§ Mr. HOPKIN
I beg to move,That this House welcomes the progress which has been made by the electricity supply industry and assures the Government of all support in any efforts it may make to secure the utmost possible efficiency in the generation and distribution of electricity and to make available a cheap and abundant supply of energy for all industrial and domestic purposes, particular regard being paid to the needs of the rural areas and to the close relationship which should exist between the coal-mining and electricity-supply industries; and this House is of opinion that electricity supply constitutes a public utility service so vital to the needs of industry in general and to the national welfare that it should be organised on such a basis that national economic interests will be paramount.In the short time at our disposal we can do little more than take a peep at the wide field and the wide possibilities of electrical development in this country. The electrical industries are assuming a new and a greater importance. They are practically new industries. In the last 10 years this country has made enormous strides in electrical development. The capital invested in electricity supplies in 1925 amounted to £342,000,000; in 1928 it had risen to £462,000,000. In 1928 the value of the exports of electrical machinery and apparatus came to £18,600,000. It is interesting to note where these exports were sent. To Australia we sent goods of the value of £3,264,000; to India, £2,818,000; to South Africa, £1,150,000; to New Zealand, £1,022,000; and to the Argentine, £1,483,000.
The Electricity Commission in the last five years have been able to do an enormous amount of work. Five schemes which they have passed recently cover over 43 per cent. of the area of this country, containing about 75 per cent. of the population, with 450 authorised undertakings. There are 144 miles of overhead lines forming part of the grid system. In 1920 this country had 5,000,000 kilowatt capacity of generating plant, and in 1928 we had 8,860,000 kilowatt capacity. In 1920 we produced 9,000,000,000 units of electricity, and in 1928 we produced 14,960,000,000 units. While it is perfectly true that the progress in this country has been enormous in the last 10 years it is equally true that other countries of the world have made still greater progress. Our competitors in the world's markets 492 have been forging ahead. We ought to be in advance because we have facilities which other countries do not possess.
A very fair way of judging the progress made is to see how many units per head of the population we produce. In Great Britain it is 356 units per head; in the United States 844, in Germany 402, in Canada 1,600, and in Switzerland 1,175. The Weir Report forecast that in 1940 there would be an output of 500 units per head of population, but I am told that a reasonable estimate would be 2,500 units per head. Why is it that this country lags behind? The reason is that because other countries, particularly Germany and the United States, have done so much in industrial electrification. For instance, in Germany and the United States it is 78 per cent., Canada 90 per cent., and France 85 per cent., whilst Great Britain has only 51 per cent. One wonders what Italy would have done if they had had our enormous resources of power supply when we know what they have done with the very meagre resources at their disposal. It seems to me that the greatest line of development in this country is to be found in the rural areas. I remember as a youth singing in a rather broken tenor voice an old and well known song "Back, back to the land." I believe that is true to-day.
The one way to solve the problem of unemployment is to get larger numbers of people back to the land, where we are often in darkness and have to work hard. If we could offer more light, better amenities and easier work, we should get a larger number of people back to the rural districts. I notice with regret that in the White Paper which has just been presented there is not a single word about rural electrification. The most important part of this work is the fact that it will undoubtedly give employment to an enormous number of people. It may lie said that we must give it cheap, that it would not pay, but I suggest that some steps should be taken to average out the loss with the gains in the towns. It is estimated that the rural districts alone in this country could take 1,600,000,000 units. In the 9th Annual Report the Electricity Commissioners say:One of the most important problems of the next few years will be to ensure that the additional facilities thus rendered available are utilised to the best advantage in providing an electrical service over as large 493 a proportion of the rural population as the economic circumstances of the supply will permit.There are in this country at the present time three supply experiments. One is in Bedfordshire, another in Lincolnshire and the third in Cheshire. The plan in Bedfordshire covers three rural districts and 101 square miles, and in that area there are about 15,000 people with 4,000 houses. The cost of the scheme is estimated at £116,500 and the Treasury have agreed to make advances not exceeding 10 years and not exceeding £8,000 to meet 75 per cent. of the annual deficit. The scheme depends on taking a bulk supply from Bedford, then to run a cable out into the villages and hamlets and often to individual farmhouses, and after they have run out a cable to do as they do in America, send out a canvasser to see that the people take the supply. The point is, will the people take the supply? Of 60 farms which were canvassed in the southern part of the county 57 out of the number said that they would take the supply if and when the scheme is carried out. [An HON. MEMBER: "At what price?"] I believe it is 1¼d;. for power and 8d. for light.
§ Mr. HOPK1N
Take the schemes at Cheshire and Lincolnshire. Both are carried out in rural areas, and both prove abundantly that it is possible for the farmer's wife to light the house, do the cooking and cleaning, churn butter and make cheese, and, as any hon. Member can see if he cares to visit a most interesting film which has just been produced showing what is possible to be done on the farm, the farmer is able to plough, draw hay, crush cake, thresh corn and chop hay. I saw a map of the whole country in which those parts of the country covered by some undertaking were coloured green, and I noticed with regret that all West Wales was a complete blank. More than half Carmarthenshire, the whole of Pembrokeshire, more than half Cardiganshire and the whole of Brecon and Radnorshire have not been provided for at all. I would suggest that the Commissioners should have power to force companies to go into the rural areas with the supply. Why is it that the farmer of South Wales, 494 situated as it is at the very door of the greatest storehouse of power, have not the benefit of this plant? It may be said that it does not pay. Why should it pay in Switzerland and in Southern Sweden? Surely, if it can be made to pay there it can be made to pay in West Wales also.
I hesitate, as a new Member of the House, to offer a criticism of the Electricity Commissioners, but I hope that the next Commissioner who is appointed will be a man who has some experience of rural areas and will not be a man who has become too old for some other undertaking. They have not spaced out their orders evenly. I understand that half their five years' contracts were placed in one year. If they were split up and divided more evenly, it would be better for consumers and better for trade as well. The Commission, if I may be allowed to say so, wants more ginger. I understand that already they are 200 orders behind, and that it takes as long as 18 months or two years in some cases to get an order through. I asked what it would cost the company at Carmarthen to extend its power to Conwil and neighbourhood, and I find that even to apply for arm order would cost more than £200. I would most respectfully suggest—it was a suggestion which was put forward in the Yellow Book—that a committee of inquiry be set up to go into the procedure of this Commission.
I wish to say a word or two about research. No amount of real progress can be carried out unless you have some research. At present it is very adequately done by a certain number of people, but this is more or less in "penny numbers." I would suggest that here is an opportunity for the Commission to take this question of research off a voluntary basis altogether and put it on to a compulsory basis directed by themselves. It seems to me that the combination of coal-mining of iron and steel production and power generation offers the best possibilities, by the use of the waste gas from the blast furnaces, low grade and powderised coal, which you cannot use now, and the surplus power from the coal mines. The hest example we have in this country is the Newcastle Electric Supply Company. They have two large generating power stations, one on the Teeside and the other on the Tync. Connected with these 495 are two transmission lines of 66,00u volts. Then there is a secondary system into which is pumped the energy from 12 generating stations, which get their power from the gas and heat in the coke ovens and the surplus power from the coal mines. The result is that you get greater safety, and not so much spare plant, perhaps, because the one helps the other. In Germany 40 per cent. of the whole of the electricity is generated from brown coal, and what can be done by low-temperature carbonisation is seen in their new station at Wolfersheim. Professor Dr. Rosin, of Dresden, says:The first carbonising power plant has shown the way to a remunerative combination of electricity production by the low temperature distillation of brown coal.I know that on these benches there are hon. Members who can speak on these matters with far greater authority than I can, but I would remind the House of the enormous supplies of cannell coal which we have in this country absolutely untouched. This cannell coal is highly gaseous and very easy to work. From the coal you get gas, oils and fuel, and from each of these could be generated an enormous amount of electricity. I only wish that I could think of the whole of South Wales, with its enormous possibilities in this connection, being linked up—the steel works, the tin works, the mines, with the generating plant. But it is not now. Besides rural development and industrial development, there is an enormous field for the electrification of main lines. Now with our national system it would not cost nearly as much as it would have done some years ago. I need not argue for the advantages that this would give—greater comfort, greater cleanliness and, of course, greater speed. For this Motion I would claim the support of Liberals, because on page 82 of the Yellow Book I see:The most important development of the public concern during the next decade is likely to be in connection with electricity. We hope that neither thought nor money will he spared to furnish this country with a public-owned system of electrical supply which will be at least the equal of that of any other country in cheapness and efficiency.It is vital to this country to have abundant and economical power for productive industry. We must strengthen our industries to meet their rivals. One 496 can see in the future an entire national, economic and social organisation based on electrical power. One can visualise large central stations, and from these central stations rivers of energy flowing out, so that you get the great industrial centres with cheap power easy to obtain, with the rural areas revived with greater industry, and certainly with a greater population, and for every house an abundant supply of electricity. I travelled down on Sunday with a collier. He told me that he had fitted up his house with electric power to this extent. He has a baby, and when it awakes at night, all that he has to do is to turn on the switch, put the bulb into the milk and the milk becomes warm. With advantages such as these properly put to the people, I cannot see but that the use of electricity throughout the country must go on. A great American industrialist at the opening of a power station, said:I want to see all this art not only run the giant industries of the cities, but I want it also to be so humble and true in its social service, that we shall banish from the farmers' homes the drudgery that in the earlier days killed their wives.I bring forward this Motion, not in a spirit of any criticism, but with the sole idea, of constructive contribution towards solving, or helping to solve, the problem of unemployment and helping forward the prosperity of this country.
§ Mr. WELLOCK
I beg to second the Motion.
I am sure that Members in all parts of the House will be grateful to my hon. Friend for having introduced this very important subject on this occasion; also, I think, they would like to congratulate him upon having put up such a splendid case. I desire to travel on rather similar ground, but from another point of view, that is, the point of view particularly of price or finance. I believe that one of the means to a fuller use of electricity and a greater development of the electricity supply of this country is in having a cheaper supply, and I think that if we examine the situation on all sides we shall see that that cheaper supply is possible. We are dealing here in electricity supply with a new form of public control. That public control has been changed or added to time after time during the last few years, and I think the time has come now for a further review of the situation in order that we may 497 find it is possible, and not only possible but necessary, to increase our control in order to secure a cheaper electricity supply to the people of this country.
Perhaps I may very briefly review the changes that have been made in regard to the electricity supply of this country as far as that is affected by legislation. Our first Electricity Act was in 1882, and when that Act was put on the Statute Book we had had, of course, 50 or 60 years' experience of the gas industry, and what the country had learnt in the development of the gas industry was utilised when we passed the Act of 1882. According to that Act, no private company could set up the production and distribution of electricity except with the consent of the local authorities in the areas concerned, and, even when it got powers, after seven years any local authority could buy it tip. That period was extended later from seven years to 21 years, and then in 1888 the period of time was extended from 21 to 42 years. In 1898 the question arose of extending the area of supply, and, after a Select Committee had sat upon the question, it was decided to give companies powers over large areas of supply for production and distribution, without any restriction whatsoever in regard to purchase by local authorities. Things went on in this way until 1918, when it was discovered that the industry as a whole was in a condition of chaos, that we had over the country hundreds of producing and distributing organisations, local authorities and private companies, and they had all kinds of frequencies, tensions, voltages and so on, and there was a great amount of waste owing to this chaotic condition.
In 1918 the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) appointed Sir Archibald Williamson to inquire into this question, and the result of that inquiry was that we had the first modern Electricity Act in 1919. That was a very important Act, indeed. By means of that Act we got our Electricity Commissioners, who had the power to survey the whole country, map it into areas, and make suggestions in regard to the closing down of stations, the concentration of stations and the formation of grids to operate from one end of the Country to another. The Commissioners did remarkably good work in a very short time, but it was recognised that their powers were very limited, simply because 498 they could not enforce their decisions. Both local authorities and private companies were afraid of losing their identity and the control of their powers, with the result that they were not prepared to accept the findings or recommendations of the Electricity Commission. Therefore, it was found necessary to increase the power of the State or the Commissioners in this respect, and so we had the Weir Committee set up by the Leader of the late Government early in 1925. They reported after a few months, and as the result of that inquiry we had the Electricity Act of 1926. Compulsory powers were vested in the Electricity Board, and by means of that Board there has been a tremendous transformation throughout the country. There has been great concentration upon the stations which could produce most satisfactorily, so that we have been able to reduce the price very considerably.
