That the Special Order made by the Electricity Commissioners under the Electricity (Supply) Acts, 1882 to 1928, and confirmed by the Minister of Transport under the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1919, for increasing the borrowing powers of the
Central Electricity Board, which was presented on the 29th day of May, 1930, be approved."—[Mr. Herbert Morrison.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Special Order made by the Electricity Commissioners under the Electricity (Supply) Acts, 1882 to 1928, and confirmed by the Minister of Transport under the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1919, in respect of part of the rural district of Godstone, in the county of Surrey, and for the amendment of the Sevenoaks and District Electric Lighting Order, 1913, which was presented on the 29th day of May, 1930, be approved."—[Mr. Herbert Morrison.]
§ Mr. MUGGERIDGE
I am sorry that this important matter, affecting a large number of people, both now and for many years to come, should come on at this late hour. I feel bound to call attention to the fact that it is proposed to give to a company a very valuable franchise which I think is not strictly necessary. The company is described as the Sevenoaks and District Electricity Company, Limited, but it is a subsidiary of a very much larger concern which already has a great deal of power and a great deal of territory to exploit, both in and outside London. That company, I need scarcely say, is the County of London Electric Supply Company. Another company is also concerned. The power supply that is to be used in the districts covered by this Order comes to the Sevenoaks and District Electricity Company from the West Kent Electricity Company, which is another satellite of the parent company, the County of London Company. The position is that the power supplied by the Sevenoaks Company is obtained by it from the West Kent Company, which in its turn obtains it from the County of London Electricity Supply Company. All three probably get their pickings out of it, and, by the time the consumer ultimately gets it, the price is necessarily increased. I suggest that it is deplorable that these matters should come up at this late hour, and that a thing of this kind should be given away in this manner. I do not know what recourse I have except to make my protest for this valuable franchise has been disposed of in this way and comes to the House at a moment when so many Members are absent and the interests of the public are so badly looked after. The Order of this little Sevenoaks Dis- 796 trict Company very largely extends the territory covered. It takes in no fewer than six parishes, and the whole of the district covered by the extension of the powers possessed by this little company spreads from Croydon almost to East Grinstead, a total length of 14 miles, with an average width of five or six miles. That is an important area and, although it misses out Redhill and one or two other places, it brings in many districts whose population is increasing year by year.
I have here a map of the whole district, and it is really significant of what is going on. The part coloured green was the districts already covered by powers given to the company and to other private companies. Those marked yellow, little cases in the desert of green, are where local authorities have powers. They have produced power under extraordinarily successful conditions. They have produced cheaper than the companies and distributed it at a very much lower price, and it is now proposed to hand over these vast districts coloured green step by step—this is only one of the many such orders—and companies which, although they are restricted as far as the price of generation is concerned, are not restricted so far as the price charged to consumers is concerned. These districts are being given away with a freedom that I should not have expected. The population of London is ceasing to live in the crowded centres and is getting out more and more to the hills and more salubrious parts of the home counties, and these districts, which were unconsidered trifles from the electricity point of view, a few years ago, have become of extraordinary importance to the exploiter of a public demand of this character. Before the population gets there the companies are getting well dug in, and when the population goes there wanting electricity, when the grid will be the sole supplier, they will be able to stand between the cheap supply, which the country has co-operated in producing, and the consumer, who will be dependent entirely upon their monopoly. I protest with all my power against the granting of this power to this company. It could have been stopped, and I regret very sincerely that it has not been stopped.
I shall be told there is no alternative. There is an alternative. Parliament has 797 provided against the exact contingency that has arisen. It has established by Statute Joint Electricity Authorities. Many of them do not function. But in London and the home counties the Joint Electricity Authority has come into existence and is beginning to function to some tune. The Authority is prepared to purchase rights in municipal undertakings, but some of the small authorities are not prepared to hand over their rights to this joint authority, which was expressly established by Parliament for the purpose of reserving for the public benefit these great public services instead of handing them over to companies. The Joint Electricity Authority is there, ready to supply these districts. It has been negotiating as part of a big plan it has drawn up. Now, by the action of the Minister in providing this Order and in the Company having got it, the plan is entirely spoiled. I have made my protest. While public rights are given away in this reckless manner, I shall not cease to bring the matter to the attention of the House.
Mr. ERNEST WINTERTON
As one who resides in the district mentioned by the hon. Member who has just spoken, I beg to associate myself with his protest. I have, for a very long time, been anxious to get electricity cheap, but I find it impossible to do so. I see no immediate prospect of obtaining it, under the proposals now made. I urge upon the Minister of Transport that, if he is anxious to get legislation through, he would do well to look more fully and deeply into this matter. I regret that my hon. Friend is not going to divide the House upon it. If the Minister were to investigate the case, I am sure he would feel constrained to take the opinion of the authorities concerned, and that he would do something to delay bringing about this bad proposal. I think it very unfortunate, at this late hour, and under these circumstances, that we are apparently going to have a scheme that is, I am sure, against the interests of the people who live in the area concerned.
