HC Deb 06 May 1943 vol 389 cc316-37
Mr. Hunter (Perth)

I beg to move, in page 5, line 3, to leave out from "electricity," to "within," in line 4, and to insert "to ordinary consumers."

I would suggest that the Board should from time to time prepare schemes for the supply of electricity to ordinary consumers. It is a question of trying to ensure that ordinary consumers will not be prejudiced as against large consumers.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. J. S. C. Reid)

I think the Amendment does not alter the sense of the Clause, but it is better drafting, more direct and more easily understood, and we are prepared to accept it.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 5, line 5, leave out "limits," and insert "areas."—[The Lord Advocate.]

Mr Gallacher (Fife, West)

I beg to move, in page 5, line 9, at the end, to insert, "and approve."

The Lord Advocate

I am obliged to the hon. Member for his brevity, but I have some difficulty in undertanding just what he wants. The position under the Bill is that the Secretary of State prescribes the form in which these various documents are to be presented. He cannot, of course, approve of the documents at that stage, because it is his judicial duty to consider and approve of them after he has received objections. I do not really think the Amendment would improve the position, and I suggest that it is unnecessary.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made:

In page 5, line 18, leave out "it available for inspection," and insert, "copies available for inspection and sale."—[Commander Galbraith.]

In line 23, leave out, "twenty-one," and insert "forty."

In line 33, at the end, insert: Provided that where any person who has lodged objection to the scheme requests that an inquiry shall be held the Secretary of State shall, unless he is of opinion that the objection is frivolous, cause an inquiry to be held before confirming the scheme,"—[The Lord Advocate.] In line 36, leave out "may be inspected," and insert are available for inspection and sale."—[Mr. Erskine Hill.] Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)

I did not seek to move the Amendment which you, Major Milner, called earlier, because I discussed it during the Debate yesterday on Clauses 4 and 5, the short point being that in my view, and that of many who are experts in the matter, the present arrangement by which every such scheme has to he submitted to the Commissioners for approval is likely to cause delay, and possibly inconvenience and difficulty, for the Secretary of State. The alternative proposal which I submitted, and which I would still press if it were in Order, is the more sensible and workmanlike method, by which the Board is required, in consultation with the Electricity Commissioners, to prepare and present schemes to the Scottish Secretary. In that way I am advised that you would avoid disputes and disagreements which are almost certain to arise now and also avoid putting the right hon. Gentleman in the most invidious position of either having to wait for the Commissioners' approval or act as an arbiter. I have put that to the Scottish Office. The Lord Advocate does not re- gard it as a good system. I put the Amendment down on the advice of some of the leading men in the industry and I still believe it to be sound. If the Government decline to accept it, they must take the responsibility.

I want to speak upon the Clause in general. What does it deal with? It is a simple matter of erecting lines to carry electricity to private consumers. Id is not a matter of great transmission lines carrying supplies from the generating stations to the Central Electricity Board. The Government have imposed upon the Board, as I contend they have done throughout, another cumbrous piece of obstruction. I see no need for this heavy weather system of an inquiry, and I am bound to ask the Government why they impose upon this Board a condition that they do not impose upon private undertakers. It is inconceivable to me that the Board should be required to do something which was not laid down in the East Anglian Electricity Act, 1927. That is only one of many that I have examined, each of which contains similar provisions. This private undertaking has not to make a public inquiry. There is a very simple instruction from the House. Section 23 says: The company may at any time, and shall within a year, submit to the Commissioners proposals for the development of the supply of electricty for lighting and general domestic purposes. To whom must they submit their proposals? To the public for an inquiry? Nothing of the kind. Only to certain local authorities. The company shall, in submitting any proposals to the Commissioners under Subsection (1) of this Section, serve copies thereof on every local authority whose district, or any part of whose district, is situate in the area to which the proposals relate. That is all. The company is required to submit a scheme to the Commissioners and copies of the scheme to the local authorities concerned in the area. When that has been done, when representations from the local authorities have been heard and when the Commissioners are satisfied, then, it says: When the said scheme has been approved by the Commissioners with or without modification, it shall he the duty of the company to carry the same into effect, If that was the considered instruction of the House of Commons for private companies—and, despite all the criticism from the other side under which private companies lay, apparently it was thought sufficient—why impose upon this public company this burdensome, cumbersome and delaying procedure? I cannot understand it. It is another example of the excess of zeal on the part of the Scottish Office to load this wretched Board with instructions, delays, red tape and bureaucracy. On the same principle as that which underlies all my other objections, I object to this system and ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider it.

