HL Deb 10 December 1926 vol 65 cc1518-28

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3ª.—(Viscount Peel.)


My Lords, I hope the House will pardon me offering a few remarks on Third Reading. I was not aware it would come on so late and therefore I will endeavour to be very brief. I must first of all congratulate the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill on the way he has conducted it in this House. It is a highly technical subject and I think he has mastered it extremely well. Though I have not agreed with all he has said I thank him for having met me on some points.

I must remind the House that scientific opinion, outside a number of electricians, is entirely against this Bill. It is, I think, a very bad step in the wrong direction. There are other means of power coming along in the near future which may render the use of electricity over long lines of transmission quite uneconomic. The gas industry has made great strides. From the Ruhr coalmines the Germans are putting down huge gas mains and using them for conveying gas over long distances for industrial purposes and giving up electricity to a certain extent. There is no loss in the conveyance of gas over long distances whereas there is a great loss in the conveyance of electricity. There are all kinds of new developments in the use of power in other directions, such as by the production of oil from coal, and it may very well be that before long a great portion of this Bill will have been rendered quite unnecessary. There is the problem at the pit mouth whether you are going to gasify or electrify coal. It is quite an open question at the moment whether it will pay to gasify or electrify your coal. We have the fact that in Stafford-shire, where there is the Mond gas industry, electricity has made no headway, nor has it in the district around Manchester, because it really does not pay to use it.

But the greatest argument against the Bill is that no fewer than six great industries will not be affected by it in any way—namely, shipping, coalmining, the railways, the cotton industry, agriculture and road transport. This Bill does not affect them at all. In addition to that, London is out of the scope of the Bill altogether, so it is really rather difficult to see what remains. A certain number of engineering shops will take electricity undoubtedly, but beyond that I do not see much future for the really widespread use of electricity. The cost of transmission is going up day by day although the cost of power is coming down. The cost of cables, standards, the taking up of roads and of labour are all going up and therefore the transmission of electricity is costing more all the time. A sum of £33,000,000 is to be guaranteed by the Treasury but it will only benefit a certain number of trades and I have a very grave doubt whether it will ever pay. As regards the country districts, we know from what the noble Viscount said that it is very unlikely they will get a cheap supply of electricity. As time goes on the small sets which produce electricity in the homes and on the farms of England in the country districts generally, such as the Petter sets from Yeovil, become more efficient, so that it is doubtful whether electricity from main trunk lines will be of much service. Almost all the members of the younger generation can handle a spanner and mechanics no longer have any terrors for them.

The comparison with the position of electricity in the United States is, I think, erroneous. We shall never approach anything like the low cost of electricity in some other countries, such as that produced at Niagara or the dam over the. Mississippi which produces power at £2 10s. per horse power year. It is useless to think you can ever rival that low cost of electricity in this country. I will conclude by saying that I deprecate Government interference in the electrical industry. I think it will only lead to trouble and waste of public money. My only hope is that it will do as little harm as possible.


My Lords, I have really never heard in such a short speech a more melancholy list of prognostications applied to any Bill. I am obliged for the courteous things the noble Lord has said, but. I feel that perhaps he made a mistake in not voting against the Second Reading of the Bill if it is going to have all the terrible results he anticipates. He made an interesting survey of the possibilities of other forms of power being developed. I have never heard of any business moving forward on progressive lines when someone has not got up and said: "Ah, in a few years there will be some fresh development that will make futile everything you are doing." General experience is against that. As new forms of power come in they do not entirely displace old forms of power, but work with them and each assists the other. I remember perfectly well being told a few years ago that electrical cables would be entirely done for and rendered futile by wireless transmission. It has not done so up to the present. Both things are going on side by side. I believe the development of gas and electricity will be complementary, and will not injure each other.

All I would say is that if you are going to produce electricity for Heaven's sake let it he produced in the best and most economical way, get rid of the little patches and produce on a large scale, and produce also, as you will under this Bill, in touch with the finest scientific knowledge not only here but in Germany and America as well. Whatever other forms of power there may be, surely there can be no reason for not producing electricity under the best advice and subject to the highest scientific knowledge. There is only one other point I would refer to and that is my noble friends statement that you cannot really compare figures here with the figures in the United States, Possibly you cannot, but the way in which I dealt with the figures was that from whatever point of view they were taken, and however you examined them and took different tests, the same result, unfortunately, came out that we are behindhand. We live in a small, compact, highly-industralised island and I do not think any community on the face of the earth, except possibly Belgium, ought to be able to produce electricity more usefully and cheaply than this country with its coalfields near the source of supply. I cannot share the melancholy look into the future of my noble friend Lord Montagu. On the contrary I am much more hopeful. I believe that if this Bill is worked and developed it will give great assistance to British industry and that a great many more forms of British industry will use electricity than do to-day.

On Question, Bill read 3ª.

Clause 1:

Constitution of Central Electricity Board.

(11) Where the chairman or other member of the Board becomes disqualified for holding office or is absent from the meetings of the Board for more than six months consecutively, except for some reason approved by the Minister of Transport, the Minister of Transport shall forthwith declare the office to be vacant, and shall notify the fact in such manner as he thinks fit, and thereupon the office shall become vacant.


