§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of TRANSPORT (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
I feel proud, after some three years of work on the subject, that I have the privilege of asking the House to read this Bill the Third time. We have had many opponents of the Bill, and one of the most strenuous has been my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. D. Herbert). 1 had anticipated, he being as he is, and knowing well the psychology of the House, that he was going to endeavour to-day rather to spoil the Third Reading by asking to re-commit a Clause. You will remember, Sir, that on the Second Reading he got the atmosphere entirely wrong for the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister. May I say one more word about another opponent of this Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour)? He is what I would describe as the arch-ohm—the spirit of resistance to any progress in this direction. He reminds me very much, in his attitude towards electricity and the government in dealing with this subject, of the nurse to a child, who said, "Go into the other room, see what baby is doing, and tell her she must not." I expect that, if my hon. Friend were the Minister of Transport introducing a Bill on electricity, he would rush from the Front Bench to his Back Bench to oppose the very Measure he had advocated at this Bench.
This Bill is, indeed, complicated. I do not think it is so complicated on its technical side as on its legislative side, because legislation has been proceeding on this subject for so long, and has become so involved, that few people understand I do not believe that even now the man in the street knows really what this Bill is all about. It is so easy in a subject like this to sink into the valleys and not to see the peaks. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and other opponents of the Bill time and again drag us down to the complications of fringe orders, load factors, Kitson clauses, power factors, kilowatts and kilo-volt- 1430 ampères. But really in all this fog the white peak of cheaper current for all is not seen as it should be seen by anyone who takes a large view of this Bill. We had three months in Committee on this subject, sitting, I think, three times a week, morning and afternoon. The Committee stage of a big Bill like this is a process of purification by fire, though many people have thought that the fire was meant to destroy, and not to purify.
While I am making these remarks about the Committee stage, I wish to pay a tribute to my hon. Friend, though political opponent, the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee). The nationalisation of the electrical industry of this country has ever been clear to the hearts of hon. Members opposite, but we have had another way of dealing with the subject, and one which, I think, will make it unnecessary for them for ever to resort to that extreme measure, the nationalisation of the industry. It must have been to them a bitter blow that we had invented this way out, but yet, in the whole course of these very protracted proceedings, they never resorted to any Parliamentary trick to defeat us, which they might very easily have done.
The House will he desirous of knowing what alterations have taken place in the Bill as it left the House on Second Reading, now that it conies to us for Third Reading. We must start at the beginning. The original Bill proposed that the Board to be set up by the Bill should be the inspirers of the scheme throughout the country; but it was thought, and I think rightly thought, that the Electricity Commissioners were the people above any others in the whole country who knew the technical side of this problem, and that it was wiser that they should frame the scheme and submit it to the Board, that the Board should hold an inquiry, and that, after they were satisfied, they should put the scheme into force. It is interesting to note that particular change, because, in all the troubles of electrical legislation, the Commissioners always get a good deal of abuse from everybody concerned. Their task is a very difficult one; they have so often to decide the very complicated question whether a municipality or a company should increase its stations, or put down a new station. They come down in one part of the country on the one side, say on the side of the 1431 municipality, whereupon everyone in the company line says they are biased. In another part of the country, they come down on the side of the company, and then everyone connected with the municipality says they are biased in favour of companies. The pathetic thing is that these two extremes never meet, so that the abuse falls from both sides, and does not really neutralise itself. Those people who pretend that the Electricity Commissioners are theorists and unpractical have only to note the enormous demand that there is for their services from the great companies of London and other parts of England. It is, a pathetic thing for us that no less than two of our Commissioners have left the Government service, and gone back to their great industry, for which so many of their opponents think they are unqualified.
That is the first change which has taken place in the Bill. Then we have put into it, as one is always asked to do in a Bill of this character, many safety valves—courts of appeal and so on. I only hope that, in the metaphor of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), when he spoke on the Second Reading, we have not put in so many safety valves that we can never get up steam at all. There is one misconception which I hope the House will now understand. It is as to who is subservient to whom, as between the Electricity Commissioners and the Board. Let me say that there is no question of one or the other being subservient to either. What happens is that the Electricity Commissioners inspire the scheme, and pass it to the Board; the Board holds an inquiry, puts the scheme into effect, and operates it, the Electricity Commissioners retiring to their original sphere of life, which was that of technical advisers to the Government and an impartial technical judicial body. The Board's work in the future will be to do what everyone has wanted to do, but which nobody has been able actually to effect, and that is to build a grid of interconnecting, lines between the various generating stations of this country. I do not think it is possible to envisage any area that can be looked upon as efficient if stations are not connected.
I want, if I may, to draw the attention of the House to a district in England which is, so to speak, our ideal of what 1432 a country should be from an electrical point of view. It is the case of a private company, and I take it because power companies have districts to deal with, whereas the great municipal undertakings have only one town as a rule. It is a fairer comparison to deal with big districts when one is speaking of the whole of England. I refer to the North East Power Company. That is a model which we should like to see the whole of England follow, and it has been to me a matter of very deep regret that that company has been one of the bitterest opponents of the Bill. That particular organisation started from three power companies and three distributing companies. It was seen by far-seeing engineers that an immense advantage to everyone could be effected if an amalgamation could be brought about, and they could pool their generation and consequently get advantages such as we contemplate by pooling the generations of the whole country. We have a district here of 1,400 square miles. There are three big stations. There are, I believe, about 12 waste heat stations, and there is one complicated station known as a wattless current station. The organisation of electric generation in that district is one of great complexity, as it always will be in a district where there are many generating stations. You cannot put the whole of your load upon one station, because at the far end of your district it would be uneconomical to do that. It would be more economical to generate current at the other end of your system. You cannot make your best stations take your base load even in a particular district, because you have waste heat stations which have to carry the base load. The balancing of generation in this particular district is one of great complexity and great delicacy.
The company object to this Bill because they have a belief that the Board will in their words "mess them about." I think there has been too much misconception as to what the Board is going to do. After all, the Board are not to be imbeciles, but sound business men, whose business as laid down in this particular Bill, is to see that generation of current in this country is done as efficiently as possible. Unless the gentlemen whom the Minister appoints as directors of the Board are quite incapable and unsuitable to hold their position, they surely will not destroy a model which it 1433 is their duty to emulate. I sometimes wonder what would happen if someone were to go up to the North-East coast, and cut every line that connected one of their stations to another station. From being one of the most efficient generating districts in England, it would fall from the first place to a very low one. But that is the condition which prevails in England to-day. That is the condition we are try- to get rid of, and yet the North East Power Company, with all their resources, with all their wealth, with all their power of propaganda, wish to deprive England of the very advantages which thy enjoy themselves.
There is a fallacy held by some people that the operations of the Board can, in certain cases, increase the price of current. For that reason one wants to see exactly how the Bill deals with undertakers and their selected stations. As the House appreciates, the Board has power to connect one station to another. Their object is to get current as cheaply as they can for the benefit of distributing companies, and one of the things they must do is to select stations. The selection of a station is based upon this, that the station is an efficient station, but is not carrying the load it could carry were it connected by the Board's grid to areas which it is unable at present to supply. The Board is able to give that station such a load that it can effect an economy upon its generation charges, and the economy it effects will always be greater than the charge which the Board puts upon the current that it generates. The claim, of course, of these owners of selected stations is that they should take the whole benefit which interconnection gives them. That is not fair. The benefit which the Board is able to give to selected stations, the Board alone can give by interconnection, and it is not right that the station should have all the benefit. The benefit should be passed to everyone in the grid. But lest their fears should he in any way real, there is a guarantee in the Bill that in no circumstances can the charges of generation in that particular selected station ever be greater than if they were left alone to generate by themselves.
Now we pass to the non-selected station, that being one of those numerous small stations sometimes called inefficient which it is hoped will be closed down, When we talk about inefficient stations, I hope no 1434 one will think that their inefficiency is due to bad management. The efficiency of electric generating stations so much depends on geography—whether they can get plenty of water, whether they can get coal cheaply floated to the side where generation takes place. In some cases, although the most efficient plant and the most efficient organisation exists, the price of current must necessarily be high, through no fault of organisation and no fault of the management, but because they are badly situated. In those cases the Board, having connected up to them, are allowed to close them down if they can show that the price of current to them will be cheaper than that at which they can generate it themselves, and in that comparison the grid price is compared to their running costs. There is no question of buying those stations. The capital charges are always being paid off by the consumer. After a certain number of years, of course, the capital charges are paid off, whereupon the price of current in that district is grid price alone, with no addition for capital charges. To effect complete interconnection, standardisation of frequency must take place, and it is absurd to pretend that standardisation of frequency is not a benefit to those people who already have the standard frequency. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Dulwich (Sir F. Hall) last night said it was no advantage to any station which has a standardised frequency that the rest of the country should standardise their frequency. It is of very great advantage to everyone that standardisation of frequency should take place. Not only is interconnection possible between districts where it was not possible before, but in the manufacture of all electrical plant there will be undoubtedly a diminution of price throughout the country, as manufacturers will have to deal with only one frequency instead of the many they have to-day.
Two changes have been made between the Second Reading and this stage of the Bill, which I think are very remarkable and they both were passed, curiously enough, without a Division. The first one was an alteration in the Bill to give power to the Board to close down compulsorily. Those were the very powers taken out of the 1919 Bill, which led to its failure. In our original Bill we had a somewhat ingenious device whereby if 1435 the Board could supply a company at a cheaper price than that at which they could generate, then the small station could charge no more to their customers than if they took current from the Board. The Committee thought that that idea was too complicated, and that it would be better if a case could be made out for closing down, that the closing down should take place immediately.
A further change which took place—not in Committee, but in this House on the Report stage—was to allow the local authorities to sell apparatus. As the House knows, in this Bill we are dealing with the generating side of electricity. Had we butted into the distribution side I do not know what thunder would have come down upon our heads. It has been bad enough in dealing with the generating side. The House will not dispute that generating costs in some cases are high, and you can only get them down to a certain figure, past which it is impossible to generate inure cheaply. In some of our important districts the cost of generation is very low and very good. In some others it is not so good. This Bill does effect a general lowering of prices on the generating side. The distributive side and the commercial side are just as important as the generating side, and I think it is an enormous advantage that, having given away the position as to whether a Corporation should trade in electricity or not, you should allow them to trade in the most efficient way possible. In this country we find that an engineer is always at the head of these electrical undertakings. In America the most highly paid salaried official of a company is the commercial manager. In so far as you can keep your load factor high, so automatically your costs go down. It is just as important, indeed even more important to try to keep your load factor up than anything else in the business of electricity.
The picture that we must look at is what this Bill tries to effect, namely, to superpose upon a very highly industrial country, and a very thickly populated country a grid. It is actually a physical entity; you can ring the changes on it, but without this physical entity, this grid, this inter-connection, no really efficient generation from the whole country's point of view can ever take place. The 1436 generating resources of the country are left in the hands of the present owners but they are co-ordinated by the Board to the best advantage of the community, to be most usefully employed. This grid is a reservoir for all the power at present going to waste in the country. The power from waste heat can be poured into it. The power from any new coal treatment can be poured into the reservoir. The water power which is going to waste can be poured into this national grid, and who knows whether soon we shall not be able to put tidal power into it.
There is a misconception, which is sometimes talked about, that this Bill is a device for spreading current to rural districts. We have never had the idea of penalising the commercial and industrial districts for the benefit of the rural. The only thing we have said from the beginning is that in the inter-connection which will now take place there will be lines running from one town to another which would net have existed before; and in those districts where the lines run it will be possible to tap off the current at a very low rate for the benefit of that particular part of the country. It will be interesting to see what type of consumption goes on in these new areas, and whether the load is a diverse load from what we find in ordinary towns.
It is necessary that a Bill like this should be passed now. A few years hence it would not be possible, from the point of view of cost, to effect standardisation and to give us the sound technical lines which this Bill puts forward. The Bill has this very great advantage that, although it does not change the price of current overnight, the further you look ahead the greater the benefits are to the country at large. If we pass this Measure to day the House will have passed a really big measure of far-reaching consequence, with effects which will be increasingly beneficial as time goes on. I like to think of these Benches as representing a slip-way down which this great ship slides from our hands and from our control. It goes to another firm, to another place to be "fitted out" That place has not always seen eye to eve with us in dealing with this particular subject of electricity, but I do hope and I do pray that they will not alter her to such an extent as to make her unseaworthy.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsthis House cannot agree to the Third Reading of a Bill which, whilst purporting to secure a unified system of electricity supply, fails adequately to protect the public interests and perpetuates the existence of private ownership in a service which ought to be owned and controlled by the community and co-ordinated with the scientific production and utilisation of coal.On this Bill we have taken up a consistent attitude. On the Second Reading, and on this Third Reading, we are making it perfectly plain that the method adopted by the Government to deal with this very important problem is not our method, and is not the way in which we would deal with the subject. We believe that the Bill has been framed on wrong lines, but in the intermediate stages, where we have discussed the details, we have endeavoured, as far as we could, to improve the Bill and to safeguard whatever value there may be in it. I recognise that within the limits of the Bill the Government have stood firm to the Bill as it was introduced. I want to point out the very grave faults in the Bill, and to show that it does not really meet the problem with which we have to deal. This is an attempt by a Conservative Government to deal with a particular industry, and to act on the report of the Weir Committee, which was set up to consider the question. That Committee recommended the co-ordination of the industry, which up to then had been in the hands of separate organisations, into a connected whole. We ought to be glad that when a Committee does report that an industry needs reorganisation the Government should attempt such reorganisation because it has not been done in the case of other industries.
Let me just trace the course of this Measure. It illustrates clearly three separate attitudes towards the electrical industry. There is, first, the attitude of the Labour party, which is that industries must subserve the national well-being, and that the object of a Bill dealing with the electrical industry must be primarily in the interests of the whole community. Sharply conflicting with that attitude we have the view, put forward very frequently, that the electrical industry is primarily a field for making profits, and, in the third place, we have the Gover- 1438 nment's position. The Government recognises the need for some change, but say that they are bound by their principles not to interfere with opportunities for making private profit, and the whole attempt of this Measure has been to try and secure the reorganisation of the industry without interfering with those opportunities for making private profits. The failure to do that is really the failure to make this a good Bill. A Conservative Government really cannot legislate on these lines and take into account only the benefits to the community. I can say this on very good authority. The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour) made an interesting statement last night on this Bill. He said that the Attorney Generalhas consistently endeavoured to detach various interests which are represented here—if that is the proper term to use—to buy off certain interests so as to detach the real volume of opinion in the Conservative ranks in opposition to this Bill.That is always the task of a Conservative Minister who is trying to get something through this House in opposition to private interests. Anyone who was present during the Committee stage, and also during the Report stage, will realise that the bulk of the Debates on this Measure has been nothing but a clamour of private interests. There has been the strident note of the company undertakers, which took up more than half of the time. Although that was the chief note in the orchestra, we have had also the gentler notes of the railways, the gas companies, dock undertakings, and the bankers and financiers. What was lacking in the Debates upstairs was that there were no speeches from business men who looked at the industry as a whole. It. was simply a matter how far this particular field of private interests was likely to be hurt or what advantage could he taken for particular private interests. That is really the failure of this Bill. Look at the electrical industry with which this Bill is supposed to deal. As the Parliamentary Secretary has pointed out, it leaves out one important field, the field of distribution; it leaves out a good deal more than that.
Broadly speaking, the chief operations of the industry are generation, transmission, distribution and the manufacture of appliances. The manufacture of machinery and appliances is hardly 1439 touched in the Bill, and has not been touched in any of the discussions, except for one attempt to make a closed market for British manufacturers. The supply of electrical machinery is not dealt with in the Bill, yet anybody knows that the industry is surrounded by rings of manufacturers and that a large portion of the money which will be put up in order to carry out this scheme is going into the pockets of the manufacturers. One great misfortune is that there is no Clause restricting the amount of profiteering that can he done by manufacturers. The Bill touches the industry at two points only, generation and transmission, and the Parliamentary Secretary said quite truly that while there had been a great clamour—I think he called it thunder—when they were proposing to deal with generation and transmission it would be nothing to the thunder that would have arisen if they had touched distribution. The reason is obvious. It is the distributing end of the industry which is the profit-making end, and this Bill, except for some feeble provisions in Clause 30, does not really deal with the distributing end at all. It is just there that we have the failure of the Bill. It really deals throughout with authorised undertakers and the supply of cheap and abundant current to authorised undertakers, but it does not lay it down that there shall be a cheap and abundant supply to the consumer.
