§ 7.31 p.m.684
§ "That it be an Instruction to the Committee to insert provisions in the Bill—
- (1) For the further and better protection of highway authorities than is afforded by the Gas Works Clauses Act, 1847, in respect of the laying of pipes and mains by the company in county roads and any other roads vested in any local authority, the filling in and restoration of such roads after the pipes and mains have been laid, and the duty and expense of altering the position of such pipes and mains after any subsequent diversion, alteration, or improvement of such roads.
- (2) For requiring the approval of the county council and the local authority to the site selected for the erection of any gasholder or container for storing gas so that due regard may be had to the amenities of the district and to the prevention of interference with air-raid precautions."
§ This matter is obviously a non-party one, and I think all of us in this House will agree with the objects of the Bill as set out in the circular which has doubtless been sent to all hon. Members, namely, the better co-ordination of gas supplies, the elimination of small and uneconomic gas manufacturing units, and the fuller utilisation of manufacturing plants. I would, however, point out that what is proposed is not the ordinary form 685 of gas undertaking to which the Gas Works Clauses Act, 1847, was originally intended to apply. What is proposed by the promoters, as I understand it, is in effect a merchanting business, whereby the company would not be under the ordinary obligation of a gas undertaking, to supply gas to all and sundry within its area who care to apply for it, but would only be under an obligation to supply those whom it cared to supply, and that makes a very considerable difference. An ordinary gas undertaking is under very serious obligations, but this particular undertaking would not be under those obligations.
§ The proposals which are made are in general unexceptionable, but in some matters they are extremely serious. They are that over an area of some hundreds of square miles the company should have privileges of an ordinary gas undertaking and should also have the right of a free wayleave, in effect, over the whole of the roads in that very large area. The proposals would involve interference with public rights, and would inflict, unless there is some control such as my Instruction proposes, great inconvenience and very great expense on the general public. I have no doubt it will be said that the Gas Works Clauses Act, 1847, is sufficient protection, but I submit that that is not the case. That Act, which was passed 90 years ago, laid down a general code relating to the manner in which roads might be broken up by authorized undertakers. I think it would be agreed on all hands that that code was drawn up at a time when the methods of road construction, the character and number of sub-surface works, and the volume of traffic were very different from those existing to-day. I think we should also agree that that code is now almost obsolete and requires very drastic revision.
§ Major Milner
Because it does not fit the circumstances of the present day. It is surely uneconomic and improvident that the road surface which is demanded by modern road conditions should be liable to interference and damage by periodic breaking-up for the purpose of laying or repairing sub-surface pipes. Then there is the question of the modern methods of road construction. As many hon. Members know, when a concrete 686 foundation is laid nowadays it is in the nature of a raft, supported both by the ground below and by its own inherent strength. That concrete, for the purposes for which this company is established, may have to be cut longitudinally in order to lay or repair a pipe or main, and the road will then be filled in, in the endeavour to comply with the provisions of the Act, but I think it would be obvious that that interference would affect the strength of the concrete raft and tend to reduce its life.
For this reason we claim that the restoration of the road should be supervised and carried out in accordance with the directions of the highway authority. The Gas Works Clauses Act does not provide for that protection. It provides for superintendence by the local authority of excavations, but curiously enough there is no provision for supervision by the local authority or the laying-down of specifications or anything of that sort whereby the road may be restored to its former condition. Having regard to the very special methods of modern road construction, I hope hon. Members will agree that that is absolutely necessary in these days, when the state of the roads is of the utmost importance to the general public. This company, as I have indicated, if the Bill receives the approval of this House, will obtain valuable way-leaves over public roads, free of charge, throughout almost the whole of Yorkshire, and I submit that it is not unreasonable, therefore, that greater obligations should be placed upon the company than are contained in the Gas Works Clauses Act.
The Instruction deals with further and better methods of protection in respect of three points—first, with regard to the laying of pipes and mains by the company in county roads and roads vested in any local authority. If a main is to be laid by the company, for example, in a county, it may have to traverse quite a long distance—9, 10, 15, or even 20 miles—and surely it is desirable that the local authority should have the right, subject, of course, to the usual provisions for arbitration in case of dispute, to lay down the route to be followed by such a pipe line. In Clause 53 of the Bill there is a provision that county boroughs, boroughs and urban districts should have the right to lay down such a route, but 687 there is no provision that a county council should have a similar right, and county councils, having regard to the long lengths of road that we all know they have under their charge, clearly ought to have that protection, and ought to have it without the limitation as to increased expenditure in Sub-section (4) of Clause 53, which renders the Clause almost nugatory. It is perhaps not of great importance in urban or borough localities, but it is of the greatest importance in counties, where the roads may be of very considerable length.
The second point to which the Instruction relates is the filling-in and restoration of the roads after the pipes and mains have been laid. On this point the existing provisions in Section 10 of the Clauses Act are inadequate, and I submit that it is necessary in the public interest that local authorities should have the right to lay down specifications and to superintend and direct the restoration of the roads which have been taken up. That power is not contained in the Gas Works Clauses Act, and the Instruction that I am moving would ensure that protection being given to local authorities.
The third point is that if the road be diverted, altered, or improved, and for that reason it is necessary to move the pipes and mains, that work should be done by the company at their own expense. In the memorandum circulated by the promoters of the Bill, I see that Section 153 of the Public Health Act, 1875, is cited, but that is not in point. That Act refers to street works in an urban district, but hon. Members know that nowadays there are tremendous road improvements, widenings, and so on, which are being carried out in almost all the counties in the British Isles, and a company which exists for profit and has privileges such as this company is seeking should surely bear the expenses of any alteration required in the public interest.
