§ GRAMPIAN ELECTRICITY SUPPLY ORDER CONFIRMATION BILL (By Order).
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House, while giving the greatest weight to the decision of the Commission which held an inquiry in Scotland, declines to read a Second time a Bill confirming a scheme which is contentious, disturbs national unity, cannot be carried out during the war and may not be suitable or beneficial in the unpredictable conditions prevailing after the war.The object of this Bill is to authorise the Grampian Electricity Supply Company to erect hydraulic works in two glens —Glen Affric and Glen Cannich—in Inverness-shire. This Bill is recommended to Parliament after an inquiry in Edinburgh held last April by 208 four Commissioners, two Members of this House and two Peers. Because of the war the Commission sat in secret, but I think it is no secret that in their recommendation of this Bill to the House they are not unanimous. I rise to move the rejection of the Bill. The House could reject it on one of two grounds—either that the scheme proposed in the Bill is a bad scheme, or that whatever the merits of the scheme, it ought not to be brought forward during the war, especially in view of the evidence presented by the Government at the inquiry that the labour and materials could not be provided to put the scheme into operation during the war. I propose to confine myself to the first point, leaving other speakers to deal with the question whether the scheme ought to be brought forward during the war.
It has been suggested that this matter ought to be left to Scottish Members to deal with, but it is certain that English people are much interested in the Highlands—they go there quite a lot—and we are just as much entitled to debate this matter as Scottish Members would be to debate a Bill which affected Westminster Abbey or St. James's Park. Moreover, there has been so much bitterness in Scotland, both in the Press and elsewhere, about the scheme that perhaps only Sassenachs can view it calmly and dispassionately.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the bitterness in the Scottish Press arose prior to his intervention in this matter?
§ Mr. Keeling
No; I am merely suggesting that there is bitterness at this moment. There are two misconceptions about the opposition to this Bill. The first is that the issue is a political one and that the question is as between State enterprise and private enterprise. I deny that. I should be just as much opposed to the Bill if it were brought forward by the Government as a Government scheme or if it were brought forward by the county council. The second misconception is that the issue is one of beauty against utility. I am not opposing the Bill mainly because of its effect on amenities.
I suggest that the real issue we have to consider is whether the interests of the Highlands ought to prevail over the interests of the Grampian Electricity Supply 209 Company. The Highland race is remarkable for self-reliance and physical stamina, both of which qualities are invaluable assets to the British Commonwealth, and yet the Highlands are a depressed area. Before the war they were in the same desperate category as Lanarkshire, South Wales and Durham. In the five Highland counties of the North-West unemployment before the war was as high as 30 per cent. of the insured population, and in the 70 years between 1860 and 1930 not less than 60 per cent. of the population of the Highlands left. If the Bill would do anything to arrest that process of decay, it would deserve consideration, whatever the effect on the scenery. I submit that the Bill does not do anything in that direction; it is not in the interests of the Highlands.
The Highlands have a great natural asset in their water power. Under powers previously granted by Parliament half the potential water power of the Highlands has already been granted to two companies—the British Aluminium Company and the Grampian Electricity Company. The Grampian Company already produce over 200,000,000 units per annum at their stations at Rannoch and Tummel Bridge. Barely 2 per cent, of the production of the company is used in the Highlands. The remainder is either sold in the Lowlands and coastal districts or is sent to the grid.
It is true that there is a new Clause in the Bill, Clause 21, which purports to give the Highlands the first call on the electricity generated under the present scheme. I suggest that that priority is entirely illusory. It does not give priority to the Highlands proper, but it gives priority to the Grampian Company's distribution area, which includes not only the Highlands but also the Lowland regions of Kincardincshire, Aberdeenshire, Banff-shire, Moray and Nairn. There is nothing in the Clause to prevent the whole production of the company under the Bill being sent outside the Highlands proper. How the Commissioners could have supposed that priority would be given to the Highlands by this Clause I am unable to understand. Perhaps the chairman of the Commission can enlighten us. Suppose the company, however, keeps sufficient of its production in the Highlands to meet the needs of the Highlands, even then the rates are so high that it is not likely that the 210 crofter or the labourer or the shopkeeper will be able to use electricity domestically, and it is not likely that the rates will attract any industry to the Highlands. It is true that the rates are the same as those charged in the coastal and Lowland regions, but if revival is to come to the Highlands the rates ought to be lower. Why otherwise should industry leave the coastal regions where transport costs are cheaper in order to go to the Highlands? Not one of the promoters' witnesses gave any evidence of any industry being induced to go to the Highlands. In holding themselves out as benefactors of the Highlands the promoters must have had their tongues in their cheeks.
In the circular which hon. Members will have seen during the last day or two a good deal is made of a plebiscite which has taken place in areas covered by the Bill, and it is stated that the population were almost unanimous in favour of the Bill. But I think this statement circulated to hon. Members is somewhat lacking in candour, because it does not mention that every one of those persons to whom the plebiscite inquiry was sent are tenants of Highland Estates, a subsidiary of the promoters of this Bill, and it is hardly to be supposed that they would have answered this questionnaire in a way unfavourable to their own landlords. I submit, therefore, that the Bill will not help the Highlands.
I may be asked, "What is your policy for helping the Highlands to use their own water power?" My answer is the answer which has been given over the last few years by all disinterested investigators. It is this, that you can only help the Highlands to use water power by introducing small power plants, perhaps one in every glen or strath in which you can expect a demand either for the needs of agriculture or for small industries. If you did that, the costs of your power would be quite low, because you would not have need of any big reservoirs or conduits or transmissions, and, of course, such small plants would have the additional advantage of doing very little damage to the scenery. The Water Power Resources Committee, which reported some years ago, approved of these small power plants, and cited the example of North Wales, where; in some of the valleys current is produced at as low as one-third of a penny per unit.
211 To make such small power plants a success two requisites are necessary. The first is that the price of the current must be sufficiently low to attract industry and to prevent further depopulation, and it may well be that to enable such low rates to be offered some kind of Government guarantee on the borrowed money may be necessary. If the money could be advanced at, say, 31/2 per cent., it would make all the difference as between such a scheme and the scheme in this Bill, promoted by a company which is authorised to pay up to 8 per cent. dividend. The second requisite for the success of these small power plants is that you must keep in the Highlands the half that still remains of Highland water power, in order to build Highland life. You must not sell it outside the Highlands, as this Bill would do. If more electric power is required outside the Highlands you will have to provide it, but you need not take it from the Highlands. It would be quite as easy to provide it from coal; probably you could do that cheaper, and you could certainly do it with a greater employment of labour. To grant further hydro-electric powers over a wide area to a private interest will, I submit, embarrass if not stultify the post-war planning of the Highlands. As a writer in the "Times" this morning remarked:The question of the development of Highland water power ought to be dealt with as part of the larger Highlands problem.The promoters of this Bill, in the statement to Members which I quoted just now, have said:Post-war planning is absolutely unaffected by this Bill.I do not suggest that that is an attempt to deceive Members, but it does seem to show a reckless disregard of what is true and what is not true, and it does create in my mind a suspicion that the promoters of this Bill are trying to seize profit for themselves out of the people's preoccupation with the war.
I should like, in conclusion, to say a few words on the question of amenities. Anybody who has seen Glen Affric and Glen Cannich, and has any capacity for appreciating beauty, must know that the wooded shores, heather-clad hillsides, rocky gorges, tumbling waterfalls of those glens form 25 miles of scenery not excelled in Great Britain. Under this Bill huge white concrete dams will be erected, the 212 rivers and waterfalls downstream of the dams will virtually disappear, while in summer, when the glens are most visited, wide stretches of rotting vegetation and slimy mud will be exposed above the dams, with here and there the blackened skeletons of trees, submerged for half the year, projecting above the ooze. It is quite true that in a Clause borrowed from another Act the Bill sets up an Amenity Committee. The Clause says that this Committee shall have power to make recommendations which may be enforced by the Secretary of State if the company objects to them, but the protection given by this Clause is quite negligible, because the Clause lays down expressly that the recommendations must not imperil the financial success of the scheme. The Amenity Clause is a very long one, but it leaves the glens themselves entirely at the mercy of the pro-motors of this Bill. Never in the history of private Bills have so many words pretended so much and achieved so little.
I know that a great many people do not care for nature at all, and would boil down the last nightingale if they could get a farthing's worth of glue out of his bones. But to those people I will put two practical questions. The first question is, Do they not realise that beautiful scenery has commercial value, that it attracts an enormous number of tourists, and that tourist traffic is one of the main assets of the Highlands? Every time you drain dry a beautiful glen you are striking a blow at that traffic. The English, Scottish and American people who visited these glens in large numbers before the war are not likely to go there in order to see a dry stream-bed or hydraulic works the like of which they can see much nearer home. The second question I put to those who do not care for beauty is this. Do they not realise that there are a vast number of men and women who do care passionately? The hundreds of thousands of people who visit beautiful scenery at week-ends bear witness to that fact. In the hills and forests and glens, they escape from the narrowness, the monotony, the sordidness, the noise and the dirt of their daily occupations, and every time you injure a glen such as Glen Affric you are injuring very many people who depend upon beautiful scenery to restore their nerves and to revive their minds and souls. Without very good 213 reason you ought not to inflict this injury upon them. I have tried to show that no such good reason exists. This Bill may benefit the promoters and the contractors for the; work, but it will not serve the needs of the Highlands, and it will prevent the post-war planning of the Highlands in the interests of the Highland people. It is an unnecessary Bill, and I ask the House to reject it.
§ Mr. Neil Maclean (Glasgow, Govan)
I beg to second the Amendment.
In supporting the rejection of the Bill, I wish to make it clear that the Bill is, in my opinion, another item in the long series of happenings which have made the Highlands of Scotland practically a depressed area. The Bill will not bring about any repopulation of the Highlands of Scotland or in any way improve or bring industry there. The scheme proposed in the Bill takes no account of the circumstances which may exist in this country, and particularly in the Highlands, when the war has finished, and when the replanning of our country is taken in hand, as has been promised by His Majesty's Government. The Bill really jumps the claim—to use an Americanism—for a particular company.
We are told that there is no intention to proceed with the scheme of the Bill until the war has finished. The reason given for bringing the scheme forward now is that the company will be ready to commence operations immediately peace has been declared. How does this House know that the proposed scheme will fit in with other schemes likely to be put forward by the Government after the war for the replanning of the country? Under the Bill, a part of the Highlands of Scotland will be taken over for a particular scheme. Parliament will have granted powers and will not be able very well to withdraw them. The powers will remain. Any after-war scheme for the Highlands or, indeed, for central Scotland and any area to which this proposal would supply electricity, would have to be considered according to the scheme already approved in the Bill. We are therefore considering a Bill around which after-war planning will have to be built in those areas of Scotland. The Bill is untimely and unnecessary and may, in a manner, hinder or block the real planning of the Highlands of Scotland which 214 many people, including English people, desire to see.
I am not now speaking particularly as a Highlander or as a Scotsman, but as one who wishes to see the country rebuilt after the war according to a definite plan set on foot by the Government of the day. I object to any proposal which may tie down a Government of the future to planning in accordance with a pre-determined scheme. I am informed that Scottish Private Bill procedure is responsible for the Bill being brought before this House in the present manner, but it appears unseemly, when we have been summoned to discuss matters of urgency and importance for the wellbeing of the country and the prosecution of the war, that a Bill which will not affect the war by one iota should be brought before us. The Bill does not propose any action until the war is finished, which may be one, two or five years hence. Therefore the Bill is a waste of the time of the House. I am not blaming anyone; I am stating my personal opinion that we should be discussing more urgent matters affecting the situation in which this nation and the rest of Europe find themselves.
The promoters of the Bill would be well advised to withdraw it at this time, even though it has been agreed upon by the Commissioners in Scotland, with a view to giving freer rein to opinions and viewpoints for the planning of the Highlands. I shall not go into the history of the Highlands or the causes of their depopulation or into the reasons for the depression which has occurred. Wide tracts of country are de-populated, and are like deserts, except that they are beautiful. They are left without anybody to work there, to rear cattle or even to rear families. They are desolate and derelict. The reasons are known to almost every Scotsman, and there is no reason for me to go into them merely in order to enlighten or inform English opinion upon the matter. I stress the points that the Bill will block the replanning of a very large area of Scotland if it is agreed to, and will obstruct the reconstruction of the country. We shall have tied ourselves down to this plan. The Bill will bring no bent fit to the country during the war and does nothing to assist in the prosecution of the war. For all those reasons, I oppose the Bill and second the Amendment.
