HC Deb 12 June 1953 vol 516 cc684-704

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.]

3.29 p.m.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

In order to complete the trinity of rural subjects we have been discussing today, which commenced with the slaughter of animals and proceeded to the protection of livestock, I think it is appropriate that we should discuss, on the Motion for the Adjournment, a matter of great importance to agricultural production throughout the United Kingdom, namely, the progress of rural electrification. It is perhaps unusual that on two successive Fridays, both this afternoon and next Friday, we should be discussing this subject. I am confident when I say that we shall not then have had sufficient time in which to explore all the complexities of an economic, technical and financial character which are inherent in this problem.

Though my constituency bears the name of a famous industrial town, it nevertheless embraces within its boundaries more than 100,000 acres of agricultural land, and in the more remote parts of rural Worcestershire there is very great concern today at the apparently slow progress being made in rural electrification, and that sentiment is shared in many other parts of the country, as well. Therefore, this afternoon I shall not speak from a constituency point of view on this problem, but rather from a national point of view, and shall endeavour very briefly to study the principal financial and economic problems that are concerned with the progress of rural electrification.

It is a significant fact that in the last year or two little or no time of this House has been devoted to debates on the nationalised industries, and the only way in which hon. Members can draw attention to the affairs of these Corporations is, generally, through Private Members' time or through an Adjournment Motion. It is true that on 4th February last my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Sir H. Roper) had a little to say on rural electricity in connection with the affairs of the Southwestern Board, and that more than a year ago, on 30th May, 1952, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) discussed the progress of rural electrification in their respective areas. But this is the first time, I think—and next Friday will be the second time—that we have attempted to discuss the progress in this important matter over the country as a whole.

The Economic Survey published at the time of the last Budget drew attention to the fact that in 1952–53 agricultural production had increased by only a trifle over 1 per cent. compared with the total of agricultural production in the previous year. In fact, only small progress was made during the last full year to which I refer in raising the total of agricultural production in this country to the 60 per cent. above the pre-war level that has been defined as our national objective.

The Economic Survey also drew attention to what I consider is a most signifi- cant figure, and one intimately connected with this problem of electrification. It said that agricultural manpower had declined by 22,000 in 1952–53 compared with the previous year. There was a greater drift of manpower from the countryside to the towns last year than at any time since the beginning of the century.

I believe that electricity has a very important part to play in improving amenities in rural England and thereby retaining manpower on the land. In addition, of course, there is the all-important question of farm mechanisation. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor was at pains in his Budget to introduce fiscal reliefs which would encourage re-equipment in all our industries, not least in agriculture. The combined effect of a reduction in the standard rate of Income Tax, the ending of the Excess Profits Levy, the reduction of Purchase Tax and the re-introduction of initial allowances will, of course, encourage mechanisation on our farms still further in order to replace the drift of labour to the towns. But, quite clearly, it is futile to encourage further steps in mechanisation——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

I have just noticed that an hon. Member has a Motion down on this very subject for next Friday. That Motion cannot be anticipated. We cannot cover the ground of the Motion for next Friday in this Adjournment debate.

Mr. Nabarro

I had the good fortune to win the Ballot for this Adjournment before my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) won the Ballot for the Private Member's Motion.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That may be true, but it is not relevant to the Rule, which provides that we cannot anticipate a debate for which a Motion has already been put down. A Motion was put down before this debate takes place, and we cannot therefore anticipate it today. Therefore, the matters which the hon. Gentleman can raise on this Adjournment are not those which will be covered by the Motion which is on the Paper for next Friday.

Mr. Nabarro

I will of course bow to your Ruling, but with very great respect I would make this reply. If my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury cares to put on the Order Paper, after I have won the Ballot for this Adjournment debate, a Motion which deals with the same matter, surely I am to be given precedence.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The Motion to which the hon. Gentleman is now speaking is the Motion for the Adjournment and there is no Motion on the Order Paper. The other Motion is on the Order Paper.