My hon. Friend has given some indication to the House of the advance that has been made in distribution during the last few years. Taking the records of the Electricity Commissioners, I find that from 1924 to 1929 there has been an increased production of something like 75 per cent., and, furthermore, I notice, in regard to fuel costs, there has been, between 1925 and 1929, a reduction of no less than 20 per cent. If we take into consideration the tremendous advance in the production and consumption of electricity and the great reduction in the cost of its production, we shall agree that there ought to have been greater reductions in price than have resulted. One difficulty is that we have not up to date price figures. The last figures of the Electricity Commissioners are for 1925–26. For the London and Home Counties we have figures a year later, 1927–28. Although we have not all the figures that we want, we have sufficient available to show the possibilities in the direction of price reduction. The figures that I want to quote as figures of comparison are between municipal authorities on the one hand and the private companies on the other. Let us take the figures of the Commissioners in their Report of 1925–26 relating to lighting and the domestic use of electricity. We find that for lighting and domestic purposes the price in municipal concerns was 3.38 pence, whereas in the case of the companies it was 4.95 pence. If we come 499 to power we find that in the municipal concerns the charge was 1.01 pence, and in the companies 97 pence. That is a slight advantage on the side of the companies in the case of power, but there is a big advantage in price for lighting and domestic current in the case of the municipal authorities.
We find, if we examine the figures more strictly, that the municipal authorities are gradually improving their position for the future benefit of consumers. Take, for example, one fact: In 1925–26 no less than £742,031 went to the relief of rates, and in that year £9,000,000 was taken out of revenue and put into capital expenditure. That is a very important matter; it really means adding £9,000,000 to the benefit of the consumers. There are no loan charges, no interest to be charged on that £9,000,000. In other words the municipal authorities strengthened their financial position by £9,000,000 in 1925–26 as a result of making capital expenditure out of their revenue.
Take another factor. The municipal authorities, in addition to paying their large interest and loan charges, paid off a percentage of their capital costs each year. The result has been that whereas the amount of capital invested in municipal electricity concerns was actually £125,500,000, the amount actually standing as debt in 1925–26 was £77,000,000. Let us compare that with the position of the private companies. They are responsible for only one-third of the total supply, whereas the municipal authorities are responsible for two-thirds of the supply throughout the country. In 1925–26 the capital invested in the companies was £62,500,000, yet the debt upon the municipal authorities for double the value of undertakings was only £77,000,000. That shows that in the future the municipal authorities of the country will be in a very much stronger position for supplying cheap electricity than the private companies.
Then there is a further factor. Let us take into consideration the balance in hand in the case of the private companies and of the municipal authorities. We find that the balances in hand in the case of the municipal authorities were £10,500,000, in 1925–26, and £16,000,000 in the case of the private companies. 500 We must remember always that the municipal authorities have control of undertakings that are of twice the value of those of the private companies. What is the meaning of having £16,000,000 in hand in these private companies? The meaning is that before very long the greater part of that £16,000,000 will be distributed as bonus shares, whereas the money ought to go to the consumers in the form of cheap electricity. Instead of that it will go into the pockets of the shareholders.
If we make a comparison in the London and Home Counties area between the local authorities on the one hand and the private companies on the other, the figures are even more startling than they are in the case of the nation as a whole. We find that the percentage of reduction and consumption is 38½ per cent. under the municipal authorities, and 61½ per cent. in the case of the private companies. Let me take next the question of price. If we take the Metropolitan Boroughs for 1927–28 the price for lighting and domestic purposes was 2.62 pence but if we take the private companies for the same area we get a figure of 4.3 pence. If we take the extra-London area we get the municipal authorities providing electricity at 2.48 pence per unit, while the private companies charge 4.56 pence per unit. In the case of power supply there is a similar difference. For example you get 1.18 pence in the Metropolitan Boroughs, and 3.41 pence in the private companies within the same area.
If we come to bulk supplies we find that in the metropolitan boroughs it is 55 pence, and in the private companies it is 79 pence within the same area. Here we are dealing with vast populations and very similar areas, and yet there are these remarkable differences in the prices charged for electricity in those areas. During the year 1927–28 the local authorities paid in relief of rates no less than £92,081. I think we ought to recognise that electricity is a gilt-edged security in this country. It is a monopoly; every electricity company enjoys monopoly powers; nobody can encroach on its area. Electricity to-day is as much a national and domestic necessity as are food and water. It has come to stay and it is bound to develop. Thus everyone who has money invested in electricity knows very well that the Elec- 501 tricity Commissioners and the Ministry of Transport will be bound to allow the undertakings to make such a charge as will provide a profit. But when the undertakings have made a reasonable profit, seeing that they have a monopoly and that they are dealing with a vital national necessity, there ought to be very much more severe control over their finance and their charges than is exercised at the present time.
I have been making particular investigations. I had in my mind a particular electricity area which has to operate as a unit under a joint electricity board. In that particular area there are three smaller areas, all densely populated. I find there three different prices for current, and the differences are very marked. I am speaking now of electricity for domestic and lighting purposes. In all three areas, I believe, there is a fixed basic charge, which runs out at something like 1s. per week for a £12 house. I am assuming the case of a man who occupies a "council" house, and, after all, he is the person whom we have to consider. Here I would like to support what my hon. Friend said in regard to the warming of milk for the baby. We sometimes hear the question asked, "When are the women of the country to have an eight hours day?" I suggest that if we could give our women a nice "council" house, an electricity house, there would be something approaching an eight hours day for them.
Take the case of the house that is rated at about £12 a year. In the three areas of which I am speaking, the basic charge for electricity runs to about 48s. to 50s. a year, or is a week. In those three areas, as I have said, there are three distinct charges for the current consumed. In one area it is a halfpenny per unit for all purposes; in No. 2 area it is ¼d. per unit; and in No. 3 area it is 1d. per unit. I was speaking only last Saturday to some working men who live in the first of those three areas, and they told ne that they consume neither gas nor coal, nor oil, and that they consume nothing but electricity. One man said that he consumed about 4,000 units of electricity per year, and his total bill was round about £10, including the basic charge. That worked out at about 4s. a week. It is a remarkable achievement.
But, leaving that area, we pass to the second area, where the price is ¼d. There, 502 of course, a man is paying £3 a year more; and in the third area where the charge is a penny the man has to pay £6 more than his neighbour in the first area. These variations make all the difference between having and not having electricity in the home. Here is an interesting fact about those three areas: Nos. 1 and 2 are under municipal authorities, but No. 3 is under a private firm, and as a matter of fact is one of those concerns which is under the control of the Greater London and Counties Trust. I could give figures in regard to that company, and it would be easy to explain why the differences exist when the finances on which the companies are based are understood.
It is worth while to go a little further into this question of finance. In my own area, which I know very well, I have been looking into the condition of affairs of one electricity company. I find that in 1927 a bonus share was distributed for every share held. That meant £350,000. The next year, 1928, according to the last balance sheet, they paid 8 per cent. on the total amount of capital which, of course, included the bonus shares. I ask the House whether we are going to tolerate a condition of affairs like that in the case of a gilt-edged security enjoying a Government monopoly—100 per cent. bonus shares in one year and 8 per cent. dividend in the next year upon the total amount of capital. The time has come when there should be a re-investigation of the Acts, and we should see whether further powers ought not to be given to the Government and to the Commissioners to take control of the prices in those areas.
I would like to carry the matter a little further, because there are a large number of people in this country who are very much concerned about what is going on in some of the big combines and holding companies that are operating in this country. I mention the particular case of the Greater London and Counties Trust and I do so in no personal way. I do not intend to bring in any personalities, but it is a question of national urgency that such a company as the Greater London and Counties Trust should operate in the way in which it is operating now and may operate in the future, unless it is very carefully watched. This very important trust was taken over early this year by an American combine or holding company. At that time the trust had 503 under its control seven huge companies some of which were also holding companies with a number of subsidiaries under their control. Since that time the trust has taken over a number of other concerns with the result that it is now operating in 20 or 30 counties extending from the Wash across Somersetshire, Shropshire, Gloucestershire, Woreestershire and down to the South Coast. It is operating in ways which give cause for concern to the people who are being supplied with electricity.
Let me mention the terms upon which the trust is buying out the different companies which are coming under its control. I take as an example Edmundson's. This is a concern which has under its control about 12 subsidiary companies and it was taken over in February, 1928, on a basis of £3 10s. per £1 share. The price, a little before that time, had not been half that amount but the point is that those values have been built up out of a monopoly. I am not particularly concerned as to whether this money is owned by American or British people. What I am concerned about is how, on a basis of 70s. for each £1 share, the people in those areas are to be guaranteed cheap electricity. It cannot be done; and Members in every part of the House will, I am sure, recognise that this country can never be supplied with cheap electricity as long as such financial operations are permitted. If we examine the financial position of Edmundson's we find that in 1924 they had a bonus share distribution of 66⅔ per cent.—with a Government monopoly. That means to say that every person who held a £1 share in Edmundson's in 1924 drew in 1928 from the Greater London and Counties Trust, £5 16s. 8d.
That is only one case. Let me give another. Only a few months ago the Greater London and Counties Trust also took over the Shropshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire company at 50s. per 21 share. There were just over 1,000,000 ordinary shares in that company. I have looked up in the "Times" the prices at which those shares changed hands during last year, and I find that they were at anything from 28s. to 30s. Here again I am not so much concerned about that aspect of the matter. The point is that these are £1 shares in a gilt-edged 504 security; they have been sold at £2 10s. each, and the people in that area, which is my own area, have quite made up their minds that those who have paid 50s. each for these shares have no philanthropic end in view as far as the users of electricity are concerned. I believe that as long as this condition of affairs exists the people of the country will never be able to get cheap electricity.
It may be said that there is a right of redress, and that an application can be made to the Minister of Transport to have prices reviewed. I know that certain opportunities of that kind are given under the 1926 Act, and I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has recently been using those powers to the utmost, but I suggest that neither my right hon. Friend nor any other Minister of Transport, can do what is necessary in this matter with the limited powers at his disposal. The Act provides that 20 consumers or a local authority may have prices reviewed on application. That seems simple and easy, but if 20 consumers in an area ask to have the prices reviewed what happens? The company concerned sends up a case, and we all know how well the controllers of these companies can make out a case. I have followed the routine which has to be adopted if a successful application is to be made to get electricity prices reduced, and I have full details of one case which can mention if necessary. A local authority was concerned with other local authorities in the same area. They had a conference, and it was decided to go into the matter. Then the persons concerned had to engage in a great deal of correspondence to get information as to prices in similar areas in different parts of the country. Then they had to go into the accounts of the companies with which they were concerned which involved a large amount of time and investigation.
One man was so concerned about the ratifications of the companies revealed during this inquiry that he wrote a pamphlet on the subject, and at the end of the pamphlet he had to confess that he had not been able to get to the bottom of the matter. They had a further conference to which they invited representatives of the companies concerned. After that conference several offers were made from the companies, but these were 505 declared unsatisfactory, and it was decided to take the matter to the Minister. All those proceedings had to be gone through in order to get an investigation upon a sound basis which would ensure success with respect to the reduction of the prices. It is obvious, to me at any rate, from the illustrations which I have given that something more drastic must be done in regard to the control of electricity prices.
I suggest that every electricity company in the country should be brought under strict review by the Electricity Commissioners or some specially appointed committee, account being taken of any cheapening in the cost of electricity or of any cheaper supply being made possible, as happens year after year, and inquiry being made as to whether these advantages are being passed on to the consumer or not. I think that must be done in the first place. In the second place as regards electricity, which, as I have said, is a gilt-edged security, all distributions of bonus shares should be prevented. Something even more drastic than that ought to be done in those areas where local authorities are up against a position of the kind which I have tried to describe. Facilities should be given to authorities who desire complete control over the electricity undertakings for the formation of joint holding boards of those authorities. I am speaking of electricity areas and if, in one area, the local authorities desire to come together and form a holding company to control the distribution of electricity in their area, necessary powers ought to be given them.
I wonder what is the attitude of the Liberal party on this question. This is a matter of great public concern and the Liberal party are for private enterprise as against nationalisation, but, at the same time, they have favoured municipalisation and I believe they would be in favour of such a proposal as I have made. I think it is the logical development of what they have done in the past. It must be admitted that the national control of electricity as far as it has gone has been absolutely successful. The Commissioners are doing good work. Here we have a State organisation, State experts, State brains and State money running the grid system of this country —and then we hand over the fruits of 506 their work to private enterprise and allow private enterprise to treat public money and a public service in the way I have described.
