§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I beg to move, page 1, line 10, after the word "Board," to insert the words, "(in this Act referred to as the Board ')." This is a matter of drafting.
§ Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 1, line 11, to leave out from the word "members" to the end of Subsection (1), and to insert instead thereof the words,appointed or elected from time to time in accordance with a scheme to he prepared by the Minister of Transport, which scheme shall be as analogous as nearly as practicable to the statutory provisions regulating the appointment and election of the members of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. The said scheme shall be embodied by the Minister of Transport in an Order which shall be laid before each House of Parliament, but shall not come into force unless and until the Order has been approved, with or without modifications, by a Resolution passed by each such House.The object of this Amendment is to alter and define the methods under which the Central Electricity Board is to be appointed and the way in which it is to be composed. The intention of the supporters of this Amendment is to ensure that this particular body shall he the kind of body which we have understood from the Government generally it was intended to be. I can explain it best by a reference to one of the early speeches of the Prime Minister in regard to this Bill before it was printed. He was referring to this Board and said unit it was intended to be an authority on the lines of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, or on the lines of the Port of London Authority.
What we propose by the Amendment is, that the Board, instead of being appointed by the Minister of Transport as is provided in the Clause, should be appointed or elected in a similar way to that in which the Port of London Authority or the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board is elected. For that purpose it is necessary to provide machinery which is adaptable to this Bill, and we therefore propose that the Board should be appointed under a scheme to be prepared by the Minister of Transport and analogous to the provisions relating to the two boards to which I have referred, and that the scheme shall be embodied 973 in an Order to be laid before Parliament and not to come into force until the Order has been approved. I should like to emphasise this fact, that this method of appointing a board has worked very well in the two cases already referred to. It is not difficult to carry out, it would relieve the Minister of Transport of work which is unnecessary, and will ensure that the constitution and appointment of this Board will be on a more satisfactory basis. We are merely trying to put into the Bill what was stated to be his intention by the Prime Minister, and therefore I hope the Amendment will be accepted. Here, again, if the Amendment is accepted in principle I do not want to bind myself absolutely to the exact wording, and I shall be quite prepared to consent to any slight alteration which may be thought necessary in order to make it work more smoothly and carry out our intentions. There is one further reason why the Amendment should be accepted, and that is that the Board and the Electricity Commissioners, who ought to be in a position to be able to work together and get the benefit of each other's work, would be in a. mare satisfactory position if the Board were appointed in the manner suggested by the Amendment.
§ Sir J. NALL
I beg to second the Amendment. The intention, as was announced by the Prime Minister in his speech, was quite clearly that this board was to be a public authority, and the actual composition of the board in the Bill as it stands is a flagrant inconsistency between the actual provisions of the Bill and the policy announced by the Prime Minister himself. This is what the Prime Minister said:When I speak of a Board I do not mean a nationalised authority; I do not mean a Government Department. What we have in our mind is a Board managed by practical men closely in touch with the industry, on the lines of such an authority as the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board or the Port of London.This was reinforced by no less an authority than Lord Weir, who, in a speech at Liverpool on the 26th of July of this year, as reported in the "Liverpool Post and Mercury," said:He had been told that both the Report and the Bill were Socialistic, but there were technical and economic considerations connected with the generation of electrical energy which demanded a degree of co- 974 operative working and control in order to obtain effective results. He had never heard the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board described as Socialistic, and yet the new Electricity Board would be constituted on exactly the same lines.The Prime Minister and the Chairman of the Committee, on whose report this Bill is supposed to be based, say that this new public authority is to be modelled on the lines of certain existing authorities. The proposal in the Bill bears absolutely no resemblance whatever to the constitution of the two authorities referred to. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board consists of 28 members, and no fewer than 24 are elected by the users of the port. The Port of London Authority is elected in a rather different way. Members are nominated by various public bodies, but it is representative of interests and public authorities who can rightly be described as interested in the Port of London. Both these cases were quoted by the Prime Minister as a precedent for this new Board, and in the words of Lord Weir we were to have a Board "constituted on exactly the same lines" as the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board.