§ Mr. EDE
Many weeks ago I gave Private Notice to the Minister of Transport that, if he brought this Order before the House, I should feel compelled, as 798 a member of the London and Home Counties Joint Electricity Authority, with my hon. Friend, the Member for Romford (Mr. Muggeridge), to oppose its confirmation. I have had some negotiations with the right hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Romford, and one or two other Members on this side of the House and the Minister on Monday afternoon. I regret that he has adopted now the attitude that he adopted then. I regret expressly the remark that he passed sotto voce to the hon. Member for Romford when he appealed to him to withdraw the order. I do not think that is a proper way to treat Members of the House who are exceedingly anxious to support the Government, when they make a perfectly reasonable request. For a Minister to say that he is not taking his orders from an hon. Member—
§ Mr. EDE
In the course of our interview on Monday, the Minister made a statement to us as to the people who controlled the area of Caterham and Warlingham which adjoins the area under consideration. He told us it was controlled by the County of London Electric Supply Co., Ltd., but it is in fact controlled by the Urban Electric Supply Co. Great pressure has been put upon that body by the County of London Company, to acquire their undertaking. They control an area which hon. Members will realise is an exceedingly valuable one from the point of view of electricity. They are not anxious to go into the County of London combine. If this area to the south of them is acquired by the County of London Company, through one of its subsidiary companies, the Sevenoaks Company, they will practically be compelled to go into the combine against the public interests of the area. I am 799 sure the Minister cannot desire that they should go into it. The circumstances are such that large scale supply of electricity in this district can be better given by the London and Home Counties Joint Electricity Authority than by the County of London Company. In view of the circumstances which I have just related, I appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister not to press this Order upon the House to-night, but to withdraw it and give further consideration to the matter, and to receive the representatives of the London and Home Counties Joint Electricity Authority before he reaches a final decision which, in their opinion, and, I venture to say, in the opinion of a large number of people who desire to support the Government in these matters, may not be to the interests of the locality.
§ Mr. HERBERT MORRISON
The suggestion which the hon. Member has just made is an extraordinary one. Special Orders are applied for by the authorised undertakers. A public inquiry takes place. The supporters appear; the opponents appear. The case is argued. The person who conducts the inquiry acts in a judicial capacity, and the whole circumstances are carried out in a judicial spirit and the matter is settled. After all this has been gone through—.
§ Mr. MUGGERIDGE
May I ask why, if the matter is settled in that manner, it is brought before the House of Commons?
§ Mr. MORRISON
It is brought before the House for confirmation, and the House is free to confirm it or not to confirm it. That is why the matter is brought before the House. My hon. Friend suggests, after a public inquiry has been held and after the Minister has considered the facts of the inquiry, the report of the inquiry and the circumstances of the case, that certain opponents should be received by the Minister to argue whether the decision arrived at after a public inquiry is right or wrong, when they themselves had been at the public inquiry. To ask that one of the parties should be seen by the Minister, after presure has been brought to bear upon him in the House of Commons, is the most extraordinary conception of the 800 judicial exercise of the powers under these Acts which I have ever had put before me. There is a judicial element in this matter, and, whatever political pressure is brought to bear upon me either by my hon. Friends on this side of the House or by hon. Members on the other side, or Whatever political pressure is organised against me by the Joint Electricity Authority which took part in the inquiry, whatever happens, I shall still exercise my duties in an impartial and judicial spirit and with reasonable fairness to the parties concerned, consistent with the general electrical policy which I am pursuing. But once the Minister allows one of the parties to the inquiry whether a public authority or not—once he allows that authority, after having been at the inquiry—to ask members of the House of Commons to see him privately—
§ Mr. MUGGERIDGE
That is not correct. We have not been asked to see the Minister privately. We have done that entirely of our own volition.
§ Mr. MUGGERIDGE
I was not requested. The Authority had no idea that hon. Members were going to see the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. MORRISON
Though they had no idea what was happening when hon. Members came to see me privately, I do not think that it is encouraging for me to see hon. Members and then have the result of our interview thrown across the floor of the House of Commons and discussed here. This is a case in which if the House so desires it can postpone the Motion. I have been asked to withdraw it. I am not going to do that.
§ Mr. MORRISON
I have been asked to postpone it for a few days and in view of the lateness of the hour I am prepared to agree to that suggestion. Hon. Members must not, however, jump to the conclusion that the matter is as easy as some hon. Members would lead the 801 House to believe. The Joint Electricity Authority has not asked for an Order, let alone having been refused an Order. Hon. Members indicate that they hope to do so in co-operation with the local authority. That may be so, but I am faced with an application and a request from consumers for a supply and I have to decide or postpone the application in the hope that something else will happen in the future. In that case the consumers would not get their supply. I cannot exercise my powers from purely political motives and I shall expect to have the support of the House in exercising my powers in the public interest. If it is desired by the House generally that there should be a postponement of this Motion I am disposed to agree, although after the exceptionally full discussion we have had I think the House might have given me this Order. However, if it is preferred to adjourn the debate I am willing, in the circum- 802 stances of the case and having regard to the lateness of the hour, to do so.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjouxned."—[Mr. Herbert Morrison.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.