I could have gone further into the case of the Greater London and Counties Trust. I could have asked what is to be the future of that company. They are bringing a common management to bear upon these various concerns with the result that those firms are likely to lose their identities and once they lose their identities it is possible that this entire concern may be refloated on the market at a tremendously inflated figure. I do not think there is a person, apart from the directors of the company, who is able to say what is the capital value of these undertakings. How are we to know, if these shares should be floated, to what extent inflation is entering into these market operations. These are very serious matters and as we are dealing here with a service in which already a large measure of public control is enjoyed, we wish to express our view that public control ought to be extended in the way I have suggested.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The hon. Member who seconded this Motion made the burden of his indictment the crimes of private companies as compared with municipal enterprise. I do not propose to take up the cudgels in favour of private enterprise. I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that if my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour) is fortunate enough to catch your eye, he will be able to deal very effectively with that aspect of the question. Apart from that, the hon. Member was very indignant at certain alleged bonus shares which have been issued by various corporations, and at the various high charges which he alleges are made. I think the latter part of his speech answered the first part, because he indicated, as indeed we all know, that under very easy circumstances there is a right of appeal to the Minister of Transport, if a local body or 20 consumers of electricity in an area consider they are aggrieved, though of course that appeal cannot be made at less than a certain interval of time. He pointed out that an appeal such as that necessitated certain investigations. He did not state, however, that any decision unfair to the consumers in any area had been given by 507 the Minister of Transport, whether by the present Minister or by myself, in cases which had been brought to his notice, working through the Electricity Commissioners. Therefore, with all respect, his vehemence left me quite unmoved, because there is, under the Act of 1926, a perfectly fair and not. cumbersome tribunal to which the aggrieved consumer can appeal, and the ultimate responsibility is with the Minister of Transport, which means that the ultimate responsibility is with this House, the Members of which can criticise the Minister if they think he has not done his duty properly.
In that connection, may I say how profoundly I dissent, in spite of the able speech of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin), on which I would like to congratulate him, from that portion of his remarks in which he hinted, in no vague terms, that the Electricity Commissioners were inefficient, that they were dilatory, and that ginger ought to be applied to them. I am sure my hon. Friend opposite, in his short experience of office as Minister of Transport, will agree with me, who have had an experience of the Electricity Commissioners of nearly six years, in two periods—
§ Mr. HOPKIN
I made no comment at all on the efficiency of the Commissioners; I merely said that the procedure is altogether too slow.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
If the hon. Member means to say that the procedure which the Commission laid down is dilatory and should be speeded up, let me ask the House to consider the position of the Commissioners. It is true that since 1926 they have had considerably more power, but before the Act of 1926 they had only powers of persuasion, and the hon. Member, who very truly remarked in his speech upon the jealousy on the part of local authorities and of private companies of any interference by a Government Department, must remember that until 1926 the Commissioners were handicapped, that they had one hand tied behind their backs in dealing with the electricity supply of this country. Indeed, I marvel that they did so much under such adverse conditions. But I see that I carry the hon. Member so far with me, and I am sure that since the Act of 1926 was passed, they have done their very 508 best. We must remember that they have a very difficult job, a very responsible office, to carry through, and any mistake on their part may react for years to come. Therefore, while we would all like a Government Department to act as quickly as private enterprise acts, and while we should all wish that a Government Department was not inevitably tied up with red tape, yet I think the gentlemen who form the Electricity Commission have on the whole deserved very well of the electrical industry of this country; and I am quite sure that they will note the remarks of the hon. Member when they read the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow.
The burden of the excellent speech of the hon. Member was that we in this country are behindhand in electrical development. That is quite true. I do not think it is the fault of anybody in particular, though perhaps it is partly the fault of our national characteristic of individualism. Each and all of us like to carry on our business in our own way, and each and all of us like to carry on our company business in our own way, and we do not, so quickly as other nations, combine together for mass enterprise, whether it be municipal, national, or under private auspices. But there is one fact that perhaps the hon. Member has not considered in summing up our position in electrical enterprise, and that is that in this country we have a gas industry more highly organised and more efficient than is the case in any other country in the world. Therefore, when you have in a country an industry already well established, as it was well established in the last years of the last century, when electricity became a practical proposition, it is much more difficult for a newer form to increase as rapidly as in a country where you can go straight from candles or lamps to electricity.
Then, again, there is our system of local self-government to be remembered. When electricity first became a practical proposition, you could not transmit electricity more than half a dozen or a dozen miles, and therefore all the Orders and Acts given for the generation and distribution of electricity in this country, since you could not send it over large areas, almost inevitably were given over to a municipality to work inside its own area or to a private company to work inside a municipal area or a county area. 509 Therefore, you had an uneconomic position. When it became possible to send electricity for 100 Or 150 miles, you had these innumerable small generating stations up and down the country, producing current, most of them, not on an economic basis, but on a very uneconomic basis; and there was no power to change the position. Then the Act of 1926, for which I was responsible, came along, and time only will show whether or not that Act is really going to be successful. Naturally I, as the fond father, think it will be very successful, but I am encouraged to hope for the best, because I remember that hon. Members who now sit opposite, but who were then on this side of the House, criticised it as apt to bolster up private enterprise, and hon. Members like my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and his friends then denounced it as a measure of pure Socialism. So I hope and trust that that Act is the happy mean and that it combines the best of both worlds, the worlds of Socialism and of private enterprise.
But, after all, what will it do? I think it will enable us very soon, as far as the production and creation of electricity are concerned, to pick up with the rest of the world. It will reduce the 580 electricity stations now in existence in this country down to 90 or 100, joined together with a grid, and thereby enable the creation of electricity to be done far more cheaply than at the present time; and I see no reason—and when I was at the Ministry I was officially advised that there was no reason—to suppose that the figures on which that Act was founded will not work out in practice. Those figures were that by 1940, 10 years from now, the bill to the electricity consumers of this country would be £44,500,000 less than if the Act had not been passed. If that Act does that, it will have done something that most Acts do not do, because generally Acts of Parliament impose a charge upon the country and do not save the money of the taxpayers and ratepayers of the country.
The next point that the hon. Gentleman made was to ask why the main lines are not electrified. I think the answer is that the general managers, the directors, and, I suppose, the shareholders in their annual meetings do not consider, at. the present moment—I underline those words —that main line electrification would pay, and if it does not pay now, under the 510 present management, I do not suppose that if the railways were nationalised, it would pay, in fact, the position would probably be worse. As far as I know, the main line electrification of the railways in Italy and France at the present time is at a standstill. They have electrified a great deal, but they are rather apprehensive of what the result is going to be, and though they have not decided against further electrification, they are at present holding their hands. If I were the general manager of a railway undertaking in this country, I should say this, "Let us wait and see at what price the Central Board in two or three years' time can produce unlimited energy, at what price we can buy it, and when we know what the price of the commodity is to be on which we have to found our facts and our figures, then we will decide whether or not we will electrify our lines." Until that is done, I cannot see how any cautious general manager could advise his directors to electrify their main lines.
I am not dealing with the suburban services, which are a very different proposition. The suburban service on the Southern line has, I believe, paid hand over fist, and they are now proceeding, apart from any stimulus given by the present Goverment, further to electrify their lines. But, of course, not all the main lines have suburban services like the Southern line. All honour to the Southern line that, by then electrification, they have not only done good to the people who travel on their lines, but have also benefited their own shareholders, who are thus reaping the reward of then enterprise.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen gave some details about the experiment which is now being made at Bedford to deal with the very difficult problem of rural electrification. As the author of that scheme, may I say how much I appreciate the way in which he spoke of it? At the present moment we have solved in this country the question of providing electrical current to the inhabitants in the urban areas. I think I am right in saying that at present distributing companies are authorised to supply 98 on 99 per cent. of the population who live in the urban areas. It may he that as the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Wellock), who seconded the Motion, said, the inhabitants are not satisfied with the price which 511 they are paying, but I am not dealing with the price. I say that in the urban areas 98 or 99 per cent. of the inhabitants live in areas covered by authorised undertakings. In the rural areas, I do net suppose that more than 60 per cent. of the population are now residing in areas handed over to distributing companies or to municipalities, because many of these municipalities have power to provide electricity in rural areas. Not more than 60 per cent. of the population in rural areas in Great Britain are in areas of authorised undertakers, and not all of those 60 per cent. are receiving electricity. As to the other 40 per cent., the hon. Gentleman rather hinted that he thought that within a very short time it would be right and proper for them to be in a position to get electricity if they wished to do so. I join with him in saying that we should do our very utmost to provide electricity for them, but it always seems to me so uneconomical to run a line, say, up a highland glen to three or four scattered farms, or up a Welsh valley, however nice the sue may shine over the Welsh hills, for you cannot tax the people of this country in order' to provide electricity there. After all, it is a matter of opinion as to where we should draw the line.
In very many cases, especially in the industrial valleys, lines are already there.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
In the industrial areas they would serve the industrial population, and 98 per cent. of the urban population have lines and use them. I was much exercised, as anybody must be who occupies the responsible position of Minister of Transport, three or four years ago as to what could be done to extend the use of electricity in rural areas at a price which the inhabitants could pay. It is no use offering them electricity at 1s. a unit, and no Chancellor of the Exchequer would provide money for an immediate and universal extension of uneconomic lines in all the rural areas. The purse of Fortunatus would be required to do anything of that sort. I. think, however, that I succeeded in inducing the Development Commissioners to give some assistance from the national purse—after all, what are the Development Commissioners for, except to adopt 512 these schemes?—in order that we might make a pure experiment in a typical rural area, to see whether, as a matter of fact, the inhabitants in the rural districts would take advantage of electricity on a fair basis. When I am talking of rural areas, I am not thinking only of the farm or the farm labourer; I am thinking of people who live in rural areas, because there are more people in rural areas who are not engaged in agriculture than there are people engaged in that industry. I hope as a result of this experiment at Bedford if it is a success—as indeed I am sure it will be, after the figure quoted by the hon. Gentleman—that long before it comes to full fruition, namely, five or six years time, we shall have both the municipal authorities and the private authorities so satisfied by the experiment, that they will launch out and throw their bread upon the waters, so that it will return to them after a few years, and we shall do something to lighten the burden of the country districts.
We who disagree as to the road along which we should travel to prosperity for this country, whether it be for the industrial or the rural areas, must be apprehensive to see the congestion in the big towns and to find in God's country, whether in England, Scotland or Wales, these miles of country with no one living there; but I think that the advent of the motor omnibus, and the wireless, and, above all, of cheap electricity, will turn the tide, and that we shall see the yeoman farmer re-established in the country districts and better access provided for the toilers of the big town. Just think, here you have this experiment at Bedford over 65,000 acres with a population of 16.000. What, at the very worst, is it going to cost the country? £8,000, which is merely a bagatelle, for it will be repaid without interest, and the country will not 'be much worse off for having lent £8,000 to Bedford Corporation. To that body I should like to pay a special tribute, for they have been most helpful in this matter. All they said was, "We want to help the Government of the day, but we have our ratepayers to consider, and therefore we cannot go to the ratepayers with an uneconomic proposition We must have some Government guarantee, so that we can meet our ratepayers and convince them that this scheme is sound and good."
513 May I say a word on rural amenities? It is very appropriate to this subject, because in some quarters we see letters written to the Press denouncing the electrical lines which are going up all over the country; and the writers take up such an impossible position, that, if their wishes were carried out, we should have no electricity at all in this country. We must have a sense of proportion. The first thing to lay down is that we must have cheap electricity in rural areas. Having laid that down, let us consider how we can mitigate any destruction of the beauty of the scenery, and, above all, not to do anything to prevent the American and other tourists coming here and seeing our beautiful country and, incidentally, leaving some of their dollars behind. When I was at the Ministry, I tried to combine these two things, and I laid down as an invariable rule that any land under the National Trust must have the lines underground. In the New Forest the popularly elected authorities, who look after the interest of the commoners, took up the position that they would not insist on the lines going underground, because they wanted the villages in the New Forest and round the Forest to have cheap electricity; and it was agreed that the lines should be sent by a route as little conspicuous as possible. That is the happy medium, and if we carry on on these lines, there will be no hampering of electricity enterprise and no destruction of rural amenities.
