The Electricity Commissioners may require any authorised undertakers to amend or altar the type of current, frequency or pressure employed by them in their undertaking, and the execution of the works necessary to comply with such an Order shall be a purpose for which a local authority may borrow under the Electric
Lighting Acts: Provided that this Section shall not apply to electricity generated at a railway generating station.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to insert the wordsexisting at the passing of this Act, and that if on appeal by any authorised undertakers the Board of Trade are satisfied that compliance with the Order would entail unreasonable expense, the Board of Trade may direct that the Order shall not apply to those undertakers, of apply only subject to such conditions as the Board of Trade may prescribe.
May I ask a ruling—as to whether this rules out an Amendment in my name, which, though in the same sense, is in different words from that moved by the Parliamentary Secretary?
I wish to draw attention to the very strong feeling apparently held throughout the country, not; only by authorised undertakers, but also by the consumers. I have been approached not only by many people representing various interests—the consumers' interests, the local authorities and companies—but by many Members of this House, in connection with the Amendment which stands in my name, and I have been asked to press it, owing to the grave injustice which will be done if the Clause stands as it is. The Clause states that the Electricity Commissioners may require authorised undertakers to amend or alter the type of current, etc. Let us see exactly what that means. Take any large or very large electrical undertaking, whether a municipality or a company it matters not. That undertaking has been developed, presumably, according to the best practice in force at the date at which that undertaking was instituted. They have, on the advice of their experts, selected a certain type of current and frequency. The time comes when they are to be taken over arbitrarily under the terms of this Bill. They are called upon to alter the whole of their electrical installation, to change, let us say, the frequency. The alteration of the frequency means that the electric generator turning out the whole of the electricity from the power station will have to be altered completely. It means that in most cases, if not all, the transformers which transform the electricity coming in from the main cables of the supply company to the consumer's premises, will all have to be altered. It 1739 means that every motor on the consumer's premises will have to be altered, also that every meter to measure the current will have to be altered. Assuming that this is arbitrarily imposed on the undertakers and the consumers, you have this condition—a decree with no power to enforce. The undertaker, municipality or company, as the case may be, simply states, "I have no means of raising funds for these purposes; I am not making a- sufficiently large profit." It is true that in the Clause as it stands this is overshadowed, because so far as the local authority is concerned it shall be deemed to be a matter for which they can properly raise loans, proving that this is not an expense which can properly be met out of the revenues of the concern, and that the local authority shall be allowed to borrow money for it. But the local authority, having borrowed money, will not be in a position to make an added net revenue, in order to redeem that loan, because the change in type or frequency will not in the slightest degree improve capacity to earn more money.
On all counts I cannot see a single redeeming feature in the Clause as it stands, and I see very little assistance in the Amendment now proposed by the Parliamentary Secretary. I should like him to make out a very clear case indeed as to why any expense should be imposed on any of the classes of the community I have mentioned. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will see his way to accept the Amendment which stands in my name in substitution for that which he has moved. His Amendment endeavours to do something along the lines of my Amendment, but a remedy cannot be effected until the persons injured, municipality or local authority, come almost as criminals and plead to be let off this expense. That is not ordinary British justice.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
I bog to support the hon. Member's (Mr. G. Balfour) Amendment. I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that he is going to inflict a very heavy burden on the borough of West Ham. I have received from our Electrical Engineer a letter, part of which I will read—The reason for this is that any alteration, such as that referred to in the Clause, cannot possibly be of any benefit to an individual undertaking, but only beneficial to the scheme as a whole, in order that such individual undertaking will fit in with the national scheme. Take the case of West Ham, for instance; there are many 1740 others like it. The system is at present a two-phase one and is entirely satisfactory in every way. The system proposed to be adopted for the national scheme is a three-phase one, and therefore in order that West Ham may be able to take a supply from the national scheme, a very heavy expense would have to be enta[...]led certainly not less than £50,000, hut without any corresponding bene[...]t. This expense will be a continually increasing one, as every additional consumer connected will need to have his supply converted from the three-phase to the two-phase system.I am ready to admit that there is nothing in the Clause to say what system we are to adopt. If were assured that it would be a two-phase system we should be all right in West Ham, but, vice versa, other districts would be affected. An alteration would mean to the Borough of West Ham a rate of 9d. in the £. A penny raises £5,500, and our present rates are 15s. 6d. in the £. So far as the Labour party is concerned, we have backed up the Government in every way possible in connection with this Bill, but this particular Clause will inflict an injustice on local authorities. Therefore I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give due consideration to this matter, because it means that thousands and thousands of pounds will otherwise be involved and terrible hardships will be imposed on many of the local authorities. I quite admit that the Amendment does something, but I submit it does not go as far as it should, it limits the expense, but why should not the Electricity Commissioners be called on to pay the whole expense in consequence of the altered system?
§ Mr. R. McLAREN
I desire to support the Amendment. Speaking from practical knowledge, I can say that to convert from one system to another means a large amount of expense. It involves the scrapping of a good deal of plant. What has been said on behalf of some districts shows that there ought to be a great deal of care exercised in dealing with the various districts in connection with the operations of this Bill, because the adoption of a particular system may mean the alteration of a great deal of plant, I have myself seen changes from one system to another where the whole plant had to be scrapped at very great expense. The question, therefore, is whether there ought not to be some consideration given to those districts which are placed in that position. No doubt the time would come when the plants now in existence would require to be scrapped, but in the meantime some- 1741 thing ought certainly to be done to meet the position, caused by the requirements of the Bill.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I quite recognise the importance of what has been said by the hon. Members who have moved and supported this Amendment, but I think they have not fully studied the Amendment which I have moved. There is no intention whatever of doing any hardship to anybody. The object of this Bill is to provide cheaper electricity not only for West Ham but for many other districts. Our Amendment provides that if the Board of Trade on appeal are satisfied that compliance with the Order would entail unreasonable expense, they may direct that the order shall not apply, or subject to such conditions as the Board may prescribe. I venture to think that my hon. Friends have not realised the full beauty of this Amendment, which I think really does everything in the direction for which they have contended.
