HL Deb 30 April 1918 vol 29 cc873-92

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill, the object of which is to provide, by developing the waters of Loch Laggan and Loch Treig, further power for the aluminium works at Kinlochleven, in Inverness-shire. The Bill is promoted by the British Aluminium Company, Limited, who are already carrying on work in the counties of Argyll and Inverness for the production and manufacture of aluminium. These works are carried on under the authority of Acts of Parliament obtained in the sessions of 1901, 1904, 1908, and 1910. It is desired to increase the production of aluminium at the works, and consequently further water power is essential.

It is proposed to take the water from a point which will result in the development of 25 per cent. more power than would be possible at any other point. The diversion of the water which is required will be only from one valley to an adjoining valley. The development will take place in the same county and in the same district as that through which the water now flows. The works and any population which may result will be wholly in the county of Inverness. That county, and the district committees and the parish councils of that county, will get the whole benefit of the rates which may follow. The production of aluminium is what has been called a key or pivotal industry. It is certainly a most important one at the present time, and I venture to suggest that every encouragement should be given to it. It plays a very large part in modern warfare. Without it many munitions of war, notably aircraft, would be impossible. The present output in the country is inadequate for war purposes, and it is even likely to be inadequate for peace purposes.

The works which it is sought to authorise by this Bill will be commenced as soon as possible, but it is not expected that they will be completed for two or three years. They will provide for the employment of a large number of people, and that fact, I think, is very important at the present time. There will be a great number of demobilised soldiers who will require work, and no doubt they would far rather have work in their own county. In all a good many thousand men will find employment in the construction of these works, and when the works are completed I understand that the factory which will be crected will require permanently some 1,500 or 2,000 workmen. I believe that the various Committees which have been sitting recently are anxious that all encouragement should be given to those key industries, and in the Report of the Committee on Commercial and Industrial Policy After the War, of which my noble friend Lord Balfour was Chairman, you will find on page 64 the recommendation that these industries which have already been described as key or pivotal should be maintained in this country at all hazards and at all expense. I think this is some reason why we should press forward a proposal of this character, and not necessarily wait until the war is over.

The requirements for aluminium, as I have said, are great, and I think that the sooner work can be commenced in an undertaking of this sort the better for the country and for those who would be employed. I understand that many Government Committees have considered reconstruction proposals. I venture to think that this Lochaber scheme is preeminently one that satisfies the conclusions which have been come to by these Committees. What is sometimes of great importance to consider in regard to private Bill legislation is the question of finance. I do not think that this will occasion any anxiety so far as this Bill is concerned. The British Aluminium Company were the pioneers in this country of the utilisation of water power on a large scale in the production of aluminium. They have successfully overcome the difficulties which are common to the establishment of a new industry, and I am sure they can easily finance the scheme which is now before your Lordships' House.

I understand that the Bill has the support of the Government, especially of the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Munitions, and the Ministry of Reconstruction, and I think that in view of the interests involved it is very desirable that it should receive the careful consideration of a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. I do not know whether it is necessary at this period—I believe I have a right to reply later in the debate to criticise the objections which have been taken to this Bill. I cannot help thinking that there is an answer to nearly all of these objections, and I trust that your Lordships will give me an opportunity later of mentioning these to the House. I only ask the House to sanction the Second Reading of this Bill and allow it to receive the careful consideration of a Committee. I do not, think this House can be the full judges of a question of this sort, as it depends largely upon scientific and other evidence. That evidence should be carefully sifted by a Committee of the House, and on those grounds I ask your Lordships to agree to the Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Chilston.)

LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH had given notice, on the Motion for the Second Reading, to move "That the Bill be read 2a this day six months." The noble, Lord said: My Lords, I rise to offer some reasons why I think the House will do wrong if it assents to the proposal just made, and allows this Bill as it stands to be read a second time. I wish to get rid of one idea before I go to the real substance of what I have to say. I want to make it quite clear that this is in no sense a selfish opposition. No one will object to the use of national resources in the way of water supply for national purposes and national objects, but in my opinion it must be on a properly-thought-out plan and should not take piecemeal, as this Bill proposes to do, valuable resources from one valley and one community for the benefit of a private company. There may be interference with sporting rights and with the amenities of very beautiful district, but all these things would have to give way if we were certain that it was necessary in the interests of the nation and of the best use of our national resources that the sacrifice should be made. The noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading attempted to make a point against me in respect of a quotation from the Report of the Committee on Commercial mind Industrial Policy After the War. I adhere to every word he quoted. But the point which underlies it all is this, that the conservation of national resources must be on a national plan, undertaken after due consideration, and must not be done piece by piece for the benefit of a private company, however rich, however energetic, or however useful in other ways.

The first point I want to make is that the proposal now before the House does not make the best use of the water. The Bill as it stands deals only with the matter from the point of view of a private company, and only for private profit. From my own experience I believe I may say without fear of contradiction that in three respects this Bill makes proposals which are absolutely without precedent, and which have never before been put before your Lordships' House; it is contrary to the public and national interests, and it is unjust to the local public and private interests of the valley from which the water is taken. The object of my remarks will be to make good those three statements. It will be common ground that the real advantages of water supply is this, that it can be used for generating power and that in its use it is neither consumed nor does its value diminish after it has performed MINT work at the top of the valley, and it can be used again and again for many different purposes as it proceeds down the slope to the sea, and its use does not interfere or disfigure the country side. I am afraid I must use distinct and strong language with regard to this proposal, and say that it is a deliberate violation of all the principles which have hitherto been accepted in dealing with these matters. The water is made to run in a reverse direction through many miles of pipes and tunnels to a remote district. In this course it cannot be used in the valley to which the water belongs by nature, and the scheme will disfigure a large part of this district, while its capabilities for human residence and development will be seriously damaged. The Bill gives this private company the power to divert water from the valley to which it belongs to another valley for commercial purposes and for profit, and no sufficient compensation is provided.

The noble Viscount said that the valley was practically the same valley. It is not so. It is a different valley, and an inferior valley for human residence. The glen to which the water is to be taken is not so extensive in its lower districts, and if you are going to develop the resources of the country I say that you cannot do as much in the glen of Kinlochleven as you can in the glen above Fort William. The Bill would also deprive the district of Fort William of all the benefits of its water supply. Every public interest in that district is opposing the Bill. There is not a single voice supporting the proposal. No reason has been given to us. The Bill gives no reason, and the statement of the noble Viscount in its support gave no reason, why water should not be used in the same watershed as that to which the water belongs. It might be used there for manufacturing, industrial, agricultural, or domestic purposes. There are better sites in the valley from which the water is being taken, more suitable on natural grounds and also with railway communication already made. There is no such communication in the valley to which the water is intended to be taken, and this in itself is a serious disadvantage.

But apart from the merits of the Bill, which may be placed before a Committee, I say without fear of contradiction that it is absolutely without precedent in the history of private Bill legislation to give powers such as these to a private and profitmaking company. The work proposed will destroy the beauty and the amenities of the district, with disastrous results to all below. The River Spean itself will be made for a certain number of miles, 7 or 10 miles, a dry ditch, and a Bill which raises these highly contentious matters should not be allowed to proceed in present circumstances. Large numbers of those who are interested are absent on military duty; others are engaged on national work, and it is absolutely impossible to organise the opposition which is necessary to oppose an important Bill of this kind. In addition, there are large and important questions of general policy involved. The point is this, whether a private company trading for profit should be allowed to get the unused water power of the country into its own hands. I am strongly of the opinion that the present time is not a suitable one for troubling Parliament with such a large and important question. I am equally certain that, if raised, it should be raised as a general scheme and not raised piecemeal as is done by this Bill.

