HC Deb 25 June 1952 vol 502 cc2309-31

7.1 p.m.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

I beg to move, in page 110, line 31, to leave out Part XIV.

I think it would be for the convenience of the House if we considered at the same time the next Bill—Preston Corporation Bill—because although one is in the stage of consideration and the other is down for Second Reading the object of my hon. Friends and I is to have a general debate on something which is common to both. My action is not intended as an attack on the Bill, and there is no desire to vote against either Bill, but for a long time we have been seeking an opportunity of debating the development of a new public utility.

I expect that those who report our proceedings and listen to them may be a little surprised at the procedure whereby we suddenly jump from the banks of the Yalu River to the banks of the River Thames. It is not my fault that this debate has interrupted the debate on Korea, but it may be that if we spend a little time on district heating it might help to reduce the temperature over Korea.

District heating is a relatively new development in this country. It might be said that central heating is a form of district heating, but district heating as we understand it means the supplying of heat from a central source to a large number of houses or flats. That is something quite different from what we understand by central heating. Last year we were hoping to have a debate on this subject on the Bill promoted by the Aycliffe New Town Corporation. Their Bill related solely to district heating. Ultimately, that corporate body withdrew their Bill so we did not get an opportunity to discuss this important matter.

The subject which we have just been discussing may be of transient importance, but what we are now debating, I believe for the first time in this House, is something which may affect the happiness and convenience of the people of this country for generations to come. Therefore, it is not inappropriate that we should have an opportunity to discuss it.

My Friends and I have been trying to find out something about this subject for a considerable time. I do not know how many of these schemes there are in operation in this country, but there are not very many that have received Parliamentary approbation. There are one or two which are limited to a certain estate in respect of which it was not necessary to secure Parliamentary authority. There are one or two schemes which have received Parliamentary authority, and it is about them that I am endeavouring to make such inquiries as a private person can.

In the United States a good deal of success has been achieved. His Majesty's Stationery Office, as it was at that time, published a Report on "District Heating in American Housing." It was entitled "National Building Studies. Special Report No. 7." That Report related to the period February-April, 1947, so it described the position in the United States about five years ago. Having read that Report I am satisfied that in the U.S.A. a substantial measure of success appears to have been achieved in some of their district heating schemes.

The contrary appears to be true of those in operation in this country. There is one in the Withington district of Manchester. I regret that I have not secured any precise statistics about it, but I have discussed it with some of the Manchester Members and others familiar with the district. It is not regarded as successful; it is far too costly for the people who use it.

I have made some inquiries about other schemes, and have obtained some rather more detailed information. There is a scheme at Urmston, outside Manchester —that of the Urmston Urban District Council. I have obtained a good deal of information about that, and I had the pleasure of listening to a speech at the Conservative Conference at Blackpool in October, 1950, by Councillor J. L. Moloney, who was then the chairman of the committee which was operating that scheme.

He outlined the ideas behind those who began it and their great degree of optimism, and drew attention to what had happened. He said that it was very costly and that when they began the estimates were based on the assumption that there would be an average charge per house of 5s. per week. However, that was not enough and the charge was increased to 6s. 9d. By October, 1950, it was 10s. 3d. a week, more than double the original charge. That means that the original estimates must have been seriously wrong.

In Councillor Moloney's opinion, apparently, the economic charge would be about 12s. per week, but these are council houses and there is some confusion between rent, heating charge and subsidy. However, in his opinion, and as he was chairman of the committee he ought to know something about it, the correct figure would be about 12s. per week. That is a very costly and heavy charge for people to bear.

There is another kind of scheme entirely in the City of Westminster, only about two miles from this House, which is known as the Pimlico scheme. Those who travel along that part of the Embankment may have noticed the erection of a large structure which is now glassed in to improve its appearance. That is, I presume, the central reservoir of the hot water—I think it is water and not steam —which comes from the Battersea Power Station, and which serves a block of flats. According to the Town Clerk of Westminster, with whom I have been in correspondence, this scheme came into operation about a year ago. A letter I received from him is dated 16th January this year so they had not had long enough to see how the scheme is working out.

When it started the charge for heating and hot water was 3s. 7d. for a bed-sitting room, 6s. 7d. for a two-room flat. 8s.for a three-room flat, 9s. 5d. for a four-room flat and 10s. 9d. for a five-room flat. They seem to think that they have got a very good scheme, but I suggest that these are rather high prices for people to pay. Whether they represent an economic charge, I do not know.

