HC Deb 07 February 1951 vol 483 cc1872-95

10.15 p.m.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre (New Forest)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Order, dated 3rd January, 1951, entitled the Advertisement Lighting (Prohibition) Order, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 16), a copy of which was laid before this House on 6th January, he annulled. Before I come to the Order itself I hope I may be allowed to make one statement. It has been said that we on this side of the House were to move this Prayer because of representations made to us by one group or another. I should like to assure the House that no such representations have been made, and that tonight, in moving this Prayer, we are not trying to promote in any shape or form the representations or the requirements of any single section of the people who may be affected by this Order.

If the Order is to have effect I think the Ministry of Fuel and Power has to prove three things. It has to prove, first, that it has intrinsic worth; it has to prove, secondly, that the scope of it is not unnecessarily wide; third, it has to prove that the psychological effect on other people is worth while. I shall devote myself to those three points.

As regard its worth. I have tried to find out what is the actual saving of coal under this Order. We have a statement from the Ministry of Fuel and Power that its expects to save 50,000 tons in three months. That is something of the order of under 4,000 tons a week. That statement, which I take from the speech of the Minister of Fuel and Power last Thursday, was borne out by no facts whatever. It is just an ex parte statement. I myself do not know on what it was based, and I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary on what it is, in fact, based. As I understand it, there is no knowledge whatsoever of the actual load incurred in electricity stations either by shop lighting or by sign lighting, and the Parliamentary Secretary will not be able to say "I know it is so many kilowatts," or "It means the expenditure of so many tons of coal a week." He may make an estimate; he may do it in all good faith; but he certainly cannot come to this House and say that it is a certain load or a certain expenditure. He is, so far as the worth of this Order is concerned, in exactly the same position as I in being able to say what it is.

Then I would ask the House to remember that, for obvious reasons, it was considered necessary to restrict the use of lighting for advertisements or electric signs during peak hours because of something I shall have to mention later—the use of generating stations. But, again, before this Order was introduced all the forms of advertisement were not allowed during peak hours. In fact, the regulations were so framed that no expenditure of electricity could occur during peak hours for these purposes.

When we come to consider the policy of the B.E.A. I think it will be agreed that it has used its efficient stations to meet the normal load and has employed the less efficient stations only when it has had a peak load. Therefore, the only purpose of the Order, from the point of view of worth, that the Parliamentary Secretary can put before us, is that, because of the additional load for advertisement purposes, one of those less efficient stations may have to be kept in commission. I think that that is the last thing that he can say. I say that with added emphasis because the whole of his policy of using efficient stations except for peak loads, when he brings in the less efficient stations, has resulted in a full fuel year in a saving of about 100,000 tons of coal. That is all he saves between this balance of using efficient and less efficient stations.

How he can now say that in three months he will save 50,000 tons of coal, or the equivalent of 200,000 tons in a full fuel year, by cutting out these forms of advertisement I fail to follow, because he is in fact saying that he will treble the whole of the saving that he has made by his fuel economy policy for electricity stations. On the figures I have given the House the statement of the Minister, that 50,000 tons will be saved, is completely "phoney," backed up by no facts at all, and on the merits of the case for saving coal in electricity stations there is nothing to be said for this Order.

My second point is the unnecessary scope of the Order. Let us for a moment grant that the Parliamentary Secretary can, by the use of figures, justify it for its "worth" in saving coal in electricity stations. He certainly cannot justify the additional scope which he is given in regard to oil and candles. The House will remember that when the Minister broadcast he stressed that if he did not include candles there would be a run on candles, so that he must include them in order to keep down the cost of living. I should have been agreeably impressed with that if at the same date that this Order for the restriction of advertisement lighting was introduced another Order had not been similarly introduced increasing the price of candles. In his broadcast the Minister said he wanted candles to be available for the general public, but as he now increases the price of candles his argument is rather destroyed.

It may be that the Ministry of Fuel and Power are thinking in terms of Harrods and the Army and Navy Stores buying masses of candles to light their windows for advertisement purposes. I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that, whatever the follies of the Ministry of Fuel and Power may be, that is not what a sane board of directors under private enterprise does.

Mr. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

They are buying windmills.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

If the Parliamentary Secretary thinks that insurance companies or anybody else will allow a lot of lighted candles to be used in the shop windows of these stores where there are fabrics and so on, which are easy to burn, he obviously has not studied the problem.

What is worse is the question of oil. Why should not a firm with a generator be allowed to use that generator run off oil in order to light its windows or to illumine electric signs? Again the Minister made a most odd statement. As I understood it in debate, he said that diesel oil was very difficult to move. I must say that when I read it in HANSARD it was in a slightly different form, in which it appeared that companies found it difficult to provide diesel oil in winter. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us which of those two statements is correct, and above all on which he bases his argument. I have spent some time trying to find out on what it was based, for I can find no difficulty in the providing of diesel oil in winter, and certainly no difficulty in transporting it. Above all, the Parliamentary Secretary should remember that it is not diesel oil so much as paraffin oil that is used in these generators. I should therefore have thought that the Minister's case was very difficult to support.

