HC Deb 07 April 1925 vol 182 cc2038-43

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to increase the powers of Joint Electricity Authorities. There is general agreement in every part of the House as to the need of legislation dealing with electricity. The other day the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) made special reference to the subject in a speech dealing with unemployment. The ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer on the same occasion laid special stress on electricity as one of the special ways of dealing with the disorganisation of trade and with unemployment. The Minister of Labour also on more than one occasion has attached special importance to progress in electricity as an important factor in the industrial position. While very little progress has been made in this, country, on the Continent great strides have been made in electrical development, and in France and Italy, which are assisted by water power, during the period since the War there has been immense electrical development and increased facilities for generation. In this country there have been repeated inquiries, both during and since the War, as to the right lines of development, and a Board of Trade Committee, known as the Williamson Committee, made special recommendations as to the best methods of meeting the demand. In 1919 the Coalition Government brought in a very complicated Bill largely based on the recommendations of the Williamson Committee. It went through its various stages in this House with very little opposition, but when it reached the other place, the other House, owing to the late period of the Session—it was very nearly Christmas—thought fit to make drastic alterations. They deleted the compulsory powers proposed to be conferred on the authorities set up in the Bill. That Act set up Electricity Commissioners, who are still functioning, and who are under the Ministry of Transport. They had the duty put upon them of dividing the country into electrical districts, and when those districts had been defined, they had put upon them the responsibility to set up electricity authorities, and the whole country was to be apportioned between those authorities.

Although it is about five years since that Act was passed, very little progress has been made. One or two authorities have been set up but they have not been able to function, and there is a general consensus of opinion that their failure has largely been due to the absence of compulsory powers. My Bill is a very simple and short one. Its object is to restore those compulsory powers which were deleted in the House of Lords in December, 1919, in other words to bring the Bill back as it passed this House. I beg the House to allow it a Second Reading. I have had the advantage of technical experts in the drafting of it, but I have used as far as possible the original words to meet present circumstances and conditions. It is important that something should be done. Everyone agrees that cheap power is essential to industry. We have not the advantage of water power, but we have the very great advantage of a concentration of our industrial operations in a comparatively few areas. Unfortunately we have not got the concentration of generation. To get a large and cheap electricity supply all the experts agree that a good load factor is essential in the generation of power. A good load factor depends on a good diversity factor, and that in turn rests on the variety of demand. The building of power stations means a very large expenditure of capital, and a great variety of demand during the 24 hours means a heavy capital expenditure without adequate return. On the other hand, if you can concentrate your demand on one or two stations you get that variety of demand, you get a good diversity factor and a good load factor. That enables the power to be sold at a very much lower price. This Bill will be capable of amendment in Committee, but it is an honest attempt to meet a problem which all sides of the House are agreed is an urgent question and is long overdue for settlement.


The speech to which we have just listened is a terrible example of the mistake which gentlemen who do not really understand the technicalities of things make when they dish out to the House of Commons a few technical phrases, on the chance of there being no one present who is able to deal with them satisfactorily. My objection to the Bill, and the objection, I believe, of the Government as well and of the party that supports it, is that at present the one thing we must be most careful about in dealing with electric power, generation, and distribution is the danger of stereotyping technical practice. I am opposed to the Bill, and I believe the Government also are opposed to it, simply on that ground. For, in view of the fact that the whole question of electric power generation and distribution is at present in the melting pot, and that it is highly probable that in the next few years we shall see very great technical advances and new methods of generation, it is most emphatically a mistake, at the present moment above all other moments, to do anything which will stereotype existing practice, and set the dead hand of the State on our technical progress. If I might be permitted to quote from the Anthology, I would remind hon. Members of one of their epigrams, which begins: which, being translated, means: "How can you expect a power station engineer under Government domination to know when his generating plant has become obsolete if he is always with it and if he never leaves it"? It is on that ground, and on that ground in particular, that I oppose this Bill; and in the few short moments that remain, I may point out to the House what I mean by the possibilities of great advance in the immediate future. Everybody knows now that in all probability within a very short space of time the problem of the internal combustion turbine will be solved. So many people of such ability are working upon it that it is almost certain that the problem will soon be solved, and that, as soon as it is solved, further solutions will be found to present difficulties. The chief reason electrical power is so expensive at the present time is the fact that we go about generating electricity in such a complicated and roundabout way. There is not the least doubt that towards the end of the present generation we shall see the direct generation of electricity by the oxydation of coal in some form of carbon cell. That is to say, instead of putting coal under a boiler, boiling the water, putting the steam into a steam-turbine, and producing a rotary motion in a dynamo, instead of that most roundabout way we shall towards the end of the present generation see the direct generation of electricity from the oxydation of coal.