It was known locally that Government Departments were studying the water supply of this district last autumn. It has been since rumoured—and I think the report is well founded—that at one time the Ministry of Munitions wanted to use the water power in this district for a certain purpose. I have been informed upon high authority that the Board of Trade also had a scheme. It was believed in the district that one or other of these Departments, or some other agency, would promote a scheme along with this one, and this stilled opposition, because the people wanted to see the alternative scheme. It was not until the Notices for this Bill were published that it was found that there was no alternative scheme, and therefore the local people are confined to the duty of opposing, having no opportunity of putting forward any scheme of their own to save for themselves the water of their own district. It is quite obvious to any one who knows the practice of Committees of your Lordships' House that although you may oppose a proposal that is made you cannot put forward and run along with your opposition any competitive scheme of your own.

I want to make it quite clear that Lochaber and Fort William raise no question on principle against the use of the water power for the development of national undertakings, but they object to its diversion away from their district and its monopolisation for the benefit of a small number of private persons. I have said that this is without precedent, and I believe I am right in stating that except under statutory powers to a statutory company or body wafer is never taken away from one watershed to another for purposes of this kind. A municipality or a town council may take water for a public supply, and has often been allowed to divert it from one watershed to another, but it is absolutely without precedent to allow a private company to do so for private profit. If it is necessary—and I hold with the noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading of the Bill that it is necessary—to conserve our national resources, let it be done on a comprehensive scale. Let us look all round and see what is the best use that can be made of a district, and let whatever is done be done upon a settled scheme of policy. Surely it is a reasonable principle that the population resident in any of the various districts should derive a fair share of the benefit from their local watershed. It is their natural appanage. I know from personal knowledge that the Fort William district is at least as suitable for all these purposes—I believe I might say more suitable—as the district to which the water is to be taken.

There is a certain mystery as to how far the Government are concerned in this Bill. No doubt the noble Lord who represents the Board of Trade will tell us something about it in the course of the discussion. But there has been no opportunity for the people to learn what has taken place. If arrangements have been come to, I think that those arrangements ought to have been made public at a much earlier stage, in order that they might be criticised and examined from a neutral point of view. The effect so far as the Bill shows is to give an absolute monopoly for all time of this valuable water power to a private company. The noble Viscount did not say—he knows that it would not be the case—that this Bill could be of any use for making aluminium for use in the present war. He put it very mildly: it would take two or three years to do this work.


Ten years.


The Bill asks for ten years, and in these clays work of this kind will probably take much longer than is suggested. It must therefore be common ground between us that no real work can be done in this matter until after the war, and that it can be of no use to help us in winning the war. The public advantage is in my opinion a mere pretext to make a large gain of private profit to those who are concerned.

I have detained your Lordships longer than perhaps you may think worth while, but there are two large questions of principle involved in this Bill which cannot really be considered by a Private Bill Committee of your Lordships House. In the first place, no compensation for water is provided by the Bill, and there is no precedent for a Water Power Bill of this kind being passed without compensation water unless the parties interested in it have agreed. In this case it is proposed to force the Bill through without provision of any kind, notwithstanding the opposition of those concerned. In the second place, the promoters are not a public authority; they are not even under statutory powers. If they had to raise the money they would have to do so under the Limited Liability Acts. The Bill itself does not authorise, or provide for the raising of capital. Those concerned would not have to give security under the Lands Clauses Act that the whole capital would be subscribed before the powers of tile Bill were put into force.

On all these grounds it seems to me that Parliament will do wrong if it authorises a scheme of this magnitude, and puts into the hands of a company constituted as tins one is the power to proceed with the works in circumstances under which the company would not necessarily give any security about raising capital. It might commence, the works and then abandon them, and no one would be responsible, and the injured landowners and people would be absolutely without remedy. It is true that the company are constituted under the Limited Liability Acts, and that they have the powers of such companies to increase their capital, but that is by resolution of the shareholders. That leaves the matter entirely in their own hands, and no power can compel them to do what under statutory obligation they would be obliged to do. I make a strong point of this, that if the House passes this Bill as it stands it will make a wholly new precedent in regard to this method of legislation.

