HC Deb 31 March 1926 vol 193 cc2160-83

Order for Second Reading read.

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

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

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

I am sorry to say that an Instruction which I understood would be on the Paper with reference to this Bill, but which has nothing to do with the question that has just been disposed of, is not on the Paper. I am glad to be able to congratulate the hon. Members concerned in regard to the last question, on which I was prepared to support the shipping interests, but another point altogether was to have been dealt with by an Instruction to leave out the Clauses of this Bill dealing with electricity, namely, Clauses 17 to 25. The Bristol Corporation have always been very enterprising in developing municipal electricity, and they are seeking powers now to build a new generating station for themselves, subject only to the consent of the Electricity Commissioners. They propose to put up a very large station on land outside the city, and the reasons which they put forward are that the water supply is inadequate within the city, and that, therefore, they have to go outside to this Portishead station. They propose to put up, not a power station merely, but a super-power station, of 120, 000 kilowatts, and after 33 years Bristol's own need of electricity, Bristol's load, is only 26 kilowatts. It is, therefore, a very remarkable proposal that they should put up this station with a power of generating 120, 000 kilowatts, and, naturally, however rapidly Bristol may be growing, the suspicion has been brought home to certain interests that this station is required for territory outside the confines of the city, or its probable suburbs, or those satellite towns or residential or even manufacturing districts, that might properly be considered as belonging to the city, which it would be right for the city to supply with electricity.

The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Colonel Ashley)

If the hone and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) will allow me to interrupt, I think he is misinformed. I understand him to say that the Bristol Corporation are seeking powers to put up a station. What the corporation are seeking, however, is that, if and when the Electricity Commissioners give them permission to erect a station, they should then be able to use this land at Portishead, and certain wayleaves which they have, for the purpose of erecting that station. This Bill does not give them power to erect the station, but only to use certain land which they now possess, and have possessed for a number of years, for the purpose of building a station, if and when the Electricity Commissioners, or the Central Board, which may be instituted under the Electricity (Supply) Bill, give them power to do so.


May I ask whether, in view of the Electricity (Supply) Bill that is before the House, any decision come to to-day by the House on this Bristol Bill would be overridden by what might appear in the Electricity (Supply) Bill?

Colonel ASHLEY

This Bill, as I understand it, does not give power to erect any station of any sort, kind, or description. All that it does is to provide that, if and when permission is given to the Bristol Corporation to build a station, either by the Electricity Commissioners or, if the Electricity (Supply) Bill becomes law, the Central Board which that Bill sets up, then the corporation shall have power to use a bit of land, and certain wayleaves which they have, for the purpose of putting up a station. I understand that the Electricity Commissioners do not intend at the present moment to give any decision in the matter, owing to the Electricity (Supply) Bill which is now before the House.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I do not want to misrepresent the position. Clause 17 of the Bill we are now discussing, while allowing the corporation to use the lands described in the First Schedule, lays down that provided that nothing in this Section shall relieve the corporation from the necessity for obtaining the consent of the Electricity Commissioners. I quite admit that, but the point is that this is very much a case of putting the cart before the horse. We intend, under this Government and the grace of God, to reorganise the electrical supply of this country, or so the Minister of Transport would have us believe, and it is rather, I think, premature for this very estimable corporation to stake out this great claim, because that, I am going to show, is what they are doing, to put up this super-power station at this time. Once this Bill is passed—and it is a very large Bill, as hon. Members will be aware, containing 146 pages, and dealing with all sorts of questions, such as harbour rights, and so on—the corporation will have placed themselves in a privileged position as against the Electricity Commissioners, and in any case we do not know yet what the powers of the Electricity Commissioners are going to be when the Electricity (Supply) Bill emerges from the Standing Committee. I think it would be very much better if these Clauses were postponed until we knew the exact powers of the Electricity Commissioners and what is left of the Bill when it has been subjected to the tender mercies—

Colonel ASHLEY

May I again interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman? I do not agree, apart from the merits of the case, that it is a sound policy to ask the Bristol Corporation to have two Bills. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is asking that they shall have two Bills, and that they shall not have power in this big Bill to use the land for certain purposes, hut wait till next year, and then come and have another Bill for this one purpose.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I do not think that is unreasonable at all, with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman. I think, on the other hand, it is not a very advisable proceeding to sandwich these electricity Clauses in this great omnibus Bill, especially as the electrical policy of the Government and of this House is not finally settled. That is a matter for this House and the Standing Committee, and I do not think I am going too far when I say that it is in a fluid condition, if I may so describe electricity or the policy concerning electricity. It would have been much better to have brought forward a separate Bill for this electrical undertaking, and not to attempt to use—I will not say the blunderbuss—the omnibus of this manifold clause Bill, to force this matter through Parliament. We, who are objecting to this attempt on the part of the corporation, are put in a rather difficult position because we do not wish to oppose the other Clauses of the Bill especially in view of the agreement that has just been come to.

