HC Deb 11 March 1953 vol 512 cc1425-67

10.10 p.m.

Colonel Alan Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board (Constructional Scheme No. 25) Confirmation Order, 1953 (S.I., 1953, No. 138), dated 30th January, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd February, be annulled. I must apologise to the House for again addressing them, having had the privilege of doing so on earlier business, but as the business of the House is arranged it so happens that it is unavoidable. I will try to be brief.

I wish to make it perfectly clear that I am not opposed to electrical development in Scotland. Praying to annul the Order is the only course open to us; we cannot pray to amend or change it. We must pray to annul it, which very often gives the impression in the country that we are opposed to electrical development in Scotland. I well recall that some of us opposed the Tummel-Garry scheme in 1946 for reasons which had nothing to do with annulling it but because we wished to change it in certain respects. My hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Snadden) and I have suffered constantly from misrepresentation in that we are supposed to have opposed electrical development in Scotland, whereas we did nothing of the kind.

I must declare a certain interest, though very slight, in the effects of this scheme, namely, that the River Earn, which flows alongside my home, may be affected either favourably or unfavourably—I cannot yet make out which—by the effects of this scheme. That so far is my only personal interest in the matter.

Does our experience of previous schemes inspire confidence in results from the expenditure we have to make? I do not know, but I feel very certain that a scheme like this requires most careful consideration by the House before it is accepted. The scheme proposes to cover an area of roughly 1,600 square miles in one of the most lovely parts of Scotland, all of it in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire. There are to be seven new power stations, about 25 aqueducts, six dams and 15 to 20 reservoirs in this scheme.

The first thing I want to know is what will be the effect on the water supplies of that area of Scotland if this scheme is carried into effect? What will be the effect on the water supplies to farms, towns and for purposes other than hydro-electricity? I have always pleaded since I came into the House in 1945 that there should be an overall consideration and examination of the potential water supplies of Scotland as a whole so that the proper proportions for hydro-electricity, town use, and so on can be established. That has never been done.

We should realise that this scheme will use a vast amount of material, particularly cement and steel. I am not sure that that material could not be put to better use at this stage. The scheme will also take a large amount of efficient labour. Among the labourers concerned are highly expert tunnellers, a number of whom have come from the mines, where I understand there is a shortage of labour today. Is that the best use that could be made of them, or should those men be returned to the mines? Work on roads and on forestry, particularly in the devastated forestry areas, are two other points which spring to mind when we consider the use of the available labour.

On the question of expenditure, the estimated sum was at first £15½ million, but as a result of Questions in the House we have learned that this has since been amended to about £18½ million. That is a very large sum of money. I do not care to anticipate what will be the total when this scheme is completed. If the other schemes which have been put into effect are taken into consideration the ultimate cost is going to be vastly greater.

In view of the Chancellor's warning about capital investment, are we quite sure that at this stage we are justified in accepting a scheme costing £20 million or perhaps £30 million, judging from what has happened with regard to previous schemes? However desirable it may be, should it be given first priority at the present time? I can think of a vast scheme which is urgently needed for draining land which is liable to flooding in Scotland, which would probably cost £8 million, and would rescue or save anything up to a quarter of a million arable acres. The Highland roads——

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. and gallant Gentleman tries to broaden the scope of this Order to include in his speech a lot of alternative uses for this money, he will be out of order.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

I apologise. I was not going to dilate on the merits or demerits of those alternatives. I merely suggest that the alternatives are of greater importance today than they were previously.

At the present time should this scheme have first priority for whatever amount of capital is available? We have given borrowing powers to the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board up to £200 million, but whatever we may have given them in that respect, we should consider what is most desirable in the interests of Scotland and of Britain as a whole, and what can be done with the money available. It is on those grounds that I ask the House to consider this Motion, and to think well before deciding how this vast sum of money should be expended.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

I beg to second the Motion.

In doing so, Mr. Speaker, I shall be scrupulously careful in endeavouring to keep within the very narrow rules of order of which you have kindly advised me. This Breadalbane proposal is the largest and most costly hydro-electric scheme that has yet been brought before this House. The question has often been asked as to why English Members are interested in this proposal. The reason is that a fuel and power undertaking of this magnitude is an essential part of our national fuel and power economy and is not an issue for consideration only in Scotland. The Explanatory Memorandum says that the capacity of the scheme is to be 88,500 kilowatts installed, to develop a catchment area of 186 square miles in Perthshire and Argyle, and I am informed that the scheme will take between five and seven years to complete.

The cost of the scheme when first brought to this House was £15,103,000. As a result of a string of Parliamentary Questions which I felt obliged to ask in order to obtain more detailed information from the Secretary of State for Scotland—and he confirmed my worst suspicions in his answers—the fact has emerged that a margin of error of no less than 20 per cent. was made in the figure of cost that was shown for the Scheme in the Explanatory Memorandum.

We have every reason to condemn a nationalised undertaking which makes an error of 20 per cent. in its estimates. On this occasion 20 per cent. is an amount in excess of £3 million. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will recall that this is not the first occasion on which this sort of thing has happened. In 1946 a similar scheme was brought before the House in respect of the Loch Sloy hydro-electric installations. The estimate was £4,600,00. The cost to date—and the scheme has not yet been completed—is £9,250,000–100 per cent. more than the estimate. I therefore say that we should be much more careful in scrutinising these vast financial demands which are made by the nationalised undertakings.

It is pertinent to observe that the cost per kilowatt installed in this Breadalbane project is £204, which compares with a figure of £68 for an orthodox steam or thermal power station. I will not develop that theme, Mr. Speaker, as you have ruled that it is out of order to discuss the merits of alternative investment, but, as I understand it, you have generously said that one may strike direct comparisons. I therefore say that three times the capital investment is required in this Breadalbane proposal for one kilowatt installed compared with steam plant.

It may be argued that the Breadalbane works will last for 80 years—that is the period which the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board use for amortisation purposes—and that a thermal power station is amortised in its costs over a period of only 25 to 30 years. It is, therefore, fair to say that if the hvdro-electric station at Breadalbane is amortised over 80 years, whereas the Portobello thermal power house at Edinburgh is amortised over 25 to 30 years, the amortisation in pounds sterling per annum is equal in each case.

It is also fair to point out that there is much ill-informed opinion in the national Press about the merits or otherwise of this Breadalbane scheme. The "Manchester Guardian." for instance, normally accurate in its reporting and pertinent in the observations which it makes, records this in one of its leading articles on page 6 today: Once built, a hydro-electric station's running costs are low". They are nothing of the sort. Let the "Manchester Guardian" and all other national newspapers which spread this fallacious propaganda be condemned out of the mouth of the information officer of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electricity Board, for this is what he said on 29th January, 1952—and in making that statement he evidently had Breadalbane in mind: The cost of production of present day hydro-electric schemes are on an average about 15 per cent. cheaper than steam schemes. On the other hand, the cost of transmission and distribution is heavier in the Board's area because of the distances involved. Therefore, in the final equation the cost of electricity to the consumer as between steam and hydro areas are the same.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Cleveland) rose——

Mr. Nabarro

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way. Of course, the Breadalbane scheme is much more remote from the centres of consumption of electricity than a steam station, and one would, therefore, expect the distribution and transmission costs to be a good deal higher.

To make a further point in connection with capital cost—because it is of immense importance—the Secretary of State for Scotland, in replying to just one more of my Parliamentary Questions on this issue, revealed that the Breadalbane scheme will have a plant load factor of only 40 per cent. The plant load factor means, in very simple terms, the extent to which the plant is employed out of its maximum potential capacity. It means, therefore, that the Breadalbane project will be employed for only 40 hours out of 100. A few miles away, just completed, is Britain's most modern power house, Portobello. The British Electricity Authority tell me that the load factor of that station has reached an all-time record for the United Kingdom of 80 per cent.—probably the highest in the world.

That means that the capital employed in the Portobello thermal station is being employed as to 80 per cent. of its maximum potential—twice as great as will be the case at this hydro-electric proposal at Breadalbane. Therefore, not only is the cost per kilowatt installed of this Breadalbane project three times greater than that of a thermal station, but the employment of the capital in Breadalbane is only a half as active as in the case of the modem Portobello steam station, with the result, in the final equation, that the capital cost at Breadalbane is six times as great as that at a modern steam plant.

Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)

I am trying very hard to follow my hon. Friend, and I do not wish to seem to cavil because he is keeping us up at this hour, but is not his argument on this proposal related to a very much larger issue—the need for an overall fuel and power policy for this country?

Mr. Nabarro

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I am sure that I should incur your displeasure, Mr. Speaker, if I followed him in that intervention; but may I say shortly how heartily I agree with him—and so do more than 100 of my hon. Friends who have placed a Motion on the Notice Paper today to that effect.

Mr. Palmer

The hon. Gentleman is not, surely, suggesting that the load factor is something inherent in the character of the plant itself?

Mr. Nabarro

I think I should be unnecessarily protracting this debate if I were to quote the precise definition of each technical term that I employ, but if the hon. Gentleman requires any guidance as to the precise definition of a plant load factor I refer him to page 263 of Appendix 47 of the British Electricity Authority's Report for the year ended 31st March, 1952.

If I may return to my argument, I think it would be significant to read an announcement that appeared in our national newspapers only a few months ago. It was this: In view of the recent restriction on capital investment the British Electricity Authority have found it necessary to review the relative priority of their various schemes, particularly those having a high capital expenditure compared with output of electricity. As a result, they have decided to defer the promotion of legislation which would enable them to carry out further hydro-electric development in North Wales. That appeared in the "Manchester Guardian" and the "Liverpool Post" on 4th November and 5th November, 1952. It is analogous to the problem that we have before us tonight—that of the relative application of capital investment in order to fulfil two essential features of a national fuel policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. G. Longden) intervened a moment ago on that theme.

These Breadalbane proposals must, in my view, if they are to be successful, conform to two fundamental desiderata. For every £1 million of capital vested in the scheme there must be a maximum output of fuel and/or power at the earliest possible moment, and the maximum conservation of coal. The Breadalbane proposals conform to neither of those desirable objectives, and that is why I am so critical of them.

The protagonists of the Breadalbane proposals and other similar hydro-electric schemes make three simple points in their support. They say, first, that this Breadalbane scheme will save coal. They say, second, that this Breadalbane scheme is designed as a contribution towards meeting the shortage of electricity. They say, third, that the Breadalbane scheme will lead to further electrification of the Highlands. All are disingenuous, all are quarter-truths and all neglect capital investment ratios, and I propose shortly to demolish all three arguments.

The first argument is that they save coal. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, in response to another of my Questions on this issue, said that the coal saving would be 180,000 tons a year. He based that on a conversion ratio, which I asked him to base it on, of 1.31 lb. per unit of electricity. That was the average conversion rate for all British Electricity Authority power stations during 1952. But if there were an alternative investment in a modern steam station instead of Breadalbane, we should be replacing very old power houses in Scotland which are working on a low thermal efficiency, and if the investment were made to replace those old stations. the coal saving would be twice as great as the saving inherent in the Breadalbane proposal.

Secondly, on the same theme—I do not wish to get myself out of order by pursuing details or merits of alternative in- vestment; I merely wish to make bald statements of fact—if a similar investment were made in new carbonisation works in Scotland to replace old and low efficiency plants the coal saving would be twice as great as the coal saving in the Breadalbane proposal, if not more.

As is so often said by Mr. Tom Johnston, the Chairman of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, which has produced the pernicious Breadalbane scheme, why cannot capital investment be provided for the electrification of the Highland railway lines? I entirely agree with him, notably in respect of the 110 miles of line between Perth and Inverness, for the coal saving would show a much more handsome return on capital employed than the proposed investment in Breadalbane.

The second argument is that the Breadalbane project will lead to an abatement of the electricity shortage. Of course it will. It will provide a small additional output of 88,500 kilowatts installed, but at six times the cost of an equivalent investment in a steam power station for each kilowatt installed.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

What is the nearest steam station which my hon. Friend could put against the one at Breadalbane, and what would be its economic cost?

Mr. Nabarro

I shall pass to that point in one moment.

Of course a scheme of the kind of that at Breadalbane will abate in small measure the electricity shortage, but at an uneconomically, if not an exorbitantly, high cost in terms of our precious capital investment monies. My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the shortage of money for capital investment on every hand, and in nearly every speech heard in this House that is the factor mentioned as bedevilling our national recovery.

Whether it is in the Colonies, to which the Secretary of State for the Colonies referred at the weekend, whether it is with regard to rural electrification, or whether it is with regard to the modernisation of the railways, it is always a shortage of capital investment moneys which is the principal source of our economic difficulties. I want to save much of that money by a more economic investment in electricity in Scotland. The third claim made is that this proposal will lead to further electrification of the Highlands. Nothing of the sort. The existing installed capacity of hydroelectric works in Scotland is more than adequate to meet the total electric demand of the Highland area. If every croft, farm, smallholding, commercial undertaking and factory and every railway line were fully electrified the existing hydro-electric plant installed would be adequate to meet that aggregate demand.

Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

What figures has the hon. Gentleman got to support that assumption?

Mr. Nabarro

According to the protagonists of this scheme, Breadalbane is needed for the production of more electricity for export to the Lowlands. Here are the figures. The installed capacity of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board is 560,000 kilowatts or 560 megawatts, of which 391,000 kilowatts or 391 megawatts is in water power and the remainder is in oil or steam-driven plant. The existing capacity has to cover a potential demand from about 400,000 consumers. If the hon. Gentleman works out for any part of the United Kingdom, Scotland included, what is the average aggregate demand from 400,000 consumers in a largely non-industrial area, he will find that it is infinitely less than the existing installed capacity in the North of Scotland.

Mr. Manuel

This is most interesting to anyone who has a knowledge of the Highlands. Apparently the hon. Gentleman is indicating that he knows every railway gradient, the distance from the main supply to every croft, and so on. This area cannot be dealt with as we would deal with a normal area. The geography of the North of Scotland precludes that possibility. The hon. Gentleman has no right to make the gross and wild assumptions he is making in connection with a countryside he knows little or nothing about.

Mr. Nabarro

I am in great difficulties——

Mr. Manuel

I agree.

Mr. Nabarro

—because there are narrow rules of order. I have consulted Mr. Speaker very closely in this matter. I am not allowed to quote copiously from the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board's Report. I am only allowed to deal with this Order. Therefore, I cannot pursue the intriguing argument of the hon. Gentleman. All I can say is that if he will base his calculations on any similar area in the United Kingdom of a largely non-industrial character and compare it with the installed capacity in the Highlands, he will form the same conclusion as I have stated.

I do not suppose that there is a Member from that area who is not continually receiving complaints about the connection charges demanded by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. I received a letter only two days ago from a farmer in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Snadden).

Mr. Manuel

Why did he not write to his Member?

Mr. Nabarro

He wrote to his Member and to me. He is faced with the position of having to guarantee £171 a year for seven years to secure a connection from the grid of the electricity supply system the cables of which actually run across land adjoining his farm. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) complained in an Adjournment debate recently of exactly the same sort of thing.

What has happened in this case is that the figure of £171 per annum should be split among seven potential consumers, but the other six say that they cannot afford to participate. So the farmer is left with the prospect of having no electricity unless he guarantees nearly £1,200 over seven years. That is not the way to electrify the Highlands. A very high percentage of the power generated today, including the major part of that of the proposed Breadalbane scheme, is for export to the South and must be directly compared for purposes of capital cost and for production charges with operations by steam power.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)

Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear, if he is going to make statements of that sort, that the Hydro-Electric Board sells in bulk to customers in the South in order to finance many of the uneconomic schemes, not only in the Highlands, but in the islands of Orkney and Shetland, and so on?

Mr. Nabarro

If the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board would devote its existing capacity to the unelectrified portions of the Highlands it could not only absorb the additional distribution costs, but do so more economically than by feeding additional power, in bulk, to the South. The hon. Member is accepting the argument, which is quite fallacious, put out by the Board to the contrary effect; it is not only fallacious but based on propaganda claims, and not on fact.

Now may I state the final reason this expenditure is inadvisable. We are opposing an Order tonight which provides for capital works that are supposed to last for 80 years or more. Does any hon. Member really believe that in the year 2033 we shall want hydro-electric generation in Scotland, or elsewhere in the United Kingdom? I do not. Much scientific opinion is agreed that within 20 years, or perhaps just a little more, certain stations will be driven by atomic power and that, within 30 to 40 years there will be universality——

Mr. M. MacMillan

I thought that the hon. Member wanted them driven by steam.