We now come to the third point, which is one of psychological effect, and one which, I understand, the Parliamentary Secretary, with that charm for which he is known throughout the House, has used with great effect. He is now looked upon as a person only too ready to consider the problems of others. What is the psychological effect of this? Surely our streets are gloomy enough already without adding to the gloom by imposing a black-out of this nature. What does he hope to gain by it psychologically? Does he expect the underfed and over-taxed worker going back home to feel more inclined to look kindly upon the coal crisis just because there are no electric signs and no lighting in the windows of the shops? If he does, he has only to look at his own figures of consumption of coal in electricity stations to see the answer.

People today, with all their difficulties, want to be encouraged. Any encouragement in the form of lighting or even in the sense of their feeling that they are living after dark in a live community is something which the Minister ought to encourage and not to repress. I feel that the Minister made this Order without thinking at all of the real effects of what he was doing in terms of saving coal. The figures which he gave in the debate bear no comparison in reality, and have no known actuarial basis. Within the scope of this Order, he is merely trying to add gloom to gloom and to do what the Socialist Government so often do—merely to say if there must be misery let us, for heaven's sake, have the greatest misery for the greatest number of people.

When looking at the psychological effect of the Order, did he have any regard to the people whom he should try to help, particularly the small shopkeeper? Has he any idea of the number of small shopkeepers who depend upon the people returning from their work for their sales and livelihood. The fact that a shop is lit up shows them where to get anything of which they are in need when going home. These workers have to walk through dank, dark, dead streets without any advantage to the coal economy, but merely to satisfy the lust of the Ministry of Fuel and Power for producing misery wherever they go. It is for those reasons that I hope that the whole House will support this Motion.

10.28 p.m.

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

I beg to second the Motion.

I think that the most remarkable thing about this Order is the extraordinary disparity between the actual effect upon our life which it achieves and the negligible saving of coal which it is designed to obtain. In order—if the Ministry of Fuel and Power's figures happen, in this case, to be correct—to save one-eightieth of the weekly coal output in this country, for, according to his calculations, three months, the whole aspect of our major cities is to be changed. It is a remarkable commentary upon the fuel policy of the Government that they should have thought it necessary to make so big a change in our way of life in order to achieve so trifling an economy in the consumption of fuel.

Have the economic repercussions of this Order really been thought out? In particular, have the repercussions upon our best dollar earner, the tourist trade, been properly considered? I should like to know whether, before this Order was made, there was any consultation with the organisations concerned with promoting the tourist trade, and if the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us whether the Travel and Holiday's Association was consulted; whether the Hotels and Restaurants Association have been consulted; whether, in fact, any of the bodies who are concerned with the tourist trade in this country was consulted on the effect upon what, after all, is one of our biggest dollar earners. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us.

It is no use the Parliamentary Secretary pretending that this Order has no effect on that trade. There is a considerable holiday traffic even in the winter months. The shipping companies and aircraft companies know their business at least as well as the Parliamentary Secretary, and they are engaged in making special reductions of the rates on the Atlantic passage to stimulate tourist traffic at this time of the year. Does the Parliamentary Secretary really think that the dollar spending tourists, whom it is desired to attract to this country, will be very much attracted to the darkened streets of our cities when Paris, Rome and other cities of the Continent which compete for that traffic are fully and properly illuminated?

It may seem a small thing to the Parliamentary Secretary, but to many people, particularly people from the small towns—the small towns in the Middle West—the bright lighting of the great cities after dark is one of the attractions that bring them there. The gloom imposed by this Order, particularly on the West End of London, will be a serious factor in influencing the decision of the tourist about whether he is going to spend his dollars in London or in the brighter surroundings, as they now are, of the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. No one knows better than the Parliamentary Secretary how closely connected is the earning of dollars with fuel saving, because it is the failure of his own fuel industry that is causing us to spend dollars on the purchase of coal. Surely it is incumbent upon his Department to do nothing whatsoever to discour- age any other industry, such as the tourist industry, from earning dollars.

A confirmation of the value of this tourist angle can be obtained from a source which should appeal more to the Parliamentary Secretary than anything said from this side of the House—namely, from a nationalised industry. The Parliamentary Secretary knows—at least, I hope he knows—that a short time ago the London Transport Executive displayed a most agreeably designed poster, which I would commend to the House as a work of art, inviting people to visit London to travel—in order to see what? Socialist planning? The Houses of Parliament? No, the bright lights from the shops flowing out over the streets.

