HL Deb 13 August 1913 vol 14 cc1902-10

Debate on the Amendment moved on Report yesterday resumed (according to Order).

The following amended Amendment stood on the Paper in time name of the Earl of Craven—

Clause 6, at end insert the following new sub-sections:

"(2) The Postmaster-General may lay down along the railway, and maintain and use cables, mains, lines, and apparatus for transmitting electrical energy for the purpose of working and lighting the railway and for use in any part of any post office building in communication with the railway by means of a shaft or in the buildings of the Post Office in or near St. Martin's-le-Grand and Queen Victoria, Street in the city of London and Mount Pleasant Clerkenwell or in any extension of any such building within a distance of fifty yards and for the purpose of general telegraphic (including telephonic) communication.

"(3) The Postmaster-General may transmit, transform, and use for the purposes of this Act electrical energy generated or transformed at any Post Office generating station or sub-station, and for the transmission of such electrical energy may lay down and maintain all necessary and convenient cables, mains, lines, and apparatus, but nothing in this Act shall authorise the Postmaster-General to use such electrical energy for lighting or heating any part of any post office building other than the buildings and extensions of buildings mentioned in the preceding subsection.

"(4) The Postmaster-General may enter upon and open and break up streets and other public places for flu- purpose of laying down and maintaining cables mains lines and apparatus—

  1. "(a) from any post office generating station or sub-station to the railway; and
  2. "(b) for any distance not exceeding fifty yards for the purpose of connecting any portion or extension of any such building as is referred to in subsection (2) of this section with any other portion or extension thereof or with any other such building as aforesaid;
subject however to the following provisions and restrictions, that is to say:—
  1. "(a) He shall with all convenient speed complete the work on account of which he opened or broke up the same, and fill in the ground and make good the surface, and generally restore the street or place to as good a condition as that in which it was before being opened or broken up, and carry away all rubbish occasioned thereby;
  2. "(b) He shall in the meantime cause the place where the street or public place is opened or broken up to be fenced and watched, and to be properly lighted at night;
  3. "(c) He shall pay all reasonable expenses of keeping the street or public place in good repair for twelve months after the same is restored, so far as such expenses may be increased by such opening or breaking up.

"(5) The Postmaster-General and any company, authority, or person having power under any Act of Parliament or Order confirmed by Parliament to supply electrical energy may make and carry into effect agreements and arrangements for the supply of electrical energy to the Postmaster-General for the purposes of this Act, and for executing any works or providing any apparatus necessary for the purposes of such supply, but nothing in this subsection shall authorise any such company, authority, or person to break up the surface of any public street or place.

"(6) The Postmaster-General shall invite tenders for the supply of electrical energy for the railway from the companies and local authorities who are empowered to give such supply, and if he is satisfied that, taking all the circumstances into account, an appreciable saving would result to the Post Office by taking a supply from any such company or local authority, the Postmaster-General shall do so."—(The Earl of Craven.)


When your Lordships had this Bill under discussion last evening it will be remembered that there was a difference of opinion as to whether the Amendment moved on behalf of His Majesty's Government should be agreed to, and as the result of a conversation it was suggested to the noble Marquess who leads the House that he should modify the Amendment to some extent and bring up new words this afternoon. There are a certain number of printed copies of such new words so proposed upon your Lordships' Table, but I do not know that all the members of the House have had an opportunity of considering them. In any case I do not propose to discuss them as I am not responsible for the words, but to invite His Majesty's Government to explain the meaning of the alterations in the Amendment as it is now on the Paper.


My Lords, I understand that the actual wording has been the subject of general negotiation and that there is reason to suppose that the words as they now stand will meet with general approval. But I think in a case like this we may not unfairly ask the members of the Select Committee who considered this Bill whether, having seen the words which are now suggested by His Majesty's Government, they think that they fairly meet the objections which were taken by the Select Committee. I see present more than one noble Lord who was on the Committee by whom this Bill was considered, and I am sure your Lordships would wish in a case, like this to be guided by their opinion and also by the opinion of the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees. I understand that the present wording covers all that it is necessary should be taken into consideration, and that the circumstances which the Postmaster-General is to take into account are those which affect actual economy in money.


The noble Earl has accurately stated the position in which we find ourselves. There have been discussions during the last hour with regard to the drafting of subsection (6) as it now stands on the Paper, which I have no doubt is intended to carry out the undertaking which was made yesterday. The first point on which discussion has focussed has been the words, "The Postmaster-General shall invite tenders for the supply of electrical energy for the railway." Your Lordships will, of course, realise that the decision of the Committee went further than the supply of the electrical energy for the railway alone. The clause covered the supply of electricity for other purposes. I am informed that the only new supply that would result from this Bill if passed in this form, in addition to the railway would be that to five post offices, and that those five post offices could only be reached by the Post Office themselves through this railway, and therefore it is practically certain that whoever supplied the electrical energy for the railway would have to supply these post offices unless they continued to be supplied by outside companies. The word "railway" is defined in a very wide manner at the end of the Bill, and I have no doubt that the words as drafted would be as wide as is desirable.

