HL Deb 24 June 1925 vol 61 cc769-77

My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing on the Paper in my name.

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.—(Viscount Peel.)


My Lords, I hesitate rather to intervene with regard to this Order, because I, for one, do not desire that any delay should take place in the matter. It is now three years, I think, since the last. Act of Parliament governing the matter passed this House. Three years of very difficult spade work have had to be gone through in order that this Order might appear on the Paper. As I understand, there are a great many Amendments to this Order down in another place, and it is not likely therefore to have a very rapid passage through both Houses, but there is a point in the Order that I should like to bring to the attention of my noble friend. It is one point only in an Order which covers a great deal of ground.

The matter is contained in Clause 39 (2) (b), which, I think, is to be found on Page 31 of the Order. This is the provision which requires the companies in the district to contribute to the administrative expenses of the proposed new authority which is to be set up, the Joint Electricity Authority for London and the Home Counties. This provision is based upon a particular Section in the Act of 1922—namely, Section 5 (4), which my noble Friend Lord Peel will remember, because at the time of the passage of that Bill through this House we had some discussion upon that subsection. I remind him of it because the point I desire to make is that the provision in the Order requiring the companies to contribute to the administrative expenses of the Authority does not comply, in my opinion, with the section of the Act. I do not want to trouble the House by referring at great length to the debate which took place on the particular clause at the time that the Bill was before your Lordships. It will probably be in the mind of my noble friend, who was in charge of the Bill, and who, in answer to some remarks that I made, stated that the administrative expenses would be small, and also that the compulsion to contribute would only be upon those who were represented on the Joint Electricity Authority. I have no complaint to make against my noble friend, because the section of the Act as passed entirely complied with the undertaking which was given to the House by my noble friend. Such complaint as I have to make with regard to the provisions is addressed to the authorities. The Minister of Transport, I take it, is responsible for the Order which my noble friend is moving.

With regard to the fact that the expenses of administration, would only be small, I should like to mention that in one of the many inquiries which have taken place in order that this Order should appear upon the Table of your Lordship's House, a figure of £50,000 a year in expenses is mentioned with regard to this particular Authority. I am not in a position to say that this amount is entirely due to administration expenses. Some of it may possibly be due and chargeable to the supply of current; but, at any rate, I understand that figure was put forward and that figure has never been disputed. Whether it is correct or not I do not know, but it shows—if my noble friend will agree with me that £50,000 is a substantial sum—that very substantial sums are involved in this matter.

Secondly, the statement to which I have referred was to the effect that compulsion to contribute would only be on those represented on the Authority. My contention is that the provision does not follow the section in this respect, but that it goes entirely outside what is allowed by the section of the Act and, therefore, is ultra vires and liable to be questioned in the Courts. That would not be conducive to a rapid decision or to the satisfactory solution of the matter. The section of the Act allows the charge to be placed on distributors represented on the authority. The Order that we have before us this afternoon places the charge on all authorised undertakers in the district; that is to say, upon distributors and undertakers apart from those who are represented on the authority. It is perfectly true, of course, that the company undertakers are represented on the new authority. I think their representation is 431, or something of that sort. I am not going to argue whether that is a very great representation for them to have and I have no point to make of that sort; but they have a voice upon the authority. There will, however, undoubtedly be distributors who will not be represented on the authority.

If the aspirations of the Prime Minister of the Coalition Government are going to be attained and as a result of all these operations under the Act passed by that Government we have a cheap and abundant supply of electricity, we are only upon the threshold of great developments. New distributors will, no doubt, arise and in due course those new distributors will become authorised undertakers in the district. But from the nature of things it will not be possible for them immediately to become represented upon the authority. I think my noble friend will agree that that will not be possible. Some period will have to elapse before they are even capable of being represented upon that authority. None the less, according to the provision which is before us, all these distributors will be called upon to contribute to a public authority upon which they are not represented. That, as briefly as I can put it, is my point on the ground that it is ultra vires.


May I ask the noble Earl a question before he passes to his next point? I understand that he is not making a complaint that it is wrong to charge existing authorised undertakers. The noble Earl admits that they have some representation on the authority. I think also he does not quarrel with the particular system which has been adopted for charging them. His complaint is solely in regard to future undertakers who may be authorised to distribute electricity—that as the scheme is at present drawn they will not have representation and therefore ought not to be charged.