The retailing end of the industry in this country is divided between municipalities, that is publicly owned undertakers and company undertakings and something like two-thirds of it is already in public hands. It is rather surprising, therefore, that there should be this fear of nationalisation. If under this Bill the main transmission lines are to be owned by the Board: if generation to a large extent is going to be controlled by a public authority, the Board, if two-thirds of the retailing industry is already in public hands, why should there be this great fear of nationalising the industry when already two-thirds, as regards generation, transmission and distribution, is already in public hands and only one-third is left? Why not make a clean job of the matter? It is when we come to the contrast between publicly owned undertakings and company undertakings that we see where this Bill fails. While provision is made 1440 for the passing on of the advantages of cheap current from the bulk supplier to the authorised undertaker, there is no adequate provision made that this advantage shall reach the consumer. In the case of local authorities we are careful, in the Schedule, to see that the benefits of the reduced costs of electricity should go to the consumers, and should not be raided for other purposes, but that is not done in the case of companies. We are careful to see that municipalities gradually pay off their capital indebtedness but the difference in the case of companies is enormous. I will give one instance. In the case of a particular municipal undertaking in London, it has paid off something like one-third or one-fourth of its capital indebtedness, has reduced its capital charges, and thereby enormously reduced the cost to the consumer. But we have had recent Bills passed through this House giving extended tenure to London companies, the immediate effect of which has been a great rise in the shares of those companies. Increased dividends the distribution of reserves, piled up at the expense of the consumers, by giving bonus shares, the increasing of capital, have increased the overhead costs that have to be found by the consumers in that area, and without any reduction in price. There you have exactly the difference. I can quite understand the Government hesitating to interfere with this very fruitful field. I can quite understand the North-east coast not wishing to be interfered with. The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour) thought it was because they were so efficient. I say it is because they are so rich: they have such a rich field that naturally they do not want to be interfered with.
That is the first big failure in this Bill. Secondly, we come to the method. The method is extraordinarily clumsy, extraordinarily intricate and extraordinarily involved. We are setting up a Board. We do not know how that Board will be composed. It is absolutely a leap in the Clark as to what the Board will do. We have objected on this side, and it has been taken that our objection was because we were in love with some bureaucratic method directed from Whitehall. We do not pin ourselves down to any particular form of nationalisation, any particular form of organisation of industry. Indeed, we know perfectly well that the 1441 various forms of industry in this country must have a separate and distinct organisation according to their needs. This Conservative method may have great merits. The principle is adopted in the Broadcasting Bill that is to come before us next week. It, is essentially a Conservative method of bringing in what Socialists have proved must be done, in the form of setting up a non-profit-making corporation. It is, perhaps, natural to a party that has autocratic traditions. But we on this side are more democratic and prefer things to be under the control of the people through this House.
The proposed Board is a very clumsy way of doing it. A great deal of our trouble, when the Bill was in Committee, was in trying to work out the exact relationship between the Board and the Government Departments, between the Board and the local authorities, between the Board and the companies, and in providing all sorts of ways and means of getting a correct judgment between the two—arbitration here, reference to an auditor there and so forth. All that is very clumsy. It is all because the Government will not grasp the nettle firmly enough. I do not think they would have been stung much more than they have been. I cannot imagine the obstruction in Committee of the hon. Member for Hampstead and his friends would have been more effective if there had been a clean Bill for nationalisation. The hon. Member and his friends did their best. That is the failure with regard to the method.
There is another very grave fault in this Bill. That is in the objective of the Bill. The Bill takes the whole electrical problem as if it were merely a commercial problem, and the setting up of the Board is just an example of the Government's idea of this as essentially a business and commercial problem. It is to be a business Board. To us electricity is primarily a great social question. We want the direction and the supply of electricity, the policy of the supply of electricity, to be determined on the broadest possible lines of social well being. This Board has certainly the power of correlating separate undertakings, of correlating generation and main transmission. It can, therefore, send a flow of cheap and abundant electricity throughout the country into the hands of various undertakers. But it 1442 is precisely at that point that protection of the community fails. A municipality develops its electricity supply in the interests of the community. A company develops it where it best sees the chance of profit.
Let me give one instance. It will be found that the greatest developments of electrical power for household purposes, which is particularly desirable, is by the municipalities. I happen to be a member of a local authority undertaking. We supply very cheap power. I live in a company area, and I find that the price for domestic power there is nearly six times what has to be paid in the municipal area. It is not to the company's interest to provide cheap power for the domestic house, or they do not think it a particularly profitable line, and, therefore, they do not trouble themselves about developing domestic supplies. I notice a little murmur as if that statement were regarded as untrue.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL
Is the House to understand that the price of power charged by the municipality to which the hon. Member refers is one-sixth of the price charged in the locality where he lives?
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The price of power is something like one-sixth. The price of power in our own case is 2d. for the first 60 hours of maximum demand, and after that one-halfpenny with a considerable reduction up to 17 per cent. for large consumers. The price I pay to the company is 3d. The price for lighting by the company is 6d. and than of the municipality 4d., with a reduction to ld. after the first 60 hours maximum demand. If the hon. Member prefers it, I will say that the price is only four times as high as in the municipality. The point is precisely the same. I am not charging any hon. Member with any moral obliquity.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I agree that there is a difference there. I am not attempting to make that point. As a matter of fact this state of things can be found in other areas. For the whole of London we had an inquiry made by very eminent engineers, and the result abundantly bears out that view. I do not say that mine is not an extreme case, but on the whole there is no doubt at all that in London the prices are more than half as great again in company areas than in municipal. Of course, the company directors duty is to their shareholders. They have to put their shareholders first. Our point is that it is quite impossible to get these social and national results, which are required from electricity, as long as it is in the hands of people whose prime objective is not to help the community but to make profits for their shareholders. In that particular organisation the shareholders would be justified in calling the directors over the coals if they did not get a profit.
Our point, briefly, is that electricity is one of the master keys of the future. We do not want that master key to be left in the hands of people whose main interest is profit. The surprising thing in this House is that, while we get people who recognise the social considerations which I have mentioned, we never get one of our captains of industry to realise the advantages of a public supply against a private supply. It is never expressed in this House, but it is expressed outside pretty frequently, because there are plenty of Conservatives or of strong anti-Socialists who rejoice, seemingly, in having a cheap and abundant supply of electricity, and who, as a matter of fact, run their undertakings on very sound lines. They are municipal Socialists, only they do not like to call themselves so. But we can never get the big business man to recognise, as I should have thought he would recognise, that just as it is an advantage to have communal roads so it would be an advantage to have electricity kept out of the hands of the profit makers. The Government view does not go our way far enough. It touches on it at one or two points, but when it reaches the question of private profit it veers off. This Bill is a Bill for providing a cheap and abundant supply of an article to the retailers, and the 1444 retailers are left almost entirely free. Of course, there are some provisions in Clause 30 on that point, but I do not believe any of those sliding scale revision of prices schemes are really effective. Our experience up to now has been that they are wholly illusory.
One further point. This Bill has treated as a separate matter the organisation of this industry. We believe that, in the times in which we are living, it is necessary to consider all these matters on the very broadest possible lines. We do not believe in segregating the matter of electricity from other problems of the provision of light and power; therefore, we have included in our Amendment that one of our objections to the Bill is that it does not go far enough, and is not comprehensive enough. We believe that the right line is the Socialist line. We believe that in this Bill the Government have been forced by the economic conditions of this industry to recognise the force, of the Socialist indictment, and we believe that the only reason why the Socialist solution has not been adopted is because it is impossible for a Conservative Minister to carry out those things which he knows are right, because he is up against what was once described by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer as a conspiracy of interests which will always defeat him.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I beg to second the Amendment.
I agree with the Mover that this Bill does not go far enough, and that it does not touch the fundamental aspects of the problem of providing a cheap and full supply of electrical power for this country. It is generally understood that the proposals embodied in this Bill originated in a committee of experts. I submit that the proposals of the Bill did not originate with the committee of experts at all, and that the Bill is not the product of the Weir Committee, as has been suggested. The Weir Committee, in fact never considered the fundamental question of power supply to this country, but only dealt with the financial and technical considerations applying to certain proposals placed before it by a Government official. This scheme originated with Sir John Snell. He is a highly-honoured and 1445 highly-expert official of the Ministry of Transport and this scheme originated with him, according to his own statement in an address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science. It is in all essentials a scheme imposed by the Ministry of Transport upon the Weir Committee, and is not the independent product of that committee or of any body of electricity or power experts in this country. The fundamental principle in the Bill is thoroughly unsound. As the Mover of the Amendment has said, it concentrates the supply of electricity and the organisation of that supply upon the distributive end alone, simply because that is the end where the profit is to be found. That explains why the Weir Committee were not allowed to consider fundamental questions and only applied themselves to the consideration of how to carry out financially and technically the proposals of the Ministry of Transport. The Ministry and the Government are more concerned with the interests of those who have a vested monopoly in the supply of electricity, and that is why the consideration of the whole question has been centred upon the supply of power in areas contiguous to the places where the greater amount of power supply is required, that is to say, the distributive centres.
I hold that the Bill is fundamentally wrong because, without going further than the mere prima facie aspect of the case, it is obviously cheaper and more efficient to supply electrical power from the areas where it is originally obtained and transmit it by means of cables, than it is for the power to be produced some-where else on the basis of an expensive supply of coal carried by ordinary physical means from the coalfields to the distributive centres. In other words, from a practical point of view, it should be obvious that the right place in which to produce electrical power is in the coalfields and not in areas contiguous to large cities and towns with all the added congestion and smoke and filth that would be implied by these huge super power stations. That consideration involves the whole question of the super power station. Now there is no virtue in mere bigness. We have to consider whether it is not much better to build moderate-sized power stations in the coalfields, rather than huge super power stations in the 1446 areas around big cities and distributive centres. The objection is that it is not so easy to get a plentiful supply of water for the steam-heating necessary in the technical processes of producing electricity on a large scale. I do not know how much there is in that objection. I am not a technical expert, but I suggest that it should not be so difficult to get an abundant supply of water for moderate-sized stations.
We have to consider the question of whether we could not save more nationally by having moderate sized stations in the coalfields and regulating the "grid" upon that basis, than by having a smaller number of huge super power stations nearer to the areas of supply. The figures that I have, which I give for what they are worth—I have done my best to find some expert evidence on the subject —show that economy in the generation of 35,000 kilowatt generators instead of 1,500 kilowatt is less than 1 lb. steam pressure per kilowatt, whereas the economy obtained from coal by generation at the pithead is from 30 to 40 per cent. larger, leaving an ample margin for the extra cost of transmission. I suggest that the only reason why this scheme has been imposed on the Weir Committee, coming as it does entirely from Sir John Snell, which means that it comes from the Ministry of Transport, is that it is a political dodge or attempt on the part of the Government to serve the interests of the profitmongers, which concentrate upon the areas of distribution more than they do upon the areas of supply; and I suggest that, in agreement with the conclusions of the World Power Conference held at Wembley, it was established that the principal aim should be generation at the source of power. It is in that respect that I regard this Measure as fundamentally unsound.
There is one other consideration that ought to loom very large in the minds of Members of this House at the present moment, and that is as to what would be the effect on the coal industry itself of concentrating the production of electricity upon the coalfield areas at the present time. You would be able automatically to carry out the principle of unification if you did that, and you would be able to utilise classes of coal which are not profitable in the ordinary way of trade, especially export trade. Those 1447 classes of coal could be used at the pithead or in the coalfield areas, whereas it would be far too expensive to carry it to the huge generating stations round about the distributing areas. For that reason as well, I oppose the Bill and support the Amendment. The Bill is fundamentally unsound, simply because the Government, while, they are forced to consider this question of the power supply, not in the interests of Socialism—it is not a question of Socialism, but a question of business—are at the same time very much concerned about the interests of their friends, whose profit is concentrated, as the Mover of the Amendment said, more in the distributive than in the productive areas.
§ Sir JOSEPH NALL
If I do not follow the last two speakers, I hope the House will forgive me in opening what I have, to say with one or two observations which it appears to Me it is only fair and right that I should have the opportunity of making. This Bill has raised a controversy on principles affecting a vastly wider field than the immediate object of the Bill, and its passage through the House, particularly through Committee upstairs has raised again the question of the rights of minorities to criticise proposals, and especially the rights of private Members to criticise proposals emanating from their own side of the House. I make no complaint of the attitude of the Minister of Transport and his Parliamentary Secretary, or indeed of their Department, in these proceedings or in any manner relating to any observations that I have made on the Bill. But I object very strongly to the manner in which the Attorney-General has seen fit to deal with Members of his own ride who have ventured to criticise the proposals in this Measure. It has remained for him to indicate his contempt for criticisms from his own side of the House, by receiving our observations in many instances with an obvious impatience and an unexampled discourtesy, to which I take the very strongest possible objection.
The proceedings upstairs have indicated once again how impossible it is to deal with matters affecting details of this kind by the cumbersome procedure of a Standing Committee. How very much more effective and useful, and how much more 1448 expeditious, it would have been had this Measure been examined in the more impartial atmosphere of a Select Committee, where the many points would have been discussed and considered with that proper regard for justice and fairness, which is not always observable in the political battles in Standing Committee. While it would be out of order to discuss in detail that aspect of the matter, I would like to place on record, in passing, that this Bill once more emphasises the need for some change in our procedure on Bills of this kind, as I think you, Mr. Speaker, yourself suggested to a Committee some years ago, when dealing with the method of procedure on Public Bills.
The Attorney-General has seen tit to carry his method of personal attack outside this House. In a speech in his constituency he referred to a letter of mine in the public Press, of which, I take it. I am perfectly at liberty to make use, and he observed that the statements in that letter of mine were in every respect contrary to the facts. I hope that, when the Attorney-General comes to reply, he will indicate in what way those statements are contrary to the facts, and it is only fair that I should hoot, a to the House what I said about the Bill on that occasion. I wrote:The Bill proposes to give a Board of eight men, appointed by the Minister of Transport, the following wide powers:To take control of any generating station it chooses and to close down any it considers uneconomic;To order any undertaking to incur capital expenditure to extend its activities and increase its plant and commitments;To regulate the hours and conditions of supply of any undertaking;To compel all undertakings to sell all their supply at cost prices to the Board;To compel each undertaking to buy back its own supply at cast price, plus the Board's administration charges;To borrow £33,500,000 now and more later in the name of the State, in order to erect main transmission lines across the country;To inter-connect power stations with districts in such a way that the Board will compete in some cases with the very undertakings it controls. The question of responsibility is the first that arises. But this Board of Bureaucrats will not be directly responsible to Parliament. It will not he financially responsible either to the State or to the industry it controls.1449And against the commands of the Board and the decisions of the Electricity Commissioners in major matters there is no appeal, either to Courts of Law or to Parliament.The claim of the backers of the Electricity Bill is that by 1940 electric power (not light) will he available at a penny a unlit all over the country through the Board's efforts.But a quarter of to-day's supply averages less than a penny, and by 1940, provided there is no State interference, the figure will be about a half-penny.Experts have examined the Measure from every aspect. By adding to the cost of power, through useless administrative charges, it will hamstring industry at a moment when Britain is fighting hard to keep her lead.Those are the observations I made, which the Attorney-General said in several respects are contrary to the facts. I would venture to say that several of them have been already endorsed by the Parliamentary Secretary in this Debate. Unfortunately, owing to the exigencies of debate, I was not able to make the observations I would have liked to make on Second Reading, but I did interject on that occasion that certain figures in the Weir Report were deliberately misleading. The Attorney-General strongly objected to that observation, and said it ought to have been made in debate; wherefore I crave leave to make it now. I say again, that certain of the figures in the Weir Report, which has been produced as the excuse for this Measure, are deliberately misleading, and I will say why. In the Report, Table 2, figures of the consumption of electricity in various countries are given. It begins with the grand display of 1,200 units per head of the population in California. It tails down by quoting the two independent towns of Sydney, with 161, and Shanghai with 145, and then deliberately discredits the figure for Great Britain at 110, at the bottom of the list. That, I say, is deliberately to mislead people. Of the 11 countries and towns cited for comparison no less than six of them—California, Canada, Switzerland, Tasmania, Norway and Sweden—obtain the bulk of their electrical energy from water power. In the United States, which is quoted, as a whole, water power, such as Niagara, plays a quite important part in the production of electricity. In the case of Tasmania, which is quoted against this country, the supply is pro- 1450 vided by the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Department. The bulk of that supply is used by one consumer—the Electrolytic Zinc Company, and when you have taken off their supply the average of the consumption is only 130 units, as against the figure quoted in the Weir Report of 550.
Then, it is sought to draw a comparison between Great Britain as a whole with certain towns such as Chicago, Sydney and Shanghai. That is obviously unfair. This country, embracing a territory of some 88,000 square miles, the greater part of which is sparsely populated, is compared in that table with densely populated towns. The figure of 110 units of the authorised undertakings per head of the population in Great Britain is the average consumption sold by authorised undertakers in the year 1923. This figure for Chicago, quoted in the same table in comparison with this country, is stated at 1,000 units, but in 1923 the actual figure in Chicago was under 800. So that the figure for Chicago in the Weir Report is actually 20 per cent. wrong, if it be compared with the figures of Great Britain quoted in the same table. The actual consumption of electricity, even in the year 1925, was 6½ per cent. less than the figure quoted in Table 2.
Another illustration which I should like to quote as indicating the misleading character of Table 2 is that, while it quotes these two or three towns in other parts of the world, it does not quote any English towns. Why does it not quote any English towns? Because to do so would indicate the failure of that table. It shows the deliberate unfairness with which it is compiled. Take representative and independent English towns—Liverpool with 164, Hull, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, up to Manchester with 250, Sheffield, 294, Luton, not a great place, 334; Coventry, 380, Maidstone in the middle of the Garden of England, 390; Rotherham, 541. They are not even the best, because the municipal borough of Wallsend-on-Tyne in Northumberland showed in 1925, a year of depressed trade a consumption exceeding 1,580 units per head, that is, over 30 per cent. above the average for California, and nearly 60 per cent. over the average for Chicago in the same year.