I then come to the question of the second part of my Instruction, relating to amenities and air-raid precautions. Many hon. Members in this House are constantly pressing on the Government and on local authorities the necessity of safeguarding amenities, and surely it is only right, unless Parliament shall have sanctioned the site of a gasholder, that a county council should be entitled to veto 688 the site if in their view it offends against the amenities. It is also necessary that the local authority should have some say in the location of a gasholder, in view of the possibility of an air raid. If the Bill were passed in its present form, it would be possible for an open space to be obtained and, with the consent of householders within a distance of 300 yards from the proposed gasholder, for the company to put up a gasholder in the middle of a very congested area. I am sure it will be agreed that that would not be a right thing to do, and that the local authority should have the right to say whether a gasholder, either on the ground of amenity or on the ground of precautions against air raids, should be situated in one place or another. That is the purpose of the second part of the Instruction.
It is suggested by the promoters that the setting-up of a Select Committee or a Joint Committee to consider the question of general legislation on these questions might be an appropriate course to adopt, but the Company refused, in another place, to be put under any obligations which might result from the decisions of any such Select or Joint Committee. I have no hesitation in saying that if the promoters will agree to the protective Clauses, which my Instruction will ensure being inserted in the Bill, now, subject to those Clauses being amended or superseded by any general legislation which came in later as a result of the decision of a Select Committee, the county councils will be perfectly agreeable to that course. This is a special form of company, and in my submission it is reasonable to ask for protection on the lines which I have indicated. In connection with that suggestion about a Select Committee, I need not remind hon. Members how long such a course might occupy. Government Departments would have to be consulted, revisions would have to be considered, and the Government would have to pass legislation. It might well be a matter of years before any general legislation was introduced, and meanwhile the whole of the roads of Yorkshire, and later on, it may be, of other parts of the country, might be open to the possibility of being taken up in the way I have indicated and without the protection for which I am asking.
I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport 689 here. The Ministry have not found it possible up to now to issue any report on the Bill, and so far no very definite guidance has been offered. I would point out to my hon. and gallant Friend that his Department is responsible for the trunk roads, and that in the West Riding of Yorkshire we have no less than 150 miles of trunk roads, in the North Riding 56, and in the East Riding 20, and that many of those roads are within the area covered by this Bill. The protection which the county councils are asking for should also be a matter of supreme importance to the Ministry of Transport, who must also be interested in the location of gasholders in relation to Air-Raid Precautions.
Finally, what this Instruction will ensure is reasonable protection for local authorities and the people in their areas, and in my submission that protection is not now afforded by the Gas Works Clauses Act. Hon. Members will observe that this Instruction has the support of Members of all parties. It may be said with some truth that a Yorkshire team is usually able to make a good show off its own bat, as witness the recent match against the Australians, but in this instance I am afraid that Yorkshire needs the support of Members from all parts of the country, and as they may one of these days be threatened similarly I hope I may ask them all to unite to support this Instruction.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton
In seconding the Motion I should like to point out that I am speaking for the North Riding, while the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) was speaking for the West Riding. I shall submit different arguments in speaking for a different county council, and my arguments are, if anything, stronger than his, because of the way in which my council has been treated by the promoters of the Bill. The area of the North Riding to which this Bill refers is an area of very small villages and towns and large and important roads. Hon. Members who occasionally go to Scotland, whether to speak, or to shoot, or to agitate, or for any other purpose, will I hope recollect when they are passing through very pleasant country in Yorkshire that they are going through my constituency, and that when they are in less pleasant country it will be some 690 other hon. Member's constituency. The North Riding County Council, because of these small villages and important roads, desire to be protected against the dangers of this Bill. My hon. and gallant Friend said that the gas legislation of 1847 is not quite up to date, and that has been recognised by the House of Commons in certain Gas Orders and Bills passed since that date, to which I shall refer later.
My county council wrote to the promoters of the Bill and asked if they could have that form of protective legislation which is in the Tring Gas Order. They wrote down the heads of the protection they required. The promoters replied saying that they could not agree to all that my council asked for, and made some suggested amendments in red ink. Hon. Members engaged in business, like those acquainted with the law, know that documents written in black ink often bear amendments in red ink, and further amendments in green ink, and, in short, all the different coloured inks. We got to the stage of the red ink. We came to an arrangement with the promoters that we would not oppose the Bill in the House of Lords because we were going to negotiate a settlement. My council wrote to say that although what was suggested in red ink did not meet all that they would like to have, was not, in fact, nearly so much as the West Riding County Council were asking for, they would be content to accept that protection in order to save the county rates the expense of fighting the Bill in the House of Lords or in this House. That would appear to have been an agreement: anyhow, we will call it a "gentleman's agreement." No more was heard, but in course of time the House of Lords turned clown the West Riding County Council. Then, hon. Members will be surprised to learn, the promoters of the Bill, who are now coining to this House with haloes round their heads, went to the North Riding County Council and said: "Because the West Riding did not get what they asked for, although you did not fight the Bill in the House of Lords, and although we had an arrangement that we would try to negotiate a settlement, we will now repudiate that settlement and give you no protection at all."
§ Mr. Turton
That was the "gentleman's agreement." That is the gravamen of the charge by the North Riding County Council against the promoters of this Bill. I will state the heads of the agreement. Under the Gas Works Clauses Act, 1847, before a gas company, wishing to interfere with any main under a road, start picking up the road, they have to give three clear days' notice to the local authority; in this case the county council. In the case of a busy county council responsible for many miles of road, it is not unreasonable to suggest that three days' notice is not sufficient, and the first head of agreement was that there should be a longer period—I think it was 14 days, but I do not want to be tied to that. The second head of agreement was that in cases where there had to be a replacement of road surfaces which had been hacked up the resurfacing should be done by the North Riding County Council and not by the gas company. The object of that was to secure uniformity of surface. Those who are road users will appreciate the importance of not having replacements done at different times and in a different manner by a gas company; they ought to be left to the highway authority, in order to secure uniformity of surface. When driving I have often come to places where a replacement has not been done in an altogether happy manner, and there is great danger from skids in wet weather. Those who believe in safety on the roads will agree that what we ask under the second head of agreement was reasonable.