Mr. Nabarro

The Speaker's Office notified me in this matter, and I informed the Speaker's Office at once of the subject that I intended to raise. Then, a good time afterwards, the Motion by my hon. Friend was put down.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I know nothing about that. I must enforce the rule. The Motion is on the Order Paper, and the rule is quite clear that a debate on that subject cannot be anticipated on a Motion for the Adjournment.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. L. W. Joynson-Hicks)

I am loath to intervene in this matter, but I desire, if I can, to be helpful. I entirely appreciate the point that you have made, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I have provided myself, thanks to the courtesy of the learned Clerk, with a copy of the Motion for next Friday. I am wondering whether the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) have been recognisable as impinging upon the subject of that Motion. Possibly if he were to continue upon the lines which he has adumbrated it might put me into a difficulty in replying to his speech but he might possibly not go outside your Ruling.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Provided that the hon. Gentleman frames his speech without impinging upon the Motion for next Friday, he will be perfectly in order. He must not impinge upon next Friday's Motion.

Mr. Nabarro

I am not quite sure how your Ruling can be interpreted. My subject this afternoon is "Capital Investment for Rural Electrification." The subject for next Friday is "Policy in regard to Rural Electrification." The two subjects are so nearly identical that you are, by your Ruling, telling me in effect that I must not discuss rural electrification.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It is not for me to get the hon. Member out of his difficulty. I am pointing out the difficulty to him. If he cannot get out of his difficulty, that is not a matter for me.

Mr. Nabarro

I will proceed with my speech, the whole of which is in connection with rural electrification. If you consider that it is out of order I must resume my seat and protest through the proper channels that the least that could have been done in the circumstances would have been for the Speaker's Office to inform me that it was not possible for me to take advantage of the Adjournment opportunity which, I emphasise to you again, I won in a ballot some considerable time before my hon. Friend put his Motion on the Order Paper.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am bound by the rules of the House. There is a Motion on the Order Paper and my attention has just been drawn to that fact. The rule is quite clear that this debate on the Adjournment cannot anticipate the subject of the Motion which is to be debated next Friday. The hon. Member's speech would be in order next Friday, but he cannot raise it now, and if he cannot frame his observations this afternoon outside the scope of that Motion, I am afraid he has no alternative but to resume his seat.

Mr. Nabarro

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I will proceed with my speech and ask as an aside if one of my hon. Friends will kindly obtain for me a copy of next Friday's Motion.

I was passing to the sum of money which is devoted under current arrangements to rural electrification. I have now a copy of next Friday's Motion and I can see nothing in it which refers to capital investment in the countryside for rural electricity purposes. I presume, therefore, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you will allow me to be considered in order.

In the course of the last six years, since vesting day for electricity, only measured progress has been made, in my view, in the extension of electrification for the countryside. The number of farms on 30th June, 1948, that were supplied with electricity, that is shortly after vesting day, was 80,849. Nine months later, by 31st March, 1949, the figure had risen to 89,730, an increase from 25.9 per cent. on 30th June, 1948, to 28.7 per cent. one year later. In the following year, to 31st March, 1950, progress continued at approximately the same speed and by that date 100,029 farms had been connected to the electricity mains, or a percentage of 32.1.

In the ensuing year, by 31st March, the figure rose again to 110,337, a total of 35.3 per cent. of all the farms in the United Kingdom. By 31st March, the figure had increased again by approximately an equivalent number to 120,121, or 38.5 per cent. The last available figure sent to me by the British Electricity Authority, on 31st March, was 129,493, or 41.4 per cent. of all the farms in the United Kingdom. When I refer to all the farms I mean, numerically, a figure of 312,500.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member will see that farms are specifically referred to in the Motion for next Friday.

Mr. Nabarro

Farms are referred to, certainly. I shall be referring to capital investment in the rural areas, and of course farms are to be found in the rural areas. I hope, therefore, that I shall be considered in order in talking about rural areas and farms, because the one is dependent upon the other.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I find it very difficult to deal with this. The Motion takes precedence over the Adjournment in its importance and therefore cannot be anticipated. I find it very difficult to see that what the hon. Member is now saying does not impinge upon that Motion.