Mr. Nabarro

The hon. Member, in his ignorance, says I want them driven by steam. I want that for the next 30 years or so, because that is the period which will elapse, in the view of scientists, before we have atomic-driven turbo-alternators. That is not the opinion of a layman, but of an outstanding scientist.

Sir John Cockcroft, Director of the Ministry of Supply atomic energy research establishment at Harwell, has spoken about it, and his view, and that of other eminent scientists should be considered. Sir John, lecturing to the Institution of Electrical Engineers on 8th January, 1953, said: It seems to be fairly certain now that Large-scale nuclear power stations of the natural uranium type can be built within a time scale not very much different from that of a conventional power station. They will not be likely to work with the highest efficiency in the first place; but with reasonable efficiency they will be likely to produce power at a cost not much greater than that of existing power stations. That is all we can ask from the first experimental units. I have no doubt that a quarter of the way through the projected life of this Breadalbane scheme it will be rendered obsolescent by the advance of science, and the application of atomic energy.

The £18 million—and I stress £18 million, because the figure of £15 million odd in the Order is a false one—is to be——

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Henderson Stewart)

I hope my hon. Friend will not say that. He has no justification for it; an explanation was given yesterday, and when an explanation is given to the House it is customary for the House to accept it.

Mr. Nabarro

I am sorry, but I do not accept that correction. If a figure is brought forward that contains an error of more than £3 million, then I say that that original figure is false. If my hon. Friend takes exception to that term, I will euphemistically describe it as "somewhat inaccurate." Three million pounds is a lot of money to me, and it ought to be much more so to a Scotsman. In my view, the Breadalbane £18 million project is economically undesirable, technically moribund and financially improvident.

I have been severely restricted in my arguments against the project this evening by the rules of order of this House. I have not been able to adduce a comprehensive argument. I have been severely inhibited, but I hope that what I have said will have convinced many hon. Members that there is a sound argument against this large capital investment at this juncture.

Let me make my personal position quite clear. I shall not vote against this Order tonight for the good reason that my argument has necessarily, by the rules of order, been of a very restricted and modest character. When the opportunity presents itself for a comprehensive debate upon all the economic and financial issues inherent in this vast hydro-electric expenditure in the North of Scotland I shall express my displeasure at the continuance of these schemes by voting against them in the Division Lobby.

10.47 p.m.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

I am sure the House will be grateful that tonight the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has been modest in the time he has taken to put his point of view. On the last occasion when he delivered this same speech in the Scottish Grand Committee he took about 55 minutes. Therefore, the House will realise that the hon. Member has been rather more kind to us this evening than he was on that occasion.

Tonight the hon. Member has been acting in the capacity of what the church calls "the Devil's advocate." Who the devil is I am not quite sure, but the hon. Member is the advocate for some devil against the Scottish Hydro-Electric Board, not only in regard to this scheme, but on every occasion. This is only one of the many schemes against which he has argued, and on every occasion he has tried to put a spoke in the wheel of the hydro-electric scheme. Therefore we can take this as one instance among many.

I do not propose to enter into all the detailed argument put forward by the hon. Member because I take it that the Minister who is to reply to the debate will be able to refute quite clearly everything that he has said. This House, under a Coalition Government, enjoined this Hydro-Electric Board to develop the hydro-electric resources of the Highlands for the benefit of the whole country, with a special eye on the future of the Highlands.

It was not a scheme intended solely for the benefit of the Highlands. It was realised from the very beginning, when Lord Cooper made a survey of the water resources, that they were resources to be used for the benefit of the whole country. Indeed, the Highlands can really only benefit from cheap electricity to the extent that the Hydro-Electric Board make a profit by selling electricity outside that area.

Quite clearly, unless the Board can produce electricity more cheaply than it can be produced by steam they will not make a profit, and, therefore, will have no money with which to benefit the Highlands. The fact that up to now they have made a profit, and the fact that, as far as anyone can judge, they always will make a profit, is an indication that these schemes, from any normal calculations, are economic, in spite of all the fantastic figures the hon. Gentleman has produced to prove, as he thinks, the contrary.

One of the things I should like the hon. Gentleman to try to find out is just exactly how much this country has lost by listening before the war to the type of argument which he has just put forward. If these schemes had been undertaken before the war, this country would have been having some of the cheapest electricity in the world. It was just on the same specious arguments that the House in those days was persuaded to reject the schemes; and, therefore, they were delayed until costs had increased, and they are still increasing.

The fallacy of some of the hon. Gentleman's arguments must be quite clear to the House. The fact that the scheme costs more at the end than the estimate will not be a surprise to anyone who has anything to do with housing or other enterprises in this country.

Mr. Nabarro

A Socialist enterprise, of course.

Mr. Woodburn

If the hon. Gentleman can find any enterprise whose costs have not been rising, he is entitled to use it in his argument.

Mr. Nabarro

Is the right hon. Gentleman trying to justify and condone a rise in cost of 100 per cent. over a period of six years, when the cost of living and materials in that same period has risen only by one-fifth of that amount, and the other four-fifths represents a fallacious estimate?

Mr. Woodburn

The hon. Gentleman hypnotises himself with figures, and when they are analysed they prove to be as fallacious as any of his arguments.

Mr. Nabarro

Loch Sloy.

Mr. Woodburn

Loch Sloy is a very valuable scheme, and if the hon. Gentleman inquires into the figures of it he would find how important it really was.

There was one other fallacy in the hon. Gentleman's argument. In order to get his costs of electricity from hydro-electric schemes up to the level at which he could condemn them, he combined the cost of producing with the cost of distribution. Anyone who knows the Highlands knows that the costs of distribution are enormous compared with any other area, but if we established a steam station or an atomic energy station in the Highlands, the costs of distribution would be equally high. I think what anyone would be entitled to compare would be the production of electricity at a hydro-electric station with the production of electricity at some generating station built at the same time. That is the only legitimate argument, and if the hon. Gentleman uses it he will find that his figures are all "haywire."

One of the problems in the production and distribution of electricity in this country is supplying the peak load. To keep a very valuable high pressure station like Portobello idle in order to supply the peak load for the next 80 years would be an enormous undertaking, whereas, once a hydro-electric station has been built, the cost of maintaining is practically nil. The water is not lost, and the more it lies idle, the more electricity is accumulated by the water. It is there to use on tap, and it can be drawn on without loss.

Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)

That surely is one of the difficulties in the Highlands, because all these schemes are peak load schemes. As a result there is no electricity available for industry in the Highlands.

Mr. Woodburn

I think the hon. Gentleman's point is absolutely mistaken. If any industry was prepared to start up in the Highlands there is no question about it getting electricity—and more cheaply than in any other part of the country.

Mr. Fraser

The right hon. Gentleman must know that was not so at Inverness.

Mr. Woodburn

It was not because of electricity. I had something to do with industry starting up there, and, with one exception, it had nothing to do with electricity that a project did not start. The scheme, that was to introduce an enormous organisation into the Highlands, was going to take nearly all the electricity. It was going to require very heavy subsidy for private enterprise from the nation to allow that industry to establish itself in the Highlands. The Government at that time were not prepared to provide a subsidy for an industry that would use up electricity which was costing the nation so much.

The hon. Member for Kidderminster usually argues that this country will never have the coal to supply all the electricity which it needs. I have heard him arguing—and I agree with him—that this country uses far less power per person than does the United States, and that the amount of energy available to manpower in this country is far too little. Neither he nor anyone else can say that, producing all the steam and hydro-electric stations that we can, we are likely to make up that lee-way.

As to atomic power stations, the distribution costs are no different from what they are in the case of steam or electricity. The hon. Member will probably find that to establish an atomic station would cost far more than to establish a hydro-electric station.

Mr. Nabarro

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not wish deliberately to misinterpret what I said. To repeat the words which I have used, atomic energy will largely replace normal means of generating power within 25 years, and probably universally shortly afterwards. That means that after 25 to 30 years hence, only one-third of the way through its life, this expensive project will be rendered obsolete.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

There is very little in this Order about atomic energy.

