HC Deb 03 April 1957 vol 568 cc503-26
Mr. Renton

I beg to move, in page 3, line 21, at the end to insert: and may (in addition to the members so appointed) appoint as members of the Council such number of other persons, not exceeding three, as he may from time to time determine".

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

I think it would be convenient to the House to discuss with this Amendment the next two Amendments, as well as the last four Government Amendments to Clause 3.

Mr. Renton

As you have indicated, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, it would be convenient to discuss also the next two Amendments in the names of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, also to line 21, and the last four Government Amendments to the Clause. In fact, of course, all the Government Amendments go together.

The purpose of these five Government Amendments is to achieve four things. The first is to allow the Minister to appoint up to three ordinary members of the Electricity Council from persons who at the time of their appointment were not members of any electricity board. Then, secondly, the condition of not being a member of an electricity board at the time of appointment is to apply equally to the chairman and deputy chairman of the Council. Thirdly, neither they nor any of the three independent members whom we propose are to be eligible for appointment to an electricity board so long as they are members of the Council. The last point is thta the representation of the Generating Board on the Council is increased from two to three.

This meets a request put forward by the Opposition in Committee, but I should add that it does so for a slightly different reason. Our object is not to increase the weight of the Generating Board representation on the Electricity Council, as decisions will not be taken by vote there, but to make sure that the electrical engineering and financial side of the Board's work is adequately represented in all circumstances.

With that explanation, I think that perhaps the best course may now be to hear what Members opposite wish to say about their other Amendments which are being discussed. Then it might be convenient to the House for me to reply to the points which they make, both on their own or our Amendments, and I shall be happy to do so.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Palmer

I am anxious to respond to the invitation of the hon. and learned Gentleman and to put the view of this side of the House in favour of the Amendments which we have put forward. Taking our two Amendments together, the first would have the effect of strengthening the Council by the addition of three other Ministerial nominees. We leave the choice of these extra Ministerial appointments to the Minister himself, in the sense that, though we make it an obligation on the Minister to make the appointments, we do not limit him as to the kind of appointment which should be made.

Mr. Renton

On that point, do I understand correctly that the only difference between the hon. Member and my right hon. Friend on this matter is that he would make it compulsory for the Minister to appoint these three representatives, whereas the Amendments of my right hon. Friend would make it optional?

Mr. Palmer

That is precisely the point, so far as that particular group of appointments is concerned, because we think there should be a definite obligation on the Minister to strengthen the Council in this way.

Turning to our other Amendment to line 21, there we ask that the Minister should appoint another three persons appearing to him to be qualified as having had experience of, and having shown capacity in industrial, commercial or financial matters, or the organisation of workers. The hon. and learned Gentleman and the House will note that we have said nothing there about these extra people needing to have electricity supply experience, because we feel that there will be plenty on the Council. The chairman of the area boards—twelve of them—and the chairman and two other members of the Generating Board, will be on the Council ex officio, so that there will be plenty of people on that central supervisory body with electricity supply experience.

We have not used the words used in the principal Act, but the hon. and learned Gentleman will see that some of these words have obviously been taken from the principal Act. We have said nothing there to specify that there should be someone with particular scientific knowledge, because we think that is likely to be sorted out satisfactorily, as many of those on the Council, coming from the industry itself, will have scientific knowledge. We have concentrated, in advocating these extra appointments, on what we refer to as experienced… in industrial, commercial or financial matters, or the organisation of workers. To take the industrial, commercial or financial aspect, in view of the importance of the Council and the many duties which it will have to perform on behalf of the nationalised industry, it is important to make quite certain that there are people there with proved experience in industrial, commercial or financial affairs. That is essential, and we should not leave that necessarily just to the chance nature of those who come forward from the industry itself, with all respect to them.

The point to which we should like the Minister to pay close regard is this. We advocate also that, among the three, there should be someone preferably with experience in the organisation of workers. That is the case already in the Bill, in carrying on the provisions of the principal Act, so far as the Generating Board itself is concerned. Equally, an obligation on the area boards to have within their membership people with experience in the organisation of workers arises under the principal Act; I think that that is right.

In view of the responsibilities of the Council for making the preliminary agreement with the trade unions and for establishing machinery for settlement by negotiation of wages, salaries, and working conditions, together with what is now likely to be the additional duty of the Council, as a result of Amendments on the Notice Paper, to make an agreement with the trade unions or appropriate organisations for the establishment of machinery for organising joint consultation, the labour relations obligations of the Council are likely to be of great importance. It is no use instancing the Gas Act as a comparison. The electricity supply industry is not the gas industry; this is a much larger and more important, expanding industry, wherein good labour relations are vital.