§ Major Neven-Spence (Orkney and Zetland)
I am grateful, Mr. Speaker, for having been able to catch your eye at this early stage. I was Chairman of the Joint Parliamentary Commission which inquired into this subject in Edinburgh, and having acted in a judicial capacity with regard to this Order I do not very much relish the prospect of having now to take sides in this question. However, it is inevitable under the circumstances which have arisen, and I must support the Motion for the Second Reading. I do not propose to touch on the merits of the case. They have been touched upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling). So instead I am going to leave it to other hon. Members to take up those points. It is absolutely impossible in the short space of one day to enter upon a general discussion of the merits of a case such as this. It took us 10 days of patient hearings in Edinburgh to hear all the evidence —sift it, weigh it and arrive at our decision. I do not think it would be possible in the course of a day to go through all that in this place now. So far as the merits of the case are concerned, I think the House ought to uphold the findings of its own Commissioners. It may be that there is a wider point of policy involved which is debatable, but so far as the merits of the case are concerned I claim that the Commissioners are entitled to have their findings accepted.
I turn now to the Amendment which stands in the name of my hon. Friend, and I see that he suggests that the House ought to reject this Bill because it is contentious, or rather because the scheme itself is contentious, but surely the whole purpose of this private legislation procedure is to have contentious Measures such as this dealt with in this way? That is what the procedure was devised for. Parliament selects hon. Members from a panel, usually from Members who have had some experience in this sort of work before, and appoints them to hear the case wherever it may be, in Scotland, and I can assure hon. Members that those who undertake to do this work—and it is very tedious and onerous work in some respects —do so with a very full sense of their responsibility to the House. They act, so far as my observation has gone, in the most impartial and judicial manner possible, and do everything to uphold the honour and dignity of the House, as the 216 House has a right to expect of them. They listen very often to a host of counsel and a great array of witnesses, who are all examined on oath. They sift and weigh all the evidence with great care, and if they find that the Preamble to the Bill is not proved that ends the whole matter. It does not go any further. They may, on the other hand, find that the Preamble has been proved, subject or not, as the case may be, to certain Amendments or to the insertion or deletion of Clauses.
Surely, when the matters are gone into so thoroughly in this judicial or quasi-judicial manner, the House ought to uphold the decision of its own Commissioners unless there is some overwhelmingly strong reason for overturning it. If my hon. Friend had been able to produce any such reasons, and I listened most carefully for them, there might have been some reason for supporting his Amendment. Had he shown that there had been any grave error of procedure or any miscarriage of justice, or any new material facts had come to light since the inquiry was held, I as Chairman of the Commission should have been the first to admit that there was a case for the matter being gone into again. But nothing of that sort came to light and I do not think there is any solid ground for asking the House to reject this Bill.
§ Mr. Keeling
May I interrupt my hon. and gallant Friend to ask whether he does not think that the enormous amount of criticism which has appeared in the Scottish Press since the decision of the Commission was announced is a new and material fact?
§ Major Neven-Spence
There have been many letters in the Scottish Press, but not one of those letters has produced a single new fact bearing on the case. So much for that. My hon. Friend suggests that the scheme is one which is disturbing to, or is liable to disturb, national unity. National unity is not a characteristic which distinguishes the Scots. The- only thing as far as I can see that we in Scotland are ever really united about is the necessity for disagreement. Certainly we never display greater disunity than when we are discussing measures for the improvement of Scotland. I myself believe that the rejection of this Bill would be far more likely than the passage of it to disturb unity, and my reasons for that are these: I think I am right in saying, 217 as far as my casual observations go, that the majority of Scottish Members of this House are in favour of this Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] Let us suppose that they are. They are up against a combination of English and Welsh Members added to those Scottish Members who of course will always be found to vote on the other side. So we are liable to have this overturned by Members who are not really directly interested, inasmuch as they are not Scottish Members. Yet this Measure is, in spite of what my hon. Friend says, really a purely Scottish Bill.
When the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act was passed in 1936 it was then considered that Scotland had got hold of something—a rather valuable concession, almost a little bit of Home Rule, because it ensured that Scottish private legislation would be heard by a Commission or Committee of Scottish Members sitting in Scotland. This has worked extremely well up to the present time. As far as I know, up to now every Order examined by a Commission in Scotland and approved by them has subsequently been confirmed by Parliament, The point I want to make is this. Confidence in this procedure is very firmly established in Scotland. This form of procedure is liked by the promoters of the Bills, by objectors to them, and by the Bar in Scotland, and they always treat the Commissions with the greatest respect and consideration when they are sitting there. In my experience they invariably pay a very high tribute to the impartiality and fairness with which the cases are heard. It seems to me it would be a thousand pities if this House were to do anything now to undermine such a popular and well-established institution, but I believe that if this Bill is rejected to-day, a very serious blow will be struck at the confidence felt in this kind of procedure. What hon. Member is going to contemplate with any pleasure spending a fortnight sitting in the Court House in Edinburgh, or Aberdeen, or wheverer it may be, listening to one of these long Orders if he feels that a vote of the House of Commons may subsequently render all his work of no avail? Nor are the local authorities, or even the objectors to these Bills, going to welcome the incurring of the very heavy expenses which have to be incurred if they feel at the back of their minds that after all they have spent, tens of thousands of pounds it may be, it is all 218 going to be wasted by the House not accepting the findings of its own Commissioners.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
In view of the argument the hon. and gallant Member is using, could he make it clear to the House what, in his opinion, is the function this House is called upon to perform when it has a Bill such as this before it?
§ Major Neven-Spence
The House must, of course, always have the right, ultimately, to decide in any way it likes. The point I am making is that a tacit understanding seems to have grown up that once a Commission has dealt with one of these Bills in Scotland the House accepts it.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker (Derby)
Would the hon. and gallant Member's argument not lead to the logical conclusion that the House must accept the conclusions of its Committees? Would not that be disastrous?
§ Major Neven-Spence
I do not think that follows at all. There is a very great variety of committees. There is a particular kind of committee appointed to sift evidence in this particular kind of case.
§ Major Neven-Spence
I do not wish to waste time by pursuing this argument. However, I feel myself that if this Bill were overturned, it would seriously undermine the confidence which is at present felt in private legislation procedure as carried out in Scotland. One hon. Member observed that the scheme could not be carried out during the war. Whoever suggested that it was to be carried out during the war? That has not been mooted, although it came out in evidence that when the promoters were asked whether, if the Government suggested the carrying out of the scheme during the war, they would do it, they said, "Certainly, we will start to-morrow if we are given the materials and labour." The proposal is not to start during the war, but I wish to make this very clear: the reason for seeking permission for these powers at the present time is to enable construction of these works to start at the very earliest practicable moment after the war is over. The reasons for this are two in number. Firstly, it was proved to the hilt before the Commissioners that the time is very 219 rapidly approaching, and approaching at an accelerating pace, when the available supply of electricity in the area will fall short of the demand, and even if the work began to-day it would not be possible to finish in time to meet the shortage of supply in relation to demand which is going to arise in the very near future, let alone a possible increase in demand which may result from post-war reconstruction or development.
In the second place, it was proved to the satisfaction of the Commissioners that a time-lag of anything up to 18 months, possibly more, must necessarily occur between the time of obtaining powers and the time of starting actual construction. This time is taken in getting out detailed reports, surveys, estimates, quantity surveys, and so on. I think there is an overwhelming reason, on the assumption that the merits of the case are not disputed—that is, that the scheme is a sound one, that the company are capable of carrying out the scheme, etc.—for according powers now to enable the company to get all this preliminary work out of the way in order that they may be able to start just so soon after the war as the Government allow them whatever labour and materials are necessary. An hon. Member thinks this scheme not a suitable or beneficial one. That takes us back to the merits of the case. The Commissioners heard all this at length for 10 days, and the majority came to the conclusion that on the evidence before them the scheme was a suitable one and would be beneficial to the people in the country. My hon. Friend says that one reason for not proceeding with it is because of the unpredictable conditions which may prevail after the war. Well, you can drag anything in as an excuse for doing nothing. If that is how we are going to meet problems of post-war reconstruction, and do nothing until the time arrives, the outlook is indeed hopeless. Every scheme that can be devised and got into readiness now ought to be prepared at the earliest possible moment in order that we may be ready after the war.
There will be a time-lag in any case. Everybody knows that it will take a long time to get men back into work. I believe that this scheme is one which will ultimately be of the utmost benefit to Scotland. I wish that one hon. Member 220 that has spoken on amenities would take a wider view of what amenities are. Certainly there are amenities of the kind he refers to, and I am the last to deny them —the delight of tourists in scenery, etc.— but we really cannot contemplate the future of Scotland as being simply a place for tourists to visit. I am far more interested in the people who are living in Scotland. I know what it is to be without amenities of another kind. I have no running water in my house; I have no indoor sanitation, and no electric light— only lamps and candles. There are thousands of people in Scotland living in those conditions. One Royal Commission and committee after another has drawn attention to the fact that the principal thing which is driving people out of Scotland is the lack of amenities. There is no greater domestic amenity than electric light and electric power. I know of no instance of anybody in this area in Scotland who has had the benefit of what the Grampian Electricity Company has been able to supply who wishes to see the supply of electricity cut off and to go back to paraffin lamps and candles. The whole tendency is the other way, to get on to this supply by any means possible.
To show how keen many people are, I would refer to last Saturday, when I paid a visit to a lonely part of Shetland where a number of crofts are situated. To my astonishment outside every croft was a little windmill, each of which was generating electricity. I found that they are all home-made, and they work when the wind blows, and when the wind fails they go back to lamps. It shows how keen people are to get hold of any improvement of that kind. I think the House would be doing a great wrong to the people in the Highlands if, by its action, it delayed this scheme. One Royal Commission after another and one committee after another has reported in favour of developing the available water resources of the Highlands. Electricity will not come from any other source than water supply. This scheme involves a complete development of that particular catchment area. I am not overlooking the possibility of small schemes; we ought to do a great deal more than we have done in this country in that way, as they have done in Norway; but small schemes are mostly uneconomic and require a subvention from the rates or taxes. I hope I do not appear 221 too partisan, but I invite the House to pay very careful attention to what I have said, particularly in urging hon. Members not to do anything which will destroy or weaken our private legislation procedure or which will withhold these amenities from the people.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Orkney and Zetland (Major Neven-Spence), I have devoted some time to consideration of this Measure. Let me pay tribute to my hon. and gallant Friend and to my other colleagues concerned for the capacity that they showed. I disagreed with them, and I never concealed my disagreement, but I must say that they showed a capacity, integrity, and honesty that speaks well for these commissions. I sat there for 10 days, and on neither side did I ever see anything done that was improper. There has been a good deal of controversy as though some of us were doing something wrong, but I cannot say that I witnessed the slightest thing that reflected upon anyone concerned in the inquiry.
I must say, however, that I do not understand the argument of my hon. and gallant Friend about the procedure of the House of Commons. He said that we should not turn down the Commission. I can only say that hon. Members should not turn down me. After all, I was one of the Commission. I have always thought myself a bit of an institution in this place. Listening to my hon. and gallant Friend, I almost began to think that I had not been present when the Commission sat. Without wishing to flatter myself, I must say that, although I have been brought up among the poorest —and perhaps still am among the poorest —I do not think that I have any less capacity for that reason. I would say that in honesty and in ability I and my hon. and gallant Friend are not far apart. Let us not be too thin-skinned about turning anything down. Even in the midst of the terribly grave situation which faces this country, this House of Commons changed its Government and changed its Prime Minister. Surely we are not to be told that it is something terrible to reject a Commission's proposal. I remember once disagreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood). Even he and I may disagree, and I hope that we shall continue to do so and yet retain our friendship. I 222 remember that we disagreed because they had the hardihood to put an Englishman in the chair of the Scottish Grand Committee. My hon. Friend, of course, ardently protested. I said that I would sooner see a capable Englishman in the chair than an incapable Scotsman. I do not take the view that only Scotsmen are capable of judging these matters. As a matter of fact, I do not know what the two noble Lords who were on the Commission are by birth, but I doubt whether either of them is Scottish. If that is so, the Commission was composed of two Englishmen and two Scotsmen.
I have not much sympathy with what has been said by many of the opponents of the Measure. No one who has lived in Gorbals could have much sympathy with people who want to keep a beautiful part of the country for a selected few. I have no feeling that because an electricity station is modern it must of necessity ruin the country. I think that man's capacity and good sense in these matters is a sufficient safeguard, given the will and given popular control. I am sure that every Conservative in this House will agree with me that this country has suffered terrible blots on its landscape because of unbridled capitalist development. I believe that the country around Durham is one of our most beautiful parts, and that beauty has been spoilt in that way. Let anyone travel from Glasgow to Edinburgh and smell the filthy dumps in the constituency of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers). No one wants to see unbridled development of that sort in these days.
Also, I have not much sympathy with what has been said about the future of the coal industry. If I could substitute some other way of getting light and heat, which would not make it necessary for men to dig in the bowels of the earth, I would gladly abolish coal to-morrow. The wooden ship has given way to the steel ship, and science moves on. I have not much sympathy for the people who tell you to wait for development until some bright day in the future. I had no prejudices about State or private enterprise when I sat on this Commission, and I have not much respect for the Highlands despite the fact that both my parents were Highlanders. I voted for the Caledonian Power Bill when I disagreed with the majority on my side. 223 When I went to this Commission I thought that I would be there for only a day or two to examine some Measure which had something to do with the progress of this war. Never for a moment did I dream that at a time when we are fighting for our very lives a hundred people would be gathered together every day for a fortnight to do nothing. Germany would not have tolerated it for five seconds. Counsel and many other people were sitting there day after day at a time when we were being told that every man was needed. We did nothing but sit on a Measure which even with the best will in the world cannot operate for years after the end of the war.
