HC Deb 13 December 1926 vol 200 cc2711-21

Lords Amendment: In page 7, line 31, leave out from the word "station" to the end of Subsection.

The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Colonel Ashley)

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The House will recollect that these words were put in during the Report stage in this House, following the insertion of a similar provision in the previous Clause—namely, Clause 5, which gives a preference to a joint electricity authority in regard to acquiring a station. It seems to the Government that this Amendment of the Lords should be agreed to, because otherwise, in the case of a new selected station, the London agreement under the Act of 1925 might be torn up and the settlement infringed. The House will recollect that under that agreement it was implied that the Commissioners should have full power to decide who should put up the new selected station or stations in the Metropolitan area. It is imagined that there will be two selected, new stations in the Metropolitan area. If a preference is given to the joint electricity authority in the Metropolitan area, it would be very hard and unfair on other undentakers fin that district, and would, I consider, leave them with a sense of grievance, as it would upset the understanding arrived at in the Act of 1925. It is likely that the London Joint Electricity Authority will apply to put up a station at Chiswick, or on some other site if they are not able to acquire that one, and, if another station is wanted, it seems only fair that the other undertakers should have a chance of putting up the other station, and that it should not he handed over to the joint electricity authority to be put up. It may well be that, owing to the difficulties which have been experienced by the joint electricity authority in London as regards the Chiswick site, the needs of London for electricity may became so great that another station will have to be put up before the one at Chiswick is erected, and that should. I submit, be left to the Board to decide. That is the London position. Therefore in fairness to all the interests, we wish to accept the Amendment.


It is with some surprise that we hear that the Government are inclined to agree with this Amendment. One would imagine from the right hon. Gentleman's explanation that there is only one place in the whole country, and that is London. He has spoken of London only. Probably it is because they have had a joint electricity authority for some short time. But it is evident that it is the intention of the Government and of the other place to take care that these private interests are well protected, so that in the event of other stations being acquired they may not be acquired by municipal authorities.

Colonel ASHLEY

There is nothing to prevent it. It is in the unfettered judgment of the Electricity Commissioners.


It is a delightful phrase to speak of their unfettered judgment. That unfettered judgment is of the same type that we heard of throughout the whole of the Committee stage, and it is evident that the other place is endeavouring to see that the electricity supply of the country is in the hands of privately-owned undertakings.


I do not think the Minister has really adequately explained the situation even in London. If there is anything peculiar to London it should not be met by a general provision such as this. He seems to imagine vaguely that there is some contract in London that a particular group of companies should be given the right to erect stations. You have in certain areas, such as London, large electricity authorities representing undertakers of every type, and the whole object of setting up this joint electricity authority was to concentrate generation. In a previous Clause we inserted that where there was an old station that was selected it should first of all be offered to the joint electricity authority to operate. Then that was extended to new stations, and there is really no condition applying to the old stations that does not apply to the new stations. The right hon. Gentleman says perhaps they will not be able to. In that case they will hand it on to one of their constituent members to do so. It is nothing more than a first option. I certainly understood all the time the previous Act was being passed, and all through this Bill being passed, that the idea was not to set up generating stations so that every old gentleman should have the right to have a generating station of his own. I thought the idea was to concentrate on generation controlled by the Board, and to exclude everywhere the profit-making element in actual genera- tion. I think this Amendment is absolutely in line with the whole purpose of the Bill. It is the natural consequence of the acceptance of the Amendment to Clause 5 on the Report stage, and we on this side will certainly press for the retention of these lines in this Clause.


