HC Deb 09 July 1924 vol 175 cc2365-92

Order for Second Reading read.

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


I beg to move to leave, out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."

At a time like the present, when there is so much unemployment in all parts of the country, one rises with considerable hesitancy to oppose a Bill which may give the promise, or even appearance of a promise, of immediate employment to any number of men, however small that number may be, and I think one could only oppose the Bill in such circumstances if, in his opinion, there were very real reasons for such opposition. I know it may be urged in the country by our opponents opposite that in opposing a Bill of this character we are tending to aggravate rather than minimise that great problem of unemployment with which we have been so often taunted. Particularly because I happen to be a member of the division with which this Bill deals, I have, perhaps, more to fear from any such argument than other hon. Members in this House, but I am one of those who believe that there are some things that transcend local considerations, and transcend the desire to catch votes in a particular area.

For that reason I oppose this Measure, because I believe there are very important national considerations involved here. I think we can pay too heavy a price in the future for any chance of an immediate or present advantage, and I think the Government would do well, in viewing this Measure, not only to view it as a separate Measure dealing with a particular area of water resources in Lanarkshire, but to try to view it as part of the total water supply and water resources not only in the whole of Scotland, but in the whole of Britain. Those of us who are opposing this Bill think the time is long past for this House, and particularly the Government, to take into serious consideration whether it is going to permit the growing up of additional monopolies, which have to be taken over by the communities at a greatly enhanced and bloated price The right hon. Gentleman who leads the party sitting below the Gangway warned Members sitting on these benches—and they trembled not at all !—and warned the House, that he would not permit any socialistic experiments. He did not proceed to tell us precisely what he meant, for no doubt he would have found himself in considerable difficulty, because it would have involved him as an honest politician, objecting not only to socialistic experi- meats which are threatened, but socialistic experiments which are in operation! Those of us who are opposing this Bill desire at the very outset, so far at least as Lanarkshire is concerned, to prevent the growing up there of a monopoly which may subsequently have to be purchased at an enhanced price by the community, as has been the case with regard to the gas in that community, and will certainly be the case there with regard to the tramway system.

This Bill is promoted by a company termed the Lanarkshire Hydro-Electric Power Company, and its members are those who are in favour of competition, or who give lip service to the merits and virtues of competition upon public platforms, but give the lie to it in the conduct of their own business and industries by wiping all competition. These persons will, no doubt, tell us that this is an additional company coming in where there is already a company supplying electricity in a large part of that county. An examination of the Bill, however, shows this is to be a contract company whose business it will be to erect works and to make the preparations for utilising the water supply. Immediately those works are in position, and are in commercial operation, then they have to pass on to the Clyde Valley Electric Company all the electricity generated at the works. The position then will be that the Clyde Valley Company, so far as the actual supply in the county is concerned, is part of a monopoly; and this particular company in the Bill, now formed under a different name, is merely the company which is going to add to the monopoly already created, held, and pursued by the Clyde Valley Electricity Company. The position is this, that you have in Lanarkshire for the first time—I know you have it elsewhere in Scotland, in the Grampians and elsewhere—a proposal to use the natural resources of the country which above all other things, if they ought to be anything in the nature of a monopoly, ought to be a monopoly in the hands of the people residing in the area. We say that such a proposal should not receive, in appearance, the approval of a Labour Government with more or less—very often less—of a Socialist bias that should not be in any form approval given to such a project to increase a monopoly which is growing up before our eyes. Hon. Members may have heard of these beautiful falls that are in my division; and I just wish to tell the House that I represent more of the Clyde than the Clyde Members put together. I represent the Clyde before it becomes turbulent. The proposal is to utilise the Bennington, the Stonebyres and the Corra Linn falls up in the higher Clyde valley.

The situation here is this: that you have a peculiar opportunity for the Government to give some impetus to national ownership or communal ownership of national resources to be utilised in the generation of power. This estate is owned by Sir Charles Ross, of Balnagowan Castle, who also owns the Bonnington estate on which two of the falls involved in this scheme are situated. This gentleman, I believe, is willing to hand over under certain conditions—I am not saying whether the conditions are good, bad, or indifferent—but the fact is that he is willing to hand over his total water rights in these falls, and in the ground necessary, to carry out the plan so far his estate is concerned. I want to give to this House some of the reasons why at least there should not be a final settlement, and why there should be some delay so that the matter may have further consideration.

Another reason why we object to this Bill is—why I, at least, object to it—is that these particular falls are situated in one of the most romantic parts of Scotland. Apart from the natural beauty of these falls the part is one hallowed to all Scottish patriots—I do not mean particular types of patriots, but those who really love their country, because of its association with William Wallace, who was so unhandsomely treated by one of our English Kings in the hall below. This estate has been handed down to the present owner from William Wallace. We are going to protest against those parts falling into the hands of private people for the pure exploitation of the workers. We know only too well in Lanarkshire, more, perhaps, than any other county in Scotland, how grossly materialistic have been the ideas as to private profits. We are often told by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that we have a materialistic philosophy, that we are the true materialists; but it is not the Socialists who have run the coal mines, it is not the Socialists who have run the steel works in these parts, or have taken wealth from the bosom of Mother Earth and then thrown the refuse in her face, as in the case of coal and slag heaps, and so on.