I think that indicates I was perfectly justified in interjecting on Second Reading, and in repeating now, that Table 2 1451 in the Weir Report, which is being extensively used by the propagandists in favour of this Bill, is deliberately misleading, and that in these figures in the Weir Report no comparison is made of the real "energy consumption" per head of population. It only quotes the "electrical energy consumed." In this country, in industrial districts close to coalfields, the supply of coal for steam power is one of our greatest assets. The development of the gas supply is one of our great national assets. In Lancashire to-day, where there is a cheap supply of electricity, the great bulk of the mills are not electrically equipped. I have a letter here from the head of one of the greatest engineering organisations in Lancashire, in which he says that, "If you were to give us our power free, it would not offset the cost of changing over our equipment from the present private supply which we generate for ourselves."
If the energy consumed per head in the form of gas and electricity combined be compared, the figures are very different. Now let mo give an example from America, about which some of our enthusiasts are very ready to give figures. Compare Boston and Chicago. In 40 years the population of Chicago has increased by 500 per cent.; that of Boston has only increased by 100 per cent. In 1925 the consumption of electricity Per head of population in Chicago was 935 units, and in Boston 380. So that to-day the consumption per head of population in Chicago, the more modern, the more rapidly growing city, is about 2½, times as great as it is in Boston, the older and slower growing city. And yet throughout, in the Weir Report, the rapidly growing new cities and new countries are compared with the older, and, in some respects, less rapidly extending Great Britain. There are many other figures in the Weir Report to serve the purpose for which the Report is presented. The Incorporated Municipal Electrical Association, in a resolution, the whole of which I may, perhaps, quote in order to place it on record, says:having considered the proposals of the Bill, believe that in its present form it will not attain the object for which it is being promoted.That is, cheaper electricity to consumers, leading to its more widespread use: 1452The proposals of the Bill are too cumbersome as well as costly and unworkable, and the Association considers that before any legislation is proceeded with, representatives appointed by the electricity supply industry should be consulted and given an opportunity of submitting proposals as to the most satisfactory manner of effecting any desired improvement; and the Association further is of the opinion that the figures in and the conclusions of the Weir Report are open to serious doubt, and also deprecates the suppression of the Merz Report and the undue haste with which the Government has pressed the scheme.That is the opinion of the Incorporated Municipal Electrical Association. Since the Weir Report was published we have had some more information from the Commissioners. The Weir Report recommends certain things and expenditure, and the Government propose to guarantee £33,500,000. [An HON. MEMBER "For a start."] For a start. It is significant that in the latest report of the Commissioners issued since the publication of the Weir Report, practically that sum has, in fact, been expended in the further development of the industry. The Weir Report puts the present capacity of the plant in this country at 3,096,000 kilowatts, but the figure for the end of the year 1924–25, according to the Commissioners latest report, was 3,723,000 kilowatts, an addition in two years of 629,000 kilowatts, Or one-fifth of the whole. That has been done in two years by an industry which, according to the Government, is so laggard and so much behind that it must be spoon-fed in the manner provided in this Bill. If we take the year 1021–22 as a basis, we find that at the end of the year 1924-25 there had been an increase of 71 per cent. in the units sold for lighting and domestic purposes, and of nearly 68 per cent. for power services, notwithstanding that normal trade conditions have not been restored. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said this Bill must be passed at once, that delay would prevent its being passed. There would be such great progress without the Bill, I take it, that there would he no shadow of justification for it if it were not passed at the present juncture.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I was speaking in regard to the standardisation of frequency, and what might happen if you go past a certain time. America bitterly regrets that they have passed that particular time.
§ Sir J. NALL
There is no proposal to standardise the existing two frequencies in America into one, nor has it been shown that any economic advantage would accrue from such a change. My hon. Friend himself, in his very lucid speech, one of the most lucid speeches we have had on this Bill, indicated that what the Bill desires to do is to adopt the most excellent system on the northeast coast. It is curious that one of the first things the Bill proposes is to upset that area by changing the frequency and giving the Board arbitrary powers to select two or three stations and upset the whole balance of that area.
I am accused of overstating the case against this Bill because I called it Socialism and Nationalisation. If the country had not been preoccupied in these recent months with the overwhelming shadow of the coal dispute, if, indeed, this Bill had been under consideration when the Samuel Commission was sitting on the coal question, I think the political principles embodied in the Bill would have received a good deal mare attention, and the real principles behind it would, perhaps, have been more manifest to the average man. I would recommend anybody who doubts the political principles behind this Bill to read chapter 6 of the Samuel Commission's Report, because that deals with the proposals which the Miners' Federation made to the Samuel Commission for the national control—so-called nationalisation—of the coal industry. They proposed to establish, first, a Power and Transport Commission under the general supervision of the Board of Trade. Let me quote the functions which it was proposed that Commission should undertake:(a) To survey the problems of power and transport development as regards both needs and possibilities. (b) To undertake and administer the inter-connection of generating stations and the trunk line transmission of power. (c) To lay down conditions governing power and transport undertakings, both public and private. (d) To co-operate with the Department of Industrial and Scientific Research in the promotion of research into power production and coal by products and kindred questions. (e) To undertake or to arrange for the commercial application of the results of research into power and transport problems.One Board, or Commission, was to be set up for the coal industry under the miners' proposals, and there was to be 1454 another, a National Coal and Power Production Council, under the presidency of the Secretary for Mines or his Deputy. They were to consist—it is only a suggestion—of six executive and administrative officials—not eight—elected by their respective organisations, and six miners and by-products workers similarly elected, and two representatives of the Power and Transport Commission. Expert officials were to sit with them in an advisory capacity. They would be the body that would be charged with the actual conduct of the mining industry. Yet I am told there is no similarity between the Board which will be charged with the actual conduct of the electricity generating industry and this proposal of the Miners' Federation to take charge of the actual conduct of the mining industry. I do not think I need say much more to impress upon the House the similarity between the proposals made by the Miners' Federation for the coal industry, which were turned down by the Samuel Commission, and were, in consequence, automatically turned down by the Government when they said they were willing to adopt that Report. Here we have the same skeleton scheme of a Board, or central body, with a State guarantee, and with arbitrary powers of interference with those who are already conducting the industry. It is argued, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary argued it again to-day, that the creation of a grid is necessary for our electrical development. One would gather from the utterances of some of the chief supporters that this kind of rigid grid is in operation in European countries, although I believe since the production of this Bill they have run away from the idea that such a grid exists in America. As Mr. Sam Insull told some Members of the House, what is called "loose linking" is really the system in America. We have enthusiasts who say that there are rigid grids in Germany and that they exist elsewhere. The only example of a rigid grid is in France, where the Government have set up a system in one of the devastated areas around Lens, Bethune and Valenciennes, but there is nothing of the kind in Germany. There the big transmission system is necessary because the origin of the power is not in the 1455 vicinity of the industries that need the power, and therefore these large transmission systems have been erected to convey the power.
An hon. Member opposite has referred to the transmission of power in certain circumstances which can be derived from some natural source, and he says that this is better done by electricity than having to transport the fuel which is the origin of the power. That applies to Germany, where the power has to be transmitted to where it is wanted, and that does not exist in this country. Here it is cheaper to transport the coal than to transmit the electricity, but that is not the case under the German system, nor is it the case in Italy, where vast water resources are linked up by huge transmission lines with the industrial towns where the power is required. I say again I am advised by those who have inspected these systems that there is nothing of the kind in those countries in any way representing the rigid grid of which the Parliamentary Secretary spoke. The cheapest power does not necessarily come from the largest stations, and in this country some of the smallest stations give extremely good figures. I referred to the fact that in Luton a quite respectable figure of units per head of the population can he shown, and the total works cost is quoted as 65 of a penny per unit with a maximum load of 10,200 kilowatts, whilst. Manchester with its large and efficient super-station shows 64d. with a maximum load of 136,000 kilowatts. There is nothing in the nature of a grid at Luton, but there is something in the nature of a grid in Manchester, which is interlinked with other authorities, and a certain economy results in consequence. But in spite of this, the figures are not materially different.
My objection to this Bill, apart from the Socialistic and nationalisation tendencies upon which it is based, can be summed up under certain definite headings. I do not believe in the principle behind the Bill, but before I come to those definite headings I would like to say that all through, as has been argued from the other side of the House, the Bill only touches the least thorny of the problems relating to electricity supply, and it makes no effort whatever to deal 1456 with the great disadvantages and the many impediments which stand in the way of the distributor and the details affecting the consumers of the country. This Bill does not attempt to face those difficulties, and it deals only with the simple and efficient side of electricity supply, that of generation. As I indicated just now, in many cases the great users of power would not be able to use electricity if you gave them the current for nothing because the change over in their plant which they would have to face would cost more than any saving which you could give them in the cost of electricity.
Taking the Bill, however, as a Measure which we know is to proceed, and which the Government is determined to push through before the development of the industry makes it too late, let me deal with the principal objections which have been admirably put by commercial bodies such as the Associated Chambers of Commerce, who I believe have frankly and forcibly placed their objections before the Government Department. The first one deals with the constitutional aspect of this Measure. Those hon. Members who have spent much time, as I have, during the last few years listening to the applications of various authorities, municipalities, companies and so on who seek Parliamentary powers to extend their activities, or ask in some way to be specially privileged in the conduct of their operations must have been impressed by what we call the private Bill procedure in this House. Suppose a great municipality desires further powers for the extension of its electricity undertakings, and so on. If it desires anything which infringes upon the ordinary rights of any of the subjects of the Crown then the procedure adopted is well known to this House. Those who object to such powers being given must establish their locus, and having done so they are allowed to state their case, and we have small Committees of this House which are as impartial as it is possible to obtain; they hear the case and as a result they generally arrive at a decision which, generally speaking, gives satisfaction to the parties concerned.
One of the chief objections we have to raise to the structure of this Bill is that it is contrary to the announcement 1457 made in the Prime Minister's speech at Birmingham in which he said that public authorities have no right to interfere with the ordinary liberties of the subject. They have no such statutory right in their constitution. They have no right to interfere with any other undertaking or corporation or body of individuals who in the course of time may find it necessary to come to terms with, or to absorb, or in some way to interfere with. Such bodies have to come here for statutory authority to do anything of that kind, and when those people have established their locus they have a right to come here to be heard. That is the principle which is supposed to be established in the precedent quoted by the Prime Minister, and yet this Board will have a statutory right under the schemes adopted under Clause 4 of this Bill to interfere, within the limits of the Bill, with the existing rights and statutory obligations of municipalities, corporations and individuals, and those parties who will he affected have no right to be heard except in a very limited number of cases where they will have to show that they will suffer some pecuniary loss, and we have heard on the Report stage that if the respondent Board say that the admission of the appellant's claim would prejudicially affect the efficiency of the scheme then the Court is thereupon hound to find in favour of the respondent. Board, except as regards a money payment. That has never before, so far as I have been able to find out, been suggested in any legislative proposal ever submitted to this House by any of the parties or by anybody outside, and I say that in that respect the powers which are vested in this Board under the provisions of this Bill constitute one of the greatest attacks upon the historic rights of His Majesty's subjects ever laid before Parliament; and it is an absolute scandal that upon such a ease we have not had the guidance that one would have expected from the Law Officers of the Crown, who, instead of performing their traditional duty of advising the House as to the effect of proposed legislation upon the rights of His Majesty's subjects have in the person of the Attorney-General been content to play the lesser role of advocate for the Department.
The second point of objection to this Bill, which has not been met but which is of importance as touching the details 1458 of the Measure, is that the owners of efficient electrical undertakings should be permitted to go on supplying their own consumers without interference. When that question was raised on the Report stage, the Attorney-General said that it would upset the whole scheme of the Bill. There is no need to upset the whole scheme of the Bill. If the object of the Board is to supply energy in areas where at present it is not supplied or to supply energy more cheaply than it is at present supplied, they could, under the scheme of the Bill, require a selected station to supply them with such energy as they wanted, and, if they take and control the whole supply of an electrical station, they must, first of all, have regard to the needs of the owner of that station and let him have back again such quantity as he needs. It is only in those stations which can be called uneconomic and which ought to be unselected where the need for closing down arises. So far as the selected stations are concerned—so far as I can see the case—there can be no argument in support of this principle that they are to stop and start at the orders of a central authority up here in London. They ought in the case of the great municipalities and the great companies to be allowed to run their own undertakings to meet their own needs while being subject to the provision that they should supply the Board with such energy as the Board needs.
The third very important point is that there should be no burden placed on the industrial areas on account of the unprofitable areas. That was discussed on the Report stage, and the Attorney-General did not try to meet the arguments that had been put up. He rode off on that Amendment and said that the electricity districts constituted under the Act of 1919 might not be convenient zones for the application of a tariff. If the words which we suggested were wrong, presumably the zone of the scheme under the Bill will be a convenient area for the operation of a tariff, and, if an electricity district under the Act, of 1919 does not coincide with the scheme under the Bill, then either the tariff would apply to the zone of the scheme or the district could be altered to coincide with the scheme. Words have been added to the Bill to 1459 deal with areas and parts of areas. The same could apply to the operation of a tariff.
The Attorney-General made a very significant comment on that question. He said that of course, under the permissive powers of the Bill, the Board will be able to adopt different tariffs for different areas, but he hoped that in time—I am not quoting the exact words—there will be more or less the same tariff for the whole of the country. He hoped that as the years go on there will he more or less a general tariff for the whole of the country. If either the Attorney-General or the Weir Report is wrong, then my case will be disproved, but if both of them are right then my case is absolutely overwhelming. The Weir Report estimates that with a 35 per cent. load factor and 500 units per head of population, which they hope to achieve in 1940, the station operating costs would be for Scotland 313d. and for Central England 314d.; that is with a load factor of 35 per cent. and coal at 16s. The cost by 1940 will have to be adjusted. In South East Lancashire to-day, with coal at 17s. 3d., a load factor of 30 per cent., and 250 units per head of population, the cost is 2956d. for the district as distinct from individual stations in the district. That district has 19 authorities in it. Eleven of them own stations.
That is one of the things which has been ignored in the answers so far given to the arguments on this case. If a district of that kind, when treated as an entity either for the purpose of the Board or for its own individual purpose, is able to show progressive reductions in the cost of production, the Bill says, as was again quoted this morning, that the owners of selected stations are not to pay more than they would have paid if they had continued to operate the station by themselves. But the Bill does not say that if in a district a concentration of stations would show an advantage they shall have the benefit of that advantage, and that is the case for a separate tariff in the industrial areas. In the industrial areas the developed districts are showing a progressive economy which under the operation of the Bill the Board will not be under any obligation to allow that area to enjoy. They can, as the Attorney-General says, as the years go by get 1460 nearer to a general rate for the whole country. So, while we have some safeguard in the Bill against the cost of selected stations being increased, we have no guarantee that in these economical districts we can have the advantage of our own economy accruing from our own development. Therefore, I say the Bill as it stands on this point threatens—human nature being as it is, the Board is only likely to take this view—to relieve the Board of any obligation to let the consumers in a particular district have the economy which is their lust doe. They may keep the price up o that in 1940 they can justify these figures of the Weir Report which over the whole country are higher than the present costs in the efficient districts. We have had no answer to that.
The fourth point emphasised is this question of the standardisation of frequency. The Weir Report itself admitted that the industry could not be reasonably asked to pay for it, that it should come from the Exchequer. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport this morning emphasised the great development and wonderful efficiency of the north-east coast, yet in the same speech he says these nonstandard areas must be converted, and the 42 frequency of the north-east coast is to be upset. There is no need for that. If interconnection between this area and any adjacent area is necessary, it is vastly cheaper to instal the necessary frequency changes than to convert the whole area. The same applies to Birmingham and to Glasgow. It is much cheaper to instal the necessary frequency changes at the boundary than to convert the whole area. The only case for standardisation of frequency that is made is where small undertakings are at variance with their larger neighbours. I have already quoted the case of the South East Lancashire district, where we see that only 5 per cent. of the total production comes from the non-standard undertakings in the district, and the district, given its own autonomous tariff and free from the liability to contribute to the Board's extravagances elsewhere in the country, can well afford to pay for its own standardisation. Those are the principal objections pressed against the actual scheme of the Bill. They have not been 1461 met. The Law Officers of the Crown have refused to face the constitutional issue, and prefer to advise the House to grant these autocratic powers to a semi-departmental Board, an annex of the Ministry of Transport. We are told that this setting up of the grid and this elimination of the smaller stations is following the example of other countries. It is a curious thing that our number of generating stations, quoted in different figures according to whether private stations are included or not, put at the worst, amounts to 584. America with three times the population has got 10 times the number of central generating stations. Even in Germany, that we hear so much about in these Debates, they have got over 3,000 generating plants.
