HC Deb 23 January 1947 vol 432 cc441-61

7.15 p.m.

Sir John Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)

I beg to move, That the Electricity and Gas (Reduction of Consumption) Order, 1946 (S.R. & O., 1946, No. 2087), dated 10th December, 1946, a copy of which was presented on 12th December, be annulled This Order purports to reduce the consumption of electricity and gas, and it is my purpose this evening to argue that, owing to the form in which it has been made, it will very largely defeat its own object. It applies to industrial undertakings which consume more than a specified amount of coal, electricity or gas. The industrial undertakings which are excluded are iron works, steel works, foundries, coke ovens, docks, harbours, canals and collieries, but all other industrial undertakings are covered by this Order provided they consume more than a specific quantity of one of these three forms of fuel. Also included within the scope of the Order are certain controlled premises which are defined in the Order as: Any hotel, club, restaurant or place of entertainment or sport. The Order provides for dispensation from the provisions of the Order to a greater or less extent by means of licences, and I will deal with that aspect of the matter later on, but the main effect of the Order is this: It provides that during the first three months of this year all those concerns covered by the Order must restrict their rate of consumption of electricity or gas to an amount not exceeding the rate of consumption during the basic period. The basic period varies apparently from one concern to another but it is, roughly speaking, towards the end of last year; it is defined as the last meter reading period before 21st December, 1946. If hon. Members will bear in mind that the permitted consumption of an undertaking during the first three months of this year will be determined by how much was consumed during a basic period at the end of last year, it will be quite evident that the Order will have this outstanding effect: it will penalise those undertakings which were most economical in the basic period and will be comparatively indulgent to those undertakings which were most wasteful during that basic period. I say it will be obvious for this reason. Those undertakings which, during the basic period, cut their consumption of electricity and gas to the bone, will now be in the unhappy position that they can only make a further cut at the expense of their production, whereas those undertakings which were relatively extravagant during the basic period will, of course, have some margin left which they can reduce without reducing their production.

The result is that those undertakings which, during the basic period, really did their best to save consumption, will be placed at a great disadvantage in their competition with rival concerns which chose to be extravagant. It seems a very shabby affair that the Minister should so treat those who loyally responded to his appeals for economy last year. I asked the Minister of Fuel and Power a Question on 19th December in relation to this Order, having regard to the considerations I have mentioned. I asked him: It he will give an assurance that undertakings which reduce consumption below the maximum permitted will not thereby be prejudiced in subsequent restriction. Obviously, many of them must feel that if they do not use their full allowance, they may well suffer for it later on. The Minister did not give an assurance. His answer was: It is my intention throughout to accord the most favourable treatment possible to firms which practise fuel efficiency."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1946; Vol. 431, c. 2156.] That is no assurance whatsoever; indeed, those who see how the wasteful have scored may well feel disinclined to be economical in future. It is quite possible that some concerns anticipated the Order, because the Minister outlined the provisions of the Order in a circular letter, dated 4th December, which went out to all industries concerned. The Order was published on 12th December. As I have already mentioned, the basic period is the last meter reading period before 21st December, and so there was certainly a temptation even then for concerns to step up their consumption so as to put themselves in a happier position during the first three months of this year.

In any case, this Order must work very unjustly between one concern and another, because I must remind the House that the basic period is the period when the electricity or gas undertakers happened last to read the meter before 21st December, 1946, and it is a matter of chance whether that meter reading happened to include a cold spell or a mild spell. The whole basis of consumption for the first three months of this year is to be determined by that, and I understand that in some cases meters were last read in September, and these concerns will obviously be in a very poor position in the colder weather which we are now having.

I should like to refer in a little more detail to the Minister's circular letter of 4th December, which I have already mentioned. In' that circular letter he referred to the dispensation Which might be obtained by way of licence. He referred to it in these terms: Applications for such ad hoc assistance should be addressed to the regional controller of the production department concerned.…Where it appears that a case for special assistance has been established, the application will be referred by the regional controller to the regional fuel allocation committee, to whom authority has been granted to distribute the regional share of the pool created from savings secured by the 2½ per cent cut. I want to ask how long that process is likely to take, because it seems that before a concern can know whether it is to be allowed to consume any more than the 97½ per cent., it has to furnish the evidence to the regional controller of the production department concerned, who then has to refer it to the regional fuel allocation committee, and that is going to be quite a lengthy process; the best part of this three months may well have elapsed before a reply is obtained.

