HC Deb 21 December 1960 vol 632 cc1315-35

12.35 p.m.

Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)

I propose this morning to say a number of unseasonable things about a number of people in and outside Scotland. However, perhaps the House will permit me to begin by offering our Christmas congratulations to the Joint Under-Secretary of State and to his wife on the birth of a son to them this morning. We apologise for bringing him down to the House on such an occasion.

Mr. Forbes Hendry (Aberdeenshire, West)

On behalf of Scottish back bench Members on this side of the House, may I echo the hon. Gentleman's felicitations to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Thomson

I want to deal with the demands that are being made that the Glen Nevis Hydro-Electric Scheme should not be carried out and that all future hydro-electric development in Scotland should be stopped. It is astonishing and tragic in some ways that such a campaign should be organised at all and astonishing that one should have to take up the time of the House of Commons in defending hydro-electric development, because the affairs of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board were gone into very thoroughly by this House a few years ago. Our own Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, under a Conservative Chairman, reported in 1957 in these words: … the 'history of the Board, developing from small-scale private enterprises to the point at which it now supplies power to 85 per cent. of the households and 55 per cent. of die farms in its area—at the same time assisting greatly in the industrial development of the Highlands—is remarkable and the Committee were impressed by it.… In the fourteen years of its existence, the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board has impressively justified the foresight of its progenitors. I should have thought that that decisive verdict would be enough to prevent the kind of frontal assault which is being made on the work of the Hydro-Electric Board in Scotland.

I have emphasised that this is not in any way a party matter. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. John MacLeod), who apologises that it is impossible for him to be here today, told me yesterday that if there had never been a Hydro-Electric Board his constituents in remote places like Torridon and Applecross would still be living in the age of oil lamps. On the last occasion that this matter came before the House an effort to stop a previous scheme was decisively rejected by the House by 122 votes to two. From where, then, are the objections to the new scheme and further development coming? Who is running the campaign? Are the objections coming from the elected local authorities in the area? Not on your life, Mr. Speaker!

The two main local authorities connected with the Nevis scheme, Inverness County Council and the Fort William Council, are both behind the scheme. The truth is—and this is why I have raised the matter today—that the real headquarters of this campaign against Highland development are not in the Highlands or even in the Lowlands of Scotland. They are to be found in London, in the offices of an organisation known as "Aims of Industry." The title may be familiar to some hon. Members. It is a typical example of one of the great anonymous empires which are so characteristic of the times in which we live and whose job behind the scenes is to try to manipulate and, indeed, manufacture public opinion in this country. It is a propaganda organisation operated on behalf of big business. It boasts that last year it gained 150,000 column inches of free editorial space in 900 journals in this country. According to one book on the last General Election, it spent £107,000 in the twelve months before the General Election on assisting the Government's return to power.

One of the things which the Highlands have no shortage of is committees, commissions and organisations of all sorts. It is said that there are twenty official and semi-official committees in the Highlands, but I have no knowledge that "Aims of Industry" is one of the organisations helping the Highlands. Who, then, is "Aims of Industry" helping in running this campaign? What is the link between this organisation and the campaign against hydro-electric development in Scotland? "Aims of Industry" is helping the Highland lairds and landlords, and also the big business interests who finance this organisation.

As far as my investigations go, the link is to be found in the person of a gentleman known as Colonel W. H. Whitbread. He is an English brewer and a Highland laird. He is a member of the Council of "Aims of Industry". He is a very busy man. As far as I can discover, he has 25 directorships, but none of them is in Scotland or in the Highlands or is in any way helping Highland development. He may be known to some hon. Members in this House, although not to me, as the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee of the Brewers' Society. He has three homes, one in Surrey, one in Wiltshire, and one in Ross-shire.

I do not confess to know how much time he manages to devote to his Ross-shire home, but the significant thing about the estate which he occupies at Letterewe, in Wester Ross, is that this estate is at present being surveyed by the Hydro Board to ascertain its suitability for hydro-electric development. Colonel Whitbread's estate is in the Loch Maree area, one of the loveliest areas of Scotland. It is scheduled for hydro development under the Board's Fada-Fionn-Maree scheme. This scheme will make another 125 million units of electricity available in the remote north-west of Scotland, where the problem of depopulation is particularly serious.