Mr. Woodburn

I can only regret that any Scottish Members should have lent their names to the foolishness of the hon. Member for Kidderminster in his sabotaging attacks on hydro-electric schemes; and that those Members should come from the Highlands absolutely horrifies me.

Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton (Inverness)

Could the right hon. Gentleman suggest any other way in which we could discuss the scheme in the House?

Mr. Woodburn

I was speaking about the general situation. The hon. Member need not put the shoe on unless it fits him.

What I deplore is the curious fact that at any time when any Government come along with a scheme to help the Highlands, some Highland Members find even more occasion to criticise it than do hon. Members from non-Scottish constituencies. I deplore that they should give encouragement to the destruction of this organisation that is building up electricity supplies in the Highlands.

Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton

Could not it be interpreted as an indication that Highland Members take an interest in the scheme and want to ensure that it will in fact help the Highlands?

Mr. Woodburn

It is for them to convince their constituents, but I think that Highland constituents are too intelligent to believe that story when the names of these hon. Members are put to every Motion put forward by the hon. Member for Kidderminster on this subject.

The hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) said that he wanted to see more drainage work carried out. More drainage has been done by——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I understand that the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire was ruled out of order when he dealt with that.

Mr. Woodburn

I should have thought that this Breadalbane scheme which we are discussing will drain a bigger area of the Highlands than has been done by anything in history.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

This drainage will not be drainage of good agricultural land. It is hill land. It would be out of order, however, to pursue that point.

Mr. Woodburn

The Breadalbane scheme will drain the Highlands in such a way as to control all flooding. If flood waters are taken into the reservoirs they do not flood over the ground. Anyone who knows what a great area has been saved from flooding at Cannich by the Glen Affric hydro-electricity scheme will appreciate what the Breadalbane scheme will mean in drainage.

If there is one thing more than another that the Highlands need it is roads. Never have such good roads been provided in outlying areas as those provided by the Hydro-Electric Board. In the Breadalbane area, Glen Lyon, and round about that area, there are no roads. There are places which are almost inaccessible, and in which, under this scheme of dams, roads will be provided. Thirdly, electricity is provided.

The hon. Member for Kidderminster raised another fallacy. He said there were farms in the Highlands which could not get electricity without paying a charge. Has he ever inquired what happens in other parts of the country? Do farmers get electricity without charge in England, Wales, or South Scotland? They do not. If the Board are to make ends meet they cannot take electricity 100 miles to a farmer without asking for a contribution towards the cost.

Mr. Nabarro

The only point I was making was that the North of Scotland Hydro-Electricity Board is perhaps just a little more iniquitous in its demands for capital cover than the British Electricity Authority, and that is saying a good deal.

Mr. Woodburn

I think that the hon. Member is wrong in that. There is no doubt that this scheme will save coal, which is almost gold to the nation today. The hon. Gentleman talks as though the Highlands are to be always limited to a population of 400,000. The hon. Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) has been canvassing in America to get someone to start industries in the Highlands. Even if we get a few Americans there new enterprises will lead to an increase in the population to some extent. The whole purpose of this development in the North of Scotland is to make it easier for people to live in the Highlands.

If the hon. Member for Kidderminster, will look at the Forestry Commission's plan for the next 50 years, he will see that it is hoped that, with the development of forestry, the Highland population will rise steadily. In any case, Highlanders are not confined to the Highlands. Many of them work in the Lowlands. Electricity from the Highlands will not be grudged to the Lowlands, or to England, so long as a fair price is given to enable the Board to carry on with benefit to the Highlands. While we do not say that this scheme should not be examined, or that capital expenditure should not be carefully considered, we certainly do not agree that this scheme should be condemned for the rather fallacious arguments advanced in support of the Motion, with which I hope the House will not agree.

11.5 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Cleveland)

I must make the usual apology of an English Member who dares—[Interruption.] I am grateful for the support of hon. Friends on this side of the House and will not apologise, but will just observe that where Kidderminster can go, Cleveland can follow.

Mr. Nabarro

Follow is the word.

Mr. Palmer

We can agree that we always enjoy the speeches of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). I enjoyed his speech this evening. Whether the humour of them is always intentional may be open to question. The hon. Member interests me because, as he knows, I am an electrical engineer. I do not know whether he is aware of it, but the hon. Member has achieved a certain reputation outside this House as a sort of Parliamentary enemy of electricity in general. I do not know why that is so. It is, perhaps a matter for investigation into his early childhood. Perhaps he was bitten by an electron.

I take the view that the standard of living of a modern industrial community is bound to be measured in proportion to the success with which it develops and utilises—and I stress the word "utilises"—the electrical power resources of every kind which it possesses. I believe that electricity—and I should have thought this would have been common ground among normal sensible people—is the ideal means of removing darkness, dirt and needless physical toil from our lives.

For that reason I regard this Motion tonight as essentially obscurantist and backward in intention. It is founded on a misunderstanding of the technical questions involved, as I shall try to show in a moment, and from the Scottish point of view it strikes at the entire conception, both technical and social, of the Cooper Report and the 1943 Act.

I think it would be in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in view of what has been allowed already—although I appreciate, with respect, that it is for you to judge—to make one or two observations on this matter of steam generation as against water-power generation of electricity. If we take the issue in the abstract, where there is abundant water power and favourable physical conditions there is no doubt about it—water wins.

Mr. Nabarro indicated assent.

Mr. Palmer

I see that the hon. Gentleman agrees.

One can call to witness Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, Canada and the United States. The United Kingdom is obviously different. Here we have large coal deposits, and our relatively small water power resources are concentrated in the main in the Scottish Highlands, but the point is that in view of the postwar scarcity of coal in relation to the demand, that is surely no reason why we should not develop every available kilowatt of hydro-electric power that does[...]

Mr. Nabarro

Surely the hon. Gentleman, as a trained electrical engineer, will have observed the merit of one part of my argument, which was that for an alternative investment of £1 million in replacing old low thermal efficiency steam stations we could save twice as much coal as by an investment of £1 million in a hydro-electric plant.

Mr. Palmer

It is a question of taking the short-term view as against the long-term view, and I am trying to take the long-term view. That, to me, is the curious paradox of the views of the hon. Member for Kidderminster. I always thought, from listening to his speeches and reading some of them before I came back to the House, that he wanted the maximum conservation of our coal supplies. I do not think he has maintained consistency by his speech this evening.

I appreciate the lateness of the hour and I do not wish to be tedious on the technical points, but I do think that the House would be trusting indeed to take the hon. Member for Kidderminster as an authority. It is well known that hydroelectric schemes are expensive on first cost as compared with thermal stations, but they undoubtedly show great savings later in running charges.

In fact, it is largely a question of a balance of interest rates—and it is the present Government who push them up—against coal, labour and staffing costs. That is the issue, and the battle tends always to flow in favour of hydro-electricity as the years roll by; 80 years is the commonly accepted life of a hydroelectric scheme—at least, for the civil engineering works. Let me turn to a point that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster made much of. He seemed very wise on this matter of load factor. The outstanding advantage of hydroelectric stations is that they are economical when used to supply electricity systems with poor load factor. One of their advantages is that there are not the stand-by losses that we get with steam stations. A hydro-electric plant can be run up quickly indeed, and at short notice, and that means that fluctuations—sudden fluctuations—in load can be followed exactly. Hence, under conditions of poor load factor the advantage is with hydro-electric generation and not steam. Of course, it is the poor load factor conditions which are bound, on the whole, to exist in the Highlands.

Mr. Nabarro rose——

Mr. Palmer

No. I cannot give way again. The hon. Gentleman will be fair. He will remember he allowed me to interrupt him just once, and now we are equal in advantage.

The hon. Gentleman—and this seems to me to be his fundamental fallacy; and he is not, I say with great respect to him, an electrical engineer—speaks as if load factor were inherent in the characteristics of a power station. Well, of course, it is nothing of the kind. Thermal efficiency is certainly inherent in the characteristics of a steam power plant, but load factor is determined by external conditions. Portobello has, of course, an 80 per cent. load factor. So has Battersea probably. The reason is that both are run quite deliberately, in the system of operation, as the base load stations. The general load factor of the British electricity system as a whole, if it be averaged out, taking the three-shift stations with two-shift stations—is well under 50 per cent.——

Mr. Nabarro

Very poor.