§ Major Braithwaite
The hon. Member is aware that these negotiations were carried on without prejudice, and that it is a breach of confidence to refer to them.
§ Mr. Turton
I understand that this is the first occasion on which anybody has challenged this agreement. I understand that this was a negotiated settlement, and if that is so then the whole question about prejudice relates to the earlier proceedings and would not be followed in law. Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend has put it from a business point of view, but in law we regard it as a negotiated settlement, and my people have a perfect right to say what was the settlement on which they decided not to oppose the Bill in the House of Lords. They did not tell the House of Lords Committee anything of this, because it was an agreed settlement, and if I am not allowed to say 692 what has been agreed to, what it is the company are backing out of at the last moment, I think it will be a sorry sort of justice that we get in the House of Commons. Before I was interrupted by my hon. and gallant Friend I was saying that the second head of agreement was that the replacements should be done by the council at the expense of the company. The last head of agreement was that the company should not take up more than a certain length of road at one time. Again, I suggest, a reasonable agreement, because one does not want to have one-way traffic for mile upon mile, as is sometimes the case, and is a cause of great delay to road traffic. Those are the three heads of agreement, and I do not think anyone could consider them to be unreasonable.
Then there is this much stronger point. In my area of the North Riding we are at present governed by four different Gas Bills or Gas Orders. One part of the area is governed by legislation which was passed by this House in 1927 and in 1936, and in that legislation we obtained the form of protection which comes under those three heads of agreement. The rest of the area is under Gas Orders of good old vintage—of 1871 and 1880. Those orders give no protection for road traffic, which in those days was an entirely different problem. If we are not to have protection on the lines of this Instruction it will mean that one part of the area will be bound by these protective Clauses and the rest will not, and that does seem to be extremely unfair. If we do not get this protection it will not be the county council which is not protected, but the wretched little ratepayers who will have to pay heavier rates because this large vested interest, I was going to say, this large gas company, puts the ratepayers to that expense in order to help its own shareholders. If the House looks at it from that point of view I think they will realise that this Instruction should be passed. When the 1847 Act was passed it was clearly laid down that whenever a gas main is laid under a street the expense of putting in the main should be entirely one for the undertakers, and that the county ratepayers should be entirely free from that expense.
I have mentioned three heads under which protection is required; I will mention one more, in respect to which we were not able to get an agreement. I may 693 point out to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) that in this case I am not talking of anything which was in this agreement. We ask that the cost of moving the mains that belong to the company should not be put upon the backs of the ratepayers who, in many cases, are not taking the gas at all and who are already very heavily rated in North Riding—I do not know about the East Riding. Those ratepayers ought not to have to pay for altering the position of the gas mains. This is a very important matter. Some part of the Great North Road goes through the areas mentioned in the Bill, and will be diverted. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport will tell us about that aspect of the matter. He is always very busy about the Great North Road, and it is clear that a lot of diversion is going on. Some of it we do not like, and some of it we do not mind quite so much. The question is, if there are to be by-passes, is the taxpayer or is the gas company to pay for moving these great gas mains which are underneath the road? We ought to know the answer to that question.
One road goes through Yorkshire to Middlesbrough. I see on the benches opposite an hon. Member who represents one of the divisions of Middlesbrough and he will agree that much heavy traffic goes up that road. We are trying to improve that road, and there have been diversions all the way along it. More will come. Are the ratepayers to pay for moving those mains, or are we to get back to the principle laid down in 1847 that the gas undertakers who put the gas main under a highway without paying any rent would have to pay if they pa it anywhere else on the King's highway, and that they should pay the cost that flowed from their introduction of the gas main?
I hope that this Instruction will be agreed to by the House for the reasons put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) and also for the reason that if the Instruction is rejected, encouragement will be given to large bodies such as the West Yorkshire Gas Distribution Company, to treat local authorities and ratepayers as some county authorities have been treated already. The House of Commons should not tolerate in their private legislation 694 that treatment by these big bodies. If that happened, we should always have to fight every Bill in future in every place and to pay more money which would come on to the rates, knowing that we can never take a gentlemen's agreement to be a gentlemen's agreement.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Sir Reginald Clarry
I rise to resist this Instruction. If the House will permit me, I will deal straight away with the points raised by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). I am amazed to see the interpretation he has put upon the ordinary legal procedure of negotiating an agreement. He has used the term "gentleman's agreement" on several occasions and he states that an agreement was come to. My instructions are—[Interruption].
§ Mr. Turton
My hon. Friend has stated that I said something which is inaccurate. Unless he withdraws that statement he should prove it up to the hilt. I gave full details of what happened and of how an offer was made and was followed by acceptance. I always understood from my study of the law of contract that that was to all intents and purposes an agreement.
§ Sir R. Clarry
I did not use the word "inaccurate." I do not impugn my hon. Friend's accuracy, but his interpretation of the negotiations. It is certainly not the interpretation put upon it by the promoters. I will give the reason why. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) has said, the negotiations were carried out without prejudice, and they were in the usual form. I have here the original document of the suggested draft clause for an agreement. I have all the coloured inks to which my hon. Friend referred, with the appropriate dates. That document was sent between solicitors, between legal people on both sides, with a view to coming to an agreement. The last one was green amendments from Ellis and Ellis, on 14th May, 1938. In response to that, the promoters' legal advisers promptly telephoned and said they could 695 not agree to the green amendments. Therefore, no agreement was ever reached.
These negotiations were the ordinary negotiations with a view to coming to an agreement, between legal persons, in which certain Amendments as described by my hon. Friend were put in in different coloured inks. The last ink put in was the green ink, which was not acceptable to the promoters. There has never been, in fact, any agreement. I was not accusing my hon. Friend of any wilful inaccuracy but of his interpretation of what has taken place. I think I have disposed of that.
