§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In September, 1941, this House discussed a Confirmation Bill empowering the Grampian Electricity Supply Company to erect hydro-electric works at Glen Affric and Glen Cannich. There was intense opposition both inside and outside Parliament, and the Bill was finally withdrawn. If I judge aright, the greater part of the opposition to that Bill arose from a general and widespread objection to the further vesting of monopoly powers over great natural resources in the hands of a private company. By its very nature, the production of power from the torrents and waterfalls, rivers and dams must be a monopoly, either a private monopoly or a public monopoly. There cannot, in fact, be competitive turbines or competitive storages for electrical power from the same water.
Since 1929 there have been six separate schemes to procure monopoly rights from Parliament for private companies. Each of these schemes was rejected, but it was clear, after the Glen Affric proposal was withdrawn, that the matter could not rest there. In the Highlands there were 18 authorised electricity undertakers; seven of them were municipal and 11 private companies. There were still vast power resources, a great commercial asset for the Highlands, estimated provisionally at 4,000,000,000 units a year or 450,000 kilowatts continuous power, not being utilised. Transport to and from the Highland area is scarce and its charges are a heavy discriminatory burden against the economic well-being of the people. Industries which might hve been located in the area had been, and were being, developed in other lands. The population was rapidly bleeding to death.
I asked the Registrar-General for Scotland to analyse the population trend in the 425 parishes comprising the area covered by the Bill, and excluding the Burghs of Inverness, Aberdeen and Perth. 181 In the 425 remaining parishes the population showed a decrease of 100,000 in the 30 years between 1901 and 1931. That was 12 per cent. of the total of the people in the area. There are counties, Caithness, Sutherland and Shetland, where one-third of the population has disappeared in the last 60 years. But the facts are far more alarming than even these figures disclose for it is the young who are emigrating from the Highlands and the old who remain. Everywhere the proportion of the people aged 70 and over is on the increase; the proportion of children under 15 is on the decrease. If the parish of Lochbroom, in Wester Ross, be taken as a sample of that population movement, there, in 60 years, the population has fallen by more than half, the number of persons of 70 years of age has increased by 15 per cent. and the number aged 15–45 has fallen by two-thirds.
There is no single sovereign remedy for that tragic state of affairs but one partial remedy lies to our hands, and our Council of ex-Secretaries—or, as I prefer to call it, our Council of State—decided unanimously to have an authoritative and speedy inquiry into how the great latent hydropower assets of the Highlands could be marketed and used for the benefit of the Highlands. We got a committee of inquiry appointed and the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Cooper, to preside over it. Its members were Lord Weir, Chairman of the Committee on the Supply of Electrical Energy in 1926, Mr. Neil Beaton, the Chairman of the Scottish Cooperative Wholesale Society and himself the son of a Sutherland shepherd, Mr. Cameron, of the Land Court, and Mr. Williamson, the engineer who was in charge of the Galloway water-power scheme; and I would here tender publicly to these gentlemen the Government's warmest thanks for the energy and the conspicuous ability with which they discharged their task. Apart altogether from the merits of its conclusions and its arguments, the Report of the Cooper Committee is, by common consent, a masterly production and a model of terse, constructive and courageous draftsmanship. It is indeed what we might expect from a Committee presided over by Lord Cooper. The Committee's Report was published on 15th December, 1942, and I was at once authorised by the Government to 182 announce that its major conclusions were accepted and that legislation would forthwith be introduced in Parliament to give effect to them.
The Bill now before the House is the fulfilment of that promise. The fundamental principles of the Bill are: (1) that the further development of the water-power resources in the North of Scotland, that is, in the 14 counties and parts of other four counties defined in the Second Schedule to the Bill, shall be carried out by a non-profit-earning Public Services Board; (2) that, outside the area of existing authorised undertakers who have already been granted powers by Parliament, the new Board shall be the distributor of electricity; (3) that the new Board will give priority of supply to ordinary consumers outwith the areas of existing undertakers, and also to existing undertakers on demand, for example, Aberdeen Corporation and the Grampian Company, for distribution to consumers inside their areas; (4) that the new Board shall have the right to acquire existing undertakings in the North Highland area, private company or local authority, by voluntary agreement; unless in any case where there is such acquisition by voluntary agreement the present powers of these undertakings are unaffected; (5) that the powers of the Central Electricity Board in so far as they apply to the North of Scotland area will be transferred to the new Board.
The existing undertakers are not to be allowed to make a profit on the supplies they receive from the Board. The benefit of these cheap supplies must be passed on to their customers. This is the principle adopted by the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario. I do not suggest that the priorities to ordinary consumers and authorised undertakers mean that all the hitherto unsupplied domestic consumers in the North Scotland area will either immediately or in the near future have facilities for receiving electricity. It is obvious that there are remote crofts, and what the Russian communiqués call "occupied places," to which the costs of laying transmission lines will be extremely heavy and indeed, in some cases, economically impossible.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am not even certain about that. But the proportion of the population which it may be possible to 183 supply is probably much greater than some pessimistic critics have seen fit to predict. The Cooper Committee Report suggests that there may well be 70 separate constructional schemes required. Within easy range of each scheme there should be a local supply of electricity available. The Electricity Commissioners estimate that within a radius of three to five miles from generating stations facilities can normally be provided. Then there are such contrivances as pole transformers. This means that supplies can be tapped fairly cheaply along the transmission routes; and the figure for rural consumption in the Ayrshire and Galloway areas are in this respect worth noting. In the County of Kirkcudbright during the past 10 years 77 per cent. of the premises in the villages, hamlets and small communities have been connected for electricity supply. In Ayrshire there are nearly 20,000 consumers in the rural areas; there are 400 pole transmitters giving a supply to individual farms situated near the main transmission lines but not anywhere near a town or a village. No one would say that the isolated or rural areas in the Stewartry or in Ayrshire are comparable or analogous either for inacessibility or sparseness of the population with Morven or the Moor of Rannoch. Nevertheless, the figures I have given show the absurdity of the contention sometimes advanced that electricity cannot be profitably supplied to rural populations.
After the priority demands of ordinary consumers and authorised undertakers are met—and the Board must plan its production so that it is in a position to meet them—we come to the question of supplying large power users. The large power user, as defined by the interpretation Clause, is a consumer other than an authorised undertaker or the Central Electricity Board who wants not less than 5,000 kilowatts. There is, of course, no guarantee in the Bill that large power users will be attracted to the Highland by facilities for cheap electrical power, although I most sincerely hope they will be so attracted, and so long as I have any responsibility at the Scottish Office I will certainly do my utmost to encourage the location of some large-scale industries in the Highlands. I have some good reason for hoping—I might put it even higher than hoping—that the S.C.W.S., the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society, will plant industries in 184 the Highlands whenever electrical power is available. I know there are other concerns who have expressed similar intentions. The Cooper Committee declared that if any large-scale industries of the electro-chemical and metallurgical type were ever to be attracted to this country, they could only be attracted by cheap hydro power. Is it too much to expect that we shall be able to procure for Scotland a share of the industry which is now developing in Canada and in Norway? At one scheme at the Hardanger Fiord in Norway there are said to have been, pre-war, 7,000 of a population attracted by the cheap power. There were French and British companies there.
There are people, of course, who regard any large-scale industry in the Highlands as anathema—something approaching desecration of the Garden of Eden. I will refer more particularly to amenity in a moment, but surely when once the question of amenities is fairly and squarely met, it is completely irrelevant to urge, as some of the aesthetes do, that before any large works receive power from a national enterprise those works must themselves first be nationalised? Such a doctrine of insistence upon nationalisation of customers is not applied by or asked for from the Post Office telephone or telegraph departments. It is not applied by any municipal authority I know of to its gas or electricity customers. How the chemical or metallurgical or any other industry should be owned is an issue quite outside this Bill. For my part I think that industries, whether owned nationally, co-operatively or privately, will be, and ought to be, attracted to locations inside the North of Scotland area as a result of this Measure.
When all the Highland consumers demands have been met—when the ordinary consumers and the present authorised undertakers and the hoped for and expected large power users have all been suppplied—there will still remain a considerable volume of electrical Power available and undistributed. That balance, by the terms of this Bill, is to go to the grid, in other words, to the Central Electricity Board, for users South of the North of Scotland area. The price the Central Electricity Board is to pay is to be determined by the best steam power-station price. The profits made by the North of Scotland Board by this last 185 volume of sale are to be used for reducing distribution costs and for developing new production and distribution schemes in the more remote areas. In this connection the House will note that the Board is enjoined to collaborate—the words are:in the carrying out of any measures for the economic development and social improvement of the North of Scotland District or any part thereof".One member of the Board is to be nominated by the Central Electricity Board, and the other four members are to be nominated by the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Fuel and Power.
The Bill provides that the Board will, first, prepare a general scheme or survey, showing the water-power resources which it proposes should be utilised. That survey will go to the Electricity Commissioners for technical approval, and then to the Secretary of State for confirmation in the light of knowledge available regarding the possible location of industry, population necessities and the general public interest. The development scheme will, of course, be in very general terms and will not confer specific powers on the Board. Then, the Board will proceed to prepare constructional schemes which will set out in detail the nature of the, various works which it proposes to carry out. These constructional schemes, of which the Cooper Committee suggest there may be as many as 70, will, of course, not all be produced at once. They may not all be operated until a long period of years has elapsed. They go, first, to the Electricity Commissioners for technical examination, then to the Secretary of State for confirmation. Before they are confirmed they have to be advertised and they have to be made available for inspection by any interested party. Then it is provided that there is to be such an inquiry, if any, as the Secretary of State thinks fit.
An opinion has been expressed in some quarters that an inquiry should be made obligatory in every case, whether there are objectors or not. On the other hand, it is a fair assumption that in the case of the normal scheme all the local differences will have been amicably settled, and that an obligatory inquiry would simply provide some outside interest with a chance of obstruction and delay, to say nothing of cost—and the evidence given to the 186 Cooper Committee showed that there were in fact such obstructive outside interests. I cannot imagine any Secretary of State withholding a public inquiry where he had the slightest hint after the advertisements in the Press that there was any objection to a scheme which was not of a frivolous nature. If the Secretary of State did unreasonably withhold an inquiry, he could be shot at in Parliament, and I can say most emphatically that it is the clear intention to hold a local inquiry in all cases where there is objection which is not of an obviously frivolous nature, before a decision is finally taken as to whether or not the scheme should be confirmed.
§ Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
Do I understand that the inquiry will be public and that the evidence will be available to all?
§ Mr. Johnston
I do not know about the evidence. I was going on to add that while the Bill as drafted gives the Secretary of State power to refrain from holding an inquiry, I suggest that, with the expectation that numbers of the schemes will be agreed schemes and will have no objectors at all to them, and with my undertaking as to the holding of an inquiry and with the Parliamentary safeguards to which I will allude in a moment, the House might be well advised not to insist upon a compulsory inquiry in every case. But I would add this—that where there is a public inquiry, the findings will be published.
Now for the Parliamentary safeguards. It is provided that every constructional scheme must be laid before Parliament, and if either House, within 40 days thereafter, objects to a scheme, that scheme is to be of no avail. Parliament, in my view, must be supreme. In this respect I have found it necessary to differ somewhat from the conclusions of the Cooper Committee. That Committee felt—and they advanced their arguments with cogency and force—that there should be one comprehensive development scheme only, giving the Board powers, and that the Board could then simply go ahead. The Cooper Committee feared continued obstruction and sabotage by existing vested interest. On the other hand, the Government have taken the view that it would be contrary to the public interest to vest these constructional powers in a nominated Board without preserving to Parliament the final rights of veto.
187 As to the methods by which the operations of the Board will be financed, it will borrow money for the construction of capital works and also to finance its operations before its schemes reach the revenue-producing stage. The Bill gives power to the Board to borrow by way of temporary loan and by the creation and issue of stock. I hope it will raise the money in Scotland. The Board may borrow on its own credit, but power is also given to the Treasury to guarantee the loans of the Board up to a total of £30,000,000. In other words, it will be possible for the Board to borrow on the credit of the State up to that amount. There are two points in connection with the provision of a Treasury guarantee which I should like to make clear. First, the figure of £30,000,000 should not be regarded as a forecast of the capital cost of the Board's schemes. Still less does it mean that the Board is now being committed to that expenditure. It is a statutory limit to the amount of the guarantee, and it is inserted in order to preserve the control of Parliament over the amount of the liability to public funds which may follow from the giving of the guarantee. Both the amount of capital expenditure and the period over which it is spread must depend on the detailed working out of the Board's constructional schemes and the development of industrial and other consumers' requirements. Secondly, the provision of power to borrow on the credit of the State does not mean that the Board will necessarily borrow in this fashion and not in every case on their own credit. Under the Electricity Supply Act, 1926, Parliament gave the Treasury the power to guarantee the loans of the Central Electricity Board. We are following the precedent of the 1926 Act and asking Parliament to grant the same power in the case of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. But it should be noted that, in fact, the Central Electricity Board has been financed on its own credit without resort to the Treasury guarantee. The North of Scotland Board is also intended to run as a commercial proposition. It is to pay its way, and the Treasury guarantee will only be applied for if it proves to be necessary in order to make the scheme pay as a commercial concern.
I turn now to the vexed question—and it is a vexed question—of amenity. Everybody is for amenity these days, and I am 188 glad of it. The preservation of the beauty spots of Scotland is common form. But, occasionally, I could fain wish that some of the people who clamour for the preservation of amenities would remember that there are amenities other than landscape ones. For the people who live in the grandeur and the majesty of the Highlands, we could wish—some of us—that the definition of the word was widened and made more comprehensive. To some people, I gather, amenity means the provision of bathrooms in hotels marked by four stars in the automobile guide books, with a few poverty-stricken natives living in squalor amid picturesque reservations, much as the disappearing red races live in some parts of America. The cruisie and the farthing dip are no doubt quaint and interesting survivals, especially to summer visitors, but as lighting equipment their place is in a museum of antiquities. For my part, I should like before I go from this place to offer some of the amenities of life to the peasant, his wife, and his family. The amenities and comforts of civilisation have largely passed by the class from which Robert Burns sprang.
The House will remember the official Report in 1937 upon rural housing in Scotland. What a shocking state of affairs was there disclosed. In one parish in Easter Ross over half the houses had no sanitary convenience whatsoever. Nearly two-thirds of the inhabitants had to carry their water supplies by pails for over 25 yards. The black house—the chimney-less dwelling with the fire in the midst of the earthen floor—was until our day quite common in the North-West of Scotland. I will join with anybody in preventing Franco signs advertising somebody's beer or soap on the mountain-side at Sligachan, but my idea of amenity is not that it should begin about 12th August and last only until the deer stalking and salmon fishing seasons are over. And the chief amenity I should like to see carried into the life of the North of Scotland is the amenity of social security, the right to work and the amenity which derives from remuneration for a useful service in the world. Here in this Bill, directly and indirectly, is some contribution to that end.
But there need be and there ought to be no disfigurement or desecration of our beautiful scenery, either by the hydro works of by industries which we hope will be attracted to the Highlands. Many 189 hon. Members no doubt have seen with what artistry even a modern pithead can be blended in the landscape at the Comrie pit in Fife, where the Fife Coal Company have shown other industrialists an example. It is as far removed from the old hideous pithead monstrosities as day is from night, and even the ranks of artistic Tuscany can scarce forbear to cheer when they visit Comrie and see neither dirt nor disorder nor, if I may coin the word, uglification of the countryside.
§ Mr. Johnston
Under Clause 9 of the Bill we propose to set up an advisory committee on amenity and an advisory committee on fisheries. The duty of the amenity committee will be to advise and assist the Board and the Secretary of State in the fulfilment of the obligation placed upon the Board tohave regard to the desirability of preserving the beauty of the sceneryof the area in which constructional works are to be carried out. We have some experience of the success with which amenity committees can function. The Galloway hydro scheme and the Clyde Valley schemes by common consent have not disfigured the landscape, and amenity advisory committees have to be thanked for that fact. A Grampian amenity committee was unfortunately not appointed until some of the buildings had been erected. The function of the fisheries committee will be to safeguard the fishery interests and to ensure that there will be the minimum interference, if any interference at all, with fishery interests by a constructional scheme. Commercial salmon fisheries alone, I believe, have an annual turnover of some £500,000 sterling and employ directly about 2,000 men. Any injurious affection of salmon fishery will be compensated, and the amount, failing agreement, will be determined by an arbiter selected from a panel appointed by the Lord President of the Court of Session, the Lord Justice Clerk, and the Chairman of the Scottish Committee of the Surveyors' Institute. The Board will require to consult both the amenity committee and the fisheries committee in preparing constructional schemes. If the Board does not secure the concurrence of 190 these committees to any constructional scheme, the Secretary of State may refuse: to confirm it. In certain circumstances he may indeed require the Board to carry out amenity requirements even after a scheme has been approved. It should be added that as planning Minister the Secretary of State will be able to exercise considerable influence upon the layout of any new industrial plans and housing attracted by the electrical schemes.
