of the transport services of the country we should not be justified in hampering him, but we are bound to give him a fair chance. We should not do anything which will cripple the energies of his Department, and I think a good case has been made out by the Home Secretary for giving him the powers he seeks in this Clause. The choice before us is quite simple. It is whether the Board of Trade or the new Ministry should supervise matters. I think the weight of evidence is in favour of giving to the new Transport Ministry the power that is sought under this Clause, and by trans- ferring the control of electrical energy to the new Transport Ministry we shall do something, without hampering it and without unduly crippling it, to enable it to set afoot great measures for the proper organisation of transport and for the great development of electricity and electrical power, and because I have come to that conclusion I favour the Clause and shall certainly vote for it.

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir A. Geddes)

I lave not risen for the purpose of making a speech on the subject, but merely of clearing up some misunderstanding. It has been suggested that the Board of Trade is opposed to the powers granted under this Bill being administered by the Ministry of Transport. That is not the case. The Board of Trade many months before I had anything to do with it formally agreed that, these powers would be better administered by the Ministry of Transport. I examined the matter fully myself when I went to the Board of Trade—I had looked at it before when at the Ministry of Reconstruction—and came to the conclusion that these, powers would be better under some other Department than the Board of Trade. It is not the case that the Board of Trade ever suggested that these powers should be under the Board of Trade.

When statements are made to the contrary I feel sure they must be made under a complete misunderstanding. The reasons which made me believe that these powers should be administered not by the Board of Trade but by the Ministry of Transport are shortly these: In connection with the development of electricity obviously a very large number of engineering problems arise, and in these days it is clearly necessary that duplication of staff should be avoided. If the Board of Trade is to be equipped with a new technical Department, there will have to be duplication, with all that that means in waste of effort and public money.

Colonel Sir J. REMNANT

Have not the Board of Trade a technical staff already?


Yes, but not of the sort that will be required in connection with the administration of these powers.


Has not this work been done on the advice of officers of the Board of Trade, and not of the Transport Ministry?


There was no Ministry of Transport when this work was started. The officials who were specially required had to be got somewhere and attached to some office, and the natural office to attach them to was the Board of Trade. My predecessor in office and his senior Civil servant, Sir Llewellyn Smith, agreed, I think in the autumn of last year, that the arrangement which is now contemplated should be carried out. There are other very material points which make it advisable that these powers should be administered by the Ministry of Transport. If there be one thing this country needs at the present moment it is to get industries spread. We have them congested at the present time in a few very populous areas. I here are any number of industries which could with great advantage and great economy be carried out to less densely populated parts of the country. The concentration of industries in populous areas is quite obviously due to the easy access to the coalfields. With electricity we have a means of distributing the power all over the country, and, we hope, of limiting the crowding in great industrial areas. If there is to be a Department which is to look after that spreading of power over the country, it will assuredly be most economically done by the Department which wishes to establish for its own purposes these rivers of power along the railways. The only alternative is the duplication of staff and expense. If you can distribute power along the railways, and use it for the railways, and at the same time carry off branches from it which will supply local works, then you have one main transmission line along your railway. If two Departments are working, one to provide motive power for the railways, and the other to provide power for industries, then you will have a waste of capital and a duplication of the transmission line. In many cases if that is to be done separately it will pay neither to electrify the railway nor to carry the electric energy into a district where it can be used. For these absolutely practical and economic reasons I believe that it is better that the general administration of the powers under this Bill should be conferred upon the Department which is already interested in the railways. I am sure it will lead to economy in staff, and to efficiency. The Board of Trade have ample to do without having this extra great responsibility added to its already numerous duties. It is for these reasons that I believe it to be sound that this Clause which has been moved by the Home Secretary should be adopted. The Board of Trade agreed to this many mouths before I went to the Board of Trade, and there has never been any official withdrawal from that agreement expressed or suggested.


My right hon. Friend has just disposed of the unfounded allegation that the Board of Trade are unwilling or have ever been unwilling to resign the control of electricity in this country. I should like to add my testimony, as one of the members of the Standing Committee which dealt with this Bill upstairs, to what my right hon. Friend has said, namely, that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade did not in any single word allege or even hint that the Department which he represented was unwilling to resign the control of electricity. For confirmation of this I appeal to the yellow OFFICIAL REPORT, in which the words of the Parliamentary Secretary were reported verbatim. There you will find confirmation of what I say, and contradiction of what has been alleged earlier in the Debate, that the Parliamentary Secretary did not seem desirous of supporting the view that he was supposed to support.


Is the hon. Member referring to what I said?


I think the hon. Member did say something of the kind.


I did not say anything of the kind.


If the hon. Member did not, then some other hon. Member did, and if he refers to the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow he will find that what I have said is accurate. The hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Chamberlain) certainly made a statement which is entirely without foundation. He said that this new Bill when it became an Act would only work satisfactorily if popular views were in its favour, and that this Clause would be unpopular and would, therefore, be a handicap against the Bill. As I entered the House I received authority, quite unasked for and quite unsolicited, from the representative of the Association of Electric Supply Companies, an association which represents more than 100 different supply companies throughout the country, to state on their behalf that they are in favour of this Clause, and that if it is passed and included in the Bill they will welcome it and support it.


Was the hon. Member informed when they had held a meeting, since they passed a unanimous resolution to the contrary?


That statement was made by Mr. H. B. Renwick at a meeting yesterday, and another representative, with whom I have conferred within the last half hour, has confirmed it and supported it in exactly the same terms.


Did they give you any particulars of any meeting that has been held authorising them to make that statement to you?


I received no particulars of any meeting, but they gave that statement on their own authority and I accepted it, and I ask the House to accept it, subject, of course, to anything which my hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour) may say in contradiction. Everything he does say will, I am sure, be accepted by the House. That statement was made to me; I accepted it, and I believe it to be correct. Several speakers have referred to the broad general principle that this House should not, as a rule, upset the decisions of its Committees upstairs. That is a well-recognised principle, but where there is good reason shown, it is the function of this House on Report stage to take the opportunity of reviewing the decisions of its Committees. My hon. Friend (Mr. Johnstone) has anticipated what I regard as the true answer to that allegation in connection with this Clause. There are, I believe, seventy-four members of Standing Committee B, and the number of members who were present on the occasion when this Clause, or a corresponding item in the Bill, was under discussion, were twenty-four—less than one-third of the total number.


There are over 700 Members of this House, and only a small number are here now.