Already on the Continent great minds have worked out the main principles on which this is to be done. The problem can be solved if we can find a means by which it will be possible to dissolve-carbon in a non-oxidising electrolyte opposed to a non-consumable electrode in an oxidising electrolyte. Under those conditions, carbon may be directly oxydised with the generation of electricity instead of the generation of heat. That being the case, I do deprecate interference in these matters by Members of this House who apparently have picked up one or two technical phrases, and, with them, would persuade the House to give a Second Reading to a Bill whose results can be nothing other than disastrous to technical progress.

Question, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to increase the powers of Joint Electricity Authorities.

The House divided: Ayes, 124: Noes, 193.

Division No. 74.] AYES. [4.5 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Ritson, J.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland) Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W, Bromwich)
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro') Hardie, George D. Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W. R., Elland)
Attlee, Clement Richard Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon Rose, Frank H.
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Hayday, Arthur Saklatvala, Shapurji
Barnes, A. Hayes, John Henry Salter, Dr. Alfred
Barr, J. Henderson, T. (Glasgow) Scrymgeour, E.
Batey, Joseph Hirst, G. H. Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)
Beckett, John (Gateshead) Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Shiels, Dr. Drummond
Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith) Hore-Belisha, Leslie Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)
Broad, F. A. Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield) Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)
Bromley, J. Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose) Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute) Johnston, Thomas (Dundee) Snell, Harry
Buchanan, G. Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Stamford, T. W.
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel Kelly, W. T. Stephen, Campbell
Clowes, S. Kennedy, T. Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Cluse, W. S. Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Sutton, J. E.
Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R. Kenyon, Barnet Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro, W)
Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock) Kirkwood, D. Thurtle, E.
Compton, Joseph Lee, F. Tinker, John Joseph
Connolly, M. Lindley, F. W. Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.
Cove, W. G. Livingstone, A. M. Varley, Frank B.
Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities) Lowth, T. Viant, S. P.
Crawfurd, H. E. MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R.(Aberavon) Warne, G. H.
Dalton, Hugh Mackinder, W. Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) MacLaren, Andrew Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Day, Colonel Harry Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I. Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah
Dunnico, H. March, S. Weir, L. M.
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) Montague, Frederick Westwood, J.
Edwards, John H. (Accrington) Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C. Whiteley, W.
Fenby, T. D. Morris, R. H. Wignall, James
Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L. Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Garro-Jones, Captain G. M. Murnin, H. Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Gibbins, Joseph Naylor, T. E. Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Gillett, George M. Oliver, George Harold Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Gosling, Harry Owen, Major G. Windsor, Walter
Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.) Paling, W. Wright, W.
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Ponsonby, Arthur TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Groves, T. Potts, John S. Mr. Percy Harris and Mr.
Grundy, T. W. Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Wallhead.
Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Riley, Ben
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph
Applin, Colonel R. V. K. Hacking, Captain Douglas H. Neville, R. J.
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Harland, A. Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Harrison, G. J. C. Nuttall, Ellis
Balniel, Lord Hartington, Marquess of Oakley, T.
Barclay-Harvey C. M. Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William
Barnston, Major Sir Harry Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes) Pennefather, Sir John
Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Haslam, Henry C. Penny, Frederick George
Berry, Sir George Hawke, John Anthony Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)