We should not do for the country's business any less than we do for our own business. Not one of the promoters would have tolerated such a terrible situation in his own business. If it could have been proved that this was urgent, I would have agreed to it at once. The Commission was guided by the evidence of the people present, but it also received reports from various Government Departments, including the Home Office, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the joint report from the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Works and Buildings to which I want to refer. What does this joint report say? It says that not only can the scheme not be proceeded with now, but that it cannot be proceeded with immediately after the war. It says:The matter has been discussed with the promoters, who are fully aware of this aspect of the matter.This aspect of the matter is the fact that at the end of the war there will be so many other claims on the nation that this scheme cannot be proceeded with in anything like the immediate future. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who preceded me lauded the local legislation procedure. This House ought not lightly to turn down responsible Members who do a job for them. They should examine their findings with great respect. If a Commission is to do its job, it ought to do it under conditions which place no limit on the examination of every aspect of its work. If there is any limit at all, then the Commission has not been allowed to function properly. After sitting with the Commission for a fortnight I came away with a very deep feeling that there were two 224 competing bodies. On the one hand there was the company promoting the Bill—a rich and powerful company. This company is not merely a power company; it is the Highland Estates Company, which owns huge estates. It is not a power company in the centre of Scotland; it is a huge financial trust. On the other side were the local authorities. I do not think any other company in the middle of a war would have taken first-class engineers to Edinburgh for so many days when their ability was needed by the nation. I am proud of my craft. None in my trade to-day are allowed to stay away from their job for five minutes. Would Hitler have tolerated this sort of thing?
As for the local authorities in Scotland, they have enough difficulties to contend with in peace-time. For instance, the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) knows of the difficulties in peace-time of the Fife County Council, with its scattered area. In war time those difficulties are intensified. When one goes to Inverness, however, the difficulties become even greater. When I heard the evidence, it was obvious to me from the first moment to the last that the local authority were handicapped in their pleading. How could this rich and powerful company and the local authority meet on equal terms? For the matter to be properly examined, the contending parties ought to be on terms of something like equality, but how could they be in present conditions? Let me add that from one aspect I am prejudiced against Inverness. A few months, ago a colleague from my own party left the Inverness County Council and under an agreement which had been come to, a Labour man ought to have taken his place, but Inverness refused to honour the bargain. To that extent I am prejudiced against Inverness.
But I was, in this instance, acting in a judicial capacity, and, looking at the facts, I could not fail to notice that the local authority were terribly handicapped. It is true that there were counsel on each side. I am not one of those who depreciate the bar, and I think the Lord Advocate will agree that I have never taken part in heresy hunting of the legal profession. I have often paid tribute to many members of the Bar. But even from this point of view, the contest was terribly unequal. This great and powerful company briefed the best Parliamentary lawyer it could 225 get and brought him from London. The supply of lawyers at the Scottish Bar at the moment is very limited. I have nothing to say against the eminent counsel who conducted the other side. I hope what I say will not be taken as reflecting on him, for he has honour, capacity and courage. But the struggle was an unequal one. On the one side there was the best man at the Parliamentary Bar, with a mass of experience, and on the other side, pitted against him, a Scottish counsel acting almost for the first time as leading counsel. It seemed to me that in peace time this would not have been so, because the county council would have been able to get the best man from the bar on equal terms.
I would have preferred not to have to judge this Bill now. I do not say that at some future time after the war I would not be in favour of passing the Bill. But neither I nor anybody else knows now what will be the conditions in the Highlands after this catastrophe. To the company I want to say this. It has been pleaded that it is a public utility company. I shall not argue that matter now, although I have my views, but is it fair for the company to pick out only those parts of the water supply in the Highlands which will give it a profitable return? The company has rights over Brora Loch, granted by Parliament, but they will not do anything there. Eloquent pleas have been made for the poor crofters who want electricity. Do not the crofters near Brora Loch need electricity, too? Of course they do. But it does not pay, it is not an economic proposition. Let hon. Members imagine what would happen if the State, in regard to letters, said that it would not take them to Stornoway because that was not a paying proposition. Or, to take another case, everybody knows that the Clyde Valley electricity undertaking has to take the good with the bad in its area. Any company performing a public function ought not to be allowed to pick out little bits of the Highlands which it finds profitable and leave the other parts entirely undeveloped.
I should have been pleased if this Debate had not taken place. I should have preferred the promoters and the opponents to have said they would start immediately after the war and examine the problem then. One thing which the last war taught us is that war makes 226 science move very quickly. There are things to-day which before the end of the war will be made out of date by the movement of science. We do not know what will happen in this direction. I am certain that the rejection or delaying of this Measure would not mean that the House was against the development of electricity and water power in the Highlands. It would simply be saying to the company what the State would say to anybody else—"Come back again at a suitable date." The matter ought to be examined on equal terms under suitable conditions, and that cannot be done at this time.
§ Mr. Craik Henderson (Leeds, North-East)
This Debate has been extraordinarily interesting, and I was particularly interested in the speeches of the chairman and the members of the Committee which sat in Edinburgh and heard the evidence. I should like, in the first place, to reply to one or two of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I appreciate much of what he said, the sincerity with which he said it, and the general attitude with which he approached the subject, but I think he was unfair, quite unintentionally, in one or two things that he said. First of all, he overemphasised a little the great power of the company. After all, it is a public utility company, controlled and regulated. What is most important, talking as a Scotsman, is what benefit will this Scheme give to Scotland? It is not the company that we have to consider, but the benefit to the country. The hon. Member said that the company pick and choose this area. Far from that being the case, this company is supplying electricity in the most thinly-populated area of Scotland. He referred also to the fact that the company have power to carry out work at Brora Loch. I believe that is the case, but I am told that the promoters have been advised that this would be uneconomic.
§ Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)
Will my hon. Friend tell the House how much of this electricity will be carried directly to the crofters?
§ Mr. Henderson
I will come to that point in a moment. I now wish to deal with the other point raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals. I know he did not wish to be unfair, but he indicated that the counsel who appeared for the other side were inexperienced. They may have been young, but I am sure it is not 227 the case that they were inexperienced. They were among the leading counsel of the Scottish Bar.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Will the hon. Member say how much Parliamentary experience they have had? Can he tell me one case in which they have been concerned?
§ Mr. Henderson
I have no idea as to the number of cases with which they have been concerned, but I should be very surprised to learn that they have had no experience of this type of work.
I am very glad to have an opportunity to speak on this Bill. There has been a tremendous amount of opposition from a small minority, and I have waited anxiously to find out the reasons for these objections. I have listened carefully to the speeches of the Mover and Seconder, and I can only assume that the feeling which has been engendered and the prejudice which has been created is due to the fact that the inquiry was held in secret, and that some people imagine the promoters were responsible. Nothing could be more untrue. I believe it to be a tragedy so far as the promoters are concerned that this inquiry was held in secret. If it had been held in public, I am satisfied that anyone who had been there would have been convinced that the case had been proved conclusively. I have read the whole of the evidence, which extends over 700 pages. To listen to some of the arguments which have been put forward, one would have thought some principle of far-reaching importance was concerned, but actually the Chairmen from the two Houses were right when they said that the Bill concerned Scotland only and did not raise questions of public policy of such novelty and importance that they ought to be dealt with by a Private Bill.
This is merely an innocent, an innocuous and necessary Bill, presented by a public utility company who have the duty imposed upon them—and I wish to emphasise this—to supply electricity. The company would be failing in their duty to their consumers and to their potential consumers in this area if they did not make plans for meeting demands which the Committee were satisfied existed and would exist. All that is involved is the erection of one power house, two dams—the pipes are to be carried underground—and relative works. Surely 228 this is a question which can well be left to an impartial Committee to decide on the evidence put before them. This is a procedure which Scotland has had for 42 years—the procedure by which such questions can be referred to a Committee to hear the evidence, the understanding being that the decision shall be acceptable except in very exceptional circumstances.
I am still puzzled as to the reasons for the opposition. I believe the hon. Member for Gorbals raised a point which is affecting the minds of some Members, namely, that this question is being dealt with in war-time. I can understand that consideration causing some doubts at first blush, but let us look at the question a little more carefully. Again, I wish to emphasise this point. This is a company —the only company in the area—which has the duty imposed on it of supplying electricity in this area. The company are satisfied, and they have satisfied the Committee, that there will be a demand for the supply of electricity exceeding the existing supply; surely it is the duty of any public body, having regard to the duty imposed upon them, to take steps at once to be in a position to meet such a demand when it comes. It may be that during the war they shall not be able to go ahead, but if they only present their petition after the War it will mean a delay of one or two years. Surely it is intolerable that the people of Northern Scotland should be deprived of the necessary warmth and power just because of a Micawber-like attitude.
Certainly this company had this question in view long before the war. It was mentioned at a meeting in 1938, when it was stated the company would require to go ahead with the scheme. I say quite emphatically that the company would have been guilty of neglect if they had not brought the scheme forward, and if the Government thought it wrong that such a Bill should be brought forward, they would have said so. It cannot be claimed that the company are inefficient. I am convinced that the company is among the most efficient in the country. In this vast neighbourhood they have already constructed lines extending over some 2,000 miles, and they have spent about £6,000,000. The mover of the Amendment referred to the high rates. Excluding bulk consumers, the cost to consumers in 1940 worked out at approximately 1½d. 229 per unit. This is an extraordinarily satisfactory figure, having regard to the neighbourhood in which this work is carried out. I could have understood there being opposition had an inquiry not been held, but it seems to me to be wrong for this House, having adopted a procedure whereby the matter is remitted to a court of inquiry, with four Commissioners, which sat for 10 days, as the hon. Member for Gorbals has said, hearing counsel and having a pretty strenuous time considering all the merits, to put all this work on one side. No one has suggested that the court did not approach the question in an impartial manner, or that the evidence was wrong or that new evidence had subsequently emerged. Why should this House, which asked these people to carry out this duty, disregard all the time and attention which has been devoted to the matter?
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
Can the hon. Member tell us when this House asked the company to supply electricity in this area?
§ Mr. Henderson
That duty has been imposed upon the company, but we have got away from that point and are dealing with the inquiry. To Scottish Members who know the history of this legislation it must come as a shock that for the first time in 42 years a new method is being adopted. A remedy has been laid down in the Act to save the merits of these questions being discussed on the Floor of the House. It is that objectors who are dissatisfied have the right to bring forward a Motion in the House asking for it to be remitted to a Joint Committee. It has been laid down as the result of Parliamentary discussion that this Motion should only be granted where a prima facie case shows that there have been grave errors in procedure or a serious miscarriage of justice before the Commissioners, or that new or material facts have emerged. No one suggests that any of these conditions are here. Why have the opponents of the scheme not presented a Motion in the way that objectors have always done? The answer is obvious, because they cannot point to any gross error of procedure or miscarriage of justice, and they know that there are no new facts. They also know that if by any chance it were remitted to a new Joint Committee, that Committee would only decide in the same way that the Com- 230 mittee has already done. They could only decide that the Preamble had been proved.
§ Mr. Henderson
No. It is a very serious responsibility to depart from a procedure which has been established for 42 years, and hon. Members ought to ask themselves why for the first time this different method of approach is being attempted. [Interruption.] I think the answer to that is simple. If Parliament had intended that such Bills might without special cause be killed on Second Reading surely they would not have put promoters and objectors to the expense of a costly inquiry in Edinburgh. The intention of Parliament was quite clear, that if the Chairmen decided that it ought to go to a Committee, the Committee would hold an inquiry in Edinburgh, and if they found the preamble proved and, if the objectors still objected, their remedy under the Act would be to get a Member to move for a Joint Committee.
§ Mr. Mathers
Is there not this difference between this Bill and any other that has been dealt with under this procedure, that in this case it is known that the Government are preparing the replanning of the whole country in a comprehensive way after the war and that the promoters of the Measure do not desire to bring it into operation until the war is over?
§ Mr. Henderson
It is always within the power of the Government to take such action as they think proper, but I do not agree that it is reasonable to expect that all Bills should be held up because the Government might possibly have some proposals to make with regard to this part of the Highlands. On the amenity question, which is the ground on which the proposer of the Amendment mainly rested his case, though he did not get much support from the hon. Member for Gorbals, I think the objections have been grossly overstated. I have seen many other schemes throughout the country, and in some cases I think the amenities have been improved. I am convinced that this work will not affect the amenities of Scotland adversely. I should always be opposed to anything which I thought would affect the beauty of Scotland unless it was required for the comfort of the people.
231 I should always put that first. I think it is an extraordinary thing that none of the critics who are so strong on amenities has ever proposed that a Bill should be brought in which would prevent factories being put up without control of any kind and that pits, mines and factories can deface the country and belch out smoke without any control at all, but that when it is a case of a hydro-electric scheme with a power station, which is quite unobjectionable, there should be this amount of objection. I am convinced that this scheme will not do harm to the beauty of Scotland and will certainly not keep tourists away.