I am speaking as to whether the decision of the Committee ought to be respected by this House, and when less than one-third of the total number of that Committee attended to vote, then I say that the authority of that Committee is very much discounted, and the arguments that the House should hesitate about upsetting its decision are weakened and substantially fall to the ground. The true issue before the House is that the House has to decide whether the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Transport shall in future be the administrator of electricity. The head and front of the very lucid arguments of the hon. Member for Ladywood was that under this Clause the existing powers of the Board of Trade as regards electricity will be transferred to the Ministry of Transport; the Ministry of Transport will be the users of electricity, because they administer the railways, and if there be any hardships in administration in connection with industries they will be the judges in their own case, and there will be no one to appeal to for justice to be done. Is that really the fact? Look at the Clause. It provides for the transference, and at the end we have these words: Provided that the power of appointing electricity Commissioners under this Act shall be exercised by the Ministry of Transport after consultation with the Board of Trade. That would mean, I think, in practice that the Board of Trade must have a voice in the appointment of these Commissioners. So long as that is so it cannot be said that the Ministry of Transport are judges in their own Court, and that there will be no one to appeal to from any injustice which they may do. Still, referring to the issues so plainly laid down by my hon. Friend opposite, I would say that the Board of Trade, who, it is proposed by those Members who object to this Clause, shall continue the administration of certain matters in reference to electricity, is a Department of many interests and of so much work that I am sure my right hon. Friend (Sir A. Geddes) by reason of his natural modesty did not refer to it in the course of his speech. But in the "Times" of 12th November there is a paragraph, portion of which I would like to read— President, Parliamentary Secretaries and staffs of the following Departments of the Board of Trade now installed in their new offices. Commercial relations and treaties, industries and manufactures, power, transport and economics, marine, secretariat of the Board of Trade Council Board of Trade Journal and establishment, Public Utility Department, Legal Department, and library, are still housed at Whitehall Gardens headquarters. The Statistical Department, control of trading accounts, capital issues committees and the War insurance accounts branch will remain at Whitehall. The Finance Department will remain at Whitehall, the Bankruptcy Department will remain at Horseguards Avenue. This is the Department with all those sections distributed over half a dozen different places in London, overworked with far more things to do than other Departments would have.

Colonel Sir J. REMNANT

What about the Ministry of Transport?


The Ministry of Transport has not anything like the same number of sections. I have not referred to all the sections of the Board of Trade. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Sir F. Hall) knows the enormous duty in connection with marine passengers that the Board of Trade has to carry out. There is another section which is strong enough to be a Department in itself—the Department of Oversea Trade. What led to the resignation of the hon. Member for East Birmingham (Sir A. Steel-Maitland), as he himself explained, was that the Board of Trade wished that the Oversea Trade Department should remain part of the Board of Trade, and it is still part of the Board of Trade, though it is a section wide enough to occupy the entire work of a Minister and a staff under him. My recollection of many years of the Board of Trade is that the Fisheries Department was removed and made part of the Department of Agriculture a few years ago because the Board of Trade was overworked and could not deal properly with the Fisheries Department, and so it was sent to another Ministry. Are you going to make the mistake of increasing the work of that already overworked Department? My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the work of the Ministry of Transport. One of the positive reasons in favour of the Ministry of Transport dealing with electricity is not only the strong reason which the President of the Board of Trade has stated—the fact that you have on the railroads the physical facilities for carrying your main cables that will feed the current, so that you may have branches from them—but there is also the certainty, I believe, that in the very near future the electrification of railways will be enormously increased.

None of us who travel on any of the tubes in London can fail to appreciate the facilities that electric railway traction gives in the railway service—quickness of starting, punctuality, and a hundred other advantages of a technical kind with which I need not weary the House. Broadly speaking, you will have in the near future an enormous extension of the electrification of railways. If that is so, how can you, without enormous difficulty and inconvenience to the public and everyone concerned, separate it into two sections or Departments which will adminis- ter the development of traction and the development of transport upon the railways? I hope that the House will not reject this Clause, but will confirm substantially what the Committee would have done, and would do now, I believe, if it could be reassembled in full force; and, so far from it being a contradiction of the Committee's work, as has been suggested to us, to examine this Clause, I believe the House will support what the Committee would have done had there been a full attendance and the matter had been fully explained to them. And by confirming the Clause the House will be consolidating the Department to which we all look with confidence for great and important improvements in the transport services of the country.


I have listened to several speeches during the last hour, impartially, with the view to discovering if any reason was advanced to show why we should transfer this Department from the Board of Trade to the Ministry of Transport. I have heard many statements, but so far I have discovered in the speeches no reason why this transfer should be made. Before I give a few reasons as to why this proposal should be rejected I would like to voice what I feel is a grievance felt by a very large body of Members. On the Order Paper yesterday there was no sign of this Amendment. Last week when certain hon. Members suggested that we should be allowed more time before this Bill came into the House on Report it was suggested that there would be ample time. Yet we find that the Minister of Transport was unable to get his new Clause on the Paper until the day on which the Bill comes into the House on Report. I think that that is a substantial grievance. On a question of this magnitude we are entitled to have at least twenty-four hours to consider our position before we are called upon to speak on a matter like this.

The Home Secretary remarked that if we leave this to the Board of Trade it would be detrimental to the point of destruction. He pleaded that the Ministry of Transport already had some of the staff. Why have they some of the staff? Have they prejudged the action of Parliament? Did they determine whether Parliament so determines or not that they were to have in their hands the power to run the electric business of this country? Apparently so. The President of the Board of Trade said that months before he became President of the Board of Trade it was determined that this electric supply should be under the Ministry of Transport. If that is so how does it appear that the Bill was not reprinted before it went into Committee so that we might, while working in Committee, realise the due bearing and importance of the Ministry of Transport in relation to each Clause as we went along? I felt, and I think I can speak for most hon. Members of the Committee, that in reading it Clause by Clause we were entitled to assume that we were thinking of the Board of Trade and speaking of the Board of Trade and that we had not to wait until we had arrived at Clause 44 to know whether it was to be the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Transport.

6.0 p.m.