The Cooper Committee drew attention in their Report to an anomaly in our valuation and rating laws whereby hydroelectric undertakings suffer grievous disadvantage as compared with thermal undertakings. They estimate that the amount of local rates payable in respect of a hydro-electric undertaking is approximately three times the amount of local rates payable by a steam undertaking with a comparable output of electricity. Steam stations are allowed deductions for their coal consumption, but hydro stations are not allowed deductions on their civil engineering works, which, as the Cooper Report commented, are the counterpart of fuel costs. The general law of valuation in Scotland was, of course, framed at a time when the type of works to be developed under the Bill was not in contemplation, and it will, I think, be generally agreed that there is considerable force in the arguments on which the Committee based their conclusion that the matter should be examined on its merits afresh, with a view to an early amendment of the law designed to reduce the rating liabilities of hydro-electric undertakings. A radical alteration in the basis of valuation of hydro-electric undertakings is clearly a matter which requires very careful examination, owing to its possible repercussions upon the rating of other subjects. While therefore I am prepared to accept the recommendation of the Committee that the matter should be examined on its merits, I did not think it desirable to delay the introduction of the present. Bill until this necessarily complicated examination about local rating could take place. I propose, however, to set up forthwith a committee of inquiry to examine this and certain other rating and valuation problems which have for some time been the subject of strong representations to the Government, including the vexed question of the effect on house building 191 in Scotland of fluctuating liabilities in respect of owners' rates. The terms of reference of this inquiry will be:To review, with reference to post-war requirements, the law and practice in Scotland in relation toIn England and Wales there is no owners' rates system, and whether or not it be a consequence of that fact, in the period between the two wars 30 houses were built by private enterprise in England and Wales for every one house built by private enterprise in Scotland. Moreover, the 1931 Census figures show that whereas only 4.6 per cent. of all the houses in England and Wales had no more than two rooms, the corresponding Scottish percentage was 46—ten times worse.
and to report.
- (1) The valuation and rating of hydroelectric undertakings (with special reference to the recommendations of the Committee on Hydro-Electric Development presided over by Lord Cooper);
- (2) The effect of the existing system of rating on the provision of houses, and the question whether it is practicable and desirable to limit the maximum amount payable in respect of owners' rates;
- (3) The liability for rates in respect of empty or unused premises;
§ Mr. Johnston
Yes. Our housing situation is so desperate that we must examine every suggested cause of its inadequacy and every possible method of improvement.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Really, the Secretary of State is getting on very dangerous ground in introducing this electricity Bill, and if we start cross currents with the Secretary of State for Scotland on the whole of the rates problems of Scotland, I shall be put into a very difficult situation. I am here to support the Bill but not to be dragged into questions affecting owners' rates and whatnot, and we are travelling very wide in discussing them now.
§ Mr. Johnston
All that I want to put before the House is that we are setting up an inquiry into this question of the valuation and rating of hydro-electricity undertakings. I want to use this opportunity also of inquiring into the facts about this other matter.
§ Mr. Buchanan
But the right hon. Gentleman is doing much more. He is beginning to argue the question of the relative development of housing in Scotland and England. There are many more difficulties than merely the rating problem.
§ Mr. Johnston
I agree. I say, let us have an inquiry. There is no reason whatever why we should not have an inquiry. The Cooper Committee also suggested that whatever permanent alteration may be made in the basis of valuing hydro-electric undertakings, there is a case for conferring on the new Board exemption form rates either permanently or for a prolonged development period. I appreciate the reasons which led the Committee to make this recommendation. We do not, however, accept the view that the new undertaking should enjoy in perpetuity complete exemption from rates, and we should prefer, before coming to any final conclusion upon the proposal for exemption during a development period, to await the outcome of the inquiry into the valuation and rating of hydro-electric undertakings generally, which, as I have just indicated, it is intended to institute forthwith. I can assure the House that that inquiry will be pressed forward with all speed by a small and expert Committee, and I hope its report will be available for consideration long before the date upon which in the ordinary course the new Board would become liable for the payment of local rates.
And now I would say a word or two about one fine of criticism of the Bill. It is urged that there should be no unnecessary delay. I do not want delay—but sometimes the longest way round is the shortest way home. True, there is the recommendation in the Cooper Committee's Report to the effect that there should be only one public general Act appointing and empowering the new Board and that the new Board, once given these general powers, should proceed to operate them without further reference to Parliament, being only compelled to submit its technical programme as a whole and in each of its successive stages to the Electricity Commissioners, But the local authorities, to say nothing of the amenity associations, were certainly hostile to any such proposal of divorcement from Parliamentary control for the constructional schemes. They regarded 193 the submission of these constructional schemes to Parliament as a vital and ultimate protection and safeguard. So long as the schemes come to Parliament, and so long as there is a Minister responsible for them to Parliament, the public interest can be adequately safeguarded.
I am sure hon. Members will appreciate the fact that schemes promoted by the new Board may have repercussions upon other Highland and national interests quite outside hydro-electricity. Their operations may affect a location of industry, some branches of afforestation such as saw-milling, agriculture and agricultural processing, the electrification of railways and a tourist industry. It is therefore necessary in the Scottish national and public interest that the activities of the new Board, whether in the development survey stage, the constructional scheme stage, or the distribution scheme stage, should always be subject to a Minister who is answerable to Parliament.
Some critics go further and would even obliterate the technical supervisory control which both the Cooper Committee and the Government propose should be exercised by the Electricity Commissioners over the operations of the Board. The Electricity Commissioners are, under the general direction of the Minister of Fuel and Power, charged by Statute with a responsibility for the proper development and correlation of electricity supply in Great Britain—hydro station supplies, thermal station supplies, municipal supplies, District Board supplies and private enterprise supplies. By this time they have built up a wide experience; they have a technical staff; and I should regard it as unfortunate if the new Board were hot to have the guidance of the Electricity Commissioners.
The general principle of a Public Services Corporation has, so far as any public comment goes, been warmly and widely accepted. The local authority associations and the Highland Press, so far as I know, are completely in favour.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am trying to show how this is the voice of Scotland for once. I have tried my best to meet all legitimate difficulties and apprehensions. I have 194 been, and am still, willing to listen to any representations from any source for the improvement of the Bill and for removing barriers to full co-operation by all the interests concerned for the well-being of the North of Scotland population. Always provided, of course, that the central structure of the Bill is not thereby weakened or impaired.
Indeed, as a result of fresh examination of some Clauses—for example, Clause 16—we may ask the House in Committee to amend the wording. We do not say that the Bill as it stands in every Clause and to the last comma of it is perfect. In the language of the Book of Common Prayer, we would avoid:the two extremes of too much stiffness in refusing and of too much easiness in admitting any variation.But by the general principles of the Bill we stand.
We believe the application of these principles is the first step in planning for the regeneration of the Highlands of Scotland. The Bill will give considerable employment, direct and indirect, in coal, iron, steel, cable-making, electrical engineering, cement, house and civil building works, and contracting. On the basis of the experience of the Central Electricity Board the operations of the Board on an expenditure of £30,000,000 should give employment, direct and indirect, of the order of 10,000 men for a number of years. In its train the Bill will bring a better placing and location of industry. It will provide amenities for the Highland population which will otherwise be denied them.
I commend the Bill to the House, as I believe it has already commended itself to the vast majority of people in the country.
§ Mr. Gallacher rose——
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)
There are many Members in this House who wish to take part in this Debate, and I am quite certain that I shall be best serving their interests and be conforming to the wishes of the House if I confine my remarks to a few points. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has given a very fair picture of the Bill, and it only remains for me to—[Interruption]—Perhaps when the discussion has finished among my hon. Friends we shall be able to get on with the public discussion of this Bill.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
This House generally considers that the person speaking on a Bill is entitled to be heard.
§ Mr. Maxton rose——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
The hon. Member must resume his seat when I am on my feet. The right hon. Gentleman did not give way.
§ Mr. Maxton
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will allow me to make an apology? The interruption was due to three or four of us here being concerned about the fact that the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) wished to ask a question of the Secretary of State before he sat down at the end of his speech. We were discussing with the hon. Member for West Fife whether he should rise and interrupt my right hon. Friend in order to put his question. I did not deliberately intend to interfere with my right hon. Friend's speech.
§ Mr. Gallacher
On a point of Order. Can you inform me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, under what rule or regulation you refused to allow me to ask a question of the Minister before he sat down?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It is quite simple. There is no rule by which any hon. Member can ask a question any time he likes.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
What I was saying was that I propose to be brief in order not to interfere with other Members of the House who wish to take part in this discussion. I suggest that there are certain major issues which are involved in this Bill, and it is just to those points that I propose to address myself. In the first place, there is the question, Should the Highlands of Scotland be subject to industrial development? Quite clearly there are two points of view about that, but I would suggest to those who take the view that they should not be so subject that that 196 attitude has been adhered to for a great many years with lamentable results. The figures given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the beginning of his speech, in so far as they were not known to the House in advance, seemed to me irrefutably to answer that case. The Highlands of Scotland left to themselves, without any attempt to bring them into accord with modern ideas of industrial development, were, and are, gradually going into decay. Citizens of Scotland residing in those parts were disappearing, leaving a derelict population. In those circumstances there is only one answer to the question. We must accept the industrial development of the Highlands of Scotland in order to preserve the Highlands.
The second question I think is this: If there is to be development, I take it that power is an essential element of that development. Power can be generated by a hydro-electric scheme. If we are to have these hydro-electric schemes, should they be on a small scale or a big scale? I believe, again, that the answer can be clearly stated. They must, in the main, be on a large scale. In these modern days an attempt to cover the whole ground by a number of small undertakings would be contrary to the whole development of 20th century life. But I do not think that necessarily rules out in certain cases the small undertakings, nor do I think the Bill rules them out, but it does rule out what might be called haphazard development. Clearly they must be co-ordinated, the large ones taking predominance and, if there is room, the small schemes coming in as part of the general plan.
Another point is this: Should these undertakings, co-ordinated in this way, be carried out on the basis of private or public enterprise? I suggest that this does not raise the controversy which exists between the two sides of the House on the general question of public and private enterprise, for this reason, because we are concerned here with a public utility, and I think there will be general agreement, as shown by the non-party character of members of the Cooper Committee, who have unanimously agreed to this Report, that in this case of the public utility generation of hydro-electric undertakings it should be done by a public board and not left to ordinary private enterprise. Some of my hon. Friends behind me are dissatisfied with this Bill, because, while 197 it makes this public utility a matter of a public board it does not go further and impose public ownership on the users of this scheme. With regard to that, I think the Secretary of State himself has given a fully adequate answer.
Now we come to the question of amenities. It is clear that you cannot take in industrial development without in some way interfering with amenities, such as beauties of the scenery. If we are to admit the necessity for industrial development, we must acknowledge that that must be the case, and what we have to do is to make quite sure that we take every step, compatible with efficiency, to preserve the amenities of the countryside. Now the Secretary of State has told us the lines on which the protection of amenities is to proceed. That may not satisfy everybody, and I would suggest two things. First of all, there is much more likely to be satisfaction with a public scheme organised by a public board than would be the case if it were to be left to ordinary private enterprise. Secondly, I think amenities are much more likely to be preserved when the House of Commons retains power to veto any unsatisfactory scheme. Therefore, I personally cordially support the change which the Secretary of State has made, as against the Cooper proposals, in insisting upon the continued right of the House of Commons to have the last say as to whether any particular construction scheme can be carried out. I notice on the Order Paper a suggestion that in this Bill the House of Commons is going to have too much to say. Well, that is contrary to what many Members have put forward from time to time when alleging that the House of Commons is losing its right and that doctrinaire and dictatorial powers are being given to various bodies over whom the House retains no power. I should have thought that in this matter the happy mean has been preserved, but no doubt we shall hear those who take a different view.
Finally, with regard to the users. I imagine that there will be all kinds, and I am glad, indeed, that the Bill, in accordance with the views of the Cooper Committee, proposes that local users shall have priority. I was very much heartened by the figures given by the Secretary of State about the personal and private use which has already been made of electricity under existing schemes. I hope that those figures 198 will be borne out and improved upon when we come to the larger plan that is envisaged in this Bill. I take it that we shall have some of these big industrial schemes and that we shall have a large number of small industrial users and that electricity will become available to private persons. I think perhaps too much has been made of the fact that in the Cooper Report it is stated that there will be individuals who would like to have an electricity supply, but who cannot be catered for because of the economic cost. Many have inferred from that that a large proportion of the rural population of Scotland will be left outside and will not be able to obtain electricity when these schemes go through. I imagine that that is entirely unfounded, although no doubt we shall hear arguments about that. What the Report said was that it could not be guaranteed that everyone in Scotland, however far away from sources of supply, would obtain electric current, but I hope good grounds will be given for thinking that a large proportion of the individuals in rural districts will get their supply. I have not mentioned the financial provisions of the Bill; I do not think the House will take exception to them. With that I conclude my observations. I promised to make a short speech, and I think I have fulfilled that promise.
Mr. Wedderburn (Renfrew, Western)
I must apologise to the House and to the Lord Advocate who is winding up, because I have an engagement which I am afraid will prevent me from listening to the end of this Debate. I wish to say only a few words on the general principles of this Bill, and I do not mean to enter now into any of its particular provisions which can be discussed in Committee. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Colonel Elliot) has always been very closely interested in this subject, and I am sure we all very much regret the reason which prevents him from being here. He and I were together at the Scottish Office at the time when the Caledonian Power Bill came before Parliament, a Bill which provoked the most lively and acrimonious disputes among all kinds of people who were usually accustomed to agree with each other about most other things. It was, of course, a Private Bill which was left to a free vote of the House, but the Secretary of State was expected to give some guidance, and my right hon. and 199 gallant Friend and I, after a good deal of deliberation, decided that we ought to support it. I see that the Cooper Committee, in Paragraph 17 of their Report, give the opinion that, in the light of subsequent events, the defeat of that Bill, as the evidence which they heard testified, could only be regarded as a tragic mistake, not only for Scotland, but for Great Britain. It is evident that the Cooper Committee have based this opinion on certain facts which they are not able to disclose in their Report for reasons of national security, and it may well be that the loss of a Measure which might have made us independent of Norway in our supplies of carbide has been a serious impediment to our war production.
But if we look at this matter apart from the war, in the light of the future of Scottish industry, I am very glad indeed that we shall no longer have to deal with this kind of thing in a piecemeal fashion. It is quite hopeless to try to promote the proper use of water power in the Highlands through a succession of Private Bills each of which raises a storm of discordant protest from a hundred different critics who are all united with each other in hostility to the Bill but none of whom are agreed with each other about what they would wish to do instead. It is much more satisfactory to have this Bill, which will enable all the power of Highland water to be planned and used in the best interests of the country.
Clause 14 gives power to the Treasury to guarantee loans raised by the Board up to an aggregate amount of £30,000,000. It looks as if the Treasury were at last beginning to learn something about finance. Before the war, I think it would have been very difficult to get the Treasury to agree to guarantee so large a sum on anything so useful as this. Their usual idea about helping the Highlands used to consist in giving a grant of £50,000 over a period of five years for the building of a couple of boat-slips in the Western Isles, always on the condition that the local inhabitants, none of whom ever had any money, should raise an equal amount among themselves. The expenditure of this money will be of equal value in establishing industries which will be required by our national economy after the war and in providing employment in 200 an area whose depopulation we are all concerned to prevent.
The objections to the Bill, or rather to the principles which underlie it, are familiar, and we have been reminded of them by our correspondence in the last few days. I have always had a great deal of sympathy with the view that the right kind of industry, or rather the best kind of industry, to put in the Highlands is small local industries which may provide part-time employment for people who are otherwise engaged in agriculture, in fishing, or in afforestation. I think that is one object which we ought to aim at. Hydro-electric power does not easily lend itself to this purpose. If we want to put small local industries in the Highlands, it is nearly always very much better, if they require mechanical power to run them, to put in an oil engine or some other kind of power, and I think the Cooper Committee's report has made it reasonably plain that if water power were to be developed primarily for parochial purposes, it would involve not only an immense waste of power but a prohibitive expense which could not possibly be justified by the results.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
That matter has been very closely studied in the more rural parts of Wales. How can the hon. Gentleman account for the fact that nearly 300 small plants deriving their power from electricity have been established, 250 of which are run at a horse-power of anything from one to nine, and have been highly successful and of tremendous benefit to the isolated and sparsely populated parts of Wales?
I was about to add that there is nothing in the Bill which compels the Board to confine itself to large schemes, and I have no doubt that some of the 70 constructional schemes that are anticipated in the Cooper Committee's Report are on a fairly small scale. The apprehensions of those who are most concerned to preserve the beauties of Highland scenery are naturally excited by any Measure of this kind. I have always thought it a counsel of despair to hold the view that beauty and loveliness are incompatible with the production of wealth and the employment of men. Industry and employment ought not to be, and must not be in future, synonymous with ugliness. If it is sug- 201 gested that beauty depends on solitude, I cannot agree to that, and I do not think there are many of us here who would wish to see the Highlands a lovely wilderness whose amenities are occasionally enjoyed by a few solitary tourists who can combine their enjoyment of the mountains with melancholy and sentimental reflections on the excellence of the people who used to inhabit them.