I am sorry that I have not made it clear, but I think I can put my complaint in this way. It is that the provision of the Order does not follow the provision in the Act which is supposed to govern it. The Order says that the charges are to be upon all authorised undertakers in the district.




The section of the Act says "distributors represented on the joint authority." I say that there may be and will be—at any rate I am entitled to assume that there will be—distributors who will not be represented on the joint electricity authority and that under the Order which my noble friend is moving (which, as I contend, is in conflict with the section in the Act), they will be called upon to contribute to these administration expenses without having any representation upon the authority which is spending the money.


Then I think I am not wrong in saying that the noble Earl is not making any complaint at all about existing authorised undertakers or distributors, but only as regards future undertakers or distributors. I thought I apprehended that.


Certainly I have no complaint. The Act is there, but the Order has yet to receive the assent of your Lordships. Another point which I wanted to make very briefly is that this provision seems to me to be not in accordance with the spirit of the Electricity Act of 1919 to which I have already referred. That Act contemplated a joint authority carrying on centralised generation and supplying electricity to the various undertakers in the district. Under the Order—and this is different from what is contemplated by the Act—while the district of the authority includes the area of the London companies, for example, those companies are generating their own electricity.

My second point is, then, that whether or not the provision is ultra vires, it is certainly inequitable, because you will have this position—that the joint authority will be competing with the companies for very big and important loads, railway loads, tramway loads, and so on. The effect of the Order will be that concerns taking electricity generated by the companies are to pay something beyond the fair charge in order to allow the consumers who are taking their electricity from the joint authority to obtain it below cost price. That is to say that part of the charge which should fall upon the joint authority will be met by their rivals and: competitors in the industry. That seems to me to be an extraordinary proposal to ask Parliament to accept. It has the additional effect of actually allowing a public body to spend money which they are getting from those who are rivals of, and are in competition with, themselves. I hope I have made my two points clear to my noble friend and that he will give them consideration.

As I said at the opening of my remarks, I do not wish to delay or to prevent approval being given to these Orders, and to this Order in particular. It is high time that the labour which has been expended upon setting up the districts in question should reach fruition but I hope that my noble friend, remembering the discussions which we had upon the section in the Act, will be able to meet me. I am not suggesting any particular Amendment, but if this Order is not to be finally dealt with this afternoon and some adjournment of the debate takes place, I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell your Lordships whether he sees the force of any of my remarks and is prepared to meet me in the matter.


My Lords, I am sure that everybody will agree with one thing that was said by the noble Earl at the end of his remarks—that it is perfectly impossible to deal at, this time, on the floor of the House and without notice, with such points as those which he has just brought forward. It happened last Session that consideration was given to the question whether, in the case of Orders requiring an affirmative Resolution in this House, some procedure should not be adopted for dealing with them. A Committee was appointed, on which were the Lord Chairman and the present Leader of the House. I think the noble Earl who has just spoken was also on the Committee and I, too, had the honour of serving upon it. We came to a unanimous conclusion as to what kind of procedure ought to be adopted, and I think almost any day the Resolutions that the Committee came to will be laid before the House with a recommendation that they shall be adopted.

I wish to suggest to the Government that they might now with this Order adopt, roughly, the procedure which the Committee decided to recommend and that in that way the questions which have been raised—one in a, very lengthy form on the Paper and the two questions raised without Notice by the noble Earl—may be dealt with in some formal manner, possibly upstairs. There is also a list of questions that covers, I think, three pages, raised in the House of Commons, which, I believe, will come on to-night and which includes a proposal that the matter shall be referred to a Committee. I think it might not only be a good thing to refer this to a Committee but that the other House should be asked to concur with this House in the appointment or a Joint Committee, and let all these questions be dealt with together. There is one further observation that I think is worth making. I believe it will be found by the House when they see our recommendations that it is probable that an Order of this kind would not have to be brought before the House at all.


