HC Deb 25 July 1922 vol 157 cc347-56


Provided that if either—

  1. (a) the undertakers; or
  2. (b) such number of consumers not less than twenty as the Minister of Transport considers sufficient having regard to the population of the area of supply; or
  3. (c) in a case where the local authority are not themselves the undertakers, the local authority; or
  4. (d) in a case where the local authority are not themselves the undertakers and the area of supply is situate wholly or partly within the county of London, the London County Council,
at any time after the expiration of three years after the confirmation of the special order make a representation to the Minister that the prices or methods of charge stated in the special Order or approved by the Minister ought to be altered, the Minister, after such inquiry as he may think fit, may make an Order varying the prices or methods of charge stated in the special Order or so approved as aforesaid, or substituting other prices or methods of charge in lieu thereof, and the prices or methods of charge so varied or substituted shall have effect on and after such day as may be mentioned in the Order as if they had been stated in the special Order:

Provided also that the prices and methods of charge for the time being in force may be altered in like manner at any time after the expiration of any or every period of three years after they were last altered.


I beg to move, at the end of paragraph (b), to insert a new paragraph— (c) Any one consumer of not less than fifty thousand units annually. The effect of my Amendment is this. The Schedule provides an alternative scheme to the Act of 1899 for the revision of standard charges for three years, and under this scheme certain parties have got the right to apply to the Minister of Transport, and on that application he may hold an inquiry. The people who have to compel the inquiry to be held are (1) the undertakers; (2) or such number of consumers, not less than 20, as the Minister may consider sufficient; (3) the local authority; and (4) the London County Council. I want to add to that, "any one consumer of not less than 50,000 units annually." It is quite clear that if 20 consumers, who may take only a small amount of power, say, 100 units each, have got. the right to move the Minister, one large consumer ought to have similar power. It cannot give rise to any abuse, for he has to apply to the Minister, and the Minister is not compelled to take any action at all. All he is compelled to do is to hold such inquiry as be may think fit, and after that he may make an Order for the varying of the charges. It is a very reasonable Amendment, for the whole provision is permissive


I beg to second the Amendment.


I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will not press this Amendment. The case of the consumer he has mentioned is almost invariably—if think I may say invariably—covered by Section 32. Large consumers up to anything like 50,000 units almost without exception make contracts, and think my hon. and gallant Friend will see is would be quite inappropriate to ask that contracts should be varied under Section 32. I cannot imagine that if the price be thought excessive to the consumers generally—because that is the case covered by Section 32—it would be impossible to get 20 consumers or the local authority to take action in the matter.


I do think this is a case that might well be met. I quite agree the contract ought to be met, but, still, I can conceive a case in which it might be possible that the complaint came from 19 consumers. Since, however, the Minister cannot accept the Amendment, I will not put the House to the trouble of a Division.

Amendment negatived.

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


I hope the House will really give consideration to this Bill before it is read the Third time. We have had to take so much on the authority of the Parliamentary Secretary and his advisers, that a real consideration of what is happening with regard to the supply of electricity does really become necessary at the present time. The main object of this Bill is to give effect to the policy contained in the principal Act. It is to provide the funds and various other things, so that the original Act can be carried out on a practical basis. What is going to be the result of carrying out the original Act? It is going to be exactly the same result which has happened from the policy of the same gentleman—Sir Eric Geddes—on the railways of this country. It is going to put the supply of electricity, just as the transport of the country is at present, on a purely Syndicalist basis, under which monopolies are to be granted, and authorities put in a position to go to the men and officials they employ and arrange the whole industry on a Syndicalist basis. And the consumers are to pay, just as in the case of the railways. That is not a stable position, and it is not, going to be stable when once worked out by the Ministry of Transport, any more than the position of the railway companies is stable at the present time. Both the directors of the railway companies and those responsible for the direction of the National Union, know perfectly well that the present position on the railways is extremely critical, because the Syndicalist method of working the railways, through the system of grouping, is breaking down, after only being worked for a very few months. In the same way the Syndicalist basis of working the supply of electricity is going to break down, and there is going to be immense trouble between the electrical workers and the rest of the community.

Therefore I do protest against this Bill, and for another reason, that it is going to set up a vested interest in the special technical methods of producing and distributing electricity which happen to be in existence at the present time. There is going to be no reason in the future why anybody engaged in the business of inventing new and better methods of generating and distributing electricity, can ever get his new, and possibly better ideas, put into force, so long as this basis for the industry exists.