§ Sir R. Clarry
I do not know what other facts hon. Gentlemen want. Here is a document that has passed between us. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it."] What, this lot? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I thought hon. Members wanted to get on with the business. I want to refer to a point made by the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), who rather ridiculed the Gas Clauses Act, 1847. I think he will agree with me that that Act was drawn in very wide terms and that several interpretations are equally applicable to it. The words "reinstate and make good" are included in that Act, and if that is done to the satisfaction of the highway engineer, surely nobody will suffer.
§ Major Milner
If the hon. Member would look at Section 9 he would see that streets are to be broken up only under the superintendence of the highway authority. The hon. Member has quoted Section 10 which saysundertake with all convenient speed.and—reinstate and make good.There is nothing said in Section 10 about the superintendence of the local authority, and that is the point which my Instruction would ensure.
§ Sir R. Clarry
In point of fact, that is always done. It would not prove satisfactory in the period of 12 months which is also provided for, if it were not done to the satisfaction of the highway engineer. By a strange coincidence those 696 words were put in before ferro-concrete, tar macadam, all the developments in the surfacing of roads and heavy traffic were ever heard of. It is amazing to think that those words, written in 1847, are generally applicable to-day. As I pointed out, in point of fact, when reinstating and making good take place, they are done with the approval and generally with the superintendence of the local authority. I happen to know, because I have done many reinstatements myself many years ago. There is no cause of complaint, except in the actual words.
This is a very difficult matter to debate in this House, which is not the appropriate place to discuss the matter which we have before us. If the matter arises at all—I am not considering its merits or demerits at the moment—it should be by Public Bill and applicable to all public utility undertakers and those who use the roads. That comprises not only gas companies but bodies interested in water, electricity, telephones, telegraphs, hydraulics and so on. If an Amendment is needed for them it is not appropriate to a Private Bill. As a matter of fact the House of Lords Committee turned down Amendments that were submitted to them a few weeks ago on this very point. I know that the House of Lords is not in very good odour to-night, for other reasons, but the fact remains that they put their brains to work on this matter, with all the evidence that could be presented to them, and they turned this point down on a question of principle.
The company, which is asking for certain statutory powers, is the first to link up a national gas grid in this area. There has been a gas grid in Sheffield which has worked very successfully. There are 19 undertakers with four coke ovens. The proposal is that the gas is to be put into this grid, and taken out and distributed by those statutory undertakers who have now powers to distribute. That is a point to which I wish to refer in a moment. Investigation which has taken place in that area shows that there is a large potential industrial demand which is estimated to be at least double the present demand for the area. The situation is that the supply of gas in detail will be carried on by the 19 undertakers who have that power, but their plant is equivalent only to a domestic supply. They did not and have not visualised the potential industrial developments, and the 697 need for a cheap gas for industrial fuel—which is coal, our native fuel, conveyed in pipes.
The gas grid will meet the industrial demand that exists. There are 820 miles of mains in this area, owned by the 19 gas undertakers. It is proposed that the company which is linking up those separate entities shall lay ultimately 75 miles of main. You will, therefore, see that the mileage of mains is very small for the purpose of linking up the actual supply and distribution. I will mention, in passing, that the gas mains in the city of Leeds, part of which the hon. and gallant Gentleman so ably represents, are 1,200 miles in length. It will therefore be seen that the Bill is asking for powers for only 75 miles. On the question of disturbance, I am given to understand that no main will be larger than 15-inch, which is relatively small by comparison with town-distribution size. As there will be no service to the individual consumer, there are practically not more than a couple of dozen consumers from the grid that is being fed from these 75 miles of mains. It is essential to keep that point in mind, because it does not mean breaking up the roads, of which probably hon. Members are thinking in connection with the present arrangement. It is pretty clear that this company will on every occasion, for their own advantage, use private property for the purpose of laying their mains, but the point I wish to make is that they will, in going along a road, use the verge, for their own convenience and the convenience of the highway authority.
One of the points that I strongly resist in the Instruction is that, if the mains have been laid to the requirements of the highway authority, and 10 years elapse, the Instruction provides that, on the highway authority giving notice to the gas undertakers, they may have to take those mains out and put them in another position at their own expense, because the highway authority, in carrying out its proper functions, may be widening the road. It appears to me that there is an almost complete analogy to that. My hon. Friend builds a house on a building line on a road in every respect to the satisfaction of the highway authority and the local authority. Ten years elapse, and they widen the road. Then, if this Instruction means anything at all, the local authority can make my hon. 698 Friend, at his own expense, demolish his house and build it further back.
§ Sir R. Clarry
I am glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned that point. I will only say that the gas undertakings, if they are not the largest, are among the three or four largest ratepayers in the country.
§ Mr. Turton
Gas undertakings do not pay any wayleave rents for their mains; they get them rent-free. If you have your house, you have either to pay rent for it or to buy the land.