1.0 P. M.
In every country which can be in any way compared the same tale results. In Belgium nearly 800, in Switzerland 330, in Sweden 700. Norway with all its water resources available has many small stations. They have no fewer than 2,500. There is absolutely nothing in this argument about a redundancy of generating stations in this country so far as it is the excuse for the present Bill. The process of closing down uneconomic stations has gone on rapidly, and is going on rapidly in this country, and in certain areas it would be more rapid still if the Commissioners, instead of being preoccupied with a political Measure of this kind, had been able to get on with their business of sanctioning the various schemes sent into them. I do not know how anyone can administer a highly technical Department and do their duties properly and at the same time be involved in a purely political controversy. The fact remains that they are so preoccupied, and the result is that they are not able to grant the facilities required in a number of districts to continue this process of closing down uneconomic stations. This Bill, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, now leaves this House to proceed to the other House. He adopted a metaphor which I think is rather unfortunate. He referred to this ship sliding down the slipway and being launched. I think that would be more applicable to the ship of State because it is the ship of State now being launched on the slippery slope of Socialist national 1462 control, which is the twin brother of national ownership. It is useless to attempt to disguise the enthusiasm which has been manifest on the benches opposite for this Bill. In spite of this Amendment and the Amendment on the Second Reading, which were obviously put down as camouflage to cover the real feelings of the party opposite and to help the Government, I need only remind hon. Members that the real feeling of the party opposite was quoted emphatically by the Leader of the Opposition when he said:The Electricity Bill will be found to be, not only for itself, hut for its beginnings and its effects, one of the most substantial advances in the direction of Socialism. And I laugh and laugh, every time I see a. Tory supporting it.
§ Sir PHILIP DAWSON
It would be quite impossible for me in the short time at my disposal to attempt to answer the large number of arguments which the hon. Member for Rubric (Sir J. Nall) has brought against this Bill. In looking at him I feel somewhat in the position of Isaac, when he said that the hands were the hands of Esau, but the voice was the voice of Jacob. It was a voice that we shall probably hear later on in the discussion. There was a point that struck me when the hon. Member compared two things that were utterly different. He compared the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport that a lower average price would be produced in the country than is existing at the present time, and said that that was higher than the present price of an efficient, district. That is one of the reasons for the Bill, which is brought forward so that those who pay much higher prices in certain districts shall benefit by lower tariffs. I myself have, to pay 6d. a unit for light, while only a few streets away my neighbours pay 3d. a unit for the same commodity. That ought not to be, and I think this Bill will help to remedy that position. My hon. Friend talked of a loose grid, or loose connection, and suggested that that was something quite different from what would be carried nut if this Bill becomes law. It may be a different wording, but there is no difference in fact; the result would be exactly the same.
As regards the suggestion that such an arrangement is not in existence in other countries, I do not agree with my hon. 1463 Friend. I can give the House one example of an area of over 8,000 square miles in Germany—the Rhine, Westphalia and Hanover. There you have three large independent power companies, some smaller ones, and various municipal authorities, and the system there works at 100,000 volts, with overhead transmission connecting 40 stations. That results in a great economy. The same thing is to be found in the United States of America. As I read this Bill, it is not contemplated, nor would it be possible, that, as a result of the Bill, the whole of this country would immediately be covered with a series of transmission lines which would connect the whole of the various stations of the country. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the North-east Coast. That is a very good example, but the area is far too small. It is only about 1,400 square miles. I have no doubt that, if they had a very much larger area, the benefits would be much greater to that larger area than is the case to-day in the smaller one. That is what this Bill will bring about; it will bring about the coordination and interconnection of the various stations in this country, with the result that there will be a reduction in the cost of production.
My hon. Friend said that all experts are agreed that the suggestions in this Bill will not bring about the desired result. I venture to differ from him. Are Messrs. Merz and McLellan, the well-known consulting engineers who went into the whole scheme—are they not experts whose opinion is worthy of attention? Again, Messrs. Kennedy and Donkin, who are also well-known engineers, have gone into the whole scheme. Are they people whose opinion is not worthy of consideration? When we consider the whole position, let us recollect that it took a very considerable time to investigate, and that amongst those who investigated the advantages which would be gained by the proposals of this Bill were such men as Mr. Page, who has been chief engineer to the Clyde Valley Company, and who is to-day no longer a commissioner, because private industry has thought so much of him that he has now been engaged to occupy a very high position in the electrical industry in London. Again, take another man like Mr. Lackie, who was 1464 chief engineer to the Glasgow Corporation, and was responsible for one of the most efficient stations in existence to-day, the Dalmarnock Station. When these engineers go into the figures and proposals submitted by the consultants to whom I have just referred, and are heartily in agreement with them, I ask, is it likely that there is anything very wrong with the suggestions?
If you look at the various industrial areas of this country, with the exception of the North-east Coast, you will find various undertakers, some municipal, some companies, next door to one another, who absolutely refuse to cooperate, or find some excuse for not doing so. It is an acknowledged fact that the interconnection of power stations will result in a better load factor and higher efficiency, and in a general benefit all round, and it was for that reason that the Act of 1908 was passed, giving facilities for interconnection between various undertakers to help each other. What has been the result According to the latest returns published by the Electricity Commissioners, only something like 7½ per cent. of the total amount of energy used to-day is transmitted in bulk. The need being there, why do people not avail themselves of the facilities granted under that Act? It is because of the inherent individualism which exists in this country. With its many advantages, it sometimes has also some disadvantages.
I am convinced that when this Board is established, and if, as it undoubtedly will, it works in harmony and sympathy with the Electricity Commissioners, there will be no vast organisation to carry out their proposals—all that will be needed will be to go into the various districts and get the engineers of the concerns together. Whether you take Scotland, or the Midlands, or any other large part of Great Britain, I am convinced that it will not be very many weeks before a really good and workable scheme will be forthcoming. The powers of compulsion will result in an agreement being reached without that compulsory power having to be applied. We have had many examples of that. We had the grouping of the railways. I am not going to say here what my view of that grouping is; all that I wish to point out is that one of the most difficult operations, which was said to be utterly impossible, was carried out voluntarily by 1465 the various companies, once they knew that, if they did not do it of their own free will, they would be compelled to do so.
With regard to some of the other questions which have been raised by my hon. Friend, I am not going to give any detailed figures for the consumption of energy in other countries, but I can tell him from my own personal experience— and I shall be quite prepared to take him over and show him what is actually being done in other industrial countries —that the general condition in this country as regards the supply of electricity is inferior to that in practically all other industrial countries, and it is no good shirking that issue. Whatever the Weir Report may or may not contain, whatever mistakes there may be in it, the fact remains that our electrification is not carried out to the same extent as in other industrial countries. With regard to the United States of America, there again my hon. Friend made a comparison which is most unfair. He gave us the population, but did not give us the area; but, the area being so much more vast, naturally a certain number of power stations will be required in addition to that which would be exactly proportional to the difference in population. In the United States of America, 68 per cent. of the industries are operated electrically. The figures that were given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport in introducing this Bill on Second Reading showed that, I think, about 34 per cent. of the industries of this country were electrified.
Let us take another example; let us take the coal-mining industry of this country. I cannot tell the House what the actual electrification amounts to, but I can give a very good idea of what it would be if the industry were electrified to the same extent as the coal-mining industry is in Germany. I tried to get some figures, but apparently those figures as regards England are not yet available. If our coal-mining industry were electrified to the same extent that it is in Germany, its consumption would be greater than the total output of all our public utilities last year. That will give you some idea of what it should be, and what undoubtedly it is not to-day. But in connection with the electrification of 1466 mines, one of the difficulties to-day is that if each mine of a small group of mines put up a power station, it would cost much more than if they put up a much bigger power station utilising what to-day is practically a waste product, all of which works in entirely with the ideas in the proposals of the Bill. With this Bill in existence, and with transmission lines which they have a right to put in in order to interconnect with the waste heat power stations, we shall see large stations of that kind springing up which will supply the energy required in the mines, and the remainder will be used for the benefit of those owning the mines and those who use electricity for other purposes. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour) on the Report Stage referred to mining power stations which to-day were supplying a certain amount of energy to surrounding localities. If a grid of this kind were to be in existence, and if that mine knew that it could sell into that grid the whole of its excess output, I think the difficulty which has arisen in the case referred to by my hon. Friend would disappear.
A suggestion has been made, which, on the face of it, appears an eminently reasonable one, that those stations which are selected should only supply to the Board the excess amount above their requirements at the price of production. There can be no doubt whatever that the price of production at the selected station, because it has become a selected station and for no other reason, would be very much lower than it would be had it remained an independent station supplying only its own requirements, and therefore what my hon. Friend suggested was that Board's expenditure in securing the advantages and benefits which that station got through becominy a selected station, which was paid for by the Board in connection with its transmission lines, should be borne by the Board, but the whole benefit should go to the selected station as far as the amount of current it required for its own purposes was concerned.
§ Sir P. DAWSON
The question arose yesterday, and that was the proposal, and no alternative proposal was made.
§ Mr. DENNIS HERBERT
I moved the Amendment, and expressly denied that it involved any such proposal.
§ Sir P. DAWSON
I can only read into the Amendment what was stated in it, and what was stated in it was that the selected stations should only supply in excess of their requirements at the cost of production if that be correct, what I have just stated is also correct. The question of periodicity has been referred to, and it is suggested that it is entirely unnecessary to standardise that except in the case of a very few stations. That, I think, is absolutely contrary to what would be for the benefit of the country. To-day 75 per cent. of the generating stations are producing at 50 periods, and it is possible to alter the other ones and bring them into line so as to have a uniform periodicity. There is no question that 50 periods is very much more economical than 25 periods. It is admitted by all who have experience and knowledge that the cost of electrical plant and the turbines for 50 periods is something like 15 per cent. cheaper than for 25 periods, that all the auxiliary plant is more or less in a similar condition, and that the cost of production is more economical and the station more efficient with 50 periods than with 25. To-day it is possible to carry out that standardisation. Later on it will never be possible except at a ruinous cost. We had a similar thing to deal with in days gone by when there were various railway gauges and when we had a standard gauge and a broad gauge. I still think if railways had been invented a little later we should probably have had the broad gauge throughout the country. At the same time, notwithstanding that fact, the Great Western Railway, I think one of the most progressive railways anywhere to be found, altered its gauge at a large expenditure and at considerable inconvenience to the travelling public, and brought it to the standard gauge. In talking of standardisation we must recollect that we are a very small country compared with America and other Continents, and therefore it is much easier to do that and much more essential to do it in small and densely populated areas like ours than it would be in the United States. The cost at which this standardisation has been estimated has been questioned. 1468 It was prepared by eminent consulting engineers who had great personal experience and knowledge of such work. It was they who were responsible for the installation and working of the North East coast. They did not suggest that to carry out the alteration of frequency in that case would be exceedingly difficult, or impossible. Those same engineers, to my personal knowledge—because I was advising the Glasgow Corporation at that time—made a most complete and thorough investigation in Glasgow, lasting over many months, assisted by the chief engineer of the Glasgow Corporation and the chief engineer of the Clyde Valley, and their figures were checked by two other Scottish engineers who knew the district and the conditions very well indeed. Is it likely that there should be any very great mistake in estimates thus made and thus checked? If we come to the Birmingham area we find exactly the same thing. The estimates were carefully made and they were checked by Mr. Pearce, who had been the engineer for the Manchester Corporation and was responsible for the most efficient station in this country to-day, far more efficient than any other station we have here, and who has naturally a great knowledge of the conditions in the Midlands. There cannot have been any very great mistake in the Estimates with regard to the cost of standardisation in connection with the Midlands. Those gentlemen prepared a complete scheme of how that work should be carried into effect.
As regards the carrying out of such a scheme, it is evident that the proper way to do it is in collaboration with those who own and operate those stations, and is there any reason to doubt that the Board will adopt such a procedure, and that the whole of that work will be caried out by the authorities operating those stations and by committees who will work in conjunction with a new Electricity Board? I can see no difficulty in that direction whatever, nor can anyone else who is anxious to see a scheme of this kind realised. There is another question, which was not referred to by my hon. Friend but which was in that report of the Chambers of Commerce, and that was the question of arbitration. Anyone who looks at the Bill will see that under any conditions in which an authorised undertaker is likely to sustain loss he has a right of 1469 appeal to a tribunal, which should give every satisfaction because it is entirely independent of politics, the members being appointed by the Lord Chancellor.
I have dealt with some of the principal points raised by my hon. Friend, and I hope I have shown the House that we cannot be satisfied with the electricity supply as it exists generally all over the country. As one further proof, I might be allowed to quote a statement by Dr. Eccles, President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, who said:Only one-third of our country is reasonably well supplied, and two-thirds are very badly supplied or have no supply at all.The argument that because certain industrial areas are very well supplied, nothing need be done in order to attempt to improve the condition of supply in other parts of the country, is one which I think this House cannot and will not approve. It has never been suggested in the Bill, nor do I see how it would be possible in any Clauses of the Bill, that any amelioration of the conditions in the other areas outside that one-third would involve a worsening of the conditions of supply inside the industrial areas or those areas where there is an economic and abundant supply. The Bill perfectly well covers all these points. When we remember that there are towns not very far from Westminster where current is being sold at 10d., 11 d. and 1s. per unit, there is a very large difference between that and the halfpenny or one penny at which the industrial areas are fortunate enough to be able to purchase their current. There is a very vast margin of difference, and it will be very largely cut down by the carrying out of the proposals in the scheme of this Bill.
After a most careful investigation of the conditions in this country, after a very thorough study of the Clauses of this Bill, after the alterations which have been introduced in Committee, I am convinced that the Bill will result in a very material improvement in the supply and general use of electricity in this country, and will materially benefit those people who to-day have to pay such outrageous prices or have no electricity at all. It is our business, it is the business of all of us in this House, to do everything we possibly can to improve the conditions in industry in this country and to equip ourselves better for that industrial fight which lies 1470 before us. In that connection, one of the countries with which I and the hon. Member for the Moseley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Hannon) are very well acquainted, and which we have studied in the greatest detail because we know that it was a great competitor before the War and we are satisfied that it will again become one of the greatest competitors after the War, is Germany. I should like to read the opinion which the Germans have formed of what the result will be if and when this Bill becomes law and becomes effective.
The Germans are a people who study what is done outside their own country with the greatest detail. There is no country that collects such correct and such voluminous information about the doings of every other country and every other trade and industry outside their own country as Germany. Every scientist of every kind must learn German, for the simple reason that the most complete technical works dealing with any subject are to be found published in Germany. That does not mean that we have not in this country the very highest scientific talent in the world, but our publications are individual publications, whereas the Germans give us collective information from all over the world which otherwise we should have to put together for ourselves. Therefore they know, perhaps, a good deal more of what is going on in our own country, and what the result of a Bill such as this will be, than we may do ourselves. I should like to read a recent extract from a German paper, which says:The carrying through of this great electrification scheme by England will decisively influence the future progress of German industry and, above all, German exports of industrial products, upon the world markets. We shall have a much more difficult fight in world markets owing to the increased difficulties for export of industrial products created by cheaper cost of production in English industry.This is the opinion of our German competitors, and I think it is worthy of some consideration. I am certainly convinced that this Electricity Board, which some people doubt, will work efficiently. I have no hesitation in saying that it will work perfectly efficiently, that it will consist of members who know their business and have the interests of the country at heart, and that it will work in peace and harmony and in full co- 1471 operation with the Electricity Commissioners. If that be the case, and I feel convinced that that will be the case, I am satisfied that the result of the Bill will be very beneficial to the whole country, and more especially to industry.
§ Mr. HARRIS
We have just listened to a very impressive speech—impressive because of the vast technical knowledge of the hon. Member who delivered it, and the very high position which he holds in the profession to which he belongs. With great respect, I would say that he carries more weight with me, and I believe he will carry more weight with the public, than all the cleverness, skill and argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall), who, undoubtedly, put up a very effective, skilful criticism of the Bill, not, only on this Third Reading stage, but right through the earlier stages.
I had the honour for some time of serving on a Committee with the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Sir P. Dawson) for a good many years I was on a Committee which inquired into the whole problem of electricity from the point of view of London. We had the advantage of the advice of engineers from all over the country and from all parts of the world, like Mr. Instill, of Chicago, who is always willing to give us the advantage of his vast experience, as well as municipal and company engineers. In a comparatively infant industry like this experts occasionally agree. The impression made on my mind by all the experts on all the inquiries I have attended for many years was that linking up, unification, was really the foundation of the cheap and economical supply of electricity. The difficulty, and it is no use blinking facts, which we were in in London is very much the same difficulty that the nation has suffered from during the last few years, namely, the difference of opinion between the school to which I belong, who believe in municipal and public ownership and, on the other hand, those who view with suspicion any extension of municipal enterprise and always favour company management and company organisation. In London we were held up for years by that controversy. The London County Council produced its scheme, but the tremendous battle that followed ended in 1472 its failure. Then companies were promoted and Bills introduced in this House, but they only commanded the hostility of those who believed in municipal enterprise, and the result was that nothing was done. What London has suffered as the result of this controversy during the last 20 years is difficult to estimate. The waste of money that it has caused in London must be immense, and the same thing applies to the country as a whole.