§ Captain McEwen (Berwick and Haddington)
Does my hon. Friend seriously maintain that the scheme will improve amenities, which is what I understood him to say?
§ Mr. Henderson
It is a matter of opinion, but I honestly believe that some other schemes have had that effect. I ask the House to remember that amenities are under the supervision of the Amenities Committee presided over by Sir John Stirling-Maxwell, that there is no power which can regulate or control the erection of factories, and that this scheme will do much less damage—I put it no higher than that—to the Highlands than any other form of development.
The objections that are stated to this Bill are extremely interesting, and I would ask the House to concentrate on the terms of the Amendment. The grounds there set out are very poor grounds on which to ask the House to reject the Bill. I am glad that the Amendment asks us to give the greatest weight to the decision of the Commission, and I should have thought that we would give the greatest weight to that decision by passing the Bill at once. To say that the scheme is contentious seems a very poor argument. Who is making the Bill contentious? That is the thinnest argument I have ever heard for rejecting a Bill. The Amendment then says that the scheme "disturbs national unity." I suppose this means that Hitler will win because there is a dispute about this scheme. There was never greater nonsense than to say that it will disturb national unity. To say that the schememay not be suitable or beneficial in the unpredictable conditions prevailing after the war232 is Micawber at his very best. We have apparently to sit still and wait for something to turn up, and the House is being asked to say that we should adopt the motto, "Never to-day, but always to-morrow." It is a standstill attitude, and the House of Commons is being asked to glorify the policy of "Wait and see." I do not think that that argument will carry much weight with the House.
Owing to interruptions, I have not covered all the ground I intended, but I do ask the House to realise that this is a project which is required for the Highlands. Development in the Highlands is only possible if there is a plentiful supply of electric power. After the war we know that there will be a great many new schemes for the new world, and it is important that the Highlands should be in a position to take advantage of every opportunity. Too long have the Highlands been kept back by reactionary views. After the war the company must be in a position to give the power which will be necessary if any new industries are to be attracted to the North of Scotland, and if the people of Scotland are to attain a standard comparable to that possessed by those in the South, industry must be attracted, and for their success they must have power. This company is alone in the position to give that power. Slowly and painfully Scotland is struggling to rise out of the rather primitive conditions from which it has suffered for too long. It would be an injustice to the people of Northern Scotland, who need the power, light and warmth of electricity, if the House refuses to give these facilities. Justice and progress alike demand that this Bill should be given a Second Reading.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)
The issue before the House to-day has excited vehement, I might almost say violent, controversy in Scotland. Not since the English Prayer Book issue have I witnessed such division of opinion in various parties in the House, It is true that the interest is not very widespread, but it has certainly excited intense controversy between those, on the one hand, who think that preparations should be made in the national interest to harness the water power of the Highlands of Scotland, and those, on the other hand, who for a variety of reasons, some of them contradictory, but generally upon grounds of amenity and Highland 233 development, oppose this proposal. I disagree entirely with those who hold that everyone who takes an opposite view in this matter is entirely black. As in so many other issues in life, there are halftones, and the truth is many sided.
I will endeavour as briefly and impartially as I can to describe the background of this Bill. Under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1936, which is a consolidation of similar Statutes going back to 1899, Parliament has provided machinery for the promotion of legislation either by public authorities or by private persons or groups of private persons. A local authority or private person or company may petition the Secretary of State for a Provisional Order. After some formalities have been observed, the Lord Chairman of Committees in another place and the Chairman of Ways and Means in this House decide whether the draft Order relates to matters outside Scotland to such an extent or raises questions of public policy of such novelty and importance that the matter should not proceed by Provisional Order but by Private Bill in this House. The decision is the decision of the two Chairmen. In this instance they were of opinion on the information then available to them that the draft Order did not fulfil either of the qualifications I have mentioned sufficiently strongly to warrant a Private Bill. The draft Order then went automatically to the Commission sitting in Edinburgh, composed of two Members of this House and two Members of the House of Lords selected from the Parliamentary panels, for the purpose of hearing evidence. It is not for me to make any comment whatever upon the decision of the Chairmen, but on the face of it the Order was only one for the harnessing of hydro-electric power, by means similar to those already authorised by the existing Grampian Acts, to supply an area in which the petitioners were already the authorised undertakers. In other words, it looked on the face of it like a simple implementation of authority to produce supplies for an area where the petitioners, the Grampian Electricity Supply Co., were already under a statutory obligation to provide electricity.
Before the hearing I was advised by the late Lord Advocate, now the Lord Justice Clerk, that questions of considerable gravity and importance to the 234 national security might be raised at the inquiry, that, indeed, it would be impossible to avoid having these questions raised, questions, that is, as to the location of proposed and existing generating stations, transmission lines, and so on. I therefore issued a certificate under Defence Regulation 6B providing for the holding of the inquiry in camera. No other course was open to me in the circumstances. Indeed, it was conceded by leading counsel for the opponents of the Order during the hearing—though, of course, I cannot quote the proceedings because they were in camera—that no other course was open to the Secretary of State than to order the inquiry to be held in camera; and so far as I know leading counsel for the promoters, Mr. Craik Henderson, K.C., who, if I may say so, conducted his case with great skill and attention to detail—because I read every word of the proceedings—also apparently accepted the position.
Perhaps I ought to exonerate the Chairman of the Commission, the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Zetland (Major Neven-Spence) from any responsibility whatever for the decision to hold the inquiry in camera. In reply to a supplementary Question in this House on 6th May I did give a contrary impression. I was not sure at that moment whether the power to hold the inquiry in secret was a permissive one given to the chairman, but any erroneous impression which may have been conveyed by that answer was expressly corrected on the 13th May when, in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean), I said that the responsibility for the holding of the inquiry in private was mine, and mine alone.
When the inquiry had been held and the Commissioners had reported to me that they had found in favour of the petition, subject to the accepted modification, or, rather, subject to certain conditions of priority of supply of electricity to the area covered by the Company's Highland Area —that includes a large part of Inverness County and priority is also given to certain adjacent areas as well—I had no option under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1936, but to submit "as soon as conveniently may be" a confirmatory Bill to this House, and that is why my name is on the back of this Bill.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am not going to traverse the evidence laid before the Commissioners, nor the arguments of learned counsel who appeared for the petitioners and the objectors.. So far as I can see the arguments for and against were minutely and competently and impartially examined. Someone said to-day that these inquiries before Commissioners sitting in Scotland are the nearest point we have yet got to delegation and devolution. Since 1900 there have been 223 Bills in this House to confirm Orders passed by Commissioners sitting in Scotland. In no case has Parliament rejected a confirmation Bill, and I can trace only six cases in which the issue has gone to a Division. The Divisions have taken various forms. In one case a Motion to amend was rejected on a Division. There was one Motion to send the Bill to a Joint Committee, and that was carried on a Division. There were two Motions to send to Joint Committees, which were rejected upon a Division. There was one Motion to adjourn the discussion, and that was carried. There was one Motion to reject outright which went to a Division, and as a matter of historical interest that Motion to reject was moved by myself as a Private Member. It was rejected. Thirteen other cases were debated but no Division was taken. That, I hope, is an impartial statement of the setting in which the discussion takes place to-day.
The objectors say that the Order, if it is approved, will destroy the amenities of two beautiful glens in the Highlands of Scotland, and also that it will mean the abstraction from the Highlands of great power assets for the benefit of other parts of the country. To some extent those two arguments are contradictory. An amenity is an amenity whether it is destroyed for the benefit of the Highlands or of the Lowlands of Scotland. There is a second objection which is customarily heard in connection with these Orders and it is one which has been heard to-day. It is that we should not, especially in wartime, when other considerations should be filling our minds, hand over great natural water-power resources to a private corporation. It is true that the Bill gives the State an option at the end of 75 years, that is to say in the year 2015, to purchase, but for three-quarters of a century these natural resources would, by the 236 terms of the Bill, be handed over to a private corporation.
I have had deputations which have got themselves worked up to a frenzied excitement about the Grampian Company clearing away hundreds of crofters from the soil of the glens, but when I ventured to assure them that there was not a solitary crofter and not a sheep in Glen Affric, and only a working population of five deer-stalkers and two gardeners, the deputations silently packed up their papers and went away. They obviously had great difficulty in believing me. It is true that on the north side of Glen Can-nich there is sheep-grazing, but there are only eight dwellinghouses and 15 permanent inhabitants.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am not going to discuss the findings of the Commissioners. They performed their task with scrupulous impartiality—as we should expect any Committee of this House to do. They had before them considerations of amenity. We know the precautions which Parliament has taken to limit the destruction of beauty by hydro-electric works. Committees are set up to safeguard the public interest in amenities and the Commission have actually strengthened the precautions in that respect by Clause 18 of the Bill. The Commissioners also heard the case stated for and against the argument that Highlands electricity should be reserved for Highlands development and that the Highlands should not become a great power-house for the South. To some extent that point has been met by Clause 21, in which priority is given to consumers of electricity in the Highlands area of supply. As to the validity of the argument that the natural resources of one area should be exclusively reserved for the development of that area, I think it is difficult to sustain. No man can live to himself alone, and no area in this country can claim with justification that its natural assets should be used or reserved behind a sort of Chinese wall.
There is a wider question of principle to be considered. There is no material or labour available to construct these works during this war. The Ministry of Works and Buildings and the Ministry of Labour have no doubt upon that. I do not think that admits of any dispute whatever. The question before us is: 237 Ought we to proceed with a Measure which cannot, in the near or in any visible future, be operated but which, if passed, would, to some extent, confer most valuable natural resources and assets upon a private corporation and would tie the hands of the Government of the day when the whole question of regionalisation and ownership of hydro-electricity comes to be considered? If we confer these powers now, we mortgage the future. We mortgage the water forces of two glens and do so for nothing. We are doing it in advance of any possible operational necessity.
One argument was adduced at the inquiry in favour of granting these powers now. It was that we cannot afford to be unready with a plan to set labour in operation when demobilisation of the Armed Forces takes place. We may require to guard ourselves against a desperate scramble for labour and materials for works of all kinds, during such a period of time as will enable Parliament to decide upon its policy of hydro-electricity. There is no necessity to assume that Parliament will delay decision upon the future of hydro-electricity until after the war. Nor is there any reason to assume that Parliament will delay until after the war its decision upon the future planning of other natural resources such as water supplies, as well as upon the location of industry.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
Does the Minister give us to understand that there are schemes being considered on those matters?
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
The statement made by the right hon. Gentleman and the indication which he has given may have the most immense influence upon our decision to-day. If I understood that such a scheme would be presented, I should probably take a different line from that which I propose to take in the Division Lobby to-day.
§ Mr. Johnston
I do not want to be pushed too far, or to say that a scheme will be presented. I do suggest, however, that it is unsafe to assume that Parliament will delay its decision until the post-war period, I can go further and say that so far as the Government's in- 238 tentions are concerned, they are taking every step within their power to make the necessary inquiries with a view to laying plans before the House, but I cannot say when these will be produced. The Government have already set on foot arrangements for considering post-war planning. But Parliament must decide; there will be a free vote to-day, and no party considerations need affect our decision. It is no reflection whatever upon the judgment of the Commissioners, or the inquiries they undertook, to say that there is a wider issue of principle which Parliament alone can decide. What the House must decide to-day is whether or not it desires to see specific statutory powers and franchises in connection with Highland water power to be operated by a private corporation in post-war years, until the year 2015, or whether Parliament will reserve its decision as to the future utilisation of the power assets of these Highland glens until such time as we can make a better estimate of postwar conditions, or until such time as the Government are in a position to bring forward their own proposals for the coordination of the hydro-electric resources of this country. That, in my judgment, is the issue to-day. While I should have preferred the Amendment on the Order Paper to have stated more explicitly the desirability that this House should endorse the general findings of its Commissioners on matters within the scope of their inquiries, I would advise the House to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker (Derby)
I will begin by saying how much I appreciate the speech made by the Secretary of State for Scotland, and by stating certain general principles with which I do not expect all hon. Members of the House will agree. I cannot believe, and I think the Secretary of State is of the same mind, if the nation now needs large stations for the production of electric power, that these stations should be handed over to private companies to be exploited for the profit of a few individuals. Such a plan is, in my belief, an historical absurdity in the days in which we live. We are so far advanced towards the creation of a real national system for electric power, worked by a public authority for the common benefit of the nation as a whole, that any new stations which may be required ought, in my profound conviction, to be constructed as an integral part of that 239 system, by public authority and under full public control.