§ Sir R. Clarry
My hon. Friend is not suggesting that they should pay a rent to the highway authority? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because they are carrying out a public duty. If that analogy is not a perfect one, I hope it will be challenged by subsequent speakers. On the question of amenities and the siting of gasholders, there is no present intention on the part of the promoters of the Bill to erect a gasholder anywhere, but that is beside the point, because they have taken power to do so. If protection is desired for amenities, there is ample machinery for it in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932. A local authority which is very keen on its amenities would have no difficulty in preparing a scheme and negotiating with the local undertaker as to the site of a gasholder. If the North and West Ridings still desire to oppose the Bill, they will have their opportunity in the Committee upstairs to put their case and propose definite Amendments, and I submit that it is quite inappropriate to discuss a matter like this on the Floor of the House. If by any chance this Instruction goes to the Committee, it will prejudice the Committee in coming to a fair decision with the full evidence and information before them.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Captain Austin Hudson)
It may assist the House if I intervene thus early, because this Bill undoubtedly affects highway authorities, and also because what I have to say might—I do not say it will—have the effect of enabling the Debate to be shortened. I would remind the House that my Minister, since the passing of the Trunk Roads Act, is now the highway authority for 699 trunk roads, some 100 miles of which might be affected by this Bill. I tell the House this because I think that, in connection with a Bill of this kind, the question of protection of the highways is one which should be considered most carefully by the Committee to which the Bill will be sent. I would also point out that road construction in 1847 was a very different matter from what it is today, and the adequacy of the Gas Works Clauses Act of that year to meet present-day conditions is, I suggest, a matter which deserves consideration. On the other hand, I do not want to prejudice the issue before the Committee and I am afraid that, if we pass this Instruction in the form in which it is on the Order Paper, it will prejudice the position. The words on the Order Paper are:That it be an Instruction to the Committee to insert provisions in the Bill—(1) For the further and better protection …and so on. My Minister is prepared to leave it to the Committee, after having heard the evidence on both sides, to decide, first, whether further and better protection is necessary; and, secondly, if so, what form that protection should take. I would point out to the House that, if this Instruction is passed as it appears on the Order Paper, consideration of the first of these questions, namely, whether further and better protection is necessary, will not be possible, because we shall be telling the Committee that, whatever they feel after having heard the evidence they must put in certain provisions. Therefore I hope the House will not pass the Instruction, certainly in its present form, because to do so would prejudice the issue. I think it should be for the Committee to decide what, if any, extra powers should be given to the highway authorities in this Bill.
The Committee may think that, owing to the large area of supply, this is a special Bill, in which special protection is required. But, while this Bill may be a special case, I would point out to the House that the question of the breaking up of streets is one which gives rise to difficulty, not only in the case of gas, but also in the case of water and electricity, and my Minister proposes to- consult with the other Departments concerned about the type of protection which might 700 be suitable in future Bills of this character. That, of course, does not prejudice the Committee in dealing with the present Bill after it has received its Second Reading in this House. Further, we are prepared, in the case of this Bill, to furnish the Committee at the appropriate time with a report setting out our views for their consideration. It will also be desirable to add a short Clause to the Bill to give the Minister of Transport the same protection as is afforded to county councils, and to provide appropriate machinery for appeals.
§ Captain Hudson
With a view to seeing how far this 1847 Act is still adequate. But we do not want to prejudice the case of the present Bill. If the Committee feels that this is a special Bill, in view of the large area it covers, and that special protection should be given, it is up to them. We feel that the whole question of digging up roads should be reviewed, and we want to consult with other Departments. I cannot at the moment lay down exactly what our procedure will be for the future; but I suggest that the House leave the present Bill to a free and unfettered Committee, which will have had the benefit of hearing this Debate in the House. I hope the House will agree that this is the best way to deal with this important matter. I also hope hon. Members may see it possible to come to some decision without too protracted a Debate.
§ Mr. T. Smith
Is it the intention that when this Bill gets to the Committee the Department will state their views?
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Lunn
This is a Bill which affects scores of thousands of ratepayers in Yorkshire—in the West, North, and East Ridings. This House is continually putting extra burdens on the ratepayers, until the rates have become a serious matter. In my own area they are about 20s. in the £and that is not a depressed area. I have listened to an amazing speech by 701 the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry). How in the world a man can forget his public duty, have no regard to the ratepayers or taxpayers, but simply think of his own pocket and vested interest, I cannot understand. I do not think that in a public body a man should be allowed to do that, and do it with impunity, as the hon. Member for Newport always does.
§ Sir R. Clarry
I do not know whether that is a proper remark to make, Mr. Deputy-Speaker; because if that is to be strictly interpreted, it will apply to every hon. Member on that side who is sent here by a trade union.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Captain Bourne)
I think the old rule should be observed, and that we should assume that whatever an hon. Member says in this House is Said in good faith.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
On a point of Order. The hon. Member opposite—I did not catch all he said, but he appeared, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to make certain implications against my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry). My hon. Friend appealed to Mr. Deputy-Speaker on a point of Order, and Mr. Deputy-Speaker expressed the view that what he said he said in good faith. The hon. Member then in possession did not seek to take that broad hint but reasserted his observations in respect of the attitude of the hon. Member for Newport. In those circumstances, I would like to ask your advice, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as to whether the hon. Member is entitled to make remarks reflecting on my hon. Friend, which I believe were without the faintest justification whatever?
§ Mr. McGovern
Is it in order for the hon. Member to raise a point of Order when just before he rises he calls out to other hon. Members, "What did he say?"
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The last question does not seem to be a point of Order. With regard to that raised by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), I have expressed the view that we should not impute motives. Beyond that, I did not hear what the hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) said. I have expressed my view that in the course of the Debate hon. Members should not impute motives to others, but should assume that what is said is their bona fide opinion.
§ Mr. Buchanan
You said, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that hon. Members should not impute motives. This seems to me very important. I would like to ask, what is meant by "imputing motives" in this House? Frankly, I must say I do not know. I have often taken part in imputing motives without being challenged for doing so, though at other times I have been challenged.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Perhaps I used a rather loose phrase. What I meant was that I think we should assume, as a matter of courtesy, that every hon. Member is putting forward in this House his own bona fide opinion, which he is entitled to put, and that we should not suggest that he is putting forward any other view.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
The hon. Member made a statement which was a reflection on the hon. Member for Newport. [Interruption.] I heard enough to know that. In response to your appeal, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, he merely said that he himself is not animated by any motive; but he still continues to apply a disrespectful statement to the hon. Member for Newport. I think he ought to withdraw from that attitude.
§ Mr. Lunn
I do not see any point of Order there. The hon. Member does not even know what I said, nor anything that I implied. I have done with the 703 hon. Member for Newport, and I have come to the Minister. I was equally amazed at the Minister. He opposed this Instruction, but he was prepared to leave it to the Committee to deal with it, if it cared to do so, and he promised us legislation at some time in the future. When that will be no one knows, because he is not in a position to say that legislation will be introduced in respect of gas, water and electricity and when it will be. Here we have a Bill dealing with a very large area and scores of thousands of ratepayers will be affected by it, and the opposition to this Instruction is that, because of an Act passed 90 years ago, we should not pass the Instruction. The roads of this country, and of this particular area, were much different, less than 90 years ago, from what they are to-day.