We want, earnestly, to put this point of view that, if our natural resources ought to be developed that this is essentially a case where the local authorities should be supported in every possible way, financed and encouraged by the Government of the day—that this is a case where a start could be made. We are putting this point of view, for this particular area has some sanctity for Scottish people. They feel that the area ought to be controlled and the resources in the area be utilised by the people who represent the whole community with regard to their feelings, emotions and idealism. If this be done they will take a much greater care of the associations of such area than a private company or some concern out for profit-making and dividend-producing. I, therefore, submit this case, and I want to put it to the Government that there is here, not only a question of local patriotism, or of national patriotism, which some people may discard as weighing a small grain of sand in the balance against profit-making and private enterprise. But the Government, as I say, has come, or is very soon to come, to the parting of the ways. They have got to make up their mind whether with their patronage or permission they are going to allow the growing up of a monopoly which will make all other monopolies pale into insignificance because of its power and size, I think the Government ought to take its courage in both hands, and to say that this country has suffered sufficiently in the past in respect to these monopolies, and which the communities have had to buy back at deliberately enhanced prices. Such monopolies are very often used, not with a view of serving the community, but to bleed the community in which the monopoly is allowed to be. We do suggest to the Minister of Transport that there is time for delay, and cause for delay, and for the consideration of the facts. Time given for consideration may delay the employment of some men who otherwise might obtain employment, and we regret that. I have already said that I am opposing, and will be most likely to suffer because of the attitude I am taking up. I hope that the Government will give us some assurance, some indication that they are not entirely losing sight of this monopoly which is growing up before their eyes, and which may subsequently have to be brought back at the cost of millions, and that they will decide that the whole people should have the benefit of the natural resources of the place, that these ought not to be privately owned and used; should be for the benefit of the whole people, and not vested in private hands.


I beg to second the Motion for the rejection of this Bill.

I think I can speak for most hon. Members representing Scottish divisions. We feel that this is a matter of considerable importance to us because it is another instance of the use of the natural resources of the country for the purpose of making private profit. I feel very strongly on this question because the county of Lanarkshire is one of the richest in the whole of Scotland so far as natural resources are concerned, and it is now proposed that these natural resources should be used to the disadvantage of our people to an extent not equalled in any other part of the country. We do not want this exploitation to grow up in regard to what we believe to be one of the great resources of our land. An eminent engineer once said that the water power of Scotland, if fully developed, is sufficient to run the whole of the machinery of Scotland.

It has been said that this Bill will give employment to a number of unemployed men, and like the hon. Member who moved the rejection of this Bill, I have the honour and privilege of representing a division which has suffered very acutely from unemployment during recent years. My point is that if you can find employment under private enterprise in this way you can find employment under public ownership and control. If this scheme can be inaugurated on the lines laid down in this Bill then it can be organised under Government ownership and control with equal speed. I feel that the time has come when some great departure has to be made with regard to the public control of our natural resources, and particularly in regard to a nation which is suffering to the extent we are doing at the present time.

We have to think out the whole of this problem of the employment and utilisation of our natural resources from a national point of view, and see upon what lines it can be most usefully and wisely developed. I am sure that we all feel very strongly the necessity for the discovery of some immediate and rapid method which will absorb the whole of the unemployment problem in our land, and this is one of the means by which that object might be accomplished. I ask the Government to tell us its policy with regard to these matters, and I feel sure that in Lanarkshire and other places the making available of these great national sources of wealth will be a step in the right direction towards developing them for the benefit of the community rather than for individual profit and gain.


I am sure hon. Members on this side of the House, and myself in particular, would never doubt the courage of the two hon. Members who have supported the rejection of this Bill. I deeply regret, however, that they have found it necessary to move its rejection. In their opening sentences they at once saw the chief weakness of their case, because they apologised for opposing a Bill which will immediately give employment to a large number of people. This Bill, if it becomes law, will give employment to 1,500 or 2,000 people for a whole year, and that in itself, so far as I personally am concerned, if there were no other argument available, would decide my vote in favour of this Bill. This Measure has been amply and thoroughly discussed in all its phases through the usual channels until it has reached this House. It has been before a Select Committee of the House of Lords for five days, and I hold in my hand a copy of the evidence which has been taken. Every one of its Clauses has been carefully examined, as every Clause is examined, by a Select Committee, and in addition to that the opinion of the Minister of Transport has been sought and this is the advice the right hon. Gentleman has given: The Minister sees no objection to the proposals contained in the Bill for generating electricity provided the engineering scheme as submitted to the Committee proves to be satisfactory. It has been submitted to the Committee and proved satisfactory. It has been passed unanimously by a Committee of the House of Lords and sent here for us consider. Certain objections were raised in the House of Lords, but the whole of them have been met with the exception of those raised by the hon. Member who has moved the rejection of this Measure. Up to yesterday there were still objections by the Lanarkshire County Council; but this afternoon a telegram has been received from the finance committee of the Lanarkshire County Council, which I will read: Lanarkshire County Parliamentary Bills Committee to-day decided accept Clauses nineteen one Act and withdraw Petition their Parliamentary agents being instructed communicate Sherwood to-morrow. There is no opposition from the county authorities in Lanarkshire, and this Measure is unanimously supported by the Committee of the House of Lords, and all that remains for us is to consider whether this is the time, without any notice being given at all to those who promote private Bills, that the whole system on which the government of this country has been based in the past with regard to private Bill procedure should all of a sudden come to an end, and the promoters of the Bill get for the first time in this House to-day notice that all their efforts and all the money they have spent, perhaps for a year past, amounting to many thousands of pounds, should be set at naught, and we are told we should begin to work now on a new system of nationalisation. I am not going to be drawn into the question of nationalisation. That is not the point. If we begin to discuss nationalisation, there will be no more business done in this House to-night, and I think that the Government themselves are anxious to get on with the business they have in hand.