I do not know whether any of your Lordships have had sent to you the statement which I hold in my hands. It is said to be a statement in support of the Second Reading of this Bill. In the first paragraph there is one sentence which I think is likely to lead to misapprehension. The works to which this water power is to be taken are not the old works. They are works which are wholly new. For that reason there is no justification that I can see why they should not be established in the valley to which the water belongs. Then there is something which I can only describe as camouflage. It is about giving work to demobilised soldiers. My Lords, that can be done in one valley as well as in another, and it is no reason for taking a choice in favour of this Bill. There are other sentences— The latent lower of the waters involved must be developed sooner or later. Granted. But everything depends upon the method under which it is done, and this seems to me a wrong and unjust method. In the middle of the paragraph in the second page it is stated— The flow in the River Treig will not be materially diminished, and whilst the dry weather flow in the River Spean will be reduced, the reduction will not be such as to prevent the passage of salmon up that river. I cannot understand how any one can make that statement. It is perfectly clear to me—and this is confirmed by those who have longer knowledge—that at least 7 or 10 miles of the Spean River will be absolutely dry. There are other points involved in this which cannot be fully considered by such a tribunal as a Committee of your Lordships' House, and I venture to say, for the reasons have given, that it will be extremely unfortunate if your Lordships make a precedent by giving this Bill a Second Reading.

Amendment moved— To leave out ("now") and to add at the end of the Motion the words ("this day six months").—(Lord Balfour of Burleiqh.)


My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I state shortly the history of this Bill since it has come under my cognisance, and, in the first place, if I state to your Lordships the course taken by my Department in regard to Bills of similar character. At the very outbreak of hostilities the Lord Chairman, in view of the necessity of economising the national resources and in anticipation of what he felt would be the judgment of this House, gave an instruction to all Parliamentary agents to the effect that during the war Bills for large works likely to be opposed were not to be brought before Parliament unless the works or the purposes of the Bill were calculated to add to the national resources in the prosecution of the war. I am glad to have the opportunity of saying that the great railway companies and other promoters have loyally co-operated in this suspension of Parliamentary contests. All ordinary schemes for new works are in abeyance, while on the other hand extensions and new works designed for the immediate production of munitions of war have been readily sanctioned by Parliament. Consequently, when this Bill was introduced in the present session, three questions arose for my consideration—What are its objects? If it is passed, will is serve any immediate war purpose? And if not, is it seriously opposed?

And now as to the Bill itself. Your Lordships will have heard from my noble friend behind me that the Bill is promoted by the British Aluminium Company, a prosperous company which owns and operates large works at Kinlochleven, on the borders of Argyll and Inverness, constructed under Parliamentary authority, dating back to 1901. The company is an ordinary limited liability company which, although producing an article of national importance, is operating, as I understand, solely for the profit of its own shareholders. The objects of the Bill are the construction of extensive new works for the increase of water power for the production of aluminium. The works are estimated to cost at least it £1,500,000—a moderate estimate, I think; and they involve the diversion of the West Highland Railway, the diversion of county main roads, the damming back of the waters of Loch Laggan and Loch Treig, as well as the diversion of the River Spean, embankments, the construction of miles of tunnelling, and other heavy work.

Your Lordships will readily recognise that an increased production of aluminium for the purpose of the war is an object of national concern, and any proposals for that purpose would receive immediate and favourable consideration in this House. But the question I had to ask myself was whether the Bill, if passed, could possibly affect the supply of aluminium during the war. It must be granted that for works of this magnitude both a large capital and ample labour are essentials. It may be that the promoters could raise, even at the present time, the capital required, though this may be open to doubt. But no doubt whatever can be entertained on the question of labour. In view of the deficiency of Labour itappears to me to be an absolute impossibility that time works proper could be taken in hand until after the war, and perhaps not until some considerable time after it.