I live in the area affected by this Bill, and I remember, not so very long ago, when you had to have a man walking before an engine which went along the road; but now you drive at 90 miles per hour on the road, and over the man if you like. In those old days even a donkey and cart would be considered to be going too fast because the roads were so bad, but it is not so now. Roads, even in country districts, are marvellously well laid and have cost a tremendous amount of money. If they are to be dealt with, we ought to deal with them from the point of view that they are a new proposition from what they were 90 years ago. These Instructions say:In respect of the laying of pipes and mains by the company in county roads.I live in a mining area, and as a member of the local authority I have seen the gas company's balance sheet for many years. That balance sheet used to show an allowance of 25 per cent. for subsidence and leakages. Should not the local authorities have some regard for the places where the mains are to be laid? Is there anything wrong with that Instruction? They cannot lay all these mains along the grass verges nowadays. They have to be laid in the road, and local authorities, whether Socialist or anti-Socialist, must look after the interests of the ratepayers, and so ought Members of this House, instead of looking after their own interests, as they do on many occasions. The conditions on the roads 704 nowadays, with motor cars and fast speeds, make things nearly as bad as conditions on the roads of Ireland during the time of the "Black and Tans." The roads are choked up, and if you leave it to gas and similar companies there will be no getting on to the roads, and there will be more danger to people riding in motor cars than is the case to-day. That is another matter that can be dealt with by the local authority. Wherever you go in the area covered by the Bill, every railway bridge or any sort of bridge is the worst part of the road, because the company are supposed to keep it in repair and do not do so. These things are not done unless an Instruction is given definitely that they should do them. This Instruction ought to be carried because of that fact. The roads ought to be made fit and not left as the company might wish to leave them.
The Instruction also says that they should have some regard, if they are to erect gas works or anything in the area, to the amenities of the district. I live in a village where I have lived all my life, as did my father and many before him. A week last Tuesday an accident happened at the gas works. The gas works is in the centre of the place, and it ought to be taken out of the district right away from the houses and the people. At 2 o'clock, a week last Tuesday morning, an explosion occurred at the gas works. The wind, fortunately, was blowing away from the gasometer or it would have been a serious matter for the village. Villagers went out in all kinds of dress and undress into the fields for fear that there might be a more serious explosion. Should not it be an Instruction that a gas company or any private company, when seeking their own gain, should have regard to the interests of the ratepayers and inhabitants of the locality. The amenities of a district are important and ought to be considered but these gas companies and such like have no regard for these things. Their own personal interests always come before the public interest.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
Would the hon. Gentleman say what he has in mind as to the additional powers over the existing power with regard to the siting of a gas company? What does he mean by supporting the Instruction?
§ Mr. Lunn
I am telling the hon. Gentleman what I mean by supporting the Instruction, and I am not leaving him in 705 much doubt as to what I do mean. I never do. The hon. Member need not ask me for an explanation of what I mean. I always say what I mean wherever I happen to be, and on this matter, where private interests are put before public interests, it is absolutely necessary that we should leave nothing out in order to make the position clear. Personally, I hope the general Instruction will be carried. I cannot understand any hon. Member not only in the area covered by this Bill, but in any part of the House representing the public interests, giving his support to a Bill of this sort without this Instruction.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Sir Joseph Lamb
I make no apology for taking part in this discussion, although I do not live in the district covered by the Bill. I want to make an appeal to those who have put down the Instruction to withdraw it. I agree entirely with the object contained in the Instruction, but I believe that the better way of obtaining what is required would be by withdrawing the Instruction and allowing the Bill to go to Committee, where the matter could be settled after they had received more evidence and information as to whether the Instruction would be hard to enforce. That, I believe, would be a very much better way. I suggest a withdrawal rather than going to a vote and perhaps having it defeated.
§ Mr. T. Smith
Is the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) speaking with any authority as to what is likely to be the attitude of supporters if the Instruction is withdrawn and the Bill goes upstairs?
§ Sir J. Lamb
No, Sir, I have no connection whatever with either promoters or opposers. I am speaking with the authority of a private Member, which is the only authority I require for the observations I am making. I ask the supporters of the Instruction to withdraw it for this reason. We know how votes are taken in this House. It may possibly be that a Division will be called and Members will come trooping in, and, not having heard what we have heard, the Division may be swayed one way or the other. The impression of the Committee upstairs and the public would be that the House had voted on the merits of the 706 case, which would not be so. Consequently it would be very much better to withdraw the Instruction and allow the matter to go for full discussion in Committee. On the merits of the case, it does not go far enough with regard to the make-up of roads.
In a Bill promoted by the Staffordshire County Council, which was passed by this House, it is possible for the local authority themselves to make up their roads and charge the company. If it is the responsibility of the local authority to make up the roads it will be properly done by the men who understand how it should be done. That is not in the Instruction, and that again supports the suggestion which I am putting before the House. I am sorry that gasometers cannot be put underground. They are an obstruction to the view and interfere with the amenities. They are a necessary evil, but let us see to it that, as far as possible, they are not a greater evil than can be avoided. I appeal to those who are putting forward this Instruction—I agree absolutely with what they are trying to do—to withdraw it, so that we may get on with the business of the House which has to follow.
§ 8.45 P.m.
§ Mr. T. Smith
When I interrupted the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) I wanted to know whether he was speaking with authority for the promoters of the Bill.
§ Sir J. Lamb
After the Committee have finished with the Bill it comes to this House for Third Reading, and we can then deal with it.