There is a second consideration of general principle which would make me oppose this Bill, and I say this while being in full agreement with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) about the substitution of water power for coal power wherever that may be possible. Anyone who has seen it will agree that the hydroelectric power of Norway has not defaced the natural beauty of that country, while it has certainly brought the greatest advantages to all classes of its population. I feel, however, that in the present stage of electrical engineering it is very doubtful whether it is wise to construct large-scale stations for the production of hydro-electric power in this country. I think no one can show—it certainly has not been shown in this Debate to-day— that the costs of hydro-electric production in this country are lower than the costs of steam-power production at the pithead, and I say this after discussing it with experts on both sides. I believe that on the whole the balance of technical advantage now lies, and I think in this country will continue to lie, with the steam plant. But if that is true, surely it is little less than a social crime, in view of the derelict condition of many of our coalfields before the war began, to start to build hydro-electric plants in remote country districts while our industrial areas which have the necessary population, housing and public services urgently require new peace-time industries of every kind.
I believe that these two considerations of general principle ought to be decisive in every case where a Bill of this kind is brought before the House, and certainly I have heard nothing in to-day's Debate which suggests that in the present case they should be set aside. The advocates of the Bill have not proved the urgency of its passage during the war. The only arguments suggested in support of that view have been utterly demolished by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals in his very powerful speech and by the Secretary of State himself. The evidence, if I may so without offence, has left on my mind at least the impression that if this Bill were passed, Parliament would have done something as a result of a secret inquiry which it would never have 240 done if the question had been examined in peace-time and in the light of day. In fact, if the Bill were passed, the exigencies of our war-time conditions would have led us into the unwitting commission of a gravely anti-social act, which we ought to avoid.
If the Bill's advocates have not proved their case for urgency, still less have they proved their case about the economic merits of the Bill. Ex hypotkesi, they cannot say that their plan will help the war effort. My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals said that it has only served to divert the minds of many people for many days from the fullest prosecution of that effort. The promoters have not shown that it will make any appreciable contribution to the problem of post-war unemployment. I do not believe they can, because for the most part this scheme would compete for labour for which there will be a keen demand for many years when the war is over. That argument, however, it may be regarded, is one of very small importance. I believe this plan—and this is really the crux of the matter—will do nothing to solve the long-term problem of poverty and unemployment in the Highlands. I say this is the crux of the matter, because in this Debate, as in all the Debates we have had in modern times, hon. Members have always shown that they would be ready to do anything, or almost anything, that would really solve the problem of poverty and unemployment in the sorely-tried Highlands. If this Bill were to pass today, I think it would be because there was in the minds of hon. Members an idea which I believe to be quite fallacious —that the production of power would lead to industrialisation and that industrialisation would lead to prosperity, to a rise in the standard of living which could not be obtained in any other way. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Leeds (Mr. Craik Henderson) went pretty far towards saying that in the able speech he made. I believe that to be fallacious on geographical and economic grounds.
I do not believe, broadly speaking, that a remote mountain region can be made prosperous by industrialisation unless there are rich mineral resources in the hills. Think of it in terms of the Lake District. Would anybody try to make the Lake District prosperous by making a dam across the Honister Pass and indus- 241 trialising Ennerdale, the Buttermere Valley and Borrowdale? The Lake District, by and large, has been far more prosperous over the last 20 years than most parts of the country, far more prosperous, let hon. Members note, than the industrial areas on its borders. Why? The farmers were just as hard hit as other farmers, more so than most others because of their dependence on the price of wool. They were saved by their holiday industry, by the stream of visitors who came to the Lake District in increasing numbers, which, in spite of the slump, in spite of the war, goes on increasing all the time. I believe that in the Lake District the hope of constantly increasing prosperity depends on that holiday business. That hope would be gravely imperilled if it were not completely destroyed by any attempt to industrialise the Lake District, to make power stations in its valleys, and other policies of that kind.
If that is true of the Lake District, I think it is much more true of the Highlands. Many experts have studied the problem of restoring prosperity to that sorely tried region. Of course, there is not unanimity among them, but I believe there is a large measure of agreement that prosperity in the Highlands must in great measure depend upon forestry, farming and allied activities of that kind. That must be the backbone of the economic well-being of that region. Of course, we want to raise the prosperity of the region. We should, by Government and other agency, introduce better methods of farming, promote agricultural co-operation, give better wages to the workers of the country as a whole in order that there may be a better and more stable market for the products of agriculturists in this country, carry through bolder and larger schemes of forestry, with more hard wood and less conifer, and perhaps later, bring in light industries using local products, wood-working, woollen products, etc., worked, maybe, by small scale hydroelectric enterprises run on a local basis.
When you have said all that, I believe it remains true that the main hope for the Highlands lies in the holiday industry of which I have spoken. Very few people realise what a great thing the holiday industry may be in the life of a nation. I do not mean Switzerland only. There are figures relating to Canada which are very striking. We think of the basis of the prosperity of Canada as having been 242 built for a generation on wheat. Total exports of wheat in a year a few years ago amounted to 177,000,000 dollars. The balance of revenue to Canada through the tourist traffic against 177,000,000 dollars of wheat exports was 174,000,000 dollars, practically the same. I believe that what is true of Canada ought to be true of Scotland. The flow of visitors, in fact, to the Highlands has been increasing. The Highlands Development League has circulated figures about motor traffic in recent years. Motor tourist traffic has increased over eight years by something like 50 per cent., and that traffic is only part of the whole. Cyclists, hikers, and members of the Youth Hostel Movement have all been going in greatly increased numbers.
A year or two ago I spent a month in the house of a crofter in the Highlands. The landlord had made him a loan of money without interest to build extra rooms, to put in extra water supply, modern plumbing and other amenities in order that he might take in lodgers during the summer months. I used paraffin in the evening, and I did not mind it any more than he did. He had the benefit of these amenities throughout the year. He told me that he was at least £50 a year richer as a result. Is hydro-electric power going to do the same for him? We shall be very short-sighted if we do not calculate that there will be a far greater development of this holiday industry after the war than before. We have only just begun to give our people in this country holidays with pay. There were at least 12,000,000 workers who had not got it when war began. They are going to get it. The period of holiday for those who have it will be increased, travelling facilities will be cheaper and increased wages will be paid. That is the future of the Highlands, which we shall safeguard, not by power stations, not by industries—I say this in answer to the hon. Member for North-East Leeds—but by making the Grampians one of a series of national parks. We have the deepest sympathy with the people of the Highlands. We believe that by our plan their real prosperity may be assured. As the hon. Member who opened this Debate said, it is not merely a matter for the people of the Highlands. This is a matter for the whole British nation. No one cares for the beauty of the countryside more than the workers of our towns who 243 have been largely starved of it in the past. This is not a question of minor or transcient aims. The Highlands are the spiritual heritage of the whole nation which it is the duty of Parliament to preserve.
Mr. Robertson (Streatham)
I regret the remarks made by the Secretary of State for Scotland in the vague and nebulous reference he made to some scheme which might be introduced by the Government at some future date. I must confess that I find his appeal to this House to reject this Bill altogether an amazing one. In making the statement that this was a free vote, for whom was he speaking—the Government or himself? Like the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), I come from Highland people, but unlike his Highland constituents, who were not prepared to stand up for their native country, I am, and I have given a good deal of time and thought to this scheme. Without attempting to follow the hon. Member for North-East Leeds (Mr. Craik Henderson) and others who put the legal and procedure side of this matter so clearly, it seems to me a striking position that a Commission should sit for ten days studying the evidence in Edinburgh, for and against, with the assistance of able counsel, and that we should be asked, within a limited time of two and a half or three hours' debate, to upset the whole of the decision of that Commission. It also strikes me as an amazing thing that of those objectors who have been so active in circularising Members of Parliament with ex-parte statements which could not stand cross-examination not one exercised their rights under the Act to appeal. I have no doubt that the reason they do not appeal is that they know that they would again be beaten. A minor point arising out of that, which someone touched upon to-day, is that this Scottish private legislation procedure is the only little bit of Home Rule which Scotland has. If there is an adverse vote to-day, you will be putting in jeopardy this valuable bit of Scottish Home Rule, for which the Scottish Members of another day fought so hard.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
How can the hon. Member maintain that it is a measure of Home Rule when two Members of this 244 House can decide for the whole of Scotland and for the whole of Parliament?
This House of Commons, in its wisdom, has given the Commissioners the right to examine evidence, which this House obviously has not the time to do. I have looked into the history of electrical development in this country over the last 50 years, and I find that local authorities, in the exercise of their duties, have eagerly supplied cities and towns, but that there has been a strange reluctance to supply rural areas. So far as Scotland is concerned, it was not until 1922 that anyone made the slightest effort to provide electric light and power. The Grampian Company was then formed by his Grace the Duke of Atholl and others, who were most anxious to do something for their native land; and after five years' struggle to procure the necessary finance, during which they had not been able to lay a stone or a brick to build a power house, they sold the undertaking to Scottish Power. In my belief, Scottish Power was the only concern capable of rescuing this concern from the morass into which it had got, and of making a success of it.
I would like to remind hon. Members who look upon Scottish Power as a great and successful dividend-paying concern that in its early years it went through a difficult stage. For 10 years it never paid a dividend. It struggled along, going from financier to financier and from bank to bank endeavouring to get the necessary financial support for the sale of electricity to rural areas. It was not until 1919 that it paid a dividend. When it acquired control of the Grampian Company it set about building the necessary hydro-electric works, and the Rannoch Power Station was founded with a view to generating power for sale to Scottish Power consumers in Fife and central Scotland. It would be quite impossible for anybody else but Scottish Power, other than a Government willing to subsidise the sale of electric power to the Highlands at the expense of other districts, to take on that job. The fact that Scottish Power has made a success of it and has not only fulfilled the early hopes but has got to a stage when more power is needed and when it has to come to this House for permission to manufacture that power in order to supply the people that Parliament has authorised it to supply is a fine performance. It is proposed to erect three 245 buildings, which will be seen on that big, beautiful but desolate landscape. One is the power station on the road to the River Affric, the others are the two dams, one at the end of Loch Mullardoch and the other across the River Affric near its source in Loch Benavian. I visited that neighbourhood twice, before and after the Recess, and I have taken some moving pictures of it, which many hon. Members have seen, showing not only the parts which it is proposed to develop but the works which the same company have done among a similar chain of lochs in Perthshire. I submit that the amenities argument is destroyed by these pictures.
§ Mr. Keeling
When my hon. Friend speaks of this "desolate" country, does he mean that it will look desolate after the Grampian Company have carried out their scheme, or that it looks desolate in his film? I thought that his film showed a most beautiful country.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
Has the hon. Member also taken pictures of the country between Spean Bridge and central Scotland at midsummer?
The answer to the first question is that the camera does not lie, and the answer to the second is that so far I have not taken pictures of that district, but that I may do so at an early opportunity, and then I will show them to the hon. Member. The pictures show crofter's house after crofter's house, lying in a state of decay. Yet those valleys recruited 800 men for Fraser's Highlanders who took Quebec and Canada. As a member of a Highland family, I can assure hon. Members that they do not all want to go away. I am sure that I am speaking not only for those now threatened with departure from their homes but for generations of exiles. It is a cruel fate that people born in such a beautiful place should have to go away, and particularly cruel in the case of Highland folk, who have great imaginative capacity, and who never lose the sight of the glens among which they were born. Even when looking at a brick wall in Partick or Philadelphia, they never lose those pictures engraven on their youthful minds. I have lived among exiles. I am the son of an exile, and I know something of their sadness, even those who are successful.
§ Mr. Woodburn
If we flood that valley, are we not going to prevent the 800 families coming back there?
I hope that my hon. Friend will have a little more patience. I am going to develop an argument which I believe will convince him that there is great hope for the Highlands. We have only one port of importance in the West of Scotland—Glasgow. We are paying for that to-day. Oban is an occasional drifter port. Iceland is coming into its own after this war, and will be anxious to trade with us. Naturally, Iceland will desire to use the nearest port to Iceland in this country, and Loch Ewe at once comes to mind. It could accommodate the fleet, and if suitable power and light are available, a port could speedily be created giving facilities to British and Icelandic fishing and other vessels.
One of the great merits of this Bill as I see it is that electrification of the Highland railway will immediately follow. It is bound to happen. If there is one thing which has retarded the railway development of the Highlands, it is this single-line traffic. I have seen trains come in at either end of the single line, wasting train hours, man hours and coal until they could be passed through. Coal is not procurable in the Highlands, but water power is, and I conceive that the railway will be electrified. Look at the shipping traffic round the North coast of Scotland. In peace-time it is a procession going to Russia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Baltic countries and Germany, yet there is not a single port of call in the North of Scotland at which they can stop to pick up goods and cargoes. Loch Erribol is a magnificent natural harbour and if Scotland is a small country which needs little electrification to develop its railway system, connected with the existing line at Kinbrace or Lairg, goods can be carried to any part of Great Britain. One of the failures in the Highlands has been that for years we have been focusing our attention on the basic industries—farming and fishing. Farming has been a chancy business for many years, even on the fertile lands of the South. Much money has been lost since the last war and if the expert farmers in Southern Scotland and England cannot make a livelihood, what of the Highland crofter who has poor land and poor crops? What a great help it would be to him if we could bring in- 247 dustry into the Highlands. Industry is bound to follow power and electricity and will provide employment.