I, for one, could talk for an hour on the details of this Bill, but I do not wish to talk. I only wish to appeal to the Government on just one point. Is this the time, without any definite notice having been given, to alter the basis of our system of government? Nationalisation may be right or may be wrong, but it is not the time, on a private Bill in a House like this, to try experiments of far-reaching consequence. If the Government want to do it, their Front Bench ought to be full of Cabinet Ministers, and we ought to have a full-dress Debate in this House. For the two hon. Members, with un- doubted courage, to try to throw this Bill out on the ground that the time has now arrived for nationalisation, is to cut at the root of all foresight. How will any private Bill in the future ever be brought before this House? How will any company or any set of individuals think it worth while to promote Bills if, when they come to this House, they are thrown out, not on grounds of detail, not because the Clauses do not conform to various rules, but on a new system that everything shall be nationalised, and that now is the time to start nationalising, beginning with electricity? If this question of nationalisation is to come up, let it come up and let us debate it in a fair and big House of Commons, and not in a comparatively small House such as we have here to-night. It is cutting at the root of all security and all foresight with regard to private enterprise. It is taking away work that is wanted at this moment more badly than at any other time. Did not we hear the Prime Minister himself, in terms which we all admired, say most distinctly that everything connected with electricity should be promoted by this country? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear! By the country."] Either by the country itself or by private enterprise. Is it to be thought that the Prime Minister meant that he was going to wait until a scheme of nationalisation was brought in? If so, how many General Elections are we to have before electricity is developed? [HON. MEMBERS: "Just one!"] That, of course, is a question of opinion. But, while we are waiting for that one election, men are walking about the streets of Lanarkshire idle who might be employed. I do appeal to the House that, now that the hon. Gentlemen have aired their opinions—


No, we are voting on them!


As I have said, they have the courage to vote for what they think is right, but, now that they have aired their opinions, I do ask them, in all earnestness, to think, not of the great things which are, perhaps, in the dim and distant future, but of the immediate present, and of giving employment to 1,500 or 2,000 men who are wanting employment, and who will get employment if this Bill is given a Second Reading.

Mr. JOHN ROBERTSON (Lord of the Treasury)

The hon. Member who has just spoken so eloquently in favour of this Measure has paid a tribute to the courage of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment. I have followed very closely the arguments in favour of this Bill, and it has been pointed out that it would give work to a certain number of men—1,400 or 1,500. I would like to ask the hon. Member whether, even if he is prepared to give employment to a great deal more than 1,400 men, he is prepared to hand over the natural resources of the country, which are the property of the nation and the wealth of the nation, to a private monopoly?


I presume that the hon. Gentleman is not putting that question with the intention that I should reply. I take it that he does not wish me to answer him in an interruption?


I always understood that in Debate speakers were quite within their rights in making reasonable deductions from statements made by opponents, and I hope I have not misrepresented the case. The argument was that here is an undertaking which would give employment to 1,400 or 1,500 men—


The hon. Gentleman has said that more than once, but what I said was that it would give employment to 1,500 or 2,000 men.


I would advise my hon. Friend not to interrupt me so frequently, because I can assure him that it would not upset me one bit if he were to go on interrupting me all night. I will take his figure of 1,500 to 2,000. He says that, if this Bill is gone on with, it will give employment to 1,500 or 2,000 men in the County of Lanark. I do not dispute that for a single moment, but our reply to that is this: Are you prepared to hand over to a private monopoly the wealth of the nation, to be exploited for the advantage of that monopoly, merely because it is going to give employment to 1,500 or 2,000 men? It must not be forgotten that, if that work were undertaken and carried out by a municipality or county council, it would still give employment to the same number of men. We have been told that this Bill has been before the Parliamentary Bills Committee of the County of Lanark, and also that it has been before the House of Lords. We do not deny that, but I think the whole crux of the hon. Member's argument is that, because the Bill has been before the Parliamentary Bills Committee of the County of Lanark and before the House of Lords, we should simply accept what comes from the House of Lords without question or examination. I am afraid that we are too jealous of the rights of the House of Commons to accept this without discussing the merits and demerits of the question.

Then we have been told that we are not to discuss the question of nationalisation. No; the time is too limited to discuss the question of nationalisation, but it is not too limited to accept a private monopoly without discussion. We are told that the nationalisation and socialisation of industries is such a big and wide question that we have not time to discuss it; but we are asked to hand over the natural resources, the national wealth, of part of the county of Lanark to a monopoly without discussion, because someone in some other place has said it, and it is desired to take away the rights of the House of Commons. I do not want to make debating points at all; I want really to face the position. We are not condescending on the merits or demerits of this Bill; we are pleading for delay; and I think that all the facts are in favour of delay in this matter.


What about the question of the unemployed?


I hope I shall not be tempted to give a brief history of what has been done by hon. Gentlemen opposite for the unemployed since 1918. I do not desire, as I have said, to make debating points; I do not desire to say that the Bill is a good Bill or a bad one. What I do say is that we have good grounds for asking all parties in the House for delay in connection with this matter. The sentimental point of view has been mentioned, and I share very largely the sentimental view; but, on the other hand, this matter has been gone into in other quarters, and I am not competent to condescend on technical details with regard to other schemes. We plead for delay because there is no doubt that a legitimate offer has been made of certain rights of this property to the County Council or to the nation if they care to exploit it. A scheme has been put forward by people competent to give an opinion where the cost of electricity in the upper ward of Lanarkshire will only be one-fourth of the charge which is being made at present in Lanark by the Clyde Valley Electrical Undertaking. No one in the House, not even the most enthusiastic and honest supporter of the Bill, would dare to deny that the Hydro Electric Company is the same concern as the Clyde Valley Electrical Undertaking. We are not seeking to discuss nationalisation or private enterprise. We are not concerned with the merits or demerits of the Bill. I do not want to say anything about capitalists exploiting this, that and the other. My point is that here are natural resources. For the first time it has been brought forward that these natural resources should be handed over to the County Council or the nation, to be exploited in the interest of the people in the upper ward of North Lanark. All we ask is that we ought to delay the matter for three months, until we have an opportunity of making inquiry as to the genuineness of the offer of the natural resources being handed over to the County Council or the nation. and we are not going to stand in the way if there is going to be a difficulty or if it is not going to be carried out. We might be in an entirely different position three months hence, but we are certainly in favour of delay. We will have the fullest possible inquiries made as to whether this is to be handed over to the nation or to the County Council to be worked in the interests of the people, and not in the interest of a private monopoly.

