HC Deb 28 June 1937 vol 325 cc1749-57

Resolved, That the draft of a Special Order proposed to be made by the Board of Trade under the Gas Undertakings Acts, 1920 to 1934, on the application of the Urban District Council of Sidmouth, which was presented on the 8th clay of June and published, be approved."—[Captain Wallace.]

9.16 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Captain Euan Wallace)

I beg to move: That the draft of a Special Order proposed to he made by the Board of Trade under the Gas Undertakings Acts, 192o to 1934, on the application of the Stretford and District Gas Board, which was presented on the 24th day of May and published, be approved.

9.17 p.m.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I was somewhat surprised when I saw this Order on the Paper to-day. It does not concern the division which I represent, but at the end of last week I received a letter asking me for some particulars with regard to this Order and raising the whole question. I should be obliged if the hon. and gallant Member would consider some of the points that I wish to put to him on behalf of the people who wrote the letter. On looking through the Order, I find that it gives the company very wide powers. For example under Clause 5, the company will have the right to maintain, alter, improve and renew gas works, and it will also have the right to convert the residual products arising out of the manufacture of gas. I know this locality, and I am surprised that the Minister of Health should permit an extension of this nature to take place. This gas-producing plant is in the middle of a residential centre, and it is surrounded by thousands of houses of a fairly modern type. I am not surprised to learn from the letter which I have received that the owner-occupiers there are now represented in an association, and that that association, together with the Stretford trades council on behalf of all the local trade unions, are now taking up the question with a view to having this Order stopped. If the House allows the Order to go through to-night, the legitimate, justifiable and reasonable grievances of the people resident in the vicinity of the gas company's plant will not be considered.

I think the House ought to be reminded of the seriousness of this matter. We are all familiar with the dust that comes from the latest methods of dealing with coal, the fumes which inevitably come from a gas-producing plant of this description, and the stench that comes from the tanks themselves. We know that that cannot be avoided. We also know that in some districts, where local authorities in particular have been responsible for large capital expenditure, it would be too much to expect them to remove plants on which they have made large expenditure, but it is reasonable to suggest that no further capital expenditure of the type proposed in this Order should be allowed. It is recognised by people of all political parties, and by all public-spirited people, that houses ought not to be built round these gas-producing centres and that gas-producing centres must not he built in localities where people have to spend the whole of their lives. Therefore, if we cannot prevent the Order going through altogether, I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will be prepared to consider holding it up so that there may be some consultation with local residents, who are very much concerned about this.

There is also another side of the matter. A few miles away from the place in question, there is a very large gas-producing plant. At Partington they can produce gas sufficient to meet the needs of the growing industrial centres within many miles of Partington. One would have thought that the local authorities and the Minister of Health, before allowing this draft order to go through, would have made investigations to see whether that gas company, or the Manchester Corporation, could not have provided the increased gas which is necessary, rather than to allow this gas-producing plant to be extended in the area concerned. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will be generous enough to agree to the postponement of this Order so as to give the local residents an opportunity of expressing their reasonable grievances.

9.22 p.m.

Captain Wallace

The last thing which the Board of Trade would wish to do on an occasion such as this would be to ride roughshod over the legitimate objections of any body of persons affected by the Order. I will not this evening explain the meticulous and complicated procedure which has to be gone through before these Orders are made. The various stages of procedure are expressly provided to give sufficient scope for the expression of any objections to the making of an Order of this sort under the Gas Undertakings Acts, 192o to 1934. The Order on which the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) has raised some objections stating with characteristic frankness and generosity, that it does not refer to his own constituency, simply empowers the Gas Board to construct additional gasworks on land joining their existing works. I would like the House to be clear that there is no question of putting down a new gasworks in a new residential locality. It is equally fair to say that objections to the application, which was advertised and published in the usual way, were lodged by a number of people who owned or occupied dwelling-houses in the neighbourhood, and in consequence of those objections an inquiry was held at Stretford on 16th April.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman opposite will not need to be assured by me that the officer of the Board of Trade who conducted the inquiry was strictly impartial. He made, as always happens in these cases, an exhaustive review of the circumstances, and he reported to the Board, in the first place, that he was satisfied that, owing to the enormously increased gas sales in this industrial district, some further extension of the works was urgently required. The land which the company proposes to use for the erection of their extension is, as I have said, immediately adjoining the existing works. Moreover, it is between the existing works and the Cheshire Lines Railway to the Trafford Park sidings. It is not, so to speak, breaking any new ground. On the other side of the line is the very extensive Metro-Vickers Electrical Engineering Works, an asphalt works and a rubber reclaiming works. The area in question is not only zoned by the local authority as an industrial area, but it is patently industrial at the present moment.