The last subject to which I want to refer is not strictly relevant to the Motion, although it is relevant to rural electrification. Members have no doubt from time to time during the last two or three years seen statements in the Press about the great electricity scheme of the Irish Free State. They are harnessing the Shannon and having a hydroelectric installation there, and sending out lines north, south, east and west, all over the Free State. It has generally been held that this scheme, although ambitious, though doing credit to the Free State, will not pay. In my opinion, that is wrong, and I venture to prophesy that that enterprise will richly repay the Irish Free State Government, that there will be an ample demand for all the current which they can produce, and that this expansion will enable the small 514 towns and villages in the Irish Free State, of which there are many scattered about, to start small rural industries employing 12 to 15, and even up to 30 men. Cheap electric power will bring prosperity to the Irish countryside so that the Irish farmer will not only be able to send his goods here for our consumption, but be able to buy some of our English goods which are crying out so much for good and free markets.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
The House is indeed fortunate in having had the opportunity of listening to two such admirable speeches as were delivered by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) who moved this Motion, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Wellock) who seconded it. Both my hon. Friends asked what the Liberal party were doing in this matter. The Liberal party are proud of what they have done. The harnessing of the water power of the country and its utilisation for public and industrial purposes, have been in the forefront of the Liberal party programme; and, if I may say so without offence, I gathered that my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen was an ardent student of what is now well known as the "Yellow Book on Coal and Power," published by the Liberal party. That is not a book which was hurriedly written; it was carefully studied by the most expert brains in the country. I was glad to feel that once again the party opposite, like the party above the Gangway in the last Government, went to that book, as to other Liberal books, for constructive statesmanship. I am not going to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge, who dealt more with the urban problem than with the rural problem. He dealt to a great extent with admirable lucidity with the question of trusts and of prices. The question of price is, of course, of primary importance in a national undertaking of this kind. There is not any doubt that this country is behind all other countries in the use which it is making of water power, but I am more concerned with the use which is being made of the water power available in the rural districts. Apart from one or two suggestions which were made in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen, I subscribe to every word that he said.
515 It is quite clear that when dealing with the rural aspects of the problem you cannot apply the same economic standards as when you are dealing with the problem which was discussed at length by the hon. Member for Stourbridge. Take my own native Highlands, or take any other part of the country which is sparsely populated. My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen pointed out that in almost all rural districts, not only in Wales but in England and Scotland, this question of the provision or utilisation of water-power is at the root of unemployment and at the root of depopulation. There is not any doubt about that. In the rural districts of Scotland depopulation has been going on for a long time, and it is a melancholy fact that during the last decade it has been much more prevalent than in the decade preceding it. A good many of us have thought that one of the main ways, indeed my hon. Friend went so far as to say it was the main way, of curing unemployment or depopulation in the rural districts is the proper and the cheap utilisation of the water-power which exists there. I do not know what the reason may be, hut the rising generation prefer the cinema to the sunset. My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen made it perfectly plain that in the rural districts there should be less darkness and lighter labour; there is no doubt that we have to make the countryside more attractive for the rising generation. One of the ways to make it attractive is to give an abundant and a cheap supply of electricity from the water-power available in those districts.
I have had an experience which may not be without interest to the House. Last week I gave evidence upstairs before a Committee composed of five members of their Lordships' House. It would be quite improper of me to make any comment upon the decision at which their Lordships arrived, but the fact remains that they did not find the preamble of a Bill called the Grampians Electricity Bill proved. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) seems to agree with their Lordships, but I venture to think there is not another man in the House who would agree, in the circumstances; and if I may say so without in any way impugning either the integrity, the honesty or the 516 judgment of those who listened to the evidence on the Bill, I would say that it was a Bill which was to provide cheap electricity over a wide and sparsely populated area in the Highlands where depopulation has been going on rapidly decade by decade, and it was a Bill, which, in my judgment, did not really affect rural amenities. It was quite unlike another Bill brought forward some time before. It was a Bill which did not, in the judgment of those more directly concerned, even injure the sport of the Highlands. It was a Bill which, in the judgment of those who promoted it—and it was promoted by private enterprise with the support of the intelligent Electricity Commissioners of this country —would provide the opportunity, in any case, for the establishment of those small industries mentioned in the speech of the late Minister of Transport. There is an admirable sea-board there, with some of the finest harbourage, all the Royal Burghs in that part of the country desired it, all the rural workers, the farmers, the smallholders wished to have it, and yet for some reason or other the Bill was not accepted by the Committee.
There is something wrong somewhere. It makes me feel inclined to support the Motion which stands in the name of the Lord Privy Seal to-day saying there ought to be some method by which Bills of public importance, which undoubtedly provide opportunities for labour in the rural districts, may be more expeditiously and more cheaply placed upon the Statute Book. Nobody is more anxious than I am to preserve the rural amenities. There is nobody more proud of the magnificent rural amenities of the Highlands of Scotland, and I should be the last person to support any Bill which I thought was going to destroy for all time the picturesque grandeur and majesty of that part of the world. But we have to face the facts. There is no doubt that it is an eyesore to see even telegraph poles erected over a beautiful part of a country district. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour) got powers two or three years ago to go into one of the most beautiful parts of the Highlands and to carry out a gigantic electricity scheme. I believe he himself opened there the other day the largest tunnel in this country. All of us who love the Highlands felt in our hearts 517 that it was a pity that those beautiful places should have the marks of modern industry upon them; but what are you going to do? All that we can legitimately demand of the House of Commons, as the superior court of the Realm in the long run, is that there should be no reckless or needless vandalism, but if we are going to have industry for our people in the rural districts, it is absolutely necessary, and I am sorry to have to say it, to have some blemish of that sort upon the landscape.
I come now to the reason why I have risen to speak on this Motion. I read the Motion with very great care, and I agreed with a good deal of it, but I notice that it does not go to the length of Nationalisation. There is no attempt in the Motion to assert the fact that Nationalisation is the only possible way of remedying this grievance. All that it does say is that wherever there is a national effort it should be in some form or other controlled in the interests of the nation. Everybody will accept that; it is a sort of mixture of the delectables which was mentioned by the late Minister of Transport when he said he was very glad to find a scheme which combined the best parts of Socialism with the best parts of private enterprise in industrialism. So are we all. But what I want to ask the Government spokesman is this. The part to which I have referred—and I have no doubt that many other parts will suffer in the same way—will now be a derelict area. The progressive farmer who is anxious to use electricity to save labour on his farm; the smallholder who is in the same position; the town dweller and the housewife who are anxious to save labour by having cheap electricity; and others who are anxious to establish small industries in order to maintain the youth of the country in the land of their birth —all these are now told by a Select Committee that they cannot have what is their heart's desire.
What are the Government going to do? I believe myself that the Electricity Commissioners have done a great deal of work, but all they can do at present is to recommend, to put forward and to suggest schemes. The Government are bound to go a step further. When a large part of the population are extremely anxious to have the same benefits accorded to them as are enjoyed by the 518 people who live in towns and industrial centres they are entitled to the help of Parliament, and what I want to find out from the Minister of Transport is whether it is the programme of the Government to help in cases such as I have mentioned. Is it the programme of the Government to make this country take its place in the forefront of industrial countries, whether from the urban or the rural point of view, by the proper utilisation of the water power available in the country. The party to which I belong have always maintained that everything possible must be done in order to gain that end, and I shall be very glad to know what the Government propose to do now.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has referred to the fate of a private Bill in another place. I quite agree with him that it would be wrong on the part of this House to refer to that matter in any detail, or in any sense to appear to pass judgment upon the decision of the Committee. The position of the Government on that situation is determined by the provisions of the law, and these give the Government no power whatever themselves to promote a scheme in the place of the scheme which was rejected on preamble by the Committee of their Lordships' House. As long as the law provides that the only people who can conduct electricity undertakings are either local municipal authorities or local private companies, the Government must be in a position of relative incapacity to deal with a situation of that kind; because it must be dependent upon the initiative or the financial responsibility either of local authorities or of private companies. But I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is an experience, this is a happening, which is not without its lesson, and that it is one which must certainly be taken into account by any Government and any Minister of Transport in considering any legislation which may be required in the future.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman was able to support the Motion. It is true that it does not in express terms go to the point of Nationalisation. I presume that my hon. Friend was anxious not to drive a wedge into the Liberal party, and that might have happened, for I am bound to agree with my hon. Friend 519 the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hop-kin) who moved the Resolution in such an admirable speech and with the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Wellock), who seconded it in another admirable speech, that nothing is more explicit in the policy and pledges of the Liberal party than the declaration of the Yellow Book that electricity ought to be a service owned and controlled by and responsible to the nation. Unfortunately there is sometimes a difference between what is contained in books and votes on Bills which come before this House.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I want to avoid any misunderstanding, but I was explaining the point at one of our meetings.
§ Mr. MORRISON
I was only expressing my regret that such a great opportunity should have been lost. I quite understand that such meetings must be held. I welcome the Motion before the House, and I rather gather from the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) that in all probability this Motion will be concurred in by the House. Even the Members of the Conservative party cannot resist this Motion, because it affirms that the national interest must be paramount. This discussion is valuable in relation to one of our most important industries, an industry which has the greatest possibilities for our country in the course of industrial development. It would not be wise for me to dispute that more progress has been made in electrical development in certain other countries which have been mentioned than we have made, but it must not be assumed that we are not making very great progress in electrical development.
I will tell the House what my country is doing, even if I think my country is not doing all that it might do. The figures for recent years are very impressive as far as electrical progress is concerned. The number of kilowatts of generating plant installed in the year 1922–23 was 3,093,000. In the year 1927–28 this total had increased to 5,258,000, or an increase of 2,165,000. The units sold to consumers in 1920–21 were 3,512,000,000, and by 1927–28 the number went up to 7,003,000,000, which is practically double the units sold in 1920–21.
§ Mr. MORRISON
They are for the year. The increase is going on, and the units sold per head of the population in 1921–22 were 73 and in 1927–28, 158. That is a very considerable increase. The fuel consumption per unit generated at steam stations gives a figure which reflects fairly exactly the efficiency of the generating plant. In 1920–21 it was 3.4 lbs. and in 1927–28 2.16 lbs. That shows more economical generation of electrical supply. The average revenue per unit sold to consumers was 2.48d. in 1921–22 and 1.55d. in 1927–28. This is an industry which is doing something to absorb labour, and the figures show that the number of staff workmen employed in the industry in 1922–23 was 36,000, whereas in 1927–28 it had gone up to 52,000, an increase of 16,000. I give those figures because, while I agree that it is quite right that we should be critical if we are not going ahead as fast as other countries, I do not think that we ought to under-estimate the progress we are making in this country.
Reference has been made to the question of prices. I know that prices on the average are falling. I have some figures comparing municipal prices with the prices of private undertakings. The figure for 1927–28 in the case of local authorities for all classes of supply was 1.56d. per unit. For lighting and heating the price in 1927–28 was 3.39d. in the case of local authorities and 4.52d. in the case of companies, both of them showing a considerable reduction. In the case of public lighting, the charge of local authorities was 1.75 in 1927–28 as compared with 2.19d. in the case of companies, both of them showing a reduction. In the case of traction the figures were 1.09 for local authorities in 1927–28 and 0.75 for companies which is lower in price than the municipal prices This is probably accounted for by the fact that the companies deal more extensively with traction supply. In the case of power the cost in 1927–28 as regards companies was 0.91d. and the figure for local authorities was 0.95d. which shows a slight superiority in the case of companies. The total average revenue under all these headings in 1927–28 was 1.56d. for local authorities and 1.54d. for companies.
§ Mr. MORRISON
It would be interesting to give those figures, but such statistics as those can be exceedingly misleading. Very often a company or a municipality supplies a considerable amount in the shape of a bulk supply to other users, and this fact would tend to reduce the average price of the supply. On the other hand, we have places like Poplar or the Borough of Stepney where they have a considerable industrial load factor, and it would be unfair to compare the charges they make with the charges in the City of London, where the bulk of the consumption is for the lighting of offices, which is not a particularly good load. For these reasons, the figures dealing with prices must be considered with reserve, and to make an accurate calculation we should have to compare like with like and find out whether, in the instances used for the comparison, they are working under exactly the same economic conditions.
I should like to say that there is no question about the municipalities having made great progress. I know that some of the companies have been doing well, and there are ninny cases in which progress has been made in both branches of the electric service. What is the fundamental electrical problem? Unfortunately electricity cannot be stored like gas, and therefore it must be generated at the time electricity is being demanded. The demand for electricity during the 24 hours of the day and night varies very much according to what the human race is doing at any particular hour. The demand for electricity between midnight and six o'clock in the morning is very small. After six o'clock people get up and go to work, and the factories begin to work, with the result that the demand for electricity goes up. Between one and two o'clock in the day workpeople go to dinner and the demand for electricity goes down. Between four and six the industrial and private loads both have to be met and we get a peak load, then after six the workers go home, and down goes the curve.