Mr. Palmer

—and that really makes nonsense of his argument that inevitably the load factor of steam stations is in advance of the load factor of hydro-stations. I do not blame him for ignorance of this point, but he should not argue as though he understood it.

Mr. Nabarro

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me after all. My argument was not in any way related to inherent power station problems. It was that an 80 per cent. load factor denoted twice as active an employment of the capital investment as only a 40 per cent. load factor at this hydro-electric works, and that is irrefutable.

Mr. Palmer

I am sure that the House will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his further explanation.

As I was saying, to me this issue is really an argument of short-term policy as against long-term policy—of short-term capital investment as against long-term capital investment; and I think that in the special circumstances of the Breadalbane scheme we should be right to take the long-term view, and I shall give one or two reasons why I think we are right. Britain is undoubtedly short of skilled engineers, technicians and workmen, particularly of the electrical kind, and this scheme, this very scheme we are discussing, alone will save 44 men as compared with a steam development.

Britain also—and this is one of the hon. Gentleman's normal points—needs to save every possible ton of coal; this scheme alone will save 140,000 tons of coal per year, and that is not to be sneezed at. If we take the future hydroelectric development as proposed by the Board in the Highlands, by 1960 it is proposed to have installed altogether 1,000,000, if not more, kilowatts, and that will mean in terms of units a 3.250 million units output by 1960. By 1960 the coal saved by the operations of the Hydro-Electric Board will be 2 million tons per annum. Ultimately, assuming developments which some experts consider to be possible, the saving might be as much as 5 million tons per annum.

On the question of mines manpower—the present shortage of miners obviously has a bearing on this question—this scheme will save 450 men in the mines. If I translate that figure into terms of future all-over hydro-electric development in Scotland, by 1960 we can save 6,000 men who would otherwise be employed in getting coal from the bowels of the earth.

The North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board has a social responsibility to use electricity to increase the standard of living in the Highlands while at the same time preserving amenity and beauty as far as they can in everything they do. Nobody suggests that they are perfect, but they are succeeding admirably. Nobody would be so academic as to reduce this matter purely to a question of steam power as against water power. In this country it is normally a question of Hobson's choice—we must use steam power—but in the Highlands, as was argued in Lord Cooper's Report of 1943, hydro-electricity can obviously play a dominant part.

It does not seem logical to oppose this particular project—and I think that this is something which Scottish Conservative Members should have in mind—without opposing every implication of the 1943 Act. If I wanted any proof of that I should read this paragraph from the Cooper Report, on page 30: Once Parliament has determined as a matter of high policy that a series of schemes should be carried into execution for the benefit of the Highlands in the national advantage, and once the technical programme has been mapped out to the satisfaction of the appropriate authorities, it appears to us that vested interests, whether of property owners or of the coal industry— or, one could say, the solid fuel industry— or of the various unofficial organisations which have been in the habit of intervening in such proceedings, should no longer be permitted to oppose the policy thus determined upon or to delay, or add to the expense of, its execution. I am not suggesting, of course, that Parliament has not a perfect right to query particular schemes brought in under the terms of the Act. Nevertheless, this scheme is undoubtedly part of a broad conception for the electrical development of the Highlands, and I believe that the good sense of the House would turn down this Motion overwhelmingly if the hon. Member for Kidderminster and his hon. Friends had the nerve to resolve this issue in the Division Lobbies, which apparently they have not.

11.19 p.m.

Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton (Inverness)

I want to make it perfectly clear—as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) did—that I am not opposed to electrical development in Scotland, especially in the Highlands. Scottish Members have put their names to this Motion to ensure that the Highlands are developed by this scheme. We do not seek to oppose a scheme which will develop the Highlands.

Mr. Woodburn

Would the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the trouble which other people have got into for being fellow-travellers?

Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton

The right hon. Gentleman may be correct, but if he can suggest a better way of getting discussion in the House than the procedure we are following, I shall be glad to follow it. I do not believe there is another way. The sum of £15 million is a lot of money, and £18 million is still more. Before we agree to this, we ought at least to have some discussion in the House.

As a Highland Member, I get a great deal of correspondence about the Hydro-Electric Board from time to time, all of it not entirely complimentary.

Mr. Manuel

But some of it is.

Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton

I agree that some of it is, but all of it is not, and, for that reason alone, when a great new hydro-electric scheme comes along it is only right that we should have an opportunity of discussing it.

I do not agree with a great deal of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), although he speaks with a great deal of knowledge and gives us a great deal of food for thought. I want to follow up what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire. He is worried about local conditions and the effect on local water supplies. I am always worried about what the effect is going to be on the local life. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) referred to the question of an increase in the population in the Highlands, That is what we are looking for. That is where I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster, because we are looking for a very considerable increase in population, in respect of which a considerable increase in hydro-electric power will be useful in time.

However, I have reason to believe that industry is being kept out of the Highlands by high costs. I am sure I shall have great difficulty in getting the Joint Under-Secretary to tell me how many industries have nibbled at coming to the Highlands and have been put off by the factor of high cost.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

There is nothing about industries in the Order. I hope that the noble Lord will not embark upon that subject.

Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I will not pursue that point.

I understood that Mr. Speaker said that we might make comparisons, and there is one comparison which I wish to make. Water power is one of our assets in the Highlands, and we want to ensure that it is not simply used for industry in the South without our obtaining development in the Highlands from which it comes. I would compare it with whisky, which can only be produced in the North; we are sometimes not sure that we get the full benefit of our whisky when we hear of the large sums going to the Treasury as a result of the duty on whisky and whisky exports.

I have an interest in the area where the scheme is proposed. In January, I was climbing some mountains which overlook it; one was Ben y Hone and another Ben Vorlich, and from them I could see the greater part of the area. At the bottom of Ben y Hone there are a small shooting lodge and a number of cottages. This was within a mile of the hydro-electric scheme itself, and it looked as if war or pestilence had passed over the area. It is some miles from the nearest town, but someone had managed to throw some stones through a window of the lodge.

It struck me that there is something wrong with our way of looking at things. We are spending £18 million on this tremendous hydro-electric scheme and yet, within 50 miles of Glasgow where there is an immense housing shortage, life has died out where it once existed. If he were wise, the owner would take the roof off the building on Ben y Hone for he would then not have to pay the rates. However, the Hydro-Electric Board could strengthen local life by taking the buildings over for reconditioning.

I do not intend to oppose this Order, but it is good to have a discussion when Orders like this are made. Until we find a better way, I intend to use opportunities such as this to discuss future Orders.

11.25 p.m.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)

It has struck hon. Members on this side of the House that on every occasion when a scheme of this sort has been brought forward by the Hydro-Electric Board it has been opposed by certain hon. Gentlemen opposite. If their arguments against this scheme are as valid as those advanced on previous occasions, I do not think that there was any serious reason for them coming forward at all tonight.

The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) may not be aware that we have on many occasions, in the days when he was addressing people on the barrack square who could not answer him back as effectively and devastatingly as he was answered by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer) tonight, discussed these matters connected with hydro-electricity in great detail.

On those occasions hon. Members with greater knowledge of the subject than the hon. Member for Kidderminster have given their help. The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) and others in his own party contributed a wealth of technical knowledge. There was frequently then a considerable exchange of views in great detail on the relative desirability of producing electric power by steam generation or hydro generation. There is nothing new in all this. The hon. Member for Kidderminster has not enlightened or surprised anyone, except that he has spoken even a little louder than usual.

In recent years we have had this business of annulment Prayers over and over again in connection with every scheme of this kind that has come before the House. Really, no new argument of any kind has been put forward by hon. Members opposite tonight. I do not see why they should impose upon us a repetition of the arguments they put on earlier occasions.

This scheme is an essential part of the whole plan of the Board. Social advance and development in the Highlands hinges largely upon the production of hydro-electricity. To frustrate, to halt or even to damage this major scheme in any way is to do a great disservice to the future economic and social development of the Highlands—not only the Highlands but the Islands as well. It is by the sale of bulk supplies that, to a large extent, the Board finance these uneconomic schemes which nobody ever came forward to finance before—neither private enterprise nor the State.

The hon. Member for Kidderminster in his advocacy of steam went a little bit too far. He envisaged the construction and development of a number of low thermal steam stations.

Mr. Nabarro

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish to get his facts correct. What I advocated was the replacement of old low efficiency thermal stations by new modern high efficiency high pressure steam stations.