On the remaining question, the opposition to the Bill, I found that it was opposed not only by many landowners, but also by local authorities, the County Council of Inverness, the Lochaber District Council, the provost and magistrates of Fort William, and the two parish councils directly concerned—those of Kilmallie and Kilmonivaig. As regards the landowners' opposition, I cannot but regard it as a hardship that men who may be serving in the war, or who, if not actually bearing arms, are almost certainly occupied otherwise in war work, should be compelled to come here to engage in an expensive Parliamentary contest in defence of their interests at the present critical time, unless the Bill could be shown to have war urgency behind it. With respect to the local authority opposition, I have received a letter from the County Council of Inverness which, I think, will impress your Lordships as showing the difficulties and the inexpediency of proceeding with proposals of this kind in war time. The County Cleric writes that a special meeting of the County Council was held to consider the Bill, and he proceeds— In consequence, however, of so many members of the Council being absent on military duty or engaged on national work, and of the present restriction on travelling in this county, which makes it almost prohibitive, the meeting was attended by only twenty-four out of fifty-five members of the Council. Those present, however, unanimously passed the resolution of which I subjoin a copy, and I was instructed to draw your Lordships' attention to the Council's protest against the Bill, as it involves great issues to the county, and, if proceeded with during the war, the Council may be precluded from having these issues fully laid before Parliament. In these circumstances I entertained very grave doubts indeed as to whether the Bill ought to be allowed to proceed. I conferred on the subject with the Chairman of Ways and Means in the House of Commons, and found that he fully concurred in my view. We had, however, been informed that both the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Munitions were in favour of the Bill passing, and I thought it, proper to obtain in a more definite form the views of those Departments. To my inquiry the Board of Trade replied that they regarded the proposal as deserving of the immediate consideration of Parliament, notwithstanding that it might not be possible to make much progress with the works during the war. In writing to the Minister of Munitions I pointed out that, having regard to the difficulty of raising capital and obtaining labour, it seemed highly improbable that the works could be seriously taken in hand for some years, and I invited his opinion as to whether arty war urgency could be claimed for the Company's Bill which would justify the expense of a Parliamentary contest at this juncture. The Ministry of Munitions replied— I am to state for the information of your Chairman of Committees that, while it is unlikely that the works proposed will be completed before the conclusion of hostilities, Mr. Churchill considers the scheme so important in the national interests that it should be proceeded with at once, notwithstanding the objections mentioned in your letter, the force of which Mr. Churchill fully appreciates. The letter further states that the postponement of the Bill till next session would, in Mr. Churchill's opinion, be most unfortunate. Your Lordships will observe that the Minister in fact admits that the work cannot be completed until after the war, and that he says nothing as to the cafe at which it can be even begun. I confess that I view with some surprise the attitude of the President of the Board of Trade and of the Minister of Munitions with regard to this Bill. They seem content to see at this time of stress a large expenditure of private funds on a heavy Parliamentary contest the issue of which is problematical, and which, even if favourable to the promoters, can bring no advantage to the country in the war; and I respectfully wonder how far their views will be endorsed by their colleague in the Government, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I desire to add that there are practical objections to the sanctioning by Parliament of any scheme winch cannot be begun until after a lapse of years. In the course of time existing conditions may change, and it may then be found possible that the work could be proceeded with on different lines, or, perhaps, not be executed at all. In all the circumstances of the case I cannot feign surprise that the Second Reading of the Bill should be opposed in this House. I have given your Lordships all the material facts relating to the Bill so far as they have come to my knowledge. I can express only my decided view that, in the admitted absence of any war urgency, the consideration of the proposals in this Bill may well be left to a future session.


My Lords, I am instructed by the Board of Trade to put their views on this measure before your Lordships' House; but before I do so I may, perhaps, be allowed to remind the House that what you are being asked to do to-day is not, as my noble friend Lord Balfour Burleigh remarked in one passage of his speech, to pass the Bill, but merely to give it a Second Reading and to send it to a Committee upstairs in order that the evidence of the promoters and of the opponents may be there heard and weighed.