Is it the policy of the Government that the regional controller of the production department concerned shall treat each application on its merits, or are these regional controllers perhaps to rule out a whole industry from licences? That is very important. It seems to me that this business about the granting of licences must take an appreciable time—and the period we are concerned with is relatively short, being only three months—is really very much of a sham and a delusion, and I do not think much satisfaction is going to be obtained that way.

There is one point to which I wish to draw attention in connection with the explanatory note. It seems to me that the explanatory note is both inaccurate and misleading. I think that it might be read in many different ways, and when I first read it, it certainly gave me the impression that there was to be a progressive cut of 2½ per cent. in each of the first three months of this year. I would suggest, as I have already suggested to the Minister, that if the words" by 2½ per cent.", which appear in the last line but three, were deleted, and the words to 97½ per cent. were inserted, the explanatory note would no longer be inaccurate, and would be far easier to understand. I do not wish to develop the point further on the explanatory note, because I feel that this is one of those Orders where there is a very strong case for annulment on the merits.

I claim that the effect of this Order will not only be to reduce production, but may well, for the reasons I have given, ultimately have the effect of increasing consumption. I am sorry that the Minister is not here. I have the greatest respect for the Parliamentary Secretary and for his ability, but he cannot come here armed with authority, and therefore I feel it is regrettable that we have not the assistance of the Minister, because an Order of this type ought not to be treated as a side show. The Government have chosen by this Order to deal with a far-reaching and vitally important problem, and it should not be treated as a side show. The Minister should be here himself to give the answer of the Department. I repeat that this Order is going to have most lamentable consequences, because by penalising those who have been thrifty, it will discourage economy in future. I think that the Ministry should do their utmost to reward those who have been economical, and this will have the very opposite effect.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

I beg to second the Motion.

The fact that a restrictive Order of this nature is introduced in the second winter of peace is of itself something of a commentary upon the administration of the Minister of Fuel and Power. But for the purposes of this Debate it would seem proper to assume that a cut in the consumption of fuel is the price which the country must pay for 18 months of the right hon. Gentleman. It seems clear that if the restriction has been necessitated by the right hon. Gentleman's administration it is being imposed in the worst possible way. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) has pointed out, this penalty, this restriction, falls heavily on those who have responded to appeals for economy, and does not touch the extravagant.

The House will perhaps have appreciated the significance of the dates in the Order. The basic period on which the ration for the next few months is based is a period dependent on the date of the last meter reading, a date which may be as late as 21st December. This Order was made on 10th December, and was laid on the Table of this House on the 12th December. In the case of those organisations, those firms, whose meter readings were taken on or about 20th December it would be possible for them to evade all the restrictions under this Order by stepping up their consumption during the eight or 10 days between publication of the Order and the end of the basic period. That is sloppy rationing. To permit possibly unscrupulous people to wreck your whole restrictive system is an indication of sheer administrative incompetence.

It is no use the Parliamentary Secretary saying, "We need not bother about that, because all the people conducting the organisation are public spirited." If that were so there would be no need for restriction at all. An emotional appeal by the right hon. Gentleman, in his characteristic vein, would carry all before it, and would result in a substantial cut in consumption. The object of a rationing scheme is to ensure restriction on the unwilling. Any person who, by sheer chance, happens to have his meter read in the middle of December can, toy wanton extravagance in the middle of December, completely defeat the object of this Order I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will tell the House why his Department have added this blunder to the long series of blunders for which they have been responsible. If further restrictions are to follow for the country I hope they will be imposed in a more intelligent and more watertight manner.

There is another aspect of the matter which was not touched upon by my hon. Friend. The concerns referred to in paragraph 6 of the Order, the controlled premises, hotels, clubs and so on, are institutions which use a good deal of their fuel upon lighting. The basic period may be in September. It might, on the other hand, be in mid-December, during which time it may have become apparent to the Minister that natural daylight is at its shortest. The period to be covered by the restriction goes on to the vernal equinox and, therefore, a restriction on lighting of only 2½per cent. of what is necessary in December indicates wanton extravagance during the long daylight months. It appears that this type of rationing is imposed by a simple ignorance of the facts of human life which can only be found nowadays within the recesses of the Government's consciousness. Therefore, I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will consider seriously the effect of the argument of my hon. Friend as to the result of this type of Order upon future appeals by his Ministry.

It is useless for the right hon. Gentleman to expend his expansive eloquence upon appeals to the public to economise if those who respond to those appeals are immediately to be penalised by Orders issued by his Ministry. It is playing upon the good faith and willingness to cooperate of industry in general, and abusing that confidence. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will realise that if he resists the annulment of this Order one consequence will follow, whatever else follows, namely, that nobody will pay the slightest attention in future to any appeal for voluntary economy which the Minister cares to make.

