HC Deb 09 November 1926 vol 199 cc955-62

"Notwithstanding anything in the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1919, or the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1922, or this Act, where an advisory board or an advisory committee has been established under those Acts or any of them for an electricity district constituted under Section five of the said Act of 1919 no joint electricity authority shall be established for that district within the period of ten years from the passing of this Act."—[Sir J. Nall.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

Some hon. Members will know that since the passing of the 1905 Act many expensive inquiries have been held in regard to the formation of electricity districts and the creation of joint authorities or advisory boards in those districts. Some of those inquiries have been fought out at great length and at great expense. The Attorney-General said, when replying to an earlier new Clause, that only in a few cases have joint authorities been set up. One of those joint authorities is in North Wales, but it is entirely ineffective for the reason that it has merely delegated all its powers to the power company of that district. Therefore, the joint authority is merely a local company.

In most cases joint advisory boards have been set up as in South Lancashire and other areas. The district I am particularly concerned about is South-East Lancashire where a joint advisory, board is now fulfilling its purpose. It has progressed rapidly, and, whatever arguments may be produced as to the need for development in some parts of the country in regard to a supply of electricity, certainly they do not apply to authorities in South-East Lancashire. I know there is a feeling in some quarters that the tendency now indicated in this Bill is such that the probable result of its operation will be that the Board will find its administrative finance so involved that it must eventually devolve its duties upon the local authorities and that there will be a tendency to create more joint authorities. Where an expensive inquiry has already been held as to whether a joint authority or a joint advisory board is necessary and such an authority has been set up, it does seem unfair that the whole thing should be again reopened and another inquiry held, and all the good work of that joint authority scrapped by the precipitate setting up of a new joint authority.

The object of this Clause is to secure that where these inquiries have been held and advisory committees have been established under the Act of 1922, that position shall not be disturbed, and the progress of electrical development arrested by a new inquiry involving more expenditure and the holding up all further development of the electrical supply while the inquiry goes on. This Clause will secure that those areas which have been subjected to inquiries shall be allowed to carry on, and that they shall not have a further disturbing element introduced into their area. That is the object of this Clause, and I think it is a very reasonable one. It is a very necessary provision in some parts of the country, and I hope it will be possible for the Government to accept it.


I beg to second the Motion.

I happen to represent a Lancashire area which has a joint advisory board and an electricity area. I think in that area there can be no doubt as to the efficiency with which the advisory board has carried out its duties. Ever since this board was formed in 1923 the consumption of electricity has increased by 50 per cent. and electricity is supplied at a price well within the estimates of the Weir Committee's Report.


The effect of this new Clause will be to render it impossible for the Board to set up electricity authorities in any areas where there has already been an inquiry. There are three areas where there are already joint electricity authorities, and there are other areas where there are at present advisory boards.


The new Clause says where an advisory board or an advisory committee has been established.


That is so, and it applies to areas where inquiry has resulted in the appointment of an advisory board. Under Section 25 there is power to constitute a joint electricity authority, and this is provided for in the Bill. At this moment I am informed that there are two existing advisory boards, and they have approached the Electricity Commissioners with a view to turning themselves into a joint electricity authority. I can see no reason why it would be impossible to turn such boards into joint electricity authorities in cases where the Electricity Commissioners and those interested approve of the plan. Unless it be the purpose of this New Clause once more to hamper the Electricity Commissioners or in sonic way to express distrust of them—a distrust which I entirely refuse to share—I do not think it is necessary for the House of Commons to limit their powers by refusing to allow them to establish joint electricity authorities when they are convinced that such a step would be in the interests of the locality. They ought to be able to do this if they are satisfied that a case has been made out, and I do not think this House ought to limit their powers in this respect.