Mr. Nabarro

I can only repeat my statement. I did not come equipped to argue this particular point with you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if it is in order for me so to argue, for, as I said, I should have thought that the Speaker's Office would have kindly advised me on this point. But, as I see the position, I am talking about a subject which I notified for the Adjournment and I do not consider that it can be in order for one of my hon. Friends to try to invalidate my Adjournment by placing the same subject in a Motion on the Order Paper.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member may have an objection, but it is not valid. The Motion takes precedence and I cannot see how the hon. Member can proceed.

Mr. Nabarro

Statistics show measured progress, but progress quite inadequate to meet the paramount need for greater food production. There is a great deal of misunderstanding and controversy as to who is responsible for the allocation of funds for capital investment in rural electrification matters. As the subject matter of the Adjournment is "Capital investment for rural electrification" I hope that I shall be in order if I quote from former Ministerial statements on the subject of capital investment allocations.

It seems to me that the Ministry of Fuel and Power take the view that they are responsible for the allocation of funds to the British Electricity Authority for the whole of the electricity development of the United Kingdom, including that of rural electrification. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power takes the view that, having made that global allocation of funds for capital investment, it is then within the autonomy of the British Electricity Authority to parcel out or divide the sum of money so made available among the area boards, and then leave it to the area boards to decide how that money shall be applied.

On the other hand, the area boards and the British Electricity Authority claim that they are unable to proceed with rural electrification at the required speed because of capital investment restrictions imposed upon them by the central Government authority, and in this connection there are many conflicting statements which I hope I shall be allowed to quote.

In the British Electricity Authority's fourth Annual Report for the year ended 31st March, 1952, these words appear in paragraph 222: As in the previous year, the restrictions on national capital investment severely limited the amount of rural electrification which could be put in hand. Nevertheless, the Area Boards connected 9,744 farms, which was well up to the average of recent years. They proceeded in paragraph 223 with these words: In August, 1951, the Government decided "— I emphasise that— that no new rural electrification schemes should be started during the remainder of 1951 or in 1952, and it was estimated that this would save about £2 million in 1952. In fixing the 1952 civil investment allocation the Government decided to restore £1 million of this cut to enable the area boards to start some new rural schemes of an urgent character. Therefore, the British Electricity Authority lay fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Government the responsibility for making cuts, and restoring them as necessary in the rural electrification programme. But that was not the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in his recent reply to a Question of mine on this subject, for on 11th May, 1953, he said in reply to my Question: The investment programme approved each year contains a global sum for the electricity industry and the Government does not make specific allocations for rural supplies. My right hon. Friend expects that the allotment this year will permit more rural electrification than last year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1953; Vol. 515, c. 60.] Here is a direct contradiction. The area boards and the Electricity Authority are blaming the Government for the restriction on capital investment specifically for rural supplies—not a global restriction but specifically for rural supplies—whereas my hon. Friend says that it is nothing at all to do with him and that this question is settled within the autonomy enjoyed by the area boards and the British Electricity Authority.

Again I quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT of 30th May, 1952. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was replying on that occasion for the Government, and he said: The House will recall—there is no need for me to elaborate it—the serious economic situation of the country at the time. It would, therefore, I think, have been justifiable for the Government to have continued the same policy of restriction with regard to rural electrification that the late Government had decided upon last year; but, despite the even greater need of the country of limitation of capital investment, the present Government"— the Government of which my hon. Friend is a member— attached so much importance to the needs of the country districls as a whole, and to the acceleration of the development of electricity in country areas, that they decided to restore for the current year £1 million of that which had been cut by the late Government, so as to increase the total sum to £4 million and enable the boards to start fresh schemes to that amount."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 30th May, 1952; Vol. 501; c. 1796.] I shall have to limit my objective this afternoon in view of your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and hope to catch your eye or that of Mr. Speaker next Friday when the Motion to which you referred, is debated. Within that limited objective I should like my hon. Friend, when he replies, to clarify these extremely contradictory statements. What has, in fact, occurred is that the British Electricity Authority and the area boards have thrown the buck to the Government. They have blamed the Government by restricting capital investment for the slow rate of rural electrification progress, whereas the Government have thrown the buck back to the B.E.A. and the area boards and said that B.E.A. and the area boards are themselves responsible for the position of rural electrification of development. It is pertinent at this stage, and it is within my limited objective, to compare the sums of money that have been expended on rural electrification in the last few years with the whole of the capital investment programme for electricity.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member has succeeded so far in keeping outside the terms of next Friday's Motion, but it seems to me that he is now getting perilously near that Motion.