In the circumstance, it is, surely, a very sound argument to advance that the Government should make certain that there is someone serving on the Council who has this special kind of experience in labour relations. We would prefer that the appointment should be made from the trade unions. That has often been the case in the past. However, we have used the words having had experience of … the organisation of workers. Many arguments were used in Committee in favour of strengthening the Council and making it more independent, enabling it to take a more genuinely detached and supervisory view over the operations of the industry as a whole. My hon. and right hon. Friends, together with several hon. Gentlemen opposite who served on the Standing Committee, put forward arguments in favour of the Council being strengthened by the appointment of more independently-minded people, that is to say, those who are not too inhibited by or bound up with their own everyday tasks in the industry.

I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend are very familiar with the arguments advanced upstairs and, for that matter, in the House itself on Second Reading, in favour of strengthening the more independent outlook of the Electricity Council. That is the main purpose of the Amendments that we have put down. It so happens that one of our Amendments, by chance, coincides in its terms with the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment, but with the difference, of course, that we want the obligation to make the first three appointments a definite obligation upon the Minister, not for them to be left permissive.

I have referred to the arguments used in the House and in Committee in favour of strengthening the Council. We freely concede that the Minister has gone quite a way towards meeting those arguments, but we feel that he could further improve the Bill by accepting our Amendments in the spirit in which we have put them down. They represent a genuine attempt to be constructive and improve the future working of the industry.

I am sure that the Minister will not overlook what the Herbert Committee had to say. I know that the Bill does not accept the Herbert solution providing for a new, really detached central authority; but nevertheless the Herbert Committee did bring forward powerful arguments in favour of the Electricity Council being able to sit back and look at these broad problems which must be solved in the industry, problems which those who are engaged every day in the work of the industry do not find easy to solve for themselves. The Herbert Report can, I think, in broad principle be called in aid of our argument here.

The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has gone out, obviously for some deserved, or rather undeserved, nourishment. Speaking from memory. I think it was he who quoted in aid—he is very good at quoting what manufacturers say, since he obviously knows them very well—something said by the Federation of British Industries. Apparently, the Federation of British Industries has gone on record in some place or other—one is glad to hear it. for it shows how sensible it was, at least in this matter—in favour of what I have described as a more detached kind of Electricity Council. That object would be achieved by making these extra appointments. The Trades Union Congress also, together with a number of other genuinely independent, expert authorities and theoretical people who write about the affairs of the electricity industry, have gone on record in much the same sense.

May I now try to deal in advance with an argument which may be advanced in objection to our Amendments? After all, we are now at this stage proposing to add altogether six extra members to the Council. It may be said that that would make the Council unreasonably large. In Committee, the effect of our Amendments was to give the Council a membership totalling 24. At our seventh Sitting, when asked whether he considered that a Council of 24 members would be unreasonably large, the Paymaster-General said that he did not think so. Therefore, since the Paymaster-General in Committee accepted our view that a membership of 24 would not make the Electricity Council too large, hon. and right hon. Members opposite cannot convincingly argue that our Amendments would change the Council, which is not to be an executive body in the ordinary sense, from a compact, useful body into one that was unnecessarily wide.

8.30 p.m.

We on this side of the House should be glad to hear that the Government have given this matter still further thought. They promised to do so when we discussed the whole issue at some length in the Committee upstairs, as we discussed many other things. We should like to hear that the Government have given the matter further thought, that they acknowledge the good sense of bending further to our point of view, and that they will, in those circumstances, accept our sensible Amendments.

Mr. Hayman

I should like to quote from the remarks of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) during the seventh sitting of the Standing Committee. He said: Has my right hon. Friend any predilections affecting the maximum size of the Council, because I would unreservedly withdraw my objections to all the area board chairmen being on the Council provided that my right hon. Friend did not consider that the Council would be too big if, say, 24 people were on it? The Paymaster-General, immediately following the hon. Member for Kidderminster, replied: No, I do not think that that would be too many. I think that there are boards of companies numbering above twenty. I do not think that there should be an absolute limit." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 26th February 1957; c. 308.] When we consider the present Amendments, we find that if they were all accepted, subsection (2, a) would provide for a chairman and two deputy-chairmen of the Electricity Council, making a total of three; subsection (2, b) would provide for three members of the Generating Board, including the chairman; and subsection (2, c) would include the twelve chairmen of the area boards, thus making a total of eighteen. I think I am right in saying that, as the Bill was presented to the Standing Committee, the total would have been sixteen or seventeen.