The public is entitled to know whether, to put it bluntly, this rich English brewer is using his high-powered London propaganda organisation to conduct this public campaign against Highland hydro-electric development as a convenient method of preserving his own private landed interests and those of his friends. We have a lurid history of absentee highland landlordism betraying Highland welfare over the centuries, but it looks to me as if Colonel Whitbread is adding a chapter of his own to this story.

How is "Aims for Industry" conducting its campaign? First, it had to find out where the Highlands were, so it sent an emissary—I am told, a Mr. T. A. Cutbill, who describes himself as editorial director of "Aims for Industry", from Fetter Lane, London. Mr. Cutbill visited Inverness. According to my information, his purpose was to discover and whip up pockets of dissatisfaction with the Hydro Board. He may, perhaps, be consoled to know that he is the latest of a long but rather ignoble lineage of agents sent up from London to divide and stir up dissatisfaction among the Highlanders. Anyhow, those investigations were made.

Then, the "Aims for Industry" organisation went into that operation at which it is particularly expert. These hidden persuaders started their campaign to brainwash the citizens of Scotland. Since midsummer, they have been supplying the Press with ready-made articles and so-called editorial comments, which have been used in whole or in part by local papers in the area of the Hydro Board. There can be no doubt that very few of the letters which have appeared in the Press supporting the attack on the Board have come from within the Board's area. There is reason to believe that some of the letters which have come from within the Board's area were not written by the individuals who signed them but were passed on to them from outside the area of the Board by friends who asked for signatures.

There was a need on the part of "Aims for Industry" for some sort of Scottish faÇade, what we know in political jargon as a front organisation, so "Aims for Industry" set up what is called the Scottish Power Investigation Committee, of which the ubiquitous Colonel Whitbread is a member. Its chairman is a Glasgow solicitor. One of the more unusual organisations which is a member of this committee is the National Union of Manufacturers. I do not know how strong the National Union of Manufacturers is in the Highland areas. I wish it were a great deal stronger. We could do with a great many manufacturers in the Highlands providing jobs. At the moment, however, I somewhat suspect its membership of this Committee. Amongst other individual members are Mr. Michael Baillie of Dochfour, a Highland laird who, in the Inverness County Council, tried to get an investigation made into hydro developments in Scotland and was defeated in his own county council by 32 votes to 7. There is also Major Macdonald-Buchanan who owns an estate at Scatwell, near Dingwall.

Supporting these landed gentry is the Scottish Landowners Federation. "Aims for Industry" should be congratulated by its subscribers upon enrolling such an influential pressure group. It was the Scottish Landowners Federation that launched the salmon poaching campaign on which, in due course, the Government gave way and which was followed by salmon legislation. Then, it was the Scottish Landowners Federation which played a big part in the pressure culminating in the Government producing the Deer (Scotland) Act. I hope we shall have an assurance from the Government today that the Scottish Landowners Federation's agitation against hydroelectricity will meet with a decisive refusal from the Government to give way on this issue.

I was pained to discover that amongst the organisations associating themselves with this Committee was my own old love, the Scottish Youth Hostels Association. It is somewhat unusual to find it in alliance with the Scottish Landowners Federation. I have no doubt that the mountaineers, climbers and walkers of Scotland meet occasional irritations from the Hydro Board. I should not have thought that they would compare with the dangers of getting shot in mistake for a stag during the shooting season.

I speak as a Lowlander who is a keen hill walker. As hon. Members will appreciate, there are many times in this House when one sighs to get out of here and away to the Scottish hills. But it is not right for me to ask that the Highlands should be sterilised into a sort of national park to suit my weekend convenience and my holidays. I am consoled to be supported in this view by the Lochaber Mountaineering Club, which is the only one of these outdoor organisations within the area of the Board. I am also consoled that the Scottish Tourist Board should be lending its support to the Glen Nevis scheme.

