HC Deb 04 June 1924 vol 174 cc1264-7

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to increase the powers of joint electricity authorities. I do not need to press on the House the urgency of this problem, because last week it was pointed out by the Prime Minister that in the development of electricity could be found a method of considerably relieving unemployment, while at the same time giving a tremendous stimulus to industry and manufactures. I need not remind the House that numerous committees during recent years have reported as to the urgency of co-ordination of all our machinery supplying electricity and especially its generation. I suggest to hon. Members that if they have not studied these reports of the Coal Conservation, the Electrical Trades, and other Committees, it would be well worth while their doing so, for while considerable progress has been made in this country since the War tremendous strides have been made on the continent of Europe and in America where they are spending vast sums of money in setting up electricity power stations. In France three of the greatest railways are being electrified. Italy and Sweden also are advancing, and in New Zealand a great deal has been clone in the same direction. The development is also going on in America. Even before the War Chicago with a population 2,000,000 less than that of London was producing 2½ times the number of units.

I am informed that this development is still going on, but meanwhile, owing to vested interests and our antiquated system, we in our great cities are standing still. Trouble has arisen from the legislation passed at the foundation of our electrical organisations. The Acts passed from 1882 to 1888 assumed that it would be impossible to distribute electricity over great distances and, consequently, the local government areas were strictly adhered to and one generating station was provided for each area. In London there are 85 authorised distributing systems with 76 generating stations, and we could easily do the work more efficiently, more economically, and more cheaply by concentrating the power stations. Legislation was introduced In 1919 and carried through this House after a very long discussion, but at the last moment in the House of Lords, in December, when it was too late to disagree with the Lords Amendments, the Bill was very much mutilated end the financial provision which would have made the legislation effective had to he left out. Three years later there was a new Bill restoring those financial conditions, but leaving out, the vital power of compulsion. The scheme provided that the Commission should set up joint electricity authorities representing various interests, and these authorities were to be responsible on the one hand for the co-ordination of the system and on the other hand to secure the conservation of power in a few generating stations.

But the Act of 1922 made no provision for compulsion, without which no electrical authorities could hope to operate successfully. Out of 16 areas into which London was divided, only nine have been organised, and in these nine very slow progress has been made. The Bill was brought forward by private interests. The matter is particularly urgent because those Bills are now before the House of Lords. The object of the Bills is to divide Greater London into two separate areas, but what is really the more serious part of the scheme, which is backed by the Ministry of Transport, is the proposal to give fresh life for something like 40 years to various company interests. It also provides for a very high scale of dividend—8 per cent. The development of electricity is so vital that we must take the right line as soon as possible or else Parliament will be compelled to allow the present chaos to go on and give these companies powers for a longer period without adequate control. My Bill is only a short one; it consists of two Clauses, and it provides merely for the restoration of the principle of the power of compulsion which was provided for in the original Bill. Until that principle is adopted no hope can be held out of really reorganising the electrical industry and enabling this country to compete successfully with other industrial competitors and to get that stimulus which its industry so badly wants at the present time, at the same time providing a considerable amount of employment in the industry in manufacturing the necessary plant. It is under these circumstances that I ask leave to introduce this Bill.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir J. NALL

I think the hon. Member, in asking leave at this early date to amend the Act of 1922, should have supplied this House with some sound reasons for doing so. He asks leave to bring in a Bill to increase the powers of joint electricity authorities which were set up under the Act of 1922, but he did not tell us how many of these joint authorities are in need of further powers. Indeed, he did not tell the House how many joint authorities have been set up.


Nine out of 15.


No, they were not all joint authorities. Some of them were joint advisory councils. There has been no statement that they need further powers, and so far as the Manchester area is concerned I am not aware, as a representative of the city, that there is any demand for this Bill.


I agree that Manchester does not need it.


That is so, we do not need it. Only two joint electricity authorities have been set up under the Act of 1922. The others to which the hon. Gentleman has referred are advisory authorities only. It may well be that in due course, when a larger number of joint authorities have been set up and have had experience, and have found some difficulty in carrying out their functions under the Act of 1922, it will be necessary to increase their powers and to amend the Act, but I submit to the House that in the absence of any evidence of difficulties tendered by the hon. Gentleman, and in view of the fact that so few out of the possible number of joint authorities have yet been set up, and that, for the most part, the bodies which have been set up are advisory in character and, as the hon. Member admits, are working smoothly in some of the most important districts, I say that this House, at this stage, would be making a grave mistake in attempting, under the Ten Minutes' Rule, to bring in a Bill to upset what was and is now one of the most important pieces of legislation dealing with electricity. I therefore hope the House will not grant permission to bring in the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Percy Harris, Sir John Simon, Major Gwilym Lloyd George, Mr. Gilbert, and Mr. Atholl Robertson.