I feel a certain sense of responsibility. I have to ask myself if, because I believe in municipal enterprise, and advocate it as the most satisfactory way of supplying electricity, I am justified in opposing this Bill. I do not think I am. I do not consider that the Bill has much to do with the two principles to which I have referred. The greater part of the capital sunk in generating stations and electrical undertakings already is in public hands, and this will not he interfered with by the operation of this Bill. I think the Bill is really an attempt to deal with the problem from the purely technical side, to link up the whole system of electricity throughout the country, and that it follows, in spite of what has been said, the advice of the bulk of technical opinion. I have seen a secret report from an American electrical engineer, Mr. Merz, which cost the London County Council 1,000 guineas, and it deals with London and the Home Counties very much on the same lines as are followed by the Bill. Therefore, it would be a grave responsibility at this stage to throw out the Bill.
It may be that the Amendment is only a gesture, but I take it as a serious proposition, and the result, if the Amendment was carried, would be to defeat the Bill. We may he told that as a compensation we should he able to get rid of this rotten Government, and although I am most anxious to see a change of Government I do not think this particular Measure is the one to fight them on. There are many other Measures which lend themselves much more to attack. If the Bill were dropped, another year would go by before we could produce another scheme; and time is precious, the nation cannot wait. The matter is so urgent that it would be a very serious step to hang up this problem for another year. It should have been deal with 1473 directly after the War. A Bill was produced in 1919 and had it not been for the effective opposition of hon. Members opposite that scheme might have been in operation now and we might have made much progress towards unity and coordination throughout the country. In these circumstances it would be a great responsibility to vote against this Bill. But there are one or two criticisms I want to make. It is unfortunate that the railways have been largely excluded from the scheme. They can come in, but they need not. It is admitted that if we are going to have cheap electricity the most important load is the railway load, and when you come to deal with rural areas the only chance of getting a scheme into operation is to bring in the railways. I think it is rather unfortunate that we should exclude railway generating stations from being selected stations and treated as a part of the machinery for supplying cheap electricity.
There is one other point, and that is the constitution of the Board. Everything depends on the personnel of that body. If we get the right men who will take large views, men who understand the problem and are prepared to adopt drastic measures, then this scheme will function, but if, on the other hand, we get the mere politician, the man who is trying to compromise and is not prepared to take a bold line, it will mean another failure. It would be a good thing if during this Third Reading Debate the Attorney-General would tell us something about the membership of the Board. If the country knew the personnel it would give confidence and disarm opposition. If we can get the right administration then the legislation will be effective, but if we get a Board who will not concentrate on making the scheme a success then we shall have another Bill, another Committee of Inquiry, another Report, but no progress. The hon. and gallant Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) produced a lot of statistics in order to prove that England does not lag behind in the matter of electricity. His figures did not carry much conviction. Statistics can be made to prove almost everything.
Everyone who has travelled will know that for the first time in our history we have to face a serious competition, because other countries are taking away from us the one great advantage we have 1474 had over them—namely, cheaper power. We shall have to make full use of the advantage we have, of the wonderful assets we still possess in our coalfields, and if we can link them up with our business and manufactures on a right basis, on a sound scheme, then the advantage we have had for so long will he retained. For these reasons I am not going to vote against the Bill. It may be necessary to amend it, and in the-public interests to nationalise electricity. That is possible, and the one industry above all which lends itself to public ownership is a monopoly which should be under one control. The problem, however, is so urgent that I think this Bill should become an Act, and have a fair chance of functioning in order that our industries, our traders and our manufacturers, may have the advantage of cheap power as soon as possible.
§ Colonel BURTON
There is one point on which I am in full agreement with the hon. Member who has just spoken, and that is that if we could have the names of the Board published immediately, or announced in this Debate, it would either do away with the necessity of the guarantee, which has been such a bone of contention during the Debates, or show that the guarantee would never be called upon. I agree with him that if we could have business men and not merely politicians on this Board, we may see some results from a Bill of which many of us are not very much enamoured. But I am not so much concerned with the reasons which have been put forward in support of the Amendment, because I feel that the Government have gone a long way to meet what in the ordinary course would have been regarded as the opposition. I cannot understand why hon. Members opposite shoud move this Amendment, when their suggestions have been received by the Government with such generosity and their Amendments accepted with such avidity. I should have thought that they would have accepted the Bill on the principle that half a loaf is better than no bread.
What I am most concerned about is the statement which was made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport this morning. For a long while we have been led to believe that the rural areas were to get great benefits from this Bill. This morning I was surprised to 1475 learn from the Parliamentary Secretary that "there seemed to be an idea abroad that this Bill was to spread electricity through the rural areas." He told us that it was only in a sort of extremely vicarious manner that we might look for any extension in that direction. How did this idea get abroad? The Prime Minister, speaking at Birmingham, said:The co-ordination we propose is directed to the single purpose of securing that electricity shall be generated in an efficient manner, and once this cheap supply is assured, we believe that the increased concentration of efficient distribution will secure this—that every business and every household will he able to get the electricity which it desires.That is how the belief was originally started throughout the country. The heads of the Conservative party were so overjoyed with this declaration, that they broadcast the news throughout the country to the whole of the agricultural population, and the people in the rural areas began to think that at last there was some hope of getting electricity. From Birmingham the Prime Minister proceeded to Sunderland, and there he said:The necessary intercommunicating cables and lines will traverse whole belts of country which might not otherwise be supplied with electricity at all, and just as by those means in Canada and elsewhere it has been possible to establish a great system of rural services, with immense benefit both to agriculture and those who live in the countryside, so I hope"—Hope is a depreciation from "belief" at Birmingham—that in England the countryside may in the progress of this development he afforded opportunities for obtaining an adequate electricity supply.In July, that belief was still further fostered by the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney-General, who said:I can imagine no more fruitful way of watering the field of industry and agricultural life than by providing the guarantees under this Bill.Only last night the right hon. Gentleman said:Let me say at once that the object of the guarantee is to ensure the success of the scheme, which, if carried out, is going to benefit not one class of the community but the whole community. It is going to benefit not urban against rural or rural against urban but both urban and rural, industrial and domestic consumer alike."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th November, 1926; col. 1347, Vol. 199.]1476 Then came the bombshell this morning, in the suggestion that the belief which had spread through the country was not justified. I must confess that for a long while I have felt a doubt about it. For a long while I tried to obtain a plan which would cover the area which I have the honour to represent. At last I got it. In the plan, which in an ordinary map would show the important counties of Suffolk and Norfolk, there is merely a neat little table showing the benefits that the industrial areas will obtain through the agricultural community. No wonder that the belief of the Prime Minister at Birmingham had sunk to a hope at Sunderland, and that the hope at Sunderland, so far as the agricultural members are concerned, has sunk to the despair of Westminster!
§ Mr. KELLY
In supporting the Amendment, I want to assure the hon. Member who has just spoken that that Amendment is put down in all seriousness, and to suggest that it is used as camouflage is a statement contrary to all that is in our minds with regard to this Bill. We are not satisfied with this Measure. The hon. Member himself has realised that there is a great deal wanting in it, and he had better turn his attention in the direction that we are suggesting if he would have some help in securing light and power in the rural areas with which he is concerned. We heard from the hon. Member for Southwest Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) that he was not prepared to vote against the Bill for fear lest the Government might be defeated, and because this was the wrong thing on which to fight them for the purposes of a General Election. He hoped that the Board, when appointed, would be a Board of strong men, who would not think in terms of compromise. The hon. Member himself immediately turned to compromise by stating that, though he did not like the Bill, he was going to compromise with his conscience by voting for it.
I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) is not present, because he has urged that this is a Socialistic Measure. He has repeated to-day most of the statements which he made in Committee during the three and a-half months that we spent upon the Bill. Among those statements 1477 was one that the Leader of the Opposition had said that this was a Socialistic Measure. I am not quite sure whether the Leader of the Opposition was properly reported in that newspaper, but if he was properly reported, I certainly disagree with him, and I repeat what I said in Committee, that there is no Socialism whatever in tiffs Bill. We were reminded this morning by the Parliamentary Secretary of two items that passed through the House without a Division taking place. I am sorry that there was not a Division with regard to the item that deals with the sale of fittings. That may sound somewhat surprising to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. If my opinion had prevailed there would have been a Division. I am not at all satisfied with the proposals of the Bill. I am afraid that those municipalities which already have powers under their special Acts will find themselves delivered into the hands of the retailers. If that be so, it means that once again the people of the country are to be bled by those who retail the various appliances and apparatus required under this scheme.
I can give proof of my statement. Take a few of the items. First, there are ovens for cooking purposes. If the retailers who are to be appointed on a Committee to decide differences are to decide that the catalogue price must be the price charged to the consumer, each of those consumers will have to pay a great many more pounds for the article than he would have to pay now in purchasing it from a municipality. In the case of these cookers they are scheduled to-day at a catalogue price of £27 1s. 6d., although, if a company is installing the cooker in a dwelling house, the company buys it at £13—a difference of £14 to the purchaser—while the municipality can and does instal it at a cost of £15. If the catalogue price is to be charged it means that tens of thousands of purchasers of these articles will have to pay another £12 each. It is so with most of the other items of this kind. I will not weary the House with detail, but the smallest difference I find between the catalogue price and the price charged by the municipalities at the present moment is a difference of £5. I hope the Government do not intend to deliver the consumers of 1478 electricity into the hands of the retailers who have made a good thing out of this business in the past and will, if they are allowed to do so under this Bill, make an even better thing out of it in the future.
The other subject to which I wish to refer is the fact that this Bill pays greater regard to the better-off people in the country—both to the large consumers and again to those employés who are in receipt of high incomes. Those people are to be compensated, but when we come to the case of the lower-paid people employed by the various concerns we find adequate compensation refused to them. I realise that we had a discussion at this point as recently as last night, and I do not propose to dwell upon it, but I urge the House, even at this stage, to see that equal treatment is meted out to all the people who are displaced by reason of this scheme. Both the hon. and gallant Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) and the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour) have spoken of the opportunity which they desired to go into the law courts. Most industries with which I have had to deal, prefer to keep outside the Law Courts, but the two hon. Members to whom I refer have throughout these proceedings expressed a desire that any differences which may arise should be dealt with by the Law Courts of this country, thereby imposing considerable expense on the people concerned. I cannot understand that point of view. It seems to me that in their determination to prevent the control of electricity passing out of the hands of those who have held it in private concerns up to the present, they are prepared to go to almost any lengths—so anxious are they to retain in the hands of the present holders the power and profit which has come from controlling this supply up to the present time. The Bill is not satisfactory. It does not deal with the fuel and power problem at one and the same time. Therefore we will divide upon it, and I hope, despite the fears of the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green, that there will be a majority in our Lobby to show that the people are coming round to the right view of what is needed in the matter of electricity supplies.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Sir PHILIP PILDITCH
I will not attempt to follow the hon. Member with regard to the larger proportion of his speech in which he criticised the Bill. I will only say that with one part of his speech I find myself in agreement, and that is his repudiation of the idea that this is a Socialist Measure. I do not think it is, and, in a moment, I propose to give my reasons for that belief. I desire, first, to say a few words in support of the Bill. It is to my mind the only Measure in view which will assist this country in the production of electricity at a cost enabling our industries to compete on better terms with the foreigner. Some of my hon. Friends who usually sit around me, but who, for reasons with which the House will sympathise, are not present at this moment, seem to think that this Bill will not reduce the price of electricity. The hon. Member for Hulme (Sir. T. Nail) just now said that the Bill only viewed a reduction on the average of a penny per unit in 1940. That, after all, is not quite a fair representation of the facts. A reduction of Id. per unit on the average in 1940 might very easily be a reduction of the .6 per unit at which the big industries in this country can now use electricity, to one-half that figure.
I agree with the promoters of the Bill that the great industrial centres will very likely be able, through the operation of the Bill, to reduce the cost of electricity in bulk to such a lower figure—probably not one-third of the average penny—as will help us to compete advantageously in foreign markets. It may be said that we are doing it now, but we are not doing it as fully as we should like, and I do not think our industry is in such a condition that we can safely leave out any element of reduction in the cost of production. I am not now speaking merely of electricity, but of those articles of manufacture in the production of which it plays a part. I do not speak as an expert in electricity, although I have been surrounded by experts for the last four-days. I am an ordinary man in the street who has had some part, as a member of an administrative body, in deciding the actions of that body in regard to this matter of electricity supply. The administrative body which I have in mind is the London County Council, on which for 12 years I took part in the considera- 1480 tion of the development of the electricity industry. I have listened to the very sincere speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Hulme and other hon. Members on this subject. The hon. and gallant Member for Hulme possesses a great deal of technical information, and his speeches, if I may say so, have culminated to-day in as clear an exposition of the views of those who are opposed to the Bill, as the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary was a clear pronouncement in support of the Bill. The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Hulme for having put that side of the question in an absolutely clear way.
When I hear those expert opinions opposed to the Bill and hear the view expressed confidently that the Bill cannot do what the Government think it will do, I am bound to recall the fact that in the last 20 years or longer every Committee or Commission which has dealt with this subject has come to the conclusion first, that electrical costs could be reduced by better co-ordination, by standardisation, and by production on a big scale, and that those reports to which I refer have culminated in the two reports, the Williamson Report and the Weir Report, which form the basis of this Bill. I am bound to say that, although I respect the technical opinions of my hon. Friends who have spoken during the last three days, I take into consideration as equally valuable the opinions of those Committees which have had the advice of men of, at any rate, equal technical attainments in the electrical world. I support the Bill, on the ground that I think it will result in the reduction of electrical costs.
The next point, referred to by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly), is as to whether this Bill is Nationalisation or Socialism. The hon. Member opposite thinks it is not, and I do not think it is Nationalisation. There is only-one thing in the Bill which gives it that flavour, and that is the guarantee. I do not like the guarantee. I do not think it is necessary, and I think the money could be raised without it, but, on the other hand, I do not think that it means Nationalisation, nor do I think it makes the Bill Socialistic in principle.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
Does the hon. Member imagine that Socialism and Nationalisation are interchangeable terms?
§ Sir P. PILDITCH
Not at all! I am not speaking of them as synonymous terms, but as two elements or branches of the same point of view. We know that Nationalisation is an emanation of Socialism, but this Bill is neither the one nor the other. Although I do not like the guarantee, I do not think it makes the Bill socialistic, and I do not think it is what has been said so often during the last few days, namely, a definite step towards Nationalisation. With the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald), or the lucubrations of the gentleman who was once a Member of this House, and who let himself loose in "John Bull" a day or two ago, and described this Bill as a Nationalist and Socialist Bill, I do not agree. I think the matter as to whether this is Nationalisation or Socialism has been much better put by the very Amendment which we are now discussing. Hon. Members opposite, the Socialists, object to this Bill because it perpetuates the existence of private ownership in a service which ought to be owned and controlled by the community. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) represented pretty accurately what this Bill is in regard to its principles when he said that, although they, on those benches, had no cause to love a Bill of this description, they at least wanted to see what benefits would be forthcoming as a result of the first instalment of national organisation. I am prepared to admit and agree that this is a matter of national organisation, and, indeed, it is bound to be. You cannot tackle this question without it, but that does not make it a matter of Nationalisation. I do not think the Bill embodies the principle of Nationalisation, although, as the hon. Member for Don Valley said, it does embody the principal of national organisation.
I want to conclude with this. I have had the opportunity of watching the progress of our electrical legislation, or attempts at legislation, for quite a number of years—longer than I care to think. I remember watching, as quite a youngster, the way in which we, in the eighties, as pioneers in the 'electrical world, introduced the system of giving a Provisional Order to every district or company that wanted one, which resulted in the chaotic condition of all these small companies being set up, with small productive 1482 organisations, from which we are suffering now. I have also watched the attempts that have been made from time to time to get something like order, coordination, and production on a decent scale out of this chaotic state of affairs. I remember, as a member of the London County Council, that one of the earliest attempts that was made was made about the year 1905 or 1906, when the first scheme was an entirely private enterprise one for greater London by Mr. Merz, which passed through this House and the other House, but, by the accident of a day or two at the end of the Session, it did not receive the Royal Assent. Had that Bill passed, then our position electrically would have been entirely different from what it is now. There is not much difference, in my recollection, between the general principles of that Bill, brought in over 20 years ago, and those of the Bill with which we are now dealing.
What was the next step in this tragic condition of affairs 1 It was that the London County Council introduced a gigantic scheme, a megalomaniac municipal Bill—such a thing as the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) who was speaking a short time ago wants—that was referred to the electors and turned down. That, though not Nationalisation, was municipalisation, and it would not have embodied the sound principle of individual enterprise, which, Members on this side support. Then, immediately after that, when the party on the County Council which I was supporting was returned to power, we tried to bring in the same Bill, modified, and with powers of leasing to private companies. It was brought to this House, but turned down. Then came another Bill, promoted by the London County Council for London and adjoining counties, developing a scheme of doing something very much like what is now being done, and that was in course of being developed when the War broke out. And then the 1919 Act, which, giving no definite powers, has been almost a dead letter.
And here we are to-day, in 1926, making another attempt to bring about something in the nature of order and cohesion in this chaotic electrical industry of ours. I know my hon. Friends who have taken such great interest in this subject on this side do not think with me that the industry is 1483 in need of such improvement as this Bill implies and, secondly, that this Bill will produce that improvement, but knowing what I do of the efforts that have been made and the principles on which they have gone, believing as I do that improvements of the kind that the Government are attempting to bring about are necessary from the point of view of our industrial position throughout the world, and believing as I do that these improvements will be helped by this Bill, I am going into the Lobby to support it.