Not every boy and every girl wants to be a farmer. Look at the history of Australia and Canada, where the sons of farming parents who immigrated wanted to be engineers and their daughters wanted to be shorthand typists. They were able to follow these occupations. I think it is a sad commentary on our economic neglect that something like that has not been done in Scotland. For instance, refrigeration in recent years has made enormous strides. Portable freezing apparatus on a five-ton truck requires only water supply and a power plug when it goes to a farm so that the farmer can chill or freeze his surplus produce and save himself from the results of the gluts that are inevitable, and which heavily hit the small man. It enables surplus food to be kept over from day to day and from market to market. It enables the market to be adequately supplied and the food to be kept off the market until the time is more favourable. It opens a great vista in trading in package goods—canned or frozen rabbits, poultry and fish—which are all ready for the table. It is a really attractive possibility. If Members do not think so, let me remind them that in the recent Ministry of Food Control of Fish Order frozen fish of all kinds is charged at the same price as fresh fish. Why? There can be only one reason, and that is that frozen fish is as good as fresh fish. If the price of frozen fish was made cheaper, you would have substitution.
Frozen fish is so good that the Ministry of Food are importing to-day thousands of tons of cod fillet from Newfoundland at 6½d. per lb., delivered to a West Coast port, which is being sold in retail shops by the Ministry at their controlled price of 1s. 7½d. a lb. I am not putting forward this argument to show that the Ministry of Food is profiteering; I am giving it so that you will appreciate the argument I am developing in favour of modern refrigeration in the Highlands as a real thing which is capable of immediate application.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
With regard to this refrigeration, does the hon. Gentleman mean the use of the water power or of the electricity which it develops?
I was referring to the electricity which would follow the passing of this Bill. There would be supply available for everyone in this area. Farmers who desire to take up this method of refrigeration would have power which is not now there. Power in the Highlands is mainly provided at the moment by small private, expensive and not very reliable plant in hotels and big houses. In the bulk of the area there is no power at all.
§ Mr. Davidson
I know the hon. Gentleman has great experience of this matter and is a great enthusiast for refrigeration. Has he had any experience of other parts of the country where local power has been developed on a small scale for the success or otherwise of refrigeration in the local area?
Small power would not be sufficiently stable for refrigeration, which needs absolutely reliable power. Produce can be sustained in a state of goodness so long as the cold temperature is maintained. I would like to refer to another industry—lobster fishing—which is carried on in the West and North Coasts of Scotland, mainly by crofter fishermen who have sometimes unhappy experience in summer when they find it difficult to get lobsters alive to distant markets. What would help most of all to enable these fishermen to do this would be to build ponds, to bring the sea to the shore, and to do that would require pumping apparatus similar to that used in the Zoo for filtration and aeration, which, of course, requires power. I have had considerable experience of marketing lobsters from the Highlands, and I have frequently seen them come in by the hundreds of boxes at a time in a poor condition for the supply market. If the market could be adequately supplied at a price to enable fishermen to continue on a profitable basis, all would be well, and that could be done by means of these ponds. My late firm have kept 2,500 lobsters alive for 18 months by this means. The failure of the little man in regard to lobster corralling is that he cannot bring the sea to the land without the aid of electric power.
There is no end to the industries which can be developed in the Highlands. I read with shame the other day the fact that our Fleet recently took from Spitz-bergen 1,000 Norwegians at a time when we in Scotland cannot maintain a popula- 249 tion in one of the most beautiful and mild climates. The Highlands occupy one-half of the area of Scotland, yet we have only one-twentieth of our people living there. It is a fact that in Western Highland places we can raise early potatoes and strawberries. What is needed is electric power and other amenities and refrigeration. There is a great opportunity for men and women of creative ability to go to the Highlands and develop the lighter and important industries that would bring in the necessary employment to make the basic industries of farming and fishing pay. There is much that the House can do. It can help the inshore fishing industry by putting inshore grounds out of bounds to trawlers. I think that if the House adheres to measures of that sort of most desirable legislation and leaves the trade and industry to the private enterprise of individuals and companies, we need not worry much about the future of the Highlands.
One of the things that brought me from business to politics was unemployment. Like other hon. Members, I felt most unhappy that year after year the British nation should have those sad figures of millions of unemployed people. I came to the House with the hope that I should be able to lend a hand to improve that situation. Sometimes I look to the end of the war with acute apprehension and wonder what will happen to all the men and women who will be demobilised and come on to the labour market. All I heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland is that at some time the Government, or somebody, will talk about doing something. Ever since I was a boy I have listened to people talking about doing things for the Highlands. I have the greatest admiration for the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour), who is not a good talker, but is a very good doer. He did something in Scotland which is unique. He brought power to the major part of the rural areas of Scotland. He wants to bring more power now to the Grampians. All that the company asks to do at the moment is what the Government are trying to do. There is a Ministry of Reconstruction. It is right for the Government to plan for the future, it is right for the P. & O. Company to build new ships in place of 250 those that have been destroyed; but it is not right for this public utility company, which Parliament has created and which it controls and continues to control through the Central Electricity Board, to plan and prepare for the future demand— for the demand which there is already— for electricity. The Secretary of State for Scotland said that at some time something may be talked about, but we do not know whether he is talking for himself or for the Government. In spite of the appeal made by the Secretary of State, I beg the House to rally round and support the Bill. If it does so, it will be striking a blow for Scotland and a blow against unemployment.
§ Colonel Sir George Courthope (Rye)
I wish to say a few words which the Forestry Commissioners think ought to be said before this Debate concludes, but before doing so I want to refer to one of the arguments used by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson), because I think it is possible that, in his enthusiasm, he may have misled some hon. Members who may not be familiar with the subject. He spoke with great enthusiasm of the possibilities of the electrification of Highland railways. The electrification of railways has probably been carried further during recent years by the Southern Railway than by any other railway in the world. I happen to be the chairman of the Finance Committee of the Southern Railway. I can assure my hon. Friend, although I hate to throw cold water on enthusiasm, that even with electricity available at three-eighths of a penny a unit, the electrification of existing railway lines is economically possible only where there is a dense population. I am afraid it would not be sound to base any consideration of this Bill upon expectations of the economic electrification of Highland railways, because I am quite certain it would be economically impossible.
I appreciate my right hon. and gallant Friend's desire not to dampen my enthusiasm. To me the material point is that if a railway company is not prepared to undertake electrification and wants only to retain the plums in the densely-populated places, then obviously the House ought to direct that the duty of supplying transportation should be taken from the hands of the company and put into the hands of the State.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
Before my right hon. and gallant Friend continues, has he considered the position in Switzerland, which is not densely populated, but where the State has carried out electrification and thereby given a great deal of pleasure to a great number of people who travel there? Could not we make Scotland another Switzerland?
§ Sir G. Courthope
I was merely stating the facts as we have found them in this country. With coal-produced electricity at three-eights of a penny a unit, which I understand is beyond the expectations of this scheme, it is economically possible only in relatively crowded areas to electrify existing lines.
§ Mr. Levy (Elland)
Is not my right hon. and gallant Friend's argument against private enterprise altogether? He says that we will only do that which is economic at present, and directly there is something that is uneconomic, despite the fact that it may become economic in the future, we will not touch it. That is a very poor argument.
§ Sir G. Courthope
I do not want to argue whether or not the railways should be nationalised. I want only to correct a wrong impression which my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham may have created as to the economic possibilities of the electrification of railways.
The Forestry Commission have not been consulted as to the merits or demerits of this scheme, and for that reason we do not wish to express any opinion on its economic aspect, but we are under a statutory obligation, in conjunction with our duties to provide for the future timber supplies of the country, to provide as far as possible for amenities and public recreation in connection with our timber enterprises It is an inevitable fact that in conjunction with the areas which the Forestry Commission have acquired for the Crown for planting, we have also acquired, and been bound to acquire, even larger areas that are unplantable, such as mountain tops and lakes. In an attempt to carry out our obligation of providing amenities and recreation to the public, we started about six years ago the Argyll National Forest Park in Scotland. We equipped it with camping grounds, provided with sanitary arrangements, water supplies, cook-houses, and 252 so on, and a certain number of hostels. We should have liked to do more, but we had not a very large amount of money available. The Argyll National Forest Park has been an outstanding success. Tens of thousands of people have spent their holidays in the camping grounds and hostels. Because of its success, we decided that we would create other national parks. Shortly before the war we opened one in the Snowdon District of Wales, and another in the Forest of Dean. Under special Acts we also have the New Forest.
Shortly before the war the Forestry Commission visited the particular area affected by this Bill, and I am authorised to state that we decided that this area was suitable for the creation of another national forest park in the Highlands of Scotland. So far the matter has not gone beyond a provisional decision. The Forestry Commission already hold considerable areas in Guisachan Forest, on the South-East side of Glen Affric, in Glen Urquhart, along the shores of Loch Ness and in Glen Moriston, and we have every reason to anticipate that we shall very largely increase these areas. As I have said, we have had in contemplation the formation of a national forest park embracing all this area. We hope to be able to equip them, as we have done for the others, with camping grounds and hostels and so on, giving the holiday-makers facilities for enjoyment.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Assuming such a scheme were adopted by the Forestry Commission, surely it would not in any way affect the production of electricity?
§ Sir G. Courthope
If my hon. Friend will wait a little he will hear what we feel about it. The season of the year when national forest parks, hostels and camping grounds are of greatest use to the public is during the late summer and early autumn—the general holiday season. At that time the great reservoirs, such as Loch Laggan and Loch Treig, are very largely drained of their water, whereas in the spring these great reservoirs are full of water and are very beautiful. I am not in the least anxious about the power stations. I am anxious that Glen Affric should not be reduced to the same condition as Loch Laggan, which, instead of being beautiful sheets of water, is stretches of unsightly, evil-smelling mud. If this national forest 253 park which we contemplate for this area is to be of any value, it must be attractive and beautiful. No one can derive the slightest pleasure or interest from Loch Laggan and Loch Cannich in August and September.
Is it not a fact that the waters of Loch Affric will never be raised to a point three feet below flood level, and, therefore, what my hon. Friend is describing could not possibly happen in the case of Loch Affric?
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
Will my right hon. and gallant Friend say when Loch Laggan was in the condition he has described, and can he tell me the year?
§ Sir G. Courthope
On several occasions, I have been in this neighbourhood for the purpose of a holiday, and I have found the whole neighbourhood of Loch Laggan disgusting. It used to be extremely beautiful, but with the great stretches of mud I found there in late August and September, I found it so unsightly and unpleasant that I have no wish to go there again. The Forestry Commissioners believe the House take a real interest in the establishment of these national parks and in increasing facilities for public enjoyment. No decision has yet been reached, but I can conceive that if this scheme were carried out, the Forestry Commission would not proceed with their scheme for this particular area. I fear that the works which are proposed to be carried out under this Bill would render the place unsuitable for public enjoyment. I know that the promoters of this scheme say it is all very well to talk about Loch Laggan, but they are not going to do the same in the case of Loch Affric. All I can say to the House is that the Forestry Commission advise them not to give the promoters a chance.
§ Sir Murdoch MacDonald (Inverness)
It so happens that the subject matter of this Debate concerns my constitutency. I feel, therefore, that I ought to address to the House the view I take in regard to the matter. An hon. Member took the view, rightly, I think, that scenery by itself is not a vital matter, and I have heard what my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Court-hope) has said in regard to that. I think I should be remiss in my duty if I did not support the electricity development of the Highlands, even if it were at the expense of some scenery being destroyed. In my 254 view it is no use anyone thinking that destruction, whether it is little, which is my view, or whether it is great, which is the view of others, ought to prevent the development of water-power schemes. So far as I am concerned, I have always been strongly in favour of the development of water power. But why is it in connection with this particular Bill that I should find myself in opposition? It is a very simple reason. A few years ago the County Council of Inverness-shire passed a resolution which indicated that they wished to control these water powers. They have since pursued the matter further, but whether the county council deals with the scheme or not I think it would be wrong that the House should pass this Bill because, after all, it is a partial Bill.
To give a simple illustration, at one time I was responsible for public works in Egypt. The late Lord Kitchener had decided that there should be a great scheme of drainage in the lower part of the country, and he appointed a Commission to decide what might be done. The Commission reported, and plans were being prepared for a great development. Lord Edward Cecil, son of the famous Marquess of Salisbury, came to my office and said, "You will be coming to me for money for these schemes. I want to know from you that you will not leave undrained certain areas which it would be difficult or uneconomic to drain. You must take the good with the bad. You must do the whole country together in one operation." I see that in this development in the Highlands we are asked to give a private company the right to develop economic or profitable schemes, and the result will be that the less economic or doubtfully economic schemes will be left undone. The Secretary of State has said quite definitely that they are considering the whole problem of water power. Undoubtedly if a Government Department deals with the matter it will not select specially favourable schemes and leave the others undone. They will be all dealt with together, so that a general, complete result will be attained. In these circumstances I shall certainly support the delay in dealing with these water powers until the Committee has reported and we see what really ought to be done in each area, so that in the end not one but every scheme in the country will be utilised. I 255 have heard a lot of objections to taking power from the Highlands to the Lowlands. I have none. Certainly all the excess power, after we use what we can in the Highlands, ought to be taken to the South, but it cannot be taken in adequate quantity unless all the water power schemes are dealt with together. I therefore support the Motion to reject the Bill.