6.0 P.M.


The Attorney-General has mentioned two joint advisory boards which have already made a request to be turned into a joint electricity authority. I suppose they are the two Lancashire cases. I have a record of the proceedings in those two cases, and the evidence certainly does not bear out the suggestion that those advisory boards desire to be turned into a joint electricity authority. I ask the House to believe me when I say that there has been no desire expressed by those two boards to be turned into a joint electricity authority. They have made an application, but it has proceeded no further. I would like the House to try to understand in some small measure the exact position with regard to joint advisory boards. In Yorkshire, in, I think, more than one district, in Lancashire, certainly, in more than one district, in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, and, I think, Staffordshire, joint advisory boards have been established. It may appear to the House that the establishment of a joint advisory board is a. simple matter, brought about with very little effort or trouble on the part of the parties concerned, and that it can be changed into a joint electricity authority without substantially altering its duties or functions. The fact is that the proceedings in connection with one of these boards with which I happen to be familiar commenced in January, 1922, and culminated in the setting up of a joint advisory board under an Order made under the authority of this House; but it was not until the 28th May, 1924, that that joint advisory board, comprising the representatives of all the municipal undertakings, of all the company undertakings, and of the large consumers, as laid down in previous Acts of Parliament, was entitled to function, after the disturbance caused by a series of inquiries lasting over two years.

I have here one volume of the proceedings, showing how the cases of the local authorities, the large traders, and the company interests were put by various eminent counsel, and it was finally decided that a joint electricity authority should not be set up, but that a joint advisory board was the best machinery for that large district, which had been delimited under the Act of 1919. All the procedure for delimiting the area having been gone through, and evidence having been heard as to the setting up of a joint electricity authority, the result was the setting up of a joint advisory board in 1924. Since that time the board has worked harmoniously, and has drawn together many of the threads in connection with the unification of supply in that area; and now, unless this Amendment is accepted, all that is likely to be washed out and a compulsory joint electricity authority set up, which was proved to be the wrong way of doing it by the representations of all the parties, including the large cities, the small towns, and all the manufacturing and company interests, as recently as 1924. Is it not ridiculous to say that we will here give to the Executive a compulsory power to do what was proved to be the wrong thing as recently as 1924, as the result of inquiries which took over two years to complete, and of evidence from the very parties whom my right hon. Friend would describe as the people who should tell us that a joint authority is to be set up?

One of the members of that joint advisory board—I think I am right in saying that he was the chairman of the joint advisory board that I have in mind—is the most recently appointed Electricity Commissioner. He contributed the weight of his evidence and experience to the inquiry which resulted in setting up that joint advisory board; and my right hon. Friend says that he will not give them a 10 years' run, although the records will show that consumption has gone up by leaps and bounds, and everything has improved as rapidly as it can. Now my right hon. Friend says there is going to be set up—or, at any rate, the Executive, at any moment they may select, can set up—a joint electricity authority such as was denied after two years' laborious hearing of the evidence of all the parties interested. I plead with my right hon. Friend to reconsider his decision and accept this Amendment, which is quite a reasonable one. Electricity districts have been approved in eight places in the country—namely, South-East Lancashire, South-West Midlands, North Wales and South Cheshire, Mid-Lancashire and East Midlands, Edinburgh and the Lothians, London and Home Counties, and West Midlands—and three joint electricity authorities have been set up. There are now advisory boards in, I think, three districts; while, in addition to the eight districts which have been approved, six others have been provisionally determined by the Electricity Commissioners. These joint advisory hoards are functioning well and carrying out their duties admirably. They have drawn together in a friendly and co-operative spirit all the interests in the districts concerned, and now it is proposed to impose upon them from out- side the very authority which, in the case I have referred to, was shown to be the wrong authority as lately as 1924. I trust that my right hon. Friend will be able to give some indication that it is possible to reconsider this decision, and to give, after five or six years of disturbance, at any rate a peaceful period of 10 years in cases where these joint advisory boards have been established.


One cannot help rather admiring the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour) for rejoicing so exceedingly over the mess that has been made, because all these elaborate delays, and all this turmoil in connection with electricity, has been largely caused by himself and his friends in dealing with previous Electricity Acts. I do think that this is rather a preposterous suggestion which is now put forward. The hon. Member wants, not to ward off something that might happen, but to say definitely that no joint electricity authority shall be established in a particular district within a period of 10 years, apart from any question of what the people of the district may want.