On the question of amenities, I recollect that when the Hydro-Electric Board was developing Pitlochry, in the neighbourhood of Dundee, there were the most dreadful fears of what would happen there. Today, as a result of the work of the Hydro Board, Pitlochry is a tourist attraction on a much greater scale than ever in the past.

I have looked as closely as I can into the amenity arguments about Glen Nevis and I have studied the evidence of a report which has been made by the county planning officer of Inverness, Mr. Calder. As far as I can see, the fears on amenity grounds have been, at the very least, greatly exaggerated. It is true that the walkers and hill climbers will find that a waterfall in the area will be cut in half, but it will be cut in half from a waterfall of 400 ft. to one of 250 ft., which still leaves a considerable waterfall and one which will now tumble picturesquely into a loch instead of merely into a meadow area. The walkers will lose a path, but they will get a new path and a new hut built for them by the Hydro Board. The motorists—those who are not active or interested enough to climb up on top—will find in Glen Nevis, as they have found in other hydro schemes, that their opportunity to enjoy Highland scenery will be greatly enhanced by means of the hydro scheme through the extension of the road which is to be constructed in connection with it.

On the question of amenity, I wish to refer to what I feel is the folly of the National Trust for Scotland in associating itself with this campaign. The National Trust for Scotland is an estimable body with worthy aims. It is one which depends a great deal upon public good will. It is wrong for it to get itself mixed up in this kind of political controversy. I have with me its latest bulletin, for December, the "Newsheet of the National Trust for Scotland". It is a tissue of inaccuracies on this matter. I simply do not understand the attitude of the Earl of Wemyss. I assume that most of the stately homes, which the Trust does good work in preserving, enjoy the benefits of electricity. I commend to the Earl of Wemyss words from the Highlands which, perhaps, carry more weight than mine. I quote from the Inverness Courier, which commented: Highland amenity is not just confined to scenery; it also embraces the modern amenity of electric light and power, an amenity without which the glens of the rural Highlands will, without any doubt, become more and more depopulated, the haunt only of the grouse, the red deer, and the landed proprietors and their wealthy sporting tenants and guests. As well as the amenity arguments, economic arguments have been brought against the Board's case. I propose to leave the details of these to other hon. Members who may have the good fortune to speak. I merely want to say this.

One of the things which is being said is that we should stop Highland hydroelectricity and get power from coal in the Lowlands. I do not think that this is sensible on economic grounds, but I would make this historical comment, that all too often in the past the welfare of the Highlands has been sacrificed to the interests of the industrial Lowlands. I speak as a Lowlander. I hope that in this case history will not be allowed to repeat itself, but that the Government will tell us that they have every intention of going ahead with the steady expansion of hydro-electricity, which is the only way in which the remoter consumers in the Highlands can go on enjoying the benefits of electricity. I yield to no one in my desire to preserve the beauties of the Highland scene, but I believe that what is far more important is to preserve the welfare of the Highland people, a task to which the Board has made a notable contribution. I hope it will be allowed to go on doing it.

12.51 p.m.

Mr. Neil McLean (Inverness)

I am sure that all of us who live in the Highlands are grateful to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thompson) for raising this matter in the House today. There has undoubtedly been a fairly widespread campaign in the Press, organised, perhaps, by the "Aims of Industry" and other people, which has led to a good deal of inaccurate, sentimental, loose thinking and loose logic, letters in the Press about hydro-electric schemes. The hon. Member has put the matter in its true proportion and I should like to associate myself with a good deal of what he said about the Glen Nevis scheme.

I think that when he was dealing with the campaign he allowed his natural Socialism to get the better of him. Just as the late Mr. McCarthy in America always saw a Communist under every bed, so the hon. Member seems to see either a brewer or a Scottish landowner under every bed. I should like to correct him, if I may, on one matter. He said that it was the landowners who were the ones who thought up and pushed forward and organised the pressure group to put through the Deer (Scotland) Act. I can assure him that it was very much the other way around. There was a great deal of opposition from the landowners, and not least from certain landowners who may be associated with this present "Aims of Industry" campaign, and they opposed the Measure. They perhaps succeeded in holding it up for a time. I think it was the N.F.U. which was keenest that that Measure should be pushed through.