My Lords, I do not propose to trouble the House with the first two Amendments which I have put on the Paper because I have had an opportunity of consulting with my noble friend Viscount Peel who assures me that the points they deal with are already covered by the Bill. I desire to move, however, in subsection (11) after the first "transport," to insert "or fails to comply with the foregoing provisions of this section." These words were suggested on the Report stage and the matter was then gone into so thoroughly that I do not propose to trouble your Lordships with any observations on them.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 17, after the first ("Transport") insert ("or fails to comply with the foregoing provisions of this section").—(Viscount Bertie of Thame.)


My Lords, I accept this Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2 [General powers and duties of Board]:


My Lords, my Amendment to this clause is drafting.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 29, leave out ("exercise by them on behalf of the Board") and insert ("delegation to them").—(Viscount Peel.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 19:

Special provisions as to London.

19. Where any obligation to carry out any technical scheme imposed on a joint electricity authority, local authority, company or body by or under the London and Home Counties Electricity District Order, 1925, or the London Electricity (No. 1) Act, 1925, or the London Electricity (No. 2) Act, 1925, conflicts with any obligation arising out of a scheme under Section four of this Act which is imposed by or, under this Act, on any such authority, company or body, the last mentioned obligation shall prevail.

LORD ASKWITH moved to add to the clause: "so far as any such technical scheme has not been entered upon." The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment is proposed in consequence of the clause having been altered upon Report. As it stands at present it puts the London companies in particular in a very difficult position. The clause now gives power for the last-mentioned obligation to prevail. In 1925, as the noble Viscount may be well aware, two Acts of Parliament were passed with agreements scheduled under them, and it was provided that the companies should take steps to centralise their generating resources in one company, and they had also within twelve months to report to the Commissioners on a technical scheme.

All this has been done; the plant has been amalgamated as required, and steps have also been taken in regard to the generation and the mains; but all this work may be stopped by the Commissioners stepping in, altering the scheme and, in fact, putting an end to it. These people want to know what is to happen during the next few years. Here is a body which is not yet arranged and which cannot begin work for some years. The demands of London are increasing and an extra supply will have to be arranged for in 1927, as the present supply is not sufficient, but all this expenditure may be thrown away and the efforts sterilised, for the whole of the technical scheme can be over-ridden in the manner that is made possible by the clause as it stands at present. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 20, line 23, after ("prevail") insert ("so far as any such technical scheme has not been entered upon").—(Lord Askwith.)


My Lords, I am advised that this Amendment of my noble friend is not necessary, for I am further informed that these London schemes have not yet come up to the Commissioners for approval, and accordingly nothing has been approved. Let me further point out that when they do come up for approval, the Commissioners also have to frame a scheme, and though theoretically the scheme sent up by the London companies may be in conflict with it, exactly the same body deals with both schemes. I think the matter may therefore fairly be left to the discretion of the Commissioners, who are not likely to approve one scheme and then, immediately afterwards, approve another which is in conflict with it. Being in control of both schemes, I think they may be trusted to act with ordinary reasonableness and secure harmony between the two schemes. In those circumstances I do not think that my noble friend's Amendment is necessary.


My Lords, the noble Viscount is rather banking on the same Commissioners being there, or on the same Commissioners being alive at the comparatively remote period when this matter comes forward. It is strongly felt that some provision should exist whereby that which is being done during the next few years should continue to stand. If, however, the noble Viscount assures me that he considers this Amendment unnecessary, I must accept his assurance.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 24 [Protection, of Government observatories, &c.]:

VISCOUNT PEEL moved to insert as a new subsection: (2) Section twenty-six of the Electric Lighting Act, 1882, and any enactments incorporated by that section, as amended by Section twenty-five of the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1919 (which contain provisions for the protection of the Postmaster-General) shall, in their application to the Board, have effect as if references therein to the Postmaster-General included references to any other Government Department. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this is an Amendment to safeguard the position of the Admiralty as regards their wireless stations. I apologise to the Admiralty for classing them, as it were, en bloc with "any other Government Department" but my noble friends will see that if I described the position literally I should have to name all the other Government Departments, and so they will acquit me of any want of respect.

Amendment moved— Page 23, line 10, at end insert the said new subsection.—(Viscount Peel.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 29:

Power to Treasury to guarantee loans to Board.

29.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this section the Treasury may guarantee in such manner as they think fit, the payment of the interest and principal of any loan proposed to be raised by the Board, or of either the interest or the principal:

Provided that the aggregate amount of the loans, the principal or interest of which may be so guaranteed, shall not exceed thirty-three and a half million pounds.


My Lords, I have been asked by my noble friend Lord Danesfort to move, after "manner" in subsection (1), to insert "and subject to such conditions." This is a very simple Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 25, line 29, after ("manner") insert ("and subject to such conditions").—(Lord Askwith.)


I accept.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 39:

Provisions as to companies with large area of supply.

