HC Deb 10 November 1926 vol 199 cc1134-9

With regard to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. R. Hudson), in page 7, line 28, at the end, to insert the words but where such area of supply is situate in an electricity district for which a joint electricity authority has been constituted, the Board shall first endeavour to enter into arrangements with the authority for the provision of such station. —I think that that also has been disposed of earlier in the day.


May I suggest, with respect, that there are three different questions here? There is the question of acquisition, the question of operation, and the question of provision, and this Amendment deals with the third question, namely, the question of provision.


Is it not the same principle that was embodied in the hon. Member's previous Amendment?


It is the same principle, but it comes in another place.


May I just say that this is exactly the same principle which the House accepted in an earlier Amendment, so that, at any rate, the House ought to have the opportunity of being logical and accepting it again?


I beg to move, in page 7, line 28, at the end, to insert the words but where such area of supply is situate in an electricity district for which a joint electricity authority has been constituted, the Board shall first endeavour to enter into arrangements with the authority for the provision of such station. In view of the fact that the House has accepted the principle on the two points of acquisition and operation, I hope I need not go into the matter at any further length in requesting it to approve of the same principle when there is a question of providing a new station.


I beg to second the Amendment.


I think I can satisfy the Attorney-General that this is an Amendment which he ought not to accept. This does deal, as the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. R. Hudson) has said, with a different question, but it also raises a totally different issue, in so far as this, think, is the first time a joint electricity authority is to have the right definitely to construct something fresh, namely, a new station. If this Amendment be carried, it will involve the provision of funds by the joint electricity authority for the construction of the station, and, therefore, as they have no assets and no properties operating, it will presumably involve a State guarantee of interest, or some form of public guarantee, in regard to any issue that they might make. If the Board is to transfer to them the right to construct a new generating station, it stands to reason that they must have money, and they have nothing in that particular district. I am not referring to any existing district, but, where they have delegated to them special power to construct a new station, they must obviously make an issue of some sort of stock, and that stock must be guaranteed. Therefore, for the first time, the question is involved of financing the joint electricity authority under a State guarantee, and I think the Attorney-General will, on reflection, see that this is not an Amendment which should properly be conceded as in any way linked up with the Amendment which was made to Clause 5 in connection with the transfer to the joint electricity authority of an existing selected station which the Board has taken over, and which would not necessarily involve the provision of funds for its erection. I sincerely hope that my right hon. Friend will not accept this Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 7, line 38, to leave out the word "may," and to insert instead thereof the word "shall."

6.0 p.m.

Sub-section (3) would then read: Where the Board themselves provide a new generating station, they shall operate it themselves, or make arrangements with any authorised undertakers or other company or person to operate it. I agree that this question has been already discussed at length, but we shall continue to put forward our views, when ever we get the chance, with the same iteration with which our friends on the opposite side put forward their particular point of view. We have been asked many times why we continue to urge that there should be public operating and control in place of private control. We can say at any rate that this is not put forward in order to benefit ourselves, and that is a point which cannot be urged by hon. Members opposite, who are indulging in so much obstruction. They openly boast that they are advocating the interests of certain companies in which they are interested. We had that on the Committee as well. We on the other hand are doing our level best to forward an idea which we believe will be of benefit to the community as a whole.

I want to quote a statement by Sir Benjamin Longbottom, who was president of the Engineers Club in Manchester, on 22nd October. He was dealing with the very efficient municipal service of Manchester. It was municipal in its inception, and has been built up by the municipality under the control of the Manchester Corporation. I give hon. Members opposite the credit that at all times during the progress of this station it has been a Conservative Town Council, and it is they who, while in charge of the Council, have built up this magnificent station. Of course, they are wise. They know a good thing when they see it. They do not rely on private enterprise when they want cheap power. They sell it to other people, but they do not do it themselves. Sir Benjamin was dealing with the question of the price level and the annual consumption. He was pointing out that the annual consumption is round about seven million units per annum, and that Manchester was producing 300,000,000, or 1–23rd of the whole, and he went on to say: If all stations were as efficient as Manchester the average charge would be reduced by 35 per cent., which would represent a saving of about £17,500,000 on the annual consumption. He went on to say that it was hoped the annual consumption would be trebled in 15 years' time. If the consumption is trebled and if it could be done on the Manchester basis, that could be made the basis of the supply for the whole of the country and the saving in 15 years would be over £52,500,000. Here we have proof by a public authority that it can and does supply this vital necessity cheaply, efficiently and well, and it is because of facts like that that we continually urge that public authorities should, whenever possible, take control of this power and retail it, not for the purpose of making individual profit, but simply paying administrative charges and delivering the goods at the lowest possible price to a sorely stricken set of traders who need all the help they can get to meet the competition they are called upon to meet. We think conditions are apt to get worse instead of better, and because of that, and because of the prospect of continued unemployment amongst the working classes, if it is possible so to improve the power conditions under which industry is carried on it will be better for everyone concerned. The Amendment lays it as an obligation on the Electricity Board to operate stations themselves if they build such stations.


I beg to second the Amendment.

It will be obvious that the Commissioners will not embark upon the erection of a generating station unless there is need for it. That will of necessity entail public expenditure, and we feel at least that if the Commissioners have to embark upon public expenditure of this kind the operation of that generating station should remain in the hands of the Commissioners themselves and it should not be permitted to be operated by private enterprise.


The House will not be surprised if I have to say I cannot accept this Amendment consistently with the opinion we have already expressed. It is obvious that the arguments the hon. Member has put forward are substantially on the same lines and based on the same premises as those we resisted at an earlier stage. The Amendment will make it compulsory on any Board which constructs a new station to operate it itself. Incidentally, of course, it will render it impossible for the Board which constructs the station to make an arrangement with some highly efficient corporation, such as Manchester, to operate it. That could only be done if we kept the Bill as it is. The grounds on which I resist the Amendment are the same as those on which I resisted an earlier Amendment in the same direction, and for the same reason I must ask the House to reject this one.


I am glad the Attorney-General has drawn attention to the contradiction in the speech of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Wallhead), who pays a compliment to the Manchester Electrical Undertaking and, in the same breath, says on no account is the Board ever to avail itself of such an opportunity of efficient management.

Amendment negatived.