Now I should like to say a few words about the Glen Nevis scheme which is in my constituency. The glen is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and unique glens in the whole of the British Isles, and all of us who live in the countryside hate to see the natural beauty of it changed and prefer it should be left as it is. On the other hand, people who say that hydro-electric schemes spoil the beauty of the glens should go to look at some of the glens where schemes have been carried out. They are still remarkably beautiful. I do not like interfering with nature, but to say that the schemes completely spoil the beauty of the glens is quite inaccurate. It is very difficult sometimes in discussing the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board and hydro-electricity schemes in the Highlands not to take sides violently one way or the other. It is the nature of people in the Highlands: he who is for me is for me, and he who is against me is against me. Very often the actual facts in these matters get completely out of proportion owing to the strength of feeling on both sides.

I personally feel, having discussed the matter with a number of people living in the area and being in touch with the local authorities, that the amenities in Glen Nevis will not be unduly adversely affected. Most of the local people also feel that, although the scenery may be changed slightly, the scheme will not really affect amenities, and the local authorities have, I believe, got an assurance from the Board that they will get their water supplies and so on.

I do feel, however, that there has been so much heat generated by this matter that it would be in the interests of the public as a whole, and, indeed, of the Board and of everyone concerned, if the Secretary of State were to set up an inquiry into this scheme, so that objections could be made in public. If this inquiry were held people could put forward their views in public and be confronted with the whole of the facts, and I believe that that would clear the air very much.

There is one question I would ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State, and it is on the question of cost. This scheme, I understand, costs about £4¼ million and will take four years to complete. The scheme is before Parliament; we have all had a chance to study it; but I think that with these schemes it is the duty of Parliament and the Secretary of State to look very carefully at the costs and to see whether they are justified in spending that amount of money. I personally think that on examination it will be found that they are justified, but I think we ought to be very careful to look at each of these schemes on its merits.

It is also very important to note that sometimes when figures are put forward the estimated costs are found to be far less than the actual costs, and I think that if we could have the correct figures of the estimated and actual costs of these schemes which the Board has carried out and the figures for the schemes in hand and compare them it would be a good thing for the public in general, because they would know how the money has been and is being spent.

I would like to pay a tribute to what the Board has done in the Highlands and is doing for the Highlands. It has brought electricity to so many of the outlying parts of the Highlands which would never have had it otherwise, and the first chairman, Mr. Tom Johnston, did a marvellous job, and the present chairman of the Board, Lord Strathclyde, is also doing a splendid job, in enabling the Board to go forward with its work.

I end, if I may, with one slight note of criticism of the Board, and it is that I believe that it ought to pay more attention at this phase of its history to what one may call consolidating the position. It has connected up many farms and outlying places, but there is still a small nucleus in some areas where there is as yet no electricity and this is a great hardship to the people there.

I know of several centres in Badenoch and Skye where the bringing of electricity would be of immense benefit, but the Board often asks some small crofter or farmer to pay £400 or £500 or £700 for the cost of initial installation, and it is far too much for them. I think that the Board—I believe it is doing this—should examine very carefully the methods by which it can bring electricity to the small pockets of the countryside where there is not yet electricity. It might be entirely a matter for the Board to finance the work, or perhaps the Secretary of State himself would be prepared to subsidise the bringing of electricity to those uneconomic areas, but this is a matter to which I would call the attention of the Joint Under-Secretary of State, because I believe it is of the utmost importance to the Highlands. After all, one of the Board's tasks was not only to produce more electricity there for the whole country, but to help the welfare of the people living through the development of the Highlands.

12.58 p.m.

Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Craigton)

I shall restrict myself to making only two points, because I know the Joint Under-Secretary of State wants some time in which to reply to the debate. On the point which has just been made by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. N. McLean), the question arises whether or no the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board should continue to be saddled with the responsibility of the high capital costs involved in supplying some of the very remote areas. We have to appreciate that this part of the Board's task is increasingly difficult, because the amount of money required to extend the supply of electricity to some of the isolated communities which are still without it is a tremendous amount compared with any charges that are likely to be recovered from the consumption of electricity.