Finally, it has been suggested that the Secretary of State by this Bill has shown an intention to rely entirely upon electrochemical and electro-metallurgical factories for the regeneration of the Highlands, and that he is by implication discarding everything proposed in the Hilleary Report and all our hopes of doing something more about agriculture, fishing, and forestry. I am quite sure nothing would possibly be further from the intentions of my right hon. Friend. The establishment of factories in the Highlands is not an alternative to the development of agriculture. It is complementary to it, for it will provide a market for agricultural produce and it will also bring about a much better balance in Highland economy.
I have already had occasion to point out last year that the present Secretary of State has drawn into his own hands a far greater amount of power than has ever been possessed by any of his predecessors. All the profuse bunch of English Ministers, with or without portfolio, who have been charged with the duty of arranging what is to happen to us after the war have been rigorously excluded from Scotland by my right hon. Friend, who is fully determined that a Scottish Minister shall be responsible for Scottish planning. From all the evidence which I have seen, I think that the planning of post-war Scotland compared with that of England is in a fairly advanced state of preparation. I think that the industry of the Secretary of State and the perseverance with which he has worked, have been rewarded by a measure of agreement on a great many other matters besides this among Scotsmen of all different types and outlooks. No one can expect perfectly unanimous assent to a Bill of this kind, but I think that this Bill does command the assent of nearly every responsible body and nearly every responsible section of opinion in Scotland, and I think that the Secretary of State is to be congratulated on a Measure that will be of the greatest benefit to the High- 202 lands in particular and to Scotland as a whole.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
May I say at once that I welcome this Bill in principle, because it follows so quickly on the Report of the Cooper Committee, a Report which was so insistent on the need of hydro-electric development for the regeneration of the Highlands that I can only presume that that is the object which the Government has particularly in view? I assume indeed that the principal purpose of this Bill is to provide the remote Highland areas with a cheap and plentiful supply of electricity in the hope thereby of inducing industry to to settle in the North and so relieve the economic depression which has existed there for so many years. Like every other Scotsman, if there is one thing that I would like to see, it would be the regeneration of the Highlands. Everyone of us wants to see the repopulation of the glens by a happy and healthy people, a people removed from scarcity and want by active industries and restored once more to economic independence. In that reason alone do I find justification from the form of bureaucratic control which is envisaged in this Bill; but I cannot see that we have any option, because the House has, in its wisdom, refused for a period of 20 years to pass any Measure with this object in view which has been introduced under private legislation procedure. It has, as the Secretary of State reminded us, rejected six such Measures since 1929, and therefore, as far as I can see, the only hope of getting electricity introduced into the Highlands is by our willingness to accept some Measure of this kind.
I want to state quite frankly that I have very considerable doubts as to whether the introduction of electricity into the Highlands will succeed in restoring them to prosperity or even succeed in attracting new industries from the better economically situated Southern areas, or that it can actually provide any great measure of employment. But be that as it may, it is only right that this scheme should be given a fair trial and that the Highlands should be given a chance, for without some source of cheap power nothing can possibly be accomplished. I have said that I accept the Bill in principle, and I also accept that it is necessary that there should be some measure of control. But I am still in difficulties as 203 to whether it is proper for the House to accept the Bill as it stands unless we have some more far-reaching assurances than the Secretary of State has been able to give us up till now. The crux of the whole thing lies in Clause 16, which purports to transfer the powers, obligations and duties granted to or imposed on the Central Electricity Board by the Electric Supply Acts, 1926 and 1935, but always subject to such adaptations, modifications and exemptions as may be made by Orders of His Majesty in Council.
That leaves us exactly where we were. We have not the foggiest idea what the powers and duties of this Board are to be, and it seems also that we should not be expected to give a Second Reading to the Bill until such time as this matter has been clarified. The failure of the Government to make their intentions clear is unfair to many Members and also to the wide variety of interests which are closely interested in the Second Reading. Let me attempt to illustrate my point. Section 13 of the 1926 Act stated that the Central Electricity Board might not charge selected station owners more than the cost that would have been incurred had that Act not been passed; in other words, that authorised undertakers who required electricity would be supplied at a price not in excess of that at which they could have produced it themselves had they been allowed to do so. I should like to know whether it is the intention of the Bill to pass on that protection or is it to be modified by Order in Council. It is necessary that we should know the answers to this and similar questions, for, if that protection is not given, many Members may, by supporting the Bill, commit their constituents to paying a higher price than they are actually paying at present. Another matter in the same connection is the availability of supplies to authorised undertakers who are under legal obligation to supply consumers. May we have an assurance on that point, and may we be assured that the new Board will undertake the same duties and responsibilities to authorised undertakers as the Central Electricity Board was required to do?
If the powers of the Central Electricity Board are to be transferred to this new Board, I wonder what is the object of some of the earlier Clauses in the Bill. I refer in particular to Clause 2 (2), para- 204 graphs (c) and (d). I ask that because Section 2 of the 1935 Act, read together with Section 20 (3 b) of the Act of 1926, confers almost identical powers on the Central Electricity Board, and, therefore, if those powers are to be transferred to the new Board, it seems to me that the Clauses to which I have referred are quite unnecessary. I said the powers to be transferred are almost identical, but there is this difference. The Central Electricity Board is not empowered to sell to large consumers in the area of authorised undertakers. The new Board is. It was clear from the right hon. Gentleman's speech that the intention of that is to enable the new Board to approach industrialists directly and endeavour to induce them to settle in the Highlands, but exactly the same thing can be obtained through the operation of Section 2 of the 1935 Act, which empowers the Central Electricity Board to sell at a special rate to authorised undertakers so as to enable them to supply consumers whose needs are of an exceptional character. That, to my mind, is the way in which it should be done, for otherwise we shall have competition, and that is something which this House has steadily refused to grant, and which is also spoken most strongly against in the Report of the McGowan Committee. It would set up a most undesirable precedent, because, if you once give this power to the new Board, the Central Electricity Board will very quickly take advantage of it, and then we shall have this extraordinary situation of the Central Electricity Board endeavouring to undercut authorised undertakers and to take their consumers away from them by that process. In fact, they will use the supplies that they receive at a price below the actual cost of production to compete with the authorised undertaker and take away from him his own consumers. That would be very unfair, and it would also be unmoral. Those of us who have every desire to support the Bill are, therefore, in a certain difficulty, and I suggest that we should have a more definite statement as to exactly what is meant by the adaptations and exceptions mentioned in Clause 16, and we should not be left in this state of vague uncertainty.
The whole purpose of the Bill is to obtain cheap electricity, yet there is no mention in the Bill—perhaps it could not be inserted; I do not know—of a matter which involves one of the heaviest charges 205 in regard to the cost of producing electricity by hydro-electric methods, and that is the question of rating. If the new undertaking is to develop to its fullest possible extent, that is, to have an output of 450,000 kilowatts continuous, and if it has to bear a rating burden in proportion to existing hydro-electric schemes, all possibility whatever of cheap electricity vanishes. The new Board has to sell at cost price, subject to such Regulations as the Secretary of State may impose, and it has no source of profit whatever except through the sales to the Central Electricity Board. There is a variety of unknown quantities. There are the cost of capital work, the interest to be paid on loans, and the price of coal, and, if we add to these the uncertainty as to the rating position, and if the new Board has to bear such a large rating burden, it seems to me that it may be impossible for it to make any profit at all and to be looking bankruptcy in the face from the very date that it commences operations. This matter is fundamental. It is also very much a question in which the House is interested and in which we have very great responsibility in view of the guarantee which the Exchequer is to give. The Secretary of State has told us that he intends to set up a Committee to look into the matter of rating, but that is not going quite far enough, because what we really require is an assurance that, following upon the report of that Committee, legislation will be introduced, otherwise there is no possibility whatever of the benefit which should come from the cheap generation of electricity by hydro-electric schemes being passed on to consumers.
Another matter that I should like to refer to is the amount of control that is left to the House. It seems to me to be far too slight. The only powers this House has are to amend a Constructional Scheme or to disapprove an Order in Council in connection with Clause 16. Our powers are therefore entirely negative, we have no powers of suggestion or amendment. I hope other Members will develop that point. A further matter, which I mention with all diffidence, is the great authority and power given to the Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Ministry of Fuel, in making appointments to the Board and its Committees. Section I of the 1926 Act required the President of the Board of Trade to consult with a large variety of interests before 206 he appointed any members to the Board. I should like to have an undertaking that the Secretary of State will bear that in mind and will see that those who are appointed shall either be connected with the industry or be prominent in trade, commerce, business, science, the professions, or some other walk in life.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
Will not the hon. and gallant Gentleman keep in mind that in his own person the Secretary of State represents many interests as compared with English Ministers?
§ Commander Galbraith
Yes, but the interests which the 1926 Act requires the President of the Board of Trade to consult concern labour, the electrical industries and all kinds of other interests, and it was in that connection that I made the allusion. I ask that some definite assurances should be given on the points I have raised, particularly in connection with Clause 16 and the rating question, for, failing that, I and some others will find ourselves in a very invidious and difficult position, because though it is our ardent desire to see this Bill go through, we yet find ourselves in difficulties.
§ Mr. Barr (Coatbridge)
It is my first duty to offer a meed of thanks and praise to Lord Cooper and his Committee for the Report which has led to the introduction of this Bill. I knew Lord Cooper when he sat in this House as well as I have known any Minister of State. He was so approachable, and so ready at all times to help. I never knew a Minister who showed greater ability in his Department, and who could deal more lucidly with difficulties on the spur of the moment. He always showed vast learning, and if it is not quite orthodox, I would like to say that while he is now removed from our councils, I am glad that he is giving himself to the public service in so beneficent a way as this. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on his lucid presentation of this Bill, and on the general acceptation of its main principles. In considering the Bill, we are at once confronted by a possible State grant, as it is put by some, to this enterprise. I have even heard it stated by responsible people that here we have the State handing over a matter of £30,000,000 for these objects. That is not the position as was made plain by the Secretary of State, and as is plain from the Report. 207 We are drawing on the currency of the country and we are receiving a Treasury guarantee which may never operate, as was shown by other cases referred to by the Secretary of State.
The argument is that the electricity which is generated and distributed will be applied in many cases to private enterprise and to profit-making by various firms. I am not so much impressed as might be thought by that argument, because I remember that when we were dealing with the perplexing problem of the Special Areas the party to which I belong, which is committed to public ownership and control, made a large concession in this matter. We stated in regard to these areas, in a document which we published expressing the views of the party, something which went beyond a mere Treasury guarantee. The document said:As a temporary and exceptional measure it may be expedient also to offer certain financial encouragements, e.g. by way of rate relief for a period of years, or special freight rebates to new industries or to extensions of existing industries in the Special Areas.That was not for public ownership but for private enterprise ventures. Therefore, I am satisfied that we are justified in charging, if need be, the currency of the country for Treasury grants for this purpose. I agree with what has been said that in the Cooper Report there is a somewhat disappointing reference to small industries, remote dwellings, and sparsely populated districts. I was glad to find that the Secretary of State gave some encouragement to us to think that these small enterprises would not be lost sight of and that in the progress of electrical development we would find they were provided for. I hope that regard will be had for rural development schemes, demonstration schemes, such as have taken place in some parts of the country, and the development of small industries such as has been undertaken in remote and difficult places in Europe and America. I hope, too, that regard will be had to the third of the three objectives that are brought before us in the Cooper Report:To develop on an experimental and demonstrational basis isolated schemes in isolated districts.While I emphasise the needs of these small areas, I am in favour of what is one of the main proposals in this Bill, namely, 208 the exportation of electrical energy to the Lowlands, across the Border to England, and wherever we can find a proper market. There is a strong feeling in some quarters that the Bill should be resisted on this ground. I read in one Scottish paper that we must fight tooth and nail against foreign control of our water power resources. By foreign control is meant English control, or even English supplies, it being felt that by fostering industries in the South we might still further disturb the balance in the location of industries. My opinion is that we have to deal with location of industries in a very general and far-reaching way, and that this scheme in itself would have little effect on that great subject. Even in the Report we see plainly put the necessity of this wide distribution if we are to furnish electric supply to the remote and isolated areas. I find that, for example, in this reference: When speaking of export, the Report says:It is in the manifest interest of the Northern Area to take the fullest possible advantage of a market without which the Northern resources will very largely remain useless in perpetuity.At greater length the Report gives the answer to the idea that these resources should not be reserved, "using the Highlands as the power house for the Lowlands." It goes on to say that it is only by roping in the larger concerns of the Lowlands and the English concerns in a general distribution that we can supply the Highlands in any effective way. This keeping of the Highland resources for the Highland areas does not appeal to me. Perhaps I have contended as long and as intensely as anybody in the House for Scottish Home Rule. I stand by anything I have ever said on that subject, but I have never claimed that we should acquire more power for Scotland in order to exploit for ourselves our own resources. I have had a broader idea that it is for nations not only to gain for themselves but to serve other peoples. I am reminded of a fine passage in Henry George when he spoke of the master motive in human affairs as not grasping for profit but service, and that that service will in the end be well repaid. Switzerland is perhaps the only country that is largely identified with the export of electrical energy, and they state clearly that they do it in order that they may get something in return. Bounty answers bounty, and 209 a large out-reach of service is returned by a rich reward. So we may say of peoples as of men, not only in a religious sense but in affairs like this, as John Bunyan said:There was a man.And half the world did count him mad,The more he gave away.The more he had.I am glad, as the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Wedderburn) said, that we are no longer working on a piecemeal system, but that we have a large comprehensive scheme, and that we are no longer going to pit county against county, or the East against the West, as has been done for 100 years. In regard, for example, to the Loch Katrine water scheme for Glasgow, there was a great controversy. It was contended that we were taking away the water from flowing to the east in order to give it to the west, and that the result would be that by drawing the water from Loch Katrine it would impoverish the River Teith, so that the Forth from Stirling to Queens-ferry would no longer be navigable. In 1854 the Admiralty came in with their objection that the Forth would cease to be navigable. The objection did not last long, for within a year they accepted £1,000 to close the question—£1,000 as compensation for the Forth being no longer a navigable river! My right hon. Friend who opened the Debate from this side and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) will agree that after all these dark prophecies the Forth is still a navigable river. This pitting of county against county has gone on in the past. With regard to the Galloway scheme, I will take the liberty of quoting what was said in this House by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore):They are going to take that water away to another watershed altogether, the watershed of the Dee, in another county altogether, and are there going to erect power stations to generate electricity for a county outside the County of Ayr, the County of Kirkcudbright, and Galloway generally. We in Ayrshire feel that we are being done out of our birthright." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th April, 1929; col. 1160.]That is done away with now in this more comprehensive scheme. The same thing occurred in connection with the Caledonian Power Bill, because the waters of Loch Quoich were being diverted from the east to the west, and there 210 was prolonged opposition. Now we have a comprehensive scheme that will obviate much of those futile discussions.
This brings me to the important point of amenities. An amenity committee is set up to deal with this matter, and I think the provisions are the fullest and most satisfactory that we have had. In all these power Bills there was a Clause dealing with this matter, but I think this one will operate effectually. The Report itself refers to recent experiences in foreign countries and in the Dominions. I know there are some who want to preserve Highland beauty in order that they may commercialise it. Professor Ogilvie, formerly of the Chair of Political Economy in Edinburgh University, in his book "The Tourist Movement," published in 1933, marshals figures to show that in 1929 the expenditure abroad of United States tourists amounted to 868,000,000 dollars, of which 137,000,000 dollars went to France and only 40,000,000 dollars to Great Britain. So far, therefore, this attempt to commercialise beauty has not been very successful, and I do not altogether approve of some of the purposes behind this excess of zeal for preserving beauty. Mr. P. Thomsen, M.A., dealing with the Caledonian Power Bill, said:It is the beauty of the Highlands which lets the shootings and fishings, and so brings into the country the wages of game keepers, ghillies and estate workers, trade to the towns and rates to the counties.It is in far different directions that I look for a rehabilitation of the Highlands. May I say that I should know the Highlands as well as anyone. For five years I was the Home and Highland Secretary of the United Free Church, and had occasion to visit all those counties. I know the scenery of the Highlands in its most remote places, places like Caithness and Sutherlandshire as well as in the Outer Isles, represented by my hon. Friend beside me, the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan). I want the House to note that the numbers affected by the construction works, according to reports we have had before, do not carry us far. I think the statement was made that only 10 or 12 persons would be dispossessed of their holdings or thrown out of employment in the carrying out of the works under the Caledonian Power Bill.