I hope these words will not be deleted from the Bill. They were arrived at after very careful consideration with the idea of strengthening and encouraging the formation of the Joint Electricity Authority, which, after all, is the machinery set up very deliberately by Parliament under the Act of 1919, which follows out the recommendations of various committees and reports, except the last Committee, the Weir Committee. It does not compel the Board; it only requires that the Board shall negotiate if the conditions required by the Joint Electricity Authority are unnecessary. If they are pigheaded or obstinate or will not carry out the ideas of the Board, the Board has the discretion to negotiate elsewhere. All that these words require is that the Joint Electricity Authority, as the public body in charge of generating electricity in their area, should have the opportunity of working these new generating stations. There is no necessity to assume that there will be conflicts between the various interests in the Joint Electricity Authority. I am informed that they are a most harmonious body, all working together in London for the common interest to get cheap electricity. It would be a most reactionary proposal at this late stage, under pressure from another place, to remove this provision which is all in the interest of setting up satisfactory machinery right throughout the country, of bringing these various interests together in the Joint Electricity Authority. The very word "Joint" Electricity Authority shows that the purpose is that all the interests should work together, and I do hope that the Attorney-General, in his natural desire to get his Bill through without much trouble, will not accept this particular change in. the Bill.


As the original author of this Amendment, I venture to think that it embodied a very excellent principle, and I have not been convinced by the arguments to-night. I think that, if there was any difficulty as regards London with any other undertaking entered into, that could have been met by keeping the Clause as it left us and adding some small proviso excluding districts covered. I suppose it is too late at this hour to expect the Minister to revise it, but I am very sorry, indeed, to see the Amendment go west.


I wish to refer for a moment to the position in regard to the Bill that sanctioned the London Electricity Authority in 1925. It was my particular privilege to be a member of the Select Committee on that occasion and the conditions under which we were considering electricity then were not the conditions that arise out of this present Bill. When the London companies were seeking for that amalgamation under which the authority was set up, we were considering then entirely the position of electricity as generated by private companies and the gain of the London companies, under their amagamation, was such that could be carried out through private enterprise and not under the method of State control that is embodied in the present Amendment. For that reason I am very much opposed to it. The possibility is that had a Bill such as we are dealing with now been before the House, the London authority would have had no such privilege as was granted to it at that time. As a member of that Committee I enter my protest now that such an argument should be used to favour the London authority over any other authority throughout the country. Therefore I appeal to the Minister of Transport, in those conditions, to revise his opinion with regard to the London authorities and their position under this Bill.


This Amendment might not have been suggested had it not been for the remark of the Minister on the Third Reading that they were out to play into the hands of private enterprise. If hon. Members will read the OFFICIAL REPORT they will find that the position is as I am stating it. What the Government are doing now is to deal with the only protection that is given to corporate bodies in the production and supply of electricity. When we are asked to delete this, we are taking away everything that was there—I admit there was not very much there—to give a certain sense of security to a corporation or any other corporate body operating such plants. It is most unfair that when we are dealing with such a point, we should have the Bill rushed upon us at this hour of the night: a Bill upon which so much depends from the national point of view. It is very unfair that the Government should use this big Measure and try to push it through in this way. They will not make much progress by that method. Had they given sane reasons for this alteration, there might have been something in favour of it, but no adequate reason has been given—only mere statements have been made. Really, the only reason that they have to give is that they may still further entrench private enterprise upon the nation.


I hope the Government will remain firm in their attitude on this matter. One can afford to be perfectly frank. Myself and many of my friends as, I think, has been admitted, dislike this Bill, but we did not attempt unfairly to obstruct it. This particular Amendment is one which, in our opinion, does something to preserve to a small extent the possibility of private enterprise being able to do something successful under, if I may use the term, the rather elaborate provisions of this Bill. The Government may rely upon their supporters in their attitude towards this Amendment, and I hope they will realise that they are the people whose advice they should take—


I find myself in complete opposition to the view expressed by the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. D. Herbert.). When this Amendment was being considered in another place, it was not accepted by the Minister in charge of the Bill in that place, but was sent here for such good or bad fortune as it might meet. It is our desire that where a Joint Electricity Authority is established it shall have the first opportunity of being considered, because we hold the view that it represents not one interest but all the interests. It is for that reason that we disagree with this Amendment.


I hope the Minister will be reminded of the old adage, "Save me from my friends" after the speech of the hon. Member for Watford. He let the cat out of the bag in quite an open way. I hope the Minister will meet the point raised by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee). This Bill is for the purposes of conserving the generation of electricity, for providing cheap electricity, and for the elimination of competition as far as possible in. its production. I ask the Attorney-General how he will square that principle with the suggestion now made by the Minister of Transport that there is to be introduced through the power which the Board may exercise, something which is bound to create disunity in certain areas. I hope the Attorney-General will meet that point in a more definite way than he has done up to the moment.


