HL Deb 14 July 1925 vol 62 cc67-72

My Lords, I beg to move that the London and Home Counties Electricity District Order be approved, subject to a modification suggested by the Committee.

Moved, That the Order made by the Electricity Commissioners under the Electricity (Supply) Acts, 1882 to 1922, and confirmed by the Minister of Transport under the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1919, constituting the London and Home Counties Electricity District, and establishing and incorporating the London and Home Counties Joint Electricity Authority, which was presented on the 21st day of May, 1925, be approved, subject to the following modification, viz.:—

Clause 39, subsection 2, paragraph (b), after the first ("District") insert ("represented on the Joint Authority").—(Viscount Peel.)

LORD ASKWITH moved to leave out "modification" and insert "modifications." The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have a series of Amendments to move to this Motion. Subject to what the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill has to say, if the word "modifications" is accepted, then the rest of the Amendments would follow. If it remains as "modification" then the rest of my Amendments go by the board. I shall deal with the Amendments as a whole on the first one. The point is that it is desired by certain boroughs and corporations that they should be put upon the same footing as the Borough Councils of St. Marylebone, Hampstead and Fulham, which are dealt with by Clause 13 of this Order. Those borough councils have the right of having a supply of electricity made to them in bulk by the Joint Authority without any conditions. The other boroughs and corporations have had conditions annexed to them, and I am acting at the request of the Corporation of Ealing, the Urban District Council of Heston and Isleworth, the Corporation of Hornsey, and the Urban District Councils of Finchley and Walthamstow. These five bodies came under the authority of certain electricity supply companies in the year 1900, and they only came in as part of certain Poor Law unions.

No doubt the promoters of the North London Metropolitan Electric Power Supply Act in that year desired to get as wide an extension of territory as they could, and so they fixed their boundaries so as to be co-extensive with the districts of the Poor Law unions of Hendon, Barnet, Edmonton, Ware, Hertford, Hatfield, Welwyn and St. Albans, in the Counties of Middlesex, Hertford and Essex, and the parishes of Chingford and Walthamstow in the County of Essex, subject to certain conditions as to having to get consent in Edmonton, Hornsey and Walthamstow. They came in as part of a Poor Law union without any authority being given that this North Metropolitan Electric Power Supply Company should have an exclusive power for twenty-five years. There was no exclusive power to supply in bulk and I believe no power in bulk has been supplied.

Then comes the new Electricity. (Supply) Act and under Section 12 of that Act the consent of certain power companies has to be got in order to allow the Joint Electricity Authority to supply areas with electricity. That consent has been given, without any conditions at all, to Hampstead, Fulham and St. Marylebone. I should like to ask the noble Lord why these particular councils should be allowed to have the supply of electricity, either from their district electricity company or from the electricity authority, without any conditions at all, while conditions are put upon the others. It appears from the Preamble of the Act that they are all under the same conditions, as to various electricity authorities being over them and having the same sort of power as I mentioned, which were given under this particular Act of 1900 to which I alluded. Although Section 12 of the Electricity (Supply) Act requires consent yet, by Section 7, it can now be modified by Parliament and Parliament can say that this consent should not be unreasonably withheld. Indeed, the Electricity Commissioners, under Section 17 of an Act of 1922, could have stepped in and put these particular districts outside the power of a local electricity authority

They might have threatened to do that—not a very wise thing—but instead of that they made what, is called a bargain with the local electricity authorities. They obliged these particular councils and corporations to come to the electricity authorities and to get their consent only upon bringing before them all the conditions, which they put before the Joint Electricity Authority in order to obtain supply in bulk. That is a, matter which, from a business point of view, is extremely undesirable. Supposing they get out all their plans, all their expenses and their scheme, they then have to put it in the hands of rivals who may say: "We will give you this electricity at a halfpenny less per unit" and throw the whole thing into the melting pot of an inquiry again

Indeed, the objection of these authorities is well expressed in the memorial that they composed when they said that they objected to the provisions contained in the second paragraph of Clause 14— that they should in certain circumstances be required to communicate to a rival producer (the North Metropolitan Company) their estimate of the cost of obtaining a supply of electricity from the Joint Authority. Such a procedure would not only be opposed to all sound business practice and ideas, but would tend to imperil the obtaining of machinery or plant at the best prices, because manufacturers would hesitate to tender at their lowest prices if they knew that the figures would be communicated to a company who would be entitled to make any use of them, unrestrained even by the agreement as to the use of figures which in practice is always implied when a tender is given by a manufacturer to an intending purchaser