211 There has been a good deal of exaggeration in this matter, and I would remind the House of some of the things said when the Galloway Water Power Bill was before the House. A tribute was paid by the Minister to-day, and it is in the Report of the Committee, to the fact that what has been done has rather improved some of the amenities; but what were the prophecies made at the time? We find in the OFFICIAL REPORT statements about the large number of lochs, rivers and streams that would be dried up. It was said that river beds would be dry, and that disease would inevitably break out; that the salmon fishing would be seriously impaired, that the amenities of the land of Robert Burns would be destroyed, that the beauty of the banks of the Doon would wither and die. The works were carried out, but the River Doon still runs in ample flood as it falls into the Firth of Clyde below Ayr, and the banks and braes o' Bonnie Doon still "bloom sae fresh and fair."
Finally, let me say that depopulation is not beauty. There is no beauty in a deserted village. There is no beauty in the rugged foundations what were once crofters' houses. There is no beauty for me in a deer forest. The Highland clearances did not improve the beauty of the Highlands. Consider the Valley of Strathnaver. Read what took place, as told by the Rev. Donald Sage or as told by Hugh Miller—how people were dispossessed and their houses were burnt behind them, how 2,000 were driven from the Strathnaver Valley. Its beauty was not thereby improved. In an oft-quoted passage Tacitus, in the Agricola, puts into the mouth of the Caledonian leader, Calgacus, what he thought. It was the only way in which he could express it. The censorship of Rome would not allow him to make a direct attack, but he could do it through the Caledonian leader, Calgacus. It is supposed to be as if it were spoken before the Battle of Mons Graupius:When they make a wilderness they call it peace.But our Highland overlords made their glens a wilderness and they called it beauty, and they challenge us to disturb that beauty.
We believe in restoring the beauty Of the Highlands. I would restore 212 it by peopling those straths and glens once again. I notice that Hugh Quigley, who, I think, supported the Caledonian Power Bill, is opposing this one. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is not opposing it now."] Well, all the better. His views on the Caledonian Power Bill will be all the more appropriate. He wrote:Is it desecration? Is it not rather the first clear sign of a new life which will change the landscape so radically that it will no longer be an uninhabited, sterile wilderness, but a rich country alive and happy with human activity?There is no beauty in desolation, there is no beauty in a solitary wilderness. I declare here, and I believe the House will approve, that human life is more than the finest scenery; the preservation of a race, is more than the preservation of the finest landscape; and my recipe for the beauty of the Highlands is, on the lines of this Bill, to repeople its straths with well-employed, industrious and happy human beings.
§ Sir John Graham Kerr (Scottish Universities)
I do not propose to take up time by criticising the details of the admirable and, as I think, on the whole convincing statement made by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill. I would rather say a word or two to reinforce the eloquent words we have heard from the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mr. Barr). I would do so by directing attention to a factor which, although often unnoticed, is yet of dominating force in the most varied matters, varying in importance from war camouflage down to academic economics. I mean the biological factor. Instead of taking up the time of the House in making a case for this, I would rather quote a personal experience of my own. Many years ago I was cruising off the West coast of Scotland, and we found ourselves in one of the lovely West Scottish sea lochs. Our feelings were outraged by horrible embankments and cuttings which were being made in the construction of the West Highland Railway, and we all agreed that it was an absolute outrage that private interests should be allowed to defile and blemish those lovely scenes. We did not realise at that time this great biological factor, but it was only a very few years before those embankments and cuttings were mantled over with a covering of vegetatioin by Nature, that greatest artist in camouflage. So effectively were 213 they covered that to-day one may cruise up and down that loch, Loch Long, and be entirely unconscious of there being a railway line there unless it be that one sees occasionally a little puff of steam. I think that experience dictates to us that we should be very cautious in accepting at its face value violent language about interference with beauty, language of the character that I myself would have been guilty of using if I had not had the experience of watching the efforts of kindly Nature in covering those outrages.
I do not think I need say very much more. I will not suggest that a masonry barrier across a Scottish valley is necessarily beautiful, but it can be artificially camouflaged very easily. Does it not show rather a lack of a sense of proportion to concentrate our energies upon that ugly object rather than upon the wider influences that it has? If I am told that the lake formed behind this obstruction has covered over various beautiful waterfalls and streams, I wonder whether the great addition to our Scottish lakes that it provides is not sufficient to counterbalance the injury that is done. Again there seems a lack of sense of proportion in those who point to particular cases where the artificial lake has very gently sloping banks instead of the ordinary steep slopes of our Scottish glens, so that in abnormally dry seasons expanses of ugly mud are exposed. If we pursued that argument about abnormal conditions, we might argue effectively against the whole idea of employing water power at all, because, in an abnormally dry season, the water power might go altogether. All I have wished to do in these few words is to suggest that we should perhaps be a little cautious in attaching weight to the questions of amenity and scenic beauty, as opposed to the great considerations on the other side.
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
I am very glad to have an opportunity of speaking on the Bill in view of the fact that I succeeded Lord Cooper as representative for West Edinburgh. I would like to join the Secretary of State for Scotland and other hon. Members in paying tribute to the great work done by Lord Cooper and his Committee, which work is the background of the Bill. I do not share the apprehension expressed by one or two speakers, more particularly by the hon. and gallant 214 Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), as to the possible effects of the Bill. I welcome the Bill, and I think the Government have made a very genuine effort to facilitate the development of the natural resources of the Northern parts of Scotland. Whatever view we may have of the possibility of extending and developing industries in those parts of our country—and I think the possibilities are very considerable—it is certainly most necessary that amenities and living conditions should also be improved, and it is clear that all these amenity questions, such as living conditions and industrial conditions, will depend upon the improvement and development of public utility services, such as transport, power and lighting. The Bill will undoubtedly help in regard to the latter two matters.
It may be argued that it should be left to private enterprise to develop these regions, and, indeed, in the Cooper Report a very remarkable tribute is paid to what has been done by the Grampian Power Company and the way they have carried out their functions of development in the area assigned to them; but as the Secretary of State said in his opening speech, the question has already been decided on at least four occasions by this House. I agree with the majority view expressed on those occasions, and I also concur with the views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) that, in general, public utility undertakings should be subject to some form of State control in the form of a statutory board or commission. That is a trend in modern sentiment from which I do not dissent.
The Secretary of State mentioned the scheme of administration in the Bill. On the whole, it preserves a reasonable degree of public control without at the same time impairing unduly the business efficiency of the Board. There is one point on which I should like to comment. The Secretary of State appoints all the members of the Board except one, who is nominated by the Central Electricity Board. In Lord Cooper's Report it is provided that the chief executive officer of the Board should be appointed by the Board itself. That procedure would be preferable, inasmuch as it is very desirable that the newly constituted Board should have complete trust and faith in the man 215 who is to be its chief executive officer. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to take that point of view into consideration. One other point arises on Clause 2 (d), in regard to which the Secretary of State will, I hope, indicate the precise meaning. It refers to the setting up by the Board of power stations in isolated regions. Do we understand from these words that it will be possible for the newly constituted Board to have small independent stations in no way connected with the grid, set up in the more remote parts of the Highlands, where there are small centres of population, such as, for example, Ullapool? If so, that is a very good suggestion and one which meets the objection raised by many people who think that the scheme will not bring benefits to the more scattered areas. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will comment upon this matter in his reply.
I should like also to comment on Clause 5, which deals with constructional schemes. Powers are given to the House of Commons to annul any scheme laid before us, after it has passed the Board and the Secretary of State. It is a departure from the suggestions made in the Cooper Report, but I believe it is absolutely essential that this matter should remain in the hands of Parliament. It is most desirable that this House should exercise a certain degree of control over the erection of large power stations, transmission lines and so on. I think we must accept a little delay, and I do not think it need be a very grave delay. I certainly prefer in this respect the Bill to the Cooper Report. I have not been in the House for very long, so I do not know whether it is possible under Parliamentary practice to amend an Order of this nature, or whether we have only power to annul and not to amend them. It would be very desirable if that wider power could be introduced.
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison
I have asked for guidance, because I am not quite clear on the point, but I thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd). It is always something, to have the power to annul any objectionable scheme. The question which is dealt with in Clause 9 216 has very naturally exercised the minds of a great many hon. Members who have spoken to-day. I fully agree that it is most necessary to safeguard the beauties of the Highlands in the interests of the whole nation. I sometimes feel that the dangers to amenity by power schemes are exaggerated. After all, there are hydroelectric schemes in a good many countries—Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada and others—and no doubt hon. Members have visited some of those countries and seen those schemes. I have seen some in Norway. As a rule the hydro-electric stations are not unsightly and are, in fact, remarkably unobtrusive. The Clause, I think, gives adequate protection to amenity. Nevertheless, we are all conscious of receiving representations from various bodies, such as the Saltire Society, the Association for the Preservation of Rural Scotland, and the like, and it is proper that those representations on the subject of amenity should be considered.
More especially, there is a question, which is perhaps a little beyond the scope of the Bill, of which I would like to remind the Secretary of State for Scotland. Will he bear in mind that some of those bodies are interested in the promotion of a national park in Scotland, more especially, I think, in Glen Affric? I would like to have an assurance that, when constructional and development schemes are being considered, that possibility may be taken into consideration. One final point, of a quite different nature, is that connected with the Clause at the end of the Bill dealing with finance. As we know, the Treasury has a contingent liability for £30,000,000 in connection with the development of the North of Scotland hydro-electric scheme. I notice that accounts are to be subject to audit by an auditor appointed by the Secretary of State. Although I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will appoint a first-class auditor, it would seem to me a matter of principle that the Treasury should, if possible, appoint the auditor.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
As Member for one of the constituencies most concerned, I would like to point out that my wide constituency does cover certain of the areas which the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) had referred to at times as derelict. I am sorry he is not here just now. I rather objected 217 to his use of the expression "derelict areas" in regard to Argyllshire, but I admit that there are certain areas which might be described as derelict. There are other areas in my constituency which are quite flourishing, and I would call attention to the fact that those are the areas which are provided with electric power. Therefore I would say, on behalf of the vast majority of my constituents, that we welcome the Bill most heartily and hope that it will eventually pass into law. We hope there will be other legislation in regard to transport, because we depend on both those matters to open up a completely new era of development of the Highlands of Scotland.
There are three points in connection with the Bill to which I would like to draw the attention of the Secretary of State. The first is the question of possible distribution to small consumers in remote areas. The Cooper Report and the Bill say that it may not be practicable to supply electric power to the remote glens and the hillsides, but I feel convinced it would be wiser, if it were possible, to do away with the words "so far as practicable" in Clause 2 (2) and leave it as the ultimate objective of this scheme that all areas and consumers throughout the whole of the Highlands shall be able to have this electric power if they want it.
In the South of England I have stayed at various small villages and small cottages where electric light and electric power amenities make all the difference to the ordinary way of life. To us—I am speaking more particularly of the West Highlands, where even last month one had to carry on one's work by artificial light until 10.30 or 11 o'clock in the morning—this matter of availability of power and light to the small consumer, the crofter and the small farmer, is a matter of great importance and one which is causing the greatest concern to a number of my constituents. Can the Lord Advocate, who is to reply, give some assurance that it is the Government's intention, as the schemes are developed—we none of us expect that the day after this Bill is passed we shall be able to have electric power in every glen or croft in the Highlands—matters will be so arranged that even in 10 years, 15 years, 20 years time, the greatly expanding demand will enable the whole organisation 218 of supply to extend until it includes everybody who wants electricity?
There has been a good deal of criticism, particularly in my part of the Highlands, as to why we should allow the hydro power generated in the Highlands to be exported to the Lowlands or to England. Personally, I believe that there is very little in that criticism. We know full well that it is quite impossible to develop practical hydro-electric schemes merely to supply what I might call a cupful of electricity to each cottage. We know that we have to make it possible to supply the small consumer by delivering bulk supplies to outsiders.
Another point I would like to ask the Secretary of State to bear in mind—perhaps he has already considered it—is the question of representation on this new Board. We in the Highlands do feel that we ought to have a member on the Board who is in sympathy with, and responsible for, Highland interests, because as is only too evidence from certain speeches already made by hon. Members and from comments, letters and correspondence outside, there is an inclination to treat the Highlands area as a pawn in some game of finance or industry, instead of treating it as part of our country, and a very fine part too. So I ask that if possible, one member of the Board should be deliberately charged with the duty of looking after the interests of the Highlands, that he should be a Highlander, living in the Highlands if possible, or someone who knows conditions in that area.
Then I want to say a word or two about the amenities and fisheries committees. Some of us feel that those two committees perhaps need more ample powers. If I may quote an instance I would refer to the road across the Moor of Rannoch from Tyndrum to Glencoe. I have had protests sent to me about the "awful atrocity" of this road but we in the Highlands think it was a very necessary development and it has meant a great deal to a certain corner of my constituency. But it is quite true that there are two most awful atrocities on it and I do not believe that a proper amenities committee able to decide would have allowed them to be perpetrated. I refer to the two bridges, one at Loch Tulla, the other at Kings-house. They remind one more of an Italian autostrada than a road in the Highlands. That an amenities committee 219 can function properly has been shown in the construction of another road, that from Taynuilt to Oban. It passes by over the Bridge of Awe. The new bridge over the Awe was built by a firm that seems to have incurred a good deal of indignation, namely Messrs, Wimpeys. They did a very fine job. They have built a new bridge which really compares most favourably with the lovely old bridge beside which it stands. I think perhaps that if amenities committees functioned on these latter lines we would be more reassured.
Again, in my constituency particularly, this question of the destruction or spoiling of the rivers, and of the fishing rights in the rivers, is causing a good deal of anxiety. I believe myself it is quite possible that hydro-electric schemes can be developed in such a way that fishing rights shall not be spoiled. One must remember too that these fishing and sporting rights throughout the Highlands play a very great part in the revenue of the country. It is not as though the amount involved is just a drop in the ocean. Actually the sporting facilities, the sporting developments of the Highlands, bring in a very large revenue which we do not at all wish to lose.
As some hon. Members have said, we have been inundated with a large number of letters and pamphlets and all kinds of propaganda written against the passage of this Bill. I, personally, always take the strongest possible line against such propaganda because there is no doubt that, so far as we in the West Highlands and Islands are concerned—and I am sure the hon. Member for the Outer Islands if he gets a chance will support me—we feel that the passage of this scheme means a vital redevelopment of life in the Highlands, and that if it does not go through, you might as well put a glass-case over the Highlands, inject those of us who live there with a dose of formalin and hand all over to the natural history museum of Kensington, or Philadelphia as a relic of what used to be a thriving part of Great Britain.
Obviously we hope that from the passage and development of this scheme industry will be revived in my constituency and the rest of the Highlands. Not only have we no objection to industry coming to the Highlands; we welcome it. 220 Some of the criticism against the Highlander is "What use is it to take industry there? The West Highlanders won't work." I would point out that in the works at Kinlochleven go per cent. of the workers are Highlanders or Islanders, and in the works at Fort William over 60 per cent. are Highlanders or Islanders. Also in Glasgow, if I am not mistaken, there are hundreds of thousands of Highlanders working in factories because those places give the amenities of power and light. As the right hon. Gentleman said in his opening statement this Bill is to give such amenities of life as we might expect in 1943. I can take any Member who likes to come, and I shall be delighted to do so, to one or two areas in my constituency and let them see under what conditions some human beings have to exist.
Another criticism made is that in any case it is no good sending this electricity into the Highlands because it cannot be done cheaply enough, and that they will never be able to pay for it. I believe if one takes the history of the development of the Post Office, telephones, aviation, railways, it will be found that when those services started it was the same—they were no good to the ordinary person. They might be all right for the wealthy but no use to anybody else. It used to cost something like £20 to go for a flight in an aeroplane about 20 years ago, just after the last war. To-day every crofter, every farmer in the Islands, uses the aeroplane to get between his home and Glasgow if and when he has to go there. I believe that although, to start with, we may not get cheap power we will, as years go by and as development goes on, or as the demand becomes greater and therefore supply becomes greater, we shall get an electricity supply for everybody at a reasonable rate.
Another criticism which had very great circulation throughout the country is "Why have this one big scheme? We would much rather have a number of small schemes. Let each glen and strath run its own scheme." I can only speak of experience in my own constituency. Two of the most prosperous burghs, with the biggest populations, ran their own small schemes of electric lighting. Several years ago one found that it was impossible to keep pace with the demand, and they had to call in the Clyde Valley Company to take over their works and run the plant 221 and provide electricity for them. In the last few years, the other burgh could not meet the extending demand—an extension which I foresee will happen all over the Highlands in time to come. Rather than burden the ratepayers of that burgh with a heavy addition to the rates they wisely called in one of the big organisations to run the scheme for them. I am convinced that in my part of the Highlands we have nobody who can run or finance these small schemes in each particular glen. But we do look forward, in those areas controlled by the Board to which they cannot extend their main transmission lines, to the possibility of having smaller schemes started. These smaller schemes will probably not be an economic proposition to start with, but in view of the manner of the development of the scheme they will, I suppose, be "carried" by the whole organisation.