Mr. Nabarro

It is part of my purpose to adhere to it as closely as I dare this afternoon: but in view of your Ruling I shall try very hard to keep within the bounds of order. It is a perilous business.

The total investment programme of the British Electricity Authority—and there is nothing in next week's Motion about the capital investment programme of the British Electricity Authority— during the year 1950–51 was £142 million. In the following year, 1952–53, the sum of money spent was £160 million. The amount out of that global investment figure that was devoted to rural electrification was. in 1949, the sum of £4,400,000: in 1950, £4,800,000; in 1951, £4,900,000 and the figure for was of the order of £5 million. In it is anticipated that it will be to the order of £6 million.

Taking an average ratio during each of the last four years between rural elec- trification expenditure and the total capital investment programme as expended by the British Electricity Authority, we find it is of the order of three to 100, or 3 per cent. I say that, in present circumstances, it is grossly inadequate that, of the enormous sums of money which we are devoting to capital investment in electricity, only £3 out of every £100 expended should be devoted to the rural electrification programme which is so vital to the stimulation of food production. The area boards are dragging their feet in that regard. They have a statutory responsibility within the 1947 Statute to develop rural supplies as far as they are able. I believe they are only carrying out as much rural electrification as is necessary for them to be able to say that they are conforming to the requirements of the Statute.

I believe that the area boards regard rural electrification as being a largely uneconomic operation because they can often make approximately only 10 connections per linear mile. In an urban area an area board can often make 300 connections, on an average, per linear mile and, proceeding on the basis of what is most easy and convenient for them, they are neglecting the countryside and devoting a disproportionate amount of their endeavour to the development of electricity in urban areas.

Next Friday my right hon. Friend will no doubt be replying to the Motion on the Order Paper. I hope then that I shall be able to develop this argument a good deal further and get from him replies to a number of aspects of the problem. This afternoon I am only anxious, as a matter of important principle, to obtain from the Parliamentary Secretary a clear definition as to who is responsible for the allocation of funds for capital investment purposes.

You will know, Mr. Speaker, of the grave dilemma with which I am faced during this Adjournment debate; how extraordinarily difficult it is for me to keep within the rules of order without trespassing in any way upon the Motion on the Order Paper for next Friday. From the general issue, therefore, I want to pass to the local issue of Stoke Bliss, Worcestershire, because the local issue is not referred to in that Motion.

It is significant that there are scores of similar examples all over the country. It denotes the tremendous waste of time in which Members of Parliament are becoming involved, in which Ministers are becoming involved, in which local authorities are becoming involved and in which the area boards are involved. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary knows something about this as his Ministry dealt with the case of Stoke Bliss 12 months ago. It attracted so much attention that it eventually occupied a column in the "Daily Express" last August.

Stoke Bliss is a remote rural parish 15 miles west of Bewdley. It is a highly productive agricultural area mostly concerned with dairy farming. The local authority wanted to build new houses there for farm workers. In order to do so they had to get water pumped from a deep bore some distance away from the site and, in common with the people who resided in the parish, they applied to the Midlands Electricity Board to give them a supply of mains electricity. Whereupon the Midlands Electricity Board demanded a sum of £1,131 per annum as a minimum guarantee for seven years for only 43 premises in the parish, including the new council houses.