It is only in districts where, since the Act of 1919, all these inquiries have been held as to whether a joint electricity authority should be set up, and it was decided that it should not be set up. Surely, a period of 10 years should be allowed to the authority which has been established.


I quite understand, but I happen to know some of those districts, and I know that in some of them it is hoped that the Joint Advisory Board will be turned into an authority, even if opinion during five years has not been unanimous. The hon. Member would entirely prohibit that; he says that, once he has got what he likes, nothing more must be done, although it is quite clear that the powers of the Government Department under the Electricity Supply Acts are being cramped. It is perfectly ridiculous for the hon. Member to get up and illustrate the difficulties, because they are to a large extent difficulties of his own creation.


I quite appreciate the remarks of the hon Member for Lime-house (Mr. Attlee). I know that he is himself very closely connected with one joint electricity authority, and I can quite understand that he may be desirous of seeing these authorities set up all over the country, irrespective of what might be desired by the people in the districts concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour) has pointed out that it is only where a joint advisory board has been set up, and where the whole case has been carefully gone into since 1919, that this Amendment is desired. I cannot help thinking that in many cases the development of electricity has been unnecessarily cramped by the vast amount of legislation, that we have had. Only last year we had two Bills Which were carefully considered in this House, and now we have another Bill this year which is to wipe out the Bills of 1925. I suppose that in 1927 we shall have a Bill to wipe out the Bill of 1926; and yet people wonder that those who are interested in electricity have not been able further to develop the industry. I venture to say that the enormous developments that have taken place during the last few years are phenomenal.

I am sorry that the Attorney-General should think that every one of us who oppose various provisions in this Bill is desirous, to use the old phrase, of wrecking the Bill. Of course, the Attorney-General has a perfect right to his opinion, as I have to mine, but I want to tell him that he is absolutely wrong as to the attitude that he thinks we are taking with regard to the Electricity Commissioners. We have confidence in the Electricity Commissioners. My right hon. Friend knows that during the Committee stage he himself was desirous that alterations should be made in the Bill, and it Was only owing to the action of the Committee that those alterations were made. I venture to say that the Bill has been improved, but, if we are to have a Bill to wipe out the previous Bills, let us have a Bill as closely connected as possible with the advantages of electricity at the present time. Surely, to go on holding one inquiry after another is not the way to develop electricity in this country, as we are desirous of doing. Let us, therefore, make our Measures as reasonable as we possibly can, and, surely, there is a certain amount of reasonableness in this proposed new Clause, applying, as it does, only to cases that have been gone into since the Act of 1919, where advisory boards have been set up, and where the people in the dis- tricts have said that they do not want a joint electricity authority. In those circumstances I venture to suggest that it is not for my right hon. Friend to say that we who do not agree entirely with the Government in their proposals are opposed to the Electricity Commissioners themselves. I say, as I said in the Committee room, that I have every confidence in the Commissioners, but at the same time I think it is advisable, when Measures of this kind are going through, that we should, if we possibly can, assist the industry, instead of, as we may do in many cases, clogging the wheels of the machinery.


I am glad to hear that the hon. and gallant Member for Dulwich (Sir F. Hall) has every confidence in the Electricity Commissioners, but it was because of his success, or the success of some of his friends, in getting the compulsory powers deleted from the Bill of 1919, that the Commissioners have not been able to force into existence these joint electricity authorities. If those compulsory powers had been in 'existence, snore progress would have been made during the last few years, as has been pointed out in the admirable report of some of the hon. and gallant Member's own friends, and it might not have, been necessary to have this new Measure. Now an attempt is being made at the same kind of obstruction and amendment in the case of this new Bill, so as to make it also a dead letter. I hope the Attorney-General will be more successful than his predecessor in opposing this obstruction, and will insist on retaining this most valuable proposal that, where it is proved that the board is not effective in bringing all the interests together, there should be power to bring into existence, in areas where they do not already exist, joint electricity authorities.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.