I hope the Attorney-General will consider seriously before he accepts the Amendment, as there are certain districts in London which will be mightily affected if it is accepted. These districts have got stations and they are doing extremely well. The insertion of the second part of this Clause was intended to protect the interests of the stations which now exist, they were to be consulted before the authority stepped in. Under the Clause as amended there will be no consultation and the interests of the municipalities are to be overridden. I have had communications from some of these districts as to the effect of this particular Amendment upon the interests of the municipalities where stations are at present established, and I hope the Attorney-General will not accept it.

Colonel ASHLEY

I can only repeat what I said in my opening remarks, and I should imagine it would carry conviction to anyone who was open to conviction. In the settlement of 1925 it was specifically laid down that in the erection of new stations in the London area it should be left open as to whether the Joint Electricity Authority or private

enterprise should build them. The decision was definitely left to the Electricity Commissioners, who were naturally to select the body which they thought best suited for the purpose. If that is so it seems obvious that we must accept the Amendment, because if we do not we definitely break the arrangement of 1925, which all parties would wish to maintain. In the Committee, and also on Report, we resisted Amendments because they were counter to the settlement of 1925, and it is quite impossible at this stage to break that agreement for an object some hon. Members consider desirable. The two hon. Members behind me, who have indicated some doubt as to whether the Government have taken the right course, would surely wish the honourable agreement of last year to be implemented and kept. Surely it is right and proper and fair that the, Commissioners should decide who are the best people to build these stations. There is a joint authority in North Wales, and in the case of the joint electricity authority in the Midland area, it is formed by the Voluntary and cordial co-operation of all the different interests of the area.


The words are "has been formed." Surely that expression applies equally and not only to the existing two.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Select Committee that gave these privileges to the London companies at the same time resisted the power to these companies to cross municipal areas for the provision of current? Consequently, this Amendment is giving them power which they were refused then.

Question put, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The House divided: Ayes, 177; Noes, 90.

