§ Order for Consideration, as amended, read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended, be now considered."
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. McENTEE
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words, "upon this day six months."
I should like to ask you, Sir, whether we can discuss at the same time the Commercial Gas Bill, which is in the same stage, or whether the discussion will be restricted to the first Measure?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If it meets the convenience of the House, there is no objection to discussing both Bills together.
§ Mr. McENTEE
I think it would be for the convenience of the House, as the principle in both is exactly the same although the area covered is very different. The Gas Light and Coke Company's Bill covers an extremely wide area and a very large number of local authorities. The area, I believe, is approximately 540 square miles, and, if the Bill becomes law, 80 is the number of local authorities with varying kinds of interest, and all of them, no doubt, with housing estates would be restricted. It may be that some of them will be owners of electricity undertakings and some of gas undertakings. Some of them probably own neither, but in all cases the power sought by the gas company within the area of supply is the Same.
The conditions that are now sought to be imposed on the local authorities have no parallel in any other Bill that at any time has been passed by this House. It is asserted in some of the literature that has been sent out by the National Gas Council that the principle is the same as that in the Kettering Bill which was passed through the House some time ago. In a certain restricted sense it is the same, but it covers a very much wider area and in some respects is very different. The Kettering Bill was restricted to the area covered by the Kettering Council. The Kettering Council was an electricity-owning authority and, prior to the passing of this Bill, so seriously restricted the use of gas in its area that it was neither allowed for lighting, heating or power. That was an exceptional case in many ways. But that cannot be said for the powers that are sought by either of the Bills that we are now considering. In the first place, the authorities in many cases do not own electricity undertakings at all. In some cases they have a limited restriction. They allow gas in their houses in some cases for heating purposes or cooking purposes only, in some for heating and cooking, and in a very small number they do not permit use of gas for any purpose at all, so that there cannot be said to be any similarity between the conditions that applied when the House was considering the Kettering Bill and the conditions that apply in the area that it is proposed to control by the present Bill.
It is sought in these Bills to take away from the local authorities the power that 596 was imposed on them by the Housing Act, 1925, and other Housing Acts. Under those Acts, it is definitely imposed as a duty that they shall control and maintain the houses that they build and it is now sought to take that power from them. The actual wording of the 1925 Act is that thegeneral management, regulation and control of the dwelling-houses provided by the local authority under this part of this Act or any Act repealed by this Act shall be vested in or exercised by the local authority.I should like to ask the Ministry of Health, which is responsible for seeing that this Section is carried out, how it is possible to carry it out if a private company can take away the power that was conferred on the local authority by Act of Parliament and use it itself for private gain. It is a very serious thing indeed, when Parliament, after very many months' consideration, finds it necessary to confer powers, duties and responsibilities on a local council, that a private company should come along and ask to be permitted, for private gain, to take away the power and the responsibility imposed on local authorities in the 1925 and other Acts of Parliament. I hope that the House is not going to permit that kind of thing in the interests of a private company.
There is another extremely important thing that the House ought to note. It is suggested that the council shall no longer have the power to determine what kind of light, heat and power shall be used in their houses and in any building under their control. It may be that some of the buildings controlled by local authorities will become from time to time redundant for the purpose for which they were origiNaily required, and that they will desire to let them to someone else. The usual thing in a case like that is to insert a clause in the lease reserving to the owner the right to say whether any structural alterations shall be made and stipulating that such structural alterations can only be made with the consent of the owner. Under these Bills it would not be possible for any council in circumstances such as those that I have described to do such a thing. Let us say, for instance, that it was desired to put into a building which had been leased by a council to a private person a gas engine or an electrical transformer, 597 and that structural alterations were necessary for the purpose. If the Bills become law, the council will have no power to prevent such structural alterations, although there might be a clause in the lease giving them power to determine whether or not such structural alteration should be made. That, again, is a point of importance in which the existing law itself is apparently to be passed over in the interests of a private firm.
This new power and new restriction which is to be imposed by the gas companies is not to be a general power or a general restriction. It is not to be a power given to them in respect to large blocks of privately-owned houses or flats or any other kind of privately-owned business. The private owner is still to be free. No owner of a private building or housing estate would tolerate for a moment the interference of a gas or electricity undertaking as to what he should do or permit or refuse in regard to the amenities of lighting and heating within his buildings. Every private owner of houses would bitterly resent the interference of any gas or electricity company that came to Parliament and suggested that it should be given power, irrespective of the wishes of the private owner, just at the request of the tenants, to come in, pull the building about and insert gas or electricity against his will because some tenant had expressed a desire to have it instead of whatever other form of lighting or heating there might be.
This House is supposed to represent the public interests of the people. We are dealing here with public property and we are the people responsible for the maintenance of that public property. Parliament and the local authorities have subsidised the building of the houses, and Parliament has determined the means by which they are to be managed. They are publicly owned and up till now they have been managed by the public in the public interest. Now, private enterprise comes along and says. "We see a good picking to be made out of the change in the form of management, and we seek an opportunity to go into those houses at the request of a tenant and exploit them for our private gain." I hope Parliament will not permit any such thing to be done. There are many local authorities which do not own either a gas undertaking or an electricity under- 598 taking, and a large number within the are a which this Bill seeks to control are in that position.
Everybody knows that in regard to the lighting and heating of houses that there is a very good bargaining weapon when you come to the two undertakings, the privately-owned gas company, and the privately-owned electricity undertaking. It is said: "Here is a large estate which we are building. What can you do for us in the interests of the town and of the tenants?" I have had experience, as, no doubt, have many other hon. Members, of the competition existing between two organisations of that kind in those circumstances. As a result of the bargaining power which the circumstances provide, local councils have been able to set one undertaking in competition with the other, and the result has been a very good bargain for the tenants and for the local authorities. That bargaining power is to be taken away from them now, because the gas companies will have the right in a Parliamentary Bill which, it is hoped, will become an Act of Parliament, if a tenant expresses a desire to have gas in his house, to say that gas shall be placed there.
The same right, it is true, would be given to a privately-owned electricity undertaking in similar circumstances. But the same right will not be given to publicly-owned electricity undertakings. Those undertakings are to be seriously restricted. The local authority is to have no say, once the tenant expresses a desire for either gas or electricity in his house, as to which form of power shall be permitted. If a company sought the right to interfere with private property, as it is now sought by this company to interfere with council property, there is not a Member in the House who would vote for it. When dealing with legislation, hon. Members are prepared to give certain privileges and rights to private companies, but if it affected their own private interests, they would not for a moment concede those privileges. I ask the House, which is theoretically responsible for the public wellbeing—and we are the custodians of the public purse—to see to it that the public purse and the expenditure out of it are retained under public control, and that privileges are not given to a private company to exploit the public purse for private gain.
599 I am not much concerned about the merits of gas or electricity. I have no personal interest in either. I have had experience of both, and my experience teaches me that for every purpose electricity is very much better. Having had that experience, I should not think of going back to the use of gas for any purposes in my household at the present time. I recognise that there are certain purposes for which gas may be said to be superior to electricity. For cooking purposes it is somewhat cheaper, but I doubt if there is any other argument one could bring in its favour. From the point of view of public health, it is certainly not as good as electricity. If the House passes these Bills, it will impose a very greatly increased expenditure on local authorities in regard to the maintenance of public health. Anybody who has had experience of gas knows that the maintenance of rooms in which you have gas lighting is much greater than is the case if the lighting is by electricity. Everybody will admit that fact. Why should Parliament impose upon a local authority a set of conditions which hon. Members would not accept as individual Members? I doubt if there is a Member in the House who, if he had the choice of using either gas or electricity for lighting purposes, would choose to use gas, you are not asking the right to use both. [An HON. MEMBER: "Either."] You are asking the right to use either. [An HON. MEMBER: "Both."] If the hon. Member wants to use both he is financially better off than I am.