The problem of the electricity supply industry is that plant must be available to generate the peak load. The plant 522 required to generate the peak load is going to be wasted during the part of the day when it is not required by the consumer. The basic problem of the electricity supply is load factor. Electricity is required for practically every industry in our country, and, obviously, the thing we have to do is to secure a maximum economic use of electricity during every hour of the day, so that generating plant will not stand idle during many hours. That was the policy of the Act of 1926. There is no question that that Act was a definite step forward in the progress of electricity supply, because the doctrine of the load factor is the basis upon which it works. The nation has got to control the generating plant of every electricity undertaking, and we have to see to it that the most efficient generating plants carry the maximum load in order that the plant will not be wasted. We must use the secondary stations as subsidiary generating undertakings, and we must gradually destroy those generating stations which are not required, and which cannot be efficiently worked. So this great Conservative Statute was based upon the doctrine that the State has the right to interfere with people in the use of their own property and their own capital, and I think that the Conservative Government was perfectly right in adopting that exceedingly Socialistic maxim in handling the electricity supply problem. If this industry had not been built up on the basis that people have the right to do, largely, what they like with their own capital, irrespective of the national interest, neither my right hon. Friend, when he was at the Ministry, nor I, now, would be faced with the problems with which we are concerned. Therefore, I welcome the position that we are going to interfere with people in the use of their own capital, and are going to see to it that that capital is used in the interests of the nation so far as we possibly can.
Then we are getting established this great development of big national stations, inter-connected, and so we get a national organisation and a national generation. Other stations are becoming inter-connected, including many London stations, and here again one often has to fight local prejudice, local interests and local enthusiasms that sometimes stand in the way. I had my own earliest 523 electrical training on the Electricity Committee of the Hackney Metropolitan Borough Council, and a very good education I received there. I remember that the Council was inclined to say that the test of the success of this undertaking was how far it gave cheap electricity to the private lighting consumer. It was always inclined to think, if we were giving a bulk supply to a municipality or a company next door at a very low rate, that we were robbing the domestic consumer in Hackney for the benefit of the Islington Borough Council or the North Metropolitan Company, or for some other reason. They could not see it, and therefore I told the electrical engineer that he must make it simple, and must write a parable. He did. He wrote the parable of Mrs. Jones's pie, which became famous throughout the borough of Hackney. He said, "Mrs. Jones is cooking a pie in her own oven. Mrs. Brown, next door, is also cooking a pie in her own oven. If Mrs. Brown passes her pie in to Mrs. Jones, and lets Mrs. Jones cook both the pies, they will be cooked at half the cost that would be required if each lady had cooked her own pie." In that way we made the Borough Council understand the advantages of bulk supply and inter-working, of shutting down one station and keeping another going during the week-end, and so on.
To help in solving the problem of the load factor, we have to secure somehow a more diverse use of electricity for various purposes. The use of electricity only for lighting in private houses ought not to content the heart of the electricity supply engineer. As a matter of fact, it is not a very attractive load as a strict commercial proposition, and Summer Time has not made it any better. But the use of electricity for lighting is relatively small in relation to the capital costs of installation, and, therefore, we want to encourage people to use electricity, not only for lighting, but for heating, which I agree is another doubtful load from certain points of view but nevertheless brings in a little diversity—sometimes, perhaps, a bit too much; for cooking, for hot water, for the kettle, and for the immersion heater, which will warm the baby's milk, which was referred to earlier; also for the flat iron, the vacuum cleaner, and for doing the weekly wash. All these things encourage 524 a demand for electricity at differing hours of the day, and so help us to level out the load curve. Most of the things I have mentioned I am using with success, or, at least, my wife is using them with success, in our own house. Some of them we have not yet got, because we cannot afford, within the salary of the Minister of Transport, to purchase them.
That is on the side of domestic supply, and I venture to say that the use of electricity for domestic purposes is miles behind what it might be. We have got to get push into the industry; we have got to get a conviction on the part of the undertakers themselves that electricity can do anything; and we have also got to get a belief that the way to get people to use electricity for all purposes is to make the price as low as possible, and within the means of as many people as possible. Electricity is being used increasingly for industrial power, for traction, and for public lighting; and all of these different uses of electricity are good for load factor and diversity factor.
Another problem which is arising in connection with electricity supply is that of the different frequencies in different parts of the country. That is a great tragedy, which has arisen from the chaotic way in which the electricity supply industry has grown up. The difference in frequencies involves all kinds of other difficulties. It means that it is difficult to link up stations, because their frequencies are different. It means that the consumer moving from one part of the country to another may find himself in difficulties. Above all, it means that the British manufacturer manufacturing electrical equipment and plant, instead of manufacturing substantially to one standard, has to manufacture to more standards, and that increases overhead costs and to some extent embarrasses the manufacturer in the supply of these things for the overseas market. We are doing something in that direction.
There is in hand the Central Scotland scheme, in which the frequency is being converted to 50 cycles, which is the standard. That is going to cost £3,194,250. There is the Central England scheme, costing £3,653,500, and the North-West of England scheme, costing £399,500, giving roughly £7,250,000 in all. The North-East Coast is under consideration. The House may be sure that the 525 Electricity Commissioners and the Central Electricity Board are pushing forward in all possible ways, and that they will receive every possible encouragement from His Majesty's Government.
This Motion, quite properly, refers prominently to the problem in the rural areas, and I am very glad that the late Minister referred to the difficulties which the Minister of Transport has in judging questions of amenity which come up in connection with rural supplies. The availability of electricity for the rural housewife, the farmer, and the rural labourer, involves questions of amenity which have to be balanced against other questions, and we have to see to it as far as we can that the development of electricity supply in the most economical way does not interfere, at any rate more than is necessary, with the amenities of the countryside of which we are all so proud. But the nation must live, and the people must have their electrical energy; and the Minister who sets his face against the economic aspects of the problem will not be doing justice to the electricity supply industry or to the nation itself.
The problem in the rural areas, again, is a problem of load factor. The demand for electricity in the rural areas is lower than in the industrial areas and in the towns; and the supply undertakings, being locally organised, have to consider the price which they can fix for electricity as justified by the load which their undertaking carries. The Post Office is an admirable institution in this way. I am sure I may praise it in some way without being denounced by the other side of the House. It obviously costs the Post Office much more to deliver a letter in a far distant rural area than in the County of London, but, nevertheless, they charge exactly the same price in the rural area as they do in the County of London. The reason is that the Post Office is nationally organized, and strikes an average of its costs. But the electricity undertaking, whether company or municipal, is organised locally, and must have regard to costs in the district in which it is working. If electricity supply were really organised on a national basis, it would be easier to quote lower prices in the rural areas and to average matters to a far greater extent than is done at the present time. 526 Therefore, the rural areas are to some extent the victims of the local and restricted organisation of the electricity supply industry.
The late Minister of Transport referred to the scheme which he inaugurated at Bedford, with the assistance of the Development Commissioners, who have been very helpful, and of the Electricity Commissioners. Information about that scheme has already been given to the House. I am very anxious to increase the number of experiments in connection with rural supply, because I take the view that the rural inhabitants—the farmer, the agricultural labourer, and so on—are very practical people, and, before they are convinced that electricity will do what the industry says it will do, they much prefer to sec it with their own eyes and be sure about it. Therefore, the more we can do to demonstrate these things in a practical way, the better it will be. We have pushed on the Bedford scheme as quickly as possible, and I am anxious to inaugurate a few other experimental schemes, so that everybody may be within a reasonable distance of some place where rural electrification can be seen at first hand. An effort must be made in these rural areas to get the best load factor and diversity factor, and we must do all that we can to solve the problems of wayleaves and overhead lines. I hope very much that landowners will co-operate with the Electricity Commissioners and the undertakers in granting wayleave facilities without too much difficulty and at a reasonable charge, in the interests of electrical development in the rural areas.
The Motion refers to the relationship between electricity supply and the coal-mining industry. I think it is a great misfortune that these two industries have not grown up hand in hand. It is a curious thing that in some towns within half a mile of a coalfield the electrical generating station has no relation to the coalfield itself, and the coal actually has to be brought to the generating station. That is a pity, and probably it would not have happened if the coal industry and the electricity supply industry had been run together on a national, collectivist basis. But we ought not to press the argument too far. Some people have assumed that you can generate all electricity at the pit-head and transmit it 527 anywhere you like, but there are certain problems in connection with costs of transmition cables, losses in transmition, and so on, which make a considerable difference to the economic aspect of that proposition, and, therefore, this somewhat high-falutin' talk about generating all our electricity at the coal face and transmitting it to any distance had better be accepted with some little reserve until the actual financial and economic facts are looked into. Undoubtedly, it is desirable that there should be a reasonable relationship betwen the two industries, and I am informed that, at the invitation of the Central Electricity Board, at the beginning of this year the Mining Association set up a Committee to investigate closely, with a Committee of the Central Electricity Board, the best means for co-operation between the mining industry and the Central Electricity Board. That joint Committee is fully exploring every aspect of the situation. I think that that is a useful step in the right direction and should be mutually advantageous.
Another factor is that of water power. Reference has been made to the Scottish scheme, but, as the House knows, the Government have had under consideration by a Committee for some years the possibility of generating electricity from the Severn, and careful inquiries and scientific investigations are still proceeding in that matter. When the time comes, we may have to consider whether the effect on the coal industry of the use of water power is not such that we have to strike a balance between the two national economic factors, but, undoubtedly, water power is one of the possibilities of the situation, and ought to be carefully examined. Again I say that all these things are exceedingly difficult in the absence of national responsibility. Without national ownership it is difficult to get the necessary co-ordination, either of coal and power or of one undertaking and another in a district. The industry has already made great progress in that direction, and I hope it will continue to do so. It is one of the most progressive industries in the country. I want the electricity supply industry to adopt the policy of push and go, and to reject the policy of high prices, quick profits and a quiet 528 life. No one either in industry or in public administration, whether as a Minister or as a civil servant, is entitled to a quiet life. None of us ought to have a quiet life. The nation is calling aloud for constructive effort for the national good, and we must all be constantly active and energetic in the desire to push things on. Particularly is that true in the electricity supply industry. We have issued a circular to the industry making certain suggestions and there are signs that it is evoking a response. It was making a response before, but there is need for a big push on the sales side of the electricity supply industry. It must have adequate publicity, there must be practical demonstration of what electricity will do, and there must be a feeling in the local undertaking that it really does not matter whether they generate their own supply or take it from the grid, as long as the price is right. The primary purpose of a distributive undertaking is not to bother its head too much about generating unless it is a selected station. The local engineer, if he is generating, must be efficient for the purpose. We have, in a sense, to develop a new type of local electrical engineer who must be much more of a salesman and a shop-keeper than an electrical engineer or a technician on the generating side. Some undertakings tell their manager to go ahead with generating and employ a sales engineer for selling the products.
I believe a determined effort to develop the sales side of the industry is of very great importance indeed. The consumer must be looked after and cultivated, and made to feel that he can go to them with his troubles and they are anxious to put them right, and we must have rapid development in order that the capital may be used in the most effective way. We believe that if this is done there will be repercussions upon industrial efficiency, and upon the manufacturing industry and the national good. I think that more and more in the early future we shall all have to consider whether this industry can be permanently run on the basis of locality, or whether the nation has to assume responsibility for this vital national need. I believe we shall have to face the question whether this great, essential and fundamental service can be safely left in private hands or whether it should 529 be taken into the hands of the community and used definitely for the national good. The House will know where my principles are. I have considerable admiration for much that private capital has done in the field of electrical supply, but surely this is one of the industries which are so vitally necessary to industry, to the home and to the whole well-being of the nation that it may be desirable that it should be run as a public service, certainly with proper business management and commercial instinct—the House is familiar with my policy on that line—but certainly in the end, in my view, accountable to the nation because of its great vital importance to the progress of the nation itself. This Debate has been exceedingly useful. It has brought out some important. facts in connection with the development of this great industry, and I am sure it will be helpful to this or any other Government which has to consider its policy in the future with regard to electrical supply.
§ Sir PHILIP DAWSON
I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Mover of the Motion on the really admirable address that he has given us on a very difficult subject, the supply of electricity. I agree with practically everything he said, but there are one or two points I should like to bring out. It does not appear to me that the House sufficiently realises the very wonderful work which has been carried out in a remarkably short time by the Central Electricity Board. Those who, like myself, have very keenly watched the way in which they have carried out their by no means easy duties can appreciate better, perhaps, than the general public can the excellent way in which they have performed their duties. It is only right that the late Minister of Transport should receive that praise to which he is entitled for the excellent selection he made of the members of that Board. Many of the difficulties the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) mentioned will be overcome once the Central Electricity Board has completed its schemes and the object for which it was started can be definitely achieved. The cost of generation, including the capital expenditure, will then be very greatly reduced. That is what we have to bring about, and I am confident that the anticipations of the Electricity Commissioners, based on 530 their detailed knowledge of the conditions of production, will be realised, and that at no distant date, when the grid really comes into operation, the current will be able to be sold to the distributors so that they in their time can hand it on to industry at prices varying from 5d. to 6d. or thereabouts, which is a low price under normal conditions.