In the first place, I would like to tell the House that I have not at the present moment, nor, if this Bill be passed, any intention of holding any securities in electrical undertakings. I am also extraordinarily loth to get up and speak against a Bill introduced by our own party. But I have heard the last two speakers say that this Bill has nothing Socialistic about it. I was sent here by my constituents to fight anything Socialistic, and this Bill strikes me as being from beginning to end Socialistic. I am perfectly certain the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is a trusting and confiding person, but I think the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) had rather his tongue in his cheek when he talked about this not being Socialistic. I think this Bill spells Socialism from beginning to end, and I would much rather take what the Leader of the Opposition says about it when he remarked thatThe Electricity Bill will be found to be, not only for itself, but for its beginnings and its effects, one of the most substantial advances in the direction of Socialism, and I laugh and laugh every time I see a Tory supporting it.I do not grudge him his laughter. If we bring in a Socialistic Measure, I do not wonder that the other side laugh at it. I would like to ask why we could not have heard a little more about the Weir Report. It is all very well for Members on the other side to laugh, but they have a field for private enterprise which nobody else in the country has. I am hoping next Session their sphere of activity may be somewhat curtailed. Why could not we have heard a little more about this Weir Report? I think some of the evidence might have been brought out. I know, personally, there 1484 were one or two people who gave evidence before that Committee absolutely contradictory to the Report of the Committee. A lot of the information in the Report was pretty old stuff, and at least, before introducing legislation, we should have brought the statistics up-to date. The statistics should have been examined and put before the Committee upstairs, if not before the House on the Second Reading of the Bill, in a clear manner.
Since 1923, the production of electricity, I am informed, in this country has gone up by between 20 and 30 per cent. That, in itself, is a very big advance, but it evidently did not satisfy the Weir Committee. It would have been a very much wiser step if these powers had all been put together and taken to the City, where a great deal of money could have been obtained. Instead of that, we are to have an Electricity Board with absolutely autocratic powers, not directly responsible to anyone. To my way of thinking, that is all to the bad, and also, I think, it is pure Socialism. It is the first step towards nationalisation. It would probably be all right if the present Minister of Transport remained in his post, but you may get another one we do not like so much, and what is the result going to be? I do not think cheap electricity, but a huge bureaucracy, and a very expensive one to the country.
I would like to offer a few remarks about the Attorney-General. I really have admired the way he has handled this Bill. There must be, I suppose, a keen desire in the legal mind to win, and to prove that he can win, and I rather fancy it has been borne in upon the Attorney-General that he is, as I think he is, going to win.
Mr. SAN DEMAN
That is the first time the right hon. Gentleman has said "Hear, hear!" I have sat here a good many hours, and I have not liked the sort of furtive glad-eye between the Attorney-General and the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee). My right hon. Friend has my sympathy—I do not suppose he wants it—because of the cheers he gets from the other side.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
On the Third Reading, the discussion should be confined to matters in the Bill.
I am very sorry that I was going beyond the limits. I cannot see how we are to get really cheap electricity. There is a great deal of confusion in the minds of the experts as to the cost of this scheme. Take the question of standardisation. The Commissioners say it will cost, £8,000,000, but I have heard other people who have got on extremely well in electricity, say it is going to cost about £28,000,000. Where is that money to come from? It is to come out of the pockets of the consumers of electricity. I do not care very much what the private consumer pays for his electricity, but I do mind what the trade of the country pays for its electricity, and anything that is going to put up the cost of electricity to the big businesses of the country is going to do the country a great disservice. We may be able to cut down private costs 1½d. or 2d., but to the big businesses I do not think it is going to be really an economy. There has been a lot of talk about getting cheap electricity throughout the country. It is not going to happen. We are not going to get electricity spread to the outlying districts, because this new Board is not interested in the distribution of electricity, but will concern itself only with things at the fountain head, where, with a very little effort, the cost of electricity could be brought down all round.
One other point which I think is very important is that of the trade union which is going to run these various electricity stations. There is no doubt it will be a very strong trade union, and will have the power of plunging the country into darkness with a lightning strike, if I may he excused for using that term where lighting is concerned. At the present moment if there is a strike at one electricity station public opinion in that neighbourhood is able to get at the workers, but with this huge grid all over the country the workers at the station can easily say, "It is not we who are stopping the current, but the men at the station further on." It will be putting a very great temptation into the hands of the small body of men responsible for power supply and lighting throughout the country.
§ Sir ROBERT SANDERS
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir P. Pilditch), I do not profess to technical knowledge on this subject, and I shall not enter into details as to kilowatts or standardisation of frequency. My excuse for intervening in the Debate is that I have passed through a comparatively long and arduous period of compulsory education in this subject during the summer months. I entered on that stage of my education with the impartiality of ignorance. It is quite true that, as is the case with most of us on this side, I have a preference for private enterprise in industry wherever possible. That preference does not arise, as hon. Members opposite assume, because we want to make profits out of a particular industry, nor because we wish other people who are engaged in the industry to make profits out of us. The reason why so many of us believe that private enterprise is the better way is founded on experience. We have found that, on the whole, a private enterprise is worked more efficiently and at less cost than an enterprise run by a Government or a municipality; and I think our experience shows us, also, that if we have any difficulties with any private manufacturer or commercial body with whom we are doing business we are treated with more courtesy and more consideration than we are by the representatives of Government undertakings or municipalities. I am not going to enter further into the general question of Socialism and private enterprise. I am not bigoted about it. It is my wish to see as extensive and as cheap a supply of electricity as possible, and if anyone can show me that there is any better way than the present of getting a good supply at a cheap rate I shall not ask any questions as to where that supply comes from. But I would point out that the supply of electricity is one of those public services which private enterprise cannot run entirely on its own account. It must come to the Government for help and support. It cannot lay its mains under roads or enter on private property without permission from the Government, and therefore electricity supply always has been an industry in which private enterprise had to be supplemented by public assistance and support.
Throughout the discussions on this Bill, those in favour of the maintenance of the present order of things have put their 1487 case with an ability which those who served on the Committee must admire, and put it, also, with a frequency which I hope will not be standardised. In a very difficult task—because it is always a difficult task to fight a Bill introduced by your own Government—the opponents of the Bill have conducted the proceedings with a decorum and a good humour that is worthy of the best traditions of the party to which they belong. The case for the Bill seems to me to be this, that admirable as may be the way in which the present undertakings are conducting their business they do not cover the whole country, and that it is believed that by linking-up of those undertakings we shall get a larger production of electricity and at a cheaper rate. Those who have supported the various undertakings now in existence, whether municipal or private have convinced me, if they did not convince every member of the Committee, that these undertakings have been doing good work and are efficiently run; but what they did not succeed in convincing me of was that this Bill will do them any harm. I followed the proceedings with very great attention, and I do not think they established the case that they would he damnified in any way by the Bill. As far as I can see their financial interests are amply protected, and I cannot see that they will have any difficulty in carrying on their good work as efficiently as hitherto. These do not extend to the whole of the country. There are large parts of the country where there are no undertakings at all and there is no doubt that undertakings such as those represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) and those with which the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour) is connected are exceedingly efficient undertakings. I would point out however, that we have not all the privilege, or it may be the misfortune, to live in Manchester and we have not all the privilege of living in districts served by the companies with which my hon. Friend below the Gangway is connected. We happen to live in some of those less favoured districts which do not always come up to the high standard of which we have heard so much in our Debates in Committee upstairs.
A curious case has come to my notice, and it was brought out at a recent meeting of my own county council. A 1488 company obtain an Order for supplying electricity in a certain portion of Somerset. A year-and-a-half ago that company applied for an extension of their Order. At that time some of those interested in county affairs were rather doubtful as to the financial position of this company, and one of the leading members of our county council came to London and saw one of the Electricity Commissioners, and he told the Commissioner that he had doubts as to the financial position of this particular company which was applying for an extension of its Order. The answer he got from the Commissioner was:We make very careful investigations, and we do not recommend the giving of an Order unless we are satisfied as to the financial position of the company.What has happened since? That company, although its representatives stated that it would without any unnecessary delay bring a supply of electricity to a certain town, has not done so. Many of the inhabitants of that town actually did the wiring in their own houses in order to be ready for the current when it was supplied, but nothing has happened. Weeks and months went on and there was no trace of the current being brought. First of all, these people appealed through the clerk of the urban district council to the Electricity Commissioners. They thought they would try State control, but that did not help them very much. The Electricity Commissioners sent an answer which is rather typical of those answers which make some of us object to bureaucracy. They referred the applicants to the provision of Section 21 of the Schedule of the Electric Lighting Clauses Act, 1899, and they said that they could do nothing to help them for a year and a-half. Having tried State control and failed, the local people applied to private enterprise, and the representative of the company came to see their representatives. This company representative seems to have been a bit of a humourist, because he stated that it was part of the practice of the company to make their schemes as co-operative as possible, allowing as many ratepayers as desired to take shares. It was on that basis that in the new areas this company invited the inhabitants of several towns and villages to take up shares, and the representative of the company stated 1489 that £1,200 had been contributed in this way in a neighbouring village, but they wanted £5,000 from the town in question.
That sort of treatment does not increase the enthusiasm for private electricity enterprise in what is really a very Conservative and anti-Socialist district. It is little short of a scandal to come to people who are expecting a supply of electricity in this way and tell them that if they will take shares in the company they can get a supply now, but if not they will have to wait for some time. It is a fact that in many of these small towns the supply of electricity is very dear and it is not an uncommon thing to have a charge made of 1s. per unit. In a great many parts of the country we are really getting no electricity at all. I do not hope for too much from this Bill. I think faith in legislation is the mother of disappointment. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport moved the Third Reading of this Bill in a very able speech, but I was rather disappointed that he did not hold out much hope of getting a supply of electricity into the country districts. He did however, say that the transmission lines were going to go through the country districts and he held out an expectation that we might be able to tap them.
I have no doubt whatever as to the good an electric supply would do in country districts. I heard a lecture given in a Committee Room upstairs in the course of last summer and the lecturer stated that if electricity could be introduced into hen houses, we should get double the number of eggs. I do not know so much about that, but I believe it is true that with a free access to electric power farmers might make considerable economies in business, and in spite of what. has been said in a certain publication issued in the course of the summer, I know that there are enterprising farmers who would only be too ready to avail themselves of a chance of adopting electric power for the conduct of their operations. I do not want to prophesy as to how far we shall be able to avail ourselves of these opportunities but I believe that it will do something to help us in the country districts, and for that reason I shall support the Third Reading of this Measure.
§ Mr. G. BALFOUR
I do not propose, on the occasion of the Third Reading, 1490 notwithstanding the long and somewhat strenuous time through which we have passed in dealing with this Bill, to occupy the attention of the House for very long. I have very lively recollections of the treatment I received and the great indulgence which was shown me on the occasion of the Second Reading, when perhaps, I made a somewhat unduly long speech. To-day I do not intend to trespass to the same extent on the indulgence of the House. I do, however, wish to say that I endorse all that I said in my Second Reading speech, and I endorse and concur in all that has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for the Hulme Division (Sir J. Nall). I would like it to be understood that to-day I am merely making a few cursory observations on matters which have largely arisen during the course of the Debate on the Bill. I should like, first of all, to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Sir R. Sanders) for the very kind expressions which he used in reference to those of us who have been actively engaged in opposition to this Bill in Committee. It is some small measure of satisfaction to us to know that we at least achieved that very difficult duty well within the limits of Parliamentary decorum.
My hon. Friend behind me, the Member for West Lewisham (Sir P. Dawson), gave us some illustrations of what is done in Germany. He went back over the old ground and referred to a territory of 8,000 square miles with many stations linked up, and he said the same thing obtains in the United States of America. He mentioned the fact that in the North-east coast of England we were only dealing with a territory of 1,400 square miles. Why is it that I have to reiterate what I have asked from the beginning of the proceedings on this Bill on the Second Reading: Where are the facts I It is not sufficient to say that there are so many stations linked up in Germany. It is not sufficient to say that these stations that are linked up embody the principle and the engineering details that are to be found in the Bill before the House. Why does not the hon. Member take up the facts in Germany, tell us the conditions of the stations themselves, what stations are interconnected, what methods there are there that are applicable to this country, and, taking for the purposes of 1491 his own argument the most favourable stations that he can, show that if we took stations A, B and C and connected them with a grid in territories comparable with territories in Germany, we should by doing that bring down the cost of fuel to a certain point and be able to shut down stations? Why does he not give details and facts which will be open to proof or refutation? I maintain that throughout the proceedings on the Second Reading and in the Committee upstairs we have had nothing but loose talk and statements as to what is done in other countries, and what can be done here without a single sentence to support them.
The real fact stated in simple language is this. There is no comparison between the position in Germany and the position in this country, and I am quite prepared to meet my hon. Friend when and where he likes and to take up that case with him. The real fact is that in Germany you must transport your source of power by some other means than rail transportation. You have enormous lignite beds totally different from ordinary coal mining in this country. You would not think of mining that soft fuel at great depths and transporting it in huge quantities. You naturally transport it by means of electrical transmission. In this country it has been proved many times over that it is better to transport our hard coal over a short distance to a power station. These stations in Germany, operated by lignite, are interconnected with water power, and you have under these conditions a. net of transmission lines. Can the hon. Gentleman show conditions in this country directly comparable to the conditions in Germany It cannot be done. It was well known when the Weir Report was made up that it could not be clone. But, as will he recognised by hon. Members at once, it is extraordinarily difficult to attempt to work out a scheme of this kind within the limits of a Second Reading Debate or within the limits of the limited point which one can discuss on an Amendment in Committee, no matter how many Amendments one may move, and how many speeches he may make. To prove these problems to a tribunal such as this is absolutely impossible within the limits within which we are allowed to debate questions in the House of Commons. This matter cannot and will not be explored 1492 until the facts are brought right up to date and put before a select Committee of one House or of both Houses, so that they may be proved and tested, where my hon. Friend can produce his evidence, and where I or friends of mine can produce such evidence as we can adduce, where counsel can cross-examine on them, and where you can find out exactly the truth of the matter before the nation is committed to a policy dependent upon these very difficult technical commercial and financial facts.
I am anxious not to intervene at any undue length, because I know there are several hon. Members who wish to speak, but there are 4ew points upon which I should like to touch regarding what fell from the lips of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. My hon. and gallant Friend said that if I was Minister of Transport I should rush from the Front Bench to the Back Bench and oppose my own Bill. It is perfectly true that, if I should find myself in the altogether ridiculous position of sponsoring this Bill, I should certainly, the moment I found myself responsible for it, rush from the Treasury Bench to the Back Bench. My hon. and gallant Friend dealt with me rather freely and accused me in the remarks I had to make of dealing only with kilowatts and power factors. These are merely the minor matters upon which I touched. It is quite true that in Committee when we had an Amendment dealing with kilowatts we could discuss nothing else, and it is quite true that when we had an Amendment dealing with power factors we could discuss nothing but power factors. But I never missed an opportunity of getting away from the technical details and keeping the issue down to the broad point as to how this would affect the country as a whole, not merely as a matter of electricity supply, but as a principle embodied in a public Statute, capable of being applied to gas, water, sewage or anything else which affects the lives of the people of this country.
I say, frankly, that I am not in matter concerned so much as to how this will affect the electricity industry one way or the other. It is to me a matter of trivial importance as to whether this will have a serious effect on private enterprise or municipal enterprise. That is a serious matter in itself, but the only thing which should loom large in the 1493 minds of hon. and right hon. Members of this House is whether the main principle of policy embodied in this Bill is good or bad. In my judgment the principle of policy embodied in the Bill is bad. Not only is it bad, but there has never been a sentence uttered from the Front Bench throughout this Debate which would indicate that there is any merit in it. Words, words, words going on all the time, but never once have they taken up the facts that this Bill sets up a Board under State control and contains for the first time a free advance or guarantee of £33,500,000 of State money for the purpose of this enterprise, and said that if this principle were applied to this, that, or the other industry, it would work out well for the people of the country. We have no right, except upon an undoubted clamour from the whole mass of the people of the country—and that has not yet arisen—we have no right in this House of Commons in a Measure of this kind, highly technical, not understood by the people outside, and I am sure I may say without offence, not understood by many of the Members of this House of Commons, to change a great principle of public policy in a Measure of this kind without announcing it to the world, not as a matter of cheap electricity to the rural districts, which is alluring; but we ought to say that we propose now to take a new line and change public policy, and in doing so we, the Conservative party, and still more the Government, should make it clear that it is a safe and sound policy for the country and for the major interest of the country, which means for the interests of the people, and that no harm will come to anyone. There has been no justification along these lines.
I have opposed this Measure, not because it is electricity, but because it contains a principle of policy that has not been sustained and gone into by any arguments from the Front Bench. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport could not resist the opportunity of following the consistent line of action of throwing bouquets across the Table to the hon. Member for Lime-house (Mr. Attlee). He did not congratulate him on following the practice on the Front Bench of making discourteous references to the supporters of his party who happened to oppose this Bill. He stated that he regretted that two of the Electricity 1494 Commissioners had left, and he made some capital out of the fact that they left to join company undertakings. Yes, they were the only two company men that joined the Electricity Commissioners, and a short time was long enough for them.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one of those men was connected with a great municipal undertaking?