I think that the noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading stated so fully and concisely the objects of the promoters that it is not necessary for me to dwell upon them at any length; but perhaps I may be allowed once more to remind your Lordships of the extreme value to the nation of this metal, aluminium, which it is proposed to deal with tinder the Bill. Aluminium in former days, I believe, was comparatively little used, but its production has increased rapidly since the year 1900. In that year the five principal producers of aluminium in the world had an output of about 5,000 tons; but in 1911 this output had risen to 91,100 tons, only a small proportion of which was produced in Great Britain. Aluminium is an essential material, as the noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading pointed out, not only for war purposes but also for such important industries as tine manufacture of motors and of aeroplanes and of other plant needed in increasing quantities in the commercial and chemical world. I think, therefore, that your Lordships will hesitate before von put so definite a bar upon increasing the production of aluminium in this country as you would impose if you refused to give this Bill a Second Reading to-day.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, spoke as if this scheme were one that had not been carefully considered, or had not received proper consideration from the Board of Trade or other Departments connected with His Majesty's Government. That is not the ease. There was a rival scheme for setting up works at or in the neighbourhood of Fort William. The Ministry of Munitions originally investigated the possibility of developing this water power at Fort William, and a scheme was worked out for that purpose. When the Aluminium Company's scheme was brought forward the engineering merits of the two proposals were closely compared by experts, and the Ministry were advised that the scheme of the company was on the whole to be preferred. They accordingly informed the company that they would support the Bill. I do not know whether there are many noble Lords who have closely studied the question of the refining of aluminium, but those who have are probably aware that an enormous development of horse-power is required to be derived by water for refining the raw product; and according to the calculations that leave been given to me it appears that the scheme of the Bill would enable something like an extra 10,000 horse-power to be obtained at the works at Kinlochleven than could possibly be derived at Fort William. The Government were consequently advised that the Kinlochleven scheme, which is in the Bill, is preferable on the ground, amongst others, that it enables the available power to be utilised more fully.

The Board of Trade are in favour of the Bill, as I have said, on the ground that an increase in the production of aluminium is of national importance. I do not think that your Lordships will expect me to go into any of the questions with regard to the beauty of the scenery being destroyed, or the salmon fishing in the river Spean being less good than it was before, for I am sure that you will realise that considerations of this kind are of comparatively little importance in these days. In the view of the Board of Trade there are many points in the Bill which are suitable for discussion in Committee, and the President, who has very carefully examined into this question, is anxious that the Bill should be read a seemed time.

It is true, as Lord Balfour of Burleigh indicated, that certain arrangements have been made between the Board of Trade and the promoters for the insertion of two clauses in the Bill. Those clauses I will mention. The first is to provide that there shall be an annual payment by the company to the State in respect of the water power developed; but I am instructed by the President of the Board of Trade to say that he will be willing that this payment, instead of being made to the State, should be made to the public authorities who represent the ratepayers of the Spean Valley in respect of compensation for the loss of water power in their valley which they would sustain if the Bill passed into law in its present form. The second clause that has been arranged by the Board of Trade provides that if the whole water power is not eventually used by the company either for the production of aluminium or for other purposes of national importance steps should be taken fur placing the surplus at the disposal of other persons.

Lord Balfour of Burleigh spoke of this Bill as being of an unprecedented character. I have no doubt that the noble Lord is right in saving it is unprecedented that the water from one valley should by sanction of Parliament, be diverted to another for the ordinary purposes of what we are accustomed to call in this House Water Bills; but I respectfully urge upon your Lordships that this is a proposition of a very different kind from ordinary Water Bills such as your Lordships' House is accustomed to deal with. It is a Bill for developing a great industry—what the noble Viscount, behind me has very correctly described as a key industry— one of those industries which, when your Lordships a few months ago passed the Non-ferrous Metals Bill, you, I think, almost unanimously, agreed that it was the duty of the State to develop and foster in every way. I venture to agree with the noble Viscount behind me that this Bill would be one of those measures which, as we read the Report of the Committee on British Industries, of which Lord Balfour of Burleigh was Chairman, the Government ought certainly to support.