The Amendment proposes that the Minister … may (in addition to the members so appointed) appoint as members of the Council such number of other persons, not exceeding three, as he may from time to time determine. That is to say, he may appoint them or he may not. If he did not appoint them, the membership of the Council would remain at eighteen. Our first Amendment would substitute "shall" for "may" and would make it obligatory on the Minister to appoint three additional persons, making a membership of twenty-one. I suggest that in making those three appointments, the Minister might well consider appointing one of the chairmen of the consultative councils.

During our proceedings in Committee, there was an Amendment, which we withdrew—

Mr. Renton

On a point of order. There is another Amendment on the Order Paper which deals separately with that point, in page 3, line 21, at the end, to insert: (b) the Minister shall also appoint one of the Chairmen of the Consultative Councils of the area boards to serve on the Electricity Council. I should have thought that it was best to deal with it separately.

Mr. Hobson

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. In view of the relevance of the four Amendments, and particularly the last one concerning representation from the consultative councils, may we have an explanation why that Amendment, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) was referring and which is germane to the constitution of the Electricity Council, is not being discussed at the same time as the other Amendments? I do not know what the procedure is, although I have been a Member for twelve years. I do not know why the Amendment is to be called separately. Judging from the intervention of the Parliamentary Secretary, it is to be called, but we are not in a position to discuss that. This is a rather interesting point upon which we would like some explanation.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The House agreed that a number of Amendments should he taken together, but the other Amendment seems to raise rather a different point.

Mr. Hobson

My hon. Friend referred to the consultative council chairmen, and the Parliamentary Secretary said that there was a further Amendment about that. There is generally an agreement between the Chair and the Government about which Amendments are to be called. That is done to facilitate matters. I do not know whether the Amendment to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred is to be called or not, but I gather from his intervention that it is to be called separately and I cannot understand why.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I thought it raised a rather different point.

Mr. Hobson

It is precisely the same point, because it deals with who should be on the Electricity Council. That was a point my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) was making. If the Parliamentary Secretary had not intervened, I should have put the same query. I refrained from doing so, because I thought that a Ruling was involved and I should on no account challenge a Ruling from the Chair.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If it is for the convenience of the House, it can be taken with the other Amendments now being discussed. I thought it was a special point. Will that be convenient to the House?

Mr. Renton

I am entirely in your hands, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and you, in turn, are in the hands of the House. I should have thought that there was a limit to the number of Amendments which could be conveniently discussed together. We are at the moment discussing no fewer than seven Amendments on five of which—the five Government Amendments—no fewer than four points are already taken. Two further points are taken in the two Opposition Amendments.

It seemed to me, and no doubt to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that this separate point—of one of the consultative council chairmen being added to the Electricity Council—a point which had never been raised in Committee, was quite different from all the other points. I have no wish to do other than be as co-operative as possible and if it is your opinion, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the Amendments should be taken together, then, of course, I accept your Ruling.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It is for the House, but if objection is taken to them being taken together—and I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary thinks that it would be more convenient not to take them together—let us take this Amendment separately.

Mr. Hobson

I have no objection at all. I am merely trying to facilitate our work and am not trying to be obstructive. I think that it is just as well that further consideration should be given to these points by the Treasury Bench when they occur. I leave it at that.

Mr. Hayman

On a point of order. May I point out, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the Amendment in page 3, line 22, to subsection (2, b) relates to the number on the Electricity Council. It is true that there is an Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) about the number of chairmen of the consultative councils serving on the Electricity Council. In Committee we had an Amendment covering seven other named organisations, including those represented on the consultative councils. I should have thought that it would have been relevant to take together all the Amendments dealing with the total constitution of the council.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am merely suggesting that the normal course is to take Amendments together only by agreement, and there does not seem to be complete agreement about the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard). Therefore, I suggest that we should discuss that separately later.

Mr. Hayman

I will not continue any further now, but I hope that at some stage it will be possible for me to debate the question of the number of appointees to the Council. It is very important. In Committee, the Minister himself admitted that twenty-four was a number which would be quite acceptable to him and that it was acceptable to boards of directors in industry. We did not ask him to make that concession; he offered it himself.

I hope, therefore, that the Government will be able to accept out Amendment to alter the word "may" to "shall" in connection with the three members named in the Government's Amendment, and also the Amendment which stands in the names of my hon. and right hon. Friends.