There are substantial reasons why this should not be transferred to the Ministry of Transport. I may first call attention to what I believe to be the chief grounds which have been put forward as to why we should transfer to the Ministry of Transport. I think that the grounds upon which alone the insertion of this new Clause can be justified are if it is shown to this House and proved to demonstration that it is justified on technical and commercial considerations; and second, and even more important, that if it is justified to this House and to the country as a matter of broad public policy. If that fails, if it is not justified as a matter of broad public policy, then I think it is the duty of hon. Members to reject this new Clause. It has been generally stated that railways will require ultimately about 20 per cent, of the total electricity in the country. That has been advanced as the first reason for transfer from the Board of Trade to the Ministry of Transport. Then it has been stated that as the Bill stands the railways are entitled, under Clause 9, to generate the electricity for themselves. A third reason advanced is that you require the lands on which the railways are built for the purpose of laying your transmission lines and for putting up your overhead wires. I will take up those points, and if they are justified to the full, I would be prepared to say that the Home Secretary had made out his case. First of all, I will accept as a basis for argument, though I do not admit it one way or the other, that approximately 20 per cent, of the electricity may be ultimately used by the railway. Is that alone any reason for control by the Ministry of Transport, who are interested in the consumption of that 20 per cent, of the total supply? I think I can show good reasons to the contrary. The Minister of Transport will say, "What about the technical side of it? What about the periodicity, and the different things which appertain only to the railway?" Let us see what the facts are. Electricity is not supplied from the main generating station direct to the motors on the railway cars or railway locomotives for railway purposes; it is generated in the large generating stations, and is transmitted at high pressure to points along the railway, and there it is converted at special sub-stations and is transmitted from these sub-stations a few miles on either side of the sub-station, for the purpose of supplying the particular type of current required for driving the locomotives or coaches. I hesitate to detain the House by going into all the reasons which prove to demonstration that this is absolutely incontestable in practice. What are the actual facts to-day in connection with railways? This morning I came across this note: The North-Eastern Railway have for some time had Under consideration, and have now provisionally sanctioned, a scheme for the electrification of their main line between York and Newcastle, eighty miles. The details have been worked out by Sir Vincent Raven, chief engineer, in consultation with Messrs. Merz and Mclellan of Newcastle, and Victoria Street, S.W., consulting engineers to the company. The scheme provides also for the electrification of the loop-line (thirty-one miles in length) from Northallerton to Ferry Hill, via Stockton. On Tyneside the third rail system is used and on the mineral line the overhead equipment has been adopted. The new proposal is a combination of the two, the general idea being that the former should be used on the turning lines (fully protected) and in every way suitable for high speed running, and the latter in the floods yards and at large stations. All trains will be hauled by locomotives. The passenger type has not yet been decided on, but the freight will be similar to those used on the Shildon and Newport line. They will have both shoes and bows for collecting current, which is to be of the same voltage as on the Shildon-Newport line. The Wallsend-Newcastle line was electrified in 1904, and it, is operated at 600 volts direct current. The Shildon-Newport line was electrified in 1915, and is operated at 1,500 volts direct current. Both of these lines are supplied from large power stations in Newcastle district, which delivers alternating currents at forty cycles. But it is no matter to these lines whether one is operated at 500 or 1,500 volts, because they both must have sub-stations for the conversion of the electricity before it can be used on the railway. The facts go to prove the contrary of the argument put forward by the Home Secretary, by the President of the Board of Trade, and also by the Minister of Transport when he was introducing his Bill for the establishment of a Ministry of Ways and Communications. I submit that the statements they put forward are entirely unsupported by any facts, at any rate as far as I have been able to find in my own experience. The type and voltage used on railways have no necessary relation at all to the type of plant installed in the generating station.

As to the other point, regarding the transmission of electricity along the route of the railway, the President of the Board of Trade pointed out how vitally necessary it was for the improvement of the industries of this country. He said, I think: Unless we can transmit along the railways we cannot produce cheaply. What are the facts? First of all, if you have overhead lines you cannot put them between the lines. There are questions to be considered as to the height of the wires, the distance from telegraph lines, the angle of inclination to the telegraph lines, and so forth, and the existing regulations in scarcely any instance permit high tension lines to be placed on railway land. Then as to cables, the railways in certain cases may be used for laying cables along the embankment. Under the Bill power is taken to do that. Are we to assume that if the President of the Board of Trade wished to do that, the Ministry of Transport would be obstreperous and would say, "We will put every difficulty in your way as to the laying of cables along the railway?" I certainly think not. What is the real truth as to the value of transmission lines being laid along the railways? There is a certain advantage. It is an advantage only to the extent, the accidental extent, that you may have in certain places a sufficient width or sufficient unoccupied ground not used by the railway now or likely to be required in future. But that is only operative in a small number of cases. Then, again, there is the question of the development of essential industries; for instance, boots and shoes, hosiery and so forth. Those industries are scattered about all over a district. You will have to run your transmission lines so as to follow the factories; the small factories of this kind will not shift to come up to the railways.

I will leave these commercial and technical considerations, as to which I hold no case has been made out by the Government, and I will turn to the point of public policy. So far as public policy ii concerned, I think that the only real argument of the Home Secretary that I can recollect is the argument that we require more driving power. That is very essential. But I think I remember that in 1911, when electioneering, the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Leader of the House used an illustration, I think in Liverpool, referring to a motor vehicle rushing downhill without control. It certainly had enough driving power, but the results were anything but desirable. Driving power alone is no good; it is not going to save the country. As a matter of fact, I venture to suggest that one of the things of which there is a growing need is not so much driving power as governing gear. We want reorganisation and control of the driving power already in existence. If that, the need of driving power, is the only claim which can be made, the Government have failed to make out a good case for asking the House to change the decision arrived at by the Standing Committee. If the new Clause is adopted this control would go entirely to a new Department. I think that Department is already overburdened. I think it requires to devote the whole of its time and energies to weighing up the enormous problems it has to deal with. It certainly is an enormous problem to deal with all the transport services of the country. I think it is wrong as a matter of public policy for it to be under the control of a Department which has a direct interest, and a very great interest, in subordinating the industrial electricity supply of the whole country to the railway interests. That can be denied, I think, by no Member of this House. I believe it is a fact that we are drifting into what we may term a bad system of administration in this country. I think it was Burke who described some such system as a system of administration repugnant to the genius of the people. I think we are drifting into a system of administration which is repugnant to the genius of the people—a system which is bureaucratic and which is autocratic. I cannot help feeling that in this case the administration has borne down the Government. If that is so, this is the worst possible mistake we can make. It is stated that if we have a bad system of administration everything must be dis- order for a time, and that state of disorder will continue until either the administration destroys the Constitution or the Constitution destroys the administration. I think on very broad grounds of public policy there has been no case made out for this Clause, and I think, if on no other ground than grounds of public policy, the House should refuse to insert this Clause in the Bill, and to give greater power to an autocratic Department which has demonstrated its power to rule the Government, rather than to be the servant of the Government of this country.


I am in the happy position of not requiring any reason for supporting this proposal of the Home Secretary, because I have always been in favour of placing this Electricity Bill under the authority of the Minister of Transport. We have heard statements as to the influence of the fact of the Minister of Transport being a railwayman, and how that will affect electricity in this country. I take it that as a railwayman he has always been accustomed to deal with the public, and in this subject of electricity he will realise that he should deal with it as an ordinary business man. As to the fear that the interests of railways will predominate, I have not the slightest belief that that will take place, and I think the Minister will realise that it is necessary to make his Department not only as profitable, but as useful as possible to the whole community. This is a prejudice that was engendered by the campaign that was instituted in the first instance against the Ministry of Transport. We have heard it again and again, and we have been told because the Minister was a railwayman he could not possibly do justice to roads or canals or docks, and now to electricity. One of the things which puzzles the outsider is what should be placed in different Government Departments. For instance, one is mystified to find that the Board of Agriculture has charge of Fisheries. I cannot imagine why we should place the administration of a huge constructive and highly technical work like that of electricity under the Board of Trade. Under other circumstances I could imagine it going to the Board of Works, but certainly not to the Board of Trade, which is already heavily overweighted. I am sure that the House will consent to this Amendment. We have had some recantations, and I hear there are others in preparation. I believe that the House will realise that to place a matter which involves a large amount of construction in the hands of a practical Department is the best thing for the country. When we hear of driving power, I think we still need a good deal of it in this country and not governors or brakes but that we want to go ahead. If this power is not supplied at this critical period it will be bad for the country. Therefore, I hope that this Bill will be given a chance, and that private considerations will not intervene. I have heard, as a member of the Electricity Committee, tender consideration suggested for private interests. I do not want to ignore them, but the public weal and benefit should be considered first, and for that reason I support the Amendment.