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)
I can fully understand and appreciate the keen desire of the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) for the development of the Highlands, but I am afraid he can hardly expect much from a private profiteering concern. The State will have to tackle that job, and I hope it will tackle it soon. In view of the admissions that the scheme is not to be commenced until after the war, what is the pressing need for rushing the Bill at present? If the real reason for the Measure was to assist in the development of the Highlands, and not merely profit to shareholders, surely the proper course would be to await a report from a Government-appointed planning authority? Is it not very significant that there has been very little evidence from the Highland counties in support of the Bill, but rather the reverse? The reason is largely the greedy, grasping nature of this promoting company, judging by letters in the Press from Highland residents complaining of the company's treatment of consumers and potential consumers. To quote one instance only, there is a letter from the Provost of Kingussie, speaking on behalf of the citizens, who writes:The facts concerning the supplies for Kingussie burgh are these and I leave the public to judge whether the prices are reasonable are not Street lighting. The cost is £4 per standard for 60 watt lamps, which works out at 1s. 4d. per unit for light consumed. At the beginning of the war all street lighting ceased, but the company insisted that we paid the full charge, amounting to £206 16s. When, however, inquiry into the Glen Affric scheme was undertaken the company agreed to accept 50 per cent. of the former charge. Town hall and committee rooms. The burgh pays 8d. per unit for lighting. A contract price was asked for, but the Council found it was cheaper to pay the 8d. per unit. Town clock (four faced). A contract price was asked for, but the price was so high that the clock is still without a lighting system. Such is the position of the burgh near which the grid passes and I am afraid, so far as the town council of Kingussie is concerned, our opinion is that, where the Grampian 256 Electricity Company have a monopoly, they are most autocratic and unbending.If the Highland water-power resources are ever to be developed in the interests of the nation, it certainly ought to be a State undertaking. The State is in law the owner of all water-power resources and has the power to exploit them. There is no need, therefore, to delegate its power to a private profiteering concern.
§ Captain W. T. Shaw (Forfar)
Can the hon. Member give us an extract from the letter from the Provost of Dingwall?
§ Mr. Leslie
No, I am only quoting from one that naturally suits my case. The Provost in question is a responsible person, and he is not lying in the statement he has made as to the price they had to pay. This Bill gives the right to segregate 500 acres of land for new industrial purposes. Does this mean another Tre-forest scheme? One naturally wonders. The development of new industries in the Highlands should be the business of a properly constituted State authority responsible to the public and Parliament. If the scheme is to the advantage of the Lowlands, then there is adequate coal available to provide all the power necessary. Lowland Members of Parliament ought to remember the pitiful plight of the miners after the last war and concentrate on making the most of the coal resources of the Lowlands. In view of the controversial character of this Bill and the keen opposition shown to it by the Highland counties, the House ought not to allow a Measure of this kind to pass, conferring as it would a monopoly on a private company for 75 years and, thereafter, if the Government of the day ever desired to take it over, they would probably have to pay a ransom price.
§ Major Thornton-Kemsley (Kincardine and Aberdeen and Western)
I make no apology to the House for addressing it as a Scottish Member and urging it, with, I hope, no disrespect to the Secretary of State for Scotland, to confirm this Order. I want to deal with the principal objections which have been raised to it in to-day's Debate. First, there has been the question of amenity. A good deal has been said on both sides—and rightly—by people who feel that we ought to do everything possible to preserve the amenities of what we all agree is one of the most lovely parts of Scotland. I do not think, 257 however, that we have been quite fair to those who want to see this Order go through, because we have not stressed enough the point that the Order requires the promoters to submit plans and specifications of the work and buildings they propose to put up to the Standing Amenity Committee, and they bind themselves to adopt any reasonable recommendations which are made regarding the preservation of the amenities of that beautiful part of Scotland. The amenity argument can be overdone. Admittedly while works are in progress and for some years afterwards there is bound to be disfigurement, but all experience goes to show that in cases of this kind, where works are carefully planned with great forethought and with a desire to harmonise the buildings as much as possible with the surrounding countryside, they sink in a remarkably short time into the general picture and there is no real lasting disfigurement.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) was not quite fair, although I am sure he did not intend to be unfair, in drawing a comparison between the Loch Affric and Loch Laggan schemes. I passed Loch Laggan in one of the dryest months of this year, and I cannot subscribe to his view that the countryside looked disgusting. Even so, my understanding is that between high and low water on Loch Laggan there is a fall of 14 feet, but nothing like that is proposed in the case of Loch Affric.
In fact this conflict between the beauties of nature and what one might call the conveniences of civilisation is no new one. I daresay that our country roads in Scotland would be a great deal more beautiful if they had not telegraph poles and wires along their sides, but a life may be saved by the speed with which we are able to summon a doctor by their aid. The pylons by which light and power are brought into distant glens are more utilitarian than beautiful, and if beauty is to be the only criterion surely we would have to do without railway embankments, reservoirs, silos and sewage farms.
The second argument that has been used in the House to-day is that the time is not opportune for proposals of this kind. We are urged to see what kind of views will be held when the war is over before we decide to grant powers of this kind to a public utility corporation operating for profit. This point of view was 258 put eloquently by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), who was dismayed with the fact that a Commission sat in Edinburgh for a fortnight in time of war to think about something that could never happen until the war was over. He said that that sort: of thing could never happen in Germany. I do not think it would happen in Germany, and I am not ashamed that it happens in Britain. I am glad to see that in time of war someone can go aside and think quietly of something that is to affect the future welfare of a great number of people after the war. I am glad to think that there are people who can look ahead and plan for the difficult days that may come. What is the situation we are facing now? Owing to the war, private building and all kinds of private development are being held up. It is desirable and inevitable that it should be, but I am certain that after the war there will be considerable leeway to make up. Local authorities have not forgotten the experience after the last war, when, because of our failure to prepare plans beforehand, great hardship was caused to men who were demobilised from the Services before civil work was ready for them. We want to avoid that sort of thing this time. That is why authorities like the County Council of Aberdeen are going ahead steadily preparing plans for the lay-out of villages, for the improvement of roads, of drainage and of water supplies, so as to have them ready to set in operation immediately the war is over, and they require for that purpose a cheap supply of electricity.
All over the North-East of Scotland we require cheap electricity. I move amongst farmers, and I know that they are most anxious, as they have been for years, to get the advantages of electricity into their farm steadings. They want to light them and to have the advantages of electric power, but hitherto they have not had the money. Now, at last, they are making money, and we look forward to a time after the war when farmers will have accumulated sufficient reserves of capital to enable them to adopt these labour-saving devices. From these sources and from many others there will come a great and expanding demand for cheap power and light, and the plain fact is, as my hon. and gallant Friend the member for Orkney and Shetland (Major Nevin-Spence), who had every reason to 259 know the truth of his statement, has said, that the margin of generating power of the Grampian Electricity Supply Company's present works is too narrow for safety. Unless we confirm this Order to-day there is a grave danger, in fact there is a certainty, that the company will not be in a position to meet its post-war demands.
It is no good asking us to wait until the war is over. Parliament then will be overwhelmed with other business. The hon. and gallant Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) said that to grant these powers would be to stultify the future development of the Highlands, and the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) said they would block the re-planning of a large part of Scotland. All the way through the argument has been that we should wait for some central planning authority to tell us whether this kind of development is desirable or not, and the point I would make is that surely there can be no doubt that to have available a supply of electricity provided at reasonable rates by a public utility corporation whose charges and dividends are controlled by statute could only help, and could not possibly hinder, the operations of any planning authority. I say that we must give these powers now and not wait until the end of the war. The Secretary of State for Scotland said that the Government are taking every step to make the necessary inquiries into hydro-electric development after the war, but he could not tell us what proposals were coming before the House, and I honestly feel that it is not good enough to ask us to wait for them. Here are people ready to go ahead now, and I say we should give them the powers and let them make their plans, so that they can be put into operation immediately the time is ripe.
Lastly there is the argument which the County of Inverness has put forward, an argument to which I do not think sufficient attention has been paid to-day, because it is a most extraordinary argument. The argument is that the County of Inverness should have a prescriptive right to preferential treatment in the distribution and price of hydro-electric power generated from water resources within its administrative area. I have read everything which has been sent to me about this Order, and I believe that to be the claim they have made. The 260 Secretary of State dealt with that kind of argument and exposed its weakness. Once that argument is admitted, you lay yourselves open to all sorts of claims for preferential treatment. The Kingdom of Fife might claim preferential treatment in the distribution and price of coal from its own coalfields; the counties of Kincardineshire, Angus and Ayrshire might ask for first claim on our supplies of home-grown potatoes; or Scotland as a whole might ask for higher rations because it is an exporter of food.
§ Major Thornton-Kemsley
That sort of argument is not quite good enough in these days, for we are all part of the same country, and it should be our aim and our pride to pool our resources for the benefit of us all. I believe that the Grampian Power Company has done a great deal of good for Scotland which could not have been done by anybody else. It provides light and power at reasonable prices for an area which is astonishingly large when you consider that the company has been operating for only about 10 years. Scotland's defence and its considerable war production could hardly have been possible without the facilities afforded by the company. I could give examples, which I know well, of industries which have come out of badly bombed areas in England to small burghs in Scotland, and have established themselves there, to the great advantage of the local population as well as to the industries themselves; they might never have come there but for the Grampian Company's supply of cheap power. That is the sort of thing that we should encourage. We frequently talk about the decline of the Highlands and of the movement from the countryside to the towns. We have to be ready after the war to encourage people to set up small industries in the rural parts of Scotland, and that can be done only if we are ready with cheap light and power. We cannot be in that position unless we confirm this Order to-day.
§ Mr. Hannah (Bilston)
I associate myself with all that has been said against the Bill. It seems to me that its supporters have got a little bit wide of the mark now and then. I am still wondering how the electrification scheme in Glen 261 Affric can possibly advantage the better growing of strawberries in Glen Urquhart. When we hear Spitsbergen used for purposes of comparison it is fair to point out that Spitsbergen is a mass of coal and that, except for its coal, it would not have prosperity of any kind. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the old Highland Museum, where it was very interesting to see the kinds of things that the Highlanders made in the days gone by. We all desire the development of the Highlands on the best possible lines, and I cannot help thinking that what has been done in days gone by gives a useful lead for the best kind of development of the Hightlands in days to come. There is no doubt that timber, lumbering and the making of agricultural machinery can all be carried on in the Highlands, as they were in the days gone by.
I am sorry to say that the Scots are not a particularly artistic race. I say it with terrible regret. I have myself written a history of Scottish architecture, and I do not feel at all happy about Scots art in daily life. One thing, however, that I really was happy about in the Folk Museum was the exhibition of textiles. Scots had much more idea in days gone by of the beauty of colour than of the beauty of form, and I believe that we could go a very long way indeed in developing a textile industry— tweeds and things like that, already flourishing to a great extent in the islands —throughout the Highlands of Scotland. Then, of course, there is fishing, and a great many industries of that kind.
The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), however, put it remarkably well when he said that like Switzerland the Highlands of Scotland must depend to a very large extent, indeed, on the tourist traffic. He was specially interested in the. question of holidays with pay and of our own people going to enjoy themselves in the Scottish Highlands. That is of very great importance and we all desire to promote it in every possible way. But there is. at the same time, an extremely important hope that after the war we may be able to bring about a very great increase in the tourist traffic, especially from the United States. Close by Glen Affric there is the most mysterious lake in all the world, and the Loch Ness monster has been most patriotically reappearing during the last few days. Nobody knows what the Loch Ness 262 monster is. It may have been a contemporary of St. Columba or it may have been the ancestor of such an animal. But whether the Loch Ness monster is a prehistoric animal, or whatever he may be he is one of the great problems of the present time. We have got to fire the whole American nation with the idea of solving this problem, and then dollars will flow into the Scottish Highlands as water flows over a mill stream. That, I think, is a very great hope and a real possibility for the future of these Highland lands, but we are not going to get that kind of thing if we make Glen Affric a mass of concrete, belching smoke, girders and things of that kind. We do want to preserve the beauty of one of the loveliest glens of all Scotland, and to bring all America through it. I do not want to detain the House by saying things that have already been said, but in conclusion I will remark that if it is desired to promote engineering, if you want electricity or anything that modern engineering can supply, from pig-iron to the balance-springs of watches, then Bilston is the place, and so I ask you to throw out this Bill.
§ Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)
The hon. and gallant Member for West Aberdeen (Major Thornton-Kemsley) referred to the speech delivered by my colleague the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) in which he said that he was delighted to know that we were still able to do something in this country that the Germans would not tolerate. I agree with him as far as that is concerned, but where I do not agree with him is that the time of this House is taken up in this manner on a Scottish matter when we Scottish Members were denied by this House, because the country was at war, the right to discuss Scottish affairs of a very serious character. Let any Member of the House go down to the Vote Office now and get the report on health issued by the Scottish Office and he will see something there which is absolutely alarming. Not a statement made by a Socialist at the street corner but made on behalf of the Secretary of State for Scotland, that tuberculosis in Scotland is rising, that the infantile death-rate is alarming, that the death-rate from child birth is on the increase. And we were denied the right in this House to have time to raise these most serious affairs. 263 Why is the time of the House being used up by this? Who is this powerful combine who can organise the whole machinery of the House of Commons in order that they may have their will? They can get what we, what the whole power of, at any rate, the Labour Members of Scotland, could not. We are outraged at the idea. The Secretary of State for Scotland himself had to rise at that Box and apologise for the terrible state of affairs and how Scotland was being treated. A good deal has been said about amenities. I am all out for amenities. I am Glasgow born and bred but have always had the desire to enjoy the country life of my native land, Scotland, and I have roamed the Highlands of Scotland.
I know Glen Affric, one of the most beautiful glens in my native land. I ask Members, if they get the privilege to visit Glen Affric, to go to Kinlochleven and see what this dastardly crowd have done to a section of the Highlands of Scotland. Go and see the housing conditions. I remember when my attention was first drawn to them at Kinlochleven. I had passed there on many occasions and never had any idea of the awful housing conditions that existed under the same crowd that want us to give them this Bill.
The hon. Member is misleading the House. The Kinlochleven undertaking has no connection with the Grampian Company or of its parent company, Scottish Power.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I know this matter too well. The man responsible sits on the opposite side of the House. He is the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour). I did not want to mention his name. I ask Members to go to Kinlochleven arid see the wooden shanties two storeys high. If you go into the side streets, there are back-to-back houses, not in the great industrial centre. Look at the whole construction of the place. At places I have visited anywhere else, put down by any other crowd in any other part of the world, they have had the works made to conform to the amenities of the place. Not so here. There is no consideration given to the amenities—two great iron chimneys, two great heaps of dross, mud flung all over the place, pipes coming down the beautiful hillside, which is all denuded of plants, trees and every kind of vegetation. Not one of the authorities who 264 are most concerned, the local authorities, support this Bill. Do you mean to tell me that the individuals behind this thing are more interested in my native land than the people who are in it? It is just a lot of nonsense. If they had any human feeling at all in regard to the Highlands, there is plenty of room in Scotland. We have stood up time and time again. So has the present Secretary of State for Scotland. None knows it better than he; he has stated the case many a time. Now he has the chance to put into operation what he has advocated and written.Oh … that mine adversary had written a book.There are people with thousands of pounds to invest. Why do they not invest in something to eliminate the bracken in the Highlands of Scotland? Because it would not pay. They are interested in this scheme because it is going to pay. I have appealed here for industries to be brought to Scotland, but this scheme will not bring industries to the Highlands, except, perhaps, incidentally. These people are not interested in that; all they are concerned about is making money. The condition of the Highlands is a scandal and a disgrace, and we Socialists have hammered that fact into you for years past. Now, after we have urged that something of a drastic character should be done, George Balfour and Company exploit that sentiment in order to rob the Highlands. As far as Scotland is concerned, this Bill will be turned down.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
I think that anybody who knows Kinlochleven agrees with the grim picture which the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) has just given to this House. The last thing that one would wish to see is such conditions being repeated in other parts of Scotland. I want to deal with an argument which was put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for West Aberdeen (Major Thornton-Kemsley), which I do not think will stand the test of examination. It was. put forward with all sincerity, but it may mislead the House if it is not answered. The hon. and gallant Member said this scheme was necessary, that the House mast pass the Bill— and now—in order to provide the Grampian Electricity Company with a reserve of power. May I assure him, with some experience of the industry, both in respect of hydro-electric power and steam power, 265 that if the position that he has put is the correct one this Bill is the worst possible means of remedying it. No part of the engineering works proposed in this Bill could possibly be begun until the end of the war. Something like four years must then elapse before the first unit is delivered.
§ Major Thornton-Kemsley
On what does my hon. Friend base his statement that it will be four years before a single unit is delivered? That is a very important point.
§ Sir S. Reed
I was closely associated with great companies dealing with the provision of hydro-electric energy for many years, and I know approximately the period it takes. That period can never be accurately predicted. With steam power, on the other hand, you can make an accurate forecast of time and date.
However much knowledge my hon. Friend has about other schemes, it is obvious that he has none about this scheme. It would take two years for 100,000,000 units to be produced from the Affric scheme. That is the promise that has been given.
§ Sir S. Reed
My hon. Friend is quoting estimates. Estimates are never adhered to, and are always largely exceeded. I ask the House to reject this Bill, for three or four main reasons. The first is the amenities question. I do not ask the House to reject the Bill only on the ground of amenities. I do ask hon. Members to be clear in their minds about this aspect. Glen Affric is one of the loveliest parts of Scotland. If you put up these works, you will destroy that beauty; no provisions can safeguard it. What has been said of the melancholy aspect of the country round Loch Laggan at the time of maximum draw-off is absolutely correct. I ask hon. Members to reject this Bill because I feel that in this respect, and in others, some of the electricity companies are trying to "jump the claim"—to induce this House to sanction schemes under war conditions which it would not accept if more careful examination were possible.
Then much play has been made of the issue of predictability. Why? Who can say what the demand for power will be in the years immediately following the 266 war, or whether power will be wanted, and where it will be wanted? No one. If it is argued that that is not a factor which has to be taken into consideration, I am perfectly at a loss to understand the mentality of those who would use that argument. But we can, looking back upon our experience of the aftermath of the great war, feel confident of this, that the greatest danger of unemployment after the war will be in the engineering and the coalmining industries. Engineering capacity has so enormously expanded that it almost baffles the imagination in considering how far it can be absorbed after the war. Therefore, on the grounds of employment in the engineering industry and of the certainty of giving employment in the mining industry, I follow the suggestion which was placed before the House by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) which is that in this country, as opposed to other countries, our main source of electrical energy should be steam and coal, for which we are ideally situated.
Much has been made of the paramount necessity of getting cheap electric power in the Highlands by means of this Bill, but not one Member has told the House that this particular scheme will give cheap power. The only figure which has been put before us for our consideration is that the cost of generating electricity under this scheme will be 0.276 pence per unit. On the other hand, steam, when coal can be purchased at 20s. a ton, should produce electricity at a cost of 2d. a unit. I feel sure that if hon. Members will consider the matter from the points of view which I have put forward, they will agree that it is a matter which requires further consideration than we have been able to give it. I ask the House, therefore, to reject the Bill, which I am convinced should not have been brought forward at this time. It will not on the evidence before us secure the ends passionately desired by those who desire the development of the Highlands. If we pass the Bill, we shall barter away a heritage for something very much less than a mess of pottage.
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Dennis Herbert)
The older Members of the House will be familiar with the only kind of speech which the Chairman of Ways and Means can make in matters of Private Legislation of this sort which is 267 controversial. My duty on occasions of this kind has been, within the proper limits, to support the Private Bill Committee—or in this case, which amounts to much the same thing, the Commission—so far as concerns the matters which they have gone into and to remind the House of our old traditions that when a matter has been inquired into by something in the nature of a quasi-judicial Committee, consisting of Members of this House, possibly jointly with Members of the other House, a tribunal which has heard witnesses and counsel for the two sides, or it may be more sides, the House ought not to override the findings of that Committee without having very good reasons for doing so, and that therefore the House should not reject a Bill which has gone through the Committee Stage, or a Bill of this kind where the Order has gone through the Commission stage.
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means
I do not mind about that. As my hon. Friend knows, that is not a matter that is reported to the House. We have to take the finding of the Committee one way or another. I was going to add that, of course, what I have said is the mere tradition, and when I say mere tradition, I would add that traditions are, fortunately, stronger perhaps in this House even than Standing Orders. This means that while every Member has freedom to vote as he thinks right, he should bear these facts in mind, and he should not, without the knowledge which that special Committee has had, endeavour to put his own opinion on less and insufficient knowledge against theirs. On the other hand, it has always to be remembered that the great reason for bringing these matters before the House after the findings of such a tribunal, is that the House may be able to give its decision on overriding principles which are entirely outside the findings of the Committee.
I hope hon. Members will understand that in what I am now going to say I am taking this merely as an example, and not with a view to raising any party controversy. I have noticed in this Debate to-day the raising, on the part of some speakers at any rate—and I do not see the hon. Member to whom I am specially referring—the question of private enter- 268 prise or nationalisation. I am quoting this merely to show to hon. Members that, whatever views they may take on that, they would be entitled on this particular Bill to consider that as an issue upon which they would vote according to their opinions, regardless of the findings of the Commission whose business had nothing to do with whether they favoured private enterprise or nationalisation. In the case of this particular Bill my advisers and myself have been very anxious indeed to preserve all those traditions about which I have spoken. So far as Scottish private legislation is concerned, these Commissions are a comparatively new departure and I believe it is a form of procedure which is welcomed by Scotsmen generally and Scottish Members—at any rate Scottish Home Rulers, if any be listening. I am particularly anxious, therefore, that if possible, nothing should be done in this case to throw discredit on a Commission of this kind. The Mover and Seconder of the Amendment have in this case endeavoured to recognise that in the wording of their Amendment. I need not go into this in detail, but the wording of their Amendment is not quite satisfactory to some of us from the point of view I have been explaining.
There is, however, a possible way, a way which I am going to mention, under which my object in protecting this Commission might be attained. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has said, there have been—I have forgotten the number—a very large number of these Commissions, and there is no case on record up to the present of an affirmatory Bill having been negatived by this House. There is no reason why it should not be, if there is an overriding reason such as I have explained. That being so I should be very sorry, and I am sure the House would be very sorry, to see an affirmatory Bill of this kind negatived, with a doubt as to how far that was a reflection upon the work or findings of that committee. But I have received a short time ago from the agent for the promoters an intimation that, after hearing what was said, particularly by the Secretary of State for Scotland, they would be prepared, if the procedure would allow them to do so, not to press this matter further at the present time. There are certain difficulties in the way of procedure in view of the Amendment before the House at the present time, the exact 269 wording of which is not altogether satisfactory to those theorists, such as myself, who have to deal with these matters of procedure. If the Mover of the Amendment and his supporters will agree to withdraw the Amendment and move in its place the ordinary Amendment, "That the Bill be read a Second time upon this day three months," it will relieve me of anxiety in regard to the protection of the Scottish Commissioners if the Amendment is passed with the assent of the promoters of the Bill. I have their authority in writing to say that if the matter can be dealt with in that way—
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means
There is a certain tradition in favour of "this day three months," or sometimes "six months." The point in regard to that is simply that this Session cannot bind a future Session and that the only thing we can do is to shut it out for this Session. If the Bill is rejected in that way, with the assent of the promoters, I shall have achieved my object of saving the reputation of this Scottish procedure. I hope, therefore, my hon. Friends will, with the leave of the House, withdraw their Amendment and, if they will move, "That the Bill be read a Second time upon this day three months," I can give the assurance that the promoters will not wish to challenge that question.
§ Mr. Davidson
Should we accede to the right hon. Gentleman's very well-stated request and agree to defer this for three months, and the House then again discusses the question and comes to a decision against the Bill, would the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety be allayed or would it be further perturbed?
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means
That is one of those hypothetical questions which I have not sufficient material to answer. So far as concerns the fate of the scheme, or the future of the scheme, we cannot stop it being brought up again in a future Session. It will make no difference to the scheme and the proposals of the promoters whether they are negatived on the present Amendment or on the ordinary rejection Resolution.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
If it is brought forward again in three months, will it be in order for us to move its rejection for another three months?
§ Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew (Bute and Northern)
The procedure suggested is novel. If it is agreed to, and if the Bill was reintroduced would a Commission have to sit, or does the present Commission carry over the Prorogation of Parliament?
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means
There is nothing at all novel in those moving a reasoned Amendment on the Second Reading asking leave to withdraw it and to proposing a simple Amendment for rejection. If the Bill is rejected by the carrying of a Motion ''That it be read a Second time upon this day three months," it is then dead for this session. My hon. Friend asked a question with regard to the Order. I should not like to give too definite an opinion on that because it is a complicated question, but it certainly makes no difference to this Order which way the Bill is negatived, whether on the Amendment on the Order Paper or on the ordinary rejection Amendment. Of that I am quite certain.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Before we are asked to consider the revised Amendment, may I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he thinks that the new proposals which he hinted at to deal with electrification in the Highlands are likely to be placed before Parliament before the end of the three months?
§ Mr. Davidson
Did not my right hon. Friend make it clear that in the interests of the nation's well-being he could not go further than he did and that to ask questions with regard to what he said was to ask for secrets that might enable the enemy to do particular damage?
§ Mr. Keeling
I understand from what the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means has said that whether we reject the Bill in terms or pass an Amendment that it be read again in three months' time, the effect is identical and the Bill is dead. On that understanding, I should like to withdraw my Amendment with a view to moving that the Bill be read a Second time on this day three months.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.271
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add "upon this day three months."
§ Amendment agreed to
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for three months.