Mr. C. R. Hobson

I share the view that the Parliamentary Secretary should he able to change the word "may" to "shall". I believe it was the late Georges Clemenceau who said that the experts were usually right about small things and wrong about big ones. My experience in life has convinced me of the truth of that statement, and I believe that, as now constituted, the Council is one of experts.

I know from my experience within the supply industry that, prior to nationalisation, some of the most successful undertakings were controlled not by engineers —and if I have any bias it is as an engineer—but by financial experts. I do not think that there is any harm in mentioning one example, because not many people will be able to trace the individual concerned, although he is still active. I refer to the case of Hull, which was a very successful undertaking, controlled by an accountant. His appointment took place in a blaze of publicity because it was the first undertaking to be controlled by an accountant and not by an engineer. Under the Nationalisation Act of 1947 the private and public spheres have now been co-ordinated.

Having seen the Bill all through Committee, having dealt with it continually and slept with it, so that I know it almost by heart, I would point out that the Council has a congenital weakness in that it is a little too overloaded with engineers. The chairmen of the area boards, with possibly one exception, are engineers. In those circumstances, I should have thought that it was highly desirable to have these other three men, with a knowledge of finance, commerce, administration and labour relations, appointed to the Council.

It is even more important now, because the Council is, as it were, the Cabinet of the industry. It will be deciding policy, and it is just as well to have this leavening of people other than engineers taking part in its deliberations. The addition of the three will not make it too unwieldy. I think that is a point well worth serious consideration by the Government. The Electricity Council would be a better body were they included upon it.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Robert Edwards (Bilston)

I hope that the Paymaster-General will accept the two Opposition Amendments. I wish to submit one or two reasons why they should be accepted. The two Amendments may seem simple, but they are of tremendous importance because here, in a limited way, we are discussing the whole question of the democratic structure covering great public investments. This structure will prove of immeasureable importance in the future. Nations today are being increasingly compelled to engage in industrial activities and take over services the administration of which was previously the prerogative of the businessman. As these activities of the State in the field of industry and public services are developed, so we increase the power of the expert, the manager, and the administrator.

We are not developing our democratic structure in a manner commensurate with the advance of the State into activities in industry and the control of public services, arid that is why these two simple Amendments are so important. They do not deal with the whole problem, but they represent the start of an attempt to deal with the vital matter of bringing in more people representing other interests than those of the industry and the actual producer; more public-minded people with experience, who will help to control these vast and expanding public investments.

The structure suggested in the provisions of the Bill is a highly centralised one. There is not a lot of internal democracy within it, nor can we change it, because that is how it has developed. It may be that we shall change it in the future when we are able to take a more realistic and positive view of the way in which our institutions are developing.

What is proposed by these Amendments? It is that the Minister shall have the power to appoint three people who are not necessarily actively associated with the industry. They might include a most efficient voluntary worker in a county council or local authority who would be capable of representing, in a vigorous and national way, the interests of the consumer as distinct from those of the experts who are working in the industry.

Alternatively, they might include an outstanding trade union leader, who, through years of experience, understands the interests of the trade unionists and that they also have consumer interests as well as trade union interests. It could be a person with vast public experience who could give a wider aspect to the whole problem of producing power than could possibly be given by somebody whose day-to-day work is associated too closely with the industry. Because they are so close, they are not able to look at the problem in a majestic way.

For these reasons, the two Opposition Amendments should be accepted. They extend an important principle of democracy. They take us a little away from the managerial revolution which is creating a lot of frustration today, and towards a more democratic control of vast public investments. They may offer a way of experimenting with democratic structure in a nationalised industry of importance for the future. For these fundamental reasons the two Amendments, if accepted, would strengthen the Bill and would further the democratic principles which are important in nationalised industries.

Mr. Warbey

The right hon. Gentleman has gone some way to meeting the wishes expressed by this side of the House during the Committee stage. It is worth while recalling a little of the history of this matter to appreciate why we feel that the Minister has not yet gone far enough.

As the Bill was drafted, the composition of the Electricity Council might have consisted of only 15 persons. It could have been limited to the 12 area board chairmen plus two representatives of the Generating Board and an independent chairman. It would have been a board representative of the executive organisations within the industry, plus an independent chairman over them all.

That would have corresponded to a view which was expressed at one time by the Parliamentary Secretary. The conception was of the area boards and the Generating Board acting as largely autonomous units but coming together in a kind of federal deliberative assembly to sort out problems in which they had a common interest. It would have been an assembly like the Council of Europe, which has deliberative functions but no real powers. That conception, which is understandable, undoubtedly led to the original idea that the composition of the Board should be governed in that way.

