HC Deb 14 December 1926 vol 200 cc2803-13

Where any authorised undertakers may supply and are supplying within their district or area of supply electricity for haulage or traction to any company or authority being the owners or lessees of a railway, tramway, dock, harbour or canal undertaking situate partly within and partly without that district or area, such authorised undertakers may, subject to such limitations and conditions (if any) as the Minister of Transport may prescribe either generally or in any particular case, so supply electricity to be used for any purposes of such undertaking, whether within or without such district or area of supply, and such company or authority may, subject to such limitations and conditions (if any) as the Minister of Transport may prescribe either generally or in any particular case, use the electricity so supplied for any purposes of their undertaking for which they are entitled to use electricity:

Provided that no such supply shall, without the consent of the Minister of Transport, be used by such company or authority for purposes of lighting, other than the lighting of vehicles or stations and other premises in the occupation of such company or authority.

Lords Amendment read a Second time.


I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Lords Amendment, in line 5, to leave out the word "tramway."

Perhaps it would be for the general convenience of the House if you were to permit all these Amendments on the Order Paper standing in my name to be discussed at one and the same time, because they are all consequential and inter-dependent. The object of the Amendment is that power shall not be given to railway companies, docks, harbours, canal commissioners and boards to take electricity from outside the area of the authorised undertaker for their district unless consent has first been obtained from the Minister of Transport, and unless persons affected have had an opportunity of making representations. I will frankly admit that I would have preferred to have seen this Clause swept away altogether, because I believe there is ample power under previous Acts of Parliament to deal with the situation which is here envisaged. At the same time, I understand that it is unlikely the Government would have been prepared to disagree with the Lords Amendment in that way. Therefore, I venture to move Amendments to their Amendment, and, in doing so, I would point out that, if this Amendment be successful, it will result in the following Lords Amendment proving redundant, because that empowers owners of docks' to take electricity from outside without any restriction, and is much more objectionable even than this new Clause E.

I may be permitted, perhaps, to remind the House that the fundamental and governing principle of this Electricity Bill is that each electricity undertaking shall be supreme in its own area, and I hope the Amendments which I have tabled will be carried, because they will stop poaching and what we regard as unfair and unreasonable encroachments. May I envisage a case where you have on the one hand a powerful and resourceful undertaking, and, on the other hand, in the near neighbourhood, a small and struggling undertaking, which perhaps is making good headway in face of much adversity. Under the provisions as now proposed by the Amendment introduced in another place, that powerful undertaking would be able seriously to cut into the area of the small undertaking and the effect might be that all consumers who were obtaining electricity in that area would have to pay more for their supply.

It is well to remind the House that railway companies are interested in many things beside railways. They run hotels, they run businesses, they run lodging-houses, and they run many undertakings. It will be seen, therefore, that this is a far-reaching proposal which is submitted to us from another place. It will be observed, in the first Amendment, that it is proposed to leave out the word "tramways," and the reason for leaving out that word is that we feel that, under Section 5 of the Electrical Lighting Act of 1909, there is already ample power to deal with any requirements of these undertakings. In moving these Amendments, we are acting on precedent, because, under the Electric Lighting Act, 1909, you find a provision empowering the Board of Trade, now the Ministry of Transport, to give consent to an authorised undertaker to give a supply outside its normal prescribed area of supply. At the same time, this consent cannot be given unless and until notice of application has been circulated either by way of advertisement or otherwise, and unless full and ample opportunity to all persons affected has been given to make any representations thereon. I will not weary the House with a long dissertation, because I think the object of the various Amendments is clear, and I hope that they will commend themselves to the House as a whole.


I beg to second the Amendment to the Lords Amendment.

I would like to supplement slightly what my hon. Friend has already said. In the first place, may I point out to the House that this Clause is entirely new. The principle has never previously been discussed during the long months that we have had this Bill under consideration either here in the House or in the Committee upstairs. In the second place, I am not certain whether it really comes properly within the title of the Bill. The Bill is one to promote the supply of electricity, and, as it was held upstairs on several occasions when Members tried to move new Clauses, anything dealing with the distribution of electricity as against its manufacture and generation really does not come within the four corners of the title of the Bill. On that ground alone, I think we ought to examine the Lords Amendment with the greatest care. In the third place, the Clause, as it is sent down to us, makes no provision what-ever for appeal, makes no provision for any opponents to this Clause being heard by the Minister. If there be one subject more than another which has always been brought up in discussion in this House and in Committee upstairs on this Bill, it has been the desirability of giving people who might be prejudicially affected by any part of the Bill a chance of being heard before any Order was made by the Board.