9.0 P.M.


I have a good deal of sympathy with the point of view of the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution, not as regards the Bill, but on the matter of principle. I think all sections of the House agree that the question of electric power requires further investigation. It may be desirable to have a national scheme or it may be desirable that a portion, or the whole, of the natural resources should be nationalised. It is a very big question and we have not the information before us to debate it now. The question we are discussing is what action we shall take on the Second Reading of this Bill, and I think there is a good deal of misunderstanding as to what exactly the Bill does. The last speaker said it set up a private monopoly to exploit the natural resources of the country. That is hardly a fair way of saying what the Bill does. We have the Clyde Power Company, which has a monopoly, in the usual way, of the sale of electricity in this area. This water power has never been exploited. Twenty thousand kilowats an hour have been pouring from the waterfalls for ever and no one has tried to come forward to convert it into power. Now the promoters of this Bill have come forward and offered to provide the money to put up the stations and produce the power and their scheme is to sell it to the Clyde Company, which already has a monopoly. It is simply a matter of selling the bulk supply to them and the report of the Ministry of Transport in the Lords Committee stated that whoever developed this water power must necessarily, under the special technical conditions, dispose of it to a company which can use it as an addition to their power, and the only available company is the Clyde Company. It is suggested that the price is not controlled. No one knows the price at which the electricity will be sold to the Clyde Company The mere fact that the Clyde Company are prepared to take their power in this way is sufficient proof that they can in that way get it more cheaply than by burning coal. From the point of view of financial resources I do not think there will be any answer to that point.

It may be suggested that if we agree to this Bill we are to set the precedent of handing these things over to private control, and therefore putting difficulties in the way of nationalisation if that should prove later to be a practical policy I think that is hardly the case. This is a perfectly isolated supply power. It has no connection with any other supply power. Whatever is done here is an individual unit which may be dealt with by itself, the power is reserved by agreement with the Board of Trade that the Government may take it over at a later date if they wish to do so—I think in 75 years. It is not setting a new precedent, because two water powers have been developed in Scotland in the last few years on the same lines. It seems to me what we have to consider is whether this scheme is a sound one in itself and whether, carrying it out on the lines pro- posed, it is going, on the whole, to give advantages. The advantages have been set forth. I think one hon. Member said it is going to have the appearance of promising employment. I do not think that is a fair statement. It is undoubtedly going to employ 1,500 to 2,000 men—partly navvying work on the spot and partly engineers. After all, engineers need employment more than anyone else now. About £150,000 worth of engineering is to be placed at a time when engineering is depressed. That is a strong argument for going on now rather than for delay.

Secondly, this is a new kind of engineering for British engineers. These large water power plants have never been developed here. British engineers have carried them out in Brazil and India, but there are very few plants of that sort that engineers can show to buyers who can come here. It will be a show plant for British engineers and will be of real value to the industry from that point of view in the future. Lastly, as regards the immediate advantages, this water power will save something like 60,000 tons of coal a year in perpetuity. That is a real saving of our natural resources, and a thing that ought not to be put off. Of course, it will lower the price. The Clyde Company will be able to purchase more cheaply. If there was an alternative scheme put forward by which either a municipality or the nation was prepared to go on with this thing to-day it might be perfectly reasonable and proper to inquire which of these two schemes would be of the greatest advantage to the nation, but there is no such scheme. If you reject this Bill you are not going to get another scheme to do it in three months, and no one can tell when you will get it. I suggest that this is a perfectly genuine case. The promoters have already incurred very considerable expense. They have got the thing through the House of Lords and through the Committee. There is no opposition except from one gentleman who has been mentioned, and his opposition was not considered serious in the House of Lords. If we turn down a Bill of this sort, how are any enterprising people in future to get the courage to spend their money trying to develop schemes of this sort for the benefit of the nation? It would be a serious thing if the House rejected the Bill, not because it is not a good Bill, but on the general principle of tying us down to go in for nationalisation. We have no evidence that nationalisation may not be the right thing for this, but we have no evidence that under nationalisation you will be able to carry out a scheme more efficiently or with more benefit to the users in the area. I am sure a great many people have opinions to that effect, and a great many to the opposite effect. I refuse to pledge myself as to which is right.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Entwistle)

I cannot permit any argument whether it would be more efficient or not.


I would appeal to the House not to create the dangerous precedent of rejecting a Bill of this kind on account of the theory of nationalisation. The last speaker from the Government bench, the, hon. Member for the Bothwell Division (Mr. Robertson) pleaded for delay. This Bill is the result of an agreement between two Government Departments, the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Transport, and it will be exceedingly useful to know whether the last speaker was speaking for the Government, or as a private individual.


I was speaking as a Member for the County of Lanark against this Bill.


Then I understand the hon. Member was not speaking for the Government. I am glad to know that.


The hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) made the point that the price at which this company is going to sell electricity to the Clyde Company must be alright, because the Clyde Valley Company have already made up their minds that this must be a cheaper way than any other means. The hon. Member must have omitted to study Clause 19, where the most elaborate arrangements are made whereby these two sets of companies, who are the same people, are going to swop their capital. It is going to be the finest system of interlocking capital imaginable, so that it does not matter which sells dearly or which buys cheaply, the profit will go to the same pocket.


My point is that it would be produced more cheaply than by another method.


It may be produced more cheaply, but if the profits go into the same pockets, where is the advantage to the public?


These companies do not work for charity.


For the first time since I came into this House, I find myself in most hearty agreement with the hon. Member opposite.


I am in most hearty agreement with you. I am on the Clyde myself.


Therefore, you speak with great authority. I have never known where an exploiting gang like this worked for charity, so that the hon. Member is quite correct.