§ Mr. McENTEE
I am surprised that interjections of this kind come from people who talk so much about the right of the public to control their own property.
§ Mr. McENTEE
No doubt Mr. Speaker will give the hon. Member an opportunity later on, and in the meantime I have a right to protection. I hope that I may at least show courtesy in disagreeing with hon. Members on the other side. I am arguing against the Bill, because I believe in public enterprise. I am prepared to make sacrifices in the interests of public enterprise. I never allow private interests to interfere with my beliefs and principles. I see here an attempt by a private company to use public property for private gain. There is no question at all about it. There is only one purpose behind the Bill. Are the companies so concerned about the well-being of tenants that they want to give them gas so that they shall be properly heated in the winter? We hear a good deal about the poor tenants who in the winter time find that electricity is not so heating as gas, and the companies are coming along to their aid purely as philanthropists with a desire to benefit those very poor people and give them the opportunity of having something which is a little warmer in winter time than electricity. To talk in that way is sheer nonsense. The only thing behind the proposal is to make more profit, and my desire is to prevent a private company from exploiting public services which have been built up by the public and paid for by the public.
I hope that the House will not sanction that for which the Bill asks. The other Bill is a much more restrictive Bill both in area and in the number of local authorities it covers, but still it covers a very wide and important area, including some of the London boroughs and county boroughs, and an important area of the London County Council. I am not blaming the gas companies. They are privately-owned concerns, and it is to their interest to use all the power they can obtain either in Parliament or outside in order to get as good a return for their money as possible. But I ask those who are responsible for the public well-being and who have been elected to this House to look after the public purse and to see that the money expended by Parliament is controlled by the public, not to hand over powers to private control for private gain. That is the reason I am moving the rejection of the two Bills, and I hope that the House will reject them. It has been said that these companies employ a 601 very large number of men. So does every company. They do not employ men because they love them any more than they put gas in a house because they love the tenants. They employ men for precisely the same reason they wish to put gas into the houses, namely, to make profit and to get as big a return as possible. The House should remember that electricity companies also employ men, and that as far as employment is concerned there is very little to choose between them. In any case, I do not think that it is a good argument to say that because a certain undertaking employs more men than another the public health and well-being and the rights of the public should be sacrificed, and that the cost of maintenance in the houses should be increased out of all proportion. I hope that the House will reject the two Bills for the reasons I have given, and for other reasons which, no doubt, will be given by subsequent speakers.
§ 7.57 p.m.
Marquess of HARTINGTON
I understand that it is customary for the Chairman of the Private Bill Committee, when a decision of that Committee is challenged in a subsequent stage on the Floor of the House, to explain the reasons which led the Committee to reach its decision. The learned Gentleman who expounded the Bill to the Committee upstairs took sir hours in delivering his opening speech, but I will endeavour to occupy far less time. I think that the House should very carefully consider the position before it rejects the Bill at this stage. It passed the Second Reading on the Floor of the House without any discussion, and Since then the Committee have sat for nine days on the Bill. Very large sums of money must have been spent, and the House ought to think very carefully indeed—I am not at the moment denying its right to reject a Bill at any stage— before rejecting a Bill which has reached the present stage. I ask hon. Members to listen to what the Bill actually proposes. We have heard from the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) about powers conferred upon gas companies, about the extension of private enterprise and vested interests, and other 602 matters of that kind, and I will tell the House what the operative Clause of the Bill provides:The housing authority shall not in or in connection with the selling leasing letting or other disposal of any house shop office warehouse or other building or any lands for the time being belonging or leased to them within the limits of supply—That is the operative Clause of the Bill. It confers no powers of any kind whatever on the gas company. The Bill merely gives to the occupier of a council house the right to consume what form of light, heat, power or energy he desires. We have heard about powers conferred on gas companies. It must be obvious that unless a consumer wishes to burn gas no Act of Parliament can compel him to burn one single them or cubic foot, or whatever it may be. This Bill does no more than give to the tenants of council houses the right to have gas. The Committee were most careful before they reached their decision to make sure that no interference with what may be called the good practice of housing estates would be allowed. I will explain what that practice usually has been. When local authorities have been developing a housing estate they have used the force of competition in order to secure the best terms possible from both gas and electricity companies, in order to secure a service for the houses they were building. They have in most cases been able to secure that the gas company will lay on a supply of gas to the houses free, and in many cases they have been able to secure a similar service from the electricity company. Not in many cases but in some cases they have been able to secure favourable terms and reduced rates for the supply of electricity from 603 the electricity undertaking on condition of reserving the ceiling space for electricity.
- (a) make or impose any term condition or restriction with respect to—
- (i) the form of light heat power or energy to be supplied to or used in any such house shop office warehouse or other building or on any such lands or in any building erected on any such lands; or
- (ii) the taking from any particular local authority company body or person of any form of light heat power or energy; or
- (b) give any preference or priority to any person on account of his taking or agreeing to take or subject to any prejudice or disadvantage any person not taking or not agreeing to take a supply of light heat power or energy of any particular form or from any particular local authority company body or person."
The Committee were most careful to make sure that that practice would not in any way be interfered with by the Bill. To make things doubly sure the committee inserted a proviso making it clear that the practice in regard to ceiling spaces should not be interfered with. There is no question whatever of conferring powers on the gas undertaking. There is no question at all of public enterprise as against private enterprise. Those questions do not arise. All that will happen is that tenants who have been denied the right to a supply of gas will in future be protected, and that those who desire to secure gas from the gas company will in future be able to secure it. The case presented by the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill is something of an inversion. He talked about conferring powers on a gas undertaking, about the principle of private enterprise as against public enterprise. There are Members of this House who live on the Westminster Estate. If the Duke of Westminster refused to allow tenants to have gas in their houses in order that they might be compelled to take the electricity supplied by him, I wonder whether the hon. Member would feel that that was a legitimate use of powers. But that is a parallel.
It is not contended for a moment by the promoters of the Bill that a Majority, or even a substantial number, of local authorities, have made any improper use of the powers which they possess. The enormous Majority have adopted a perfectly reasonable attitude and have allowed tenants a free choice as between gas and electricity, and that practice will not be interfered with in any way by this Bill. The Bill will operate in a very limited number of cases. It is contended for that reason that it should not be passed or should be limited to those authorities which have made an improper use of the powers they possess. That is a mistaken view of the case. The Truck Acts apply to every employer in the country. I do not suppose it is contended that all employers made an improper use of the powers they possessed before the passing of those Acts. The Acts are operating to-day to the disadvantage only of those employers who were making an 604 improper use of their powers. In the same way this Bill will in no way affect the practice of local authorities which have made a proper and reasonable use of their powers.