I think the history of the Board over the last ten or fifteen years has been a remarkable example of self-help in Scat-land, since all this work has been done without a public subsidy. Let us face it, the consumers in some of the bigger centres of population which are served by the Board, for instance, Dundee and Aberdeen, have been helping to pay for electricity supplies to the more remote areas in the Highlands. The hon. Member for Inverness, referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson), mentioned his Socialism. I think that this electricity supply work is a remarkable example of Socialist in practice, and I would commend it to the hon. Member from that point of view.

My hon. Friend has done a considerable public service in exposing the false nature of the present campaign against the Board—this so-called Scottish Power Investigadon Committee. We have had for a considerable time in one form or another a continual campaign of denigration of the efforts of the Hydro-Electric Board. There is a constant trickle and sometimes a stream of letters in the Press complaining about the Board, some from the point of view that hydroelectricity is uneconomic and making comparisons with electricity produced by steam or diesel generation, and others from the point of view that the Board has been unmindful of the amenities of the Highlands. The Board has a first-class case on both these point.

I do not think that the economic case against the Board has been proved at all but the very opposite. It is a complete travesty of the situation to charge the Board with being inconsiderate in its approach to questions of amenities, whether of the national scenic beauty of the area or for fishing, walking and so on. The case for the Board is unchallengeable in the main on both these issues.

My hon. Friend has drawn attention to the fact that there are now appearing in the local Press in the Highlands and other parts of Scotland letters inspired by a nationally organised campaign but which purport to come from local inhabitants. I should like to see the Board, through its public relations department or however it organises these things, making a far more definite and courageous stand on these letters to the Press and other propaganda against it on this subject.

Hardly a month passes without correspondence in the papers about hydroelectricity. The people who defend the Hydro-Electric Board are not the Board itself but simply interested individuals. Why should not the Board do this for itself? It issued a Press statement on the Scottish Power Investigation Committee. As far as I know, it has not carried on from that statement but in many cases has allowed its detractors to have things their own way. I know that it is difficult for nationalised industries, because they are subject not only to detailed charges against their administration but to political attacks. I do not suggest that the Board should enter the political arena but where there are letters to the Press giving false figures of comparison between hydro-electricity and steam generation there is no reason why the Board should not answer the charges.

Why does it not do so? This is one of the few things on which the Board can be criticised. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will draw the Board's attention to this point and to the fact that a great many people in Scotland who are enthusiastic about the Board and extremely appreciative of the tremendous amount of good work that the Board has done since its inception would like to see it take a more vigorous and courageous stand. The organisers of the campaign against the Board are simply disgruntled individuals or people with some vested interest who want for some reason or other to have their own way.

1.5 p.m.

Mr. Forbes Hendry (Aberdeenshire, West)

It is very seldom that I find myself twice on the same day in almost complete agreement with the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson). I agree with his tribute to the magnificent social work done by the Hydro-Electric Board in Scotland and his deprecation of the campaign organised from the South against the Board.

I should like to make a plea on behalf of the people in the north of Scotland who still do not have the advantage of electricity. The Board has already connected over 100,000 uneconomic consumers. It has been able to do that by good economic planning but there are over 10,000 people who have not yet had electricity installed and a great many of them are in my constituency. Their only hope of getting electricity and the pleasure of switching on the light, watching television, working an electric iron or getting an electric fan installed is the Board, because hydro-electricity is one of the few valuable exports that we have in the North of Scotland.

There has been a great deal of talk about capital expenditure but when it is possible to sell electricity for over 1½d. a unit and buy it back for about .6d. this is very good business. If that profit were not made by the Board there would be no hope for people in my constituency who have been waiting for years for electricity.

Mr. Millan

Is the hon. Member talking about the cost of electricity purchased by the South from the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board? If he is, it should be remembered that before the electricity is connected to the consumer distribution costs and other costs have to be added.

Mr. Hendry

I quite agree, but there is still a profit and if it were not for that profit it would be impossible for the power to be connected to the uneconomic consumers.