You do not work for charity. You never did anything for charity in your life.


The hon. Member thinks this is the Battle of the Boyne.


I hope hon. Members will not keep up this running fire of interruptions.


Reference has been made to the proprietor who still persists in his opposition to this Bill. I understood the hon. Member for Withington to say that the opposition was not regarded as serious in the House of Lords. The proprietor said that on the rate at present charged in the district the profit would result in such an amount as would be oppressive to the inhabitants. He goes on to say that it is his considered opinion that it is of the highest importance, in the interest of the general public and, in the long run, of the proprietors of what may be called natural power, that the acquiring of monopolies should be prevented by every available means. He also went on to say that he was so convinced of this that rather than see a monopoly of the kind being acquired in the case of the Falls of Clyde, he is prepared to make over his rights in these Falls to the public, on the simple condition that they shall erect and operate electrical plant on the most up-to-date and modern lines, and for public purposes.

That is a public-spirited offer, and it ought not to be derided and referred to as an objection of no consequence. It has been said that this opposition was not taken seriously in another place. I imagine that this House will take, or that it ought to take, an offer of that kind seriously. We have been told of the extraordinary number of men, engineers particularly, who will be set to work at once under this scheme. One hon. Member said that the need was urgent in order that the unemployed should be set to work. What are the facts? They are going to start when they have got £10,000. How long will they with that amount of money be able to employ 15,000, 1,500, 1,000, or even 500 men? [Interruption.] That is in the Bill. They are going to start when they have raised £10,000. What are they going to do with the £10,000? [An HON. MEMBER: "Pay wages."] They are going to buy land first. That amount of capital is quite insufficient for the purpose of settling any large numbers of engineers or other workers in employment. Some of us have had personal experience of the way these electrical trusts do not operate, and we can quite well believe that the provisions in this Bill by which they ask that they shall be given five years in which to go on with their scheme is merely a proposal to prevent the Government, the county council, or any public authority from operating. They want to get and preserve a monopoly while there is time.


What is your evidence?


I live in a town where the Clyde Valley Electrical Company acquired powers to provide electricity. They acquired those powers, I think in 1901, but there is not a single cable laid in that area yet, and no prospect of it.


That has nothing to do with this scheme.


What they do in one district is a fair indication of what they may do in another district. One hon. Member said that if we oppose this Bill we are cutting at the root of all foresight I can see some foresight in this Bill. The nation cannot nationalise this until the year 1998. That is some foresight. Three-quarters of a century must elapse. Who fears to speak of Ninety-eight Who blushes at the name? The Minister of Transport gives his blessing to this. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] The hon. Member who spoke last said that there was no evidence that publicly-owned electricity was cheaper than privately-owned electricity. The evidence will be supplied in figures given by the Board of Trade. The evidence was given before the Coal Commission. It was not disputed by the electrical engineers who sat representing the masters on the Coal Commission. That evidence shows, taking an average, that the publicly-owned unit was very much cheaper than the privately-owned unit. Here are some figures taken from an estimate made by the "Electrical Times" on an average given by the Board of Trade. There are six stations given. The average price per public unit, per municipal station, is 2½16d., and the average price per company station is 3½07d., showing an advantage of nearly a penny in favour of the publicly-owned electricity.

I see in this Bill provisions like No. 52 and No. 53 for the protection of the London, Midland, and Scottish Railway Company and of other people, but I do not see one clause for the protection of the poor old Scottish public. What is happening here is that a company are seeking to acquire a natural monopoly which they intend to hold for exploitation purposes of a great scheme of public power which is necessary for the cheap running of works. They intend to hold that, if possible, until 1998. My view is that Labour Members and Scottish representatives will be fools if they do not do everything in their power to prevent that company securing this privilege and monopoly, instead of that it shall go to the Lanarkshire County Council or the Government or to some form of public control under which it would be used for the common good.


In the main I am always in favour of public bodies acquiring such undertakings as these, but I think that this House, when the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. J. Robertson) has spoken from his point of view with regard to this scheme, ought to know what the Government point of view is. The Government should give the House some guidance in a matter of this kind. I do not think that this question ought to be approached from the point of view of finding work. That is one of the weakest arguments that could possibly be advanced for promoting a Bill. What I am concerned about is this. What about the inhabitants? I have not heard a word about the inhabitants, and as to what is the desire of the people who live in the locality which is served by this undertaking. I understand that it is a Bill dealing with light and power, but I have heard no reference to this matter, and in the main, while I am of opinion the public authority should always be favoured and have the first opportunity to acquire undertakings of this kind, there is another point of view, that of the inhabitants.

I do not think that we ought to hold up any undertaking if the public authorities are not showing any disposition to work the resources that are at their hands. If I may be allowed, I want to suggest that we should approach this matter not altogether from the partisan aspect, and not altogether from the question of nationalisation. I think that the main consideration ought always to be the people themselves who live in the locality. Have the local authorities made any attempt whatever to carry out the work of electricity in the district? I cannot get any information that they have, and if the local authorities have shown no disposition to work the resources at their hand I do not see what grounds my hon. Friends above the Gangway can have for objecting to a company taking the matter in hand. That is one point of view.

The next is—and I do not suppose that my hon. Friends opposite will agree with me in this—that if we allow a private company to take this matter in hand it will have to be done with very careful safeguards, and that I think is the duty of this House. All the points that have been suggested by my hon. Friends above the Gangway to my mind are Committee points. I am of opinion that we ought to give the Bill a Second Reading, and examine very closely all these points in Committee. The first thing which we should have to consider would be the right of the local authorities to purchase. I have had a little experience of these companies, and it has not been favourable. I make that admission. I am in favour of very carefully safeguarding the rights of the public whenever a question of this kind comes before this House, but I do say that we have no right to adopt a dog-in-the-manger policy, and if the local authorities are not prepared to do the work they should not prevent a private company from carrying it out. Therefore I wish the House to give a Second Reading to this Measure, and then I wish to ask the House to watch very carefully several points.