Therefore, the Parliamentary Secretary has to face the fact that, in the judgment of those responsible under this Government for running the transport of the Metropolis, the bright lights of the streets are a strong tourist inducement. They have been sacrificed by this Order. I want to know, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary is going to tell us, whether any intelligent assessment of that loss, based on the advice of those competent to speak on the subject, was obtained by his Department and by his right hon. Friend under whose signature this Order appears, before the decision was taken to turn out the lights not only in the West End of London but in other holiday and tourist centres.

The Order bears all the characteristic stigmata of a Fuel and Power Order. It is imprecise and ambiguous. The test to be applied as to whether a light is to be extinguished or not is whether it is to be used for purposes of advertisement. There could hardly be a term more difficult to define. I would put this to the Parliamentary Secretary. If he were proprietor of a well-known hotel, shall we say, No. 2 Park Street, does it amount to advertisement, or does it not, if he put up an electric sign outside saying simply, "No. 2 Park Street." Is that an advertisement, or is it not? Is it merely an indication of the geographical locality in which the fortunate voyager finds himself, or of the amenities to be found by those happy revellers who penetrate within that hostelry?—because his department have made it a criminal offence under the law of the land to use an electric sign for the purposes of advertising.

It is surely right to ask what is the definition of advertising for this purpose, and whether or not it does amount to advertising to display a sign solely indicating the name of the premises outside which it is displayed, and whether it would amount to advertising, favourable or unfavourable I leave the House to consider, to display a coloured sign "National Coal Board" outside Hobart House. Would it be advertising? [AN HON. MEMBER: "It would not get any more coal."] I am obliged to my hon. Friend, and I know well that one of the places in London where it would be impossible to obtain coal would be the National Coal Board.

The only other question I want to put to the Parliamentary Secretary is whether any decision has been taken about the duration of this Order? We are assured by the Lord President of the Council that we are to have a Festival of Britain to begin in May. Is it to be a blacked-out festival? How long is the Order to continue in operation? The Minister used for the purpose of calculation a period of three months, and what I think we ought to be told is whether the three months is one of the arithmetical hypotheses in which Socialist intellectuals deal, or whether it was a statement of the proposed duration of the Order.

Those who are concerned not merely with the ephemeral glories of the Festival of Britain but with the solid values of the tourist trade in this country from year to year have to be given some indication about the length of time they have to carry this burden. My hon. and gallant Friend has done the House and the country a good service in bringing this Motion forward so as to elicit some replies to the questions we have sought to put relating to the duration of the Order, the definition of advertising and whether or not proper consultation took place about the effect of the Order on the tourist trade.

10.38 p.m.

Mr. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

Last week in this House we had a debate on coal, and hon. Gentlemen opposite were very vituperative in blaming the Government for the present situation. The Government are anxious that in the present situation the least effect of the coal shortage shall be felt by industry. It appears to me that the hon. and gallant Gentle- man who moved this Prayer and his hon. Friend who seconded, were far more concerned about keeping on the blazing and glaring lights of London than they were in keeping industry going. The hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of the psychological effects that this reduction of advertising had had on the population of this country. I wonder whether, if he hon. and gallant Gentleman had been a miner and had been asked to work extra shifts, to work at weekends and to make exceptional efforts he would feel it was worth while making that effort to keep industry in this country going if at the same time that valuable raw material was to be wasted—

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)


Mr. Fernyhough

—wasted on something which is not essential at the present moment for our national well-being.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I am sure that the hon. Member does not want to misrepresent time. The whole of my case is that there was no appreciable saving in coal from this Order.

Mr. Fernyhough

All I can say is that it is the first time that I have known that we can get electricity by any means except from the use of coal, and if, in generating electricity for advertisement lights we do not use coal, then the Ministry of Fuel and Power has no further problem. May I give an example? Let us suppose that not 50,000 tons are going to be saved by this Order, but only 25,000 tons.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

How does the hon. Member prove that it is 25,000 tons?

Mr. Fernyhough

I am not proving anything. The figure of 50,000 tons has been mentioned, and all I am doing is to say that I am prepared to cut that in half. It still means that twenty-five factories in these next three months will each be able to have a thousand tons of coal which would not be available if this Order is annulled. What the Opposition have to decide is whether, in present circumstances, we are to have priorities. We say that there must be priorities; we say that fuel for the factories and the essential services is far more important at present than fuel for advertisement lights.

Sir H. Williams

What about concessionary coal?

Mr. Fernyhough

If the hon. Member wants to know about that, I will say that the National Coal Board is very short of coal hewers, and the hon. Member can have concessionary coal, as well as a bit of extra meat, and a little extra cheese—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I do not think we can go farther into that question.