I reiterate that point, because if the Committee had not been absolutely convInced that the powers at present possessed by such authorities as the Westminster City Council and the London County Council would not be interfered with in any way, the Committee would certainly have amended the Bill. It is because we were convInced that the sound and proper practice will not be interfered with that the Committee passed the Bill. On that Committee, apart from other Members, there was a Member of the Labour party who, I say with all respect, is as senior and as experienced and as highly respected as the hon. Member who has moved the rejection of the Bill. There is no question here of the rival merits of gas or electricity. People sometimes prefer the one and sometimes the other. I believe that the Majority of householders prefer electricity for lighting purposes and gas for cooking and heating because it is cheaper. There are some who prefer gas for all purposes. But that does not concern the Bill or the House. What seemed reasonable to the Committee was that people should have what they wanted. There have been cases where housing authorities have used their powers in a most arbitrary way. I wonder whether hon. Members opposite are prepared to defend the action of a borough council which, in order to push the sale of its own electricity, filled with cement the gas pipes in the council houses? That has really happened. In another case gas fixtures were forcibly removed from council houses. Then there was the case of a gas company which offered to lay pipes to an estate, but the Housing Committee of the Corporation wrote:In reply to yours, I am obliged for your letter of the 24th inst., but, as you know, the corporation has its awn electricity undertaking and therefore does not propose to instal gas in the new flats.That is not a proper use of the powers of a local authority. The Bill confers no new powers upon the Gas Company. I think the hon. Member's description of the Gas Company as seeking private profit only is hardly fair to a very great undertaking like the Gas Light and Coke Company. That company has a certain 605 statutory limitation, and it can increase its dividend only on a reduction of the price of gas to its consumers. That is a point of some importance. It means that the increased use of gas and the consequent cheapening of it benefit the whole of the gas-consuming population of London. That is an additional reason why the House should pass the Bill. The House should have no hesitation in deciding that the Bill is a reasonable Bill.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. THORNE
I rise to support the Bill. There is not much left for me to say after the speech of the Noble Lord, who was Chairman of the Select Committee. In the first place, I want to make a declaration as an old gas worker. I made the same declaration when I took up a similar position on the Kettering Bill last year. To-night I come into conflict with comrades and companions who are members of the Parliamentary Labour party, but they know that I am a party man and have been ever Since I have been in this House, and that I endeavour as far as possible to carry out the decisions of the party. That being so, I am going to carry out the decision of the Parliamentary Labour party, which will prevent my going into the Lobby in support of the Bill. But there is nothing in the standing orders or in our constitution that prevents a member of the party from saying what he likes inside the party or this House, as long as he does not vote against the party decision. It is no good having a Government and an Opposition unless one is a party man. No Government can carry on its business unless its members and those who support it are willing to abide by the decision of the party or Government. When I disagree with my party upon principles I shall clear out of the party.
I take second place to no one in this House or outside in my stand for the socialisation of all industry. I have taken up that position ever Since the latter part of 1883, and I have never changed my opinion Since. In London we are in a very difficult position. There is no local authority in London which can take charge of the Gas Light and Coke Co., or the Commercial Gas Co., or the South Metropolitan Gas Co. I am hoping that at some time or other this Parliament or some other Parliament will take over the whole of the gasworks in London and 606 form a gas board similar to the board that deals with electricity and passenger transport. At present we are prevented from having the same power as many of the local authorities in provincial towns. In provincial towns the local authorities generally have the control of gas or electricity or both, and they do not make a condition that the tenant shall not have either gas or electricity. I believe that a tenant should have the right to either. If a landlord dictated to me whether I was to be allowed either gas or electricity, I should raise the same objection, although I do not say that my objection would carry much weight.
Parliament has taken away from local authorities in London and the country generally their rights in two directions. The Electricity Act of 1926 took away the power of local authorities in certain respects with regard to electricity supplies. Some of the generating stations have been shut down and the local authorities are compelled to take their electricity from the big super stations. In regard to London, the Passenger Transport Act has taken away the rights of local authorities. West Ham has controlled its own trams, and East Ham, Walthamstow, Barking and local authorities inside the London County Council area who controlled their own trams have had that power taken away. We have not now the right even to run our own trams. I am not objecting; it may be a good thing, but I am simply pointing out that that right has been taken away.
The principle for which the Gas Light and Coke Co. are asking has been conceded on two occasions. The first time that this House conceded the right now sought by the Gas Light and Coke Co. was to the Newport Corporation in 1925. Later came the case of the Kettering local authority, when the right to impose certain conditions upon tenants was taken away. So far as private enterprise is concerned, many gas companies not only in London but outside cannot raise their dividends without making a concession to the consumers. The Gas Light and Coke Co., the Commercial Gas Co., and the South Metropolitan Gas Co. and one or two other suburban gas companies cannot increase their dividends unless they concede to the consumer a reduction of one penny per therm in the price of gas.
607 It may be said that these gas companies are out for profit. We are all out for profit. The Electricity Board is out for profit. Those who manage London transport are out for profit. They will not run the undertaking unless it is a paying proposition and they get sufficient revenue to pay out the interests that have been taken over, and they can make a profit. I hope that the time will arrive when the idea of profit will be wiped out. I have been propagating that idea for a good number of years and I do not think I am very much further than I was when I started. That does not, however, prevent me and my colleagues from trying to change the mentality of people and to persuade them to vote for our ideas. I should like to read a minute of the London County Council, which concedes the principle asked for by the Gas Light and Coke Company, which was passed on the 7th February, 1931:
Resolved,That as far as practicable it is desirable, provided that no additional charge on the rates is involved thereby, that equal opportunity should be given to gas companies and electricity supply authorities to instal their services in the council dwellings, and that the council tenants shall be afforded freedom of choice in the use, whenever available, of gas or electricity or both.That is all that this Bill asks for. As vice-chairman of the Gas Joint Industrial Council, I would point out that as far back as 1929 in connection with the attitude taken up by a very large number of local authorities in putting an embargo upon tenants to prevent them using gas, the council passed a resolution, which I will not read, as it is of considerable length, which complained of the attitude of the local authorities in that respect. On that joint industrial council there are representatives from local authorities in Nottingham, Leeds, Edinburgh and other places too numerous to mention, who sit side by side with the employers in private undertakings. We are a very happy family. It is one of the best joint industrial councils in the country. It is run very cheaply. We regulate wages, hours and holidays, and that was our unanimous decision.
If the matter goes to a Division, I shall not go into the Lobby, for I do not want to be censured by my party, of which I am a loyal member. I hope the House will give the Bill a Third Reading and 608 concede to the company the same rights and privileges as were given to the Newport Corporation and other local authorities.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. E. WILLIAMS
It may be not out of place for someone attached to the Miners' Federation and who is interested in the coal trade, to take part in the discussion. I realise that the gas companies of this country are consuming substantially more coal than the electricity companies, therefore from the fact that I have a word to say about the matter, it will be self-evident to hon. Members that I am trying to take a dispassionate view. In other words, I am not endeavouring to manifest anything like a vested interest or special consideration for the industry to which I am attached. There is surely another point of view to be put. I gather that these Bills are opposed by the public authorities. They would not oppose the Bill if they had not some valid ground for doing so. I do not accept the suggestion of the Noble Lord that the gas companies are so magnanimous that they are really promoting these Bills in the interests of the few tenants to whom he referred. Surely, the Noble Lord would not want to impress that upon my mind. The gas companies may have legitimate reasons for promoting these Bills, but that is not the reason.