May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether his Amendment deals with the position of consumers who may have their supply affected and may be involved in thousands of pounds of expense?
Am I not correct in stating that this Amendment gives no protection to the actual consumer who has got to change his whole plant?
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
If they were going to suffer, no doubt there would be an appeal, and that appeal would be heard by the Board of Trade or the Electricity Commissioners, and the Amendment provides that the Order may not apply to those undertakers, or apply only subject to such conditions as the Board of Trade may require, and those conditions will protect the undertaker against any injustice. I really think hon. Gentlemen on this subject have exaggerated the evils which they think may arise out of this. I honestly say I consider that this Amendment covers every danger and every risk which they have anticipated in their speeches.
May I make a suggestion? Would he agree to the Amendment being modified by leaving out the words "on appeal by any authorised undertakers 1742 the Board of Trade are satisfied"? It would not then be a compulsory appeal, and if it were borne out in evidence that compliance would entail unreasonable expense action could be taken, and I think that would go a long way towards meeting my point.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I do not quite know what my hon. Friend's objection to an appeal is. He seems to think it derogatory to an undertaker to make any appeal at all, but I cannot see why. He also said just now that the consumers have no means of getting their case heard; but it really only amounts to this, that an appeal should be made, and my hon. Friends must really, I think, see that there is nothing very degrading in making an appeal to the Ministry of Transport.
With the House's permission, then, I think there is nothing derogatory in making an appeal; but if these words were left out there would be present in the mind of the people who are going to make the Order in the first instance that this would be an unreasonable expense to put, on these people, and therefore they would not ask them to make this change. As suggested by the Parliamentary Secretary, the other way about, they would first decrce that it was to be done, and then you would have to appeal and prove that it would be an unreasonable expense.
§ Viscount ELVEDEN
I feel that the user of the electricity wants some protection. Assuming a factory has to scrap all its plant, can it recover anything from anyone? Would they know until after the order had been made that they would have to alter the whole of the plant in their factory? It seems to me that this is the great difficulty in carrying out the whole of the Bill, that somebody has got to be offered up, and there is no general fund out of which to alleviate those who are sacrificed. This Bill is appalling in its complications, and perhaps I have forgotten some Clause whereby there would be sufficient notice of a contemplated alteration, and I should like the hon. Gentleman to tell me what the position is.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I very much deprecate the notion that has been conveyed that some sacrifice of somebody is going to be entailed. There is no sacrifice of anybody. The simple idea is to do justice, and if there is any idea that injustice is being done, the only obvious course is to represent to the Ministry of Transport that injustice is likely to be done, and they are perfectly certain to listen to any appeal so made.
§ Mr. WADDINGTON
The question raised is one of very great importance, not only to London boroughs, but to many other parts of the country. I know of a case in Lancashire. The Stalybridge joint authority work their electrical undertaking on one system, and if they have to convert it to what is considered to be the standard system it will mean an expenditure to that authority of £250,000, according to the engineer of the authority. You are not going to get cheap electricity if, merely to secure a uniform system throughout the country, you are going to entail an expenditure on different districts, involving such huge amounts. While it is difficult to suggest what could be done to meet the circumstances, may I offer the suggestion to the Parliamentary Secretary that some form of inquiry should be made necessary under the Bill, some notification to the various undertakers and to the consumers generally that this alteration is to be effected, so that the proper representations could be made by those affected? The difficulties are very great with the consumers. It is not just a question of altering the particular generating plant of the electricity station, but when you have altered that you have altered every motor and everything there is in every consumer's premises. Those motors will be quite unsuitable for the different periodicity which you are going to instal, and this question is of the very greatest importance to many areas throughout the country. You have varying periodicities throughout the country—twenty-five in Glasgow, forty at Stalybridge, fifty in Manchester, and so on—and if you are going to try and get a uniform system, which would have been very desirable if we could start anew without the vast expense which it would entail, certainly every encouragement should be given to the authorities by the allowing of money from the national Exchequer, but certainly not from the locality. The whole subject 1744 bristles with difficulties in trying to obtain uniformity, and therefore every inquiry should be allowed before anything is done, and full publicity be assured.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
My Amendment assures publicity. Of course, the Commissioners are perfectly aware of all the difficulties that my hon. Friend has sketched out, and, of course, they will notify everybody concerned. If anybody is affected injuriously, they have only got to appeal, and if they are enabled to establish that the alteration would entail unreasonable expense, either the Order would not apply to those undertakers or it would apply subject to such conditions as would perfectly well protect them. Unless, the Electricity Commissioners are hopelessly incompetent and the Ministry of Transport hopelessly unjust, I really can assure the House that no possible danger can accrue from this provision.
§ Mr. R. MCLAREN
In this Clause you speak of the authorised undertakers, but that has nothing at all to do with the consumers, who have no remedy, apparently.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I have twice said that the consumers cannot be charged anything extra without an Order from the Board of Trade.
§ Amendment agreed to.