But as to the other words "taking all the circumstances into account" I confess I feel some difficulty in being satisfied with their inclusion in the subsection. The words are "and if he is satisfied that, taking all the circumstances into account, an appreciable saving would result to the Post Office." If it were quite certain that the circumstances were merely circumstances of saving, I should be satisfied; but I feel there is danger under the present drafting that the circumstances might be circumstances of general policy. It might be sufficient for the Postmaster-General to say to himself "It is my settled policy, and I believe it to be desirable that all the electrical supply should be in My hands." I do not believe that this is tile intention of the Postmaster-General now, but I am afraid that under the actual words of the proposed new subsection (6) might find himself in that position, and I do not think it is a desirable position in which to put him in view of what is now happening. I should myself have liked it best if those six words had not been included in the subsection, unless they could be altered and it could be made clear in that alteration exactly what is in the mind of the Post Office. But, of course, I am subject to the guidance of what your Lordships desire in the matter.


I am in rather a difficulty as I have only just seen these amending words; but after the manner in which the case of the Post Office was put before the Committee I think that anything which limits rather than extends the powers of the Post Office is desirable. I am extremely anxious that effect should be given to this proposal in a sense that will make it obvious that the Postmaster-General has to establish the economy of the plan which he proposes, and with that view I support the Lord Chairman in thinking that the words which he suggested should be struck out should be deleted. There is a very great difference between a private undertaking and a public undertaking. The private undertaker is brought to book at the end of a year by a profit and loss account. The public undertaker is subject to no such test. Therefore it is the obvious duty of Parliament to insist, in the case of any undertaking by which a Government Department becomes the manufacturer, that the plan as put forward by the Department should be an economical one. I, for one, was not satisfied from the evidence put before the Committee that that was the case. On the whole I prefer that the Bill should stand in the shape in which we passed it. But in view of what has been said I am perfectly content to agree to the Amendment if the words referred to by the Lord Chairman are omitted.


I had an opportunity of discussing the matter yesterday with my noble friend Lord Newton, the Chairman of the Select Committee by whom this Bill was considered, and who is unable to be here to-day. So far as the general principle is concerned he and I concur. We are prepared to accept the course now proposed, since it entirely vindicates the action taken by the Committee of which we were members. With regard to the words in question, I also agree with the Lord Chairman and with the noble Lord who has just spoken that it is desirable that they should be omitted. The impression conveyed to me was that the only question which had been considered by the Post Office was whether by this scheme a Departmental saving would be effected, and I am afraid that if these words are included that consideration will be given undue weight. That is to say, there may not really be given adequate consideration to whether there would be a real saving, but weight would probably be given to the fact that if the Post Office undertaking is given this added load it would effect some saving on the present basis. For that reason I venture to think it would be desirable to eliminate words which might lend themselves to allowing such considerations to arise. It should be laid down that there must be a definite actual saving by obtaining the supply from the Post Office generating stations rather than from companies or others.


I must apologise to the House for not having been here when this discussion began, but I was detained elsewhere on business which I found it impossible to leave until the moment that I did. I am glad to find that this proposed new subsection meets in its general bearing the objections which were raised by various noble Lords to the clause as it stood, and I hope it may be assumed, therefore, that the House will agree to its insertion. As regards the question of the particular words, the matter is not one of the first importance, although I have no doubt that the Post Office would prefer that the subsection should remain in the form in which I have it here, on the ground that the terms are such as would ordinarily be inserted in a clause of this kind where, for instance, a private enterprise was concerned.

The noble Lord on the Cross Benches (Lord Gorell) has drawn a distinction between a Public Department and a private company in a matter of this kind, and, as I understand it, it is desired by him and by other noble Lords that the Subsection should read thus— and if he is satisfied that an appreciable saving would result to the Post Office by taking a supply from any such company or local authority, the Postmaster-General shall do so, leaving out the words "taking all the circumstances into account." On that I do not quite follow the argument which the noble Lord on the Cross Benches used, because he, if I understood him rightly, stated that the question was not so much whether the saving was to the Post Office or a saving to the public generally and to the general finances of the country; yet the words "to the Post Office" appear to be unchallenged. Surely it must be the fact that if the saving is to the Post Office it is also to the finances of the country as a whole. What the particular bearing of such a saving may be on the special estimates which the Department may bring forward is a purely domestic matter which concerns the relations of the Department with the Treasury, but the thing that concerns us and the public is what the saving may prove to be as a whole. I confess I do not see that there would be any risk in retaining the words "taking all the circumstances into account"; for this reason. The whole transaction, after the interest which has been aroused by the action of noble Lords upon it, is bound to take place in the public eye. It may be assumed that Question after Question will be asked in another place as to what precisely is occurring, what tenders the Postmaster-General has received, what the amount of those tenders may be, and what the saving thereby would be as compared with the Post Office supply. Therefore I venture to think that what my right hon. friend does or does not take into account in arriving at a conclusion that there is a saving will be fairly well known to the public, and in those circumstances I cannot see any real risk in retaining the words. At the same time I am not disposed to lose the clause for the sake of these words, although I think that the omission of them shows a mistrust of Departmental action which, perhaps, is hardly worthy of your Lordships' House.


I was not in the House when this clause was proposed, but I have had the advantage of reading it since, and I hope that the House will support the Lord Chairman in moving the omission from subsection (6) of the words "taking all the circumstances into account." Those words, if they mean anything, mean a whittling down of the clause and leaving it more and more to the entire discretion of the Postmaster-General as to what he will do. Surely without those words quite sufficient is left to the Postmaster-General, because he is to invite tenders and to be satisfied that an appreciable saving would result to the Post Office. I confess that if I had been on the Committee and this clause had been placed before me I should have considered that the clause as drafted, without those words, almost left it to the Postmaster-General to do what he liked. I venture to hope that the noble Earl will insist upon the omission of these words


I should like to state, in order to put my attitude clearly before your Lordships, that my fear is that these words, if left in, will apply to things other than savings. That is the reason why I do not like the inclusion of these words.


Surely our object is to make this new clause as unambiguous as possible. What we desire to say to the Postmaster-General is that he is to make the best bargain he can for the public, and he is accordingly desired to satisfy himself that an appreciable saving will result to the Post Office by taking a supply from a company or a local authority. Surely those words by themselves are quite sufficient without the addition of a direction that he is to take all the circumstances into account. The words are apparently harmless enough, but they are open, I think, to this objection, that they really suggest the idea, as the noble Earl the Lord Chairman put it just now, that the Postmaster-General is to look outside the immediate circumstances of the case and to search for other subsidiary considerations which really ought not to weigh at all in the case we have to consider. I think, considering the view expressed by the members of the Committee who are here present to-night and by the Lord Chairman, your Lordships will do well to accept the new subsection (6), leaving out the words "taking all the circumstances into account."

On Question, Amendment agreed to, with the deletion from subsection (6) of the words "taking all the circumstances into account."

Clause 18:

Compensation for damage by working.

18.—(1) In addition to the provisions of the enactments incorporated with this Act with respect to compensation for lands taken or injuriously affected, the Postmaster-General shall make compensation to the owner, lessee, and occupier of any land, house, or building which is injuriously affected by reason of the working of the railway (including the working of lifts and any other works in connection with the railway), notwithstanding that no part of the property of such owner, lessee, or occupier is taken by the Postmaster-General:

Provided that all claims for compensation under this section shall be made within two years from the commencement of the working of the railway, or within two years from the time when any substantial change is made in the weight or size of the rolling stock used on or in the method of the working of that part of the railway where the injurious affection is alleged to have arisen, and all such claims shall be settled by arbitration.

(2) An arbitrator under this section may with the consent of all parties concerned hear together any class or group of claims under this section.

(3) For the purposes or this section the expression "land house or building" shall be deemed to include mains pipes valves plugs syphons and other apparatus of the Metropolitan Water Board and of the Gas Light and Coke Company and any electric lines and apparatus of any company authorised under the Electric Lighting Acts 1882 to 1909 to supply electrical energy within the administrative county of London.


In the absence of my noble friend Lord Derby I beg to move the Amendment standing in his name, to substitute "five years" for "two years" at the beginning of the proviso to subsection (1). From the conversation which took place the other day your Lordships will be aware what my noble friend's point was, and on his behalf I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Clause 18, page 16, line 9, leave out ("two years") and insert ("five years").—(The Duke of Devonshire.)


This Amendment appears to have been suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Derby, under some misapprehension as to what the intention of the promoters of the railway is. The words as they are in the proviso run— Provided that all claims for compensation under this section shall be made within two years from the commencement of the working of the railway. It seemed as though the noble Earl was under the impression that the commencement of the working of the railway meant the commencement of the works on the railway. That, of course, is not the case. The two years is from the time when the railway is actually working and in full operation, and it certainly does seem to the Post Office—and I confess I should have thought it was fairly clear to anybody—that two years would be a sufficient period in which to determine whether the actual working of the railway and the running of these curious little trains or trolleys in a tube caused any nuisance to those living in the houses near the route of the line. In these circumstances we are not prepared to accept the Amendment, and I cannot help thinking that were Lord Derby present and could hear the explanation which we have given he would not desire to press his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


Before the Motion to read the Bill a third time is taken, I would ask your Lordships to make three small Amendments, which I can assure you are practically nothing more, except in one case, than setting right misprints. In page 52, line 4, the words "to prevent effectually" should read "to effectually prevent"; and in page 64, lines 4 and 5, I propose to omit the words "or to be acquired." I understand that that was agreed to in another place, but through a mistake in copying from one Bill to another the words were included in error. Then I have an Amendment in the Fourth Schedule, to substitute the number 26 for the number 25; this number occurs in a series of even numbers, designated as such. I move that these Amendments be agreed to.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Amendments agreed to.

Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended): Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons: Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 184.)