As I have said, the President of the Board of Trade himself has examined into this question very carefully, and the Ministry of Munitions are anxious that the Bill should be given a Second Reading. The arguments for and against it can be heard upstairs, and I think most of your Lordships who have had a seat in this House for any length of time will agree with me that it is certainly a very unusual course to throw out a Bill of this kind on Second Reading. So far as I remember, that is a course which is very rarely pursued in this House; and it is a course which, if your Lordships think proper to take on the present occasion, will he taken, as I have said, against the advice of the public Department concerned, and against the advice of the President of the Board of Trade who has very carefully examined into the matter.


My Lords, I came down to the House without any knowledge of this subject beyond what I had seen in certain papers which had been distributed to me in common, doubt, with others of your Lordships. Indeed, the only prepossession which I had on the subject, was that which the noble Lord who has just spoken mentioned towards the close of his speech—namely, that in nine cases out of ten, or indeed if you like ninety-nine out of a hundred, it is desirable that a Bill should be read a second time and go upstairs and be examined by a Select Committee. In my view, however, this is the exception, for the reasons which have been stated by noble Lords in the debate, and which have not, I think, been controverted by the noble Lord who speaks on behalf of the Board of Trade.

There is clearly no need to repeat any of the arguments advanced with great force by Lord Balfour of Burleigh, but I desire to call attention to one statement in the paper circulated by the promoters. In paragraph 2 they say that the production of aluminium is a key industry—that aluminium is essential in modern warfare, and that the output in this country of aluminium is insufficient even for peace requirements. All that, my Lords, is perfectly true. But it is possible to use a certain amount of cant in speaking of key industries as it is in speaking of other desirable things. I have had some occasion to examine into key industries, and if I were asked to define what a key industry is in the sense in which it was used, I think, in the first instance in the Economic Conference in Paris and since freely used in connection with my noble friend's inquiry, I should define it by saving that it is an industry in this country which a convinced Free Trader might be, and indeed ought to be, prepared to subsidise or protect in any manner that can be shown to be necessary to keep it in existence and make it flourish.

It may be that the production of aluminium in this country ought to be so protected—less obviously, perhaps, than in the case of some other metals and other natural products, because, as we know, one of the great sources of supply is France, from which the raw material will, we hope, be obtainable whatever fiscal arrangements may be made after the war. But one is brought to this further conclusion—that if key industries of this kind are to be subsidised from national sources in one way or another, speaking generally their production and their control ought to be in public hands and not exclusively for private profit. The promoters of this measure, I think, attempt to prove rather too much. They attempt to prove that this is a national industry, but they forget that the consequence of its being a national industry is not likely to work out entirely in their favour in the way they hope; and, my Lords, I confess I am greatly impressed by the reflection that apparently by common admission the particular project which it is desired to send to a Committee can have no effect in the production of aluminium a considerable and even a great number of years to come, and that therefore it really is not accurate to speak of this as being in any sense a measure demanded by the war. That being so, I confess that, I altogether fail to be convinced by the enthusiasm either of the Board of Trade or of the Munitions Department for this particular scheme.

It may be quite true that in the future, in the times of reconstruction, some great project for both increasing the output and making more easy the refining of aluminium may be necessary, not only in this particular part of Inverness-shire, but possibly in other parts of the United Kingdom. It may be also that this not inconsiderable water power ought to be put to this purpose. I say "not inconsiderable," because we have to face the fact that, as compared with Switzerland, or Norway, or other parts of the world, all the water power of the British Isles is, by comparison, an insignificant affair. If it is found possible to develop in the way some to of us hope the provision of electrical power from great centres throughout the British Isles, making use of our unequal stores of mineral wealth in the most economical way, it may be that the question of utilising water power will disappear almost into the background. Probably for such cases of considerable water power as Loch Laggan some use will be found either for the production of aluminium or in some other way, but it may be that the use of our national water power, such as it is, will come to be regarded quite as a side issue as compared with the provision of power on a large scale by electrical means. All this being so, I do not dwell on the points of opposition which might more properly be considered, I agree, in a Committee room—namely, the æsthetic considerations, the damage to fisheries, and damage to amenities. If the Bill were to go upstairs these would be matters which a Committee of your Lordships' House would be fully qualified to balance and to give an opinion upon. But my own feeling is that the points of principle involved are so important that the Bill ought not to be read a second time, and therefore I leave these points altogether aside.