However, in the course of the Committee stage, and of further thought given by the Government—under pressure from our side—to the Bill and to the structure of the industry, we succeeded in making the Minister think about these matters. As a result of the pressure, the Government came to accept a rather different conception of the powers and functions of the Electricity Council and of the composition which it ought to have.

They came to recognise, and in the course of Amendments and new Clauses which they added to the Bill themselves approved of, the principle that the Electricity Council must have certain quite important executive functions. There was added to it, for example, the comparatively minor—but nevertheless important—function of adjudicating on disputes between the electricity boards. Once we give to the Electricity Council the power to adjudicate between its constituent parts, immediately we have to accept the principle that it should have the kind of composition to enable it to exercise such a judicial function without being too heavily weighted on the side of one particular interest in the industry.

Then it was made clear to us by the Parliamentary Secretary, in the course of a speech on, I think, Clauses 14 and 15 concerned with the raising of loan capital and the allocation of that capital to electricity boards, that the Electricity Council would have an exceedingly important function—" powers" I think would be the right word to use in this case—in the allocation of the capital raised. Although the capital to be raised must correspond in the long term with the programmes drawn up by the boards with the approval of the Minister, nevertheless it does appear from what the Parliamentary Secretary told us that it will be the Electricity Council which will decide at any given moment which electricity boards, the Generating Board or area boards, and which area boards, are to receive priority in relation to the actual expenditure of capital.

In Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary said that the Electricity Council would have to take into account the general national policy regarding the expansion or restriction of investment at any given moment. If we were in a period when the general policy was to restrict or limit capital investment then the Electricity Council would have to withhold the allocation of capital, that is to say, of the proceeds of loans, to the boards. The hon. and learned Gentleman also gave the example of an area board which might have some reason to proceed with a very urgent piece of capital development, say for the expansion of rural electrification, and said that such an area board should be given priority in respect of the receipt of capital.

Therefore, it is quite clear that the Electricity Council is to have exceedingly important powers in the industry. That corresponds with the view put forward at all times in Committee by hon. Members on this side of the House. We have always taken the view that we must have a body which has the power to exercise general co-ordination in the interest of general public policy. If it is to do that it must be suitably composed in order to be able to exercise those powers.

We raised two objections to the composition of the Council as originally proposed. First, it was overweighted by one section of the industry, the area boards. Secondly, there were not enough people on it who could take an independent view of the industry and could think of the development of the industry as a coordinated whole, both internally and in a proper relation to the general policy for capital investment and the expansion of energy and industrial programmes.

9.0 p.m.

We therefore said that we must first bring in more independent people; we must increase the numbers of the Council. As we cannot, without introducing individous distinctions, reduce the number of the area board chairmen who are members of the Council and we accordingly have to retain 12 representatives of the area boards, we must therefore increase the total number sufficiently to balance the representation of the area boards.

If we are to do this job at all we should do it properly. There is not much point in saying that we will add one, two, three or four more and stop there. If we recognise the principle as being sound we should go the whole way, and see that in total there are at least 12 other people to balance the 12 representatives of the area boards. That is the first thing that we are seeking to do by our Amendments—to see that there is a proper balance in the composition of the Council.

The second thing that we are trying to do is to ensure that there are sufficient persons on the Council who are representative of the general national interests that ought to be concerned in the direction of this very vital industry. They should he persons capable of independent judgment, not affected by sectional interests within the industry, but coming from outside it. Secondly, they should be persons experienced in particular types of work and in particular fields, whose experience will be available in the general directing body of this industry.

I thought that the Minister had recognised that both these principles were sound ones. If the Minister recognises the soundness of the two principles which we advocate—an increase in the number of members and a change in character of the Council—I can see no reason why the Government should not go the whole way and accept our proposals in full.

Mr. Renton

We have had an interesting and useful discussion on these Amendments and the Opposition have made their point of view perfectly plain. Since the Committee stage, with my noble Friend, we have gone very carefully into all these points about the precise composition of the Electricity Council. As has been acknowledged, we have already gone some way towards meeting hon. Members opposite in their point of view, and indeed our hon. Friends as well, because it was on both sides of the Committee that somewhat similar suggestions were made about slightly expanding the Electricity Council.

We do not consider that there is any magic in the total numbers of the Council. What is important to consider is what each member of the Council is to do. What we are proposing is a council which shall consist of a chairman and two deputy-chairmen, both of whom are independent, plus three independent or up to three independent members. Normally there will be three.