7.37 P.m.

Sir Peter Bennett (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I wish to support, from practical experience, what has been said by my two hon. Friends who moved and seconded this motion and, in particular, the concluding words of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). We are concerned in industry, about the future effects of an Order of this description. Those who were in the House during the last Parliament will remember that we had many coal Debates. We had an appeal to do all we could to impose the most rigid restrictions on the use of fuel. That was at the time when my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) was in office at the Ministry. There was an immediate response, and we did all we could. We insisted in our organisations on rigid economy in fuel. We hoped that it was a temporary expedient, but we continually insisted upon economy. There was no easing up in any way.

But those who listened to subsequent coal Debates and heard the forecasts of difficulties likely to confront the mining industry, realised that what we were being asked to put into operation were not temporary measures. Now we are told, "If it had not been for your insistence we should be a great deal better off now." I know that virtue is its own reward, and that we can throw our chests out and say that we did it, but to ask one's officials to keep up the pressure for rigid economy, and then be penalised, is not the best way, to get their cooperation in future. I have heard it said—although I do not suppose it will happen—that people will not be very particular in future, because those who were particular are now suffering while those who were not are not being penalised. I would, however, ask the Parliamentary Secretary to bear in mind that it is helpful to people who have made sacrifices to know that they will be better off than those who have not.

7.40 p.m

Mr. Janner (Leicester, West)

I cannot follow the arguments put forward by hon. Gentlemen who have asked for the annulment of this Order. Are they suggesting that there is no necessity to restrict the use of fuel at the present time; or are they suggesting that it should be left to the individuals whom they themselves commend to decide whether the restrictions shall be in accordance with their desires to the detriment of the industries which are prepared to assist the country when fuel is scarce? What this Order appears to do is very simple—to make a fair and proper cut for all the industries concerned. I cannot understand how that can be regarded as an unpractical or improper way of dealing with the situation. As to the basic period, it is, of course, extremely difficult, at any time, to fix what shall be a basic period. Any period, whatever it may be, acts to the detriment of some people and to the advantage of other people. Hon. Members on the other side have themselves indicated that. They have said that if the reading of a meter happens to come in September, look how adversely that will affect the situation so far as the reading of a meter in December is concerned. What do they suggest? That intimation should be given by the Minister that all the meters in the country are to be read on a particular day That will not do, they say, because the people who are not as honest and as reasonable as others will immediately step up their consumption.

Sir J. Mellor

I am not suggesting that this should be done on the basis of meter reading. On the contrary, I mentioned the case of differentiation between mild weather and cold weather meter readings as making bad worse.

Mr. Janner

I understand the hon. Gentleman. What he wants to do is to leave it entirely to the discretion of a quite reasonable and patriotic industry to bear the burden disproportionately with the person or industry which happens to be a bad one. He knows, as well as I, that will not do. If one is to work to a planned method, one has to know exactly how much fuel is likely to be consumed, so that one may plan accordingly. The only way to do that is to take some basic period, estimate the amount of fuel that was consumed at that time, and cut throughout on a proper, equitable basis the use of consumption in respect of future periods. That is precisely what this Order does.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does the hon. Gentleman really suggest to the House that it is an equitable basis of comparison to take the consumption of fuel of one undertaking in September and compare it with that of another undertaking in December?

Mr. Janner

It is as equitable as you can get it. [Laughter.] I do not see why hon. Members are amused. When I was interrupted by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor), I was asking if he expected every meter to be read at the same time. That is impracticable. It is necessary to take some meter readings in order to be able to arrive at a decision at all, and as nobody knew before the Order was passed when the scarcity period would be, the last reading of the meter is as equitable a system as you can possibly get.

Sir J. Mellor

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to have heard what I said. I read a circular letter from the Minister, which went to all those concerned in this matter, dated 4th December, which foreshadowed the Order which was published on 12th December, and the last date of meter reading was 21st December.

Mr. Janner

I know that. The hon. Gentleman surely does not think that I am speaking without knowing what he said and also appreciating the point made by his hon. Friends. Of course I understand that, but, nevertheless, there must be some period in which the meter readings must have been taken. I should have said that the period between the 10th and 21st would not have been used very extensively for that purpose. I think that in the circumstances, it being absolutely necessary to restrict the fuel in a proper and equitable manner, this Order provides for it in as good, if not a better way than any other that could be devised.