What have we got? We have a Board of eight members appointed by the Minister of Transport. From time to time they must be reappointed, and the kind of men who will be appointed will obviously depend on the political opinions of the Minister for the time being. It will obviously he the case that the Minister will go to his advisers to know who is who in the industry, and he be given four or five names from which he will make a selection and fill any vacancy that may occur. These advisers are the Electricity Commissioners. I agree with some of the comments and criticisms made by an hon. Member opposite, that our attitude ought not to be interpreted as being attacks upon the personality of the Electricity Commissioners. I object to the present system whereby the Minister will appoint the Members of the Board on the advice he will obtain from the Electricity Commissioners because it infringes the very definite pronouncement of the Prime Minister that he does not mean it to be a Government Department. He meant it to be a board of technical men elected on the lines of the precedents quoted. The Amendment now before the House gives the Government an opportunity of adhering to the policy outlined by the 975 Prime Minister, a policy which is not embodied in the Bill, was not corrected in Committee, and, therefore, I ask in the name of consistency that the announcements and promises made as to the functions and constitution of the new board should be adhered to and that we should not be asked to adopt something quite different, something which bears no resemblance whatever to the precedents quoted. The Amendment now proposed, in my opinion, merits the earnest attention of the House.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The House will not, I think, be surprised to know that the Government does not accept this Amendment either in language or principle. It is moved on the ground that something was said by the Prime Minister, and also by Lord Weir, with which the present Bill is inconsistent. If the House followed the quotation from the Prime Minister's speech it will see that there is no shadow of inconsistency. What the Prime Minister did was to disclaim any idea of creating a Government Department. What he said was that the Board to be constituted was not to be a Government Department but a board of business men on the same lines as the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board or the Port of London Authority. He never said a word to suggest that there should be a kind of a general election in order to select the eight members of the Board. Lord Weir has been quoted as having said that this Board is to be analogous to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, but the quotation from his speech proves, if proof were needed, that in the opinion of those best acquainted with the Bill and its proposals, there is no inconsistency between what the Prime Minister stated and the actual proposals of the Bill.
Lord Weir's speech was made in July last, at a time when this Clause had been thrashed out in Committee and stood in its present form, and the hon. Member did not tell the House that when Lord Weir's Report was published he and his colleagues said they were satisfied by the way in which the Board was to be constituted; and it was to be constituted not by election but by nomination by the Minister of Transport after consultation with various interests. That being 976 so, it is idle to say there is any inconsistency. When we come to the merits of the proposal, my submission is that it has no merits. The Mersey Board is elected—that is the analogy which is suggested—by a poll being taken with a returning officer and, I think, a revising barrister to check the register, and so on, of all the ratepayers within a certain radius who pay rates in respect of the docks.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
It is an election by all payers of dock dues who reside in a certain area. They elect 24 of the 28 members. The other four, curiously enough, are appointed by the Minister of Transport. Supposing we apply the analogy which my hon. Friend suggests, we shall have to have all the consumers of electricity for this board, and that would mean a very interesting general election all over the country to which all the eight members presumably would make speeches in the various districts, and promise varying reductions in rates if they were chosen by their would-be constituents. You would have the whole machinery of a general election, which is wholly unsuitable to the constitution of what the Prime Minister stated he desires, and what the House desires, namely, a board of business men to carry out business principles. The thing only needs to be studied to show that it is not a practicable proposal. It would have this advantage from the point of view of some Members, that inasmuch as you have first to have a scheme prepared, then have it submitted to each House of Parliament, and then it does not come into force until Resolutions have been passed by both Houses, if in addition you were to have this election, you would succeed in achieving a very long delay before this Board commenced to function. We hope it will commence to function in the next few weeks. That is another reason if it were needed why we reject this proposal.