The first is the right of the local authorities, should they so desire, to take over these works at a fair valuation, not to be determined by the Company but to be determined in a manner provided in the Bill itself. That is, should the local authorities desire—and in my opinion it is always desirable that the authorities should have these powers in their own hands—we ought then to allow them to take over the undertakings. The next point is that there should be inserted in the Bill a fixed time within which the work must be proceeded with, and it should be a comparatively short time. I have had experience of tramway powers being granted and held up and, as my hon. Friend has suggested, that might be the case with regard to this Bill. I have had experience of electric lighting concessions being granted to private companies and the work being held up, but I do suggest that this House ought not to hold up the work and ought not to prevent private companies carrying out the work if the public authorities fail to do their duty. Therefore, I suggest that we give the Bill a Second Reading, and in Committee very carefully safeguard the rights of public authorities and the inhabitants as to the time in which the work should proceed.


I think a question of principle is involved. The usual procedure has been followed in connection with the promotion of this Bill. Is it wise, in connection with a Bill which has been considered by the House of Lords and has passed a Committee of that House, that in this Chamber we should take up the attitude that we are going to refuse to allow the Bill to be sent to a Committee of the House? The Private Bill Committee will have counsel before them, and every opportunity given to state the pros and cons of the Measure. If the Bill comes back to this House from Committee and there is a suggestion made that it has not been fairly con- sidered by the Committee, then it will be for this House to say that, on certain considerations, it will reject the Measure. I hope, therefore, we shall have no Division on this matter. If we do go to a Division, it will be to carry out the usual procedure of this House. The Mover of the Amendment to reject the Measure tried to show to the House that this was going to defeat the amenities of the district.


No, no!


The suggestion of the hon. Member was that work under this Bill would also disfigure the landscape. He pleaded for the beauties of the country and that they should be protected from this disfigurement. If he refers to Clause 37, he will see it is specially provided that the landscape shall be preserved, that the amenities shall be maintained and that a Committee shall be appointed by the Secretary for Scotland. I agree with one point which has been raised in objection to this Measure. I think it is a very dangerous thing to give such a long period. I consider that this is a point to which the strongest objection can be taken in the Committee stage; to give so many years and leave people absolutely debarred from getting possession of what may be a valuable property and may be necessary for development. I think that the long period of 75 years should be very carefully considered in the Committee stage. We know that these electricity companies and these great power companies have done real, substantial work. We have the Clyde Valley. You take the Newcastle Company; you take the Lancashire Power Company. They have given us cheaper electricity than any public authority. The hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. T. Johnston) talked of averages of 2½16 or 3½16 or some such figures, making a difference of a penny by the power company. You do not have such a charge as 2d. per unit for the power supply. The general charge varies from 5 of a penny to 75 of a penny per unit. Therefore, it is ridiculous to suggest that the power companies are charging 3½16d. per unit. I hope this Bill will be given a Second Reading, because the principle which is involved in connection with local legislation should be considered in Committee.


The Bill has been approved by the Electricity Commissioners, who submitted to me their Report, which I endorsed and which was passed on to the House. That procedure is generally adopted in Bills of this kind. I was asked what the view of the Government was. I do not think I can say more than this: that the Prime Minister's promise to the House is being carried out. It is being looked into carefully, and I am not in a position at this moment to make a promise. I wish I could make one, but we have not made sufficient progress to decide the point. I want to say to my hon. Friends behind me that the Government are very concerned that everything that is possible should be done to develop electricity in this country, and they are looking into the matter and feel that under all the circumstances it is best to leave the judgment of this Bill to the free vote of the House.


I want to correct some statements which come from people who are not in contact with the subject. The last speaker on the Front Bench implied that something rested with the Electricity Commissioners. Nothing rests with the Commissioners. All they do is to give a judgment on cases brought before them. The hon. Member who spoke before the Minister of Transport from the Front Bench was dilating upon the great danger of preventing any development in these districts. Has he not, from his own experience of local administration, got knowledge of the fact that, because the Clyde Valley Company holds the power in that valley, local authorities cannot act. It was the Liberal party who in 1896 gave their first Bill to the Clyde Valley Electric Company and by giving that power to it, although the Glasgow Corporation are running electric trams through the streets of Rutherglen and could supply the municipal power and light almost 25 per cent. cheaper than the Clyde Valley Company, the Liberal Government Bill prevents the citizens of Rutherglen getting the advantage of municipal charge for power and they have to pay the charge of private enterprise, I am surprised that any hon. Members taking part in the Debate should be so far from knowing what actually exists to-day. Then we have had a great cry about work for the unemployed. That comes very well from hon. Members opposite when it suits their own little game, and after all this is a game. If anyone cares to study a Bill like this and its relation to unemployment, they will soon realise that here you propose to set up 20,000 horse-power plant, and if that horse-power were not taken from water you would be using coal to produce it. Can any hon. Member opposite tell me how many tons of coal would be required to produce that horse-power? Hon. Members do not think these things over because they cannot. In this case I venture to suggest unemployment is being used just in the same way as a juggler might use a ball of different colours in front of a group of children. There may be some in this House who may be as innocent as children, but most of us from the Clyde have passed that stage.

