HC Deb 10 May 1951 vol 487 cc2152-5
Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd (by Private Notice)

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he will make a statement about the recent electric power cuts.

The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)

Yes, Sir. There have been power cuts of varying intensity in different parts of the country during the last few days.

There have been three main causes. The first is the great increase in the demand for electricity. In the first four months of this year the British Electricity Authority sent out 14 per cent. more electricity than in the corresponding period a year ago. The second is the large proportion of generating capacity—no less than 28 per cent.—which has been out of commission, mainly owing to the necessary summer overhaul and maintenance work, and to the temporary breakdown of plant. The third is the exceptionally cold weather which we have had this week. It is estimated that in April and May a drop of I degree Fahrenheit in the temperature may increase the national load by about 100 megawatts. On Monday and Tuesday of this week the maximum temperature at Kew was 12 degrees below the normal.

I need not say how much the Government regret the loss and inconvenience which power cuts may cause.

Mr. Lloyd

In view of the serious and rather depressing character of the Minister's statement, is it not unfortunate, from the point of view of production, that it was only on Monday of last week that the Minister announced concessions for the introduction of standby plant into the factories, which could help so much to mitigate these difficulties?

Mr. Noel-Baker

These concessions were announced in January, and I added on Monday that the British Electricity Authority were in consultation with the delegation of the Federation of British Industries.

Mr. Lloyd

Does not the right hon. Gentleman recollect that, following the fuel and power crisis in 1947, the Ministry of Supply launched a £10 million scheme for the introduction of standby generators in the factories, and that owing to the failure of the right hon. Gentleman's Department to make the necessary arrangements, a surplus of these generators was exported to Soviet Russia to the extent of £4 million in the last two years?

Mr. Noel-Baker

It was found that oil was even more difficult to obtain than other forms of fuel.

Mr. Pickthorn

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House the figure of generating capacity out of use for recommissioning in the average May before the war, or the figure before nationalisation, corresponding to the 28 per cent. he announced just now? How much, has he been informed, has unsuitable coal affected the question?

Mr. Noel-Baker

On the last point, the answer is: "A very small amount indeed." On the first question, the outage—[HON. MEMBERS: "The what?"]—"outage," the amount of capacity out of use, according to the jargon used in the electricity industry—due to overhaul and breakdown is certainly greater than it was before the war. Maintenance is about the same, in proportion, and must be carried out between the months of April and September. Normally, it does not cause power cuts, and but for the exceptionally cold weather would not have done so now, and but for the great increase in the demand for electricity.

The amount of breakdown is heavier, for three reasons. First, because the B.E.A. have to use a great deal of old plant which they took over and which is liable to breakdown. Secondly, because the new plant is having heavy teething troubles. Thirdly, and owing to the great demand, a lot of the plant has to be run continuously, which previously would not have been the case.

Mr. Fort

Are not the troubles caused by the installation of novel and untried steam-raising and generating equipment?

Mr. Noel-Baker

No, Sir, not that I am aware of, but the breakdown is heavier than it used to be.

Mr. Chetwynd

Was not there a considerable extension of electricity generating capacity, and was not the recent load-shedding caused, in the main, by the domestic demand?

Mr. Noel-Baker

Generating capacity increased last year by 965 megawatts, which is 30 per cent. more than in the highest pre-war year. It will increase this year by somewhere between 1,050 megawatts and 1,100 megawatts. None of the new stations has yet come in this year. In the domestic demand, the electric fire is certainly a very potent cause of power cuts, but the industrial demand is the demand which is increasing most.

Mr. Speaker

I do not want to interfere or to restrict Members in any way, but I might point out that we have the Business Question to come, and that we have a Royal Commission coming on. We have two important debates, and every minute spent now, is really taken away from those important debates.

Earl Winterton

An important question has arisen which I would like to put. It is whether the Minister can give any advice to owners of industrial buildings and hotels on the very serious situation which arose yesterday, during which a number of people were trapped in lifts? This is not very good for the prestige of the country when we have many foreign visitors. On people of nervous disposition or with weak hearts this kind of thing might have a very serious effect. Has the right hon. Gentleman any information on the subject?

Mr. Noel-Baker

It is a very difficult matter. It can only be dealt with by getting rid of power cuts, which is what the Government are doing everything they can to achieve.