This solidification, this freezing of the whole of the technical position in the generating and distribution of electricity is taking place just at that one moment in the history of the industry and invention in this country when probably the whole methods both of generation and of distribution are going to be completely altered in every essential respect. We are just at the end of one age of electricity—just at the end of that age under which electricity is generated by coal from the pits, put under boilers for the purpose of raising the steam, to be put into steam turbines to produce the rotary motion, which is again transmitted to the rotary electric machine, which again generates the electricity which is transmitted to the consumer. That method of production is a method primitive in the extreme. It is very complicated and hopelessly inefficient. For years past, the whole of the inventive capacity of the engineers of the world has been devoted to the invention of some better, cheaper, and simpler method of generating electricity. All those labours have been going on for a whole generation, and engineers, who have throughout the whole time been busy, are rapidly coming to a conclusion at the present time. Already everyone concerned with engineering knows well that the great engines which are to be put in at the present time are going to be obsolete within a very short time. Therefore I do say that the House is taking a very grave responsibility upon itself when, possibly, passing a Measure which may be of the very greatest disadvantage to the industries and to the prosperity of this country. I do hope that those who vote for the Third Reading of this Bill to-night will vote with a full knowledge of what they are doing and of what they may sacrifice.


I fully recognise that to keep the House at any length at this moment upon this particular Bill is not to the point, because the opportunities for any useful work has gone by. But I think we all feel that we are entitled to express what we believe to be the likely operations of this Bill. If this Bill had its proper title, it would be the Charter of Monopoly for the Private Electrical Undertakings of the Country Bill. It is what we expected it to be. Those of us interested in these matters looked upon the Report of the Board of Trade Committee which recommended the setting up of super-electrical stations, the mapping out of the country into districts and areas, and the organisation of the generation and the distribution of electricity, as a very encouraging report, both from the point of view of national economy, and from the point of view of cheaper power; also of ridding the country from the smoke nuisance. When we saw the Act of 1919 we, saw there the framework of this great national scheme which would have been of some benefit to the community. We recognised the necessity for a further Act of Parliament providing the machinery to put into operation the Act of 1919.

We were anxious during the whole of last Session that the Bill which was before the House should be put into effect and made an Act, but the Government considered it undesirable that that should be done. Now they bring forward a Bill which is only a shadow of the Bill which was before the House last year, and it is framed in such a fashion that it affects a consolidation of the vested interests of the electricity generation of this country. Meanwhile the electricity undertakings have been consolidating their position. If the municipalities desire to go a yard outside their area in order to supply electrical current, they suddenly find themselves within the area of supply of one of the large power companies. They have come dawn to this House, and have secured provisional orders and the like, and have the whole country mapped out as their areas of supply. People who are desirous of having electrical current, and desire to take it from one or other of the municipalities, find they are debarred, because they are encroaching on the area of the power company who perhaps have not a cable within miles and a station within a considerable distance! On the other hand, these companies are encroaching on the areas and boundaries of the local authorities. The companies can supply power and also light. They supply the minimum of power and the maximum of light, and the municipalities are consequently losing at both ends. This Bill makes the private electricity power companies a law unto themselves. We are told that the local authorities of the country have accepted certain arrangement during the later stages of this Bill. These arrangements have been made on sufference. The municipalities are only endeavouring to save what they can from the wreck of the Bill which consolidates the vested interests in this matter.

So far as I can understand this Bill in its application to the Act of 1919, we are going to make the power companies of the country wholesale producers of electrical current, and we are going to make the municipalities of the country the retail traders to sell that commodity which the private companies have produced. It is on a par with many other things that have happened in this House of recent days. The rights of the people on one side, and the interests of the country are very definite. The point of view of economy and health and other similar things have no consideration at all if the interest is sufficiently powerful in this House to influence this House and to influence Parliament. In this Electricity Bill, like other Bills that could be named, they get their way irrespective of the rights of the people or of the country. I repeat that if this Bill got its proper title that would be a Charter of Monopoly for the Private Electrical Undertakings of the Country Bill.


Before the Third Reading is given to this Bill, I wish to enter my respectful protest against the charge levelled at the Electricity Commissioners by the hon. Member for the Mossley Division (Mr. Hopkinson) and his suggestion of their indiscriminate waste of public money: that in the discharge of their duties they are inclined to lavish public money in every direction. It is not my duty in this House to defend the Electricity Commissioners. That can be very well done by the Parliamentary Secretary who is in charge of the Bill. But I have had some experience of the methods pursued by the Commissioners in preparing recommendations to put before the Trade Facilities Committee. I know the process, and I say that a more exact, a more careful, and a more exhaustive way of performing their work could not be devised than that pursued by these Commissioners in order to satisfy themselves of the bona fides of every scheme brought to them for their recommendation. If we allow a charge like that, made in the characteristic fashion of the hon. Gentleman, to be scattered about this House against a body of most efficient public officers, who are doing their work in the face of great difficulties and to the entire satisfaction of the country, we shall be doing wrong.


