HC Deb 22 July 1947 vol 440 cc1047-188
Mr. Isaacs

I ask the indulgence of the House to make the following statement. The House will wish to be informed of the Government's plans for safeguarding next winter's supplies of power for industry. The demand for electricity has risen by 70 per cent. since 1939 and is still rising. This creates a very serious problem if nothing were done, the peak demands would overtax the capacity of our generating plant, and almost daily cuts in electrical power would cripple industry. The situation requires the adoption of drastic plans for spreading the industrial electricity load and the loyal observance of those plans by industry.

There is no single way of doing this. Various methods will have to be adopted, if the aim is to be achieved. Day-shift hours can be adjusted in different factories so that some factories start after the morning peak and others end before the afternoon peak; some factories can work staggered day shifts, others night shifts: rota schemes can be operated, and so on. There is also the question of the terms and conditions under which revised working hours should operate, and here the recent Engineering Industry Agreement affords a useful lead. I have invited the British Employers' Confederation and the Trades Union Congress to draw the attention of their constituent organisations to it, and I urge all industries to consider at once their own position in this matter. The whole country must understand that this problem of spreading the industrial electricity load is vital and urgent. Unless it is solved, wholesale load shedding will he forced upon us, production will fall and our whole prospect of recovery will be gravely prejudiced. Under-employment and unemployment will result.

The Government have laid upon the Regional Boards for Industry and their district and other committees the com- plicated but vital task of working out the plans to achieve the regional target of moving one-third of the peak load outside the normal daytime period. These bodies, on which both sides of industry are represented and with which the electricity supply undertakings and the Central Electricity Board are associated, have already achieved substantial results, and I make an urgent appeal to industry to co-operate to the full with them in completing the schemes and reaching the target.

Whilst the Government confidently rely on the wholehearted co-operation of everyone concerned in this matter, they cannot disregard the possibility that there may be cases of unreasonable failure to operate approved schemes. Following the urgent recommendation of the Joint Consultative Committee representing both sides of industry, the,Government have decided that compulsory powers must be used to deal with such cases. Once a case has been established a direction will be issued under the Defence Regulations by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power compelling the firm under penalty to reduce their maximum demand on the electrical supply to the required level. The district or other local committees of the Regional Board will bring such cases to notice, and the Regional Board will be required to satisfy itself that a case has, in fact, been established. Before action is taken, however, each case will be further examined by the Electricity Sub-Committee. My right hon. Friend will thus have the benefit of the advice of both the Regional Board and the Sub-Committee when he issues a direction. This matter will be kept under close review to consider whether any more stringent action is necessary, and a central record of such cases will be maintained for reference to other Government Departments should additional action be deemed necessary.

It is the Government's hope that such powers will be required only very exceptionally. The Government regard them rather as an assurance to the great majority of public-spirited men and women in industry, employers and workers, that their efforts and sacrifices will not be rendered useless by the non-co-operation of any selfish minority.

So far I have spoken only of the contribution of industry to this problem. It must, however, be realised that the position of the domestic consumer in this matter is also vitally important. Indeed, everyone—whether he uses electricity in a shop, in an office, or in his home—can help industry by avoiding the use of electricity during the peak periods. This is a matter affecting not only workers and management, but every user of electricity. The well-being of the nation is at stake. The Government are confident that all will play their part.

Mr. Eden

While fully accepting the gravity of the situation with which the right hon. Gentleman now seeks to deal, may I ask him what is the Defence Regulation under which the Minister of Fuel and Power proposes to proceed?

Mr. Isaacs

Yes, I can quote the Regulation, and perhaps I can go just a little further than that. It is Defence Regulation 55 (2A). Under that Regulation anybody failing to observe a direction is liable to prosecution, and, in the event of a successful prosecution, the penalties go as high as £500 or one year's imprisonment. That is for a failure to observe the direction. But I do want to make it clear to the House that this is only where there has been an unreasonable failure. It will not be used as a direct penalty. It will have to be proved satisfactorily through all the sifting machinery, and then to the bench of magistrates, in order to establish an unreasonable failure to comply.

Mr. Eden

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider whether it might not be better to proceed under an Order, so that the House can see the Order, and can also see what penalty should attach to the Order. I think that at this stage it is very unusual to proceed under a Defence Regulation which, certainly in the main, dealt with an entirely different situation from that to which it is now being applied.

Mr. Isaacs

We will certainly consider that. There is some little difficulty because the sort of cases with which we shall be dealing here will be individual cases. If an Order can be made, I will gladly do that, because I am satisfied that the additional publicity given by so doing will be very helpful.

Mr. Sparks

In cases where it is necessary to take action against a firm failing to, comply with an Order, can my right hon. Friend give any assurance that no victimisation of the workers in such an undertaking will result as a consequence? Many such cases arose after the recent fuel crisis.

Mr. Isaacs

If my hon. Friend studies what I have said, he will see that it is not proposed to shut down firms; it is proposed to put a penalty on firms. Whether a firm could carry on if their managing director went to prison is a question for debate. But it must also be stated here that many firms might be anxious to comply with this regulation, but they might have some recalcitrant workers. We hope that can be overcome by the very warm co-operation we are getting from the trade unions in this matter.

Mr. Hobson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the suggestion he is putting forward will involve the use of non-selected stations on the off-peak load period; and is he satisfied that by this arrangement it will be possible for the power stations to carry out their essential repairs which are usually clone in the off-peak periods?

Mr. Isaacs

I am not briefed upon that particular point, as it is outside my scope;. but I do happen to know that all this is being done in the closest co-operation: with the electrical engineers and the electrical engineering organisations, and so on, who are giving us the best help they can in the matter

    1. c1051
    2. SUPPLY 12 words
  3. CIVIL ESTIMATES, 1947–48
    1. CLASS IV
      1. c1051
  4. SCOTLAND (EDUCATION) 29,332 words
  5. cc1125-64
  6. SCOTLAND (FISHERIES) 15,785 words
  7. cc1165-8
  9. cc1169-73
  11. cc1173-8
  12. LOCAL GOVERNMENT (SCOTLAND) BILL [Lords] 1,917 words
  13. cc1179-88