The Amendments that have been tabled provide that persons who may be affected by the action of this Clause shall be given an opportunity of being heard and to that extent I venture to submit we shall considerably improve the Clause. I understand that in another place the Government did not bind themselves to accept the Clause exactly as it stood and reserved full liberty for discussion in this House. As the Mover of the Amendment said, he would much prefer to see the Clause swept out of existence altogether. Personally, I feel the same way about it, but, in order not to prejudice and jeopardise the chance of the Bill getting through, I think it is very much better to amend the Clause and make it as harmless as possible. I venture to think that the Amendments do effect that purpose and remove the worst objections which we might otherwise have to the Clause.

The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of TRANSPORT (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon)

My hon. Friends are moving, in the series of Amendments standing on the Paper, to safeguard and protect rather nervous local authorities. I would say, to start with, that the Government are quite prepared to accept those Amendments as they stand upon the Paper, but later I am going to ask the House to agree with the Lords Amendment as amended by these particular Amendments already referred to. I think I should say a word in justification of the incorporation of the new Clause in the Bill, if I am in order in saying that now. I do not think that anyone who looks at electricity from a national point of view can afford to neglect the railway load. The railway load is a very big one, and a very convenient one. First of all, it has a load factor of nearly 40 per cent., and it shows a diversity, as compared with ordinary consumption, which still further benefits the station load factor. Consequently, it is of the essence of the problem, when railways require a supply of electricity, that it should come from the undertaking, and should not be generated at a separate station belonging, to the railway company.

At present the railways, under Section 24 of the Act of 1922, can take power in bulk from one particular undertaker, and can take it along their property, using it only for haulage and traction; but, if they require the electricity for any other uses, they have to take it from the undertaker in the particular district where they want the supply. That has been looked upon as a hardship, because it leads to duplication of plant in many cases, and to unwarranted expense for the railway company in this respect, that they still have the right, being a self-contained business, to put up a generating station themselves. It is really to stop any future agitation by a railway company to put up its own generating station that we ask the House to accept the Amendment proposed in another place. We are, as I have said, quite prepared to accept the Amendments proposed by my hon. Friends so that the Minister's consent must be given and representations can be made. With that we think there will be no danger in future of the erection of separate generating stations, and the load of the railway companies will come on the undertakers of the country, as is only right.


I am rather sorry that the Government have decided to accept this series of Amendments, because their object is obviously to some extent to emasculate the new Clause which was put in in another place. As, Mr. Speaker, you have permitted a word or two to be said on the Clause itself, perhaps you will permit me to add a word or two to what has been said by the Parliamentary Secretary, because I think it is proper that the House should understand that the object of this new Clause as it origiNally stood—and I do not say that that object will not be to some extent still attained—was to remove the artificial restrictions which are now imposed on the railway companies in regard to the supplies of electrical energy which they take from some source other than their own generating stations. What is the position in regard to this matter at the present time? It is this. If a railway company generates electricity at its own generating station, there is no statutory limitation at all on the purposes for which it can use the electricity so generated. If, on the other hand, a railway company, instead of generating its own electricity, buys its supply from some outside source, then it is limited to using that electricity for purposes of traction or haulage or for the lighting of vehicles. For example, a railway company cannot at present pass on the electricity which it obtains from an outside source to one of its tenants, say, who may want electricity for lighting his premises, or for power purposes such as lifts and so forth. The object, as I understand it, of the Clause which was inserted in another place, was to put a railway company taking a supply of electricity from an outside source in just the same position as regards the use of that electricity as it would have occupied, and as it does to-day occupy, if it generated that electricity for itself.

I can quite understand that at first sight some of the generating authorities might feel a little hesitation—and, indeed, that hesitation has been expressed by my two hon. Friends—as to the effect of this new Clause upon their own undertakings, but perhaps I may remind the House what is the object of the whole of this proposed legislation. Surely, the object is, by means of the present Bill, to co-ordinate the supplies of electricity and to obtain for the national supply the highest possible load factor. Therefore, if that object is to be attained to anything like a reasonably full extent, the national supply cannot, as the Parliamentary Secretary said just now, afford to lose the very valuable load factor at present provided by the railway companies; and, unless some such Clause as this be added to the Bill—that is to say, unless the railway companies can obtain a general authority, such as is proposed by this Clause, to use the current so supplied for the general objects of their electrical undertakings—it is obvious that they would prefer to put up or to maintain their own generating stations, and the national supply would lose the advantage of their very valuable load. For these reasons I should have been glad if the Government could have seen their way to retain this new Clause in the form in which it was passed in another place. I am grateful to them in that they have not decided to reject the Clause altogether, but I am sorry they are inclined so far to weaken—as I think, to emasculate—it as to accept the Amendments which have been put down by my two hon. Friends.


Perhaps I might shortly explain our position with regard to this matter. We are not satisfied that this new Clause is really needed. Already powers exist under the old Electric Lighting Acts, and under the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1922, which give a considerable measure of protection to railway and other companies; but, the Clause having been introduced, it seems to us necessary that at least there should be some measure of control by the Minister over the proposals to which the new Clause relates. It is perfectly true, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, that the load factor of the railways is a very important consideration, but I am not at all satisfied that this new Clause really makes very much difference, because already powers exist which enable that problem, in part, to be met. The hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) used the blessed word "co-ordination." It appears to me that as the Clause stands, and without the Amendments which have been put down by hon. Gentlemen opposite, his purpose of national co-ordination would not be achieved. On the contrary, the new Clause, as it stands, would, as it seems to me, be an important influence working against the complete Co-ordination of the electricity supply system. Although, as I have said, we should have preferred this Clause not to have been inserted at all, I hope the Government will stand by the Amendments that have been put down, as I understand they meet the desires of the municipal corporations; and, perhaps, in regard to that, I may say just this word. The Parliamentary Secretary said that this was being done to meet the wishes of certain nervous authorities. That, if I may say so, is, I think, a little unfair. I think there is a real and perfectly justifiable feeling on this matter, and the very least that can be done in the present circumstances is to accept the Amendments on the Paper, as I hope the House will do.


The Amendment which has been moved to the Lords Amendment is to delete the word "tramways." That, however, hardly carries us far enough. If the Movers of this Amendment think that that is an improvement, I wonder whether, under the term "tramways," they are including some of those tramways which are known as light railways. I have one in mind at the moment, which runs over a portion of Derbyshire and in the area of Burton-on-Trent—the Swadlincote Light Railway. If railways are to be left in, the owners of that particular light railway—who happen to be one of the large railway companies of the country—will be enabled to supply the districts through which they pass. I am not at all satisfied that there is any need for this new Clause, and I cannot understand why the Movers of these Amendments are suggesting the deletion of the latter part of the proposal, under which there would be no supply without the consent of the Minister of Transport. That has all the appearance of enabling the railway companies to extend their area of supply, not only to places in the vicinity of their own stations, but also into districts that are outside the area in which their own stations happen to be situated. That is carrying us a great deal further than I think was ever intended, even when the Committee were considering the matter, and is giving to the railway companies, by what is being vested in them under this Clause, a further interest which one of these days will have to be paid for at a very heavy price. I am not at all satisfied, and I hope that my hon. Friends on this side will divide against the Amendment.


I should like to put a question to the Minister of Transport. Why is it that, in regard to this proposal which gives railway companies the power to supply current, there is nothing said as to the regulation of price? Are the companies to be left to fix their own price; or, if they become suppliers of current for lighting purposes, are they to come under the control of the other provisions of the Bill in regard to prices?

Colonel ASHLEY

I think the hon. Member is under a misapprehension. They do not sell. They only supply for the purposes of their own undertaking.


Take the case of a railway which has some shops under its, arches in a town. Above these you have houses in which ticket collectors or railway employés live. Unless you are going to give the current free, there has got to be a price. Has this been considered by those who have brought this Amendment forward? Is there any guarantee anywhere that this is going to be regulated by any other authority than the railway company itself, which supplies and must sell? You say they do not sell. Are we to assume that those who get it are going to get it free?

Colonel ASHLEY

Surely the answer is that they can always get a supply from the local authority.


But the paragraph gives power to the railway company to supply. Is this current under this new Amendment to be supplied free or is a price to be charged for it, and if a price is to be charged what price, and who controls it?

Colonel ASHLEY

Whether it is free or not will be a matter of arrangement between the company and their tenants. As regards the price, if they do not like it, they can take a supply from the local authority.


It is becoming clearer now. We have been told there is to be a method of fixing the price of current supplied and the object of the Bill is to cheapen it. But we are here allowing a paragraph to come in as an Amendment which destroys that part of the Bill. It seeks to give power to a railway company to supply current without putting it under the same conditions as we put a local authority under.

Colonel ASHLEY

indicated dissent.


Then will the right hon. Gentleman explain what is to be the price and who is to fix it, or are the railway companies going to be left obsofutely free to negotiate in any way they like?

Colonel ASHLEY

The answer is that if they do not like the price the railway companies are charging they can go to the local authority if the local authority's price is cheaper.


The Minister seems to me to be falling right into the trap I have been setting. We have it from his own mouth that the Bill is going to be set aside after all the trouble the House has been put to in order to get one vital principle in connection with the supply of current, and that is the regulation of the price. We go. so far in the Bill as to say we will not even allow anyone to do it direct. We buy from the generator and we sell back and become the distributor, in order to control the price and to make sure that there is going to be no manipulating of it. Now we are asked to put in a paragraph which sets all that aside in favour of the railway companies.


I think really the hon. Member is chasing a Will-o'-the-Wisp. Surely the point is covered in the last Amendment, which provides that anyone who is apprehensive of what may happen may make representations to the Minister of Transport before the scheme is finally sanctioned.


That only provides for bringing the matter before the Minister of Transport, but if other people under the Bill are going to be regulated, why should a railway company have the privilege of a different system from other people?

Colonel ASHLEY

Because they will be regulated in the nurse way as anyone else who takes a supply of electricity.

Amendment to Lords Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made to Lords Amendment:

In line 7, after the word "subject," insert "to the consent of the Minister of Transport and."

In line 8, leave out the words "The Minister of Transport" and insert "he."

In line 13, after the word "subject," insert "to the consent of the Minister of Transport and."

In line 14, leave out the words "the Minister of Transport," and insert "he."

In line 18, leave out from the word "that" to the end of the Clause, and insert the Minister of Transport shall not in any case give any such consent until notice of the application for the consent has been given by advertisement or otherwise in such manner as the Minister may direct, and an opportunity has been given to any person who appears to the Minister to be affected of making representations thereon."—[Sir D. Newton.]

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment, as amended," put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 35, line 17, at the end insert new Clause F (Use of electricity by port undertakings, etc.): Notwithstanding anything contained in any Act or Order, electricity supplied by any authorised undertaker to any company, body, or 'person owning or working an undertaking being a port, dock, or harbour may be used for all or any of the purposes of such undertaking or any part thereof.

Colonel ASHLEY

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

This new Clause, as far as it relates to general conditions attaching to docks or harbours, is really covered by the Clause the House has just passed. Clause E is a general Clause and therefore could not deal with any previous Act in which special conditions were put, but in this Clause it is specifically stated that if it was passed it would override any other Act Which had specially restrictive covenants. Therefore the only undertaking with which it deals is the Port of London, because under the Act of last year, and as part of the understanding of last year, it was enacted that certain local authorities in the Port of London area should have restrictive powers over the user of electricity in the Port of London. That may be good or bad, but there it is, and the Government have consistently from the beginning taken up the position that they would not willingly do anything to break up the agreement or disturb the settlement arrived at in the Act of 1925, which my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary put through in such an able manner. Therefore, we ask the House to disagree with the Lords Amendment on the ground that it is a breach of that understanding. It may be said, "Supposing there is a breakdown in one of the stations, would it not be desirable that something should be done?" My answer is that, under the Bill, the grid will be set up and stations will be interconnected and the Port of London or anyone else will be able to get alternative current. Therefore that contingency will shortly be met and for that reason, and also because this is a breach of the agreement of last year, I ask the House to disagree with the Lords.


I am very glad the Minister has taken this course, because this is really a quite unnecessary and rather mischievous Amendment. The fear which apparently it was designed to meet is really non-existent. As a matter of fact in the London area under the 1909 Act these undertakings are already linked up, so that if there is a breakdown in one the others can carry on the supply.

Question put, and agreed to.