There is another important scheme, I believe the largest in the country at Salisbury, or to give it its correct name the City of New Sarum. I have a letter from the Town Clerk in which he states that they have had certain engineering difficulties, perhaps due to the lie of the land —I am not quite certain. He says that fuel consumption is high, but may improve when the scheme is properly regulated. The letter says: The original estimated charge to the tenant, based upon 1946 prices, was 4s. 11d per week,… It is now 10s. per week All these schemes were based on false estimates and it appears that their charges are all now about double what was contemplated. A very exhaustive technical investigation is needed to discover whether these schemes are economic in the widest possible sense. I am not thinking merely of the charge to the tenant, although that is one aspect. They involve considerable capital expenditure which may well be better spent on other things. They involve a very large consumption of fuel. Whether the consumption of fuel is greater or lesser than other methods we use for heating water and houses, I do not know, and I do not think that anybody knows.

My purpose is neither to condemn or praise. The proper approach to any problem is the middle approach. I know that some people think that every new idea is good and that others think that every new idea is bad. Both those approaches are stupid. The right approach is the one I was taught when I was an engineering and scientific student—to examine all the facts before coming to a decision.

Such facts as I have been able to acquire indicate a measure of failure in this country. It may be that I am drawing the wrong conclusions, but if this scheme is wasteful in capital resources and fuel, and if it imposes high charges on tenants, it ought not to be pursued. If, on the other hand, it is a good scheme, it ought to be encouraged. At the moment, we do not know which it is, and this is, so far as I am aware, the first opportunity the House has had of considering this important issue—because it is important; it may affect the future domestic arrangements of hundreds and thousands or even millions of people. For that reason my hon. Friends and I thought that this issue ought to be raised.

We do not want to divide on this occasion because there are many other matters in these Bills which are reasonable and proper and ought no doubt to become law, after going through all the stages and being modified. What I ask is that there shall be a proper inquiry, carried out, I imagine, jointly by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Fuel and Power. I am grateful that the Parliamentary Secretaries of both these Ministries are present.

I am told the authorities have some kind of heating on the job. I have only just discovered that. It has not advertised itself and in that respect it is not like an M.P. In any event, I do not know what they have done. I was told before any of these schemes are put in a Bill, there is consultation with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I do not know whether that is true, and if it is I am surprised, because when discussing another Bill, not now before the House, I asked if the corporation had any precise scheme and I was told they had not. I do not see how the Ministry could have approved something which was not in definite form.

What happens in local government legislation is that a corporation promotes a Bill for some purpose or other and they get certain powers because they think they need them. A body upstairs approves the Bill and it becomes law. Next year other corporations promote Bills and they put into their Bills, without thought or consideration, every power granted to the other corporation in the previous year. That is how we get the law of this country altered so far as half of the country is concerned. Then along comes an enterprising Minister of Health who introduces a new Public Health Act and makes general a whole series of proposals which have never been discussed by this House as a whole at any time. That is why we are having this debate tonight and I hope that as a result there will be the proper scientific and economic investigation which this important matter calls for.

Mr. F. J. Enroll (Altrincham and Sale)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I wish to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) has said about the approach of an average person to a new idea. It is so very important to consider a new idea in a detached, judicial manner and not to embrace a new idea just because superficially it appears to be a good one. I think that, superficially, district heating has many attractions, especially in a densely populated country such as ours. One has only to look at the immense amount of waste heat from power stations to bewail the loss of so many thermal units and to think what a pity it is that all that hot water is going down the river when it could be used to heat homes.

I understand that in the highly specialised example of Pimlico that system is economically worth while and is proving a moderate success. What is superficially attractive, however, is not necessarily sound from an economic point of view when it is thoroughly examined; and it is because we wish to have the whole question of district heating thoroughly examined by engineers who can weigh up the exact cost of such schemes that we are promoting this debate tonight.

Lieut-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Pimlico scheme is not economically sound, or was that part of his argument directed to the problem generally?

Mr. Erroll

I was saying that I understand the Pimlico scheme, which is a very special example of district heating, was economically sound. The main reasons for that are that the water received from the power station is transmitted under the river and the temperature gradient between the pipes and the surrounding atmosphere is small, because the river water maintains a reasonably constant temperature; while, at the user end, the heat is used solely for one large block of flats, or several contiguous blocks of flats. It is an altogether different problem when there are considerable lengths of piping running under streets through residential areas, with subsidiary pipes going to houses through the front gardens, where heat losses can be very considerable.

