HL Deb 10 March 1898 vol 54 cc1187-90

The Motion of which I have given notice involves points of some considerable importance with regard to electrical legislation, but I think I can make the points clear to your Lordships in a very few words. First of all, I would premise by saying that up to the present time all electrical lighting undertakings have been sanctioned under the provisions of the Board of Trade Provisional Orders. Powers by means of Private Bills have not been allowed thus far with regard to electrical lighting undertakings, on the ground that it would be desirable that they should be kept under the control of the Board of Trade, and that the provisions with regard to electric lighting should be as uniform as possible. But, my Lords, under these Provisional Orders, and under the Electric Lighting Act of 1882, no powers are given for acquiring sites for generating stations compulsorily. Some difficulty has been occasioned in obtaining places in crowded localities for generating stations, and the question arises whether they should be free from liability as to nuisance. And also a question arises whether, if you are to grant compulsory powers of purchase, the same condition should not attach to electrical lighting undertakings as attaches to gas undertakings, in which case, under the Standing Orders of your Lordships' House, notice has to be given to owners, lessees of buildings or dwellings within 300 yards of the site of the work for which compulsory powers are asked. My Lords, these questions are involved in the first paragraph of the reference which I propose to bring to the notice of a Joint Committee of the two Houses. That paragraph runs as follows— Whether, notwithstanding the provisions of Section 12 (1) of the Electric Lighting Act, 1882, powers should be given in any cases for acquiring land compulsorily for generating stations; and, if so, under what conditions as respects liability for nuisance, notices to surrounding owners, and otherwise. The second and third paragraphs relate to another case. It is to the case of electrical undertakings that have found difficulty or inconvenience in obtaining sites for generating electricity within their own district of supply, and are anxious to go outside that district for sites to generate electricity, which they will supply within their own district of supply. Now, my Lords, that involves a somewhat difficult question in connection with the powers which the local authorities have of purchasing electrical lighting undertakings at the end of 40 years. It stands to reason, my Lords, that complications must arise, for if you have the distributing mains and the distributing stations in one district, which the local authorities would have to purchase after the lapse of a given period, you have your generating stations in a district outside the district of the purchasing local authority. My Lords, it is with the view of laying down some rules upon that question and on this point that I have framed the second paragraph of this reference— Whether compulsory powers of acquiring land for generating stations, if proper to be given in any case, should be given where the proposed site is not within the area of supply. Those are the two first questions I propose to have referred to this Joint Committee. The third question is one of a very much wider application, and really of very much more importance. A private Bill has been deposited this year in Parliament which would empower a company to purchase land for erecting a generating station—practically a great electric manufactory—in the middle of a populous part of the Midland Counties, and it proposes for a district comprised within a circle the radius of which would be about 26 miles, that it should supply electricity to anyone who chooses to take it from them. That area would include some of the largest and most flourishing towns in the West Riding of Yorkshire, Derbyshire, and several other counties. My Lords, I think it is a question whether it would not be desirable that electricity should be produced on a large scale, as probably it may be produced much cheaper on a large scale than on a small scale; but, at the same time, when you have a company of this kind starting, which would have these powers spread over, probably, a district containing 120 or 130 local authorities, interfering, possibly, with companies and local authorities who have been already authorised to supply electricity for lighting or motive power by Parliament or Provisional Orders, it does raise questions of very great complication and importance, which are bound to arise, especially when you consider the points which I referred your Lordships to just now—the power that local authorities have of purchasing electrical undertakings after a lapse of 40 years. The fourth point, my Lords, relates also to a new development of electrical enterprise, where the Company itself does not propose to use the electricity which it produces, but to supply it to other companies to use it, either for lighting or for motive purposes. That is to say, it will be proposed to establish a central manufactory of electricity, which will supply its current to any number of companies or local authorities or persons who want to use it for their own purposes, either as a motive or lighting power. The remaining clauses of the reference are as follows— Whether, in case of a generating station, however acquired, not being situate within the area of supply, power should be given for the breaking up of streets between the generating station and the boundary of the area of supply. Whether powers should be given in any case for the supply of electrical energy over an area including districts of numerous local authorities, involving plant of exceptional dimensions and high voltage; and, if such powers may properly be given, whether any, and what, conditions should be imposed—(a) With respect to system and plant, and to the construction and location of generating stations, in view of the powers of purchase conferred upon local authorities by Sections 2 and 3 of the Electric Lighting Act, 1888; (b) With respect to the relations of the promoters to other undertakers and to local authorities within parts of the area: Under what conditions (if any) ought powers to be conferred upon promoters seeking to supply electrical energy to other undertakers, and not directly to consumers. My Lords, I think that this brief explanation of the main objects of the reference which as on the Paper will be sufficient to show to your Lordships the great importance of the questions that are involved. I was in consultation with the authorities of the House of Commons and also with the Board of Trade on the subject, and, having regard to the fact that the Bills that have been deposited this year, those Bills to which I have referred, involve so large a departure from some of the principles that have, up to the present time, guided our legislation in these matters, it seemed to me and also to the authorities whom I consulted, essential that we should have an authoritative guidance as to the principles on which these Bills should be modelled. Five years ago the same difficulties arose with regard to the measure of protection which should be given to telephonic and other wires by high electric currents. This principle was then referred to a joint committee of the two Houses, and the result was very satisfactory. The principle was settled, clauses were framed, and these clauses have been introduced into all electric traction Bills that have been introduced into Parliament since that time, and, as far as I can hear, they have worked very satisfactorily. It is with a view, my Lords, of having principles laid down with respect to the questions to which I have referred that I venture to call the attention of the House to this matter, and to ask your Lordships to agree to the appointment of a Select Committee to join with a Committee of the House of Commons to consider and report upon the policy and principles which should guide our legislation in this matter.

Question put, and Motion carried.