Marquess of HARTINGTON
I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Herbert) who put this Amendment down will carry it to a Division. My right hon. and learned Friend has said that there is no inconsistency between the speech of the Prime Minister and the Bill. I read the speech of the Prime Minister, and I think there is no possible doubt the Prime Minister said he intended to set up 977 an authority on the lines of the Port of London Authority or the Mersey Harbour Board. He meant to set up an authority of that kind. Both these are semi-elected and semi-nominated. I think, therefore, we are quite entitled to say that the Bill is entirely inconsistent. Instead of a considerable elected or nominated authority representing various interests, we have eight persons nominated by the Minister himself. It seems to me as reasonable for the right hon. and learned Attorney-General to say that we should consider a new constitutional Ministry on the lines of the Grand Panjandrum of China. The picture which my right hon. and learned Friend drew of the difficulty of having an authority on the lines of the Mersey Harbour Board are very grossly exaggerated. The Port of London Authority was constituted as follows: Three members appointed by the Admiralty and the Ministry of Transport, of whom one must represent labour; one member appointed by Trinity House; six members appointed by the London County Council and the City Corporation of whom one must represent labour; seventeen elected by payers of port rates, wharfingers and owners of river craft; and one member elected by wharfingers. I think it is not impossible to conceive of an authority of the same kind containing, we will say, a certain number of representatives of corporations who would have no very great difficulty in arriving at their representatives, a certain number elected or appointed by considerable consumers of electricity, a certain number representing ratepayers and a certain number representing actual producers. If the Government would adopt, instead of turning down, this Amendment, I believe that what very many other besides myself, and especially consumers of electricity feel about this Bill, and that is great alarm would be to a great extent set at rest.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
It is quite futile for my right hon. Friend to suggest that there was no intention of setting up a Board on the lines of the declaration of the Prime Minister. He must be aware that throughout the length and breadth of the country only a very few details of the Measure now before the House attracted the attention of the public at large. He must be equally aware that one of those very few details which did attract attention was the preliminary pronouncement by the Prime Minister who 978 gave the broad outline of the Government proposals before this Bill was introduced. The one thing which attracted the imagination of the people of this country was the fact that if there was to be a general control board that board was to be established on the lines of the Port of London Authority or the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. I have not the slightest desire to continue the Debate or delay the proceedings. My right hon. Friend rather raised a laugh by suggesting an authority consisting of all the consumers of electricity in the country. The consumers of electricity would have the right to elect, if this proposal along the lines of the Port of London Authority or the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board was adopted—as I understand my right hon. Friend. Indeed, the object is that this central Board should be the supplier of all consumers in the country. Alternatively, a very sensible electorate would be the present authorised undertakers, the authorised undertakers at the moment being, in the majority, municipal authorities. Certainly, it is ridiculous to suggest that the electorate would be all the consumers of electricity. It was on an argument this that my right hon. Friend rode off in Committee. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that, while I am quite unable to enter into a contest of words with him, he has never once engaged with me in a battle of facts. He always refuses to enter into them. It is quite true he attracts the ears of his hearers in debate, and puts before them what looks like convincing arguments, such as those who would elect the Board, or the consumers in Great Britain. Of course, it is impossible. He knows that would not be the proposal, if the proposal was to set up an authority constituted on the lines of the Port of London Authority or the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board.
§ Mr. HANNON
I hope my hon. Friend will not carry this Amendment to a Division. I had some doubt in my mind, when the Bill was in Committee, of the propriety from the public point of view of appointing the board in this way. I certainly feel that it is much preferable to have a board for the highly-responsible objects in view appointed as laid down in the Bill, rather than some sort of conglomerate body partly nominated and partly eleected on a certain peculiar suffrage. I can hardly conceive anything 979 more hopeless, from the point of view of efficient administration of a great project such as this Bill, than to have a large board, in the first place, composed of a great variety of points of view, in the second, depending from time to time upon election, no matter what the basis of the franchise may be, in order to continue some kind of definite policy.
§ Mr. D. HERBERT
May I correct. This Amendment does not provide for a largo board but for one composed of seven persons.
§ Mr. HANNON
I did not understand. My hon. Friend spoke of the constitution of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, and of the constitution of the Port of London Authority. It was in my mind that they contemplated some large body of persons. I think the only way in which the Bill can be effectively administered is to have a competent body of capable business men as was originally suggested by the Prime Minister in his speech. In that speech he did not dream of suggesting that the Board should be on the basis of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board or the Port of London Authority. He was giving an example of the kind of public authority in his mind. I hope no more time will be wasted on a. discussion of the Amendment. If we are to have any effective administration at all, we must trust the Minister to get us the best sort of Board. If we cannot trust the Minister to get us the best possible Board for the administration of the purposes of this Act, the whole Measure is hopeless from the national point of view. I believe the present administration of the Ministry of Transport perfectly competent to select and appoint and lay down regulations for the administration of a Board which will carry out in the fullest degree the objects of the Bill. I hope my hon. Friend will see his way to withdraw his Amendment.