7.15 p.m.

The fact is that except in these specialised examples, of which Pimlico is one, the economic case for district heating has still to be made. If the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) is successful in catching your eye, Sir, he may be able to refer in some detail to the district heating scheme in the town of New Sarum, where their experiences have not been at all happy.

I do not think that we should rush into schemes of district heating. We should not allow local authorities to go ahead with such schemes without proper examination of the data available to date, and without proper examination of any specific schemes which those local authorities may wish to put forward. I rather deplore the way the general powers are being written into local authority Bills without full consideration being given, either to the merits of district heating as such, or individual schemes being considered by the local authorities concerned. It is certainly time we had a statement from the Government on the whole question.

Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

I think most hon. Members will agree that there is a strong case for inquiry into the district heating schemes as a whole, but I do not think that is any reason for holding up progress with the particular schemes before the House. On the general argument, I would make the point that if we are to have progress in technical fields of this kind someone has to take the initiative, and on schemes of this kind it is some local authorities who have to take the initiative. When they have done so and their schemes have been carried out, then by all means inquire into their experiences and lay down certain rules and find out what the nation can learn from the experiments. Then that information and experience can be passed on to other authorities so that it may be used in future schemes.

There are bound to be teething troubles in such experiments. So far, what they are suffering from are teething troubles and nothing worse. The particular scheme before us today in the Essex County Council Bill is the Dagenham Scheme, which was not mentioned by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). It is a scheme which has much in its favour. I should like to be frank with the House and, having given its merits, I will also give some of the difficulties we have had to face in carrying through this scheme.

To begin with, I would say that the idea was to utilise the waste heat from the refuse disposal plant of the council and to use plants using low grade fuel, and thus to economise in building and in fuel costs in carrying out the construction of a large municipal housing estate; and also to include in the scheme part of an adjacent London County Council estate.

In 1947 approval was given by the Ministry of Health, and now the scheme is nearing completion. There are 416 Dagenham Borough Council houses already supplied with this heat in this way, and 63 L.C.C. houses are already connected up. As every week passes further houses or blocks of houses are added to the scheme. Ultimately, it will be a considerably bigger scheme.

Powers are sought under this Bill to try to make the scheme somewhat larger and self-supporting. Initially it was not thought that any extra powers would be required from Parliament in addition to those already possessed under the various Housing Acts, but experience has shown that extra powers are required, and that is why this provision has been placed in the Bill. In order to make the scheme as large and comprehensive as possible it is desirable to include in it an Essex County Council school, a social centre, shops, a laundry, and so on.

That means that pipes will have to be laid under the streets and mains put down in streets which are not part of the housing estate. Similar powers have already been granted to eight councils between 1949 and 1951, including those at Slough and Bristol. They found it necessary to have the extra powers. In developing this scheme it has been thought necessary to seek rather wider powers than those granted by existing Housing Acts.

As to the growing pains which I mentioned earlier, there are a number and it is only fair that I should be frank about them. The main one so far felt by tenants is the variation in temperature. That is due to the fact that, as new houses or blocks of houses are added from time to time, one has to make a balance so that there is even heating over the scheme as a whole. That requires to be done every time new houses or blocks of houses are added. That involves difficulties for the existing tenants. Once the scheme is completed and in working order those difficulties will disappear. They are literally growing pains.

We have had a certain amount of unauthorised interference with valves by tenants. That is partly as a result of the variations which have taken place in the past. People have tried to solve the problem themselves. That practice has had to be discouraged by the local authority.

Also, there have been some bursts in the hot water part of the scheme. There was difficulty in connection with copper piping. The Copper Development Council are co-operating with the Dagen-ham Council and working out a solution to this problem. All the fractured pipes have been copper pipes. That is a problem which we are certain will be solved by co-operation on the technical level.

Another criticism which might be advanced is that during the summer months there are certain cold spells when the heating is not on. Provision has been made for that by the installation of electrical points so that people can have electric fires when that kind of difficulty arises. I submit that none of these criticisms or difficulties are serious or fundamental. It is highly desirable to complete the scheme as soon as possible on the lines I have suggested and to give it an opportunity of running as a whole. When the scheme is running fully that will be the time to judge and to find out whether or not it is a success.

I submit that the difficulties which have arisen are definitely teething troubles. No doubt other authorities can learn from our experience.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what the cost is for the occupier of a three-bed-roomed house in Dagenham and the occupier of a four-bedroomed house there?