Now I come to the general question. I am surprised that hon. Members below the Gangway on this side of the House should have taken up the attitude they have done in view of the position of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who, with hair flowing and hands flying, spoke so much against private enterprise at the end of the War and suggested that the only hope of this great nation was that it should control and own all these powers. Yet his followers are in favour of placing in the hands of a few a monopoly of these resources to the detriment of the whole community! I am surprised at them. One hon. Member has pointed out that the Lords Committee discussed this Bill for five days. May I recall to the memory of hon. Members the fact that when the Mines Subsidence Bill came from the House of Lords after having been under consideration for five weeks, it proved to be a mass of stupidity. Therefore, when we are asked to agree that the stamp of the House of Lords Committee is of any value it would be as well first to get the Lords to do something worthy of recommendation. I come next to a part of the Bill which has, I believe, not been dealt with. That is the changing of water sources which are to be authorised. It is proposed to give power to private companies at any time to redirect certain water supplies. I venture to suggest you cannot as a public community allow any handful of individuals for the sake of the ideals they possess to disturb any stream. Yet it is sought to induce this House to give power to a handful of men to do that. There is power proposed in Clause 77 for the supply of plant and material, and the price is to be charged therefore. What it really means is that the Clyde Valley Company, having in view coming developments, are seeking increased powers by this Bill, they are seeking to absorb the powers of other companies, and they propose to sell to themselves the right of extension in the areas of those other companies and not to give those companies such rights. That is a form of swindling which, I venture to suggest, should be stopped. I think I have properly interpreted the meaning of that particular Clause.

Then there is a Clause giving power for the correction of the plans deposited. I have had some experience of plans, and I say that to give any private company power to correct them is to make them a gift to do what they like. I hope hon. Members will realise that. It is an altogether unlimited power to give to a handful of men who are seeking by means of the Act an extension of their powers for 99 years. I am sorry that the hon. Member for St. George's (Mr. Erskine) is not in his place. He claims he is a Clyde man, but the interest he is working for is not a Clyde interest. He reminds me of a gentleman in the undertaking business in Glasgow whose name is Dobbie. Mr. Dobbie whatever work he gets he does himself, and he is really a Clyde worker although he is only putting away the chaps who were making interest for the hon. Member for St. George's.

I want to come back to our own Front Bench. Here you have London as the horrible example and as a guiding post of what this House should do to-night. May I be allowed to take one illustration? Here you have in London a City which could be supplied with the cheapest power in the world if it were only properly organised, because of the number of users so close together, whereas, as a matter of fact, you have twenty-five companies engaged in the supply of that power. It has all been arranged. You have all been playing on the ignorance of the public in these technical matters. The Front Bench and the Government seem to have a perfect terror of tech- nical matters, and because of that terror the people behind them can do what they like with them. They are afraid of any technical responsibility.

You are to have a discussion this week on the Electricity Bill. There is no sign of a solution coming from a strong hand, no sign of anyone saying that the people of London are first, that national mains are to be put down in London, and that corporations and private enterprises have to pump juice into those mains at a reasonable price. If we want Scotland to avoid the trouble which has occurred in London, we must say, "No." The Government should take their courage in their hands and say, "We are going to lay national mains from one end of Scotland to the other." Trade follows the electric main more than it follows the British Flag. If we have courage on the Front Bench, and if we get our national main in London and in Scotland, there will be no difficulties with any company, whether private or public. In that way we shall control not only the makers' supply and quality and price, but, we shall be able to say to the public,

"We can now guarantee you current at a certain rate. "Why should these people, have the rights in this water? The water belongs to the whole community. Members of the House are always glibly talking about electricity as the great power of the future, without knowing anything about it. They are the real danger, because they are always shouting on the subject without having the necessary knowledge. If they had even sincere feeling in the matter, they would not allow a handful of men to come along in search of a further monopoly. I hope that the House will reject this Bill in the interests of humanity.


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question put accordingly, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 221; Noes, 112.