The occupiers of half the established premises agreed to accept their respective apportionments of the total sum to be guaranteed, but the other half said that they could not afford it. Therefore, the scheme became stultified and the Midlands Electricity Board said that they must decline to proceed with it until they had a guarantee for the full global amount of £1,131 per annum for seven years. The parish, urgently requiring new houses for farm workers and requiring electricity for farm mechanisation, then approached me, as the local Member of Parliament and asked me to take up the matter with the appropriate Ministers.

It being Four o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.]

Mr. Nabarro

I thereupon approached my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power and asked what he was going to do about it. He said really that he did not know, but that he could not interfere with an area board's apportionment of its capital investment allocation for rural electricity supplies. I thereupon took the case to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and said to him, "It is your responsibility to build houses. Will you please tell me how the local authority can build houses in this remote rural parish without electricity to pump water from a deep bore, in order to provide a piped water supply for these houses?"

The Minister then said that he would consult the area electricity board. Two conferences followed in Birmingham. No satisfaction or settlement was reached and the area office of the Ministry referred the matter back to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and said that they had been unable to find a solution; whereupon—mark these words—my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government tells me that the local authority should build houses with oil lamps for lighting and should buy a little diesel engine of their own to pump water.

But the Chairman of the Midlands Electricity Board goes much further. He says, "You can erect the new houses without piped water." That is an extraordinary statement for the chairman of a nationalised board to put in a letter to a Member of Parliament, because he will not provide the electricity. The fact of the matter is that no solution has yet been found for carrying electricity without exorbitant charge to the more remote rural areas.

It was my purpose this afternoon, before, on a technicality, I was ruled largely out of order, to try to find a solution through certain recommendations, but I fear that I should be out of order in doing so and I shall defer my efforts, therefore, until next Friday and sit diligently in my place in the hope of catching your eye, Mr. Speaker. All that my right hon. Friends have been able to suggest so far has simply been this. The Minister of Housing and Local Government said that he did not know how to provide a solution to get electricity for pumping water from a deep bore to these houses in a remote parish, and so he sent all the papers to the Ridley Committee.

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will remember the purposes of the Ridley Committee. They examined all the aspects of this problem and evidently could find no solution to it, because they published no recommendations in their Report as to how to overcome problems of this kind in rural areas. It may be the responsibility of the British Electricity Authority and the area boards to carry electricity to the rural areas in accordance with the Statute of 1947, but none can deny that it is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Ministers to encourage home food production by every available means.

If the area boards are in fact restricted by an insufficient sum for capital investment, if they are inhibited as to the number of rural schemes that they can carry out, it is surely the overall responsibility of the Government, in the interests of enlarged food production, to smooth out those difficulties and to allocate for capital investment the increased sums of money which are so urgently wanted. It may be interpreted from what I have said that I am somewhat critical of the area electricity boards. Next Friday, if I catch Mr. Speaker's eye, I shall say precisely why I am so critical of the way they carry on and of the way they are needlessly wasting money in the extension of electricity supplies to the countryside.

We are not doing very well in this country with rural electrification. The United States of America, with much greater distances to be covered, has 84 per cent. of all her farms connected to the electricity mains. France has 86 per cent. We in this country have only 41 per cent. If we are in earnest about growing more food, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary should carry back to the Minister of Fuel and Power, before next Friday, an urgent message from this House that not only do we want more money for rural electrification; we also want a clear definition as to who is responsible for deciding what schemes shall be proceeded with. Also we want a good deal of new thinking in the next few years, so that we do not take a period of 20 years or more to secure universality of electrification in the rural areas.

My objective this afternoon has indeed been severely restricted. I have been stringently inhibited in what I could say. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to respond to the major matters of principle in connection with capital investment responsibility and, what is more, give me a firm undertaking that he will look at the specific case of the electricity supply for Stoke Bliss, which is so typical of hundreds of cases all over the country. I hope he or his right hon. Friend will undertake to endeavour, next Friday, to give the House a formula for the solution of these virulent problems in the agricultural areas.