Sir F. HALL
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Mr. Hannon) misunderstood. It is perfectly plain in the Amendment that it is strictly limited to seven. I venture to say-that the Committee came to the best decision under the circumstances. There was a question with regard to commerce arid whether it included finance, and I think I am right 980 in saying that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General said that was covered. I thought there should he one with regard to finance. The proposal brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. D. Herbert) would make it very difficult. You have to rely on somebody, and so far as the Minister of Transport is concerned we rely on him. We had a Minister of Transport in the Labour Government, and I would have confidence in Members above the Gangway following out the precepts that have been laid down in the Bill in endeavouring to appoint the best men for the position. We have this satisfaction, that in this Bill, in Clause 1, they are to be appointed for five years with the possibility of the Minister of Transport granting them a period of 10 years. By that time we shall have got right down into the saddle, and I think the experience gained by the appointment of seven people representing all the different classes of industry will show that you cannot have anything better. When you have a Board you generally look round to see that they are connected with the various branches of industry likely to be of assistance and help. I hope that my hon. Friend will not press this Amendment to a Division. If he does, I shall not support him.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
It is true, as the learned Attorney-General said, that Lord Weir's Committee recommended eight nominated members, to be nominated by the Minister of Transport, but I would attach a great deal more importance to the recommendations of Lord Weir's Committee if that Committee had not sat in private. If it had sat in public, I think we should have had a very different recommendation. In regard to the Prime Minister's speech, we have to consider what was the intention of the Prime Minister. I am certain that I am right in saying that it was his intention to convey to his audience that he wanted definitely to take the question of electricity out of politics. How on earth are you going to do that if all the members of the Board are to be nominated by the Minister of Transport? Everything connected with electricity would he challenged on the Floor of this House. When the Leader of the Liberal party introduced the Port of London Bill, he had definitely in his mind the extraordinary political pressure to which the 981 Government had been subjected in regard to the Post Office, and his whole object in forming a Board for the Port of London was to get the Port of London out of politics altogether, so that nothing could be challenged on the Floor of the House. We have to-day the same thing in regard to electricity. I am certain that my hon. and gallant Friend had no idea of forming a large committee, and his Amendment in no way necessitates a large committee. I agree that a small committee is infinitely better than a large one.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 2, leave out the word "and" and insert instead thereof the word "or".— [The Attorney-General.]
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I beg to move, in page 2, to leave out from the word "Board" in line 11, to the word "shall" in line 14.
This is little more than a drafting Amendment. By the terms of Subsection (4) any member of the Board who is not required to devote the whole of his time to the performance of his duties under the Act is bound to disclose any interest he has if it comes up before the Board. I see no reason why that obligation should be confined to whole-time members of the Board, and the purpose of the Amendment is to provide that any member of the Board, whether a whole-time member or not, shall come under that obligation.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: In page 2, leave out from the word "The," in line 20, to the word "Board" in line 21.—[The Attorney-General.]
§ Mr. RADFORD
I beg to move, in page 2, line 34, after the word "Transport," to insert the words "with the approval of the Treasury."
The purpose of this Amendment is to afford some slight safeguard to the extraordinary and unprecedented powers of the Minister of Transport under this Bill. As the Bill stands, the Minister of Transport first of all chooses who shall be the members of the Board. He can give them service agreements for periods of not less than five years nor more than ten years. Under this particular Subsection he fixes their remuneration without any reference to anyone, and 982 apparently without any limit to the salary which he may give. Further on in the Bill it is provided that he shall lay down the form in which the annual statement of accounts of the Electricity Board shall be submitted, and he chooses who the auditors shall be, and even lays down regulations as to how the audit shall be conducted. These are extraordinary powers and they should not be given to any Minister of the Crown. I believe I am right in saying that they are absolutely unprecedented. The Electricity Commissioners appointed under the Act of 1919 were appointed by the Board of Trade, and their remuneration was to be fixed by the Board of Trade. But here we have in one single individual powers which are capable of the greatest abuse.