With reference to what has been said as to recantation, I hope I shall never be afraid of recanting errors. I would say that if the Government had given a little greater time I do not think this question would have had to be discussed on the Report stage. I entirely agree with the principle that there ought to be very little interference with the decisions of Grand Committees. That is to say, I take it that there ought to be no greater interference with decisions of Grand Committees than there would be with the decisions of the Whole House sitting in Committee. What is it that comes up on Report stage? Surely in the discussions in Committee certain matters emerge which afterwards turn out to be of greater importance than was appreciated at the moment, and this is one of them. This is not a question of principle. There is no vital principle involved in this discussion, and it is a pure question with those of us who strongly favour this Bill and desire to see it having the most beneficent effects of what is best to be done. We are only anxious that it should be placed in the Department which will administer it sympathetically, effectively, and wisely. I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour). I am not able to do so, and I would not if I could—in a discussion on the technique of electricity, or to say anything about only a small number of Members having been present in the Committee. I disclaim any association with that idea. Those who were present heard the arguments and voted accordingly, and I do not think this House ought to be asked to reverse decisions merely on the question of the size of the Committee present at the moment. But what is the position to-day? We are told by His Majesty's Government, speaking as one Government, and not speaking with diverse views—and this is important, because we were not so sure of it upstairs as now—that this matter is of vital importance for the good administration of this Bill. Although I am not myself the most docile and faithful of the supporters of the Government, yet there are some matters upon which I am prepared to accept guidance from the Government. After all, this is a matter of how the Government shall split the work of the Government into Departmental administrative positions, and it is a matter very largely for the consideration of the Government itself. Therefore I do attach weight to the fact that the Home Secretary tells us with the weight of the Cabinet that, having thought this matter out, they attach great and, if I followed the right hon. Gentleman correctly, vital importance to this particular new Clause.

What is the position? There is no Departmental jealousy. Any idea of that must have been dissipated by the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, and there are no fraternal differences, and we are not interfering in a family quarrel. We have a President of the Board of Trade who came to the conclusion that this was a business which ought to go over to the new Ministry of Transport, and the Home Secretary told us they had to consider which Department was to administer this Bill. It is, of course, possible to set up a new Ministry, and possibly a few months ago that would have been the cure. But if you do not set up a new Ministry something has got to happen. What is the function of the Board of Trade? The right hon. Baronet opposite read out a long string of functions, but I summarise those by saying that the functions of the Board of Trade appear to be Departmental and administrative. What are to be the functions of the Ministry which controls this development of electricity? I think they must be active and constructive. It is quite possible to build up a new Department in the Board of Trade that would be a constructive Department, but it would have to be a new Department there, and it would lead to the duplication of staffs and expense. But that is not all. It is not an easy matter in this country to find men of supreme ability and tact in high professional positions who are willing to go into the Government service at a financial sacrifice, because that is what it involves, and there would be great difficulty in getting the right men. We are building up to-day a new Ministry of Transport. I do not care a fig if it is concerned with the railways. It is a new Ministry, and as we are building up a new Ministry it is the simplest matter in the world to fit into the work of that Ministry the new duties concerned with electricity. Some hon. Members have spoken as though there was some sort of competition between transport and trade. Surely that is a very narrow view, and is it not the real view that transport and trade are interlocked and can never be Separated. Transport depends for its success upon trade and trade depends for its success upon transport, and the two must be co-ordinated. An hon. Member put a question as to whether there was not a staff at the Board of Trade on this subject. Those of us who have had anything to do with this, know that there has been working there at this Bill a very distinguished electrician making certain preparations and having certain conversations and discussions. It is of supreme importance that that staff should not be lost to the country, and I would be glad to hear from the Minister of Transport, if he intervenes in the Debate, some statement as to what is intended with reference to the staff at the Board of Trade, the very expert and excellent staff which I believe has started with the confidence of every person interested in this matter. If we hear from him that they will be taken over en bloc, then any difficulty of that description at once disappears.

What else is there? The Ministry of Transport, if it is to be successful, will have to envisage the whole commercial position of this country. Transport is vital to the whole of the land, and it will require to have not merely an electrical stall, for that is only a small part of it, but also a surveying staff and experts of various kinds to go into the whole problem, and as they look at it from the point of view of transport they can quite easily look at it from the point of view of electricity. If I might make one suggestion, to the Minister of Transport, I would say that the Commissioners' position should be defined quite clearly. Under the Bill the Commissioners are entrusted with certain duties which are semi-judicial. As to those I make bold to say that the House would wish that they should have unfettered discretion. It would be quite impossible, whatever Ministry the Commissioners are serving under when they are acting judicially, that they should be under the guidance of anybody except their own judgment. Beyond that, the Commissioners have a great many functions of a most important character in the development of electricity, and I hope we shall hear from the Minister of Transport that in these matters they will not be subordinated to any other electrical official who comes in to advise the Minister—for instance, upon the question of the electrification of railways. I shall be very glad to hear from the Minister that in matters of that description he hopes to look to the Commissioners for his chief advice and guidance. I hope I shall not be ashamed, so long as I have the privilege of a seat in this House, to change my opinion and to change my vote if I can see good ground for doing so, and, for the reasons which I have ventured to put before the House, I hope many of my colleagues on the Committee will do the same.


I am sure that anybody who knows my hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down will agree that, at all events, in changing his mind he has given the matter his most careful consideration. I have no recantation to make to the House. The hon. Member stated this afternoon that on Clause 44, as it was then, dealing with the transfer of the powers to the Ministry of Transport, there was not much discussion. I readily admit it, and it was because we had gone through that Bill, Clause by Clause, on the distinct understanding that it was to go to the Board of Trade. We had the advice of the officials of the Board of Trade, and, although I see the Minister of Transport has backed the Bill, yet, at all events, he was conspicuous by his absence from the Committee Room.


Is the hon. Member suggesting that I ever gave an undertaking that the electricity scheme should go to the Board of Trade?