Division No. 562.] AYES. [11.27 p.m.
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Charteris, Brigadier-General J.
Albery, Irving James Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W. Christie, J. A.
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Cobb, Sir Cyril
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Briggs, J. Harold Cohen, Major J. Brunel
Applin, Colonel R. V. K. Briscoe, Richard George Cope, Major William
Apsley, Lord Brocklebank, C. E. R. Courtauld, Major J. S.
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Brown, Maj. D. C. (N'th'I'd., Hexham) Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.
Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover) Brown, Brig.-Gen.H.C.(Berks, Newb'y) Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Buckingham, Sir H. Crookshank. Col. C. de W. (Berwick)
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Bullock, Captain M. Crookshank, Cpt.H.(Lindsey,Gainsbro)
Balniel, Lord Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward Curzon, Captain Viscount
Barclay-Harvey C. M. Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton Davies, Dr. Vernon
Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish Chapman, Sir S. Dean, Arthur Wellesley
Dixey, A, C. Knox, Sir Alfred Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Edmondson, Major A. J. Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R. Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)
Elliot, Major Walter E. Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Sandeman, A. Stewart
Erskine,Lord (Somerset.Weston-S.-M.) Loder, J. de V. Sandon, Lord
Everard, W. Lindsay Looker, Herbert William Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.
Fairfax. Captain J. G. Lord. Walter Greaves. Savery, S. S.
Falle, Sir Bertram G. Lougher, L. Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mol.(Renfrew,W)
Fermoy, Lord Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere Shepperson, E, W.
Fielden, E. B. Luce, Major-Gen.Sir Richard Harman Slaney, Major P. Kenyon
Finburgh, S. MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine.C.)
Foster, Sir Harry S. Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Spender-Clay, Colonel H.
Foxcroft, Captain C. T. MacIntyre. I. Sprot, Sir Alexander
Fraser, Captain Ian McLean, Major A. Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Will'sden, E.t-
Fremantle, Lieut-Colonel Francis E. Macmillan, Captain H. Stanley, Lord (Fylde)
Gates, Percy McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John Stanley, Hon. 0. F. G. (Westm'eland)
Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel Steel, Major Samuel Strang
Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham Makins, Brigadier-General E. Storry-Deans, R.
Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Malone, Major P. B. Streatfield, Captain S. R.
Goff, Sir Park Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.) Merriman. F. B. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Greene, W. P. Crawford Meyer, Sir Frank Sugden, Sir Wilfrid
Grotrian, H. Brent Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark) Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.
Gunston, Captain D. W. Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden) Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell
Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr) Tinne, J. A.
Harland, A. Moore, Sir Newton J. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Harrison, G. J. C. Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C. Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Hartington, Marquess of Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph Vaughan-Morgan Col. K. P.
Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington) Neville, R. J. Waddington. R.
Haslam, Henry C. Oakley, T. Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Hawke, John Anthony O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton) Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Headlam. Lieut.-Colonel C. M. O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Hugh Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)
Henderson Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)
Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford) Perring, Sir William George Watts, Dr. T.
Herbert, S. (York, N.R., Scar. & Wh'by) Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple) Wells, S. R.
Hills. Major John Waller Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome) Wheter. Major Sir Granville C. H.
Hilton, Cecil Power, Sir John Cecil White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dairymple
Hogg. Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone) Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Assheton Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Holbrook. Sir Arthur Richard Ramsden, E. Wilson, M. J. (York, N. R., Richm'd)
Holland, Sir Arthur Rawson, Sir Cooper Winby, Colonel L. P.
Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar) Reid, Capt. Cunningham (Warrington) Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Colonel C. K. Remer, J. R. Wise, Sir Fredric
Hume, Sir G. H. Rentoul, G. S. Womersley, W. J.
Hurd, Percy A. Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'U'y) Woodcock, Colonel H. C.
Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H. Roberts, Sir Samuel (Hereford)
Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l) Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Jacob, A. E. Russell. Alexander West- (Tynemouth) Major Hennessy and Captain
Kennedy, A. R. (Preston) Rye, F. G. Margesson.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Harris, Percy A. Potts, John S.
Ammon, Charles George Hayday, Arthur Purcell, A. A.
Attlee, Clement Richard Hayes, John Henry Rees. Sir Beddoe
Barnes, A. Henderson, T. (Glasgow) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Batey, Joseph Hirst, G. H. Riley, Ben
Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith) Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield) Robinson, Sir T. (Lanes, Stretford)
Bondfield, Margaret Hudson, R. S. (Cumb'l'nd, whiteh'n) Saklatvala, shapurji
Bromley, J. Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Salter, Dr. Alfred
Buchanan, G. John, William (Rhondda, West) Scrymgeour, E.
Charleton, H. C. Johnston, Thomas (Dundee) Scurr, John
Cluse, W. S. Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Sexton, James
Compton, Joseph Kelly. W. T. Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)
Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington,N.) Kennedy, T. Sitch. Charles H.
Crawfurd, H. E. Lawrence, Susan Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Dalton, Hugh Lee, F. Stephen, Campbell
Day, Colonel Harry Lindley, F. W. Sullivan, J.
Dennison, R. Lowth, T. Sutton, J. E.
Duncan, C. Lunn, William Taylor, R. A.
Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington) MacLaren, Andrew Tinker, John Joseph
Fenby, T. D. Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan) Townend, A. E.
Forrest, W. March, S. viant, S. P.
Garro-Jones, Captain G. M. Maxton, James Watson, W. M. (Dumfermline)
Gardner, J. P. Montague, Frederick Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Gillett, George M. Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Westwood, J.
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Murnin, H. Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Naylor. T. E. Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Windsor, Walter
Grundy, T. W. Oliver, George Harold Wright, W
Guest, Haden (Southwark, N.) Owen, Major G.
Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Paling, W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES —
Hardie, George D. Ponsonby, Arthur Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr.
Charles Edwards.

Question put, and agreed to.

Lord Amendments considered.