Under the Government's own Electricity (Supply) Bill the new Central Electricity Board can acquire land for the purpose of generating stations, and there is no necessity for any electrical undertaker to come to Parliament. I think the Minister of Transport will agree that, once this Electricity Bill has passed, this extra expense will not be necessary. That being the case, I do not really see where the ease is made out for the corporation to ask for this special power to acquire land for this new station to be set up when they will be able to acquire land without the Bill at all. No doubt the promoters of the Bill will say that the provision of this land for the station must be subject to the Electricity Commissioners as we have already heard that, having got the right to put up a power station, they have then got to come to the Electricity Commissioners for that purpose. I do not think it is quite fair that the Electricity Commissioners should have placed upon them the onus of again resisting the Bristol Corporation, once they have gone through the machinery of promoting a Bill upstairs, arguments having been heard, counsel briefed, and so on.

The company who are affected by these proposals is a private company known as the West Gloucestershire Power Company, and I shall be quite frank. Apart from the question of principle which I have already dealt with and apart from a number of other principles which I shall bring up, a number of people, who happen to be voters in my constituency—[Laughter.] I do not see why the Solicitor-General should treat this as a matter for jocularity. If he were a private person and had, in perfectly good faith, invested money in a power station for providing electricity, and then another corporation, say the Hull Corporation, came along and proposed to annex the territory in which a station had been built with his money, I do not think he would think it was such a laughing matter. Now the West Gloucestershire Power Company is a new undertaking, and they serve a territory further from the Bristol Channel. Bristol already supplies the electricity for a considerable area around Bristol. In between there is a territory not allocated, a kind of no-man's-land, and the suspicion is—of course, if he can assure us on this point it will be very satisfactory—that the great station being erected by Bristol is intended to supply electricity, not only in this no-man's land, but in the territory supplied already by this existing company. If it is not so, we ought to know the reason why Bristol, which to-day only needs 26, 000 kilowatts after years of endeavour, should require a station of 120, 000 kilowatts.

The matter will of course be resisted by the company. The wicked animal attacked defends itself ! They have a right to a locus standi before the Parliamentary Committee. That is only right and proper. They will be able to argue this case before the Committee, but once this House passes the Second Reading of this Bill, the scales are weighted against the private company and in favour of the municipality. I therefore think that we are entitled to get some assurance, either from the Government or from the Solicitor-General, who is a distinguished citizen of Bristol and knows all the circumstances, or the hon. and gallant Gentleman who sits for the Everton Division of Liverpool (Colonel Woodcock) and used to sit for Bristol.


I never sat for Bristol.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I really thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman represented Bristol. He always spoke up for the interests of Bristol, and rightly as one of Bristol's distinguished sons. Perhaps he can give us an assurance. It will be said that the area to be served by this great power station is so far away from the rival power station that there is no fear of an absorption of this private company by the municipality. The declarations of some of the leading citizens of Bristol sent to hon. Members are very illuminating on this point. On the 1st January, 1926, Mr. Alderman Sennington, one of the prime movers in this grandiose electrifying scheme of the Severn Valley, which is opposed by a, very large section of the citizens of Bristol who are afraid of what they will be let in for said: A separate area has been under consideration some five years. This is a Bristol scheme, having in mind a larger scheme. What does that mean? Is it that the burgesses of Bristol really think that one day they will be empowered by the Electricity Commissioners to provide electricity for the whole of the Severn Valley I Is that the intention? If so, there is very good explanation of their action. I would ask the House to mark this, that the proposals of this Bill are really improper in view of the Government's electricity proposals, and that its Clauses were drafted and the scheme drawn up long before the Government's proposals were known. Without any loss of prestige or regrets, the corporation might well hold its hand a little and see what the Gov- ernment's proposals are when the House has finished with them, and also what the Commissioners intend to do, because they will not be long in bringing out a matured scheme for the whole of the country. In the interests of the citizens of Bristol who will have to meet any loss, the House will be well advised in insisting on these Clauses being postponed to a later date. In the absence of any assurance so far on this point I feel bound to move the rejection of the Bill.

Lieut.-Colonel GADIE

I beg to second the Amendment.

