HC Deb 09 November 1926 vol 199 cc917-22

"The Electricity Commissioners, before giving or withholding any consent or approval or making any requirement under Section eleven (Restrictions on the establishment of new generating station) or Section nineteen (Power of authorised undertakers to render mutual assistance to one another) of the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1919, as respectively modified by Section thirteen (Conditions under which restrictions on generating stations and obligation to take supply from are not to apply) of the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1922, with reference to any generating station or main transmission line or arrangement for mutual assistance within the area of any scheme made under Section four of this Act and for the time being in force, shall consult with the Board, and the Electricity Commissioners shall exercise their power of giving or withholding any such consent, approval, or making any such requirement in such manner as the Board may approve."—[Mr. Dennis Herbert.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


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

I hope this Amendment will receive the favourable consideration of the Government. It is put down in order to make the working of the scheme easier as between the two bodies, the Electricity Commissioners and the Board. The House will remember that in the Bill as it stands the schemes to be carried out under the Bill, although they have to be prepared by the Commissioners have to be submitted to the Board. The Board has the final word. They have to conduct the inquiries and are able to approve or otherwise of the schemes with or without alteration. In those circumstances I suggest that if the particular powers referred to in the new Clause I am now moving, are to be entirely in the hands of the Commissioners you are likely to have these two bodies working apart from one another, and with the greatest good will on both sides you may create causes of trouble and difficulty. The effect of the new Clause, put quite shortly, is that the Commissioners in the exercise of these powers should consult the Board in order that there may be no difficulties or complications resulting from any action of the Commissioners without the concurrence of the Board.

It is not necessary for me to say much more about this new Clause; the intention is quite clear, and I hope it is also unobjectionable. I ought to remind the House that this new Clause was down in the Committee stage in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Dulwich (Sir F. Hall) and on referring to the OFFICIAL REPORT of the proceedings in the Standing Committee on lath July I notice that the hon. and gallant Member rose to his feet and said a few words. I do not know what was the matter with the hon. and gallant Member on that day, I do not generally accuse him of being unduly afraid of the Members of the Government or anybody else, but directly he got through those few words, the Attorney-General rose to his feet and said quite shortly, "We do not agree to this," and this appears to have caused the hon. and gallant Member to collapse, for he said, "If I had known that, I am 'sure I would not have mentioned it." I was not a member of the Committee and I do not know the true inwardness of what occurred, but I hope the Attorney-General has considered this point more carefully and will see that the new Clause is moved in the hope of making the Bill more workable and that in those circumstances he will give it his sympathetic consideration.

Just let me say one word which applies not only to this particular New Clause but to all the other Amendments which stand in my name and the names of other hon. Members associated with me. I opposed this Bill strongly on the Second reading, and I said that if it was to be made a workable or useful Bill it would have to be so altered in Committee that the only proper course would be to withdraw it and bring in another Bill. The attitude we take up in regard to this matter to-day is that, although the Bill is still a bad Bill, it has been altered very largely indeed in the Committee stage and in some respects altered for the better. But in dealing with this and other questions I find considerable difficulty in settling the terms of the Amendments. It is a difficulty which must arise when a Bill has been so extensively altered as this Bill has been, but I assure the Attorney-General that, little as I and my friends may like it, our intention on Report stage is to do nothing in the way of attempting to wreck the Measure but to do the best we can to try and improve it. I hope the Attorney-General and other Ministers in charge of the Bill will accept that assurance and in return will give sympathetic attention to the Amendments we move. If they cannot agree to them entirely, I hope they will do their best to meet the points we are endeavouring to put by the Amendments we propose to move.


I beg to second the Motion.

I should like to take this opportunity of endorsing all that the Mover has said with regard to our attitude towards the Bill. I should be the last person to endeavour on Report stage to unduly occupy the time of the House or to obstruct the passage of a Measure, however much we may feel as to its ultimate failure. This particular New Clause is really necessary for the effective working of the Measure. Without it the Commissioners will be able to veto the extension of any selected station and prevent the Board opening a new station. They would also be able to grant extensions to the holders of non-selected stations, contrary to the intentions of the Board or any scheme which the Board may adopt. It is obvious, if the scheme is to be worked at all, that the Board must be in a position, in regard to selected stations and transmission work, to see that their schemes and policy can be carried out, and are not frustrated by some negative or contrary action on the part of the Commissioners. As things are to-day, this possibility, of course, does not appear likely to arise, but if this Bill is to be a permanent enactment we must have regard to all possible future situations which may arise. It may be that the Board and the Commissioners will not always see eye to eye on a selected station and transmission lines, and if the principle which has been adopted in the Committee upstairs is to prevail—that the Board shall be supreme in deciding on the scope of the schemes it adopts—if the scheme is to be water-tight, then the present facilities which the Commissioners enjoy of vetoing and rendering abortive the schemes of the Board must be amended. That is the object of this Clause. In consequence of the decision reached upstairs, that the Board should be supreme, it is necessary that the functions exercised by the Commissioners in relation to selected stations and transmission lines should in the future he vested in the Board. On these grounds, I hope the Government will see that this is really a point worth serious consideration, and will be able to accept the new Clause.

4.0 P.M.

The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir Douglas Hogg)

My hon. Friends who Moved and Seconded this new Clause stated that they desire to assist in improving the Bill. I can only say that I welcome assistance from any quarter, however un-likely, but, with regard to the new Clause which we are now discussing, I think I can satisfy the House, and even my hon. Friends, that in its present form it could not possibly be accepted, because the effect of it as put down is in all areas in which a scheme is operative to subordinate the Electricity Commissioners entirely to the Board, or, indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for the Hulme Division (Sir J. Nall) said, to invest in the Board all the powers of the Electricity Commissioners. Those Members of the House who were members of the Committee upstairs will remember that all through the discussions I was insistant—and the Committee as a whole agreed with me in insisting—that the object of the Bill was not to depreciate or degrade the position of the Electricity Commissioners, and I cannot accept a new Clause which has the avowed intention and the certain effect of making the Electricity Commissioners the subordinate body in all areas in which a scheme is in operation. But it was suggested that there was a danger of friction arising between the Board and the Electricity Commissioners. I do not myself think that is in the least likely to happen, having regard especially to the fact that it is the Commissioners themselves who are to prepare the scheme in the first instance, and it is the Commissioners who are charged with a number of functions in carrying it into effect; but, if it, would meet my hon. Friends who support this Amendment, I would be prepared in Clause 18, which, as the House will remember, is the Clause which preserves the necessity for obtaining consents, and therefore preserves the necessity of getting the consent of the Electricity Commissioners under the sections especially referred to in this suggested new Clause, to add, at the end, the words Provided that in determining whether to give or to withhold such consent or approval the Minister or Commissioners shall have regard to the provisions of the scheme. That would ensure that the same persons who are charged at present with the responsibility of giving their consent shall still remain the deciding factor as to whether a consent shall be given, but it would also ensure what I am sure we all desire, that, in deciding whether to give a consent or not, regard shall be had to the provisions of the scheme, and that, therefore, they shall not, in a case where a scheme is in operation providing for one particular generating station, proceed to say, "the scheme says there-shall be a new generating station; we say there shall not." I do not think that they will be in the least likely to do it, but, if it would meet the difficulty felt by my hon. Friends, I would be prepared to move an Amendment in that form if this new Clause be not pressed.


I shall, of course, without committing myself finally to approval of the words suggested, be very happy to withdraw this particular new-Clause, in the hope that we shall he able to support the Amendment which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested to Clause 18.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.