Mr. Parker

I cannot give those figures offhand. The average heating cost per week is 8s. 11d. in addition to the rent, and the average rent is around 30s., though it varies according to the size of the house. I do not think that that is an unreasonable charge for the service provided if the scheme runs as smoothly as we intend.

Mr. Enroll

Can the hon. Gentleman, in his most interesting remarks, explain whether the scheme applies only to space heating or to hot water heating as well?

Mr. Parker


Mr. Erroll

Is it not awkward in the summer months not to have the heating on?

Mr. Parker

Hot water is provided in the summer months, but the space heating part of the apparatus does not operate then.

On the general point, I suggest there is a strong case for completing this scheme so that, when it is in full operation as a whole, one can learn further lessons, apart altogether from these teething lessons. When the scheme is in full operation we shall be able to judge how far the scheme makes a contribution to life in a large part of this borough. If it is a success there will be a strong case for similar experiments in other boroughs.

To sum up, I suggest that at this time in our national history there is a strong argument for any kind of experiments which will save fuel. It is necessary in the national interest to save fuel. Here is an opportunity to do that. As the hon. Member for Croydon, East said, a lot of heat goes to waste at present in power stations and places of that kind. We should experiment and find methods of using that heat.

This experiment will provide much cleaner houses for everybody. It will lead to a considerable degree of smoke abatement and it will simplify housing construction. It will lead to a good deal of labour saving in the house. These are important considerations which should be borne in mind by hon. Members when they are deciding whether to support this provision. Although I am in favour of a full inquiry into this matter, I hope that the House will back the Bill and agree that the inquiry should take place after this scheme is in operation. I am certain that more will be learned then than could be learned now.

I do not think that an inquiry now would provide very much more information than that I have given about teething troubles. When the full scheme is in operation a lot which is of value might be learned. I ask the House not to accept this Amendment.

Mr. Nabarro

I wish strongly to support what has been said by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). The Dagenham experiment is very important in the interests of fuel efficiency in the United Kingdom. I have been advocating for many years that waste heat, notably from power houses, must be utilised for domestic services in the immediate proximity of the point at which the power is generated.

The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) will be familiar with a scheme promoted, in theory, at the end of the war which is often referred to as the Warrington scheme. That was a similar scheme in principle to the Dagenham scheme, although it embraced industrial considerations.

It was a scheme to provide industrial power in Warrington, using the steam at a lower pressure for heating and processing in factories. The effect of such a scheme—and the principle is similar in the Dagenham scheme—is to raise the thermal efficiency with which coal is burned from something of the order of 22 per cent., which is the average thermal efficiency at a British Electricity Authority power house today, to a thermal efficiency of about 70 per cent.

I am prepared to agree that to achieve that high thermal efficiency in district heating schemes of this nature, using steam the first time for driving a turbo-alternator, the second time for heating purposes, either domestically or industrially, and a third time for processing industrially, it is absolutely essential that there should be a proper balance between the power requirement and the heat requirement.

7.30 p.m.

That is the fundamental factor, and it is often exceedingly difficult to achieve. Our trouble in this country is that there is very little reliable evidence to guide us, and, therefore, while I do not wish in any way to see the Dagenham scheme delayed or held up, because I regard it as a pilot and a very useful experiment, I support my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East in calling for a general inquiry as to the potentialities of district heating.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East mentioned American successes, and he is quite right, but we need not go as far away as the United States. Any hon. Member who has toured Denmark will know that in that country they have no indigenous sources of coal, but have to import all their coal. There, in many important cities, ever since the early 1920s they have been gradually developing combined power and heating schemes, a notable example being that of Esbjerg in the western part of the peninsula. There, for a reasonable capital investment they have demonstrated, over a period of years that power and heat services for industrial purposes and domestic heating and hot water services can be provided at relatively low figures.

My final comment upon the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East is this. He referred to the cost of operation. The hon. Member for Dagenham rather fought shy of the figures supplied by his own county council as to what occupiers of the houses in Dagenham pay for this service. I am sure he will not be offended if I quote them, since they were provided for me by the Parliamentary agents promoting the Bill. The occupier of a three-bedroom house is paying 8s. 11d. per week all the year round for a combination of heating and hot water services, and the occupier of a four-bedroom house is paying 10s. a week.