7.46 p.m.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)

I think that the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) has perhaps missed the point. He said that this Order rather favoured the good fellow and not the bad fellow. We say that it favours the bad chap at the expense of the good one.

Mr. Janner

What date does the hon. and gallant Member suggest taking as a basic period?

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

I do not think that we need a basic date at all. The hon. Gentleman very clearly said which of the two classes, the bad or good in business, this favoured, and we think that it favours precisely the opposite to that which he mentioned. The man who has saved in the past is penalised. There is no question about that. This is a further example of fumbling by this Department. When it is suggested that all is not well in the Ministry of Fuel and Power, it is thought that we are jealous. "Jealous" is a word that has two interpretations. As the Old Testament word, "jealous" means that we are jealous of what is going on in our country, as a result of the action of this Ministry and others, and the appalling results following upon them; or it may mean merely "jealous" because the Minister has done this job and we have not. The trouble is that he has not done the job in a proper way, and this Order is proof of it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rubbish."] It may be rubbish in the hon. Member's opinion. If he will read the Order, he will see that what I and my hon. Friends say is perfectly correct. We ought to make some effort in this country, particularly with regard to fuel in which the people are very interested, to make sure that the fellow who is trying to do his best to carry out the Government's regulations—and goodness knows that is difficult enough—is not the one to be penalised. I would like to support what my hon. Friends on this side have said, because I think this is a fundamental point which must not be lost sight of.

7.49 P.m.

Mr. Drayson (Skipton)

I think that we must presume that this Order will be the first of many more like it to restrict fuel consumption in the country, which will affect a vast number of industries besides the few which are particularly mentioned in this Order. The hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner) began by suggesting that this Order would allow a fair share for all. I think that the country is getting rather tired of this "fair share for all" cry in respect of commodities and goods which are becoming constantly in shorter supply. The hon. Member then appealed to patriotism, but I do not quite know how he worked that in, and he finished his speech by advocating fair cuts for all. I think the Government's new motto is not "A fair share for all," but "Fair cuts for all." There is some doubt, in regard to this Order, whether the cuts are fair, because it has been made abundantly clear from this side of the House that the industries and businesses which have effected economies are those which are to be penalised. It has Been the same all along since the Government came into power. The people who have saved have been those who have suffered. As time goes on, and as our supplies of fuel get less and less and the quality become worse and worse, it will not be easy for the people who are affected by an Order of this sort, which entails a reduction in consumption of per cent If the quality of the coal is bad and it has a higher ash content. those people will be in a very awkward position, and the result may be that they will exceed the 97½ per cent of the quantity which has been fixed in their operations for the four-weeks' periods mentioned in the Order.

This Order is one 'more example of the many unfulfilled pledges of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I wish the Minister of Fuel and Power was in his place tonight. If by any chance the right hon. Gentleman happened to be in China today—and I am sure we all wish very sincerely he was there—I think he would by now probably have earned a name that would sound like "Too Few Fuel "or perhaps "Who Closed Down." This Order is typical of many more that we expect from the Government. In so far as it deals with hotels and, restaurants, it affects the comfort of the people, and later Orders dealing more specifically with our productive industries will affect us very much more severely. I have no hesitation in saying that I shall vote for the annulment of this Order.

7.55 P.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Gaitskell)

I think it would be as well if I reminded the House of the background against which this Order was made. It was made because the Government felt that, in view of the serious fuel situation, it was no longer possible to go on leaving the consumption of electricity completely uncontrolled, and without any kind of restriction. We knew that there would be difficulties this winter in respect of solid fuel for industry, and we felt that it was very right and proper that some restriction should also be placed on consumption by industry, and by the controlled premises, of electricity and gas. I would remind the House, too, that it is the increased consumption of electricity, and to a smaller extent gas, which is largely responsible to the present difficult situation. The production of coal in the calendar year 1946 was 6,500,000 tons above that of 1945, which is very satisfactory, but, unfortunately, consumption was even higher.

Of course, it might be argued that we should be satisfied with voluntary action, that appeals were really all that should be done in the sphere of electricity and gas. We came to the conclusion that that was not so, and in that conclusion we were strongly supported by the National Production Advisory Council on Industry, which took the view that we must impose some statutory restriction.