Mr. Fernyhough

I am sorry, but I am afraid that the hon. Member misled me, as he so often misleads the House. If hon. Members opposite moved in mining circles and met the miners, and knew what it is that we are asking the miners to do at present, and understood how psychologically important it is to the only people who can solve the fuel shortage—the miners themselves—the comments of hon. Members opposite might be different. The miners feel that this precious material is being wasted, and if hon. Members on the other side of the House appreciated that, they would not be praying against this Order to-night.

10.44 p.m.

Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)

There is one question which I should like to raise on this Order. Sub-paragraph (3) states: Nothing in this article shall restrict the use of:— (a) any lighting fitting solely using electricity obtained from a windmill. I presume that is because if it is obtained from a windmill there is no use of fuel. I would ask, then, why is not a waterwheel excluded? That does not use fuel, and there are a great many more waterwheels producing electricity than there are windmills, and I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that this seems somewhat unfair. Quite a number of people will be prevented from using their electric light in shops where it happens to be provided by water power; this is either discrimination, or it is a careless piece of drafting.

I am inclined to think it is really a piece of careless drafting. When one finds a thing of that sort in one part of the Order, one is suspicious of the whole Order and that it has not been thought over as it should have been. There may be some simple explanation, and no doubt if there is the Parliamentary Secretary will give it to us. Until I have that, I can only think that this important Order, which is causing a lot of disturbance, has been carelessly drafted and is not worthy of the Ministry. It has given a bad impression which I am sure is not intended.

10.46 p.m.

Mr. Nabarro (Kidderminster)

I should undoubtedly be out of order if I endeavoured to follow the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) in his comments about the utilisation of coal. Unfortunately in the coal debate last Thursday it occupied so little attention that I was compelled after the debate to address a letter to the Parliamentary Secretary and ask him when he would make his urgently required statement upon coal utilisation and measures being employed for fuel efficiency generally.

I view with the greatest apprehension the figures that have been given this evening for the saving in fuel that will result from this Order. If the Parliamentary Secretary is in a position to assess how much coal and how many kilowatts of electricity can be derived as economy from an Order of this sort, how is it possible that he cannot tell us how much coal and electricity can be saved, for instance, by eliminating the use of a percentage of electric fires, electric irons, electric warming pans, or any other electrical appliance? In fact, there is no known scientific or mathematical method of assessing the amount of electrical fuel consumed, globally or as an aggregate, by any particular group of electrical appliances. Therefore the figures given by the Parliamentary Secretary are completely worthless.

There are two individual points I wish to make observations upon, in this matter. First, the reference to oil in Clause 1 is a very interesting one. Is the House to infer, by innuendo, that the Ministry of Fuel and Power is now commencing a campaign to save fuel oil? If my knowledge of this subject tells me anything, there is no shortage of diesel oil today, and, in fact, it is as plentiful in supply as refined petrol.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the' Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens) indicated assent.

Mr. Nabarro

I see that the Parliamentary Secretary nods his head If he is correct in that statement, why is it the case that commercial vehicles using diesel engines and consuming diesel oil, are freely sold? The inference is that there is some desirable national motive in this Order to save diesel oil if it is employed for advertising subjects. I suggest there is no motive at all which can usefully be applied to an Order of this sort.

My second point is in connection with the word "windmill." Is a windmill the only means of providing electrical power without the use of coal, or without the use of mains electricity from power houses or through the grid or by gas? There are dozens of factories in London which make their own power from wood refuse or sawdust or by similar means, and provide the whole of their electrical power from their waste products. Are they to be denied the right to employ electrical signs providing they use no gas, electricity or fuel oil or in fact other methods of generating power referred to in this Order? I am of opinion that the wording of this Order is wholly anomalous; it is badly drafted and urgently requires revision.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth East, and Christchurch)

I hope that the Minister will throw some light on the points raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre), my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), because it seems to me that the only policy behind this wretched little Order is to add to the encircling gloom in which we live.

I wish to ask the Minister some specific questions through his Parliamentary Secretary to whom he leaves the dirty jobs of work to do. The Minister told us in the House not long ago that 50,000 tons of coal would be saved every three months if we were to blot out these electrified advertisements. I want to know who made that calculation? I want to know from some reliable person not connected with the Ministry of Fuel and Power; because it is preposterous and hardly to be imagined that we can use 50,000 tons of coal to electrify the various signs in London and the provinces in three months.

It is a preposterous calculation, worthy of the promises made by the Minister over the last three or four months; and we must have an explanation tonight. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary is here with one. He has plenty of admirable civil servants under the gallery to help him, if he has not the information by him. The House has been given a number of figures by the Ministry, and in almost every case the Ministry have had the misfortune to be proved completely inaccurate. An opportunity is given to the Minister tonight to tell us exactly the mathematics of this calculation that 50,000 tons of coal are saved every three months by switching off these signs.