The 1959 Report of the South of Scotland Electricity Board deals with this point and pays tribute to the tremendous value to the Board of hydro-electricity which it can switch on at peak times. It is not only good business for the north of Scotland but for the south of Scotland as well and the rest of the United Kingdom. It is one of our few valuable exports, and I feel very strongly against any people in Scotland or elsewhere who propose, without any real knowledge of the facts, to interfere with what the Hydro-Electric Board is doing.

There is a tremendous need in the north of Scotland and we are not asking for subsidies. All we ask is that we should be allowed to continue to put our own affairs in order and conduct them in the best possible way to make sure that in 1960 and 1961 people who have not yet been connected with an electricity supply will have the ordinary amenities Which are an every-day occurrence in the South.

1.9 p.m.

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

It is surprising that there Should be any need for this debate, but, as the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) has explained, a curious campaign has been launched against the Hydro-Electric Board, particularly in connection with the Glen Nevis scheme. I agree with nearly all that the hon. Member has said but I am sorry that he attributed sinister motives to "Aims of Industry" which I think is merely misguided in this matter.

Mr. Millan

Why should the "Aims of Industry" suddenly become misguided about the Highlands when it has never taken any interest in them before?

Mr. MacArthur

One might as well ask why the National Trust should be equally misguided in this matter.

I particularly regret the attack which the hon. Member for Dundee, East made on Colonel Whitbread. To get the whole matter in perspective, it would be useful to remind ourselves of the vast stretch of land covered by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. It is about one-quarter of the total land area of Great Britain. The population within that area is only 2½ per cent. of the total population of Great Britain. The average number of potential consumers per square mile is 19 compared with 195, or over ten times as many, for the rest of Scotland and 255 for England and Wales.

This gives some idea of the magnitude of the problem which the Board faces. Despite the enormous distribution problem which these figures illustrate, the Board now supplies nearly 90 per cent. of all the potential consumers within its area. Among these there are over 100,000 rural consumers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) mentioned, and these are mostly in the remoter parts of the Highlands and the Islands.

The cost of providing this rural supply is, on average, £350 for each consumer, and in normal commercial terms this would be a hopelessly uneconomic figure, for the Board has no chance ever of recouping this capital cost from these consumers. But the Board is bound by the Hydro-Electric Development (Scotland) Act, 1943, to provide electricity in these remote areas, and the fact that it has connected so many rural consumers at a relatively low total loss demonstrates the extent of its contribution to the improvement of social conditions in the Highlands and the success of its commercial policy.

The only way in which it is possible for this development to take place is by the sale of electricity to the South of Scotland Electricity Board. I am very much in agreement with what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) had to say, but it is not so much the consumers in Dundee, Aberdeen, Perth and so on who finance the heavy cost of connections in the rural areas as the sale of electricity to the South of Scotland, which amounts to about a quarter of the total units sold each year by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board.

Most people regard the electric light switch as a normal part of domestic equipment. Nevertheless, they can perhaps imagine what their life would be without the provision of electricity. Yet until recently this was exactly the mode of life which most people in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland had to endure. The transformation of private domestic life and community life which the production of electricity brings has to be seen and experienced to be realised. In my own constituency, the remote area of Glenshee has very recently been connected to the electricity supply, and the whole life of the area has changed. There are also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West has mentioned, remote areas such as Path of Condie in my constituency, where we hope electricity will be supplied before long. These areas represent the 10 per cent. of consumers who still have to be connected.

At present there are two main arguments in the campaign against the Board. The first is the financial argument. Basically it is that the cost per kilowatt installed in a hydro-electric scheme is about three times as great as that in a thermal scheme. But this is not the complete argument, because a thermal station has a life of only twenty-five years whereas a hydro-electric station dam and power station, though written off over a period of eighty years, actually has a life which is much longer than that—a life of continuing high efficiency at low cost. The running costs of a hydro-electric station are very low, and as the initial cost of the installation is written down, so the provision of electricity becomes cheaper.