Mr. Warbey

When the Parliamentary Secretary says that normally there will be three, is he saying that it is the Government's policy that they will, in fact, normally appoint three?

Mr. Renton

We shall normally appoint three, but we would rather not be compelled always to have three members there, because a technical difficulty arises when there is a vacancy. If we are obliged to have three members there all the time, we have to fill every vacancy as quickly as possible with almost anyone we can get, instead of waiting for the right man, who may very well be known to be available in, shall we say, six months' time. It may be very well worth while waiting for him. We are out to get extremely eminent people from all walks of life to fill these important independent posts on the Electricity Council and we feel that it would be wrong to have placed upon the Minister an obligation to keep the posts continuously filled, which would be the technical effect of the Opposition Amendment in so far as it requires the Minister to have those three members always there.

Mr. Hayman

The hon. and learned Gentleman said "man", but I take it that he would not exclude women in certain circumstances.

Mr. Renton

The right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) will correct me if I am wrong, but I have always understood that under the Interpretation Act "man" includes "woman."

Sir F. Soskice

Embraces woman.

Mr. Renton

I am obliged. It used to be the law of this country that husband and wife were one in law and that that one was the husband, but when we say that the expression "man" embraces "woman," I think we mean that a woman is equally eligible with a man when Parliament says that a man must be appointed.

I do not think we should quarrel on mere total numbers. We have acknowledged that if it were right to fill the Electricity Council up to any particular number because there was a specific purpose in having such a number, we should not object to the number. But let us look at the numbers here. As the Bill was originally drafted, the Council could have consisted of fifteen or sixteen members. It is now proposed by the Government that it will consist of twenty-one members, except during a brief—we hope not too long—interregnum while waiting to fill appointments. There is therefore not very much between us.

What is the purpose of these independent members? We acknowledge that they have a most valuable task to perform. As has been said, the board chairmen will normally be experts, and we want men of independent minds to help them, to guide them and to help the industry. The question is whether we shall have enough if we have six altogether, including the chairman and two deputy-chairmen. We say that six is enough and that nine is going a little too far. That is all that is dividing us.

There is, however, one further point which I should honestly face. The difference between six and nine is accounted for to a great extent by the Opposition's suggestion that three out of the nine should be drawn from persons having shown capacity in industrial, commercial or financial matters, or the organisation of workers. It is interesting to note that lawyers are not among these people.

Sir F. Soskice


Mr. Renton

The right hon. and learned Member says "Shame", and he would not expect me to dissent from his comment. Indeed, it would be a very great pity.

It is always best to illustrate these arguments bluntly by mentioning individuals, and that is what I propose to do. For example, the right hon. and learned Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross) is now at the disposal of private enterprise, and private enterprise is very lucky to have him, but, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had been available, under the Amendment we should not have been allowed to appoint him, and I think that would have been a pity. I do not think that, so far, the right hon. and learned Gentleman can be said to have acquired experience in industrial, commercial or financial matters, or the organisation of workers. It may be that after some months he will have acquired such experience, but because the right hon. and learned Member for Newport and his right hon. and learned Friend have sometimes got business men out of difficulties, that does not mean that they are persons of industrial, commercial or financial experience.

Mr. Palmer

The hon. and learned Gentleman was good enough to mention my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Helens (Sir H. Shawcross). I quite appreciate that under the second of our Amendments the appointment could not be made, but surely it could be made under either the first of our Amendments or the Minister's Amendment. My right hon. and learned Friend could be one of the three independent people without definite qualifications.

Mr. Renton

That is splendid. There is even less argument between us. It just shows the virtue of the Government's Amendment, which gives the widest possible choice, which is what we have always been aiming at. Also, it is what the Herbert Committee recommended for its council, which was to have very much broader and stronger functions in terms of executive powers. And although we have not accepted the Herbert solution for the structure of the Electricity Council in terms of powers, and therefore have not accepted the solution as to its constitution, we feel that we are entitled to "borrow" the Herbert advice as to the qualifications of independent members and to leave the door completely open.

Let me point out that we have no prejudice whatever against any of these estimable people having capacity in any of these things. The fact that the present Government have appointed as chairman of the National Coal Board a very eminent trade unionist, that they have re-appointed to various boards of nationalised industries various members of the trade union movement, and, indeed, have made many fresh appointments, especially among part-time members of the boards, reveals that we are just as keen about this matter as are hon. Gentlemen opposite.