4.6 p.m.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has raised this issue. It is not an issue of party politics, but a matter of national importance. I am sure that on both sides of the House we are all agreed that much more must be devoted to rural electrification. I happened to come into the Chamber in time to hear the figures given by the hon. Member who said that only 3 per cent., or £3 out of every £100, is being allocated for this purpose by his Government, or was allocated by our Government.

Mr. Nabarro

Do not let us have any misunderstanding about this. Out of every £100 of capital investment money spent by the British Electricity Authority and the area boards, only £3, or 3 per cent., is devoted to rural electrification.

Mr. Davies

This is a matter of considerable national importance. I would point out that it is very difficult to compare us with the French or the Continental system of carrying electricity to rural areas. The hon. Member knows the Continent quite well, as I do. The British Electricity Authority would not carry rural supplies in the precarious manner in which they are carried on the Continent. We must have no lowering of standards of safety by trying to rush out supplies to the rural areas.

I also come from the West Midlands area and I should like to say a word of praise for that area. The hon. Member, like many of us on this side of the House, has dealt directly with the area chairman. Within the limits of the availability of raw materials and of the capital at the chairman's disposal, I have always found a willingness on the part of the area board's chairman to consider sympathetically any appeal put forward by a Member of Parliament, from any side of the House. Nevertheless, that does not eradicate the criticism of the hon. Member. If there are only 10 houses, or 10 points of supply, on the average which can be linked to one mile of distribution of electricity in the rural areas, it seems that a fundamental re-orientation of our ideas on this issue of allocation, and possibly subsidisation of allocation to areas, is needed.

It so happens that last Friday I travelled through about 40 miles of my 1,000-mile constituency, through many villages in the West Midlands area that have exactly the same problem of not being linked up with the electricity supply. I have the problem of water supply not being available to a farm which is above a certain contour line because electricity is not available to put in a pump. There is need not only for electricity but for the co-ordination of electricity and water supply in some of these hilly districts in the North so that they can have water supplies even above the gravity level of the reservoir. I make an appeal to the Minister that when he goes into this very important and beautiful and euphemistically sounding village of Stoke Bliss he will also look into the matter of some villages near Stoke-on-Trent, namely, those in the Leek Division, Rudyard Horton and district, where the same problem exists.

When I heard hon. Members opposite using in the House this week the slogan that seems to run through the economist newspapers and the financial columns of the Press, "We must get productivity." I said that productivity is not the only problem. Distribution is the essential problem in the case of electricity, or we shall find that electricity is like the man with a bald head and whiskers six feet long. There is a typical example of productivity but a complete lack of distribution. That is, in essence, the problem of rural electricity supply.

It is indeed very gratifying to me to find that on both sides of the House the questions of agricultural production and the rural areas are receiving much more attention in the last 10 years than ever before in history. I should like to add my voice to that of the hon. Member for Kidderminster, and to express the hope that the problems which he has raised and one or two which I have glided over might be looked at by the Minister when he has the opportunity.

4.12 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. L. W. Joynson-Hicks)

We have rather been continuing the normal procedure of Private Members' day and, despite the difficulties with which my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has had to contend, he has been able to keep the debate going, together with the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), up to the comparatively short time which is left to me in which to reply. That is perhaps somewhat to my relief in view of the obvious difficulties which I shall be in in trying to pursue the matter in the light of the guidance which we have received from the Chair concerning the limits of this debate. I should indeed like to congratulate my hon. Friend both on his pertinacity and ingenuity in being able to pursue this matter so long notwithstanding the strict limitations imposed upon him by the Chair.

There are one or two things which I shall be in order in answering because they were specifically dealt with by my hon. Friend. One of those concerned Stoke Bliss. I remember the situation about Stoke Bliss because, as my hon. Friend said, it attracted no little attention at the time. In referring to the matter I think he is rather putting the cart before the horse, if one can use such a metaphor in connection with a village named Stoke Bliss.

My recollection of the situation is that the real problem so far as the electrification of the village was concerned was not a problem of bringing electricity to the six new council houses but was that of bringing electricity to the village as a whole, and that the village as a whole consisted of the church, about eight farms and about 30 cottages and various other buildings, that the question of the six new cottages was comparatively incidental, and that the particular and immediate desire to get electricity there was in order to provide the mechanics for pumping the deep bore well to which my hon. Friend referred.