I presume that the local authorities are opposing the Bills because they consider that they will be detrimental to public enterprise. They are elected representatives, elected, I presume, by the tenants of these housing estates. If those tenants have any grievance to express they can express it in a vote and change the personnel of the council, thereby obtaining what they consider to be their just claims by a changed representation. They can do that if they are sufficiently vigilant and interested in public affairs. On the other hand, it may be that the local authorities are opposing the Bills on the ground that they may impair property for the protection of which they are the responsible elected persons. They have a right to express their opinion through someone in this House and that is why I intervene in the Debate. I realise that I am not expressing my interest in the coal trade, because the more gas that is consumed 609 more coal will be burnt and, therefore, more miners engaged. But the elected representatives of these authorities believe this is the right thing to do, and as: long as we believe in democracy we should have some consideration for their point of view and for their opposition to any measures in this House or anywhere else. It is for that reason that I oppose these Bills.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. BRIANT
The hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. McEntee) seems to be under a misconception so far as these Bills are concerned. He told us that electric light is much healthier than gas. I am not prepared to argue whether it is better or worse, but I am concerned with the principle that every man should have the liberty to choose what he likes. If we are to sit down and wait until someone decides on the respective values in health of everything which a person consumes, they will have something to do. I hold strongly, and I have expressed my opinion by vote on many occasions, that we have the right to interfere with the freedom of the individual when that freedom affects the health and comfort of the community. That is a principle of which I am strongly in favour, and it has been incorporated in most of our legislation. But there is a wide difference between that and interfering with the liberty of the subject when that liberty does not mean any injury or inconvenience to anyone else. Once you admit that proposal, you can interfere with every item in a person's life. It is true that in only a few cases has a municipality refused permission to use gas, and, anyone who knows the life of a working-class family will realise that this may cause a great deal of hardship. During the summer working-class families have to eat food just the same as at other times, and everyone knows that electricity for heating purposes is a great deal more expensive than gas. It only means that these poor person will not use electricity, because it is too dear. They will light a fire; and that means that a fire is going all through the hot summer day, from morning until night, and I have been in homes where, on a hot summer day, people have to live in a steamy and hot atmosphere.
610 The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), when he was Minister of Health, introduced the Housing Bill in 1930. He said that no one wanted gas for lighting purposes if they could get electricity, but they did require gas for heating purposes and for cooking. In these measures we are aiming at giving people the choice of gas for heating and cooking if they like. I have no interest in either gas or electricity, but I am interested in liberty in the home. That is a principle which hon. Members in all parts of the House will support. The State must intervene in many ways, but where State interference is unnecessary and superfluous then the State is better out of it. It cannot be said that municipalities alone are free from the vice of tyranny. I object strongly to the tyranny of the landlord. I have had to fight him when he has tried to impose tyrannous terms on his tenants, but I have never heard of a private landlord who refused to give his tenants the right to have gas if they so desired. In this case some municipalities are proposing to press their undertakings to the inconvenience and against the wishes of the tenants. That is perfectly unjustifiable. Some of my Socialist friends seem to want to make us live under conditions imposed by someone else who does not know our wants. I know my own wants. No one will contend that because a person has a gas fire in his room he is going to do any harm to anybody else. It is purely a private matter.
I am not going to flatter the gas companies, but I know of no organisation which treats their men so well, or which is so well organised. There is no set of employers which takes the same means to treat their men well, and no one therefore can say that we are throwing these people into the hands of an organisation which sweats its workers. All we are contending is that the people shall have their choice. The average man is a sensible man. He will not have gas if electricity suits him better. He knows what he wants better than anyone else, and he will have what he wants. All we say is that if he wants gas he shall have it, and that he should not be stopped by any legislation which any municipality may obtain. We do not do any good by constantly interfering in matters which do not concern us. I have fought for measures which have interfered with the 611 right of private individuals, and I may do so again, when I believe that such interference is for the good of the community as a whole. But I am not in favour of Government interference when the good of the community is not endangered. In many cases a working-man has gas not only for the purposes of lighting but also because he gets some heat from it. There is the workman with a litle Shop, in which there is no stove. He lights the gas, and it gives him some form of heating as well in his little workshop.
It is idle to say that gas has served its turn and is now out of date. The use of gas will go out quickly enough when people find that they can do without it. They will not want any teaching to make them give up gas for electricity if they find it is to their interests to do so. At present, electric heating is extremely dear in London, it is the most expensive form of heating, a great deal too expensive for the average person. I have been told by some sub-tenants who have electric light that they have to pay so much per week on the top of what they burn, and that it costs them much more than a coal fire or a gas fire. The hon. Member for Walthamstow, West suggested that the Bill covered an area of 540 square miles. I wish it covered the whole of England and then we should avoid having these Bills protecting certain companies in certain areas. The broad principle upon which the House ought to go is the right of the individual to choose for himself and, so long as he does not offend against the laws of health or the amenities of the district to do what he likes in his own home. I resent municipalities as much as private landlords trying to exercise tyranny in matters which are only the personal concerns of the tenant.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. J. JONES
I happen to be one of the heretics on this occasion. I fail to understand exactly on what principle the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) moves the rejection of this Bill. London as it happens is a very peculiar place. We have recently had the London Passenger Transport Act which means the co-ordination of omnibus, tram and railway services. We have the Metropolitan Water Board covering an 612 area which formerly had some 14 different authorities. We are gradually coming-to the co-ordination of all public services. In this case it is not a question of electricity against gas but a question of who is to organise the supply of those services to the people.
I believe the time has come when the light, heat and power services of London should be brought under public control through some body like the Metropolitan Water Board or the Port of London Authority. But I cannot understand why a Socialist should object to a working man having the right to have gas as well as electricity in his house. I have both. I get one from the local authority which has control of the electricity supply and I get the other from the Gas Light and Coke Company. Am I a criminal on that account? [An HON. MEMBER: "Not on that account!"] I suppose some of my hon. Friends here might suggest that I am a criminal on another account. This is not a question of the Gas Light and Coke Company. It is not really a question of who is to supply the goods. It is a question of who wants the goods. I am a consumer and I am looking at this question from that point of view. In some cases the local authorities who provide the public with these services have, running across their areas, the system of a great company like the Gas Light and Coke Company. I am no friend of theirs but I am in favour of the Bill until I can get a better one.
As I say, I should like to see the whole supply of gas and electricity in the London area organised on lines similar to the water supply. I was a member of the Metropolitan Water Board for many years. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, and I had the opportunity of enjoying something in the water. I have never objected to it and I have never said a word against the man who did not want it. I have a glass of beer when I like it and nobody will stop me from having it when I want it. As long as I am able to pay for it I am entitled to have it. But I wish to say this also, as a consumer of goods, that nobody has a right to say to me that I must have a certain supply, just because somebody controls it instead of somebody else. If I can get an equally good service from both I have the right of choice. As a Socialist I want to see the amalgamation of all these services because I believe in the common owner- 613 ship and control of the means of producing and distributing wealth. Electricity and gas represent wealth, though, as we all know, in this House gas is given away for nothing.
This Bill is a move in the right direction. No public authority and no private individual has a right to say that a tenant is not to have a choice in these matters. That is a principle on which we ought to vote—that no landlord has a right to say to a tenant "you shall not have this or that." If I pay my rent, no landlord should have the right to tell me that I am not to have gas in my house. There will be no trouble of this kind when the same authority provides both services. The problem will then be solved but naturally the question arises when one authority controls the supply of gas and another controls the supply of electricity. That, however, has nothing to do with us. On principle we in this House ought to say that the tenant has the right of choice as to the service which he uses.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. WISE
As a Member of the Committee which was presided over by my Noble Friend the Member for Western Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) I wish to enlarge a little on some of the facts which emerged in the course of the Committee's proceedings. I stress first the fact that the Committee, having heard the evidence carefully, was unanimous and that the evidence was sifted with great skill by many learned and no doubt expensive counsel for something like 40 hours in all. As a result of that sifting it was decided that this Bill had proved its Preamble and that with minor adjustments it was a fit and proper Bill to be reported to this honourable House. The principles which governed the Committee in its decision have been touched upon very ably by my Noble Friend and the particular principle of precedent was well expounded, by the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) who gave the House instances of previous Bills of a nearly similar character which have been approved. The main principle which determined the decision of the Committee was that in our opinion this Bill secured liberty of choice for the subject and economy for a class who particularly needed it.