It is a great disaster that this Bill was ever introduced. It is a remnant of the old Bill. It is unsound in principle. I do not believe you will ever get, under this Bill, electricity at the cheap rate which is necessary, or under any other Bill which is aimed at electricity being produced ad hoc by ad hoc companies. There is only one way you will ever get cheaper electrical power, and that is by taking advantage of the facilities which might be offered by the railway companies of this country if it were possible for an enlightened Parliament to see its way to grant a franchise to the railways to electrify themselves and provide the power of heat and light which this Bill fails to do in an adequate way. Then you might have the railway companies of this country producing electricity as a side line for public purposes, whereas you have under this Bill ad hoc authorities to supply electric light and power, and long before they have been able to obtain a sufficient volume of business to justify their cost and their heavy overhead charges, they will sink under the weight of their overhead charges, and their unit prices will have to be kept up for a great many years to come.

The consequence will be that electric consumers will be burdened with charges from which they can never recover, whereas if a more imaginative and practical policy had been adopted, if more vision had been shown, if the railway companies had been told that the State would assist them to electrify themselves and give them powers subject to due provision that they shall not overcharge the consumer, we should have had a more

rapid development and a more efficient system.

The scheme now proposed is going to be a millstone round the neck of these electric undertakings. Consider for a moment what the railway companies, if they had been given such powers, could have done. Every farmer and the residents in every village through which the railway lines ran would have been able to get cheap electric power. You only need the skilled technical expert to work under the financial scheme of the railway company. This is the true method by which we could have regenerated the whole of the industrial situation, and we could in this way have provided power and heat and light in every corner of these islands, and we could have made this as great an invention as the invention of the steam locomotive. This bureaucratic Bill, which is framed on syndicalism lines, is standing in the way of natural heritage of the railway companies, and it will be a block instead of an assistance to the development of electricity, and it will do very great harm to the development of the industries of this country.


In regard to this question, the policy was really laid down in what is now the Act of 1919. I think it. is only fair that some of us who served on the Standing Committee which had to deal with questions of fair play for other statutory companies should, at the end of this discussion, which has necessarily been prolonged, say that while the policy of 1919 has failed to justify itself, and can only be justified by practical experience over a period of years, we are grateful to my hon. Friend for the way he has tried to meet us, and we thank him for the skill and courtesy with which he has piloted a very difficult Bill through the House.

Question put, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

The House divided: Ayes, 184; Noes, 64.

