HC Deb 29 April 1929 vol 227 cc1337-40

Considered in Committee.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 (Power of Board of Trade to make orders increasing authorised amount of share capital or of loans), 2 (Authorised amount of loans), 3 (Increase of authorised amount of reserve fund or of special purposes fund), 4 (Extension of powers of purchase of residual products) and 5 (Supply of gas by undertakers to premises outside limits of supply) ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 6.—(Undertakers supplying more than a certain quantity of gas to charge on basis of British thermal units.)

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

5.0 p.m.


In opposing this Motion, I want to know why it is that the undertakers do not supply the gas at the price that is set out, and at the price that is generally understood by those who use it for lighting and other purposes. It is often found that when these undertakers are given such powers as are asked for in this Bill, they do not carry them out, and I hope that something is going to be done to strengthen the Measure in this respect. I will take, for example, the many thousands of cases in London where a check-meter is used by the tenant or sub-tenant, and probably there may be a dozen check-meters in the same house. Instead of paying the price laid down per unit of gas consumed, very often the main tenant can secure the gas at the price fixed by the Bill, but where there are check-meters the gas can be charged at a higher figure to the subtenants. I think this is a piece of robbery on the part of the main tenants, and it is a practice which is winked at by the gas undertakings. I hope that after this protest something will be done by the gas companies to prevent the subtenants being robbed in this way.

The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Herbert Williams)

The point which has been raised by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) is, I think, outside the scope of the Bill, because Clause 6 deals only with the question whether the therm system should be applied generally to the system of charging in the case of certain small undertakings. This Measure deals only with the gas supplied by the undertakers, and if there is an intermediate person between the consumer and the people who generate the gas, it is only in that case that the position referred to by the hon. Member for Rochdale arises.


Does not this Bill insist upon the gas company selling at a particular price?


This Bill lays down that the gas shall be sold at a certain price to the purchaser. When the purchaser retails the gas in the way described by the hon. Member, the other persons referred to are not protected at the moment. That grievance is not limited to gas, but it applies equally to electricity. It is in the interests of the company that gas should be sold to the consumers as cheaply as possible, because they want to extend the consumption of gas. It is difficult to see how the point which has been raised can be dealt with effectively—I doubt whether it can be dealt with at all—under this Bill. I believe it is outside the scope of this Measure, and can only be dealt with by general legislation. The general principle that has been raised by the hon. Member cannot be dealt with in this Measure, and I hope he will not press his opposition to this Clause.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause 7 (Extension of Board of Trade's power to make special orders under principal Act) ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 8.—(Minor Amendments of principal Act.)

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."


Before this Clause is adopted, I should like to point out that we are concerned as to the result of one of the Amendments which appears in the Schedule. Obviously, the first Amendment which appears in the Schedule and is dealt with in Clause 8 is capable of being used very widely, and there are a number of people interested in the use of gas who fear that this may give wider powers to the Board of Trade and the gas undertakings in regard to the sliding scale. It is very necessary, in view of the protection provided when the profits have exceeded a certain amount to have some provision for the distribution of profits to the shareholders when the maximum has been reached in order to secure a reduction in price. I think that the Parliamentary Secretary should explain in more detail how it is intended to operate this Amendment, and what safeguards the Board of Trade propose for the protection of the consumer. I do not want to appear contentious about these matters, but on this side of the Committee we feel it is necessary to safeguard the public, and everything will turn upon the way the Board of Trade operate the Clauses as amended by the Schedule.


I do not think we need be perturbed about these minor Amendments. If the fundamental conditions on which the sliding scale was drawn up are altered, then the basis of the sliding scale should be changed. In the Gas Regulation Act, 1920, a fundamental change was made because of the complete alteration in the value of money which occurred as the result of the War. It seems to me very desirable that there should be power to make such adjustments in future as may be necessary. I would point out that if the Board of Trade makes an amending Order revising the powers of charging under the original Order, it must be done in such a way that those interested are not prejudiced or benefited and their general position must be preserved. In this Measure the fundamental principle of the sliding scale is preserved, but power exists to take into account any fundamental changes affecting an individual undertaking. I think the powers taken are reasonable; they should facilitate the working of the industry and at the same time they make minor adjustments possible from time to time.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clauses 9 (Interpretation) and 10 (Short title, citation, construction and extent) ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule (Minor Amendments of Gas Regulation Act, 1920) agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed, without Amendment.