It is not an easy task to impose a statutory restriction on the consumption of electricity. I think we all recognize that. Indeed, if it were easy, I must frankly say that not merely this Government, but the last Government, would have imposed it long ago. One cannot allocate electricity in the same way as one can allocate solid fuel, but some action of this kind was taken during the war, and I think the House should know what the Coalition Government did in this matter. In April, 1944, the Minister of Production, acting as the agent for the Minister of Fuel and Power, issued a direction under the Control of Fuel Order (No. 3), 1942, instructing Indus trial consumers: to reduce consumption of electricity and gas by 10 per cent. and 25 per cent., respectively, of what would have been the consumption but for this direction during the period beginning 3rd April. I see the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) is shaking his head, and probably he is thinking the same as I am, namely, that an Order of that kind which simply says that you must restrict consumption below what you otherwise would have consumed is really not worth the paper on which it is written.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I shook my head only because it seemed to me, from the hon. Gentleman's very clear exposition of that Order, that it was on a wholly different basis from this Order.

Mr. Gaitskell

It was entirely different. My point is that the basis of saying that you must not consume as muck as, or more than, you would otherwise have consumed is a completely useless basis, and indeed, I think that an hon. Member opposite made that point in a supplementary question today. There was one other Order made, however, in March or April, 1945, which applied to Scotland, and which did lay down that consumption was not to exceed a certain percentage of what had been consumed in a basic period—in other words, it was on precisely the same basis as we have adopted in this Order.

But having said that the notion of restricting consumption to what you would have consumed if the Order had not come into operation is useless, I must also point out that it is not really practicable to go to the opposite extreme. It would no doubt be very nice to be able to fix for each industrial consumer just the right amount of electricity which it would be fair to allow him to consume, but how can we possibly do that? There are at least 30,000 of these firms involved. In the case of solid fuel we have a fairly shrewd idea of their requirements, and we take into account the fuel efficiency aspect of the problem, and if we think that a firm is not making fully efficient use of what it is getting, we cut the allocation accordingly, or make it take inferior fuel and show it how to use that fuel. Frankly, we have not got that information in the case of electricity and gas.

Our aim in making this Order was to do something to restrict the consumption of electricity and gas and to hold it down, roughly speaking, to the November period. We took the precaution, however, of making it clear that we would issue licences to those firms who could not manage to keep down to the November consumption. That is my first answer to the criticism that this Order penalises those who have already done all that they can to economise. If that is the case they are perfectly entitled to apply for a licence and I am sure they will get it.

Sir J. Mellor

How long will it take for them to get a licence?

Mr. Gaitskell

We have already issued about 90 licences in the North-Western Region.

Sir J. Mellor

Out of how many applications?

Mr. Gaitskell

So far as I know, all applications have been granted so far, but we are in the early days of this scheme, for it has only been in operation three weeks. I do not see why there should be any unusual delay in that matter. The Order has been criticised on the grounds that it is unfair and, as I have said, that it penalises those who are already doing everything they can to economise. What is the alternative? No serious alternative has been put forward by the Opposition speakers. If they have a serious suggestion to make as to the basis on which electricity should be restricted we should like to hear it. It is not forthcoming. At that I am not surprised, because I doubt if there is any other satisfactory basis. I grant that this' is a rough and ready method and that is why it has been laid down that firms should be able to apply for licences.

Sir J. Mellor

My argument was that anything would be better than this, because this encourages extravagance in the future. It is being made quite clear that economy is being penalised and so the Government will get no further response to the Minister's appeals to cut down consumption.

Mr. Gaitskell

Broadly speaking, there has to be a choice between three possibilities. We could adopt the plan adopted by the Minister of Production in the Coalition Government and tell consumers that they shall not consume in the coming period more than they would normally consume. I have tried to explain why that is ineffective. Then the Government could detail how much 30,000 or 40,000 consumers would need, which is impossible. Thirdly, we could adopt the rough and ready method of a basic period and provide, by licence, for taking care of any difficult cases that might arise. We have chosen the third alternative and we believe that that is right.

I should like now to refer to one or two points raised by the hon. Member for Kingston - upon - Thames. Suppose we agree that the basic period is the best for dealing with the problem, how is this to be arranged? We cannot arrange for all the meters of every industrial consumer to be read on the same day. So we decided to take the methods used by the Coalition Government in the case of Scotland—the period preceding the last meter reading. Most industrial firms have their meters read once a month and the number of cases of those who go back into October will be small and still further into September smaller still. I conceive that there might be a few such cases. Again, if there were to be such cases the licensing provisions are precisely designed to take care of that situation. As to the date upon which the Order was made, if we had chosen an earlier date than 21st December obviously the difficulty of the fact that the basic period would have gone still further back would have been accentuated.