I agree with the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). There is rather more in this, I think, than we have heard up to the present. Yesterday, we gave a Second Reading to an Electricity Bill for the whole of the country, by a tremendous majority, in face of serious opposition. Here to-day we have a, Bill presented with Clauses 17 to 45 relating to electricity for Bristol, and in the Fourth Schedule are set out the different prices to be charged within the city and outside the city. Surely if this Bill be accepted with the electricity Clauses in it, there will be some complication when the Government want to take action with respect, not only to Bristol, but the adjoining localities supplied either by limited companies or municipalities. I think it is fair that the electricity Clauses should stand down until such time as the Government say what they want.

Colonel ASHLEY

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is under a misapprehension. I tried to explain the matter to the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). This does not seek to give permission to the Bristol Corporation to erect a generating station. All it does is to give power, if and when the Electricity Commissioners and the Central Electricity Board say they may erect a station, to use this land for the purpose.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

The right hon. Gentleman surely knows that in his own Bill the choice of site is left to the Electricity Commissioners.


I was hoping that I should be relieved from intervening in this Debate, owing to the generosity of the hon. Gentleman who moved the Instruction withdrawing the Motion. It is with a considerable amount of surprise that we find a Member of this House, representing a very important seaport the interests of which are so vitally affected by this Bill, deliberately moving the rejection of it. I certainly cannot understand the mentality of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). Because of a Clause affecting private enterprise as against municipal enterprise, it is his intention to sacrifice the whole Bill conferring large and necessary powers of interest to every harbour in the United Kingdom.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I am sure the hon. Gentleman would like an explanation of this apparently extraordinary attitude. There was to have been an Instruction put down to leave out these particular Clauses, but owing to the illness of an hon. Member it was not put down, and so we want some assurance otherwise.


I do not see how it relieves the hon. and gallant Member from the responsibility, all the same. If his object were carried out, what would be the result? What has gone a few minutes before would be absolutely nullified by his Amendment. I was somewhat diffident about intervening, because both sides happen to be friends of our organisation for the time being. For 35 or 40 years I have been associated with this industry, and for 25 years at least, with the exception of two contests within strict Queensberry Rules, we have been good friends. Without going into the technicalities of Clauses 12 and 13, I hope the House will see the importance of these Clauses. The most important attribute to any port is the estuary of a river. The point of negligence was raised. How can there be a wreck without negligence? If a ship be sunk in collision, the man whose ship is sunk is compensated by the man who sank her; or else a ship sinks in a river because she is not seaworthy. To my mind, there is no other alternative. In regard to life-saving and dock regulations to reduce the accidents in docks by 60 per cent. we have had the absolute support of both sides, shipowners and port authorities, and simply in the spirit of fair play we want to see that this Amendment is not carried by this House. It is only robbing Peter to pay Paul, after all. If you put the harbour authorities to cost, you only shift the burden on to the harbour dues, which are raised to the consumer and the cargo owner. I hope this House will see the enormous danger, and reject with emphasis the very unnecessary and unpractical suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull.


I think, perhaps, after the turn the Debate is now taking, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) will possibly see his way to withdraw his Amendment. I agree entirely with him that the interests of the West Gloucestershire Power Company are seriously menaced by the Clauses in the Bill. One is interested to see an hon. Member, who has from time to time given such abundant evidence of his steady. forceful and aggressive advance towards Socialism standing up in this House tonight and actually moving the rejection of a Clause because he wants to protect private enterprise against a municipal authority. I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend on his conversion, and I hope that on many other occasions when we are defending private enterprise we shall have the support of his characteristic, forceful, authoritative and carefully considered eloquence. There is no doubt the powers sought by the Bristol Corporation in this Bill call for serious consideration in relation to the position of the West Gloucestershire Power Company. In spite of the many kindly criticisms which we passed last night upon the Minister of Transport, the Electricity Bill was given a Second Reading, and one would imagine that he would advise the promoters of this Bill to wait until the electricity policy of the Government had been hammered out in Committee before introducing into a private Bill a Clause of the quality described so excellently by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull.

The West Gloucestershire Power Company have established a station at Lydney under the authority of this House, and with the approval of the Electricity Commissioners, and they are covering successfully and efficiently a large area in that district, and I think it would be very hard indeed that a private company in which a considerable amount of public money has been invested—public money to the extent, I think, of £835, 000—should have their rights prejudiced and the interests of their shareholders menaced by the insertion of a Clause of this kind.