Another point which I feel bound to bring to the attention of hon. Members is that all the adjacent properties, the owners or occupiers of which lodged an objection to this scheme, have been erected since the gasworks was first built in 1862. Therefore, those people have not bought "a pig in a poke." Most of the houses have been erected since 1900, and some, which are quite close to the gasworks, in 1933 and even last year. Therefore the House will see that there is no question of an inconsiderate gas company dumping down a new gasworks in some area where the residents had no reason to expect such a thing.

Mr. Kelly

I understand the hon. Gentleman to state that these works, which we were told earlier are to be at Gorse Hill, are to be near the Metro-Vick works. These works are in Trafford Park, Gorse Hill is not in Trafford Park.

Captain Wallace

I never mentioned Gorse Hill and I do not think that the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) did.

Hon. Members

Yes he did.

Mr. E. Smith

I admit that I do not represent this constituency but I have a great respect for the people living there, because I have worked among them for 25 years. The road through the Metro-Vick Works is a mile long and at one end it is in Trafford Park and at the other end it is at Gorse Hill. These new gasworks will be right in the centre of Gorse Hill, right in the centre where thousands of people are living and are forced to live because their work is there.

Captain Wallace

That may be perfectly true, but all this property was built there when the people knew what they were in for. All that is proposed is that the existing gasworks, which are there for good or ill, should be extended, not towards the houses, as I understand it, but towards the railway sidings. The objections which have been made were against dust, noise, fumes and smells from the existing gasworks, which it was alleged deteriorated the property; and the objectors fear that if the gasworks were made larger there would be more noise, dust, fumes and smells. Hon. Gentlemen who are familiar with the progress of the gas industry will no doubt appreciate that the gas industry has made great progress in recent years in its plant in order to eliminate what I may describe under the generic term of nuisances, and it appeared to the officer of the Board of Trade who conducted the inquiry reasonably sure that with the new works these objections will be further substantially diminished.

The hon. Gentleman opposite raised a new point and suggested that the Order should not pass through the House because it would be possible to obtain a supply of gas from some gasworks. I do not think that that is a thing that we can consider here and now. A case came up not long ago in which it was suggested that the corporation of the great city of Glasgow could obtain a supply of gas in a similar manner more cheaply than they could make it themselves. I do not know whether that was so or not, but they decided to make it themselves. Having considered the report of the inspector the Board of Trade decided—and I think the House will think rightly and reasonably decided—that this Order should be put forward in both Houses and that the urgent demand of the people in this district, mostly I imagine small consumers, to get a further supply of gas should be acceded to. I appeal to the hon. Gentleman if he is satisfied with my explanation—and I have made particular inquiries—to let us have the Order and to allow the gas to be provided for these people.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Ede

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has carefully answered a number of points which the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) was most careful not to make. I never heard a more careful speech made in opposing one of these Orders than that made by the hon. Member for Stoke, who was careful to admit that he was not opposing it because it was a new place but the extension of an existing works. From time to time we have discussions in this House about pollution of the atmosphere and the necessity for preserving reasonable conditions in which people can live, and the desire has been expressed many times, especially on this side of the House, that the gas industry should be concentrated into bigger units so that the number of isolated communities suffering from the disadvantages which my hon. Friend has mentioned should be reduced in number. On those occasions when we are discussing the thing in general and a plea is made for the preservation of amenities the House is unanimous, but every time we get up against a practical issue there is always some reason for not applying the general principle in that particular case.

If there is a large plant near, did the Inspector of the Board of Trade make inquiries as to the possibility of an alternative source of supply? I know that if you take the similar public utility of water, when a local authority wants to get water from a particular area it is quite frequently suggested to them that they should try alternative sources. I know one great municipality which is in difficulties because it cannot persuade a neighbouring area to give it supplies. Was the possibility of this comparatively small place getting a supply in bulk from some other area inquired into? I should have thought that in these days the multiplication of small works and the extension of small works ought to be discouraged. I did not hear anything from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman which made me think that we need hurry this matter to a decision to-night, and he might well have postponed this Order for a week in order to consider the representations of the people who have written to my hon. Friend. If not, what is the use of submitting these Orders to the House? We are not here merely to register the decision which has been reached by an Inspector of the Board of Trade.