Not at all. I do not think I have made any suggestion to that effect, but I repeat that there was not much discussion on Clause 44 because the Committee as a whole, or by a large majority, which was shown by their vote, was under the impression that the carrying out of the undertaking would be done by the Board of Trade. We were justified in assuming that on the ground that on one or two occasions my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Sir Rhys Williams) came to the Committee, but the Minister himself never came to give us any advice, and I cannot help thinking it is rather an extraordinary thing that at the eleventh hour a Cabinet meeting is apparently held, and—I say it plainly—some pressure must have been brought to bear to have changed the whole question as to who was to have the carrying out of the electricity scheme. We have had, as I say, the advice of officials from the Board of Trade, but we have been told to-day by the Home Secretary that it is driving power that is required in the electricity scheme. I admit that driving power is required, but apparently we are now told there is no driving power in the Board of Trade. I am sorry to hear it, and I can quite understand the awkward position of the President of the Board of Trade in having to present himself to the House to-day, after hearing the eulogistic terms in regard to his Department, and say. "As far as I am concerned, the duties can better be carried out by another Department" I say it is a deplorable thing, and if certain Departments are wanting in driving power the sooner we make vast alterations in those Departments the better, not only for this House but for the country in general. The hon. Baronet opposite (Sir F. Flannery) has been most conservative. He was one of four who voted that the measure should be carried out by the Minister of Transport. He has no recantation to make, and I congratulate him on his loneliness in the Committee Room upstairs. Perhaps it was because not only were there only four and twenty Members present when the Division was taken, but I think if the hon. Member looks carefully through the Divisions that took place, he would possibly find that he, at all events, was not quite so conspicuous by his presence in the Committee Room when this Bill was under discussion. I am not saying that because he happened to be there then, and was not there generally, he was not qualified to give his vote. He is thoroughly well versed in business matters, and I do not believe he gave his vote without having carefully considered the matter, but he should not throw stones because there did not happen to be seventy-five Members of the Committee present at that meeting. Is there to be a special edict that no Member of this House can vote on a single measure unless he happens to have listened to every discussion that has taken place? There are no Govern- ment Whips upstairs, and therefore a Member has an opportunity when he gives his vote of giving it after having heard the evidence adduced, and I say it is going to be a bad thing for the House of Commons if, for instance, under the new Rules of Procedure constituting these Standing Committees, you consider it advisable to send Bills up for discussion and think it necessary that they should have the advantage of the attendance of expert advisers to assist any Member of the Committee seeking assistance, but that as soon as the Bill comes downstairs again, if it does not happen to meet with the approbation of one specific member of His Majesty's Government, the Bill is to be turned down and the whole of the work of the Committee thrown away. That is not a good thing for the Government of this country.


Is the hon. Member aware that the Government not only intends to do what he has just said, but to go back upon certain Amendments which they agreed to in Committee?


I presume the hon. Baronet refers to Amendments accepted by the Government in regard to generating stations and railways and docks. It was a sad moment when the docks were thrown at my right hon. Friend by the weight of the careful consideration of the Committee, but I find that Amendments have been put on the Paper casting away the whole of the work done by that Committee. The Government have said, "The work that you people who were sent upstairs to listen and weigh up this matter have done is nothing at all." If that is going to be the case, it only proves what an absolute farce this new Government procedure is. This is a matter, perhaps, that the hon. Baronet will pay particular attention to, because in the olden times we used to have theses Bills committed to a Committee of the Whole House, and, of course, every Member of the House was present in the Committee stage at those times, and it was only in consequence of all the Members of the House being present in Committee that they voted upon certain questions. I am sorry to find the Government have thought it necessary to adopt this course, because I do not think they have explained it away at all. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has come down practically clothed in a white sheet and has told us that he cannot carry on the duties. From the Minister of Transport, of course, we are to expect a new Heaven, although I have not noticed it up to the present, but if he has so much spare time on his hands at the Ministry of Transport that it does not matter what things come along, and he will take the electricity on as a sort of make-weight, I think we shall be justified in expecting a very speedy alteration in the present congestion of traffic. My hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrew (Mr. Johnstone) stated with regard to his recantation that it was largely based on the fact that there was an alteration in the Transport Bill. I happen to know some thing about that Bill, because I was one of those unfortunate Members who sat for nineteen days in Committee on that one Bill, and I may have a very short memory, but I cannot call to mind any tremendous alteration in it. I do know this, that a certain number of us caused a little thought to the Government with regard to the deletion of Clause 3, and perhaps that is what my hon. Friend is thinking about but that was not a question of taking away any of the work from the Minister of Transport. The House decided, and I maintain rightly decided, that it was not going to give way on a question with regard to Orders in Council, and that is practically the only alteration in the Transport Bill, because although many of us—


This is a very long way from the Clause.


Yes, Sir; but the Member for East Renfrew—I must clear it up, with all deference, if you will allow me, and—


I think we had better get to the subject before the House.


I say that there is no alteration in that Bill at all.


That has nothing to do with the subject we are now discussing.


The duties that devolve upon the Minister of Transport are as large as they were before, and I say that I hope, at all events, that if it is eventually decided that it shall be left to the Ministry of Transport, I personally think it will be inadvisable. I am not here to say I withdraw anything I said in Committee. I adhere to it, and for this reason. The opinion was so overwhelming, so far as I am concerned, that it should be left to the Board of Trade, that I hope this House will affirm the decision that was arrived at by the Committee upstairs.

The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Sir Eric Geddes)

I would like to assure the House, and my hon. Friend who has just bat down, that it is no desire to have more work for the Ministry of Transport that makes me speak in favour of this new Clause. It is an honest and an earnest opinion, just as I am quite sure his is, that it is best for the promotion of the electric power of the country that this should be done. There is no other reason at all. We set out with an ideal that, so far as possible, we should have one control of electric power, so that, although it might be used or might be generated at different voltages, different frequences, different classes of current, direct or alternating, at any rate it should be upon a plan that the gauge—if I may use that word—should be the most appropriate gauge, and that they should not be mixed. I hope to demonstrate to the House what I mean by mixing the gauge in electricity. It has been mixed on railways, and it is one of our greatest troubles to-day. It has been mixed on canals, and it is one of our greatest troubles to-day, and we are going on the same headlong course to mix it in electricity. It is because of that that we should endeavour to get all generating stations and transmissions into one control. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) said that when the Bill was introduced, railways had been excluded from the general scheme. I think, if he will look at Clause 7 of the original Bill, he will find that is not so. Railway generating stations were included. I have freshened my memory by looking at the original Bill. The Committee found that, although they had excluded the generating stations, they could not in fact exclude the railways altogether, because they provided that, although the railways might have their own system, and do not come within the purview of the Electricity Commission, except by consent, they could not get along, or they could not allow the Bill to go through, without providing that the railways might be used for the cables transmitting the power from one part of the country to another. They had to be brought in some way, but apparently they had to be left out in some way, and there we start on the great division between the great users of electricity.

We may take the figure as more or less approximately representing the proportionate use of electric current by the railways in the near future at 20 per cent, as between railways and industry generally. It is true that is only one-fifth, but it is, I believe, without doubt the largest proportion of electricity used by any one industry, and there is no other industry in the country that is so compact, either to-day or before the present control, as railways. They run into each other. Their interworking arrangements have to be very close, and if there is one industry spread all over the country that lends itself to a general policy of electric current, I venture to think it is railways, whether in their pre-war company-managed state, or whether they are in the present controlled state, lasting two years, and we do not know what the future state is going to be. That is one reason why I think it is very important that we should not place too much stress upon the fact that the railways are only estimated to use one-fifth of the current, because it is a very important fifth and it is a fifth which is important in other ways. The ordinary electric supply companies supply current in a certain area. A railway, by the very nature of its industry, or the very geographical configuration of its property, supplies electricity on a longitudinal line. Is it not an important factor that the current is carried through this country long distances? Therefore, it has an added importance to its original 20 per cent. proportion of electricity. So I think, under two heads, you can lay greater stress on the fifth than the mere proportion justifies.

