HC Deb 25 June 1947 vol 439 cc526-34
Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)

I beg to move, in page 73, line 2, to leave out from the beginning to the end of line 9, and to insert:

"The Wales Electricity Board Anglesey, Brecknockshire. Caernarvonshire, Cardiganshire Carmarthenshire, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Glamorganshire, Merionethshire, Monmouthshire, Montgomeryshire, Pembrokeshire and Radnorshire.
The Merseyside Electricity Board. Parts of Cheshire, Lancashire (including Liverpool) and Shropshire."

The purpose of this Amendment is to have one electricty board for the whole of Wales in order that, as we believe, the benefits of public ownership can be more fully developed in that country. The White Paper on Electricity Supply Areas, Command Paper 7007, deals with the principles on which these area boards have been constituted, and states that it is highly desirable that they should be natural areas with a strong local outlook and local interest. The function of the area board is to distribute electricity. In fact, the words of the Bill are: to plan and carry out an economic and efficient distribution of electricity within the area".

The White Paper has considered the position of Wales and has come to the conclusion that because of technical difficulties which arise, it is more feasible to join up North Wales with Merseyside and establish South Wales as an area on its own. I do not wish to go into the technical questions, because I am not qualified to deal with them at any length, but I should like to submit some considerations to the Minister for having another look at this matter.

First, I should like to put to him that Wales is a long way behind England in the development and distribution of electricity in the rural areas. On 8th April, 1946, I asked the Minister of Agriculture what percentage of the farms in England and Wales was equipped with electricity from public mains. The answer was that whereas in England 27 per cent. of all farms have electricity, in Wales only 9 per cent. have it. The price is high, and because of the lack of electricity and other amenities in the rural areas there is a difficulty in attracting diversified industries and in making the most of our agricultural activities. That is a paradox in a land where hydroelectric resources are so plentiful in the North and coal resources so plentiful in the South.

We welcome this Measure, because we think public ownership of electricity is a right step to take towards improving the conditions of the rural areas, and we quite naturally are entitled to ask how it will effect us in our own parts not in a nationalist spirit, but because we want to see the conditions of good life developed in Wales. I should like to submit arguments why, on balance, the considerations for treating Wales as a unit override the technical considerations which are apparent at first hand. The first argument of the Minister is that the main transmission lines run East and West, and to constitute Wales as a unit would mean running transmission lines over the mountains in order that they would proceed North and South. Having regard to the fact that the area board is not a generating authority like the Central Authority, but a distributing authority, I am not certain that that is a valid consideration, because the area board in any event will have to plan the installation of electricity and for taking the mains into the villages and towns. That may mean that the mains will have to go over the mountains, and, in fact, it has been done in recent years by the North West Power Company.

I appeal to the Minister not to' be bound by the present set-up and lay-out of electrical distribution in North Wales, because naturally the present layout has been governed by those circumstances which so often govern private enterprise in distributing electricity. First of all, they want immediate and adequate returns on the money expended; and, secondly, they often tend to ask for a contribution of a proportion of the capital from the areas which they supply. The present lay-out is not perhaps an indication of what may be achieved under public ownership, and it would be wrong to tie up the future of the planning of Wales in a certain way, because the transmission lines have been restricted by the considerations which I have mentioned.

I want to come to what is, from the technical angle, a very strong argument. What is essential if this Bill is to succeed is that these area boards shall be live instruments and have a genuine impetus to plan within their areas. As I see it, one of the main requirements in Wales is for facilities for the rural areas. What I am much afraid of is that if North Wales is linked up with Merseyside, there will be a tendency to concentrate too much on the areas where the demand is heaviest, and not sufficient impetus to supply the rural areas which are not areas near Merseyside, but are in Mid-Wales, where electrification will necessarily operate very far from Merseyside. If the need for development exists in Mid-Wales, the consideration that it is technically necessary to tie up Wales with Merseyside does not arise. In this matter of planning the efficient distribution within an area, I do not think there is any real community of interest between North Wales and Merseyside, and I rather feel that if the whole of Wales were under one board there would be brought into that board a real interest and urge to plan together for the interests of Wales, and a sense of national responsibility would be brought to the job, and a pride in what might be achieved.

It is interesting to note that only in 1942 the Welsh Reconstruction Advisory Council, a most authoritative and distinguished body, recommended the setting up of a Welsh Electrical Development organisation. If Wales is to be broken into two areas, it may be impossible to achieve that development for the Principality as a whole. Clause 7 sets up one consultative council for the area of. each area board. If we have the area boards which the Bill proposes, we shall not have one consultative council for the whole of Wales, nor anyone to express the Welsh point of view or the public opinion of Wales as a whole. From that point of view it is essential to have one area board.