§ Mr. Smith
I hope the hon. Member will agree that those hon. Members who have put their names down to this Instruction are not doing anything that is not allowed. Viewed from the angle of discussion upstairs it is possible that the wording of the first part of the Instruction may be a bit too definite for some hon. Members, and I have been wondering whether their attitude would be altered if the wording suggested that the Commitee upstairs should consider so-and-so.
§ Mr. McGovern
Will the hon. and gallant Member for North Dorset (Captain Hambro), whoh I understand is a director of the company, give his view?
§ Mr. Smith
When a Private Bill is before a Committee of this House there is usually somebody who can speak for the promoters. Not only do I represent part of the county where this company operates, but I know the district very well, and I say quite frankly that we are not opposing the company in that they are going to do this work, but we are seeking a guarantee that local authorities are not to be compelled to pay money when they have no right to pay. Whether or not the hon. and gallant Member opposite is a director of the company, I do not know. I have looked at the Stock Exchange Year Book, and I have seen a name that I know, but I have been in this House long enough not always to take names at their face value. I can sometimes detect interests when points of view are expressed.
There does not seem to be anyone to speak for the promoters. With regard to the Minister, in giving his views he was about fifty-fifty. Sitting on the fence seems exactly to cover what he said. He said that in the opinion of the Department certain protection must be given and that we must bear in mind so-and-so, and then he went on to say something which was helpful to those who are moving this Instruction. He said that when the Committee upstairs meet to deal with the Bill the opinions of the Department would be expressed. I suppose that opinion will relate to the particular things contained in this Instruction and generally deal with the Bill.
§ Captain Hudson
It will be a report to the Committee on the provisions of the Bill as it affects the Department.
§ Mr. Smith
I have been a member of a committee on Private Bills and have 708 heard the representatives of various Departments telling us exactly what they think of the Bill and the point of view of the Department. With regard to the second part of the Instruction, we say that a private undertaking should not have the right to put up a gasometer where they think fit, without the sanction of the local authority. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) asked the hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) what he meant with regard to the second part of the Instruction. If he had read the Instruction he would have found out exactly what we want. The Instruction says:For requiring the approval of the county council and the local authority to the site selected for the erection of any gasholder or container for storing gas so that due regard may be had to the amenities of the district and to the prevention of interference with air-raid precautions.The hon. Member for South Croydon will agree that in 1847, when this Act was passed, they had not in mind air-raid precautions.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
What are the provisions of the Act of 1847 with which the hon. Member disagrees?
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Member is denouncing the Act of 1847. He wants it to be altered in certain particulars as far as this Bill is concerned. Will he tell me in precise details what it is that he wants to be altered?
§ Mr. Smith
If the hon. Member for South Croydon wants to do a bit of kidding, he had better try someone else. What we say is that, however sound the Act of 1847 may be, it does not fit in with modern requirements. What we are asking for is set out in the case of the West Riding County Council. We believe that that case is absolutely reasonable and ought to be conceded. If the House is not prepared to concede it, then there ought to be someone who can speak for the promoters to tell us exactly what they are prepared to do to safeguard the interests of the local authorities when the Bill goes upstairs.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Croom-Johnson
I have no interest in this matter except from two points of 709 view. One is, that I spent a very happy Whitsuntide vacation in driving through a part of the district in question, and the other is that I am very much interested in the question of the way in which legislation in this country with regard to a great many local problems has been allowed to fall lamentably behind the times. I am very much obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) for having brought this matter to the attention of the House, because I think it lamentable that in the year 1938 we should have to deal with the question of roads from the point of view of public utility companies by means of a Statute that was passed not merely long before I was born but, I believe, before any Member of either of the two Houses was born.
The problem which worries me—and I am speaking for the moment to a great number of hon. and right hon. Members opposite who, I am conscious, know a great deal more about local administration than I do or ever shall do—is this, that our legislation with regard to roads and with regard to public utility companies generally is hopelessly out of date. What we are proposing to do if this Instruction is carried is a shirking of our responsibilities as a House. We are not really grappling with this question as we ought to do. I hope the House will not think that I am lecturing them, but during the last four years I have spent a good deal of time considering local legislation in this country. I have spent a good deal of my time outside the House considering the results of exceptions made to the general law by local Bills passed in this House. I appreciate the difficulties in administration which result from there being one system of law in one district and another exceptional system of law in another. That being the situation, this House is engaged now in forcing, as it seems to me, upon a company, with which I have no concern in any way, on the one hand, and a number of local authorities, on the other, with whose work I have every sympathy, the task of examining at their own expense the actual situation with regard to the Act of 1847, and by instructing Parliamentary agents to find out how that legislation ought to be amended.
I say quite definitely that to put such a burden upon local authorities and upon 710 the particular corporation engaged in producing this Bill, is to put a burden upon them which this House ought to shoulder itself. We are dealing with a gas company, and the Parliamentary Secretary has told us that the same problem arises in regard to water and electricity. We are going to deal with the problem from the point of view of one locality. When you deal with the same problem as it arises in my county, which is a poor county, or in the case of Montgomeryshire, which is one of the poorest counties in Wales, you have to go through the same procedure, get this same question raised and determined by briefing members of my own profession, and instructing Parliamentary agents, when the House of Commons ought to grapple with these problems itself.
I have no views about the rival merits of these two contestants. So far as the observations of the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds and the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) are concerned, I have the utmost sympathy with the statements they have made, but why should these two particular contestants be engaged in a fight upstairs at enormous expense when the real problem is that this House has not grappled with this question so far as gas works are concerned since 1847, and so far as electricity companies are concerned since 1882? I hope the House will not think, in these circumstances, that there is any lack of sympathy on my part for the case put forward. I am not quite sure that the case has always been completely understood. As I understand the Instruction it is aimed at a rather peculiar problem which the Act of 1847 never contemplated. We are engaged in the greater part of the country at the moment in an endeavour to widen and better our roads, and when you do that the existing mains of public utility companies under the roads have to be shifted, and the Instruction, as I understand it, is intended to try and grapple with the problem as to what is the fair thing to do, when you widen a main road enormously, with the mains which already exist underneath the roads.