The second argument is one based on amenity. It is natural that those who love the Highlands should be disturbed by the prospect of a dam being built in their favourite glen. But I think that these fears are often very much exaggerated. The Board takes great care to do as little damage as possible. Certainly in the course of building there are great scars on the countryside, but it is remarkable how quickly these are covered over by nature. I remember making an expedition on foot—in a curious enterprise with which the hon. Member for Dundee, East will have much sympathy—in order to view the Glen Affric scheme and the dam at Loch Beneveian. I went on foot from the West Coast of Scotland to Glen Affric, through beautiful Highland country and saw this great dam rising out of the glen. I was astonished not by the harm which it had done to the beauty of the glen but by the way in which it had somehow improved the aspect before my eyes. A dam cannot be hidden or camouflaged. However, the dam rising there in the midst of the Highlands is a symbol of strength. It signals somehow the new life and the new hope which should be welcomed by all those who have the interests of the Highlands and those who live there at heart.

1.16 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. R. Brooman-White)

I would begin by thanking the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) for their kind remarks at the beginning of the debate. We are also indebted to the hon. Member for Dundee, East for transferring our minds this morning from K.O.s to kW.s. The fact that we were earlier concerned with K.O.s has curtailed the time for this debate and I shall try to be very brief. I am sorry that some hon. Members who wished to speak have not been able to do so.

I do not think that the hon. Member for Dundee, East, in spite of some of his remarks, will expect me to make any new pronouncements on policy in this brief Adjournment debate. However, having said that, I must quickly add that this is not because of any lack of enthusiasm for the subject or appreciation of the fact that opportunity has been taken this morning to raise this subject. We are very glad that it has been raised because, as a number of hon. Members have pointed out, there is in the natural course of events bound to be a good deal of criticism of and argument about the activities of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. This is in no way, and never has been, criticism of the management and the personnel; but there is bound, in the nature of things, to be argument about locations and the scope of its operations, and if periodically the opportunity is not taken to state or re-state its record of achievement there is a danger that an unbalanced or unfair impression may gain ground in the country. Equally, we do not want to be unbalanced or unfair about a number of deeply-held objections to certain of the Board's operations on their merits in certain places and at certain times.

To deal first for the moment with the legitimate arguments and constructive criticism at times brought forward about some of the Board's operations, it seems to me that the arguments fall broadly under two headings. The first arises naturally from the nature of the terrain in which the Board works. We have two outstanding natural assets in the Highlands, water power and scenery, and, following the normal human desire to have one's cake and eat it, we want to develop the resources and we also want to conserve them. We want to exploit our water power without damaging our scenery. It is by no means easy to strike the right balance between these things, although there is fairly general agreement, I think, that up to the present the Board has made a pretty good job of it.

It seems to me that the second field of argument is also grounded on equally normal and widely applicable sets of reactions. It really is the usual effort to strike a balanced judgment between the benefits of quick returns on the one hand and the benefits of long-term assets on the other hand. Other forms of electric generation, as has been pointed out, take less capital and are more profitable in the short run. Hydro-electricity takes more capital to get going, but thereafter running costs become almost negligible.

As the House knows, a debate about the relative merits of costing and the economics of this can become extremely involved. One is easily led into a labyrinth of technicalities and statistics where the Minotaur of Kidderminster lies in wait for the unwary, and I hope that the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. N. Maclean), the hon. Member far Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) and other hon. Members who have touched on some of these technical points this morning, will absolve me, in the short time at my disposal, from pursuing these dangerous paths.

I have noted what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) said about the Board countering some of these arguments. He will appreciate that the Board's publicity is handicapped at the moment because of its statutory position in seeking approval for the Glen Nevis scheme. Argument is bound to arise on these matters and it is not always easy to strike the right balance.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East mentioned the Scottish Landowners Federation in a slightly controversial context. I have the Federation's memorandum. In paying tribute to the Board, it says: The achievements of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board since it was set up, in spite of circumstances never envisaged in the Cooper Report or in the Act, have been tremendous. The Federation praises the Board, and the memorandum continues with a reasoned and objective case which remains to be assessed.