I am the last person in the world to criticise any proposal of a practical and progressive nature made by the great Bristol Corporation. I have the most kindly recollections of the time I spent in Bristol, and nothing would give me greater pleasure, in this House or outside, than to help the Corporation of Bristol in the prosecution of their work an behalf of the welfare of the inhabitants. But I hope we shall never allow any municipal enterprise, with all the power it has behind it, with its array of supporters on the Ministerial Bench in this House, to secure a Bill which will seriously threaten rights granted under tile authority of Parliament by a great private company.


Even when it is a monopoly?


The hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) has been, participating in the advantages of monopolies during the whole of his life, and it is a pity that at this time of day he has not recognised the definite advantages which a great many monopolies give over ill-managed public enterprises. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he will not be in the least degree diminishing the general objects of the Bill, and will still he giving to Bristol the power to accomplish all those things which it seeks to accomplish, if he asks the promoters to withdraw this Clause. I do not like to put anything in the way of the Bill getting a Second Beading, and I suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend that perhaps he might pursue the same course in the ease of this Clause as we did in the case of the Clause affecting the removal of wrecks. We do not want to embarrass any municipality in carrying on their work for the benefit of their own people, but we ought to have an understanding that in promoting these Measures they are not to interfere with the rights of private enterprise institutions already established and authorised by Parliament, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister will give us an undertaking that nothing will be done in carrying this Bill through Parliament to interfere with the rights of the West Gloucestershire Power Company.


I rise in support of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), because in view of what happened recently it is most desirable that we shall have some assurance from those who have promoted this Bill that there is nothing in it which will overlap or clash with what is proposed in the Electricity Bill to which we gave a Second Reading yesterday. It certainly is a question for consideration as to why Parliament should grant authority to Bristol to do that which it has proposed the Central Board should do under its proposed Bill. I have risen to support this Bill because we are all at one in desiring that, in general, the Bill should meet with approval; but at the same time we ought to safeguard the powers that would be exercised by the body that is proposed to be set up. Already there is a power station at Lydney, and it has not been used to the full extent of its load, and for that reason alone we ought to go somewhat slowly in granting to any corporation power to establish a station for the generation of a further supply of electricity. If these provisions are sanctioned there is no question but that the proposed new station will be likely to overlap with the existing stations, and I think it is part of the policy of the Government, and I hope of all of us, that these stations should not overlap, and that there should be no wasteful generation of electricity but that everything should be used to the best possible advantage. Possibly all that is required is some reply from those promoting the Bill, but I have risen to enter a sort of caveat, so that we may not pass anything this evening which we should afterwards regret. Many, in fact the majority, of the provisions of the Bill appear to meet with general approval, but I have just risen to support the Motion of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull in the hope that the Minister will make some reply and satisfy the House that if the Bill is sent upstairs these particular points will be safeguarded.


I have listened to the opponents of this Bill, and to those who have spoken in favour of it. There is a great deal in this Bill which I heartily support, of course, but I think the promoters have been rather ambitious, and have tried to include in their Measure every possible power that any Corporation have ever obtained in the many Bills that have been passed by Parliament for some years.

There are some provisions that before they are passed to-night I should like the House to understand. I listened to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy), and I could not make out for some time what was his solicitude on behalf of Vise City of Bristol. I have never heard him speak in that way before. I have never heard him take such a great interest in it, and it was not until I found out that some of these gentlemen who live in Hull are shareholders in this West Gloucestershire Power Company—ladies and gentlemen in his constituency —that that seems to be the explanation of his great solicitude. These constituents having their money invested in this West Gloucestershire Power Company. I am not concerned at all for this Power Company. It is a private company, and it must look after itself. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear! "] I am sure hon. Members opposite will be quite pleased to hear that. The West Gloucestershire Power Company is a private enterprise.

We on this side try to help private enterprises. There is nothing suggested to be taken from this West Gloucestershire Power Company; they have got their rights. What they are striving to do is quite different from what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull expressed. The West Gloucester have a power station over in the Forest of Dean, 25 miles away from Bristol as the crow flies. This small new power company has built this station in the last three or four years, and it only now develops 10, 000 kilowatts, which, the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, is hardly worth talking about. This small company wants to extend its tentacles, and come down and embrace the outlying suburban districts adjacent to the City of Bristol. So far as I am concerned, this Electricity Bill is of the greatest importance to the ratepayers of the City of Bristol. They have to see that the bill is footed if this electrical undertaking does not pay its way.