To summarise the position, I would simply say that we reckon we shall have sufficiently strong, independent advice at the head of this industry if we have six independent people in addition to the 15 chairmen and other members of boards who will be on the Council. We feel that it really would be overloading it and perhaps even make it difficult for the independent members to find enough to do, if we were to appoint yet three more of them. I am sorry that there is this difference between us, but, as I say, my noble Friend and my right hon. Friend have given close consideration to the matter and regret that they cannot meet the points of view put forward.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)

I beg to move, in page 3, line 21, at the end to insert: (b) the Minister shall also appoint one of the Chairmen of the Consultative Councils of the area boards to serve on the Electricity Council. I move this Amendment with a certain amount of trepidation as I was not on the Standing Committee, but I am doing so because it has been represented to me that, leaving out the points which we have just been discussing, there is no consumer representative on the Electricity Council. I think all those hon. Members who served so long on the Committee will agree upon the great use that these consultative councils have been. In the South-West we can certainly say that they have given service to[...]consumers as good as that given by any other area—perhaps better.

As was written to me by a member some time ago: As you know, one of the main reasons for the progress in our wok on behalf of the consumers in the South-West has been because the South-Western Electricity Board and the Council have built up a spirit of confidence and trust with the closest working co-operation, resulting in no decisions being made by the Board without the Council's knowledge and support; and on many occasions Board papers, with facts and figures have been discussed by the Chairman with our Tariff Committee, and subsequently with the whole Council, before any final decision has been reached. This seems to show that this body is most useful.

9.15 p.m.

For two reasons it would be excellent if we could have just one of the chair-men to the consultative councils in rotation to represent the consumers' interests. The independent members of the Council may represent all kinds of other interests, but it is the consumer who pays, and it seams to me that the type of consumer who otherwise would not be represented could be represented if such an appointment were made.

There are two reasons why such an appointment should be made. First, the consumers would know, so far as the representative was able to tell them, what was going on in what otherwise might be a rather remote body in which they would not have much say and of which they would not have much knowledge. Secondly, people like the chairmen of these consultative councils who are responsible and capable people would be able, in some cases, to put forcibly the views of the consumers to the Electricity Council.

Mr. Mawby

I beg to second the Amendment.

The Herbert Report has quite a lot to say on the subject of consultative councils. One matter with which that Committee was concerned was the fact that so few people were aware of the existence of consultative councils and of the work that they were doing. Paragraph 447 states: The effectiveness of consultative councils should not be measured merely by reference to the number of grievances which consumers have felt concerned enough to bring to the attention of the councils. In our view the very existence of the councils has served as a constant check on the area boards … It goes on: For the councils to concentrate on consumers' complaints alone would not in the long run be to the general benefit of consumers. It would be useful if a representative of the consumers' councils could be a member of the Electricity Council, for more publicity would be given to the existence of the consultative councils and to the work that they do.

There then arises the problem of the selection of a representative from the consultative councils. It would be rather difficult to hold an election among the 12 areas to decide which representative should go on to the Electricity Council. Therefore, it would probably be better if the appointment were made by the Minister from those whom he considered, upon proper advice, to be the best persons to carry out this duty; or perhaps it would be more fair if the arrangement were carried out over the whole of the country on a rota basis.

I do not know whether the acceptance of this Amendment would be contrary to the Amendment in page 3, line 47, to insert a new subsection (3). I understand that the chairman of a consultative council is also, in an ex officio capacity, a member of the area board with which he is connected. If that is so, I would rather hope that, even if this Amendment cannot be accepted, at least the Minister, in selecting the number which he is allowed to select, will certainly not neglect the fact that there are, as members of consultative councils throughout the country, able people who can not only show great experience of the industry but also great experience of consumers' problems as they have arisen over the years in the particular areas which they represent.

I hope that this matter will be looked at very closely, and that, if this Amendment would not tie up with the others, the Minister will bear in mind the services which could be performed by one of these people, from whichever area he decides to choose one.

Mr. Hayman

I desire to support the Amendment, because I believe that the consultative councils have made a very great contribution to this smooth working and development of this great nationalised industry. From the beginning, when nationalisation took place, the chairmen of the consultative councils were co-opted members of the Electricity Board, and I think that the tribute that has been paid, both by the Minister himself and by the Herbert Committee, to the work of the area boards is to some extent attributable to the smooth working between the consultative councils and the area boards.

As the Parliamentary Secretary himself pointed out in Committee, these bodies are not merely consumers' councils. They are consultative councils and statutory bodies. It seems to me, therefore, that when we are now considering this fresh legislative development in the history of this industry, it might be quite a good experiment to see that the chairman of one of these consultative councils is a member of the Electricity Council, and would then be able to bring to the work of that important body the experience which he or she may have gained in the work of the consultative council and area board.