Mr. MacMillan

I should be sorry to misrepresent the hon. Gentleman in any way. He can get all his facts wrong without any assistance from me, but on this occasion I misrepresented him and I apologise. He envisaged for the new stations which he intends to create a life of 25 years. Yet by that time he also says he expects to be into the atomic age with coal and hydro-generation outmoded. Therefore, he has not made out a very good economic case for expenditure upon these new high efficiency stations.

Mr. Nabarro

It is not I who put the life of a modern steam station at 25 years: it is the British Electricity Authority. Do not attribute it to me.

Mr. MacMillan

At all events, the estimate of the hon. Member was that all these methods would be out of date in 25 years or so; and that the hydro-electric stations, with their 80 years' expectation of life—if one may put it that way—would all be useless. If the British Electricity Authority is responsible for that statement, I will accept it, but I should like to know something more, in that case, about the economics of a scheme with a life of only 25 years. If the money which Parliament has authorised to be spent is not expended on this scheme—is not spent by the Hydro-Electric Board on the Breadalbane and other schemes—what is it to be spent on? So far as the Board, whose money it is, is concerned, this money must be expended on hydro-electric schemes. What else can it be used for?

Mr. Nabarro

Diesel stations.

Mr. MacMillan

Yes; but let us remember the steam stations at Dundee and Aberdeen, in the Board's own area, are far more expensive and even wasteful jobs than the provision of hydro-electricity. Does the hon. Member dispute that? He can dispute it if he wishes. And diesel generation is nearly four times as costly as hydro-power.

The Board is to produce electricity in the Highlands by this scheme; but it is also producing social and economic benefits quite apart from electricity production. It has done a good many things quite outside electrical generation, things which Parliament has laid upon it as a duty to do; and if it does not go on with the Breadalbane scheme, and other major schemes, it will then no longer be able to carry on financially and serve economic and other needs of the Highlands and the islands which it is helping so much to develop.

Here is a scheme which has been authorised by Parliament, and so far as the Board is concerned, it cannot spend the money whose spending has been approved on roads and drainage—apart from incidental works—or anything else of that nature. There is no authority for that, so it is complete nonsense to talk about the obligations laid upon the Board by this House as not being carried out, simply because it does not divert all its resources to land drainage and major road schemes.

The Board has done some incidental drainage and other things, and it has brought more land over all into cultivation than it has flooded, or made sterile by its other operations.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

We are not saying that the money voted to the Board should be used by the Board for alternative purposes. There is a certain amount of money available from the Treasury. Might it not be used to better purposes at this stage?

Mr. MacMillan

There are rising costs in all directions, and the argument in favour of delay is an argument to increase the costs. So far as concerns the argument favouring the alternative of steam generation, with new expensive generating stations, with continuing high costs of maintenance, the hon. Members have not made this case at all.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland quite rightly used an argument which has been used over and over again in this House in connection with these schemes for hydro-generated power, that the continuing costs of maintenance are incomparably smaller than those connected with steam generation. Indeed, it was originally laid upon the Board that its costs of production must not be higher than those of the most efficient steam station.

On the other hand, it is not allowed to sell its electricity below cost. It has no authority to do so, and if any industry hon. Members opposite have in mind wants to be subsidised in this way it should go to the Treasury and not to the Board which has duties laid upon it by Parliament to balance its budget, taking one year with another over a period. The Board must have its Breadalbanes, its Tummel-Garries and its Loch Sloys if all the other minor and valuable schemes are to go on. To frustrate it in these schemes would be to destroy the whole future development of the hydro-electric project and the economic and social development which the Board has in mind.

Though the hon. Member for Kidderminster may have convinced himself—as he does more easily than he convinces anybody else—I do not think he made out a better case tonight than he did on a previous occasion in the Scottish Grand Committee when he burdened us with a whole lot of worthless arguments, now proved to be wholly worthless technically by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland, and shown to be financially not much better.

I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will unite on this issue as they did in 1943 and on other occasions when they rejected Prayers like this one, which they considered to be ill-conceived and ill-presented and which could do a great deal of damage to the whole future prospect of the Highlands.

11.38 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Henderson Stewart)

When the news first broke upon the astonished world that this Prayer was to be put down the House was filled——

Mr. Rankin

On a point of order. For the guidance of the House, may I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is now closing the debate?

Mr. Speaker

I do not know anything about that. I called him because he rose from the Front Bench.

Mr. Stewart

I cannot answer that question because I do not know. I thought it might suit the convenience of the House if I got up now, but it is not for me to say whether this is the end of the debate or not.

Mr. Rankin

We heard on another occasion, which the hon. Gentleman will recollect, that he was rising for the convenience of the House, and it turned out to be for its complete inconvenience. Can we be sure that history will not repeat itself tonight?

Major D. McCallum (Argyll)

May we have an assurance from the Front Bench that the debate will not close now, because hon. Members on both sides of the House would like to put their points of view?

Mr. Speaker

This is exempted business, and it does not lie with the Front Bench or anyone else to close the debate.

Mr. Stewart

I cannot say more than I have said. Mr. Speaker has made plain the position. I am not closing the debate now, and if hon. Members are called by Mr. Speaker they will have an opportunity of speaking.

I was saying that when this debate was first announced, the House was full of rumours that something frightful was going to happen. We were to have a debate which would last all night: some of the speeches would last over an hour, and there would be a challenge to the Government. I never believed any of those stories, and I am very glad to discover that all that my hon. Friends wanted was an opportunity to discuss this matter.

That is a very proper thing for hon. Members to do. It is quite frequently done these days, and I welcome it. Indeed, the more hon. Members we get to discuss Scottish affairs in this House the better pleased I and all of us will be. I think we are all glad that this debate has taken place, understanding, as we do, what its purpose really is.

My hon. and gallant Friend who introduced the debate had two points. First, he asked a small question: would this scheme affect the water supplies? My information is that it will not affect the water supplies at all. The same water will flow over eventually and get to the sea. I do not think he need be in the least concerned about it. I am sure he was thinking about drainage and so on.

He was also concerned, as perhaps were one or two other hon. Members, with whether this project representing, as it does, the probable expenditure of £18 million or more when it is finished, is a wise expenditure. He asked, in a sense, whether the Government had entered upon such a proposition light-heartedly or with care. I assure him that a project of this great size is not considered and is not approved by the Government—certainly not by my right hon. Friend—without the most anxious, careful and meticulous examination of all the facts and circumstances. I should like the House to believe that.

The capital development programmes of all nationalised industries are reviewed every year by the Government. This review looks ahead for several years and takes account of the need to secure, as far as resources permit, a proper balance between development in the different nationalised industries, in the privately owned industries and in public services. The review also takes account not only of the demand for borrowing under Government guarantee which the nationalised industry programmes involve, but also of the demands on real resources which the programmes proposed will create, and the extent to which these schemes are likely to conflict with other important objectives.

I should like to take this a little further to convince my hon. Friends on this particular matter. The main advantages in this particular scheme to Scotland and, indeed to the United Kingdom, are these: it creates power without using coal, supplies of which are barely keeping pace with demand. This scheme, we know, is calculated to be equivalent to saving 180,000 tons of coal. I represent a part of Scotland where we produce coal, and I ask my hon. Friends who are from agricultural areas to believe that 180,000 tons of coal is a great deal of coal. It involves the employment of a great many men; and coal today is of enormous value to this country, and will be for years to come. The Hydro-Electric Board up to the present is operating in such a way as to save the equivalent of about 600,000 tons of coal, and they will go on saving more and more as the new schemes come forward.

I do not need to tell my hon. Friends how vital it is that our coal production should increase, that we should use it in the most economical way, and that the greatest quantity should be available for export. This scheme makes a clear and definite contribution to that very important object.

I now invite the attention of my hon. Friends from industrial areas to this point: the demands made on the engineering industry, and particularly on that sector which produces heavy electrical plant and equipment, are considerably less than in the case of a steam station. The demands on the heavy electrical plant industry at present are very great and this industry has particularly favourable export opportunities.

Anybody who is in the least associated with the heavy electrical industry must know that its products are in demand in all parts of our export market. The Government held an important conference with the Commonwealth countries the other day, and it is clear from that conference that one of the keenest demands upon our industry is for this very heavy electrical plant. The great merit of a hydro-electricity scheme is that it does not make demands upon that heavy industry to anything like the extent that is done by steam plant. Therefore, in using hydro-electric schemes one is increasing electrical power without straining precious resources.