10.0 P.M.

The matter is of such great importance to Bristol, where I am a ratepayer, and to the citizens there that I want this House thoroughly to understand what Bristol are involved in in this matter. I want the Minister of Transport to tell us, and to make it quite clear, what is the relation of this Bill and the city of Bristol to the new Electricity Bill which was brought before this House yesterday. The chairman of the Electricity Committee of Bristol, when he spoke on this Bill in the Council, definitely promised that if the situation changed in the electrical world that this Bill should not be proceeded with. I maintain that during the last two or three days, from all we have heard in this House, that the whole of the situation has Changed, so far as electricity is concerned and the manner in which the Government is going to carry on the work. I want to know the relation of the city of Bristol to the action that the Electricity Commissioners or the Central Board arc going to take. Have the Commissioners had anything to do with inspiring Bristol to put up this huge scheme which is totally out of proportion with the requirements of Bristol or even the near surrounding districts? If Bristol is going to proceed with this scheme, is it going to be used in the national scheme, or a central scheme for the Lower Severn area? Then what is the position of the citizens going to be and the ratepayers who will have to work this huge station which is going to develop 240, 900 kilowatts? In what relation is this going to stand towards the national effort that is to be made.

It is about 30 years now since the present scheme started in a very small way; and this station was removed to a second called Feeder Road. The whole thing is a matter of history in Bristol, that when the station was put up at Feeder Road it was thought that it was going to last for all time. They develop now about 26, 000 kilowatts, the outcome of work for the last 30 years. Under this new scheme which is going to be put up, the new plant will develop, not 26, 000 kilowatts, but 240, 000 kilowatts, totally out of proportion to the needs of Bristol, and totally out of all reason. I want to know—perhaps the Minister of Transport will tell us—when Bristol asked for an inquiry to be set on foot and for an inspector to be sent down to Feeder Road in connection with the extension proposed, whether the representatives of the Commissioners reported—for already the Bristol authority had purchased 15 acres of land adjacent to the station—when visited by the representatives of the Commissioners whether it was said to him that they must not select Feeder Road but put up another scheme altogether that is going to develop much larger output so as to provide for the whole district. Can the Minister of Transport tell us whether it was an inspector who represented the Commissioners who said: "We shall never support Feeder Road in the national scheme, but if you go to Portishead it will be suitable "? I do not say that he said this, but I am asking whether this was the atmosphere created? I ask whether it was suggested that if Bristol went to Portishead and developed a huge station that they would have every possibility—without any promise being given—that this would be taken over by the national authority? The chairman of the Bristol Electricity Committee stated at the public inquiry in connection with this Pill, when the matter was discussed in the Council, it was not carried unanimously, but only by a very small majority.


It was carried by the statutory majority, or it would not have been here.


It was carried by a statutory majority when the Bill was discussed. It was carried in the Council with a small majority. The point I want to make is that at the public inquiry the Chairman of the Electrical Committee stated that this station was laid out for Bristol alone and that between now and 1947 they hoped to develop 240, 000 kilowatts against 26, 000 kilowatts at the present time. That is a most optimistic outlook of the local engineer who advised this. I think myself the whole thing is grossly exaggerated. As regards cost, if this new station at Portishead is carried out, which they hope will be the area station for the lower Severn area, it will cost eventually £4, 000, 000. At the present time Bristol expects to spend £1, 000, 000 to generate 40, 000 kilowatts, and that is expected to be reached in three years. It is a very exaggerated idea that the local electrical engineer has put up, that Bristol is ever going to utilise the amount of electricity being talked about at the present time. The Minister of Transport may perhaps tell us whether this is an inspired scheme that is going to supply the lower Severn area.

Regarding the Weir Report, it was stated that to supply the Lower Area of the Severn, which reaches from Gloucester in the North to Watchet in Somerset, including the whole of the Bristol area and the Bristol district. The Weir Committee only estimate that in 1940 they want 198, 500 kilowatts for the whole of this area, instead of, which Bristol has over-estimated, the size of the station that they want. At the present time Bristol uses 26, 000 kilowatts. In three years they hope to use 40, 000 kilowatts. In 1947 they estimate 240, 000 kilowatts, but still the Weir Report, for the whole of the area from Gloucester to Watchet only estimates 198, 500 for 1940. Then there are the financial responsibilities of the ratepayers. I do not think hon. Members opposite will ever use Bristol as an example of one of the great successes of municipal enterprise. The object of municipal enterprise is either to supply very cheap electricity or to assist the rates to some great extent.