As to the small time which elapsed between the printing of the Order and the actual date on which the basic period was made, I do not think that it is seriously contended that many firms were likely to get hold of the details of the Order before it was actually issued and, turning all the switches, use all the electricity that they could burn. We are not seriously worried about that at all. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) mentioned the explanatory note. He did not press the point and I do not think that the Order would be any more clear if instead of 2½ per cent. we had used 97½ per cent., so turning the thing round.

I want to emphasise that, of course, we want to do everything possible to give encouragement to those who are economical and efficient in the use of fuel. I agree that this is not a perfect way of restricting electricity. I repeat, if anybody has any suggestions to make of a more perfect way which is administratively practicable and does not take up too much labour and time, I shall be delighted to hear it. What I do claim for this Order—and I would again remind the House that this was pressed upon us by the leaders of industry themselves—is that it will do something to restrict the abnormal and unjustifiable use of electricity and give some reassurance to the miners that coal in the shape of electricity and gas is not being unnecessarily wasted. I, therefore, ask the House not to annul this Order.

8.6 p.m.

Mr. Lennox Boyd (Mid-Bedford)

I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power has said anything which would justify my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) withdrawing the, Motion. It seems to me the hon. Gentleman has said nothing which meets the many very important points that were raised, but in the concluding sentences of his speech he referred to the encouragement that this Rule and Order was supposed to give to the miners. We had long been assured that when the flag of the National Coal Board was hoisted over the collieries of Great Britain and the mines became public property no further action would be needed in order to secure maximum results from that quarter.

The hon. Gentleman also said in the course of his interesting speech that the Government and his Department had now definitely abandoned in this sphere the matter of voluntary appeal to British citizens and industry to come in and help in this undoubted hour of national crisis. We have always been told that this is a people's Government—the consummation of the hopes and ambitions of millions of people over many years. This is a most interesting commentary on the justification of that point of view that a Government so created and presumably still so sustained feel that a voluntary appeal is quite impossible. There was a time when the people of this country responded to voluntary appeals.

Mr. Janner

What the hon. Gentleman's friends were alleging was that advantage was being taken by some people of what was a totally unfair condition of things. How does the hon. Gentleman explain that?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

It was not alleged. What was alleged was that it was slovenly legislation that allowed such a possibility to arise.

Mr. Gaitskell

We were strongly urged by the National' Production Advisory Council on Industry—the leaders of industry themselves—to make a compulsory Order so that those who were not in line with the genera] practice should be brought into line.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I have got two answers to that. The leaders of industry also suggested that the nationalisation proposals should be abandoned, but their advice was not followed. If their advice is followed now, why should it, in another aspect, be totally disregarded? Secondly, did (he leaders of industry really suggest that this proposal, impinging as it does on the liberty and freedom of production of those people who have followed the voluntary appeal, should be promulgated? I very much doubt so.

Mr. Gaitskell

They did not. Some of them suggested as the only alternative—which we rejected—that we should adopt the other method of simply asking industry not to consume more than they would otherwise consume.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

It does not really lie in the mouth of the hon. Gentleman to say that the leaders of industry favour this Order.

Mr. Gaitskell

What I said was that they were in favour of making a compulsory Order.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

By the hon. Gentleman's own statement, the leaders of industry were in favour of a further appeal to the people not to consume any more than they had hitherto consumed. There was a time in this and in every other field when appeals to the British people were successful. That was the time when voluntary effort was appreciated, when volunteers were honoured and when prudent people who put by and saved were rewarded. We live in very different days today. Many of us remember in 1931 the readiness of the British people to put up with many restrictions, increased taxation and many more hardships. In those days there were queues—queues of people at the Income Tax offices because they were ready to pay their Income Tax. That was a time when the Government recog- nised and acknowledged that the country was in danger, and that was a Government that commanded national respect.

Nothing has been said by the hon. Gentleman seriously to deal with the three or four points that have been made. We do not in the least know how far this Order is already, in the mind of his Department, absorbed and swamped by further cuts and further intentions. If this comes to be promulgated in the next few days there may well be another Order on the way. This particular Order will immediately be rescinded and these particular offences will cease to be legal offences. We have had no answer to the contention that has been made that the prudent people who saved during the basic period are being penalised, save the statement of the hon. Gentleman that those who applied for licences in one particular region have all had them granted—which undoubtedly tomorrow will lead to a flood of applications all over the country. We would be interested to have an assurance from the hon. Gentleman in regard to that particular point, that if any consumers can show that during the period of voluntary appeals they really did cut down their consumption, their applications for licences will be granted immediately. Will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance to this House that such licences will be granted automatically? If so, I will give way willingly. I see that he is very anxious to do so, but apparently the Home Secretary, with wider experience, thinks it unwise.