As far as railways are concerned, I do not quite agree with the late Minister that they should be exempt from blame. The Southern Railway have done exceedingly well by the public, and also by their shareholders. In those circumstances why do we not see the electrification of Liverpool Street, Kings Cross, and that of the local services in many of our large cities where the people to-day are certainly not being carried in the satisfactory manner that they have a right to expect? As regards main line electrification, there is a great deal more in it if only given sections are electrified, than some people think, and the decision of the Southern Railway to electrify their main line to Brighton and Worthing is a sufficient proof that they, at least, are convinced that electrification is going to be sound business. There are many other sections of main lines where investigations have been made, and it can be definitely shown that electrification will he of very great utility and will show a very reasonable return on the capital involved. Incidentally, that electrification will be very much simplified by the existence of the grid, which will be able to supply them with power at an even lower rate than I referred to just now. I believe, from investigations I have made, under ordinary working conditions, of sections of main line railway where the traffic is such as to justify electrification, that these will be able to purchase their current in bulk from the Central Electricity Board at prices well below 4d., which will be of very material advantage to them. The electrification of certain sections of railway will not only be of advantage to the railways themselves, but will be of very material assistance to the grid, and will enable the Central Electricity Board to reduce their costs, because they will have a very much better utilisation of the grid than would otherwise be possible.
As that grid will be traversing rural areas it will enable those areas, 531 without any additional expenditure, on account of the transmission line itself or on special sub-stations which would otherwise have to be installed, to be supplied with energy and to get electricity at a very much lower rate than would otherwise be possible. The Minister, it seemed to me, rather indicated that rural areas would not be able to get cheap electricity because in their case there were few existing stations and the bulk industry had not been nationalised. I differ from him, because the grid will give them that cheap electricity which, without it, they would have been unable to secure.
§ Sir HENRY CAUTLEY
Does my hon. Friend mean that the rural areas can be connected with the grid without transformers? That is not according to my information.
§ Sir P. DAWSON
I said the railways having supplies from the grid will necessitate sub-stations, and that will mean that a portion of those sub-stations can be utilised to supply rural requirements. The grid will do the very thing the Minister of Transport mentions. It will enable various rural areas to have a source of electricity of which to-day they are deprived and which, if it were installed to-day simply for their own requirements, could not produce electricity economically.
In connection with the general supply of electricity, there has been a difficulty in the past of supplying sparsely populated areas as the result of the fact that, more or less gradually, both municipal undertakings and private companies developed those portions where the largest number of consumers were to be found. To-day we find local authorities and private companies supplying at a very reasonable rate more or less densely populated areas, and going out and getting fringe orders where they think there are more or less remunerative areas which can be added to their source of supply. If that sort of thing is going to continue, we shall have all the remunerative parts supplied with electricity by authorised undertakers and all the unremunerative parts without any source of supply at all, and there will be no one who can be found to supply them at an economic price. Therefore, the larger the areas over which distribution takes place, 532 the better it is from the point of view of securing a cheap supply. Under these conditions, it should be stipulated that the less populated areas should be developed, and that an undertaking having an area comprising the rich with the less rich should be obliged to spend a certain amount of money on the development of the less populated areas. That, as a matter of fact, is being done to-day, and I think at no distant date we shall see this country with a series of distribution systems which will enable the desire of all of us to be fulfilled, namely, that the greater part of the population should have electricity available at their doors at a reasonable rate.
I do not think that desire is so difficult of fulfilment that we may not expect its realisation. There are to-day only 5 per cent. of the villages in the whole of Germany which are not connected up in One shape or another with an electricity supply. It means that overhead lines, and cheap overhead lines, are essential if we are going to supply rural demands. It also means that salesmanship should be practised by those responsible for electrical undertakings. There are a very large number of electrical undertakings in this country setting out in every form and shape to sell their electricity as a commodity and sending out commercial travellers in order to get the people to understand what benefits they would derive from the utilisation of electricity.
If I may throw out one hint to the Government, I would say that we find to-day as regards industrial electrification that it is those industries which are most affected by unemployment which are the least electrified. We find it in the coal industry, the steel industry and the cotton industry. In many cases a very good case can be made out for electrification, but under the present financial conditions those concerned are not able, even if they are willing, to find the capital expenditure necessary for such improvements. We have heard a lot about rationalisation of industry, which is something, I believe, which will have to be carried out, and it is very largely synonymous with the electrification of industry. If a case for the electrification of any given industry or any given coal mine or steel industry can be made out, I suggest that the Government might well guarantee the interest on such expenditure provided they were satisfied 533 that the undertaking would become self-supporting and that the electrification would pay for itself within a reasonable time.
Something might be done in many cases for the electrification of rural areas. There are farms where the farmers would find it practically impossible to spend a considerable amount of money in the electrical apparatus which they would require and which they could use with great benefit to themselves, but if assistance could be given to them in purchasing that apparatus, I think that electrification in rural areas would spread a great deal faster than it is doing to-day. I quite agree that our electrical industry, and I especially refer now to the supply industry, has progressed far more satisfactorily than some of us had reason to hope eight or nine years ago. I should like to see it progress still more rapidly, because although our progress is satisfactory from one point of view, we have not yet made up the leeway that we have to make up in order to be even with the degree of electrification that has taken place in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Sweden and the United States. It is exactly those countries where the electrification of industry has taken place to the largest extent which are the countries we find it most difficult to compete against in the export markets of the world.
As far as I am concerned, I support the Motion, subject to it being perfectly clearly understood that it is not a question of the nationalisation of the electrical industry or the electricity supply industry, although it might be necessary, as it was found necessary by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport in the late Government, in connection with the creation of the Central Electricity Board under the Electricity Act, 1926, in certain circumstances, to use a certain amount of compulsion in order to bring about co-ordination and co-operation. If we get that result, I think that it will not be very long before this country will lead other countries in the way of electrification. We must and ought to realise that we have every right to be very proud indeed of the 1926 Electricity Act. I have discussed that Act with representatives of the supply industries, both publicly - owned and privately-owned, in many parts of Europe. I have discussed it in Germany, in 534 Czechoslovakia, in Italy, in France and in Switzerland. I have come to the conclusion that our Electricity Act will result in our having a better and a more complete system of interconnection and transmission than that which exists in any other country to-day. I hope when that Act has really brought about the completion of the grid we shall be able to congratulate ourselves upon the fact that the late Government brought in one of the most useful and most constructive Acts in connection with the rehabilitation of industry that has ever been brought in by any Government.
§ Mr. EDE
I should like, in the first place, to express the great feeling of gratification we have on this side of the House at the very robust speech of the Minister of Transport on this particular question. We welcome especially the closing stages of his remarks, because we feel that they show a complete realisation of the difficulties which have to be faced, and of the only way in which they can be faced if this great national interest is to be properly safeguarded. I desire to address the House for a few minutes as one who has given 21 years of a not very long life to municipal electricity. In the year 1908 I was appointed to the Electricity Committee of the Epsom Urban District Council, and I served on that committee and acted as its chairman for a good many years. For the last two years I have been a member of the London and Home Counties Joint Electricity Authority, on which I have the honour to represent the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertford, Kent and Surrey. That particular district represents a very important area of this country as far as electricity is concerned. If there is to be any real dealing with the great problem of industry in London and the neigh-bourhood that problem can only be dealt with satisfactorily if that large area which I particularly represent on the Joint Electricity Authority is supplied with an adequate amount of cheap electrical power. We are faced, however, with an extraordinary series of complications which make us very glad indeed to hear the way in which the Minister of Transport to-day has envisaged this problem in its widest aspects.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for New Forest (Colonel 535 Ashley) alluded to the way in which electricity areas were originally mapped out, taking practically the boundaries of the local sanitary authorities, and thereby creating a series of small stations and uncorrelated systems which have come down to us to-day as one of the earliest and most elementary problems which we have to face. In the area of the London and Home Counties Joint Electricity Authority we have 166 local authorities, each either undertakers themselves or possessing purchase rights in undertakings owned by companies. Forty-four local authorities are undertakers, and the remaining area is covered by 47 different companies. Outside the County of London itself we have 34 different companies, and there are 141 separate rights of purchase exercisable by local authorities at some time or other against those various local companies. The consequence is that any national system, such as my hon. Friend suggested ought to be built up, is very difficult to achieve, because of the fact that you have, say, this particular parish with a purchase right maturing in 1933, the adjoining parish with its purchase right maturing in 1935, and then perhaps the next parish with its purchase right not maturing until 1957, or some such date. This makes the people now in charge of the sanitary arrangements of the district feel that they have very little interest in the ultimate reversion of those purchase rights.
The matter is still further complicated by the fact that in this area just round London we have had during the past few years a very large re-grouping of the local government areas. If you take the parish in which I live and the constituency which I had the honour formerly to represent in this House—Mitcham—when an order was obtained by the County of London Electricity Authority to supply that particular area with electricity, it was part of the old Croydon rural district. The Croydon rural district was broken up in 1915, and in the processes of the breaking up the different parishes were distributed under new urban sanitary authorities which were created by the Order. Every possible form of local service appears to have been considered except electricity. And it is very doubtful in the minds of those who have to advise the locality whether 536 the purchase rights of the local sanitary authority did not vanish owing to the fact that no provision was made for them in the Order that constituted the new urban districts which were carved out of the rural district. Under the Local Government Act, with the county councils charged with a decennial review of the whole of their sanitary districts, that kind of complication is going to increase, and the difficulties which arise from time to time in exercising these purchase rights will be very considerably increased. The Minister gave us no indication in the course of his speech, beyond -the very gratifying sentence with which it closed, that that particular form of problem had been engaging his attention. After all, it is not so very long since I used to sit behind him at the Home Counties Joint Electricity Authority cheering his very sound municipal ideas with regard to this particular problem, and other problems. We feel confident that in the working out of his scheme for the more effective national control of the industry and its ultimate nationalisation, he will not lose sight of this immediate problem.
During the last two years it has been my lot as a member of that Joint Electricity Authority to receive many deputations from the local authorities in that area, and we have found, as an authority, that they are very seriously concerned at the financial operations which are taking place in electricity undertakings in those districts which are not served by local authority undertakers. We have had deputations come to us from the most respectable places. We had a deputation from Surbiton, and if one could think of a more Tory place than Surbiton I think it ought to be stated to the House. The Surbiton local authority came to us and said, "We petitioned against our undertakers, who are Callenders. After the inquiry was held we secured a reduction, and now Callenders say they will not carry out any extension at all within the boundary of our urban district unless we agree to the price being restored." And, said these people, one of whom I believe was the ruling councillor of the local Primrose League: "These people are not out for the public interest. These people are out for profit, and because they cannot get profit, the development of our 537 particular district is to be held up." A few days later we had a deputation with similar complaints from the borough of Richmond, and perhaps Richmond is the only place that could have been suggested in exchange for Surbiton as being the most Tory place in the country. They took up exactly the same line.
At the present time, within the same county, we have the gravest possible difficulty with regard to the urban district of Dorking, where a situation has arisen so complicated in its nature that I believe the best legal minds in the country have devoted a good many hours, at the expense of their clients, to considering how the problem can be unravelled. Behind all this feeling in the district there is a, very great fear of what is called American money in the Greater London and Counties Trust, which is very largely financed by American money, which is controlled partly by the hon. Member who has just addressed the House and partly by Ministers in the late Government, who have taken up this work as a sort of spare time employment until they may next be called upon to sit on this side of the House. There is a feeling that the development of this part of the country, unless something is done to ensure that this company's undertakings are bought out and placed under public control, will be used to enrich American investors who are gaining control of these companies and, therefore, will be able to control the rate at, which the district is to be developed.
We feel very strongly in that area that in no circumstances can municipal finance be so strongly defended as in the way that it has dealt with the electricity problem. Throughout the country, £153,000,000 has at one time or other been sunk in electricity capital by municipal enterprise and of that amount only £85,500,000 is outstanding at the present time. Inasmuch as a municipal authority is only allowed to make 1½ per cent. profit on the outstanding capital, the figures which I have quoted show the very substantial gain which is given to the consumers every year as the capital is diminished and the amount chargeable to capital account is reduced. When we come to the companies, they have authority to spend £85,750,000, and I understand that at the present time about 538 £75,750,000 has been raised, which capital is either bearing interest or paying dividends. These figures are later than the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Wellock). That represents an additional payment on the part of these particular areas which are under company control of between three million and four million pounds a year more than they would be paying if they were financed on the municipal basis.