I would say in conclusion that a great deal has been made of this Bill being put through while our Highland lads and lassies are away from the Highlands and unable to speak for themselves. I am in close touch with a very large number of Highland lads and lassies who are away on war service and I know perfectly well that when they come back and find that this Bill has gone through, and that there is a prospect of a better life in their crofts and on their farms, there will be no question of their finding fault with this House—they will rather bless the name of this Secretary of State for Scotland.
§ Mr. Sloan (Ayrshire, South)
A Minister, I suppose, is entitled to indulge in a little poetic licence. The Secretary of State took advantage of that liberty, and became quite lyrical during parts of his speech. He devoted about 20 per cent. of that speech to the Bill which he was introducing, and the other 80 per cent. to fancy. I am not suggesting that I am opposed to the Bill. I render it what might be termed modified approval. One thing I will say is that if this Bill does not provide work and profit for the Highlanders, it will certainly provide work and profits for the Lowlanders and for English people. Think of the value of the scheme—£30,000,000—and of the equipment that the Secretary of State visualised: the turbine works, the cement work, and so on. One can understand that some people are to get a haul; and it will not be the Highlanders. The amount 222 of money that will be spent in the Highlands in constructing the scheme is infinitesimal. It will be done by people employed by some sort of Wimpey's firm, conveyed to the Highlands, and living in camps while they are there. Any surplus money after Wimpey's have finished with it will be sent South. I think we may argue that the Highlanders are not going to benefit at all. The scheme, however, it certainly worth looking at.
When one thinks of 4,000,000,000 units of electricity being produced in a year, it staggers one. If all that electricity can be produced from the waters running through the Highlands it would be criminal of any Government to refuse to develop that area. Put into terms of coal supply, 4,000,000,000 units of electricity, with a very low coal sump of one and a quarter lbs. per unit of electricity, means a saving of 2.2 millions tons of coal per annum, or almost exactly a month's production of coal for all the miners employed in Scotland to-day. I do not want to argue that if you produce power by water you are going to render miners unemployed. I wish that we could develop sufficient heat and power and light to prevent miners from having to go down the pits at all. It would be easy to transfer the miners to some more congenial employment if the pits were not in existence, But that I do not visualise. We expect the time to come shortly, as a result of the war, when coal will be used for other purposes than to be wasted in open grates and when the mines will become a source of wealth to those who work in them. I remember an old miner saying to me that he did not like working in the pit, that if everybody was as fond of working in the pit as he was coal would be sold in the chemists' shops. That is where coal ought to be sold, and when it is properly treated that is where we shall get it.
Regarding the development of this undertaking, I would like some guarantee about the Highland population. Is there any guarantee of any kind that there is to be any industrial development in the Highlands? We have had a vague statement by the Secretary of State that the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society intend at some time to take a hand in development, but are the Government to take any steps whatever to bring about such development? It would be atrocious to develop 4,000,000,000 units 223 of electricity in the Highlands merely for export purposes. There is sufficient scope in the Highlands for the development of industry alongside of the development of the scheme. What are the plans for the Highlands in the post-war world? What sort of industrial development is likely to take place? I place no reliance whatever on the metallurgical side of it, because, as has been proved, that employs very few people, comparatively, per unit of electricity. Firms require electricity to be produced at a very low rate before they will venture into the area at all. I had experience of that when an American firm was making investigations into the position in Scotland. Because they could not have an undertaking that they would be able to purchase electricity at 1.5d. per unit, they said that electricity was no use for their purpose. I hope we are not merely developing electricity in order to obtain a cheap supply for industrial purposes, to create profits for huge firms. We should entirely discourage that, and find out the prospects for the development of light industries in the Highlands. I know that there will be great competition after the war. I am not sure that, with all the statements that have been made and all the committees that have been set up and all the ideas that are in the minds of people, it will be found that we are able to cope with the return of the men from the Army and from industries which will become derelict when the war is over. We are entitled to ask for some indication of what is to be done then in regard to the development of electricity.
It would be an anomaly if we were not able to supply electricity to the people of the Highlands as cheaply as it can be bought in our southern areas. I understand that the Grampian undertaking is charging something like 8d. per unit on an average, but if the Grampian have a surplus and pump their power into the grid we who buy from the grid in Ayreshire are supplied with electricity from the Grampians at ⅜ths of a penny per unit. There is surely something wrong in that. The first object of this Board should be to see that the people on the spot, living in the Highlands zone, are able to buy electricity at the same rate as it is bought in the South. As far as I can gather, you can produce electricity cheaper here than in 224 any other area in Scotland to-day. An estimate has been given to me that electricity will be produced there at 22d. per unit. I do not know whether the Secretary of State can substantiate that figure, or say whether it will be more or less, but the figure has been given to me by a very competent engineer. If that is so, people who live in the Highlands should be able to secure the cheapest electrical supply in this country. I do not think it is any argument to say that it will be costly to run the high tension lines and that you cannot carry electricity to all the people because—as the Secretary of State said, using a term which I do not like—it is economically impossible. If he had said that it was economically unsound, or that it was not a paying proposition, that would be another matter, but the term "economically impossible" should not be used. There is no crofter's house that should not have a supply of electricity. Do you argue that because a crofter's house is miles from the postman's road his letters should not be carried there, as the postal rate of 2½d. would be uneconomic? No differentiation is made. The postman has to travel through the snow in the Highlands to deliver his letters. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not everywhere."] Everywhere that I know of, anyway. I have seen the postman pass my door, having to travel five miles to a shepherd's house to deliver letters. At one time the shepherd himself was paid 3s. 6d. per week to deliver his own letters, because it was cheaper for the Post Office to pay him than it was to send the postman with letters. If this development is to take place in the Highlands, then the first people to benefit by it ought to be the Highlanders themselves.
I would like to see the scheme go through and be put into operation. But there is a great deal in the Bill that is very questionable. It is not merely the bulk consumers about whom I am concerned, but the needs of the Highland people. The question of amenity should raise no difficulty whatever. We are not surely devoid of people who can plan and of architects and engineers who can set works on the sides of the hill. I do not care whether you call it camouflage or what you call it, but they can be set in the hillside to meet the circumstances of the surroundings, and there need be no obstruction whatever with regard to amenities. But, as the Secretary of State said, obstruction does not merely consist 225 of things you can see with the eye. I hope that this scheme will have a fair trial and that these 4,000,000,000 units of electricity will be placed to the use of the community. Something ought to be done not merely by inviting people to come to the Highlands to commence industry because they can get a cheaper supply of electricity and make profits they could not make elsewhere, but it should be the duty of the Government to see that industry is planted in the proper places so that these Highlanders of ours, who are probably the best type of people the world produces at the present time, should have what they have never had before, namely, a fair show. We have heard a great deal about the Highland clearances and how the people were hunted off the land. It is our duty, instead of hunting them off the land, to invite and induce them to come back, and to see that we make the conditions sufficiently attractive, so that the Highlands in the future will be one of the bright spots in this country of ours.
§ Major Neven-Spence (Orkney and Shetland)
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) opened his remarks by giving qualified approval to a scheme, which he then proceeded to show, in his own words, was not going to confer any benefit upon Scotland at all. He improved upon that as time went on and ended upon a more hopeful note.
§ Major Neven-Spence
He spoke about the relative merits of coal and water power for generating electricity; all that has been brought out in the Report, and he could lead it. The point that he overlooks is that we have got water power in the Highlands, but we have not got any coal there. This leads me to mention that constantly when investigating committees have gone into this problem they have had before them the representations of the Mining Association, which have always been against the development of hydro-electric schemes in Scotland. My reaction to these representations has been that the Mining Association really had no locus at all. On one occasion, at any rate, I very nearly refused to hear them on the subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) said the other day in this House, talking about vested 226 interests, that a vested interest was a proper interest, and that the term "vested" was often wrongly used to describe an improper interest. The operation of the Grampian Company in Scotland is a good example of a proper vested interest. They were given their powers by Parliament and are doing what they have been given statutory authority to do. I do not think the Mining Association—and associated with them were the miners—were exercising a proper interest at all in constantly opposing every effort to develop hydro-electric power in the Highlands. I believe that this is one of the most hopeful things that can be done for Scotland and for the people in the Highland areas, and I hope that we shall not have any more opposition from them.
The hon. Member referred to the prospects of the development of light industries in Scotland and also said that he had not much interest in the bulk consumers. He really cannot have appreciated this problem. If there is one thing which stands out about the hydro-electric schemes it is that you must have the production of the maximum possible scale from any particular source of power and you must be able to sell bulk supplies. Unless you can sell bulk supplies to the grid or to the electro-chemical, electro-metallurgical industries you will not be able to give us electricity cheap enough for lighting or for domestic purposes in the area concerned. It is clear that the larger and more diversified the demand for electricity, the cheaper it will be for everybody, including both bulk consumers and domestic consumers.
The word "undertaker" has two distinct meanings. We have concentrated so far in this Debate upon undertakers who are the people concerned with the generation of electricity. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will forgive me if for a moment I put on a black tie and shed a private tear at the blow which we are striking at private enterprise today. I am backing him up most wholeheartedly in this Bill, but we ought to consider very carefully what we are doing. I do not regard this effort as a precedent at all. The reasons for bringing in the Bill are overwhelming, but I deplore the blow that is going to be struck at private enterprise. I deplore it more particularly because—and I have no axe to grind for the Grampian Company at all; I do not con- 227 sume their "juice," and I have nothing to do with them whatever—I have heard a great deal of evidence from experts about the operations of the Grampian Company. The conclusions are brought out in the Cooper Committee's Report. They end by paying a very high compliment to the Grampian Company for having done their work most successfully. They took on a most difficult and hazardous enterprise, and let us not forget that the Central Electricity Board had a good look all round in 1931 and refused to have anything to do with the matter. They thought that they had much better leave it to the Grampian Company, which were doing the job very well, and it did not seem to them to be the sort of field which they themselves wanted to exploit at all. The Cooper Report says that the Grampian Companyhave proved themselves under conditions of unusual difficulty to be competent planners of electrical development and capable suppliers.It is due to the Company to say that here and to acknowledge it. They raised by their enterprise £6,000,000, and, on the evidence before the Cooper Committee, they raised that money at a lower rate of interest than the Government could have done at any time during that period. That is a very creditable performance. The Company operated for years with no return, and when at last they began to get a return on their enterprise, it was of a modest nature and never reached 5 per cent. I mention these things, because in the evidence before the Commissioners who have heard applications for the promotion of Private Bills by the Grampian and other companies a tremendous amount of mud has been slung, at the Grampian Company in particular. What has always distressed me is that when the truth has come out as the result of incontrovertible evidence the people engaged in the mud-slinging have never taken any opportunity of withdrawing their remarks. In fact, they have returned to the attack, and they still continue it now, which is deplorable.
The cost question is one of the things levelled against the Grampian Company. That is all set out on page 25 of the Cooper Report. There they compare basic lighting rates and average revenue per unit of 15 undertakings. There are 15 schemes, but the first seven can be set aside because they are all schemes with 228 an element of subsidy which are not really comparable to the remaining eight schemes. If you take the remaining eight schemes, and compare the basic lighting rate, three of them are dearer than the Grampian Company, three show exactly the same price—8d. per unit—and only one is less. The one which is less is the Mid-Lincoln Electricity Supply Co., Ltd., where you have an entirely different problem with which to deal, a concentrated population more or less, and not a very sparse one as in the Highlands. On the basis of the average rate per unit, five of these undertakings make a bigger revenue per unit, and in two companies only is it less. Of these eight undertakings all except two are dealing with a very different proposition than that of the Grampian Company. They deal with more densely populated areas and not areas such as the Highlands, which are extremely sparsely populated. If you exclude all the burghs in the Highlands, the density of population is only something like 20 per square mile. I wanted to say a word at least on behalf of the Grampian Company, who have put up an excellent show.
On the other hand, I must come out as a whole-hearted supporter of my right hon. Friend in promoting this Bill. In doing that, I feel rather like the historian, Gibbon, who, when his father ordered him to cease paying attention to a girl friend, made the celebrated remark:I sighed like a lover and obeyed like a son.I sigh as a believer in private enterprise—and a firm believer in it—but I must obey as a commonsense individual. The time has long gone by when the Government should have stepped in. For 20 years we have wasted our own time; we have wasted the money of local authorities and of various companies, and we have made no headway whatever. All the time the Highlands have been going from bad to worse at an alarming rate. I blame the Governments which have been in power for the last 20 years. We have had successive Secretaries of. State speaking from that Box, and when they have done so I have sometimes wondered whether they have not been put through a third degree by the Cabinet before making their speeches. We have never had a lead. Most deplorable was the occasion of the promotion of the third Caledonian Power Bill, the fourth promotion concerning that particular water 229 supply. I thought the then Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence made a most convincing speech in pointing out the need for manufacturing calcium carbide in this country. It is clear that Members who spoke in that Debate were anxious and apprehensive. My impression was that they were waiting for a lead from the Government, which they did not get. We were told that 1,200 tons of carbide a week were being imported from abroad. Carbide is one of the most vital chemicals it is possible to have in war-time. About 50 per cent. is used for welding and cutting processes in connection with aircraft manufacture, shipbuilding and so on, 30 per cent. of it is the basis of some very important chemicals, while the remaining 20 per cent. is the basis of the plastic industry, which is extremely important, and is also used for making certain high speed cutting tools. Other important chemicals like ferro-chrome and ferro-silicon were being imported from the Continent before the war. I do not want to pursue that further except to say that here was an issue of absolutely supreme national importance to us at that time yet, as the Cooper Committee says, it was "submerged under a conflict of contending sectional interests" which did little credit to us, still less to the Government of the day.
Apart from these practical reasons, I support the Bill for this reason. A big argument against the Grampian and other companies—and the danger was pointed out by the McGowan Committee—is the danger of allowing piecemeal exploitation. Quite obviously, if you do that, any sound undertaking—operating under private enterprise—will go for the plums first and the tendency will be for the more difficult and expensive ones to be left out and possibly not tackled at all. It is much better to have all this done in a comprehensive, logical manner. We are rather fortunate that in the Highlands it can be done, it is true, piecemeal, but can also be done in a comprehensive way.
I am, however, very sorry that my right hon. Friend has not seen his way to redress the rating inequality right away. Every Member who has had anything to do with these schemes has had put before him very clearly the grave injustice that has grown up not as the result of any legislation, but as a result of the legislation that was in existence before there was any hydro-electric development in the 230 country at all. It has operated most unfairly for hydro-electric companies. Commissions and committees have always asked for further evidence about the way in which it works. The broad result is that hydro-electric companies are paying three times as much in rates as companies generating a corresponding output of electricity by steam power. It does not matter whether there is a large output or a small output, the figure is always three times as large. That is absolutely indefensible, and although the Minister has said he will look into it, I take the view, as does the Cooper Report, that it is inequitable. I think it could have been dealt with by itself. The Cooper Report, however, goes further than I would go. It states that these undertakings should be relieved of rates altogether. I cannot agree with that. But I do not think you should have the situation you are now in, namely, making consumers of electricity shoulder an altogether unfair share of the rates. That is what is happening under the existing arrangements. I know the Minister is to look into this matter, but I should have liked to have seen it dealt with right away.
As a representative of certain archipelagos in the North, I represent places which cannot hope to get any benefit from any Grid system. I cannot quite see a cable being carried across the Pentland Firth or across 100 miles of ocean bed from Orkney to Shetland. The Committee which inquired into water-power resources drew attention to certain possible sources of hydro-electric power, certainly in the County of Orkney. I hope my right hon. Friend will not forget the Islands. One hears of the many disadvantages under which the people in the Highlands suffer; we get all that and a lot more besides in the far away Islands. I want to ask my right hon. Friend a question, to which I would like an answer. I have always taken a great interest in the possibility of generating electricity from wind power. Some years ago the Oxford School of Engineering erected a large number of different types of wind-generating plants and published an interim report on their investigations. I have read that report with great interest, but, so far as I know, they have never published a final report. What I want to know is whether my right hon. Friend has powers under this Bill to pursue these investigations, because whatever happens as a result of this Bill 231 there will be many places which have not an earthly hope of getting any electricity out of any Grid scheme. One cannot overload an undertaking by carrying electricity to very isolated houses, farms, and communities. I think there is a possibility that a great deal can be done for these places by using wind power, and I should be glad to know whether my right hon. Friend contemplates investigation on these lines. I would like experiments to be made so that people can be given advice as to what sort of plant it is worth putting up and arrangements made so that they can get the plant at wholesale prices which they can afford to pay.