These figures are not high. The average consumption of coal per household in the United Kingdom is five tons a year, of which only about one-third is taken in solid fuel, the remainder being taken as a combination of electric andfor gas andfor other forms of fuel. The value of five tons of coal, taking £5 per ton as a reasonable figure for a householder to pay, is something of the order of £25 per annum, which works out at slightly less than 10s. per week for a heating and domestic hot water service which approximates the results produced at Dagenham.

Mr. Erroll

What about cooking? Would my hon. Friend care to explain? Of course, the Dagenham scheme does not include the cost of heat for cooking or the thermal equivalent of electricity used in operating wireless sets.

Mr. Nabarro

That is quite true. I am only making an approximate comparison. I do not want it to be thought that the charges in Dagenham are exorbitant or very much out of line with those for the country as a whole. This is not the only experimentation which has taken place in the United Kingdom so far, and a number of technical journals have published articles in the last few weeks, giving full particulars of some existing schemes.

The "Steam Engineer" in April of this year published full particulars of the Esbjerg scheme, and "The Builder," in February of this year, published comprehensive particulars of a most illuminating experiment in the East End of London, where Messrs. Mann, Crossman and Paulin's brewery are supplying their surplus steam or waste heat for the heating of a block of L.C.C. fiats which have been built recently only a few hundred yards away.

I hope we shall have the inquiry called for by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East, but I do not want that in any way to delay or postpone the completion and expansion of this very valuable experiment that has been commended to the House this evening by the hon. Member for Dagenham.

Mr. Ian Winterbottom (Nottingham, Central)

It is with very great pleasure that I follow the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) in this debate, because his knowledge of the use of fuel is well-known and appreciated by the House, and I have nothing to add to what he said. I appreciate also the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), who touched on important social aspects of district heating.

I rise because we in Nottingham have in preparation a Bill which includes district heating and which is linked with the decision of this House this evening on the Essex County Council Bill. We are most anxious that the powers that we wish to have conferred upon us in this Bill are in no way curtailed, and, for this reason, I very much welcome the undertaking given by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) not to divide the House.

I will touch only on one or two minor points which have been raised in the debate so far. First of all, on the question of this being a new invention, it is, of course, nothing of the kind. The first experiments of this kind were made in this country in 1835, and the first major American experiment, which is still functioning, was made in 1870, while this system is in common practice throughout Western Europe and in the more recently developed countries, like Russia and Manchuria.

In regard to this country, it is completely wrong to judge any scheme which is in process of development. The hon. Member for Croydon, East suggested that because one scheme was not doing well and that the expenses in the Pimlico scheme were high, such schemes were going wrong. Actually, what is happening is that these schemes are being linked to series of houses, blocks of flats and so on.

The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) was mistaken when he said that the Pimlico scheme was attached to only one block of flats. It is being taken up by four such blocks in the Churchill Gardens scheme. It has already been connected to Dolphin Court, and there is a further housing scheme which is going to receive this steam from the Battersea Power Station. The economic running of such a system can only be assessed when the whole of the houses to be supplied from the central station are linked to the source of the heat.

In regard to fuel saving and economy, this is a very important point. Both the illustrations which I have given are from the Battersea Power Station, and this is a strictly limited scheme which is being operated at its most efficient. The estimated saving for the 3,000 flats which will eventually be linked to Battersea Power Station will be the equivalent of 10,000 tons of fuel a year, namely, three tons per flat, which is a very considerable saving.

Further, there has been a direct comparison of cost already made between the Pimlico scheme and the conventional central heating scheme. There is a large block of flats in that area called Russell House, consisting of 74 flats, built in 1950 and supplied with an efficient central heating scheme. The cost of supplying area heating and hot water in Russell House has been such that the Russell House scheme, after only two years of operation, is being linked to the Battersea Power Station in October of this year, which shows that the conventional heating schemes may be affected by the work done at Pimlico.

I agree that an inquiry might be of value, because it might publicise the virtues and economies which such a scheme might bring about, but I would urge the House to allow those councils which have their own schemes in preparation or wish to prepare them to be permitted to do so.

Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)

I do not wish to detain the House for long, or to obstruct a Bill which, I am sure is in many ways a most admirable one. As my constituency has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), I should like to say that I believe that he has done a useful service to the House in bringing this matter to the notice of all of us here this evening.