A very grave position has arisen in some areas through the electrical companies forming subsidiary companies, to whom they supply electricity in bulk at a very low rate and then recoup themselves partly by retaining the price against the domestic and ordinary consumer at a very high figure. One of the worst examples of that is the case of the Lower Thames Land Development and Power Company at Barking, which has acquired 308 acres of land in the neighbourhood of the Barking Station of the County of London Electricity Company. They raised at one time a mortgage of £80,000, which has since been paid off. The County of London Company held originally 5,700 shares in that company, and in October of this year they were allotted a further 14,900 shares. The problem which arises in such an area has already arisen on the Tyneside. I was hoping that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin), in his eulogies of the electrical organisation on Tyneside, was going to deal with this particular problem.
On the Tyneside there is very serious complaint that subsidiary companies of the particular company which he quoted can get electrical power at a cheaper rate than the people engaged in the same industries who do not happen to be subsidiary companies. I travelled to South Shields, the other day, with a director of a company which does not happen to be one of the subsidiary companies, and he poured into my ears a very loud and long lamentation over the inequalities of electrical organisation in that area. The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Mills) has reminded me of a position of a company in his constituency, the Kent Power Company which in the parish of Swanscombe is charging 6.4d. per unit. for domestic supply and at the same time is supplying within the same parish a very large amount, I think it is 60,000,000 units of power, to other 539 people at a very much lower rate. I understand that the hon. Member's constituents are making very serious complaint about the matter. I can only hope that when it comes to an inquiry the Minister of Transport will see that this particular form of favouritism is not allowed to continue as between a parent company and its subsidiary companies to the detriment of the general consumers in the district.
The hon. Member for West Lewisham (Sir P. Dawson) referred to the electrification of the railways. The Minister of Transport was in my constituency the other day, and he knows well that he was advised that if he desired to get from South Shields to Newcastle by the quickest available route he should avoid the railways. Whether he went himself or whether we conveyed him, he was advised that the quickest way was to go by motor car. In that district we feel that the time is ripe when the electrification of the suburban service from Newcastle which, on the north bank of the Tyne, shows some of the earliest work of electrification in the history of railway electrification, should be carried through and completed, and that the branches from South Shields to Sunderland and Newcastle deserve very early attention. That electrification would prove as remunerative to the London and North Eastern Railway Company as the electrification of the suburban routes has proved to the Southern Railway Company. We hope that great pressure will he put by the Minister upon the railway company to secure the electrification of those suburban services.
I should like to express the gratification which we feel on this side of the House for the very clear and illuminating statement that was made by the Minister of Transport. We can only hope that he will occupy that position for a sufficient number of decades as the Minister of Transport of our party, to ensure that not merely will the first step be carried through—that will be carried through in the history of this Parliament—but that the development of our electricity system will be so firmly built into the life of this country that electrical energy will take its proper place, nationally controlled, nationally owned and helping to deal with the great social problems that confront us.
§ Mr. GEORGE BALFOUR
The Motion is one that can readily be accepted by hon. Members in all quarters of the House, of whatever political complexion they may be. It is not so much the exact wording of the Motion, but the intention of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite which lies behind the Motion, upon which I should be glad to have some light and guidance. Fortunately, we are not called upon to vote upon the intentions of hon. and right hon. Members opposite, because there does not seem likelihood of the matter going to a Division. The Motion expresses a good intention in language to which none of us can take exception. I should like to deal with one of the points that was made by the Seconder of the Motion, in a well-reasoned and admirable speech. As I understood it, the burden of his speech was to the effect that the municipalised systems were of greater benefit to the country than privately-owned systems, and that the extension of the spirit of municipal enterprise, even towards State ownership, would be of greater benefit still. He went on to support his argument by illustration, and he was supported by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). He dealt with the amount of capital and the unpaid debt in the municipal services compared with the amount of outstanding capital and unpaid debt in the privately-owned undertakings. It is immaterial whether I have his figures quite accurately or not. The hon. Member for South Shields gave the relative figures, I think, as £77,000,000 and £85,000,000.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I understood him to say that in connection with the municipal services the debt of £150,000,000 or £160,000,000 had been reduced to £85,000,000 It must be remembered that the municipal services cover two-thirds of the output of the country, while the privately-owned services cover one-third of the output. He made the point that the debt on the municipally-owned services is very little more than that of the company-owned services. It is difficult to expose the fallacy of this kind of argument in dealing with a highly complicated subject of this character. If the hon. 541 Member will reflect he will realise that the companies as a whole, if you take them territorially, are supplying a territory—I am making a guess—of five to one or even ten to one compared with the area served by the local authorities. Therefore, considerable modification has to be allowed if we are to make a com- parative basis of consideration in regard to finance having regard to the area served by the municipalities compared with the area served by the companies. Take the City of Edinburgh and the surrounding area as an illustration. If you go across the Forth you get an area of, say, 600 square miles which is served by a company. The total population of that 600 square miles area is, say, 250,000, while in the City of Edinburgh the population may be—I do not know the exact figure-300,000 or 400,000. Is there any comparison in the amount of capital which must be put down in order to serve an area 600 miles square, with such a population, compared with the capital necessary to serve a highly remunerative, compact and densely populated area such as the City of Edinburgh?
While I never like to obtrude in these Debates and have always tried to remain silent, it is not out of place that one like myself, who is liable to be shot at by hon. Members opposite, should take part, because I am associated with companies which turn out one-sixth of the whole service output of this country and between one-third and one-fourth of the whole output that was turned out when the 1919 Act went through. An hon. Member opposite referred to his experience of 21 years with an electricity committee of a municipal corporation. My electricity experience goes back for 35 years, and while one dislikes to obtrude any personal reference it may lie helpful to the House to know that 35 years ago I was the municipal engineer to a municipal corporation, early days in the development of electricity, and I am now supplying north, south, cast and west, a far greater range and diversity of supply than is controlled by any one in- dividual in the country. I may say this with some considerable pride, that the organisations with which I am associated and closely associated personally have been built up by an enthusiasm and a desire to succeed rather than from what may be called any money grabbing pro- 542 pensities. I say frankly that I know no means by which I can shelter myself from an attack which says that you are charging 8d. per unit in certain places. No doubt there are many cases where 8d. is being charged where the supply should be given at less than 5d. per unit.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I am not suggesting that there may not be cases where the prices charged should not be charged, but what I am trying to do is to kill if I can the idea that there is no necessary relation between the unit price and what is an unduly high price. Let me give an illustration. We were pressed to put up a station in the Highlands of Scotland. I would much rather have not done so, but it was decided to put the station up and the charge was 8d. per unit. They grumbled. It certainly does not pay the company. During the summer they charge their lodgers for electricity and make a profit on the 8d. per unit, and in many cases in the winter they switch off their electricity and burn candles. What I am endeavouring to do is to bring this down to some sense of proportion. My right hon. and gallant Friend the ex-Minister of Transport turned to me and said that I should no doubt answer for private enterprises. My right hon. and gallant Friend is wrong. I have no right to stand here and defend private enterprise or municipal enterprise. This is a matter which affects the whole people of this country, and I can only approach the problem from that point of view. I am as much charged with the duty, if there is an attack on the electricity supply of the country and an attack on municipal authorities, of defending municipal authorities in the discharge of their duties as I am private enterprises.
The one main thing I am concerned with is the issue brought before the House by this Motion. It is not the Motion itself, but what hon. and right hon. Members opposite intend by the Motion. They intend to give expression to it by some form of nationalisation; I do not think I exaggerate their views and I am not unfairly representing their views. I respect them for expressing them from the platform. My platform is the very 543 opposite. We both consider that from our respective platforms we are doing the best thing for the public. However widely we differ we at least think that we are discharging a public duty. A reference was made by the Minister of Transport to the Post Office service in rural areas in delivering letters at a penny just as is done in the towns.
May I take another illustration from the Post Office, a simple one, but one which is much more comparable to the case of the provision of electricity. If the Minister of Transport will reflect he will admit that there are many thousands and tens of thousands of people in this country who are supplied with electricity for 8d., 7d., 6d. and 5d. per unit where the total bill per annum is much less than the fixed charge extracted by the Post Office for the telephone. I think you have to pay £1 5s. per quarter, and you have to pay this down in advance, and you have to pay for every use you make of the telephone. That is the way to illustrate the point. You have to pay £1 5s. per quarter for an instrument which costs a few shillings and pay for the service you get. We often get £4 10s. or £5 as a, total revenue, when the price of electricity is 8d. or 10d. per unit. Is it fair to accuse an industry, whether municipal or private, of charging undue high rates simply because the price sounds high without any regard to the total amount which the consumer pays. I have occupied more time than I intended to occupy and I apologise because I know there are many other hon. Members who desire to speak.
§ Major GWILYM LLOYD GEORGE
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin), not only on his speech, but upon having brought this Motion before the House, dealing as it does with a problem which is important at any time but is much more important to-day than ever before. In the past we owed a great deal of our growth in prosperity to the use made of steam. It made us the manufacturing country for the rest of the world, and there is no doubt that electricity is rapidly taking the place of steam. What I fear is that this country is not making such rapid strides in its utilisation of electricity as a motive power as it did in the case of steam in the last century. 544 We cannot afford to neglect the development of electricity, and while the Minister of Transport to-day made a statement which in some respects was satisfactory, showing that we have developed in the last few years at a very good rate indeed, the thing which disturbs one is the comparison of the utilisation of electricity in this country and in those countries which happen to be our serious rivals as manufacturing countries.
We are not using electricity to anything like our full capacity. I shall not be far wrong if I say that about 20 per cent. of our population only are electricity users at the present time, and industry is certainly not using it as much as it should. Everybody expresses the hope that we shall have a cheap and abundant supply of electricity as rapidly as possible. I remember some years ago in this House, in a similar discussion, the hope being expressed that the country would have large stations which would enable electricity to be generated at a much more economic rate and therefore sold at a much cheaper rate to the consumer. There was a good deal of scoffing at the time at the idea of super-stations which would cure the high price of electricity, yet to-day the Minister of Transport gave us figures which show that in the last six or seven years the fuel cost has dropped from 3.4 lbs. per unit to 2.16 lbs. per unit, a remarkable drop, due entirely to the putting up of more economic and larger stations while the price to the consumer has dropped from 2.48d. to 1.55d., another remarkable drop.
There are difficulties in the way of erecting these large stations. An hon. Member opposite has referred to local prejudice. I have myself come across this local prejudice. I remember one instance, if I may give it, in which one station was so over-burdened with load at the time of the peak that it was a question whether it could carry it at all, and it had to utilise all its spare plant to get through that particular period. Although they were offered a bulk supply at a much lower rate, as it would have turned out, the prejudice against having to scrap themselves as a unit was so strong that they carried on until the Christmas eve of one year, when the load got so great that it blew the generator through the roof. They then came to a decision and 545 scrapped the station, taking the bulk load where it was obtainable. I do not suggest that that is the best way of getting over such a difficulty, but it is extraordinary what amazing prejudice exists. Although in many cases it can be shown that it is directly to the advantage of the place to take the bulk supply at a lower price, they feel that their authority is being taken away, that they are not such big people as they were before.
With regard to the question of a cheap and abundant supply of electricity to industry, surely what is wanted is to enable as much horse-power as possible to be given to the assistance of workers in industry in order that the costs of production might be brought to as low a level as possible. In regard to domestic use, which is another important way of using electricity, I believe that education is a very important factor indeed. There is an enormous amount of ignorance to-day regarding the use of electricity. Take the case of an electric kettle. If it is allowed to boil over the elements are destroyed and electricity is considered unsuitable. It is all a question of education, and in time this country will come to look upon electricity in the same way as it looks upon gas to-day. Why is it that we really cannot develop electricity at least as much as some of these other countries? We are ideally situated for it. One of the greatest costs of electricity to-day is that of transmission. In what other country in the world is that cost as small as it is here? We hear a lot about water, and, while I am in favour of utilising the water resources of this country, do not let us run away with the idea that water is the cheapest material. If this country has not beer blessed with great water power, we have something equally as good in our great coal resources, if we utilised that, we should find that this country was the most ideally situated in the world for a cheap and abundant supply. I was amazed this last summer, travelling through Italy, at the enormous distances electricity is conveyed there, and what surprised me still more was the terrific work in the mountains in putting up generating stations. If other countries can do it, we ought to be able to do it.
We heard this afternoon about the rural areas. There, we are undoubtedly very 546 far behind other countries. Dwellers in the rural districts are not encouraged to take supplies or even to expect to get them. I remember once working on a transmission line in a rural district, and I had to ask the local farmers for leave to put the line. They all asked whether, if they had the line, they would be able to get a cheap supply, and I had to say, "No, unless there is a sub-station in the district." There is no very great encouragement at present to the rural people to expect that they can get shortly a cheap supply of electricity.