Betterton, Henry B. Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M. Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)
Blades, Sir George Rowland Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley) Power, Sir John Cecil
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Henniker-Hughan, Vice-Adm. Sir A. Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton
Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W Hilton, Cecil Preston, William
Briscoe, Richard George Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone) Price, Major C. W. M.
Brittain, Sir Harry Hohler, Sir Gerald Fitzroy Radford, E. A.
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard Raine, W.
Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I. Holland, Sir Arthur Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. John Fredk. Peel
Buckingham, Sir H. Holt, Captain H. P. Rawson, Alfred Cooper
Burman, J. B. Homan, C. W. J. Reid, Captain A. S. C. (Warrington)
Burton, Colonel H. W. Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.) Remnant, Sir James
Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward Hopkins, J. W. W. Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.
Caine, Gordon Hall Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S. Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)
Cazalet, Captain Victor A. Howard, Capt. Hon. D. (Cumb., N.) Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Charteris, Brigadier-General J. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.) Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Christie, J. A. Hudson, R. S. (Cumb'l'nd, Whiteh'n) Sandeman, A. Stewart
Churchman, Sir Arthur C. Huntingfield, Lord Savery, S. S.
Cobb, Sir Cyril Hurd, Percy A. Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)
Cohen, Major J. Brunei Hurst, Gerald B. Shaw, Capt. W. W. (Wilts, Westb'y)
Cooper, A. Duff Hutchison, G. A. C.(Midl'n & Peebles) Shepperson, E. W.
Cope, Major William Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S. Slaney, Major P. Kenyon
Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.) Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l) Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Jacob, A. E. Smithers, Waldron
Crook, C. W. James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend) Jephcott, A. R. Spender Clay, Colonel H.
Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick) Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington) Sprot, Sir Alexander
Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gansbro) Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William Stanley, Lord (Fylde)
Cunliffe, Joseph Herbert Kidd, J. (Linlithgow) Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)
Curzon, Captain Viscount Kindersley, Major Guy M. Steel, Samuel Strang
Dalkeith, Earl of King, Captain Henry Douglas Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.
Davies, A. V. (Lancaster, Royton) Knox, Sir Alfred Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Lamb, J. Q. Sugden, Sir Wilfrid
Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester) Lane-Fox, Lieut.-Col. George R. Tasker, Major R. Inigo
Dawson, Sir Philip Looker, Herbert William Templeton, W. P.
Dixey, A. C. Lougher, L. Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)
Doyle, Sir N. Grattan
Drewe, C. Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell-(Croydon, S.)
Eden, Captain Anthony Lumley, L. R. Tinne, J. A.
Edmondson, Major A. J. MacAndrew, Charles Glen Waddington, R.
Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.) Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)
Everard, W. Lindsay McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Fairfax, Captain J. G. MacIntyre, Ian Warrender, Sir Victor
Fanshawe, Commander G. D. McLean, Major A. Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Fermoy, Lord Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm Wells, S. R.
Fielden, E. B. Macquisten, F. A. Wheler, Major Granville C. H.
Ford, P. J. Mac Robert, Alexander M. White, Lieut.-Colonel G. Dairymple
Forestier-Walker, L. Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel- Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Frece, Sir Walter de Makins, Brigadier-General E. Wilson, M. J. (York, N. R., Richm'd)
Fremantle, Lt.-Col. Francis E. Malone, Major P. B. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn Wise, Sir Fredric
Galbraith, J. F. W. Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Womersley, W. J.
Ganzoni, Sir John Meller, R. J. Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)
Gates, Percy Meyer, Sir Frank Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton Milne, J. S. Wardlaw-
Gee, Captain R. Mitchell, S. (Lanark) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Soft, Sir Park Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham) Mr. Austin Hopkinson and Captain
Grant, J. A. Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury) Moreing.
Greene, W. P. Crawford Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.