There is a further point I want to raise. It concerns an injustice to which I have often referred before, and I am wondering whether the present opportunity cannot be seized to put it right. When the Central Electricity Board was formed, powers were taken to exact a levy from all undertakings, depending on the amount of electricity they sold. Under this provision it has been possible for the Central Electricity Board to collect money from towns such as Kirkwall, Lerwick and Stornoway in return for which absolutely no benefit is conferred on the locality. The whole thing began in a very small way, as injustices sometimes do. In 1929, the sum collected from Kirkwall was only £4 17s. 3d., but this year the sum taken from the Borough of Kirkwall, which has only 4,000 inhabitants, amounts to £182. This is a very unfair position. I know it is argued that if they ever turn over to alternating current instead of direct current, they will get some hypothetical advantage out of being able to buy standardised things cheaper, but there is no chance of their turning over to alternating current. I hope my right hon. Friend will look into this matter—I do not expect an answer from him to-day—and see whether this irritating injustice cannot be removed.
I conclude by expressing the hope that the Bill will go through—in fact, I feel sure it will—without any trouble. The atmosphere now is very much better than it has been in the past when the subject has been before the House. My right hon. Friend is, I believe, taking one of the biggest steps that are necessary for the regeneration of Scotland in developing hydro-electric power in the Highlands. I 232 wish him every success in this work and all the other work which he has in hand and which, I believe, is going to make a new Scotland.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That", to the end of the Question, and to add:this House, recognising the vital part to be played by hydro-electric power in the regeneration of the Highlands and the development of Scottish life and industry, which it regards as a major object of national policy, welcomes the proposal to establish a public service corporation in the North of Scotland for the generation and distribution of electricity from water power; but declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which so circumscribes the powers and duties of the Corporation by bureaucratic controls and needless references to Parliament on details of its work that it robs the Corporation of freedom and initiative in the conception and prosecution of the undertaking (for the financial solvency of which it will be responsible) and will cause repeated delays in the performance of its task and unjustifiable postponement of the betterment of Scottish conditions.In moving this Amendment, which I realise is a serious, and it may be an unpopular, step, I want to make it plain at the beginning that I approach this problem from a completely disinterested point of view. I have no connection whatsoever with any electricity or landed or industrial interest in Scotland. I am nobody's man in this matter. I hold nobody's brief. I speak entirely for myself, although I have reason to know that the views I shall express are shared by large numbers of people outside. My approach, like that of most hon. Members, I suppose, is that of a good Scotsman, anxious to do the best possible for his country, and at the same time of a good Parliamentarian desirous of legislating wisely in the establishment of the important precedent which this Bill will undoubtedly create.
I have heard it said that this Amendment is regrettable in that it breaks the national accord which my right hon. Friend has been encouraging throughout Scotland. I hope that silly argument will not be advanced to-day. If national unity is to be interpreted as meaning that Scottish Members have got to say "Hear, hear" to everything that emerges from St. Andrew's House, then the sooner that convention is destroyed the better. I am as much for national unity as any man, but I refuse point blank to be either 233 muzzled or dragooned in that free expression of opinion on Measures coming before the House which my constituents expect of me.
It has been said by others that the changes which I would like to make in the Bill could better have been discussed on the Committee stage. If the Bill goes through Committee, I shall certainly avail myself of the opportunity of putting forward Amendments.
§ Mr. Mathers
The hon. Member is quite safe in saying that, because the Bill will go through Committee.
I respect the prevision of my hon. Friend. I feel very strongly about this Measure. I regard it as so unfortunately drafted as to damage, and may be for a long time to destroy, prospects of development in the Highlands such as all of us desire. Holding those views, rightly or wrongly, I thought the only honest thing to do was to express my line of thought plainly at this stage. Fortunately, there are one or two fundamental matters upon which there is no dispute in the House. We are, I think, all agreed about the vital part to be played by hydro-electric power in the regeneration of the Highlands, and, I would add, the development of Scottish life and industry as a whole; for I hope we are not going to compartmentalise this business: I am sure the Highlands are not going to be selfish about it. New industries there must be, many of them and no doubt infinitely varied in size, character, and capacity: and I hope very much that no highbrow nonsense about amenity values will be allowed to stand in the way of that primary need for a livelihood and a living for the people in the Highlands. More intensive farming, closer land settlement, more afforestation and allied industries, greatly improved transport, more and better hotels, but above all, as my right hon. Friend truly said, substantially improved amenities in the homes of the people—all these and more will be needed, and needed soon, if rapid and lasting prosperity is to come to the Highlands.
Whether in the future we shall operate under a Tennessee Valley scheme or a Highland Commission, or, as now, under the control of the Scottish Office, with as I desire, a special Under-Secretary to look after the Highlands—whatever be the method of control—I believe the key to 234 this long sought for change in the future of the Highlands lies in the exploitation of the vast water power resources that lie untapped in the North Western area. I have thought that for a long time and believe the whole country shares that view.
We can go still further on the road of common agreement. There is universal acceptance of the proposition that the exploitation of these resources should be placed in the hands of a public corporation acting for the State. I think that step is necessary, because in the peculiar geographical and political conditions of the North Western area I do not believe any private undertaking could do the job. I think it is right, because we are contemplating here the monopoly use of the nation's assets. Personally, I accept and welcome the idea, in the same way as I and my hon. Friends on these Benches welcomed the creation of the Port of London Authority, the London Passenger Transport Board, the Central Electricity Board, and other public utilities of a monopolistic character which this generation has created. Had the present Bill been framed on the lines of the enactments setting up those other public utilities, which incidentally are the lines recommended by the Cooper Committee, I should not have opposed the Second Reading to-day.
But the Bill is drafted on very different lines, indicating, as I think, a complete misconception of the whole principle of public service corporations. What is that principle? It is most important that the House should understand what it is doing. It is that, within the bounds of the broad duties laid upon it by Parliament, the organisation should have the maximum of freedom and initiative in its day-to-day activities. The assumption underlying the creation of such a public service body is that there is a constructive job to be done, which the ordinary machinery of the State is not competent to perform. A public utility corporation, therefore, is not and should never be regarded as a Department of the State. It is a business concern, and as the Home Secretary has often emphasised in discussing these problems, if it is to succeed, it must be run on business lines, accepting responsibility for its actions, taking risks, making its decisions from hour to hour, altering its plans to suit changing conditions, ready at all times to adapt itself to the needs of its public and 235 the resources at its disposal. The less a public utility is hampered by rigid Civil Service standards and pettifogging departmental interferences and checks, the better job it will make of the task entrusted to it by the nation. I have no hesitation in saying that the experience of all the great public utilities now in existence supports that view.
§ Mr. Maxton
Will the hon. Member say that the electricity production of Glasgow, which is not run by a public utility company but by a municipal council of 120 members, is a less businesslike concern than, say, the Ayrshire or the Clyde Valley Electricity Board?
No. I am certain that the Corporation of Glasgow operates its concern on proper business lines, and that is why it is so successful. If this Bill were to give the new Board the same freedom as the Glasgow Electricity Department exercises, I should not be speaking here to-day.
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
The Corporation's electricity department has no more and no less power than is granted under the Bill.
If the hon. Member will bear with me while. I develop my case, I think I can persuade him that there is some doubt as to the assurance which he has expressed. I believe it will be the testimony of all the public utilities, and equally, to do them credit, of the Departments with which they are connected, that the more these public utilities have thrown over the practice and procedure of Whitehall, the more efficient they have become and the more successful in achieving the object for which they were created. When I consider the wealth of knowledge and experience available to us on these public authorities, and the lessons to be learned from them, I am frankly appalled at the pre-historic timidity of this Bill. It is as if we were venturing for the first time into a dark, dangerous and unexplored land. I see the Secretary of State climbing up his beanstalk laboriously, painfully, terrified of what he may find in the new world above and armed to the teeth with every weapon of obstruction and defence he can tie round himself.
This new body is charged with one of the most hopeful tasks ever committed in 236 peace-time to a body of Scotsmen, a task requiring drive, enthusiasm and dauntless enterprise. Yet see how this wretched Board is encumbered. Fifty-eight times in the course of the Bill it is instructed to refer its decisions to Government Departments, either in London or in Edinburgh, and in 32 of these cases permission and approval must be sought here in London before anything practical can be done. I am sure that does not apply to the Glasgow Corporation. The Secretary of State has stated that the matters upon which representations are to be made are all technical matters. That is true. But this is a technical board. The generation, distribution and sale of electricity are all highly technical matters, which will engage the full day-to-day activities of the Corporation. In practice scarcely a day will pass without the Board having to seek the assent of some Department somewhere, mostly in London, for the ordinary performance of its duties. We can imagine, and unless the Bill is altered the Highlands will certainly experience, the repeated, excessive and exasperating delays that will ensue. It is intended that the office of the Board is to be in Scotland. Unless the Bill is amended, I predict that its head office will have to be in London, where the real control lies. I have been 10 years in the House, and another 10 closely associated with its work, but I have never seen such a bureaucracy-ridden Measure as this in all that long period.
There is no precedent for it. I have studied most carefully the analogy of the 1926 Act upon which it is evidently based. But the Central Electricity Board, created 17 years ago, was not crabbed, confined and controlled in this way. This Bill is a veritable E1 Alamein of obstacles compared with the restraints in the earlier Measure. But even if it were not so, even if the Bill were a replica of the controls imposed at that time, are we to set our pace in 1943 by the standards of 1926? Are we not to advance with the times and in accordance with enlightened opinion of the day? Except for the Electricity Commissioners, who, despite the fact that their falling repute makes their days already numbered, are the real masters of this new Board—excepting them, I have consulted in recent weeks directly or indirectly the best technical and administrative opinion available in the industry; and I 237 say categorically and with the utmost seriousness that it is the unanimous view of these experts that the controls in this Bill are excessive, unnecessary and will militate seriously against the success of the Board and the electrification of the Highlands. These are weighty opinions which the House cannot ignore.
Perhaps my hon. Friend will guess, if he will let me say the next few Words. I wonder whether the Secretary of State has consulted these opinions? Did he consult any of the great electricity associations, or even the Central Electricity Board, upon the broad lines of this Bill? I do not mean on limited points; I mean on the broad framework of the Bill. We know that he conferred with the Scottish local authorities, showing them, in advance of Parliament, summaries both of the Cooper Report and of the Bill.
I understand that these are the facts, and if my right hon. Friend can contravert them, it will be as well to do so. The Cooper Report was received by the Secretary of State on 25th August. He met the local authorities on 20th November. I have Press cuttings about it here. The Report was presented to Parliament on 16th December. On 11th January he had a further meeting with the local authorities, when the main provisions of the Bill, I am told, were disclosed. That is my information.
§ Mr. Johnston
I have already informed the hon. Member and the House that it is not correct to say that the terms of this Bill were disclosed to anyone before they were disclosed to Parliament.
My exact words, I hope, will not be misrepresented. What I said was that my right hon. Friend conferred with the Scottish local authorities, showing them in advance of Parliament summaries of the Cooper Report and of the Bill. My right hon. Friend says that he did not show them the Bill. That may quite well be, but I am standing by the statement I made in the terms in which I made it. I do not withdraw the terms which I have used. I say that my right hon. Friend consulted the local authorities, and I ask him whether he extended 238 this opportunity to a single one of the expert bodies in the electricity industry whom I have mentioned. My information is that he did not. It is no wonder, if that be so, that we have this hotch-potch of Scottish Nationalism and English Socialism thrust upon us. It needed only the amazing impertinence of Clause 16 (1)—which I understand from my right hon. Friend is now to be reconsidered—with its unlimited powers to alter by Order in Council the whole character of the Measure, to complete the picture of muddled compromise such as we have presented to us And let the House remember, with all these checks upon the Board's freedom, including virtual dictation of the prices which it must charge, this unfortunate body is to be made responsible all the time for the solvency of its undertaking. It is an extraordinary situation into which to put a public body.
So much for the Board. What about the functions that this House is to play in the operations of this new body? As if still further to stop progress and hold up development, we have, in direct contravention of the recommendations of the Cooper Committee, the clumsy provisions of Clauses 4, 5 and 6 for the preparation of schemes, and Clause 5 for Parliamentary review of the Board's detailed plans. I am not sure that the House fully appreciates the significance of these Clauses. The Cooper Report tells us, and my right hon. Friend has repeated it to-day, that there are 70 hydro-electric schemes in the northern area which, in the words of the Report:by reason of the availability of potential storage, convenience of situation and other favourable characteristics, offer good promise of economic development.Clause 6 provides that every one of these 70 schemes, having passed through the gamut of the Electricity Commissioners, the Scottish Office, public inquiry and so on, shall then be laid before Parliament for its approval. What does that mean to Parliament? We are not without experience in these matters. We have had these schemes before us frequently. The Cooper Report used strictly accurate language in describing the Debates when it said:The whole subject became involved in an atmosphere of grievance, suspicion, prejudice and embittered controversy.The creation of a public Board, while, I agree, it may possibly allay suspicion and prejudice, is not likely to remove either 239 grievances or controversy on these matters. The conflicting interests of landowners, coal companies, deer-stalkers and amenity enthusiasts on the one hand, and the Board, chemical industries, local authorities and the public on the other hand will remain, and they will be fought with the same ruthless energy on every scheme that emerges. When I contemplate the prospect of 70 such miserable Debates in the House, I am frightened at what I see ahead of me.
Surely there is some escape from such a prospect. I put this proposition to my hon. Friends, and it is fundamental to the construction of the Bill, If we cannot avoid these controversies, let us, at least, try to limit their numbers. Why should every scheme, for every new glen or loch which is harnessed to this great Highland Grid, be brought before the House? Is it wise? Will anyone claim that we are competent to discuss the details of a highly technical subject of that kind? Is it practicable? Bearing in mind the extraordinary difficulties we used to have in obtaining only two days for discussing the Scottish Estimates in a whole year, is it likely that we shall get time to discuss 70 of these new schemes? It is most unlikely.
Would it not be infinitely more sensible, and more in keeping with the dignity of this House and of the new Board, if a comprehensive development scheme of the Board were to be presented to Parliament every so often, a sort of five-year programme presented for the five years ahead, followed later by another five-year programme? Such a programme could contain, in as much detail as this House required, particulars of all construction and distribution works which the Board had in mind. In practice, the Board will have to make a four or five or six-year programme. The phrase in the Bill about "taking one year with another" is unprecedented, and unknown in any large undertaking; in fact, it is an impossible condition to place upon the Board. The Board must plan ahead, just as the London Passenger Transport Board or the Glasgow Electricity Department plan ahead. Let the Board lay its five-year programmes regularly before the House for thorough and detailed examination. I would agree that the programme should go before a Parliamentary Committee for detailed review and would reserve the right of Parliament to amend 240 as well as to approve the Bill. Having done that, surely common sense demands——
I agree, but I am pleading for common sense in this case. I say that the House having considered and approved the five-year plan, surely common sense demands that we should then hand it back to the Board and say, "Get on with your job within the limits of the agreed programme." If we are not going to trust the Board to do the job for which it is being created, we have no right to set up a Board at all.
The Secretary of State appears to be opposed to this plan on the ground that Highland authorities insist that every individual scheme should come before Parliament and that in any case Parliament must be supreme. I have been reading the Press, and I notice that he appears to have committed himself already to some of those authorities on the constitution of the Board, and it may be that he has taken some similar steps as regards Parliamentary control. The House will judge of that, but I am sure it will repudiate any suggestions that its decisions are to be governed by the wishes of any local authority. But what of this claim that Parliament should be supreme? Which method, the Scottish Secretary's method or the one which I have developed, is the more likely to bring about that Parliamentary control? What is my right hon. Friend's method? According to him, this House is to have no voice whatever in the development schemes or in the distribution schemes. These are for the Electricity Commissioners and the Scottish Office to decide, yet they may both raise issues of vital importance to the Highlands and, to the life of the people who live there. It is only upon the construction schemes that Parliament is to be offered an opportunity to express its opinion. What kind of opinion will Parliament get the chance of expressing? Are we to be allowed to make any suggestions regarding these schemes? May we make a single amendment? No, Sir. We may do none of those Parliamentary things. The schemes will be presented to us in every case as faits accomplis and in the discredited and thoroughly undemocratic form of Orders in Council, which we must accept or reject, but not one dot or comma of which we can alter.
I am doing my best to make my case. How different is the method I propose! How much more effective from the point of view of Parliamentary control. When I add that in addition to the detailed examination of the five-year plan by Parliament, I would have the Secretary of State answerable, by questions or otherwise, at any time and all the time, to this House for the actions of the Board, and that I would certainly require the Board to present an annual report to Parliament. I think the House will agree that the Parliamentary control I am suggesting would be a very effective one.