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I beg the hon. and gallant Gentleman's pardon; I am glad to be corrected. One of the two men was a company man and the other a very distinguished engineer who had been connected with a municipal undertaking at one of the finest stations in the country. The last Commissioner left, I think, after he had had a. year's experience of the Electricity Commissioners.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I broke his heart? I shall be extremely sorry if anything so unkind as that should be thought, but it rather throws a light on the difficulty of getting company men to occupy seats on the Commission. I only referred to this matter in passing because the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport made rather a point of it. He said he wished to call attention to an ideal district, the model on which he would like to see all England developed. That model district has three big stations and 12 waste heat stations. This model company objects to the Bill because they fear the Board will "mess them about." Those are the words of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport; they are not my own words. The North-east coast company fear that the Board will mess them about. An ideal station, a model to be followed throughout the country, does not want to have anything to do with this scheme because they will be messed about! Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that during the past two years or thereabouts many companies have had negotiations for inter-linking all waste stations held up because of such Measures as this? There are nine circles on the map ready for making their linking-in arrangements. How long will it be before they are 1495 linked if we are to wait until the Central Board has been set up and all the matters dealt with have received their approval? People will have to operate these stations under the direction of a Board if the stations are selected. How are we to make progress if we are all waiting for the Central Board? The development which has taken place already is going on all over the country.
I must, in conclusion, touch on the question of standardisation. There would be a benefit to all, I think the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport said, but the only evidence he produced, and I like to give full credit where evidence is produced, was that the standardisation in the manufacture of plant would be of great value. I have endeavoured to give his exact statement. The 50-cycle plant manufactured is produced in such volume in the larger workshops of the country as to make no difference whether we standardise the rest of the country or not; but, alternatively, different cycles, where used, are used in other markets. The world is not standardised. Our manufacturers wish to be able to compete in other markets for what is required in those countries. I have tried to pick out what good there is in standardisation. Why should I oppose it? Very few systems have been changed-over, and the largest change-over to a standardised system in this country shows what can be done. Standardisation is good in detailed interests. Naturally, if you are only making a few articles you reduce your costs by standardisation. It is good in the case of motor manufacturing works and various miscellaneous works which we could all mention, but it is a totally different thing when you come to take standardisation as a national policy. Standardisation, as a national policy, is but the uniform clothing of a pauper institution. Standardised electricity would produce a pauperising, and not an exhilarating, effect on the country.
There is one other observation of my hon. Friend that I should like to touch upon, and that is the old hackneyed phrase that if you improve the load factor you get your costs down. That is true of the power station. If the load factor of the power station goes up, the result will be that the unit costs of the whole of that station will go down, but, 1496 as I have said time and again in different places, and I ought almost to apologise for repeating it here, if you put a 90 per cent. load factor customer on to a 10 per cent. load factor station, that means that you get a 50 per cent. load factor, but you have got to give the man with the 90 per cent. load factor the whole benefit of the 90 per cent. load factor, and you cannot give it to the 10 per cent. man, or you will never get the business of the 90 per cent. man; it would be cheaper for him to put in his own plant. I cannot explore that, because it is quite impossible to explore these matters on the Floor of the House of Commons. I want to make quite clear, however, what I had out on the 1919 Bill with the then Home Secretary, who was in charge. The argument is the same now. It is a fallacy to say that you can give the advantages of the high load factor to the man with a high load factor and also to the man who comes on with a low load factor. My hon. and gallant Friend was no doubt confusing this with the fact that the general efficiency of the station is improved; but that is not a question of the load factor so much as of the total load on the station, and the diversity of the load on the station. Each load factor customer has to get the benefit of his own load factor, or you will not get the high load factor customer to take his supply from the station.
I should like, in conclusion, to say just a word with reference to what was said by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee). He said that we had heard a great deal in the Committee with regard to private interests—harbours, gas, and so on—but that no one spoke for industry as a whole. I do not want to pursue that, but I am in the recollection of the House as to whether my main argument has always consistently been rather the effect on industry as a whole than the effect on any particular interest. The matter with which we are concerned is, I think, more a matter which affects the public powers and interests of the people generally, rather than any particular selfish interests of manufacturers or corporations. I take my stand, in opposing this Bill, on these words which I have uttered: "Prove that the principle of your policy is good for the people as a whole." It is the energy, the ability, the 1497 private enterprise of the individual that has created this industry and made the country. I was very much struck with the words of Dr. Nansen a few days ago, when he was installed as Lord Rector of the University of St. Andrews. He then said:The spirit of adventure may be defined as being a perpetual yearning to overcome difficulties and danger, and to penetrate into regions outside the beaten track. They would find, in the lives of men who had dorm anything, that it was the spirit of adventure, the call of the unknown, that had lured them on along their course. Great events in the world depended on the spirit of adventure shown by certain individuals, in grasping opportunities when they occurred.He went on to say that self-trust is the first secret of success. In Measures such as this we are killing self-trust. I think it is the bounden duty of everyone, especially of those who sit on these benches, to oppose a Measure such as this. As we are proclaimed and unashamed supporters of private enterprise, let us either declare ourselves as supporters of private enterprise or go over and join hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Mr. A. GREENWOOD
The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour) has spoken under the stress of a great sorrow. He is feeling now the great disillusion that the political party with which he has been associated has deviated just a little from the narrow path of sheer, stark individualism. I wish to say that the Government are deserving of all our sympathies. I have no doubt that the learned Attorney-General and his colleagues will utter prayers of thankfulness to-night that they have got rid of the Bill from this House, because it has exposed in a most extraordinary way the demoralisation and bewilderment of the Conservative party. From the beginning to the end, the real discussion has been in the nature of a family quarrel between members of the Conservative party, and it has been a little embarrassing to us on this side to hear the opponents of the Measure on that side facing us and hurling accusing speeches at us because they could not face the Attorney-General. There is some misconception in the minds of hon. Members as to our attitude on this subject. There are those on the opposite benches who regard this Bill as a dangerous experiment in something akin to Communism. There are those who 1498 regard it as being quite in line with Conservative traditions and policy. I think those who feel this Bill to be somewhat dangerous should remember that the Minister of Transport is the chairman of the Anti-Socialist Union, and I have wondered during the progress of the debates on the Bill whether the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) was not really trying to oust the Minister of Transport from that position in order to occupy it himself.
The Bill seeks to maintain private enterprise. The hon. and gallant Gentleman in moving the Third Reading said the ideal area was in the North-east district where there was a private company. The fact that this Bill has been introduced by the Conservative party ought to be proof enough to its own recalcitrant members that they need not be afraid of it. Every possible precaution has been taken in the Bill to protect and to safeguard private interests. When we tried unavailingly yesterday to secure some little measure of justice for workpeople we failed, although we pointed out, and it was not denied, that private interests have been protected in every possible way. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hulme referred to the proposals that were put before the Coal Commission by the Miners' Federation. I am afraid he cannot have read those proposals. I speak of them with some knowledge. I was a witness in support of them before the Coal Commission, and the perfectly fantastic idea that the Government is pursuing as regards electricity the proposals that were put before the Commission will not stand a moment's examination. If that were so we should not have put this Amendment on the Paper to-day. On the contrary, we should have been glad to go into the Lobby behind the Attorney-General and the Minister of Transport in support of the Bill.
In its essentials this is a Bill for the regulation and co-ordination of the existing electrical industry. It is a perfectly normal development of private enterprise. It is perfectly true that it will make it much easier for some Labour Government to deal with this problem, but it is no more essentially Socialist in its principles than any of our industrial regulations. We have had, because of our industrial developments, time and time again to bring to bear a certain measure of public or quasi-public supervision and regulation 1499 upon all our industrial activities, and the most this Bill does is to carry further the existing system Of public and private enterprises. In our view that is an experiment that cannot permanently succeed. We do not believe that you can weave into one system of national electric energy public enterprise and private enterprise, both founded on entirely different principles. All that we get in this Bill is the regulation, the co-ordination of private undertakings and public undertakings, bearing some obscure relation to an obscure Board, which stands in a very vague relationship to the Electricity Commissioners. That is all that this Bill really does.
The quarrel on the opposite benches is a quarrel between the economics of the dark ages and the 19th century. The hon. Member for Hampstead is a great exponent of the economics of the dark ages. The Minister of Transport and the Attorney-General have been the exponents of the more enlightened capitalism. The difference between us and the other side is a real one. It has been said by the hon. Member for Hulme that we have been the real supporters of the Bill. I think the hon. Member for the Middleton and Prestwich Division (Mr. Sandeman) referred to the furtive glad eye as between the Government and the Labour party. Our position has been perfectly clear from the start. We opposed this Bill on Second Reading because it was not a substantial contribution to a Socialist solution of this problem.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Not two-thirds, not one-third, not one-tenth. It takes us a little further along the road towards the co-ordination of industry, and to that extent makes it a little easier for the future Labour Government which will handle this question on real national lines. In the Committee we said, "If the Government will persist in this 19th century capitalism as against the economics of the Dark Ages, so eloquently pleaded by the hon. Member for Hampstead, then, on its merits, we will consider each proposal of the Government." It is perfectly true that on occasion after occasion we have given our votes in support of the Government, as against the representatives of the Dark Ages. For that there is no need to apologise. Of two evils, choose 1500 the lesser. Now that we have arrived at a stage in the discussion of the Bill when it is possible to assert again our general opposition, we felt impelled to put down this Amendment, making it clear that, in our view, this Bill does very little to solve the problems with which the country is faced. So far from being a truly Socialist Measure the Bill is a defence against Socialism. That is why it is being put forward. It has been the deliberate intention of the Government, by evolving machinery which has some air of similarity to a public scheme, to do something to stave off the real attack.
The Bill is open to criticism from our point of view, on other grounds. The Government have had two years of office. They have had unparalleled opportunities of dealing with this problem. They have had before them an ever-increasing volume of experience and the results of increasing scientific research, all of which goes to show that the problem of electricity is one which cannot be considered by itself. The Coal Commission felt the same. There is a danger in a Bill of this kind of over-emphasising the importance of electricity. We are but at the beginning of the possible development of electrical current in industry and for domestic consumption, but I am not going to admit that thereby we are going to supersede as producers of power either gas or oil; and if it be true that the power problem is the real problem, then it is clear that electricty is merely part of a problem which is much larger and which ought to have been dealt with as a power problem. It is quite impossible to deal with power unless you deal with coal. The Government produced a miserable little Measure which purported to be a reorganisation Bill. It was the least the Government could do, and not the most they might have done had they been sincere in their desire to deal with the problem. At the same time, and without any reference to that Bill, we have this Electricity Bill.
After all the time the Government have had we ought not to have had two little patchwork Bills, each of them ignoring the existence of the other. We should have had the coal and power problem dealt with as one great problem. That was the proposal put forward by the Miners' Federation to the Samuel Commission. It was an attempt on broad 1501 and comprehensive lines to set forth at least the outlines of a scheme whereby the coal problem would be dealt with as the basis of any national power policy, and, therefore, in our Amendment we include words to express our view that one weakness of the Bill is the fact that it does nothing whatever to co-ordinate the question of electrical production and transmission with the large question of coal production and power as a whole. This Bill will, of course, reach the Statute Book, notwithstanding the frantic efforts made by the Government's own sup- porters to defeat it. It will do some- thing to bring a larger measure of co-ordinated effort into the development of this industry. But it is our considered view that this Bill alone cannot solve the large problem which awaits solution and on which the industrial prosperity and the domestic happiness of the people of this country so largely depend.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
In rising to wind up the Debate on the Third Reading it seems that in addition to defending the Bill I have also to defend myself. I lave been accused of being a Socialist for introducing this Measure. In common with such bulwarks of the Socialist party as Lord Weir and the Minister of Transport, I have been told that "Socialist" is too good a word for me; I am a Communist. I have been told that I have degraded the office of Law Officer of the Crown, that I have betrayed the party which has done me the honour of allowing me to ha one of its leaders; that I have misled my party in the House of Commons by misrepresenting the character of the Bill, and, finally, I have been told by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour) that in order to pass this Bill I have had to buy off all those who represent various interests in the Conservative party, by giving them concessions, in order to vote for a Bill of which they do not approve. That last attack is one which I must deal with— as to the others, I will leave myself in the hands of my fellow Members of the House. But when it is suggested that those Members of the Conservative party who are supporting this Bill are doing so because they have been bought by concessions given to them in order to bribe them to vote for a Bill of which they disapprove, I have no hesitation 1502 in assuring the House that there is not a syllable, a suggestion or scintilla of truth in the accusation.
I have been told that throughout this Bill I have treated those who opposed it with obvious impatience and with unexampled discourtesy. Those who spent 27 days in Committee will say whether or not I displayed discourtesy or impatience. The hon. and gallant Member for the Hulme Division (Sir J. Nall) made a bitter personal attack. He seemed disappointed that all the efforts which had been made to frighten the Conservative Members of the House into opposing the Bill had not been more successful. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead seemed rather to adopt the attitude that if anybody disagrees with his argument, then they are so obviously wrong that they cannot possibly hold an honest opinion. The hon. and gallant Member for Hulme might well have been surprised at the failure of his efforts, because, as he himself told us, his efforts have not been confined to the House. He has written letters to the Press, in order to tell the readers of some of our great papers what the Bill does. He was good enough to read to the House what he had written. I do not know that I have time to go through all his statements, but every one can be shown to be inaccurate.
Let me take three or four of the leading misstatements. He begins by telling his readers that "the Bill proposes, to give a Board of eight "men, appointed by the Minister of "Transport, the following wide powers:" to take control of any generating "station it chooses, and to close down" any which it considers uneconomic." He goes on later to say that against the commands of the Board there is no appeal either to law or Parliament. The fact is that, of, roughly, 600 generating stations in this country—I speak in round figures, but the total, I believe, is 584—probably about 10 per cent. of the more efficient will be selected stations. Before they become selected stations they have a right of appeal; they have a right to make representations. These have to be considered by the Board. Finally, they can go to an arbitrator, and if they are in any way damnified they receive full compensation. When they become selected 1503 stations the owners still continue to operate the stations just as before, subject only to this amount of control—that, since the Board is co-ordinating supply, it tells the owner of the station how much current is wanted and when it is required. Is that a fair way of describing this provision?
Then it is said, "to close clown any station it considers uneconomic." Those who have read the Bill know that the Board cannot close down any station, economic or uneconomic. What it can do, with regard to the non-selected stations, is to ask the Electricity Commissioners to look into the facts, and if the Board is able to supply for seven years at a lower price than that at which the station can produce for itself, then the Electricity Commissioners and not the Board may close down the station. Is that fairly represented by a statement that the Board can close down without appeal any stations that it considers uneconomic? Take one or two more statements. It is entitled, according to this precious letter "to compel all undertakers to sell all their supply at cost price to the Board, and to compel each undertaker to buy back its own supply at cost price, plus the Board's administration Charges." In the first place it cannot compel anyone, except a selected station, to sell at anything. In the next place, when it does buy current from the selected station, instead of the selected station being compelled to buy back its own supply at cost price, plus the Board's administration charges, the station has the option of either buying it back at the cost price adjusted to low factor, or at the general grid price for the country, or in any event at a price as cheap as the station could have produced at if the Board had not been there. Is it fair to mislead the public by making statements of that kind? Let me take another:To borrow £33,500,00 now and more later, in the name of the State, in order to erect main transmission lines across the country.The fact is, as we know, that there is power in the Treasury—not the Board—to guarantee £33,500,000 if it chooses and that there is no power in the Treasury to guarantee more than £33,500,000. There is an express provision that it shall not guarantee more and that the money, when 1504 it is borrowed, instead of being borrowed in order to erect main transmission lines across the country, is supposed to cover the whole capital expenditure of the Board including standardisation of frequency. Is it fair to tell people that what I have just quoted is the sort of provision which the Conservative Government is bringing in and then to ask them to vote against it? My hon. Friend also said:Experts have damned the Measure from every aspect.We know in fact that the scheme is based on the recommendations of probably the best experts in the country, Sir John Snell, Mr. Pearce, Mr. Wilmshurst and people of that kind. There have been reports and investigation and approval from men like Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Merz. If we turn from this country and look further afield we find that in the United States, probably the greatest expert there, Mr. Samuel Insull—once a citizen of this country—came over here and gave a lecture to the Members of the House of Commons in which he explained his strong belief in and support for the scheme. In his evidence we find that he says this:In my judgment any man who refuses inter-connection—and I will not exclude England—does not understand the fundamental economies of the business.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
This is interconnection—the very scheme which my hon. Friend says is not what Mr. Insult referred to. But when Mr. Insult spoke to Members of the House five months ago he said it was, and I prefer to take Mr. Insull's view of what he intended to say rather than my hon. Friend's view. Let us leave the English-speaking people and see what they think of it in Germany. I find there was published not very long ago an article by Dr. Siegel, one of the leading financial experts connected with electricity supply in Germany, and this is what he says:German experts can view the Bill with satisfaction because in its objects it recognises the correctness of the opinions which have hitherto been voiced by the majority of German technicians and the greater part of which have already been carried out in practice. The carrying through of this great electrification scheme by England will decisively influence the future progress of German industry and, above all, German exports of industrial products upon the world market. We"—1505 that is the Germans—shall have a much more difficult fight on the world market owing to the increased difficulties for export of industrial products created by cheaper cost of production in English industry.Is that condemnation of the scheme by experts everywhere? That is the sort of misrepresentation we have had. I have heard that word uttered here but it is not an inaccurate description of that to which I have just been calling the attention of the House. I turn from these misstatements in the Press in order to deal with some of the criticisms which have been made in the House and to answer one or two questions which have been put. We have been asked by two hon. Members to give the names of the Board which it is proposed to appoint and it has been said and I recognise the force of the observation that if people knew who were likely to compose the new Board they would perhaps have more confidence in the scheme.
