§ VISCOUNT ASTOR rose to draw the attention of His Majesty's Government to certain restrictions which prevent the public getting the full use of gas as a source of power, heat and light. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I make no apology for bringing forward this question to-day. I found that there was no other business before the House, and it struck me that at the beginning of the Session we might have an opportunity of discussing the restrictions which I believe prevent the public getting the fullest use out of gas, and seeing whether the Government are able to do anything to remove these difficulties. Ever since the War successive Governments have done all that they could to find new sources of power, heat and light. Quite recently, within the last few years, we have spent considerable time trying to help forward electricity. Governments at different times have tried to see whether they could not do anything more for the coal industry, and it struck me recently that we were not getting the greatest possible benefit out of gas, and it is for that reason that I thought it fit and well to bring forward this subject to-day.
§ I do not in any way claim to speak as the mouthpiece or representative of the industry itself, but I am merely bringing the question forward as one who has been interested in industrial and social developments both before and since the War. As I understand it, the difficulty under which the gas industry is operating at the present moment is largely due to the fact that it is operating under certain restrictions which were contained in Legislative Acts passed in the year 1847, in the year 1859, and, I think, the year 1871. At that time gas was only used for purposes of illumina- 96 tion. Electricity and the use of oil had not yet been heard of, and therefore there was a very real and considerable risk of the manufacturers and vendors of gas being in a position to exercise a monopoly. It was quite right then that the Parliaments of the day should safeguard the public by imposing certain clear restrictions upon the gas undertakings. But that was a long time ago. Since then the use of electricity and oil has come before us and, as your Lordships remember, we have done a great deal as a country, as a Government, as a Parliament, to try and facilitate the development of these new sources of power, light and heat. There is also, as I understand, another grievance, which is associated with what I am told is an error of drafting, contained in an Act which was passed after the War, in the year 1920. I will deal with that in a moment.
§ Briefly, as I understand it, the main requirements of the industry are simplification of procedure in connection with the raising of fresh capital, the obtaining of new powers, the right of combination and amalgamation, the enforcing of a differential tariff which would enable gas undertakings to charge different prices for different uses, the removal of the grievance which is associated with the Act of 1920, and other points which I do not propose to go into to-day in any detail. Take, first of all, the simplification of procedure dealing with the obtaining of new powers, the raising of fresh capital, and amalgamations. I think the easiest way in which I can explain the difficulties under which undertakings operate now is by quoting to your Lordships certain specific cases which have been supplied to me. Let me take, first of all, that of a gas undertaking which wished to link up two portions of its statutory area by a main. The shortest route lay through the area of an urban district council. Owing to the opposition of the urban district council it was necessary for a Private Bill to be promoted in Parliament for the purpose of obtaining power to lay the main in question. The opposition was ultimately withdrawn, but only after a large expenditure had been incurred, and after there had been much delay.
§ Here is another case. A large company in the Midlands recently absorbed a small neighbouring gas undertaking, and the 97 purchase price, including compensation to the officers of the company absorbed, was £4,400. Owing to existing legislation the amalgamation had to be effected by a Special Order requiring confirmation by both Houses of Parliament. The total cost to this company of carrying through the Order, which was unopposed, was £625. The charges making up this total were not exorbitant and the total cost cannot be regarded as excessive when compared with other Orders of a like nature. This same company has been approached by a small undertaking asking to he taken over, but the company does not feel in a position so to do having regard to the costs which would be incurred.
§ Yet another illustration is this. In 1925 a company on the East coast promoted a special order for the purpose, inter alia, of obtaining powers to erect an additional gas holder rendered necessary by the expansion of business. The Order was presented to Parliament for confirmation in August, 1925. This was done after a local inquiry had been conducted by the Board of Trade. The Order was opposed in the House of Commons at the instigation of the parish council which had made no opposition during the early stages. In view of this opposition the Board of Trade withdrew the Order as Parliament was about to rise, and it was referred to a Select Committee. This Committee met in December, that is to say, four months later, to consider it, with the result that the Order was passed as originally presented. The additional cost of obtaining the Order, due to the complicated procedure, amounted to about £400, while the delay was prejudicial to the interests of the company. A further instance may also be cited. Another company is desirous now of appointing its manager and engineer as managing director, and also of changing the date of its annual meeting, which is prescribed by its Private Act to be held in the middle of August. These simple powers can only be obtained by Special Order which, even if unopposed, will cost over £200. I suggest to your Lordships that no great industry ought to be expected to try to carry on or to expand under such out-of-date and unnecessary restrictions as those.
§ Let me now take another type of restriction or grievance—the handicap in 98 raising fresh capital. In seeking to raise fresh capital a large number of companies are compelled by the provisions of their special Acts to proceed by way of auction or tender. If the first-named procedure is adopted it is only after two auctions that the company is empowered to seek to obtain the required capital from the public in the ordinary way. This system may, in the case of small undertakings, render it extremely difficult for them to raise their capital at all. In the case of large companies, also, it is often difficult for them to obtain capital on the same terms as other commercial undertakings. In many cases large investors, such as insurance companies, with whom gas stocks are popular to-day, are precluded from taking up the whole issue on terms advantageous to the offering company. Such investors dislike a system which may result in their obtaining only a small quantity of stock when they want a large amount. I have purposely quoted these cases to your Lordships to illustrate the point I was trying to make, that the Statutes and regulations under which gas undertakings have to carry on their business are antiquated and cumbersome, and that they cause the undertakings to incur unnecessary and unreasonable expense. Your Lordships know that these are the days of big undertakings, of big competition and of large-scale production. It seems to me that it is inconsistent with the modern trend of thought, particularly in the business world, to prevent businesses amalgamating or co-operating if they so desire, or raising capital or developing and obtaining new powers, without all this cumbersome machinery.
§ I referred a few moments ago to another point—namely, that gas has to be supplied at present at a flat rate. I understand that the companies would like to have the power of selling on a differential tariff. There are all sorts of businesses which have to be supplied. Gas has to be supplied for the purpose of heating, for power, and for light. It is supplied sometimes for domestic purposes and sometimes for industrial purposes. Your Lordships are aware of the fact that a differential scale of prices obtains for electricity to-day. That is also allowed in the case of the telephone. I suggest that the same facilities for having a differential tariff ought to be given to the gas undertakings and in- 99 dustry. If this were done that industry would be able undoubtedly to get new business, particularly industrial business, which it is not able to get to-day.
§ My next point is the fact that apparently there was some faulty drafting in the Act of 1920. As I understand it, that Act was intended to restore to their pre-War position the gas undertakings working under the sliding scale. The object and intention of Parliament was to enable the companies which were operating efficiently and economically to distribute higher dividends just as they had been able to do before the War. I am told that there was some faulty drafting, and that as a result of the Act as it now stands exactly the reverse of what was the original intention has happened. So that a company which by good management has increased its business and lowered its working costs is not able to distribute correspondingly large dividends.
§ Those are the main points. There are many others which I could bring forward were it necessary. I have brought this case before your Lordships to-day because gas can undoubtedly be described as one of our basic, one of our key industries. It is operated under Acts which were passed at the beginning and in the middle of the last century. It is subjected now to competition which was undreamed of when the Acts of 1847 and 1871 were passed. It is a vital and very important industry. It supplies a commodity of prime necessity and of Common use in the majority of homes. It applies the latent heat in coal to practical purposes. It provides by-products of the greatest value—coke, ammonia, tar and its numerous derivatives such as road tar, motor benzole, pitch, creosote, etc. It is the basis of the aniline dye industry. It is employed by 4,000 distinct trades for industrial purposes. The capital invested in it is over £180,000,000 sterling. It has a wages roll of £15,000,000 sterling and the number of users of gas, I understand, is something like 36,000,000. So it is a vast industry. I am not suggesting that any preferential treatment should be given to gas undertakings, but that they should have fair play, that they should not have to operate under antiquated restrictions which do not apply to electricity. I am certain that if these restric- 100 tions were removed, consumers, whether domestic or industrial, would be very much better off than they are to-day.
§ I do not know to what extent the Government, or the Board of Trade, are in touch with the gas undertakings. I think I saw in the newspapers recently that a representative conference was going to take place. I hope that is the case, and that if such a conference does take place it may be found that some of the points which I have mentioned can be treated as being non-controversial. I think it probably will be found that some of them are controversial. If it is found that some of the main points which I have put before your Lordships are, in fact, non-controversial, I suggest that the Government should introduce a Bill into your Lordships' House. I fully realise that the time of another place is taken up, but if a Bill were introduced here it would be possible to ascertain without any loss of time whether these proposals were really non-controversial. That would be ascertained as a result of debate or through the public Press, and if the Bill were found to be non-controversial, there ought to be no difficulty subsequently in getting it through the House of Commons. I think I have indicated to the Government that I am not attempting in any way to embarrass them, but am bringing forward this case at the beginning of the Session so that if the Government can do anything they will tell us so at the very beginning of the new Parliament.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, I do not think there are any points that I can make which have not already been well made by the noble Viscount who has just spoken, but I do rise to emphasise, if I may, some of the points which he has put, and to make from this side of the House a real appeal to the Government that they should introduce a measure such as the noble Viscount has indicated is now required. Undoubtedly the legislation which was passed seventy years ago for the gas industry is now out of date, and is inadequate to meet the present needs of that industry. There are restrictions which impose great difficulties upon the gas industry. At the same time that industry has been alive to the interests which it exists to serve and everyone will recognise that many of the great gas companies have set a 101 very good example in the way in which they have treated their employees. Nevertheless gas companies still feel that legislation does not allow them to do what they would like to do for those they employ; it does not allow them to do all that they want to do for the consumers of gas in the country; it does not allow them to do all that they might do for their shareholders; and it impedes development.
The noble Viscount who has just spoken alluded to the fact that we are in a different era, and that there is a change of view in regard to amalgamations. We have seen railways amalgamated, we have seen banks amalgamated, we have seen factories, mills, ironworks, collieries and great manufacturing industries in this country amalgamated, as well as many of the great provision stores. For what purpose? In order to reduce operating costs. Where there were small bodies or small firms they have had to come into association one with another for common ends; but by Statute the gas companies are prohibited from co-operating and working together. Each gas undertaking is a separate entity, and cannot work with its neighbour. Therefore the public are not served in every case to the best advantage. It is impossible for the gas companies to go outside their own area of supply to lay mains in order to facilitate the operations of the industry. The points to which I would draw special attention are first of all that these limitations upon joint working and co-operation should be removed. I suggest to the noble Earl who is going to reply for the Government that thatought to be a comparatively simple provision, and that it ought to be allowed to pass without any difficulty. The gas industry, of course, is in competition with the electrical industry, not only in connection with illumination, but also in regard to cooking and heating. The electrical industry has had to submit to legislation which compels the production of electricity by large, undertakings rather than by many small ones, and surely it ought to be equally competent for the gas interests to be able to amalgamate and combine for common ends, and especially for the purposes of reducing operating costs.
The next point alluded to by the noble Viscount which I want to mention is the importance of gas companies being able 102 to obtain increased capital and increased borrowing powers without having to go through the formalities and the expense of the procedure necessary in Private Bill legislation. The gas companies cannot at present, in the event of their requiring any extensions and any increased powers, get them without going through that procedure. It would be a comparatively simple matter for a provision to be introduced giving gas companies increased powers of raising capital and borrowing money. The technical aspect I will not further develop, except to say that in 1920 it was intended by the Government that the sliding scale arrangement, which existed before the War, would be permitted in the future, and it was a mere oversight or bad drafting which prevented the restitution of the sliding scale powers which existed before the War. The Board of Trade, I believe, are absolutely at one with the gas industry in recognising that that particular technicality ought to be dealt with. That is a third direction in which I suggest the Government might, by introducing a simple clause, remove the restriction which is unfortunately imposed by the Act of 1920. The fourth point I want to make is that there should be greater freedom on the part of gas companies to increase their dividends in accordance with their effective management. Under the present Statute the dividends of gas companies are strictly limited. I think the companies should be free to offer shares to consumers or to their employees, and should have greater freedom than they now possess in the distribution of benefits derivable from their revenue.
Those are the main points upon which I suggest the Government should meet the gas industry at the present time. So far as I know, all those points are non-controversial. At any rate, they are points which your Lordships could very well consider in this House and thrash out. I believe those who work before Standing Committees upstairs generally recognise that the experience of your Lordships in regard to Private Bill legislation is superior to that which is generally possessed by members in another place. Be that as it may, I am quite confident that a Bill could be introduced by His Majesty's Government in this House of a simple kind to meet the real requirements and bring up to date some of these anti- 103 quated provisions in the gas legislation of the past. Your Lordships are very well qualified to pass such a measure and, I believe, to pass it with general agreement for the benefit of all interests. Before I sit down I want to emphasise the importance that the freedom given to the gas industry may be to other industries. The noble Viscount alluded to the very large number of trades and processes in which gas is used, but, apart from that, it is important that the consumers of gas should be supplied with gas at the cheapest possible rate. By removing some of these restrictions you will enable the gas companies, I believe, to provide gas at a cheaper rate than they do at the present time. Cheaper gas will mean an increased use of gas, not only for lighting but (and especially) for cooking, and also for heat.
But it is necessary that there, should be some safeguard in connection with any provisions which are introduced, and I suggest that the consumer should have his interests protected by the Board of Trade. I believe that is the wish of the gas industry. They wish the Bill to be an uncontroversial one, and I believe your Lordships could find it within your power and compass to pass an uncontroversial measure, and that, although this is the last Session of the present Parliament, if your Lordships passed a Bill of that kind and it was found to be uncontroversial, it might also pass through another place and be of enormous value not only to the interests to which I have alluded, but to the coal interest, which needs all the help that can be given it by the Government at the present time.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
My Lords, until the very last sentence of the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down I thought that he must be going to appeal to the Government from the standpoint of that industry which he represents so well in your Lordships' House, the coal industry, on whose behalf I should like to say a few words. The noble Viscount, in addressing his interesting and convincing speech to your Lordships' House with a view to legislation for the removal of restrictions upon the gas industry as conducted in this country, spoke of the difficulties under which the gas undertakings operated—these difficulties apply to municipal undertakings as well as to private companies—and of the consequential hard- 104 ship which fell upon the industries or persons that were consumers of gas. I should like to say a word on behalf of those who supply to the gas undertakings their indispensable raw material—coal.
I have the misfortune to live in an area whose chief industry is the coal industry—namely, the Forest of Dean. The Forest of Dean, to-day, is in a semi-bankrupt condition, and if there is no new or additional channel of output found for Forest of Dean coal he would be indeed an optimist who would venture to suggest that the coal industry in the Forest of Dean would be in existence, say, twenty years hence. The condition is very serious indeed, and I, who have lived in the area for over fifty years and have the misfortune to be the only owner of coal in the Forest of Dean coalfield other than the Government, would like to emphasise that particular point and ask the Government, who own the greater part of that coalfield, to consider the case which has been urged upon them, in their own financial interest. A large part of the most valuable coal which comes from the Forest of Dean is gas coal, and excellent gas coal it is. It passes from the Forest of Dean under normal conditions to the large gas undertakings in South Wales and other industrial areas for supply for industrial purposes to large factories and other industrial concerns.
As far as I can visualise the situation and the prospects of the coal trade in the area in which I live, there are only two sources of salvation. One of them is the system of low-temperature carbonization, and I am glad to learn that there is some prospect of that system being practised in the Forest of Dean area where the coal is exceptionally well suited to the process, or to one of the many processes because they are almost legion. The other, of course, is a largely increased demand, not only for steam coal, but more especially for good gas coal. The noble Earl may possibly tell us that this is not regarded as a matter of grave urgency for His Majesty's Government, but I am going to ask him to be good enough to bear in mind the fact that this area of coal on behalf of which I plead, and which, as I say, supplies so much raw material for the gas industry, belongs preponderatingly to the Government, and that they are, owing to the position in which the industry is to-day, 105 actually subsidising out of the taxpayers' money at least one colliery in the Forest of Dean, simply because it cannot carry on under the present distressed condition, though it might do so, and probably would do so, if only there was sufficient demand for its coal; in other words, if only the output were sufficiently large to justify the relatively high overhead costs.
I cannot help thinking that this matter which has been brought forward by the gas companies—and we must all admit that the gas undertakings are amongst the most enlightened industrial undertakings in this country—is one of grave national importance, especially as regards the coal industry in those areas which depend so largely upon the demand for gas coal. I hope the noble Earl, in replying to this debate, will give us an assurance on behalf of His Majesty's Government that this matter will not merely be mentioned in the next Speech from the Throne but will be dealt with in the present Parliament as a matter of grave national urgency.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Viscount and to the other noble Lords who have spoken on this matter for the very friendly spirit in which they have referred to it. As it is both a very complicated and a very important matter, I trust that your Lordships will forgive me if I have to go into some detail with regard to it. I am naturally most anxious to give as sympathetic a reply as possible, but I do venture to say that the matter is not an entirely simple one, to say the least of it. The gas industry holds a very high position amongst the industries of this country, not only because of the number of men it employs and for the direct service which it gives the country by way of heat, light and power, but also because it is a producer of other commodities which the noble Viscount has mentioned, such as coke, sulphate of ammonia, benzole and toluol, tar for road making and other products of that kind. Its history has been one of steady progress from the time of its initiation, and I do not think that any one is prepared to dispute the fact that both in production and in distribution it has attained a very high level of efficiency.
It is sometimes suggested that gas is likely to be displaced by electricity, but 106 really I see no reason for such a suggestion. In spite of the fact that there has been a very great growth of electricity during recent times, the gas industry has at the same time expanded to a very considerable extent, although, of course, the nature of that expansion is somewhat different from that which it was in the past. For a long time, as the noble Viscount has stated, gas was looked upon solely as an illuminant, but to-day, according to the best estimates that it is possible to get, nearly two-thirds of the gas sold is used for cooking and heating purposes, nearly another quarter is used for industrial purposes and not much more than one-tenth is used for illumination. I think, therefore, that there is no reason to suppose that the gas industry will not continue to expand as it has done in the past. I think we may say that the competition of electricity has proved a direct incentive to greater efficiency in the gas industry, while on the other side the competition of the gas industry has in the same way proved an incentive and spur to the electrical industry. The Government believe that there is ample room for both and, in fact, they believe it is absolutely essential for the country that both these great industries should be in a prosperous condition. They naturally wish, therefore, to approach this subject as sympathetically as possible.
There are certain facts about the industry which, I think, must be borne in mind in considering the matters to which the noble Viscount has referred. One is the fact that the industry is carried on not only by public companies but also by municipalities. In 1927 there were in the United Kingdom 782 gas undertakings—I refer to those operated under legislative authority; there are a certain number of others, but their production is very small—and of these undertakings 320 were municipal and 462 non-municipal. As your Lordships know, the undertakings in London are entirely non-municipal, but outside London I think that the industry is divided more or less equally between municipal and non-municipal. The second fact that I think ought to be remembered is one to which I have already referred—namely, that the gas industry is a very large supplier of many other commodities besides gas. These are mainly coke, sulphate of ammonia, benzole, toluol, tar, pitch, and other products. Accordingly 107 the industry has to compete in this respect with other industries, such as the coke ovens, and the price at which they can sell gas is naturally affected by the price that they are able to obtain for these other products. In this respect, of course, the gas industry is, as the noble Viscount has said, in an entirely different position from the electrical industry, which produces only one product.
The third fact is that the gas industry is a very old-established one. It is, I think, something like 120 years since gas began to be used generally as an illuminant and legislation with regard to gas has developed gradually over a long period. Legislation began when gas was looked upon solely as a means of illumination. Its wider possibilities were not thought of at that time. Naturally this meant that the industry was looked upon simply as a monopolistic public utility service, and the legislation which was introduced at that time, which, I think, began with the Gas Works Clauses Act, 1847, was directed towards the regulation and control of the industry mainly from the point of view of the consumer. Now, of course, the Government entirely agree that the position has changed in many important respects. The scope of the industry has widened to a very considerable extent, and we naturally have to take into consideration the competition of electricity. No doubt there is ample reason for reconsidering the legislation relating to the gas industry and the principles upon which that legislation has been based in the past. The Gas Regulation Act, 1920, though I believe it did a good deal to remove some of the difficulties under which the industry was labouring as a result of the War, and facilitated the acquisition of new powers by individual undertakings, did not attempt to deal with some of the matters to which the industry attaches great importance. There would be general agreement that some amending legislation is desirable, but there may be different opinions as to the precise scope and nature of that legislation.
I think that the noble Viscount and others who have spoken this afternoon are aware of the fact that the Board of Trade have had this whole matter under their serious consideration for some time past. In 1926 the National Gas 108 Council put forward a long list of proposals which they wished to see included in a Government Bill. With many of these proposals the Board of Trade were in sympathy, and the Board themselves formulated a number of additional proposals. The noble Viscount has alluded to those proposals, which can be roughly put into three categories. The first were proposals dealing with financial matters. I will not go into the various subjects that come into that category, but they included the raising of additional capital, to which the noble Viscount has alluded, and other such things. The second group of proposals was directed to facilitating the establishment of schemes of joint working, subject to the approval of the Board of Trade. To this point the noble Lord opposite made special reference. Among other matters that were included in this group were the authorisation of joint boards, power to undertakings to make capital contributions to subsidiary companies and to acquire holdings in other companies, provisions for the use of joint plant, and other things of a similar kind. The third group of proposals concerned a number of miscellaneous matters, such as the amendment, of the Sale of Gas Acts, the removal of restrictions as to the purchase by gas undertakings of residuals to be worked up with their own output of residuals, and other such matters.
This list of proposals, which I gather is not by any means a comprehensive one, ought, I think, to be sufficient to show your Lordships that the question of legislation cannot really be considered a simple one, and that the proposals undoubtedly raise matters of public policy. I will only make particular mention of two points which I think ought to be mentioned. These are the proposal that the Board of Trade shall be empowered to authorise modifications in the system of charge. This proposal is intended to facilitate the establishment of "multiple"—that is, two or three part—tariffs; but it may be said that such a system of charge might materially increase the cost to the small consumer of obtaining a supply. It is quite possibly the case that many consumers have for a long time past been obtaining their supplies at uneconomic prices; but in any event it is quite clear that unless the whole long-established principle of the regulation of prices is to be abandoned, the problem 109 of the bases of any multiple tariff will need very careful consideration. And even if Parliament should be disposed to give to the Board of Trade the power to authorise such tariffs, it is by no means certain that Parliament would do so without also giving some directions as to the safeguards to be imposed in the interests of the smaller consumers.
The other point which I may mention by way of illustration is the proposal to give gas undertakings the right to acquire interests in subsidiary companies, and to enter into joint working arrangements with other industries. The question whether these powers, if given at all—and there is obviously much to be said in favour of so doing—should be given to municipal as well as non-municipal undertakings, and the extent to which gas undertakings should extend their operations generally, are matters on which there is clearly room for considerable difference of opinion.
I have already said that the proposals of the National Gas Council were very carefully and sympathetically examined by the Board of Trade, but in view of their importance and far-reaching effect, the President of the Board of Trade thought it would be advantageous to refer them, with his Department's comments and supplementary suggestions, to the National Fuel and Power Committee. I may remind your Lordships that that Committee was set up, under the Chairmanship of Lord Melchett, "to consider and advise upon questions connected with the economic use of fuels and their conversion into various forms of energy, having regard to national and industrial requirements and in the light of technical developments." That Committee, containing representatives of the coal, iron and steel, gas and electrical industries, as well as of science and the local authorities, was, I think, a peculiarly suitable body to consider a matter of this kind. The Committee has, through a sub-committee, conducted a full and careful inquiry, during which it has obtained the views of most of the interests concerned, including the local authorities, who in this matter may be taken as representing the consumers. Its report is, I am informed, practically complete and will shortly be in the hands of the President of the Board of Trade, who will, I am sure, give it his immediate and most careful consideration.
110 But I am afraid I am not in a position this afternoon to hold out any hope of legislation in the present Session. The noble Viscount, expressing in this respect the views of some, though I imagine not of all, concerned in the gas industry, seemed to think that the legislation desired would be largely non-controversial. Perhaps from the strictly political point of view that may be true; but I must point out that even a Bill to give effect only to those proposals on which there is a large measure of agreement would be of a somewhat complicated nature and certain to occupy a good deal of time. As an illustration of that I think I need only remind your Lordship that there was a very large measure of unanimity as to the principles of the recent Electricity Act, but its passage through Parliament was a slow one. I understand that the noble Viscount suggests that a short Bill, dealing only with a very limited number of points to which the gas industry attach immediate importance, might be possible.
The noble Viscount has particularly referred to what he described as a "drafting error" in the Gas Regulation Act, 1920. I am not quite certain whether "drafting error" is an entirely correct description, but the Board of Trade are quite aware of the fact that Section 1 of that Act does not enable them to take fully into account, when revising standard or maximum prices, certain benefits accruing to undertakings by reason of their own efforts, where these have contributed to the reduction of costs, and it is their intention to give full consideration to this point when preparing amending legislation. In their opinion, however, to deal with gas legislation piecemeal would be most disadvantageous. They consider it very desirable that the revision, when made, shall be as comprehensive as possible. The Report of the National Fuel and Power Committee should give a basis for the preparation by the Board of Trade of a draft measure, the details of which can be discussed between that Department and the interests concerned, and particularly with the National Gas Council. This will give the gas industry ample opportunity to put forward its views as 111 to the precise way in which the agreed principles are to be applied in practice, though I am not sure that there is on all points complete unanimity in the industry itself. The President of the Board of Trade hopes that in this way it will be possible to obtain a large 112 amount of agreement, so that all possible steps may be taken to prepare the way for the expeditious passage of legislation, when time is available.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes past five o'clock.