39.—(1) Where after the commencement of this Act a special order is made authorising a company to supply electricity, and the area of supply is, in the opinion of the Electricity Commissioners, adequate in extent, the following provisions shall have effect with respect to the right of purchasing their undertaking:— (c) The purchasing authority— (i) where the area of supply is situate wholly or mainly within the district of a joint electricity authority, shall be the joint electricity authority: Provided that if the area of supply is situate partly within the district of one joint electricity authority and partly in that of another, the right of purchase shall be exercisable by such one of those authorities, or shall be divisible between them as the Electricity Commissioners may determine;

VISCOUNT PEEL moved, in subsection (1), after Paragraph (c) (i), to insert: (ii) where the area of supply is not situate wholly or mainly within the district of a joint electricity authority but is situate wholly within the district of a single local authority, the right of purchase shall be exercisable by that local authority. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this is consequential upon an Amendment that I accepted from my noble friend Lord Askwith. He, I think, was going to move this consequential Amendment on Report, but unfortunately he did not do so, and accordingly he has thrown upon me the burden of moving it on Third Reading. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 33, line 33, at end insert the said new paragraph.—(Viscount Peel.)


My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for having found out that I ought to have moved something that I did not move, and for putting me right.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 47:

Supply of electricity to railway companies, etc.

47. Where any authorised undertakers may supply and are supplying within their district or area of supply electricity for haulage or traction to any company or authority being the owners or lessees of a railway, tramway, dock, harbour or canal undertaking situate partly within and partly without that district or area, such authorised undertakers may, subject to such limitations and conditions (if any) as the Minister of Transport may prescribe either generally or in any particular case, so supply electricity to be used for any purposes of such undertaking, whether within or without such district or area of supply, and such company or authority may, subject to such limitations and conditions (if any) as the Minister of Transport may prescribe either generally or in any particular case, use the electricity so supplied for any purposes their undertaking for which they are titled to use electricity:

Provided that such company or authority shall not supply to any other persons electricity supplied to them under this section and such electricity shall not be used on any part of the premises of such company or authority which is not in their occupation.

VISCOUNT PEEL moved to substitute the following proviso for the one in the clause:— Provided that no such supply shall, without the consent of the Minister of Transport, be used by such company or authority for purposes of lighting, other than the lighting of vehicles or stations and other premises in the occupation of such company or authority. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I accepted an Amendment—or at any rate I did not refuse it—which was to protect the rights of the undertakers in supplying electricity to the railway companies, but the Amendment as accepted went, I think, a little too far because, although it safeguarded the position of the authorised undertakers, it to some extent infringed the existing rights of the railway companies. This Amendment puts the matter right and assists the undertakers without taking away any of the existing rights of the railway companies.

Amendment moved— Page 37, leave out lines 36 to 40 and insert the said proviso.—(Viscount Peel.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 52 [Interpretation]:


My Lords, I beg to move a drafting Amendment to this clause.

Amendment moved— Page 40, line 39, after ("1909") insert ("or by a special Act passed for the like purpose").—(Viscount Peel.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Viscount Peel.)


My Lords, I do not think that your Lordships would like to part with this Bill without paying a tribute to the noble Viscount who has been in charge of it throughout the proceedings. No member of His Majesty's Government has worked harder in the concluding weeks of this Session than has the noble Viscount, and I am bound to say that his knowledge of all the technical details involved in this Bill has found me amongst his warmest admirers. The noble Viscount has not, perhaps, been so generous in dealing with some of the critics of the Bill as those critics would have wished him to be but, on the other hand, he has always shown an admirable desire to argue the case, to put his side of the question and to deal with the Bill from the argumentative point of view.

There is, indeed, if he will allow me to say so, some little point of criticism, for, in suggesting that some of these Amendments would not be acceptable in another place, it may be that he has done something to encourage another place not to accept them. I venture to hope, however, that that will not happen. The noble Viscount knows that there is some disposition on the part of some noble Lords behind me to dislike the appointment of a new Board and a new public service. I wonder whether, in connection with that, he would be able to give us the names of those who are going to be appointed on the Board, or, if not, an assurance that they will be made public before very long. I quite understand that they are not generally made public during the passage of a Bill, or at all events not until the very last stage of it, but I hope we may be given these names before very long. I confess I do not share the melancholy prognostications uttered by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu a few moments ago, nor do I share the optimism of the noble Viscount, but I think we may all join in hoping that the result of the Bi11 will be some co-ordination in the supply of electricity and that increased production in bulk may bring power and light to new users at a cheaper rate than has been possible before.


My Lords, I will endeavour to see whether at a later stage—if there is a later stage of this Bill when the Amendments come back—I can give to the noble Earl those names of the Board which he desires. I am really very much obliged to him for the courteous observations which he has made about myself. I can assure him I appreciate them very highly. In addition he has taught me another point in procedure, because I did not know that one was able to speak on the Motion that this Bill do now pass. That is one of the advantages I get from listening to the noble Earl. I shall now be able to make a speech on any Bill on this Motion. I did not know it before.

On Question, Bill passed, with the Amendments, and returned to the Commons.