Up till recently Bristol was paying 5½. per unit of electricity, and I think on two occasions have they provided very Minute sums of money in relief of the rates. That is in 33 years, and I do not think anyone will want to use Bristol electricity as an example of a great successful municipal enterprise. The report of the independent consulting engineer was in no way too favourable. It could not even promise great future success. The report of the engineer—who reported independently, I am sure—very few Members would have accepted as one of those definite promises of success which we should have hoped to have. At Feeder Road they have spent £1, 250, 000 out of which £625, 000 is still outstanding, and if they are going to have one station, Feeder Road Station will have to be scrapped with its £625, 000, and the interest and sinking fund will have to come as a charge on the new station. It does not look as if they are going to have cheap electricity in Bristol and its neighbourhood while you have got this redundant station, for which you have to provide interest and sinking fund.

I do hope the Minister will get these electricity Clauses postponed, not because I want to hamper in any way the success of this undertaking. The Minister should give us some information as to whether this is to be a national station. What we want to know in Bristol is—if this scheme is to be pushed on further, will the Government assure us that the city will not be hampered by a further station being put up in competition with it in that area? We want to be assured of the financial responsibility of the city of Bristol, and to be sure that it is going to be a central station. We want the Treasury definitely to assure the corporation that they are going to allow the city of Bristol to receive any privileges and advantages that may come from the new Electricity Supply Bill. I think that if the city of Bristol consider the best interests of their ratepayers at the present moment they would postpone this Bill. I think they should get the full advantages and privileges of the new Bill now before the House and be assured as to the position they are taking up and feel certain that they are going into an enterprise with the Government behind them and all the national resources and assistance they can get from the Government.


I consider it to be a gross abuse of the privileges of this House that a very important Bill affecting the life and well-being of such an important city as Bristol should be rejected at the behest of a few wealthy supporters of the hon. Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). I could have understood it if they had had no tribunal to whom their case could he stated, hut the Committee upstairs hears counsel at very great length on behalf of every interest that may be involved in a public Bill of this character. With this advantage they do not have it all their own way as they have it here. There are skilled counsel on the other side that can put the case and the evidence can be sifted. The Committee upstairs is an exact reflex of the opinion of the House. As a matter of fact, on the local legislation committee to which this Bill will be referred there are people who might be quite strongly imbued with private enterprise, but they are there in a judicial capacity and have to give their decisions according to the weight of evidence. They have an opportunity of questioning those people who, it seems to me, are afraid to face the music in these days. Their statements here cannot be challenged as they can upstairs, and they abuse the privileges of this House to escape the proper procedure the House has laid down for these Bills. It has become quite the usual thing to have these pettifogging private interests discussed at great length before they are sent to the Committee, and then in many cases it is found that they have not a leg to stand on. Surely here is a case where, if anybody ought to have these privileges, it should be the Bristol Corporation. I think this Bill ought to go upstairs.

As the Minister of Transport has tried to explain, the powers of the Electricity Clauses of this Bill, if granted, will not allow the Bristol Corporation to supply a single more unit than it is supplying at the present time, and the Measure only gives power to erect another generating station in certain eventualities. If it is true that the Bristol Corporation is seeking to stake out another claim they will certainly have regard to the imminence of further legislation in regard to electrical supply. We have the work of the local legislation committee before us, and therefore it is open on the Report of the Committee, if they give a decision against the weight of evidence, to convict them. That is the time to begin to talk as hon. Members have talked to-night, and not on the Second Reading before the case has been put in the manner Parliament has decided that it shall be put.


I did not hear the speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), but I have received a number of letters both for and against this Bill. I do not think hon. Members have quite thoroughly grasped the details of this Bill as it is before the House, nor do I think that those persons who are contending that the interests of the West Gloucestershire Power Company will be seriously affected have read this Bill. Whether any given electrical station is or is not an efficient one depends on the question of the water supply. Although the station with which we are dealing may reach an output of 30, 000 kilowatts, owing to its location and the very inadequate amount of water available at Lydney, it will never be able to meet the demands which will be made upon it. You would have a station at Portishead, and it is almost inevitable that a station somewhere in that neighbourhood will eventually become one of the selected stations under the Board established by the Electricity Bill.

What I am anxious that the House should realise is that, if what I anticipate happens, and Portishead becomes the selected station, the interests of the shareholders of the West Gloucestershire Power Company will not be adversely affected, because the whole technical basis of the Electricity Bill, to which we have given a Second Reading and which we are to discuss upstairs, is that these selected stations under the aegis and control of the Board will be able to generate electricity so very much more cheaply that the small existing stations that they will be able to sell to power companies like the West Gloucestershire Power Company much more cheaply than the West Gloucestershire Power Company can themselves produce at Lydney even if they increase the capacity of their station to 30, 000 kilowatts eventually—at present it is only 10, 000 kilowatts

