HL Deb 29 July 1920 vol 41 cc640-4

Amendments reported (according to Order).

Clause 1:

Power to substitute new basis of charges.


had an Amendment on the Paper, after subsection 4 of Clause 1, to insert the following new sub-section— (5) If in any case the alteration, adjustment, or replacement of the burners in a consumer's appliances does not secure that the gas can be burned with safety and efficiency, the Board of Trade may, on the application of the consumer if they think fit, require that the undertakers shall at their own expense, and within such period as the Board of Trade may prescribe, alter or enlarge the service pipes and meters of such consumer. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I have put down this Amendment in the absence of Earl Grey, who withdrew certain Amendments in Committee in order that they should receive further consideration by the Board of Trade. I hope the noble Marquess will be able to accept it. If he cannot do so, I trust he will tell us, specifically, why it is that the Board of Trade decline to undertake the discretionary powers which it is proposed by the Amendment to confer upon them.


My Lords, the Amendment which has been moved by the noble Viscount is virtually the same as one moved by Earl Grey during the Committee stage with the object of placing upon undertakers a similar obligation to alter service pipes and meters in the event of an alteration of calorific value as is imposed in the case of burners. I promised to consider this matter carefully with the Board of Trade to see if it was possible for them to make some modification in the attitude which I had taken up on the Second Reading and also in the Committee stage. The question has since been discussed fully at the Board of Trade with a deputation representing the Association of Local Authorities not owning gas undertakings, and the Railway Companies' Association. The deputation's final proposal was that the Board of Trade should take power to call upon undertakers to replace service pipes where they appeared to be inadequate to carry a sufficient supply of gas of the calorific value which the undertakers proposed to supply, and this virtually is the effect of the Amendment now proposed by the noble Viscount.

I should like to point. out that the provision in the Bill as it stands carries out the recommendations which were made by the. Fuel Research Board, which were subsequently confirmed by a conference held on October 28, 1919, by the Fuel Research Board with the main interests concerned. I should also like to say that the London County Council and the Corporation of the City of London, who are always very watchful of the interests of gas consumers, have not raised any objection to the proposals contained in the Bill. The objections mainly come from the railway companies, and I shall endeavour—I hope successfully—to persuade them that this is really an Amendment which the Board of Trade cannot accept. The Board of Trade are of opinion that, even in this modified form, the proposal would impose upon undertakers a liability which it is impossible to define. That is the main difficulty, and in the opinion of the Board of Trade it must lead to endless disputes. The question whether a consumer's service pipes are or are not adequate to deliver a supply of a particular quality of gas is one which does not admit of a precise determination.

Pipes which are adequate when a normal number of burners are in use may be inadequate if the consumer chooses to use all his lights at once, or is desirous of putting on other lights or gas fires. It may be said then that the pipes which he is using are not adequate for conveying the necessary number of calorific values. Also, pipes may not be properly cleaned, and if they are dirty the noble Lord will recognise they are also inadequate. The possibilities of dispute are very great, and the questions at issue are not such as the Board of Trade should be called upon to determine. Indeed, if the Board of Trade were to be called upon to determine all the disputes which may arise it would necessitate employing a very large staff to go into all the questions which any litigious consumer might be desirous of raising. I think the noble Lord will see that the litigious consumer might really ask for the most extraordinary things in the way of altering pipes, and it would then be for the Board of Trade to alter practically the structure of his house in putting in new pipes, if it was decided that there was some point in the litigious consumer's desire.

The cases to meet which the suggested provision is designed are chiefly those of railway companies, who may have a large system of service pipes which are too small to carry a gas of low calorific value, and, secondly, the poorer districts in towns where the domestic pipes may be of small size. The view of the Board of Trade is that these cases can, and should be, met by provisions regarding pressure inserted in the Order relating to the undertaking. Under Clause 2 (2) they have power to specify different minimum pressures for different parts of the undertaking, or for gas of different calorific values, and they can, where the distribution system, or any part of it, is shown to be inadequate for the supply of gas of low calorific value, prescribe such increased pressure as would be necessary to maintain an adequate supply. There is no doubt that in practice the majority of these questions will be amicably settled on the application for an Order.

Generally, it must be borne in mind that under the new régime gas companies will only be paid for the heat units which they supply, and they are not likely deliberately to make it impossible for themselves to sell as many heat units as the consumers are willing to buy. I think the noble Viscount will see that, after all, this is a case where human nature comes in, and the undertakers are not likely to lose money in these transactions. Gas is paid for by the amount of gas supplied, and consequently it will be necessary for the undertakers to supply that pressure which will enable the consumer to obtain the gas he requires; and if the pipes are not large enough, with the pressure which is the statutory minimum, 1 think it is only reasonable to expect that the gas companies will make a point of giving so much pressure as will enable the amount of gas which the consumer requires for consumption in his house to go through the meter.

A vague general obligation to alter meters and pipes might very well deter undertakers from making any effective use of the provisions of this Bill, and I think the noble Viscount will realise that the main object of these provisions is to give a certain amount of freedom in the production of the best kind of gas, together with the conservation of coal. I think, if you are going to impose more conditions on gas undertakers than are necessary, that you will cramp the enlargement of the industry and deter undertakers from using their ingenuity and inventive powers for the purpose of producing gas at the lowest cost to the consumer, and in the most effective way. With respect to the replacement of meters, it involves very similar considerations, and I do not propose to detain your Lordships by giving the same reasons over again, which, in my view, and the view of the Board of Trade, make it impossible for us to accept the Amendment which has been moved.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2:

Composition and pressure of gas to be supplied.

(2) The minimum permissible pressure shall be such pressure in any main, or any pipe laid between the main and the meter having an internal diameter of two inches and upwards, as to balance a column of water not less than two inches in height except as may he otherwise provided by the order relating to any undertaking, and different minima may be specified for different parts of an undertaking, or for gas of different calorific values.


The object of my Amendment in subsection (2) is to make clear what was always intended—that the limitation of the size of pipes applies only to pipes between the main and the meter, i.e., service pipes, and that the prescribed pressure must be maintained in any main, whether the main is more or less than two inches in diameter.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 2, after ("or") insert ("in").—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 10:

Power to make special orders. (c) authorise any local authority which may be authorised to supply gas within its area to supply gas outside that area in any district or part thereof not supplied with gas by another authority or company:


These are Amendments which arose on the Committee stage, and their effect is to make paragraph (c) read as follows (c) authorise any local authority which may be authorised to supply gas within their district to supply gas outside the district in any area which is not supplied with gas by any other undertakers or which is within the area of supply of any undertakers whose undertaking has been acquired by such local authority.

Amendments moved—

Page 11, line 26, leave out ("its area") and insert ("their district")

Page 11, lines 26 and 27, leave out ("that area") and insert ("the district")

Page 11, line 27, leave out ("district or part thereof") and insert ("area which is")

Page 11, line 28, leave out (" another authority or company") and insert ("any other undertakers or which is within the area of supply of any undertakers whose undertaking has been acquired by such local authority").—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.