614 The hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) failed to draw a distinction between privately-owned houses and municipally-owned houses, and although I, and I am sure all Members on this side, would stand up for the rights of a tenant of a privately-owned house, the two cases are not in fact the same. Local authorities are, first of all, not spending their own money. They are spending money provided for them by the ratepayers in their district and by the taxpayers of the country as a whole, and they are getting that money for specific public purposes, one of which is to provide houses for a certain class of tenant. Unfortunately, in some cases they have failed to do so, but the main principle of all the Housing Acts in this country is that houses should be provided for those who can afford to pay only the least possible rent. Therefore, if you subsidise houses in order to reduce the rent which people would otherwise have to pay, it is surely very illogical to debar them from the right of selecting a more economical form of light or heat in the same house. It would, in fact, only be giving away with one hand what you had given them with the other.
A large number of witnesses were called before the Committee to testify on this one question, and the overwhelming weight of evidence was definitely on the side that it was less expensive to do your cooking with gas than with electricity, and that it was less expensive to have your house lighted with gas than with electricity. My hon. Friend who spoke earlier explained how, on many occasions, the gas lighting acted as a form of subsidiary heating, and, therefore, saved money which was often expended on a second form of heating. I do not think there is any need to go further into that point. Nearly all the speakere who have supported the Bill have not only maintained but, I think, proved that it would be to the benefit of the tenants of these houses to have the right of choice as to which form of illuminant or heat they should use.
I think the hon. Member for West Walthamstow endeavoured to confuse the issue and to lead the House to believe that this was a question not of the right of choice at all, but of forcing unwilling tenants to take gas when they did not want it in the house. I do not know why 615 he took that line. The assumption is that he had not read the Bill, because if there is one thing clearer than another, it is that the Bill is not merely wholly permissive, but that it does not involve anybody except the gas company in any expense. If the gas company are prepared to undertake the very considerable expense of equipping these houses with gas, it s their own legitimate commercial risk, and I cannot see why they should be debarred from doing it by the arbitrary action of a local authority.
Another hon. Member, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. Williams), in the course of his opposition to the Bill, said that these tenants had the right of protest at the local election, and that if they objected to any tyrannous action on the part of their council, they could unseat the council and replace it with one which was more addicted to respecting their liberties. I do not think the hon. Member really believes that that is feasible. Elections are mainly fought on party lines in these days, and it is not conceivable that you could fight an election on the issue as to whether Bill Smith was to have gas or electricity in his house. In London elections are annual, but in many districts surrounding London it would take these tenants, who have no money for propaganda, no organisation, and no means of instructing the electorate in what they want, three years to change the composition of the council. Are they to put up with an extremely expensive form of lighting which they do not want for three years while they go through the tedious process of fighting an election on the subject of gas versus electricity? I do not think that that is reasonable.
I would like to give some of the reasons why the Committee assumed that tyranny—I use that word advisedly—was being used by local authorities to make their own undertakings profitable. I will quote very briefly from some of the correspondence which took place between the Tilbury Council and some of the people who were unfortunate enough to be compelled to take houses on the Tilbury Council's estate. First of all, in the tenancy agreement, it was stated that the houses having been equipped for lighting, heating, and cooking with electricity, the tenant would be required to 616 accept such provision, and no alternative fittings would be permitted. It went on:Acceptance by the tenant of this restriction is a condition precedent to the grant of tenancy, and any breach of it will lead to the immediate termination of the tenancy.In other words, if you cook with some means much more suitable to you, you will be thrown Out of the house.
Further, to show that this tyranny was not without a financial object at the back of it, there was a second notice. Having compelled these tenants to take these fittings, which they did not want, they then proposed to charge them 1s. a week rent for having them. That was because some of the tenants on this estate, exercising their perfectly proper rights as citizens of a free country, refused to be browbeaten even by the threat of eviction, and in order to teach them not to have an alternative form of cooker, the council made them pay 1s. a week extra for having a cooker which they did not want to use. Even that form of financial blackmail was unsuccessful, and a letter was sent round by the council to its tenants saying:Dear Sir and Madam.—The council are informed that although you have an electric cooker installed in your house, you still retain a gas cooker. I am to call your attention to the first clause of the tenancy agreement.…I am therefore to ask that you will take immediate steps to have the gas cooker removed, and to inform me for the information of the council when such removal has been made.There you have local government at its very worst, and it is a great pity, when we know that local government need not be like that, and in most cases is not like that, that these cases are forced upon our notice. The case of Tilbury, which I have quoted, is not the only case of intimidation by a municipality. I have quoted it because I frankly admit it was far the worst case, but there are many others. The bulk of the opposition to this Bill came from councils which said* that it was all very well Tilbury doing this sort of thing, Willesden doing it, and Fulham doing it until they repented, but other councils were not likely to do it. That is no argument against this House imposing restrictions on the possibility of their doing it in future. Councils are subject to the vagaries of local elections; their constitution may change, and they may commit the very sins which they 617 proudly say that they will never commit to-day. The learned counsel who put this point for the opposition might just as well have said that as the bulk of citizens are not murderers we should refrain from treating homicide as a crime. There is no reason, just because most of these councils do not do it, why the House should not take steps to see that they never do it.
It has not been suggested yet by the supporters of the Bill that electricity can live with gas in free competition. I say advisedly that none of the supporters of the Bill either before the committee or here have suggested that. I do not use gas myself, except for cooking. Unlike the hon. Member for West Waltham-stow, who uses electricity all over his house, I have not yet progressed either to that height of wealth or passion for cleanliness. I suggest that freedom of competition is a valuable thing for this House to defend. Whether it be freedom of competition of one private company against another, or freedom of competition of a municipal undertaking against a private company. If the municipal undertaking is so incompetent that it cannot compete, it is as well that that fact should be shown so that the electors will have the opportunity of changing their municipal representatives for people who can run municipal undertakings. Private electricity companies are not as nervous of the competition of gas as the municipalities who oppose this Bill seem to be. The general manager of the Westminster Electricity Supply Company, in the course of his cross-examination, was asked by counsel: "Electricity can compete with gas, can it?" to which he replied: "If it cannot, we will give up business."
If this private company is prepared to take this risk, surely hon. Gentlemen opposite, who believe that municipally run undertakings are more efficient than privately run undertakings, will be prepared to have that same fair competition with this privately run undertaking, the Gas Light and Coke Company. If this competition is to be allowed, it must be allowed for the whole area in which the Gas Company operates. When municipal enterprise degenerates into municipal tyranny, it is time for this House to intervene and to protect the liberty of the subject against whatever form of administration is oppressive. This House 618 in the past was always the protector of the people's liberty. It has protected the people's liberty against the encroachment of the Crown, and against the encroachment of the Executive after we adopted the system of Cabinet Government. It is part of its duty to protect the citizen even against the encroachment of his own elected representatives on local authorities. I ask the House to give the Bill the Third Reading and to do it with no uncertain voice.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
This Debate has been very consoling, particularly with regard to the speeches that have come from my hon. Friends of the official Opposition, because it has gone far to prove, what I have always felt would be the case, that if ever we got a real Socialist Government in this country determined to put through Socialist measures, no opposition that the wretched Tories might set up would compare with the torrents of abuse and opposition and defiance in defence of liberty and personal freedom that would come from the benches behind that Government. We should have the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) and the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) denouncing a real Socialist Government with decided emphasis—
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
They would denounce the intolerable interference with their personal freedom and liberty and their right to live their own lives and to cook by electricity or gas or by anything else. It is very difficult to think of any argument that has been expressed against the Bill, and it is hard to think of any new one in favour of it. There are three principles of vital importance involved in the Measure which is before us. The first has been pointed out by almost every speaker. It is the principle of the freedom and liberty of the individual citizen. If I take a council house, it is not for the local authority to tell me whether I shall use gas or electricity. I have an absolute right to choose. I think that that principle has been vindicated. I have not heard a single word raised in opposition to it. There is another point in this connection. It is that whatever may be the case in future, 619 at the moment gas is on the whole the fuel of the poorest classes. It is much cheaper than electricity for cooking, and, I think, for lighting, and certainly for heating purposes at the moment.