There is a wider consideration which I should like to mention. The expanding scope of nationalisation makes it very necessary to develop machinery which will break down excessive centralisation and avoid the dangers of bureaucracy, remote- ness and impersonality, which are bound to be inherent in nationalisation on a big scale. We can only do that if our regional arrangements are of an order which will produce local interest and even local enthusiasm. In all these schemes there is a very valid argument for treating Wales as one unit. It is the argument which the Minister of Health accepted in the discussions upon the National Health Service Bill. I brought forward an Amendment and the Minister gave an assurance, which has now been carried out.

Mr. Norman Smith (Nottingham, South)

The Minister of Health is Welsh.

Mr. Roberts

I am sure that the hon. Member who interrupted is not suggesting that the Minister of Health has been deflected from the true path because he is a Welshman. I* should say rather that the Minister had a wider vision. If a view is taken wider than that which involves only the present technical considerations, we shall release such national forces as will make the Bill in Wales the excellent Measure which it can become.

Professor Gruffydd (University of Wales)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I do so because I am happy to be able to support what I think is a constructive Amendment, and secondly, because the excuse that the electricity transmission lines in Wales go from west to east rather than from north to south does not impress me in the least. We have suffered from that kind of excuse in Wales for a long time in many other respects besides electricity. Our electricity lines go from west to east because they have been constructed not to serve Wales but to serve England. Our railway lines run from west to east, our roads run from west to east for the same reason. The main object of the railways and of the roads, in the view of the Parliaments of the past, was, of course, to serve England and not to serve Wales. Now, having had imposed upon us transmission lines which run from west to east, we are told that we cannot have an area board in Wales just precisely because those transmission lines run from West to east. It is rather like the old custom—

8.15 p.m.

Colonel Clarke

On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I draw your attention to the fact that there is not the requisite number of hon. Members in the House?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That may or may not be true, but it is against the rule of the House to call a count between 7.30 and 8.30.

Mr. Gallacher

Try it again. Look at the Tory benches.

Professor Gruffydd

To advance that as an excuse for not giving us an area board in Wales is like what happened under old barbaric systems when a king who had cut out the eyes of his heir might say to him, "Now you cannot become king after me because you have no eyes." We have been deprived of the one advantage we ought to have had—of transmission lines running from North to South—and now because of that disadvantage we are not to be given an area board. Wales is par excellencea unit for an area board. It has the two essentials of an area board —inexhaustible coal and water power on the one hand, and very great industries on the other. The demand and the supply are there in the same country, and they should not be separated. It has often been said that our resources are used not for Wales itself but always for England. We have a rainfall which is greater than in any other part of Britain except for parts of Scotland, and we are not allowed to make our own use even of this. Our rainfall is collected not to serve us but to serve Birmingham and Liverpool. Whenever there is a new project for a water supply for a town in the North of England, the first source they think of is Wales. The same thing will happen if Merseyside is connected to Wales under the area board. That area board would function not for the sake of North Wales, but for Liverpool and Lancaster. We have suffered from that sort of thing in the past and we are likely to suffer in the same way in the future.

I should like to cross the t's and dot the i's of one thing which has already been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts). It is time this Parliament started protecting Wales from being divided against itself time after time by Bill after Bill. This will emphasise the worst division—the division between North Wales and South Wales. My hon. Friend said that he welcomes this Bill. All of us on the Liberal benches welcome it: [HON. MEMBERS: "Both of you?"] There are more than two hon. Members in the Liberal Party as a matter of fact, and there are unfortunately a good many Tories in it outside the House. I was going to say that we welcome this Bill, but we realise that the impact of nationalisation on the national life in Wales will be immense— far greater than anything in the past. While we welcome the Government's plans for the nationalisation of different industries, we want to be assured that we can welcome them as a nation and not as two halves.

Mr. Birch

The hon. Member for the University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd) has said that the impact of nationalisation on Wales is very great. What he has done is to swallow the camel of nationalisation but he is now trying to spit up the gnat, because what is now happening is the inevitable consequence of this Measure of nationalisation.

Professor Gruffydd

May I suggest that the camel is more appropriately a concomitant of the needle's eye?

Mr. Birch

I suggested the hon. Gentleman had swallowed the camel. Before this was brought in there was a great deal of local control of electricity supply but it was inevitable, when you get the nationalisation of the electricity industry, that what has happened under this Bill would happen. I think the hon. Gentleman has ignored the existence of the mountains in the middle of Wales. Once you accept nationalisation, you lose the local control you had before. If the Liberal Party had stuck to their principles, and not accepted nationalisation, they would not be in the awkward position they are in now.