One of the problems which I seem to recall about the deep bore well was that nobody knew whether there was any water in the bottom of it, so that, according to my recollection, it might have involved a considerable degree of speculation in order to sink, if not a well, at any rate a substantial sum of money in providing electricity to pump the well before it was bored.

Be that as it may, the basis of the problem was the electrification of the village as a whole, and there was a scheme which had already been planned by the Midlands Electricity Board as a part of their electrification programme for the ensuing years. As we know, the Boards are being very hard pressed by the Government to pursue the electrification of the rural areas; they have got out schemes which cover a considerable period ahead and a considerable volume of work which it is not possible to do all at the same time.

The scheme at Stoke Bliss, as I understand it, was included in the schedule for operations for about three years ahead, and that naturally was not to the satisfaction of my hon. Friend who, far from being accustomed to being kept waiting for three years, is not even accustomed to being patient when asked to wait for a much shorter time than that. That is the basis of the problem of Stoke Bliss. It is a difficult problem on the economic side; there is no getting away from that. But, as my hon. Friend knows, if he so desires there is nothing in the world to prevent him from starting his own local power-producing plant there in order to provide the village with electricity and to meet the requirements of his constituents.

Mr. Nabarro

I am grateful to my hon. Friend but I do not want him to be under any misconception about the Stoke Bliss problem. Certainly the scheme could not be carried out until 1956; nobody disputes that. But how is my hon. Friend going to break the deadlock arising from the fact that the 43 premises cannot raise between them £1,131 per annum as a minimum guarantee for each year over seven years, because they cannot afford to pay it? The Midlands Electricity Board tell them that they will never receive a supply of electricity because they cannot guarantee that large annual amount. Will my hon. Friend devote his attention to that simple point?

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

We are getting on to exceedingly thin ice, because we cannot deal with one village—and that is all we can deal with this afternoon—in isolation from other matters. What my hon. Friend is asking me to do is to declare the Government's policy on these marginal cases of economic rural electrification. That I should very much like to do, but I have already been told that I may not do it until next week. In consequence my hon. Friend must bear himself in patience—and that has relation to what I have been saying. I hoped he might take the hint but he did not. He must bear himself in patience, if not for three years at any rate for a week, and I must ask him to await the specific reply to the question until next week when I think my right hon. Friend will be able to give him full satisfaction.

This problem is not one in isolation but is a problem which we meet as rural electrification develops all over the countryside. You will shortly ask me to leave the point, Mr. Speaker, because I am getting a little wide of the specific case, but I can pass to certain observations which were made both by the hon. Member for Kidderminster and the hon. Member for Leek on this question of comparison with France and America. Comparisons are, if not always odious, at least inevitably dangerous. Certainly in these cases they are very dangerous. A great deal turns upon the definition of what is a farm and still more turns upon the definition of what is a supply of electricity. In our case we consider a farm—and my hon. Friend quoted a figure of 312,000 farms—as practically any unit of agricultural production. It includes many holdings.

I do not believe that the American definition of a farm which is used in connection with the quotation that 84 per cent. of their farms are connected to a main line supply of electricity is of anything of the same sort. I hope that before that comparison is used again it may be possible to ascertain exactly what is meant in that connection by a farm and how it is defined.

Mr. Nabarro

That is not my figure. It is the figure quoted in the British Electricity System—that is the title of the publication of the Anglo-American Council on Productivity—at page 42 where it says that approximately 34 per cent. of the farms in Britain are receiving electrical service compared with 84 per cent. in America. Those are the findings of the American team in this country: they are not mine.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

I appreciate that. In fact I have the quotation here. My thought on the matter is further emphasised by virtue of the fact—to which I did not intend to refer but as my hon. Friend has quoted the figure I had better put it right—that the United States Productivity Team Report was I will not say in error but somewhat misleading in using the figure of 34 per cent. as the number of farms in Britain which are receiving electrical service. That figure, we know, includes the farms covered by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electricity Board.