We hear about the ugliness of these poles along the countryside. I do not agree. We allow houses to go up that certainly cannot be beaten for ugliness, and I never heard of anybody in the Lake District or anywhere else complaining about the look of them. If this country is going to maintain, and, indeed, improve its position in the world, then, frankly, I do not believe that we can afford to stand on that kind of thing. We must do our best, of course, not to make things too hideous, but I did not hear people complaining of it in Switzerland where you have poles and even tramcars among some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. They have come to the conclusion that the first thing for them is to improve the conditions of their people and to give them every facility for manufacture and for agricultural purposes. I believe that is the primary thing for us to consider.
The rural industries in this country have not died out, but they are dying out very rapidly, and I regard that as a national disaster, because you are driving people from the country into the town, and that is a bad thing for this country or for any country. It is not so in other countries. They tell us that these industries have been killed by mass production. The home of mass production is the United States of America. A man who has perhaps had more than other people to do with it told me a remarkable thing about two years ago. He told me that farmers outside the city where he manufactured were encouraged by him to put in lathes and machinery so that in the winter months when conditions were bad and marketing difficult they could make parts of the articles which he manufactured and send them in, and he paid them for them. If that can be 547 done within a short distance of the greatest mass production factory in the world at a profit, surely we in this country can revive some of our industries and enable our people to earn a better livelihood.
A great deal has been done in the last few years, as I realise, and I think the Minister made a very lucid statement this afternoon on the position, but an enormous amount remains to be done, and what better time for doing it can there be than to-day? Are we, for instance, using our resources in the best possible way? I heard the Minister say this afternoon that the Severn scheme was being investigated. Five years ago I got exactly the same reply. That is not very encouraging. Five years is a long time, and I should like to know how far that investigation has gone, and whether it has been looked at as a practical possibility in the fairly near future.
§ Mr. HERBERT MORRISON
All I can say is that the inquiry has gone so far that it is established that it is worth while for a further stage of the inquiry to take place. That is not to say that we are satisfied that it is an economic proposition, but that it is worth thinking about. We have to visualise what will happen in the Severn over 100 years, and that is not a five minutes' job. We must, before we come to a conclusion, know exactly what faces us.
§ Major LLOYD GEORGE
I was not suggesting that the hon. Gentleman had taken the time. There certainly is an advance. If you have reached the conclusion that it is worth while going a step further that is a definite advance, and I hope you will be able to come to a decision in favour of something being done. My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen complained that West Wales had no part of the grid running through it. I will make a suggestion to the Minister. We certainly have cause for complaint in West Wales if the grid stops at Llanelly, but, if it is found that the Severn scheme is one that can be carried further, there is in my own constituency what I believe would be an ideal place for a similar scheme, and, provided that can be looked into, we would not complain of the grid not going further than Llanelly if we could send current back from the West to the East. 548 I believe that it is one of the few practical tidal schemes in this country, because you have arms of the sea which can be worked one against another in times of slack tide. On the borders of that arm of the sea there lives a community that owes its practical destruction to Government action. There is no other industry, and, if some investigation could lee made into my suggestion, it would be not only an advantage to a community, practically destroyed through no fault of its own, but an advantage to the great industrial community that lies to the East. I do hope the Government will speed up the development of these electrical matters. What we want to-day more than anything is work, and, if it is work which will be of benefit to the people and industry of this country, it is first-class. I hope the Minister can see his way to bring forward some work which can be done at this time when distress is so acute and will not only keep our people employed but put the country in a better position to compete in the markets of the world.
§ Mr. FREEMAN
I am very glad to take this opportunity to support my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) in his Motion. His constituency joins mine, and I am glad to see that his recommendations are supported by the Opposition, and by the Liberal party as well as by the Government. It looks, therefore, as though no Division will be taken. From one point of view one regrets that, because, if there were a Division there would be more chance of definite action, which naturally the mover would prefer. Having obtained the unanimous support of all parties, however, one hopes that he will get that definite action. There is no doubt, as has been explained in some detail, that electricity has now become essential to our national life. It is one of the obvious requirements, and is being used in all sorts of ways for heat, power, and domestic uses. We ought to encourage it to the greatest possible extent, and, whether that is so will be mainly determined by cost, which is the matter before the country at the present time. It seems to me that it can only be developed if its use is extended and exploited to a far greater extent. Its limited use in this country has been re- 549 ferred to, and we can only get it cheaper if it is made available, not only for industry and business, but also in our rural areas. We may hope that it will be developed and be placed on a basis, as suggested by the Minister of Transport, like that of the Post Office Service, so anybody can get supplies of electricity at the lowest cost.
One would certainly recommend the scheme which has been suggested by the previous speaker, that of the Severn Bar- rage and the harnessing of the Severn itself, and one is glad to know that the Minister of Transport is investigating this important matter which has been before the country so long. We may hope his inquiries will before long reach a stage of fruition at which they will find practical expression. Certainly, we are behind other countries in this respect, and I am sorry that we did not get some figures from the Minister as to cost and use com- pared with other countries. That information would be particularly valuable. It is probable that, compared with other countries, we are considerably behind hand. Something has been said about the value of municipal supplies compared with private supplies. Of course there are many anomalies to be found in that direction. That is one of the reasons why I gladly support the Resolution. Let me give an illustration by stating what I have to tolerate. Whereas in Cardiff the cost of electricity is some 4d. to 5d. a unit, in Penarth two or three miles away we have to pay 8d. to 9d. The salaries are not double in one place what they are in the other, so that the explanation is not to be found in that way.
It is for reasons such as these that some of us are of opinion that a service like that of electricity should be placed on a national basis. Those who have to put up with residence a long distance from the towns should not also be called upon to pay an extra price for electricity. With regard to rural areas generally, one cannot help feeling that much of the drudgery and dullness and misery which people are called upon to suffer far from the towns would be abolished if proper electricity supplies were brought to farm and field and village. I hope that as a result of this subject having been brought forward some definite action will be taken at the earliest possible moment to develop our electricity supply.
§ Sir D. NEWTON
I desire to congratulate the hon. Member who brought forward this Motion for giving the House an opportunity of discussing such an interesting subject. It has been my privilege to be a Member of the House for several years, but I cannot remember any occasion when we have had a Debate on the question of electricity, although there have been Debates, of course, when the various Electricity Supply Acts have been passing through the House. I suggest to the Minister that it would be valuable to the House if he could arrange that at least one day each year is allocated to a discussion of this important question. It has been stated in the Debate that the capital invested in the transmission and distribution of electric current has risen from £8,000,000 in 1922–23 to 16,060,000 in 1927–28, and it is forecast that within the next five years a figure of £100,000,000 will be reached. Surely such figures afford justification for a Debate on the question of electricity supply?
I feel that the Electricity Commissioners have a difficult task to perform. Owing to the varied nature of their duties they cannot please everyone, hut I think that they have discharged their difficult duties, on the whole, with knowledge, ability and understanding. The weight of this Debate has been on the side of rural electrification. If we study history we find that no country, however great, has retained its power and place, in the world when it has neglected the interests of its rural community. Therefore every possible step should be taken to see that the drift from the rural areas to the urban centres is as far as possible stopped. The urge of the city becomes less potent as the advantages of the city are made available to the dweller in the country.
Let me say a few words as to the great value of electricity in rural areas. Take the case of a farmer. A supply of electricity well might enable a farmer to alter his system of husbandry. The fact that electricity was available might enable him to start a dairy. He would have power to pump water and to prepare food, machinery to milk his cows and to cool his milk. Then, in regard to the question of poultry, electricity can be advantageously employed in incubators and brooders. It is said that the perfect rest and contentment enjoyed by the 551 chicks in the electric brooders gives them more pep for the activities of their life later on. While on the subject of the encouragement of the poultry industry, I would mention that no less than 490,000 cwts. of poultry were imported into this country last year. Surely there is scope for the use of electric incubators and brooders in order to supply some of that large demand from, home sources?
Then take fruit and vegetable growing. We find electricity used for heating purposes in Sweden and other countries. In the home also electricity plays a great part. It is now possible, when electricity is available, to use electric cooking apparatus and to set a time switch for an appointed hour. On the farm this means that if dinner is prepared and placed in the oven the whole family can go out for fruit or potato picking or for some other agricultural purpose, and can come back with the certainty that a hot dinner is properly cooked and available for them at the appointed time. I have enumerated some of the advantages to be derived from electricity. I will now call attention to some of the causes which, in my judgment, are retarding the development of electricity in the rural areas. On page 7 of the Report of the Electricity Commissioners, it is stated:Nature and conditions of supply and other governing factors in this country are essentially different from those obtaining in other countries.If they are essentially different I think the differences are in favour of this country owing to the population density in rural areas being greater than those in other countries. The slow development of electricity supply in the rural districts of this country is not due to the cause alleged. Let me instance the question of Special Orders. We all deplore the figures that we have seen to-day with regard to unemployment. There are over 1,000,000 men and over 250,000 women unemployed on the registers. In answer to a question which I addressed to the Minister of Transport, he stated the other day that there were some 70 Special Orders dealing with electricity supply now under consideration, and that the average time taken to carry through a Special Order was from 12 to 15 months. Surely the Minister can take some steps to expedite the passage of these Orders, 552 and so give employment to some of the great number of people who are out of work? Here are men wanting work on the one side and people wanting electricity on the other. Surely it is possible to reconcile the two needs?
Next in regard to the question of way-leaves. Rural electrification is a national question, and it is not right and proper that any individual or local authority or society should stand in the way of the granting of wayleaves for the supply of electricity. I hope that steps will be taken to make it possible for an officer of the Electricity Commissioners to give a prompt decision in regard to wayleaves. At the present moment an inquiry is held in regard to a wayleave, and often a decision is not given until three or four months afterwards. That is an unsatisfactory state of affairs for the industry.
I hope, too, that the Commissioners will take an early opportunity of reconsidering some of the regulations which they have issued. The factors of safety in the regulations of this country are very much in excess of those considered necessary in other countries. In England, for instance, the factor of safety is 2½ in the case of steel towers and ironwork, and 3½ for wood. In America the factor of safety is 1½ as compared with the 2½ in England, and that factor is found adequate to meet conditions in America. This is a direction in which the Commissioners might reconsider their regulations. Then with regard to the regulations themselves. The Electricity Commissioners' regulations are comprised in one leaflet such as I hold in my hand. In America, in California, the regulations are in a book which makes suggestions and gives valuable advice as to the cheapest and most effective method of construction of various lines to give adequate service and secure greater safety to persons engaged upon them. I feel that there must be something missing in our methods when America, which is the most progressive electrified country in the world, finds it desirable to issue a book of that kind in order to assist the electrical industry, and I hope that we will follow suit.
Then there is the need of providing up-to-date machinery to enable sites to be obtained for transformers. I know one or two villages where no sites for transformers can be obtained, and as a result electricity cannot be supplied to the people in those villages. If a site 553 for a transformer is required, under present conditions an order has to be obtained. Such an order may cost £50, although the site required is only a matter of 25 feet by 40 feet. The order will not only cost £50, but anything from 12 to 15 months will be required to get it through. That seems a ridiculous bit of machinery and one which needs immediate overhaul. It is not always the landowner who causes difficulties, but sometimes a local authority or a hospital or a college or even a benefit society. All these bodies are to blame. I hope that the Minister will find some remedy for that situation.
Again I would congratulate the hon. Member for having brought forward this Motion. I hope that the Minister will find time to look into the many matters that have been raised during the Debate. If he can do so, not only will he be rendering a great benefit to the industry, but he will be doing something to contribute towards a solution of the problem of unemployment.
§ Major COLVILLE
In the very short time at my disposal I wish to say that I support the Motion heartily, because it really resolves itself into a vote of confidence in the policy of the last Government and a determination to carry on that policy. If I had had more time I could have stated what the scheme has done in the country that I know. Scotland has led the way in this matter. The central Scottish electricity scheme is very nearly completed. By next May the grid will be complete. The work there has involved contracts of £1,300,000 and it is all British material.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House welcomes the progress which has been made by the electricity supply industry and assures the Government of all support in any efforts it may make to secure the utmost possible efficiency in the generation and distribution of electricity and to make available a cheap and abundant supply of energy for all industrial and domestic purposes, particular regard being paid to the needs of the rural areas and to the close relationship which should exist between. the coal-mining and electricity supply industries; and this House is of opinion that electricity supply constitutes a public utility service so vital to the needs of industry in general and to the national welfare that it should be organised on such a basis that national economic interests will he paramount.