HC Deb 09 November 1926 vol 199 cc922-5

"On the coming into force of any scheme under Section four of this Act the powers of the Electricity Commissioners under Section twenty-four (Alteration of type of current, etc.) of the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1919, shall, so far as they relate to the amendment or alteration of frequency, cease to be exercisable within the area of the scheme."—[Sir J. Nall.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


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

My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Grotrian) has asked me to move this Clause on his behalf. It is intended to clear up an anomaly similar to the one which we have just discussed; but one which, I think, is rather more, serious. Under the Act of 1919, the Commissioners can require a change in frequency in any existing undertaking, and that must be carried out at the expense of that undertaking. Under Clause 4, as originally drafted, and under the provisions of Clause 9 with the Amendments which at a later stage we shall reach, it is intended that the cost of the change of frequency shall be borne by the electricity consumers generally. This new Clause must be considered in regard to a rather ominous Amendment which my right hon. and learned Friend has put down to Clause 4, because at present a change in frequency required under a Scheme, adopted under Clause 4 can only be carried out having regard to the pro- visions of Clause 9. He proposes to leave out those words which require Clause 9 to be observed, so that we shall be in this position, that a scheme adopted by the Board involving a change of frequency could be put into effect, not by the orders of the Board, but by the orders of the Commissioners under the Act of 1919, and in that case the cost, instead of being borne by the whole industry, would be borne by the undertaking in that particular area. Unlikely as it may seem, the effect would be that in the north-east area, or in the Birmingham area, the Commissioners could order, and indeed they can now, a change of frequency at the expense of the area concerned.

One of the points which the Committee insisted upon was that this cost of the change of frequency could not be borne by the industry at all, and much less by the undertaking in the particular locality, but was one which ought to be paid for out of the national exchequer. If the intentions of the Bill and the later intentions of the Board as to changes of frequency are to be effectively carried out, this parallel and possibly opposing power in the hands of the Commissioners must disappear. As the Bill is at present framed, the Board could order a change of frequency in any particular area under the scheme, and the Commissioners the week after could order another change back to the previous frequency. In various parts of the Bill one finds the possibility of a see-saw between the Commissioners and the Board. I think it is perfectly clear that if the Board are to carry out these schemes and be free from negative influences on the part of the Commissioners after those schemes have in fact been adopted, a Clause such as this should be inserted in relation to the change of frequency.


I beg to second the Motion.


The hon. Member for the Hulme Division (Sir J. Nall) seemed to anticipate some hidden hand in an Amendment to Clause 4 which is coming on, I hope, later this evening, but I can assure him that when that time conies I shall be able to satisfy him that there is no nefarious desire behind it. The words he referred to are merely to be left out as a draft- ing Amendment in order to make the different paragraphs of Clause 4 consistent. My hon. Friend was quite right in saying that under the existing law the Commissioners may in certain circumstances require a change of frequency, the cost of which falls on the undertaker who asks for it, and in fact that has been done more than once. That power, of course,, must be retained, because there will be parts of the country which will not be in the scheme, and because, also, it is not only alteration of frequency but other alterations which are covered by Section 24. I am, however, quite willing when we come to Clause 9, if he so desires, to insert as a new Sub-section the words That where a scheme under Section 4 of the Act has come into force as respects any area, the powers of the Electricity Commissioners under Section 24 of the 1919 Act, so far as they relate to the amendment or alteration of frequency, shall not be exercisable within that area. I think that meets the point which my hon. Friend is anxious about, and, if that be so, I shall be prepared to insert those words in that place.


On that ground, I beg leave to withdraw the Clause.

Mr. ATTLEE rose.


Does the hon. Member object to the withdrawal of the Clause?


Yes. The point in both this and the last new Clause has been met by the right hon. and learned Gentleman promising Amendments later on in the Bill. I am rather doubtful about the wisdom of accepting those Amendments, not because I think there is anything specially pernicious in the principle which has been accepted, but because we are, in fact, overloading this Bill by making provisions for events which are not likely to happen. The hon. Members who moved and seconded the new Clauses act entirely on the assumption that both the members of the Board and the Electricity Commissioners will be selected exclusively from persons of feeble minds, if not from actual lunatics. The assumption underlying these Clauses is that on every possible occasion those two bodies are going to checkmate one another and act against each other. Upstairs in Committee the assumption always was that the Board and the Commissioners were so much one that you could not possibly have an appeal from one to the other; hence, a large number of Clauses have been put in providing for arbitration in one form or another. Hon. Members cannot have it both ways. They cannot upstairs in Committee say that the Board and the Commissioners are one, and then downstairs in the House say that, unless we overload the Bill with Amendments on every possible point where it is conceivable that two lunatics might quarrel, the whole scheme will be wrecked. I rather deprecate adding a number of unnecessary Amendments to an already lengthy and complicated Bill, and I hope that this is not going to be done very much more.

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