Mr. Gallacher

As a Scotsman who, in the near future, may be looking for allies, I am happy to support this Amendment and I would ask hon. Members to consider the principle involved in it. No matter how you play with it, the principle involved is the spirit of an ancient nation, a nation with a long and honourable tradition. Hon. Members opposite are not the least bit interested in the soul or the spirit of a nation. They are interested in hard cash. They are always "on the mooch."

Mr. Birch

Is the hon. Member not in danger of deviation from party lines on this subject because, as I under-stood it, nationalisation is a Communist doctrine?

Mr. Gallacher

I will take all responsibility for any deviation I may make, and I will never ask any of the hard-faced gentlemen opposite to be my guarantors.

Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I cannot see any connection between what the hon. Member is now saying and the Amendment on the Order Paper.

Mr. Gallacher

I want to support this Amendment, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I was saying that hon. Members opposite are not interested in the soul of a nation but, mention money, and their eyes glitter. I am convinced that all the generating power which is possible it there was one area board, could become an important factor for the' whole of the general Welsh economy. It would guarantee light to the dark places which are up there in Wales as they are in Scotland because of the exploitation of each of these small countries that has gone on in the past. It is because of the desire I have to see a nation with the vision and long tradition of Wales, manifested century after century and generation after generation, given the opportunity and the encouragement to build up one powerful electrical organisation, helpful to Wales and its people and bringing light to the whole country, that I support the Amendment.

Mr. Shinwell

I have not heard the speeches in support of this Amendment as I was engaged in taking a little nourishment, in order to fortify myself against the attacks of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

The right hon. Gentleman has been a very long time about it.

Mr. Shinwell

I have never found that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) ignores such considerations. I shall not enter into discussions of whether or not we can fortify the soul of Wales by permitting complete independence. That has nothing to do with this Bill. But I must ask the House to reject the proposal—somewhat regretfully, because I fully appreciate the intentions of Welsh Members in this matter—because of the technical considerations involved. Wales, in fact, is not an entity in the realm of electricity supply. The transmission lines do not run from South Wales to North Wales. In both Northern Wales and Southern Wales the transmission lines run from East to West and it would be folly, at any rate at the present time, and for some time to come, whatever decision is reached subsequently when the area is fully developed to disturb the existing system. That would confer no advantage on Wales at all. In the matter of electricity supply, we have to maintain in Wales, or in any part of the country, a proper balance of load. Some parts of the country are uneconomic in the sphere of electricity supply distribution, hill areas, remote areas, which are not yet urbanised, and therefore are not yet capable of fortifying themselves economically. In this matter we must maintain a correct balance. The congested, profitable economic urbanised areas must rally to the assistance of the rural areas. I imagine the House will agree that that is a sound proposition, and it is therefore much more desirable that North Wales, which is not highly developed in the sphere of electricity supply should be integrated, at any rate for some time to come, with the urbanised Merseyside area as a result of which North Wales will gain more advantage, than if it were integrated with the rest of Wales

That shortly is the case against the proposition, but I would direct attention to the fact that we have the power to vary the areas. We must come to the House if such a proposition should be made, because on the matter of variation of areas we must secure the consent of the House. No doubt in due course—not for some time, font in the future—it may be necessary to ask consent for the variation of areas. If the circumstances of that time justify a reconsideration of the Welsh position, I have no doubt that whoever is responsible for the conduct of the industry will take those factors into consideration. For the moment, I am unable to accept the proposal.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)

I do not know whether the Minister is holding out some promise for the future. I understand that he says that development at the moment is from East to West both in North and South Wales. That is true, because in building up the electricity supply it has been based upon an East and West division. If that is perpetuated in the future, Wales will always be divided, and there will be an argument for it on a basis of fact. It is no argument to say that this is a basis of fact because it happened in the past. I do not know if the Minister is holding out some hope for the future when he says that this division may not be permanent. We are here dealing with the area board, that is, an administrative body. I see no reason why the administrative body should coincide with the electricity lines. Why should there not be an area board for Wales, joining North and South, with an arrangement for the North to take its electricity supply from the area of Liverpool? A similar arrangement has already been provided for in the health service, where the same problem arises, especially in North Wales. Liverpool? supplier hospital accommodation for North Wales. That is an administrative arrangement, and the Minister of Health has recognised that position. I see no reason why the Minister should not recognise the administrative difference, and make arrangements, no matter from whence the supply comes, for an area board for Wales. I hope he will consider that at a later stage.

Mr. Shinwell

That point was considered. I am not unsympathetic to the point of view which has been expressed, but administration must be associated with the physical assets and the like, otherwise it is impossible to ensure efficient administration. I am sorry that I cannot accept the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.