Mr. Nabarro

Will the hon. Gentleman——

Mr. Stewart

May I please be allowed to continue? I think the hon. Member has spoken about 20 times already. If he allows me to proceed, I think that we shall all greatly benefit. Moreover, although the capital cost of a hydro-electricity scheme is high overall, by far the greatest cost is not for electrical equipment but for civil engineering work. That is carried out mostly by unskilled labour which otherwise would be idle. What are the facts in Scotland today? Time and time again hon. Members on both sides of the House have criticised the Government for the fact that unemployment in Scotland is about twice as high as in England; and that is true.

I was very glad to see that the figures for unemployment were down substantially last month, but it is still very high. The Board are employing 2,540 people directly, most of whom are Scots. They are employing indirectly through various contractors no fewer than 5,780, of whom about 4,000 are Scots, more than half of whom are Highlanders. I cannot think that any Highland Member will ask seriously for the annulment of a scheme of this kind which gives employment to his constituents, which has been giving employment for six years and is likely to go on doing so for 20 years. That is the practical issue which we face.

I now invite my hon. Friends to look at a side of the matter which has scarcely been touched upon tonight. This is not only an electrical project. This is a project to enable the Board to do what the House of Commons asked and directed it to do. The Board has to play their part in the social and economic development of the Highlands. If one likes to divide the functions of the Board into two, that is one of them. That is the essence of the Cooper Report. It is the essence of the 1943 Act.

I do not want to enter into technical arguments. We have heard two technical experts tonight. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Only one."] I was once on the staff of the late Earl Lloyd George, who used to say, "Never believe the experts." Tonight, one expert has cancelled out the other, so I do not think that the House need trouble too much about these expert arguments. But it is the outstanding fact that as a result of hydro-electric operations in Scotland, electricity has been brought to the kitchens of large numbers of farms, crofts, and ploughmen's cottages. Warmth, light and modern facilities have been brought to thousands and thousands of people. Up to now the Board has introduced electricity to about half the potential consumers in the Highlands area. It has still to deal with the other half and it needs this and other additional schemes to meet the requirements of the Highland people.

It has been said that if all the installed capacity of the existing hydro-electric schemes were employed, the needs of all Highland consumers could be met. That sounds good theory, like so much of the argument which comes from certain directions; but it is not related to the practical truth. As Lord Cooper said in his report—I will quote that report if any hon. Member wants me to do so—the whole essence of this particular scheme was that the profits to be anticipated from sales to the Central Electricity Board, now the British Electricity Authority, will be available to the new Board to assist in the development of supply and distribution in the new Board's area.

It is only by continuing to export substantial quantities of the electrical power produced that it is possible to provide heat and power to the crofter and farmer and ploughman in the Highlands at prices these people can afford to pay. We could do as the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) suggested and use the installed capacity, but it would be at prices which no crofter could pay. That argument is theoretical, and far away from the practical case.

The hon. Member has been invited by the Hydro-Electricity Board to go to the Highlands and see the schemes, but he has never accepted the invitation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I again invite him to come. If he were to do so, and saw the conditions in which our Highland compatriots live, and what is being done, he would not, if I may say so frankly, talk the nonsense he has been talking tonight.

Mr. Nabarro rose——

Mr. Stewart

That is the social side of this problem. We have to continue authorising the Board to proceed with new schemes. Of the total output of the Board at present, 75 per cent. is used in the Highlands. May I offer a slight correction to the hon. Member for Kidderminster? He made the same mistake during discussion of the Bill which set up the Board. His figures are based on the population of the crofting community, namely, 400,000. That is inaccurate.

The Board is responsible for the whole of Scotland north of the Tay, and there is a population of 1,200,000. That is three times the figure he takes, and gives a completely different result. The hon. Member has told us what a difficult time he has had tonight. We knew that he would have a difficult time. He has always had a rotten case to put up. We have been sorry for him throughout these debates. It would be easier for him if he got down to the realities of this scheme. Then he would be on the same side as the rest of us.

The matter of distribution has been raised, and the right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) touched on the matter with skill. It is not enough to say that the cost to the consumer in the Highlands is the same as the cost to the consumers in, say, Stirling. The cost of distribution in the Highlands is very much higher than it is elsewhere. I will give one out of the many examples which I could quote. There is an area along the north coast of Scotland from Thurso to Tongue, where there are no more than 600 potential consumers.

It costs the Hydro-Electric Board £250,000 to provide the distribution for these relatively few people. That is why it is so costly, and that is why we arrive at this strange figure whereby it appears that the cost to the consumer in the Highlands is the same as elsewhere. The truth is that the cost of producing electricity under the hydro-electric scheme is substantially less than it would be by means of a steam station. It is the excessively high cost of distribution which we have to keep in mind.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

Is the hon. Gentleman comparing the cost of distribution for a hydro-electric station as against a steam station in the same circumstances? To my mind, one of the advantages of generating electricity, say, by diesel oil is that it is possible to have a great number of small stations dotted throughout the area and therefore reduce these distribution costs.

Mr. Stewart

It is quite true that a number of small diesel stations would be useful, but the high cost of oil makes the running cost of diesel stations very high.

Mr. Grimond

But is it higher?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, it is higher, but in some parts of the Highlands it is impossible to provide any other kind of power.

It is said that instead of this method of hydro-production we should have had steam stations. I ask hon. Members who were here before the war, if we had to rely upon steam stations would one steam station have been provided for the Highlands? Of course not. Where would we have had the steam stations? Would we have had the steam stations to serve the Highlands in the South or in the North? If we had them in the South the cost of transmission would have pushed up the prices higher than they are today, because there would have been no off-setting profit from the B.E.A. as there is now. Had the steam stations been in, say, Inverness-shire, the cost of transporting coal to those stations would again have made the price to the consumer infinitely higher than he could possibly bear. The truth is that it is only by hydro-electric schemes that the Highlands have been provided with electricity at all. That is a fact that every Scotsman understands, and I only need mention it to have it accepted.

I wish to refer to the question of land drainage. I was asked what is the effect of this scheme upon land drainage. I was born in Strathearn. I know the River Earn, which is the chief river affected by this scheme, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire has said. I have known the Earn all through the years of my childhood, and I know that it flooded every year and that considerable areas of land were submerged. This scheme, by the testimony of the National Farmers' Union of Perthshire and of the Perth County Council, will be a definite advantage in preventing the flooding of the River Earn in the future. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will accept that assurance.

I end on this note. This scheme is intended primarily for the Highlands, but not only for the Highlands. I have never looked upon this hydro-electric scheme—and I hope no one else will—as a parochial Highland affair. It is largely that, but not entirely. This scheme is intended to be to the advantage of Scotland as a whole. I must ask hon. Members to believe me when I say—I could provide the figures if need be—that the needs of industrial and domestic Scotland south of the Tay are becoming exceedingly grave and urgent.

I have the figures here. If we consider the need in the next five or six years for electric power installations to meet obsolescence, to meet the growth of load, to provide against breakdowns, to provide against hard weather and the elimination of load spreading, the figures are such that if we do not get from the Board a very substantial contribution, Scotland's industrial midlands will be in very serious danger at the end of five years. Therefore, this scheme of Highland electrification, while playing a great part in the development of the social and economic life of the Highlands, will also play a vital part in maintaining the industrial vitality of the whole of Scotland.

I have every sympathy possible, and so have my people, with my hon. Friends who come from that part of the country. I understand their viewpoint. I come from that part of the country myself. But I am also a Scotsman—which is still more important; and I appeal to the House to support the Government in carrying through this scheme for the sake of the great, vital and necessary contribution it will make to the benefit of Scotland as a whole.

12.3 a.m.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)

The Motion before the House is that the Breadalbane project be annulled, and I want to advance briefly three reasons why we ought not to do so. A great deal of ground, of course, has been covered on the general question of hydro-electric development in the Highlands, and I shall confine myself as briefly as possible to these three points so that I do not retread any part of the ground that has been already covered.

The first point I want to make has been touched on. That is the saving in coal to the extent of 180,000 tons, but I think it opportune to point out that to date the schemes that are already in operation have saved the country 600,000 tons of coal, and that is a most important saving from the export point of view.