But railways have got another interest, and I would prefer, if it had been possible, to have said that transportation had another interest, because the transportation side, rather than the operative side of railways, is affected by what I wish to point out to the House. The moment you electrify a railway, you sink a large fixed capital on that line, and the greater the density of the traffic the greater the benefit from the electrification. It is quite a different thing when you are putting on locomotive power, which is moveable. The greater your load factor the cheaper the electricity. It is obvious, therefore, that the moment you carry high tension down a line across the country into the rural areas, where we want our industries, if we are going to solve the housing problem, and the local labour problem, you create an immediate and a direct interest on the part of transportation to develop industries, to get a better load factor by the use of electricity in those districts, and to get a denser traffic on the lines electrified. The very moment you have electrified a line, these two important factors come in in favour of the general user of current throughout the country. There is no other industry to which that applies. I am not anxious, as is the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G Balfour), to go into technical details, but I would just like to tell the House of the present position in London. We are trying to see whether we can get what I have called, incorrectly I know, but I hope descriptively, one gauge as far as possible. The number of power stations in London to-day is seventy-nine. The number of different types or systems of generation is fifty. The number of different periodicities is ten, and the number of different voltages is thirty-two. In London alone five-elevenths of the electricity generated is used for transportation to-day, and electrification schemes are under consideration for the Midland Railway, the Great Eastern Railway, the South Eastern Railway, and the London Brighton and South Coast Railway. They are all proposing to go in for electrification. Is it wise, is it prudent to do what the Committee has done, and keep that railway electrification under one Ministry and the rest of London under another? It is five-elevenths today; it will be six-elevenths and seven-elevenths soon. Is it wise to separate that as the Committee has, done upstairs? It has done that not only for London but for other places. Averages are very difficult to deal with. You have got to take specific places. I have given a specific and an important case, and there may be other examples as good, or approaching as good as that, throughout the country.


Has the right hon. Gentleman any other percentages for other great centres of population in the country, or has he any general percentage outside London?


I have no other figures like that. That was given me as an instance of London, the capital, but I have no doubt that similar figures could be got for other places.


Will the electrification of the railways which my right hon. Friend has mentioned increase the consumption to 20 per cent.?


In London, certainly, it is about 20 per cent.


What is it for the country?


That is what is estimated by experts as the probable amount all over the country. We have discussed it on that basis of roughly one-fifth. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead made a considerable point of a technical question, taking as an illustration—I do not know why he should—the North-Eastern Railway. The North-Eastern system has three sections of electrification. The first, I think, was the original multiple unit suburban train service running in this country. The second was a pure experiment on a short-distance line in 1915, and the third, which was dealt with in the paper the hon. Gentleman read, is the result of that experiment, and I have no doubt the difference which was quoted as condemning any idea of a unified system is the result of the experiment on some sixteen miles or so which they put down. The line which was quoted is the result of a very short experiment, and they have improved upon their specifications.


If the current used by a railway company is direct current at 1,500 volts, that has no direct relation with the type of current generated at any power station in Great Britain or elsewhere.


I hardly feel competent to argue on technical matters with my hon. Friend, but am I not right in saying that alternating current is trans formed into direct current?


That is so, and therefore it does not matter what the type of generating station is. The railway undertaking is the one undertaking which is independent of type, because you have to convert the current into direct current, and it does not matter whether your rotary converter is driven from a power station at 25 cycles per second or 50 cycles per second.

7.0 P.M.


I am afraid I am not altogether advised in that way, but we cannot discuss it yet. I agree that there is a great deal to be said for the opinion of those who say, "Why give electricity generally over to a Department which is interested in transportation, when transportation is one of the users of electricity? The interests may clash." I agree that there is a good deal to be said for that, but in these matters we have to weigh the advantages and the disadvantages, and, for the reasons I have given to the House as briefly as I can, I have come to the conclusion that the balance of advantage is in favour of combining the whole of the electrical user in the one Ministry. There are other reasons which have been discussed to-day, such as the suitability of the Department, and the staffing of the Department, into which I will not enter. I agree that there is a great deal to be said for those who fear that somehow or other these Electricity Commissioners may be swallowed and controlled by the railway or the transportation interest. I think myself that it would improve the measure, if the House sees fit to pass this new Clause, if we put in safeguards which at any rate would bind my successor—however good my intentions may be—and which would ensure that the Commissioners and the Chief Commissioner should be independent of any other influence in the Ministry. We took that course in the Transport Act in relation to roads, and I suggest that at a later stage, either in this House or in another place, the Government might introduce safeguards of that kind. It is my intention, and I would like to have it laid down in the Bill, because I look upon it as absolutely fundamental, that the Electricity Commissioners must be independent of the transportation side. I admit that it is a disadvantage to put them under the Ministry of Transport, but I think the advantages vastly outweigh the disadvantages. Apart from that, I would like to say that there has been an impression that the Chief Commissioner-designate, Sir John Snell, might not be in favour of this transfer, and would not be prepared to work under the Minister of Transport, because he feared that there would be principles which he would not approve of. I am glad to be able to tell the House that, as long ago as June last, I came to a complete understanding with him, and that to-day I have discussed the matter with him again, and have again a complete understanding with him on exactly the same lines. Sir John Snell has told me to-day that he is quite prepared to transfer, and presumably the rest of the Board of Trade staff will transfer also, to the Ministry of Transport, and that he is prepared to take up the Chief Comrnissionership there if the House passes this Clause.

Viscount ELVEDEN

I have listened with some interest to the speech of the Minister of Transport and to the other speeches for some little time, and I have been impressed with the fact that the Government has been trying to make the case that there is really no change of plan. If hon. Members will look at the Order Paper they will realise, from the Amendments which were agreed and accepted between the railway companies and the Government as recently as a few days go, after long conferencs of which I am personally cognisant, that the whole fabric of the Bill is being altered owing to this change of policy within a few hours. I see that the Leader of the House shakes his head. I can assure him that, from a very early stage of this Bill, the question was asked why the railway companies were to be under the Board of Trade, as railway efficiency was the responsibility of the railway companies still, or it might be so again in two years time. The result was that the Government accepted endless Amendments, which are now part of the Bill, and those, in a very large measure, are to be taken away this very evening, if the House accepts this Clause. No doubt it will soon be asked, "Why protect the railways when the Minister of Transport is actually in possession and controlling the whole electrical situation?" Unfortunately, the Minister of Transport has not spent nineteen days wearily hearing the threshing out of the details and the intricate and complicated interlocking of this measure which is brought to-day for Report. I think that if he had, we should have had quite different safeguards—safeguards, it may be, which some of these Amendments will give for the safety of the community when they travel by rail. They may be rather different from the point of view of ownership of the companies; they may be quite different from the point of view of the property of the shareholders, but nevertheless some Amendments must be made in that direction if you alter the Department which is looking after this Bill.