That area is not included in the normal unit of consideration which is given to electrification in this country, because it is not covered by the British Electricity Authority. In addition there is perhaps some other date variation which it is difficult to follow. As my hon. Friend said, at 31st March last the number of farms in this country which were connected was 41 per cent. or a little more.

Having put that right I turn shortly to the question of France with which the hon. Member for Leek dealt speedily but effectively. It is true that France has a very high rate of electrification according to their standards and the way in Which they have done it. But a very large proportion of their electrification is for light only. A very large proportion is carried out on a low tension system and the supply is not of a sort of quality which would be envisaged in this country. It is one which, I am advised, is likely to land them into considerable mechanical troubles, and I think that there is no person in this country who would desire that we should prejudice the efficient development of electricity here by trying to proceed more rapidly if it meant doing so according to the methods used in France.

I should also like to try to deal shortly with the problem to which my hon. Friend devoted most of his time—the reconciliation of the definition of who decides the allocation of capital investment for rural electrification. There really is very little between us or between any of the statements which have been made. I am quite prepared to stand by the statement which I made last year, and to which my hon. Friend referred. In point of fact, in preparation for this debate, I thought it would be a wise precaution to re-read what I said just over a year ago, and I did so with some trepidation, but I was happy to find that what I said then will really stand examination today.

The point is best put in this way. The onus of a decision about rural electrification lies upon the area boards, and, therefore, in making up their annual budgets, they take into consideration the amount which they wish to spend on that particular aspect, as well as on other aspects, on which they are responsible for expenditure. Having arrived at a total, they submit the figures to the British Electricity Authority, with whom they consult and who consult with them, and they go into the practical aspects of the matter and decide whether it is a good thing, whether it is practicable and so forth. As a result of these considerations, the British Electricity Authority agree with the boards a global figure for the whole industry as their requirements for capital investment for the year to come.

That figure is then submitted to the Government, whose responsibility it is to decide upon the total sum of capital investment for the country as a whole. After the normal consultations and the proper procedure, the Government decide how much of the total capital investment can be allocated to the electricity industry, and that figure is passed to the British Electricity Authority. It may be that the application of the British Electricity Authority has been cut down, in which case the Authority and the boards have to decide between themselves who is to bear the cuts. Having decided that, the global sum allocated to the industry is then distributed between the boards, and it is the boards which, in their turn, decide how they are to spend their particular, though reduced, global sum.

Mr. Nabarro

If I am not satisfied with the progress of the Midlands Electricity Board, would my hon. Friend agree that I must criticise the chairman of that Board, for it is evidently his fault that there is not enough money being devoted in my constituency to rural electrification?

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

I am not prepared to say that it is his fault. It may well be due to other circumstances, and to the fact that lines for which they are responsible, transformers and so on, are in such a state that if the Board had not devoted a certain part of its money to the reinforcement of the existing system, existing consumers would not get any electricity at all, and, therefore, it would be quite wrong to put more people on the lines when they were ready to break down. It is for my hon. Friend to take up the matter with the chairman of the Board.

Having said that, let me now deal with the point which has confused the whole issue. In 1951, the previous Government, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) will recall, came to the conclusion that drastic limitations on capital investment had to be imposed. One of the industries affected was the electricity industry, and it was decided that a reduction of £2 million must be made in the capital investment allocated to that industry and the amount which it was planned that industry should spend. It was found that the simplest way was by postponing the rural developments, which had not been started but were anticipated, and, in accordance therewith, that cut was made, but it is not correct to say that it was the Government who imposed a cut on rural electrification. It was the coincidence which led to the confusion.

One further word concerning the 3 per cent. of capital investment for rural electrification. That is a completely misleading figure. In order to consider the figure, we have to take into account all capital investment of every type and the distribution system, and not merely the local expenses by the Boards.

The Question having been proposed at Four o'Clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order, till Tuesday next, pursuant to the Resolution of the House yesterday.

Adjourned at Half-past Four o'Clock.