My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend, at the beginning of his remarks, drew attention to the Committee which was appointed by your Lordships. I think I ought to tell your Lordships what has happened in the last few days. You are aware that the Report of that Committee was laid upon the Table same ten days ago. I may tell your Lordships that Standing Orders are now being drafted which, if adopted, would give approval to the proposals of this Report. I quite appreciate the fact that the Report has not yet received the approval of your Lordships, but I think we could discuss this proposal if we had as concrete a thing as possible before us. I hope to get the Orders on the Paper in a very few days, but in any ease they will be submitted to your Lordships for approval. I shall make it my duty to recommend them to your Lordships. What has happened this afternoon, I think, emphasises what my noble friend has said, that the sooner we get our procedure in this matter regularised the better for the efficiency of Parliamentary work.


My Lords, with reference to the suggestion about the procedure which has been made by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Muir Mackenzie), I shall be very glad to discuss that with the noble Marquess the Leader of the House. What I say now I say rather as representing the Department than otherwise. I listened to what was suggested by the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees. I understand that this new procedure, which no doubt has been carefully considered, has not yet been reduced to rules. It has, first of all, generally to be approved by this House and then, I suppose, it has to be drawn up in the form of new Orders which might take a little time. I rather hope, therefore, that as this procedure is not yet in being, it might not be applied to this particular Order, which, after all, appeared on the Table before the new rules came into existence.

Already there has been a great deal of delay—necessary delay, if you like—in getting this very elaborate Order drawn up which is to set up this joint authority for London and districts. It is of great importance that there should be no further delay. It is hoped that in the next few months this new authority may be set up. Some of the representatives will be appointed by the local authorities and county councils which, with the exception of the London County Council, do not, I understand, meet more than once in three months. Therefore any delay which might occur—at any rate, any prolonged delay—in setting up this authority may really postpone for some time the establishment of a joint authority for London, which is already long overdue. I may, perhaps, be allowed to say that and to put in that caveat with regard to this new procedure. All procedures, I suppose, delay matters, and especially a new procedure which has not yet been tested in practice.

The only other point that was raised was with regard to the difficulty of dealing with this matter on the floor of the House. I am in the hands of your Lordships with regard to that. I must say that I was not very much impressed by the difficulties in this particular case. No doubt, in another place—we do not necessarily deal with all the Amendments in another place—there are two or three pages of Amendments, but I have looked at them. One of them certainly fills up a whole page, and, curiously enough, it is in precisely the same words as another Amendment which has been drafted by my noble friend Lord Strafford, and which is on the Paper of your Lordships' House. Therefore I do not think the Amendments ought to take a great deal of time, nor do I think the Amendment of the noble Earl, if I understand it, is of a very complicated nature. It is one with which we are quite accustomed to deal in Committee of this House. I do not wish the difficulties of this matter to be exaggerated. I think we really could deal with most of the Amendments. I understand, however, both from the noble Lord opposite and from the noble Earl, that there is a desire that consideration of this Order should be postponed. I have no objection, if it is the general desire, to postpone this discussion till Monday, and then to deal with the specific Amendments.


May I suggest to the noble Viscount opposite that the debate be adjourned until after the consideration of the Order in another place? I think that possibly our position would be simplified by that.


Perhaps the noble Earl will be content if, at the present stage, I move the adjournment of the matter until Monday. I should like to explain to the noble Earl, who wishes to wait until discussion takes place in the other House, that the other House has exactly the same desire as regards this House. We are constantly waiting for each other. I am afraid the Session might elapse before we had the pleasure of hearing the noble Earl on his Amendment if I consented to his request, and I hope he will be content for the moment with an adjournment till Monday.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned till Monday next.—(Viscount Peel.)


May I ask the noble Viscount whether he means that noble Lords who have Amendments to suggest in the Standing Orders should put them on the Paper of your Lordships' House?


It is hardly for the representative of the Government freely to invite Amendments from noble Lords, but the noble Lord is very well acquainted with the procedure. No doubt he will get a far more definite, discussion of any particular point if he chooses to submit it to your Lordships in the form of an Amendment.


My Lords, perhaps I ought to enter a caveat with regard to Monday next. I understand that in addition to the Bill which is now upon the Order Paper for Monday next the Finance Bill of His Majesty's Government will also be on the Paper then, and that there will be an important discussion on that Bill. Whether in those circumstances Monday is the most convenient day I do not know. I am quite sure that the noble Viscount, who has shown himself willing to meet the wishes of noble Lords, will be able to arrange, something which will be convenient not only to himself but to other noble Lords.


Perhaps the noble Earl will confer with the noble Marquess the Leader of the House with regard to the matter?

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.