My Lords, I entirely agree with what was said a moment ago by my noble friend Lord Hylton to the effect that in nine cases out of ten when these private Bills are before your Lords-hips' House it is much better to let them go to a Committee upstairs. I shall show in a moment why I think in the case of this particular Bill a different line of action is desirable. Nor, again, do I quarrel with anything my noble friend said with regard to the importance of the aluminium industry. Whether it can be described as a key industry or not I do not know, but I firmly believe that it is of great importance, and generally I am anxious not to stand in the way of any new industries which can be now started and which are likely to afford employment when this war is over. But I must say, having listened attentively to the speech of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh and the weighty observations that subsequently fell from the Chairman of Committees, I cannot come to any conclusion but that there is a very strong case now for refusing a Second Reading to this Bill.

I was glad that my noble friend did not rest any part of his case upon the resulting interference with sporting rights. At a moment like this one may treat considerations of that kind as negligible. Nor do I think any objection on the ground of interference with what the auctioneers call "amenities" should be allowed to prevail. I would willingly let any number of golf courses be swept out of existence, or desirable villa sites be spoiled, if I thought I could do anything to strengthen this country in the great struggle in which it is engaged. But objections of a very different kind are urged, and I think rightly urged, against this Bill. This Bill involves a violent disturbance of the natural features of the extremely interesting area of country which it affects. It involves the disfiguration of a very beautiful tract; it involves a violent interference with the rights of the resident population; and I must say, when I find this interference glossed over by such an expression as "the development of the waters of Loch Laggan," I think it is necessary to bear in mind that what is spoken of as "the development of the waters of Loch Laggan" means that the water supply of this valley is going to be forcibly annexed and carried over five-and-twenty miles in tunnels, and carried out of its own natural watershed into another watershed with which it has no geographical connection.

There may be a certain amount of sentiment in these matters, and I should be very sorry in a case of this kind to ignore sentiment altogether. There is a great feeling in many of these picturesque parts of Scotland of passionate attachment to the country for the very reason of its great beauty and interest, and I do not think we ought to do violence to that feeling. But there is a great deal more than sentiment in this. This is really a practical injustice which is bitterly resented, as far as I can make out, by everybody in that part of the country who has a right to be articulate upon the subject. I would ignore these objections if I believed that this Bill was going to help us in any way to wage the war which is now going on. It is evident on the face of it that the work on this enterprise is not going to be begun until the war is over, and it may be spread after the war over a period of ten years.

There is only one other objection that I will take, and I think it is a weighty one. It has been pointed out to the House that this is an attempt to deal piecemeal with a very great question which is still under the consideration of the Government—I mean the question of the proper way of dealing with the generation and supply of electrical energy in the country generally. I must say that if that question is to be taken up at all I should like to see it dealt with in a very different way from that in which it will be dealt with by this Bill. In these circumstances I do not think we should be justified in allowing an inquiry to take place which must be troublesome, prolonged, and expensive, and which must involve a great strain upon the attention of people who have plenty of other work to do in these days. Therefore I shall vote for the Amendment of my noble friend opposite.


My Lords, after the very strong expressions of opinion that we have received from the House I think I should be best consulting your Lordships' wishes if I, on behalf of the promoters, said that we would not proceed further on this occasion with the Bill. The objections made, especially by the Lord Chairman, show that your Lordships think that this Bill ought not to be proceeded with at all events this session. The last thing I wish to do is to place the promoters in the position of taking any action against the general sense of the House. Therefore with your Lordships' consent, and without making any reply, I ask to be allowed to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.