Division No. 236.] AYES. [10.2 p.m.
Adkins, Sir William Ryland Dent Barrand, A. R. Bramsdon, Sir Thomas
Armstrong, Henry Bruce Bartley-Dennlss, Sir Edmund Robert Breese, Major Charles E.
Atkey, A. R. Bennett, Sir Thomas Jewell Briggs, Harold
Balrd, Sir John Lawrence Birchall, J. Dearman Brittain, Sir Harry
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Borwick, Major G. O. Broad, Thomas Tucker
Barker, Major Robert H. Boscawen, Rt. Hon. Sir A. Griffith Brown, Brig.-Gen. Clifton (Newbury)
Barnett, Major Richard W. Bowyer, Captain G. W. E. Bruton, Sir James
Barnston, Major Harry Boyd-Carpenter, Major A. Buckley, Lieut-Colonel A.
Burn, Col. C. R. (Devon, Torquay) Hopkins, John W. W. Pratt, John William
Carter, R. A. D. (Man., Withington) Home, Edgar (Surrey, Guildford) Purchase, H. G.
Casey, T. W. Houfton, John Plowright Rae, Sir Henry N
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Blrm. W.) Hurd, Percy A. Ramsden, G. T.
Churchman, Sir Arthur Hurst, Lieut.-Colonel Gerald B. Randies, Sir John Scurrah
Clay, Lieut-Colonel H. H. Spender Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S. Ratcliffe, Henry Butler
clough, Sir Robert James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert Reld, D. D.
Coats, Sir Stuart Jameson, John Gordon Remer, J. R.
Cobb, Sir Cyril Jephcott, A. R. Richardson, Sir Alex. (Gravesend)
Collox, Major Wm. Phillips Jodrell, Neville Paul Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)
Conway, Sir W. Martin Johnstone, Joseph Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
Cope, Major William Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington) Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)
Cory, Sir J. H. (Cardiff, South) Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Rodger, A. K.
Cowan, O. M, (Scottish Universities) Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. George Roundell, Colonel R. F.
Davidson, J. C. C. (Hemel Hempstead) Kenyon. Barnet Scott, A. M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
Davies, Thomas (Cirencester) Kidd, James Scott, Sir Leslie (Liverp'l, Exchange)
Davies, Sir William H. (Bristol, S.) King, Captain Henry Dcuglas Seager, Sir William
Dawson, Sir Philip Law, Alfred J. (Rochdale) Shaw, Hon. Alex. (Kilmarnock)
Dewhurst, Lieut.-Commander Harry Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales) Shaw, William T. (Forfar)
Doyle, N. Grattan Lindsay, William Arthur Shortt, Rt. Hon, E. (N'castle-on-T.)
Du Pre, Colonel William Baring Lloyd-Greame, Sir P. Simm, M. T. (Wallsend)
Edge, Captain Sir William Lorden, John William Smith, Sir Allan M. (Croydon, South)
Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M. Loseby, Captain C. E. Smlthers, Sir Alfred W.
Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray M'Connell, Thomas Edward Steel, Major S. Strang
Fell, Sir Arthur Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Stephenson, Lieut.-Colonel H. K.
Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L. M'Lean, Lieut.-Col. Charles W. W. Sturrock, J. Leng
Flannery, Sir James Fortescue Macnaghten, Sir Malcolm Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Ford, Patrick Johnston Macpherson, Rt. Hon, James I. Sutherland, Sir William
Forrest, Walter Mallalleu, Frederick William Taylor, J.
Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot Manville, Edward Thomson, F. c. (Aberdeen, South)
Fraser, Major Sir Keith Meysoy-Thompson, Lieut.-Col. E. C. Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell- (Maryhill)
Ganzoni, Sir John Middlebrook, sir William Thorpe, Captain John Henry
Glbbs, Colonel George Abraham Moles, Thomas Townley, Maximilian G.
Gilmour, Lieut.-Calonel Sir John Molson, Major John Elsdale Tryon, Major George Clement
Gould, James C. Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz Wallace, J.
Grant, James Augustus Morden, Col. W. Grant Walters, Rt. Hon. Sir John Tudor
Gray, Major Ernest (Accrington) Moreing, Captain Algernon H. Waring, Major Walter
Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.) Morrison, Hugh Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.
Gregory, Holman Murray, John (Leeds, West) Warren, Sir Alfred H.
Grelg, Colonel Sir James William Neat, Arthur Weston, Colonel John Wakefield
Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London) Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.
Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. Frederick E. Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Whitla, Sir William
Guthrie, Thomas Maule Nicholson, Brig.-Gen. J. (Westminster) Williams, C. (Tavistock)
Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Nield, Sir Herbert Wills, Lt.-Col. Sir Gilbert Alan H.
Hamilton, Sir George C. Norrls, Colonel Sir Henry G. Windsor, Viscount
Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Norton-Griffiths, Lieut.-Col. Sir John Winfrey, Sir Richard
Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton) Pain, Brig. Gen. Sir W. Hacket Winterton, Earl
Hayes, Hugh (Down, W.) Palmer, Brigadier-General G. L. Wise, Frederick
Hennessy, Major J. R. G. Parker, James Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)
Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford) Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry Worsfold, T. Cato
Hills, Major John Waller Pearce, Sir William
Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Hood, Sir Joseph Perkins, Walter Frank Colonel Leslie Wilson and Mr.
Hope, Sir H.(Stirling & Cl'ckm'nn'n.W.) Perrig, William George Dudley Ward
Hope, J. D. (Berwick & Haddington) Pollock, Rt. Hon. Sir Ernest Murray
Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis D. Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Rendall, Athelstan
Adamson, Rt. Hon. William Grundy, T. W. Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Ammon, Charles George Guest, J. (York, W. R., Hemsworth) Royce, William Stapleton
Banton, George Hartshorn, Vernon Sexton, James
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Hayday, Arthur Shaw, Thomas (Preston)
Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.) Hirst, G. H. Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Hogge, James Myles Smith, W. R. (Wellingborough)
Bromfleld, William Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley) Sutton, John Edward
Brown, Major D. C. Irving, Dan Swan, J. E.
Cairns, John John, William (Rhondda, West) Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)
Cape, Thomas Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown) Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)
Davies, A. (Lancaster, Ciltheroe) Kennedy, Thomas Thomson, T, (Middlesbrough, West)
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M. Tillett, Benjamin
Davison, J. E. (Smethwick) Lawson, John James Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) Lunn, William White, Charles F. (Derby, Western)
Edwards, Hugh (Glam, Neath) Malone, C. L. (Leyton, E.) Wignall. James
Entwlstlc, Major C. F. Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross) Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)
Finney, Samuel Naylor, Thomas Ellis Wilson, James (Dudley)
Foot, Isaac Newbould, Alfred Ernest Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)
Galbralth, Samuel Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)
Gillis, William Poison, Sir Thomas A TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Rattan, Peter Wilson Mr. Myers and Mr. Halls.
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.