Mr. Gaitskell

I cannot possibly give an undertaking on this case because the needs of the particular consumer may have altered meanwhile. What I have said and repeat is that, of course, if the consumer can show that he has cut down to the fullest possible extent, that will be taken into consideration.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

That is a phrase that has a very familiar ring and, I am afraid, not a very endearing one to most industrialists. Next, we have had no answer whatever to the contention made twice or thrice from these Benches as to the position of those people—negligible in number, we hope—who, knowing that the cut was coming and was to be based on the consumption during a period not then exhausted, were given an incentive to use more during the remaining stages of that period and thereby acquire a higher basic rate on which future cuts would be imposed. We have had no answer whatever to that contention and if the Order does not allow for that possibility then, as one of my hon. Friends has said, it is a very shoddy Order. Lastly, we have had no answer to what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) called the phrase in this Order which shows a complete ignorance of the facts of life and of the English climate. I would not go as far as to say that the Government are lacking in knowledge even in that rather personal sphere, but there has been no answer to the contention

tion that the needs of industry vary during the different periods of the year, whereas the Order appears to regard all seasons during the English year as being similar in every respect. This is a Private Member's Prayer and while I cannot suggest to my hon. Friend the course he should take, I think he would be very ill advised to withdraw it.

Question put, That the Electricity and Gas (Reduction of Consumption) Order, 1946 (S.R. & O., 1946, No. 2087), dated 10th December, 1946, a copy of which was presented.on 12th December, be annulled.

The House divided: Ayes, 79; Noes, 263.