In fact, these particular corporations and boroughs are tied down by a consent which the local electricity authorities have gained from a mere existence of area given twenty-five years ago under which they have done nothing. They can come in and hamper these authorities, in comparison with other authorities whom they are not hampering, and may cause a considerable amount of trouble in the future, trouble which would he obviated entirely if they had given their consent in the same way as to Hampstead, St. Marylebone and Fulham. Again I repeat my question as to why a preference should have been given to these three particular boroughs and why this condition should have been imposed on the corporations and councils for whom I am speaking

Amendment moved— Leave out "modification" and insert "modifications"—


My Lords, I hope my noble friend will not think that I am making in any sense any reference to him personally when I make a complaint as to the way this Amendment has been raised. As your Lordships are aware, a Committee of this House was set up, consisting of five members, who were to consider and did consider all the Amendments that were put down for this Order. They dealt with all the Amendments and the only persons who did not bring forward their Amendment were those who are now represented by my noble friend. It is not a new Amendment. I understand it has been on the Table of another place since June 16. Yet they think fit to neglect the whole of the procedure of this House, to avoid appearing before this Select Committee which dealt with the matter, and, in fact, to flout the authority of this Committee. I ask your Lordships to condemn the action of these gentlemen. I suppose they thought that they would rely upon the eloquence of my noble friend here to persuade your Lordships, who must be much less familiar with the matter than the Committee who sat in order to consider it. I again say to your Lordships that their conduct in not bringing this matter before the Committee when they had ample opportunity of doing so does require a good deal of explanation

Let me say one word upon the merits of the Amendment. First of all, I have to ask your Lordships to refer to the governing Act, the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1919. The purpose of this Amendment is to enable the joint authority to supply to any borough or urban district irrespective of whether it is situated in the area of supply from a power company. The Act provides that a joint authority cannot supply in the area of a power company without the consent of the company, but it provides also that, if in any particular case the power company is not willing and in a position to give a supply within its own area at rates which, in the opinion of the Commissioners, will afford an adequate return to the power company, then the joint authority may be authorised by Special Order to supply in the power company's area in that particular case. We are asked, therefore, by this Amendment, to do two things that cut right across the procedure that obtains under the Act of 1919; to do away (1), with the necessity of the power company's consent and (2), with the Special Order procedure in a case where the power company is not willing to give a supply under the condition laid down in the Act

My noble friend asked, I think, why certain boroughs were excepted. Under Clause 14 of the Act the power company concerned can express their consent to a supply by the joint authority to those boroughs and urban districts where those conditions obtain. That, I understand, has been done by arrangement in those particular cases. But the Amendment of my noble friend wants to do a very wide thing—namely, to overrule in this Order the provisions of the Act of 1919. I am advised that this is ultra vires, that it cannot be done and that the provisions in an Order of this kind, which is an instrument of subsidiary legislation, cannot, in fact, overrule the provisions expressly enacted in the General Act of 1919 under which the Order is made. I submit, therefore, on the technical ground, as well as upon the other grounds that I have mentioned, that I am not able to accept my noble friend's Amendment


My Lords, I am afraid that I am unable to give any explanation to the noble Viscount as to why these authorities have not taken steps at an earlier date to come before the Committee or why they have taken the course of asking your Lordships to consider this matter, as it appears that they have power to do, under Section 7 of the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1919, if they choose to do so. That Section says— An Order made under this section may be altered by a subsequent Order made, confirmed, and approved in like manner as the original Order The previous subsection provides that:— Any such Order shall be laid, as soon as may be after it is confirmed, before each House of Parliament but shall not come into operation unless and until it has been approved either with or without modification by a Resolution passed by each such House, and when so approved shall have effect as if enacted in this Act My noble friend says that the legal interpretation of this section that is given to him is that neither House of Parliament has power by Resolution to alter or to modify the Order. I am sorry that I do not quite agree with that legal interpretation, but in the circumstances I shall withdraw my Amendment

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

On Question, Motion agreed to