As the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) said, this might require other Amendments to the Bill, but, at least, if the Minister accepted this Amendment, he could arrange for suitable further Amendments to be made in another place.

Mr. Palmer

We see no particular objection to this proposal, if it is possible to work it from the administrative point of view. In fact, I think that as a matter of general principle it adds strength to what we have argued from this side of the House and in Committee that—the council needs to be more than just made up of those who are doing the everyday work in the industry.

There is a danger—and this has been argued before—that if we are not careful the council might develop slightly too much of a syndicalist outlook, that it is running the industry for its own purposes, and, therefore, might have a tendency to think that it really knows what is best for the consumer, instead of the consumer being able to voice his own point of view. In so far as the chairman of a consultative council serving on the Electricity Council is a symbol of the consumer, it seems to me that, subject to getting over the administrative difficulty, there is a great deal to be said for it.

I note with interest that the hon. Members who are supporting this Amendment both represent constituencies in the South-West, which is a very fine part of the country, where I myself was born. I cannot help feeling that they are trying to retrieve a little of the honour which was lost in our deliberations upstairs by Conservative Members for the South-West when they did not give the support we thought it merited to our new Clause in favour of assisting rural electrification in a positive fashion. That was very close to the hearts of electricity enthusiasts in the South-West, and the banner had to be carried by my right hon. and hon. Friends alone. It is quite evident that hon. Gentlemen still feel a little conscience-stricken, and it may be that they are, on that account, giving support to this Amendment, which makes what is, in itself, a generally acceptable proposal.

Mr. Renton

First, I should like to join with hon. Gentlemen who have paid tribute to the work of the consultative councils. It is voluntary work, except for the work of the chairmen, who are paid as part-time members of the area boards in each case. Their work has been very faithfully done.

Unfortunately, we are not able to accept the Amendment, for reasons which I hope the House will agree are sound. First, under the 1947 Act the consultative councils were given an area basis for their work. No national consultative council was set up and of course neither that not anything like it is proposed by those who are moving the Amendment.

The consultative councils have a duty to consider matters affecting consumers in each area. We must recognise the fact that circumstances vary considerably between different areas. The local character of consumer representation is brought to bear on the work of the industry through the fact that the chairman of the consultative council is a part-time member of the board. It would be quite wrong, therefore, for members of consultative councils or consumers in the country as a whole to feel that they are remote from the working of the industry.

What does the Bill do in respect of area organisation and central organisation? It certainly does not centralise. It moves towards decentralisation and regional autonomy. If we were now to aim at something like central organisation of consultative council work, we should be running contrary to the main tenor and purpose of the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) hit the nail on the head when he referred to the difficulty of deciding which of the various consultative council chairmen would have to be chosen. We feel that one's choice, although it might be acceptable to some of the colleagues of the person chosen, might not be acceptable to others. The one chosen would, after all, be experienced only in the work of his own area. We have there a quite formidable difficulty presented to the Minister in deciding which of the 12 consultative council chairmen ought to be chosen.

I hope, however, that it may be some consolation to my hon. Friends who have moved the Amendment and to the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) to be reminded of the fact that, in the First Schedule to the Bill, in page 29, we have put forward a procedure whereby consultative councils may make representations to the Electricity Council. It would be out of order for me to go into that in detail, and it has been fully discussed in Committee. There, at any rate, is an opportunity for consultative councils to let their views be known, by a quite direct process, to the members of the Electricity Council. Therefore, there need be no feeling of remoteness.

9.30 p.m.

One further point which I should like to add is that as each consultative council chairman is on his or her area board and as the area board chairmen are on the Electricity Council, there is a further contact between the consultative councils and the Electricity Council. For those reasons, I am afraid that we are unable to accept the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made: In page 3, line 22, leave out "two" and insert "three".

In line 24, leave out "member" and insert "members".

In line 40, leave out "either" and insert "any".

In line 47, at end insert: (3) A person who is for the time being a member of an Electricity Board shall not be eligible to be appointed by the Minister by virtue of paragraph (a) of the last preceding subsection to be a member of the Electricity Council, whether as chairman, deputy chairman or otherwise; and, notwithstanding anything in the last preceding section or in any other enactment, a person who is for the time being a member of the Electricity Council so appointed shall not be eligible for appointment as a member of an Electricity Board.—[Mr. Renton.]