Certainly, the district heating scheme in the city of New Sarum in my constituency has not been, I am afraid I have to say, a very great success. It means far more cost than was originally anticipated in the planning. There are certain technical details to be considered. One house has hot water and the next one sometimes does not have quite such hot water which on occasion causes considerable feeling. There is also the psychological fact that there is no fire against which to warm one's toes, which is a considerable point, I think, although it may sometimes need more fuel to do that.

As one who is in no way an expert on mechanics or engineering, I feel that the hon. Gentleman who raised this matter made a strong point in emphasising that every possible examination of further details in regard to district heating schemes should be made before they are adopted on a wholesale scale throughout the country.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

When all the technical difficulties have been overcome, this particular scheme will be of immense value to this country, and it must not be forgotten that such schemes are linked with the re-armament programme. The two most valuable assets of this country are its coal and its manpower. We must make the best possible use of every ounce of coal we have, and people who want to go back to the prehistoric idea of every house having its own smoke hole ought to try to be more modern.

I saw the Urmston scheme put into operation and developed. It is an extraordinarily good scheme. No longer does the elderly pensioner have to get up in the morning and look round for wood to chop, paper and coal, if he can get it, and at the end of the month send for the sweep, at the end of three months send for a decorator, and at the end of six months find himself suffering from asthma because of the smoke and fumes which come from the coal. Those days are over. One pensioner looks after the plant, and the houses are clean. There have been difficulties, and there have been increasing costs, but does the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) suggest that his own coal bill has not increased?

Sir H. Williams

The cost has gone up from 5s. to 10s., which is double, and the 10s. is still inadequate.

Mr. Jones

That is not because of the tremendous increases, but because the original charges were based too low. I do not want to prolong the debate, but I could if necessary go into details as to why the cost of coal is as high as it is. There are not going to be any more cheap miners. Those who want cheap coal can go and get it for themselves if they feel so inclined.

I suggest that this particular scheme can in the interests of the nation be a very fine scheme. I live within 1,000 yards of a big steel works at which I worked for 37 years. There every day I see millions of cubic feet of gas being wasted from the coke ovens. That gas could easily be diverted both into the homes of our people and into the factories for use by industry which is short of power. I am amazed that the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll), who always talks about engineering difficulties, should be opposed to this scheme.

I have seen these schemes at work. They are a boon to the housewife. It is easy to talk about the cost, but no one mentions the saving that accrues. When we have got over the teething troubles of this particular type of development and when instead of Bill Smith turning the radiators full on and Bill Brown turning them to zero, thus getting a variation in the amount of heat, our people are educated in the use of these modern devices, then we shall be able to get the houses properly heated with all the hygienic advantages and with a tremendous saving in coal which means everything to this country.

7.45 p.m.

Mrs. Eveline Hill (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

I support this Bill. The Manchester scheme mentioned by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) was, in fact, a scheme actually intended for my division of Wythen- shawe, but the negotiations took so long that we were unable to defer building the houses any longer. Therefore, the area is now built up and we have had to abandon that scheme for the moment.

Schemes of this sort were tried out many years ago, one or two of which have been successful. I had the privilege of visiting one in Dundee where the housewives heartily approved of it. As has been mentioned, it is very much easier to turn on the tap than to have to wait until the fire burns up and the water gets hot in the cylinder behind it.

From the point of view of saving coal, we must obviate what we see so frequently, waste heat going into mid air. That is something we must attempt to overcome, and we must utilise such heat to the very best advantage. I hope we shall all profit from the scheme at Dagenham, and I therefore trust that this Bill will be passed. I am sure we shall have a much greater knowledge of such schemes after the Dagenham experiment is complete.

Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)

The proposals for district heating have not included one aspect of it which is provided for in the Preston Corporation Bill—district heating for industrial purposes. In that Bill, which I am glad to know we shall not have an opportunity to discuss, it is proposed that the Corporation should take powers, if they think fit and if the Minister gives the necessary loan sanction, to provide district heating for an industrial estate.

What could be more desirable or more essential in industrial Britain than that some form of district organisation should take place for this type of purpose? The fact that Preston does not intend to exercise its powers forthwith does not mean that it is not desirable that they should obtain them now. In fact, what the House will do by means of this debate will be to establish the principle that these are suitable powers for corporations to have and to exercise with the approval of the Minister at the appropriate time.

Sir H. Williams

I hope the hon. Member will not say that. We are not seeking to hold up these two Bills, but when we get the report we reserve the right to vote against further Bills.