It will be interesting to hear from the hon. Gentleman the authority upon which that statement is based. I have the feeling that when the Minister made that statement he just made one of his wild guesses. The hon. Gentleman has the misfortune to represent a Ministry of empty heads and empty grates, but I beg of him tonight to be frank with the House and to tell us the basis of this calculation. He knew he would be asked this question and I presume he has the answer among his voluminous notes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames spoke about the Festival of Britain, which of course is highly relevant to this discussion. I read the American papers fairly carefully, and what do I see? Vast sums of dollars are spent on advertisements. "Britain on show" they say. "See the illuminations of the Festival of Britain." Will the Minister tell us now quite definitely, as the Ministry of Fuel and Power have given a ruling that no fuel should be expended on advertising, what is to happen to the vast quantity of electrical equipment on the South Bank to be installed in the Festival of Britain buildings? It is much needed by industry and by the Army because I am informed that when the Z reservists are called up there will be a big shortage of electrical equipment.

Can we take it from the Ministry that the Government have now made up their minds to send either to the camps or to industry the very considerable quantity of electrical equipment it was proposed to use for the illumination of the Festival of Britain? We must get this clear. It is silly to keep all this equipment on the South Bank when the Ministry is bring- ing in a law to make it a severely punishable offence for anyone to illuminate anything. I do not suppose the Lord President is likely to break the law, so I take it the Minister will now agree to tell us tonight that so far as the Festival of Britain is concerned there is—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The question of the Festival of Britain does not enter into this matter. The matter before the House is a question of advertisements.

Mr. Bracken

I am only introducing this, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, by way of illustration, because the Government have spent vast sums of money inviting people to come to Britain to see the illuminations and the Minister has now introduced an Order to abolish the said illuminations. [An. HON. MEMBER: "No; only the advertisements."] I think these are advertisements of the Festival of Britain.

We cannot ask foreigners to come here and see illuminations when the Minister has introduced a law to prevent them. This Order is going to do a great deal of harm, and the Minister really ought to come forward now and tell us right away whether in point of fact he is going to ask his colleagues to withdraw these advertisements inviting foreigners to come to London to see these illuminations, because these illuminations will be an advertisement for the Festival of Britain.

I wish to know whether the Minister has consulted the Lord President, but I expect the Lord President is so busy these days that he cannot be expected to give much time to the junior "fry" of the Ministry. But this is really a very serious affair. The two things which we want to know are these. We have asked for figures, which I believe the hon. Gentleman has now got from under the gallery. Secondly, we ask that he will promise us that all this great quantity of electrical equipment which would have been used in these illuminations at the Festival of Britain will now be available for those called up under the Class Z reserve and for industry generally. The House will look forward greatly to the speech from the Minister but we do not want the sort of stuff he gives out at his Press conferences. We want facts, not bromides.

10.58 p.m.

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

I am sure none of us on this side of the House regret the obvious pleasure and fun that the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) has had this evening. The Opposition has produced tonight a heavyweight and a couple of lightweights to do this job. We do not regret the fun they had in doing this after the severe licking they had about an hour ago. They wanted something to brighten up their spirits and here it is. The hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) made the only sensible contribution to this Debate, if I may say so.

Mr. Bracken

How would the hon. Gentleman know that?

Mr. Robens

Because I am an extremely good judge after having had to listen for so many years to the right hon. Member for Bournemouth. The hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead said that if a man could use water power to generate electricity why should he not be permitted to do it. He is not using electricity that takes coal to produce. The reason we did not put that in the Order is that there are certain hydroelectric stations that are connected up to the grid and to put it in the Order would not have been a sensible thing to do. It would be impossible to separate electricity produced in this way.

Sir H. Williams

But that comes from Scotland.

Mr. Robens

Yes, electricity does come from Scotland to London. The hon. Gentleman is quite ignorant of these questions, but if he would really learn something it would be a great advantage.

Sir H. Williams

The hon. Gentleman said I was ignorant. I did spend 20 years of my life in the industry, and knew about the grid long before he ever heard of it.

Mr. Robens

I am sure the hon. Gentleman did, but I am equally sure he has shown no sign of having learnt by his experience.

We did put into the Order in Article 1 the fact that a licence can be granted in cases such as the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to. Therefore, if there are manufacturers or industrialists who want to use water supplies and feel that they should be allowed to do so, it is up to them to apply for a licence. We shall look at the application, and if it is a good thing and is not going to be a drain on solid fuel or electrical power, we shall grant it. That will apply also to the case the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) put.

Colonel Clarke

Will the Parliamentary Secretary make that fact known, because I did not read it into the Order? Possibly the Press may take note of it, but unless the Ministry make it known there will be a certain amount of discrimination, not intentional, which will not save firms from being prejudiced unless they are acquainted with the true position.

Mr. Robens

I am sure that what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said will gain the fact sufficient publicity.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Clarify the Order by re-writing it.

Mr. Robens

We are always getting good advice from hon. Gentlemen opposite, but we go on not taking it and doing our own job in our own way.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Look at the results.

Mr. Robens

And one day if the Opposition are very good boys they may be in a position to do what they like. At the moment they are not, and they will just have to wait. While we are responsible for doing the job it is better for us to do it without their advice.

Hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House are thoroughly aware of the situation that faces the country today by reason of the acute fuel shortage. One of the jobs that we must do at the Ministry, come what may, is to make absolutely certain that stocks of coal at power stations are kept as high as possible so that if we do run into very heavy weather indeed, and the free movement of coal is made extremely difficult, we would be sure that those stations could go on operating, without having compulsory cuts in power supplies which would be disastrous to the industrial life of the nation. The measures taken over these past few weeks have shown the result we anticipated, that the stocks at power stations are slightly higher than they were. Everything we can do to ease the load on power stations must be done.

I have never claimed for this Order—and nor has my right hon. Friend—that it saves an enormous amount of power, if you take the proportion in relation to the total consumption of power stations. I wonder if the House is really aware of the enormous increase in consumption of fuel at power stations. In 1938 the amount was 14 million tons; in 1950 31 million tons. That shows the enormous increase in output, the bulk of which has gone to industry, and also illustrates the importance of maintaining these stations. We have two problems.

Mr. Bracken

Really, this is too much, telling us about the total consumption. This Order deals definitely with advertising. We ought to have now the figure of the savings to be effected by this Order. The Minister told us it would be 50,000 tons over three months. We doubt the Minister's mathematics, and we want an answer now. What is the foundation for this curious calculation? Exactly how did the Minister arrive at this figure?

Mr. Robens

That is a very interesting intervention. I propose to tell the story in my own way. We shall come to the point if the right hon. Gentleman restrains himself. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is now muttering and threatening me with a Division. That will not matter very much.

I agree that the proportion of coal saved by this Order is very tiny when you take into account the enormous amount of coal that is used in the power stations. In fact, we have never used as an argument in connection with this Order the very high proportion of the fuel saved. The problem in electricity is twofold. First, we have the peak-load problem, which is purely a generating problem. When we reach the capacity in stations, then, of course, further demands cannot be met. The second problem—the present one—is temporary. It is the actual shortage of fuel. We have to save every single ton of coal we can. This Order is not concerned with the peak-load problem, but with saving fuel.

It is true that the Minister of Fuel and Power did say in the House that some 50,000 tons of coal would be saved in three months. A calculation of that kind cannot be made with complete exactness, but if hon. Gentlemen want to do a few calculations I will give them the facts on which they can make them. I naturally anticipated the right hon. Gentleman's questions and felt that was probably the line that would be taken.

Mr. Bracken

Ah, perspicacity.

Mr. Robens

I understand that the average lighting outside a London cinema is of the order of from 5 to 7 kilowatts. If you take 5 kilowatts as the representative figure, and assuming it were on for five hours a night and seven days a week in the next two months, the consumption per cinema would be 1,400 kilowatts.

Sir H. Williams

Kilowatt hours.

Mr. Robens

That calculation is equal to about one ton of coal. You have 5,000 cinemas in the country. Then you have the amount of lighting used in shop windows; it varies enormously, but I think 500 watts would be a reasonable figure. If you look at that on the same basis as the cinemas, consumption for each shop will be equivalent to about 2 cwt. of coal to produce the electricity. And there are about 600,000 shops in the country. By and large, you arrive at something like 50,000 tons on that basis for three months.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

No matter what the load might be, once you have taken out less efficient stations you have to keep efficient stations at a certain state of production. There is no evidence in the figures that any extra load was borne.

Mr. Robens

If one accepts the hon. Gentleman's argument that this extra load does not burn extra fuel, what kind of load does burn fuel? Any electricity must burn fuel. We have the best stations and the peak-load stations which, I agree, are the most inefficient of the stations, but the fact is that in a station one can knock out a set, which means that one can bank down a boiler, and one can save fuel. It is useless to argue that we can burn a lot of electricity but somehow not use any coal, and this kind of argument, which I have heard so many times, can go on interminably, because one cannot prove precisely what happens at any given moment when one knocks off a switch.