That plan would be a democratic and workmanlike plan. The plan in this Bill is neither democratic nor workmanlike. As I shall show on the Committee stage, this Bill is badly drafted, is unjust to outside interests and is full of generalities, overlappings and contradictions. The Cooper Report and the prospect of the ensuing Bill raised great expectations throughout Scotland. At long last, it seemed that a bold and constructive step was about to be taken. I want that step to be taken. The nation will demand it when the war is over. But I say that that step cannot be taken, those expectations will not be met, if this Bill passes in its present form. On the contrary, the Highlands will experience only delays, disappointments and disillusionment. I am unwilling to be a party to that disillusionment. I noted the conciliatory remarks of my right hon. Friend in the concluding part of his speech, and I shall wait to hear what the Lord Advocate has to say when he replies. If he is able to deal with the specific point which I have raised I will gladly reconsider my position. But meanwhile I feel I have no alternative but to seek the rejection of the Bill, so that it may be referred back to its authors for overhaul, consonant with the task set us and made worthy of the people and the nation whom it is designed to serve.
§ Sir Henry Fildes (Dumfries)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I remember that on previous occasions when this subject was debated we had not the kindly and reasonable atmosphere that has prevailed to-day. I am happy 242 to think that many of us have seen the error of our ways and that we all recognise that something must be done for the Highlands of Scotland without any delay. As my hon. Friend's Amendment indicates, he does not quarrel with the ultimate object of the scheme, but, rather, with the machinery by which it is to be carried out, and I am sure we are all delighted to have had our attention drawn to the points that he has made and has emphasised with so much logic and so much eloquence. What worries me is the 70 schemes that may be brought along. In Dumfriesshire we have perhaps the finest electrical scheme——
§ Sir H. Fildes
If the hon. Member will allow me to say so, Dumfriesshire was the first county in Great Britain to supply the rural areas with electricity on the present system.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
The scheme to which the hon. Member is alluding came from the adjacent county.
§ Sir H. Fildes
When one of those 70 schemes comes along, I hope that what Dumfriesshire has accomplished will be recognised and that they will be allowed to continue the excellent work that they have done up to date. The late Spencer Leigh Hughes, when referring to a certain by-election, said: "This has been a stout and bitter contest." We have had acrimonious and bitter disputes in the past but at the moment, as far as my limited experience with Scotland guides me, Scotland stands united for the first time.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I do not intend to follow the case which was presented by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart). I confess to a difficulty at all times in following his case and at times even his elusive political career. It is difficult for us in the Highlands to treat as serious at this time that kind of opposition, against the background of the problems which we have had to face in the past and shall have to face in the future. I do not think the hon. Member's argument touched the fundamental questions which are behind the Bill and are in the mind of the Secre- 243 tary of State for Scotland and hon. Members. I will commend those who wish to study again the more recent discussion of the general Scottish picture against which the Bill is drawn, to the Hansard report of the discussion on the Preservation of Scottish Industry in this House last year. Meantime I am more concerned with the Highlands and adjacent areas to which the Bill more immediately and mainly applies.
I do not need to reiterate any of the points which were made to-day by my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge (Mr. Barr) regarding the need for giving the Highlands a better deal than they have had in the past. I do not need to harrow the feelings of Members with tales of the "clearances" or of the effects of the evictions from the Highlands and the banishing of men in favour of sheep; and, later, even of sheep in favour of deer. The House knows all about those gloomy memories when it comes to discuss questions affecting the Highlands. They know the history of the landlords who betrayed the high trust of clan stewardship by banishing the people who had supported them and for whom they found no further use, in order to make room for the sheep, the deer and sport. This is now a tale of the past, but its consequences still follow every Highlander and affect his social and economic life to these present days. I commend the book by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, "The History of the Working Classes in Scotland," in which he reminds us that in the first half of the nineteenth century no fewer than 200,000 people were forced by economic conditions, and by the ruling class of those days in the Highlands, to leave their native land, never to return. To this day we find the progeny of those people, their children's children, scattered in their hamlets and crofts along the coasts of Sutherland and Caithness, in places like the Eribol and Cape Wrath coasts, around the Ross-shire shores, down the Argyllshire coast and in the Islands of the Hebrides. The people are literally on the rocks, as they have been for generations. Only their amazing tenacity and their love for their native land, in spite of economic hardship and lack of natural advantages keep those people in the country at all.
244 We had a further period between 1861 and 1930–70 years—when 62 per cent. of the entire population left the Highlands and Islands for ever. I think the figure runs to about 235,000 people. Whole villages, some of them known to me, and about many of which we can read, have virtually vanished. Counties have dwindled. The whole area of the Highlands has been gravely depopulated, until to-day one wonders whether we shall ever be able to recover anything like the population in quality as well as in quantity that existed there in the past. Ross and Cromarty alone lost 12.5 per cent. of its population by emigration during the 10 years from 1921 to 1931. That figure means that in 80 years, not allowing for the effects of this war at all, that is to say, well within four generations, there will be neither man nor woman nor child in the whole of that county. That situation is reproduced on a smaller scale in many of the villages in the North, but Ross and Cromarty as a county is the most striking example of the danger of economic deterioration.
The right hon Gentleman rightly emphasised that it is the best stock which leave the Highlands and Islands. It is the most enterprising, the young and the restless, those who are not reconciled to the conditions of poverty there who go away. They leave with bitterness the country which accepts the view that nothing can be done for the Highlands but to leave people with four acres and a cow and hope for the rest to survive on unemployment assistance. The best of the stock are those who go first. They have no hope of economic restoration of their own country, and so they go abroad, and we lose them. We must remember that it is not only the best of our stock that we are losing, but it is also the main reproductive age groups that go. That means that our population problem for the future will become much more acute. They leave behind them an older and ageing population. Go to the Highlands to-day. Even before the war, in many villages you found mainly very young children whose fathers were working in distant parts or were looking for work, and many women with no hope of marriage or of rearing a family. You found older men and women mainly. This is part of the serious human background, and against it, the kind of opposition which alleges danger of bureaucratic administration of the Bill dwindles 245 to no significance at all. It is in the light of that urgent human background that we have to consider and reject that type of opposition. The hon. Member did not challenge fundamentally the finances of the Bill but only the details of its administration.
Summing up that human aspect, let us take the last 100 years. Add to the ravages of clearances and evictions the evils of migration over those 100 years and then the effects of the world war between 1914 and 1918, with its acceleration of depopulation and loss of manpower. Then add the wholesale migration of the 20's of this century; and then add the effects of this world war. Surely the Highlands have suffered enough for all that Highlanders have ever got out of this country, considering all that they have contributed to it in peace and in war. I do not want to accept the fatalism with which some people accept the economic deterioration of the North and its depopulation, and say that it is uneconomic to do this or that to remedy it. The poet Herbert Read expressed the feelings of the men coming back from the last war, disillusioned. I hope it will not be their feelings coming back from this. He says:We think we gave in vain. The world was not renewed.There was hope in the homestead and anger in the streets.But the old world was restored and we returnedTo the dreary field and workshop, and the immemorial feuldOf rich and poor. Our victory was our defeat.Power was retained where power had been misusedAnd youth was left to sweep awayThe ashes that the fires had strewn beneath our feet.That is the expression of deep disillusion and disenchantment after 1918. It is the most dangerous thing which can seize the mind and heart of our people. It is more dangerous even than the kind of things which in war we are able to combat, and the enemies we can physically overcome. That is the enemy within, the fifth column you cannot defeat if it gets a grip in the hearts and minds of men.
In the opposition to-day, there has been no sort of direct attack, from what we might call the irresponsible side of big business. The hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Zetland (Major NevenSpence) made a sort of half-hearted 246 attack, but a very restrained one. I think his criticisms, in view of his political opinions, were extremely reasonable. I do not agree with them at all, but I think he signified his acceptance in a very patriotic spirit of putting the national good, as he saw it, even in front of what he called private enterprise, which he generally represents in this House.
There is another type of opposition we have had. I respect the capacity and ability and technical knowledge of Mr. Quigley, but I wish he would make his position completely clear, because many of us place a great deal of weight on his opinion, and the unfortunate sequence of his alternating support and criticism of the Bill put us rather in a difficulty in assessing where he stood. I would have welcomed a definite line on where he, as an expert, stands. Then there are those like many of our friends in the Scottish Nationalist Party who have many able and patriotic Scotsmen among them and are sincere in pressing their opposition in this case; but who seem to me to be starving in sight of a possible abundance of half loaves. It is a Gandhi-like procedure without the same justification, and I wish they would not press their opposition in the rather flamboyant way they do, and would align themselves with their influence in the Scottish interest, with those of us who are trying to seize before it finally vanishes this Treasury concession which is so much greater than we have been accustomed to expect in past times.
I think the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Garden of Eden when discussing alleged desecration of the Highlands. But I would remind hon. Members that in the Garden of Eden there were, as far as we can recall, only two people. For various reasons even they were driven out. I wish to eliminate in the interest of those genuinely concerned with amenities those people who hide behind the plea of amenities preservation in the interests of landlords and other competing interests, and who use the amenities people to obstruct Measures of this kind in the House, chiefly those associated with the Highlands and hydro-electrical schemes. We must not base opposition to practical schemes of this kind on that sort of sentimental Celtic twilightism. I get people writing from places like Surrey to me in the Western Isles, where I was brought up and where 247 I lived, and which I represent, hoping that we shall have regard to amenities, as though we ourselves were not completely cognisant of our duty to the preservation of the beauty spots of our own country. That sentimental obstruction must be brushed aside. Most of those who indulge in it do not live in the Highlands and would not live there, I fancy, and I do not think it is up to them to dictate what this House should do in the way of hydroelectric and other schemes.
Depopulation of the North is due to the lack of employment, lack of prospects of employment. The amenities have been preserved fully there for many years. But the people go away. There is opposition which says, "Do not industrialise the glens. Do not spoil the Highlanders." I think that the sure way to spoil the Highlander or anyone else is to put him out of employment or tie him up to that cap-touching obsequious job of ghillying around for people who come once a year for their own pleasure and not to develop the land. It is an insecure life even for those Highlanders, and they are very few. I object to people and their families being at the mercy for their livelihood of these arrogant interlopers with one financial foot in City properties and the other foot crushing the Highlanders out of existence—this type of the gigantic Colossus of Rents.
Supporting this Bill, apart from private Members of this House, are the Scottish Office and the Treasury itself; and we may offer a prayer of thanks, very whole-heartedly, that on this occasion—how he did it I do not know—the Secretary of State got £30,000,000 to guarantee the development of this scheme. Inverness County Council, City and Isles are for it. All the representative Highland and Islands bodies, as the hon. and gallant Member has said, are behind the Secretary of State. Sutherland and Caithness are entirely with him. The hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Zetland (Major Neven-Spence), representing his people, is with him. The vast majority of the people of the North are undoubtedly with him, and I am glad, above all, that we have all united in the North. That, in itself, my right hon. Friend will welcome, having seen the devastating effects of disunity in the past. They accept with small reservations, but with very 248 great hopes. I congratulate him now on having got that unity. The hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill), speaking recently on the preservation of Scottish industry in this House, said:In laying plans now for after the war the right hon. Gentleman must be willing to think on bold lines. It is encouraging to realise that, in the Secretary of State for Scotland, we have a man who puts the interests of Scotland first.The hon. Member for North Edinburgh represents a very strong section of the Conservative Party in this House. I think his words should be carefully weighed before those supporting this Amendment go into the Lobby against this Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for South-East Essex (Flight-Lieutenant Raikes) said the other day:There is a view held in certain quarters that it is impossible to do anything until the war is over and normal conditions return. I regard that as a gospel of despair.I think we all agreed with him. He added:Every social reform in the history of this House has been met with the argument that it must wait until normal times."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1943; col. 1765, Vol. 386.]And of those "normal times" he ends: "I never expect to know them." He then indicated that planning should be proceeded with now. The hon. Member for East Islington (Mrs. Cazalet Keir) said in that Debate:It seems to me the least that we in Parliament can do is to see that plans are made now so that they can be ready when victory comes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1943; col. 1793, Vol. 386.]All the expectations and hopes of the Service men and women are upon the plans being made now for their future, so that they can have a guarantee of ready employment. Perhaps I can quote the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) against those opposing planning now. He said:Some of my hon. Friends seem to overlook one or two ultimate facts about social reform. The first is that if you do not give the people social reform they will give you social revolution."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1943; col. 1816, Vol. 386.]The question and need of planning is one on which we are completely agreed. I do not see why we should exclude the Highlands and the north of Scotland from its scope. The hon. Member's objection to the Bill as being "badly drafted" is 249 an age-old objection; we have had it to almost every Measure of social reform. It gives a little time to the obstructionists to put their case in public, possibly to carry their objection to a Division; or for other reasons. This Measure is not a poem or a thing of beauty; it is not even living prose; but it is understandable and readable. For detailed improvement, there is a Committee stage, and I think a fair amount of time could be given on that. The Bill sets up a public service. I think all the authorities in Scotland and all Members of this House, except the hon. Member and a few of his friends, are in favour of a public service. It provides £30,000,000, too, which is an entirely new thing for this part of Scotland, and we welcome the success of the right hon. Gentleman in obtaining it. Its main programme we recognise as being good and useful. It can be worked in with other Highland planning and future development schemes. I do not think we need to wait until we have a complete coordinated scheme. We must get going now. This is a first step forward. It will, I anticipate, attract new industries into the north of Scotland, and with an energetic prosecution of his task the right hon. Gentleman can expect a certain measure of success.
The activities undertaken under the Bill are all controllable by the nation, in spite of what the hon. Member for East Fife has said. It has regard to our amenities. Do not think for a moment that the Secretary of State and the Members for Scottish constituencies are going to tolerate anything which will knock the tops off the mountains and fill up the rivers of the Highlands and drain all the lochs. Amenities can be adequately protected, and at the same time something can be done for the economic life of the Highlands. I have an alarming number of notes here, which, I comfort my hon. Friends, I do not intend to use, but there are certain points that I still want to stress, as it is not often that a Bill affecting our part of the country to such an extent comes before the House. I beg the Secretary of State to see that the workers employed on this scheme come as far as possible from the areas which will be affected by the development, that is from the Isles and Highlands; and are not imported from various other parts of the glebe. There will be plenty of ex-Servicemen for the jobs at home. It is 250 quite unnecessary to import people for the main supply of labour, which I take it will be largely unskilled and semi-skilled. I am not against heavy industries, but I am also for light industries if we can have them. We want to see the industries spread over as large an area as possible, to give the maximum employment near the people's own homes in their already organised communities. I would add my appeal again that in the interests of the whole nation the beauty and wholesome-ness of the Highlands should be preserved. Parliament and the amenities committee and the local councils must be consulted before while the schemes are being prepared, and not only after they have been prepared. The beauty of the Highlands is a natural and spiritual asset to the nation, and it is a rich material asset as well. There is an opportunity here in the peace of the Highlands for giving our city working people rest from work. If we develop electricity by water power, water supply, sanitation and these other domestic amenities, and bring housing in the Highlands up to date, we can attract a tourist traffic and industry to the North of Scotland, and that is an extremely important thing in itself.
I would ask the Secretary of State again to consider the claims made by Members for the isolated areas, which I am not completely convinced are likely to benefit from the supply of electric light and power. It may be "uneconomic," but there are many industries, for example, in this country which are uneconomic. Agriculture may be said to be uneconomic, as it has to be subsidised heavily to live. You could say the same of shipping before the war, and of every other industry that is subsidised and that does not pay its way unaided. If industry can be subsidised in that way, why cannot the amenities and benefits for our own citizens be so also? I cannot remember the Secretary of State saying anything about the Islands to-day. I hope that whoever replies will give us some assurance that they will benefit from the schemes of economic improvement provided for under the Bill.
The convenience of these new undertakings must compromise with human requirements. You must settle these new industries near to where people have set up their communal life, so that they can have recreational, educational and other facilities and bring up their families ac- 251 cording to the desirable requirements of modern life. I would stress that the small people in the villages and the glens, the people in the countryside who help feed the nation, and who have earned our thanks by fighting for the nation, should be provided with cheap electricity and power among other common comforts. The factories should be settled as near as possible to those places where the people have set up their communal life.
But, even more important than the provision of electricity to the people of the crofts and small hamlets is the provision of work and wages. While I emphasise the importance of getting light and power to these people, the most important thing about the Bill is the new hope it brings for people who are at present wondering what is to happen to them after the war, when "peace breaks out." We are given here some hope that they will have the opportunity of work and wages, so that our Service men and women may walk straight into jobs. They want to avoid at all costs the humiliating experience our people had after the last war. Give our people the opportunity of taking part in the reconstruction of the nation and of expressing their personalities through creative service to their nation and land. Parliament can help do this and so give our Highland people a new sense of earned independence, through taking part in useful work in rebuilding the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
§ Mr. Hunter (Perth)
The Secretary of State for Scotland has every reason to be satisfied with the reception of the Bill which he has presented to us to-day. To one who supported previous Bills for hydro-electric development of Scotland it is a matter of great satisfaction. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland would agree that those who read the Cooper Report will realise that it was the greatest justification for the Glen Affric and Caledonian Power Scheme, and not only so, but this scheme which will come before the House will be founded on the work done by that private company in those days. Therefore, there is no need to decry private enterprise, because they have laid the foundation of the present Bill. I agree with the provisions of the Bill, and I am glad to know that the Secretary of State has taken an immense amount of trouble to try and satisfy and to arrange things in 252 Scotland so that this Bill will go through the House practically with the unanimous support of the whole House. I am confident that the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) will not press the Amendment in his name. All the things that he said are subject to the Committee stage of the Bill.