Mr. Shackleton

I was afraid the hon. Member might not fall for that one, but, none the less, the principle is clear, and I think it is a good one. After all, the arguments deployed by those hon. Members who know something about district heating have been overwhelmingly in favour of it. I know that on one occasion I had a short lecture from the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) on the second law of thermo-dynamics, and as I thought he might be referring to it again today I came armed with the encyclopaedia.

It is clear that this is the right line of advance, but I would agree that there is no harm in an inquiry, especially if as I hope that inquiry gives a favourable report as a result of its impartial investigations on the value of this type of scheme.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

Does the hon. Gentleman know that in the Glasgow Technical College at the moment they have set up a number of experiments in which they are extracting heat from the soil which is much better than getting it from the refuse which they use at Dagenham?

Mr, Shackleton

I know that many progressive things happen in Scotland. We know perfectly well that costs in connection with new capital equipment have risen very heavily since the war. In fact, I do not think that the rising costs for these new schemes has been anything out of proportion to the rising costs of other capital developments, such as the heating scheme at Russell House which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Ian Winter-bottom).

I hope, therefore, that this matter will go forward and that in due course, at an appropriate time, we shall have no trouble with the Preston Bill and that a message will go out from this House that on the whole we are in favour of this kind of thing rather than against it, even for the reasons given by the hon. Member for Croydon, East.

Mr. Julian Amery (Preston, North)

I find myself in general agreement with what the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) said. We in Preston pursue a bi-partisan policy on this matter. The arguments for and against district heating are nicely balanced and, in the circumstances, I think there is a great deal to be said for the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) for an inquiry into the whole matter.

I should like to join with those who say how glad they are that the hon. Member for Croydon, East is not pressing his view to a Division. It would be a pity if Bills of this character were delayed until this matter had been looked into by a public inquiry. After all, some 23 Measures of this kind have already been passed. The final decision as to whether these powers are to be used or not rests in the hands of the Minister.

Although the House may be surrendering a measure of control at the present time, we still have safeguards which give good reason to hope that these schemes will only be introduced if there is reason to believe that they can make a valuable contribution to the life of the community.

Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow, East)

I am not a technical expert, but I have just listened to the arguments as a layman. I have some experience of local government and I wish to see local authorities have scope for experimenting. I thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) was divided into two parts. First, he wanted a general inquiry and I should not object to that at all. It would be most unfair, however, to penalise Dagenham and to obstruct the passage of the Bill in order to secure a general inquiry.

While a general inquiry is proceeding, all the individual schemes which have been mentioned in this debate plus the Dagenham development would help that general inquiry. I think we should take into account the fact that the Minister has given his approval. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. J. Jones) made a very practical contribution to the debate. I urged him also to say something about dustbins and the collection of ashes, and so on.

The hon. Member for Croydon, East emphasised the cost of this type of scheme. I do not disagree with him that that is an important point, but he did not attempt to mention the saving which is also involved. I wish he had brought that into the picture. After listening to my hon. Friends I am certain that the advantage lies with the development of this kind of scheme. If I may say so, this is a development in the spirit of a country which means to experiment and to develop and to make better use of its coal and to abate the nuisance of smoke and all that follows from burning coal. It would be wrong if the House failed to give this Bill a Second Reading.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)

It is quite clear from this short debate that both sides of the House are quite unanimous that this Bill and the Preston Corporation Bill should go through without a Division, and that this debate is merely a Parliamentary device to use these Bills to raise a subject in which some of my hon. Friends are extremely interested. Therefore, I shall not detain the House by going through the legal provisions by which district heating schemes are introduced except to say that there are three important ways of doing it.

First, there are the Housing Acts under which one can have district heating; but that is limited to housing and if Dagenham wished to supply heat to schools the procedure under the Housing Acts would not be sufficiently comprehensive. Then there is the Electricity Act, 1947, which provides, for example for the breaking up of streets. Finally, there are the legal powers under private Bills, of which we have two examples before us tonight.

In view of the way in which the debate has gone, I should like to answer some of the points on the methods of procedure afforded in these cases—the machinery for implementing powers given under these Bills and under the Housing and Electricity Acts. This started in 1946, when Sir Ernest Simon, as he then was, issued a report on district heating and advised that an inter-Departmental committee on central heating should be set up, with a district heating sub-committee to pay special attention to the possibility of district heating in this country.