Then, again, the trading community were led to believe that the Commissioners would really be considering entirely the interests of the trading com-community, and therefore the trading community have not agitated, as the railway interest did, to get their safeguards and to see that they are allowed to get the sort of electricity that they require in their factories. This electricity question is of vital importance to the whole community. Expert after expert has assured me that there was really no great financial advantage, if there was any financial ad- vantage at all, in having power stations above a certain size. That there is actually a great loss is well known if the power has to be transmitted to a great distance, and that loss is greater than if you dragged the coal that originally gives the energy all the way by rail.

It is true that during the Committee stage I have been responsible for trying to voice the point of view of the railways. If it had been a private Bill we should have had experts pleading instead, and much better they would have done it, and we should have been able to sit in judgment, as we should. Now, however, it is my duty to consider the whole community. Are you, by putting the community under the railways, getting the community into the same position that the railways were in when they were under the Board of Trade? I think that time is necessary, and that these Amendments, and the new aspect of the situation, should be carefully considered. Personally, I think that, after the long Committee stage, it is a great pity to change the whole aspect of the situation and turn it completely inside out. One has been assured again and again that there is no intention on the part of the experts who would be responsible for this Bill to put the main transmission lines throughout the country along the railways. It was said that it would be ridiculous to construct "Eiffel towers" such as are used in the transmission of electric power from Niagara Falls. If you want to put a siding in somewhere, and an "Eiffel tower" stands in the way, you will probably have, to change the whole line, because it would be better to divert the traffic than to pull down the "Eiffel tower" and interrupt the main transmission line. I am no expert in the matter, but over and over again these arguments have been put to me. I know that, looking out of the train in Canada, I have seen these "Eiffel towers," and they are never close to the railway, but are a long way off. They have very cheap water power there, and do not use coal. You cannot take a waterfall to a distance except by electricity, but you can take the coal in wagons, and it does seem to me, therefore, that the problem is quite different from that of our American neighbours. It has been said that the railway companies surely must be left responsible to the public for the duties of maintaining their service. I dare say it is perfectly right to have the Minister responsible for that, but for Heaven's sake let us finish the job, and wait till the two years are up and we know what we are going to do. If you are going merely to have the Minister responsible, and not the companies, let the country know, and do not leave it to Orders in Council or something which may develop in the future. Are the railway companies still to be responsible for supplying power for their transportation? If so, make them responsible, and leave them outside the purview of this Bill. The Government are proposing to put them into this Bill, because they have changed the head who is to look after the Bill. It seems to me that it needs hours and hours of reflection. If you are going to turn the thing right inside out in twenty-four or forty-eight hours, you may do incalculable harm in the future.

I am alarmed by the speech of the Minister of Transport, because he has now told us that it is his intention that the power generated for the railways shall come from the same source as that generated for the rest of the community. Expert after expert has told me that that is wrong from another point of view, which really does not need the explanation of an expert. Are the railway companies to hold the reserves of coal? Are the railway companies, or the Government, to be responsible for the wages of the people who operate the coal to the power station? I do not know if I am transgressing any technical point, but I feel that somehow or other a trade union might interrupt, not only the intercommunication of the whole of the country, but also the whole of the industries of the country, on a minor dispute with some particular industry. I think that that is a grave danger, and is one of those points that should be thrashed out in Committee; and I think it is one of the points that every hon. Member should have in his mind when he goes into the Lobby on this proposition if the Government persevere with it. It is putting everything into the melting-pot. One of the arguments in favour of electrification has been that it would be easy to break a strike. It is true that you can get people to operate the "dead man's hand" on an electric line more easily than you can get people to stoke an engine, but you are absolutely in the hands of the power station and the pickets on the power station. The whole problem needs the most careful consideration, and I do ask the Government, if they really intend to persevere with this suggestion, to give us, and to give themselves, time really to consider the whole position and hear what the railway companies experts have to say from this point of view. If they force it to-night, I shall feel bound to go into the Lobby against them, because I am convinced that a hurried move of this sort, which is a complete reversal of the whole Bill, is a grave mistake.


On the one side in this matter you have the majority of the Committee, and, I must say from information which reaches me, their opinion is very much reinforced by the almost unanimous voice of the manufacturers and the industrial people of this country. They feel very strongly upon the point and are entirely in favour of this matter being kept by the Board of Trade. First of all, they note that the Minister of Transport is himself going to be a large consumer of electricity. I think it was very unwise of him in arguing before the Committee to-day to put forward the importance of the use of electricity on the railways as a reason for giving these powers to the Ministry of Transport. That is exactly the point. I repeat that the Minister suggested that the railway interest was of even greater importance than the House realised. We are not, I think, exaggerating the fears of the industrial part of the community. They have felt all the way through that the Ministry of Transport, if a large and important consumer of electricity, would get preferential treatment. All that has been said to-day by the right hon. Gentleman, I am afraid, will not diminish, but rather increase, their fears.

In a large part of London to-day there is a short supply of electricity, and it has to be apportioned out amongst the manufacturers. That only shows this: that if the Ministry of Transport produces electricity itself the right hon. Gentleman will take a preference. That is one of the great reasons why the London manufacturers' opinion is in favour of the Board of Trade. Another very important reason is this. The Government really ought to know that all through the country there is a great difficulty of transporting large quantities of goods, an enormous difficulty, and it never was so bad as to-day. Month by month the situation has become graver and graver till—I say it without hesitation—that at no time during the five years of the War was it so difficult to get large quantities of goods carried from one place to another as to-day, I am quite certain no problem is so important, if you are to get ready for the development of the country, as that the Transport Minister should develop traffic. It is because that has not been attained—I do not want unduly to reproach the right hon. Gentleman—it is because the Transport problem is in such an unsatisfactory condition to-day that the industrial community feel grave fears as to whether it is quite wise to give this, into the hands of the Minister of Transport.

There is another side to this question. After all, the one control is going to be the most important factor in the provision of electricity. I think there is something to be said for that if you want to get matters decided quickly. Quickness leads to the avoidance of delay, and I think there is a good deal to be said in setting up electricity under the Minister of Transport. I was not a member of the Committee, but I am a Member of the House and a Member of the Coalition Government. This is a Government Bill. The Government come down to-day and tell us that the Board of Trade do not want these powers and that the Ministry of Transport does. They tell us that they have considered the matter carefully, and they have made up their minds that the matter should be given to the Minister of Transport. It is a great responsibility to vote against that sort of opinion. I confess to the qualms I have had, and I have described the fears of myself and others; but, as this is a Government Bill, and as the Government have this opinion on the subject, in spite of my qualms I am not prepared to vote against the Government.