Mr. Bracken

The hon. Gentleman is wafting himself away from the point we put to him. We asked him for precise figures—precise figures—to justify the Minister's statement, which he must have made, on advice, that 50,000 tons of fuel were used every quarter to keep electric signs going. The hon. Gentleman has told us there are 600,000 shops in Britain and given us a sort of Marx Brothers calculation of what they consume. I am sure he wants to treat the House respectfully. The B.E.A. knows perfectly well, or can easily find out, what is the consumption of fuel in relation to electric signs. Did he consult with the. B.E.A. about those figures, and with Lord Citrine, or his deputy, because I understand that his lordship is on the ocean waves?

Mr. Robens

That was a long interjection. I think I have indicated to the House the kind of calculation that we have made; I am going to leave it for the moment. Nor am I being cross-examined by the right hon. Gentleman. He may do this kind of thing to his associates, but not to us on this side of the House.

We come to the point about the fuel economy campaign. The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked about the psychological aspect of this. It has been my personal responsibility to organise the economy campaign. I simply am not going to ask the housewives of this country to use only one bar of a fire and to switch off the odd light that is not being used, and then have them see all these lights burning for no useful purpose at all, and ask them to believe we are really serious about an economy campaign. If hon. Gentlemen do not understand that I cannot help it. I understand it very well, and I think most sensible people would understand it very well. We cannot expect the housewives to save the odd light if they can come to the West End and see all the signs glaring away for no useful purpose whatever.

Mr. Bracken

Coming up dripping with furs, too.

Mr. Robens

The right hon. Gentleman may remember that it was very cold weather one Ascot day, and the women did wear furs there.

As to the question of windmills, we have left that out because, of course, it is not necessary to restrict them. We are considering licensing to cover some areas in the north of Scotland which are not on the grid and derive electricity solely from water power. The hon. and gallant Gentleman wanted also to know something about oil and candles. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), the great expert on opencast coal, told the House there was plenty of diesel oil. Of course, he is wrong. There is not plenty of diesel oil. The diesel oil that is available must go to those industries that have generating stations, and it would be wrong to divert diesel oil from that purpose to generating stations purely for the sake of advertisements.

The Federation of British Industries have made representations that these important industries should have diesel oil for the use of generating stations for industrial purposes, and we propose that the diesel oil available should go in that direction instead of, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, purely for advertisements.

Mr. Nabarro

The hon. Gentleman referred to a statement I made: I am obliged to him for giving way. Would he not agree that the specific reference to oil in this Order is, in itself, an inference that there is some shortage of diesel oil and that that is completely incompatible with the free, promiscuous and generally encouraged sale of equipment using diesel engines.

Mr. Robens

That is a lot of nonsense. There is no promiscuous sale of engines. Maybe that is the hon. Gentleman's opinion, but it is not based on any real knowledge. Another point raised was with regard to candles.

Mr. Bracken

The Festival of Britain?

Mr. Robens

We have put candles in this Order because they are used in many homes in this country. It would be wrong to permit large quantities of candles to be used for this purpose, creating a run on candles and causing a shortage of supply. We have to import the wax to make candles and this wax comes from countries overseas whose sources of supply are very thin at the present time. We get wax from India and Indonesia, where the difficulties over the last few months—the earthquake in Assam in August, for one—have seriously interfered with their ability to produce wax. It would be wrong to allow a run on candles by allowing them to be used for this purpose while they are being used in so many homes. Therefore, we put candles in this Order. That seems to me to be a reasonable thing to do.

Hon. Gentlemen were interested in the date when this restriction would be taken off. We expect to be able to remove the restriction by the middle of April and it is our present intention to do so. I admit that the Order causes dislocation of the business of electric sign manufacturers and others and interferes with the proper display of goods in shops, and so on, which we would not want to do, but I suggest to the House that the saving of coal and the preservation of electricity supplies for industrial use are much more important than the use of fuel for advertising. I ask the House to agree with this Order and to oppose the Prayer.

11.20 p.m.

Mr. Raikes (Liverpool, Garston)

I have listened with attention to the Parliamentary Secretary and though I have often heard him speak I have never heard him make less of a reply to the arguments which have been put forward on this side. The only point which he has seriously endeavoured to answer is the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) about water and wind. But even that reply, taking the best one for a start, is not very satisfactory. The Parliamentary Secretary says one can get a licence granted by the Ministry and that what my hon. and gallant Friend has said tonight will give sufficient advertisement to the point.

The Parliamentary Secretary knows that this sort of debate, at this hour of the night, gets no advertisement in the Press—or very little. That only happens if we have before us an order dealing with illegitimate babies. The point I want to emphasise is that this Order, on that issue alone, ought to have been drafted in such a way that firms dependent on water, which uses no fuel, could have known straightaway that they would have been in the same position as lighting which comes from electricity not generated by windmills. That is faulty drafting. The hon. Gentleman, far from justifying the 50,000 tons in three months which the Minister put up—and I do not blame him—started his speech with a sneer. He talked about two lightweights and one heavyweight. To have one heavyweight in the Ministry of Fuel and Power will be one of the biggest surprises known in this Parliament. When I look across the Floor of the House I feel that I should be better than some there, when the Government have the guts to go to the country.