Hon. Members have pointed out, and I am simply re-emphasising the point, that the Board has hitherto been developing the resources of the Highlands. It has been making a profit and using that money to make electricity available in the remoter parts of the Highlands. As the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire and the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West pointed out, this is obviously a good thing.

I will not take up the time of the House by going over and rehearsing the Board's record of achievement to date. The facts are well known. The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire and other hon. Members have mentioned various outstanding points in that record. The real problem that we face is that the demand from the Board's present consumers is steadily increasing at the rate of about 7 per cent. per annum. If the Board does not continue to expand its capacity, it will not be able to keep up profitable sales to the South and will not be able to keep up the development work which has brought considerable benefits to the North. The Board therefore proposes new schemes and these schemes inevitably give rise to the sort of objections and arguments to which I have referred.

The latest scheme is the Glen Nevis one to which the hon. Member for Inverness referred. We know that its publication has given rise to what we must admit is considerable controversy. Is it the right thing to do? Is it the right place to do it? There have been 28 formal objections from national organisations and private individuals, most of whom are concerned about the effects of the scheme on the amenities of the glen. These representations are being considered, and it would not be appropriate for me to comment now on the questions which these objections raise.

I will simply add that the objections are, of course, subject to the procedures laid down in the Hydro-Electric Development (Scotland) Act, 1943, as amended, and that after they have been considered by my right hon. Friend a public inquiry can be held. Moreover, as hon. Members know, before any scheme can become operative it has to be laid before Parliament and it may be annulled by Resolution in either House.

Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)

The hon. Gentleman is apparently trying to hold the balance between all these things. My hon. Friend was inquiring about the Government's attitude. Surely the hon. Gentleman can say whether the Government are firmly behind the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board in its attempts to bring more electrification to Scotland?

Mr. Brooman-White

All I can say is that various objections have been made to the new scheme, and that if these objections are maintained there is a statutory obligation to hold an inquiry to assess the merits and the demerits of the case. I think that it would be wrong at the moment to prejudge the conclusions of that inquiry in any way.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

Apart from objections to this scheme, can the hon. Gentleman say whether it is the Government's intention to go ahead in the long term with further hydro-electric development in Scotland?

Mr. Brooman-White

The benefits of hydro-electricity in Scotland speak for themselves, as does the necessity for developing the natural resources of the Highlands to the full, but these things have to be assessed in the general context of both the economics and the amenities involved. I am sorry that at present I cannot say more than that.

We are glad to have had this debate because hon. Members have set out clearly the background against which these current and very relevant considerations must be studied and weighed.

1.26 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)

In the two minutes available may I reinforce what hon. Members on both sides have said. They have paid glowing tribute to the performance of the Board, and they are extremely concerned because there is a possibility that if the present propaganda being waged against the Board spreads and gains credence the electrification schemes which hon. Members have said are so essential to their constituents will be stopped. I should therefore have thought that it was vital for the Government to express their view on the whole subject.

We know that standards of life in any country can be measured by the amount of horsepower available per head. The Board has a phenomenally good record. Tribute has been paid to the Board on the amenity side for not spoiling the beauties of the glens and for giving great consideration to that aspect of the development. There has not been a discordant note struck during the debate. In other words, there is complete unanimity in supporting the Board in what it has done. One therefore feels that one is entitled to expect the Government—I do not press the hon. Gentleman to do so at the moment—to take cognisance of this debate and to realise that, despite the propaganda which has been indulged in and which my hon. Friends outlined, there is a feeling that there should be a proper understanding by the public of the great job of work which the Board has done and of the future possibilities if the Board is permitted to carry on its work.

I think that that is the general feeling of the House, and I hope that the Government will not look on themselves as holding the balance. They have a great stake in seeing that the people of the Highlands in particular have the power which they need. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), who has unfortunately not been allowed to speak today, has said on many occasions that his constituents want more industries in the area. The provision of more industries depends on the supply of more electricity. We therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to consider this closely with his right hon. Friend and to tell us that there will be no going back by the Government in their support of the Board, a Board which has done everything which the House has asked it to do, and done it as regards amenities and everything else. We feel that the Government should be more specific. They should repudiate the propaganda levelled at the Board and give the Board their full support.

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