When we speak of the Minister of Transport our thoughts turn naturally to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who at present graces the position. But we are legislating for Ministers of Transport yet unborn. The Bill refers in one Clause to certain happenings 60 years hence. We pride ourselves, and justly, on the purity of our public life, but I submit that we are not justified in passing into law this Measure in this particular form. If ever there were a crooked Minister of Transport we would be at the mercy of that Minister, who could fix any salary he chose for those whom he selected as his Board, and with the powers conferred upon him later in the Bill he could camouflage and hide the salaries that he was paying to the members of the Board, because he could lay down the form of the statement of accounts and could choose his own auditors to audit the accounts. I trust that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will see his way to accept the Amendment, or some alternative, by reference, if he likes, to the Board of Trade instead of to the Treasury, so long as we cart have some means of controlling the salaries that might be given by a Minister of Transport in future.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The remarks of my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment would carry considerable conviction to my mind but for one fact, which is that in this country we are happy to have as 983 an institution the House of Commons The Minister of Transport, like all other Ministers, is the humble servant of the House of Commons. He is amenable to the House's decision; he can have his actions criticised, and very often he is critised either on his salary or by other methods which are well known to hon. Members. Therefore, if any Minister contemplated doing the outrageous things which my hon. Friend has in mind, the House of Commons of the day would fail in its duty if it did not prevent him from doing such things.
§ Mr. RADFORD
Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to explain how the House would be aware of the terms of any particular service agreement into which the Minister entered with an individual as a member of the Board?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General reminds me, the accounts would be published in due course, having been audited by auditors appointed by myself. I may say that the Treasury do not desire to have any say in the fixing of these salaries, and I think they are wise, because they wish that the Board should he as independent as possible, and not approximate to a Civil Service condition. I was rather sorry that my hon. Friend, after saying nice things about myself, hinted at rather unpleasant things about other people. I am quite sure that whatever party be in power, it will maintain the high traditions of the House of Commons.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I made no reflection, and I intended no reflection on anyone. The point of view which I put was that the Bill provides for Ministers of Transport yet unborn, of whatever party. Such a Minister might belong to a party at present non-existent. I made no reflection on any party.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I did not convey the idea that I had any particular party in mind. What I said was that in my opinion any future Minister of Transport will—I do not say come up to the high 984 ideals that I have, but, at any rate, will maintain the great traditions which have been handed down to us from many former Governments.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I am sorry that the Minister is not able to accept the Amendment—not on the higher ground of policy, without any question of suggesting that one party or Minister would be better or worse than any other, but on the simple ground that I think it is wrong that the Minister of Transport, whoever he might be, should have in his hand the absolute right of discretion without any direct control by the chief spending Department of the country in the naming of salaries and expenses for the whole of such a large staff. In the ordinary course I would not have said a word if we were dealing with some of the minor offices of one of the Ministries. But we are setting up now something which we have not had to contemplate before; we are incurring an obligation in respect of salaries and expenses possibly on a scale that we have not had to contemplate in the past. I suggest that there should be protection for the Ministers themselves, not in any way as a reflection upon them. There should be some over-riding authority, such as the Treasury or any competent authority which is deemed right and proper for the purpose. I think the Mover of the Amendment has not overdrawn the picture in pressing for some such control. The Amendment rather raises an issue for the House. We are changing our whole constitutional procedure at this moment. We are entering upon things which we have not hitherto done in this House. We are setting up a structure which will have to he dealt with by special machinery. The old machinery will no longer suit if we are going forward with the policy indicated in this Bill. His Majesty's Ministers must have regard to the new facts which they themselves have raised in this new class of legislation. If they fail to do so, they will leave a weapon in the hands of persons in the future who may start by being scrupulous but who may, indeed, become unscrupulous through the very temptation placed before them by having the uncontrolled and unfettered use of money indicated in the Clause as it now stands.
§ Major KINDERSLEY
I join in the protest against moneys being guaranteed 985 by the State and spent by the Minister of Transport without any Treasury control. It seems to me that we are starting a precedent which is absolutely rotten, and I consider it a matter of principle that this provision should be added to the Bill.
§ Amendment negatived.