Division No. 58.] AYES. [8.14 p.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V. Roberts, H. (Handsworth)
Amory, D. Heathcoat Haughton, S. G Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Baldwin, A. E. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Scott, Lord W.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H. Hogg, Hon. Q. Snadden, W M.
Bennett, Sir P. Joynson-Hicks, Lt.-Cdr. Hon. L. W. Spearman, A. C. M.
Birch, Nigel Lambert, Hon. G. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells) Langford-Holt, J. Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)
Bower, N. Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Studholme, H. G.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Low, Brig. A. R. W. Sutcliffe, H.
Butcher, H W. Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight) Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Carson, E. Maclean, Brig. F. H. R. (Lancaster) Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G. Macpherson, Maj. N. (Dumfries) Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Maitland, Comdr. J. W. Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A. F.
Cooper-Key, E. M. Manningham-Buller, R. E. Turton, R. H.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Marlowe, A. A. H. Vane, W. M. F.
Crowder, Capt. John E. Marchall, D (Bodmin) Walker-Smith, D.
Darling, Sir W. Y. Maude, J. C. Ward, Hon. G. R.
Digby, S. W. Molson, A. H. E. Wheatley, Colonel M. J.
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester) White, J. B. (Canterbury)
Drayson, G. B. Mott-Radclyffe, Maj. C. E. Williams, C. (Torquay)
Drewe, C. Orr-Ewing, I. L. Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond) Osborne, C Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Fraser, Maj. H. C. P. (Stone) Peto, Brig. C. H. M. Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M. Price-White, Lt.-Col. D.
Gammans, L. D. Raikes, H. V TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. G. Ramsay, Maj. S. Sir John Mellor and
Grant, Lady Rayner, Brig. R. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter.
Grimston, R. V. Ronton, D.
Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South) Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge) Crossman, R. H. S
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Daggar, G.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Bramall, Major E. A. Daines, P.
Alpass, J. H. Brook, D (Halifax) Davies, Edward (Burslem)
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Brown, T. J. (Ince) Davies, Ernest' (Enfield)
Attewell, H. C. Bruce, Maj. D. W. T. Davies, Harold (Leek)
Austin, H. Lewis Buchanan, G. Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)
Awbery, S. S. Burden, T W. Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)
Ayles, W. H. Burke, W. A. Deer, G.
Bacon, Miss A. Castle, Mrs. B. A Diamond, J.
Baird, J. Champion, A. J. Dobbie, W.
Barstow, P G. Chater, D Donovan, T.
Barton, C. Chetwynd, G. R. Driberg, T. E. N.
Battley, J. R. Clitherow, Dr. R. Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)
Bechervaise, A. E. Cobb, F. A. Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.
Benson, G. Cocks, F. S. Edelman, M.
Beswick, F. Collick, P. Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)
Bing, G. H. C. Collindridge, F. Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)
Binns, J. Collins, V. J. Evans, E. (Lowestoft)
Blackburn, A. R. Colman, Miss G. M. Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)
Blenkinsop, A. Comyns, Dr. L. Ewart, R.
Blyton, W. R Cook, T. F. Fairhurst, F.
Boardman, H. Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G. Farthing, W. J.
Bottomley, A. G. Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.) Field, Capt W. J.
Bowden. Flg -Offr. H. W. Corlett, Dr. J. Fletcher, E G. M. (Islington, E.)
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Corvedale, Viscount Follick, M.
Foot, M. M. McKinlay, A. S. Sargood, R.
Fraser, T. (Hamilton) McLeavy, F. Scollan, T.
Gaitskell, H. T. N. Macpherson, T. (Romford) Shackleton, Wing.-Cdr. E. A. A.
Gallacher, W. Mainwaring, W. H. Sharp, Granville
Ganley, Mrs. C. S. Mallalieu. J. P. W Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)
Gibson, C. W. Mann, Mrs. J. Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)
Glanville, J. E. (Consett) Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.) Silverman, J. (Erdington)
Gooch, E. G. Marquand, H. A. Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield) Marshall, F. (Brightside) Simmons, C. J.
Grenfell, D. R. Mathers, G Smith, C. (Colchester)
Grierson, E. Medland, H. M. Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)
Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Messer, F Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly) Middleton, Mrs. L. Snow, Capt. J. W.
Griffiths, W. D (Moss Side) Mikardo, Ian Solley, L. J.
Gunter, R. J. Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R. Sorensen, R. W
Guy, W H. Mitchison, Maj. G. R. Stamford, W.
Haire, John E (Wycombe) Monslow, W. Steele, T.
Hall, W. G. Moody, A S. Stephen, C.
Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R Morgan, Dr, H. B. Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Hardy, E A. Morley, R. Stross, Dr. B.
Harrison, J Morris, P. (Swansea, W.) Stubbs, A. E.
Hastings, Dr. Somerville Mort, D. L. Swingler, S.
Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick) Moyle, A. Symonds, A. L.
Herbison, Miss M. Nally, W. Taylor, H B. (Mansfield)
Hewitson, Capt. M. Naylor, T. E. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Hicks, G. Neal, H. (Claycress) Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)
Hobson, C. R. Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.) Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Holman, P. Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford) Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
House, G. Noel-Buxton, Lady Thomas, John R (Dover)
Hoy, J. O'Brien, T. Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Hubbard, T. Oldfield, W. H. Thurtle, E.
Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.) Oliver, G. H. Tiffany, S.
Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.) Orbach, M. Timmons, J.
Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Paget, R. T. Titterington, M. F.
Janner, B. Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth) Tolley, L.
Jay, D. P. T. Pargiter, G. A. Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.
Jeger, G. (Winchester) Parker, J. Ungoed-Thomas, L.
Jeger, Dr. S. W (St. Pancras, S.E.) Parkin, B T. Usborne, Henry
Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools) Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe) Vernon, Maj. W. F.
Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow) Paton, J. (Norwich) Viant, S. P
Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin) Pearson, A. Wadsworth, G.
Keenan, W Peart, Capt T. F. Walkden, E.
Kenyon, C Piratin, P Walker, G. H.
King, E. M. Pooh, Major Cecil (Lichfield) Wallace, G. D. (Chistehurst)
Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E Popplewell, E. Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Kinley, J. Porter, E. (Warrington) Warbey, W N.
Kirby, B. V. Proctor, W. T. Watson, W. M.
Lavers, S. Pryde, D. J. Weitzman, D.
Lawson. Fit. Hon. J. J. Pursey, Cmdr. H. West, D. G
Lee, F. (Hulme) Randall, H. E. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W
Levy, B W Ranger, J. Wilkes, L.
Lewis, A, W. J. (Upton) Rankin, J. Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Lewis, J. (Bolton) Rees-Williams, D. R. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Lewis, T (Southampton) Reid, T. (Swindon) Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Ridealgh, Mrs. M. Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Longden, F. Robens, A Willis, E.
Lyne, A. W. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire) Woodburn, A
McAdam, W. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.) Wyatt, W.
McEntee, V. La T. Robertson, J. J. (Berwiok) Yates, V. F.
McGhee, H. G. Rogers, G. H. R. Younger, Hon. Kenneth
Mack, J. D. Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
McKay, J (Wallsend) Royle, C. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Mr. Coldrick and Mr. Hannan

Question put, and agreed to.