The Lord Advocate

I regret to say that I am not acquainted with the situation in East Anglia or with the terms of the Act which applies there, but the general Act which applies all over the country is much more elaborate than my hon. Friend's citation. Indeed, it is more and not less elaborate than the procedure in this Bill. We have simplified the general law here, and not expanded it. The general law under the 1919 Act is that a special order for distribution is made by the Electricity Commissioners, confirmed by the Minister of Fuel and Power, and then submitted to Parliament. There is a provision in that code for local inquiries, and in certain cases an inquiry is obligatory. There is certainly nothing more elaborate here than there is in the existing general code. I would say further, in justification of the seeming elaborateness of this Clause, that it raises questions of great public importance. It is obvious from a number of the speeches made yesterday that the question of distribution in some remote areas arouses great interest both inside and outside this Chamber, and it seems right therefore that when there is a proposal affecting some remote part of the country that the House of Commons should become aware of it, and should be entitled to make its comments.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

Surely my right hon. and learned Friend is not right in that. This scheme will not come before the House of Commons. It is the construction scheme which comes to the House of Commons, but this relates only to a distribution scheme.

The Lord Advocate

It has to be inquired into and passed by the Secretary of State, who would very soon hear about it in the House of Commons if he did anything wrong. The House of Commons, therefore, because of the Secretary of State being brought into the picture, has an indirect control which ought to be preserved. I submit that there should be opportunities, not only for members of the public, but for Members of Parliament, to make their views felt.

Mr. Stewart

I do not think my right hon. and learned Friend quite appreciates the position. First, he seems to suggest that the case which I mentioned is exceptional. It is nothing of the kind. I can give him other cases, and I could find still more, if I took time to look them up in the Library.

Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)

The hon. Member had plenty of time.

Mr. Stewart

Perhaps the hon. Member will do me the courtesy of allowing me to finish what I have to say. I can give the example of the Cleveland and District Act, 1928, the East Anglia Act, 1927, Section 28, the Wessex Act, 1927, Section 21, and there are others. The Lord Advocate refers me to the Act of 1919. We have advanced since 1919. By 1927 the House of Commons had conceived a shorter, neater, quicker method of doing these things. My right hon. and learned Friend suggests that we ought to go back to the old cumbersome method of 20 years ago. Really, I cannot understand what I may call the Conservative view on these matters which my right hon. Friends represent.

Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)

It is no wonder the hon. Member smiles.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I did not interrupt hon. Members opposite yesterday. We listened with great patience to speeches, many of which we thought were miles beyond the point and quite unjustified, and one would hope that they would, at least, give us a chance of putting a point of substance directly attached to the Bill.

Mr. Gallacher

Will the hon. Member divide the Committee on it?

Mr. Stewart

My right hon. and learned Friend says that these schemes will be of considerable importance, and I do not deny that. Of course it will be of importance if a village is to get a supply of electricity. But those other Acts to which I have referred dealt with much larger populations than are concerned here and with a greater body of public opinion, and apparently those concerned were perfectly satisfied that the method of informing the local authorities gave them all the notice they required. No suggestion has come to me from the Highlands that they want the cumbersome method proposed in the Bill. It has never been put to me that anybody is going to raise a great noise about this business of running a line along this street or that street in a town and I would beg of my right hon. Friend to reconsider this matter in view of the precedents I have indicated.

The Lord Advocate

I will certainly undertake to have a look at those three Acts to which my hon. Friend has referred and which are new to me. Perhaps I am not to blame in that respect, because they are English and not Scottish Acts. If they suggest any new or better scheme to us we will look into it.

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.