How does the Minister calculate his figures? All the Parliamentary Secretary has done is to produce a jumble of figures. Has the Minister checked his figures with the B.E.A.? If not, why does he produce muddled mathematics which mean nothing to anyone, unless it is a check against real figures? My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) asked specifically whether the Ministry had consulted, and discussed this matter, with the Travel Association or the Hotels and Restaurants Association. We have had no answer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why should you?"] Why should I? I understood it was one of the desires of this Government to endeavour to concentrate and improve the tourist traffic to get dollars and to make appeals for things more lasting than the Festival of Britain. To have got this without consultation is a condemnation of the Order, for which no argument has been put forward in favour, except one or two vague points, and I very much hope my hon. and gallant Friend will stick by his guns and go into the Lobby.

11.24 p.m.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I, too, have listened in the past to the Parliamentary Secretary, and in my knowledge of him in the three years which he has occupied the office he has never descended to such a level of personal abuse as he did tonight. He could not have combined less information with more offensiveness. I should like to ask him a question, and I am certain the House will give him permission to speak again if he wishes to make a serious contribution to the debate, which, so far, he has not shown any desire to do. If he does I am sure my hon. Friends will be ready to listen to him.

On coal consumption for advertisement purposes he has produced figures of cinemas and shops—purely an arbitrary calculation in which he was not certain whether he was talking about kilowatts or kilowatt hours—but we would like to know whether any actual figures exist to show a coal saving because of the principle of this Order. That was something he did not try to answer.

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the figures of coal consumption he will see that the electricity stations have used more coal than ever in spite of the Order. There is not the slightest proof that he has saved a pound of coal. Can he say, from all the figures he has in his Ministry, and from all the information which is available to him, that he has saved a pound of coal as a result of this Order? Can he get up and say it? Will he answer that? Has he saved a pound of coal?

Mr. Robens


Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Well, I am perfectly ready to say that that is within the potentiality of his knowledge. We now know that we have saved a pound of coal. Now may I ask this second question of him? He stated that one can bank down in the efficient electricity generating stations and certain units, and I would like to know if he has, in fact, banked down units in such generating stations because of this Order? Can he give any places, and dates? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why should he?"] Hon. Members ask, "Why should he?", but any Minister can get up and say he has saved a pound of coal; any Minister can use generalities; I want the Minister to give more precise information.

Mr. Robens

Does the hon. and gallant Member know what happened at nine o'clock last Thursday?

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

What happened then?

Mr. Robens

I wanted to find out it the hon. and gallant Member knew if anything happened or not?

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Will the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary accept the responsibility for answering, Questions on that point? We know full well that they will not. The Parliamentary Secretary cannot stand at that Box and say with any degree of accuracy what has been saved by this particular restriction in the use of electricity, at which station, and when. I know that electricity is not something which moves along lines and then records itself as being burned in any particular way. It is impossible to assign the load of a shop sign or a lamp. But he can look into the consumption in the power stations, and he can find out the number of boilers he may have been able to damp down, and so on, and say, for all practical purposes, what has been the saving.

Then, there was another point. The Parliamentary Secretary spoke of the shortage of diesel oil; but if there is this shortage for his Department, why is it that there is no shortage for domestic heating? People can have as much diesel oil as they want.

Mr. Messer (Tottenham)

Does the hon. and gallant Member want it on ration?

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Hon. Members know very well that one can ring up any oil company and that the lorry comes round next day and one can have as much oil as one wants.

Mr. Robens

I think that new customers will find it extremely difficult to get oil of this sort from the oil companies.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

It is existing customers who are concerned with this Order, and they have no difficulty at all. In fact, I thought that the whole of his argument on that point was rather silly. The hon. Gentleman merely said, "Why should the people owning these plants be entitled to use them?" He said nothing about the alleged difficulty of transporting diesel oil. Above all, he made no reference to the fact that paraffin oil, not diesel oil, was used in the majority of the plants under consideration. He left it at diesel oil, and hoped for the best, making one or two nice hearty political gibes á la soap box in Hyde Park, and added nothing more for the benefit of the House.

All I can say is that the House, after listening to this debate, can be in no two minds as to what the situation is. Here is an Order without purpose and without justification. On the other hand, there is this point, to which the Minister did not refer, and which I am prepared to accept —that it may be that to the miners there is something in cutting-off all lights for advertisements. It may be they do feel that because of this Order they are more justified in the additional tasks to which they have been exhorted; that they feel that every pound or ton of coal they produce is going to direct national advantage. It is for that reason, and that reason only, that I shall not press the Motion to a Division.

Question put, and negatived.