In 1948 it was decided that the number of schemes which should be started in the United Kingdom would be 12 and the commitee have examined 29 schemes, 11 of which have now been started. In other words, one scheme is still to be started and then the pilot batch of 12 will have been started. The terms of reference were to consider and make recommendations on the practicability of district heating schemes generally and of particular schemes which might be referred to them, and to include in their report recommendations as to the particular Department required to take action on those reports.

So far, the sub-committee have not submitted a report on a scheme; but they have in final draft a memorandum on experience so far gained which they will shortly submit to the main committee who, in turn, will submit it to the Minister. I suggest that the matter be left to the Minister to consider because when it is submitted the report will be based on factual evidence and no really useful purpose can be served until that report has been analysed.

I should like to go through the stages necessary before starting these schemes. In the first place, the local authority submits to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government a district heating scheme prepared by their own consulting engineers. The sub-committee consider it in detail and recommend it or reject it. If it is approved, further and almost complete details are submitted to the Ministry's consulting engineers and discussion takes place. If the scheme is then approved loan sanction is given.

Those are the initial stages. But in the operating stages a monthly return is sent to the sub-committee of what, in fact, is happening to the scheme, so that the sub-committee have the necessary information each month on which they base a factual report which is ultimately sent to the main committee. The main committee in turn submit the report to the Minister.

It is very difficult to generalise on these schemes because every scheme varies in some degree from every other. In building work it is possible to compare a great deal in this country because building is concerned with work above ground and the stresses and strains are known and are common to every part of the country. Like can be compared with like. But civil engineering underground deals with the forces of Nature and each scheme is different.

8.0 p.m.

The 11 schemes which have been started cannot be compared one with the other; they are entirely dissimilar in certain elements. Salisbury, for example, could not be compared with Pimlico. The elements to be considered are quite numerous. First, there is the size and scope of the particular plant. In America, there is a scheme which provides space and water heating for 16,000 dwellings. One can scarcely compare that with a scheme for 2,000 dwellings.

Another element is the saving of fuel. A thermo-electric scheme is more likely to save fuel than other schemes. In the case of Pimlico, where the Battersea waste heat is being used, it is more probable that there will be a saving of fuel than in places which use their own fuel to start off the heat in a central plant.

Another element to be considered is the question of labour costs in blocks of flats or offices. The other day I was having a casual conversation with the chairman of Dolphin Square. He told me that he had turned over to district heating, but that it was no cheaper than the former type. As against that, he was certain that the water was always going to be hot and he could dispense with porters who had been giving him some difficulties in the past owing to their moving to other blocks of flats.

Then there is the cost of heating to the particular tenant. It may be cheaper in some cases and more expensive in others. All these elements must be considered and it is difficult to select one and say, because of that, "I think it is a good thing," or," I think it is a bad thing." I think it would be much better to let the main committee submit its recommendations to the Ministers, based upon the evidence collected month by month from the actual scheme, and that the Ministers should decide what action should be taken on that report.

Sir H. Williams

Is it proposed to lay the document before Parliament?

Mr. Marples

I do not think that any document will be laid until the Ministers have studied the report. It is a Ministerial responsibility. If the Ministers decide to do nothing I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) will be continually prodding them. I should not like to commit the Ministers in any way to the publication of the report because there may be sections of it which they do not want to publish.

I hope that these two Bills will join those of the other 54 local authorities who already have the powers, so that the fears of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) can be set at rest. The hon. Member for Dagenham gave some of the facts and figures with regard to the scheme in his constituency, and he referred constantly to what he called teething troubles. There have been a few more troubles than that. The report of the district auditor pointed out that Dagenham was carrying out this scheme without proper legal authority so that, in effect, it is ex post factoapproving what Dagenham has already done. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dagenham, with the dispassionate analysis which we all associate with the great Fabian figures of our time, did not mention the teething troubles which were referred to by the district auditor.

I would assure the House that the question of district heating is being examined closely. Of 12 pilot schemes 11 are now in operation and I think it would be better, in the words of a famous statesman. To "wait and see" what is the effect of the report.

Sir H. Williams

In view of the Minister's speech and the general tone of the debate we have no desire to divide the House, but I must tell the Under-Secretary that I think it is most unsatisfactory if he thinks this document is to be a private document for the Minister himself. I really must ask him to consider the question of publication. Future Bills must be decided by us and we are entitled to all the information that can be collected. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will reconsider this matter. In the circumstances, however, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Standing Order No. 205 (Notice of Third Reading) suspended.—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Bill read the Third time, and passed [Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified].