§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion, made yesterday by Viscount Peel, That the Bill be now read 2ª.788
§ LORD FORRES
My Lords, it is perhaps fitting that I should make a few observations on this Bill, in view of the length of time that I spent in connection with inquiries into the subject of the better supply of electricity in this country. It is in the knowledge of the House that I was Chairman of a very important Committee which sat in the year 1918, and was also a member of the Weir Committee which sat two years ago. The Committee of 1918 was formed by the Government under conditions in which they found themselves in a dilemma. There was during the War a greatly extended use of electricity for certain industrial purposes and it was found that our system was by no means adequate to the task that was sought to be imposed upon it.
The Government then got together a very representative Committee—so representative, indeed, that the Minister who asked me to preside over it told me I had a most difficult task. It was a difficult task because the views of the members of the Committee were so entirely divergent. They set out from different points of view. However, as time went on and the evidence accumulated we found that agreement was by no means impossible, and eventually, after sitting for ten months and examining thirty-three witnesses of the most expert character and representative of all the interests—consumers, local authorities, manufacturers and producers (that is, power companies and lighting companies)—we were able to produce not only a unanimous but also, I venture to suggest, a strong Report.
That Report held the field and a Bill was introduced. To the history of that Bill I need not refer, because it is in the recollection of the House. Subsequently, the conditions not having improved, and the Electricity Commissioners having by that time gained a certain amount of added knowledge, the Weir Committee was appointed, not so much to take evidence on the technical side, but to advise the Government what steps should in the then circumstances be taken. We were informed on the Weir Committee by the highest authority, the Government's advisers, that no technical change had taken place since the Williamson Committee examined the subject; therefore, to a 789 large extent we dismissed the technical side. We did examine what added knowledge there was and that added knowledge came very largely from the recently formed Electricity Commissioners. Further we made some inquiry into the question of standardisation of frequency and on that we did take evidence—from those chiefly who were opposed to it, so that we might see what the arguments against it were. We then took advantage of the presence in this country of Mr. Insull, of Chicago, one of the greatest authorities and largest producers of electricity in the world, and subsequently of Mr. Dow, who is also very largely interested in the production of electricity in America. From those two gentlemen we learned a great deal as to what were considered to be the most up-to-date methods for the supply of electricity in the United States.
All the Committees which have sat upon this subject, including the Haldane Committee, have agreed upon one thing and that is that the position was unsatisfactory. They have all found that the consumption was small and the cost relatively high as compared with other countries, but owing to the concentration of industry we have always come to the conclusion that this country is in as good a position to supply cheap power as any industrial country in the world. That is a statement that will excite some surprise among those who have not gone into the subject, but if it is considered that our industries are comparatively concentrated, that our population is comparatively concentrated, that our coal fields are not very far from our seats of industry, and that there is a water supply sufficient in most localities for cooling purposes, it is not astonishing that we find all the experts without any hesitation—and in that they are confirmed by our friends who came over from America—stating that we ought to be able to produce electricity in this country as cheaply as, or more cheaply than, any other country for the general industrial use of the country. That is not to say that if you have a great waterfall at hand like the Niagara Falls you could not produce electricity by means of that waterfall at that spot more cheaply than you can send it to the industrial centres, but we have to take the industrial 790 centres geographically as they are and we must remember that there are few countries in the world where the industrial centres are alongside of the water power.
The Committees agreed on two main principles, and these two main principles are embodied in the Bill before the House. They are: firstly, the centralisation of production in economical and well-placed stations, and, secondly, the linking up or interconnection of those stations. It may be that there is a little inconsistency in reporting, as one Committee does, that the great power stations should be acquired by district electricity boards, while the other Committee recommends that these stations should not be acquired but that their output should be controlled. There is really no divergency of principle. The acquisition of the stations was only a means to an end. The end is the control of production of the stations, and without that control in the past little could be done.
If the premises are accepted that centralisation and linking up are desirable, we then have to see how those things can be carried out. In the first place, our objective is not to produce cheap power at one particular spot for one particular industry, but to produce cheaper power for industry as a whole. Secondly, we have to remember that in approaching this subject we are faced by a great monopoly. I do not know whether the House quite realises what a monopoly Parliament has given in connection with the supply of electricity. In connection with the supply of electric light that monopoly was limited. I think the period was forty-two years, and then the stations could be taken over. But in the case of the power companies Parliament has given, in fact, I will not say whether in its wisdom or unwisdom, a monopoly for all time. It is almost inconceivable, I think, when you are brought face to face with some of the facts, that we should have so far committed ourselves; but having done that, we have to face the circumstances as they are and to have regard to the rights which we have conferred. The method of the 1919 Bill was, as I have said, by the purchase of generating stations, and the method of the 1926 Bill is, in the words of Lord Salisbury who spoke in this House on the subject, what may be called "co-ordination."
791 Interconnection is contemplated in this Bill as in the Bill of 1919. No one doubts, I think, that there are many uneconomic stations in the country, and I think that is generally admitted. How could we insist on the closing of these uneconomic stations and on their buying cheaper current from a great system unless there was some compulsory power to which resort might be had? No one questions also that there should be intercommunication; but how can that be made effective without some compulsory-powers? The need for these compulsory powers and for this Bill I can illustrate to your Lordships, I think, by taking some concrete cases. There is the case of the City of Liverpool. That City at one time had three generating stations. It was found as time went on that they could produce more cheaply by generating their electricity in the largest and most modern of those stations, and they closed two of them. That illustrates the advantage of production in a large station instead of in smaller stations. They then entered into negotiations with the neighbouring borough of Bootle, which had a system of its own and both produced and distributed. They took over the Bootle system, and, having purchased it, became a distributor in Bootle; but they continued to manufacture in the Bootle station in so far as it was economic to do so in supplement of the other station which already existed in the City of Liverpool. That illustrates another principle involved in this Bill.
Then we come to the case of Prescott. Prescott buys a supply in bulk. Prescott had a system of distribution, and it did not wish that to be interfered with by Liverpool. It preferred to distribute itself and to make a profit on the distribution. But it ceased to manufacture because it was cheaper to buy from Liverpool; so it has closed its station and buys electricity from Liverpool. But it may be said: "How about the loss of the capital sunk in the Prescott station?" There is no loss, because the profit is not in generating but in distribution. Their profit is made in selling energy bought from Liverpool, and part of the profit so made goes to amortise the out-of-date installation in Prescott. That illustrates another point in the Bill.
There is a still further illustration I would like your Lordships to notice. Owing to the lack of compulsion and 792 compulsory powers it has been impossible for the Electricity Commissioners to obtain the consent of Birkenhead and Wallasey to union with Liverpool. Technically the sound plan is for those different cities and boroughs to produce as a whole and to be interconnected; but owing to local jealousies or what not (I really cannot say why) Birkenhead and Wallasey are unwilling, so that there is a scheme which ought to be carried out but cannot be carried out because there are not in existence the compulsory powers which this Bill will give. I think I have shown, if not a complete case at least a pretty good one for the benefits, first of all, of linking up and, secondly, for the conferring of compulsory powers in order to unite these sources of production and to connect them for distribution. Of course, when the district is made, as no doubt it will be made under this Bill, it is possible that a larger area than Liverpool, Birkenhead and Wallasey will be included; still, the principle is the same. You unite those who should be united but who, for certain reasons, will not unite voluntarily.
The opposition to this Bill has been very well organised. I do not think it is very widespread, but it is certainly powerful. It is really a battle of the consumers versus those to whom we have confided this great monopoly. Those who hold a monopoly are treated under the Bill, I think, with the utmost fairness and consideration. Financially their position is really improved by the increase in the consumption and a better load factor. In no circumstances can they be worse off, because the Bill provides that in no case can they be charged more than the cost at which they now produce their electricity. They retain the ownership of their stations and the direction of the personnel in these selected stations.
They retain the distribution and, as I have said, the distribution is the profitable end of the business. They obtain the current as cheaply as or more cheaply than they can produce it themselves, and it will assuredly be cheaper. If the current is cheaper there is a prospect of increased sales, increased income, increased stabilisation and a stronger financial position. Their interests, indeed, are so hedged round with tender care by the right of appeal to 793 lawyers so numerous as almost to threaten the operation of the Bill, that I cannot conceive any further lengths to which they could possibly desire it to go. But they resist this scheme and the control which it involves. In addition to their resistance to that control they have dragged in various arguments against the Bill which were dealt with yesterday, and one argument as to the socialistic character of the Bill was shown by those who spoke to have but little foundation, if any.
One noble Lord who criticised the Bill yesterday dealt with certain specific parts of it and said that the power companies were to sell at cost and to buy back at an enhanced price, and that that was very bad business for the power companies. That is not correct, because the power companies in buying back are protected in any case by the clause which says they shall not pay more than their present cost; but they will really buy back at a cheaper rate. It is, true that the administration charges will be added to their costs, but those administration charges are expected to be less than 1/20th a penny, and there will be a very great diminution in the cost of production because the "grid," or the Board rather, will have the advantage of a better load factor and larger consumption. It is expected, therefore, that in these cases—if not in all of them in most—they will actually be buying their electricity at a lower price than that at which they are now producing it.
It was said also that goodwill was ignored in the calculation on taking over any stations which might be dealt with by the Board. That is really not involved at all, because goodwill is really increased if the energy is sold to this power company at a lower price than that at which it is now producing it. Obviously they increase their profits; they get a bigger income; and, if they do that, surely their goodwill is rather increased than diminished. In other words there is no goodwill in the factory which produces the energy, the goodwill is in the distribution of the energy and the whole of that will be retained by these companies. Criticism was made that there were very numerous appeals possible under the Pill to a barrister. This provision in the Bill, I believe, was 794 inserted at the instance of the noble Lord's own friends. There are too many rights of appeal, if I may say so, and I think it really threatens the working of the Bill to have so many. Certainly there can be no complaint that there is any lack of protection of the interests which are dealt with.
Another criticism was that the evidence of the Williamson Committee and the Weir Committee was not published. At the time the Williamson Committee sat we were just emerging from a terrible war and it was universally impressed upon us that we should refrain from unnecessary expenditure. It was felt that the evidence was so voluminous, after ten months of sitting, that it would be a useless expenditure to print that evidence. The decision, however, did not rest with the Committee, but with the Government of the day. With regard to the Weir Committee, it was not set up as an Inquiry in the ordinary sense, but was set up to advise the Minister and the Government and was more or less in the nature of a private Committee, but great interest was taken in it and it gradually developed, was spoken of in Parliament and became a publicly known body. The evidence was not printed. I do not know that there is any reason why it should not be. Certainly it is quite a mistake to suppose that the Committee desired to hide anything from the public or to hold its sittings or hear its evidence in camera. Another statement is that this Bill will "play Old Harry" with investments. I have taken the trouble to look at the Stock Exchange quotations, which are well known, or should be, to the noble Lord who made that accusation. I find there has been little if any fall since this dreadful Bill was brought in. Although the coal strike has been in progress and many things have suffered, especially manufacturing interests, in this country, still the price of electricity shares has kept up remarkably well. There has certainly been no evidence of a collapse or of timidity on the part of the holders of these shares as to the effect on their holdings of this Bill.
There is one weakness of which, I think I ought to speak while I am on my feet, in connection with the supply of electricity. The weakness that I see is a weakness in the selling organisation. I 795 do not think that we do as much in this country as we ought to do in pushing our wares, and that holds good in electricity as well as in other things. I heard from the evidence given by Mr. Dow, of Detroit, that in Detroit the electricity companies instal in the houses electric fires, electric flat irons, and such like things free of any charge and sell them to the tenants or owners of the houses on the hire-purchase system. They also replace fuses and lamps free of charge. They also keep a breakdown gang, as it may be called, with motor cars at various points in the City, who are on duty day and night and who, when telephoned to, go immediately and replace the fuses; in your house in a few minutes. We had figures given to us showing in what a remarkably short space of time such things are done. A woman who was ironing some laundry had something go wrong with her electric iron. She telephoned and in something like three minutes a man was there, and he repaired the electric iron and she went on with her work.
I do not think in this country we have done nearly as much as we ought in recommending the use of electricity for domestic and small power purposes. It may be thought that this is rather a trivial point, but it is not so trivial as it appears. There is this remarkable thing about electricity, that the more you use the cheaper it is. It is one of those strange commodities to which the axiom applies that the more you use the cheaper you can produce it. It is, therefore, very necessary, if we want to have a cheap supply of electricity, that we should all be propagandists for its use. The Bill, I think, when passed into law, will give a considerable impulse to industry and also to the technical trade and the manufacture of appliances. It will also do one thing which I foresee in the future and that is it will undoubtedly facilitate the supply of electrical energy to the railways and bring about, in the course of time, a considerable change in the propelling power of our trains. No doubt that will come, but it may come slowly.
The so-called "grid," that is, the main transmission lines, if laid out, as they no doubt will be, in proximity to railway lines, touching them at various points, will enable the railway companies 796 to get electricity and not be dependent upon one station. With interconnecting, they will be able to rely upon all the stations in the country, so that there need be no apprehension of trains being paralysed because the one station which is supplying the power has been put out of action. This "grid" will enable the railways to touch the source of power at various points along their lines and, consequently, will greatly facilitate that change, which must come some day, of the driving of our trains by electric power instead of steam. It is estimated that something like £290,000,000 will be spent within the next fifteen years on this extension of mains and on electrical appliances and work. The supply of this cheap power, as need hardly be emphasised, is of the very greatest importance to our industries; indeed, our commercial prosperity may be said to depend upon cheap power.
It has been said that this Bill should be delayed by being further examined and that further evidence should be taken. Time really presses in this matter. It has been too long already in coming. We have lost capital by the loss of time and there is no doubt whatever it is urgent that the matter should be taken in hand and dealt with. The Bill is not perfect; it is not even entirely logical; but then we are not starting from that clear ground where we can build afresh, without regard to any existing edifices. We have to take the circumstances as they are. Very often in this country our improvements and reforms are patch-work. We seldom draw upon a clean slate and we have, therefore, in this Bill, had to build on what exists. To that extent the Bill is not entirely logical, but it will do a very great deal. It goes a very long way and I am myself hoping that we shall all live to see the benefit of the work which we are doing to-day in organising this great industry of electricity and electric power for the needs of our country and the needs of our industries upon a basis which will ensure a cheaper supply, and therefore bring about better trade and more work for our people.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, I only wish to refer to one clause in this Bill and that is Clause 20, which gives the Board power to purchase land compulsorily for the purposes of transmission. 797 To that clause I take very grave objection. May I remind your Lordships that in the 1919 Electricity Act, under Clause 22, lines can be placed across land and under or over it, but there is no purchase, only a licence, and the authorised persons pay a rent of so much a pole. There is no severance of the property and the owner can pass and re-pass over the land. Then came the Electricity Act of 1922 and Clause 11 of that Act said what was to happen on the determination of an agreement. When that Act was before your Lordships' House I was very anxious to get an Amendment to enable the owner to ask for an alternative route if he wanted to develop his property. I admit I was very late in moving on the question. I saw my noble friend Viscount Peel, who was in charge of the Bill, and he most kindly and courteously asked me to see the officials of the Ministry of Transport. I did so and, naturally, objection was taken to the very late hour it which I was taking up the question, but according to my notes at the time I was assured that directions would be issued that in all future applications to place lines on private land, whether underground or overground, no consent under the Act of 1922 should be given without reserving to the Minister a power of revision in case diversion of the position of the lines should at any time be desirable.
I should have preferred my Amendment, but I accepted that assurance from the Ministry of Transport owing to the late hour at which I was taking up the question. Now, if under this Bill the Board is going to purchase the land, all safeguards disappear. If the land is purchased the owner can never afterwards get an alternative route. Just think of the dangers of giving the Board compulsory powers to purchase. Property will be severed in all directions. The transmission lines will go straight across country, up hill and down dale, crossing fields diagonally. What will happen if the owner wants to develop for building purposes a field cut in two by a diagonal line? Of course he will be stultified. What is going to happen if these transmission lines cross stone, slate, gravel, sand or woods? They will be cut in two and quarrying will be prevented. Is the Board going to buy the minerals? There is no limit under the Bill to the amount of land which can be compulsorily purchased by the Board. Is 798 it going to be a few yards wide, or is it going to be half a mile wide? What will prevent the Board from buying compulsorily all the frontage to a road for miles and miles, cutting the owners off from access to the land behind?
I should like to ask my noble friend whether, if the Board find at any time that they have more land than they need for the purposes of transmission cables, they can sell that land and become land speculators. The Board might buy land for, say, fifty miles long by half a mile wide straight across country. The owner would be debarred from crossing that half mile. I have not been able to grasp why these extensive powers are sought. A railway is not allowed to go across country unless the company promote a Private Bill, which stands the scrutiny of a Committee of your Lordships' House and of the House of Commons. The owner of the land can appear by Counsel and he can get safeguards put into the Bill and accommodation works. Here the unfortunate owner is going to be put at the mercy of some Government Department or Board. The postal authorities as a rule do not buy land for telegraph or telephone posts. They simply put up a pole, pay a rent of so much per pole and they make no severance. The owner can pass and re-pass under or over the lines.
May I remind your Lordships that these terrific powers are actually all put into one short clause in the Bill? The Board under that clause is to be deemed a public authority for the purposes of the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919. I object most strongly to this Board having these tremendous powers. I do not see why they are to have powers which are not given to a railway. You may ask what I intend to do about it. If the Committee stage is reached, I shall move the deletion of this clause, and I shall move a new clause giving the landowner the right to have transmission lines moved to an alternative route if the land is required for other purposes than those to which it was put at the time of the acquisition of the licence. That will be on the lines of the Amendment which I wanted to get into the 1922 Act, and I hope I shall have your Lordships' support when the time comes.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª.799
§ LORD CARSON
had given Notice to move, That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I should like to explain the position in which I stand as regards the Motion which is on the Paper in my name, that this Bill should be referred for consideration to a Select Committee of your Lordships' House I move that Motion entirely of my own accord. I belong to no group, or cabal, or company, except that I believe that in a foolish moment many years ago I bought a few shares in an electrical company, which I believe I have still. But that does not trouble me very much either way, as the amount is excessively small. I am not moving my Motion in any sense out of hostility to having a Bill. I am not moving my Motion in any sense in conjunction with any company; or with any party, or out of dislike for the Conservative Government, though I think they do try some of us very highly in this House, when they always seem to think that when they are in power we should be a mere conduit pipe for getting their Bills on to the Statute Book.
I may say that I am not standing before your Lordships pretending that I know anything about electricity or about the proper way of dealing with this great question in this country. On the contrary, I think I am like the majority of your Lordships, entirely ignorant on the matter. It is not because I have any superior knowledge that I ask your Lordships to agree to my Motion, but because of my own ignorance and because of the ignorance which I think is shared by the vast number of the members of your Lordships' House My sole and only object is to take care that in a matter this kind we should have the very best possible Bill after the fullest consideration by those in whose judgment we have confidence. It is all very well to say, as a noble Lord in effect said hero yesterday: "I have come to the conclusion that a Bill is necessary, so let us have this Bill." When difficult subjects are to be legislated upon there is a great deal too much of a tendency merely to say that something must be done. Let us all be agreed upon tie fact that something must be done, but let us also take care, when we are doing it, that we do 800 it with the very fullest possible consideration and that we present to the country, which entrusts us with these responsible duties, the very best Bill that can be obtained in the circumstances of the case.
If one thing was proved more than another during the debate yesterday and in the speech of the noble Lord who has just addressed us, it was that this Bill is a most complex matter. One other thing that stands out pre-eminently in the very elements of the discussion is that this Bill probably provides for more drastic and anomalous changes in relation to a great industry built up at the public expense than any Bill that has come before your Lordships' House, certainly in my time. It is said that you must have drastic remedies, that you must have compulsory powers, that you must be able to deal as you like with existing companies who have put their money into this business. Let us concede all that; but surely the more drastic the powers and the more you feel bound to interfere with these companies, the more care You ought to take that you thoroughly understand what you are doing.
I am prepared to make two admissions. I admit, first of all, that a great change is necessary. I have been convinced of that by all that I have heard. I am also prepared to admit that drastic legislation has to come. But I say that the admission of those two facts, so far from being against my Motion, is absolutely conclusive upon the subject, for if ever there was a case in which your Lordships ought to take a matter in hand with full understanding by making use of a Select Committee, it is this case. To say that, in a House like your Lordships' House, you can ever really thrash out this Bill in the ordinary course of a Committee stage is really ridiculous. It is only playing at legislation.
But there is another reason why a Select Committee is of great importance. We have heard of the Committee presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Weir, from whom we had a speech yesterday. I listened with the greatest admiration to all that he told us of the technical side of the subject, as I have always listened with admiration to somebody who knows a whole lot about a matter of which I know nothing. Of his accuracy or inaccuracy I was unable to judge, but I felt perfectly confident that 801 he knew a great deal about the subject. But at the same time, even if this was the greatest Committee that has ever sat upon these matters, you cannot rid yourself of responsibility by simply saying that Lord Weir's Committee has decided so-and-so and reported so-and-so; it must be your Committee, composed of those who are responsible to you and whose opinions you are prepared to share.
The evidence given before the Weir Committee has never been published. Nobody knows what the evidence was and nobody knows how far the witnesses of whom we have heard agreed on any particular point. I am told—I do not vouch for it, but it comes to me in the ordinary communications that we get from various quarters—that there was a good deal of difference. At all events the fact remains that the evidence has never been published. I am told also—again I do not vouch for it, but the information comes to me from a responsible body; I expect every member of the House has seen a memorandum issued by the Incorporated Association of Electrical Power Companies—I am told that, though £194,000,000 is invested in the business entrusted to their charge, yet, when they asked to be heard, they were absolutely refused a hearing. Is that a kind of procedure that has ever been adopted by this House before?
Last Session I brought in a small Bill dealing with some paintings that I wanted the custodians in this country to lend to my own country—a matter that had created some excitement. My Bill was stopped because I did not comply with the Standing Orders regarding advertisements and so on. I was told, when I saw the gentleman in this House who was incited by somebody or other to stop it—I do not know how these things are done—that I could not go on with a Bill dealing with private property and the interests of private people without certain formalities being gone through. We see over and over again, coming before this House and the House of Commons, ordinary Bills dealing with rights of more or less financial importance, and from day to day they are thoroughly thrashed out.
Your Lordships, however, are apparently going to lay down—for I understand that the Government are going to oppose this Motion, if I read my news- 802 paper aright this morning—that an industry built up for the last twenty-five or thirty years, an industry to which the public were asked to subscribe their money and ran the risk in the infancy of the industry to the extent of £194,000,000, is to see this Bill passed against their will and over their heads without their having an opportunity of being heard. Is that going to be laid down by the House of Lords as the ordinary procedure in this House? It may be right to make these provisions. I am not championing these companies; I am only saying that they ought to be heard. I cannot help reflecting that, if the Bill had been brought in by noble Lords opposite when they were in power, I should have liked to hear some of our leaders upon that occasion making a few comments upon the invasion of the rights of the subject to the extent of dealing in this way with this kind of company. I really do not know what part I should have taken in the matter.
Do let us consider what this really means in relation to the encouragement or discouragement of private industry in this country. A great deal is said about Socialist legislation. I see that some very eminent Parliamentarian in another place attacked this Bill as Socialist legislation. I am sure I do not know whether it is Socialist legislation or not. I am not quite sure that I could define where Socialism begins and individualism ends. It seems to me that these things are generally regulated by the convenience of the Party who want to pass a particular Bill. But as to whether this is the best line or not, surely what the House of Lords ought to do is to submit it to a Committee that will go into it line by line and see that, as far as possible, while the necessary powers are given by legislation, at the same time the existing interests of those who, on the faith of existing legislation, have invested money in these undertakings, should be protected. That is all I ask.
Of course, I am not able to judge. The noble Lord who has just spoken has told me—as a very small shareholder in some of these companies I welcomed the statement—that I do not know how much I will be benefited by this Bill. He is a very good judge, and he may be right, or he may be wrong, but it always strikes 803 me as an extraordinary thing, when I hear a noble Lord make a statement like that with so much confidence, that I should have been furnished with protests by I do not know how many of these companies, stating that the Bill is going to do a great deal of harm. Why they should oppose the Bill if it is going to confer the benefits which the noble Lord opposite has foretold, entirely beats me.
Let as just for a few moments look and see what this Bill is. Let us suppose it to be the best Bill in the world, and I am not saying that it is not. I am only expressing my own incompetence to judge, and I have no doubt that many other noble Lords will ask themselves what competence they have to judge of the Bill, without an inquiry. What does the Bill do? It sets up a Board of a most extraordinary character. I should have thought that the whole system at the present time was sufficiently involved but under this Bill, as I make out, after the Bill passes the industry will in some respects he under the Ministry of Transport—what that Ministry has got to do with it I do not know—in a manner into which I will go in a moment, under this new Board, then under the Electricity Committees which have already been set up, and then under public companies and under local authorities. If there is no simpler way of running an industry of course that will have to be done, but I suggest that it might be worth while the Committee considering whether you might not get rid of the Board altogether, and get rid of the Ministry of Transport altogether, and give the necessary powers to the existing Electricity Commissioners. I do not know whether that is reasonable or not.
What is this Board? I say it is unprecedented. It may be right or wrong, but what is it? It is a body of gentlemen who are to be nominated by the Minister of Transport. Why by the Minister of Transport, I do not know. I have never heard much about the Ministry of Transport, except that it was a very expensive body and did very little. This Board is to consist of a Chairman and seven other members appointed by the Minister of Transport. They are to have no particular qualifications. That leaves the Minister perfectly free to put whom he likes there. When appointed they are to hold office for at least five years, and 804 all that time are to be accountable to nobody. The noble Viscount who brought in the Bill, in a most able speech on a most complicated subject, made it a boast that they would not be a Government Department. They are not an elected Department, or accountable to the Minister of Transport, or to anybody so far as I can see. They have been given, as has been pointed out, the most absolute compulsory powers that can be given to anybody, whether Parliament, a corporation, or local authority, or anybody else.
That may be the best way of doing it, or it may not, but what will they cost? How are they to be paid? Just look what they have to do:The Board shall appoint a secretary and such other officers and servants as the Board may determine, and there shall be paid out of the fund hereinafter established to the members of the Board, or any of them, such salaries or fees and allowances for expenses as the Minister of Transport may determine"—he comes back again there—and to the secretary, officers, and servants of the Board such salaries and remuneration, and, on retirement or death, such pensions and gratuities, as the Board may determine.Then the Board, having been constituted, may appoint "one or more consultative technical committees consisting of engineers employed in connection with undertakings comprising generating stations which are by virtue of this Act for the time being selected stations." All that has to be paid for. The noble Viscount, as I understood him, said there would not be a penny put upon the taxpayers of this country. Is that so?
§ LORD CARSON
I understood him to say so. He says he did not, and I must be wrong, but I am glad it is true, anyway. By whom is it to be paid? The consumer. Somebody has to pay for it, and that is the way in which you are going to cheapen electricity. Then this Board, as was pointed out by the last noble Lord who spoke, is given, I venture to think, powers which it would be well for a Committee to look into, to see how far they are properly safeguarded, and in what way the Board should be kept within the proper ambit of their duties, 805 because as far as I read the Bill they have full powers over every one of these companies, to order them to do anything they like, to spend any amount of capital they like, and if the companies do not obey the Board have power practically to take over the undertaking. That is an enormous power. Where is the capital to come from, should these companies be ordered to build larger generating stations, and to do this, that or the other? I am told that this interconnecting of power stations, and what is called the "gridiron," and other matters, are all matters of millions of money. Where is it to come from? It may be that it is to be raised in this kind of way, but surely it is a matter that your Lordships' House would like a Committee to inquire into.
Take shortly the powers which the Board have: to take control of any generating station they may select, to ask the Electricity Commissioners to close down any generating station whose existence is considered to be unjustified, to order the incurring of any capital expenditure, to regulate the areas and conditions of supply of any generating station, and to compel any undertaker to buy its own supplies back at cost price plus the Board's administrative charges. Then the Bill proposes as a start off—in these days of economy, mark you!—to borrow £33,500,000 on the guarantee of the State. No doubt that will not be enough. Nobody ever knew an estimate to be large enough in cases of this kind. They will have to borrow more afterwards. To whom is this Board, with all these powers, and authorised to borrow all that money, to be responsible for the expenditure of that money? What will happen if the enterprise does not turn out well? Is this a gamble? It may be perfectly all right, but is this House really going to lay it down that, in a transaction of this gigantic nature, setting up a Board with these gigantic powers and responsible to nobody, this Bill must be passed without being sent to a Committee, just because a Conservative Government is in power? I do not believe that you would pass the smallest Bill of any kind, involving a quarter of these powers, if it was brought in by anybody else but the Government, without having the matter thoroughly 806 threshed out, and having all parties whose interests are concerned heard by some tribunal or other.
I think I am also justified in pressing this Motion because of the great controversy the Bill has raised. I do not know which side is right and which side is wrong. No doubt the Weir Committee have gained the confidence of the Government. That goes a long way but at the same time you have all these companies opposed to the Bill, and certainly a great number of electrical associations and engineers are opposed to it. I am getting letters and documents every day from all kinds of people who have interests of various kinds. You may tell me that they are interested people. I dare say there are. I never blame an interested person for trying to protect his interests I do not see why he should not.
I noticed that when this Bill was going through another place there seemed to be a great deal of unnecessary heat generated from certain quarters. Perhaps that was because it was an Electric Light Bill, but the Bill was not at all approved even on the Government side of the House. Surely in such a state of affairs each noble Lord ought to ask himself, "Am I doing my duty to the country? Have I got sufficient knowledge to carry out the responsibility cast upon me? Am I able to decide that in a great change of this kind we are doing what is right and what is best in the interests of the country as a whole?" Do not think that I shirk compulsion do not think I even shirk Socialism, if it is a case where Governments have to step in—though I do not think they ought ever to do it without some overwhelming reasons, which compel them in the interests of the country as a whole to interfere with some particular industry.
That is my case for having the Bill sent to a Committee. About a year and a half ago we had a very important Bill before us, the Rating and Valuation Bill, which, after we had been calling out for so many years to have that question considered, was in my opinion a very poor, emaciated Bill, which shirked most of the points that really needed to be decided. That Bill was brought to us at the very end of the Session. A large number of noble Lords in this House spend their lives engaged in those questions in the country 807 and are probably more competent than anybody else to pronounce upon that subject, but when we suggested that the Bill ought to go to a Select Committee we were told that would probably be a proper course, but that we were at the end of the Session and it could not possibly be done without wrecking the Bill. Is that always to be the case in this House? Are we always to be told it is too late? What, then, are we here for? If that is the kind of way in which the business of this House is to be carried on, if we are to have sham Second-Chamber government, the sooner it is put an end to the better. The other day we passed through all its stages the Consolidated Fund Bill. We were not allowed to say a word about it. To-day we have to consider a Bill of great importance, which we are told is going to revolutionise industry and give us great advantages. It is put before us now at the eleventh hour, and we are told it has to pass. We are told that there will not be time for a Select Committee, and that this is a wrecking Motion. I disclaim its being a wrecking Motion. I desire to see the best Bill pass but if we are not to be a revising Chamber to revise this Bill with all the care and caution which such great questions demand, what are we? I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.—(Lord Carson.)
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, into the interesting but very general observations with which my noble friend concluded his speech it is not my purpose to-night to enter. Your Lordships will, I think, be afforded more convenient and more relevant occasions for discussing and deciding the general question of the constitution and powers of this House, and, if my noble and learned friend will not think me discourteous, I shall not advert to that particular branch of his argument. His Amendment to-day proposes that the merits or demerits of this Bill shall be submitted to a Select Committee of this House, and apparently my noble and learned friend has reached the conclusion that if we are not prepared to adopt the course which he recommends we are practically repudiating what little function still survives in the House of 808 Lords. I must remind my noble and learned friend that the course which he recommends, so far from being a usual one, is, in fact, a highly unusual one. Listening to my noble and learned friend a noble Lord who was not familiar with the procedure of this House would necessarily and properly draw the inference that if, on a private Motion, your Lordships did not proceed to set up a Select Committee for the consideration of the terms of a Bill which I will show your Lordships in a moment has already been very adequately considered by different Committees, we were repudiating some function to which it was our duty tenaciously to cling.
May I point out to my noble and learned friend, who says in the most candid way that he does not lay claim to any particular technical knowledge, who says that he does not know whether this is a good Bill or whether it is a bad Bill, that with his quick intelligence and great gift, which no one admires more than I, of mastering facts, he might very easily have reinforced his knowledge from very authoritative and very accessible sources. I have heard my noble and learned friend in the old days in which he and I were either colleagues or opponents at the Bar, master technical matters of extraordinary complication with great speed, and I assure your Lordships that had my noble and learned friend found time to consider the conclusions of the Forres Committee and to study the Report of the Weir Committee, and had his energies still been unexhausted so that he might have followed day by day the proceedings of the Committee of the House of Commons, which lasted three months, he would have known more about this Bill than any other member of your Lordships' House has already forgotten.
What has been, in fact, the history of this matter? First of all, it was examined by the Forres Committee. My noble friend has said that before the Weir Committee the interests to which he called our attention were denied a hearing. I believe that the history of the matter in this respect is plain and well understood. The Weir Committee inherited an accumulation of information and evidence which had been given before the Forres Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Forres, who addressed your Lordships to-day, was, I believe, a member of both Committees. I am in- 809 formed that these interests were heard with the greatest patience and at great length before the Forres Committee, and that the information so accumulated was handed over to the Weir Committee and formed the basis of at least one part of its conclusions. I must be allowed to point out, if it is really a case made on merits that these interests have never had a chance of putting forward their arguments, that they were very capably represented and very obstinately represented in the House of Commons. The Committee in another place, not a Special Committee but the ordinary Committee of the House of Commons, examined these arguments for three months.
My noble and learned friend has said, and I concur in the justice of his observations, that the fact that a man has an interest in a particular business does not disentitle him from expressing an opinion when that interest is menaced by proposed legislation. I agree. But when the legislation is of a character in which important public interests are involved, it is equally proper for other parties to make the observation that those who are specially interested, and are exercising their admitted right of criticising because they are so interested, are not necessarily and in all cases the best advisers upon the problem taken in general perspective. Certainly no one who considers the speeches that were made upon Second Reading, and the hundreds of speeches in which the several points made by my noble and learned friend were stated and repeated in case any one who heard them had forgotten them, will resist the conclusion that never in the history of Parliamentary legislation has an Opposition received more consideration or been treated with more patience than those whose opinions are represented by my noble and learned friend received in another place.
When we are told that we are neglecting our constitutional functions if we do not refer this Bill to a Select Committee, I reply, on the contrary, that it is our constitutional function to debate these things in Committee upon the floor of the House of Lords. We are not so over-whelmed by work as is another place that we are compelled to relegate these matters for three months upstairs. It 810 would be a most interesting effort if the noble and learned Lord and those who share his views were to make the Committee stage in this House, as we invite him to do, a real stage. Let the noble and learned Lord put upon the Paper for the Committee stage of this Bill such proposals and Amendments as he desires to recommend to your Lordships. The Government are confident that they can reply to the arguments which he and his friends may put forward in so far as they are fundamental and would in the result be destructive of the Bill. But the Government do not in the least take up the position here any more than they take up the position in another place—and we never have taken up the position—that if the noble and learned Lord is really able in Committee to call attention to some real defect or some injustice, we will not carefully consider any argument which the noble Lord and his friends may put forward. Indeed, any one who knows the independent methods by which your Lordships are accustomed to deal with these matters in Committee will know perfectly well that, whatever the Government said or whatever the Government did, the noble and learned Lord has only to call attention to some real injustice upon the floor of this House to make it certain that your Lordships will put that injustice right and improve the Bill in that sense.
How ridiculous is it to make the claim that these interests have not been fully heard. Months of the Forres Committee, months of the Weir Committee and three months, as I have already reminded your Lordships, recently consumed in the House of Commons. If you want three weeks here in this House I am certain that your Lordships will not shrink from supporting the noble and learned Lord even in an entrenchment on his Christmas holidays if he desires to push his inquiries so closely.
I am deeply concerned in this matter because I happened to be the humble but, I am sorry to recall, the long-winded exponent of the Bill which seven years ago was recommended by the Coalition Government and which would, in effect, have attained the results which we propose to-day. I had no doubt at that time that these proposals were well conceived. Your Lordships, acting under the advice of a respected colleague of 811 mine who is to-day a supporter of this Bill and who at that date was not a colleague, struck out that portion of the Bill. I am informed by those who have given great attention to these matters that if seven years ago these proposals had been accepted we should by this time have paid about half what Mr. Cook has cost us in the savings which we should have effected in the matter of electrical supply.
Certain broad facts seem to me to stand out, to be undenied, to be incapable of denial and to be, in fact, decisive of this whole question. In Great Britain the output of electricity per head of the population is 190 units. I cannot make it possible for those of your Lordships who have not had occasion to study this matter in detail to understand how disastrous, how incredibly disappointing, such a figure is, but I may perhaps, by a comparative statement, elucidate it to some extent. In Great Britain, 190 units per head of the population—in Belgium, 297; in France, 248; in Sweden, 533; in the United States of America, 623; in Switzerland, 1090; in the Dominion of Canada, 1,190 units per head of the population as compared with our 190. If one knew nothing of the history of this matter a posteriori, if one approached it a priori, one would say at once, there must be something fundamentally wrong in an organisation which has produced so disastrous an inferiority in the electrical supply in this country. And yet I should do the existing arrangements great injustice if I did not make it plain that there is at least one respect in which we have defeated all our international competitors. We have succeeded in producing the most expensive electric power in the world. But we have asserted our predominance only in that respect.
Let me give you shortly the figures relating to that. The cost in Great Britain is 1.76d. per unit; in Italy and Switzerland it is 1.40d.; in France 1.33d. Therefore we are bound to approach this question in the knowledge that unless we are either less efficient than other people unless our natural advantages are demonstrably inferior in this matter, there must have been some grave error in our business methods in the past. A very brief analysis of the existing situation, a very inconsiderable comparison of that situation with those that exist in 812 other countries, make the explanation at once obvious and easy. We have in this country 584 generating stations. They are nearly all small. Many of them have rendered useful service in the past. It is indisputably clear that many of them to-day have exhausted the period of their economic usefulness. A very simple figure will, I think, establish that conclusion. Sixty per cent. of all the electricity which is generated in this country is produced by 50 stations; 40 per cent. of the total electrical power generated is divided among 500 stations. Can any one really believe that such a system is economic? Can any one believe that it is consistent with the demands of modern competition? That there should be 40 per cent. of the total electrical power generated which requires the co-operation of about 500 stations shows that we have either originally conceived or drifted into a system the most uneconomic, the most indefensible of any that has hitherto blighted the energies of any country striving to keep itself in the contemporary current of modernity.
It is perhaps worth while noticing, as my noble friend Lord Peel, in his exhaustive speech last night made plain, that two-thirds of the generating stations belong to municipalities. When my noble friend says: "Are people who possess £194,000,000 of capital not to be considered?" that fact of the number of stations belonging to municipalities should, I think, be remembered, because the distinction is that the £194,000,000 represents the capital which is invested in the whole industry. It is necessary to distinguish here, in the first place, the case of the local authorities and, in the second place, the case of the authorised undertakers who are, of course, not power companies at all. I am told that, in fact, the total capital invested here by the power companies, who are the strong objectors to these proposals, is represented by some £25,000,000. It is very necessary for us to bear in mind how great are the interests which are involved in all these proposals, how directly they contribute to and may be made to subserve that revival of our general prosperity, so often delayed, of which many of us see some signs to-day. It is not as if it were a matter solely of providing electric light in the houses. The noble Lord, Lord Weir, in his well- 813 informed and interesting speech last night, told us of a town of some 8,000 houses in which there was not one electric light. Of course our failure to keep in touch with modern conditions in this matter means a great diminution in the total volume of employment open to the mechanics in this industry. That its more general adoption would be of great advantage to British employment no one would seriously dispute, but it is not only, or even mainly, upon the provision of light that the case of the Government is founded. Actually and potentially there is no element which, judiciously and intelligently fostered, is capable of playing a greater part in the development of our industries as a whole.
And here, my Lords, I would ask leave briefly to give one or two illustrations. I take first of all the cotton mills of Lancashire, an industry in which I am doubly interested, in the first place because of my early professional understanding of the general conditions in which that industry is carried on, and in the second place because, holding the position which I hold to-day, I am bound to watch with anxious and unfailing vigilance the fortunes of the cotton trade of Lancashire. It is not and it will not be possible for those cotton mills to be carried on by electrical energy until the price has been reduced to a halfpenny a unit. I do not enlarge at this moment upon the comparative cleanliness and economy of electrical power as compared with the alternative methods of available energy, though indeed this consideration is apparent.
But we take the responsibility as a Government, a responsibility which was equally taken by an earlier Government of a different political complexion; we found ourselves upon our expert advisers, as they founded themselves upon theirs, and we take the responsibility of saying that in our opinion it will be possible for us to reduce the price to a halfpenny a unit. And if that be possible, think what that means for the whole trade of Lancashire think what it means in relation to the increased competitive power of that industry at a moment when the most frequent and on the whole the best justified lament which we hear to-day, is that more and more by intensive and growing charges we are disabling our manufacturers from competition abroad. Here we 814 have an opportunity for which, as I have said, two successive Governments have accepted responsibility and have informed your Lordships that in their judgment it is a reasonable reduction and one that could readily be made.
Now let me give you another illustration. In the electro-mechanical industry and in the electro-metallurgical industry we are, as everyone knows, far behind our principal competitors. If we could provide them with cheap electrical power there is no reason whatever why both of these industries should not be carried on in successful competition with the similar industries of other countries. We did at least appear for the moment to have learned the lesson in the last War that we were ill-advised to allow either the mastery or the monopoly of these two important sciences to be enjoyed by foreign countries. Let me attempt still a further illustration. Take the prospect of the electrification of railways. In existing circumstances there will be no real progress in that direction and yet many contemporary signs point to the conclusion that it is upon the road of electrification that the prosperity of railways in the future may be found to depend. It is not uninteresting to observe that in Switzerland a general process is being rapidly carried out under which all the railways will be propelled by electrical energy. The economies which will be involved in such a gradual substitution, made in the most convenient and economic manner which may be recommended by those who have specially studied these matters, can readily be conceived. In the first place, fewer locomotives will be required, and in the second place, the cost of transport will be greatly reduced. The expense of getting up steam so long before the actual exercise of power is required will be avoided.
Not less important is the revolution which will be effected in the domestic life of the nation if we can produce this power at a really economic figure. I am not, for the reason which I have given, dealing particularly with the question of lighting. But some medical man of high position stated a few weeks ago that the principal reason of such ill-health and weakness of constitution as existed in the working classes was the inadequacy and the unwholesomeness of their cooking arrangements. I am not 815 an expert in such matters, but I have some knowledge of the amazing developments that have taken place in the United States of America, where electrical energy is procurable at a low rate. I am told that if you press a button in an electric oven you can immediately carry out such culinary process as you have in your mind and that the current declines automatically when the joint, if it be a joint, has been sufficiently cooked. To noble Lords this sounds a humorous illustration. I can only inform your Lordships that it was given to me by a very serious person, one whom I have never heard make a joke in his life, and that it was given to me with the appearance of great certainty, knowledge and experience.
Just as it plays a part in this one humble but extremely valuable domestic task, so equally it plays a part in the washing of clothes, a matter which, humble as it may be, plays no small part, in all our lives. Your Lordships have frequently seen advertisements of attractive young ladies dressed almost for the ballroom turning immaculate mangles in the course of their humble duties. I am informed that the actual work of a laundry, conducted as it is conducted in existing conditions, is by no means either so spotless, so easy, or so enjoyable as it is represented in those advertisements. But equally I am informed that where an electrical process is employed the work of cleansing soiled linen is one of almost mechanical simplicity. We must not disdain the great broad grounds upon which we found our arguments, the tendency, as we believe, to increase the whole volume of our industry. We must not disdain either the smaller conveniences and comforts of the great mass of our population which, duly tended, will result in a largely increased standard of health.
I can only say, speaking for the Government—and this I must make very plain—that we should profoundly regret it if Your Lordships took the responsibility against our advice of the delay which would be involved in the appointment of a Select Committee. My noble and learned friend disclaimed altogether the wish to move a wrecking Amendment. I equally acquit him altogether of any such desire. I must none the less make it plain to your Lordships and to him that, whatever the intention of this Amendment may be, if it is carried it will prevent 816 the Bill becoming law this Session and the responsibility will be that of your Lordships, incurred after an earnest appeal made to you by a Government which have not undertaken this difficult legislative task lightly or hurriedly, who have appointed all the expert bodies from whom they hoped and believed that they could expect efficient advice, and who then appointed their own Committee of the Cabinet—a Committee which devoted weeks and weeks to the examination of this particular measure before it was ever presented to Parliament—and who come to-day to your Lordships in the earnest and confident belief that measures so carefully taken will not be destroyed by the acceptance of the Amendment that the noble and learned Lord has moved.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, I wish to add a few words—they shall not be many—to the observations of the noble Earl opposite. It is true, as he and other speakers have said, that the development of electricity in this country is considerable, but it is considerable along lines which place it at a great disadvantage. In the United States, one of our most serious rivals, electricity is produced at a much lower cost than here. The same is true of Belgium. Germany. Switzerland and other countries, and the reason is that they have adopted the principle that is embodied in this Bill. I do not want to cover ground that has been covered already, but I have one or two additional observations to make.
To begin with, this Bill is urgently required. It has not been pointed out to your Lordships in the debate that the very development that has taken place in the electrical industry in this country is producing factors which will not fit into the new scheme and which it will need a large and increasing expenditure of money to eliminate. Take, for instance, the question of frequency, of which we have heard so much. The frequency that has been installed in a good many new systems is not the frequency of this Bill; it is a frequency of 25 instead of 50. All this will have to be undone. I give this only as an illustration. That means spending more money. Every month of delay in bringing this scheme into operation means greater cost to the public, and that in itself is a serious matter.
817 I agree with the noble and learned Lord opposite that we do not want to rush into anything that has not been fully considered. But what is it that has not been fully considered? Is it the science that underlies this Bill? Surely not, because all the objections have been objections based upon private interests, upon profits that it is said will be lost, upon the ownership of land and upon other things which do not touch the scientific doctrine that is the basis of this Bill. That basis has been thoroughly thrashed out by the experts. The noble and learned Lord quoted a society of producers. He did not quote the Institution of Electrical Engineers, which has recently, through its President, Dr. Eccles, given the strongest support to the carrying of this Bill. Has he read Dr. Eccles's address?
§ LORD CARSON
I think the noble and learned Viscount is in error. I know that Dr. Eccles supported the Bill, and that he is President, but I do not think that the Institution itself supports the Bill.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I do not know what formal proceedings have been taken, but I do know that a very large number of engineers who heard Dr. Eccles's address have endorsed his conclusion, though whether the whole body has done so I cannot tell—very possibly not. At any rate, there is a vast body of electrical engineers supporting this scheme. Further, the points of objection have nearly all been what I may call clause points—points in the scheme of the Bill itself—and these were investigated before the Grand Committee of the House of Commons with a thoroughness which I think has been unsurpassed in the history of any Grand Committee. I have read the proceedings of that Grand Committee pretty well through and there is not one point raised here, nor any point of which I have read, which was not brought up when the Bill was being conducted through that Grand Committee by the Attorney-General, Sir Douglas Hogg. That Committee reported on all these objections. It spent three months of its time in investigating these questions and they are the very questions that come before your Lordships. They are all questions concerning the scheme and the clauses of the Bill, and. I am sure I do 818 not know why we should not deal with them as easily on the floor of this House as they can be dealt with upstairs in a Committee. If a Select Committee were appointed to go into the other aspects oil the scheme, the scientific questions to which I have referred, it would have to sit not only for weeks but for months to cover the ground.
That being so, what does this Amendment mean? It is really a Motion for the rejection of this Bill for this Session. It would put an end to all the Bill's chances until next Session is reached. One cannot see ahead, but I am apprehensive of the prospects of a Bill which has taken so many months to get through its Second Reading and Committee stage in the other House. I have considerable apprehension as to such a Bill seeing the light again. But we cannot afford that it should not see the light. Other countries are going ahead faster than we are. Our trade competitors are going ahead, and we are destroying our own chances; and time is everything in this matter.
Something was said by the noble and learned Lord about the finance of this Bill. He spoke of the £33,000,000 which the Treasury would have to guarantee as if it were money which is going to be spent out of the funds borrowed in this fashion. I thought it was made plain yesterday that nothing of the kind is true. The Electricity Commissioners and the Board will have control of funds under this Bill and, by the scheme of the Bill, by the large load-production and its steadiness, there will be a saving which, it is estimated, will in the end reduce the cost of producing electricity to one-half the present figure. That reduction begins to take effect very early—not in its full force for some years, but partially from a very early stage and to an extent which will more than compensate for the twentieth of a penny which is all the extra cost that will be incurred by the Board and the Commissioners, not only in the running of their business and paying the salaries to which the noble and learned Lord referred, but in the transmission and standardisation system to be introduced. That being so, looking at it merely as a business proposition which has been investigated to the extent to which this 819 has been investigated, it is idle to say that we are contemplating imposing any great burdens on the Treasury.
I would add this: The matter has not been investigated only by the Weir Committee and the other Committee, but it has been investigated in the light of the experience of other countries, to which those who prepared the scheme had the fullest access. We know that things have worked out in the United States precisely on the lines contained in this Bill and we know that it has been so in other foreign countries. Until we get rid of a wasteful system which causes the production of electricity at an unduly high figure it will be impossible for us to put ourselves on the same footing as these other nations.
My Lords, the noble and learned Earl who spoke against the Motion to send this Bill to a Committee stated the case for the Bill, I think, quite early in his speech, in a very few sentences. He said this Bill ought to have been passed six years ago, when the other Bill was passed, and so of course it ought and would have been had it not been for the faint-heartedness of the Government of the day, which allowed the Bill to be emasculated and reduced to a Bill which has not proved to be the success which it ought to have been. This is an amendment of that Bill which ought to have been passed six years ago, and for that reason it is impossible to oppose it, if one desires the general principles to be carried out which were then laid down.
There are some perfectly obvious considerations. You cannot expect to get economy in production from a large number of small stations. Everybody is agreed as to that. You cannot link up stations unless they are working on a similar system. Everybody is agreed as to that. And stations are not very likely to change their system at their own expense, for the purpose of linking up, unless you apply compulsion, as you do by this Bill, and compulsion in which you are going to see that no cost falls upon them. This Bill involves, undoubtedly, certain interference with private property, and that I have no doubt is the reason for all the agitation which one sees on the Benches behind the Front Bench opposite. In our view it would be a very much simpler Bill, and probably a more 820 successful Bill, if it involved larger interference with private property. One of the great reasons for the complication of provisions is the extreme care which the Government have shown to invade the rights of private property as little as is necessary for your immediate object, and to provide compensation in every possible way.
There is one point that I should like to make. I do not, I am afraid, entirely share the youthful optimism of the Secretary of State for India and my noble and learned Leader, Viscount Haldane, as to the certain large reduction in the cost of electrical supply which will necessarily result from this linking up, and I am bound to say that I find a good many electrical engineers also share my scepticism. I do not want your Lordships, or the Government, to raise expectations in the public mind which may not be fulfilled. We have heard a good deal, and the noble and learned Earl himself said a good deal, about cooking and heating, which cannot be economical at any price over about a halfpenny per unit. We are told that we are going to get power for cooking and heating at that price under this Bill, or that there is reasonable hope of it. I can only say that I sincerely trust that may be so, but I do not think there is any sign of it at present, and I am a little surprised that in so highly industrial a district as the cotton mill district referred to electricity cannot be produced at that price at the present moment, because I should have thought that in a district like that, where you can to some extent mitigate the effect of that terrible peak load that we all know of, they ought to be able to supply electricity as cheaply as you can get it by any linking up system.
I trust I may be found to be a false prophet in this matter of reduction of price. Then there is one other word of warning which I would like to utter to the general public, and that is as to the happy picture we have had of all the isolated farms and buildings in the country being connected by electrical power. I happened, a year or two ago, to be in one of the mountainous districts of Wales, and there I saw one of these overhead electric lines being put up. I got into conversation with the gentleman who was in charge. Round about the 821 place were standing half a dozen scattered farms, and I said: "These people will be able to take power from this line." He replied: "Oh dear no, this is going to be ten or twenty thousand volts, and it would cost £3,000 or some such sum, to set up a sub-station, and it would be impossible to put it up for a few isolated buildings." I think that if we are not going to get universal distribution to isolated places we shall lose a great deal in the advantage to the individual members of the public, and probably also a good deal in the reduction of price. I do not think it is, or ought to be, impossible to carry to those wires other wires of a lower voltage. Anyhow, the gentleman on the spot seemed to think there was no hope for these farms, although they saw the power passing, as it were, their door.
Then as to opposition from the companies. There are a large number of small companies supplying electricity at enormous prices—7d. or 6d. per unit—going on quite comfortably from their own point of view. I have no doubt that they are unwilling to be disturbed, and to be absorbed into some larger scheme, and to have their generating plant scrapped. In that matter, however, I think it is not at all unreasonable to consider the desires of the consumers of electricity, who do not like the high prices and who have no sentimental feeling about the stations and plant, or the board of directors. A great deal of the opposition comes from small and inefficient stations of that sort, and I am glad that the Government have had the courage to be socialistic enough, as their friends call it, to put the interests of the public first. Apparently the definition of Socialism coming from the other side is putting the interests of the public before the interests of private people. I am prepared to accept that definition. I want, before we pass from this subject, to utter a word of caution as to too high hopes. I do not feel at all sure that we shall get down to the price hoped for, but if we can I agree that we shall have almost a revolution in the use of electricity, and one which will be very desirable. It would be quite impossible, of course, for me to do anything to oppose this Bill, because I feel it is six years 822 overdue, and if we had had it six years ago we should be in a much better position than we are now.
§ LORD DANESFORT
My Lords, the Earl of Birkenhead made a very fluent speech, but if he will permit me to say so it was an ingenious attempt to draw a red herring across the path of the Motion before the House. The noble and learned Earl made a Second Reading speech, which, however relevant before the Second Reading was carried, did not appear to be very relevant to the question under discussion at the moment, which is whether the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee. The case for a Select Committee appears to me to be very simple. Here is an exceedingly technical and difficult Bill, which involves, if it is carried, the expenditure of millions of money—no one knows how many—both by the State itself through a guarantee and by the undertakers, who will have to alter and extend their works very greatly. It involves the control of an enormous and growing industry by a bureaucratic body, which control can only be carried out by the expenditure of a very large sum of money. In those circumstances many of us are driven to think that it is reasonable, before you commit yourselves irrevocably to passing this Bill, which must undoubtedly affect the industry for many long years to come, that you should have the advantage of some technical and expert evidence on which to judge of it.
We have not got that technical and expert evidence at the present time. No evidence that was given before the Forres Committee, no evidence that was given before the Weir Committee has ever been submitted to either House of Parliament. That is very unusual, because in almost every case of Committees appointed by this or the other House it has been the practice to publish not only the Report, but the evidence also, so as to enable the members of this and the other House to decide how far that Report is justified in its conclusions. In those circumstances we say that not only are we entitled, but it is our bounden duty, to see that evidence before we pass this Bill. The noble and learned Earl, not, I imagine, entirely by accident, passed all this by exceedingly lightly. What he told us about expert evidence in substance came 823 to this, first of all, that we might read the proceedings in Committee of the House of Commons, which lasted thirty-three days; and, secondly, that we might read the Weir Report.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
I also added, as an attractive supplementary proposition, that the noble Lord might contribute his ability in order to have a thorough examination in Committee of this House on the floor of this House. That is a third alternative.
§ LORD DANESFORT
That appears to me to be an even more futile suggestion than the other two, because how can we apply our energies on the floor of this House to these complicated and difficult questions unless we have the expert and technical evidence before us? That is the whole point of the Motion of my noble and learned friend Lord Carson—that with very few exceptions we in this House do not possess this great technical and expert knowledge. We must get it somewhere else, and the only way to get it is from the expert evidence which could be called before a Select Committee. Turn for a moment to the suggestion of the noble and learned Earl that we should read all the proceedings of the thirty-three days in the House of Commons Grand Committee. I should have thought that the noble and learned Earl had had far too much experience of Grand Committees in the House of Commons to imagine that we should get very great expert and technical evidence there. Ex parte statements are made on one side or the other, and if our lives were long enough and our patience great enough to read the Report of those thirty-three days' proceedings I think we should come away from the task in exactly the same position of ignorance as we are to-day as to the real merits of this Bill.
Let me pass to the noble and learned Earl's next suggestion, the third of the valuable suggestions he has offered us. It is that we should read the Report of the Weir Committee. The absence of expert evidence to justify the conclusions of the Weir Committee is exactly what we are complaining of to-day. We have not got the evidence on which that Report was founded, and I do not know where we are to get it. There are statements in that Report which, if they 824 are accurate, go far to justify the provisions of this Bill, but that is exactly what we want to know. Are those statements justified in every particular? I will just refer to the statements of the Weir Committee on one point—that is, the probable reduction in the cost of electricity which would result, according to them, if this Bill were passed. And that, I venture to think, is the crucial point of this Bill. If this Bill will not produce a reduction in the cost of electricity, what good is it? It has been urged upon us over and over again that if you want to encourage industry you must give electric power at a cheaper rate, if you want to add to the convenience of people in this country you must lower the price of electric light. Therefore I say that the cardinal consideration in this Bill is whether it is likely to produce a reduction in the cost.
Then I turn to the Report, and one perfectly certain result that I gather from the Report is that if this new scheme is carried out it will involve an enormous expenditure of capital, and a very large and entirely undefined annual expenditure in the operations of this new Board. As to the capital expenditure, what does the Report tell us? It contemplates that the cost of carrying out the transmission scheme—a most admirable thing in its way, I doubt net—will be something like £25,000,000. It tells us that the capital cost of the standardisation of these varying alternative currents will be from £8,000,000 to£10,000,000. Thus £33,500,000 for these purposes are to be guaranteed by the State. Then the Report tells us that there will be further capital expenditure to carry out the scheme—a capital expenditure wholly undefined, and one which will have to be incurred by the authorised undertakers for the erection of new selected stations and for adding to the present selected stations. Whether that is to be guaranteed by the State or not I am not quite sure: I believe not. At any rate, it has to be raised in the first place by the various undertakers themselves. Then there is another capital expenditure contemplated by the Report, a totally undefined, probably indefinable additional capital expenditure by the new Board itself. That expenditure has to be met out of funds which it will have to raise in the best way it can in the market.
825 Let me say one word about this estimate of £33,500,000, which is to be guaranteed by the State. Many experts, and very competent ones, assure us that that is a total and complete underestimate, and that the expenditure under the headings which I have mentioned for this guaranteed expenditure will be at least £50,000,000. And, indeed, it is not a little remarkable that the Advisory Committee who were called in by the Weir Committee to deal with Sir John Snell's Report told us that Sir John Snell had very considerably underestimated the capital expenditure that would be required for transmission, and that the cost in their judgment would be at least 10 per cent. higher. That Committee also pointed out a very material consideration—namely, that all these estimates are based on the supposition that there is no unforeseen or fundamental change in the cost of labour, coal, and plant. These estimates of capital expenditure are vital. If the amount required is largely under-estimated it will be impossible to secure any substantial reduction—possibly any reduction at all—in the cost of electricity. Surely, then, it is our duty, before taking a final and irrevocable step, to obtain further information as to whether these estimates are reliable or not, and to get some facts, figures and data with which we can test these figures which have been given.
I pass from that to deal very shortly with the question of the probable cost of electricity under the new scheme and to examine the question whether there will be any material reduction. I find from paragraph 28 of the Weir Report that the average cost par unit of electricity is at present 2.047d. They make certain anticipations. They say that if the existing system goes on as it is at present that 2d. per unit will be reduced to 1½d. per unit under the present system; that is an average; and they go on to say that under the. Bill the average cost will be reduced to 1d. But we are given not one single fact or figure to support any one of those statements and not one single line of expert evidence to tell us on what, if anything, those figures are founded.
We know, of course, that Sir John Snell and the Advisory Committee that sat with the Weir Committee had a very large number of facts and figures before them 826 on which they made these very positive statements. But we do not know what facts they had before them, and may I point out to your Lordships that no opportunity whatever has been given to independent expert advisers to test the facts and the figures upon which Sir John Snell's estimate was founded? Is not that a material fact, and is it not a fact upon which your Lordships ought to have some means of judging and of obtaining expert evidence, and expert evidence not merely given in the pages of a Report but given orally and subject to cross-examination—the only way in which expert or any other evidence can be tested? Those estimates are vital and, therefore, I urge your Lordships to obtain the necessary evidence for testing them before you go further with this Bill.
My last word is on the question, most properly raised both in the Report of the Weir Committee and in Sir John Snell's Report, as to whether if this Bill is passed there will be any real improvement in what is called the load factor. Your Lordships probably know what that is, but may I in a few words put it in my own way? As your Lordships know, far less electricity is produced in every generating station than the station is capable of producing. The more that is produced the cheaper, of course, will be the cost per unit of the article produced. The load factor is the ratio of the amount actually produced in number of units at any station compared with the number of units which the station is capable of generating. For instance, if a station is producing only a quarter of the number of units which it can produce the load-factor is one quarter or 25 per cent.
I venture to think that those who favour this scheme and those who hope for good from it would naturally expect if the Bill is passed into law that there would be a very large and important improvement in the load factor, if the electricity is to be produced more cheaply. I have looked at the Report with some interest to see what is said about that and I find in paragraph 28 that Sir John Snell, whose figures were accepted by the Weir Committee, says that at present taking all the generating stations together the load factor is an average of 24.9 per cent, or very nearly one quarter. Then he estimates what the position will be in 1940, or whenever the consumption has reached 500 units under 827 the new system. To my very great surprise I find that when all this gigantic expenditure has been incurred and all these huge improvements have taken place the load factor will only have gone up from 24'9 per cent, to 30 per cent; in other words, from roughly speaking 25 per cent to 30 per cent, an increase of 5 per cent. I confess I anticipated that there would have been an increase to something like 50 per cent. in the load factor.
§ LORD DANESFORT
I do not like to differ from my noble friend who knows this thing so thoroughly, but I read it as meaning that in 1940 under the new system the load factor will have gone up from 24.9 per cent. to 30 per cent., and my view is corroborated when I look a little lower down and see that the average price per unit is now given at just a little over 2d and that under the new system it is given at 1d. Then they definitely contrast that 1d per unit, under the new system with 1½d. per unit as what the existing system would produce in 1940. That is not all.
§ LORD DANESFORT
I beg the noble Viscount's pardon; I hesitate greatly to differ from my noble friend, but might I call his attention to Appendix 2, which (rives the view of what is called the Advisory Committee? The Advisory Committee think that the load factor of 30 per cent. under the new system as given by Sir John Snell is too little. They say that the average load factor for the proposed conditions will certainly not be less than 35 per cent. as compared with the average load factor of 30 per cent assumed in the memorandum. In other words, the Advisory Committee take a more favourable view of the working of the new system than was taken by Sir John Snell, and they say that the load factor will go up to 35 per cent. Whether that be so I know not. Whether 828 Sir John Snell is right or whether the Advisory Committee is right, I know not, and we cannot find out unless we have expert advice on the subject. The mere fact that these two great experts, John Snell on the one hand and the Advisory Committee on the other, differ on a vital point appears to me at least a very strong reason for further inquiry into the matter to see which is right.
I thank your Lordships for listening to me so patiently. In circumstances in which you are going to introduce what my noble friend Lord Carson calls an absolutely unprecedented change into the conduct of a great industry, affecting not only the future of that industry but the prosperity of many of those industries which depend upon cheap power and the comfort of the inhabitants of this country who depend upon cheap light, I do ask your Lordships not to take this final step until you have had the advice and assistance of expert advisers.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, may I say a few words about this Bill and about the proposal to refer it to a Select Committee? I am Chairman of the Edison Battery Company, which manufactures accumulators and makes electric vehicles, and I have also bad experience in many parts of the world in hydro-electrical schemes—in America, in India and elsewhere. I would like to say quite frankly that my company would be benefited by any cheapening in electric current and therefore to that extent I am in favour of this Bill, because if electricity were cheapened electrical vehicles would increase in number. Therefore, if I consulted my own interests I should let the Bill go through without a word. I want, however, to refer to one or two points.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, pointed out that promise is one thing and performance another. I am one of those who have doubts whether the prospects held out in this Bill will ever be justified. Electricity in itself, as your Lordships know, is only a secondary force, for it merely means transmitting the power from some prime mover to work a machine or produce a light. The cost of the light in the electric lamps which your Lordships see above you is not only the cost of generating light, but the cost of the transmission of the current from the power station, the cost of the lamp 829 itself, the cost of wages and of interest on capital must be added. This Bill only affects, so far as I can make out, the cost of generation. That as a rule varies from 20 to 25 per cent. of the cost of the power to the consumer. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, when he said that we must not put our hopes too high, that this Bill will result in the cheapening of electricity.
Another point to which I desire to refer is this. It is said that this great supply of cheaper power to the country will regenerate the countryside. I would like to support it if it did that. Unless, however, you have a station to transform the current from a high voltage to a low one you cannot help the isolated farm or the small villages. The noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, referred to the cheapness of power in other countries, especially in America, in regard to which he drew an attractive picture of cooking by electricity and so on. I entirely endorse everything the noble Earl said, but there is this difference. If you go to Niagara you will see the power being generated at far less cost than it can be produced here, for you get water power there at an extraordinarily cheap rate. The only cost is the cost of harnessing the power and it is impossible in this country to hope that in generating power by means of steam turbines, the power for which is provided by coal, you will ever be able to produce, electricity at anything like so cheap a rate as can be done from water power on a huge scale.
Reference was made to the electrification of the main lines of the railways. I agree that you can economically electrify suburban lines where you have a more or less continuous load, but to electrify the main lines over a long distance is not at the present moment either scientifically or economically justifiable. I see sitting on the Cross Benches the noble Lord, Lord Lawrence, Chairman of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company. He knows, as I do, that they have a locomotive running on the London, Midland and Scottish Railway to-day which has a steam turbine that produces the electricity which is then applied to the driving wheels. That seems to me a better way of cheapening locomotive power than laying down transmission lines along the main lines of railway. There are people in this 830 country, no doubt, who have old stations and those stations very likely are in need of renewal; but would it not have been better from every point of view if the Government had granted money under the Trade Facilities Acts or given some such assistance to enable the private stations to put their houses in order? I think it would have been much more economical than to proceed by way of this Bill.
There is just another point about which I should like to warn the House. Several noble Lords who are advocates of this Bill have prophesied that it will assist industry and commerce to a very large degree. That entirely depends, as is obvious, on the amount of power used. If you take, for instance, an industry like coal mining, where 85 or 87 per cent. goes back in the form of wages to the collier, the saving would be very small from a cheapening of power. There are other industries. The noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, was speaking just now about the cotton industry of Lancashire. There you cannot apply electricity in many of the mills because the waste steam is wanted in order to keep the thread and yarn in a proper moist state, otherwise it could not be dealt with. In the Lancashire cotton mills, therefore, cheap electric current would be of very little value. There is a large range of industries all over this country in which in the total cost of the product less than 10 per cent. is the power cost. Even supposing you halved this it would only cheapen the cost by five per cent. Any cheapening is of course valuable, but I want the House to understand that we should not found our hopes too high in regard to this Bill assisting commerce.
At this late hour of the evening I do not care to detain your Lordships longer, but I should like to refer to just one other point and it is this. The whole of our experience, so far as we have had experience in this country, is against the placing of a great industry in the hands of any official body. We know what happened in the case of telephones. Telephones in this country were for years in the hands of a private concern, and as soon as they were taken over by the State we all know what happened. In the United States of America, where telephones still remain in private hands, the 831 telephone system went ahead with very rapid strides, while ours stood still. When we reach the Committee stage I hope the Government will listen very carefully to representations that will be made to make the Board as little official as possible, because I think otherwise it will tend to deter people from making experiments and it will hamper research.
I recognise that if this Motion to refer it to a Committee were carried it would mean wrecking the Bill and, though I disapprove of the Bill in many respects, though I think far too rosy a picture has been drawn of what will happen if it passes, I cannot personally take the responsibility of voting for this Motion. At the same time I beg your Lordships' pardon for intervening. My excuse is that I can speak for a certain portion of the electrical industry when I say that they disapprove of this Bill, that they are frightened of the effects it will have, and that they do not believe from the evidence that is before us that it will cheapen electricity for many years to come.
My Lords, I hope you will excuse me for a few minutes while I deal with figures mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead. I do feel that those figures require a certain amount of careful examination. Figures like those which he quoted make me very anxious that this Bill should receive examination upstairs in Committee. The noble Earl quoted figures showing the amount of electricity generated per head of the population in different countries, quoting Canada, Switzerland, the United States, Sweden, Belgium, France and Italy. I would point out that in the great majority of those countries much of their electricity is obtained from water power, while in some of those countries there is no coal at all. If those countries go in for big industrial development they must turn to water power. We in England, on the other hand, have a wonderful supply of very good gas coal, so much so that the gas industry of the country is the best gas industry of any country in the world.
People to-day want heat, light and power and they do not greatly mind how they get them so long as they get them cheaply and efficiently. For some industries gas is the most useful. For 832 other industries electrical power is the most useful. If you are going to get any valuable scientific basis on which to compare one country with another you must take both gas and electrical figures together. If you do that you will find that the position occupied by this country is nothing like so unsatisfactory as the electrical figures alone would indicate. In fact, if you take these figures together, you will find they bear a very fair comparison even with the United States.
There is one other point I should like to mention and that is the suggestion that sooner or later we are going to get current for a halfpenny a unit. That is a very doubtful proposition. I was very interested to hear the noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, mention the fact that it is extremely difficult in the neighbourhood of Manchester to get mills to take a supply of electricity. That is a very important fact because at Manchester you have the most efficient generating station in the country. If you cannot persuade mills in Manchester to take electricity in spite of the fact that there you have the most efficient station in the country, I see very little positive hope—in fact, I think it is false to hold any hope—that electricity in this country will be reduced to the price of a halfpenny per unit.
The electrical industry is not quite so moribund as people try to make out. One gains the impression that the supporters of this Bill are really trying to make this country appear in a very weak position. At the present moment we are going through an overwhelming trade depression such as the country has never experienced before, and during that depression you must expect the electrical industry to be depressed as well as other industries. But in spite of this overwhelming depression through which we are passing, the amount of electricity consumed for lighting and domestic purposes has increased by 71 per cent. during the last five years and the amount of electricity consumed for power has increased by 68 per cent. during the last five years. Those are very remarkable figures indeed. I should like also to draw your attention to the fact that the electrical engineering part of the position is not so moribund as many people who have spoken in support of the Bill appear to think. The amount of coal 833 consumed per unit generated has decreased by no less than 35 per cent. That again is a very remarkable figure indeed to people who are acquainted with all the technical difficulties which such an achievement involves.
I do not want to take up your Lordships' time any longer, but I submit that this measure is most technical in many details and that really we do not know the type of evidence given before the Weir Committee on which this Bill is avowedly based. I submit that the Bill should be sent upstairs, where it can be most carefully threshed out and where we can try to get at the facts. It is no use our having vague assertions. We want to know the facts on which those statements are grounded. I hope, there-therefore, that your Lordships will support Lord Carson's Motion.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE EARL OF BALFOUR)
My Lords, I do not propose to make any survey of this important question at this stage of our debate. I think we have heard as much as is necessary upon the more technical side of the question. I would only warn your Lordships that the arguments for this Bill are really not of a technical kind which only skilled electricians are able to appreciate. My noble friend who has just sat down, who is himself, I believe, an authority upon this subject, has drawn rather a pessimistic picture of the results of this Bill, but I was rejoiced to hear him explain to us in his very last words that in spite of the evils of the existing system—which I do not think he attempted to minimise—the need for electricity and the uses found by electricity are of such a character that the electrical industry, even under its present unfortunate handicaps, is still making progress in this country.
I would point out to my noble friend that that a little qualifies another part of his argument in which he seemed to think, or to wish us to think, that we ought to consider electricity and gas as parts of one common system for obtaining energy, and that we ought to rest satisfied with our existing system of obtaining and conveying energy because that part of the system which depends upon gas is in an extremely prosperous condition, and therefore it is relatively 834 unimportant what happens to electricity. I cannot believe that he really seriously wishes us to think that electricity is not of the utmost importance to this country. I am convinced that he knows well enough that though all that he said of the gas industry is perfectly true, there is no antagonism between these two great branches of industry. I am told that in Chicago—the information was given to me and I have not verified it lately, but I am trusting to memory—both these forms of conveying energy and making energy available have risen pari passu and that everything you do for one indirectly helps the other. I can quite believe that, because we all know in the analogous case of the transport industry, great branches of that industry in which an addition to one branch, instead of proving a fatal competitor to another branch, really is a feeder to it rather than a competitor.
But I am not going to argue with my noble friend upon the details of this subject, because really the broad question seems to me so clear and so simple that nobody can doubt. Nobody in this House or in the other House has contested the fact that our system of generating stations is an uneconomic system. Nobody doubts that the cause of that is the fact that we started this electrical business before all its potentionalities and all its organisation was thoroughly understood, and that we find ourselves, therefore, with an enormous number of stations which, from their size or from their position, are not capable of economically producing the electricity which the country requires. That is disputed by nobody. It cannot surely be disputed that if this is the case we ought to remedy it without delay, because it is equally undisputed that every delay makes reform more difficult and more costly.
It is quite certain that if we had reformed, as we might have reformed, our system many years ago we should have saved an immense amount of public money and that we should then have had to face a problem much easier than the problem we are facing now, just as the problem we are facing now is much easier than the problem we will certainly have to deal with before many years are passed and which you will have to deal with at much greater cost and in my opinion with no smaller risk. If those simple propo- 835 sitions are accepted—and it requires no technical knowledge either to appreciate their importance or to form an estimate of their truth—what we have to do is to try to modify the system without any injury either to public or to private rights.
I am glad to say that during our two days debate we have heard no nonsense about Socialism. I do not say that the word "Socialism" has not occasionally appeared accidentally in the speeches of noble Lords, but I do say that nobody has seriously taken in hand an argument which, I believe, had great vogue in another place—namely, that this was a dangerous progress towards a Socialistic State. It may be a good Bill or a bad Bill; Socialism may be a good system or a bad system: but the two things are quite unconnected, and I strongly advise none of your Lordships to be influenced by this particular line of argument. It has not been seriously advanced, and hope that we shall hear nothing of it in the future.
More stress was laid by my noble friends who differ from this Bill upon the supposed injury that it would inflict upon a great industry. I am quite unable to find any evidence in favour of that proposition. The noble Earl who spoke from the other side, Lord Russell, said that the Bill was, in his opinion, rendered more difficult to work and more complicated by the immense care that had been taken by its framers that no injury should be inflicted upon private owners. I believe that the noble Earl was perfectly right. The Bill could have been made a much simpler Bill if no precautions had been taken to see that private rights should not suffer. I admit that those precautions are elaborate, I acknowledge that they add to the complexity of the Bill, but believe that they have been effectual, I believe that they should be maintained by your Lordships' House, and I do not see a scintilla of evidence either that the Bill can injure the private owner or that the private owner really thinks that it will injure him.
My noble friend Lord Carson has been more inundated than I have with literature on this subject and he may have arguments upon it that have not come to my notice, but I inquired what had been the effect upon the value of the 836 stocks of these private companies of the introduction of this bill and the obvious and immediate prospect of its becoming law, and I have been told that no adverse results have occurred.
§ THE EARL OF BALFOUR
My noble friend, who, I think, in his speech last night referred to the disastrous effects upon the stocks of these companies—
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
No, I did not. What I said was that, when the Port of London came into being and the Act was passed, the stock went up. You will have to wait and see what happens when this Bill is passed.
§ THE EARL OF BALFOUR
I hope and believe that whatever effect this proposal may have upon the stocks of these companies has already been discounted. I hope and believe that the prospects of the Bill are so sure that the Stock Exchange is not going to entertain any doubts as to the happy progress of the measure through both Houses of Parliament. This really brings me to the only motive that induced me to get up at this late period of the evening. I want to make a most earnest appeal to your Lordships not to show any favour to the proposal which my noble and learned friend behind me has made to you this afternoon. The proposal was supported on the theory that your Lordships required a great deal of information which you could not get now but which you could get if there were a Committee sitting upstairs for, I suppose, as many weeks as the Grand Committee sat in another place. I venture to say that your Lordships would not be a whit more learned at the end of the investigation by the Select Committee than you are at the present moment.
That is not the result which the work of a new and most superfluous inquiry would have. The real effect, and, I doubt not, in the case of some of the supporters of the present Amendment, the desired effect, would be to hold up the Bill. I am not suggesting that my noble and learned friend who moved the Amendment has that desire; he disclaimed it and I entirely accept his disclaimer; but I believe that none of your 837 Lordships will accuse me of cynicism when I suggest that those who go into the Lobby in favour of this Amendment will not be wholly influenced in their action by the passion for further information, in addition to the masses of information which we have at our disposal at the present time, but that there lurks, somewhere among their motives the desire that this Bill should remain to interest your Lordships' House for many a long year to come.
I hope that none of your Lordships will underrate the disastrous effect which, so far as I am able to judge, the acceptance of this Amendment would have upon the estimate in which your Lordships' House is held at this moment by the public. Here is a perfectly clear piece of legislation with no ulterior motives, carefully framed so as to spare private interests entirely devoted to the purpose of furthering public interests, a Bill which will undoubtedly result in making the generation of electricity a far cheaper and more economical proposition and which will give the industries of this country a power which this do not possess at this moment in as great measure as any one of their great commercial rivals, a power which this country is eminently qualified to give us but which, through the misfortunes of our legislation—not, I think, misfortunes wholly discreditable, because they arose partly from our having started too early
§ in the race—has not been attained. Having so started, if we now put off for yet another period a scheme which has for its undoubted and unquestioned effect that of substituting effectual generating stations for ineffectual generating stations, that of enormously diminishing the necessity for spare parts and all the costs involved in it—if you reject that scheme at this moment and throw the controversy again into an indefinite future, you will not merely be inflicting an injury upon the industry of the country, you will not merely be throwing discredit upon our legislative machinery, but I think you will be inflicting a serious blow upon the credit of this House when estimated, not from a Party point of view, not from the point of view of Socialist or anti-Socialist, but from the point of view of that large body of moderate citizens who want to see the business of the country effectually carried on, and who see before them a prospect of carrying a great reform at a moment when great reforms in our industrial machinery are most required; and who see that reform rejected for no better reasons than those which have been advanced to your Lordships' House in the course of this debate.
§ On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 23; Not-Contents, 104.839
|Winchester, M.||Askwith, L.||Lawrence of Kingsgate, L.|
|Banbury of Southam, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Biddulph, L.||Mowbray, L.|
|Hardwicke, E.||Carson, L. [Teller.]||Newton, L.|
|Midleton, E.||Cunliffe, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Danesfort, L. [Teller.]||Saltoun, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Sydenham of Combe, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Lawrence, L.||Wittenham, L.|
|Cave, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Birkenhead, E.||Malmesbury, E.|
|Buxton, E.||Minto, E.|
|Balfour, E. (L. President.)||Chesterfield, E.||Mount Edgcumbe, E.|
|Clarendon, E.||Onslow, E.|
|Argyll, D.||Denbigh, E.||Plymouth, E. [Teller.]|
|Sutherland, D.||Drogheda, E.||Sandwich, E.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Selborne, E.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Grey, E.||Spencer, E.|
|Lincolnshire, M. (L. Great Chamberlain.)||Howe, E.||Stanhope, E.|
|Jellicoe, E.||Strafford, E.|
|Leven and Melville, E.|
|Airlie, E.||Lindsey, E.||Burnham, V.|
|Ancaster, E.||Lovelace, E.||Cecil of Chelwood, V.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Lucan, E.[Teller.]||Chelmsford, V.|
|Churchill, V.||Cottesloe, L.||Olivier, L.|
|Dunedin, V.||Cranworth, L.||Oranmore and Browne, L. (L. Mereworth.)|
|FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Darling, L.|
|Haldane, V.||Desart, L. (E. Desart.)||Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)|
|Hampden, V.||Desborough, L.||Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde.)|
|Hood, V.||Dunmore, L. (E. Dunmore.)||Phillimore, L.|
|Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Forres, L.||Queenborough, L.|
|Gage, L. (V. Gage.)||Riddell, L.|
|Inchcape, V.||Gisborough, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Peel, V.||Glentanar, L.||Roundway, L.|
|Templetown, V.||Hampton, L.||St. John of Bletso, L.|
|Hanworth, L.||Shandon, L.|
|Lincoln, L. BP.||Hemphill, L.||Somerleyton, L.|
|Hindlip, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Arnold, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Ashfield, L.||Kilmarnock, L. (E. Erroll.)|
|Balfour of Burleigh, L.||Knaresborough, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Bledisole, L.||Kylsant, L.||Sumner, L.|
|Boston, L.||Latymer, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Charnwood, L.||Leigh, L.||Thomson, L.|
|Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)||Treowen, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Wargrave, L.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Monk Bretton, L.||Weir, L.|
|Clinton, L.||Muir Mackenzie, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Congleton, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative and Motion disagreed to: Bill accordingly committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ [From Minutes of November 23.]