I do not want to dwell too long upon that point at this stage because it has been, as I say, to some extent covered, but there is one point which has received no attention at all. The challenge has been made from those who are moving this Prayer that the cost of the scheme has risen from £15 million to £18½ million. The scheme was first submitted in 1951, and that is an important point, because we have got to put to ourselves the question: What has caused the inflation which has been so vigorously attacked—the inflation of over £3 million since that date?

First of all, the most serious item in that inflation has been the policy of the party opposite. They have made the cost of money dearer, and as a result of the increase in the Bank rate the Board is faced with a rise in expenditure of £150,000 every year. That is not something that we can lay at the door of the Board. It is the direct outcome of the policy to which the opponents of the scheme approve. They supported the policy of increasing the Bank rate; they supported the policy that sent up the charges that the Board has to meet; and now they come along and say that the £15 million ought not to be increased, when one of the main reasons for the increase lies at the door of the Government.

It has not been made sufficiently clear that the money which is being sought is not going to be spent in one year but over seven years. If the Bank rate does not increase further, over those seven years interest charges alone will amount to £1,050,000. In other words, one-third of the entire inflation which the Hydro-Electric Board has to meet is caused by the fact that money has been made dearer by the Government which the hon. Member supports. I do not see why the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Col. Gomme-Duncan) and the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) should disappear at this moment——

Mr. Niall Macpherson rose——

Mr. Rankin

I am sorry, but I cannot give way. It is not today any more; it is tomorrow morning, and we have waited here a long time. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman has anything to say he will get an opportunity to say it. The point I am making is quite a substantial one. It is hypocritical for hon. Members opposite to condemn the Hydro-Electric Board for incurring charges which were forced on them by the Government which they support.

The third point is that there have been many objectors to this scheme. The Perthshire County Council was one of them—the county council, part of whose area is represented by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth, who is no longer in his place. The Farmers' Union were another; so were the Amenity Committee and the Fisheries Committee. Every one of those objections was inquired into and met, and now there are not even any private objectors let alone public ones.

I hope that the Perthshire County Council—and, perhaps, Inverness-shire County Council—are taking note not so much of the fact that the two Members who represent those areas have moved the annulment of this Order, but of the company they keep, because people are judged by that, and on every occasion when the hon. Member for Kidderminster has had a chance of attacking the projects of the Hydro-Electric Board he has attacked them. I do not think it is wrong to say that he is opposed to Highland development, because he has stated tonight that he does not mind electrification for the purposes of the Highlands but objects to the export of surplus electricity to the grid.

He objects to the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board earning the butter that goes with its bread; but if it cannot get the money that comes from the export of its surplus electricity it cannot carry on the development of the Scottish Highlands. That is the reason why I say that he has given us at least the impression that his objection is to the social and economic development of the Highlands. That is why I regret that two Highland Members should bear him company tonight.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

As a fellow Sassenach of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), I consider that the hon. Gentleman's representation of my hon. Friend's case is most unfair. My hon. Friend's point was that he objected not to the idea of the Hydro-Electric Board export- ing electricity but to the initial expenditure upon the means of producing the electricity. The hon. Member opposite must know that quite well.

Mr. Rankin

I may be wrong, but my recollection is that the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) has not been here throughout the course of the debate. I am dealing with the speech made by the hon. Member for Kidderminster and not with any private knowledge that the hon. and gallant Gentleman may have of the views of the hon. Member for Kidder minster. The hon. Member for Kidderminster said tonight that he was not in favour of the export of surplus electricity to the South.

Major Legge-Bourke rose——

Mr. Rankin

It is not fair that I should again be interrupted. There are still one or two hon. Members who wish to say a word or two, and I feel that in giving way once to the hon. and gallant Gentleman I have met the situation.

Major Legge-Bourke

What the hon. Member has said is gross misrepresentation.

Mr. Rankin

If I have misrepresented the hon. Member for Kidderminster it is not my fault; the cause is either the hon. Member's choice of words or the fact that as the seconder of the Motion he should be in his place to reply to any misrepresentation that may be made, but is not. However, I do not accept that I have misrepresented the position which he took up.

As I was saying, there is now no Highland objector to the scheme; the Perthshire County Council objection and the objections of the amenity and fishery interests have been met. There is now not a single private objector left except the lone wolf from Kidderminster. who has tonight, put on the granny's mutch and managed, unfortunately, to beguile two political babes from the Highlands of Scotland to support him. I hope that they will give thought to this and see their way to withdraw this Prayer.

12.14 a.m.

Major D. McCallum (Argyll)

As the only back-bench Member of the House whose constituency is concerned with the scheme, I feel that I might be allowed to say a few words. I am sorry that my hon. Friends are not here at the moment, because I wish to ask them to withdraw the Motion. Although a certain number of my hon. Friends and, maybe, right hon. Friends, support them, I feel that all those who know the Highlands and the matter at issue—it is not merely the cost of generating by steam, atomic energy or hydro power; it is social and economic development for the Highlands—

Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has given it as his opinion that the Motion should be withdrawn, but neither the mover nor the seconder are at present in the Chamber.

Major McCallum

That is not my fault. I dare say that my hon. Friends will learn of my words.

I must first declare a personal interest in this matter, for I do not want it to be thought that I am pleading one way or another for my personal interests. I am the proprietor of fishing interests affected by this scheme and the one which will follow it. Therefore, it might be understood if I were violently to oppose the scheme, but I do not do anything of the sort. I realise that, though it may be to my own damage, it is a scheme which may bring untold advantages in the years to come to hundreds—I put it no higher than that—of my fellow-Highlanders living in the Breadalbane area, in Glen Lochay and Glen Dochart.

I ask all my hon. Friends to realise that we know what we are talking about. We know that the cost of hydro-generated electricity is cheaper than either coal or atomic energy. At the same time, we realise that vast mileages are involved to supply electricity to one or two farms, crofts or houses. If only hon. Members would visit the area they would realise the importance it has to the whole hydroelectric plan. After this scheme there will be a scheme which will be entirely in Argyllshire. I am one of the 20,000 consumers who were connected by the Board in 1952. I realise what a benefit the supply of electricity is and so do my friends.

The Portobello station was mentioned by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). That station blew up the other day. We have not yet had a hydro-electric station which blew up. That can be said in favour of hydro-electricity. Seriously, I ask my hon. Friends to withdraw this Prayer in view of the importance of this scheme to the Highlanders, the farms, crofters and other inhabitants of the area.

12.17 a.m.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

The cost of this scheme is very large——

Mr. Manuel

How much?

Sir H. Williams

I am told that it is £18 million. The first guess was £15 million, and I think that it has gone up to £18 million. Incredible restrictions are imposed by the Government on capital expenditure. Therefore, what we are engaged in discussing is a priority. Are £18 million to be spent on this project or on other projects? That is part of the issue. It is a choice between spending £18 million on this scheme or on something else at a time when there are grave restrictions on capital expenditure imposed by the Treasury on every Department of State.

Whenever one of my constituents wants a telephone I write to my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General and he says that on account of the restriction on capital expenditure imposed by the Treasury he is very sorry but my constituent cannot have a telephone for one, two, three or four years.

Mr. Speaker

There is nothing about telephones in this Order.

Sir H. Williams

I am sorry, Sir. I understood that you called me to order, Mr. Speaker. There was a certain amount of interruption, and I did not catch what you said.

What we are deciding is whether to spend £18 million on a certain project. That is a lot of money. Therefore, the conflict is between one lot of Her Majesty's subjects and another lot. As one concerned with the second lot of Her Majesty's subjects who are deprived of a whole lot of amenities because of this expenditure of £18 million of capital expenditure, I think that this project is entitled to a certain measure of criticism.

12.20 a.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

In supporting this Prayer, I will be extremely short and say straight away that, as an English representative I do not wish to deprive Scotland of electricity. But I do want to see money that is voted by the House carefully scrutinised before it is spent.

Mr. M. MacMillan

Is the hon. Member quite clear about the position? The House is not voting this money at all.

Mr. Doughty

I have a letter which says that some districts may have derived benefit from the Board, but that there is not any need for at least one of the schemes for which the water power is not sufficient to produce electricity comparable with the cost. I hope that the House will not support the scheme.

Question put, and negatived.