I have long believed that one of the greatest curses of the country is the inability of nine-tenths of the English people to cook. The Scottish people are Very much better than the English. I Understand that it is one of the tactics of the gas companies to give lessons in cookery to those people who instal gas for cooking purposes. Ever Since the War, I believe that this country has consumed a higher proportion of tinned food per head of population than any other country in the world. I am certain that it would be not only cheaper for our people but better for their health, and very much better for our own farmers and fishermen, if they were to eat fresh food cooked by themselves instead of the tinned food from abroad of which they consume such vast quantities at the present time. I believe that is a factor to be taken into serious consideration.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
The fishing industry is of greater importance than the canning industry, and so are farming and fruit growing. I would rather have fresh fish than canned fish any day of the week. If the hon. Member would just try a split herring fried on a gas stove in contrast with tinned fish—for which he would have to pay a considerably higher price at the shops—he would find that his digestion would congratulate him and that his outlook on life would improve.
A second point which has not been stressed to-night, but which is very important, is that if this House, casually and on an after-dinner Debate, is to upset the decisions of a committee appointed by it which has sat for weeks on end examining innumerable witnesses at immense cost, and has come to a unanimous conclusion, it would be better to stop setting up these committees. A vital question of principle is involved, and I think that point of view ought to be expressed. We ought not, and cannot, challenge the unanimous decisions of committees which have 620 taken evidence for weeks; we cannot come to right conclusions in the haphazard and lighthearted manner suggested this evening. The last question of principle I wish to raise is this. The very people who are anxious to saddle with the heaviest burdens the concessions made by public authorities, whether Parliament or local authorities, to private individuals are those who oppose all other forms of taxation upon consumption. Public authorities, in. supplying things like gas or electricity, are apt to use their undertakings as a fiscal system for purposes other than the actual supply of the gas or electricity. I do not believe that municipal authorities are by any means the best or most efficient servers of the public with gas and electricity.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
There is a great argument against public utility undertakings as operated by municipalities and in favour of purely private companies— working, of course, under supervision and regulation, as all monopolies of that kind must do. As this point, which was raised by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. Williams) is a point of substance, I would like to read one paragraph from the extremely interesting report of one of the largest public utility undertakings in the world, Sofina. It says:The inferiority of public management"—as against private management of public utilities,can be attributed to three causes. Public bodies are bound by regulations which often debar them from entrusting command to those who would be best qualified to exercise authority; moreover, they are seldom free to place orders in the most favourable conditions. Their staff's responsibility, which is collective rather than individual, is vaguely defined, and consequently personal initiative finds little encouragement; the master of the undertaking, namely, the body of electors, is even more inconsistent than a shareholders' meeting. Further, considerations that have nothing to do with the financial success of the undertaking affect the decisions of those in charge of the service.I think there is something to be said in favour of those who believe that the best of all systems is private enterprise working under concession and under the general supervision and authority and, if 621 you like, regulation of the State. I do not believe that, in the very nature of things, municipal authorities give the best services to the community in the matter of gas and electricity, and some of the speeches to-night, telling of the real tyranny which is exercised in many places by municipal undertakers, go far to bear out the argument I have been putting to the House.
I would only say in conclusion that I believe that in this country public utilities are under developed at the present time, and that the Government ought to direct their attention very seriously, in the course of the next few years, to the development of public utilities. Both in the case of gas and of electricity I do not believe we are as efficient or as developed as far as many other countries in Europe. Statistics which I could quote, but will not, bear out that point of view. I believe that one of the reasons why we are so under developed in comparison with other countries, especially so far as gas and electricity are concerned, is to be found in the host of petty restrictions of all sorts and kinds imposed upon private enterprise. I want to see the maximum freedom allowed to private enterprise provided a certain standard of efficiency is insisted on by the State.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
We are now debating the consideration of a Bill, the discussion on which is strictly limited to the provisions in the Bill, and we cannot go into general questions.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I can only say, before I sit down, that I am slightly astonished that you did not check me before. I was not absolutely certain how far I was transgressing authority, but I thought I would go as far as I could, and I hastily apologise. I will conclude my observations by expressing the earnest hope that the House will give this Measure a Third Reading.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. SELLEY
I rise with great confidence to express to the House the reasons why I, as Chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council, opposed this Bill in Committee upstairs. I do not think the point about which we were rather anxious has been brought out in the Debate this evening. The London County Council 622 are undertakers neither of gas nor of electricity, but we are the greatest housing corporation in the world. We have estates both outside and inside the Metropolitan area; we have estates where we have been compelled to use gas because the other service was not available; and we have estates where we have had the choice of either or could use both. Although I am not going to vote for the rejection of this Bill I want to point out that we were a little anxious about this point. We have been told of installations offered free by the gas companies, but I can assure the House that no such installation could be offered free by the electricity undertakings, and for this reason. A gas point can be put into a house for something like 3s. 6d., whereas it would probably cost 15s. to put in an electricity point. The London County Council, by its vast experience in having something like 50,000 tenants, has definitely come to the conclusion that the great Majority of those people enjoy electricity as an illuminant and prefer gas for cooking and heating. I can definitely state that the council, in the estates which they control, have endeavoured to give those services.
We see a little difficulty in this Bill. I know that the noble Lord has tried upstairs to meet the council's case, but our anxiety is not as to whether we should pipe the houses for gas, but that we should feel compelled to wire them for electricity. We believe that 90 per cent., or probably 99 per cent., of the people require electricity for lighting, and we are rather against putting in a dual system for lighting purposes.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
Is it not a fact that the gas companies will pipe these houses themselves, and that there is no further expense to the localities?
§ Mr. SELLEY
That is quite true. That brings us up against another point, which is the management side of the estates. Our real anxiety is that we get people in for whom we have to put back the electric light, and then, when we have a change of tenancy a few months afterwards, the electric fittings have to go, and we have to reinstate the gas fittings. That is a real management problem about which we have been concerned. There is another side, which I do not wish to stress, and which arises in connection with decorating the houses. Speaking as 623 a property manager, I would much rather have the interior of any houses lighted by electricity than by gas, because of the dirty ceilings caused by gas and because of upkeep, particularly in those cottages, where, as most hon. Members know, the ceilings are not more than 8 ft. in height. It was on those grounds that my council offered opposition to this Bill.
I was very much relieved to hear the Noble Lord say that we need have no fear that we should not he able to go on and do just as we have done in the past. I can assure the House that although I shall not go into the Lobby against the Bill, I was very anxious, and, I assure hon. Members, my council was very anxious, to see that our rights should be protected. Although we are desirous of giving a choice, we should not be put to the expense of a dual system of installation in every house, and although the gas people put in gas pipes free, we should still feel that we had to instal electricity for illuminating the council houses, and that would be an added charge to the municipality.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Captain ARTHUR HOPE
As the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) said, there are not many arguments which have not already been used. I should like, however, to echo what has been said by my hon. Friend as to the necessity of passing this Bill this evening. It has been considered for a very long time in Committee. The whole of the case has been put very ably for and against, and it was the unanimous wish of the Committee that this Bill should be passed. I know that the House has the right to reject a Bill at any stage, but I do not think, after the unanimous decision in Committee and the practical withdrawal of the opposition of the London County Council, that the objections should be proceeded with.
I want to emphasise once again the right of an individual to have what installation he likes in his own house, whether he rents that house from a private owner or from a municipality. I entirely agree that the great bulk of the people in this country would prefer to have two installations in their houses. For lighting, electricity is undoubtedly better, and, I think, cheaper, but for cooking and heating gas is undoubtedly 624 better. I think that this is not in the least a question of the rival merits of gas light or of electric light, nor is it a question of the rival merits of public or private ownership. It is a question of the right of the ordinary individual to say what he would prefer to have in his own house. The Labour party, although they are committed to the municipalisation and the nationalisation of things generally, are, in this case, pressing the matter rather too hard. I do not think on this question that one need get very heated. Any fair-minded person who believes in the liberty of the subject should allow this Bill to go through in order that an individual should have the right, whether he is the tenant of a private or a public enterprise, to have what heating or illumination he wants.
The hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Brian*), with whose philosophy I entirely agree, said that every individual should have the right to lead his own life in his own way, and to buy those things which he could afford and wishes to buy, provided that he does not cause any trouble to his neighbour and to the community at large. That is a perfectly right philosophy, which I think goes outside the bounds of party politics. In this case it cannot possibly be to the detriment of his neighbours whether a man has a gas fire or an electric fire in his own house. The question of costs does not seem to have arisen very much this evening. To the ordinary tenant who has to take a house and to pay his rent over to the municipality or to the owner, costs enter very greatly into consideration. It seems almost iniquitous that a local council should tell him to spend, say, 5s., upon lighting, when he might get it a good deal cheaper from the Gas Light and Coke Company.
§ Mr. E. WILLIAMS
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman appreciates that, in the production of electric light, price depends very largely upon the quantity consumed, and that a council would be justified in installing the greatest amount of wiring in houses in order to consume the greatest quantity, and consequently to offer the lowest price to the consumer.
§ Captain HOPE
That is true, but it would not appeal to the individual who had to pay more for it when it went into his house. Another thing which the hon. 625 Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. Williams) put very forcibly was, that ratepayers who are occupying council houses have the right every year, if they do not like their council, to put in men whom they do like. I do not think that the average individual in this country takes a vital interest in local politics, and that he is going to fight for his gas mantle or electric light bulb every 1st November by having a harum-scarum campaign through the constituency. Local elections are fought very largely on party politics, and I should deprecate every little question of amenities in one's own home being fought out in local elections. This is a perfectly correct Bill, and I hope that it will be copied by public utility undertakings throughout the country. It gives what everybody should have, the right not to be dictated to by every owner or by every public authority, in regard to what lighting and what fuel one wishes in one's own house.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
My name is on the back of one of these Bills, promoted by one of the good employers in my constituency. I have listened to this Debate with extreme interest. It is evidence of the truth of the remark that there is only one contention, although there are hundreds of ways of making it. We have been discussing nomiNaily the Commercial Gas Bill and the Gas Light and Coke Company Bill, and yet the Debate has been the old traditional Debate, never ended, on the difference between liberty and authority, and the line of demarcation between the two. I am astounded that the opposition to this Bill is so deep, and so heavy, that the two hon. Members, who represent West Ham so faithfully, are unable, as free men, to exercise their right to vote on this Amendment. It seems to me a matter of extraordinary interest that we should see to-night two private Bills, dealing with a small part of the country, call for the heaviest exercise of party discipline. If it is necessary, by party discipline, to insist that people living in my constituency should be allowed to cook in only one official way, then the aims and ideals of their party can best be found in Dart-moor where lighting, heating and cooking are under the rigid discipline of His Majesty's Government, and where any- 626 one who, prompted by the terrible imp of freedom, lights his cell, cooks his food, or heats himself in a manner not provided by regulation, is subject to penalties.
We are told that these Bills must be objected to because these companies exploit every opportunity to make profit. We are told that they must be obstructed in this House. If that is so, then the workers of this country must be conscious, or will be conscious to-morrow, that the pursuit of the ideal of Socialism, which may come when we are dead, means that present employment is bound, on principle, to be obstructed, that it is better to be out of work to-day and heat ourselves by compulsory electricity in order that our great-grandchildren, whom we shall not see, may be compulsory Socialists. I represent to the Opposition that these private companies are producing profits which are taxed. To destroy a company, which gives employment and produces taxes, is of no service to the country at the present time.
We have been told that the tenants of these houses are inhabiting publicly-owned property. I do believe they pay their rates with privately-owned money, and we are told that privately-earned money should not be disbursed in a private and peculiar way which these tenants in their iniquity choose for themselves. I am hand-in-hand and heart-in-heart with the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) who said he would purchase for himself what he chose. We are told that the tenants are free to organise at election times. It may be so in the happy places from which the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. Williams) comes, but let us bring our minds to London areas. A leader of a party, in order to be among his people, is frequently the leading tenant of council houses. Agents also live in council houses. These tenants cannot cook their chicken in an improper way without being informed upon. There is not in council houses that absolute freedom we would desire. If any hon. Members have ever attempted to canvass at election time in council houses they have found that there is a kind of frozen, chilly reception for anyone who has a spirit a little different from that of the dominating political party.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
This is not the Second Beading of the Bill. The 627 Debate must be strictly limited to what is in the Bill.
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
I would point out that in this matter Parliament has given an over-riding decision on principle in its acceptance of the Kettering Gas Bill. We remember that an authority so great as the London County Council has passed a resolution that, so far as practicable, it is desirable, if no charge on the rates is involved, that equal opportunity should be given to the gas companies. To go a little lower, the Stepney Borough Council have inserted in their agreements with the tenants that they should at all times use the electricity installation and accessories supplied by the council. The lower we go in the hierarchy the heavier becomes this oppression. I am pleased that the Stepney Borough Council recently, in its greater wisdom, agreed to the insertion of certain provisions in Clause 3 of the Bill. One cannot be deaf to the important point of management which has been made by the hon. Member who spoke for the London County Council. But we must always remember that human beings are more important than the management of human beings. This Clause does not exist to make the problem of administration easier. The administration should not ask for sheep-like tenants who can be ordered to use this or that, so that the official position of the administrator may be a little easier. I should not be considered as a serious suggestion that changing tenants may need frequent replacement of their lighting and heating apparatus. That may come about when the slums are cleared and the country covered with many houses, easily accessible. This House has always been the defence of the principle of freedom—freedom to the poorest, and freedom to the consumers. Once in English history there was compulsion to bury our dead in woollen shrouds for the benefit of the woollen trade. We hope we shall never return to such a state of things.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Dr. Burgin)
The Government would desire that the House should give a Third Reading to both the Bills now under discussion. 628 The Debate has roamed over a very wide field, and a great many arguments have been adduced in favour of these Bills. There is very little that remains to be said by any Government spokesman on their behalf. I should like to say just two things with regard to the speech of the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) who moved the rejection. When he reads the Debate he will find that he really misunderstood the purposes of the Bill. Whereas he thought that the Bill imposed restrictions, he will find, when he looks at it calmly, that the Bill seeks to make it impossible for local authorities to impose restrictions. The hon. Member raised, however, one point to which, so far, no answer has been given. It was as to whether the Bills would permit local authorities to deal with questions of structural alterations and with reasonable conditions as to gas fittings and electric light fittings. I think the attention of the House ought to be called to a provision, which is in like form in both Bills, that nothing is to prevent a reasonable term or condition being imposed as to the part of the room or building in which fittings for any form of heat, light, power or energy are to be installed. To put it shortly, there is nothing whatever in the point that the hon. Member sought to introduce, that there was any difficulty about attaching reasonable conditions in these matters.
The other speech to which I would call attention was that of the hon. Member for South Battersea (Mr. Selley), with regard to the management point. There is a great difference between a point of management such as he raised and giving power to a local authority of a backward character to do some of the things which were referred to in the evidence before the Select Committee. There is a wide difference, and it has been found, regrettably, to be necessary to prevent local authorities of backward complexion from doing some of the things to which evidence was directed before the Select Committee. The House is under a debt of gratitude to the Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) for presiding over the Select Committee, which sat for nine days, which was addressed by 13 counsel, including seven King's Counsel, and some of the evidence before which was really of a shocking character. I do not propose to put any local authority in the 629 pillory or refer to them by name, but I hope that any hon. Member who has the slightest misgiving about the granting of the Third Reading of these Bills will take the trouble to read some of the printed evidence given before the Select Committee. When you find local authorities deliberately pouring liquid cement into the gas pipes to prevent their tenants from having the alternative of the use of gas, it is time to protest, and also when you find a gas supply ruthlessly cut off by the somewhat crude method of a hacksaw cut through a pipe
§ while the automatic meter is still on, so that, if a shilling were inserted, there might be very serious consequences to life and property. When things of that kind are possible, it is time that this House should say, and say quite clearly, that local authorities are not to be allowed powers of that kind. I ask the House to give a Third Reading to the Bill.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 163; Noes, 21.631
|Division No. 179.]||AYES.||[9.38 p.m.|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (L'pool, W.)||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Hamilton, Sir R.W.(Orkney & Zetl'nd)||Potter, John|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Hanbury, Cecil||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.|
|Bailey, Eric Alfred George||Hanley, Dennis A.||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Harbord, Arthur||Ramsden, Sir Eugene|
|Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar||Hartington, Marquess of||Rankin, Robert|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Hartland, George A.||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)|
|Blaker, Sir Reginald||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Boothby, Robert John Graham||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Robinson, John Roland|
|Boulton, W. W.||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Hepworth, Joseph||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald||Herbert, Capt. S. (Abbey Division)||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Briant, Frank||Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge)||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Horobin, Ian M.||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y)||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard|
|Burghley, Lord||Iveagh, Countess of||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Burnett, John George||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Slater, John|
|Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Law, Sir Alfred||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Leckie, J. A.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Somerville, Annesley A (Windsor)|
|Clayton, Dr. George C.||Lees-Jones, John||Super, Richard|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Liddall, Walter S.||Southby. Commander Archibald E. J.|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Llewellin, Major John J.||Spens, William Patrick|
|Copeland, Ida||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Crooke, J. Smedley||McCorquodale, M. S.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Crossley, A. C.||McKie, John Hamilton||Summersby, Charles H.|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Magnay, Thomas||Templeton, William P.|
|Dickie, John p.||Maitland, Adam||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Thompson, Luke|
|Dunglass, Lord||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot||Todd. Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Elmley, Viscount||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Fleming, Edward Lascelles||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||White, Henry Graham|
|Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||Mitcheson, G, G.||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Fremantle, Sir Francis||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Morrison, William Shepherd||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)||Muirhead, Major A. J||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Gledhill, Gilbert||Murray-Phillpson, Hylton Raiph||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Goff, Sir Park||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Goldie, Noel B.||Nicholson. Godfrey (Morpeth)||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Nunn, William||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.)||Palmer, Francis Noel||Womersley, Walter James|
|Greene, William P. C.||Pearson, William G.||Wood. Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)|
|Guy, J. C. Morrison||Petherick, M.||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Blist'n)|
|Hales, Harold K.||Pickering, Ernest H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Mr. Clarry and Dr. O'Donovan.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)|
|Batey, Joseph||Cripps, Sir Stafford||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)|
|Cape, Thomas||Daggar, George||Edwards, Charles|
|Grenfell, David Reel (Glamorgan)||Lawson, John James||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Lunn, William||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Jenkins, Sir William||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Parkinson, John Allen||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Price, Gabriel||Mr. John and Mr. C. Macdonald.|
§ Bill, as amended, considered accordingly.
§ Motion made, and Question put:
§ "That Standing Orders 240 and 262 be suspended, and that the Bill be now read
§ King's Consent, signified.632
§ the Third time."—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]
§ The House divided: Ayes, 165; Noes, 21.631
|Division No. 180.]||AYES.||[9.48 p.m.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd.)||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Potter, John|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Hamilton, Sir R.W.(Orkney & Zetl'nd)||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Hanbury, Cecil||Ramsden, Sir Eugene|
|Bailey, Eric Alfred George||Hanley, Dennis A.||Rankin, Robert|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Harbord, Arthur||Ratcliffe, Arthur|
|Barrio, Sir Charles Coupar||Hartington, Marquess of||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Hartland, George A.||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Blaker, Sir Reginald||Harvey, Majors. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Robinson, John Roland|
|Boothby, Robert John Graham||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Hepworth, Joseph||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald||Herbert, Capt. S. (Abbey Division)||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)|
|Briant, Frank||Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y)||Iveagh, Countess of||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Burghley, Lord||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Law, Sir Alfred||Slater, John|
|Burnett, John George||Leckie, J. A.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Smith, R. W.(Ab'rd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Lees-Jones, John||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Chapman, Col. R.(Houghton-le-Spring)||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Choriton, Alan Ernest Leofric||Liddall, Walter S.||Soper, Richard|
|Clayton, Dr. George C.||Llewellin, Major John J.||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Spens, William Patrick|
|Cook, Thomas A.||McCorquodale, M. S.||Stevenson, James|
|Copeland, Ida||McKie, John Hamilton||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Crooke, J. Smedley||Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Crossley, A. C.||Magnay, Thomas||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Maitland, Adam||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Davies, Maj, Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Templeton, William P.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Dickie, John P.||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Thompson, Luke|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Margeason, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Dunglast, Lord||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Elmley, Viscount||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Milne, Charles||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||White, Henry Graham|
|Fleming, Edward Lascelles||Mitcheson, G. G.||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Fremantle, Sir Francis||Morrison, William Shepherd||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Muirhead, Major A. J.||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)||Murray-Phillpson, Hylton Raiph||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Gledhill, Gilbert||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Goff, Sir Park||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Goldic, Noel B.||Nunn, William||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Palmer, Francis Noel||Womersley, Walter James|
|Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.)||Pearson, William G.||Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)|
|Greene, William P. C.||Petherick, M.||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Guy, J. C. Morrison||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilst'n)|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Pickering, Ernest H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Hales, Harold K.||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada||Mr. Clarry and Dr. O'Donovan.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Edwards, Charles||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Batey, Joseph||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Cape, Thomas||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Price, Gabriel|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Jenkins, Sir William||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Daggar, George||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Lawson, John James||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lunn, William||Mr. John and Mr. CI. Macdonald.|
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.