I shall detain the House for only a very few moments, because I have no very strong opinion as to the Inter-departmental merits of the "Board of Trade and the Ministry of Transport in regard to this question. My own feelings in the matter might very faithfully be described in the lines: How happy could I be with either Were t'other dear brother away. That is my feeling in regard to the two Departments. But I do want to say one word as to the way in which I feel the Committee upstairs have been treated by the Government procedure in this matter. We sat altogether for nineteen days. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dul- wich (Sir F. Hall) was perfectly right when he said that throughout the whole discussions on this Bill we were proceeding on the assumption that this Clause 44 would be altered in the way in which the Committee has altered it. I hasten to add that the Home Secretary never gave any sort of assurance to that effect, and, so far as I know, no such assurance was given on behalf of the Government in the Committee to that effect. At the same time my hon. Friend opposite is perfectly right when he assures the House that the discussions upstairs took place, and were continued throughout, on the presupposition that this Clause was going to be deleted from the Bill by the action of the Committee, if not by the action of the Government. It proved in the end it was deleted from the Bill by the action, almost unanimous, of the Committee upstairs.

Now, Sir, the grievance which I have against the Government in the matter is this: We have listened this afternoon to a series of most moving and eloquent speeches from the Treasury Bench. What I want to ask the Government is, Why were these speeches not delivered upstairs? Had not the Government at that time made up their minds upon one of the most important Clauses in the whole Bill? If they had made up their minds, how was it that, with the forces they had—I will not say at their control—but the forces upon which they bring influence to bear upstairs—they were only able to muster in the Division Lobby four supporters on the Government side? We had not one word addressed to us upstairs either by the Minister of Transport himself—I do not recollect that I ever saw him in the Committee. We had not one word from the Under-Secretary to the Ministry of Transport on this question. The Home Secretary himself was absent from the Committee when the Clause was under discussion, though he was in charge of the Bill. All we had was a speech, a very half-hearted speech, from the Undersecretary to the Board of Trade. I admit he was in a very delicate position, as he himself said. But what he said did not influence the voting in the direction in which he spoke. In this matter the whole House has, I submit, a very real grievance against the Government.


Before we divide, one question to the Minister of Transport. The right hon. Gentleman said that five-elevenths of the current generated in London was used for transport, and the suggestion of this figure was that that current was used for railway traffic alone. Am I correct in the surmise that this figure includes all the electricity generated for the tramway services?


For transportation generally.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause accordingly read a second time.


I beg to move, alter the words "Minister of Transport" ["construed as references to the Minister of Transport"], to insert the words "provided that no such Order in Council shall have effect unless it has been laid on the Table of both Houses of Parliament for twenty-one days."

Some of the Rules and Regulations which have been of quite correct application under the old state of things may, perhaps, be inapplicable or not equally useful and serviceable under the new regime that, it has been suggested, will be carried out by the Bill. I suggest that in consideration of the vast field of research which is vital and essential if electricity is to be supplied to the arts, sciences, and crafts of this country, it is desirable that all the different interests, social and scientific as well as handicrafts, should have full knowledge and cognisance as to what are the laws and Regulations applicable under the new system.


I beg to second the Amendment.


The House of Commons has decided that point by giving the Second Reading, and those powers are to be transferred. All the Order in Council does is to say whether on the 1st of June or January next the Order shall commence. I am sure my hon. Friend will not insist that an Order of this kind should go through all the procedure which might be necessary if the Order was one transferring powers.


Eventually the powers under this Bill will be transferred to the Ministry of Transport. The Bill provides that these powers commence with the Board of Trade. The whole question is whether the date is to be decided with the further consideration of the House or without it. It is perfectly clear that, having read the Clause a second time, we merely give power to His Majesty in Council to transfer a certain power which we are giving to the Board of Trade to the Ministry of Transport. Therefore, I think, this House should have an opportunity of saying when the transfer should take place, as it would have if the Order in Council was laid on the Table for twenty-one days, and then hon. Members could move an Address praying that the Order be annulled or that the date be changed. This Amendment retains the power to the House to say when the date of transfer should take place from the Board of Trade to the Ministry of Transport.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, to leave out the words "the Ministry of Transport after consultation with."

The latter part of the new Clause will then read Provided that the power of appointing electricity commissioners under this Act shall be exercised by the Board of Trade. We had a long discussion on this matter, but I think the Government might meet us in this way. There is a very large opinion in this House and outside in industrial quarters that a great majority of the electricity undertakings and people connected with industries which is not in favour of this electricity scheme going to the Ministry of Transport. If the Government will meet us and say that the appointment of Electricity Commissioners shall rest with the Board of Trade, I think it will give a certain amount of confidence throughout the country. Rightly or wrongly, there is no disguising the fact that a great many people think it is inadvisable that a competing authority with the electricity scheme should rest with them, and if the appointment of the Electricity Commissioners is also to rest with the Minister of Transport we shall not have any neutral authority at all. The Electricity Commissioners have to discuss with the Minister of Transport very important matters. In this Amendment I am not asking the Government to concede much. The whole matter has been fully discussed, and I think there would be great satisfaction throughout the country if the right hon. Gentleman would agree to this Amendment.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I do so simply on the grounds that these Electricity Commissioners are to exercise quasi-judicial functions, and, that being so, it seems to me desirable that they should be appointed by the Board of Trade instead of the Minister of Transport.


I am sure both the Mover and the Seconder of this Amendment will appreciate, on reflection, that it is quite impossible to accept this Amendment as it stands. The result would be the absolute appointment of these Commissioners who are to work with the Minister of Transport by another Department who are to be responsible for the policy the Minister of Transport may put forward. You could not possibly expect one Department to have one of their most important officials appointed by some other Department. I appreciate the position that the Electricity Commissioners perform semi-judicial functions. Their main qualification will be their knowledge of electricity, electrical supply, and so on; but they will have certain functions of a quasi-judicial character. I should be prepared to accept the words "with the concurrence of the Board of Trade."


I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend, and I will accept this suggestion. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: Leave out the words "after consultation."

After the word "the" ["the Board of Trade"], to insert the words "concurrence of."—[Mr. Shortt.]

Clause, as amended, added to the Bill.

  1. NEW CLAUSE.—(Powers of Electricity Commissioners to Suspend or Annul Contracts.) 1,482 words
  2. cc1248-53
  3. CLAUSE 1.—(Appointment of Electricity Commissioners.) 2,120 words
  4. c1253
  5. CLAUSE 2.—(Exercise of Powers through Electricity Commissioners.) 69 words
  6. c1253
  7. CLAUSE 4.—(Power to Conduct Experiments.) 99 words
  8. cc1254-77
  9. CLAUSE 5.—(Constitution of District Electricity Boards.) 9,708 words, 1 division
  10. cc1277-81
  11. CLAUSE 7.—(Acquisition of Generating Stations.) 1,567 words