There is only one thing I do not like, and that is the heavy, cumbersome machinery of the Bill. The association of the Electricity Commissioners with the Scottish Board is unnecessary. The Scottish Board should be left to work this thing itself. There are certain things to be done with the consent of the Electricity Commissioners. But I think that the Electricity Commissioners should be wiped out and the matter be left entirely to the Board and to the Secretary of State for Scotland.
I do not attach much importance to the work of the amenity committee, because the amenities of Scotland have not in any way been interfered with or destroyed by existing works: I live in the midst of the biggest works in Perthshire, and I defy any Member to see where these works are situated. Although there is a certain amount of disturbance when work is in progress, nature has a much more wonderful way of covering and hiding these works than anything that I can conceive. You cannot find them. I wish to pay a compliment to the Grampian scheme, and I hope that their interests will be safeguarded. When I was chairman of two committees that negotiated the Grampian Bill and another Measure, one of the things that we insisted upon was that there should be no impounding of waters to such an extent as would impede the flow of the Tay. The same sort of thing may happen in Inverness. There is an agreement that they must give us a certain amount of compensation water during the summer months, so as to maintain supplies, and they have faithfully fulfilled that pledge. By impounding the water in winter time, it has prevented flooding, which previously caused an immense amount of destruction in the lower valleys. I hope that special arrangements will be made so that no Board can come in and impound any waters which flow into the Tay, leaving the Tay, the largest flowing river in the country, high and dry, especially in those places from which we draw the water.
I was glad that the Secretary of State made reference to the rating question. It 253 is very necessary that something should be done, and the whole of Scotland will welcome the information that he proposes to raise the whole rating system of Scotland, which is at present in an impossible position. If it were brought into line with that of England, it would be all right, but we hope that we shall have a better understanding. The Convention of Royal Burghs and the county councils in Scotland have always pressed for an overhaul of the rating system, which is full of anomalies. At the present time some people are called upon to pay rates although they have not a penny with which to pay them. I have no hesitation in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman upon his Bill. There are little difficulties, and Amendments are required, but he has done a great service to Scotland, and, in doing a service to Scotland, he has done what I never thought was possible—he has induced Members opposite to a realisation of the needs of the Highlands.
§ The Lord Advocate (Mr. J. S. C. Reid)
We have no reason to be dissatisfied with the reception which this Bill has had from the House to-day. On the contrary, the Debate shows a new approach to post-war Scottish problems. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have approached the consideration of this Bill, leaving aside pre-war preconceptions and with the sole view of what is most practicable and likely to be most in the interests of Scotland as a whole, and of the Highlands in particular. That definite approach has resulted in this—that this Debate has been more remarkable for the things that have not been said than for the things that have been said. I do not mean to cast any reflection on hon. Members who have made most useful speeches, but throughout the history of this type of development there have been two or three objections which have come forward every time, and have been put in the forefront, and have to a large extent influenced votes in this House. Not one word has been said about those types of objections to-day.
The first is the objection dealing with amenities. I never liked the word "amenity." It is much too cold and colourless a word to mean what we really mean when we are thinking about the character of the countryside in the Highlands, which we want to preserve, but as 254 it is in common use it will serve. Nobody has pressed the amenity question to any extent at all. Nevertheless, I would like to say a word or two about it because I would not like it to be thought that considerations of amenities are absent from the mind of my right hon. Friend or will be absent from the minds of those who have to carry out duties under this Bill. It is clear that, although industrial development must, if there is a real conflict, come first, every effort must and should be made to see that there is no such conflict and to make the greatest possible effort to meet the case for amenity.
Fifteen years ago people had great doubt as to whether it was possible to develop a Scottish glen or valley without doing irreparable damage to its character, but experience has shown that it is possible. I happen to know the Galloway scheme, to which the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mr. Barr) alluded, much better than others from this point of view and I do not think that anyone can fairly say that going all the way from Loch Doon over the watershed down to Tongland near the sea, the valley of the Dee has been spoilt. There are at least five power stations, dotted about, mostly in prominent positions; there are seven or eight dams and barrages and other civil engineering features, but not one of them could now be said to be an eyesore. They have been fitted, so to speak, into the countryside. It would have been very easy to spoil that valley. But my own view is that it would be easier to spoil that type of countryside than spoil the Highland glens. It could certainly have been spoiled by unskilful work. What happened was that the amenity committee took over its duties at the very beginning and the company worked in the closest cooperation with it. About £20,000, that is, about 1 per cent., of the civil engineering costs was spent on special amenity work and that money has repaid itself time and again in the result. Accordingly, I think we can be assured that the interests of amenities will be most prominently kept in mind and that we can hope, and indeed, expect, that if that is done, no serious damage will be done to any of the glens in Which it is proposed to operate.
Another main objection which has, perhaps, received more prominence outside this House than inside it, is the idea 255 that you should harness water power in the Highlands by means of small and not large schemes. I think the reason why we have not heard so much of that lately is because of the devastating criticism in the Cooper Report of small type scheme proposals. I need not go over those criticisms again; I will only say that for a great many people in the Highland area the choice is not between getting electricity from a large or a small scheme; the choice is between getting electricity from a large scheme or getting no electricity at all. As was right, I think, a tear was shed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Orkney and Zetland (Major Neven-Spence) over the fact that private enterprise could not be entrusted with this particular development. Many of us regret that private enterprise has not been able to tackle this job in the past for reasons for which private enterprise was, perhaps, not responsible. But all of us have to look at this from the point of view of what will produce a coherent scheme within a reasonable time in the North of Scotland. I do not think anybody has any doubt that that can only be done by putting very extensive duties upon, and conferring very extensive powers upon, a public board.
The next point I ought to clear out of the way before coming to the somewhat narrow grounds on which the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill was moved, is the question of outlet for the power which is to be produced. The Cooper Report makes it clear that on ordinary principles of distribution not more than about 8 per cent. of the potential power can be used in the immediate locality. Some suggestions have been made in the Debate that very extensive distribution in very outlying, scattered areas might be possible. I think it is always understood that in any area, except the most congested, distribution costs are a very large fraction of the total costs, and in an outlying area distribution costs entirely outweigh the cost of generation of the electricity. Accordingly, if the Board is to pay its way—and that is fundamental—it is clear that distribution in remote areas where it would be wholly uneconomic cannot be achieved without seeking a subsidy from some other area by over-charging them, and I am sure that hon. Members, however much they may want distribution in very remote areas, do not suggest that 256 other customers of the Board should be charged very high charges to make that possible.
§ The Lord Advocate
In this matter as in many others we have to achieve a middle course. Nobody suggests, on the one hand, that everybody should pay the exact cost of distribution to his house, for that would be quite impracticable and would not be good sense. On the other hand, there must be a limit to the extent to which you impose extra charges on one set of consumers in order to spend sums wholly out of proportion on others. There is a practical line to be drawn there. It will be the duty of the Board, with the safeguards in the Bill, to draw that line, and I think we can safely leave it to the Board to do so when it takes up its duties.
§ Major McCallum
Does the Lord Advocate mean to say that the Government are now definitely of opinion that no remote areas will be able to have electricity supplied? We maintain that the remote areas can be carried by the more populous areas.
§ The Lord Advocate
I am not for a moment saying that. For the moment I am dealing with isolated cottages and remote consumers of that character, whom I think the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) had in mind. It must be worked out as we go on to see how far the Board can go. There are two ways, as the hon. Member said, in which the Board can benefit remote areas. If the expense of taking part of the big supply to a remote area is not prohibitive, I agree that it can be carried on the rest of the Board's profits. If the area is so remote as not to make it reasonable to take to it part of the big supply, it is possible, under a specific provision in the Bill, to provide an isolated supply for an isolated area. There is no reason why, if you have a reasonable load, you should not set up a small generating station to work on its own in a village or populous place a long way from the new grid. In those two ways we hope we shall cover 257 a very large part of the ground, but in order that there shall be no extravagant hopes arising out of this discussion, I want to make it clear that there are isolated areas in the Highlands where it would be quite unreasonable for anyone to expect that electricity should be brought under this Bill.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
It is stated in Clause 2 that it is the function of the Board to provide supplies of electricity in isolated areas. Can we have a guarantee that that will be done?
§ The Lord Advocate
I am afraid I do not follow. It is within the power of the Board to take its own steps in an isolated area so that the people there can get a supply.
§ Commander Galbraith
Does the whole thing not depend on the profits that the new Board should make out of its sales? If they can make a profit, they will go ahead and give electricity to the isolated areas.
§ The Lord Advocate
Certainly. If you can make enough profits out of your contracts, that enables you to speed up your distribution in the non-paying districts very materially. That means that you have to go step by step, and one would hope that in a very limited time a great deal of the country would be covered by distribution. I thought it right, in view of one or two things that have been said, not to let people think that everyone, irrespective of where he is, will get an early supply, but I agree that we expect a very great extension of the existing distribution network at an early date.
I should like to explain why the Bill has been drafted in this way and what our objects were in doing so. If this is to be a public board, quite plainly it cannot be irresponsible—responsible to no one—more especially if there is money guaranteed by the Treasury. The responsibility, however it is framed, must ultimately be responsibility to this House. The only way of making the Board directly responsible to the House would be to put it under the direction of a Minister—to subject it to a Government Department. That we were quite determined not to do, and we have not done it. Accordingly, what we had to achieve was a middle line between giving complete independence to the new Board and subjecting it to day-to-day control, 258 and we think we have achieved that middle line.
The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) said—and it was the principle upon which all his speech was based—that within the bounds of the duties laid upon the Board, it should have the maximum freedom and initiative in its day-to-day activities. Put in that form we are both trying to get the same thing and the dispute between us is purely a dispute as to methods and not a dispute as to principle. It depends on what one regards as day-to-day activities and what one regards as general questions. I am not going through all the 58 times when the control is mentioned in the Bill, but I cannot recollect any of them which are there for the purpose of supervising the day-to-day activities. All of them are intended to be for the purpose of super-vising general decisions and general questions. The hon. Gentleman has said that he will move a number of Amendments on the Committee stage. I have no doubt that at that stage he will pick out those which he thinks are most questionable and we can discuss them. We shall listen to the hon. Gentleman's arguments, and if we are convinced we shall accept his view on any particular points. That, however, is a very different thing from saying that the whole system of the Bill is a bad one.
I was a little surprised at the hon. Member saying that the chief control will be in London. What he means, I think, is that he objects to the duties which have been placed upon the Electricity Commissioners I would remind the hon. Member that ever since 1919 the Electricity Commissioners, by statute, have been charged with the general supervision of electrical development in this country. Unless that statutory charge is to be limited or taken away from them, I find it difficult to see how the provisions of this Bill can well be much narrower than they are. Again, if the hon. Member has any particular instances in mind they can be considered, but that the Electricity Commissioners must maintain their existing position as being charged with general supervision, is a principle upon which we could not possibly give way. The scheme offered by the hon. Member struck me as being a little impracticable. I could not understand how the Secretary of State was to be answerable at any time by Questions in this House if he was deprived of the 259 opportunity to take part in the decisions of the Board. It is impracticable, and indeed, impossible to make a Minister responsible for the doings of somebody over whom he has not even supervision in a general way.
§ The Lord Advocate
Then I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. I took him to say that under his scheme he wanted the Secretary of State to be answerable in this House at any time by Questions.
§ The Lord Advocate
How can the Minister be answerable at any time by Questions if he has not sufficient general control over the Board to make it possible for him to alter their policy in some way? Therefore, I was unable to understand how, with the limited measure of control which the hon. Member would like to be reposed in the Secretary of State, he could reasonably hold the Secretary of State responsible at all. No doubt that can be worked out in more detail and with explanations during the Committee stage. I must say that we shall look at the idea of a five-year plan, but I can hold out no hope that it will be adopted, because at first sight I do not think it looks a very practical way of proceeding. It is suggested that this House should amend the schemes. These schemes are prepared by technical people after the most elaborate investigation and with the most skilled engineering assistance, and how the House of Commons could amend the scheme for the development of a particular water supply I have great difficulty in understanding.
That is precisely the objection I have to the present method. I suggest instead that the Board should present a five-year programme to the House and it was that broad programme which the House should consider, but certainly not the details of a hydro-electric scheme.
§ The Lord Advocate
I do not understand how a programme could be amended. If it is to be worth anything, it must be worked out as a coherent whole, worked out on technical grounds, 260 and I have great difficulty in seeing how it would be appropriate to amend such a programme in this House. Of course this House must have control, be able to say, "We do not like this scheme, there is something wrong with it, take it away." But that is a very different thing from saying that this House should sit down and try to alter details. The Bill proposes that the House has full control to say that it does not like a scheme, but not control to amend it. That seems to me to be proper.
I now come to particular points which have been raised and I would say one word about rating. Of course it is intended to promote legislation. We do not know how long the committee will be before it reports, but there is nothing to prevent the committee from making an interim report if so advised. It may be that some little time will be required for consideration after the rating report is presented, but the House may take it that not only do we intend to promote legislation but that we intend to promote it as soon as possible, in order that the new Board may know its position before it has any rates to pay.
The most important point raised upon the Clauses concerns Clause 16, on which there has been some little misapprehension. The reason we presented it in its present form was not because we had any affection for its present form, but because it was physically impossible to do anything else. It was not possible in the time available between the receipt of the Cooper Report or, rather, the decision of the Government to proceed and the drafting of the Bill to frame the necessary adaptations. That is a very long and difficult technical job. In point of fact, it has not been possible to settle it yet, although we have applied our minds to it quite extensively. But I will say this. Not having drafted the thing one cannot say how long it will take, but we will make every endeavour to make an Amendment on the Committee stage, and we hope to be able to make such an Amendment as will completely remove the objections which have been taken to it.
§ Sir Joseph Nall (Manchester, Hulme)
I understand it is proposed to vest in the, new Board the existing powers and duties of the Central Board. Does the Lord Advocate mean to say that proposal is 261 made without having ascertained whether those powers and duties are appropriate to the new Board?
§ The Lord Advocate
No, of course not, but it is one thing to reach a general decision on matters of this kind and another thing to go through a technical Act containing 30 or 40 Sections and make quite certain that those provisions are applicable to the new situation. There are many differences between the North of Scotland and the rest of the country, and in the transfer from the Central Electricity Board to the new Board, account has to be taken of them. We shall press on with the Work as quickly as we can, and I hope it will be completed by the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Before the Lord Advocate leaves that point, may I ask a question about the new Board working in conjunction with the Central Electricity Board? The right hon. and learned Gentleman will recall the outstanding case of certain factory premises which were blasted. That particular factory was knocked out because it was not on the grid.
§ The Lord Advocate
The proposed representation of the Central Electricity Board upon the new Board will give a means of linking up between the two organisations.
§ Commander Galbraith
Do I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman to give an absolute assurance that on the Committee stage we are to know exactly what is meant by Clause 16? I do not see how we are to proceed with the Bill in Committee unless we do know.
§ The Lord Advocate
Certainly, there will be a statement, and I hope more than a statement. I hope to be able to produce the actual details, but my hon. and gallant Friend may take it that we shall make every endeavour to give the fullest possible information to the House, and, if possible, the actual words of the adaptation.
I have already dealt with the matter of isolated schemes under Clause 2. In Clause 2, in which we set out such an important part of the duties of the new Board, it is necessary for us to make quite definite what we have in mind. I have no time now to argue the case for direct 262 supply to large power-users, but there will be no question, I understand, of taking away from existing authorised undertakers their existing customers. There are no large power-users there yet, and accordingly the Bill is not taking away existing customers. It is offering the cheapest possible supply to new customers, who, if they do not get it, might never come to the area at all.
The hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum)# asked whether we were wise to put in the words "so far as practicable." I think that is a very wise thing to do. It would be unfortunate to direct the Board absolutely to do some-thing and then to find, later, that it was not practicable for them to do so. With regard to the appointment of representatives, the suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend will be given every weight by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I am afraid I can make no statement upon it at the moment. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Orkney and Zetland (Major Neven-Spence) asked whether Shetland sources had been investigated. I shall make certain that this suggestion is noted and that the point is looked into at the appropriate time. I think windmills could be dealt with, but whether the new Board will think it right to do so is, of course, for them to decide.
In conclusion, may I put the case for the Bill in this way, and in a few words? The Bill will confer advantages not only on the Highlands but on the country as a whole. On the other hand, it should be judged chiefly on its effect on the Highlands. I am not going to overstate the effect of the Bill. The Highland problem is vast and of immense complexity and I do not believe that any one Bill or, for that matter, any one Parliament can solve it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"]
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
In view of the assurances given that the Government are prepared sympathetically to consider all Amendments, including my own, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for the next Sitting Day [Captain McEwen.]