The Order is submitted to us—and we are fortunate in being able to discuss this one at a time when it is not necessary to worry about our last trains home—so that the House may have a chance of remedying any legitimate grievance which any subject of the King may have. In view of the careful and moderate way in which my hon. Friend has put the matter before him, I would ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to hold this Order up for a week in order to consider the specific points to which attention has been drawn and see whether something cannot be done to meet them.

9.35 p.m.

Sir J. Haslam

I only rise to prevent a false impression being created by certain remarks of earlier speakers. I am sorry that the hon. Member for the Stretford Division (Mr. Crossley) is not here, but as one who has known this locality for 30 or 40 years, I wish to say that, next to Dagenham, I do not think any area that I know of in the country has developed more rapidly than this. From being a purely rural area, it has become a satelite town of Manchester. It adjoins Trafford Park which is one of the industrial areas of Lancashire and has developed enormously through the Ship Canal and from other causes. Naturally, this gas-works as a result of this development, has been called upon to provide more gas, both for residents in the neighbourhood and for industrial undertakings. I hold no brief for the company and I should argue in the same way if the Order concerned a municipality. But the needs of the residents and of the industrial undertakings ought to be met. They ought to be able to get a supply of gas, as against electricity, if they so desire.

Near this place there is a huge destructor owned by the Manchester Corporation—which ought to be a grievance too—and there is also one of the largest electricity undertakings in the country so that it is not a purely residential area. If the people and the council through their elected representative had protested against this Order I should be the first to support the protest. Surely the people of the district are the people to raise objection properly through their representative in this House. If they did so I should be with them, but whatever proposal of this kind any company or corporation brings forward, there are always a few objectors on the ground that the scheme affects an area where they happen to have bought houses. I am not, however, objecting to the postponement of this Order. I think it would be advisable to delay further proceedings for a few days but I do not want the false impression to be given that this is a rural or purely residential area, in which somebody is proposing to erect a huge and disagreeable works. I want to put the matter in the right perspective.

9.39 p.m.

Mr. Tinker

We only ask that the Minister should re-examine the position. My hon. Friend who raised this matter has received a dignified protest against this Order from a large body of people. It is from the Stretford Trade Council an important body and what they ask is that before the Order is passed there should be an investigation of the position. I agree with the last speaker that it is difficult for people outside the Division to raise objections in a case of this kind but on the other hand these Orders are not supposed to come before Parliament as cut-and-dried proposals, which have to be accepted at all times. If that were so, it would not be worth while bringing them forward at all. When facts are brought to our notice we have a right to raise them in the House on these occasions. The Minister said the Board had had a report of their inspector which they accepted. That is the ordinary procedure, but if we find that there are certain points which may not have been got hold of by the inspector we have a right to ask the Minister to defer the Order. It may be that the weight of evidence is on the side of the report already made, but in that case the Minister's position, later, will be strengthened and any further objection to the Order will be removed.

9.41 p.m.

Captain Wallace

I can only speak again by leave of the House, but if there is a feeling in the House such as has been expressed by hon. Members, I am prepared to accede to their request. I wish, however, to make my position clear. When the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) gave me notice that he was going to object to the Order he was kind enough to show me the letter which he had received. I made particular inquiries into the case and I was not satisfied that the grounds of the protest were valid. If I had thought that there were valid grounds for such a protest, I would have offered to postpone the Order at once. I do not think there are such grounds, for all the reasons which I have endeavoured to give the House; but I appreciate the fact that it is for the House to decide upon these Orders, and, therefore, without prejudice to the position of the Board of Trade and on the understanding that I shall have to bring the Order forward again in a very limited time, I beg now to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."

Mr. E. Smith

May I be allowed to thank the right hon. and gallant Gentle-man for the way in which he has dealt with the matter.

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.

Resolved, That the draft of a Special Order proposed to be made by the Board of Trade under the Gas Undertakings Acts, 1920 to 1934, on the application of the Winsford Gas Company, Limited, which Ns as presented on the 15th day of June and published, be approved."—[Captain Wallace.]

The remaining Government Orders were read, and postponed.