Division No. 150.] AYES. [9.53 p.m.
Ackroyd, T. R. Conway, Sir W. Martin Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)
Ainsworth, Captain Charles Cope, Major William Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)
Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W. (Glas.C.) Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry
Allen, R. Wilberforce (Leicester, S.) Craig, Captain C. C. (Antrim, South) Harney, E. A.
Apsley, Lord Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Hartington, Marquess of
Aske, Sir Robert William Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend) Harvey, C.M.B. (Aberd'n & Kincardne)
Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover) Cunliffe, Joseph Herbert Harvey, T. E. (Dewsbury)
Atholl, Duchess of Curzon, Captain Viscount Henn, Sir Sydney H.
Austin, Sir Herbert Darbishire, C. W. Hennessy, Major J. R. G.
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Davies, David (Montgomery) Herbert, Capt. Sidney (Scarborough)
Barclay, R. Noton Davies, Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh) Hillary, A. E.
Barnston, Major Sir Harry Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Hindle, F.
Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester) Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.
Berry, Sir George Dickle, Captain J. P. Hobhouse, A. L.
Betterton, Henry B. Dixey, A. C. Hogbin, Henry Cairns
Birchall, Major J. Dearman Dixon, Herbert Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)
Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.) Dodds, S. R. Hohler, Sir Gerald Fitzroy
Blades, Sir George Rowland Duckworth, John Hood, Sir Joseph
Bonwick, A. Eden, Captain Anthony Hope, Rt. Hon. J. F. (Sheffield, C.)
Bourne, Robert Croft Edmondson, Major A. J. Hore-Belisha, Major Leslie
Bowater, Sir T. Vansittart Edwards, John H. (Accrington) Howard, Hn. D. (Cumberland, Northrn.)
Bowyer, Captain G. E. W Elveden, Viscount Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Col. C. K.
Bramsdon, Sir Thomas England, Colonel A. Home-Williams, Sir W. Ellis
Brass, Captain W. Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert
Brassey, Sir Leonard Eyres-Monsell, Com. Rt. Hon, B. M. Jenkins, W. A. (Brecon and Radnor)
Briant, Frank Falconer, J. Jephcott, A. R.
Briscoe, Captain Richard George Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray Johnstone, Harcourt (Willesden, East)
Brunner, Sir J. Ferguson, H. Jones, C. Sydney (Liverpool, W. Derby)
Buckle, J. Franklin, L. B. Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)
Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Jowitt, W. A. (The Hartlepools)
Bullock, Captain M. Galbraith, J. F. W. Kay, Sir R. Newbald
Burman, J. B. Gaunt, Rear-Admiral Sir Guy R Kedward, R. M.
Burnie, Major J. (Bootle) George, Major G. L. (Pembroke) Kenyon, Barnet
Butler, Sir Geoffrey Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham King, Captain Henry Douglas
Caine, Gordon Hall Gilmour, Colonel Rt. Hon. Sir John Lambert, Rt. Hon. George
Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth.S.) Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central) Laverack, F. J.
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston) Greene, W. P. Crawford Linfield, F. C.
Chapple, Dr. William A. Grigg, Lieut.-Col. Sir Edward W. M. Livingstone, A. M.
Clayton, G. C. Gwynne, Rupert S. Lloyd-Greame, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip
Cobb, Sir Cyril Hacking, Captain Douglas H. Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)
Collins, Patrick (Walsall) Hall, Lieut.-Col, Sir F. (Dulwich) Loverseed, J. F.
Lumley, L. R. Pielou, D. P. Sutherland, Rt. Hon. Sir William
McCrae, Sir George Pilkington, R. R. Tattersall, J. L.
MacDonald, R. Pringle, W. M. R. Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)
McLean, Major A. Raffety, F. W. Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell-(Croydon, S.)
Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm Raine, W Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)
Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J. Rankin, James S. Thornton, Maxwell R.
Maden, H. Rawson, Alfred Cooper Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel. Rea, W. Russell Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Makins, Brigadier-General E. Rees, Sir Beddoe Turton, Edmund Russborough
Mansel, Sir Courtenay Rees, Capt. J. T. (Devon, Barnstaple) Vaughan-Morgan, Col, K. P.
Martin, F. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, E.) Remer, J. R. Vivian, H.
Mason, Lieut.-Col. Glyn K. Remnant, Sir James Waddington, R.
Meller, R. J. Richardson, Lt.-Col. Sir P. (Chertsey) Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hall)
Meyler, Lieut.-Colonel H. M. Robinson, S. W. (Essex, Chelmsford) Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)
Millar, J. D. Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford) Webb, Rt. Hon, Sidney
Mitchell, R.M. (Perth & Kinross, Perth) Ropner, Major L. Wells, S. R.
Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham) Roundell, Colonel R. F. Wheler, Lieut.-Col. Granville C. H.
Mond, H. Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth) Williams, A. (York, W. R., Sowerby)
Morris, R. H. Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney) Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough, E.)
Moulton, Major Fletcher Sandeman, A. Stewart Williams, Maj. A. S. (Kent, Sevenoaks)
Muir, Ramsay (Rochdale) Savery, S. S. Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)
Murrell, Frank Shepperson, E. W. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down) Wise, Sir Fredric
Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Simpson, J. Hope Wolmer, Viscount
Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's Univ., Belfst) Wood, Major Rt. Hon. Edward F. L.
Oman, Sir Charles William C. Somerville, A. A. (Windsor) Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)
Owen, Major G. Spencer, H. H. (Bradford, South) Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)
Pattinson, S. (Horncastle) Spender-Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H. Woodwark, Lieut.-Colonel G. G.
Pease, William Edwin Spero, Dr. G. E. Wragg, Herbert
Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings) Stanley, Lord Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Perkins, Colonel E. K. Starmer, Sir Charles
Perring, William George Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Philipson, Mabel Sucter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser Mr. E. D. Simon and Sir Samuel
Phillipps, Vivian Sutcliffe, T. Chapman.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. William Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon Perry, S. F.
Alden, Percy Hastings, Somerville (Reading) Ponsonby, Arthur
Alstead, R. Haycock, A. W. Potts, John S.
Attlee, Major Clement R. Hayday, Arthur Purcell, A. A.
Ayles, W. H. Henderson, A. (Cardiff, South) Raynes, W. R.
Baker, Walter Henderson, T. (Glasgow) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Banton, G. Hoffman, P. C. Ritson, J.
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Hudson, J. H. Robertson, J. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Barnes, A. Isaacs, G. A. Romerll, H. G.
Batey, Joseph Jackson, R. F. (Ipswich) Rose, Frank H.
Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith) Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Scrymgeour, E.
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Jewson, Dorothea Scurr, John
Bromfield, William John, William (Rhondda, West) Sexton, James
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute) Johnston, Thomas (Stirling) Sherwood, George Henry
Buchanan, G. Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Spence, R.
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Stamford, T. W.
Cape, Thomas Kirkwood, D. Stephen, Campbell
Charieton, H. C. Lansbury, George Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Church, Major A. G. Law, A. Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro. W.)
Clarke, A. Lawson, John James Tillett, Benjamin
Climie, R. Leach, W. Tout, W. J.
Cluse, W. S. Lunn, William Turner, Ben
Compton, Joseph Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan) Wallhead, Richard C.
Cove, W. G. March, S. Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Davison, J. E. (Smethwick) Marley, James Whiteley, W.
Dunnico, H. Martin, W. H. (Dumbarton) Wignall, James
Edwards, G. (Norfolk, Southern) Maxton, James Williams, David (Swansea, E.)
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) Montague, Frederick Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, North) Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South) Williams, Lt.-Col. T.S.B. (Kenningtn.)
Gibbins, Joseph Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Gillett, George M. Mosley, Oswald Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Gould, Frederick (Somerset, Frome) Murray, Robert Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Nixon, H. Windsor, Walter
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) O'Grady, Captain James Wright, W.
Groves, T. Oliver, George Harold Young, Andrew (Glasgow, Partick)
Grundy, T. W. Oliver, P. M. (Manchester, Blackley)
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Paling, W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Harbord, Arthur Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Mr. Hardie and Mr. Dickson.
Harris, John (Hackney, North)

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed.