HC Deb 15 June 1934 vol 290 cc2108-11

Any undertakers being the county council or the town council of a county or burgh in Scotland in which the Burghs Gas Supply (Scotland) Act, 1876, is in force may, with the sanction of the Secretary of State (given with the concurrence of the Board of Trade) and subject to such conditions as he may impose, borrow such sums as he may approve for the purpose of carrying into effect any special order made under the Gas Undertakings Acts 1920 to 1934, and the provisions contained in the Burghs Gas Supply (Scotland) Act, 1876, as amended by any subsequent enactment relating to borrowing powers (including the provisions as to the guarantee rate) and to the fixing of the price to be paid for gas shall apply to moneys borrowed under the powers of this section as if such moneys had been borrowed under the provisions and for the purposes of the last-mentioned Act.—[The Solicitor-General for Scotland.]

Brought up and read the First time.

2.43 p.m.


I beg to move. "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The Clause deals with certain powers of local authorities in Scotland who are gas undertakers in virtue of having adopted the provisions of the Burghs Gas Supply (Scotland) Act, 1876. Where such a local authority seeks to take an Order from the Board of Trade extending the scope of their undertaking, it is right that the provisions with regard to borrowing contained in the public general Statutes under which these local authorities are constituted undertakers should be preserved. It is for that purpose that the Clause has been put forward.

2.44 p.m.


As one of those who in the interests of a number of Scottish burghs made an attempt which was ruled out of order to have a Clause in similar terms considered on the Report stage, I would like to thank the Government and the learned Solicitor-General for Scotland for the action they have taken in getting this Clause introduced. I hope that the Committee will accept it, because without it a number of Scottish burghs owing gas undertakings will not have the full benefit of the Special Order procedure introduced by the Gas Regulation Act of 1920, which was intended to give gas undertakings all over the country cheap, expeditious and simple means of obtaining new powers. If this Clause be accepted, these Scottish burghs will in future in the normal case have exactly the same powers as municipalities in England which have used this procedure successfully ever since it was introduced.

2.45 p.m.


In what he has said the hon. Member has gone, perhaps, a little further than is right in regard to the scope of the private Orders referring to Scottish local authorities. The position is that in the general case the powers of the Board of Trade under Section 10 of the Act of 1920 will be applicable, but regard must be paid to the particular powers sought by the local authority in any given case, and no special Order can be made by the Board of Trade under Section 10 which is inconsistent with the provisions of the Act of 1876 and of the amending Acts under which the local authorities have acted.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Clause added to the Bill.

Bill, as amended (on recommittal), considered.

2.46 p.m.


I beg to move "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

In moving the Third Reading I express the hope that this Bill may very quickly find its way to the Statute Book, and as it has already come from another place there is a very real prospect of that hope being realised. This legislation is the culmination of the work of the Gas Legislation Committee, presided over by Mr. Frederick John Wrottesley, K.C., to whom the entire gas industry owes a debt of very great gratitude for preparing the ground for this legislation. This Measure endeavours to put the gas industry under fewer handicaps in competition with rival industries. I do not think there is anything I need say in commending it to the House for Third Reading except to make one observation about the gentlemen who have filled the office of gas referees. By Clause 12 of the Bill the office of gas referee is being abolished in the near future, and I think it would be unfortunate if a number of gentlemen who have rendered conspicuous service to the industry were deprived of one particular method of continuing that service, through the abolition of that office, without my having the opportunity of saying, on behalf of the Board of Trade and of the Government, as I do very warmly, how much the entire industry is indebted to them for their excellent work in the past.

2.49 p.m.


I do not think we ought to allow this Bill to proceed to the end of its journey without a word from this side of the House. When I came into contact with this Bill for the first time I confess that I knew very little about it, and the more I dealt with it the less I seemed to understand its provisions. That is not an unusual experience for Members of this House. I have one observation to make on the financial arrangements in the Bill. I confess right away that I do not understand them well enough to make the criticism which I think ought to be made. In spite of all that has been said about the charges which are to be made for what is called "superior fittings" I am still not happy about them, and I shall be anxious to know, as the years go by, what the experience is and whether the provisions of the Bill will prove to be so much in favour of the consumer as has been suggested. My final point is that I feel sure, in spite of all that has been said, that it was a mistake to insert in the Bill the "Kettering provision ", because if the principle of that Clause is a good one—and I am not going to argue now whether it is right or wrong—the Government themselves ought to have included it in the Bill instead of allowing it to be introduced, if I may say so without offence, by a back-bencher. It is not sufficient for my purpose that the Government fathered it after a Member of the party opposite had put it forward. If it was to be inserted at all it should have been inserted on the authority of the Government.

2.51 p.m.


I should like to make one observation before we part with the Bill. I am afraid I should not be in order in dealing with the only matter I regret, because it is a subject which is not in the Bill. I do not want to sit down before congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary on the patience and specialised knowledge he has displayed in the conduct of the Bill, and to thank him for the celerity with which he is putting it through.

2.52 p.m.


On behalf of the gas manufacturers I would like to add our tribute to the referees. Those of us who are in the gas industry owe a great debt of gratitude to them for the way in which they have discharged their duties, and we feel that we shall lose very valuable friends through the abolition of their office. It is not only a ease of what they have done for us in discharging their respective duties, but they have been invaluable to us in assisting us in a great number of directions with well thought-out advice.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.