The West Gloucestershire Power Company's interests will not be in any way adversely affected. They will be able to get electricity from Portishead—assuming for purposes of argument that the station is at Portishead—for distribution over their area through inter-connecting lines, very much more cheaply than they can ever hope to produce it at Lydney, and to that extent the argument tat the shareholders of the West Gloucestershire Power Company will be in any way adversely affected is, I venture to submit to the House, entirely erroneous. As for the question of the ratepayers of Bristol, to whom the hon. and gallant Member for Everton (Colonel Woodcock) referred, I would again venture to point out that he has not really read the Bill. He talked about the question of the relief of rates, but, if he had read the Bill, he would see that there is definite provision in the Bill limiting the amount that can be applied in relief of rates to 1½ per cent. on the capital cost of the station; and, furthermore, apart from that contingency—


I do not think my hon. Friend would wish to misrepresent me. The rates would be paid by the corporation, and not refunded to the corporation. I think my hon. Friend has got hold of the wrong end.


I am afraid I do not follow the hon. Member's interruption. I think it only goes to support my contention. If the corporation worn to put up the station, as they would under the terms of the Electricity Clauses of this Bill, the payment for the current from that particular station would cover sinking fund and the whole cost of generation. They would not lose in any possible way. If the Corporation of Bristol act as a distributing company, they will buy very much cheaper electricity, and will be able to make a profit on the distribution of that very much cheaper electricity up to, but not exceeding, 1½ per cent. of the capital cost. Therefore, in any case, under his Bill, Bristol stands to gain. Bristol cannot possibly lose. The only conceivable way in which Bristol could lose would be by refusing to put up this station and being dependent on the supply of electricity from the generating station at Lydney, because, a priori, from the technical data upon which this Bill is based, the station at Lydney can never be so efficient as a station at Portishead.


How do you know?


I base that upon what I think will be agreed, namely, that the technical basis of this Bill is correct. I, therefore, venture to suggest to the House, with all respect, that from the point of view of the Consumer of electricity over this whole area, from the point of view of the Corporation of Bristol and the ratepayers of Bristol, and also, as I would particularly suggest to the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), from the point of view of the shareholders of the West Gloucester Power Company, there is nothing whatever, so far as the Electricity Clauses of this Bill go, that would in any way justify the House in refusing to give the Bill a Second Reading.

The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Thomas Inskip)

I rise to say a few words on the Bill merely as one of the Members for the City of Bristol, and what I have to say I am allowed to say on behalf of all the five Members for the City, irrespective of the party to which they belong. Perhaps in view of the detail of local matters to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Everton (Colonel Woodcock) treated the House, I may say a few words about the history of the matter which will inform the House as to the position. For over 40 years Bristol has been engaged in supplying electricity for the benefit of its citizens and the persons within its area of supply. It is not to be wondered at that on its first attempt it had not the foresight to anticipate the developments and the extension of the use of electricity, and before a long time had passed it was necessary to move from its first station to a new station. In the last 20 years the use of electricity in Bristol has greatly increased. At present the whole of the available output at the corporation station is used, and in a very short time the supply that new consumers desire will not be forthcoming unless some steps are taken. The present position is that the canal that is used for the supply of water for the purpose of the undertaking is more like a Turkish bath than anything else in consequence of the deficiency of water.

Having once had to move its station owing to lack of foresight, for which no one blames them, the Bristol ratepayers are determined that they will not have to move it a third time, and they have selected a piece of land which has belonged to the corporation for a great many years—long before the Electricity Act. They contemplate putting up, if they get the necessary permission from the Minister of Transport, a station which will be adequate for the needs of its ratepayers and the consumers within its area. It does not propose to prejudge any question. It does not propose to extend its area of supply by a single square yard. It is merely seeking the protection which Parliament can give to Bristol in connection with the erection of works which will be necessary if the Minister of Transport gives the necessary permission In order to enable the Bristol Corporation to go forward with its electrical undertaking. I think my hon. Friend has entirely misapprehended the purpose of the Bill. This is not a Bill to enable Bristol to construct an electrical power station on its own territory. It might have proceeded without coming for an Act of Parliament. It might have proceeded by way of a Special Order obtained from the Ministry.

The only reason why it has come to the House, and why it is promoting a Bill for other purposes, is to enable the Corporation to have the protection of being free from a possible injunction on the ground that they are committing some nuisance in consequence of the erection of a gantry or other necessary work, when the new station comes to be erected under the permission which will be given, if it is given, by the Minister of Transport. The Bill does not prejudge in a single point any question which will arise under the Bill we discussed yesterday. All that has happened is that the Corporation, like a prudent authority, having a general Bill, deems it wise to take these powers now in order that it may not find it necessary to come for another Bill in a year's time to seek the protection it may desire to have at the earliest possible moment if the Bristol consumers are not to find themselves deprived of that which they are entitled to have.

The Bristol Corporation area is not sought to be enlarged by this Bill. The corporation anticipate that the consumers in Bristol will increase, as they have increased during the last 21 years. That is to say, they will double themselves every seven years. The West Gloucester Power Company's area is a large one of 300 square miles, and they have made application, I am informed, for an extension of their area by a further territory of 290 square miles, so that they will have an area of something like 590 square miles in order to absorb the capacity of their existing stations. One of my hon. Friends has said that it is very doubtful whether the Lydney Power Station will ever have the capacity to supply the demands that are likely to arise in connection with the Bristol Corporation supply. Be that as it may, it would appear likely that the West Gloucester Power Company will have their hands full in supplying the area at present at their disposal and the further area which they are seeking power to supply.

If there is going to be any overlapping, as the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) suggested, I would point out that there is a very large territory between the Bristol area and the West Gloucester area. Whenever any application comes to be made by the West Gloucester Power Company or by the Bristol Corporation for an extension of their several areas, then will be the time that the matter might be discussed in the light of the information to be brought before the Committee or tribunal which is to settle the question. On the present occasion, as far as the electricity Clauses in the Bill are concerned, the only thing that the House is asked to do is to let the Bill have its Second Reading, including the two Clauses that are required to give the Bristol Corporation the authority, not to erect this power station now, but merely to give the corporation protection from an injunction which might possibly be eked for against them if they were to construct the works at some future date.

The hon. and gallant Member for Everton is an alderman of the City of Bristol, and he once sat for a constituency not very far from the City of Bristol which, I understand, the West Gloucester Power Company desire to serve, and which at present is a long way outside their area. My hon. and gallant Friend, I am told, on two occasions made speeches at the Bristol City Council very much of the tenour of the speech he has delivered here to-night. The Bristol City Council is a more appropriate tribunal to which his observations should be addressed than the House of Commons on the Second Reading of this Bill, Even hip eloquence and his wide range of information was not successful in persuading his fellow aldermen and councillors that he had got hold of the right end of stick. By a very large majority, the corporation decided in favour of this scheme. The scheme was submitted to the ratepayers, in accordance with the statutory provisions, and the ratepayers approved of it.

The Bristol Corporation is not a Socialist body, and if they have decided in favour of the scheme, and if the ratepayers have decided in favour of the scheme, it is an excess of zeal on my hon. and gallant Friend's part to come to the House of Commons in order to protect the Bristol ratepayers and the Bristol Corporation against themselves. The Bristol Corporation has existed for three or four hundred years and is now, surely, able to take care of itself.

My hon. Friend's observations on this matter are really too late. The only question is whether the House shall give effect to the desire of Bristol to have the protection which it seeks to have under this Bill. The West Gloucester Power Company have a very doubtful locus in this matter. Still, such as it is, they pressed their claim for a locus standi upstairs. They have obtained that locus standi. Personally I was empowered to make the offer to them weeks ago. I made it to them, that they should have a locus stanch; upstairs without any objection at all by the Bristol Corporation, so that if their interests were in any way prejudiced, they should have the fullest opportunity of putting the matter before the appointed tribunal of this House, with such advice as they might obtain from counsel or experts. They did not accept the offer then. They have since pleaded for a locus and they have obtained it. They will have the opportunity of putting everything that my hon. Friend has put before the House—if it is relevant—before the Committee upstairs. I hope that the Bristol Corporation, which has great constituencies waiting for an adequate supply of electricity, will he allowed to take time by the forelock—not to prejudice any question, but in order that it should be equipped with the powers which are required if and when the Minister permits the Corporation to erect a power station on the property which for so many years has belonged to the Corporation.


Do I understand that the learned Solicitor-General attaches no value to Clauses 17 and 25, and would agree to their deletion?


Clause 17 is necessary for the express purpose which I have tried to describe, namely. to give protection to the Bristol Corporation if they require to execute the works.

Lieut.- Commander KENWORTHY

We have had very valuable assurances from the learned Solicitor-General and he has made the position a great deal clearer. I, therefore, ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


The Instruction which is on the Paper is not to be moved, I understand, in view of the earlier decision of the House. The second Notice of Motion on the Paper—[Equal Franchise]—is out of order. It cannot be taken because it anticipates a Bill which is set down. A Bill in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Wedgwood Benn) deals with the same subject.