I hope that hon. Members will scrutinise this fact rather carefully, because none of us, in regard to a matter which concerns a public utility company and a local administration, 711 desires for a moment to do anything which is in the least unfair or which is likely to deprive the people of the utility they desire to have. The problem is not so simple as that put forward by hon. Members opposite. The Act of 1847, as far as it goes, is good enough, but, of course, it does not touch the modern problem of the wide new road, differently constructed, the straight road, as compared with the wiggly-waggly road which a famous English writer once described as having been made, he supposed, by an English drunkard. What the House is engaged in doing at the moment is not in saying that this ought to be considered, as indeed it manifestly ought to be considered, but in saying "shall" to the Committee upstairs. Members of this House who do not happen to sit upon the Committee are perhaps more ready to criticise, but we all know the admirable work done with great care and attention, and we are telling the Committee upstairs what shall be put into this Bill, whereas we ought to be directing the attention of the Committee to the fact that it is high time they considered this whole problem.
I emphasise this for this reason: The matter was fully discussed by a Select Committee of the House of Lords. But this House is not in the least bound by what was done and can decide to reexamine it anew just as if the decision had never been arrived at. But do let us remember that the case was put in the House of Lords and that they did reach a conclusion. Is it not in those circumstances a little unjust, or may have the appearance of being unjust, if we say, "We do not care whether you won or lost; you shall do so-and-so when the Bill goes to be considered upstairs"? Speaking with the utmost sympathy for those who have moved this Instruction I hope they will be able to adopt the suggestion that we should give a direction to the Committee upstairs to consider this matter in all its bearings. I understood from the Parliamentary Secretary that the particular problem of the roads and the public utility things which lie under the roads, is to be a matter to be considered between the different Government Departments. If he will forgive me for saying so, it is high time that was done, but it being high time, I am not going to object to its being done. However, I should like to feel 712 that that moment will not be unduly delayed.
I wish to say a few words with regard to the second part of the Instruction. Nobody desires that public utility companies should be entitled to dump gasometers or any other of the things which beautify our country nowadays anywhere they please, but I think that possibly in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and indeed in the North Riding, there may be such a thing as a town and country planning scheme which may have had something to do with that particular problem, and if it has not, then, in just the same way, speaking as a Private Member, I should be only too happy to concur in the notion that the Committee upstairs should be required to direct their attention to that problem also.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Major Milner
Having regard to what has just been said by the hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater (Mr. CroomJohnson) and the obviously substantial measure of agreement in the House, and what the Minister said, I should like to ask for your guidance, Captain Bourne, as to whether, in the event of my withdrawing this Motion for an Instruction, it will be the duty of the Committee upstairs to consider the specific matters set out in the Instruction. I should be very grateful if you would give me your guidance on that matter.
§ 9.7 P.m.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
As I understand the position, there are petitions, and two of the three county councils of Yorkshire are against this Bill dealing with the specific points raised in the hon. and gallant Member's proposed Instruction. I am also informed that the Ministry of Transport propose to put in a report dealing with these matters. It will obviously be the duty of the Committee upstairs to consider both the report of the Ministry of Transport on the subject and the petitions which have been presented against the Bill by the county councils concerned; and it will be their very obvious duty, notwithstanding anything which may or may not have happened in another place, to consider that problem there put de novo, in the light of the information to be put in front of them. I think that perhaps, that will satisfy the hon. and gallant Member.
§ 9.9 P.m.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
I wish to make a few remarks on this matter. I do not represent the company or any of the public authorities concerned, but I happen to be a member of an organisation known as the Conjoint Conference of Public Utility Associations, to which is affiliated, I think, every municipal gas, water, and electricity authority, and every company authority. The problem of the use of the roads for this purpose is one of the greatest possible complexity. For some eight or nine years past, negotiations have been proceeding between the company and municipal-owned public utility undertakings and the highway authorities. The reason I rose to speak was that I want to put it on record that every town council in this country is vitally concerned in this matter in opposition to the highway authorities. That is a point which has to be appreciated. Hon. Members opposite have been discussing this matter as though it were an issue between the public authority and the company. It is a much wider issue.
The issue is between the public utility undertakings and the highway authorities, and on that issue, if the borough councils—not the county boroughs, because they are both public utility authorities and highway authorities—and the urban district councils, who are proprietors of gas works, electricity undertakings, sewers and water works, were familiar with the situation in the House to-night, they would be almost unanimously in opposition to the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner). I rejoice that an agreement has been arrived at, but I want to put it on record quite clearly that what we are dealing with now is an issue of principle far wider than the issue in regard to this particular company. The issue which is raised is far wider than has been appreciated in the House to-night. I think that three-quarters of the hon. Members opposite, in certain circumstances, would be subjected to intense pressure from their own county boroughs on this matter to take a line completely opposite to that which they have taken to-night. I want the House to realise that there is an issue of principle involved which is very much greater than that which has been appreciated so far.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Paling
I want to say a word or two with regard to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Croom-Johnson). What I am afraid of is that if notice is taken of the argument which he made, the Committee may with justification argue that we have put it in this House that the question of altering the law and making protection for various things is a question for the Whole House to decide, at some future time, and that therefore, they, as a Committee, have no business to deal with the matter on this occasion. I hope that will not be done. The larger issue might have to be decided by the House, but in view of the Debate which has taken place, it appears to me clearly to be the wish of the House that we should do something in this particular case on this occasion. I hope the Committee will see to that. Finally, I hope the promoters of the Bill also will have some regard to the opinions which have been expressed in the House to-night and will do something to help to get some of the protection for which hon. Members in various quarters of the House have asked.
§ Major Milner
Having regard to the assurance which you have given, Captain Bourne, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.