Those who ask that question forget, I think, that it is a term of this Bill that the appointment is only to be made by the Minister after consultation with the representatives or bodies representative of a number of interests, that is to say, local government, electricity, commerce, industry, transport and labour. I know my right hon. Friend agrees with me that it would be improper for him to form a Board without having had consultation, before the Bill becomes an Act, when, under the very terms of the Bill, he is bound to have consultation and to find out the views of those representative bodies before he forms the Board. I can assure my hon. Friend who asked the question, and the House, that it is the intention of the Minister to get the very best men to perform the duties who can be found to undertake them in the length and breadth of the country, and when it is suggested that there is a danger that the Board may be filled by politicians, may I remind the House that they would have to be very unsuccessful politicians, because the Committee provided that no Member of the House of Commons should sit on the Board. Now I want to say a word or two about the criticisms from the benches opposite. The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), who led the attack, said he objected to this Bill, first, because it did not deal with distribution. I agree that 1506 it does not deal with distribution. He went on, and his last objection was cognate to it, namely, that it was not nearly comprehensive enough. I agree that it is not comprehensive, but the very fault into which Members opposite are so apt to fall is to attempt too grandiose schemes, and to try to do things on a big scale, with the result that they fail altogether. We believe that to go forward steadily one has also to move surely. We do not believe in taking a wild, rash jump in reorganising all sections of an industry all over the country. We think that the great step forward which this Bill is going to take is that it is going to make generation efficient, and we do not profess to be dealing in this Bill with other problems, which may or may not be capable of improvement, with regard to distribution.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Not at present. It will be five years before this scheme begins to operate, and which of us will be in the House after that, I cannot say. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that another objection was that it had the wrong objective. The objective which he desired was to develop the industry on the particular principles of social well-being. That is a typical and magnificent phrase, but let us see what it means. He developed it a little further, and it turned out presently that what he meant was that at present, under the Bill as it is constituted, the Board will have regard to economic and not to philanthropic considerations, and I quite admit that it is not the intention of the Bill to subsidise one part of the community at the expense of the State. We do desire that the Board, in developing electricity, as we believe it will be developed, shall have regard to economic rather than to philanthropic conditions, and we believe that, by doing that, in the long run we best serve the interests of the community as a whole.
Then there was an objection raised by the seconder of the Amendment, the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), who told us that he objected to the Bill because it provided that the stations were to be erected in the vicinity of big towns where the big industries were, instead of in the coalfields, 1507 where, as he believed, they ought to be erected. I hope the hon. Gentleman has read the Bill, but if he will read it he will find that there is not, from first to last, any provision that the stations shall be near the great towns or that they shall not be in the coalfields. If it be true, as he believes, that the best place for a big station is at the pithead instead of on the banks of a river, there is nothing to prevent it in the scheme. There is nothing in the Bill which prevents this scheme setting up stations all of them in the coalfields, if that be the best place for them.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
May I call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that I quoted the speech of Sir John Snell to the British Association, in which he put the point that it was difficult to obtain sufficient water in building at the coalfields?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I am nor in the least saying Sir John Snell is not perfectly right in thinking that the coalfields are not the best place. All I am pointing out is that the Bill does not provide that if Sir John Snell happens to be wrong, pit-head stations cannot be built. The scheme has to be prepared by the Electricity Commissioners and the Board has to publish it, so that authorised undertakers and other persons interested may make representations. The hon. Gentleman, with his experts, will be able to go to the Board and point out that Sir John Snell is wrong, and does not know his business, and that the right place to erect these stations is the pit-head, and not the river bank. There is nothing to prevent his putting that view and persuading the Board to adopt it. As an objection to the Bill, it carries no weight at all, because this Bill does not contain what he says is the fundamental objection to it.
I turn to the speech of the hon. Member for the Hulme Division, who began by accusing—he rather likes to accuse people—by accusing three people this time who were not here to answer for themselves, because he said the Weir Report was deliberately misleading, and, in order to be quite clear, he repeated that charge three or four times. As neither Lord Weir, nor Lord Forres 1508 nor Sir Hardman Lever, who are the three persons responsible for this Report, are in the House, I will take upon myself to say a few words in answer to that charge.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The hon. Gentleman said that the statements in the Weir Report were deliberately misleading, and he went on to pick out one or two statements in it with which I am going to deal if he will only give me time. He said that these deliberately misleading statements—which means, I suppose, statements published by someone who knew they were untrue, with intent to mislead the public—were deliberately misleading because they set out in Table 2 the consumption per head of the population in the year 1923, and they did not say, first of all, that the Tasmanian consumption was very largely the consumption of one big industrial undertaking, and that, if you take that away, the remaining consumption per head was only about 20 per cent. more than that of the whole of Great Britain. He referred to the water power in many of the other countries. I have had the curiosity to obtain a speech made not very long ago, not by one who is not an expert, but by the present President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, Dr. Eccles, and this is what he said on the very point to which the hon. Gentleman referred, that is to say, the amount of water power as compared with steam that is used by other countries for purposes of electricity.It is sometimes thought that electrification has advanced rapidly in new countries because natural facilities for hydroelectric generation of power make electricity cheaper than in Britain. It is true that our water power resources are very small—only about 1,000,000 horsepower which is much smaller than that of our chief commercial rivals; but it is to be remarked that Belgium, which is more highly electrified than Britain, has no hydraulic stations, and that Germany generates only 10 per cent. of its electricity hydraulically. The fact is that the cost of transmission limits severely the region to which hydraulic power can be delivered chiefly, and the districts favoured with very cheap electricity are limited to the neighbourhood of Niagara and the margins of great mountain masses. It is cheaper to generate from imported coal in South Sweden than to transmit from the mountain hydroelectric stations. Leaving such districts aside, the remaining portions of the 1509 great electrical countries are served by thermal stations and are exactly comparable to Great Britain.Then, after discussing the development that is going on, he finishes up by saying that the promise held out by high pressure high temperature steam justifies the opinion that thermal generation will continue to be more economical than hydraulic generation in most of the existing industrial areas of the world. If my hon. Friend who is such an expert had known that those were the facts, how comes it that he accuses Lord Weir of being deliberately misleading because he suppresses the fact that they have got water power in Canada? The address goes on:It seems to me that there is a complex of primary causes, economic and political, for our backwardness in electrical development.The hon. Member for Hampstead thinks we are not backward in electricity. The President does not agree with him. [Interruption.] This was in October, 1926.The chief electrical cause is our neglect to use the principle of interconnection for cheapening the supply.And a little further down he says:Centralisation and interconnection indeed, are the two main principles of the organiser who is going to cheapen electric supply.Centralisation and interconnection are the two main principles of this Bill, and yet my hon. Friend she Member for Hampstead says there are no data or facts in support of our position.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I wonder how many years past. [Interruption.] The hon. Member went on to say that the figures of the Weir Report were misleading because they were old figures. There is published in this week's "Economist," dated 6th November, 1926, figures which they state to be accurate for 1925. I will quote three or four. First of all they give the output of electricity per head of population: Canada, 1,190 units per head; Switzerland, 1,070; United States, 623; Sweden, 533; Belgium—which uses no water power–296; France—not much water power in France–248; Italy, 197: Great Britain, 190. That is the result of 1510 our development during the last few years. Then they go on to give other figures to show the efficiency of the different stations, that is to say, they give the output per kilowatt of generating plant—how much energy is actually produced from each unit of generating power. Canada has 4,050; the United States, 3,000, and at the bottom of the list, below France, Belgium, Germany and Holland, there is Great Britain with 1,670. It finishes up by saying that in Canada the generating plant is working at full load at least 12 hours out the 24, and in Great Britain the corresponding figure is only 4.6 hours.
There is one table where Great Britain is easily at the top, and that is the table of cost. The average price charged in Britain is 1.76d. per unit, the United States comes next with 1.53d., and we get Switzerland 40d., Italy 40d., and France 33d. Nobody is suggesting that exactly comparable conditions prevail in all the countries, but it is sufficient to point out that there is considerable ground for thinking that the experts who believe that Great Britain does lag behind in electrical development, that its costs are too high and that its production is too low, have some facts to justify their contention. The hon. Member for Hampstead said we had never produced any facts to justify the great change of principle in regard to our public policy. I quite agree, and the reason why I have not produced any facts to justify a change of policy is that I am not advocating any great change of policy at all. What I am advocating is the prospect of cheapening the cost of electricity to the consumer. That is the object of the Bill, and I am sorry T did not succeed in making this clear at an earlier stage. None the less, however difficult it may he to assail figures except by vituperation, or to assail the Bill on any logical grounds, there is always one weapon, and it is that you can always say this is nationalisation. "Give a dog a bad name and it is easy to hang him." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]
Let me tell hon. Members opposite who are cheering that observation why I object to nationalisation. My first reason is because we believe that to take away the incentive of private gain is largely to reduce the efficiency of enterprise. Secondly, I believe, and I 1511 think I speak for a good many others, that it is a bad thing in principle that the State should employ a very large number of wage earners all over the country, thereby giving to those employed every inducement to be bribed by the promise of high wages, and thereby making it necessary for politicians to have to resist political pressure which might be put upon them to alter an economic position. Further, we believe it is unsound to create a large bureaucracy with a large number of staff at the centre to run an industry which can be far better and more economically run by those who know the facts on the spot.
We have carefully avoided all those three objections. We employ no wage-earners and the individual station is still operated by the individual. We take no part away from the incentive of gain, because the cheaper the station runs the cheaper will be the current. We create no kind of bureaucracy, because we simply co-ordinate the supply. If this sort of objections prevails against nationalisation then this Bill meets all those objections, and therefore we find none of the difficulties which hon. Members seem to fear. It has been said, and said truly, by the hon. Gentleman for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood), that the reason this Bill is put forward is that it is a defence against Socialism. If this Bill were not passed, and if it should be emasculated or destroyed here or anywhere else, the result would be that people—seeing that the state of electrical development earnestly calls for reform and that the price of electricity is far too high and the consumption far too low—if they found that the remedy proposed by the Conservative party could not be brought into operation then they would turn to the false doctrines of Socialism, and the best way of preventing this country from being plunged into what we believe would be a disastrous and expensive experiment is to remove the evil without taking that false course by providing a cure which does not offend against any of those principles for which we stand.
§ We believe that in this Bill, while preserving all the essential principles on which our economic greatness has been built up, we have at the same time so provided for meeting all the difficulties and defects which, I think, undoubtedly exist, that, as a result of this Bill passing into law and becoming an Act of Parliament, there will be no longer any demand for the nationalisation of the electricity industry, because there will be no longer any abuses to reform, or any advantages to be gained. It is not only industry which is going to benefit. Agriculture, too, stands to gain. I have not time to give many quotations, but in this country, according to the latest statistics, there are something like 400 or 0.8 per cent. of our farms supplied with electricity. If you go to Germany you find 90 per cent. of the farms have an electricity supply, and the consumption in 1925 totalled 1,030,000,000 units; you find in Switzerland that 400,000,000 units were consumed in 1925; in France, Japan and America an enormous proportion of the agricultural area is electrified.
§ The result of this Bill with these main transmission lines running through the agricultural districts will be to ensure to those districts the great opportunity of obtaining electricity at a cheaper price, so bringing electrical benefits not only to the industrial districts but also to the agricultural regions. It is true, as this Amendment says, that the effect of the Bill will be to perpetuate the existence of private ownership. We believe in the principle of private ownership, and we intend to perpetuate its existence by removing its abuses, and we ask the House of Commons to support us to defeat the prospects of Socialism, and to show that the Conservative party is able to produce a successful, a progressive, and a safe cure, just as effective as any that could be proposed by any other party.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 201; Noes, 70.1515
|Division No. 456.]||AYES.||[4.0 p.m.|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T||Atholl, Duchess of||Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.|
|Albery, Irving James||Atkinson, C.||Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Birchall, Major J. Dearman|
|Apsley, Lord||Balniel, Lord||Blades, Sir George Rowland|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wlifrid W||Banks, Reginald Mitchell||Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J.(Kent, Dover)||Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Hammersley, S. S.||Pilditch, Sir Philip|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Hanbury, C.||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Assheton|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Harris, Percy A.||Preston, William|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Harrison, G. J. C.||Price, Major C. W. M.|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Hawke, John Anthony||Radford, E. A.|
|Bullock, Captain M.||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Rawson, sir Cooper|
|Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxl'd, Henley)||Reid, Capt. A. S. C. (Warrington)|
|Burman, J. B.||Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.||Remnant, Sir James|
|Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D.||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Rentoul, G. S.|
|Burton, Colonel H. W.||Herbert, S. (York. N. R., Scar. & Wh'by)||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Hills, Major John Walter||Rice, Sir Frederick|
|Campbell, E. T.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities)||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A,|
|Cazalet, captain Victor A.||Hudson, R. S. (Cumberland, Whiteh'n)||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. sir Aylmer||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Hurst, Gerald B.||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Iliffe, Sir Edward M.||Sandon, Lord|
|Christie, J. A.||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustavo D.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Jephcott, A. R.||Shaw, Capt. Walter (Wilts, Westb'y)|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Clayton, G. C.||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's Univ., Belfast)|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Knox, Sir Alfred||Smithers, Waldron|
|Cope, Major William||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.)||Lister, Cunliffe, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Handsw'th)||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Will'sden, E.)|
|Cralk, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Loder, J. de V.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Looker, Herbert William||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Cunliffe, Sir Herbert||Lord, Walter Greaves||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Lougher, L.||Storry-Deans, R.|
|Dalziel, Sir Davison||Lowe, Sir Francis William||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Davidson, J. (Hertf'd, Homel Hempst'd)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.|
|Davies, Ellis (Denbigh. Denbigh)||Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell|
|Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Lynn, Sir R. J.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. Georqe Clement|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Macmillan, Captain H.||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Dixey, A. C.||McNeill. Rt. Hon. Ronald John||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. steel-||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith||Malone, Major P. B.||Wells, S. R.|
|Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South)||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn||White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dairymple-|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Margesson, Captain D.||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Meller, R. J.||Wilson, M. J. (York, N. R., Richm'd)|
|Fermoy, Lord||Meyer, Sir Frank||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Forestier-Walker, Sir L||Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Foster, Sir Harry S.||Mitchell. Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Fraser, Captain Ian||Moore, Sir Newton J||Withers, John James|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Galbraith, J. F. W.||Murchison, C. K.||Womersley, W. J.|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)|
|Gates, Percy||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Wood, E. (Chester, Staly'b'ge & Hyde)|
|Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.)|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Nuttall, Ellis||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Hugh||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Han. Sir L.|
|Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Bristol, N.)||Owen, Major G.||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Perkins, Colonel E. K.|
|Hall, Vice-Admiral Sir R. (Eastbourne)||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)||Philipson, Mabel||Commander B. Eyres Monsell and Colonel Gibbs.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Duncan, C.||Lansbury, George|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Dunnico, H.||Lawrence, Susan|
|Ammon, Charles George||Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Lee F.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Gardner, J. P.||Lowth, T.|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Gillett, George M.||MacLaren, Andrew|
|Baker, Walter||Gosling, Harry||MacNeill-Weir, L.|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery||Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Coine)||March, S.|
|Barr, J.||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Maxton, James|
|Batey, Joseph||Groves, T.||Montague, Frederick|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Guest, Haden (Southwark, N.)||Naylor, T. E.|
|Bondfield, Margaret||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Oliver, George Harold|
|Cape, Thomas||Hardie, George D.||Paling, W.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Hayday, Arthur||Potts, John S.|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Hayes, John Henry||Purcell, A. A.|
|Cove, W. G.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W.R., Elland)|
|Dalton, Hugh||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Rose, Frank H.|
|Day, Colonel Harry||Kelly, W. T.||Saklatvala, Shapurji|
|Dennison, R.||Kirkwood, D.||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Scrymgeour, E.||Thorn, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen|
|Scurr, John||Thurtle, Ernest||Windsor, Walter|
|Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)||Tinkerr John Joseph|
|Smith, H. B. Lees-(Keighley)||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip||Varley, Frank B.||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. A. Barnes.|
|Stephen, Campbell||Viant, S. P.|
|Sutton, J. E.||Wallhead, Richard C.|
Bill read the Third time, and passed.
§ The remaining Government Orders were read, and postponed.1516
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No.3.
§ Adjourned at Nine Minutes after Four o'Clock until Monday next (15th November).